[8 December 2009]
Live performance possesses intrinsic nuances that keep the subject coming back again and again, and an enthusiast can be disheartened by, but never fully put off by a lackluster gig, as just around the corner you know there will be a moment where everything comes together and makes it all seem worth while again. Allow me to break this down a bit.
(A): Some performances are special because you’ve waited to be there for months (B): Some because the artist’s latest record is a milestone (C): Some because they are a sell out and you won the scurry to get your hands on that elusive ticket before cramming into a packed venue (D): Others as there are only twenty people there and it feels somehow personal (E): Some performances because of an iconic figure or collection of figures (E): Another is due to a collectives’ ability to elevate themselves creatively in a unique manner (F) Others simply because you go in not knowing what to expect (G) These are, quite obviously, not the only things that can make a performance special, and perhaps aren’t the most important aspects beneath having an unadulterated good time (H): Whether you put the significance of live entertainment as more than mere entertainment, I’d have to say tonight’s performance at the Luminaire was a pleasant mix of options D, F and G, with a generous slice of H.
Before launching into the chaotic resonance that was Our Brother the Native, a special mention must go to support Zen Zen Egui, who on the merits of tonight’s performance prove that they are quite possibly one of Bristol’s most diverse exports, offering a breath of vitality into the nigh on stale UK music scene of late.
Having seen ZZE prior to this performance at this year’s Green Man Festival, I knew in essence what to expect, with the band’s combination of humor and obvious creative ability culminating in a performance that the audience, and quite possibly the band themselves, are never 100% sure where it will go next, so expect the unexpected. However, if you so happen to be unaware of this, as the front man begins the performance, in the crowd with his Mauritian chanting bobbing around off stage before bursting onto the stage with wild aplomb, then the band’s inimitable form of tropical death-funk-metal may take a little time to swallow.
Try to imagine Geoffrey Gurrumul with a penchant for Zappa-esque riffs fronted a prog band with a funk infested Spongebob Squarepants for a bassist and you’re getting there, and this bassist is funk infested. Even in the time it takes for ZZE to settle you can’t help but let those tropical grooves get inside your body and make you move. With this the night becomes one of those personable moments, shared with twenty other people, yet I don’t recall seeing as many of those people dancing. In reality there is probably more like sixty people spread across the tiny Luminaire, but you see my point, and before OBTN have even reached the stage witness has been laid to an obscure British band to watch.
Josh Bertram, young vocalist, guitarist, noisologist and in essence front man of the pair introduces Our Brother the Native as they take to the stage with. “This is the first time we’ve been to London”, said Bertram in a distinct Michigan twang. I find this astonishing, bearing in mind their debut LP, Tooth and Claw, was released in 2006, a record paying homage to early Animal Collective material at a stage well before Brooklyn “blew up”. Just how they have managed to not be booked for this length of time is quite beyond me. Tonight OBTN are touring behind their third full length Secret Psalms. Released earlier this year, the record has been met with a mixed response, split dependant on which publication you read and the divided opinion as to whether freak-folk is dead, in its prime, or has had its day. What is not arguable however is how the record’s cleverly complicated textures build atmospherics with a three-dimensional impact.
OBTN set down to building their sometimes manic, always impeccably unstructured, otherworldly soundscapes quickly, with their sound possessing a DIY aesthetic that really managed to engage the listener. As Chaz Knapp’s reverberated drums echo, accompanied with Bertram’s Tibetan style chanting, it is obvious the band owe more than a nod towards Animal Collective, sharing that rare quality of making time seem as if it just fades away. However, OBTN have gone their own way with ethereal psych-folk and make one realize music can mean far more than just 4/4 guitar rock. One or two misplaced FX unit flaws also make one realize the pair are still honing their trade, but the structures they build are so complex even the most accomplished of producers could easily get lost amidst the myriad of sound. I would love to see this band if they brought in a dedicated guitarist, if purely to allow Bertram to get fully loose on the table of synthesizers, samplers and effects units that sprawl in front of him, as astonishingly tonight, he does all this while playing guitar.
As the pair play, the room possesses stillness in everything but the music as each individual absorbs the performance. OBTN captures a feeling of revolution and at times even Knapp seems to look on in amazement at Bertram’s wizardry. As the last waves of resonance echo out, Our Brother leave the distinct feeling to tell everybody you know, “Go and see that band.”