Live Review: &U&I at The Good Ship in London 9/10/15

*Live Review provided by guest writer Jim Lee (@_threeofclubs)*

Midway through last week, I got a message from Andy (Mr Birthday Cake For Breakfast), asking if I’d be interested to provide a guest post reviewing Friday’s show at The Good Ship. Being the selfless soul that I am, my first question was what on Earth would be in it for me. And given the satisfactory nature of the answer, when Friday evening came, I promptly jumped on the Jubilee Line up to North-West London; excited to revel in the noises of one of my favourite bands (&U&I), and to check out three I’d not heard previously (Waking Aida, Dialects, Freddy Lobos).

Well; it wasn’t quite that simple. Due to a little mishap involving misplaced match tickets for Coventry City’s away tie at Fleetwood Town, and an Uber stuck in obscene traffic on the Jamaica Road, my companions and I arrived at The Good Ship a good 45 minutes later than planned. I sighed to the woman at the door; “we’ve missed the first band, haven’t we?”.

To our relief, some smart ‘false scheduling’ meant that latecomers such as us wouldn’t miss a bit of the action. We had just enough time to store our bags away and to grab a beer, before heading towards the unusually-positioned sunken stage area to catch Freddy Lobos.

Lining up for apparently only their second-ever show, Freddy Lobos stood before the well-attended room like a badly-coordinated fancy dress party. On opposite ends of the stage, John from Maybeshewill and Neil from The Young Ones were costumed as high-socked tennis players. The drummer was dressed like (and quite possibly actually was) a member of the Leicester Tigers rugby squad. Meanwhile, the frontman looked like somebody’s uncle who had forgotten his costume altogether. The judgemental fuddy-duddy side of my brain let out a sigh, and almost wished the London traffic had delayed us a little longer.

But then they started playing. A set of real ferocity, the Leicester quartet blasted through a collection of songs reminiscent of the early 00’s post-hardcore that I fucking love; but with an abruptness and aggression that seemed to craft a genre unto itself. Group shouts interspersed with huge walls of sound simultaneously sucked in the room whilst punching it in the face. I found myself engrossed. That’ll teach me to be such a needlessly-disparaging prick.

Humbled and hungry for more music, next up were Scottish instrumentalists, Dialects. My initial aesthetic impressions were much better for this bunch; largely owing to the chap behind the drums, who appeared to be the lovechild of Maybeshewill drummer Jamie, and former WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. He even took his top off later in the set. Phwoar.

At the start of the opening track, I turned to one of my companions for the evening, and mouthed “Mutiny on the Bounty?” He grinned, as if to instantly acknowledge the likeness to the track ‘North Korea’ (from MOTB’s sophomore record), to which I was referring. Once again however, I was made to feel silly pretty quickly. In the moments that immediately followed, the set of blokes before me emitted something far more brutal than I was alluding to. And now… wait, what?! What’s this; a post/math-rock interlude?! SWOON!

And the rest of their set proceeded like so. Song after song showcased a schizophrenic personality, conjuring images of some sort of beautiful car accident involving MOTB, ASIWYFA, TWIABP and various other bands that can be abbreviated with a handful of upper-case letters. Except, much like Freddy Lobos before them, with their own clear identity. My WhatsApp message to Andy afterwards simply read “Dialects were fucking sick”. I was almost angry when the bassist applauded the audience at the conclusion of the set. Fucking stop that, and revel in my adulation, you brilliant bastards.

Waking Aida were the penultimate band of the evening, who gratefully took the baton passed by Dialects, before taking it to a candlelit dinner, complete with very expensive wine.

Picture the scene. There I am, not long recovered from the pulse-raising set of the band previous, stood on the stairs which lead down to the previously-mentioned stage area. And suddenly, I’m absorbing a brand of instrumental rock that I can’t describe with any word other than “beautiful”. A gentleman stood in front of me gently put his arm round his girlfriend, before whispering in her ear, and gently kissing her on the side of the head. I felt compelled to do the same; but given I was stood next to a geezer sporting a leather jacket and significantly-sized beard, I thought it best to resist.

