London-based foursome reveal an endearing vulnerability while mustering a battalion who would happily take their lead anywhere
It’s not the rivers of sweat pouring from his brow that has Charlie Drinkwater, the charismatic frontman of post-punk noiseniks TV Priest, wiping feverishly away at his increasingly pink eye sockets between songs. On this, the last night of their UK tour with upstarts Modern Woman, even though the man is giving himself somewhat of a physical workout, it is instead a battering ram of internal emotions that appears to be pummelling the avuncular singer.
The band’s first album, Uppers, almost disappeared due to the emergence of covid, and their extraordinary second release My Other People was written as the band found themselves, along with the rest of the world, in the grip of anxiety, isolation, fear and desperation during lockdown. Rather than being exclusionary, or endlessly hopeless in tone, the group somehow salvaged their humanity in the face of oppression and defeat, and the new album has united fans of the band everywhere they’ve played. It’s that overwhelming showering of appreciation night after night which has Drinkwater taken aback. At one point in tonight’s show he’s almost floored by the kindness shown him, and even has to hold on to colleague Nic Bueth’s shoulder to prevent collapse.
Guitarists Alex Sprogis and Bueth, along with drummer Ed Kelland though furiously energetic in their own way, leave the majority gesturing for Drinkwater. He uses his hands like a painter or a composer, they leaping outwards, spin and contorting vigorously through the evening as he makes his point. That’s not to say his bandmates are complacent. From near static standpoints, they deceptively generate broad vibrations that grip the audience by the ankles and shake vigorously til our collective internal organs feel like they’re being spun dangerously on some poorly assembled rickety dodgems.
Watching Drinkwater prophesise and hypothesise, you catch glimmers of the apocalyptic inner screes you’d associate with Swans‘ Michael Gira alongside the heart-worn concern of The National‘s Matt Berninger as the devastating musical onslaught recalls the gut punch claustrophobic nihilism of the early The Jesus Lizard records. But the most revealing part of the show, by far the most endearing is the vulnerability. On the track Limehouse Cut, a song from the new record about the methods we use to mask our pain in times of struggle, and the paths we follow to find redemption and avoid monsters and mad men, Drinkwater croons on the chorus “Won’t you follow, follow me?” Seeing TV Priest live, in all their magnificence, you realise that these passionate and kind pied pipers are loudly and steadily building their own little army, a battalion who would happily take their lead anywhere suggested, towards certain doom or elusive happiness.