A hurricane straight from the South: The Mystery Lights brought energy unending to Oxford Art Factory

Around two years ago I first started seeing manic shots of this New York outfit called The Mystery Lights trickle through my Instagram feed. Local photographers had started documenting their potently unhinged live shows, from Brooklyn to the Bowery, and were passing the evidence all around the world wide web.

I made several mental notes, and when I eventually found their sole recording – a self-titled album released via Daptone offshoot Wick – I was hooked.

the mystery lights dani hansen happy mag
Photos: Dani Hansen

The Lights are pure, unadulterated rock and roll. It’s late 60s pre-punk fuzz drenched in freakout psychedelia and soulful, swampy static. It’s Baby, Please Don’t Go by Big Joe Williams, Them and AC/DC simultaneously.

I knew from the beginning they were a band I had to experience five feet in front of me, and thanks to psych lords King Gizzard who brought The Lights out for their annual Gizzfest this year, I finally had my chance.

It was a Wednesday night and the turn out was a modest but fixed flock of loyal followers who had no doubt been waiting a while for this moment, too. The lineup was a stacked one, kicking off with some solid garage from Los Tones. A lush surf fuzz washed over in an awesome wave. Frontman Bodie Jarman howled into the mic while the band flailed around in a frenetic mess.

The banter was top notch, “I won’t make a joke about the rain”, Jarman grinned as the city flooded outside.

Then, riding in on the very same wave was The Dandelion. Singer/songwriter Natalie de Silver snake-charmed the crowd as she danced and shuffled along to the band’s hypnotic brew of 1960’s swirling surf rhythms and thumping percussion.

Each act was the perfect segue for the last as the night crescendoed from a crackling campfire into full-blown combustion. The Living Eyes hit next, a little more fast and furious, spitting out lyrics like, “I won’t take no excuses!” across caustic guitar lines. The kind of unapologetic noise that is just wholly satisfying.

Burning right along, The Mystery Lights prepped their gear in a hurry, leaving an ominous soundbite playing on repeat before the five of them crammed onto the stage for their opening number Follow Me Home.

Frontman Mike Brandon didn’t waste a moment. He detonated, running on the spot while he strained down the mic, then jumping and flinging his axe, and sliding over the stage with a hoard of energy matched only by the likes of The Pinheads, Amyl, Gizz or Fat White Family. Those tiny, grainy photos on Instagram were finally coming to life, to my utter glee.

The band kept perfect pace, despite the furor. Brandon wailed his signature high-pitched wail over the bluesy rhythm section, occasionally muttering something barely audible in between ditties, the energy unfailing. Then, like a hurricane straight out of the South, it was over as quickly as it began, and they tipped out with the same doomsday track that marked their imminent arrival.

Hopefully by their next visit, The Lights will have another scorching record under their belt. Then again, maybe they’re best handled in smaller, sweatier doses. Short but plenty sweet.