Live Music + Gig Reviews

British Sea Power + The Duke Spirit @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

30 April 2004

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

Take one dirty-blonde rock chick and place in a band of guitar noise merchants. Throw in equal pinches of PJ Harvey and Sonic Youth influences and you get a taste of what The Duke Spirit are aiming for.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice it’s a tall order to pull off but The Duke Spirit pretty much manage it. When it comes to stage presence, they have f***-off attitude in spades, pounding drum beats and a guitar squall worthy of any band on Sub Pop. Singer Liela Moss slouches against her microphone stand and belts out Marlboro-tinged rasping vocals. Everyone looks quite angry and pissed off as the music becomes more intense. Liela nearly breaks her hand from wildly rapping her tambourine and the drummer wrecks his kit at the end of the set.

All very rock’n’roll, but what this performance lacks on first hearing, is a stand-out track. They’ve got it all – looks, attitude and a great sound – if they get that missing link they could really kick some arse. Perhaps this track already exists but in a set which failed to present any real diversity, it may take a few more listens to pick it out.

The entire stage is littered with branches, greenery and a stuffed owl which can only mean that it belongs to British Sea Power. The band which has become known for mild eccentricities and obsessions with pre-war fashion. And when they come onstage, singer Yan is typically in white with one rolled up trouser leg tucked into a long white sock, and keyboardist Eamon is sporting his usual WWI helmet.

Seeing the band live is confirmation, if one were needed, that British Sea Power are capable of greatness. When they open with Something Wicked and Remember Me I wonder if they’re shooting their bolt too early on, but it soon becomes evident that there are more than two flagship songs on The Decline Of British Sea Power. Fear Of Drowning, Carrion and Blackout are equally gorgeous, combining a classic English songwriting ethic with appropriately eccentric lyrics and a singer who shares a vocal theatricality with David Bowie (albeit a slightly raspier version of).

Comparisons are often made with another quintessentially British band Joy Division, and while it’s true that the combination of chiming guitars, church-like organ and hi hat-heavy drumming cannot help but draw likeness, British Sea Power manage to integrate an uplifting quality so bereft in many bands of the early eighties who so clearly have influenced them.

The gig is punctuated halfway through with various members of The Ecstasy Of St Theresa joining them onstage for new single Lovely Day Tomorrow. In typical British Sea Power oddball style, the single is only being released in the Czech Republic, but equally disappointingly, is one of their weakest songs. Equally weak is the closing wig-out number Lately, which goes on too long on the album and is even more bloated and pointless as a closing live workout, only slightly improved by the appearance of a giant bear onstage.

However, these complaints are trivial in what was an exhilarating experience. By far the most interesting and promising band to have emerged in recent years, British Sea Power manage to pull off their eccentricities by being just plain good. Go see for yourself.

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More on Sea Power
Sea Power – Everything Was Forever
This Music Made Me: Sea Power
British Sea Power – Let The Dancers Inherit The Party
British Sea Power @ Haunt, Brighton
The Whisky Sessions Friday @ Victoria Warehouse, Manchester