Live review

Club Uncut @ The Great Escape: Abe Vigoda, Vivian Girls, The Phantom Band, Crystal Antlers, Blind Pilot – 15/05/09

If last night was loosely the folk night of Club Uncut’s Great Escape bill, this is probably the ‘rock’ or ‘psych’ night.

The evening starts with a red herring, though. Blind Pilot, a quartet from Portland, Oregon, are folk-rock through and through. Grounded by a double bassist and fleshed out by a banjo player, they’re obviously country-influenced, but tastefully so. Frontman Israel Nebeker’s clear Fleet Foxes-esque vocals are well complimented by hired hands Katie Claborn and Luke Ydstie’s harmonies.

Their Neil Young stylings on tracks like “Go On Say It” are certainly pleasant and entirely listenable, but hardly unique, so it’s relieving that they turn all tribal and Glitter Band for one track, with Claborn joining drummer Ryan Dobrowski to bash out a heavy rhythm on the toms.

An invigorating set then, although it would have been better if Claborn’s lead banjo had been louder than Nebeker’s rhythmic, but less interesting, acoustic strumming.

Next up are Crystal Antlers, former headliners of a recent Club Uncut night in London. The six-piece are on blistering form, segueing between their prog epics with hardly a word to the audience. With their Doors organ, Cuban-sounding percussion and hoarse screaming, the Long Beach group sound like a cross between The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In – fitting, then, that their debut EP was produced by the former’s keyboardist.

The Pavilion Theatre’s great system really gives definition to each distorted, echo-laden instrument, averting the risk of the sound turning into a swampy psychedelic soup. In his blog on their previous Club Uncut set, John Mulvey complained that Andrew King’s frantic wah wah solo-ing is unfortunately pushed to the back of the mix, again a slight problem tonight. New songs from their forthcoming album “Tentacles” are the highlight of the set; in particular, new single “Andrew” is a swirling 6/8 blues treat.

Glasgow’s The Phantom Band begin their set all striking percussion instruments as Moog synth loop burbles underneath. The six-piece are as progressive as Crystal Antlers, but embrace pulsing Krautrock instead of the Long Beach residents’ hairy jamming.

Songs like set highlights “The Howling” – their next single – “Burial Sounds” and “Crocodile” invoke the eccentric, fluorescent spirit of Super Furry Animals and The Beta Band, or a less lysergic Animal Collective.

The instruments they use are as eclectic as any of the above, their guitars and odd synths joined by duelling melodicas on one track, and all manner of percussion on others. Again, they say little to the crowd, relying on the force of their motorik rhythms and analogue electronics to keep interest.

Vivian Girls bring the evening back to a more stripped-down rock’n’roll feel after all the, admittedly impressive, prog excess. The trio of tattoo-ed Brooklyn-ites mix up the energy and speed of hardcore punk with the beat feel of early Beatles, and showcase most of the tracks from their self-titled debut tonight. They’re as raucous and messy live as they are on record, their lack of technical proficiency countered by their frenzied delivery. At times, it’s like watching your friend’s teenage garage band – just way more exciting.

“Is the reverb on?” asks drummer Ali Koehler at the start of the set, not the only time she checks their echoey sound is right – at times, the ambience is almost like a fourth member, and it perfectly suits their vintage sound.

To be honest, Uncut loses count of how many songs they play, as they’re all well below the two-minute mark and fired off in quick succession. During the final song, the only one that appears to be longer than three minutes, the trio all switch their instruments, while still raggedly playing the song, of course. Impressive stuff.

Californians Abe Vigoda close the packed line-up at the theatre tonight. The four-piece take joy in irritating the crowd by chatting geekily onstage – “So Club Uncut – Uncut – you know what that means in the US?” laughs guitarist Juan Velazquez like a naughty schoolboy. Luckily, their music is much more interesting than their onstage chat, their circular songs clattering along like a cross between The Fall and Fela Kuti. In keeping with the slapdash performance, there seems to be no setlist, and lyrics are virtually inaudible beneath the slap-back echo of their cheap guitars.

During the penultimate song, Vivian Girls get up onstage and end up spanking Velazquez with tambourines, rocking the band’s amps back and forth. A fitting end to an intense night, then.

Check back tomorrow for more on Club Uncut’s last night at The Great Escape, featuring School Of Seven Bells and White Denim.


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