It’s just gone 10.27pm, and the guy standing next to me turns to his friend with a big smile breaking across his face and says, “I can go home now.” Wild Beasts have just finished playing “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants”, their debut single, and possibly the only song I can think of that contains the word “moribund”. In fact, “Clairvoyants” is anything but moribund – it’s a great, joyous conflation of high end Johnny Marr-style melodies (I’m thinking particularly of his playing on Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers”) and the more life-affirming side of Arcade Fire, maybe something like “Wake Up”. It’s a high point, certainly, of what’s proved to be another excellent night at the Borderline.
If we loop back a few hours to The Invisible, our opening band, and the evening’s high standard was set pretty early on. A three-piece from London, they’re caught up with jazz community the F-Ire Collective and, variously, they’ve worked alongside folks like Matthew Herbert and Seb Rochford. While it’s certainly possible to catch a sense of the jazz background with Leo Taylor’s drumming, it would be remiss of me to ally them too closely to bands like Rochford’s Polar Bear. Rather, you can hear traces of Eno circa Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy in Tom Herbert’s bass and, in the swathes of echoing guitars conjured up by Dave Okumu, I’m reminded of the chiming dream pop of Kitchens Of Distinction.
Cardiff’s Threatmantics – another three-piece – prove similarly elusive to pin down. At various points, I think of the Medway bands, early Fall, Meat Puppets and the Mekons. There’s something quite charming, too, about singer Heddwyn Davies’ apparent shyness. He spends most of their set hunched over his viola, barely engaging at all with the audience; it falls to drummer Huw Davies to fill in between-song patter. Davies, though, cuts an interesting form: stick-thin, with a moustache and a great, chunky fringe, he looks a bit like you’d imagine Julian Barrett’s younger brother would.
Wild Beasts come on to Richard Burton reading “Under Milk Wood”, which serves to set out their stall rather admirably. If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, in the edition of UNCUT we’re currently working on, one musician notes “Historians and journalists discuss things like lyrics. Band-members don’t.” It’s an interesting point, but clearly one that doesn’t work for Kendall’s Wild Beasts. References to “moribund” aside, here’s a band conspicuously in love with the art of lyric writing. “Please, Sir”, for instance, opens with the lines “Come to from slumber on bed’s soft tundra/Murky with mourn beside dead uniform” – beautiful, impressionistic stuff, and perhaps you could even reference those lyrics alongside Thomas’ own descriptions, at the start of “Under Milk Wood”, of the “Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams” in Llareggub. Anyway, I don’t want to get all lit-crit here; particularly as there’s plenty of other things to commend tonight’s show. You can’t help, for instance, but be struck by Hayden Thorpe’s extraordinary falsetto, that draws inevitable comparisons with Antony Hegarty. Nor the nimble interplay between Thorpe and Ben Little’s guitars. I keep coming back to the Marr comparison – “The Old Dog”, for one, makes me think of an early Smiths song, like “The Headmaster Ritual”. You could perhaps see again in the lyrics something Morrissey-esque – surely “Woebegone Wanderers”, as a title alone, seems close to “Rusholme Ruffians”. There’s also flashes of Vampire Weekend (another notably literate band), in drummer Chris Talbot’s Afrobeat rhythms and some clenched, spidery riffs, spreading their net further, you might even detect touches of The Clash’s “Radio Clash” on a new, as yet untitled song. They finish, aptly, with “Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye”.
Wild Beasts set list:
Vigil For A Fuddy Duddy
The Devil’s Crayon
The Old Dog
Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants
His Grinning Skull
Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye
Anyway, we’ll be back next week for Department Of Eagles. Hope to see you there.