Question: How many Birmingham bands does it take to change the batteries in an effects pedal. Answer: There are no bands in Birmingham with effects pedals because Outlander, tonight’s openers have ALL the effects pedals in Birmingham.
Seriously all three guitar playing members of the band have a very serious rack of pedals. In fact the pedal boards are so large that the band have to take to the floor to play their set. Although, it could be that the stage is somewhat busy giving it’s size and the fact that it has to accommodate the equipment of three bands and run a quick turnaround. For those not familiar with the venue it has a small and low stage, artwork adorns the walls, sofas and chairs and tables made from reclaimed doors spread throughout the venue. This small art house venue is one of the most important things to have happened to the town of Stourbridge in sometime. For a venue of the capacity of 125 this tiny stage has seen bands and artists of some import. Mark Morris, Tom Hingley, The Monochrome Set, Acid Mother Temple. Probably the most well known recently would have been British Sea Power playing a warm up gig for Festival No. 6, Port Merion. It punches above it’s weight.
Tonight opening band Outlander entertain us to a set consisting of two songs, but those two songs showcase a sound, a musical skill, and a maturity that far exceeds their youth. Think an instrumental mixture of Polvo, Slint and Don Caballero with more than a hint of Hawkwind and you will still find yourself searching for that missing ingredient. A tough one to pigeon hole, but then that is what I like about Post Rock / Post Hardcore / Math Rock. They have that rare thing among their members and that is a drummer who understands dynamics. Playing felt beaters during intro and outro gives the songs a build up and drift out that sees a wonderful guitar led workout with warm up and cool down that leaves us with a warm glow.
Leaving the floor at set end, they sit at the back of the small venue with their girlfriends and friends where the combined group and entourage proceed to talk loudly through the entire set of the main support act. This would not be a problem were it not for the fact that Alcuna Wilds are far from the volume of Motorhead. Given the size of the venue and ambiance I find this to be incredibly disrespectful to the travelling band. I try to convince myself that it adds to the ambiance in the same way the crowd on a thousand live Noo Yawk jazz club records does. It doesn’t work.
Alcuna Wilds, part Dutch and part English, have a task ahead of them sandwiched as they are between two noiseniks like Outlander and Thought Forms. What feels on paper like a mismatch turns out to be a good call. Alcuna Wilds have a striking front woman in the form of Nadja Freeman. Tousle haired Nadja has a dreamy voice drenched in the same warm moonlight and starlight rays as Beth Gibbons, Margo Timmins and Hope Sandoval.
Electronica and trip-hop beats are provided by bass, Macbook and synth maestro Jordy Pama and drummer Simon Holscher. Meanwhile guitarist Pete Barnes leaves sharp and cutting, yet delicate and unobtrusive melodic lines hidden in full view. Quiet and ambient for the most part, the moments where the sound builds into tension and then release as in “Mountains” stand out all the more. The musicality of the West Country scene sounds from Portishead and Massive Attack are evident in songs like “Suburban Noir” and whilst that is not my favoured musical genre I could quite easily be convinced.
Wiltshire band, Thought Forms, were the first band to grace the stage of this venue and return here to a warm welcome from the now busy venue. Touring their new album “Songs About Drowning” (new as in late 2016) we are treated to a set filled with hypnotic and shamenesque soundscapes. Likening themselves to My Bloody Valentine and Suicide I cannot disagree and whilst in no way retrograde, they do bring to mind that most perfect of alternative musical decades, the nineties. Lazy comparisons could bring Sonic Youth into the mix and even the quieter moments of Butthole Surfers or droney parts of Spiritualized.
Whatever you pick as your musical reference points for Thought Forms you can be sure that the next song along will have you searching for your compass.
Drummer Guy Metcalfe holds his sticks with a lightness of touch that allows him to fill the room with that quiet rumble of beats and ghost notes that give amazing texture to the band’s sound. Bass, the dual guitars and vocals mesh perfectly to create that My Bloody Valentine wall of sound and it is understandable why this band are held in high regard by those in the know.
In a genuinely touching moment they dedicate the whole of the set to one of the original partners in the venue who sadly passed away a year or so ago and who’s wife has booked them tonight. It seems appropriate and there are more than a few damp eyes around. They are successful in lifting the spirits back up with fuzz and feedback.
They thrash and flail, drone and tease atmospheric aural pictures from their instruments throughout the set but it is throughout the ten minute plus partly improvised epic encore, “Aeaea”, that they really get to me. One of the most atmospheric songs ever in my mind is “The End” by The Doors and this is Thought Forms equivalent – their magnum opus. It builds from a shamenesque “call to prayer”, chanted and droned by Deej Dhariwal whilst Charlie Romijn plays what I can only describe as the instrument that is used for snake-charming.
Guy pounds a jazzy tribal rhythmical base. The whole effect is hypnotic and slowly builds into the feedback drenched scream of an extended release of tension.
The line-up tonight, that I doubted, does in fact work so well and leaves me a very happy punter.
Another one of those nights when I remember why I like music so much.
Review: Mark Veitch
Photographs: Chris Bowley