Mastersystem @ o2 Institute, 30 April 2018

Saturday 28th saw me travelling back to my birth city to catch friends and faves, Glass Mountain, and their label mates, Mi Mye, play support to Mastersystem. Formed by members of The Editors, Frightened Rabbit and Minor Victories, this threatens on paper to be one of the most interesting ‘supergroups’ for some time. Playing to a near sold out, packed house at the steadily approaching legendary status Brudenell Social Club, just a few yards from the past home of one Henry Rollins, we witness an incredibly exciting performance. Not easy to sell out considering Slow Readers Club (playing 17th May at the Slade Rooms) were doing the same in the next door room.  So enjoyable was this gig that I was sure to be paying a visit to the o2 Institute tonight.

Talk about opposites. A different city, a different day and sadly a different crowd! I think I counted forty-five punters.  A Monday night, yes, but a shocking turnout from Brum.  Be ashamed….be really ashamed! A few people have mentioned to me recently of medium sized bands that have missed Brum out their tour schedule. I can’t say I have noticed as I tend towards smaller shows but is it happening and are turnouts like tonight the cause of bands swerving the country’s second city? That’s a whole different discussion for a different time.

So, if you are unaware of Mastersystem then read on…..

Loosely formed over warm coke on a roasting Berlin day, the parts of the project have come together to record what must surely be a classic album of 2018, the wholly inaccurately titled “Dance Music”.  No dance music here, just head down post-punk meets Alt-rock. Scott Hutchison recently stated that fancy guitar pedals and computer tricks were out of the window and that he hoped for the people who hated everything the members of the band had done before to love this.

A skilful reworking of the chops and sounds that the members have picked up in other lives have been pared back and concentrated into a melodic wall of sound and slightly discordant backdrop to vocals delivering lyrics of wistful anger and confusion.  A delicious mix of Buffalo Tom, Parquet Courts and Brakes that has bags of intensity guaranteed for those showing their faces tonight.

Support comes from You Dirty Blue, yet another guitar and drums duo that make my heart sink as I walk in the venue. Does the world need yet another duo rock act? Too much hair, too many beards, too many…. Oh, hang on a minute.  Let me have a closer listen before I make a final decision.  Yes, yes… they do have enough to keep my interest. They have a singing, arm flailing drummer. Not only does he play extremely well but he also sings some good harmonies to the lead vocalist/guitarist. They’re hinting at Sabbath, they’re occasionally early Pink Floyd, flashes of pre-Grohl Nirvana… to be honest, Japandroids they are not but interesting they certainly are. I’d like to see these again in a tiny venue, intimate and close-up, with maybe some psychedelic lighting and at floor level where they are not swallowed by the stage.

Whilst the turnaround takes place I keep on glancing at the door waiting for that last second rush of punters that never materialises.  As the band take to the stage, unheralded, stern faced glances at the mostly empty venue, I begin to feel embarrassed. It seems the Brum music fans have let themselves down. We in attendance all take the necessary steps forward and it begins to feel a little more intimate.

“How are you all feeling?” ask Scott Hutchison.

“Okay” shouts someone, “How are you feeling?”

“About 7.2 on the Pitchfork scale” he replies. “Could be higher but that’s up to you guys”

The following set consisted of entirely the whole of the debut album more or less in track order. It’s a full on, high energy affair. Post-Punk high energy, like a Fugazi powerball bouncing around the stage, possibly none more so than stand-in lead guitarist Nick(?). His fingers streak up and down the fretboard and his right hand thrashes with wild precision. He is a treat to watch, as is drummer Grant Hutchison, part of the Frightened Rabbit duo of brothers. Never smiling, solid concentration with arms pounding the tubs with incredible force.

High energy it may be but undeniably more important are the melodies and lyrics. Intelligent, vulnerable, jaded, and a paean to victorious under achieving.  “One last time, I might get it right” sings Scott on the brilliant “Old Team”.

They don’t have a mass of releases to fall back on so we get what we’re given and we lap it up. “We don’t have any b-sides to play”, states Scott before tagging on the end of his pause, “Because all our songs are fuckin’ awesome”. No doubt it’s tongue in cheek but if it was through jokey arrogance then it’s a difficult statement to argue against.

No encore tonight, for obvious reasons, so we are treated to a finale of “Bird is Bored of Flying” which is as perfect a song to finish on as there could be.  It builds and builds to a crescendo, layer upon layer of noise and thrash building up to a powerful end.  It underlines the set.  Like the stage set, a few white spots and a touch of blue on backstage, the music is as powerful and as stark as the stage and it works beautifully. The Brudenell may have had a lighting rig that bathed the band in a warm glow but tonight we see it stripped back and bare and that vulnerability of having nowhere to hide worked for me.  Likewise, the audience could not hide and both band and punters fed off each other.

I talk to Scott and James after the show and tell them that I preferred tonight to Saturday and was almost embarrassed about the turnout.

“We knew it was going tae be a small turnout” tells Scott in his strong accent,  “But it doesn’t matter.  If folks turn up just tae see us then they’re going tae get a proper show”

Amiable and generous with their time off stage, serious and a whirlwind on stage; Mastersystem was a masterclass.

Buy, beg or steal this album and be ready for next time!

 

Setlist

Proper Home

Notes on a Life Not Quite Lived

The Enlightenment

Teething

Peaks And Troughs And Graves

Old Team

Must Try Harder

A Waste Of Daylight

Bird Is Bored Of Flying

 

Reviewer: Mark Veitch

 

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