Monday 18 May 2009

School of Seven Bells / Telepathe at ULU - 14 May 2009

SVIIB by Ena Yanai

When I first saw Telepathe at Catch before Christmas, the venue was so small and crowded that in attempting to see the band properly I injured my foot so severely that my doctors cheerfully tell me that I may never be entirely free from pain. However, on that night the band put on a great show.

Tonight is very different. Six months on, and the zeitgeist appears to have moved on where Telepathe are concerned. The venue is barely a quarter full. Melissa and Busy, who previously danced and interacted with their audience, have retreated behind a wall of equipment. They seem to be going through the motions.

The band is not helped by the sound mix, which is atrocious, and will remain so for much of the rest of the evening. The beats are muddy and indistinct, the vocals all but inaudible. It’s like watching a school disco in an empty sports hall.

The overall impression is of a band for whom this is not fun anymore. What started out as a series of vibrant performances for friends at parties in New York has become a six month slog around Europe. They seem as though they don’t want to be here. They need to go home and recharge their batteries.

Headliners School of Seven Bells are also on an extended sojourn to this side of the Atlantic. So far, they are standing up to the spotlight a lot better.

I have been following the fortunes of SVIIB (as they style themselves) for around eighteen months now and am very pleased to finally see them in the flesh. I am also very pleased to see how their live set-up differs from their recent recorded sound.

When the band first released demo versions of their songs, two things were immediately apparent. The first was the wonderful harmonies of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, and the second was the gently brooding, yet powerful menace of Ben Curtis’ guitar work, the two elements combining to make a unique and mesmeric whole.

However, when the band recorded their debut album ‘Alpinisms’, they made a decision that the music should all be electronic. It is not a bad record by any means, in fact it’s a damned fine one – it just lacks the edge of the earlier versions of these songs.

So it is great to see that in the flesh that School of Seven Bells have their guitars in evidence. They start off with ‘iamundernodisguise’ and the sisters’ voices are as one. The sound mix remains severely duff, but the spark is there. The room is much fuller now, and there is quiet attention.

Ben stands between Alejandra and Claudia, strutting his stuff. It’s standard rock hero posing, but relatively restrained for all that. The sound is more restful than that of his previous outfit, Secret Machines, and the company easier on the eye. The sisters are on opposite sides of the stage from each other, and I have to mentally stop looking at one and then the other to see which is the more identical, as though my eyes were following a rally in a tennis match.

The album gets a good work out. It’s all very pleasant, without being fantastic. Everyone, onstage and off, appears to be enjoying themselves. The evening passes serenely and there’s a relatively early finish.

Two bands, two different attitudes. Telepathe appear jaded, SVIIB still bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

But seriously, ULU, sort the sound out.

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