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An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump

Metro Club, London
An Experiment On A Bird In The air PumpThursday Sepotember 18 2008




The opening band tonight was originally billed as 'Sexx', but instead we've got the Birds.

I don't know if there actually was a band called Sexx, who unfortunately experienced a bizarre gardening accident shortly before showtime or something, or whether the name was always intended to serve as a disguise for An Experiment on a Bird in The air Pump, who'd decided to do this one in secret – but, anyway, here they are, filling this grubby basement with basslines like rumbling Underground trains and drumbeats like a surreal marching band.

The paradoxes of the Birds - the stripped-down line-up that generates a full simmering sound, the left-field rhythm-on-rhythm approach that still results in mutant soulful anthems - are in full and unique effect. In a world of identikit indie chancers, this is one band that you can't mistake for any other.

Scratchy, clattering, and generally doing their best to sound like nerve endings being roughed up by a cheese grater, ddd rattle out a set of minimalist polemics, arranged for two guitars and beat box. There's been a 50% line-up change since I last saw the band in a tent somewhere in Essex: the second guitarist tonight is new. But that doesn't make a heap of difference to the racket – and i

n any case, I get the impression that the band belongs to the number one guitarist, who also supplies the dddvocals in a stream of estuary-English petulance, just this side of a rant and occasionally the other. Exactly what he's ranting about is hard to fathom, but ddd come across as fractious pissed-offness set to suitably jagged music. I'm not sure I can take the band to my heart and love them, but I'm glad this stuff exists. The world needs petulance.

On record, Ulterior are a broiling electronic soup made from equal parts Suicide, Jesus And Mary Chain, Big Black and James Ray's Gangwar.

On stage, somewhat surprisingly, Ulterior seem far more of a straight-up rock band, albeit with an array of black boxes where the drum kit would normally be. The singer's bandanna, which he wears in a frankly worrying non-ironic manner, perhaps drops a clue. When your frontman looks like a cross between Ian Astbury of the Cult and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream in his dadrock phase, you know that you're in for a rock 'n' roll experience.

The impression that we're in the presence of some good ol' rockers is enhanced by the fact that the band have spread an American flag on the stage, upon which they stand to play. Now, this may be intended as some sort of statement (symbolically trampling on the new imperialism that the USA seeks to impose on the world?) but the effect is to make the band look paradoxically like some sort of downhome country-rock outfit, the kind of band that you'd find playing for dancing in a roadhouse in Texas. I mean, bandannas and Old Glory? What is this, a Little Feat covers band, or something?

UlteriorFortunately, although Ulterior might have a slightly counter-intuitive grip on the visuals, the music does the business. Loud and abrasive, stripped of the studio-disciplined electronic groove of their recorded works, the Ulterior live sound is akin to a squadron of jet fighters blasting over the North Sea.

Everything is fast, every element of the sound is packed in tight. The guitar (played, as it happens, by the guitarist who was in ddd last time I saw them; perhaps we've got some sort of musicians' swap shop going on here) fights for space with the fizzing electronics, while the bass keeps the bottom end nailed.

The vocalist hunches over the microphone, wearing an expression that suggests he's not at all happy about – well, everything in life, possibly. His voice is an aggrieved howl at the world, rage and irritation in equal measures. It's all very intense, and...yes, it's rock and roll.

In a way, I'd like Ulterior to reproduce their electronics-to-the-fore studio sound to a greater extent on stage (quite frankly, I'd also like them to re-think the bandanna situation). But even so, as an unexpectedly rock proposition, they do the right stuff.


Essential links:

Ulterior: MySpace

ddd: MySpace

An Experiment On a Bird In The Air Pump: MySpace

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

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