Chrome Hoof @ Hare & Hounds, 20th May 2010

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There was no way I was going to miss Chrome Hoof. Having released one of my favourite albums of the past few years with 2007’s ‘Pre-Emptive False Rapture’, which coupled with a rapturously received show at the old Bar Academy in December of that year–one of my favourite gigs ever – meant that despite landing from my summer holidays at 7pm, a few quid in a taxi drivers direction would be well worth it. Plus, for one night only, I was a jet-setting, globe-trotting Lester Bangs-esque journo for the night. Albeit it one sporting sunburnt man boobs.

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The rapturous applause that greeted the eight-strong collective as they snaked their way from dressing room to stage was deafening, and by the time the jittery keyboard intro to ‘Crystalline’ had shifted into the glam-math stomp of its main riff, not a single eyeball was diverted anywhere other than the otherworldly, shimmering spectacle onstage. Within their number they boasted the talents of a violinist and bassoonist amongst others, giving the band a really vibrant and authentic sound, with doses of electro, old English prog and mathrock jostling for attention within just the first sixty seconds alone.

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With the band uniformly clad in matching silver robes (‘Sunn 1999’ perhaps?) and shrouded in heaving dry ice they looked like the resident house band from George Clinton’s mothership, having been lost through time and space for years, honing their skills – but turning them just a little bit insane. Vocalist Lola Olafisoye manages to be sultry, scary, endearing and terrifying all at the same time; her futuristic shades, figure-hugging catsuit and finger extensions giving the appearance of a particularly hard end-of-level boss in some Japanese sci-fi video game.

This being one of a number of shows leading up the release of their upcoming ‘Crush Depth’ LP, the set was unsurprisingly weighted in favour of new material early on, and its unfamiliarity upon the audience meant that their reaction wasn’t quite the same giddy explosion as last time around, although the sheer wealth of musical riches to savour led to no complaints from any areas of the crowd. The newer material exhibited the progress that Chrome Hoof have made on the progressive side of their multi-generic arsenal, with a greater handling of awkward time signatures and dextrous rhythms, performed with impressive musicianship and almost telepathic tightness.

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Two tracks in particular highlighted this slight shift – ‘Sea Hornet’ firstly sounding like the theme from a forgotten seventies sci-fi flick as scored by King Crimson. And the ten-minute ‘Witches Instruments and Furnaces’ – prog alert from the title alone! – takes the audience on a schizophrenic ride through moods and genres, with mournful violins heralding verses of almost Comus-style creepiness before swiftly reverting to super-kinetic, hyper-dancey disco funk. A masterfully-built atmospheric mash-up of choral singing and dubby bass gives way as the track climaxes with a naggingly insistent krautrock passage that was instantly memorable.

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Whilst all the different instrumentation meshed together perfectly, the improvement of drummer Milo Smee was by far the most noticeable, laying down off-kilter rhythms in tandem with bass-playing brother Leo that carried an air of Don Caballero about their complexity.

Of course, tried and tested favourites were thrown out sporadically, with the potent dance-rays of ‘Circus 9000’ causing pockets of the audience to spontaneously get down to its platinum and silver two-tone beat, whilst the throbbing bass of ‘Pronoid’ ensured the effects were long-lasting. By this time the audience were erupting into involuntary roars of “ ‘OOOOOF” before , during and after their tunes and by the time everyone’s favourite ‘Oof track, ‘Tonyte’ manifested itself with it’s incessant, instantaneously infectious bassline, it was only partially tempered by the fact it wasn’t being played at a thousand decibels. There was also the constant childish thought in my head, bringing down the decorum of things like a knob scrawled on a textbook, that the lyrics to the chorus were actually “Looks like Gary Bushell in a bubble”.

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The emergence of Leo’s fearsome-looking Gladiator helmet signalled the arrival of ‘Death is Infinite’, it’s chugging, Celtic Frost-y riffs and the bassists death vocals making for the heaviest moment of the set, also given a touch of black metal ice by the impressively inhuman screams courtesy of trumpeter Emma Sullivan. Of course, it breaks down into jerky, almost quaint-sounding strings like Gentle Giant on one of their flights of fancy halfway through, but it is exactly this flawless flitting between the genres that make Chrome Hoof one of the most distinctive, and indeed best, live acts operating today.

With the collective mass of ‘Oof chants – by now sounding like some Neolithic cattle market -bringing the band out for an encore, commenced by a trip down memory lane to the ‘Beyond Zade’ EP with ‘Krunching Down (On The Skull of a Newt)’ before the set was closed by ‘Moss Covered Obelisk’. Over the course of the encore it reminded me that Chrome Hoof were always pretty adept at the whole progressive aspect of their sound, in the latter case resembling a sixties prog band led by Steve Albini before the mothership calls and the show is over.

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A real triumph for Chrome Hoof tonight, the previously planned Birmingham show last year being cancelled lent this show a real ‘mustn’t miss’ atmosphere, and despite the fact that a lot of the new record was unknown to the audience, myself included, it was treated with patience and I’m sure that the next time their ship flies over the Birmingham area, familiarity with the ‘Crush Depth’ material will ensure an even bigger and crazier show than tonight.

Let’s hope Capsule bring them back again soon. Until then I’ll just keep watching the skies.

The ‘Oof’ is out there.

Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Katja Ogrin

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