Dry The River *1/2****
Arcane Roots ****1/2*
O2 Academy Shepherds Bush
1st November 2012
Bizarre one this. The screwball pairing of two hugely disparate bands. Both undeniably at the top, or at least well on the way to the top, of their respective games. One blitzkrieg, fireball busting with energy, vigour, thrust, polythrythms, riff bombs, complexity, nuance, vitality and originality. And the other a kind of crusty new country orchestra.
A half decent crowd had gathered by the time Arcane Roots took to the stage in what must be one of their biggest shows to date in terms of hall size at least. And they looked so at home it can only be a matter of time before they are regularly owning spaces this size and beyond.
However, once primed, the banging opening number leaves most of the crowd looking a tad bewildered. The jumpers, beards, sandals, sensible outdoor wear and hurredly hidden accountant’s garbed commune didn’t really know what to make of Mssrs Groves, Burton and Atkins. There were no mandolins, pianos, softly whispered, whistful prairie oratorios. Oh no. Just a fully erect, brutal, vein-bulging priapic throbber here; with the sole intent to violate.
The PA was, predictably choked back in the traditional pantomime ‘let’s not give the noisy support band too much help’ way and Burton’s atmospheric and supportive vocal screams, drones and harmonies were too high in the mix...
...it didn’t matter one iota. These boys ooze class. Their stagecraft is as lively, boisterous and energetic as their barrages of riffs, explosions and phenomenal musicianship. We are in the presence of superstars of the future. Doubtlessly.
Groves’s amazing voice cuts wonderfully over the dizzying patchwork of rhythms, beats, classically complex and gloriously complex yet spellbinding concoctions and compositions. There are samples of tasty new tuneage including the massive and brilliant Resolve and the instantly epic and anthemic Hell Or Highwater to accompany the mesmerising platter served from the astonishing debut mini long player ep thing, Left Fire. And, by the sound of it, a shift towards a slightly more melodic and dare I say commercially accessible flavour. Which seems to warm up the amassed MOR congregtion.
If you listen closely, you can hear the syncopated tightening of Dry The River’s collective quaking ringpieces back stage as they ponder, ‘What have we done? How the hell are we going to follow this?”. Well, they start by three or four of their number joining the Roots boys on stage for the always rousing and sublime Long And Low. Which brings the house down. Even the North Face wearing foldy bicycle-owning sensible crowd actually raised eyebrows, voices and spirits by joining in with the addictive refrain.
A stunning performance from a truly original and stunning band. Over to the quakers....
Dry The River *1/2****
I’ll be brief. Meh.
I’m struggling so hard with this. I’ve banged around the acoustic, folky scene for decades. Fallen asleep in Fairport Convention gigs (without even THC to blame). Been mesmerized by Richard Thomson. Seen John Martyn cast schmoove celestial spells close to 50 times. Sat in fields in Cherry Hinton watching jug bands and be assaulted by more mandolins than at a Lord Of The Rings pageant. What I’m trying to say, is that the whole ‘folky’ melodic, er, ‘nice’ thing is in my blood and happily cohabits in my being alongside rock and roll, jazz, experimental (though there are limits – Holger Czukay, you know who you are!) classical and punky metally noisy stuff.
But I’ve never been so bored in a gig. Never. Ok, Hawkwind at Chelmsford City Hall back in 1981 came close, but tonight Matthew, I’m bored, bored, bored.
Having happily consumed Dry The River’s solid if not dazzling album Shallow Bed, I was expecting some sort of alchemic pep-up for their live renditions. But it’s more painful than even Steely Dan live. What the assembled jumpers are treated to is a dot-for-dot, note perfect anodyne and sterile run through of the recorded work. Yes there’s obviously the odd diversion, including a brave ‘un-plugged’ version of Shaker Hymns, but overall, it lacks any oomph. A just of flaccid 40% lazy lob. No use to anyone but looks better than when at rest or coming out of a chilly shower.
They are a kind of boiled down prissy UK version of Arcade Fire with grains of the (inevitable comparison alert) ditty meisters Mumford and Sons thrown in for pastoral prog contemporaneity and hipster relevance. They are clearly wonderful, passionate musicians and Pete Liddle’s almost whispy alto is at times undeniably beautiful. But I really don’t get it.
The gathered faithful full house do though. With almost a religious fervour. At times, it’s like being at Greenbelt Festival or a Cliff Richard spectacular. Lots of Go Tell It On The Mountain happy clappy whoopy hollery love.
The amazing This Town Needs Guns next.
More tunes soon. Bwoooar.