Live Music + Gig Reviews

Memory Tapes @ Luminaire, London

20 January 2010

Kilburn’s premier sweatpit The Luminaire is packed to the rafters. An audience split roughly down the middle between I’d-like-to-be-in-Hot-Chip geek chic and middle-aged-music-journo comfortable knitwear jostle for position, trying to make out a Jesus-like figure standing a few feet away onstage. This is going to be massive.

Just 24 minutes later, said crowd decants onto the Kilburn High Road looking more than a little perplexed.
Was that really the synth-fuelled second coming we’d been led to believe by excited bloggers, or was it the briefest of glimpses into a painfully shy ’80s obsessive’s record collection? No-one is quite sure. The only thing everyone can agrees on is that New Jersey native Memory Tapes‘ second of two London shows – he played at the Social the night before – has left us with more questions than answers.

Memory Tapes is one man moniker-collector Dayve Hawk. He’s running a couple of different side projects under monikers like Weird Tapes and Memory Cassettes. he released and then re-released his debut long-player Seek Magic late last year to steadily growing critical acclaim. The record is a thing of near transcendental beauty, mixing the warm, fuzzy electronica of Boards Of Canada with Cut Copy‘s knack for a brilliant pop tune, into which he throws some superb, and never overwhelming, ’80s dance influences. It isn’t hard to see why bloggers have been up in arms about it; it plays the neat trick of sounding comfortably familiar, like a song from your murky past you’ve always loved, and thrillingly new.

Unfortunately, this quixotic mix fails to translate itself in the live setting, at least tonight. Hawk has been rather backed into a corner – he has little to no experience of playing his Memory Tapes songs to a live audience, but has been thrown into a hotly-anticipated tour of the UK nonetheless. It’s a bit like asking Girls Aloud to headline Wembley Arena with only a day of choreography under their belts. While there is little wrong per se with his performance, or his songs, it’s fair to say that he does not – perhaps cannot – live up to the hype.

Appearing on stage with an electric guitar and a drummer, Hawk takes us through the briefest of run throughs of Seek Magic’s highlights. The opening tracks seamlessly blend into one another, with the vast majority of songs already programmed. While the effect is pleasant enough for the first two or three songs, there is a distinct deflating of interest in the crowd. Hawk isn’t the most charismatic of performers, and while his guitar work over the top of songs like Green Knight is virtuoso, it leaves a hole in which his personality generally fails to seep through.

Luckily, the warmth of Seek Magic begins to punctuate the slightly impersonal feeling of the gig – the New Order stylings of lead single Bicycle lead to some spontaneous outbursts of bigfishlittlefishcarboardbox dancing near the bar. Best of all, the record’s most commercial track Plain Material is stunning. This song, that will surely soon be soundtracking a hundred adverts, is an ingenious cross between My Bloody Valentine and New Order and is impossible to listen to without an idiotic grin spreading across your face.

And then, as soon as it begun, it finishes. As the music continues, Hawk and his drummer stand up and leave the stage. A few minutes later, the house lights come up. The audience is non-plussed. Was that the beginning of something huge, or the end? Judging by the amount of exposure Memory Tapes are receiving, this won’t be the last we hear of Hawk. But whether he can fashion a live show of compatible quality to his album remains to be seen.

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More on Memory Tapes
Memory Tapes – Player Piano
Memory Tapes @ Luminaire, London
Memory Tapes – Seek Magic