In anyone’s books, it’s a brave band that plays a London show the very same day their debut album is released. Tonight that suddenly seems to dawn on Slug frontman Ian Black, who looks genuinely stunned at the near-capacity crowd, who are hanging on his every word, warped noise and dramatically thrown shape. “We didn’t know this was going to happen; we just released an album, booked a room…” But of course Mr Black has some tricks up his sleeve.
Slug are the latest in a prolific and seeming never ending line of Field Music side projects. This incarnation of course includes the Brewis brothers, but this time in they take a back seat, nudging songwriting duties and the spotlight in the direction of their former touring and session bassist. The album is released by Field Music’s label, Memphis Industries, and there’s been a bit of well-earned muso noise on the airwaves around Slug.
Black takes to the stage flanked by what looks like an army of snooker players, all dressed up in red bow ties and waistcoats, Black in a more formal, choir-master-type suit, ready to lead this rabble through the weird, creeping twists and turns that form Ripe. The album could almost – but not quite – be another Field Music album. It’s studied and – yes – ripe for amateur musician dissection. A mix of sludgy, swampy, choppy, crashing guitars, the sort of mad, funky instrumentation that’s peppered Field Music (and the Brewis Brothers’ other side projects, for that matter) albums – there’s something new to discover on every listen.
Highlights included the upbeat odd-pop of Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic, the rumbling Running To Get Past Your Heart, while Greasy Mind and Kill Your Darlings are more creeping and intense. Throughout, Black seems determined to prove himself worthy of the spotlight. He thrashes around, screaming off mic between songs, thrusting his guitar towards imaginary predators; he looks like David Byrne fronting a prototype Muse, zany, hyperactive but compellingly watchable. During one song, he runs back stage to find a misplaced bunch of roses to throw into the crowd. Towards the end of their final song, he hastily assembles a drum kit just in front of the stage, kneeling to drum along amongst the crowd, the roses from earlier in the show pelted back at him.
Although it’s strange to see the Brewis brothers essentially forming a backing band, they seem in their element and this feels like a real band. There’s a genuine affection and closeness that can only come from spending so much time together on tour and in the studio. Prompting the first song, Black stares straight ahead before looking to his right, saying “Hit it, Dave”. David looks especially happy in his new role, jumping between instruments, including at one point a couple of beer bottles, struck with drum sticks, on Shake Your Loose Teeth.
Apologising for the show’s early finish – the set clocks in at about 45 minutes – Black admits, somewhat bewilderedly to the cheering crowd, “We haven’t got many songs” – which makes tonight all the more impressive. It’s hard to see where Slug will go from here, whether the project continues, is put on the back burner for a while or turns out to be a one off. But what’s clear from tonight is just what the spirit of collaboration can achieve; how, if egos are put aside, bits borrowed here and built upon there, something quite special can be created.