Given what we know about the making of the last two These New Puritans albums, their roadies must have approached this gig with some degree of trepidation. Taiko drums are pretty heavy, you know. That magnetic resonance piano takes hours to configure, by the way. And hawks. Hawks. How do you soundcheck a hawk?
Fortunately for those brave 1-2-1-2’ing souls, TNP take a simpler approach this evening. Just a couple of bits of brass. And some additional keys. Oh, and Elisa Rodrigues, the Portuguese fado singer who guests on the new album Field Of Reeds.
Simple is relative, after all. But while it may be slightly scaled back in scope, what is left is still a cast of sounds that could confuse. But they don’t. Like on record, the coherence and the control which These New Puritans demonstrate live is remarkable.
What could be disparate and disconnected ideas crash in from all sides – brass, keys, bass, Thomas Hein’s various instruments of malevolent noise making. Yet you completely trust in the band’s – marshalled by their increasingly totemic frontman Jack Barnett – ability to make sense of it.
It’s a confidence which isn’t misplaced. The new songs are grand and sumptuous. Spiral looms, rising on the tension built from swirls of horn and trumpet. V (Island Song) is irregular and jazzy, the warmth of the traditional instrumentation bouncing off the volleys of alien electronics, while the piano line which snakes through Fragment Two has a subtle sense of melancholy and leads into something filled with portent.
It is fantastic. Challenging, for sure, but in a good way. Serious as it is, and from the moment Barnett and co trot on you never wonder if they’re going to launch into a cover of I’m Sexy And I Know It, it would be wrong to label tonight as purely a cerebral exercise. There’s loads of fun to be had here. Loads of enjoyment to get out of it.
Not least the visceral thrill of the tracks from Hidden. Across We Want War, Attack Music and Drum Courts the other Barnett, George, does his damnedest (and he gets really close) to replicate the ferocious impact of a dozen Japanese drummers to breathtaking effect. Exemplified by the audible gasp of “WOW” that breaks the stunned silence which follows the vicious assault of Three Thousand.
It ends with the title track from Field Of Reeds. Somewhere between a Gregorian chant, the birth of a planet and the last movement of some neo-classical opus it is startling, unique and peculiarly brilliant. Handily, almost exactly in the image of the band who made it.