When Mica Levi of Micachu And The Shapes sings, East London listens. Her unique brand of high-brow lo-fi songs are alienating enough to keep mainstream appeal at bay, but, on a rainy weekday night at the newly revamped XOYO, a stone’s throw from the unlovable Old Street roundabout, they make complete sense.
Following the success of 2009’s Jewellery, recent album Never saw a continuation of Micachu’s punk-orientated approach. With songs rarely reaching three minutes and the sound of vacuum cleaners and mumbled growls more likely than recognisable choruses, the formula remained intact.
However, a sense of growth and development is immediately clear when they launch into set opener Heaven. Having just returned from supporting the mighty Animal Collective in the US, the experience was clearly informative and the band seem to have discovered a new found confidence. On record, Micachu & The Shapes’ music can seem almost self-consciously obscure; live, they are experimental pop music at its best. Songs turn into danceable, melodic bursts of energy and the band possess a sense of camaraderie layered with professionalism.
Ultimately, they are so much more likeable in live form. The albums may play like hipster fantasies but, in reality, these are three classically trained musicians unafraid to reject conventional song structures and explore music in its most stripped back and primal form. With brevity and focus, Micachu & The Shapes sit astride a range of genres and styles, delivering all with brevity and technical brilliance. Material is largely drawn from the recent album with the chugging funk of Slick a set highlight, bringing excitement and energy from complex structures and instrumental virtuosity. But older hits such as Lips and Turn Me Well still sound as thrilling as ever.
The performance hangs around the endlessly watchable singer herself. Her voice, often distorted and lost on record, is a powerful, growling and soaring beast. And she is so cool it’s almost unfair. Despite her diminutive appearance, she is able to control the audience with a curl of her lip and, with a casually sneered line, conveys exactly the frustration, anger and resignation of what it means to be young in 2012.
Whether Micachu & The Shapes can follow Animal Collective and take intellectual, challenging music to the mainstream remains to be seen. At XOYO, it was evident that theirs is still an ardent, if niche following. Micachu And The Shapes occasionally sacrifice genuine emotion and connection for musical complexity, and they never broke down the audience’s restrained East London scenester sensibilities (an attempt at crowd surfing leaves one drunken punter bruised on the floor). Nevertheless, at their best, the set is thrilling and they make music which manages to sound unfamiliar and incredibly current. The clubs of East London may be their home for the time being but, from the band’s smiles as they left the stage, they rightly know that here they are adored.
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