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Noblesse Oblige
Neurotic Mass Movement
James CookJames Cook

Electrowerkz, London
Saturday March 3 2012

 

Old rock stars never die. They just go solo.

I'm doing James Cook something of a disservice here, because he's not particularly elderly - nor, it must be said, has he ever been a rock star.

It wasn't for want of trying, mind. A few years back, James Cook was fronting Nemo, one of umpteen bands that were tipped for the top in the mid 2000s. Alas, Nemo never quite got there. I saw them in 2007. They were OK, in a vaguely new wavey kind of way, without ever being stop-you-in-your-tracks brilliant. The review is in these virtual pages, somewhere.

But that was then. Now, post-Nemo, James Cook has reinvented himself as a wry troubadour, belting out his singer-songwriter anthems with great gusto on guitar, with a little fiddle flavouring added by a violinist half-hidden in the shadows.

He works hard, does James, but I'm reminded of an observation I made of Nemo when I saw them back in '07: there was a distinct lack of killer tunes. The band had a suitably rambunctious sound, but nothing in the song department that particularly lodged in the brain. Tonight, James Cook is enthusiastic during his songs and disarming between them, but I don't think he's solved that old problem yet.

Neurotic Mass MovementNeurotic Mass Movement are a shapeshifting bunch, ever and anon reinventing the band. Collaborators come and go in a swirl around the core duo of Yin Neurotic (on vocals and electronics) and David DeSantos (on guitar and more electronics).

This means the Neurotic Mass Movement sound is in a state of continual flux, as the assorted accomplices bring their own juice to the party - and yet, the band's essential identity never wavers.

Tonight, with Rummy Keshet giving it the full rock star treatment on the bass, and the vocals weaving and soaring as if riding thermals, Neurotic Mass Movement edge towards left-field progressive rock territory. If a fan of King Crimson or Peter Hammill walked in on this set, I think they'd dig it.

But it's all still totally Neurotic Mass Movement. The band's sound is like plunging yourself into a dense sonic forest, darkly mysterious, thorns snagging at your head. Then - unexpectedly - you'll come upon a sunlit glade, and all will be sweetness and light until the clouds close in and the thorns spring up once again. And, let's face it, if you can conjure all that up in the prosaic surroundings of the Electrowerkz, you must be doing something right.

But now we emerge from the forest and enter the sepulchral cabaret of Noblesse Oblige. Here's another band that somehow creates its own bespoke world - although in Noblesse Oblige's case it's a cross between a tribal pow-wow and a velvet-encrusted night spot, all chandeliers and outré art.

We're a little short of velvet and chandeliers at the Electrowerkz, but we've certainly got the art. Valerie Renay stalks the stage, a totemic Cleopatra daring us to disobey.

Sebastian Lee Phillip, besuited and bootlace-tied, is the chief diplomat, wielding the official guitar of state. Together they call up spirits and rain down rhythms, and sally forth into the Noblesse Oblige repertoire of unconventional antthems.

'The Great Electrifier' is sleek and slinky, punctuated by castanets; 'Jalouse' a slow-burn slip-and-slide, all basement rumbling and warning glances.

Even '4am' is weirdly groovy, given that it's a song all about the bleakness of the early hours - it feels almost disrespectful to dance to it. But the Noblesse Oblige groove can't be denied. Tonight the band cut an insistent, danceable dash, even as they somehow manage to be formidably glam and compellingly, dauntingly cool.

 

Noblesse Oblige: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Neurotic Mass Movement: Website | MySpace | Facebook

James Cook: Website | Facebook

 

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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