Review: A Wilhelm Scream at The Borderline, London (March 15, 2014)

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Some gig reviews get written on the bus home. Some are written in an orderly way, the following morning with a nice pot of the black stuff, with a marshalling of the facts, a prosaic and faithful transcription of the show. Some are hurriedly scribed on the backs of hands before being finished, in haste, at 4am. But all are written – whether kindly or unkindly – from a place of arousal, with opinions being teased or tempted out, completed when one has emptied the mind of all it was provoked to say. That, amongst other truths, was utterly detonated by A Wilhelm Scream at the Borderline on Saturday night. Sitting down to write this almost 48 hours after the show, I am hampered by the total inability to feel – my sensibilities brutally, gloriously, majestically exploded. It is impossible to begin to get this show, to get near it, to enter its post code. The cliché is (almost) warranted: there are no words.

The Borderline is a scraggly place. A dusty, red curtain hangs behind the stage, framing the action like a poor school play. The sound is a little cruel. From anywhere other than five yards back, plum centre, it can sound a bit like a fart in a packet of Maltesers. But Gnarwolves, the featured support, fire gamely through, sweeping all away in the melody of the brilliant Community, Stability, Identity like a frenzied Menzingers, a proto-anthemic Parquet Courts.

No words, indeed. Let’s have a go. It’s owed. Opening with the tanking duo of Boat Builders and The Kids Can Eat a Bag of Dicks, the former from the headliners’ new album Partycrasher (No Idea, 2014), it’s clear we are all about to get hurt. The heat is incredible – sticky, aching heat through which A Wilhelm Scream have to carve rather than play. And how they play. Trevor Reilly and Mike Supina (the newest member of the band, having joined in 2008 after Chris Levesque, who captured some of the supreme work on Ruiner (Nitro, 2005), departed) swap frenetic glances, looks of delight, madness, endeavour, as they share orchestral fretwork and grinding palm muting, this kind of totalising guitar romance. A Dave Murray and Adrian Smith for punk rock.

Is this punk? Who knows. It’s fast. A 19-song set is kicked into the throat in just about 45 minutes. Their sound has all the jangling, gothic ephemera of Iron Maiden but all the snotty muscularity of Pennywise or Dead Kennedys. Their set is beguiling. They take liberal fistfuls of material from past albums, like The Soft Sell, I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz, 5 to 9 (the latter stitched together fiercely), with Partycrasher’s highlights like The Last Laugh and Born a Wise Man. It is uncompromisingly urgent.

Breaks are minuscule, to be taken only so as to take fluids and not die. And then it is on, forward, to something unreal. Brian Robinson is frightening all on his own, bass-playing of such a remarkable quality, so high a top drawer that most, including myself, just gaze at his fingering with eye seared open, almost forgetting to blink. (Speaking of fingering, overheard at the bar: “I saw Rage Against The Machine at Wembley Arena and I got fingered.”) Skid Rock displays all his powers, thundering along the fretboard, matched, pound for pound, by Nicholas Pasquale Angelini’s acerbic beats, his charging kick pedal. Nuno Pereira jumps buoyantly, grinning like an eight-year-old. Peak up, vest top, flinging himself like Pepe Reina, he looks thrilled to be fronting such a breathtaking unit, as we all are to be there witnessing it. But Pereira has chops of his own, growling like Chuck Ragan or Mike Ness, a quick-lipped Eddie Vedder. “Tie me up to the radiator! Trust the sweat, not the face it’s on!”

The technicality at this speed is simply something beyond what other punk bands can do. And it has long been known. A Wilhelm Scream, the band’s band. The band bands wanted to tour with, the one they listed as inspiration. But now, nearly ten years in, the Borderline caught the fusion of skill and deft songwriting that their recorded work had so often captured so sweetly: songs so catchy they seem to vacuum the air from the room. Come tomorrow night to Kingston, Pereira said, when it will really get “hot and nasty”. But this room is baking enough. Punters fly into each other, leap from the stage and hang upside down from the lighting rig. The King is Dead is followed by an encore of Hike and The Rip and we tread out, exhausted.

And so to words. They come easily to Pereira whose barked aggressions fire into the Charing Cross Road like rockets but, then, unfathomable flair comes easily to this band. It is left to the reviewer, when words consistently fail to do justice, to feel. And that feeling, that emotion when you watch a band so tight, so energetic, so mesmeric that you feel your eyes tingle and the back of your neck burn white with anticipation, with the sense that time might have just fallen off its track, that feeling when you see such a ferocious statement of authority, when a gulf in punk rock might just have been ripped open, when you encounter what might be the best hardcore band since Black Flag, that feeling – if we can find but one word – is awe.

★★★★★

Reviewed for Punktastic

Review: In-Finite Space at The Vaults Festival

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Are tweets spaces? Not many philosophers would want to answer that question. ‘Space’ is a term – like ‘narrative’ or ‘deconstruction’ – that while it has its role in thinking about humans, and has its philosophical antecedents, has now become impossibly ‘postmodern’ in the pejorative sense. To a philosopher it says imprecision, or worse: AHRC funding.

As for tweets, few philosophers have so far grappled with the questions of self in an age of digital self-division. It is often left to the arts to try and give meaning to human experience and so it is with the ostensibly non-digital realm of contemporary dance. IJAD, a London dance company, have continued their negotiations with social media (read: Twitter) in the third in a series of productions based loosely around temporality and space.

