Saturday, October 22, 2011

Live Review: The Horrors, Newcastle Digital, 18/10/2011

Changes in direction are commonplace in music, but even so it's difficult to think of many bands in recent times that have done so with as much success as The Horrors. Since switching their focus from the gimmicky garage-rock of their debut album Strange House to a more shoegaze orientated sound, the Southend quintet have turned the heads of critics and fans everywhere, so much so that they're now regarded as one of the key acts of the UK's indie scene. Also reaping the benefits of such a transition are their live shows, something that's been especially evident on their latest sequence of gigs in support of latest record Skying. Given that recent success and growing notoriety in the live arena, it's curious that they're still playing in relatively small clubs such as Digital, particularly when the same city holds venues twice the size which the band could probably still pack with ease. This drew no complaints from those in attendance, though, as they're clearly at home in such modest settings, and the more compressed surroundings are a factor which suits their music to the ground.

Shoegaze is a dish best served loud, and that was an aspect which the band more than excelled in. After the so so "first song new album" opener 'Changing The Rain,' they preceded to rip through a ferocious rendition of 'Who Can Say,' the buzzsaw riffs of which proved to any in doubt that they were in for a noisy night. "Wall of sound" is the cliché, but this mountainous wave of fuzz and feedback went far beyond such shallow adjectives, and only served to further enhance the band's songs. Their 12-song setlist was compiled exclusively of songs from Skying and it's predecessor, Primary Colours, a statement which displayed not only the band's growing neglect of their debut but also the vast improvement they've made with the two subsequent releases. Most sets which only draw from a pair of LP's tend to be a little patchy, but this was no such case, with each and every song representing a major favourite among the fans assembled.

Indeed in popular single 'Still Life' and the vivacious punk of 'Endless Blue' they possess two of the best songs released by anybody this year, so it was fitting that that duo were received to a particularly raucous reception. The surprisingly animated crowd also reacted with much enthusiasm to the synth-led epic 'Sea Within A Sea,' which translated far better in the live environment than it does on record. The band wasn't quite in perfect working order, with frontman Faris Badwan apologising in advance for problems with his vocal chords (they've since cancelled the rest of the tour as a result), but that particular issue had little to no effect as the gangly singer's baritone sounded no worse for wear, at least to the naked ear. The other members, however, were very much on song, with guitarist Joshua Hayward and synth-master Tom Cowan in particular doing plenty to pummel the hearing. Even more impressive, though was Rhys Webb, who's steady pulsing basslines provide the bedrock to all of the band's best songs, and it's only live where this influence becomes clear.

What the current tour has shown above all else, though, is just how far The Horrors have come since that false start five or so years ago. These days they're a band right at the top of their game, leading the recent shoegaze revival in British music and as tonight's (moderately enjoyable) support act Toy showed, their influence is already being felt among newer acts. Aside from caving everyone's ears in, this was a performance which proved just how strong a collection of songs the band has assembled with their past two albums, and provided evidence if needed that they've developed into one of the nation's key musical forces. Where they go from here is anyone's guess, but what is certain is that their next move will be anticipated by a growing legion of followers, and should they nail it any lingering doubts over their authenticity will surely be cast aside. Certainly you feel that their days of playing venues like Digital are coming to an end, and while that's a shame given the excellence of tonight's performance, you wouldn't begrudge a band who on this form deserve all the success that's coming their way.

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