Posts Tagged ‘Soma Crew’

Christopher Nosnibor

And here it is: live music, as it was. Not seated, no tables, so no table service. Too soon? No. Certainly not. So many have been affected in so many ways by the closure of venues and the suspension of live music, and while we all get the why, questions remain over why so many other ‘crowded’ places were allowed to reopen before pubs and gig venues. But those aren’t questions for now: we’re here, and The Fulford Arms is a venue I’ve long considered a home from home, and not just because it’s a fifteen-minute walk from home house.

During lockdown, proprietor Christopher Sherrington has poured all of his energy into campaigning for grass roots venues, and not just for the benefit of his own holding, but nationally, as well as working to support other venues in York and Leeds, creating the sense of a network of venues, instead of their being in competition with one another. This has been quite a revelation in a sense, although the sense of community among gig-goers has long been strong.

The last ‘proper’ live show I attended, on 14 March 2020 felt plain fucking weird, like the end of the world. On that landmark night, where hand sanitiser in the door was a new and strange thing, and bar staff worse surgical gloves to pull pints, Soma Crew were on the bill, so making them my first ‘normal’ gig back felt somehow significant on a personal level.

Some things are different – the box office being outside, the signs encouraging mask-wearing, the now-standard sanitisation gel, the bar behind Perspex, the removal of all furniture to create more space for the audience, which is at 70% capacity max to allow maximum space, the opening of doors to ventilate between acts – but overall, it feels the closest to normal I’ve seen anything since I can’t quite remember when.

Playing minimal music in low lighting, John Tuffen’s Namke Communications set has a subtle start – so subtle a lot of people don’t even realise he has started, but they’re gradually drawn in as he builds the set, a single, continuous piece of gentle krautrock tinged electro improv work that sits comfortably alongside Kraftwerk, worriedaboutsatan, and Pie Corner Audio.

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Namke Communications

Tremulous Monk – the current musical vehicle for Christopher J Wilkinson, who’s previously worked as Dead Bird and was a member of psychedelic shoegaze droners Falling Spikes – offers another shade of electronic music. His is altogether song-based, serving up some mellow retro minimal electropop. The last song has a sort of Inspiral Carpets vibe, with a dash of psychedelia in the blend.

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Tremulous Monk

It would appear that that last time I caught Black Lagoons was back in the summer of 2017, when I remarked that the band – at the bottom of the bill – were headline standard. Seems they’ve just continued to get better in the time since, too, although if they’ve matured they’ve certainly not mellowed. The gritty blues-based sound has evolved into a kind of grainy Country/grunge crossover with snaking, twangy reverb-heavy guitar driven by a stonking bass and crashing drums. Bringing on the sax, the frenetic attack is more Gallon Drunk than Psychedelic Furs, and it sure as hell ain’t jazz. The set just builds and builds to a blistering, sweaty climax and a slow blues post-climax that winds down to the finish. And a hat makes for a great silhouette against a smoky backdrop, making for memorable visuals to accompany a memorable sound.

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Black Lagoons

And so it is for Soma Crew to do their thing. And thing about Soma Crew is that whoever’s in the lineup, whether they speed things up or slow things down, they always sounds like Soma Crew. This is a good thing: they’re like The Fall or The Melvins of psychedelic drone. Christopher J Wilkinson, is filling in on drums tonight, for part two of Soma Crew’s album launch for Out Of Darkness / Into Light (which makes sense since the new album is really two albums). He provides a suitable no-frills motoric style of drumming that suits the band perfectly.

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Soma Crew

It starts with a blast of off-kilter guitar noise in a soupy sonic haze, and the set is vintage Soma Crew – at times a bit loose, a bit off-key, a shade ramshackle, but perfectly in keeping with the slacker / stoner vibe of their slow-twisting psychedelic drone. Besides, it’s a dependable fact that once they find a groove, they absolutely nail it, and merrily plug away at it for four or five or six minutes, three chords, no drum fills, no wanking around, just 12-bar blues and a massive fuck-off rack of effects. And it works every time. Elsewhere, they build layers incrementally while plugging away at a single chord… Which also works a treat with their execution. We got what we came for.

A whole bunch of people – mostly women, and Black Lagoons – properly got down at the front during the encore, and the looks of enjoyment were a joy to witness. We’ve missed live music, and it’s so, so good to be back.

