Sunday, 28 April 2013

LTA with PMA. Live review of Lower Than Atlantis at Shepherd's Bush Empire.

Lower Than Atlantis ****1/2*
The Xcerts *****
Blitz Kids *****

Shepherd's Bush Empire Thursday 25th April 2013

Before I launch into a Freudian breakdown of tonight's patients, got to get a grumble out of the way. After catching a rather squiffy but remarkably entertaining Mike Foster at last year's excellent Burnout Festival, I was so looking forward to diving into the tortured corners of his whacked-out brain bin and grinning like a window-licking loon at his quirky, outrĂ© and oft acidic spoutings. But because of the stupidly slow service in Nando's, I missed the bastard. Grrrr. 

So, slightly miffed but reading for compensation, I stumble into the already sizeable pit to cast an analytic and diagnostic eye over Blitz Kids.

Blitz Kids *****
There's a  decent and enthusiastic welcome for these clean-cut North Westerners and they respond with a polished and competent set. The patient certainly shows signs of peacock-like outward projection with no signs of any self-confidence issues. Joe James leading the overt genital exhibitionism and conspicuous male courting dance with preening pomp and punch. 

However, the sound engineer displays clear basic competence issues and maybe the lack of any fucking ears. The sound throughout is muddy, sludgy, low-volume and, to be honest takes most of the lustre off the performance. James is no Ronnie James Dio, but his decent tenor-tinged vox are reduced to what comes over as a distant, indistinct bus drunk mumbling into his Tennant's-soused lousy beard.

To be fair, the songs are all reasonable enough, perhaps lacking huge hooks or refrains, there's beefy dropped tunings, slick harmonies (those you could actually discern!) tight musicianship; but the terrible sound emasculates the energy and enthusiasm and turns the whole thing into a bit of a flaccid let down. The crowd don't seem to mind too much though. After all, they're here to party. Just a bit of a shame.

Prognosis:  Highly proficient and well presented. Flamboyant. Extreme self-confidence. Positive, optimistic self-projection. Sexually active and attractive. 

Prescription: Continued programme of development of core songsmithery. Maybe try a dose of rougher aggression occasionally. Or organic scotch bonnet chilli administered to the penis end. A decent sound man. Or strong, corrosive ear drops. 

The Xcerts *****
Next into the surgery are the two thirds Caledonian, one third Devonian now Brightonian grungy, poppy, rocky, edgy beaty combo, The ever-excellent and always challenging Xcerts.

And thankfully they've brought with them a sound engineer with perfectly working inner ears. Hallelujiah! 

These guys are seriously one of the hardest working bands ever (the late JLS notwithstanding!). They appear to be on the road pretty much all year. Supporting big boys (Biffy among them), bad boys and playing bogs, fests, clubs, pubs, bars, halls and balls; they are the apotheosis of the true working band and the complete antithesis of the manufactured, cosmetically, lab-produced bland thin gruel that most of the world are force fed through industry-regulated drips and media-owned self satisfying, controlling canulas.

In short, and with due deference to tonight's headliners, they fuck it to the man. And some.

Tonight, they crunch through a brilliant and varied set as though it was their first show ever. There's not a whiff of road weariness nor hint of performing by rote. These boys continually play it like they mean it. 

Between classics like Do You Feel Safe, Slackerpop and Carnival Time there's even room for one or two brilliant newer tunes with one freshly out of their clever pop rock incubator.
Always difficult to classify (and to be honest pointless), there's always infusions, shots and blood bags of energy in every performance. 

There's a grungy core running through brilliantly constructed pop sensibilities with huge sounding guitar thrown into the centrifuge. The rhythms and heartbeat are strong and mesmeric and Murray McLeod's heavily Caledonian appeals, pleas and even laments are honest, heart felt and heart warming. 

The very young crowd tonight isn't as enraptured as it could be. More respectful. Watchful even. But they'll get it soon. As, hopefully, the rest of the world will too. This is grown up, sophisticated, proper pop rock at it's very finest. 

Prognosis:  Workaholic, obsessive, multiple character traits. Irrepressible energy. Seemingly quite straightforward, but further examination reveals multi-layered complexity and astounding intelligence. Latent intellectualism. Lots of hair. Even Jordan who's beginning to look like Don King in negative.

