DEMON DAYZ FESTIVAL / GORILLAZ & FRIENDS, DREAMLAND, MARGATE 2017

DDZ

DEMON DAYZ FESTIVAL

Gorillaz & friends

De La Soul / Danny Brown / Vince Staples

Dreamland, Margate, UK

They might bear the dubious distinction of ‘world’s biggest virtual band’, but Gorillaz have all but phased out any ‘virtual’ pretentions. What began as cartoonish conceit has, contrary to the way of things, become more real in development. And while they limply persist with gimmicks – the inexplicable presence of death figures roaming Dreamland’s grounds all day; the frankly distracting stage animations (which goes for ALL screens); the fact we’re in Dreamland (geddit?) – you get the impresssion this garish Hewlett factor is now extraneous to Gorillaz’ newfound verisimilitude.

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The architecture of new album ‘Humanz’ mines a deeper musical trench, and perennial show-off Damon Albarn has made a surprisingly happy transition into musical egalitarianism. Onstage, he seems to relish the plethora of ‘special guestz’ – including Kilo Kish, a luminescent Kali Uchis, a frenetic Kano, a Graham Coxony Graham Coxon – neither of whom steal or promote his thunder; it’s a perfect storm, typified by ‘Sex Murder Party’, a menacing ménage à abattoirs of Albarn, Kelela and Danny Brown, whose earlier warehouse party made for some thrusty, bass-filthy foreplay. In their own set, De La Soul made faint gestures of some classic tracks; as nominal Gorillaz they stamped bombastic class all over ‘Momentz’ and ‘Feel Good Inc’s windmilling finale, all the while Albarn dipping in and out, impishly jocular as if in, well, Dreamland. It’s infectious too; the party vibes spill frothily from the stage, as does a bewildered Shaun Ryder’s sleepy lunge through ‘D.A.R.E.’, which seemed like just that.

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And while the circus acts may provide animated distraction – ‘Clint Eastwood’s “sunshine in a bag” casts a novelty shadow – it’s Gorillaz’ emergent humanity, exemplified by the tender Kelela duet ‘Busted & Blue’ and ‘We Got The Power’s call-to-arms, that brings a whole other reality to virtual dimensions.

10 June 2017

*edited-for-print version of this review in Record Collector – OUT SOME POINT!

Set list:

Ascension / Last Living Souls / Saturn Barz / Stylo / Tomorrow Comes Today / Rhinestone Eyes / Charger / Momentz / Submission / Sex Murder Party / She’s My Collar / El Manana / Dirty Harry / Let Me Out / Andromeda / Busted & Blue / Strobelite / Kids With Guns / D.A.R.E. / Out Of Body / Garage Palace / We Got The Power

Encore: Sleeping Powder / Feel Good Inc. / Clint Eastwood / Don’t Get Lost In Heaven / Demon Days

 

 

REVIEW vs METAREVIEW: An appraisal and reappraisal of Florence & The Machine

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PART ONE: THE GIG

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE

Bournemouth, BIC

Her star has risen with all the precipitous urgency of a volcano with a pressing engagement. That Florence Welch has seemingly gone from insecure waif of the side-stage to colossal high-priestess of the centre-stage owes as much to the tabloid circus surrounding her as her increasingly molten delivery.

However, despite the mainstream’s depressingly predictable attempts to mould her into another Amy Winehouse (rather than tapping her phone, they’re spiking her water supply) Ms Welch retains a focus impervious to intoxication, which is her strength under the spotlights, but also forms part of her shortcomings. For though what we’re witnessing borders on bewitching – Raise It Up, for example, has become some sort of incantation, with jutting arms and robes all aflow – there’s something stylised about this performance that flirts with contrivance.

Having seen Flo in, er, full flow upon her emergence – climbing the tent scaffold in implausibly massive platform heels at Reading; freeform howling at Lovebox – there’s a professionalism here that, while admirable, negates the sort of wild abandon that actually got her here.

Early in, What The Water Gave Me hypnotises but its séance-like mechanics also leave you floundering in séance-like wonder: ‘Is, in fact, anybody there?’

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Hostess: Raise it up

Set against a weird kind of art-deco hotel lobby backdrop, there’s a sense of juxtaposition here that kind of disturbs. When she starts thrashing around – in front of two backing singers who look strikingly similar (twins?) – it’s like a scene from The Shining.

It could be that Flo has been ceaselessly touring the same material over and over in a seemingly remorseless PR assault that has turned FATM’s energy into something slightly static. However, some of the newer material aired tonight – specifically encore Never Let Me Go – show flashes of the spectral goddess Florence Welch could and should be – like a version of a former high-priestess, but even more incendiary: yes, occasionally, she’s like a burning Bush. And when she ignites like that, we’re all like a flock of Moseses (Mosi?) receiving our instruction from on high (yes, those platforms are still in evidence) and seeing a vision of what the future holds.

The Machine may be a little rusty, but Florence has got more than enough of the magic, and love, to see her through.

Prephen Brolan (then)

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PART TWO: THE AFTERMATH

MetaReview

Florence And The Machine, Brolan’s Writing Desk

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Sages paraoles, mate

So, I write this review of Florence And The Machine for Record Collector magazine – which is to be every bit the detailed and accurate account you would expect from a trained and critical eye, honed from years of experience in the field of measured deliberation and the darkened realms of cogitation (which sounds like a booth for hire in Amsterdam, but assuredly isn’t).

Absorbing the experience, trusty pen and pad to hand (which is mainly for insurance, and almost certainly for ostentation for lack of a t-shirt saying ‘I Am A Fucking Music Journalist’) the show begins, and so starts the critical scribbles (every venue in the world is pitch black, by the way, and most of what’s actually written looks like hieroglyphics). The eventual report starts to take shape in the portals of a suddenly serious mind, while my companions, oblivious to all this, soak up proceedings with untrained yet enthusiastic synaptic responsiveness.

When my review is written, theirs will be a mere glimpsed experience of what the fully loaded, acutely attuned palette perceives – like they’re seeing some art and going: ‘Yeah, my bed looks like that in the morning!’, while I’m all: ‘Post-cognitive, meta-shambolic anti-creative indictment on the ephemerality of human/sub-meta-humanistic domestic pseudo-rebellious servitude compounded and fractured by Emin’s imperfectly perfect pillow-laced, quilt-like coquettishness. A triumph!’

Or something.

