I love football, but unlike most of my friends, I’m not a supporter. I’ve never had a team to follow around the land through good times and bad, from cold Tuesday nights in Barnsley to Euro glory in the San Siro. Most of the time, I don’t envy those afflicted with such a millstone – their emotions are regularly laid bare for something over which they have no control – and usually that emotion seems to be contentment at best, abject despair at worst. What seems to keep them going is the unbridled joy of that dramatic comeback from 3-0 down at the league leaders, just when they’d almost given up hope.
The closest I get to this emotional roller-coaster is by being a regular gig-goer. The comfortable home win is a seasoned live act putting on a competent show. The relegation-confirming defeat is your old favourite band playing like a shadow of their former selves. An unknown new ensemble taking you to heaven and back is the equivalent of a cup giant-killing.
The latter certainly happened the first time I saw the Liars. If ever a band was both weird and wonderful, it was them one night about a year ago, on their London debut. Rhythm section as tight as a gnat’s arse, they were a sea of New York punk/funk, augmented by strange beeps and beat-boxes and fronted by a 6’7″ Aussie freak with infinite charisma and bizarre lyrics.
So the overwhelmingly favourite outcome of this Barfly XFM Xposure gig was surely another triumph, and the anticipation was palpable.
Support act Kaito set the ball rolling superbly with some marvellous slices of Slits-esque post-punk mayhem. They are one of those bands that appear to come on stage with conventional instruments, but them proceed to somehow make a completely unconventional noise. The yelping of female lead Niki Colk adds the strangest of pop hooks to the angular, metallic tangle behind, and sure enough I have a new favourite band.
Onto the main event then, and it quickly became apparent that the Liars’ ranks were depleted since last time. There was no bassist, and a different drummer. A funk band with no bass guitar you might wonder? How’s that work then? I wondered too.
It gradually became apparent that it really didn’t work. At all. What unfolded was a frankly horrifying 45 minutes of aimless sub-improv jamming. None of the great songs off their classic only LP They Threw Us In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top were aired. The lead singer Angus Andrew (the squeeze of Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Karen O) had gone from village idiot to drunken park-bench tramp – his spiky attitude had become an utterly incoherent ramble.
Eventually, some in the crowd complained. “Get lost. It’s our night. Listen to the record” was their answer. Right, thanks for that.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. From expectant triumph, a tumble to humiliating defeat, but like the football fan, I shall, of course, be back next time.