‘‘Hey Sister’ is the 3rd video release from Soma Crew’s album Out Of Darkness / Into Light .  

Shot at various locations around York, it’s a simple but effective accompaniment to a solid tune.

Check it here:

Vinyl Eddie Records – VINED006 & VINED007 – 9th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Opposites and opposition – and the way in which those contrasts are core to our understanding of the world and our place in it – have been key points of exploration in art for centuries. The concept of either / or, light / dark, heaven / hell is the foundation of Judaeo-Christian religions and those polarities became the core tropes of Elizabethan poetry, at the dawn of modern literature. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ‘I Find No Peace’ cements these tropes that have come to define both internal conflict, the turmoil of love, and the fundamental dichotomies of the human condition.

And yet it’s Earth’s Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light, released in two parts that comes to mind when presented with Soma Crew’s new offering, a twin vinyl release capturing two days’ intensive recording to collectively forge one monumental document of the band’s creative work since the release off 2019’s F for Fake in 2019.

I know, I know I always say the same when writing of Soma Crew – which I have done often since they formed under the guide of Muttley Crew back in 2013 – that they get better with every release, with every show. But that’s the simple fact of the matter. They tend not to deviate far from their psychedelic drone style that’s most reminiscent of Black Angels, but that isn’t to say they don’t push their limits in the execution. But most importantly, they know how to batter away at a riff for an age and whip up a psychedelic haze.

Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a slow-burner, and marks something of a shift, and on first listen, I was a shade concerned by the lack of motoric beats and shimmering walls of distortion and delay rippling over cascading riffs. But this is the new direction: the beats are still motoric, but simply more minimal and subdued, and the emphasis has shifted toward a more understated and minimalist sound.

The first track, ‘Phantom’ starts off simple, plugging away at a four-chord riff with a hint of swagger that’s almost Primal Scream. The guitar sound is clean, shimmering, and Si Micklethwaite’s vocal is pretty low in the mix, meaning everything blends together gently. There are heavy hints of early Fall about the six-and-a-half-minute ‘You’re So Cool’ – the easy-tripping clean guitar with its naggingly repetitious riff is straight off Live at the Witch Trials or Dragnet. It’s simple, it’s immediate, and the fact it was recorded on the spot only accentuate these qualities.

Soma Crew don’t do short songs: of the twelve here, only two are under five minutes, with the majority clocking in around the six-minute mark. There’s plenty of throbbing bass runs and repetitions and spacey slide guitar going on here, and these qualities are integral to the Soma sound. They’re not a ‘chorus’ band, but a band who create a hypnotic atmosphere through their endlessly cyclical riffs and the plod of the percussion – by no means a criticism here, as drummer Nick understands that less is more – using a setup consisting solely of snare and floor tom for the duration. This minimal ‘Bobby Gillespie’ setup works well, meaning the instruments occupy the space – or don’t – instead of the conventional sound whereby crashing cymbals fill the sound the a load of top-end mess that so often sounds crap.

‘There’s a Fire’ steps up the urgency eight songs in, but instead of going all guns blazing with distortion and a blast of cymbals and snares, Soma Crew hold steady. The slow down again for the forlorn country meandering of ‘Broken Matches’ and counterpart ‘Machines’ with some nice lap steel work, and there’s no question that Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a more ponderous, reflective set of songs, and rather than being a set of two distinct halves, it’s very much a coherent and unified work.

If anything about Out Of Darkness / Into Light intimates production values that eschew slickness and polish, that’s one of its real selling points: recorded live over two days in January 2020, this is a band at work, and it’s an album that captures what they actually sound like, rather than a studio-based tweaked and fiddled fantasy version of what they might sound like if they were another band entirely. Hearing them stripped back and sparse, they sound musically confident even while Micklethwaite’s plaintive vocal navigates seams of self-doubt and introspection through the lyrics, and this album shows that plugging away at simple, cyclical chord structures is as effective and hypnotic without the deluge of effects as with.

