Friday, 21 November 2014

932 MERCHANDISE, Shopping, Idles, Bristol Start The Bus, Thursday 20 November 2014

A new gig location for me, this, and a familiar band with possibly a slight departure to their previous sound. Merchandise, last year’s Reading Festival best newcomers and hosts of a fine Jericho Tavern show last Autumn, announced another small venue tour to promote delicious new album “After The End”, a record which, despite retaining their blueprint moody, textured and sample-layered sound, sees them moving away from the freeform structure and stretched Krautrock templates of their previous efforts. There are discernable choruses! Verses! Hooks aplenty! A move to generally more “conventional” song structures, with vocalist Carson Cox having declared in advance of the album, “we’re going to remake ourselves as a pop band,” how would this play out “live”? One way to find out…
So I hit the road fairly early, expecting lots of Christmas shopping traffic around Bristol’s Cabot Circus and oddly finding none, therefore parking up and hitting this central venue around 8. A small pub side area/room, not much bigger than the Louisiana (so, then… small!) cordoned off from the main bar with a bit of black material (but well within earshot of the bar), with steps down to a small dancefloor, and a wooden-clad corner stage which gave the impression the bands were playing in someone’s garden shed! Not enough room onstage for 2 drumkits so local openers Idles played on the floor. They were terrible; an unrehearsed, half-formed, half-baked mess of clumsy shouty pseudo-allegedly “punk” bollocks. The vocalist introduced most numbers with, “this is called [song x], and it’s about [ subject y]… only joking…” (?), and their only redeeming feature was some nice Editors-like ringing fretwork from the guitarist, who could obviously play a bit, so he’s clearly wasting his time there… Main tour support Shopping, on about 9.30, were more palatable; seemingly mining the middle ground between The Slits, early B52s and Talulah Gosh (!), they had a pronounced DIY ethic and a sound consisting of militaristic drumbeats, occasionally dubby rhythmic base, intricate mutant single-note guitar picking and minimal yelping vocals passed liberally around the 3 band members. Interesting stuff, but I couldn’t eat a whole one…
Between the 2 supports, I’d stopped a lurking Carson Cox for a quick chat, and had my ear talked off by this most gregarious and open frontman; he allegedly remembered me from Oxford, and we chatted about Florida, the state of rock’n’ roll and his future plans for the band (“it was only meant as a side-project!” Yeah, right…). I was subsequently even more up for this one, and took my place down the front as the band set up for their late-starting set, about 20 past 10. After locating their drummer (Cox quipping, “anyone want to play drums for us tonight?”) we were on our way with big, strident opener “Enemy”, the chiming, driving rhythm being overlaid by Cox’s deep, deliciously resonant vocals, and the subsequent “In Nightmare Room”, all louche and languid, prompting me to shake my ageing booty down the front, and prompting Cox to remark, “thanks for dancing!” Hell, that was enough to keep me dancing throughout!
Shorn of the samples and effects which add depth and texture to their studio output, Merchandise “live” were a full-on rock’n’roll treat, and Carson Cox was a brilliant, riveting frontman, mobile and angular, with oddball, slightly flaky charisma to throw away. “Little Killer” was an early, superb highlight, the chugging rhythm very reminiscent of The Smiths’ classic “The Headmaster Ritual”, and the hook dark and dramatic, then a slower “Beginning” (“for the disco ball!”) nonetheless morphed into a Doors-like psych-rock wig-out, and “Green Lady” thereafter was a real treat, soaring and imperious with a dramatic finale.
But it was the penultimate “Anxiety’s Door” which was tonight’s highlight; this lengthy Krautrock workout positively rocked, bristling with venom and purpose, and Cox’s frontman performance was committed, riveting and outstanding, jumping in and out of the crowd, teasing, tempting, loving this moment, not wanting it to end. And neither did we. Brilliant stuff from a real band with boundless potential.
Guitarist Dave Vassalotti handed me the setlist (“sure thing!”) and I hung out afterwards, catching my breath, chatting with the band, getting the list signed and buying a t-shirt (Merchandise merchandise!) before eventually heading home with Carson Cox’s thanks and compliments ringing in my ears, home for 12.30, late for a Bristol gig. Aching limbs the next day, but Merchandise were totally worth it!

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