Knifeworld - The Musician, Leicester, Tuesday 2nd September 2014

Well, "fit on the tiny stage of Leicester's The Musician venue" they did, just, if I may quote my own review of Knifeworld's wonderful The Unravelling.

The Sixteen-Legged Groove Machine (unseen to the drummer's right is keyboard player Emmett Elvin)

When my trusty gig-compadre Phil W and I arrived at the venue, Knifeworld were still going through their soundcheck. As a result, we were treated to disembodied near-harmonies wafting out of the door while the mixing desk guy manfully coped with setting up the heady sonic palette for the plethora of instrumentation and voices you can see above.

There were two local support bands; Amber Herd were a rather basic rock band playing an odd mix of Americana infused lyrics atop an odd melange of Pink Floyd and Waterboys dynamics. The Roz Bruce Infusion were better with Roz's psychedelic punk guitar sprawling all over a drummer and a rather fine young bass player who displayed much dexterity. for the sake of her nearest and dearest, I do hope Ms Bruce's vituperative lyrics act as anger management therapy!

Knifeworld did not get to grace the stage until well after 10pm, and there was me thinking a relatively local gig would mean an early(ish) night. We were to eventually arrive home after 1am.

There were 21 people in the audience by the time Knifeworld came on. Yes, that's right, 21! Chatting with the promoter I got the sanguine response "Well, if this was in Colchester where I come from, there would be no-one here at all". It must have been dispiriting for the headliners, who could only treat this as a kind of dress rehearsal for the full album launch gig in London on Friday. Professionals to the last, they still turned in a fine set despite hardly being able to move on the claustrophobic stage. I thought at the time that Chloe Herington's bare feet were an affectation, but thinking about it I reckon she had to take her shoes off or the microphone gaffa'd to the top of her bassoon would have kept hitting the low ceiling. They could have spread out into the audience area had they wanted some room to move, it's not as if they would be standing in anyone's space, after all!

One of this band just wasn't made to stand still...and look, there's Emmett!

They did a full set, including the encore, a set that got better technically as it went on. They gave it their best shot and Kavus put everything into it (I imagine he's one of those folk who make beans on toast with gusto and commitment!), but the rest of the band looked a tad glum unsurprisingly. Kavus showed his SOH was still intact by telling us at one point "Imagine we're someone famous like Sparklehorse" and letting baritone saxophone player and new member Oliver Sellwood know that his "crap wages" would remain so for the foreseeable.

Opening the set with the first three numbers from the new album is a logical move. The awkward and complex I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight might well be taken literally if the opponent were the arrangement and the band had not paid attention in rehearsals. They coped with its writhing intensity rather well, and I can see that this is one number that will only get better the more times it is played.

As it turns out, the only number not played from The Unravelling was the bittersweet This Empty Room Was Once Alive, a song whose dark subject matter is maybe best left in the zeros and ones.

Introducing a stomping Pilot Her with "This is my year of going very fast", Kavus' energy alone would have kept the inwardly flagging spirits of the band from becoming visible outwardly, not that they lacked the professionalism needed to prevent that from happening themselves.

The other non-Unravelling highlight for me was the Henry Cow-cuts-a-rug-with-XTC that is The Prime Of Our Decline, a cherry of a tune from the no doubt criminally ignored 2012 Clairvoyant Fortnight EP.

On the way to the gig Phil and I were discussing the shrinking of the gig circuit over the last ten or so years, and how hardly any band of note ventures outside of London these days, considering that playing in the capital will suffice for the entire southern half of the country. With a turnout like tonight can you blame them? I would hazard a guess that if tonight's entertainment at The Musician had been a Genesis tribute act they would have had far more than 21 in the audience. Why are allegedly alternative music fans so conservative? Answers on a stash of unsold tickets to Knifeworld HQ.

A band as complex and as BIG, both in musical construct and in personnel as Knifeworld deserve to be playing similarly ambitiously sized venues where better acoustics and more space would do their intricate and fascinating sound a proper service. As it is they coped with the limitations of The Musician admirably given the "three men and a dog" audience. I can only hope that their undoubted talent and untrammelled enthusiasm, not to mention their progressive spirit in the true sense of the word is rewarded with a headline spot at The Royal Festival Hall at some point in the future. We can but dream!

If you can, go see the album launch gig at The Lexington in London this Friday (5th September). This fine band deserve your support, and not only that but support is provided by none other than that marvellous bunch of rabble-rousers Thumpermonkey. What's not to like?

Setlist:
I Can Teach You How To Lose a Fight
The Orphanage
Send Him Seaworthy
Don't Land On Me
The Wretched Fathoms
In A Foreign Way
Pilot Her
The Prime Of Our Decline
The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes
Destroy The World We Love
I'm Hiding Behind My Eyes

Encore:
Me To The Future Of You

Knifeworld are:
Kavus Torabi - vocals, guitar
Melanie Woods - vocals
Emmett Elvin - keyboards
Chloe Herington - bassoon, soprano saxophone, vocals
Charlie Cawood - bass
Ben Woollacott - drums
Josh Perl - soprano saxophone, acoustic guitar, vocals
Oliver Sellwood - baritone saxophone


 

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