Glacial goths: listen here. Esben And The Witch may be icy cool, swimming amid a sea of bass-heavy shoegaze feedback, but that is not – repeat not – an excuse for failing to engage the Scala’s heating on what may turn out to be the coldest night of the year. Rachel and the lads may be cool; the audience are ****ing freezing.
Not that it matters much, of course. Tonight’s setlist is drawn largely, as one would expect, from new album Wash The Sins Not Only The Face. Released at the start of the year, it delivered 10 new tracks snuggled up in their post-industrial layers of noise under a glorious title Godspeed You! Black Emperor and their many offshoots would be proud of. The sound they make owes something of a debt, too.
They start as the album does, with Iceland Spar and Slow Wave, before reminding us where they’ve come from (musically, not their recent forays into Europe) by delving back to 2011’s Marching Song and 2010 single Lucia At The Precipice. How can anyone not love a band with song titles such as that?
It wouldn’t be entirely true to say their sound has moved on significantly; instead, they’ve found a niche and decided to make the most of it, something their surprisingly middle-aged audience fully appreciates. Musical tastes weaned on Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine are of course going to fall in love with their bastard child.
As the dry ice (or maybe just the frozen breath of the first few rows) swirls about the stage, the rest of the evening stays firmly in new album territory, apart from a brief diversion to Violet Cries’ Emenides, serving up When That Head Splits, Despair, Yellow Wood, Deathwaltz and The Fall Of Glorieta Mountain. They finish as the album does, with Smashed to Pieces in the Still of the Night, for which they’re joined on stage by Teeth Of The Sea.
There’s no encore, of course. You can’t be that cool and let a few claps and cheers tempt you to bounce back on stage pretending you haven’t got another three songs up your sleeves, specially prepared. Good god, no. Esben are too smart for that. Instead, they simply walk off-stage to a song with yet another glorious title, leaving behind them gently screeching feedback and a forlorn glitterball that spits out its final ice crystal slivers of light at the velvet black backdrop. It’s a far more fitting finale.