Lately, I've attended a number of gigs where the headliners are, in many respects, only half the story. Impressive lineups from the bottom up make for a different kind of evening, one where early arrival is advisable, and the support acts would make perfectly worthy headliners most nights of the week. Tonight's four-band bill is a prime example.
neuschlafen (yes, all lower case) may only be two in number, with some of the savviest and most innovative use of a loop pedal, they manage to produce a dense wall of sound by means of a live drum kit and multiple instruments played through a rack of effects. The songs - largely instrumental pieces - build and build around simple motifs repeated ad infinitum in an approximation of Suicide's early recordings. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Can and Neu, there's a quirkiness as well as a relentlessness about the music that's deeply hypnotic. It was pleasing to see a fair few had turned out early enough to witness the set.
There's a fine line between high art and pretentious toss, and SHUT aren't always entirely careful how they tread it. Their set begins in darkness, the band members in matching T-shirts with enigmatic logos, as a long, low, throbbing drone and the occasional chime of finger cymbals and hushed, echoed whisper emanates from the stage. A hooded man slowly circulates amongst the audience, standing very close to people and playing a chime bowl in a ceremonial fashion while fixing the nominated spectator with an obsidian stare. It's one hell of a build-up. Perhaps too much of a build-up, as the guy who'd been in the audience appears on stage looking rather ordinary in a plaid shirt, and the subsequent louder sections don't quite pack the anticipated punch. Overall, much of the set seemed to be excessively drawn out, all delay and only limited gratification. One suspects they would probably work better in a studio setting, unless they follow the lead of Sunn O))) and go all out on the performance and push the volume harder.
The couple of tracks I'd checked out on Stuart Warwick's website hadn’t really inspired me, and so I was unprepared for the sheer intensity of his performance. With the gentle piano of Cranes' 'Wings of Joy', (or, as my friend pointed out, a sound not dissimilar from PJ Harvey's 'White Chalk' album, Stuart managed to silence the audience and draw them in with a hushed, quiet and sparse yet commanding performance dominated by his haunting vocals. His between-song banter with the audience proved him to anything but stony-faced and serious, and in fact he seems to be a most affable and humorous sort. His short set was almost without doubt the most pleasantly surprising of the evening.
It's back to business for Vessels after taking some time out to write and record their second album. The last time I saw them, playing at the Brudenell in Leeds, they were testing much of the new material for the first time, and didn't seem to have got properly comfortable with it. Tonight, the first night of the album tour, the new songs are definitely bedding in nicely, although there are times during the set when the band don't look to have entirely found their stride with it all yet. That said, they've set the bar high, and, immersed completely in the music, it's hard not to get drawn into the richly-layered soundscapes. By the end of the set, they've successfully reasserted themselves as purveyors of post rock par excellence, and the signs all suggest that album should be a stormer.
Vessels on MySpace