Chris Cornell: Louder Than Love

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Grunge was the last great analogue movement of 20th century music (Britpop apologists can line up to the left; I’ll fight you in a minute), and Chris Cornell and his band, Soundgarden, were the best thing to come out of that movement. Nirvana made a bigger impact, there’s no debate to be had, but where Cobain was a blunt instrument swung by corporate muscle that never really understood him, Cornell was a diamond-tipped drill wielded by seemingly no one, a powerful force of emotive precision that was as potent as it was unknowable. His multi-octave banshee howl whirred like an engine full of wasps, and his opaque songwriting was full of evocative imagery meant for no one but himself. Despite his impenetrable personal fog, Cornell, with help from Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Hiro Yamamoto, Scott Sundquist and Ben Shepherd, took an explicitly anti-pop hybrid of punk and metal and found success. Money rolled in, tours rolled out, and the group produced some of the loudest noise popular music has ever heard.

They were always a serious band. When they toured with Guns ‘n’ Roses right when Badmotorfinger came out, the Gunners called them “frowngarden”. Grunge was built around an anti-personality agenda, so hair-metal acts like GnR were anathema to Chris and his crew. That didn’t mean that grunge rockers were mopey, self-serious and blank – quite the opposite. To the outside world, they were fringe-dwelling losers that sought solace in music, which is not far from the truth. In reality they were just kids that welded their personalities to their guitars and their drum kits rather than create elaborate identities out of costumes and ego. They hid their insecurities behind feedback and substance abuse, keeping warm using flannel shirts found in abundance in Seattle thrift stores. The scene was essentially comprised of a large network of friends and associates that needed an out. They were bored, idle and talented. Some more than most. Enter: Chris Cornell.

Chris was initially a drummer. Driving to a gig with his friends, Scott McCullum (Skinyard) and Eric Garcia (his future assistant), Chris told them he was serious about singing. After first seeing Matt Cameron play with a band called Feedback, he knew definitively that his place was in front of the kit, not behind it. He watched Matt play from the sidewalk, Cameron’s back to the street behind glass, and decided that that was what a drummer was supposed to sound like. His own talents lay elsewhere.

Pick up any record and play any song from their impressive catalogue: what the fuck else was Chris ever going to do? His voice was one in a million. He had the preternaturally androgynous range of hair metal heroes like Axl Rose, Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson, and the throaty, fine-grained, sandpaper-like texture of a guy used to hanging out in bars all his life (adult and otherwise). In short, he had talent, and the credibility of a “working class” rocker that others in the North West were drawn to.

Chris lived with Hiro Yamamoto, a base player Kim Thayil played with in a band called the Shemps, as well as a long forgotten group called the Altered. They bounced around together until the three of them planted the seeds of what was to grow into Soundgarden. What was different from the very beginning was that they all got along. Chris was quiet and considered when he wasn’t behind the mic, and an unselfish performer that thrived in the communal atmosphere of a band blazing with optimism and potential. Club shows came and went, and inevitably a record deal was thrown at them. The rest you can do your own homework for.

For me, my first taste came via a mix tape from a friend in early high school. Somewhere in the middle, 4th of July was on there, a heaving, sluggish monster from their colossal fourth album, Superunknown. Its chugging down-tuned menace rolled its way through my skull, and the snarling blues lick it hinges on dug its hooks in deep. It has as much to do with Thayil and Cameron as it does Cornell, but he was the guy up front. His was the voice that seemed to contain the chaos, keeping it on a tight leash. Superunknown is full of songs like that. It’s unstoppable. They recorded the maximum amount of music capable of storing on a CD without making it a double album (something the Pumpkins couldn’t resist). It’s loud and angry, a snarling frothing beast all jacked up and glistening with sweat. It’s also incredibly well produced. A healthy amount of cash courtesy of A&M gave them everything they needed to do what they wanted. The return on investment was solid: 9 million copies and counting.