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The Crescent, York, 14th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It doesn’t seem real now. It was the night before everything changed, before everything changed again a couple of days later. While cancellations were accelerating, advice and clarity was sparse, and what constituted ‘the right thing’ was very much a matter for debate. The Crescent were very much doing ‘the right thing’ based on the advice: punters were steered to washing their hands on arrival at the venue: those without e-tickets advised to pay by contactless card, while also paying contactlessly at the bar, being served by staff in gloves, pints being served in cans or single-use plastic vessels. Social distancing wasn’t yet a specific thing, and there was scant information which suggested that in excess of 15 minutes in close proximity may increase the risk of transmission. We greeted with elbows and nods. In the main, we respected the guidelines.

I’d be interested to know how many of those who attended have subsequently fallen sick with Covid-19. Not all of us were in the ‘young’ demographic; none of us was being wilfully irresponsible. The virus has become divisive in the way that Brexit was: on social media, in particular, anyone leaving the house risks being subject to vilification, abuse, and even police interrogation. We now live in a climate of fear – an unprecedented climate of fear, dominated by an unprecedented overuse of the word ‘unprecedented’.

The middle of March: a mere month ago, but another lifetime. Gig attendances were already beginning to drop off sharply as the fear spread. And with everything amping up, there was a certain sense of occasion about this: I sense that many of use attended as much out of a sense of solidarity and support: solidarity and support for the bands, the venue, the local scene, and one another. And because we knew, if only subconsciously, that the opportunities to convene like this would be numbered. Gatherings like this are what keep communities together, and keep many of us sane. I’m elated to see numerus friends, including some I’ve not seen in far too long: we catch up about parenthood and our concern for our elderly parents under the creeping shadow of the virus. We drink beer, and we watch bands.

Viewer haven’t been out in a while, and apart from time down the pub, have almost been on a self-imposed isolation for I don’t know who long. I’m not even sure Tim Wright would notice a 12-week lockdown. But here he is, hunched over a laptop, cranking out beats and backings and migraine-inducing visual backdrops while AB Johnson – still suffering the effects of concussion and sporting a black eye and struggling to remember the lyrics after a recent accident involving his face and the pavement – pours every ounce of energy into his performance. They’re the primary reason I’m here, and given the quality of the songs, the visuals, and the people they’ve dragged out of the woodwork, every moment is a joy. Johnson’s lyric sheets are scattered around the stage and his difficult relationship with mic stands is evident tonight. But despite any shakes or glitches, they remain one of the most essential acts around, and just need for the world to catch up.

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Viewer

Soma Crew are showcasing (another) new lineup tonight, with a minimal drum set-up and lap steel dronage and slide bringing new dimensions to their deep psych chugging repetitions driven by varying between two or three guitars. My notes begin to descend into sketchy incoherence around this point, but the memory-jogging ‘RRR’ reminds me that they’re masters of the three ‘r’s – repetition, repetition, repletion, and they slug away at three chords for five or six minutes to mesmeric, hypnotic effect. It seems that every time I write about Soma Crew, I remark that they’re better every time I see them. And yet again, it’s true. They’re denser, more solid, more muscular, and tighter than ever, and on this outing they feel like a band who should be playing to way bigger crowds, capable of holding their own at the Brudenell or the Belgrave.

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Soma Crew

Leeds’ Long-Legged Creatures are new on me, and they impress, with a fluid bass and big washes of texture defining the sound. An eletro/post-rock/psych hybrid, they lay down some hypnotic grooves, and my sketchy, increasingly beer-addled notes remind me that their performance is frenetic, kinetic, with some strong – and complex – drum ‘n’ bass / jazz drumming driving the songs.

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Long Legged Creatures

Things take a major left-turn when some poet guy steps up to the mic and spews lines and rhymes like John Cooper Clarke on a cocktail of drugs. A spot of digging suggests he may be Joshua Zero, but I may be wrong. He’s a compelling presence, though: he’s wild, he’s crazed, and his staggering vitriolic attacks are in stark contrast to the coordinated post-rock jams of the band. It’s as exhilarating as it is unexpected. It’s great.

Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you were better avoiding it. But I’ve no regrets. I miss gigs, I miss pubs, I miss live music, and I miss people. At least my last experience of all of these was truly wonderful and encapsulated everything I love about this.

The Fulford Arms, York, 14th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Two weeks into the year and I haven’t had a single night off writing CD reviews to drink beer and check out some live music. The simple fact is, times are hard and I’m in the mod to hibernate. But tonight’s extravaganza is one of four nights of epic showcase events to mark the fourth anniversary of the current management – Messrs Sherrington and Tuke – taking over the venue. It’s something that deserves to be celebrated.

