Future of the Left, The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 9 June 2012
I left our heroes in Cardiff on Wednesday night. To be more specific, I said "good night" to Andrew Falkous at Buffalo Bar at 23:57hrs where we were both struggling to fathom how a credit card-shaped USB memory device worked, like feeble-minded old folk presented with bewildering future technology. OK, that was me. I'm sure Andrew's bewilderment at said gizmo was feigned so that I wouldn't beat myself up with feelings of accelerating obfuscation. He's a gentleman, is Andrew. That should be noted.
Embarrassed at my lack of nous, and over-compensating wildly to demonstrate that I'm not 'past it' in front of youthful tour manager Gordon, I try to drink him under the table. It's unwise to try this with Glaswegians. Some stereotypes aren't monotypes for reasons of actual human cabling.
I learn that the modern guitar set-up (Gordon is guitar tech for Biffy Clyro, too) is of a complexity that would give CERN's scientists a headache. I hear about experiences in India that make me gape. I learn more about the strange discrepancy between artist earnings and the earnings those of us who feed off artists make. We have a thoughtful pint and then get assailed by a coked-up nutter who's very proud of his jacket.
The next time I see Gordon, he's on stage in Manchester checking Falco's guitar, a few nights later. This time the venue - part goldfish bowl/part Victorian music hall/part surreal wall of retro speakers - is rammed and getting rammed-er. It's hot. The audience is an edifying mixture of ages and haircuts. Some people are sat in a glass booth that looks like a sociological experiment. Unlike Belgium, there is a palpable sense of excitement in the room. Manchester get Future Of The Left. There is talk about the new album:
"Mate, it's the best thing they've done..." says one guy to another eyeing the album up at the merchandise stall.
It is, that. It expands the horizons of their previous albums, detailing aspects of our times without a whiff of ape or retro. Future Of The Left are the least obsequious band I have ever come across, they don't doff their cap to anyone. That's quite something in an almost entirely second-hand musical landscape.
Their DNA is quite a tangle: strands of Gang of Four, Chris Morris, Wire, Les Savy Fav, Stereolab, Half Man Half Biscuit may all figure somewhere - but the fingerprints aren't clear, just smudges overwhelmed by the fierce pattern of the main structure.
I miss the name of the first band on. They seem pretty good, but I only hear a song and a half. I see all of Fever Fever's set, though. My Tweet afterwards sums the experience up with a rare succinctness:
"Really enjoyed Fever Fever. Toy box Sleater-Kinney. Scuzzy, fresh and well good fun."
They're a three piece who play fuzzy and wiry songs that are twisty dark alleys filled with surprises and occasional daggers. nascent Pavement might have sounded a little like this if they'd had fewer testicles.
Future Of The Left aren't short of testicles: metaphorically nor anatomically. It takes balls to challenge the cosy, self-gratifying snoozefest that constitutes UK music in 2012. Radio stations that purport to support new music seemingly do so with all of the bravery and imagination of a stale flannel. In fact, that's unfair. At least stale flannels are a breeding ground for cultures of bacteria, that's more culture than is evidenced by the ear-friendly, lissom, twinkly folkishness busy being inoffensive on playlists throughout the land.
We have a lot of Radio 2s. Like number twos, but stinking up and clogging the airwaves.
(I like Radio 2, by the way. It's the fact that most other alternatives aren't really that much of an alternative to it that is galling. Paul Weller, for example, is not the future of UK music, and hasn't been since 1978.)
As with Belgium, the gig begins with a breathless segue of Arming Eritrea/Chin Music/Small Bones, Small Bodies and Beneath The Waves An Ocean. Unlike Belgium, the earth's crust threatens to crack open, such is the sense of intense "this is freakin' ace"-ness amongst the audience. Every distorted bass note, shattered chord (just not - generally - chords you'd find in any human chord book), pummelled drum and vocal exhortation is battered back by the audience. It's the give and take, the ebb and flow, the dialogue necessary for a great Future Of The Left gig. In some ways, their gigs are a little like DJ sets - infinitely more musically involved of course - similar from the point of view that audience participation is necessary to elevate proceedings to that whole other level.
You can sit down listening to Bombay Bicycle Club or Fleet Foxes. We talked a lot about sitting down yesterday. You can't sit down and watch Future Of The Left. It's hard enough listening to them in the privacy of your own home without getting tremors and palpitations.
Four songs in, and all three different albums have been represented. When you consider that the band also play a couple of mclusky classics (To Hell With Good Intentions and Lightsabre), it's evident what an incredibly strong back catalogue they can choose their set from.
By my reckoning, only six songs from the new album, The Plot Against Common Sense, get played tonight. It makes sense to not overwhelm an audience with new, unfamiliar material. They get the balance just right. It's remarkable to think how much better - even - this set will be when Notes On Achieving Orbit, Goals In Slow Motion and Cosmo's Ladder get added to it. If they get added to it.