In-Finite Space, a project of choreographer Joumana Mourad, is notably concerned with transcending the gap between how the audience thinks about the work they are seeing, relating it to experiences of their own, and how, reflexively, the dancers can return interpretations of those experiences. The production, quite remarkably, relies on the tweets of its audience for its inspiration. It is brave art.

In this latest show at Waterloo’s magnificent Vaults, part of the Vaults Festival, the audience are asked to tweet their favourite space, that being in the perceived world, the digital world, the imaginary world, and so on. Many of these tweets are trite; answers like “Horizontal on cool grass” are clumsy but contribute to the problem with the production. (The worst tweet, which I saw from over a neighbour’s shoulder, was a space “on a train, travelling through a continent.”)

If the tweets here are to be honest accounts of one’s experiences, we ought to take into account, if we are to interpret them, the time-spaces in which these tweets are formed. The issue for IJAD is that a tweet occupies multiple digital and conceptual spaces owing to its availability to all people at all times. It takes on new meanings in new spaces. It has a history, a personality. I tweet about how I feel in the Vaults, but that makes little sense to my followers who aren’t all here with me, even though I’m using a hash tag to siphon off my tweets for this show. My knowledge of this – plus social embarrassment (and that not everybody uses Twitter to be honest) – might mean that I do not engage with the show as Mourad intends. Indeed, my embarrassment at being asked to think, an impolite request if there ever were one, meant that I shied behind tweets that were mostly self-aggrandising or merely took the piss. But the worry is that the production so rests on a dynamic that must be taken seriously. There is an irredeemable collapse between the audience and their honesty which renders the expression of their spatial relationships vague and unsatisfying. What isn’t explored is whether we need anonymity to feel the space we want in our multitudinously digital world. Why does Twitter only appear to have one dimension in a production, ironically, about time and space?

The phenomenal power of the movement (Alice Gaspari in particular involving herself in a nice nod to apples and Newtonian physics) is worshipful. The improvisation adopted to express the tweets is often extraordinary. But this second part of the performance is too short. I could gleefully have watched this for longer. Not much off of half an hour, it gets really exciting towards the end, which comes to soon, as all five performers move wonderfully in unison.

After the audience had been asked in the first part to explore the danced space with torches and tweets, this second part feels much more static. Spaces are demarcated between audience and performer. The tweets then function merely as source material. They could be read from a book. It matters not that the tweets are truthful or not, only that they are given in spaces that may require them to be truthful. Spaces house powers upon the tweeter and with IJAD, courageous though they are, this is lost. Tweets convey brief moments of agency but they are welded to the perceived recipient of the author and this production misses the vital component, therefore, of the digital self: dishonesty. Tweets are lies in space. And while this production rollicks with such a confident ingenuity, you can’t believe a word of it.

★★★☆☆

In-Finite Space runs until Saturday, March 8 at the Vaults Festival in London

Gig review: Birds In Flight @ O2 Academy 2, Islington, 20/01/2012

(This is a review for New Reviews, also available here: http://www.new-reviews.co.uk/?p=5473)

Southampton band Birds In Flight have to eat a bit of a broken glass sandwich tonight. Opening an unsigned showcase at 6:30pm is rarely exciting let alone at the joyless O2 Academy 2, Islington. (A can of Carlsberg Export is £4.40. Chewing gum is confiscated at the door.) But kicking off the night with ‘Wings’, they chug away with whoas and harmonies so wide they belie the venue’s narrow floor; next, straight into ‘Heroes’, its terrific disco middle section – a fine opening pair, a swift call to arms.

The immediacy of their sound is remarkable. There is an almost glib simplicity. One guitar, one vocal, a giant drum line. In fact, drummer Glenn Hampson is a revelation, the sheer volume of his snare strikes is aurally gutting, thrashing himself about, something akin to Chad Smith in Bon Jovi. Theo McDonald’s throbbing bass and sharp showmanship perfectly counters Luke Allen’s cautious guitar, his chunky palm mutes and seamless right hand. ‘Speak Up’ and ‘Time’ are tougher, smarter and more punishing than their studio versions on EP A Hand To Hold (2011), a nod to Paramore and Incubus.

Their sound is obvious but lean, and cutely nonchalant, like a Hemingway novel. There is no fat here, no soggy leftovers. A few times, this unfussiness is too clear. There is a tendency with some songs to follow a template: verse, chorus, repeat, middle breakdown, chorus – but this is raw output, pure charge. They are brutally casual – their persona manifestly embodied by vocalist Jess Gibbons. She is funny, a little awkward, shy, but her voice is staggering, deeply frightening. Not one bum note, not one wonky creak or croak: she is power, animated. It is incredible stuff. Her Joni Mitchell, middle-distance stare breathes guts into too-green lyrics. Tonight they soar, her voice colossal.

By the time we reach flagship track ‘Biggest Mistake’, the crowd are soundly beaten. This is a demon tune. The chorus is flat-out, undiminished rock vim, the melody so furiously catchy that there is not a head unbanged or foot untapped anywhere in the room. Gibbons is liberal and flirtatious with her pauses, gluing her vocal line to Hampson’s drums, letting the chorus smother you. There is a comfort here that few band members have with each other. A little more intrigue, a few more shrewd songs to show off their musicianship, a bigger stage, a lucky break – and they could be something.

★★★★