Pick up any issue of the monthly Classic Rock slash Americana magazines on British shelves, and you’ll find at least two lengthy rehashed stories, about iconic superstar combos, playing raucous yet barely attended gigs that forged them into the musical behemoths/albatrosses they are nowadays. Invariably it’s about the tortured but semi-literate singer and his, always his, ferocious command of the stage battling the ear splitting noise of the enigmatic virtuoso lead guitarist, more often than not a sibling, with both these generic yet oddly reassuring characters at odds with one another. A crude ballet that’s played out since the mid ’60s and to the present day. Well, tonight almost led us down that path, but thankfully Bambara strayed from the page.
Front man Reid Bateh does indeed prowl and preach, much like the antipodean post-punk poet he’s oft compared with, but he brings more than just mimicry to live shows. During the moments when the guitars are attacking, he’s more than happy to rest his angry head on a band mates shoulders and he shrugs his shoulders towards to the drummer in response to audience members who get rowdy. Indeed, the Green Door Store is not the most cavernous of locations. The stage has no barrier, no security and so, when new fans decide they like the music that’s being created, they’re not afraid to scream said appreciation in Bateh’s face.
He does what he can to move the show forward, never placating or antagonising the individuals concerned, instead moving to the side, pointing and hollering his sermons of scorned love and apocryphal misery. However his patience has its limits and he reaches boiling point, perhaps riled up by his own proselytising and lunges himself into the crowd, dragging the braying punters into a pious swarm. Rather than starting violent scenes, it seems to pacify the rambunctious disciples and by shows end they are wrapped in a spiritual embrace.
Returning back to the aforementioned band mate / sibling rivalry, yes Reid has a brother in the band, only this time, in contrast to what you’ve come to expect, you won’t find him on lead guitar. Nope, Blaze Bateh is a drummer. And a truly feral one at that. The band is only two songs in before he has to strip down to just a pair of shorts with sweat pouring from him. He drums in almost double time, arms swinging uncontrollably from snare to kick to hi hat, drumsticks thumping down on skin. However with his eyes closed and head thrown back, it’s Blaze who seems possessed by a higher power, one that unifies the band members. Soothsayers may recognise the inevitable strain and familial friction that will happen at some later stage when Reid realises he’s not the star of the show. Time will tell how the drama plays out.
Musically much has been made, in terms of comparison to ’80s noise acts like Swans and yes ok, The Birthday Party, but there’s something else rumbling within Bambara, beneath that clatter and bluster, that threatens to develop them into something more distinctive and verbose. Reid is honing his vocabulary and finding his original story. The band is on the verge of finding their voice and the next few chapters should be real cliffhangers.