Saturday, 9 March 2013

TOKOLOSH and Tosh - Live Review Wilmington Arms

TOKOLOSH *****HK119 1/2*****

The Wilmington Arms, Clerkenwell, 4th March 2013

Not been to the Wilmington arms before. But impressed by a decent sized room attached to a fantastic real ale pub. Even if it was full of achingly cool east London types.

So, what’s in store for the hipsters and dripsters tonight?

HK119 1/2*****

Having checked out tonight’s support on TwatterFace beforehand, it becomes apparent that HK119 is not a Heckler And Koch machine pistol, but the sobriquet of one Heidi Kilpeläinen - a London-based Finnish performance artist. And, she’s promising the audience the appearance of the ‘rarely seen’ human iceberg. Gulp.

This could be a joke...

Ok, a man walks into a pub...In a smock. With a viking beard. And settles behind a bank of synths and boxes of buttons. He’s joined by a statuesque woman sporting a shiny red accordian. They both stand surrounded by ivy and foliage (you ‘eard) while surreal and oh-so-arty dreamscape clips are projected onto the dingy walls.

Music, of sorts, starts as the ‘rarely seen’ human iceberg makes her way through the collection of beard-stroking coolites. I’m now very uncomfortable. Open minded. But definitely uncomfortable.

Wrapped in a what looked like a teenage boy’s week old bed sheet (you know, you have to break it over your knee to get it in the washing basket) and sporting a white prismic hat, Kilpeläinen takes to the stage.

To the background of retro 80s clunky and totally unsophisticated keyboard farts, bleeps, burps and pads she sets off into the first song. Coincidentally enough, about icebergs. And, to be honest; it’s awful. No, really awful.

The lyrics sound like a 12 year old girl’s first poetry attempt at simile and metaphor. So cringeworthy. So naiive. So, well, terrible.

And it really doesn’t get any better. Mild amusement ensues as she removes her rarely seen human iceberg hat to reveal another prismic pointy hat. This time in a William Morris-esque floral print to match her newly revealed slinky catsuit, having thrown off the boy protein-fortified bed sheet.

The polite chuckles continue apace, as for the next tune, Ms 119 removes the second pointy prismic hat to reveal: a bush. Yup, a full-on leafy bush thing. Growing out of her nordic blonde mane. 

She ‘plays’ a ukulele, blows into a tin whistle, hits one of those really annoying synth drums. Uses a voice distorter to sound like Darth Vader with bronchitis and ‘sing’ about worms eating her legs. I don’t remember mainlining meth or taking a fistful of goofballs this evening, but that’s what it feels like: curioser and curioser. But, sadly, no better. This is genuinely the soundtrack to a nightmare.

Saying that, the ‘rarely seen’ human iceberg can certainly sing. I just wish I wasn’t here to hear her. There are moments of Kate Bush, Bjork (inevitably and lazily), flashes of Nina Hagen and the meanderings and hollerings of Peter Hammill. But it just doesn’t work. The ‘songs’ are performances but not songs. But the performance is lame, lacklustre and undynamic. Music, but not musical. The ‘music’ being empty, derivative, unchallenging and flat. Worst of all, there’s a knowing, self-congratulatory, self-indulgent self-import imbuing the whole evening. If it is a joke it’s not in the least bit funny. If it’s serious, it’s seriously no good.

Ok, it’s harsh to apply the ‘normal’ musical rules of thumb when looking at something that clearly purports to go beyond music. And I may be a lone voice among the head bobbing hat and beard crowd tonight. But this is the emperor’s new bed sheet. A hideous confused bastard hybrid offspring of art school and old school. For the first time ever, I’m going to have to give nul points. Ok, maybe a half, just for the bush.


And breathe. Declaration of interest coming up: I love Liam Frost. No, not in that way. But having seen the young lad on dozens of occasions, solo, with the various shapes and sizes of The Slowdown Family and even with a record company rent-a-band, I am a definite (old) fanboy. 

His lyricism, his frailty, his beautiful playing. His bluff northern accent. His songsmithing. He has the whole package. But, for whatever reason, despite his ‘tipped for the top’ early industry enthusiasm, he failed to capture a bigger room of hearts than the Manc (nu)folk scene. A crying shame. But maybe, just maybe, given a couple of recent demos and even a stunning cover of a Frank Ocean song, more solo Mr Frost is on the cards.

Anyway, that’s largely immaterial tonight as we’re gathered her to worship at the altar of a new vehicle for Mr Frost and his Manc ‘supergroup’ buddies, the splendidly monikered TOKOLOSH.

TOKOLOSH ***** (Sound guy *****)

Having thankfully cleared the stage of leaves, weirdness and pretense (note to self, great prog album name), 5 down-to-earth looking lads take to the boards. But, talking of prog, it’s a stage that Caravan, ELP, Yes or The Nice would be happy with. Organs, banks of synths, wooden stuff, boxes of dials and flashing lights surround Mr Frost clutching his red semi acoustic centre stage.

And we’re off. Mercifully, back to live music. Proper music.

From the off, there’s a delicious tightness and real energy. But with a homely, raggedy edge. This is a poppy, rocky, country, indie, folky chowder with huge meaty chunks with delicate seasoning. Strong substantial, hearty flavours, subtle spices and surprising  ingredients. The most surprising of which is the dominance of keys.

In a world having recently veered back to guys (and girls) with guitars, it’s refreshing to see the humble keyboard taking a prominent position. But it’s important to point out, this is real keyboard playing. Not midi-triggered pads, sequencers, sampled loops, banal retro electronica (rearing its ugly head with awful momentum with 'cool' bands like Nightworks. Cringe.) Not bowel-evacuating dubsteppy sub wobs and brown notes: nope, this is the real deal. Not wandering triads; real playing. Fingers moving. Left and right hands doing different things. 

I joke about the prog, but there’s real and direct lineage from Iron Butterfly, Argent, Deep Purple, Moody Blues, The Doors and, of course Emerson Lake And Palmer on show tonight. Not necessarily in the actual music (no rambling 11 minute classically-infused wankfests here, thank the lord), but in the sounds, the vibe, the technique.

Saying that, there is a big BUT tonight. And a sad one. Both sets of  keys are so high in the mix, that it almost renders the rest of the band inaudible. I honestly don’t know what the sound engineer is up to. Initially, thinking it was a monitor spillage, I moved back but the keys were still far too dominant. To the end, it almost ruined a brilliant performance. Frost’s stunning voice was drowned out at times. His guitar reduced to an air-guitar prop.

However, what isn’t in doubt is the quality of both the songs and the performance. Being a newly hatched band, there’s not a huge collection to cull from, so all their publicly aired tuneage is on show tonight. And dazzlingly so. Highlights include the catchy and vaguely threatening Shapeshifter and the marvellous The Hollow. All performed flawlessly but not slavishly. 

Levels aside, this is a real hint of great things to come. TOKOLOSH are universal enough in appeal and genre to slot into shows across the board. Sitting (ironically, given all the electronic kit on show) comfortably at the acoustic side of things, but equally at home perched at the table of indie or even rock shows. There’s even enough originality and musical sophistication to share chambers with the alt rock brotherhood. Who knows, 2000 Trees or ArcTanGent could do a lot worse than getting these lads to do a turn. Just with a different sound guy.

Exciting, delicious and tantalising stuff. Can’t wait to hear what they come up with next. 

Here are a couple of their brilliant tunes. Enjoy:

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