As for me, Superunknown became a keystone album. Cornell’s wailing on songs like 4th of July and Let Me Drown was like no one else. It was elemental. He could level trees with the higher registers and melt butter with the lower. He was at home on songs like the proto grunge kicker Hands All Over as he was on epic metal ballads like Like Suicide. Where bands like Nirvana sounded like something you could achieve yourself with enough spare time (that was where they got their power – their relatability), Chris made Soundgarden seem like the end point, the apex of musical expression, something unachievable without some freakish God-given talent. That made him, and his band, something better than us, something that made you feel powerful somehow. By listening to them, and by forming a relationship with them, their power was your power. They sounded fearless and strong, and Chris was the guy that seemed to physically manifest everything they sounded like.

He was not without his demons. The way he told it, he had abused drugs in some form since his early teens. The scene itself was rife with heroin abuse. Not that that was his drug of choice, but the forces that drove others to it must have been felt by him as well. Andy Wood, a guy key to grunge’s inception, was one of the scene’s first high profile deaths related to substance abuse. The Mother Love Bone front man was a close friend of Chris. Later, when others fell (Kurt Cobain among them), Chris simply moved onwards and upwards. Soundgarden burned out after Down On The Upside, and Chris moved on to Audioslave, an alt rock supergroup. In time, that ran its course too. He continued to make music, eventually reforming Soundgarden, picking up the pieces and putting them back together, shouting down the naysayers in the process.

Through all this though, he retained everything. Rather than lose himself to tasteless histrionics and shitty behaviour, he always let his voice carry the weight. It was more than enough. You could hear everything in that voice. It was furious, the way a volcano is furious. Not in a human way that’s directed at others, but a natural force of power and momentum. It was seductive, in a way that something nebulous and primal can be seductive when it glides up the right nerves in your brain.

And now it is gone.

I’m sorry you felt you needed to leave, Chris. You’ve given us so much. We have no way of repaying you. I’ll put on Superunknown tonight for the thousandth time. It’s a start.

 

 

 

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Vale Giger

H.R. Giger is dead. For a man who dealt with such strange visions, death seems almost trivial.

Giger was a Swiss artist. The spectacular results of his feverish communion with our collective subconscious was directly responsible for one of science fiction’s greatest creations: the Alien. It’s a Freudian nightmare, a fusion of insect, man, woman and machine that refuses to adhere to any given paradigm, save its own, much like all of Giger’s art. It is a fine representative of Giger’s sensibilities, and a wonderfully seductive and potent gateway drug to the rest of his work.

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The Alien, Necronom IV, was arguably his only fully formed idea. It was fleshed out after being chosen by Ridley Scott as the beast for his film in 1979. It was given a full life cycle, something that had never been approached before, even for human protagonists. It was both a creature and a concept that could be felt at an intuitive, animal level as being completely other. It did not relate to any form of biology we think about. There was a sinister sexual element to it that could not be ignored, and at its core it seemed like a violation of natural law. It felt cold and terrifying and yet there was a very human aspect to its aesthetic that stirred up feelings in your mind that refused to submit to reason. It was familiar.

Giger’s work repeated this theme, in various forms. He essentially created the term biomechanical in relation to art. His art fuses organic matter (usually human) with strange machines of unknown function, blackened pipes leading from and connecting to orifices both conventional and venal. Fanged mouths rimmed by voluptuous lips caress luminous surfaces of sleek grey metal (or perhaps mucous?). Incredible landscapes of titanic bones form organic architecture, and stormy skies threaten strange creatures as they writhe underneath them.

Yes, his art is dark, but not in a morbid way. Death is not his focus at all. Instead his art strikes at the core of us as sentient beings aware of the powerful duelling forces of primal sexuality and “enlightened” techno-fluency. We are unable to properly define or control either one, and Giger reacted by merging the two in astonishing ways.

