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BRITISH SEA POWER/TEETH OF THE SEA @ THE RITZ, MANCHESTER 15/02/11 - REVIEW BY ANDY BARNES

There’s always an element of chaos when the band I’m heading off to review are the support and on early, in this case, allegedly 7.30pm.  Real life and the day job tend to interfere with the best laid plans and it’s a desperate dash into Manchester, ending fortunately with a free parking place on one of the side streets past The Palace Theatre.  Fortunate, mainly as I rushed out with no money.  Car parked safely and it’s a steady jog back down the road and I arrive at The Ritz, for the second time in three nights, bang on 7.30.  Typically, I then spend 20 minutes awaiting Teeth of the Sea without the price of a pint, but at least this gives me a chance to have a chat about the band to three British Sea Power fans.  I explain the support aren’t Bo Ningen, (now what a bill that would be, BSP, Teeth of the Sea and Bo Ningen, the stuff dreams are made of) and try to forewarn them that although Teeth of the Sea are truly brilliant, this is no easy ride and perhaps a live introduction isn’t the best way in. I suggest at some stage they should buy the latest album “Your Mercury” and after around four or five listens, they’ll start to appreciate what this band are all about, if that’s actually possible. 

When Teeth of the Sea do take to the stage, a reasonable crowd has started to form and they start with “A.C.R.O.N.Y.M” from “Your Mercury.”  I know what to expect musically and the look of the band is also in my mind, unsurprising. There is a definite element of music nerd, mixed with indie cool and the stage, along with the guitar, bass, stand up drum kit, trumpet and keyboard also has a laptop, loop machine and various effects pedals, intrinsic to their sound. Completely instrumental, apart from the occasional sample, as the opening track starts to build, a quick check behind me shows complete confusion in the eyes of the majority assembled, which I have a feeling is at least part of the intention.  I regard Teeth of the Sea as one of the most inventive outfits around and they are producing music that is genuinely different and thought provoking, although initially it certainly isn’t an easy listen.  Although there are obviously elements of electronic wizardry going on here and there is no interaction between the members and the audience, (the only words I saw, rather than heard spoken were, one, two, three, four)  I found the performance absolutely mesmerising.  These guys play with a complete intensity, probably best portrayed by Mat Colegate on the drums.  While the rhythms are kept simple, they are also completely integral and that small kit is hammered with an absolute passion, as was the bass guitar at one point. Guitarist Jimmy Martin, is without doubt the visual focal point, cutting a striking figure with bright blonde hair and stick thin.  The sounds he coaxes from his battered Flying V are pieces of sonic beauty and the highlight is when Martin uses a beer bottle as a slide and as the track ends, nonchalantly takes a swig as if to say, “Surely that’s what Budweiser’s made for?”    

Live there’s real soul in these symphonic arrangements, which is generated by the “real instruments” being to the fore, rather than the samples and electronics. The key is to allow yourself to enter the eye of the Teeth of the Sea storm where everything becomes much, much clearer. While the band exited the stage to the noise of wailing feedback, I was pleased to hear cheers and applause as it would appear at least some had opened their minds and allowed a truly original band to enter into the deepest recesses.   

As I left the venue after the headliners, I had a very brief chat with the lads at the merchandise desk and (they might not thank me for this) but a nicer and more polite bunch you couldn’t wish to meet and they posed happily for a photo.  I mentioned my initial confusion with the album and the bewilderment on the faces of tonight’s crowd, which they appeared to be genuinely pleased about, echoing my earlier thoughts. Teeth of the Sea will never win a Brit Award or have a chart hit and I guess they don’t care in the slightest about either.  I really hope they continue to stick to their ethics and produce outstanding, progressive work and next time the London quartet are in Manchester, I’ll be back down the front.  