Anyway, I’m feeling empowered. So empowered I have to cross my legs. The pen, think I (probably), is truly mightier than the sword. Just wait til these people get a load of my perspective. At the moment, they’re watching a puppet show, but I’m gonna show them the strings – and what the puppet master looks like… Or maybe it’s a magic show I’m thinking of? Whatever, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about tricks and illusions. There’s got to be.

Anyway, this review is gonna make nails rue the day God gave them a head (stigmata purgation?), such will be the force and accuracy of my hitting them square on.

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Postrogative: a woman’s write

So, job done, it’s time to bring in the readership. And who better than my own gig-going plus-one and, more crucially, girlfriend and most trusted confidante. The one thing I can rely on from such a trusted source is honesty. The other is some lovely love-infused hyperbole. And maybe some after-review backstage action. Um…

Review read, she sits back and pauses, presumably to take in some oxygen after nearly drowning in such depths of perception.

“What gig were you at?” she says, my heart nearly stopping for lack of hyperbole. “That’s not how I remember it.”

First thought: somehow I’ve shown the wrong review; second, I’m with the wrong fiancé. Neither tallies, which leads to the unthinkable third: I was totally fucking wrong.

So, as with so many utterances that issue forth from one who loves me, I’m forced to take a long, hard look at myself – the self, in this case, being this overblown review. And so, after a few mandatory, face-saving protestations – always simmering away in the back of any self-serving writer’s head – a long, hard look leads me into a reassessment of what I’ve written.

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Wrong tree: Dog days are assuredly NOT over

If you haven’t already read it, the review in question is on the blog before this. What you’re reading here is the world’s first (or possibly not) meta-review – a review of a review. And the reason I believe it’s necessary is simply because, as a writer and critic, it’s essential to get to the core of what you’re seeing and feeling, rather than revelling in the sound of your own fatuous ramblings. And to show a fiancé how brilliantly fucking humble you can be.

When you read the review – if, indeed, you can be arsed – there’s plenty of clever talk of contrivance/staged professionalism on the part of the protagonist (Florence) and jarring juxtaposition (her Machine) that seemed to occupy my chief objections. And while I stand by these assertions in the main – I have seen better performances in her earlier, less publicised days – what I’d actually missed was the main point of the show: that it was actually GOOD.

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Full Flo: ‘I’m coming for you, Brolan’

This is what was baffling my fiancé upon reading my words – we’d actually had a great time. The gig was phenomenal (she reports it’s one of the best she’s seen), yet all I could concentrate on was the flaws and, more crucially, the context.

Rather than looking at the show from a fresh perspective, I was contrasting this performance against the backdrop of so many other performances I’d seen of Florence And The Machine, and that’s where I believe I – and possibly many journalists before me – completely lost the point. Suddenly I realise I’ve become just the sort of writer I’ve always despised – the CRITIC: that noisome little entity that will point out the essential flaws in your choice of favourite crisp if he thinks he can elevate himself with it (Salt and vinegar? Tish! A veritable tyrant of a crisp – more like the Sultan Vinegar). What I’d missed here was the essence, and surely that is the job – the absolute obligation – of anyone who makes a living being offered free gig tickets whenever he demands.

And maybe that’s the chief problem. For while 99 percent of the crowd that night would have purchased, ebayed, blogged and begged for tickets – and, once procured, would have counted the days in anticipation – mine (and my beloved plus-one, I might add) was a mere email away. The main problem with this, as I see it now, is journalists in this field are far too blasé about what other attendees see as the highlight of their week, month or year. When attending so many shows throughout a calendar year, it’s hardly surprising the flaws become the primary focus – almost as if I’m trying to justify being there in the first place. While all around me are there for no other reason than loving the act in question, and honestly purchasing a ticket (or desperately mortgaging to a dishonest tout), I’m there mainly because I’m working but, more pertinently, because I can be. Just like that.

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Stage against the Machine

Of course, nobody wants to read a reviewer who writes like Fearne Cotton speaks – i.e. absolutely everything is BRILL-I-ANT – but what my girlfriend’s critique has told this critic is that, rather than concentrate on what makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, or what elevates me beyond the actual content I’m writing about, it might serve to actually absorb the experience, feel the atmosphere and the sheer power of what a truly good performance can do, rather than pontificating on niggling subtext or nagging context.

How about writing what I feel? Perhaps that’s what years of writing about such things has blunted – the essential feeling. The most legendary hack of all, Lester Bangs, once postulated that writing about music is like tap-dancing about architecture. If that is so (which it probably is), perhaps the only thing to do is stop tapping and make some cement.

And there you have it: my meta-review. Might start doing more of these (will, in fact; stand by for magazine launch) – maybe that’s the only way to get to the essence of what I’m bollocking on about in my actual reviews. After all, self-criticism is one of the few ways you can truly understand yourself – and possibly the only way a girlfriend will give you some backstage action, if only for the price of admitting she was right all along.

SB

Stephen Postlan

* Stand by for more MetaReviews with a new magazine launch coming this year…

DAVID GILMOUR LIVE – Record Collector edit

Photo: James Cooney
Photo: James Cooney

DAVID GILMOUR

London, Royal Albert Hall

23/09/15 (View: Stalls, centre)

David Gilmour is caged.

On a stage bathed in a blue wash, his six-string superconductor wails like a pained angel, a sound in stasis that screams to be free. He has a back catalogue, you see. And new material. But rather than imposing, the new songs are interwoven – a patchwork blanket that leaves us both comfortable and numb. While not intimidated by the might of Gilmour’s albatross, new material like the middling Tom Petty pop of Rattle That Lock is overshadowed by its wingspan, yet is somehow congruous. Elsewhere, lugubrious anti-ballad Faces Of Stone waltzes in homogenous tandem with The Division Bell’s surreal romance, concluding with the impish whimsy of an accordion wig-out. And when you find yourself in the Royal Albert Hall scribbling the words “accordion wig-out” in your review notes, you know that not only are you a pretentious dick, you’re a pretentious dick at something special.

“Hope you enjoyed my new album,” Gilmour asks sheepishly to a muted response. Almost hurriedly, Wish You Were Here breaks the silence, and feels both welcome and intrusive. For while the song’s yearning sentiment appeases the Floyd faithful, the nostalgia counters the new material’s steady osmosis.

Crazy diamond

Crazy diamond

Peppering the new with the old, David Crosby and Graham Nash perform backing vocals with varying degrees of success, most notably on Comfortably Numb’s colossal closer, a song that spreads its wings and bursts through the great Hall’s confines and, in spite of an oblivious Crosby howling centre stage, leaves the audience therein combustibly dumbstruck.

