Monday, December 12, 2005

Hot Chip Will Break Your Legs

...or so one of their rather threatening new songs seems to suggest. I'm not sure who it's all directed against!

I finally caught up with Hot Chip again at their low-key London comeback show at the Horseshoe Tavern this weekend. Now signed to EMI in this country, with LCD Soundsystem's DFA label distributing their work in the US, expect a greater volume of interest in this excellent band in 2006. The organisers had put a somewhat bizarre arrangement in place as the capacity of the venue was insufficient to meet the demand. Upon entry, everyone was provided with one of two coloured wristbands to designate which of the two Hot Chip sets we would be allowed to see. I was early enough to be ushered upstairs for the first set.

First, with an atmosphere of fearful silence (occasionally punctured by some embarrassing ringtones), we watched the support set from the Elysian Quartet, who played an intriguing and very original take on contemporary string music. The group are led by former Hot Chip member Emma Smith, and their set provided a fascinating and welcome surprise. The group seemed intent on breaking most of the conventions of quartet playing, with plenty of plucking and even a form of rhythmic strumming, between which were threaded intensely melodic passages. Chamber music it certainly was not. In case anyone felt it was all too stuffy, there was humour as well, courtesy of a somewhat drunken sounding ansaphone message (possibly from Emma's dad?). It was hysterical - 'Emma....I've just heard your new music - a load of old bollocks - sounds like a cat f**ing a bag of nails!'. Brilliant.

Hot Chip took to the stage and played a relentlessly energetic set comprising both old and new material. From 'Coming On Strong' we got an insanely manic version of 'Down With Prince', with a Sonic Youth-style freak out inserted into the middle which seemed reminiscent of the band's earlier days. 'Krap Kraft Dinner' sounded at turns mournful and bitter as usual, and remains one of their best songs. 'Take Care' has largely been left unchanged and provided some necessary familiarity.

The new material is neither as confounding nor as different as might be expected from a band that seems to move at such a rapid pace. If anything, the 80s synth pop element seems to have been amplified even further - so much so that one of my friends felt moved to identify all the possible references ('Human League! Duran Duran!'). This is not a problem though, as the band are so much more intelligent and engaging than, say, Goldfrapp (funnily enough, Hot Chip are support act on the forthcoming Goldfrapp tour). There also seems to be a more melodic approach at work, with Alexis Taylor's understated voice in particularly good form this evening. 'Boy From School' is particularly enervating, and the closing 'Over and Over' gets the entire crowd dancing, justifying Alexis' claim that the band are making a new kind of 'party music'. It's fantastic stuff but it's increasingly homogenous. One of their more reflective songs would have provided a welcome change of pace - I was hoping to hear the rather lovely 'Barbarian' from their latest EP of the same name. Still, it's difficult to resist the stabs of dramatically funky untutored guitar playing, or the increasing prevalence of crazy percussion - toms, cymbals, agogo bells! New album 'The Warning' is sadly still six months away - it'll be worth the wait.

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