Sunday, 12 January 2014

11th January 2014: The Fierce and the Dead / Thumpermonkey - New Cross Inn, London

Ladies and gentlemen, I have failed you. I've just checked and it has been at least a year since I wrote anything about Matt Stevens, which is both sad and slightly worrying. What if I've fallen out of man-crush with the Giant Cuddly One?

Fear not- the love which has far too often spoken its name is still as strong as ever, on tonight's showing; as I bring you my first gushing tribute to The Fierce and the Dead, the band Matt plays in when he's not doing things to an acoustic guitar which are probably illegal in 37 states.

"These are small, and those are far away..."

Tonight's gig in New Cross is a bit of a bastard to get to - hardly surprising since it is in the London area on a weekend (gee, thanks, TFL.) It's therefore heartening to see the place rammed when I arrive, with people who've come all the way from Catford and Stroud- rock on.

Unfortunately my travel woes cause me to miss all but the last song of the Mayors of Miyazaki's set - but what I do hear reminds me a bit of Everything Everything. And the Cardiacs, surprisingly enough for a band playing a gig with bands from the sort of Knifeworld scene. Oh look, there's Kavus. Mind you, Kavus is everywhere, as he should be for the good of our planet, a bit like Nitrogen.

The New Cross Inn is a pretty cool venue - it's basically a pub with a largely empty floor space and no regular tables and chairs, although there are a few outdoor picnic tables at the back, in case anyone's brought a hamper and fancies a scotch egg or two. Actually the need for a sit down is much less necessary than usual as tonight's crowd is definitely younger than the usual prog rabble, although two guys near me as I wait are having a conversation about Stonehenge so perhaps it's not so different. A couple play pool in the corner all through the night, and over the other side there is a lady in a little black dress, wearing a long blonde wig with bits of tinsel in it. I like this place.

The Fierce and the Dead finish setting up and start off a pretty funky jam which may or may not be the start of the set; but apparently not, as they soon give up on this and kick off with opening track 'Part 4' from the new album 'Spooky Action'.

Buy. Buy album. Buy album NOW!

Ah yes, standard Stevens loopy, jangling guitar riff... Except- hang on a beard-wearing minute- it's electric. And Matt's not even playing it. Yes, without hearing them it would be easy to imagine that the Fierce and Dead might be a kind of full-band version of Matt's solo acoustic looping albums. Perhaps the opening deliberately plays on this for as long as it takes to lull the unsuspecting listener into a false sense of security, before smashing them over the head with a grungey riff which gives way to spacey sounds and feedbacky, distorted guitar.

In truth, it's fair to say that TFATD (as all the hip kids call them) bear little relation to Matt's solo stuff - his contribution here being largely more "soundscapes" and "what the bloody hell was that noise?" than "rhythm and loops", leaving Steve Cleaton to play a lot of the recognisable chiming guitar patterns.  In fact, anyone from the little prog community that's taken Matt's solo looping work to its heart so warmly might be forgiven for assuming that it's very much Matt's band and all the others in it merely players- but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Mr. Stevens is quite some way from the loopy-dancing, pedal stomping, guitar trashing dervish of his solo sets, taking a side stage role and never hogging the limelight, which means there's plenty of eye-capacity to enjoy everyone else on stage.

Or, indeed, off-stage, as bassist and geographical frontman Kev Feazey abandons his microphone and jumps down the few centimetres off the platform at a few points to rock out down the front and watch what the rest of the band are up to. Pretty cool idea - especially since he's not actually using the microphone. Yep, The Fierce and the Dead are an instrumental rock band - get over it. Rather an instrumental band than one with a shit vocalist.

I insert this picture here for no reason at all.

Anyway, who needs a singer at all? Certainly not me: all I demand is a tight and entertaining rhythm section, and this band deliver in spades - Kev being a mesmerising bass player, who sets up some fearsome grooves in amongst all the distorted, noisy bits everyone else is bashing out. He even manages to sound like a squelchy bassoon on 'Let's Start a Cult', the surprisingly chirpy little number which starts with the kind of "wah waaaaah" riff that ought to accompany someone falling down some stairs, goes through a deceptively catchy and rocking dual guitar solo, and ends up in a kind of stoppy-starty Knifeworld-ish exploration before coming to a close in a blaze of feedback and distortion which recalls My Bloody Valentine.

The other half of the rhythm section, drummer Stuart Marshall, is no less essential to the set - in fact he's possibly the closest thing I've found to Tinyfish's Leon Camfield out in the wild - an extremely visual drummer, commanding your attention and making you marvel at just how hard he can hit everything in sight in such a short space of time. And he doesn't just deal splendidly with the stop-start, time-sig shifting nature of much of tonight's music, no, he drives it forwards, making it possible for the songs to turn on a dime, and for Tinsel-wig woman to dance her little dress off like a gogo dancer for the entire set.

And she's actually not the only one - there's also long hair rock guy in front of me who sways from side to side in time to the music, meaning that his head is only in my way 50% of the time, which is actually a perfect solution which should probably be adopted by all gig goers henceforth. Yes, I made some comment on Facebook before this gig about the probable lack of toe-tapping and chorus humming, and yet by the time they arrive at 'Chief', I am indeed grooving along to the beat - not as musically as Kavus, mind you, who finds some kind of impossible syncopated off-beat to clap along to.

It's all over far too quickly, which is probably because they've written the setlist on a dolls-house sized post-it-note, but the set finishes up with an absolutely blistering 666...6, by which time my digiti pedis are most assuredly moving about in a way that could be described in some alliterative fashion which slips my mind right now. Well, until the rollicking 6/8 pattern that drives the song along breaks down into an echoey, comtemplative section anyway. Tinsel lady is a tad confused - but never mind, they're soon back with a giant riff which wraps things up rather nicely, thank you very much, and then they're on their way.

As must I be, before too long, but there's just time to berate Matt for not playing longer (something which will be rectified at their Camden Barfly gig on Feb 2nd - stick it in your diaries), catch up with frequent gig buddy Alison, who's been hiding in a corner, and visit the gents to find out what the Mr Men look like when you've taken LSD.

I also stick about to see my second helping of Thumpermonkey, who are great and supremely engaging to watch again, if only for the sight of their back-to-back guitar duelling stance at the end of the first number, which is wonderfully at odds with their seemingly deliberately low key appearance. Yes, some of the band look like a little like maths teachers, but then that's perhaps fitting, since it seems that some of the music was possibly worked out using quadratic equations.

There are heavy riffs and time signature changes, alternating with catchy, funky sections, some vocals which are almost like rapping, and choruses which go  "Put it right back where you found it". Whatever you say, guys. Then there's a song about body modification ("YEAH!" shouts someone) - "Seven seconds of Firth of Fifth"  from Rael on the keyboards, (whose name is apparently not Graham), and just as I have to get going, the singer launches into a remarkably Sherlock-esque spoken word narrative containing the immortal words "When we were introduced to each other it became quite clear that we were at the institute of incendiary morphology for quite different reasons."

Bonkers, brilliant, bloody difficult to get your head around, that's Thumpermonkey.

But I will leave you with my favourite image of the evening, which is the sight of our friend in the dress coming to the end of her rapturous dancing to TFATD, looking about, not quite knowing what to do, heading over to the nearest table, taking off her wig, giving his thinning scalp a good old scratch, sighing and picking up his pint of bitter for a gigantic swig.

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