With locks rattled and the shackles lying at his feet, Gilmour’s caged albatross is singing again.

Stephen Brolan

*This article is published in Record Collector magazine. See below for the gargantuan unedited version.

SWEET TOOTH – OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY

SWEET TOOTH

BIOGRAPHY BY STEPHEN BROLAN

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Fleurtini (Photo: Noémie Reijnen)

Some things are just meant to be…

It couldn’t be down to sheer coincidence that London-based duo Sweet Tooth sound so of their environment that their smoky, sultry, swing-infused music practically has smog oozing from its pores. Born of not so much a range as an argument of influences – a backstreet brawl of pop, jazz, dub, rock and burlesque – the resulting sound is so congested with the capital’s eclecticism it should be branded with a big C.

Not since Pet Shop Boys or St Etienne has a band so concisely rendered London’s multi-textured undercurrent with such evocative, sepia-soaked effect. However, unlike their predecessors, whose sound elicited a more nostalgic tone, Sweet Tooth’s is more a cocktail of contemporary life in a capital steeped in multicultural juxtaposition.

Sit yourself down in a spot in London’s centre and the plethora of acoustics that issues forth – the jazz bar in front of you; the busking folkie beside you; the nightclub spilling out its colours behind you – is all bundled together in Sweet Tooth’s free-ranging, free-styling melodies.

That this music should be produced by an Australian in exile and a prodigal Londoner returning from a stint in the ‘colonies’ may perhaps be appropriate: sometimes, perspective is best achieved through alienation and reintegration. Lead singer Fleur (aka Fleurtini), the Aussie connection, feels London was a natural draw for her eclectic tastes.  “Small towns, like the one I’m from, are not the kinds of places where people appreciate difference,” she says. “I think London, of all the cities in the world, is one that embraces difference and eccentricity – and that’s wonderful.”

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Venus In Hollywood

Having met London-based songwriter and guitarist Gavin Hammond in Sydney, the pair eventually moved to England, wherein they discovered different aspects of the capital appealed for different, but equally powerful reasons: the returning Londoner rediscovering his forgotten roots; the wide-eyed singer seeing – from a perspective she never knew – a place where she could finally be herself.  “You can be whoever you want to be here,” Fleur marvels. “And we both discovered that coming back. For Gavin it was a kind of homecoming, and for me it was like discovering where my true home always had been.” 

The full story of Sweet Tooth and its principal architects is not a simple one, but one that bears testament to a fierce determination to extract the very best, both musically and personally, from life’s problems. That Hammond and Fleurtini used to be husband and wife is significant; that their subsequent relationship as collaborators, which appears to have forged a more spiritual and artistic dynamic between them, says even more.

Unlike other famously documented musical/marital break-ups – the acrimonious spite-throwing of yer Abbas and Fleetwood Macs – Sweet Tooth uniquely tells a tale of artistic endeavour fortified by the personal challenges surrounding it. As Hammond explains, the band exists through determination and commitment to make the most of the positives that can sometimes exist within complex frameworks.  “Being in Sweet Tooth is a bit like having to work it out for the kids,” he laughs with the gravity of one fully aware of life’s clichés. “It’s like our songs are our babies, and we have to make it work for their sake.” 

Indeed, Hammond and Fleurtini’s musical backgrounds couldn’t be more discordant – the former’s whispery folk leanings contrasting heavily with the singer’s 1930s Shangri-la flagrance – but whatever paradoxes exist seem to create a dynamic that overthrows formula and accepted convention. And it’s this kind juxtaposition – this fusion of wills – that seems to have given birth to the unique, often devastating sound of Sweet Tooth.

Like the many other ‘personal’ albums that precede theirs – the aptly titled Everybody Wants To Be In Love – within the tracks themselves, there’s a palpable, confessional tenderness that reaches out to you with almost conspiratorial intimacy.  Indeed, with the song Everybody Wants To Be In Love – one of the most evocative rendering of London’s lovelorn undercurrent ever put to tape – the album possesses a centrifugal point – a musical catharsis that anchors the album’s surrounding tales of personal tribulations.

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Everybody wants to be in love

From this centre, the duo, for once, project themselves outwards, discovering that the turbulence of longing is simply a component part of life. Within this haunting, utterly enchanting track, you can almost feel yourself, side-by-side with its writers, surrendering to the beautiful, orchestral folly of it all.

With its accompanying comic-book animated video – which has so far received over 90,000 hits on YouTube and Vimeo, and been featured on websites, blogs, TV shows and magazines from Paris to New York and beyond – the empathy seems to spreading. Indeed, there’s something about Sweet Tooth, in all its palpable intimacy, that seems to challenge you: nothing specific – just challenge.

With something that contains such a kaleidoscopic range of musical influences, forged together in spite of difference, open-hearted lyrics and bare-faced candour, this is music with which you are helpless but to empathise. In a world of heartbreak and suffering, positives and negatives are a marriage in themselves, and only acceptance and reconciliation will win through.  Hammond sums it up perfectly: “Our differences were an issue when we were together as a couple, and they’ve become a positive in a working context. In a musical sense, I think it’s the same with all bands – there has to be that conflict.”

Some things are just meant to be – even when they’re not meant to be. But it’s the process of discovery that makes you alive.

Stephen Brolan, October 2014
(All images by Noémie Reijnen)

Fleur

*For more on Sweet Tooth visit http://www.sweettoothmusic.co.uk

Latest performance video of Black Tears:
http://youtu.be/XeaO2RpJ21I
Sweet Tooth on Facebook for updates:

https://www.facebook.com/SweetToothOfficial?fref=ts 

KONGOS – ‘Lunatic’ album review

Kongos

KONGOS

Lunatic

(Epic Records)

Family bands are a curious breed. Whether it’s the telepathic symmetry of The Cribs or the psychotic rivalry of the Gallaghers, the results often attain a certain cohesion. In these instances, the adage ‘You can choose your friends but…’ is out the window, and family is forged into harmony, in spite of sibling one-upmanship.

In the case of Kongos – brothers Jesse, Johnny, Daniel and Dylan – the dynamic is a curious one. While their Kwaito-tinged musical ensemble is comprehensive, their contrast of personalities makes them utterly compelling.

