Live Music + Gig Reviews

Ambulance LTD @ ICA, London

13 June 2005

It seems that rarely a week goes by without a new, too-cool-for-school band/act emerging from New York. Already this year we’ve had the likes of The Bravery, LCD Soundsystem, Elefant and Five O’Clock Heroes demand our attention with some impressive material, and now we have another band from the Big Apple to start salivating over.

They go by the name of Ambulance LTD, and tonight they’re playing a sold out show at London’s oh-so trendy venue the ICA on their first proper headline tour of these shores, something no doubt aided by their latest single Primitive (The Way I Treat You) recently soundtracking an episode of the smash TV series The OC.

But whatever the reason for the surge of public interest, we should be grateful to the show’s creators – bringing great music to the masses is something that should be applauded and respected. And Ambulance LTD certainly do make great music; they make an utterly beautiful and compelling noise that draws obvious parallels to the tripped out harmonies of The Velvet Underground or My Bloody Valentine, as well as the simplistic melodies of The Kinks. All of which is fully evident as soon as they take to stage inside the dimly lit, atmospheric surroundings of the ICA’s theatre, a somewhat appropriate setting for their laid back opuses.

Opening with brooding instrumental number Yoga Means Union, their heaviest song to date, it’s clear that they mean business from the outset. Guitars start off all gentle and hushed, before gradually developing into a towering wall of sound, packed with a series of shuddering riffs. They may look like a bunch of carefree slackers, but they certainly know how to play their instruments (a word of mention must go to guitarist Benjamin Lysaght, who despite looking like he was having an adverse reaction to a certain drug, never missed a note). This is certainly an impressive introduction to proceedings, and for the rest of the set, the quality continues unabated.

Primitive follows directly after, and unsurprisingly draws the biggest cheer of the evening. One of their edgier and more upbeat tracks, it sounds fantastic live – vocalist Marcus Congleton’s nonchalant refrain of “Relax, don’t think about, the way I treat you” is nothing short of captivating, and has many in the audience participating by the end.

But the true gems are unleashed later on. Early single Heavy Lifting and the sublime Ophelia simply take you to another world for their duration, here Congleton’s softly ushered vocals draw to mind Lou Reed and co.’s more blissful moments such as Sunday Morning or Who Loves The Sun. This is what makes Ambulance LTD such a refreshing change from the norm, the norm being the current musical climate. There’s not a synth in sight, nor are they slashing away at their guitars as if their lives depended on it. Everything here is quietly assured and carefully considered, understated rather than in your face.

So by the time mammoth chorus of Sugar Pill reverberates around the theatre during the encore, Ambulance LTD have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that they are a remarkably talented group of musicians with a great debut album and an impressive live show under their belt. “We’re Ambulance from New York, it’s a pleasure,” informs Congleton at one point – as a wise man once said, it’s all ours.

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