His popularity peaked after the success of Alien (and subsequently Alien 3), and he was offered design work for a Hollywood system starved of true originality. Jodorowsky’s infamous Dune adaptation saw some wonderful interpretations of Arrakis’ giant sandworms and a few vehicle designs created before the whole project was scuttled in favour of a (relatively) more accessible version by a young David Lynch. Joel Schumacher’s Batman sequel reached out to Giger to re-imagine the Batmobile, before a more restrained version was settled on.

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B-movie creature feature Species from 1995 (Roger Donaldson directing) was the last original big screen creation Giger was responsible for directly. It featured a woman with alien DNA transforming into one of Giger’s nightmare creatures, but failed to fully resonate to an audience lured with the promise of a naked Natasha Henstridge.

The world was, and still is, not ready for him. His work is too uncomfortable for too many people. It forces us to confront ideas and concepts we have been trained to supress, and whilst I am not afraid (in fact I’m proud) to name him among those I feel are the most important artistic minds of the last 100 years, even I’m not ready to hang one of his pieces on my wall (at least not in a common space).

That he is gone is sad, but largely irrelevant. His body of work is formidable, and is there for us to explore when we are brave enough. His work upsets us and it fascinates us, and is as ugly as it is beautiful. You will find little in the way of fanfare or detail in his obituaries given the nature of his art, but his work resonates from a quiet patient place, waiting in the dark for us to find it.

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How I Learned To Stop Worrying (about logic) and Love Prometheus.

Since I saw Prometheus opening night it’s been bouncing around my head, thus far avoiding some solid pen and paper time. Maybe I’m subconsciously afraid that if I lay it all out the individual threads won’t go back together. Well, it turns out they don’t, but despite now having a bundle of loose threads in my lap, they’re very long threads, and very pretty, and cool to play with. This one’s for plot. This one’s for character (a little shorter), and this long thick one here is the aesthetic thread. If you follow it it joins up with another few films you’re probably familiar with. There’s a whole bunch of others that deal with semiotics and mise-en-scène and oooh there’s a nice one – that’s for score – and… hang on… shit. Lost it again. No idea what this one is. Ok, the clumsy point i’m stumbling towards is that Prometheus is a complex film with enormous ambition that fails to match it with the patience and writing skill necessary for it to make sense. Like, narratively, logically, symbolically or anything. But Jesus – it just felt so goddam right. And surely that counts for something.

Let’s look at the plot first (spoilers OBVIOUSLY). Megacorp Weyland Industries spends trillions on a ship and maybe 20 people. These super pros shoot off into the deepest of space to check out what they believe to be the cosmic cradle of life only to have the mission meet some, er, difficulties. The first thing one thinks after the whole thing goes down is a trillion dollars should’ve bought them out of at least half the shit that went wrong, from concept to execution. Essentially it comes down to a staffing issue. I’m guessing most of the dough was spent on fuel, ‘cause the staff they bought, sparing the Captain, the Pilot, the Android and the Final Girl, were either work experience kids, bi polar, or both.

The plot has a direction and momentum, but the choices that lead us there and the characters that we have to spend time with making those choices are slightly confusing at best, teeth-pullingly frustrating at worst. A geologist gets lost in a recently explored cave system, despite having mapped it that afternoon with flying GPS droids.A biologist, having just been scared off by fossilized remains finds the prospect of petting a clearly dangerous, clearly alive penis cobra arching out of black goo seem like just a super cool thing to do. These are only two glaring fuck ups among many. Not just bad choices, but downright baffling choices run riot throughout the screenplay, eating away at our confidence in the filmmakers as the minutes progress. It’s a race against time as the currency they build up in the beginning drains at roughly the same speed as the rubbish being shoveled on top rises.

But what a beginning.

