Wandering round Brighton on my way to see our Uncut night at The Great Escape Festival, it was surprising to see that the humble Pressure Point, our home for the next few days, seemed to have the biggest queue of any venue at that time. No doubt this was because of the opening act, a certain Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver.
Maybe not on Vampire Weekend levels of hype just yet, Bon Iver has certainly been one of the most talked about artists this year. Uncut gave his album, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, top marks but, personally, I haven’t been totally convinced. It’s a good record, but the relentless uniformity of the sound throughout, including Vernon‘s multi-tracked falsetto, is a bit too unrelenting.
Live, though, I can see what his worshippers are on about – and incidentally, there were certainly many there, including, if I’m not mistaken, excellent dreamy psych-pop duo Beach House standing just in front of me. Coming on to a literally packed house, Vernon began with his debut’s opening track ‘Flume’, complete with sparkly guitar feedback and polite percussion from the two musicians joining him.
The uniformity of the record is pretty much overturned live: Vernon uses an electric guitar for much of the set and most tracks end in a fuzzy jam of the kind Thurston Moore wheeled out on his recent shows supporting his ‘Trees Outside The Academy’ album. ‘Creature Fear’ and ‘The Wolves’ are other highlights of the set, during which the crowd are so quiet you can literally hear two people whispering at the back of the room.
Ending in the middle of the room with an un-amplified sing-along version of ‘Skinny Love’, Vernon‘s off into the night – as, unfortunately, are almost all the audience.
As Wild Beasts take the stage next it’s clear that tonight was turning into quite a falsetto-fest. Dressed like early ’60s dockers (possibly), these Lake District lads play flamboyant, trebly indie topped with untamed screeching falsetto – basically, Mansun performing ‘Les Miserables’, as horrible/amazing as that sounds.
The first few times I heard their forthcoming ‘Limbo, Panto’ album it was pretty irritating to say the least, but I now seem to have reached that point with difficult records where irritation spills into amazement. Songs like forthcoming single ‘The Devil’s Crayon’ and my personal favourite ‘There’s Life In The Old Dog Yet’ seem to exist in a parallel universe, where Van der Graaf Generator did the soundtrack for ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and Nico took the lead in ‘The Sound Of Music’.
For someone just stumbling upon them for the first I imagine it would be a little disturbing, especially as Hayden and bassist Tom‘s voices tremor and trill over their Orange Juice guitar rattles on the brilliantly-titled ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’. Even so, they go down pretty well and the rejuvenated crowd seem to enjoy it, but probably not as much as we do.
In another eclectic U-turn, LA noise-punks No Age close the night to a crowd nearly as stoked as Bon Iver‘s. The duo, on guitar and drums/vocals, punctuate their thrashy and trashy songs with looped feedback and ambient samples, so they sound not unlike a Husker Du/Brian Eno mash-up. No Age don’t do ballads (surprise, surprise) and every song is pretty much the same – ambient feedback intro/short punk song/ambient feedback outro – but hey, who cares, at least it’s a good song. Guitarist Randy also manages to fill out the sound enough with his boxes of tricks so you don’t notice the lack of a bass guitar.
Highlights include the noisy, shouty ‘My Life’s All Right Without You’ and the, um, noisy and shouty ‘Eraser’ – when you’re as tight a live band as this, with so many visceral thrills to offer a crowd, variety doesn’t really matter. Plus, they were selling some pretty cool and pretty cheap No Age t-shirts and sunglasses after the show – what more do you need?
The Uncut nights continue at The Great Escape with sets from ‘the new Arcade Fire’ Broken Records and Brooklyn world-psychers Yeasayer. Check out our blog tomorrow for more on that.