With each brother writing individually, the divergence of styles and influences is quadrophenic. While opener I’m Only Joking sees Jesse’s fusion of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk exploded by Arcade Fire-works, Johnny’s single Come With Me Now sees Beck rhapsodising over a raucous, Slade-like chorus. Guitarist Daniel chips in with Kids These Days – a truncated set-to of guitar and accordion egged on by a bloodthirsty Kasabian. From this, a segue into the mountain-bound Celtic ethereality of As We Are draws you back into a ballad that somehow incorporates reggae. Dylan, meanwhile, gives us the Paul Simon-meets-Supergrass earthiness of Sex On The Radio, and the Keane-like haunting ballad of Travelling On. But for all their differences, album closer This Time I Won’t Forget draws everything together, a Pink Floyd-like hymn to the will of the human spirit that truly demonstrates homogeneity is where the heart is.

Sibling rivalry has never sounded so good. Behold: this is sibling revelry.

Stephen Brolan

*This review is published in BrumNotes magazine http://www.brumnotesmag.co.uk

THE BOXER REBELLION – Official Biography, with video of The making of The Cold Still

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THE BOXER REBELLION

BIOGRAPHY

Written by Stephen Brolan

It’s the summer of 2010. London’s Leicester Square is awash with a gaggle of fame vampires, all squeezed behind barriers like battery-farmed salivaters as another load of famous people bring their movie premiere to town.

In the midst of all this, four friends stand motionless upon the red carpet in an almost protective huddle, sporting ‘what-the-fuck?’ expressions as paparazzi bulbs spark off around them. As they are ushered down the rouge concourse, a forest of fanatical arms wave and flap in their direction. Presently, Edith Bowman bids them forth and asks the throng to show their appreciation for this bewildered quartet: “Give it up for… The Boxer Rebellion!”

An enthusiastic cheer rings out, albeit from a crowd that would celebrate the coming of the apocalypse if it were endorsed by someone famous enough.

The fact is, this band, and the people it is composed of, are not famous. Even though they’ve been around for nearly 10 years, the spotlight they are now basking in is one that has consistently eluded them. Less than a year ago, two of the group would have been working in a shoe shop literally around the corner from where they now stand. That they are here at all lies in the fact they’re the musical focal point of Hollywood rom-com Going the Distance, in which they share the limelight with Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, the latter’s A&R character a promoter and eventual manager of the band (who play themselves) giving even more surreal overtones to what, in reality, is a collective for whom big breaks more likely implied fractured ligaments.

In short, this is a band for whom privileges have been somewhat scarce. And for all that, being given the exposure with which they now so suddenly find themselves, it’s small wonder they’re looking like rabbits in the headlights about to be run over by a commercial bandwaggon.

“Come ’ere,” Bowman says, the chaps acquiescing, huddle style. “So, lads!” she bawls into the PA, the crowd sort-of listening. “How did you come to be here?”

For a moment there’s a silence, in which an innocuous question becomes an accusation, almost as if this band of men – whose career has thus far been a torrid endeavour – are here because of some fortuitous media coup. And although that’s as far from the truth as you could get, especially for a band who’ve forged their own career with stubborn diligence, there’s a certain pertinence about this, which an exchange of glances between the four-piece makes for a voluminous subtext…

‘Hey,’ it says: ‘how the fuck did we get here?’

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First love

It takes a lot to atone for being stood up…

My first encounter with The Boxer Rebellion – or lack thereof – came at the tail end of 2003. The EP was a complete surprise; barely a year into music journalism, and already my heard-it-all-before muscle was getting too sinewy to chew on, as seemingly endless wishy-washy promos of the Next Big Thing were shat through the letterbox. An overriding sense of the musical climate at the time evokes either confused fin de siécle experimental technophiles, faint plinkety rumblings of the retro 80s-style bands that would later define the decade, or, predominantly, bands that wanted to be The Libertines. A firm belief remains, however, that whatever context The Boxer Rebellion EP may have arrived in, that same jarring sense of the unexpected would have come with it (just listen to the EP now – or indeed any of their subsequent output: it remains laudably uncomfortable in its surroundings).

The EP in the stereo, a searing, scraping screech of guitars becomes the first thing to hit the ears. As first impressions go, it’s like shaking hands with a cheese-grater. Watermelon was the track, and to this day it lingers with enduring first-love embers, not just because of its insistent juggernaut of a melody and rolling rhythms, but because, at the time, this was like a rescue for a set of indie-schmidie-infected ears that were beginning to take root. By the time In The Empire’s epic, nightmarescape finale brings things to a close – with a dystopian fade-out that dreams to a close like Satan’s ice-cream van enticing children of the post-apocalypse (no really) – a love affair with The Boxer Rebellion was well and truly on.

I simply had to see this band. Now

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The first show scheduled in London was to be at Camden’s royal palace of dinginess, the Barfly, the prospect of which seemed enticingly contradictory: how could a band of such massive sonic scope fit within the confines of that shack without actually destroying something? Or someone?

Standing in approximate safety near the exit, pen and pad poised to document the carnage, Xfm’s geek-in-residence John Kennedy takes to the stage and regrets to announce The Boxer Rebellion have cancelled. He doesn’t sound regretful enough for my liking. After all, they were only support for tonight’s main attraction – some bunch of upstarts calling themselves The Killers. For the briefest of moments, my sense of gutted almost overwhelms to the point of edging me out the door. Instead, I take the consolation of these so-called Killers, who throw out some decent Bunnymen-tinged goth-lite pop punches. They’ll probably be massive, I scribble absently in my review notes. A few months later my accuracy doesn’t really surprise; to a certain extent, their somewhat unchallenging way with immediate and instantly recognisable tunes marked them out as… well, just obvious. For my part, I couldn’t help wondering what would have been had The Boxer Rebellion actually been present that night. What kind of context would that have placed The Killers in? Would the ensuing hyperbole surrounding the Las Vegans have been so keenly focused with a full-on sonic Rebellion pounding next to them.

Hindsight always invokes the notion of luck, so I’ll try to avoid that here. The only thing I had to go on that night was an EP that sounded like the heavens opening – the creators of which had stood me up – and a professional and somewhat overpolished performance from another band who would very soon (quite obviously) be selling millions.

My first non-encounter with The Boxer Rebellion that night proved crucial to my understanding of timing in the music business when, a few months later at the same venue, an incendiary performance by a stupendously present Boxer Rebellion showed me just how lucky The Killers were to not have this mighty band in support.

And it was possibly the one and only time I forgave anyone for standing me up…

Hiatus

It was only later I would learn the true purpose behind the band’s no-show, and possibly an insight into The Boxer Rebellion’s on-off relationship with their own fortunes. The fact is, at the time, momentum was gathering as the band’s live shows started to get heads turning and the EP demonstrated they could write a tune. “We were shit for a while,” Howe admits. “And it wasn’t until we wrote Watermelon we thought: ‘Hey, we’ve got something here; this is good!’ We wrote In The Empire the same day – that was really the turning point.”

