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, 15 May 2013
Teeth of the Sea are playing a birthday party.