As 80s-pop and 90s-shoegaze revivalists Ballet School brought their unique sound to The Shipping Forecast, Getintothis‘ Paul Higham wished more people were on hand to see a show full of verve, vigour and élan.
This week some of the city’s most loved clubs, performance spaces and cultural hubs have come under renewed threat from urban redevelopment and cultural homogeneity.
People have understandably been up in arms – and rightly so.
In order to bolster the nascent preservation campaigns, the city and its people need to be seen to be supporting cultural events, particularly the alternative music subculture that venues like The Kazimier and Nation have done so much to promote.
Against this backdrop it was disappointing to see the basement room of The Shipping Forecast so criminally under-populated for what turned out to be one of the best showcases for new and emerging talent that you could wish for. The audience was in single figures for the tremendous LIVES and when VEYU took to the stage had grown to a legion, 24 strong.
Headline act, Ballet School are a curious beast, difficult to pin down and all the better for it.
Signed to Bella Union, they do bear some of the influence of label-founders’ former band Cocteau Twins but they combine that with synths, shoegaze guitars, hip-hop rhythms, and huge dollop of pop fun.
The question on our lips was how effectively could they marry these sounds on the live stage and would they be able to build on the impressive showing earlier in the year at Sound City.
We needn’t have been worried.
A tentative start betraying nerves of a debut headline tour notwithstanding, the band turned it on in terrific style. In a live setting, the group adopted a conventional set-up, placing more reliance on traditional guitar and drums than synths and laptops. And boy did it work.
Rosie Blair’s vocals were mightily impressive ranging from the delicate to the howling while Louis McGuire displayed tremendous versatility behind the drum-kit. Michel Jun Collet’s guitar work revealed particularly shoegaze influences with a playing style recalling such luminaries as Kevin Shields and Bowery Electric’s Lawrence Chandler.
It all came together with set closer, Cherish, an ecstatic blend of all at which the band excel. Blair’s vocals wailed into the wind, McGuire delivered syncopated rhythms and Collet’s guitar drove it along with a shoegaze insistence. It shimmered and shone and was played with an intensity akin to listening in a wind tunnel.
A real standout moment from a band confident in their own skin, sure of their own sound, and pretty much unique.
Earlier VEYU cemented their reputation as one of the best bands on the Liverpool circuit right now. Their performance was one of poise on the one hand and restless experimentation on the other. A relatively straightforward start saw the band hit the groove with a terrific mid-section full of syncopated drums, delicious vocal harmonies and understated melodic guitars.
They display a strong ear for a tune and an art-school sensibility. Such was their evident class and maturity, they brought to mind Veckatimest-era Grizzly Bear. There is so much going on in their music and such depth, yet it is delivered with restraint and apparent ease. Further evidence of why they are one of our favourite bands around right now.
LIVES made light of the awkwardness that often comes from playing to crowd that, in number, barely exceeds the band members and providing further evidence of their abilities. Great melodies aplenty, a charismatic front-man and assured musicianship prove there is plenty of life left in modern guitar music.
Perfectly balancing the tightrope between catchy and infectious and dark and mysterious the band deliver a short but sweet set worthy of a bigger crowd. Next time they’re on the bill make sure you get there early – these guys are going places.
It is often said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. To preserve our precious heritage and provide opportunities for new talents to shine we should campaign and we should holler. But we should also make sure that talents like those on display tonight don’t play to near-empty rooms.
Pictures by Getintothis‘ Martin Waters