Banter, or baiting - depending on who within the massed ranks is brave or stupid enough to open their mouth, between Future Of The Left and their audience has been a de rigeur part of their live experience. Back when they toured Travels With Myself And Another, Falco and Kelson would spend a good proportion of the set dealing with hecklers like a combine harvester's blades deals with dormice - if the dormice concerned were stupid enough to wear a Reverend and the Makers t-shirt to the gig, or dress in a pig outfit - to the general amusement of all concerned. But the two gigs I've witnessed this week have been much sharper in musical focus. In Belgium that was understandable. Verbal interplay with an audience in a foreign land creates more awkward pauses than are comfortable at a rock show.
However the same focus is also evident in Manchester. Stage asides, while still hilarious - Falco's love letter to Phil Collins before You Need Satan, for example - are just that, hilarious asides. It's all about the band. There are few distractions.
The band's ambidextrousness is on full show. Whether it's the fuzzy, fragged up sound of the Juno or the distorted, harmonised guitar riffs, the sound is apocalyptically exciting (well, I'd be excited come the ever end - so long as I had a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster to hand).
There are fists in the air for Satan, which is a sentence I'm hoping will be wilfully misconstrued somewhere. Falco's voice has more settings than a posh microwave. It does singing, shouty-singing, shouting, screaming, all the way up to demonic exorcism (I always thought this setting was reserved for moments when he forgets the words, but they seem to occur in the same places in the same songs. Maybe he doesn't know all of the words? It's taken me 20 years to learn the verse and chorus to Days by The Kinks, so I shouldn't cast stones. Not from this palatial greenhouse next to a quarry stocked with ample supplies of fist shaped rocks, I shouldn't.
It's tremendous and thrilling - and I'm in need of more adult adverbs in order to not make that statement sound like something out of Horse and Hound.
I Am The Least Of Your Problems is surf punk with vocals like the crest of an armageddon shock wave. To Hell With Good Intentions is a cacaphonously simple nursery rhyme for clever kids with sticky tape on their NHS glasses. Polymers starts off as fruitily as this band have ever sounded - Queen dethroned - and morphs into the most evocative coda this side of the big bang - Can lathering Stereolab synths while Falco turns something haiku-like about the ecology of the oceans into a mantra of cosmic import.
Robocop 4 kicks cinema's predilection for sequels in the shins with a riff that tears up Californian tectonic plates and tips Hollywood into the abyss. All helped along by the mighty strength of André the Giant.
Coldplay are playing elsewhere in Manchester tonight. My wife went to see them in London a couple of weeks ago. She shows me footage on YouTube. Everyone in the audience is filming the gig so that they can show it to their friends on YouTube. The gimps. No one raises a bloody iPhone in idiocy tonight. You come to a gig like this to live in the moment. The communion here is about the amazing noise this most excellent of bands makes, and the feeling that you aren't alone in feeling short-changed by the shameless, transparent machinations of the invidious, the greedy and the corporate. There is more to life than share prices, more to music than a phone vote on a Saturday evening. More to a gig than watching it through your smartphone.
Trying to watch the sparks coming off the band and the audience as the last triumvirate of songs is blasted into our torsos, through anything other than your own eyes, will result in permanent idiocy.
"Your brain will stick like that," to paraphrase half-a-dozen of my aunties.
adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood is lo fi, even lower case, death funk that has more in common with Parliament than it does with Kasabian. Lightsabre melts every mind within hearing distance and Lapsed Catholics, for the second gig running, is the point at which I have to go for a pee. I miss Jimmy and guitar crowdsurfing over the heads of the audience like an errant saint, connected by a curly umbilical cord to his God of Noise (all hail Marshall!)
I miss Jimmy doing this but have used some - only some - poetic license in attempting to paint the picture for you.
Mine is not the most objective voice when it comes to Future Of The Left, but this gig was all the big shiny adjectives - brilliant, awesome, amazing, remarkable - strung together with a zillion volts shot through them until the message is beamed far and wide, to every corner of our shabby isle, focusing particular attention on the dullard tastemakers who'd rather play us an old piece of Clash to signify our times than a new piece of Future Of The Left.
I have seen only a few gigs of comparable, primal excellence, in my long-ish life. What a privilege.
More beer is drunk. I feel sad that this will be the last time I see Dan (Williams - excellent young sound engineer/occasional lad) and Gordon (shandy drinker/great anecdotalist/brilliant tour manager). I'll invent excuses to come to Cardiff and see the band, even if they aren't gigging. They're friends, friends who happen to be in one of the last bastions of musical individuality and excellence of our times.
It's fitting that this review should just tail off back to the humdrum and the traffic jams of Coldplay fans trying to get out of Manchester. They've got their YouTube footage, I've got memories that will burn until my last brain cell goes out.