Monday, February 18

REVIEW// The Horrors; These New Puritans; Ulterior

If you compare the mid-2000s with the early 1980s, it's easy to draw small-scale comparisons: Neils Children with The Cure, The Violets with Siouxsie and the Banshees (with apologies), These New Puritans, maybe, with The Fall. The Horrors, in this grand scheme, are rapidly becoming the new Bauhaus. Their current live act (more synths, fewer garage songs) and their new material (less blues-structured and less centred around the '60s sound of Rhys Webb's Vox organ) hints at the future development of the 'gothic' sound hinted at already on tracks like 'Draw Japan' and 'Thunderclaps'.

But the audience gathered at London's Astoria for the five-piece's appearance in the NME Shockwaves Awards series haven't heard that yet. They're busy having their minds blown by the support band. Ulterior - Horrors favourites, Ipso Facto labelmates, and the harshest noisemongers in London - open proceedings with a solid attack of splintering feedback. Their industrial electronics are a breath of fresh air in a music industry where the first sign of a synthesizer gets the glowsticks lit up faster than jackals around a corpse. The quartet look and sound fantastic: shrouded in smoke, lit from behind, and wrapped in their wall of noise, their leather jacket proto-grunge image makes it seem like The Jesus & Mary Chain have killed Suicide, stolen their souls and their gear, and jumped twenty years into the future to play for us tonight.

Ulterior are, in short, an impossible act to follow, but These New Puritans (everyone's favourite mystical genre-benders, and very much in fashion at the moment) do their best. Frontman Jack Barnett, dressed in a suit of featherlike armour, is as cryptic and restless as ever, and some songs - the shortened 'Navigate Navigate' that opened the set and the stiltedly rhythmic 'fff' especially - are well-performed. 'Elvis' is the song that most gets the crowd going, of course, but the almost hip-hop beat of 'Swords of Truth' also goes down well. Interestingly, the vocal-distorting live environment (the Astoria is like a tin can) meant that the band had a return to the mysterious lyricism of their early career - definitely a plus, since the clarity of the vocal production on their album Beat Pyramid is one of its downsides.

Try as they might, though, TNPS can't match the energy and mystery of Ulterior's show-stealing set. The wait for The Horrors is soundtracked by tedious electro-beats for prepubescent glowstick-toters courtesy of Canadian duo Crystal Castles, but it's worth it when the lights go down and the familiar jerky introduction to 'A Train Roars' fills the venue.

The band stalk onstage and don their instruments, and kick into life as Faris Badwan is contorted as if every cymbal crash was a pin into his own personal voodoo doll. The set was a little less frantic than it has been, but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing (except for those who'd only come to yell 'shake!'), since the ditching of '60s stompers like the 'Jack the Ripper' and 'Crawdaddy Simone' covers, and 'Death at the Chapel' (R.I.P.), gave the new material a chance to shine in its monochromatic, skeletally lyrical glory. There's a sense of climax and drama that wasn't present in some of Strange House's blasts of garage, and, from what can be heard (once again, the Astoria's acoustics let them down) the lyrics have also matured.

New material aside, the setlist is largely based around the less garage moments of Strange House (including a particularly good 'She Is The New Thing'), although 'Count in Fives' and set-closer 'Gloves' (with the traditional improv section) give plenty of opportunity to let loose with some psychedelic stomping. The larger stages that The Horrors are playing nowadays don't give Faris such opportunity for prop-orientated hi-jinks, but a giant Rubix cube is somehow procured and swung into the seething audience. After playing around forty-five minutes, the band drop their instruments and skulk off, leaving a wall of feedback noise and vain chants of 'encore' hanging in the air. Maybe their next concert, being as it is in support of The Sonics, will be a last bow to the 1960s; for now, as Faris Badwan introduces 'Sheena Is A Parasite' as 'the moment that happened two years ago', The Horrors are moving onwards and upwards, and getting better all the time.


krystl said...

I was definitely not there, but this is a well written review.

CLOAT said...

"...Faris Badwan is contorted as if every cymbal crash was a pin into his own personal voodoo doll."
Remarkably well written an observed.

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