Prescription: There is no reason to prescribe anything new. This patient is in rude mental health. It's just the rest of the world who need acceptance therapy and eyes and ears opened forcibly. They'll learn; the fools.

Lower Than Atlantis ****1/2*
So, the moment arrives. The loveable rogues take to the stage behind a great billowy white curtain type thing. And, then, like the ceremonial removal of a veil of personal protection, it drops away like a concubine's silk undies and all is revealed. 

The adulation in the room is breathtaking. LTA have garnered an ardent and passionate following as they've developed from angry, often confused but always passionate and confrontational post-hardcore proto-punks into to a genuine world-class rock band.

Playing their largest ever headline show, Mssrs Duce, Hart, Sansom and Thrower are loving it. Opening with the poptacular Love Someone Else to pre-orgasmic howls and shrieks from the predominantly barely consent aged crowd, there are (to borrow a line from buddies Deaf Havana) Smiles all round. And so it continues.

Duce isn't perhaps at his most garrulous this evening, but clearly looks as happy as a sand boy in a sand pit on a beach in the desert on planet sand. Maybe the import and scale has got his normally unstoppable and lascerating tongue.

Unperturbed, the set continues a pace. Each track whipping the crowd closer and closer to climax. But it's not all radio-friendly toned-down poppiness for the scenies to dive and mosh into. There's real thought here. Nods to influences and the 'dirtier period' abound in coded and not-so-coded form. The anthemic and ball kicking Motorway of Life receives a lick of Smashing Pumpkins paint as an intro, there's a Queen at Live Aid/Jive Bunny mash up of older material cleverly woven into a bite-sized, arriviste-friendly serving including Taping Songs off The Radio, Face Full of Scars and The Juggernaut and even a blistering boiled down cover of Electric Six's Gay Bar. Clever, clever boys.

To add to the bizarre carnival atmosphere, there are loads of those big sponge hand things - but with the middle finger raised in defiance -  being sported in support of the Fuck It To The Man mantra. There's just such a wonderful, skew whiff and tilted irony watching two or three thousand young worshipping disciples continually giving their beloved band the bird.

Apart from all the pageantry and the overbearing musk of arousal, there's a great performance going on up on the altar. The musicianship is outstanding. Tight, on point but never sterile or aseptic. There's still a roughness. A readiness. A punkiness. Thank the lord.
And from his massively elevated Mayan Temple of a drum riser, Eddie Thrower produces a masterclass in control and is the brilliant and exquisite sutures keeping proceedings tightly together.

Amid all the fire, bile, boisterousness and brimstone, there are a couple of obligatory chill out, sensitive sections where Duce is more or less abandoned by his buddies to indulge in a genuine opening up of his personal insecurities and innate darknesses. Scared of the Dark is a beautiful and moving journey into his psyche. As are his eponymous Symphony no 11 in D Minor and the fabulous Another Sad Song, which is totally stripped bare and performed purely acoustically. The sing backs are louder than ever yet you can almost hear the rustle of hairs on necks and arms as they stand to attention. Moving and brilliant stuff.

Things finally end with the bouncy and buoyant Beech Like A Tree just to eke out any latent energy left in the satiated and spent crowd. Tonight marks another important stage in the development of LTA. A real potential turning point. Surely, on the strength of tonight's joyous and jubilant hoe-down the next step to world domination has moved an awful lot closer.

Prognosis:  Honest. Self-deprecating. Mildly aggressive and resentful revolutionary. Deep sorrow, insecurity and self doubt never far from the surface. Clear passion and projection. PMA. Perhaps. Not afraid to have fun but probably with a loaded gun or primed switchblade in the pocket. Waspish. Don't annoy these bastards. 

Prescription: More of the same. Just keep taking the stronger, darker medication alongside the happy pills . Don't water down at all. Ever.

Not that I'm going to do it for every gig, but here are a couple of vids shot on my iPhone from the pit while a little inebriated and than sketchily edited while massively and savagely hungover. They ain't Hugh Hudson or Ridley Scott, but hopefully transmit at least a modicum  of the frenzy, fun and energy from down the front.

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