The Brute Chorus & Underground Railroad – live review

The Brute Chorus and Underground Railroad
The Lexington, London

April 13, 2011

Big city life in the 21st Century offers a myriad of opportunity and potential – but there will always be a downside. In London’s case, cultural decay is concisely represented by two things: tube buskers and the Queen musical, ‘We Will Rock You’.

The latter is epitomised by a gruesomely tacky statue of Freddie Mercury aloft the Dominion Theatre in the West End. The former, by those semi-circular Carling-sponsored subterranean zones where peace is regularly shattered by ill-informed, partially-recognisable riffs at absurd volume. Played to backing tapes.

The tubes would be a much, much better place if they rang to the sound of the people who tonight fill The Lexington. The grand old Dominion, too, could surely benefit from the sort of theatrical spectacle that is propagated by The Brute Chorus.

Besuited, iron-shirted and with best shoes forward, these are boys with an admirable attention to devilish detail. They have spent months, years, earning their stripes in frozen country recording studios and East London pub cupboards honing a craft that is entirely worthy of anybody’s shillings. No ordinary keyboard for these lads – a Farfisa is used to punch out a deliciously grunty sound. The drumkit is a monster – perhaps a Gretsch? Whatever.

Singer James Steel, a man who can do absolutely NOTHING wrong with his hair, strikes a strong figure – torch-singing and heart-punching his way through a set of Brutish tunes and curious covers (like the Marty Wilde-penned ‘Sea Of Love’ given a Stump-like reworking). Oval-afroed Nick Foots adds Eno-esque mad scientist keyboard and guitar magic to the mix, occasionally punching a pedal or two with a half-drunk bottle of water to distort yet further the sound which I hilariously overhear being described as “League of Gentleman doing rockabilly”.

All the while, sturdy rhythm section is represented by solid Dave Ferrett (he with the appropriately ferret-like ‘do atop his head) and energetic drummer Matt Day whose hair, like his brethren, is STILL better than anybody else’s in the room (and he has none).

Enough folicle-envy: Brute Chorus have clearly worked very, very hard to chisel away at this spectacularly earnest, inspired, original and fine-sounding show. And all power to them.

Able support came from Gallic originales Underground Railroad who also have good hair between them. (Enough with the hair stuff already? Yes.)

Their’s is a thunderous, atmospheric sound, all clatter and screech with the occasional classic prog-pop interlude from the sometimes-singing drummer in the big hands Flaming Lips t-shirt.

Most surprising and entertaining of all, though, are the contributions from singer/guitarist Marion Andrau, who has found a way of looping and throttling her strings to profoundly psychedelic effect. Even odder is her voice: which alternates from sweet and savoury to the sort of grunty delivery that would fare reasonably well at a Girlschool audition.

It’s with these reflections buzzing about my head that I headed for home, down into the underground railroad at Angel that will carry me home. Changing platforms, I see tourists throw money into a box at the feet of a middle-aged man playing Lenny Kravitz covers to a backing tape. It’s horrible, but The Brute Chorus and Underground Railroad put a spring in my step and send me on my way – my ears still ringing from the encouraging alternatives they both appear to offer.

Andy Barding


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