Torche @ Hare & Hounds, 25th November 2010

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Time doesn’t half fly sometimes. It barely seems five minutes ago I had set up residence at the Vivid warehouse last December to experience Capsule’s week long celebration of their tenth anniversary, coupled with their fabled Christmas festivities. Granted, November may have seemed a little premature for their final gig of the year, but after a hectic twelve months for the promoters – putting on everyone from Eyehategod to Cluster, making big strides with the Home of Metal project, another wildly successful Supersonic festival, and the small matter of maternity leave; noone could grumble that an early break this year wasn’t anything less than well-deserved.

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So whilst there were no particularly festive adornments to the final show of 2010, God himself had kindly put us in the winter mood by dropping the temperature to Antarctic levels. As I arrived upstairs at the Hare & Hounds, I wiped the steam from my specs to encounter STINKY WIZZLETEAT running through their set. Having seen these guys a number of times through the year, it was nice to see them when I wasn’t either working myself into a giddy frenzy about the headliners (Eyehategod) or fighting my way through a heaving crowd to get a decent vantage point (Supersonic).

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A lot of what I’ve picked up from them over the year was reconfirmed tonight. Informed by doom, yet approaching it from a mathier, more dissonant perspective, the ‘Teat ratchet up the tension with a keen eye for uncomfortable repetition and tight, edgy compositions. With their permanently hooded guitarist either psychotically rocking back and forth in tune with their music, or wrenching drawn-out feedback from his stack of amps, he was a great onstage focal point whilst vocalist James again took to the dancefloor to sing in the faces of the fast-filling audience. Despite struggling with a drumkit that continued to shuffle forward throughout the set as if it had designs on stage-diving, they were admirably tight in spite of this.

With elements of everyone from Kiss It Goodbye to the Jesus Lizard to the Melvins, they’re a band that I still just can’t put my finger on. They’re ace – completely so – but I still find it hard to pigeonhole them into a quick, easy, journalistic soundbite, which surely means that they’re doing the right thing.

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Main support PART CHIMP didn’t make things any easier for me either. With this being my first encounter with the London four-piece, I was in the dark as to how they’d come across, both in terms of style and reaction from the crowd. I needn’t have worried about either, as this set was an unarguable triumph.

In a similar fashion to the openers, at first listen their sound has its base in the drawn-out, drugged-up lollop of doom, although on closer inspection it had little to do with any fuzzy, blues-influenced stoner rawk (maaaan). Instead they gleefully used volume as a starting point, adding uncomfortable passages of feedback in the same way the likes of Swans have done over the years with a musical nous similar to the more avant-garde moments of Sonic Youth.

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Drawn-out drones and gruff vocals aren’t quite the order of the day, instead insidious melodies and art-school skronk rear their respective heads, whilst frontman Tim Cedar’s vocals are wrung out of his voicebox with much zest and effort, standing on his tiptoes such is the obvious passion on display. You couldn’t ask for any more toil to be exhibited by the band, indeed there’s a broken string and a bass strap amongst the casualties; but the fact they stayed onstage beyond their allotted set time due to pleas from the gathered members of Torche congregating at the front is testament to how well the Chimps got over tonight.

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With the assembled crowd still dazed from the thumping bombast of Part Chimp, the three Miami natives comprising TORCHE almost snuck onto the stage to commence their headlining set. This is probably their third or fourth appearance in Brum over the past few years – all of them courtesy of Capsule – which leant the headliners an air of familiarity which added to the somewhat celebratory vibe.

‘Pirana’ kicked things off, although it was never clear as to whether this was the first track proper or just a line check, as it was introduced with charming self-deprecation and a sense of just getting a feel for the room. It was received enthusiastically enough so the trio immediately blasted into ‘Sandstorm’, exhibiting both sides of Torche’s famed ‘Thunder Pop’; it’s dense, slowly rolling riffs bringing the thunder, with frontman Steve Brooks’ languid, diffusive vocals the pop. It’s a juxtaposition that works just as well as other bands who have managed to successfully marry down-tuned, bowel-bothering doom with more classic-sounding vocals, bringing to mind luminaries such as Big Business, Goatsnake and even early Queens of the Stone Age (lest we forget just how good their debut was!).

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With this latest tour coming off the back of their latest EP, ‘Songs for Singles’, the release was played in almost its entirety, with lead-off track ‘UFO’ making an appearance early on in the set, impressing with it’s shimmering harmonies and jostling riffs, all held together by the eye-catching drumming of Rick Smith. Smith absolutely batters his collection of toms with swift and fluid rolls and powerful fills and evokes an unholy hybrid of a multi-armed Dale Crover (Melvins) and Brann Dailor of Mastodon — especially on the relentless ‘Safe’, also bringing to mind pre-Big Business act Karp.

Bassist Jon Nunez was also getting well into things, with his full-bodied attacking of his instrument a reflection of the slight hardcore influence running through the band. ‘Mentor’, from their self-titled debut was more straight-ahead, mid-paced stoner doom but boasted a nagging irresistibility, compelling the crowd to perform their best nodding dog impression. ‘Face The Wall’ ended up as a highlight and centrepiece of the set, its insistent martial drumbeat and spacey, celestial guitar layers making for a really atmospheric listen, with the main chorus only breaking from the pattern with heavier tones and emphasis on toms. Those with a predilection for certain intoxicants would have found it hard to drag themselves from within the repetition, although ‘Cast into Unknown’ was a perfect follow up with a more uptempo backbone and flashier guitar work.

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It’s rare that a band so unashamedly heavy in approach can appeal to such a wide range of followers, but the level of care with which they craft their sound (and the deft hand with which they reference stoner, metal, pop and indie yet never nailing themselves to one particular mast), ensures that their compositions are regularly thrilling and memorable. Like Goatsnake having gone full pop and shedding their 70s obsessions or Foo Fighters with a massive hairy pair of bollocks, Torche could easily find themselves playing to larger and more mainstream audience with the right backing behind them.

Such conjecture is best saved for the future, as in the here and now, there wasn’t a soul in the room who’d trade their experience tonight for one crammed at the back of a cavernous arena. Indeed, the rammed, sweaty confines of the Hare & Hounds was as perfect a venue as you’d wish, with each and every riff and melody washing over everyone in attendance and filling them with good — if not particularly festive — cheer.

Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Katja Ogrin

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