Friday 1 February 2019


Patterns, Brighton, Thurs 24th Jan

You don’t necessarily expect a band chiefly thought of as hardcore punk to start their set with wah-wah guitar. And things gets stranger when the guitarist then pitches in some Madchester vocals, with the main mike left unattended. Finally frontman Damian Abraham (aka Prink Eyes) erupts, in about every sense of the word, his Gruffalo roar a gratification finer for being delayed.

And there seems a story behind that. The last-but-one album, ’Glass Boys’, had featured the lyrics “Life turns a page/ When we turn away/ The kids just aren’t the same/ New ways to vibrate/ I can’t hear, I can’t relate/ I can’t change again”. Leading to the suggestion its theme was “growing old in the punk scene while trying to stay true to one's youthful ideals”. (Though to listen to it was as musically impassioned and inspired as ever.)

Whereas the new album, ’Dose Your Dreams’, arriving four years later, opens with the lines “I came the way I always do/ But the things here all seem somehow new.” There’s some suggestion the band had come to regard Abraham’s distinctive voice as a bit of an albatross. Which would be like Sabbath saying that about Ozzy’s voice. But perhaps it’s so distinctive, so dominant it’s like having an obelisk in the centre of your lounge. You’ll end up arranging everything else around it.

The gig gives almost a visual metaphor for that. The previous times I’ve seen the band were in the larger Haunt, which gave Abraham more scope for stage - and often off-stage - antics. Much of what makes him such a great front-man is his ability to engage with the audience, often at quite a literal level, without getting lost in it. He is, at heart, a free range chicken. Here the smaller venue, complete with crash barrier before the stage, pens him in. Even if he continually presses ragingly against it, he’s like a battery hen pecking its cage.

Those vintage Fucked Up gigs did for your ears what spinach did for Popeye’s arms. They were all-pistons-firing shots of energy, with those added catchy tunes ringing in your ears. Here the new songs scatter like corn - some catch alight, some sound merely mainstream rock, a few like some kind of in-joke. At times all they do is disrupt the momentum. While, when they get back to the songs of the days of yore, Abraham passes around the mike, sure all assembled know those words.

Buying the album at the gig, and discovering it to be a double CD, my first thought was “okay, they’ve gone and done their ’Sandinista’.” Which, for the youngsters among you, means a band no longer sure what to do and so spreading out into trying anything. Seen that way, ’Glass Boys’ wasn’t their mid-life crisis moment at all - that’s actually happening now.

And, on first listen, I was somewhat befuddled. Even with ’Glass Boys’ effectively walling off the more-of-the-same option, it’s less a departure than a set of departures of each track from the last. It sounded like Abraham’s voice being put through a series of musical blind dates. But, it does coalesce more.

The conceit, insofar as its decipherable, seems to be that the Neo-like central character drops out of his workaday life, falls into the bigger picture and embarks on some kind of shamanic journey. Hence Abraham’s voice appearing in a series of strange encounters. (He’s called David, making this a nominal sequel to ’David Comes To Life’. Though rather than recording ’What David Did Next’ they’re really just recycling the name they hit on as a signifier for the everyman.) 

It seems entirely possible this concept was born from necessity, a thread to run through what would otherwise be a highly disparate album. (The band have said it arose some while into recording.) Still, it’s fun for all that.

I’m still not sure I’m quite ready to agree with the Guardian’s five-star review and claim it’s “an extraordinary palette of sound… the best songs of the band’s career”. There are tracks best filed under ‘fought and lost’. There’s numbers you wouldn’t recognise as Fucked Up tracks until Abraham starts signing. There’s numbers you wouldn’t recognise as Fucked Up tracks because he doesn’t sing.

This new direction seems to have come about through guitarist Mike Haliechuk and drummer Jonah Falco’s newfound dominance. They both sing at points (both on album and during gig) and, it cannot be avoided, don’t have particularly memorable voices.

But the highlights are high indeed, worthy additions to the band’s canon without being merely more of the same. It contains brilliantly bonkers moments, such as a boy’s choir joining in the final chorus of a spiky punk song. It closes with ’Joy Stops Time’, a worthy addition to their catalogue despite sounding like nothing before it.

In a genre particularly beset with bands who couldn’t keep things going, in an industry that seems to more and more favour crowd-pleasing predictability, that seems a particular accomplishment. Perhaps there’s simply too much of it to ever come to a final judgement about.

The main problem, with an album heavily dependent on guest artists, may be the band beinhg challenged by ways to perform it live. Though even given that the set list is full of eccentric choices even by the band’s eccentric standards. ’None of Your Business Man’ kicks off the album with some very high kicking indeed but, despite no obvious impediments, doesn’t make the gig. Whereas the really-not-even-bad-in-a-good-way ’Love Is An Island In the Sea’ inexplicably does.

That wah-wah opening, which in police parlance I now know to be the title tack ’Dose Your Dreams’, segueing into the classic ’Son The Father’

The Hope + Ruin, Brighton, Sun 27th Jan

During the support slot, I suspect it was not my eyes alone alighting on the king-size cowbell at the back of the stage. An icon which signifies the drum kit of Brendan Canty. For Messthetics regroup one of the greatest rhythm sections in modern music - Canty and bassist Joe Lally, ex of legendary post-hardcore band Fugazi.

Yet, though they may be the ‘names’ of this all-instrumental trio, the outfit’s dominated by the guitar playing of Anthony Pirog. Armed with an array of pedals, he’s able to make his guitar sound ever-changing. He’ll go from soaring arpeggiating, which verges on prog, to the most thumping heavy riffing. More than once, he seemed to be playing two lines at once. (I couldn’t tell you whether that was done through looping or sheer dexterity.)

Canty effectively duets with him, playing far more expansively than in Fugazi but always rhythmically. (The nearest comparison spied on these shores in recent months would be Jim White.) Whereas Lally tends to be the one holding it together. In fact, while Canty does something new to our ears, even amid the sonic assaults Lally looks as calm and measured as he ever did in Fugazi.

The challenge in describing Messthetics may be in not making them sound merely musoish, when the effect of watching them isn’t chinstroking so much as exhilarating. It’s not a series of guitar solos, it’s very much a trio and very much not a guitarist with a backing band. But it manages to retain that let-loose, all-holds-off feeling guitar solos can convey as they’re launched into. Only it keeps that feeling for pretty much the whole gig.

Amid the overall furious pace there’s a couple of slower, more serene numbers. One’s played mid-set, like a pastoral valley between jagged peaks. Canty plays brushes during it, surely a sight never before beheld.

Though there’s CDs for sale by the door, it’s very much a live experience. The thrill lies in seeing it all unfold in front of you. Catch ‘em if you can.

Same tour, but Newcastle. And with some cowbell action…

Coming soon! More gig-going adventures...

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