The support show with The Killers – themselves on the crest of a wave ­– was just one in a series of mutual-support shows with others who were on the up, including The Raveonettes and Razorlight. However, a troublesome appendix inside singer Nicholson had a few things to say on the matter – its bursting necessitating a life-saving operation and a lengthy recovery as Nicholson returned to his hometown in the States. So, while these other bands’ careers took off from thereon, and just as their own career seemed to be dovetailing with their peers, The Boxer Rebellion found themselves on indefinite hiatus.

Again, as with the Killers gig, only speculation lingers as to what might have been – what could have happened had things been different. Through the best part of a decade together, The Boxer Rebellion’s career has spawned a plethora of couldabeens: avenues of possibility down which they would generally end up mugged. As an existence, The Boxer Rebellion’s career is a virtual testament to hindsight, and certainly raises more questions than provides answers. However, for a group drawn from all corners of the globe – Tennessee-born singer Nathan Nicholson; Aussie guitarist Todd Howe (“We were only meant to be in the UK for a short time,” Howe recalls); and English rhythm section Adam Harrison (bass) and Piers Hewitt (drums) – ­route one was never on the cards. With their combined idiosyncrasies, curious chemistries and divergences, The Boxer Rebellion equates to more of a square root.

However, as with any nonlinear equation, a few wrong conclusions are bound to be reached. Before TBR even became the vehicle they are today, a dalliance with the obvious – with Route One – would come first…

Hello Glastonbury!

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Well, perhaps Route One is a slight anomaly. After all, you couldn’t really define Route One as being invited to play Glastonbury before a label has been anywhere near you (legend will decree their eventual suitor spotted the band at the festival and crawled over cow’s shit to sign them, but that, in fact, is cow’s shit). Having cut their teeth touting London’s live circuit, and fostered something of a distinctive sound through dogged rehearsals and, as Howe would put it, ‘less crappy songwriting’, their manager of the time persuaded a slightly reluctant and confidence-lacking Boxer Rebellion to enter that year’s PlayLouder competition. This was early 2003, barely a year after the band had changed its name (from a cringe-inducing moniker we shan’t repeat) and formed the finished line-up that exists today.

One reluctant competition entry later, whatever confidence might have been lacking was delivered a big dollop of flattery, the band actually being fast-tracked into the final five – PlayLouder’s organiser, reeling from the barrage of woeful entries he’d thus far received, facilitated this under the conviction the Boxers were in a league of their own. In truth, the league also contained certain other players who went by the name of Keane, who, following a public vote, came second to the Rebellion. “I guess they had the last laugh,” Nicholson reasonably concludes, the runners-up later going on to occupy the main stage and even performing to the entire planet at Live 8.

However, this small victory led to the Glasto slot and subsequently –indirectly, as it happens – to the emergence of a certain industry player with some serious indie credentials.

“Alan McGee came up to us about two weeks after playing Glastonbury,” Howe recalls emphatically. “There’s this whole myth that he met us at Glastonbury – he was never even there! But basically, he came to us after a gig and said he wanted to put out our record. And there’s us all beady-eyed and naïve going ‘OK!’”

The facilitator of groups such as Oasis and Primal Scream, though not bands of immediate or even second-hand influence to The Boxer Rebellion, the endorsement of McGee and his Poptones imprint at the time seemed like a welcome reprieve from the bigwig majors, who would make their advances not remotely A&Rsed about doing anything except spouting empty platitudes and rhetoric.

“A lot of major labels came to see us after the EP was released,” Nicholson recalls. “One guy from [insert generic major of choice here] came down to rehearsals and we were really excited, but he was basically just telling us major labels don’t sign anything that’s extremely fresh.”

And so, with the cigar chompers continuing to ply their trade in predictable, processed-cheese produce, an organically sourced Boxer Rebellion took their too-original-for-comfort sound and set about making their first statement with a debut album. Surely now, fortified by a coveted McGee endorsement, things could really start to gain momentum…

Exits

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“Rest your eyes, this goes on for miles…”

The opening lines from the spectral operatics of World Without End, one of the highlights of debut long-player Exits, contain a haunting resonance that plummets the listener into a dimensionless reverie, as if consumed by a blind, directionless longing, in a landscape of perpetual horizons. It is also, in hindsight, such an appropriate sentiment, such were the endless hurdles and impediments that manifested during the making of their primary work.

“We finished Exits in July 2004; it didn’t come out until May 2005,” Howe recalls, the sheer perplexity forging a deeply ingrained furrow under his electric shock of a hairdo. In fact, every mention of their time with Poptones seems to engender a certain disbelief that causes his frown-laced follicles to represent a virtual haystack of concern, baring down. He turns to Alan McGee’s involvement – or lack thereof. “He just went AWOL during the time we were recording,” he says, clearly perplexed. “He only came down on the second to last day of mixing, and had a bunch of concerns about how we were sounding… He basically wanted us to sound like The Libertines.” Howe then reveals how the frustration of this ignorance gave birth songs such as Flight and Cowboys and Engines: “We wouldn’t have written those songs without that intervention, and the record became much more different – which was good, in a way…”

“If we’d have put the album out as it was when we signed the album deal, it would have been an entirely different record,” Nicholson reflects, whose own ill health also impeded the album’s completion. “I don’t know whether my sickness channelled my frustration, but it gave me a lot of time to think about my writing.”

In this instance, time was the ultimate sculptor, infusing The Boxer Rebellion’s sound with a scope that was scintillatingly epic without delving into stadium-sized bombast. As a body of work, Exits turned out to be one of those rare albums that grew with each listen – a shining beacon in a musical climate that had become increasingly disposable.

“People like the fashionable bands that are one-trick ponies because they’re very immediate,” Hewitt said at the time of Exits’ initial release. “When they come across bands like us who go off in different directions, they’re not sure what to do with it.”

“Here’s the deal,” Harrison states in his customary preamble. “You can sound like something and be instantly recognised and have an instant career trajectory. But it’s probably short-lived, because whatever is in vogue at that point in time is gonna be over when the next new thing comes along. The flipside of that is you’re not able to be pigeonholed, so you’re not recognised to be fashionable.”

Heard but not ‘scene’, perhaps, the Rebellion’s obstinacy and self-assuredness, while providing the architecture that allowed the finished album to sound as it did, also loosened the bolts of the precarious relationship between themselves and their label. At this point, things were looking inevitable. Barely a week after the album was released, with nary a single piece of advertising to promote the album, Poptones finally cut the cord (McGee not even bothering to tell them face to face), giving the album’s title more pertinence than they might ever have expected.

