Saturday, 23 February 2013

Savages, Beak> at Electric Ballroom - 21 February 2013


It’s way too cold to chance the possibility of having to queue outside the Electric Ballroom, so I arrive fashionably late to the show.

As I go to the bar for liquid supplies I can hear electronic rumblings from within the venue. The crowd have parted to allow five girls to perform a slow, very intense choreography piece. They stand in a line and gradually rotate in an arc, hands held together and aloft. The piece speaks of loneliness and separation and a feeling of being lost and alone in crowds. This is the work of Fernanda Munoz-Newsome, and it is a fine start to the evening.

As the dancers finally separate and march off, the focus shifts to the stage, where Beak> are ready to begin. The act of walking across the floor to see a band is always exciting, in a Ready Steady Go or Top of the Pops kind of way. It makes your pulse race, your face turned upwards in expectation…

…which rather dissipates when faced with the reality of Beak>. This is a project featuring Geoff Barrow (better known as one of the prime movers behind Portishead), Billy Fuller and Matt Williams. They’re called Beak> but what they really want to be called is Can.

What follows is a set of reverential motorik that is perfectly amiable, but terribly lacking in any kind of real passion or drive. This should be music that propels the listener along with the power of an ever changing yet repetitive groove. Instead, it’s all just a touch too low key and polite.

Only the last song of the set breaks free of its shackles and delivers the much needed oomph. I get the feeling that Beak> may be a better proposition on record than live.

There are no concerns about the live attributes of the headliners. Savages take off like a rocket and never let up.

The stage is simply lit with white beams of light illuminating the bone structure of singer Jehnny Beth, her hair cropped Renée Falconetti short, her eyes blazing like the Maid of Orleans.

Savages are a band that have so far kept their powder very dry in terms of releasing material. There is an album in the works, but most of these songs are only known to those who see the band. That Savages are now headlining venue of this size means that these numbers are rising all the time.

Although still heavily indebted to the likes of the Bunnymen and the Banshees, Savages are moving away from these influences and are forging their own identity. They are now much more clearly a band of four determined and individual musicians rather than a singer and some people who play alongside her.

That said, it is Beth who draws the eye. She never rests – even when not singing, she punches the air, slaps her head, prowls the stage, coiling like a spring until she can attack the microphone again.

Their one widely released calling card of a track ‘Husbands’ is saved for the penultimate song. You can tell that the crowd around you are held in thrall, but you can’t take your eyes off the stage. You’re in thrall too.

It’s an exhilarating performance. Savages are one of the best British bands out there at the moment. Catch them before they disappear into even bigger venues.

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