Some people were just destined to share their visions with the rest of us mouth breathers, to have their dreams and nightmares trapped by crude machines and thrown onto the largest canvases man can provide. Ridley Scott is one such person. To paraphrase Roy Batty, an old friend of his, he’s seen things you people wouldn’t believe. He shows us glimpses of future worlds of robotic gods and primeval fear given flesh, of murder for love and honour; heroism and nihilism, sometimes holding hands. He has a preternatural eye for composition and beauty and can frame things in such a way as to give even a clump of soil poignancy. Prometheus if nothing else is a triumph of visual imagination and execution. It’s looks gorgeous, and stands as a powerful example of why cinema matters as a format for visual storytelling. The opening scene alone is head and shoulders above the empty, roided-up action figure adverts they call films these days (fuck you GI JOE). A thirsty camera glides over the veins of an anonymous river system cutting through a wide empty landscape. Scott has given Earth a skin, already old and wrinkled. A lone figure, a porcelain Adam, looks out over a waterfall gouging out a stony cauldron below, the river drawing the water away in a surging torrent. The figure swallows a cup of black liquid, and painfully (but willingly) dissolves into the water, flicking over the first domino of life on this planet. It’s a wonderful sequence that promises intent and ability, from both a practical and thematic viewpoint, but sadly doesn’t fully deliver on it.

Shortly after, we get to hang out with the film’s secret weapon, David, for 15 glorious minutes. It’s awesome. I could totally watch an entirely dialogue-free film about David. While the crew are still asleep, he roams the empty, softly-lit hospital corridors of the quiet ship, stopping to pick up stray flecks of dirt he comes across. He learns languages. Like, all of them. He studies Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (hence his appearance). He plays some hoops. He spies on dreams. It should be noted that the achievement here is all on the shoulders of Michael Fassbender, one of his generation’s most important actors. He’s come a long way since Joel Schumaker’s Nazi/zombie/occult film Blood Creek such a short time ago. His performance in Prometheus is incredibly subtle and nuanced; the icy precision he exhibits in word and deed are just enough to appear artificial – exactly how the perfect android should be. It’s hard to take your eyes off him, even in the most ridiculous moments late in the film.

The crew awake and immediately things take a step down. Weirdly hostile socially retarded geologist punk is the first to raise my ire, and that’s followed by his stupid sidekick/antagonist hipster biologist man. Remember that Far Side with the deer with the huge bullseye birthmark? Yeah. These two. Die already. Scrappy dialogue is swapped around by all and sundry before they’re being briefed by Noomi Rapace and Diet Tom Hardy about similarities in ancient earthbound cultures and how they’re here to find out what the deal is. It goes wrong. What follows contains giant squids, mechanical self-abortion, bad old-guy makeup, a gorgeous star map that makes your glow in the dark stickers look like crap, and a zombie on PCP.

Ok, so here’s the central Big Idea thrown down that fails to take root in the writer’s mind. It’s a fantastic premise, a Chariot of the Gods style mythbusters that sees humanity’s curiosity daring to knock on heaven’s door to ask questions we can barely articulate to beings we can scarcely imagine. It’s wrapped up neatly by David (of course). He asks why he was created, to which the reply is “because we could do it”, to which his reply back is “wouldn’t you be a little disappointed if you got that answer?” Creationism! Responsibility! Consequence! Sentience! The shitty possibility of Divine Rejection! It’s multi-ball time!! But, like pinball, it’s totally up to us to try and work with them and hold on to them while we make sense of them. It’s flattering that Lindelof thought we’re grown up enough to figure it out all by ourselves, but Jesus, give us something! Anything! We’re busy dealing with shitty dialogue and messed up plotlines to worry about grinding down uber-concepts like these! Gah!

Ok, this being a review and not a psychological autopsy of the writer (I’ll let Film Crit Hulk do that), let’s get back to it.

The tone the film maintains for most of its running time is pitch-perfect. Early on it’s the joy and wonder of discovery. The excitement of revealing something so important and so fundamentally new is carried by the characters, by the score and subsequently by us. It’s exciting to watch the scientists have their few moments of joy. They let the energy overwhelm them and it’s palpable. When they head inside the large alien structure (which incidentally uses HR Giger’s original design for a forgotten Dune production that never saw the light of day) dramatic irony combines with great set design and a really nice score to build a sense of dread. It’s potent and all consuming, but not too loud. You can still feel their excitement at finding a huge head gazing over sinister looking cylinders, despite the fact you know all too well what they represent.

