Friday, 20 January 2012

837 THE HORRORS, Toy, Oxford O2 Academy 2 , Thursday 19 January 2012

The Horrors, for me, are proof that a leopard can indeed change its spots, or at least colour them a slightly different shade of black! I’d first encountered this lot 5 years ago, on the NME Brats Bus Tour (gig 723), when they’d played sub Alien Sex Fiend doomy electronic Goth, generally come across like a somewhat comic Munsters (black balloons!), and been well and truly blown off by the Mighty Automatic. I’d therefore dismissed them as one trick ponies (bats?) and ignored the critical acclaim heaped upon their sophomore effort, “Primary Colours”, a couple of years back. Silly me. After deciding to investigate, following similar acclaim for current CD “Skying”, I’d found “Primary Colours” as much a deliciously intriguing blend of JAMC wall of noise guitar rock and expansive and evocative Bunnymen-like 80’s rockism, as I’d found their current release a head-on collision of absorbing Krautrock synth and slightly baggy rhythm swagger. Good stuff, either way, and definitely a reinvented band worthy of seeing “live” – without the black balloons this time, I hope!

So t’was that I headed down to Oxford on a blustery Thursday evening for this, the first gig of 2012 and the first with our new Skoda! Paranoid about parking it, I had to wait 10 minutes, then fight over a spot in the usual Tescos Car Park, before hitting the venue for this sold-out show via a double queue, which meant I missed all but the last half number of support act Toy. Apparently half of indie no-marks Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong, they’re now monotonous gloomy robotic rhythm types, going for The Horrors Mark 2 sound, but ending up like Secret Machines instead. Still, a bit of a snap judgement, this, on the strength of one half-number...

This was a rescheduled show, following October’s postponement after vocalist Faris Badwan had voice problems, and one could feel the pent-up anticipation in this diverse sell-out crowd (rock dads as well as the youthful Horrors massive!), as The Velvet Underground and some other noisy tosh (probably also The Velvet Underground!) was played over the PA. Finally the lights dimmed, and The Horrors embarked onto the dry-ice choked stage just after 9, led by leather-jacketed Goblin King Faris, who perversely wished us, “Happy New Year,” before easing into the loose-limbed, libidinous dark groove of opener “Changing The Rain” (which “live” reminded me a bit of Chapterhouse’s shoegaze epic “Pearl”!). A strident and powerful “Mirror’s Image” followed, Faris a tall and commanding stage presence already grabbing the attention, and, despite being momentary halted by synth trouble, they kept the momentum with a superb “I Can See Through You”, “Skying”'s best number and a highlight tonight.

“You’re a smashing crowd,” declared the Goblin King politely, as the normally reticent Oxford audience went nuts, with a baying moshpit throughout. The kids love The Horrors, what can I say? The set mid-section answered my long-held query as to what a Goth-dance Bunnymen would sound like, before a strident, gear-changing “Endless Blue” recalled The Close Lobsters’ roaring “Mother Of God”, no less. Some drawn-out feedback preceded a stately “Still Life”, epic and robust, to round off a short, 50 minutes set. However they weren’t done, the layered Mary Chain-isms of their best number “Who Can Say” kicking off a resounding encore, which was rounded off by a lengthy, brooding and menacing Krautrock epic “Moving Further Away”, itself culminating in a crescendo of feedback and dramatic white strobe.

Fine stuff. Another band in thrall to the 80’s, sure, but this lot are engorging a wide array of 80’s rock styles and regurgitating them in a chameleonic, primordial soup, proving themselves the unlikeliest of contenders in the process. Colour me wrong; The Horrors are no joke band, but a very promising and inventive force to be reckoned with. And no black balloons this time!

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