Time was that there was nothing much to be found in York apart from acoustic blues. York became synonymous with blues. You couldn’t walk into a pub without some bloke with a guitar doing blues. Some of it was good. Some of it was extremely good. Some of was less good and the less said about the remainder, the better. It’s all too easy to have too much of a good thing, let alone a middling samey thing. The Fulford Arms, as was, was integral to the scene for a time. Then, everything changed. Under new management, The Fully Arms really started putting on proper gigs. Taking chances with less obvious artists. Sorting out proper lighting. And with a decent PA, upping the volume.

Tonight is one of four gigs showcasing the expansive range of local talent which is anything but centred around gentle acoustic blues. Of the four nights, this is perhaps the most eclectic, with everything on offer from quirky, theatrical avant-art folk pop to droning psyche, via hard-groove electro and post-punk pub-rock.

Having still been cooking with my own fat spatula at 6pm, I’m too late to catch the band Fat Spatula. Shame, because their brand of US-influenced alt-rock / indie is rather cool. I was also too late for the electro pop of Short Dark Stranger who I heard good things about. I suspect he was the gut standing to my left in the conspicuous silk shirt while I supped my first pint to the strains of Jonny Gill’s acoustic alt-rock which furnished the space between sets ahead of the arrival of Percy. These guys have been knocking around since forever, and still hit the mark (E. Smith) with their post-punk, Fall-influenced sneering takes on the workaday life.

In fact, the first time I heard Percy was circa 1998, at a pub just over the river. They were on the same bill as a band called Big Vicar, who were fronted by AB Johnson, who now forms one half of tonight’s headliners, Viewer, who meld sociopolitical lyrics and indie sensibility to driving dancefloor-friendly beats courtesy of Tim Wright, who in another world is the seminal TubeJerk.

There’s so much more than blues, and so much more than Shed fucking Seven going on here. Meabh McDonnel’s self-effacing kitchen-sink folk tunes are good fun: she’ll probably not take the compliment, but her voice is superb and her lyrics are funny and often poignant, and unstintingly honest and direct. The delivery is an integral part of the charm of her performance: it’s not about polish, but relatability and being real.

Soma Crew’s set is abridged due to apparent technical difficulties but out front their psych-drone attack had been sounding good, while Naked Six – the closest to blues it gets tonight – crank out the kind of vibrant, full-tilt set melding AC/DC and Led Zeppelin with a grunge twist that they’ve made their standard.

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Naked Six

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Viewer, seeing as they called it a day before re-emerging as Stereoscope a while ago – and playing in darkness for the majority of their set, or otherwise illuminated only by stark backlit images. I’ve watched – and reviewed – these guys more times than I can recall, and not because I invariably drink too much beer at their shows (AB is one of those guys who is just the best for sinking pints and talking bollocks with – but, miraculously and ever the professional, he always manages to deliver the lines, cast the poses, and, just as miraculously, stay upright during their sets). They’re late starting, but this seems to work n their favour: the audience is even more buzzed up and ready and they groove hard as Johnson throws his shapes and wry commentaries into the space before him. They get down, albeit a bit tipsily – to Wright’s insistent beats and grinding synths. And Viewer were – are – ace because they straddle the line of playing dumb and acting up to dumbness.

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Viewer

Every single last one of the acts playing on tonight’s bill could go far given the right breaks and adequate effort. But this is the time to simply celebrate a landmark moment for a venue that’s spent the best part of its four-year existence punching well above its weight (Ginger Wildheart? Wayne Hussey? The March Violets? to name but three) while providing a space for some far-out and emerging acts. Hell, they’ve even had me on, more than once. But this is what small independent venues are for. It’s so hard to get a break these days, and it’s venues like this, with open doors and open minds, which keep new music alive.

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those lineups that has cult appeal written all over it. It’s also wall-to-wall quality. So while The Crescent may not be rammed – it was always going to be challenge to fill a 350-capacity venue in York on a Tuesday night in August with a lineup specialising in experimental and Kratuy workouts – those present are enthusiastic and know they’re in for a treat.