www.myspace.com/thewrongjaws

I really enjoy the music of British Sea Power, so the fact they are headlining tonight is an absolute bonus after Teeth of the Sea.  It turns out I don’t appreciate them anywhere near as much as my new found friends however, who I can only describe as Uber fans.  They’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve seen the band, but estimate it’s somewhere between twenty and thirty and travel the country to their gigs.  My excuse for not having caught the BSP live experience before of working away or being otherwise engaged when they’ve visited Manchester or Leeds suddenly seems pitifully pathetic when confronted with such devotion.  I’m regaled with tales of fantastic and on occasion’s, chaotic performances, especially involving guitarist Noble, and other similar minded devotees who acknowledge each other in venues here, there and everywhere, which only heightens my anticipation.  A band that commands such dedication must be very, very special.  I reveal my ignorance by suggesting there’s a second support as the roadies look as though they could well be cool looking indie band, until female Uber fan points out that the foliage being placed everywhere on stage is the major give-away that British Sea Power are next up. 

After a relatively short wait, BSP take to the stage breaking into “Who’s in Control” followed by “We are Sound” which are the opening two tracks from latest albumValhalla Days.” These are followed by a couple of band classics “Something Wicked” and personal favourite “Remember Me,” which I intend to have played rather darkly at my funeral.  So, it’s a storming, crash band introduction to one of Britain’s best live acts......... well, and at the expense of upsetting the uber fans, no it’s not.  Although there’s nothing particularly bad about the execution of the songs, there’s something missing, there’s no spark, no vitality and a lack of anyone seeming to be particularly enjoying playing tonight.  Little, if any connection with the audience and apart from again, uber fans, this is reflected in the crowd as there’s virtually no movement on our side of the barrier.  Any potential impetus in the first half of the show is further lost as Hamilton takes over from brother Yan on vocals, as being brutally honest, he’s not the greatest singer in the world and it’s Yan’s distinct vocal that is a major element to the sound of British Sea Power.  At this point, I’m seriously starting to think I’m going to be heading home dreadfully disappointed and not exactly sure what all the fuss is about.  When Yan reclaims the vocal duties however, things do start to pick up and when the intro to “Waving Flags” starts, suddenly we’ve got a gig.  The band and crowd appear rejuvenated, Yan starts to show more of his character and from here on in, everybody is on a roll.  A fantastic version of “Great Skua” is followed by the biggest cheer of the night so far as “Carrion” is introduced and the set finishes with “All In It.”

Thankfully, the band return to play another four songs and it’s the encores in particular where we eventually start to see the real majesty of British Sea Power. At last, something resembling a real mosh starts as they break into title track from the “Zeus” EP and the fans sing along more passionately than at any other time.  By the time Hamilton moves back to the mike for closing “No Lucifer” there’s actually some real action in the pit and this is enhanced as Noble hangs his foliage clad mike stand into the crowd, while stood on the barrier, before allowing himself to be dragged into the mass for some crowd surfing.  At this point I’m trying to take some photos of the spectacle but suddenly realise he’s heading straight for me and my assistance is required to manhandle him safely back over the barrier to security.  The fact I manage to hang onto my camera while undertaking this is a feat in itself. 

While I wouldn’t suggest this was victory stolen from the jaws of defeat, it was certainly a slightly tired first half, followed by an improved second particularly in the latter stages, with an inspired piece of extra time and my faith has been restored and made the sprint back to the car in the pouring rain more bearable.  

A final thanks to female uber fan (sorry I didn’t get your names guys) for allowing me to photograph the set list and I would, if you by chance read this, be interested in your thoughts of the gig based on past experience via the youtube links below.

Set List

Who’s in Control
We Are Sound
Something Wicked
Remember Me
Stunde Null
Apologies
Luna
Lights Out
Land Beyond
Once More
Mongk
Honeycomb
Larsen B
Thin Black Sail
Living Is So Easy
Waving Flags
Skua
Carrion
All In It

Encore

Zeus
F.O.D
Louis
Lucifer
 
www.britishseapower.co.uk
www.myspace.com/britishseapower

Review/photos/videos by Andy Barnes