Thursday 5 November 2009

The Phantom Band / Sir Yes Sir at The Borderline - 4th November 2009

Phantom Band

New York socialite Dorothy Parker once said of Katharine Hepburn that “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B”. Miaow! I feel the same watching jovial guitar janglers Sir Yes Sir.

Somewhere I have a recording of the Wedding Present playing ‘Box Elder’ by Pavement. So, I would wager, have SYS. Not that there is anything wrong with that, to quote Jerry Seinfeld.

The Wedding Present - Box Elder Mo
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Sir Yes Sir ape their heroes right down to the check plaid shirts and yelped vocals. The guitars rattle along in a hundred mile an hour chime. There’s nothing deep, nothing difficult, just good clean fun.

The Phantom Band are a strange beast. Taking the stage, two of the band are shrouded in Chromehoof-style golden monk’s cowls. The rest look like they’ve just stepped off a fishing smack.

The single most impressive thing about them is how musically developed and confident they are. As far as I am aware they only have one (very good) album ‘Checkmate Savage’ behind them, yet their set is varied and strong, as though they have culled the finest bits from years of material. It already sounds like an oft-played Greatest Hits.

There is a strong Krautrock thread running through the best of their songs, powered by the cowled keyboard player and a battery of guitars. This driving groove is kept under tight rein, and never allowed to degenerate into any kind of freeform wig-out. Discipline is the key.

The variety of their sound is reflected in the use of unorthodox percussive instruments, many of which seem to have been hand fashioned from odd bits of metal or wood. At one stage, two of the band are playing melodicas, which when the tube disappears beneath a cowl makes the musician in question look like one of Doctor Who’s Ood.

Presiding over everything as master of ceremonies is singer Rick Anthony, flushed of face and squinty of eye, a jocular dead spit of Captain Haddock. Some of his gurning and mugging is a little ripe for my tastes, but he can certainly sing, often in a beautiful falsetto.

Everything is going swimmingly until we reach ‘Island’. This is a slow, long lachrymose dirge of a ballad that sucks all the momentum out of the gig. It is immaculately performed and the crowd go absolutely nuts for it, - it is clearly the Phantom Band’s signature tune, their ‘Stairway To Heaven’. And I just hate it. Which is a problem, because it is infuriatingly memorable.

It kills the rest of the set for me. I just can’t get back into them, even though it is followed by ‘The Howling’, which for me is the highpoint of their album.

So I finish the evening somewhat torn. That The Phantom Band are a formidable outfit is not in question. I like/love a good eighty percent of what they do. But that other twenty percent causes me big problems. I think that in future I’ll stick with their records.

No comments: