Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Live review: Teeth Of The Sea @ Babble.Jar - 09.05.13

Teeth of the Sea are playing a birthday party.

I plead ignorance. I don't know who the birthday celebrant is, and I sure as shit can't see a cake. I'm standing in a mainly empty basement room at the foot of Stamford Hill, watching the best live band in London play, in their words or thereabouts, their 'worst gig in ages'.

It all falls apart somewhere around the third song. What went wrong? Sonically, fuck knows. One minute, they were thundering out the jawdropping psych[otic]-rock battlesound that's steadily drawn people to their standard since they emerged a few years ago. Next minute, they were still doing it, but guitarist Jimmy was on the floor trying to perform emergency surgery on a vast and apparently truculent pedalboard for nearly a whole song. No sign of the soundman. They played one more, and abandoned the stage in disgust. We can only assume the operation was a failure.

The thing is, you can watch a hundred bands a night in this city, and all their sets will go as planned. How many will do anything memorable? Four or five if you're lucky. IF you're lucky. When you watch a gang of musicians royally fuck it up, and still sound better than any of their competitors, it rather puts things in contrast.

Where other bands attempt and imitate and try to start scenes, TOTS actually convince. Teenage and twenty-something boys and girls are out there writing manifestos about what they're going to do, merely beginning to determine their influences, playing with possibilities, and that's as it should be - God forbid we encourage a creaking landscape of decrepit know-it-alls, where no-one's noticed or taken seriously til they've earned their stripes through decades of bitter slog and respectful library-building. Kids are the ones who should be making punk rock and reducing even younger kids to jelly, flinging stinkbombs and shrapnel at aged naysayers, and it wouldn't be awesome to see someone who's slaved at the coalface finally, finally break through and win everything they've ever dreamed of if that were the natural order of things, like some dutiful accountant collecting his company watch at the end of 25 years of service. But Teeth of the Sea walk it like their juniors can only talk it.

They'll release their third record soon enough, and the sound they have built these last few years is complex, giddy, wisely paced and heavy as hell. It's Giorgio Moroder clinging to the back of the behemoth, it's a troupe of mariachis summoning the valkyries... it's heraldic trumpets and thrashing stand-up drums, it's a guitarist who shreds like it's all he's ever been good for, it's a beckoning call from the off-world colonies; it's Doctor Who sound effects, comet swoops and sci-fi flashes. It's baffling. It's absolutely barmy. It's FUN. It's really, really fucking fun.

Over and above and laid down beneath it all, woven in and out of it, they create a groove into which every species of portentous idiocy/brilliance is successively, and successfully, installed. It snakes through the whole, focusing it and transforming even the creepiest sounds and most disconnected samples into a dance party. No irony here, no snarky references to the self-consciously uncool. The intent is real, smashed out with violence and conviction, unanchored drums trying to creep away unseen from the monstrous onslaught above them as they inch across the floor.

Too many bands have treated instruments and equivalent gear as toys, looking merely for a quirky sound, a wonk-footed stance, the cutely off-kilter. The time for this nonsense is done - death to twee, may it bleed out under a shower of knives. Teeth of the Sea have the guts to take this shit seriously, attacking with scope and creativity and malign, mesmerising force. They're not children, they know their references and have built sturdily upon them; I reckon between them these four dudes own thousands and thousands of records. But the old-time heroes and influences have the decency to know their place, to sit on their hands in the back row and let this quartet's own ideas and ambition command your attention. And when one thing goes wrong, integral as it is, the density of this sound betrays nothing until they do.

A couple of months ago, they had the Lexington in the palm of their hand, a sell-out crowd meeting their efforts with righteous praise. Now, on an off-chance, they're in a basement and it's all gone terribly wrong, but it's still magnificent - because they're magnificent. If you're in a band, go and see them, and see what you're doing wrong. If you think you're bored of music, go and see them, and see what you've been missing.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Don't Look Back

I’m as guilty as the next person. Tonight I’m going to see Six By Seven at the Bull and Gate, beer-stained backdrop to my early adulthood (it closes this week, so a fond farewell ‘n’ that). A grinding drillbit of a band who I loved with every living fibre for their fury, their grating dissatisfaction and disgust and despair. A band who struggled and strained and tried and failed, a towering singer who terrorised interviewers and other bands, and then staggered and slurred drunkenly atop the stage of the venue I helped run a few years later, before splitting up in much acrimony and some ignominy.

They have reformed, whether because they never felt they made their point, or because Chris Olley isn’t done and will never be done, or because it’s what bands do now. In my heart I feel that the last reason is the least likely, but I have to admit that I’m doing the thing that everyone does now, which makes me mad as hell; paying money to see a band get some, fuck off for a bit and go again, rather than watching the bright explosion of something new. This is the age of reformation - every band now gets a second shot. Reunions are the new encores – inevitable and bullshit.

The PR juggernaut wasn't rumbled out for this one, Six By Seven just quietly started booking shows again, and Six By Seven, unjustifiably, never seemed to make a penny, so a moneyspinner it isn't. But how did we arrive at this point, where we’re not even questioning the music’s motivations, or the reason a band has formed to make this music, but the authenticity of their continued existence?

In the same week, Neutral Milk Hotel have announced that they’re going to play some reform shows, and the collective indie consciousness heralded the second coming, because nothing like this has ever happened before. I like their first and second records, and the second one, the one everyone cacks their keks over, is a brave, often brilliant, occasionally questionable, strange, funny and beautiful record. It was then and still is – it still exists, the original document, not some grim anniversary edition (please, please, no.) Ain’t that enough? Why do they need to reform?

Am I wrong to demand a degree of brutality? Line it up, take your shot, make your mark then fuck off out of the way, let the young blood step up for their turn. Demand that they in turn match their predecessors, soar above their achievements, and get to work in an industry that actually makes it worth them trying. The life cycle of the band now includes a new grace period before death; when a band say they’re splitting up - irreconcilable musical differences, pressures of life on the road, ill health, inability to write anything of worth anymore, whatever – what they now mean is they’re going into cryogenic stasis. They will be deep-frozen by their record label until such time as they can tolerate each other’s company again, at which point they will be reinjected into their tourbus and sent out to earn their keep again. It’s like when you break up with that sociopath who has ruined your life, slept with all your friends, emptied your bank account and run away with your dog – and your parents cluck and say, “I’m sure in time you two will figure things out and fix it.” It’s depressing and it’s wrong – and if you go back it says that you prefer the stifling comfort of the familiar to the possibility (you know, the one that got you here in the first place) of an adventure.

Bands! Have some self-recocking-spect. If you hate those bastards, if you ran your course, if you can't find another vital record in you – by which I mean, the kind of NEED TO BE MADE future maybe-masterpiece that made you take up musical arms in the first place - do us, and yourselves, a fucking favour. Don’t reform. Don’t reboot. Don’t play Koko or the Hammersmith Apollo or Brixton Academy. Don’t dutifully collect the cash for your label so they can rely on their alumni rather than the untapped talent they should be developing. Don’t take the handout and tell yourself it’s artistically justifiable. Take a stand instead. There are some abysmal young bands out there, and they need telling they’re abysmal so they can either stop being shit or do something else with their lives. There are also some couldbegood, potentially great, already staggering young bands who deserve not just a shot at the title, but the gestation period to grow worthy of it, to be that band who can inspire growing devotion and desperation from fans over six records, not just one premature indebted blurt of a debut. If you already bowed out, don’t backpedal just to set yourself up in competition against the young’uns – it’s just not fucking decent, man. You still wanna make music? Create something, find some new playmates, surprise us, give us revelation, not the fucking reunion show. Remember that feeling?

Because otherwise, you might as well just admit you don’t think there’s any more music to be made; you’ve got nothing fresh to say, and the gangs of young hopefuls with ideas to impart – all those thousands of kids in garages and bedrooms, attempting to make sense of the world in their own way rather than just absorbing yours, aren’t worth a damn, certainly not the record company’s money and time. And if that’s what you think, then you don’t deserve the fans that’ll pay to see you second time around.

There are exceptions. MBV are allowed to do it, because they never actually split up, Kevin Shields just went away for a very very long think, as is his wont, and what he came back with justified the wait. Faith No More are allowed because between their implosion and resurrection Mike Patton went and did all sorts of shit that ranged from the brilliant to the brilliantly baffling, and their live show does actually feel like a unabashed “class of 1992” reunion party, not a weakly justified attempt at defibrillating their careers. But fuck off Soundgarden, Neutral Milk Hotel (yeah, you heard), At the Drive In, Afghan Whigs (it hurts me to write that but rules is rules), Suede, The Postal Service (they can fuck off the first time round too). Fuck off Elastica, before you even think of reattempting it – actually, I liked your second record, and admittedly you were ahead of the present curve on the whole reunion game. But you’ve had your turn once and again, so don’t you dare come back for a third round. Fuck off Don’t Look Back, the ATP banner that has had a lot to do with this bad legacy, brought us to this musical “end of history” point, fans burbling excitedly about this week's reunion rather than new records or some unknown band in a back room in Putney who handed them their arses the night before. All of these bands; stop. Your industry is a false one, designed to wring more money out of a photocopy when, if you are artists at all, you should be writing the unwritten.

Oh, but the live show – bands you never got to see, finally playing for your delight like well-paid dancing monkeys – tough shit. That’s half the game, aching for bands just slightly before your time, waiting for your own turn, your own generation of heroes and invention, falling passionately upon the bands that arrive to set your imagination on fire, to the disgust of the olds who talk about who they’ve ripped off. You love 'em, right? See them while you can, and accept that nothing does or should last forever, least of all the quixotic and unstable union of a handful of kids with songs in their heads and urgency in their hearts.

I’ve paid my money to see some of these shows, and some were great, and some were a pointless endeavour that left me feeling as stupid as I absolutely should have done, because either way I was pissing away money on a dumb revival when I could have been buying records from the first time round or seeing a new group of adventurers take their first steps, fuck up, figure it out, all the thrilling shit that makes you follow young musicians in the first place, the ‘will they make it’ game, the hope you invest in your new idols and the bitterness if they fail (or worse, if they succeed but lose the spark of brilliance along the way). This is the story that we music fans all engage with, and the reunion culture makes an ugly mockery of it.

Don’t Look Back? You’re damn right.