However, behind every Exits, an entrance lay beyond…

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Exit strategy

Fortress Studios, London 2007.

Two years have passed since the band’s unceremonious jettison from Poptones. A fiercely ambitious and mesmeric debut album that should have been stratospheric (or at least cruising nicely at 35,000 feet) brought the Rebellion’s cause crashing down to earth, a strip of road stretching out before them into the unknown darkness. This was certainly the end of Route One.

“Being on a label was pretty damn frustrating,” Howe recalls unequivocally. “There were people we were working with who would not want us to sound like us – just another version of something that was already out there.” He sighs, heavily. “And you just think: Why the fuck did you sign us in the first place?”

“Originally, when things imploded, we were quite happy about it cos we didn’t like how things were being done,” Nicholson continues, his thick Tennessee accent, even after a decade, stubbornly defying Anglo-dilution. “It was kinda nice to get back to a point where we could do what we want and make our own decisions about where to head. But…” he hesitates. “It was good at first, but after a while you start thinking ‘Oh shit!’ – we didn’t have a label or even an agent anymore, so we basically all went back to nothing.”

And so, with a relatively clean slate, albeit besmirched with the ashes of failure, the Rebellion took themselves back to their recording ‘home’ – a place whose name, at this juncture, had taken on a more pertinent meaning: Fortress.

Tucked away in the back streets off London’s Old Street, this renowned but utterly ramshackle recording studio has been The Boxer Rebellion’s rehearsal space since the beginning. Following the fiasco and legal wranglings surrounding the first album – it would be over a year before the majority of the royalties came through from a now defunct Poptones – the band returned to their spiritual home, complete with a number of songs already written for the planned follow-up album (which now had fuck-all in the way of financing) and a feeling of uncertainty about what was going to happen next. After much soul searching, the four-piece decided the Rebellion wasn’t up just yet. After all, the songs were still there, even if the backing wasn’t.

“I think being dropped was the making of our attitude,” Harrison says of the Rebellion’s somewhat insular dynamic. “We always did do our own thing, but after we got dropped, it just went full circle back to doing things for ourselves.”

Without a contract, and hamster-feed royalties dribbling in, the band returned to day jobs to finance – session by session – rehearsal, writing and recording behind the protective walls of Fortress, determinedly building on the songs that had already begun to surface during the laborious Exits days. Having borne the weight of that frustration, being in the studio, together, seemed the only course of action, if only for the sake of solidarity, or even sanity. Typical of TBR’s contrary means of doing things – of sourcing their own particular solution to the immediate questions – locking themselves away in a recording ‘cell’ straight out of Silence of the Lambs was their particular means of regaining a semblance of normality.

“People would come and make big gestures,” Howe recalls of the plethora of industry bullshitters who would serenade them with lots of, well, industry bullshit during their formative years. “And it was all just talk – they’d just vanish into thin air. And we made a decision not to align ourselves with anyone who did that – not any more.” Pensively, he flicks ash from his cigarette almost with disdain, as if something other were being cast aside. “It’s all a learning curve – a hard one, but ultimately it makes you stronger.” The cigarette itself goes for six, and he continues: “In hindsight, it’s all better that we went through that… but that’s just hindsight. Yeah, we gained the experience we’ve got now, but at the time, it went from being dropped to feeling: what the hell are we meant to do now? There were a couple of months of shit, then we wrote Forces and Misplaced, and that’s when it started to feel right again…”

With the new album beginning to take shape, and their songwriting gear in cruise control, it was only a matter of time before something special happened. And then it did…

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Go!

The call came from Todd, which wasn’t much of a surprise – we had become friends since I interviewed the band for my first feature on them at The Fly. What was a surprise was the answerphone message – an excitable Boxer Rebellion singing octaves of my name down the phone, Beach Boys style (though, it sounded more like Gargling-Bleach Boys), with instructions to come down to Fortress right away. An audience was sought. I should get down there. Now, like.

In this bric-a-brac rehearsal space – paraphernalia and musical equipment seemingly in perpetual conflict, facing every which way – it’s perhaps the only object with a line of latitude: the SOFA. A character in itself, this innocuous-looking piece of furniture likes to sit parallel to the band formation – a docile, obsequious, scuffed teddy bear of a couch, which, in rehearsal world, seems to act as the imaginary front row of the next big gig. On it I’m plonked, barely able to utter a word. The band are about to play me something they’ve just written, and even before they’ve struck a single note, I’m already noticing something’s awry. Nate’s strapped up in an acoustic, while left and right, Todd and Adam each has a kettle drum in front of him…

BOOM! BANG-A-BOOM!!

Drums, pounding, thunder-like from Mount Olympus, as if Zeus is on his way. The sofa and I are actually under attack. Presently, Nate’s voice breaks through the storm like a new commandment – angelic, ominous, portentous. In this underground lair, such a colossal sonic assault is like being trapped in a particle accelerator. By the end of the first verse, the claustrophobic walls have moved even closer. Something’s got to give… before the bloody ceiling does. Stepping back from the kettle drum, Howe brandishes his guitar. Presently, a metallic superconductor of a riff teleports the viscerally tribal verse into a transcendental chorus that evaporates the walls around us. “Tell me, why you’re leaving”, Nate’s ethereal vocals implore. I grab the sofa; the sofa hangs on to me: we’re going nowhere.

By the end of my first listen – anyone’s listen – of Flashing Red Light Means Go, it was clear not only that The Boxer Rebellion had moved up several notches in sound and scope, but also that no basement could hold them now.

The first thing I remember, as the last note of the outro rang out on the kettle drums, is leaping from the sofa and whooping like a banshee (the sofa stayed put, being cooler than me). At the time, the band must have thought I was on something, but it was all I could do to keep from exploding – the sheer delight of hearing that song for the first time – and what I believe it meant not just for the band but for music in general – way too exciting to simply sit back and chin-scratch.

Following this up (as if that weren’t enough) with Evacuate (a song I’d heard before but which had become even more honed), and an instantly addictive new track for which they hadn’t got a title (a song yours truly actually named – Spitting Fire – despite claims/lies Todd may have to the contrary), it was clear something was happening here – something big.

After this privileged mini-gig, my first thought was to phone my editor at the time, in a hold-the-front-page type gesture. Music was about to change direction, damn it, and I had just seen the drivers. In my excitement, however, I forgot to factor in that my editor was a clueless prick.

