Pivot/Three Trapped Tigers, The Luminaire 2/04/08
At the end of last year, I described Three Trapped Tigers as ‘the most ambitious new band in London’. I based this judgement on the four demo tracks that appeared on the group’s MySpace page, my previous work playing with chief tiger Tom Rogerson in a Jeremy Warmsley side project, and having seen a number of Tom’s free improvisation gigs that both confounded and inspired me in equal measure. However, when I wrote those words, I’d yet to see this particular configuration of Tom’s restless musical mind in live performance. When DJ Martian drew his readers’ attention to the group, quoting me in the process, I hoped they could live up to my hyperbole.
Happily, they can do a little more than that. It’s no exaggeration to describe Rogerson as a complete musician – he’s a brilliant technician, a prodigiously gifted composer and improviser, an intense and physical presence on stage, and also capable of channelling transparent passion and emotion into his music. This is based on unfathomably intricate composing – I found myself struggling to keep up with the group’s restless energy and time signature changes. Whilst it has the technical invention of contemporary composition and the mathematical precision of post-rock, there’s also a frenetic energy and collective spirit that makes it completely engaging and exciting.
All three musicians are utterly committed and immersed in this extraordinary sound. Rogerson hunches over his keyboards with total concentration (if he makes a career of this he’s going to end up with severe back trouble), but occasionally ends up treating his array of keys, synths and samplers with genuine violence. Adam Betts is an outrageous drummer – physical and powerful but also capable of great subtlety and focus. Matt Calvert provides solid foundations on bass synth, but also clear, ringing chords from his guitar – he also provides the occasional flashes of conflict or dissonance from which the group builds its tensions. There’s an obvious chemistry between the performers, even if they rarely make eye contact. Given the complexity of the arrangements – it’s remarkable how proficient and tight the playing is. There is no hint of hesitancy or uncertainity.
If Rogerson has had a limitation in the past, it’s perhaps been a tendency to be too passionate and too frenetic for too long. What struck me most about this performance is that the bursts of vigorous anger were punctuated by moments of genuine beauty and contemplation, with Rogerson leaving surprisingly pretty-sounding chords lingering for as long as necessary. Rogerson’s playing is all the more impressive with breathing space. Betts ably supports this more impressionistic tendency with the remarkable range of sounds he produces from his percussive apparatus – drum kit, thumb piano, samplers and electronic drums galore. He is his own orchestra.
It’s rare to hear music this intense, innovative and original that is also massively entertaining. For me, it provokes great physical and visceral reactions – a gut feeling when the group explodes into seismic noise, toe-tapping when they hit a sterling asymmetrical groove, or melancholy when they veer into romantic abstraction.
This impressive versatility simply made headliners and new Warp signings Pivot look like pretenders to the throne. They had very similar ingredients – odd, off-kilter rhythms, electronic background sound, wordless vocalising and sudden bursts of noise. Yet, by contrast, they seemed so mechanical and cold – and transparently lacking Rogerson’s musical empathy, superb ear and lightness of touch. Whereas Three Trapped Tigers captivated me completely, I found myself drifiting off into conversation and mundane thought during Pivot’s lengthier, meandering set. Surely it’s only a matter of time before people wake up to Three Trapped Tigers and their superlative synthesis?