Despite the odd shows here and there, it has been a long time since Rival Schools have toured let alone release an album. Thankfully they have chosen to do both, and here they are in Birmingham welcomed by a large number crammed into a smaller venue.
Before they enter the stage you can sense the restlessness amongst the crowd which is appeased with Wring It Out taken from Rival Schools latest contribution Pedals. From the offset there is no doubt that Rival Schools enjoy playing live and they bring a great energy to their performance, which is received readily by the audience particularly when tracks from their first album are played.
Throughout the set, the sound does not do justice to the guitars as they are very low in the mix compared with the bass and drums, however the vocals cut through effectively. Despite the upbeat feel to the show, Undercovers On sees vocalist Walter Schreifels’ passion exposed to the maximum, both audibly and visually, which is fully supported by audience participation. Prior to the end of the set, Walter strikes up some banter with the audience regarding famous musicians that come from Birmingham which leads him on to discussing the food you can buy in a Vegas Zeppelin themed restaurant; all of which culminates, surprisingly, in a highly amusing verse of Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive.
All too soon, it seems, Rival Schools set is over completed by their most famous and possibly greatest track, Used For Glue. It is clear that every member of Rival Schools is very much at ease on stage and knows how to bring a performance to life with so much vigour and enthusiasm that is makes them a joy to watch.
Prior to …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead hitting the stage, it is clear that the venue has emptied out demonstrating the pull of Rival Schools and possible misdemeanour regarding which band should be headlining.
Unfortunately their entrance with Strange News From Another Planet is hampered by a poor mix in the sound which has left the vocals and guitars ridiculously quiet, luckily this rectified quite quickly and we are exposed to the intricacy and vast sound scapes produced by the band.
There is no doubting Trail of Dead’s musical abilities as they are able to change instruments and positions in the band, apart from Autry Fulbright who sticks firmly to his bass, and despite their musical wanderings, remain a tight unit. However, it does become more noticeable that Conrad Keely’s vocals are definitely the most powerful with a guttural element that compliments the wall of sound underneath them.
Trail of Dead are challenging to listen to, in the way that Sonic Youth can be, which is a valuable strength to maintain within the music industry and you can tell that they are certainly not dictated to by any big wigs. And this challenge is embraced by the remaining members of the audience, many of whom are moving the heads in an appreciative manner exploring the art that is being created on stage.
Admittedly, I do find myself struggling at times during the set, which is more a criticism of my capacity to persist in listening to the extended melee being produced rather than a criticism of the band themselves. The most enjoyable elements of the set are It Was There That I Saw You and Relative Ways, both taken from their acclaimed album Source Tags and Codes, probably because I can feel the dynamics and direction of the songs compared with some of their more recent tracks.
Their performance ends with a twenty minute encore that sees Keely left onstage as the house lights go up and my ears ringing; after a quiet start the crescendo in volume alone was immense. Trail of Dead are certainly worth seeing if you are open to extended instrumental passages with discordant elements that make the auditory experience something to be worked at; however, for me, Rival Schools genuinely joyous set won me over far more.
Review – Toni Woodward
Photos – Christine Tellier