In hindsight, perhaps everybody was suffering from idiot editor syndrome, since it would be another TWO YEARS following that impromptu session that the album Union would even see the light of day…

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Grand Union

“We actually finished the album in 2007,” Nicholson recalls. “Once we’d finished it, it was harder, because it wasn’t like we didn’t have material anymore – we had a whole finished album, but nothing was happening.”

Having pretty much self-financed most of the rehearsals and songwriting time for the second album – Hewitt teaching drums and hosting his own local radio show; Howe taking on freelance work in web design; Nicholson and Harrison working the same shoe shop in Covent Garden (Nicholson: “It was embarrassing when people recognised you, and you had to fit them out with a pair of Reeboks”) – financing for the recording of the album (at Fortress, with Tom Morris engineering and the band self-producing) came from an agent in Japan – effectively an ardent fan of the band who wanted to help them out. However, upon completion, it soon became clear the album was still going nowhere. Something was missing.

“Nori [backer and Japan agent] was great for getting the album made,” Howe emphasises, “but he just wasn’t a manager. As a result, the album was done and was just being sat on, doing nothing. It was harsh, but we knew we had to get another manager.”

Enter Embargo Management, and current manager Sumit Bothra. That very same week, the band met with a representative of iTunes – something that looks like an instant master stroke on the manager’s part, but was merely testament to the fact he had his eyes and ears open: iTunes had in fact been trying to reach The Boxer Rebellion for six months.

“It was a really quick turnaround once we’d sorted out the management situation,” Howe reveals. “We were sent in to rerecord Forces and These Walls Are Thin, mixed it, mastered it, and uploaded it to iTunes the next day. And that was it – everything came good after that.”

With the backing of iTunes, everything came better than good: records – not merely the musical kind – were about to be made. Second album Union saw The Boxer Rebellion make history by becoming the first ever unsigned artist to enter the billboard top 100 in the US (on digital sales alone), while iTunes made the album’s lead track Evacuate worldwide single of the week – another unprecedented move. While Exits showed The Boxer Rebellion how to head for the door, Union proved to be the necessary gelling agent to bring everything back together. You could say this is a band with a formidable knack of coming up with apposite titles. Whether it’s self-fulfilling or not is unclear, but surely the albums Kings of The Known Universe or I Can See The Top Of God’s Head (possibly already U2 projects) should be on the cards? However, you don’t develop into a band such as The Boxer Rebellion with such grandiose gestures. Much like the music they produce, there has always been a certain pragmatism that recognises you cannot force issues – or indeed songs – but rather acknowledge the imperative of process.

“We’ve always been a band that’s had a sense of seclusion, which has helped us extract the essence of what we are as a unit,” Howe reveals. “We’ve basically had to lean on each other to keep going with it.”

It’s this sense of allegiance – this egalitarian means of conducting both themselves and their art – that has allowed The Boxer Rebellion to navigate a career beset with industry indifference and financial hardship to forge a niche that has set unprecedented industry landmarks from the base materials of talent and strength of will.

“Our evolution stemmed from the success of Union, which was a real turning point for us,” Howe continues. “Before that, it was basically if Union didn’t do the job, that might be it: we might not make – or be able to make – a third record.”

Harrison elaborates: “It reached a point where I thought if we had no chance of any success in the future, and if there was no reason financially to make music, would I still want to play with these guys?” He pauses, as if contemplating all over again. “The answer was emphatically ‘yes’ – there was never any question of breaking up since the music was still great.”

Vindicated by their series of minor victories beyond the conventional – something for which they’ve always held a healthy disdain – but also by now fully conversant with the vagaries of their chosen profession (Nicholson: “We’re like the bastard child who’s been burnt by his father too many times – we have trust issues”), The Boxer Rebellion took Union to the road, playing a series of sold-out shows across the world – with particular success in the US. And it was here, in a chance encounter in a Los Angeles club, things were about to get even more surreal…

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Going the Distance

If ever there were a band that equally – paradoxically – typified both the futility and endless possibility of navigating the music industry, The Boxer Rebellion are poster children. Having endured the frustrations and restrictions of Route One via a non-committal record label, the Rebellion have – to this day – remained on independent terms with their own destiny, trusting in themselves, their friendship, and their own ability to shape whatever course they deem suitable. In the truest etymological sense, The Boxer Rebellion are the epitome of ‘indie’ – a collective that has, despite whatever personal differences that have emerged over the years, remained committed to each other and the ultimate goal, above and beyond any notions of fame and wealth.

Perhaps this is what attracted Hollywood into casting The Boxer Rebellion in indie rom-com Going The Distance, a film whose premise pontificates on the nature of love’s endurance in the face of scepticism and so-called experience.

After a chance encounter at the Troubadour gig in LA, industry spotters prompted director Nanette Burstein into casting the band as the musical focal point for the movie (and Justin Long’s character), and within a year – possibly the most surreal annual headfuck of their lives – The Boxer Rebellion found themselves up on the silver screen and, still without a label, walking on red carpets among the great and the good and essentially wondering what the fuck was going on.

With two tracks from Union featured on the soundtrack – Evacuate and Spitting Fire – and a new song written especially for the film – the uncharacteristic but extremely popular If You Run – the coverage alone was enough to make them confident a third album, despite the odds, would be a possibility. Not only that, with the backing they now had, TBR were finally receiving some recognition, the success of Union now a monolith for self-belief and doing things on your own terms.

“We changed as people by finally getting some vindication on the second record and making a decision where we could remain independent, because we still weren’t ready to deal with labels,” Howe states.

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The Cold Still

Thus independent, and coming off the relative success of the film (indie in extremis: not a great showing at the box office, but endeared by the nerdy cognoscenti), the Rebellion took their wares and, typically, focused everything into producing the next record. Having traversed the ignominy of (fake) indie-label acquiescence to become a bastion of autonomous self-reliance, the time had come for another dimension – a missing link that might just propel things to a higher plain.

Enter Ethan Johns… and the beginning of third album The Cold Still

“Meeting up with Ethan, and him saying he wanted to do it [record the album] gave us a kick up the arse and made us knuckle down,” Howe explains. “Once we knew we were working with Ethan, it really changed the direction of our songwriting – we knew, being in that studio, we had a deadline. And that really got us going.”

“Working on this album, I felt there had to be some natural way of recording, because the tracks were coming fast,” the producer states. “So recording it live seemed like the logical thing to do – there was a synchronicity to writing and recording, and the way it all came together so naturally I think adds to the whole feel of it.”

