Friday, 17 August 2007

Live review – Stornaway, Secondsmile & Wintermute @ Oxford Cellar

All will become clear

So here’s a conundrum for thinking about with your brain. What is better: a great impression of something rubbish, or a rubbish impression of something great?

Tonight’s two support bands pose that quandary. Wintermute (from Leeds!) sound like Bloc Party. The review could end there, really. Their counter-melodic guitar lines owe something to At The Drive-In, and their rhythmic punch brings to mind the Futureheads, but that’s at a stretch. In fact, Wintermute are considerably better than Bloc Party – the vocals less irritating, the tightly-wound, off-kilter dynamics better handled. So, if you like Bloc Party, you’ll love Wintermute; in a logical world (though not necessarily a just one), they’d be critics’ darlings and sell lots of records too. For the record, GMS can’t stand (or understand) Bloc Party, so we’ll leave it there.

GMS likes Cave In quite a lot, and where Wintermute excel in recreating a rubbish sound, Secondsmile do a pretty dreary imitation of a great band. Again, I could compare their sound to Oceansize, or countless other prog / emo / hardcore chancers, but basically what you get is Cave In circa Tides Of Tomorrow – urgent, constantly-building drum rushes, a wall of competing guitar lines, time changes, quiet / loud bits, lung-burstingly earnest vocals. It’s a sound that’s utterly fearsome when done right, but it’s also a difficult one to pull off: get it wrong and you sound like a preposterous sludgy mess. Like Secondsmile.

Anyway, for your viewing pleasure, here is Alan Partridge doing a Kate Bush medley. Depending on the angle of your dangle, this is either a brilliant version of something appalling, an awful version of something incredible, or a bit of both.

Stornoway wear their influences so lightly as to make quick comparisons pretty irrelevant. Not that this will stop GMS from making them: the band sound like what Bright Eyes was aiming at with Lifted, but without the histrionics, seriousness or ego, and with a broader palette of communal, open-minded indie-folk vibes. One quote on their website describes them as ‘hatpop’, which is spot-on, as well as being a brilliant concept. As a live band, Stornoway are made more compelling by being so unassuming: at one point they even get away with (urk) an indie-reggae moment, because that was where the song seemed to lead. The lead singer overcomes his shyness by having a set of facts ready before each gig. Tonight we learn that 19th-century Oxford geologist William Buckland once, lost in fog, established that he was in Uxbridge by tasting the soil, and also that he ate the embalmed heart of Louis XIV. FACT! Extra points are awarded for the trumpeter, who wears a horse’s head and a hat. GMS is all about horses wearing hats. The gig ends with a storming number about the right and wrong kinds of fish, which I believe conceals a political message, while also throwing in big-band flourishes reminiscent of Lou Reed’s ‘Goodnight Ladies’ or Tom Waits’ ‘Anywhere I Lay My Hat’ (to continue a theme). Go and listen to them on myspace.

No comments: