Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Fun, Fun, Fun

Redjetson, Libreez, Twentysix Feet, Jeremy Warmsley – The Marquee 11/4/05

Truth be told, this was a bit of a frustrating evening, although clearly a labour of love for its promoter, who twice admonished us for sitting at the candlelit tables when we should have been standing in the middle watching the bands. Well, fine – and I’m all in favour of showing respect for the artists on stage (the woman in front of me who had an exceedingly loud conversation all the way through Jeremy Warmsley’s set did annoy me somewhat). However, first of all, the artists on stage need to show a corresponding degree of respect for their audience and two, don’t provide the tables if you don’t want people to use them. Promoters also need to use some modicum of common sense when putting events like this together. I’m by no means closed minded in my tastes, and I support diversity (anyone who has ever heard In League With Paton on CUR1350 or read this blog would realise this), but this line-up just felt somewhat uncomfortable in its self-conscious bucking of conventions.

Jeremy Warmsley opened the night convincingly, with brash energy. It’s hard for me to write critically about a friend – especially one whose music I certainly have admiration for, but there can be little doubt that Jeremy is a songwriter brimming with potential. On disc, he demonstrates a tremendous skill with atmospherics and production trickery. Live, and entirely solo, his songs are necessarily more skeletal – although he manages to get some interesting results from his heavy reliance on guitar loops and effects. Shorn of the layered vocals and electronic punctuations, ‘After The Fact’ and ‘Centre Of Things’ sound closer to the post-punk and new wave inspirations currently very much in vogue. Jeremy manages to avoid academic references by means of his inventive, spiky guitar playing and distinctive, powerful, slightly nasal vocals. He’s also reliable with a good melody – although his best songs twist and turn in unpredictable directions rather than relying on verse/chorus structures. He’s tremendously self-confident, and his talent is manifest. It’s refreshing simply to see a solo singer-songwriter not content to sit on a stool and blandly strum at an acoustic guitar. John Kell described him as ‘a more interesting Sondre Lerche’ – which, for those familiar with the work of either songwriter, pretty much hits the nail on the head. Both have a penchant for angular, quirky pop songs, although Lerche’s appeal rests more on a certain naivety and innocence, whilst Warmsley’s rests largely on his sheer precociousness.

The set was not without its problems, however. The murky sound didn’t help much, with a reverb-laden vocal so boomy that it became very difficult to discern Jeremy’s half-hearted between-song banter or even what he was singing about. Why do sound engineers do this? Granted, reverb can be a useful tool in crafting a mysterious sound (My Morning Jacket might well be the best recent example), but Jeremy’s voice has an unusual, striking character of its own – and this was unfortunately submerged in echo this evening. Given what I could comprehend, I’m not entirely convinced that Jeremy has found his voice as a lyricist yet. His words can seem a little self-absorbed or detached and he doesn’t yet have the poetic qualities of the classic songwriters. Still, this may come, as he experiments more with narrative in songs like ‘5 Verses’ (one of the highlights this evening) or comes closer to universalising his own experiences. He has largely abandoned his older songs that, although less original, had considerable warmth and charm. His more recent material however does demonstrate an admirable desire to escape the spell of his immediate influences, and tonight justifiably earned him a warm reception.

Whilst Jeremy undoubtedly takes his work very seriously (and some might even find him lacking in humour), it did seem more than a little unfair to lump him with such a po-faced line-up tonight. Twentysix Feet at least had voluminous commitment and energy (the singer’s highly physical performance seemed to leave him suffering from an unpleasant back injury). They also had a robust, impressively loud sound, incorporating electronics without sounding too mechanistic or clunky. It was, however, possibly all a bit too relentless. They were at their best when they allowed subtler textures and hints of melody to pierce through the metallic sheen. Still, possibly ones to watch, as this kind of prog-metal seems to be very much the rage right now (see also Oceansize and Pure Reason Revolution).

When Libreez began setting up, John Kell remarked that they ‘looked a bit indie in a Strokes- rather -than- Belle -and -Sebastian -kind -of -way’. Much to our mutual horror, he could not have been more wrong. This was art-wank of the most uncomfortable and embarrassing kind. As a jazz trained musician who has grown up instilled with the modern jazz tradition, I am open to the avant garde, and I dismiss improvised music with reluctance. This, however, really was utterly hopeless. One thrumming, dissonant chord was repeated over and over again, behind which the drummer bashed out intricate, impulsive interventions with considerable fervour. There was also a saxophone player, who attempted neither the squawking ferocity of an Evan Parker, nor the cool sophistication of a John Surman. He just warbled aimlessly over the top. It was 15-20 minutes of continuous meandering noise. If it was a jazz-club style satirical joke, it was complete genius – but I get the feeling these people are aiming for the heart of the improv pitch – and are therefore taking it all very seriously indeed. It didn’t have the intensity for free jazz, nor the aggression for rock or the melody for pop. All the great jazz pioneers – from Duke Ellington and Miles Davis to John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, all learnt the rulebook before they attempted to break it. These foolishly confrontational imbeciles demonstrated little or no knowledge of the tradition from which they were self-righteously stealing. The only positive comment I can make about this performance was that the silence at the end of their deluge of mindless noise was about the most sublime sound I heard all evening.
Redjetson finished the night with some slow-paced, doggedly tempestuous post-rock. We stayed for a few tunes that were not exactly unengaging – but felt like too small a reward after such a massive endurance test. They at least incorporated affecting melody into their tried and tested sturm und drang, sounding tough and, at least initially, powerfully arresting. Yet, without Jeremy’s appealing subversion of pop songwriting conventions, this line-up would have been insufferably po-faced and excessively serious. Whilst talent was evident, the evening was desperately in need of a sense of fun.

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