As I absorb Neuschlaufen’s immersive set, I’m increasingly aware of how much they sound – and even look like – so many of the improv-led experimental rock acts from mainland Europe I hear, courtesy of one Berlin-based PR in particular. These bands have substantial but ultimately underground and disparate cult followings, and release their albums on microlabels in batches of numbered editions of 300 or so, and perform in cool but nice venues around Germany and The Netherlands. Neuschlaufen are as good as any of them, and watching the trio manipulate sound – sometimes intuitively, sleekly, and sometimes by using electrical tape to pin keys on a synth down to sustain a note for ten minutes uninterrupted – is a real treat. An extended two-chord workout around the set’s mid-point – and the whole thing is magnificently and intuitively structured – is pinned together with piercing synth and clanging metallic guitar forging serpentine shapes Ash Sagar weaving a strolling six-string bassline. At times they mine a seam that brings together Bauhaus, PiL and The Fall, with shuddering bass grooves underpinning clanging, repetitive guitar-lines which are so angular as to cause flesh wounds.

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Neuschlaufen

It seems that every time I review Soma Crew, I comment on how they’re better with every outing. It’s not just my ears, or forgetfulness: it’s a fact. It’s been a long and slow ascent, but everything about them is totally cohesive, and tonight they spin their hypnotic brand of pulsating psychedelic rock in the tightest, most mesmerising style I’ve yet witnessed. The sound is rich, dense textured, and they’re brighter, clearer, groovier and trippier than ever.

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Soma Crew

Dave Keegan, standing in on bass, does a fantastic job: he holds the rhythm down perfectly with a heavy tone, pinned to Nick Barker’s insistent drumming, and the occasional nifty run for variety. The drumming is a defining feature, and I’m not the only one to note that Nick has, seemingly, one T-shirt and one rhythm. It’s this consistency and his complete lack of drumming ego which places him as one of my all-time drumming heroes.

On ‘Danger Zone’, they amalgamate Joy Division, The Back Angels, and The Doors to forge a unique sonic compound that encapsulates the brilliance of Soma Crew, and closer ‘Celluloid’ builds to a full-throttle sonic attack.

I can barely read a word of the notes I took during Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band’s set, and there aren’t many. I was too busy standing, absorbed, by the trio’s seamless and utterly compelling performance. With elements of psych and prog and 70s rock and out and out rhythm-driven jamming, and songs like ‘The First Ren Minutes of “Cocksucker Blues”’ to groove out on, there’s a lot to get lost in.

They have a simple setup: drums, bass, guitar, a single amp apiece. Nothing fancy. And yes, there are epic guitar solos comparable to Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr (one track even bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘Like a Hurricane’ in its chord sequence, and the emotion Forsyth wrings from those six strings is almost tear-jerking in places). But – and here’s the important point of note – nothing is overdone. However exemplary the musicianship – these guys can’t just play, thy can fucking play – at no point during the set do things ever descend into self-indulgence. This is a major, and extremely rare, feat. But not a bar passes without an ear to structure, and a remembrance of the importance of the audience’s entertainment.

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Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band

At no point to these guys go too far out on a limb, lose the crowd with tangents or indulgence. They’re well-rehearsed and tight as hell, but equally, they’re not so slick as to feel like they’re going through the motions, and this is when wigging out is at its best. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band define intuition, and play with an understated showmanship that’s something special.

25th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

National Instruction is Soma Crew’s debut album. This is something of a technicality, as they rebranded shortly after the release of Another Dead Insect in 2015. And while all of the defining features of their previous incarnation remain, Soma Crew, having solidified with their current lineup, can be seen to have made marked progress since then.

The sonic haze which hangs heavy over all of their previous recordings and which defines their live sound is present and correct. On National Instruction, there’s also a wilful raggedness to the performances, with guitars and vocals titling off-kilter every which way, often to quite disorientating effect. It’s also by far the best-realised representation of what Soma Crew are about, showcasing a dense, murky sound, and a climax-centric approach to forging layered songs which plug hard at a single cyclical riff, nailed tight to a simple, repetitive drum pattern. Yet it’s also the work of a band who are evolving, and National Instruction marks a clear progression from their Soma EP release last autumn.