The result of this dynamic – and the first album The Boxer Rebellion handed over to a single producer – unearths a piece of work that might never have seen the light of day from a band of lesser conviction, but one that casts The Boxer Rebellion in the mould of greatness certain forces have until now conspired to deny them. And beyond all that’s sought to restrain them, this is a band who, through collective determination, have taken the trials of their formative years and built themselves a present and a future that takes from the past only what is to be discarded.

“No band in the world would like to have gone through what we’ve been through,” Hewitt sums up. “But almost every band would like to feel what we feel now… There’s a certain justice to getting where you want to be in spite of all else…”

Standing on a red carpet in the middle of Leicester Square, The Boxer Rebellion, far too humble to look justified, nevertheless cast their eyes over the scene before them – pensive as ever any collective to hit the limelight. How the fuck did they get here? Determination is an answer; accident probably more precise. In the grand scheme of things, The Boxer Rebellion are – and continue to be – in love with the process of being. Through Exits, Union, and The Cold Still, they have produced a body of work that, beyond the realms of celebrity, seeks nothing beyond itself.

In a disposable world such as this, can we afford anything less?

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Promise is Promises

“I walk the line of great unknowns, but I never question this…”

It was never going to be an easy task – nor was it likely to be understated. To follow up a body of work that had garnered its share of plaudits but had yet to reap the commercial success that it clearly deserved, the Rebellion’s fourth album had probably more riding on it than the others – albeit self-imposed. Staunchly remaining unsigned to any record label, and self-releasing on their own Absentee Recordings imprint, the band set about making the album their ambitions and scope always threatened to produce. With Promises, the songs soared to higher plateaus and sights than they’d previously dreamed.

As a piece of work, it still stands as one of the more daring and adventurous albums of the last ten years, and tracks such as the relentless singles Keep Moving and Diamonds possess all the hallmarks of genuine classics.

As always, time will tell.

Having walked the line of great unknowns, the final word on The Boxer Rebellion has to be that of self-belief, autonomy and sheer determination to create art on its own terms, without compromise. With these four recordings, they’ve done exactly that. And prouder they can be of that feat, because these records were borne out of that sense of togetherness and keeping faith in a single, unwavering vision; there was never a

question they would have done it any other way.

So much promise lies in self-belief. The Boxer Rebellion are possibly the most stark example of that conviction. Promises swears, hand on heart, nothing less than the devotion that has carried them this far. This is a band that is as good as its word. And you just have to cherish that. Always…

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Stephen Brolan, 

January 2014

*This biography was originally written for the ‘Live At Shepherd’s Bush’ DVD. To order ‘Live At The Forum 2014’ , go to this link: http://www.theboxerrebellion.com/2014/09/pre-order-live-at-the-forum-from-theboxerrebellion-com/

** A review of Promises can be read here: https://stephenbrolan.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/the-boxer-rebellion-promises-album-review/

Editors live – Brixton Academy, London

Photo: Justine Trickett

Tom Smith haunted by ghost of Urbanowicz

It could be due to support from the ever-grandiose British Sea Power – whose flagrant eccentricity has never aligned itself with a particular scene – that tonight’s crowd is distinctly (or should that be indistinctly?) pan-generational. And as the Brightonians’ theatrics draw to a close – indeed, with an exeunt stage right, pursued by a giant bear (don’t ask) – nobody disperses or goes home for cocoa. We have at least three generations of music lovers here for Editors – a band whose own repertoire is becoming somewhat blurred by a touch of musical decade-hopping, not least in the ’80s-bound synth-laden atmospherics of their latest offering.

Showcasing most of the material from obesity-conscious new album The Weight Of Your Love, the Dark Ones take ominously to the stage to the strains of aptly named The Weight, its flabby bassline like a flabby waistline that segues into the sonic liposuction of Sugar, a track which feasts on Depeche Mode but is pretty anorexic.

Once again employing the services of producer Flood, whose seminal work on Da Mode’s Violator remains one the greatest producer-artist collaborations ever, you can see what Editors are striving for. On the evidence of their latest work, however, it all comes across as somewhat contrived – a safe-sex version of the Mode’s lascivious deviancy. ‘Condomnation’, anyone?

With their sights now perhaps firmly set on filling stadiums into their old age, and thus filling their sound with as much bluster as possible, it seems the fundamental essence of what got Editors here in the first place is getting lost somewhere. Though singer Tom Smith remains tight-lipped about what prompted the departure of guitarist Chris Urbanowicz, the obvious is pretty much jumping up and down behind him and waving a starving Les Paul in the air.

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When the older tracks kick in with Smokers… and Bones, the place comes alight, not only with the sound but the retina-singeing lightshow behind them, which tend to leave the capillaries in your eyes polka-dotted for a week after. Pretty apt, really, as tonight we only really get flashes of a true Editors performance. Is it coincidence that most of those flashes are older tracks, which explode with almost petulant vigour from the encroaching newer songs?

A case in point: preceding single A Ton Of Love is actually quite weightless, though not in an airy, ethereal way; this is forged (in both senses of the word) from the impossible chemical formula of Joy Division transfusing Desire-era U2 into their bloodstream – without saving any lives whatsoever. And if that last sentence sounds contrived, well that’s because there seems to be some serious contrivance afoot here, not least in the fact new guitarist Justin Lockey seems to be mimicking the left-foot-dragging stance of his predecessor – literally stepping into Urbanowicz’s shoes… but somehow not tying the shoelaces correctly.

Editors seem to be setting their stall out for a complete musical shift. It’s a laudable measure to take, and one not enough bands are brave enough to make, but these measures should not be at the expense of the music that preceded it (irritatingly, they omit two of their best tracks tonight: Camera and Fingers In The Factories). And while there seems to be something forced (hurried?) about the direction they’re taking, perhaps a step back and a bit of perspective is all that’s needed.

And towards the end of the set we find it. With An End Has A Start and a massive, roof-raising rendition of The Racing Rats, the older tracks flaunt their majesty with almost monochromatic simplicity, while the dubiously titled Honesty, which seems anything but, is garishly Queen-like, sandwiching some clap-along shenanigans with Smith’s over-earnest vocal marmalade.

When it does work, during encore newbie Nothing and old fave Papillion, you sense there might be some scope for future promise. But Editors, as their moniker ought to tell them, need to know where to enhance and where to cut – a process only marred by haste – and to never lose sight of where they came from.

After all, life is lived forwards; it can only be seen backwards.

Stephen Brolan

*An edited version of this article is published in Record Collector magazine