Sea Power

Sea Power + Penelope Isles @ O2 Institute, 13th April 2022

Close to five years on from their last studio release ‘Let The Dancers Inherit the Party’; Sea Power are back in Birmingham to perform songs taken from their latest offering ‘Everything Was Forever’. Whilst many bands nudging into the second decade of their existence would have happily set the controls to auto-pilot some time back; this sextet have just never been the kind to happily languish in the realm where going
through the motions is the maxim.

The interest around the group has certainly ramped up in recent times. They were propelled into the limelight in late 2021 when it was announced that they were to retire the name British Sea Power and proceed with Sea Power; a decision that ignited the predicted gamut of discussion and opinion, but not at the levels that were experienced – having to decline interview requests from Good Morning Britain is such a perverse a concept, that there is a tiny ache in my heart that a Madeley Vs Hamilton exchange does not exist. In addition to the recent name change furore, the band won a Bafta for their epic contribution to the ‘Disco Elysium’ soundtrack, and their latest album charged its way into the UK charts at number 4. Not a bad start for a group just emerging from a stasis period where many have not been so lucky to resurface. Just like Liberace and British Sea Power before them; Sea Power return to haunt us with peculiar piano riffs and it feels wonderful.

A bouquet of antibacterial solution floods the senses as you enter The library room in Digbeth’s O2 Institute. The bleached basement providing some much needed assurance that efforts to quell the virus and provide as safe an experience as possible is being maintained and that any assault on restricting the activities of an industry that is still
stretching its sinews following a crippling bout of inactivity will not be tolerated.

There will be one fan in attendance this evening for whom the prospect of descending the former Barfly staircase will bring with it additional anxieties that has nothing to do with anything as lame as attending a indoor live event in the age of Covid-19, but more to do with the Stella Artois ice bucket wielding antics of Sea Power’s former manager and elder brother to Jan and Neil Wilkinson: as documented in ‘Do It For Your Mum’, the superb band / family biography by Roy Wilkinson, where back in a 2006 show he accidentally drop-kicked an ice bucket into the audience where it crashed against a medical student who had an oral exam the very next day. They are now on the band’s Birmingham guest list for life and I wonder whether they might be in attendance, albeit, with a reinforced mask.

Support for the evening comes from Penelope Isles, led by sister and brother, Lily and Jack Wolter. A sibling connection is not the only parallel the band share with Sea Power, as they too, found their footing in the musical landscape of Brighton. Their debut album was released (‘Until The Tide Creeps In’) in July 2019 and the latest release ‘Which Way to Happy’ was recorded during lockdown and released in August 2021. Imagine, your first two albums, bookending a global pandemic, and the frustration that must have built up at not having the opportunity to perform live and having to hunker down whilst the molecular biology of a band hankers to get into the wild.

Lily Wolter resides behind the keyboard and is responsible for pouring bright swathes of indie-pop  over lyrics that roll around in a pool of melancholy. The stoic presence of Jack Wolter towers alongside, nestled in a torrent of blissful distortion. Joe Taylor is on drumming duty; their kit positioned side on towards the far left of the stage, which
affords the audience a less familiar viewpoint by which to enjoy the physicality of Taylor’s performance.

Lily Wolter’s first tentative attempts to interact with the audience are met with a less than enthused response from the early attendees, but as the room begins to swell, Penelope Isles nail the simplest of rock ’n’ rock rules; just get up there and blow them away. Songs like ‘Rocking At The Bottom’ and ‘Iced Gems’ bathe in a sonic whirlpool of zest and wonderment, and ‘Terrified’ is just achingly stunning. The band departs to a rapturous applause, and it will hopefully encourage Penelope Isles to make a Birmingham return a
necessity in order to nourish the seed that they planted here tonight.

Talking of all things horticultural (just atrocious, I do realise), the familiar expanse of locally sourced foliage dominates the stage from left to right, and heralds the return of Sea Power’s uniquely majestic rock music. The band is warmly received and after almost three years since they were last on stage in this incarnation, it’s surely an equally exciting proposition for the band as much as it’s the fans.

‘Machineries of Joy’ is the opener, and the crowd show no signs of lethargy creeping in since they were last called upon to provide rousing vocal support. The audience, arms aloft, sing “help is on the way” back to an almost overcome Yan. He can’t resist the urge to glance across to his brother, Hamilton, a look that is laden with so many intimate sentiments that it would be almost impossible to translate the volume of information and emotion bound up in that exchange. Less than one song in and both band and audience have experienced one of those moments that send a shiver through your core.

The measured power of Woody’s drums, mixed with Noble’s searing guitar, provide the necessary propulsion required to drive ’It Ended on an Oily Stage’ and ‘Lights Out for Darker Skies’ through to their glorious finales. ‘Transmitter’ is the first song of the
evening to make an appearance from ‘Everything Was Forever’ and it continues the pulsating momentum, marking this opening segment as up there with the bands most forthright and strapping.

There are fleeting moments in the set that offer the briefest respite from onslaught of anthemic rock, like the extraordinarily titled ‘Fire Escape In The Sea’ and ‘Cleaning Out The Rooms’, but it’s the driving forces of nature like ‘Doppelgänger’, ‘Mongk II’, ‘No
Lucifer’ and ‘Carrion’ that provide the overarching narrative for the evening. We are seeing a band pumped with purpose and vigour, who want to flex their muscular might after having been dormant for so long.

The encore is bookended by the rousing ‘Remember Me’ and ‘The Great Skua’. The latter, a wholly familiar, and hugely anticipated ending to any Sea Power set, and one which builds and builds until it explodes, birthing an immense joy into the room, and each fan leaves with a piece of it nestled within them. Those venturing out to watch live music and those toiling to bring such events to us must surely be applauded. We are eternally grateful for all those connected with the live music industry and their efforts to bring some semblance of a previous world back for us to marvel at, however intermittent.


Review by Chris Curtis

Photograph courtesy of PR


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