Si Micklethwaite’s vocal style isn’t conventionally tuneful, but then a melodic attenuation is by no means a prerequisite for singing in a rock band. Given the atonal drone elements of Soma Crew’s compositions, which are more focused on creating an atmospheric dissonance than a technically precise, melody-driven musicality, it works, and, bathed in reverb and a kind of fuzzy-edged soft-focus, he sounds more comfortable than on any release he’s featured on thus far.

‘Got It Bad’ features what is probably one of their most overtly catchy choruses to date, with a more clearly defined structure than any previous song – but it’s perfectly offset by a guitar line that heaves off to the left during one of the chord changes which launches said chorus. The nine-minute ‘Pyramids’ finds the band locking into the kind of groove they work the best. A spindly echo-drenched lead guitar wanders, spider-like over a chugging rhythm and spare, motoric beat that typifies their slow-burning brand of Black Angels-influenced psychedelic rock. Elsewhere, ‘Dangerzone’ is tense and angular, with eddying swells of abstract sound and feedback building into a cyclone of immersive noise close to the end. This is something they’ve got a real knack for.

Having heard a fair few of the cuts on Natural Instruction played live, it’s gratifying to observe just how well they’ve replicated the spirit and energy of the live sound on songs like ‘Remote Control’, which carries a shuddering, ramshackle Fall-esque vibe within its jagged two-chord battery. The album’s second eight-minuter, ‘Westworld’ starts of slow, sedate, but simmering: it’s never a case of if it’s going to break, but when, and while maintaining a pedestrian pace, it’s almost halfway through before the drums thud in. And then the guitars get up the volume… and then… and then… By the end, it’s still plodding away but the layers have built up and it’s a big old racket.

There’s something of a trickle toward the tranquil on the last two tracks, with the closer, ‘Maps and Charts’ being a particularly sedate – not to mention accessible indie tune. But rather than being an anti-climax, it reveals newly emerging facets of the bands, perhaps hinting that future releases will see them further extend their range.

 

Soma Crew - National Instruction

We love  a bit of Soma Crew here at Aural Aggravation. ‘Got it Bad’, which prefaces the release of their new album, is perhaps the most definitie statement of their sonic capabilities yet. Check it hre:

 

Christopher Nosnibor

Any longstanding fan of The Fall accepts that inconsistency is not only par for the course, but part of the band’s enduring charm. The appeal of Mark E Smith, and, by default, The Fall, has always been a perverse one: revered by fans, loathed by pretty much everyone else, The Fall are the epitome of singularity. Recent years have seen them hit an uncharacteristic groove: the core of the current lineup has been in place for the best part of a decade now, and while it’s yielded some fine moments, there’s not been anything to touch the quality of Fall Heads Roll in 2005. I’d been reluctant to take a £25 punt on them delivering a decent show but when a friend who was unable to attend offered me his ticket, I joyfully accepted. Because it’s The Fall after all.

Tonight’s lineup makes perfect sense: local support and Aural Aggro faves Soma Crew are all about the motoric beats and plugging away at repetitive riffs, and having been gaining momentum of late, this is a big night for them. They certainly rise to the occasion: given the opportunity to play a full-length set to a substantial and receptive crowd, they meld together as a unit and crank out a set of psychedelic krautrock grandeur. One of the band’s more recent recruits, bassist Andy Wiles, brings movement and dynamism to the stage act, and they rock out hard amidst a tumult of FX-laden guitars and thumping mechanoid drums. No fills, nothing fancy, just a relentless groove.

Soma Crew

Soma Crew

The Fall – when they finally appear on stage some time around quarter past ten – hit a fairly solid, if uninspired – groove, too. Smith looks unsteady as he navigates the path onto the stage and tries out a couple of different mics. Against the LED backdrop, which I watched countless men well into their 40s and 50 be photographed before the show, they crank out a set which promisingly features a snarling rendition of ‘Wolf Kidult Man’ early on, but from thereon focuses exclusively on recent – and seemingly unreleased – material. In itself, it’s standard Fall.

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The Fall

But while fans reach out and grab his leather blazer-style jacket in adulation and the substantial mosh-pit goes nuts, it strikes me that all is not well with MES. To criticise him for being unintelligible, for pissing about with mics, the guitar settings, well, it’s redundant. It’s what he does. The first time I saw The Fall in ’94 at the cavernous York Barbican, touring Cerebral Caustic with the classic twin-drummer lineup: neither drum kit had any mics before the set was out and it sounded awful to begin with. But it’s small wonder bassist Dave Spurr stands so close to his amp, as it guarding it from marauders: Smith repeatedly silences Pete Greenway’s guitar, and drum mics – and well as cymbals – are tossed over and about the stage at will, and of course Smith spends much of the show dicking about with mics. One mic, two mics, radio mic, wired mic, backing vocal mic, spare mic.

