There’s definitely a place in the darkest recesses of my soul telling me that Fields are not rock’n'roll. That Fields have sold out to The Man. Part of this is that they are playing in that uber-bunker of middle-class artiness the ICA. Part of it is that their recent debut album, Everything Last Winter, was released on the very non-indie Atlantic Records (although they have signed a deal that allows them to continue to release records through their own Black Lab label, too) and was … well… let’s just say that it wasn’t as good as it could have been.
But the largest part of this newfound mistrust is that Fields have a string quartet on stage with them. Oi! Fields! You are following in the musical footsteps of My Bloody Valentine, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and other electro/guitar sound-sheet heroes. Your stage should not look like a school orchestra rehearsal. “For the first time”, offers lead singer Nick Peill, as if this makes it okay for the previously indie-than-thou electroniks to be throwing their credentials to the wind.
Should we give them a slap for this? Probably, but it’s rather hard to hate them too much once they actually start playing, and their live show delivers the promises made on the EPs and singles they have been carefully feeding us over the last year. In fact, they’ve rocked up their joyous harmonies for the live experience, coming over edgier, noisier and less polished than you might expect and this does provide the kick up the backside that was missing from Everything Last Winter.
Over the next hour, they play pretty much all of the album, filling out the set with tracks from last year’s EP, 4 From The Fields. The difference between the songs here and on CD makes you wonder whether the live circuit is where they see their future. On current evidence, they’re writing music to be performed rather than confined to MP3.
In particular, The Death really benefits from the live treatment, admirably combining their subtle prog-folk tendencies and post-rock wall of sound. The set is more versatile than you might expect: while there’s less of a production sheen over the proceedings, there is a shiny layer of something that makes the experience definitely worthwhile. Adding a flute to the guitars, keyboards and classical pretensions once the string quartet have clocked off for the evening works well, too, while the juxtaposition of Nick Peill’s vocals with Porunn Antonia’s siren call is as good as it’s always sounded. Her father wrote Iceland’s National Anthem, or so I’m told.
By the end of the evening, they’ve mostly put my fears to rest. Maybe the mediocre album wasn’t the influence of an Atlantic A&R committee suggesting “this one could do with a bit less of that feedback”, and had more to do with them not yet being expert enough at constructing songs that can translate equally well to any medium. The jury may still be out, but the verdict’s looking better than it was.