The tune that followed was somewhat more upbeat, but shared the same melodic sensibilities. This was ‘hopeful’ post-rock at its best… the type of music that makes me consider the state of my own existence. And as I stood there, I can distinctly remember thinking ‘yeah, not everything is perfect; but fuck it, you’re a fortunate man, and life is fucking brilliant’. For a small collective of people to communicate a feeling like that without speaking a single word is powerful.

Again; let’s paint the picture. We’re stood no more than 20 metres from a busy London road. But nobody in that room could have felt further from it at that moment in time. If people from the street had the curiosity to poke their head in, it probably would have changed their lives.

They then threw mini-oranges into the audience to conclude their set… you know, tangerines/mandarins/clementines/something of that family. I still don’t understand why. But it was a thoroughly delicious and highly appreciated snack nonetheless. Something the tennis-lads from Freddy Lobos would’ve truly savoured, no doubt.

Anyway, at this point, I had to dash to the bar to buy three more bottles of Camden Hells, before rushing straight back down to the stage area. For you see, &U&I are one of my favourite bands in the world, and therefore I MUST be at the very front for their entire set; uninterrupted by the desire to return to the bar.

I’m not sure I can review &U&I with any impartiality. This is a band I’ve seen close to 30 times; a figure pushed close to 50 if you consider times I witnessed their iconic predecessors, Blakfish. But there’s a reason for that level of obsession. It’s because they’re absolutely fucking spectacular, every time.

Opening with ‘The Wooden Box‘, the first track from their newly-released EP, this was a quintessential &U&I performance in every sense. They’re a unique outfit that couldn’t have been forged anywhere but the underground Birmingham scene of the 00’s, mixing their own intense version of that British post-hardcore sound with a melodic darkness to which I have no ready comparison.

The set spanned a broad range of the entire (admittedly brief) &U&I back catalogue. ‘The Artist’ is the stand-out track of the new collection; bringing together all the best elements of the three-piece’s signature sound, whilst tugging at your insides with the catchy-yet-emotive vocal hook “I never meant for this to feel as good as it does right now”; stunningly performed both on both record and stage. ‘The Stamp‘ is also highly worthy of note – not just for including the finest Alan Partridge singalong moment of the new EP via “we should go grab a beer soon, and check we’re on the same page” – but also for the subconscious journey it leads (and then drags) the listener on. A downbeat, understated opening occasionally threatens to burst into a full-on underground rock anthem before pulling you right back in again; until the halfway mark hits and it becomes an absolute monster, unleashing an all-out aural assault. Sure to become a live favourite in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, long-term crowd pleasers such as ‘Accordingly In Motion’ (a personal favourite) and ‘Terror Back‘ maintained their ever-present nature in the set; the latter being a throwback to their very first release, ‘Kill The Man That Shot That Man’. Funnily enough, it’s a record I’d first listened to five years previously to-the-day (according to my iPhone’s Timehop app – a must-have for anybody that gains pleasure from indulging in nostalgia) – but the track still doesn’t tire in a live setting, with the singalong moment of “save your breath, cos it’s not worth the air your breathing” still enormous fun, 25+ &U&I shows later.

The evening concluded with the group being begged to return to the stage for one final song; a testament to how Thom, Rich and Wiz continue to enthral the gathered masses time and time again.

This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to write a gig review. And I almost feel that the overwhelming positivity of the previous 1,500 words reflects badly on my ability to effectively critique music. Like… perhaps I should go back, and modify some of what I’ve written, just so it sounds a bit more balanced?

But in all honesty, to depart Kilburn that evening with such a broad smile and a grand sense of wellbeing is reflective of what a fantastic night of live music this was. To showcase four outstanding acts on a Friday night in London for roughly the price of a nice pint is something for which the Robot Needs Home Collective deserves great credit – and it provides a more compelling argument than I could ever verbalise for shunning shit nightclubs and supporting some of the excellent sounds being made in Britain’s small venues today. Cheers, all!

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