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The Fall

If it were any other band, the venue would have emptied after three songs. People would be concerned for the singer. But it’s MES. He’s a legend! But as he wavers and slurs, hollering unintelligibly, by turns gurning toothlessly, lolling his thick tongue and sucking his gums, it all feels far from legendary. Smith’s performing, throwing poses, tinkering absently with atonal keys, doing all the things he does, but he doesn’t seem entirely present, and oftentimes, he looks quite lost. Like an ageing grandparent with slowly advancing Alzheimer’s, there’s something sad about his performance.

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The Fall

Standing on a stage awash with beer, Smith removes his leather coat. He then passes his mic into the audience (who sound better than he does); he then collects the coat he’s just removed and leaves the stage unsteadily. He returns, wearing the coat again, and, looking lost, begins hollering through his hands until someone in the front row picks up the mic that was returned to the stage in his absence. He looks grateful, and begins to holler and drawl into the mic instead.

With the recent material being very much one tempo and one dimension, the music, while well-played, fails to really grip the attention, a problem exacerbated by Smith’s non-stop sonic sabotage. Without any real standout tracks (‘Reformation’? ‘Sir William Wray’? Forget it), everything blurs into one stodgy sequence of stocky but forgettable riffs.

Fall Set

The Fall’s Setlist

The first encore fails to offer any back-catalogue excitement, but they finally end the set with a second encore in the form of a solid but unremarkable (and rather hurried-sounding) stomp through ‘Mr Pharmacist’.

But it’s not the lack of back-catalogue material that’s the issue here. The Fall, who for all time have been lauded and adored as the most essential band by virtue of their unwillingness to conform or to bend in the face of trends, feel depressingly lacking in relevance (in contrast to peers Killing Joke, who played the same venue only a couple of weeks ago). The blame must sit squarely with Smith: lacking in focus and, seemingly, a real sense of where he’s at, the show felt awkward, confused, uncoordinated and generally underwhelming, and Soma Crew were definitely the better act on the night.

 

A year or so back, maybe, from the ashes of York-based psychedelic drone act Muttley Crew emerged York-based psychedelic drone act Soma Crew. Sort of. The same band in essence, it was undoubtedly time for a change of name, but there’s been something of a lineup reshuffle in the process, and, on the evidence of this, the first Soma Crew EP, a sonic evolution too. This means that while there are still heavy hints of Black Angels, and the songs are still built around two or three chord chugs swathed in layer upon layer upon layer which twist and turn over the course of six minutes or more, there’s new stuff going on which wasn’t present on the Muttley Crew album which came out in the Spring of 2015.

With a ragged guitar sound and Simon Micklethwaite’s vocals adopting a sneering, drawling tone, there’s a punk edge to the EP’s first cut, ‘Pulp’. After a left-turning detour around the mid-point, it bursts into a raging racket of dissonance. And all the while, the drums keep on hammering out a relentless mechanoid rhythm, holding it together while everything else collapses to beautiful chaos. The slow-burning ‘Path With Heart’ brings it down a notch or two and offers a more low-key and introspective aspect. It’s exactly the music you’d expect from a band named after a muscle relaxant which works by blocking pain sensations between the nerves and the brain.

‘Vital Signs’ is perhaps the first track here that’s truly representative of their live sound, a motoric droner, with murky, overdriven and reverby guitars yawning and veering across one another over a thumping locked-in groove with no let up for over six and a half minutes. The eight-minute ‘Prizefighter’ begins at a lugubrious crawl. It takes its time… and then the overloading lead guitar breaks in, noodling in a smog of a chugging rhythm to drive it to the end.

The rough edges and hazy production give the songs an immediacy, and beneath the layers of reverb and cavernous delay, there’s a pulsating energy that gives EP 01 (aka Soma) a rare vitality. Rebirthed, re-energised, this band may be habit-forming and should be used only by the person it was prescribed for.

 

Soma Crew