From here it all goes wrong, for the characters and for us. Out the airlock goes common sense and logic. People start dying. Badly. We start getting confused. Easily. The actors act the hell out of everything and try their darndest to polish a leaden script they were surely duped into thinking was solid gold by the prospect of working with Ridley and the douche that wrote Lost. The pace is fine and builds to a suitably epic climax (again, leave logic at the door) and sets it all up for another prequel to Alien. A sequel-prequel. We’re through the looking glass, people.

Despite the outrageous glitches in human understanding concerning death and how to avoid it, the film is still incredibly effective. The horror elements are horrifying (the Operation will go down as a classic scene). The excitement is exciting. The humour is funny. The wonder is wonderful. The ideas are herculean in design. It gets it right, somehow, despite the best efforts of the writer to sabotage everything. It feels right.

And look, any blockbuster a studio (Fox of all studios) puts out there that generates this much intelligent, passionate, important discussion concerning not just the way the film works and doesn’t but the huge concepts supporting it is alright in my book. This discussion is ongoing. Respected blogs still speculate wildly on meaning and symbolism and critics have gone back for second and third bites at the apple in an attempt to bring a cohesive opinion to the table. This may go down as one of the best failures ever made.

On final reflection it’s a credit to the film if I relate it back to the ideas at its core. It’s a beautiful, important creation, but deeply flawed, and may turn on its creators. More care must be taken next time, or another outbreak of stupid bi-polar scientists might occur and infect the innocent movie-going public. More David, less Diet Tom Hardy.

I don’t know art…

I recently came across a pair of kids posting the latest installment in a DIY music review series they shot in what is surely the basement of one of their parents’ houses. Despite their complete lack of contextual knowledge of the album they were reviewing (Scuba’s latest, Personality) I loved it. Every line they were throwing at me, every bad analogy, every misplaced reference and the mind-blowing ignorance of the (well-established) genre they were exploring – I totally bought it. After reading the steady stream of comments below the video it was clear I wasn’t the only one. They were fearless young spelunkers with nothing but second hand caving equipment, dodgy headlamps and NO MAP and I was happy to follow them into the gaping maw just to see what happened.

After a dizzying eight minutes or so I felt I had gleaned a valuable insight into the mind of “the other team”, the great unwashed that go about life blissfully unaffected by sub-sub-sub genres and textural dynamics and post-whatever movements (and apparently even techno). They wander through the cultural ether and bump into chunks of foreign matter, reacting in unpredictable ways. It’s a cool thing to watch, and despite not even knowing an entire lexicon exists for articulating why they like/dislike what they’re listening to, they do their best with what they’ve got. The result is a happy accident that pierces the heart of what they’re reviewing despite not saying anything that knowledgeable listeners would recognise. They’re honest, and honesty is endearing when harnessed for the powers of good.

So what happened that made it great? Well, primarily, they were enthusiastic. Music deserves enthusiasm. It demands it. If you yield to this simple premise then music becomes more than the sum of its parts. A notable Australian music critic recently said to me if you like a record go nuts about it. If you don’t like it, give it hell. There’s no room for fence sitting, and these guys break out the flamethrower and send the fence to Hades.

In short, I doubt I could review the album better than they could. Sure, I enjoy a fairly broad knowledge of what I’m writing about, or could at least convince most people that I do, but they trump my crude, pseudo-hipster scribbling with the brutal power of conviction and a GINGER BOWL CUT.  

The Record Store Is Dead! Long Live The Record Store!

