TR/ST is the beat-drenched, dungeon-dwelling electrogoth secret brought to cultish consciousness by charismatic Canadian Robert Alfons, with occasional assistance from Austra associate Maya Postepski. Over the course of a decade, his track titles have offered clues as to some of the prevailing interests – Gloryhole and This Ready Flesh from the self-titled first album; Bicep, Shame and Control Me from this year’s two-part comeback The Destroyer among them. It’s hard to think of a venue more suitable for Alfons’ coldwave-via-witchpop music than London’s ‘neath-the-arches Heaven, with its perfect club sound, intimate scale, shadowy vaults and very many secrets – not least given TR/ST’s first album also contains a track called Heaven.
A five-year gap elapsed between TR/ST’s second album Joyland and The Destroyer. Alfons, having relocated to Los Angeles, has spoken of regrouping himself in the interim, but opening with early Sacred Bones-released single Candy Walls suggests he’s evidently still proud – justifiably so – of his earlier work. The new material, first evidenced here with Bicep, for the most part continues to sport witchy all-electric backing for his hauntingly introspective voice – in its delivery, part joshing Kenneth Williams, part sexy disco duck.
But while an end-of-the-night tech-noir vibe still prevails, there’s also a willingness to allow space amidst the driving club beats to spotlight feelings and emotions, especially on the second tranche of Destroyer material. Sparse piano lines or bright top end synth flourishes occasionally break out, as in cor (sic), Destroyer and especially Enduring Chill, and almost all of the musical accompaniment drops out in the middle of Bicep, leaving just the beats and Alfons’ voice to carry the day.
Mixed in with his earlier work in a full live set that’s lit seductively and never brightly, and backed with live drummer and synths player the better to leave Alfons free to take energetic charge of the shadowy stage, it’s clear just how many terrific tracks TR/ST has now amassed, how varied the writing has become even within songs, and how many joyous moments are to be found amidst the gloom. Gone might be Alfons’ poppiest moment yet, in which he sounds like a little boy lost in love and place and time: “You fall in and out of love and then it’s gone, it’s gone,” he concludes. Unbleached’s arpeggiated, wobbly synth lines are mesmerising, while Iris, played towards the end of the main set, reminds not for the first time of Depeche Mode, but for the voice. Where Dave Gahan’s dramatic baritone would be clear and strident in the mix, Alfons’ delivery is fragile, even vulnerable, mixed deep into the music, where it serves as a beacon of sorts, a directional guide making sense of the chaos. These songs are often better felt than sung along to.
Other touchstones shimmer into half-lit view and slink away again. Poorly Coward shares lineage early on with the beat of Björk’s Enjoy, while early signposts Shoom and Bulbform elicit whoops of recognition at the end of the main set, bringing in a boomy backing vocal track that recalls the Wicked Witch’s army in The Wizard Of Oz and, elsewhere, dredging up sound effects which remind of the Monster from the Id from Forbidden Planet. It would be a spectacular end by itself, but runs into the frantic Peer Pressure, which can only leave an audience hollering for more. The ensuing encore mixes new with old, mirroring the set in microcosm, with Colossal from The Destroyer segueing into Sulk from the first album. Ten years on and, on tonight’s evidence, the constituent parts of witchpop and coldwave, far from seeming dated, are alive and kicking in the shadows still, making their own celebrations.