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Live Reviews (Nov '18): BEAK> / Rolo Tomassi / Ash / In C / BJM

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Brian Jonestown Massacre

22 October

Leadmill

Seventy-one percent sunglasses - never a band of mathematics - The Brian Jonestown Massacre arrest the consciousness in a way that is rare in modern music.

Antoine Newcombe, the band's mercurial nucleus, wore shades, an 'EAT SHIT' t-shirt and a deerstalker hat and stood stage right at a 45-degree angle. Though not front and centre, he was very much the beating heart of the band as they created unmistakable chord structures, spiralling guitars and walls of sound. Support came from Manchester's URF, a band with a tight psych sound that showed great promise.

For anyone that hasn't seen Dig!, a fine documentary about the band and The Dandy Warhols, tonight's gig was an instructive lesson in the storied history of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The first half of the set had the crowd bouncing, with the smallest mosh pit I've ever witnessed gathering for the anthemic though insouciant 'Anemone'. An incongruity to be sure, but a good one.

An hour in, sound problems and repeated requests from the crowd were irking Antoine: "It's 10:23. Should we finish early?" They continued but the next song felt flat, as if the energy in the room had dissipated. Antoine has a history with drugs and towards the end implied that people who hadn't taken drugs couldn't understand his music properly. "It's like a square contemplating a pineapple," he explained.

The crowd were either confused or laughed, which perhaps proved his point. The band pulled it back though, like a phoenix soaring from a K-hole, embarking on more psychedelic exploration which at times verged on the truly spectacular, proving why they are one of the most revered bands of the last 25 years.

Fraser Bayes

In C

26 October

Arts Tower

As gigs go this was probably one of the most 'out there' ideas I've ever witnessed.

Hosted in the unique paternoster lift in the University of Sheffield's modernist Arts Tower, it was music on the very edge. Several amateur musicians from across the city had been brought together to collaborate on Terry Riley's famous composition 'In C'. As collaborations go, this was no doubt very testing for everyone involved, as each musician was located in their own paternoster cabin.

For those unaware of the lift, it consists of small open boxes that circulate around the building's 20 floors in continual motion, allowing people to step on and off at the floor of their choice. The audience was split into groups of 15 on each floor, so that everyone heard their own personal rendition of the piece. At times it felt like we were listening to a stripped-away studio version, as each component part and instrument was amplified. While there was a continual orchestral humming drifting up and down the lift, it was only at the end that we got to see the string musicians who'd been playing somewhere on the upper floors with their sounds resonating downwards.

The real wonders of this one-hour concert came at the points where two musicians passed in front of your floor with both instruments or voices in perfect harmony. This was the real trick, as it could've sounded much more disjointed if things hadn't been synced so well. Each musician had sheet music to work from that helped them keep time, though occasionally it did feel like the sounds had become disjointed. This added to the charm of the piece and highlighted what a truly tough gig this was to pull off, which the performers did incredibly well.

Andy Tattersall

Ash

16 October

Leadmill

The Ash live experience of 2018 is largely the same as it was 20 years ago, akin to bathing in warm milk while being repeatedly punched in the face by someone wearing a silk glove. And all the better it is for it.

While many of their peers from the mid 90s slowed into irrelevance or faded away to be reincarnated as nostalgia acts, the Northern Irish trio have resolutely kept the BPMs high and have in their arsenal new material as fresh sounding as anything from 1977, their 1995 debut.

Opening their seven-date UK tour to promote new album, Islands, the trio rattle through a 23-song set to a lively and near-capacity Leadmill 24 years since they first appeared on its stage. Frontman Tim Wheeler, with his trademark Gibson Flying V, wryly acknowledges their durability when introducing 'A Life Less Ordinary': "This one has just celebrated its 21st birthday. That's depressing."

All the big hitters in the Ash canon are present. Breakthrough hit 'Girl From Mars', 'Angel Interceptor' with that bridge from heaven, and the Novello Award-winning 'Shining Light' are among the finest tracks of their generation and the Sheffield crowd laps up every bar.

Latest single 'Buzzkill' does nothing of the sort. A pleasingly syncopated verse and a taut arrangement that wouldn't sound out of place on Nirvana's Bleach serve as a reminder this is no farewell show, while the interlude of the cantina song from Star Wars as a nod to their sci-fi leanings is a fun touch from a band that have never taken themselves too seriously.

Visibly beaming as they take in the ovation after the evening's closer, 'Lose Control', it's obvious this is a band in it for the love of it - and that is lucky for us.

Lewis Pendleton

BEAK>

4 October

Foundry

Part of the festival's tenth edition, both of tonight's bands fit perfectly into the Sensoria ethos. Three-piece experimentalists Ex-Easter Island Head play one 27-minute piece, where horizontally-laid guitars are struck percussively to produce shifting rhythms and eerie echoes. Since playing at the Tramlines fringe a few years ago the band have refined this approach, mixing a hypnotic blend of clicks, pulses, whirs and drones with synth bleeps and malleted drums.

BEAK> are playing their first gig since the recent release of third album >>>, and opener 'The Brazilian' expertly highlights the band's individual and collective cohesion. The bass and drums have that enviable quality of being simultaneously tight and loose, rocking and rolling, and the synthesiser sound is like a cousin of Wendy Carlos' from A Clockwork Orange, warm and menacing.

BEAK> could play this music very straight-laced, as many do, as it is technically impressive and 'serious', but they have a genuine camaraderie that infuses the music with an infectious levity. Visually the band leave something to be desired, with minimal lighting and only keyboard player Will Young standing, but the majestic musicianship and between-song banter more than compensate. For us drum geeks, Geoff Barrow is a motorik marvel and bassist Billy Fuller, as chief comic, derides Right Said Fred and The Harley, amongst others, wisecracking that "the gags are better than the music".

New songs 'Brean Down', 'Allé Sauvage' and 'King Of The Castle' are particular highlights tonight and further display the band's range: at times spare and dense, with polyrhythmic percussion giving a fluid repetition that is entirely satisfying.

Pete Martin

Rolo Tomassi

5 October

Picture House Social

In the ornate back room of Picture House Social, a man quietly steps to the front of the stage, tilts his head back and releases a lingering roar that borders on inhuman.

This is Ba'al, the Sheffield-based post-rock band and opening act for the evening, and boy do they bring the energy. Each track is a loud, reverberating soundscape that fluctuates between sludgy dark metal and dreamy atmospheric rock. Ba'al are followed by Fvnerals, a quietly unassuming post-rock trio. Their set is a poignant, pared-down display of ambient shoegaze, though the change in tempo seems to disgruntle a few punters, who are clearly itching to see the main event.

Rolo Tomassi are a fantastic band to see live. Their style is clever and innovative, creating sonic landscapes that range between hazy pop and hardcore. In a genre that could be called pale, male and stale, seeing frontwoman Eva Spence execute such a formidable growl is absolutely inspiring.

Sticking to their most recent albums, Rolo give a performance that is measured and self-possessed in some parts and astonishingly heavy in others. 'Aftermath' and 'Opalescent' evoke early-noughties indie rock, yet closing track 'Balancing The Dark' is a welcome assault on the ears, saturated with noisy reverb.

Even in moments of pure chaos, Rolo expertly weave intricate drum rhythms between relentless riffs. The clarity of Spence's vocal transitions is spectacular, moving seamlessly between the deafening growl that has become her signature and melodic, graceful harmonies. Co-vocalist and keys player James Spence ends the night on a distinctly personal note, paying heed to the band's Sheffield roots and giving a warm thanks to the fans.

Noah Martin

Next article in issue 128

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