This was the third time this year alone I went to see this band. Never a disappointment…
Venue: The Venue, Derby
Date: July 12, 2013
Billed as a warm-up show for their T in the Park appearance, this is a chance for British Sea Power to fine-tune their festival slot, and to loosen up the joints and oil the valves in preparation. And presumably they chose Derby due to its genius equidistance between the band’s Brighton base and Kinross.
The recent Machineries of Joy tour saw the band play two sets either side of the support band. A small, semi-acoustic set in which a few seldom-heard-live BSP songs or re-worked versions would start proceedings, with their main set coming after a brief respite.
That brilliant idea is sadly dropped for this gig. Instead they choose to plough through a mammoth almost two-hour, 18-song set of hi-octane noise-rock, obtuse eclecticism, soothing lullabies and dancing bears. As expected. (More on thsoe bears later…)
The band enter the twinkling foliage-clad stage to the opening whir of ‘Machineries of Joy’. The song begins as a trickle before flowing into a turbulent swell of post-punk. It’s both yearning and epic, and provides the perfect foundation for the set.
The foliage is a throwback to their early days, when actual greenery would adorn the stage and a plastic heron could often be spotted peeping its beak over proceedings. Tonight, like on their Spring tour, the foliage is lit, lending a certain ambiance to the gig, although in the incendiary grasp of a heatwave, warmth isn’t something The Venue is lacking.
Before ringleader Yan hands the reins to his brother Hamilton (they share vocal duties), we’re treated to a rare outing of the throbbing ‘Larsen B’, without doubt the best song ever written about an ice shelf.
As the stifling air becomes even more clammy, Hamilton takes us on a mystical journey starting with ‘Loving Animals’ – a Beatles-y frolic which oscillates in and out of control, condemns bestiality, spits apocolyptic threats and climaxes in a dizzy rush. It’s followed by the equally unnerving, aurally challenging ‘Mongk II’, the only song they choose to play from their underrated Valhalla Dancefloor album.
Less messy and more chirpy is the delightfully pastoral, ‘Spring Has Sprung’, but even this is permeated by some glacial guitar work and a screeching, scowling apex.
By this point, although no criticism can be put upon the band, it’s time for a biggie. Those here for the hits are becoming restless. Therefore ‘No Lucifer’ is a timely, congenial crowd-pleaser. It’s also a brisk cinematic rollercoaster ride through the band’s dark recesses; an accelerated Syd Barret-styled product with the song’s inherent chant of “Easy, Easy, Easy…” reverberating around the room.
Hamilton, in fairness, should’ve stopped there. His voice hasn’t the staying power of brother Yan’s, and while Machineries of Joy album tracks ‘When a Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass’ and ‘A Light Above Descending’ are trippy and hazy respectively, they dither and dally a little too long.
Luckily, they have ‘Waving Flags’, and it’s this that pulls punters back from the bar with its anthemic strut and triumphant yomp through Eastern European reestablishment and political undercurrents. It remains one of the finest songs by any modern or post-modern British band. It’s also the point at which new mascot Bi-Polar Bear joins the moshpit for the first time, his huge frame a hit with the sweaty throng, although the poor sod inside the gigantic, furry suit is potentially dangerously close to heat exhaustion one would assume.
The gig then turns again. ‘ The Great Skua’ is an instrumental waft of fresh air. It somehow manages to tell the tale of the bird’s migrational pattern without a single word being uttered. Phil Sumner’s lustrous trumpet is sublime, Abi Fry’s soothing viola is warm and mesmeric, and the whole song is a rich tapestry of sonic grace.
Elsewhere fan favourite ‘Fear of Drowning’ sees a second member of the ursine family enter the fray. So now there are two 8-foot bears prowling amongst the crowd as the gig enters its final furlong.
‘K-Hole’ is a riotous, claustrophobic blitz of narcotic scuzzy fury and a cautionary tale about the downside of ketamine misuse, while another fan favourite, ‘The Spirit of St. Louis’, is defiant and grandiose. Bringing the levels down again, and paving the way for the encore, is ‘What You Need The Most’, a lazy lullaby with metaphors leaning towards a brittle and fractious personality.
When the encore arrives, it delivers the perfect ending. ‘Remember Me’ is the band’s signature tune, whether they like it or not. It’s a dramatic battle of guitars and drums, with the result being a hard-fought draw. ‘Carrion’, meanwhile, despite its macabre subject matter of death at sea, is a swirling maelstrom of energy and effervescence, knitted together with the mantra from ‘All In It’. The moshpit responds to this aural assualt as any decent moshpit should, and as the band end the gig with the enigmatic, unreleased white noise squall of ‘Rock In A’, guitarist Noble dons some rather dashing goggles and surfs the crowd while the noise envelops him. And let’s not forget: those two huge bears are still in this mix of flailing limbs somewhere!
It’s a typically chaotic end to their erudite and cultured set, and reaffirms exactly why they’re one of Britain’s best live bands. British eccentricity at its finest. Not even the vision of a lifeless bear suit resting flat on a table in the back room could dampen any spirits.