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Vertical Smile
Noblesse Oblige

Warm Leatherette @ Madame Jojo's, London
Thursday July 22 2010

When I wrote a little preview for this gig on the London Gigs website, I remarked that Tribazik sounded like a heavy metal version of Jesus Jones. That was based on a quick listen to the tunes on the band's MySpace page - but now, at the gig itself, with the band rocking things up right in front of me, I realise how wrong I was to say that. Tribalazik are not a heavy metal versiion of Jesus Jones at all. Goodness me, no. They're a space rock version of Jesus Jones.

TribazikAs a matter of fact, tonight Tribazik's frontman - a dreadlocked dude who looks like his natural home is the Weird Field at Glastonbury - describes the band's music as 'rave metal', which is definitely a concept that could go either way if you ask me.

But the band's thundering dance-rock, laden with electronic squiggles and spacey far-out-ness, actually works rather well in real life, as it were. Even the vocals sound more forceful than the trying-too-hard-and-not-quite-making-it feel of the recorded stuff.

If Tribazik were on stage about midnight in the Weird Field at Glasters, and I was suitably off my knackers and thus in a suitable frame of mind to dig their wig - you know what? I suspect I might just large it.

And now the annual return of Noblesse Oblige, who I still instinctively think of as a London band - but they've been based in Berlin for a few years now, and it's rare that they take a swing through old Blighty these days. I have to admit that Berlin suits Noblesse Oblige, though, because in all sorts of ways they are very, very Berlin. Arch and frosty, unfailingly deadpan, their mere presence exudes bierkeller cool. Their out-there cabaret is only tangentally related to rock music, but here in the velvet-trimmed surroundings of Madame Jojo's, it fits right in.

Noblesse ObligeWide of eyes and extravagant of hairstyle, vocalist Valerie Renay is a compelling mistress of ceremonies as she stalks the stage and fixes the crowd with a basilisk stare. On acoustic guitar - and occasionally ukelele - Sebastian Lee Phillipp is an ominous maestro, looming in his black suit.

It says much for Noblesse Oblige's sheer force of presence that they perform an entire set of new material tonight (all drawn from their latest album, Malady) and the crowd is with them all the way. There are no shouts for old faves: the new songs do the business, a feat all the more impressive given that these days Noblesse Oblige seem to be tending towards spookily whimsical narrative ballads in which crowd-pleasing disco beats are conspicuous by their absence.

But with flurries of percussion and blasts on kazoo and hunting horn, there's no neglect of dynamics, and when the show crashes to a madcap tribal finale the applause is loud, long, and entirely deserved.

If you've been reading this webzine for a while (and I'm sure you have, because you're a cool person) you'll know all about Vertical Smile. They've been championed around these parts ever since issue 3. Vertical Smile, of course, is the thrumming punk-funk monster band assembled by Youth, Killing Joke's original bassist, which first emerged a couple of years back (when Killing Joke themselves were still on their metal tip) and staked out musical territory not a million miles from Joke's old school sound. I may be getting a bit too speculative for my own good here, but I wonder if the emergence of Vertical Smile had a hand in nudging Killing Joke towards the reformation of the original line-up, and the rediscovery of the original Joke groove.

At any rate, Killing Joke did reform, and played some blistering gigs in which the funk was definitely back. Ironically, this meant that Vertical Smile had to go on hold for the duration, but now they're back, too. There are a couple of new Vertical Smilers on stage tonight, but Youth is centre stage on bass, Vertical SmileDavid Knock is on drums, so the essential rhythm section is present and correct. And, believe me, if Vertical Smile are about anything, they're about rhythm.

So, here we go. Video cut-ups flicker and dance on a screen behind the band. The boiling rhythmic stew surges out of the PA. Vertical Smile are loud and punchy, and for all the guitar extravagances that colour the sound, for all the gloops and loops and electronic outbursts, there is definitely punk juice in the wires tonight.

The band launch headlong into new songs and revamped old songs: 'Black Light' now has a whole new lyric, with Youth giving us a potted history of popular music from 70s soul, through punk, to latter-day rave culture, all currents in the same ocean as far as he's concerned, 'And there was! No! Difference!' he yells, as the music scales heights around him. 'Explode' is a slow-burn fuse that - sure enough - builds up into a massive musical blam, while 'Automatic Freak', previously a meticulous disco workout, has now become a manic rush of no-holds-barred sound.

Vertical Smile are still obviously a work in progress, a project liable to mutate in any direction at any given moment. That's half the beauty of the band, of course, half the reason we like 'em. But the other half of the reason is right here, on stage in front of us, churning and burning and giving it loads.

Vertical Smile: MySpace

Noblesse Oblige: Website | MySpace

Tribazik: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Vertical Smile and Noblesse Oblige by name here.

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