Years ago, even for the casual consumer, the thrill of following releases from rumour to write up in your favourite magazine or newspaper resulted in the triumph of finding it shiny and new on the shelf. Destiny had ordained that this copy be lovingly pressed and packaged (by robots in a factory) and shipped for you and you alone. A bead of sweat traces a path down next to your eye as you rub your stubble and carefully assess the cd (is it a digipack? or even more problematic – a double album jewel case with a heavy booklet…). You adjust your bag of sand accordingly and with a single smooth motion snap up the cd and leave the bag in its place, enormous boulder undisturbed. Sure, my record store was probably heavier on theft than yours, but on the plus side they stocked an awesome range of punk records and the only copies of the QOTSA/Beaver split EP I’ve seen before or since.

This wonderful process never lost its appeal to me. Even if I didn’t get a huge buzz out of the music and it was quickly sent to the salt mines of the “don’t feel like listening to that today” pile and never heard from again, that first feeling when I opened the case and pressed play never ever diminished: this may just be the best record I’ve ever bought. Before The Internet all you had to go on was either your knowledge of the artist, or the whiskey-fueled rants of someone older and wiser whose job it was to listen to music all day and write about it.

The record store played a big part of that. It was a haven for people that felt the same way, and there was a secret reality that bubbled away underneath the counter: they dealt in anticipation, not just CDs. You could get a fix for just $25. For those that really wanted to dance with the devil there were always second hand stores. You weren’t just dicing with the very real possibility that you were going to buy something sub-par, but there might not be anything in there to buy at all. Every other day you’d be scanning the new releases with terminator precision and drive, picking out new additions and quickly judging their worth. The next step would be feverishly flicking through the letter sections for that missing debut or Japanese edition you’ve been searching for. No luck? There’s always something else way down your list of priorities if you’re just looking to complete your collection. You just never knew what that might be until you had it in your hands.

People have been collecting books and music in a tangible form for the better part of a century. After going about our business hunting and collecting our prizes in the same way since, like, forever, we stand at a crossroads. The unstoppable digital juggernaut of online commerce has brought irreversible change to every conceivable arena of buying and selling. From bobby pins to NASA spare parts, the way we perceive goods and services and how to get our grubby hands on them has shifted. Since the physical effort has been taken out of buying something to the point that (in theory) you need not leave your couch to do it, the ritual of cultural consumerism has been eviscerated. Its still-beating heart has been cut out and then sold it back to us conveniently packaged, and at a reduced cost. There’s no sense of achievement, no risk, no reward. You don’t have to actually search for a good record store anymore. You no longer need to expand your internal mapping system to include the information needed to get there each time and so the relationship you build with a certain area of town can be undermined as well. Couch shopping via the net means maximum access matched only by maximum content, at the expense of the cultural experience.

What’s interesting is that there is a slow but steady resurgence of a yearning for the human element to return. Communities and collectives based on niche interests are popping up everywhere like mushrooms after rain and it’s in this way record stores (and book stores) will find their feet again in this brave new economy. They’ll be smaller, they’ll be specialised and they’ll be a direct link to the culture they’re promoting and peddling. They’ll sell the records of tiny bands that might not be selling their work anywhere else. That group will then play there on a regular basis at the numerous evening showcases the shop will put on, catering for the local crowd only, featuring local bands/djs/musicians. It’ll encourage local support and shift money through hands in a cyclical fashion between locals only. It’ll be a village mentality that will spread all over, fueled by necessity. It costs too much to be bigger than that and it’s too complicated, squeezing out the enjoyment of owning a record store to make room for the enjoyment of making money.

There’ll always be an online presence that allows access to music from, say, Zambia, or Newfoundland, but there will always be robust communities of people willing to make the effort to keep the pilot light on for organic musical commerce. It’s not dying, it’s changing. And that’s really exciting.

Stereovisionary presents: M83 live at the Metro. Feb ’12

It’s amazing how popular M83 have become since releasing their magnificent opus Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming last year. When the buzz from taste-makers filters all the way down to “Video Hits” street level for a band that ostensibly deals in shoegaze, they’ve done something different, something special to penetrate the various strata and hit some common nerve that folks who respond to music (even superficially) can’t ignore.

