Sunday, 13 April 2014

Citizen Arcane. Live Review of Classic Arcane Roots show at The Garage

Arcane Roots ****1/2*
Empress ***1/2**

The Garage, Highbury and Islington, Thursday 10th April 2014

Once upon a time a podgy man walked into a tiny mysterious dark and smelly room above a dirty tavern full of bearded trolls drinking intoxicating tinctures and drafts. 

The podgy man had gone to the tiny mysterious dark and smelly room above the dirty tavern to witness performances by several groups of miscreants and outsiders. Among them, a trio of ne’erdowells, one sporting a strong and almost magical beard.

They made noise. Intoxicating noise. Original noise. Fascinating and wonderful noise. There weren’t many other human folk in the tiny mysterious dark and smelly room above the tavern but those who were fortunate enough to be there smiled. Nodded. Indeed, many of their number headbanged. Oh there was mirth, love and joy.

After spending the next few years relentlessly following the shadowy trio in and out of mysterious dark and smelly rooms of many shapes and sizes, open smelly fields, magnificent smelly tents and even quiant, smelly farms in far away kingdoms, the podgy man had grown to love the trio of ne’erdowells.

A few harvests later, the podgy man finds himself in a massive mysterious dark and smelly room full to the brim with bearded, tattooed men, exotic women and digital marketing Hipsters from Spitalfields. Despite the digital marketing Hipsters from Spitalfields, the podgy man is happy. Very happy. In fact, the podgy man has a small tear or two in his podgy eyes as he considers the journey that the trio of ne’erdowells have made. 

Arcane Roots are only  bloody headlining at The Garage. 

Sadly, the podgy bloke was too busy getting podgier on meat products and intoxicating tinctures and drafts to get to the massive mysterious dark and smelly room in time for Boy Jumps Ship, but with fresh podge juice in hand, does manage to position himself in the middle of the massive mysterious dark and smelly room in time for Empress.

Empress ***1/2**
Mysterious, dark, sludgy, monstrous and intoxicating riff potions, gases and grenades infused with essence of prog, Intronaut-like intricacy and Mastodonesque magic spill and spit forth from the stage. And the bearded hordes seem to readily fall under it’s heady influence. Eyes shut, heads bobbing, devilish symbols raised. 

There is a joyous anachronistic tinge too this heady rite. The ghosts of 70s power pre-grunge prog are invoked, you can almost smell patchouli oil and Moroccan Black. But far from being a backward looking homage to desert boot staring and velvet loons, there’s a relevance and modernity to Empress’s booming, meandering, riff-heavy work that underpins all the sludge and mist with edge.

The only slight criticism is that many of the tunes appear to be constructed around similar keys and meters so you get the feeling you’re caught in the middle of a wandering 4 and a half hour song or, perish the thought, a concept portmanteau piece. Whatever, this podgy man, fortified with podge potion finds it all splendidly intoxicating.

Arcane Roots ****1/2*
It really does bring a lump to the podgy old throat to see one of London’s most venerable and important venues sold out and filled to it’s bursting teats for Surrey’s fab three. 

And as the drone that traditionally kicks off all recent Arcane Roots shows booms out over the gawping, expectant beards and weirds, the excitement reaches incendiary levels.

Then the intrepid trio burst on to the stage and let loose all hell. Well, the brilliant and stadium-friendly, soon to be released single Over And Over at least. A bold and clever move but one that pays off immediately. Despite the song only having been available to the great unwashed for less than 24 hours (thanks to the good people at Q magazine), the sing backs are incredible. 

Even though this is certainly no teeny audience and appears to be made up of predominantly slightly older and wiser musos, heads, industry types and more discerning cognoscente, the lyrics seemed to have been learnt in lightning time and delivered back with the fervour normally reserved for You Me At Six and the like. Spellbinding.

However, before I get too carried away, it is noticeable that the sound in the massive mysterious dark and smelly room is far from perfect at the beginning of tonight’s proceedings (would have been one of the most definite and clearest of 5 star reviews otherwise). 

For a band that pride themselves on producing such hi-fi sophistication, either the venue, the sound man, the front of house rig or a combination of the three have let them down. Which is unforgivable. If the bloke twiddling the knobs really is bouncing off the limiter as he seems to be protesting, then he really should adjust accordingly. 

OK, Empress had a much bigger backline, but their sound was clearer, louder and more defined. If the FOH is not up to the job, then sound blokey is somewhat forgiven, but Andrew Groves’ brilliant guitar playing and soaring vocals deserve to be heard.

Anyway, slight moans and whinges aside,the jubilant crowd don’t seem to be affected at all by any apparent sonic shortcomings and the amazing set continues apace. Cruising through a delicious collection of massive tunes culled from 2013’s phenomenal Blood & Chemistry album mixed in with sizzling blasts from Left Fire era including the coruscating Million Dollar Que$tion, Long And Low seamlessly segueing into the full blooded full version of Habibty, the trade mark house bringer down, You Are and even a stunning unknown song. New one? Cover? Who knows, as the normally garrulous Mr Groves hardly utters a peep between songs tonight - maybe he’s as overawed as most of us in the the massive mysterious dark and smelly room are.

To be fair to the man in the booth, the sound does appear to get better (could be the intoxicating brews and drafts though - weed bombs? Really? Three quid. Whatever the hell they are) and the crowd, while getting hotter and hotter and more and more animated are voraciously sucking up every atom. A couple of tecchy issues aside, the band have never played a better set and (despite the mildly sub optimal initial sound) tonight’s amazing performance truly plonks themselves at the very top of the British Rock tree.

They really are now getting some serious momentum and building up a broader and wider fan base of converted acolytes. It feels like their time. Their sound is wonderfully stadium friendly without pomposity, indulgence or needless woo oos and vacuous radio friendly smarm. It is seriously sophisticated and dazzling music, flawlessly played but never sterile or studio dot-for-dot perfect. There's real soul. Fantastic chemistry between the three of them, stunning musicianship and a genuine air of impending superstardom. The Zeppelin of the next generation? Why the hell not. 

Resolve brings the main set to a fevered end with it’s intestine-wrenching riff and the wonderful sing along to You Keep Me Here sends the throng out onto the streets of the ancient kingdom of Norf London feeling dazed, sated and safe in the knowledge that the shadowy trio led by its magical strong bearded angelic-voiced wizard will surely be playing larger and larger mysterious dark and smelly rooms and even huge fuck off smelly stadia in the very near future. Where we’ll all live happily ever after. 

Yeah verily.

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