Portishead’s extended hiatus between releases must have left music freak Geoff Barrow bored out of his mind. The fame, bank balance and time have led Barrow to found Invada Records as an outlet for his musical diversions and his growing interest in the arty avant-garde end of rock.
Bristol’s art cinema and gallery space Arnolfini tonight hosted the Invada Christmas Party, an end of tour showcase for Barrow’s new band BEAK> and labelmates Thought Forms.
The crowd was made up of thirtysomething blokes with trim beards, designer glasses and dark functional clothing. The wintery weather added to the feeling of a Christmas Party for graphic designers.
Thought Forms were a noise ridden joy. Deej Dhariwal, resplentant in his Velvet Underground t-shirt and bare footed, stole beautiful crumbling chord progressions and screeching feedback loops from a series of abused guitars. Charlie Romijn, swapping between cello and guitar, conjured waves of heavy drones and sheets of rippling noise as Guy Metcalfe anchored everything with ecstatic drumming. The razor sharp melodies turned inside out with molten effects and febrile black tar effects. Smears of grime spread across the fragile motifs.
Shades of the Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, Pain Jerks and Yellow Swans pulse through the dark heart of the band. The set climaxed with the ripping of strings from guitars and the slamming of effects pedals; a gloriously chaotic ending, the band sending broken shards of sound spinning into the wintery night.
After such a palate cleansing blast of noise the ground was set for BEAK>’s headlining slot. The trio of Barrow on drums, Billy Fuller on bass and Team Brick‘s Matt Williams on keyboards and guitar ambled on stage and stuck up a Krautrock groove of interlocking bass, drums and keyboard runs. They then unwrapped a set that felt leaden, flat footed and time locked.
At times BEAK> sounded like early Simple Minds performing as an NEU! covers band. All the correct signifiers were in place, but originality had been misplaced. It might have been the pressure of a home town gig or the result of an energy sapping tour, but the grooves never seemed to catch light – limp where they should have been sticky. By the third number phones were being gazed at.
The set started rooted in West Germany sometime in the 1970s and finished wearing the musical clothes of Mogwai. Unfortunately the heavy bass riffs lacked gravitas. BEAK> were loud without pressure; lacking focus, the sound spun aimlessly on an arid drum and bass axis. Proficient and well played it was, of course, but without that magnesium spark that creates magic.
The commitment to lunge into the abyss, embrace noise and fracture rock structures that Thought Forms showcased was what BEAK> lacked. They seemed to be holding something in reserve, the gusts of guitar scree and blunt riffs appearing as window dressing more than as a manifesto. The set ebbed away without an encore, or much demand for one.