For most of its running time it’s hard to understand the lyrics. That the music is painfully dramatic is an easy argument to follow. The ballsy move of making a double album is hard to overlook. All these things point to a degree of hubris that rarely ends well, but under the earnest guidance of supremely skilled musicians it resulted in one of the most arresting, emotionally charged albums of the last decade, a bold statement of grand design that was executed with stunning grace.

The show at the Metro was further proof that they seem to be immune to the crippling vertigo that great achievement can often bring. They brought one of the most thrilling concerts the venue has seen for some time and supercharged the atmosphere with incredible levels of excitement and passion. And not to sound like a grumpy old burn-out or anything, but passion is something sadly lacking in concert experiences these days. Contemporary music (indie music at any rate) seems more compelling intellectually than emotionally, and the emotional response (positive or negative) that good music should generate isn’t really a priority anymore. It’s individuality that is paramount, to an extent that finding a sound that achieves alienation and excited confusion is more pleasing to the artist than finding something human to relate to. Not so with M83; they definitely tap into something warm and fuzzy, but also something quite profound.

DJ Frames was set the task of warming the crowd, and offered a simple set of warm breaks and house that achieved a similar restless, neon-urban tone to M83, who then capitalised on the mood. There were no monotonous stretches of lazy tracks (opening DJs can sometimes fall into the trap of underestimating their role as performers, and add nothing but sonic wallpaper to fill in time) and his selection had enough depth and intelligence to keep everyone keyed up. This was a small, crucial element done right – with no traditional support act he carried the responsibility with aplomb.

So the lights dimmed and the room opened up. They opened with their Intro track from Hurry Up, the standard for their shows for a while now. Their creepy/cute alien mascot thing silhouetted against the lighting rig slowly marched across the stage like a giant zombie muppet and raised its arms in greeting, Close Encounters style, as the gorgeous power synth melody boomed out over us. When the bass notes hit it was like a bear hug, pushing the air out of your lungs. Diminutive Frenchman Anthony Gonzales and co. settled in and took over with stadium sized power chords and Herculean drums. So, we were definitely awake: what now?

Surprise cut Teen Angst from their brooding inner-city epic Before The Dawn Heals Us threw us off guard a little, and it was nice to hear them hit the ground with something not everyone would know. They were playing on their terms and delivered a diverse and interesting setlist chosen to maximise impact rather than a best-of compilation.

Everything they played was somehow secretly fed steroids before the show and the effect was… impressive. The chorus to Kim And Jessie became a power rock blowout, and any aesthetic links the song famously once had to John Hughes’ golden era of filmmaking was destroyed by a glorious hot pink scorched-earth policy mercilessly carried out by a band feeding off our energy and gaining Hulk-like powers. Reunion burst open like a supernova into a raucous, solar-powered sing-along and We Own The Sky was an epic piece of cinematic dream pop that felt impossibly huge. Wait pulled back and for the most part remained as fragile and tender as the album version. Gonzales’ voice has had quite a workout since Saturdays=Youth, and whilst the range he’s now capable of on this and other songs is great, it’s the fact he’s maintained his control over tone and pathos that truly impresses. He can now hit the high notes and wring out some great emotion in the process.

It was Midnight City that brought everything together for five mind blowing minutes, and it had the crowd beside themselves, giddy for the inevitable sax solo (it’s weird to actually write that). The tiny girl that skipped out to thunderous applause gave it everything, bouncing around like she was holding a recorder, not a brass instrument half her size. She loved every second of it, and so did we. That moment I think captured the entire evening: a tremendously excited band at full power playing to an audience completely wrapped up in what was happening in front of them. This was the moment the magician pulled the rabbit out of his hat, and epic closing number Couleurs was the dramatic flourish that finished the act. Absolutely magic!

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