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ColtVertical Smile

Tesco Disco
@ Hedges & Butler, London
Wednesday March 27 2007




Somewhere under Regent Street, beneath the temples of hi-end consumerism that line one of London's major shopping arteries, there lurks a cellar once (and possibly still) owned by a venerable firm of wine merchants. But where oaken barrels of finest red and white were once racked up, now there's a minimal stage, a frankly rather haphazard-looking PA, and a veritable stack of odd and creative beat combinations. This is Tesco Disco, a night spot which unblushingly describes itself as a 'nocturnal art salon'. Well, the proceedings might in fact resemble a good old art-punk shindig to my eyes, but let's buy an outrageously overpriced bottle of beer from the bar, and shuffle in to the gig room to experience some of that nocturnal art.

I don't know if this represents a whole new direction for the band, or whether Colt have put together an appropriately minimalist show for this particular gig, but there's a distinct absence of guitars and drums on stage. Instead, tonight Colt play as a two-keyboards-and-voice trio, making music that seems to tiptoe out of the haphazard PA with a certain nervous delicacy. Vocalist Andrea, looking Unifiormglamourous and fractured in gold PVC, stands at the edge of the stage as if poised upon a ghastly precepice, the mic stand the only thing that stops her stepping into space. The songs themselves are like nerve endings crocodile-clipped to electric wires - taut, stretched, thrumming with internal energy, and curiously unsettling to boot. When the audience greets the conclusion of one particular song by simply sitting in stunned silence - a reaction which would spell doom for most bands - it seems only appropriate.

Here come the mysterious Uniform, and all of a sudden everything goes a bit Throbbing Gristle. Uniform aren't really a band - they're more of a sonic art experience. They use conventional instruments - guitar, bass, keyboard, even a trombone - to generate unconventional noise. Rumbles and electronic fizzes erupt as if from the bowels of an unseen monster. Violin bows and toothbrushes coax sound out of guitars. In the midst of all this, holding court like the Grand Vizier of weird rackets, the magnificently moustachioed keyboard player sits amid the sonic boom, his keyboard propped up on wine boxes. I suppose that's one thing about doing a gig in a wine cellar: you get a better class of beer crate. Uniform aren't quite the po-faced noise-terrorists they might at first appear, though. Amid the forbidding clamour I'm sure I hear a snatch of Motorhead's 'Ace Of Spades', a little hint that there's wit at work here, too.

Were we talking about noise? Well, here comes some more, except this time it's at least tangentally connected to ye olde rock 'n' roll. That's not to say that The/Kill/For/Kicks are any kind of traditional rock band. The ingredients of their sound are simple: beat box, guitar, and voice, and everything's turned up to freak-out levels. Leaping around the room in camo threads like Rambo's daughter after The/Kill/For/Kickstoo much Lucozade, the singer freaks and shrieks and confronts random members of the audience, pausing only to inform us that she's feeling sick. The audience stands back nervously, not knowing whether that's just another part of the show, or whether there's a real chance that things might get a little moist. Fortunately, the set thumps and screams and rattles to a conclusion without anyone losing their lunch, and I'm left to conclude that while The/Kill/For/Kicks might have limited themselves creatively - there's only so far you can take the thrashy-guitar-plus-feak-out thing, after all - they're certainly masters of their peculiar art.

Wearing a sun visor and the air of a bohemian philosophy professor on his day off, Youth doesn't look much like the doyen of punk-funk rifferama. And yet that's exactly what Vertical Smile deliver: insistent, fuelled-up rhythmic clamour, every song slapped down on the dance floor like a challenge. The arrangements are spacious and uncluttered - every instrument knows what it's there for and does its own thing, no more and no less. Even the squibs and squiggles of electronics that underpin and punctuate much of the music are placed as carefully as symbols on a map. All of which is just what we'd expect, of course, from a band led by the man who did much to shape Killing Joke's taut, economical, early sound. Vertical Smile certainly refer back to the sound of first-album Killing Joke (and even have that vintage Joke tune 'Change' on the set list - I know this because I looked and I saw it) but they aren't here just to kick around a bit of nostalgia. There's an edge to the Vertical Vertical SmileSmile sound that is definitely now, rather than then, and in the confines of Tesco Disco's wine cellar it slams off the old brickwork in fine style. The set is cut short - the band don't actually get far enough down the set list to play 'Change', although we do get those fine floorslammers 'Automatic Freq' and 'Black Light' - but they deliver enough to impress. If this is nocturnal art, I'm having some.




Essential links:

Vertical Smile: MySpace
The/Kill./For/Kicks: MySpace
Website | MySpace
Colt: Website | MySpace

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

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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