Friday, 6 March 2009

"All good people can waltz"

Fight Like Apes, live @ King Tut's 03/03/2009

Stepping into King Tut's is like stepping into a grubby space/time wormhole -- am I 16 or 26? Am I a shy, cocky teenager or a brashly humble English Lit graduate? Am I talking about Destiny's Child with the bassist from ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, or am I spotting Noel Fielding lookalikes at the bar?

These questions become easier to answer when the support acts start to play. Paisley's Marvel Heights are perfectly competent, but they're also basically the reason I stopped paying to see every young group in town. There's nothing wrong with them, but after forty seconds it's painfully clear that stop start bits and chugging choruses don't make for great songs on their own (note: this is also why I stopped playing music).

Still, it's not in my nature to be too hard on a group of wee kids playing kind-sorta-okayish music to 30-odd people. Maybe someone needs to tell middling bands to give up, but it's not going to be me (Tucker Stone would probably be good at it, but he's a black hearted comedy genius and I'm not). And hey, who knows, maybe Marvel Heights will really rock one day. The teenage David would have taken that view, but the more shop-worn model isn't quite so sure.

Right now, it's probably more fun to be part of their posse of local supporters than it is to hate them, but I'm a dick so whatever.

Paris' Underground Railroad inspire a similar level of shrugging in your ever-lovin', green-eyed correspondent, but at least they've got the courtesy to vary the quality levels a little. Two or three sputtering electro-drone experiments kill any sense of momentum, but there are also moments of solidly realised meh-ness. These tend to occur when the band acknowledge two important facts:

1) that their drummer likes to hit things hard, and 2) that their guitarist used to play along to her Sonic Youth records when she was a little girl (Tim Robbins: "When she was a little French girl?"). They get some shtick from the punters, but they handle it well enough -- when their drummer kicks one of his sticks into the crowd and has to spend a few minutes fumbling to find a replacement, someone shouts "JUST STOP PLAYING!" and I briefly feel bad for the band. They don't seem fazed though -- "No, this is very fun for us," says the drummer. "We'll keep playing... you can call it torture if you want."

Dublin's Fight Like Apes aren't so easy going, but that's okay because they've got skills to back it up -- huge tunes, ace lyrics and a total willingness to intimidate the audience into enjoying themselves.

"Well, that's the most underwhelming response I've ever seen," grimaces bearded keyboard-fiend Pockets as his band take the stage to muted applause. By the time the first song is over, the crowd are genuinely buzzing, but he's still not happy: "I don't know what gig you were at last night, but we require a bit of audience participation. It's really fucking easy, as it turns out -- you just have to put your fucking hands together!"

To reinforce the point, shock-haired frontwoman MayKay looms out over the audience, plank of wood in hand, pointing out individual crowd members and demanding that they clap along. It'd all seem a bit much if Fight Like Apes weren't "so hot right now!"in the best and most Zoolander-ish way . But, truthfully, when the snarky stadium pop of 'Jake Summers' kicks into full effect I'd forgive the band if they started making Kanye-esque pronouncements about their greatness.

Also: the Mclusky cover!! How many bands would be smart enough to play 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues', and how many of them could make it not shit?

Fight Like Apes' music has all the built-from-the-bass-up simplicity of the Pixies/Nirvana/Mclusky axis, but there's a hint of something bigger and poppier in their twin-keyboards setup... something that suggests a future rocking bigger crowds, maybe not arena-size, but Barrowlands size at least.

Listen to the slow-build of 'Tie Me Up With Jackets' and tell me the opening of this song couldn't lead into some sort of anthemic, Snow Patrol style monster dirge if the vocals and keyboards didn't spray the whole thing with colour:

Maybe one day I'll get to scream the words to 'Lend Me Your Face' with a few thousand other people (and I've seen Meadowbank Stadium belt out every word of the Pixies' 'Hey', so stranger things have happened!), but right now Fight Like Apes are a ragged, all-swearing, all-shouting riot of a band. And that's great!

Watching MayKay tear apart an idiot who shouted "Show us your tits! " (sample putdown: "God, what a boring little pervert you are! Couldn't you at least have went for 'Please display your bosom'?"); wondering what the wooden plank was actually for (comedy percussion, naturally); giggling as Pockets gets his beard stroked by an over-zealous audience member; feeling the bassline from 'Do You Karate?' bounce back off the wall behind you for double effect... these are all things that are best experienced in a tiny venue near you. I'm sure Fight Like Apes will translate all of this to bigger rooms (they've played with The Prodigy and the Ting Tings, so they've no doubt been getting some practice in), but while the David of the future's keeping quiet on this the Davids of the past and present agree: this is one noisy brawl you don't want to miss.

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