[27 February 2014]
Live albums are tricky. Usually there’s some sort of gimmick that acts as a hook, whether it’s a legendary venue or the band has decided to do a stripped down set (see Band of Horses’ solid Acoustic at the Ryman). E Rey (Live In Philadelphia) doesn’t try either approach. Performed at a relatively new venue, the Union Transfer, We Were Promised Jetpacks instead just lets it all out on stage on a relatively straight forward and thankfully excellent set.
Despite only having two full length albums to their name, the Scottish quartet has an excellent discography for live performances. “Short Bursts,” off of their 2009 LP These Four Walls, opens the set with pounding drums, gritty bass, and supercharged guitar work. It sets the mood for the rest of the album quite well. The band doesn’t have a large dynamic range, which is one of the album’s few short comings. With a few exceptions E Rey’s volume falls between loud and ear bleeding. It’s a bit tiring when the only breaks from the guitar feedback come during the latter half of the album. Still for pure energy and frenetic pace the group has you covered in spades. “Quiet Little Voices” becomes a much grungier beast here, “Ships with Holes will Sink” is even more thrilling than it was in the studio, and Adam Thompson’s voice is vastly improved on E Rey’s version of “Human Error.”
Thompson’s voice is fantastically impressive throughout the record. As any fan of the outfit who has attempted to perform a sing-along will tell you, Thompson’s lines are not easy on the vocal cords. It’s surprising that he hasn’t lost his voice if he’s performing like this every night. His hollering is great throughout but it gets even better when he steps away from the microphone. On “Short Bursts”, his straight-to-the-audience yelling comes right before the guitars fuzz up and take over the sound. Elsewhere his Scottish accent gives poignancy to the one-two ending combo of “Pear Tree” and “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning.”
It’s by no means a perfect live album, but the band can’t be faulted for a few of E Rey’s flaws. Either the something went wrong in the mixing or the venue just amps up guitars because Sean Smith’s excellent bass work is occasionally flooded out by the band’s dual guitar attack. Those previously mentioned ear bleeding levels of noise all come from the guitar work which even drowns out Thompson’s powerful voice on a few sections. Still E Rey is an impressive feat for such a young band.
The most exciting thing here is how well the group has matured. They handle the more restrained “Peace Sign” with ease and the second half’s more post-rocker songs come off as focused and well crafted, even as the songs go well over the seven minute mark. The band’s encore of “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” combines everything great about E Rey, beginning with one of the rare delicate moments here: it mixes Thompson’s potent voice, one of Darren Lackie’s best drum performances (in an album full of grand moments), and of course a complete overload of guitar. E Rey might be one of the strongest recommendations to see this band that you could receive.