Saturday, November 22, 2008
THE BIRMINGHAM HOTEL
“I used to walk past this pub everyday,” says chief-Zillion and songwriter supreme Nick Craft. “And I never thought I’d end up in it. It’s like kismet or fate.”
The relatively newness of the Birmy is still enough to lend a little edge to tonight’s proceedings. The PA is in fine form and the Speak N Spell DJs do a great job in setting the mood. Though there is little to remind the punter that this is an evening presented by Speak N Spell (no merch, no cross promotion, just the odd heckle from the stage) the vibe is one of handsome dark-jacketed types checking out some thoughtful guitar-rock.
The Rise and Demise have, for a few years now, been plugging their atmospheric and progressive folk-rock against a scene that seems unlikely to view them as anything but an oddity. It’s hard to figure out whom their long, rambling and bombastic pieces are for besides themselves. You can’t dance, drive, drink, fuck, fight, empathise with, or be transported by their music so caught up is it with the lyrics. The musicianship is fine (particularly the vocal harmonies) but the songs seem to ramble by with little direction or tension/release. There also seems to be disunity amongst the band; NIN-branded guitar, post-rock drummer, a classical cellist, a tinkling rhodes piano and everyone in love with sustaining their sounds. Harmonies are tight and the song Silent Silver Seas is a respite with its shifting dynamics but overall it’s a bit near-enough-is-good enough. “Sorry for the late start, our curries took a long time to be delivered at the curry joint,” says singer Luke Benge of their 11pm beginning. “So it’s not really our fault.” Their black humoured banter though, is terrific.
The Zillions on the other hand are a tightly fused bundle of considered jangly rock. Driven by a coursing and surging rhythm section, the somewhat lackadaisical delivery of songwriter, singer, guitarist and a man clearly obsessed with the letter Z Nick Craft, counters the pace nicely. Launching their curiously titled Play! Zeuxis: Xight? Zeen… album it’s the arresting older track Step Into The Sun that gives you what you always hope for at a gig: a thrilling surprise and welcome reminder that smart people can rock too. It’s insistent rhythm and effortless returning melody sticks in the head for days after. Though most songs have a few too many chord changes to be considered catchy, the ‘American My Bloody Valentine’ feel of their guitar-twinned vocal lines and slacking strums give the lyrics a subliminal drive which is effective, especially in newer songs Back Into Your Arms, Shade and the older Raincoat Girls. This can’t stop the set sounding pretty samey, despite the charging drumming of Rohan Mason; their sound is great but it’s a little emotionless and doesn’t seek to engage. Still, Canberran ennui has never been rendered into such well judged escapist rock, and anyone who can take a Christian Vision advertisement and turn it into the sub two-minute blast of Who Is Me? deserves a PhD’s-worth of respect.