Okay, so I came back for more. Part of the Mogwai curated season, this was the follow up to yesterday’s amuse bouche of Taylor Swift.
We were all pretty lethargic after Taylor. I’d stayed up to watch the triumphant English lionesses At the World Cup in Canada. It was one of those days that you could waste away achieving nowt and find that work looms ominously in the morning. So I headed down to the Roundhouse and grabbed myself a ticket.
First up were Mugstar.
One of the advantages of indoor festivals is that all of the bill gets to perform in the darkened auditorium as opposed to an outdoor festival when only the headliner get to enjoy such a privilege. Mugstar are from Liverpool and they made the most available darkness. I know from my Uni days in the city how important space and psychedelic rock is there. Many of my friends came from council housing in places like Huyton. They grew up with their older brother’s Gong, Hawkwind and early Pink Floyd LPs and the pharmaceutical entertainment from the tableaux that the gatefold sleeves provided. Mugstar’s foundation is a strummed Rickenbacker bass a la Lemmy and a fluid muscular drummer. Their heavy but melodic mostly instrumental rock was an ideal opener for the evening. They are of a kin with Wand, a recent Rough Trade album of the month, albeit with greater German influences. In fact, their latest album has been recorded with Damo Suzuki, late of Can.
Next were Lightning Bolt.
I’ve heard the band on various compilations over the years and they’ve never connected with me. It is now evident why. They are band to be witnessed live. They are a bass and drums duo but they make the recent vogue for similar bands (Death From Above 1979, Royal Blood etc) sound like the Carpenters. They are known for their live shows, often performing in the audience rather than on stage and starting their set immediately after the support act has finished. In 2004, they played on John Peel’s chalet doorstep during the ATP Festival. In one sense they feel like the quintessential Peel band. They have almost no melodic content, but rhythmically are incredible.
The drummer, Brian Chippendale handles vocals via a microphone tucked into a wrestler’s mask which he dons on stage. Everything is heavily distorted but beneath the distortion is incredible musicianship. The drumming is hugely influenced by the classic jazz drummers such as Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Tony Wiliams. The drum kit is set low and he sits upright. I would love to see him play acoustic jazz – I bet he would be mesmerising. They inspire fanatical support with much moshing and crowd surfing. I still think they are a band that I wouldn’t listen to at home, but live they are really a unique experience.
Starting to flag a little and somewhat exhausted by the intensity of Lightning Bolt, I took a break for much of Loop’s set having caught them first time around in the eighties and they weren’t really my cup of tea.
I was really looking forward to seeing Tortoise. In fact, they tipped the balance in favour of going along to the gig. Their 1996 LP “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” was a real favourite of mine at the time. The band have been relatively quiet collectively in recent years but individually, there has been a few things on the go.
They really were something else entirely. In the nineties, post and math rock were thrown around as awkward generic phrases for rhythmically metronomic guitar included instrumental music – see how bonkers a genre that is. Tortoise have emerged from their hiatus (hibernation?) as fully fledged jazz band at times reminiscent of 70s Miles Davis or Weather Report.
But there are other elements. Steve Reich and Philip Glass are evident. There’s fat funky basslines, Peaches En Regalia lead guitar, musicians firing off of each other. I would love to hear a sax or trombone thrown into the mix. They performed a wonderful version of “Glass Museum” from “Millions…..”
What makes them really thrilling to watch is the way they swap instruments, even during songs. There’s a vogue in sport at present for “heat maps” which show the movement of the participants during a game.
Well, here’s my go at Tortoise heat map:
It really is incredible – everyone of them are accomplished on whatever instrument they pick up. And what’s more, there is a genuine sense of fun. The band are visibly enjoying themselves, thrilled and satisfied in making this music accessible and concise. There’s little noodling despite the jazz comparisons. Another genius move is having the two drum kits up front. You get see the interplay perfectly and makes a change from an immobile guitarist or bass player.
Finally and a little late, it was time for GZA. Typically ATP and their audiences have no qualms with hip hop featuring in a mixed genre bill. I’ve seen both MF Doom and Cannibal Ox go down well.
With just a colleague on the decks and minimal lighting, this was stripped back to the minimum. He opened with the title track from his classic “Liquid Swords” LP. Unfortunately the sound was awful. The only clarity on his vocals was when the music dropped out and when the music did play it sounded like it was coming from another room. The rhymes were still impressive though but perhaps the occasional interjection of some of his Wu-Tang colleagues might have helped.
Both GZA and the audience tried gamely to get the momentum going but I was flagging personally and took my leave. Everyone seemed to be having a good time but I needed to hit the hay.
So another interesting evening – the highlight was undoubtedly Tortoise. They have a new album out next year and if they tour, please try and see them. You won’t regret it.
Here’s a full set from 2007 which gives you a flavour but they are best appreciated in the flesh.