My first memory of Life Without Buildings was hearing them pulsate out of the radio one evening on Steve Lamacq. It was about 9.30 at night, when he had satisfied his audience with enough of the usual suspects to unleash something good.
The post-rock rhythms of PS Exclusive were an absolute revelation, not as bleakly intimidating as Mogwai by dint of the childlike wonder etched by singer Sue, whose stream-of-consciousness output was likened to everyone from Burroughs to Mark E. Smith.
My second LWB experience was walking into a record shop and buying the Any Other City record, the third the gig that followed soon after (the best one of my life), which I spent with a couple of people who were little short of insulted at what they saw. Needless to say it became a defining experience, and for the next six months or so Life Without Buildings took up a residency on my stereo.
Everything else at the time (and at that point I was taping all my music off Peel), except maybe Hefner, paled in comparison, and now, six years later, a CD and letter drops out of an envelope like an atom bomb. Now, I like to think that my childhood obsessions have grown a little into a genuine intellectual appreciation over the years, but this could seriously set me back.
Memories and feelings are stirred with each rhythmic twist and each bit of lyrical dynamite of this gig, tempos breaking into shards and gathering back together to hit you where it hurts, wholes breaking into parts and parts into sheer euphoric pop moments – fragile explosions of utter emotion in the psyche.
There’s Let’s Get Out, developing out of childlike wonder that puts you at a total ease, minimalist guitar hooks trickling forever in the background, before the pirouetting riposte of “Look back and say that I didn�t” grips like a vice. There’s Juno, taking off on a robust show of guitar and drum rhythm before Sue strews it into fragments and gathers it together with the “are you real, shy kid?” exclamation. There’s Love Trinity, coming out of serene bass into slow percussion and a blindingly emotion guitar line before Sue gives it that wondrous vocal kick, a strange and total euphoria accompanying her repeated lines of “and you�re just like me…” as sounds form a starry crescendo.
Then there’s The Leanover, its spoken word intro dripping with a child-like fear that takes you to its bosom as guitars ascend in a sideways whirl of blinding, obtuse sentiment, and Sorrow, a total change of tempo that speaks in an entirely different, altogether more direct voice, humbling and absolutely astounding, Sue singing of beautiful people slipping away in a manner that makes me want to hold her and never let go. This is personal, visceral stuff, and quintessentially pop genius.
Coming with a sleeve evocative of unlikely grandeur, Live at the Annandale Hotel is Life Without Buildings in their sheer prime, a prime in which they were too good to be anything more than an underground cult, and a prime they superbly jumped off on in the noblest punk spirit. As such it’s another vital document to add to their small legacy, and one that rattles the heartstrings in swirling waves.