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Former Ghosts flyerFormer Ghosts
Terror Bird

Cargo, London
Tuesday March 8 2011




A night of electronix at Cargo, of ambient-to-noisy varieties. And just to introduce a 'found sound' element to the proceedings, now that the railway arch that Cargo occupies has a railway on top again - the formerly disused line above is now part of the London Overground - the rumblings of unseen trains occaasionally interrupt the on-stage sounds.

That's probably not a bad thing as far as Powerdove are concerned, for they seem to deal in half-heard sussurations, hummings and buzzings and other electronic colouration. The thrum of passing trains only adds to the flavour. A self-effacing laptop-controller bloke handles the noise layers, putting an ebb and flow of sound behind Annie Lewandowski's meticulously-plucked acoustic guitar and cool, restrained, vocals. The result is a kind of futuristic campfire folk music - it conjures images of space-hippies gathering around their LED synthi-fires, singing wistfully of a life more real. Mind you, I'm willing to admit that might just be what's going on in my head. Powerdove are low key, but their music sneaks into your psyche.

Powerdove / Terror Bird

We tweak the intensity knob up a notch or two for Terror Bird. That's not to say they're some sort of slammin' industrio-techno experience, or anything, but their lyrics seem to deal in high-drama kitchen sink angst, while the music is all minimalist synth-swoons and clattery 80s drum machine sounds. So far, so Soft Cell, you might think, but Terror Bird are a lot less glamourous and a lot more - well, domestic - than that.

Maybe the band's lyrical fixation on the dramas that lie within, and their resolutely matter-of-fact demeanour, is connected in some way with the fact that the two Terror Birds, Nikki Never and Jeremiah Haywood, are a married couple. They station themselves behind small electro-units as if taking the stand at a divorce hearing, po-faced and studiedly serious, as if their relationship counsellor has warned them not to laugh. 

Their songs seem to gravitate towards the domestic and the introspective, for if the bits and pieces of lyric I catch are any guide, the band's specialist subjects appear to be personal melodramas and furrowed-brow navel gazing. The vocals are delivered with impassive detachment by Nikki Never, who really should be a bit more flamboyant with a name like that. I'm waiting for the set to kick up a gear - for the killer song to come up, the one that really sets the house ablaze - but it never quite happens. Terror Bird's curiously intense impassivity envelopes us like a fire blanket. It's enough to make you want to live in sin.

Former GhostsEvery potted biog I've read about Freddy Ruppert - the principal Ghost in Former Ghosts - mentions that he was previously in This Song Is A Mess But So Am I. The inference being that the band is so goshdarned famous only an ignoramus would never have heard of 'em. Well, I am that ignoramus, because I've never heard of them. Good name, mind, but beyond that, I know nuffin'.

I've come to Former Ghosts by the back roads, as it were: via Zola Jesus, who is an occasional Former Ghost herself, and appears, along with Yasmine Kittles of TEARIST and Jaimie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, on the latest Former Ghosts album New Love. Of all Freddy Ruppert's collaborators, only Jamie Stewart is present tonight, however, on percussion and electronics. He's boxed in by a bench of effects, cymbals and drums, a physical presence that pushes Former Ghosts' show beyond the realm of mere button-pushing.

Freddy Ruppert himself is a decidedly physical presence, too. Bequiffed and tattooed like a fifties fairground hand, he exudes an intensity that's at odds with his instrumentation: the ubiquitous Apple laptop and a miniture keyboard. He's a one-man bout of rock 'n' roll turmoil, clenching his fists and scowling at the hardware, twisting and jerking and prowling the stage.

He sings like a heart-of-darkness Phil Oakey amid stormclouds of roiling electronica. There's a loud/soft dynamic at work in much of the music: the audience is lulled into a misguided sense of security as the band takes the songs down to rumbling incantations - but then, suddenly, everything explodes in a tumult of crashing drums and seething antagonism.

It's a bit like being present at Freddy Ruppert's auto-exorcism: there's a sense that he's hauling the bad stuff out of his head and beating it into submission, just as he and Jamie Stewart frenziedly lay into the drums. At the end, after the crashing and bashing dies away, he collects himself with a visible effort, and politely thanks us and wishes us goodnight. At this moment it almost seems as if Freddy Ruppert has pulled himself back from the very edge of a cliff. Those ghosts certainly got banished tonight.

Former Ghosts


Former Ghosts:
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Terror Bird:
Website | MySpace | Facebook

Website | MySpace | Facebook

For more photos from this gig, find Former Ghosts by name here.

Find a Former Ghosts album review here.


Live shows by Former Ghosts collaborators Zola Jesus and TEARIST are reviewed here.

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