Friday, April 21, 2006

Prism rockers

Gig # 723 at the White Only Communion Club, the prompt being free entry to the night, called Club Hedonistic, if you clicked on a ticketweb link. Free entry or not, Dionysus himself would still baulk at the bar prices at the N1 Centre’s Carling Academy. Three pound fifty-plus a pint is the cost of servicing your indie rock needs, it seems.

Openers The Silent Parade would turn out to be the surprise highlight of the night, purveying exhiliratingly well-orchestrated, rhythmically inventive mini-epics, even if the vocals were a bit Yorkey at times. Vocals were the strong point of second act Lights, big riffing emoti-rock (stripped down to piano, drums and vocals, the strength of the songs all the clearer) with lyrics like “Your eyes are glazed with blackmail.”

Next up, the Boxer Rebellion arrived dressed in unkempt black, these moody boys occupying a space between the early scuzz rock of BRMC and the more ethereal inclinations of someone like House of Love. As such, I was reminded of early Verve (ie, their best, pre-pompous period), while sometimes the guitars, under the weight of pedalled effects, clang like Curve. Umm, how happy their indie-rock references are similar to mine.

The two guitars, heavily echoed vocals and bass elide into each other to create a powerful mélange, the drumming the only counterpoint to the noise (like many other drummers in indie bands, he has been listening to music after 1993 while ‘the creatives’ head down Record & Tape Exchange). This not unpleasant racket helps when the vocals go all Bono. Typically, each song heads for the big moment quickly, repeats it a few times for emphasis before it’s all brought to a halt bang on time three or so minutes in. This makes me think it would be nice for one or two numbers to be allowed to float disassociated with the song, to see where the their love of controlled noise could go.

The finale, all chimed plucked notes, plodding drums and pretty passages, suggests that if their preferred music mode fails, they would be happy to do Snow Patrol by numbers. The reaction of the crowd as they exit shows they should be able to avoid such ignominy, for an hour.

Headliners Pure Reason Revolution are a five-strong Thames Valley troupe of consumer society escapists. The female bassist may harbour Barrettesque androgyny ambitions. Over to Czukay for the lowdown:
'I went to the gig not quite able to say whether I liked PRR or not, despite having listened to the album several times. I hoped seeing them in the flesh would resolve things. The recorded PRR are lush and slick with a refreshingly cosmic stamp that takes them out of the mundanity of their contemporaries. Rhythmically they favour the Floydy mid-tempo rocker with some predictably spacey synth textures, breaking out every so often into old fashioned riffage with astute application of violin from time to time.

'The lubricious vocals are the most striking thing – male and female voices multitracked and heavily treated, producing a spacey chorus of prog sylphs, regularly splitting off into three or four different lines. They have a high proportion of insistent ear-worms among their tunes, and the bracing pomposity of the lyrics (‘A million bright ambassadors of morning’) seems to work due to the unassuming sweetness of the vocals.

'The tragedy of this live show was the weakness of the vocals. In reproducing their studio tracks without any obvious augmentation, their main selling point was largely lost. I’m happy to blame the sound engineer on this occasion, rather than draw bleak conclusions about the vocalists’ skills outside of the studio. Knowing the album allowed me to annoy my companions by pointlessly observing “there’s a good bit coming up” every so often, but the inferiority of the live versions meant this ruse was ultimately counterproductive.

'Overall, the package is seductive but I’m suspicious – I fear they’ve already settled into an ultimately dull template. There’s a way in which despite the wondrous harmonies, the music is deeply boring, such that you’re slightly sickened even as you’re moved. The main problem is that despite very effective vocals, the musical accompaniment is ploddingly conventional, woefully familiar spacey synth effects and echoey Dave Gilmour guitar. If only there was some edginess (harmonically, rhythmically) to their music to counterbalance the lushness of the vocals, their appeal would run deeper. I prescribe a course of, say, Thinking Plague (who you can hear live here). The fanzine Organ points out another significant reference point for PRR – Fleetwood Mac - agreeing that PRR suffer from a progginess deficit.'

Cheers Czuk. For me PRR’s out-there quotient was marred by bogstandard electronic squiggles that the Orb would have discarded 15 years ago, and the fact that the most effective bits, the bits their youthful followers liked the most, were the heads-down grunge-outs. Ulitmately PRR make a palpable effort on stage, and it’s this yearning that could see them sunburn their hands with pysch-rock greatness.
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