It’s difficult know what to make of Chrome Hoof, in the same way that it’s difficult to know what to make of Quantum Physics, the moon, or the enduring success of Scouting For Girls. So much of what takes place on stage tonight is unfathomable, and yet there are large pockets of the audience who seem to be in on it, with constant shouts of “HHOOOOOOOOOOOFFF” rearing up every time the band falls silent.
It’s an occurrence that doesn’t happen too frequently over the course of their 90-minute set as part of the South Bank Centre’s Ether Festival. Lou Reed may have tried his hardest to scare the crowds a few days ago, but it’s the 20 strong, silvery mass of bodies that truly unsettle the seated crowd in the polite environs of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Augmented by a small choir and a harpist, the band slowly trudge on stage, their long capes and hooded faces making them look like Slipknot given a disco makeover.
That’s a pretty accurate description of what the band sound like too, with heavy guitar riffs and pummelling bass mixed with camp showmanship from the outset. At one point their gigantic bassist – resplendent in a floor length dressing gown of black and silver – dons a mask, places his foot on the monitor in front of him and proceeds to roar loudly into the microphone. Beneath the din, the sound of jaws hitting the floor mixes with repressed guffaws.
They also possess an alluring, almost deranged front woman in the form of Lola Olafisoye, whose six foot frame dominates much of the night. During a particularly aggressive run through of new track Crystalline (taken from the forthcoming Vaporize album), she kicks, punches and head butts the air, all the time slinking around the stage like a snake.
It’s just a shame, however, that what could have made a very good hour long set was stretched out to 90 minutes. As with bands such as The Darkness, or indeed Slipknot, Chrome Hoof rely on a heightened sense of the ridiculous in order to exist. But that can only take them so far; it also needs tunes to keep it all going. Despite the odd moments here and there, it’s clear that the joke can only stretch so thin before it breaks and by the end of their set the laughs were at them as opposed to with them.
Given what we’ve all just witnessed, a break is needed. And yet there’s barely time for a small shot of something strong before HEALTH arrive to disturb the equilibrium yet further. The decision to get them to play in what amounts to the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall is a good one, as watching four young men bounce off of each other as an almighty din erupts around them probably wouldn’t have been quite so special sat down on a comfy leather chair.
With little introduction the band rush through recent album Get Color, creating a cacophony of sound so loud that some of the audience cower at the back of the tiny stage, as far away from the speakers as possible. For those brave enough to stand at the front, there’s the amazing spectacle of John Famiglietti repeatedly ramming his microphone against the speaker stack to create ear-piercing feedback.
The album’s collage of feedback, distorted guitars and booming drums sound muddier and more freeform in a live setting, with each band member taking revenge on their respective instruments. During a brilliantly calamitous Die Slow, a small section of the crowd clamber up on stage and pogo about aimlessly, the band barely looking up from the sweaty fringes plastered across their faces. This being a respectable venue, it’s not long before the rule-breakers are escorted off the stage by a couple of burly security guards, but for a brief moment the crowd and the band were matched in youthful exuberance.