Vision On! The band opening up proceedings tonight at The Garage were The Red Paintings. Not knowing anything about them, I headed for the merchandise stand to get some clues. There was a dvd called “Seizure and Synesthesia” – sounds cerebral. My first sighting of them put paid to that idea. On stage came a tall man with a Red Army hat and a long scarlet-coloured dress. The man, who was an Australian with a bit of an American accent, proceeded to trot out a tedious acoustic song. He then introduced a Japanese violinist. She had a red streak in her hair and wore an exotic burgundy kimono. Her violin strains added accompaniment to another lacklustre song. And so it went on. Dry ice and melancholy did little to liven up the philosophizing mediocrity. “Sing for the President”, exhorted Oz. It wasn’t clear why we should do this and I don’t think anyone cared. It could have been personal or protest. Oz, who did engage in banter, expressed surprise that no-one was throwing tomatoes (pronounced correctly) at him, but we don’t do that. He looked like he was suffering as he sang. I suffered too in our apathy at these acoustic dirges. There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm around me. The 30 minute set ended with an extremely languid cover of “Mad World”. Oz could sing and played his acoustic guitar well and the lady could extract sadness from her violin. But technical ability didn’t make up for the fact that this was all very tired and uninteresting. This was more visually than aurally appealing. For the record, I didn’t buy “Seizure and Synesthesia”.
I’d seen the name of the next band many times on concert listings without having the faintest notion of what their music sounds like. They have to have the geekiest band name ever: I Like Trains. For image purposes, they may wish to call themselves ILT, as I shall now (or UHT, if milk connotations are their thing). I believe their name is actually based on a favourite saying of a film character but I cannot believe there isn’t something in the purest version. So, if we’re looking for railway-themed band names, how about Deltic, The Cromptons, or for a more modern, technical flavour, maybe High Output Ballast Cleaning Machine? [I think Blyth Power trumped them all Ed] Digressing slightly, I saw another great band name possibility on a pension document the other day: Death in Service. Hmm. I don’t normally get steamed up (pun #1) on band names, so I won’t now. So all aboard, then, and back to the concert to find out what ILT do. The first clue lay in the scrambled wording of the band’s T shirt which was on sale: “We need to talk”. The prospect of a cheerful introspective evening beckoned, then. The four band members stood on stage uniformly in plain black t-shirts and trousers. The gloom remained, but ILT came across in sound as an indie band but with a post rock edge. Starting with “Beacons”, which features the line “I have the world on my shoulders”, the colourful rhythm guitar work contrasted well with the gothic and menacing voice of the singer and the mechanical beat. There was an element of U2 and even The Shadows in the careful guitar sound. It was all serious and hypnotising. The singer looked around to check that everyone was listening. “I can’t resist … we will burn in hell for this”, he repeated and hissed ominously and deliberately. The melodies meanwhile were great and the rhythms gripping. ILT know how to progress a song in their dark way. The band members were well drilled. The self-effacing singer in the middle had little to say to the audience but this wasn’t the place for light-hearted chat. When he did say something, it was a statement of the obvious: “This is a song about failure”. You don’t say. That seemed to be the point. The timing was always perfect. A slow and dark section on “A Rook House for Bobby” built up into massive post metal. Suggestive electro sounds, a sweeping atmosphere and a constantly thudding drum beat featured in these unhappy tales. Seas and shores and shifting sands are preferred images of this band. It’s all as miserable as hell, none more so than “We Used to Talk” but with the indie vibe, supporting bright rhythms and majestic post metal, which was prominent on the final two songs “Terra Nova” and “Reykjavik”, I felt enlightened and uplifted. This was a great and well-received performance from this most professional band, whose phenomenally subtle instrumental power and emotion-packed energy shone through the whole set. I could not resist … my next pint had to wait as I first had to go and buy their latest album “The Shallows”.
I refute the idea that The Pineapple Thief are a clone of Porcupine Tree. I’m not so sure it would be a problem if they were. It’s true that their names and styles are similar, their label and nationality are the same, and their singer sounds like Steven Wilson. But you don’t release nine albums by being a clone. I own two of them, Tightly Unwound (2008) and All the Wars (2012). I prefer the earlier album as it is more expansive and in my humble opinion, more sophisticated in sound and atmosphere. But in both cases, they have an impressive propensity for communicating uncertainty, personal crisis and problem identification which at times outweigh even Katatonia. Yet it’s all done in a gentle and sweet way, at least in the recorded version. I’ve seen it described as “bittersweet”. This was my second live experience of The Pineapple Thief, and I had been greatly looking forward to it. There seemed to be more bitter than sweet this evening. I didn’t think that “Give It Back” was a good way to start. It’s a mundane song with a cheesy chorus. Things picked up with “Last Man Standing”. Waves of sound ran through the song which was presented with feeling and tension. Good as the atmosphere and progressions between passages were, I felt something was missing. But first “Shoot First” from “Tightly Unwound” was impressively interpreted. It’s a great composition anyway but the dreamy cosmic sounds matched the air of mystery in the song itself. “Show a Little Love” took us down the rocking route. This went down well, but I felt the performance so far lacked the sensitivity that you’d find on a Pineapple Thief recorded album. This was addressed when the sultry singer was handed an acoustic guitar, and suddenly the earlier keyboard gymnastics disappeared, and through the wistful vocals and acoustic work, a new level of power emerged. “My Debt to You” was magical. The mood changed again in the middle of “Snowdrops”, where the singer and guitarist handed back his acoustic guitar while the audience clapped gently to the rhythm. So back we went to heavy rock. The drums and bass were flawless but I could not work out where the singer, who as lead guitarist was at the forefront and clearly the leader, stood in all this. Strangely his presence got in the way of his own songs. He seemed to want to be the rock hero and receive the crowd’s adulation, but he didn’t have the charisma and was visibly reluctant to communicate with the crowd other than a few devotees who were in on his secret, whatever that was. “Reaching Out” was presented with cynicism and defiance. The song is about the aftermath of a failed relationship. “I cannot tell you why I adore you” was delivered aggressively and sarcastically, yet it seems to go against the idea of “reaching out” in the first place. The sensitivity which is on the albums was at times missing. Of course the singer can do what he likes but if there’s going to be inconsistency, he should really put it in context. He didn’t want to do that and I thought the set was disjointed, lurching between cynicism, delicate melancholy, heavy metal, gentle rock and a bit of psychedelia. I suppose it could be argued that this is testimony to the band’s progressive nature. Yet there were many great moments, and it is to the band’s credit that they performed for 75 solid minutes before a short encore. Punchy songs like “Build a World” were still punchy, the vocals and instrumentals were always good and we visited wonderland here and there. On a personal note, I was delighted to hear the songs from “Tightly Unwound”. The singer did make one good comment, albeit a cynical one, referring to the fact that only two minutes were available for an encore: “it’s club night afterwards, so you’ll be herded out like cattle”. Actually, The Garage lived up to its reputation, in my book anyway, of being one of the best venues in London. The atmosphere was good, the staff were friendly and the sound quality was fine. If anyone was herded out, I didn’t see it.
So my conclusion tonight was: I Prefer Trains.