Castrovalva, The Hysterical Injury, Big Naturals and We Are Romans: Bristol – live review
It was the night of the Olypical Games’ closing ceremony but for the discerning Bristol based fan of noise mongering there was no question of doubt about where we should be – & it definitely wasn’t sat at home watching the teev. No, it down The Croft for musicky mayhem. Oh, and a power tool.
It’s not often that a man of my years & gig going experince goes to a show & see’s something he’s never ever seen before. But that was what happened last Sunday. I’m going to keep you on tenterhooks as to what it was but I’ll tell you this much: it involved a power tool.
Actually the night consisted of quite a few unusual facts that gave us, the audience, food for conversation. For a start there were four bands playing but none of them consisted of your traditional “drums, lead guitar, bass guitar, vocals” format. Indeed, three of the four bands were two pieces. Also, at least three of the bands were flying sans lead guitar & the fourth was using a Baritone guitar which, to quote from wikipaedia “…also has the capacity to be used as a bass guitar if strung correctly”. So no traditional lead guitar all night.
We Are Romans kicked off proceeding, the first of tonight’s bands from Bath. ‘Romans’ …. ‘Bath’ …. (I’ll pause now while you take that in) …. (I’ll presume you’ve now taken that in & will carry on). Like all the bands on tonight’s bill they didn’t let the fact that they were shy of being a full fourpiece prevent them from making an unbelieveable noise. Their job on tonight’s bill was to bring the riffs, something they achieved with consummate ease leading me to suspect their job on most bills is to bring the riffs. Their list of influences is staggeringly close to what you’d (or ‘I’d’ anyway) consider “the ideal” (Minutemen, Helmet, Fugazi, Isis, Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Neurosis, Black Flag etc). As you can imagine with that list of influences riffs alone weren’t the full ‘We Are Romans’ story – there were drums too courtesy of a sticksman who properly clattered the fuck out of his set like there were no tomorrow. I love when you get to a gig early enough to see the first support, a band you’ve never seen or heard before & they’re brilliant.
Next up were Big Naturals, possibly my favourite live Bristol band (neck n neck with Big Joan). Describing them as a “drum & bass” duo doesn’t do credit to the mass of effects pedals, circuit boards, oscillating things, feedbacking things, reverby things & similar such gubbins that they employ to make their structured, considered balls to the wall AND the floor AT THE SAME TIME racket.
Big Naturals ‘thing’ though, live, is that they utterly spurn the stage & set up shop in the middle of the venue’s floor. Yes, including the drums. Especially including the drums. This was the third time I’ve seen them this year & each time I wonder why more bands don’t do it. The closeness & intimacy you get with being so close to & on the same level as the band totally changes the ‘dynamic’. Right from the off it’s like a sonic smack to the solar plexus which fills you with an overwhelming surge of joy. And there was you thinking getting smacked in the solar plexus wouldn’t bring you joy.
Can’t say I’ve ever tried it but I imagine if I attempted to remove the stupid grin from my face at any point during one of their sets it’d prove impossible. The power of the drumming combined with the sheer experimental crazyness of the bass playing whereby Gareth pushes the instrument to it’s absolute extremes is simply unparalleled as far as I’m aware. It’s just a non stop voyage through reverb, feedback & no end of effects. A seasoned pair of eardrums like mine (for ‘seasoned’ read ‘shot to shit’) took it in my stride but seriously, and this is something I’d never normally advocate, you should consider getting some earplugs if you’re ever gonna see them live. They have an album coming out soon. It’s gonna be off the hook. And even though I’ve already reviewed them once here before (when they supported Flipper) I will review their album too & I will keep on reviewing them till you’ve all proved you’ve taken note by joining me as fully paid up members of their fan club. Got that? Good. (Or until John gives me my marching orders of course).
Now’s where the unique occurance I referred to at the start of this review began. Apart from the headlining band the star of tonight’s show was a power tool, namely an electric saw. Big Natural’s set didn’t so much end as meld into a jam with the drummer from Hysterical Injury (he was on the stage proper). Next up Annie Hysterical starts up an electric saw & begins setting too, sawing up a huge sheet of wood into CD cover sized shapes to later be used as, yuuup, CD covers for the new single (see below). Needless to say there was a mike catching all this so we had the two drums, one bass & an electric saw jamming together for 10 minutes or so & which ultimately bled into (figuratively, thankfully) Hysterical Injury’s set.
Hysterical Injury are well established on the Bristol scene now (despite hailing from South Wales & living in Bath) & have picked up shedloads of 6music airplay since releasing their debut album earlier in the year (watch this space for a review some time soon – it’s brilliant). Not surprisingly with Annie on vocals they get compared, pretty accurately as it happens, to all your favourite “riot grrl” bands. They’re another band who create a frightening amount of noise for a twopiece but it’s rather more mannered than the other bands on the bill tonight, there are obvious shapes to their tunes & you don’t get the impression like the preceding two bands that they’re lashing out on a great big jam. There’s definite hooks & catchinesses in amongst their clattering, meaty (the meatiness coming from the bass especially) fury & the half dozen songs they played tonight were over way too soon, something that the members of the audience who were down tonight with the sole intent of dancing to them (amongst them members of the wonderful band Bellies) must’ve been sad about.
And so to Castrovalva. What can be said about Castrovalva that isn’t “these guys are pretty much off their respective rockers & fecking brilliant to boot”. Quite a lot probably, starting with the fact that they’re one of the most amazingly fun bands I’ve seen for a while. It’s so unusual to see a band & not know where the fuck they’re gonna take you next. At their core Castrovalva are a noiserock band but definitely not your run of the mill noiserock band. In fact they’re not your run of the mill anything. I know it’s lazy journalism to compare a band to another but for roughly a third of their time on stage they really reminded me of Pulled Apart By Horses somewhat deranged little brother. The mischievous little brother who just wont behave or play by the rules. Check this, their current single, for proof (I think) of such.
The reason they only sounded like that for about a third of the time was mainly because of Leemun’s (lead singer) vocals, in particular his astonishing range. He was all over the place – my heart so went out to his vocal cords. One minute he was hardcore screaming the next he’d slipped into a high pitched shriek. Then he was bringing his pitch monitors into the equation to further weird things out.
They gave good groove too & for the audience dancing, or movement in some way or other, was pretty much obligatory. I can’t imagine what the band were like before they (originally a two piece) were joined by Leemun on vocals but I bet they weren’t so idiosyncratic, unusual, mind blowing or unique. A unique noise monster from planet off their fecking trolleys. The crowd loved it & despite it clashing with the lympics closing ceremony I suspect there was no one who’d have traded there position in the sweaty Croft tonight for one at home on the settee. Not for a minute. So much were we enjoying it that we even managed to coax an encore out of them, something that it sounded like they rarely do as they opined “but we’ve been doing the same set for three years”. (They need to work on their trembly bottom lips to get this to work I reckon though suspect it was for show alone).
And to finish a shout out to the invariably unheralded promoter – the evening was arranged by the man known as Dave Artscare. If there’s a night of weird and wonderful noise going on in Bristol you can bet your bottom dollar Dave will be behind it in some way. Massive props to him for arranging tonight & a quick plug for his next event, a joint one with another of the city’s promoters (Blood Red Sounds) which sees Poino, That Fucking Tank and Big Joan amongst others playing The Crofts two rooms on 24th Aug. Six awesome bands for six mere quid. Go here for more details.