Sunday, 3 August 2014

There they go. Live review of Lower Than Atlantis at Dingwalls 31/07/14

Lower Than Atlantis *****

Dingwalls, Camden, 31st July 2014

There are some shows you look forward to for ages. You wait patiently as the tour swings along and suffer mildly jealous pangs as mates, journos, the bands themselves post pics, vids, tweets and head farts about the awesome show in Stoke or the high jinx in downtown Cardiff.

Well, tonight is one of those nights. The expectation has been building since what feels like when the last king was alive. Yup. Last night of the tour. In the capital. In the venerable old sweat bunker nestled in the tummy fat of Camden market that is Dingwalls.

And, it must be said, a disparate and interesting bill of fare is laid out in front of us. Librarycore, Pop Punk and, well, who knows what LTA are at the moment (or, more pressingly what they're about to become).

So, first up are the librarycore lads of the always splendid Yearbook.

A decent sized gathering has already hauled its bits and bobs into the gloomy guts of NW1 as the quirky quartet chuck a blistering and sassy set into their gawping faces culled from their brilliant EP Old Bones and sprinkled with two or three old favourites from a bit further back.

And, as always, they sound on the bloody money. Choppy time signatures, big hooks, tight harmonies, counterpoint, syncopation, colon cleansing bass drops, stunning stickwork, searing vocals underlined by waspish and slit-eyed roars, screams and pain-fuelled yells. A crackling and cracking mix of outré and off-beam mischief with the rock spine of a brontosaurus.

All brilliant, BUT and it is a concerning BUT. This band aren't at all right for the mainly pre-pubescent, dip-dyed, nose ring-touting, emo teeny school assembly who've monopolised the barrier and the first dozen or so rows of tonight's prom.

Not right. Not right at all. They play intelligent, challenging, thought-provoking and angular music that feels like it should be being lapped up by a far more discerning and, dare I say older, audience. File alongside Brand New, La Dispute, Manchester Orchestra, Reuben - you get the picture.

Young as these tyros are, their music is sophisticated way beyond their callow years and seems somehow their youth is, well, wasted on the youth.

Fabulous stuff though. Even though, stoically, Brooker played most of the tour with a busted finger. Ooh ya kipper.

I have to admit, I have a love hate relationship with what is lamentably labelled pop punk. While bands like Gnarwolves, Shockmaster and the sadly defunct Real Adventures lead (and led) the way in unashamedly challenging and mutating the DNA of the genre but leaving traces of obvious traits and common chromosomes, bands like Decade, along with de jour acts like Neck Deep and Brawlers seem to be happy trying to simply propagate the genre through selective, reductive breeding. The old defy/define argument I suppose.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot right about all of the aforementioned, but it's all getting a bit, well, meh.

Decade do, however possess something fairly original in their oeuvre; amazingly tight harmonies and some bloody fabulous melodies - it's just the palm muted Offspringesque chugs followed by amphetamine laced spider fingered ascending and descending arpeggio-soused riffs doesn't go anywhere new. 

Ok, that may not be a problem to both the band, led cheerily and energetically by frontman Alex Sears (whose looking uncannily more and more like the bastard son of Dan Lancaster and Eddy Vedder), and the jumping grinning school assembly here tonight, but it just leaves you feeling a bit like you've opened a nice bottle of wine and found it's full of lager. It'll get you there, but lacks any true originality or challenge to the palate.

Drinkable and giddying stuff, but all a bit Fosters. Apart from the harmonies, which were definitely off north facing slopes from a damn fine year. 

Lower Than Atlantis *****
So, to the main course. Tantalised and lubed by the contrasting starters of the nascent sophistication of Yearbook and the grungy Tennant's Super Brew imbued Decade, the absolutely rammed Dingwalls goes off its collective mammaries as the drop C kick-in-the cock thudding riffage of the latest radio friendly and, simply brilliant Here We Go opens Proceed-ings (ahem).

And this sets up a vexed question straight from the off. Where are they going? Ok, as the sweat inducing partyfied set seduces and caresses the nether regions of everyone attending, it's apparent that this is a crucial time for this band.

From their first rough 'n' ready, energetic and punk/hardcore/indie offerings (FarQ, Bretton etc), it's obvious that they're a super talented band. 

Mike Duce's lyrics on the whole ( lest not mention the, er, less than Tom Waits ish 'come and have a go' bridge in Here We Go - oops, too late) are among the very best of his generation. Always open-heartedly and self-punishingly honest. The band's playing is deceptively technically superb and Duce's voice possesses a quality and an originality most warblers would die for. BUT, where next?

As I say, the set is mesmerising and energised by the choice of sticking to smaller cap venues. The oldies, the really oldies and the more recent offerings from Changing Tune all have a satisfyingly familiar and comfortable vibe and every word is yelled back by the infatuated and enthralled throng. But then another new one, English Kids in America is dropped like the second h-bomb on this evening's Nagasaki.

So hooky, so poppy, so smart, sexy, instantly memorable and hummable. Is this the portent of where they're really going?

It's clear that a certain Mr Daniel Lancaster has had more than a finger or two of influence in the recent output (co producer/mixer on the eagerly awaited self-titled new long player). But, is it a gamble to take an edgy, grumpy, grungy, but ultimately hugely well-loved  bunch of miscreants and move them so far towards sassy pop rock sophistication in one lurch?

Pop rock (if that's actually a thing) is clearly far more appealing to a wider audience therefore potentially much more rewarding fiscally, but it's becoming a crowded market place. Ironically thanks in no small way to the genius of Lancaster himself: Mallory Knox, Don Broco, those annoying bastard Aussie kids off the cover of Rocksound and soon, Mr Luke Friend

Great melody has always been near the surface of LTA's word, but so has sarcasm, malevolence, self-doubt, nihilism and attitude. Let's hope the future manages to mix those potentially explosive and reactive elements and make something truly mind blowing.

On the face of it and hearing the evidence so far (Here We Go, English Kids in America and the recently slipped out but catchier than the clap, faux-live Ain't No Friend), it looks like they could well pull it off.

Tonight's show cements LTA as one of the best live bands around and they've seldom sounded better, and after a spine tingling version of Another Sad Song, where everyone from the venue's cranium to its rectum sings back every single word (check out the vid below!) and the apt paean to touring Motorway Of Life, tonight's show ends with a bog roll festooned love in at the hands of the guys from the tour supports.

And as the final chords of Beech Like The Tree crackle and decay into the soggy and loved up room, it's clear no one really cares too much about where they're going. They've come such a bloody long way already.

Be interesting to find out though.

Great show. Great band. Let's hope for an even greater future.

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