There was something strangely ethereal about the near-deserted Fibbers (don’t worry, it didn’t stay deserted for long – I just always get there early) when I arrived tonight. A smoky haze hung not just over the darkened stage, but encroached into the floor area as well. It seemed to disappear when the stage was lit for the support band but was picked up by the coloured lights throughout the evening, adding to the atmosphere despite, when picked out in green, looking alarmingly like some sort of chemical attack.
That support band was Muttley Crew – although, in the few days between the gig and me writing this, they changed their name to Soma Crew – playing Fibbers for the first time. Well, three quarters of them anyway as the bass player Al Hamilton was missing. Ironically, just after frontman Simon Micklethwaite told us this Nick Barker on drums disappeared behind a freshly released burst of smoke. I don’t like using the word “drone” to describe music – to me it sounds unpleasant – but that is the genre the band list themselves under and, before I even saw that, I noted down their first track as having a “drone opening”, both musically and vocally. An injection of power soon drowned out the vocals and Steve Kendra’s lead guitar combined with Micklethwaite’s rhythm to provide a layered sound to a track which subsequently led straight into something much rockier. Barker’s simple yet fast drum beat provided backing for a track that built to a wall of sound, a combination of Shoegaze and Space Rock that couldn’t help bring to mind Hawkwind. Then the drone was back, although less so than during the opener. Again the track built, then changed to something more melodic. Throughout the set there was nothing spectacular or intricate, although Kendra’s use of an ebow or two added some dimension, but it certainly wasn’t unpleasant. It took until the fifth track until I could make out lyrics with any certainty – slightly disappointing given the way the songs are described on the band’s Facebook page – but that was to be the best of the set so far, not just for the stronger vocals but also the musical variations. After that highpoint the next track seemed to lack promise in its opening, for some reason that I couldn’t quite put my finger on and didn’t need to think about for long as it ended up being better than that opening suggested. Celluloid, the only track I heard introduced, ended the set in lively fashion, its near epic feel enhanced by straightfoward yet effective lighting.
After a quick between-acts pint, I arrived back with perfect timing. Knifeworld’s Emmett Elvin was alone on stage, his keyboards providing a backdrop for the other seven members to arrive to. My gig buddy for the evening, wandering in a few seconds later, looked up from his phone and asked me, “what the f*ck’s going on here?” I’ll be honest and say I had no answer. Knifeworld are one of those bands I decided to go an see despite knowing very little about them – I had probably seen them mentioned in Prog magazine and I had definitely seen one of my Facebook musician friends refer to them – but suspecting I would like them. I certainly didn’t expect the incredible mix of sartorial styles and instruments that was crammed onto the Fibbers stage, including a three-piece brass/woodwind section (saxophones, despite usually being made of brass are actually woodwind instruments, who knew…?) Nor was I expecting the hint of Folk in the opening track’s vocals, especially those of Melanie Woods. Wild-eyed, shaggy-haired and one time York resident Kavus Torabi did his best to introduce most of the tracks but, like many artists, managed to make some of the actual titles incomprehensible. The next track opened with the woodwinds in a funky, discordant yet still pleasant manner. This long, complex track saw the folk element disappear, while Elvin – never apparently certain whether to sit or stand while playing and so tall that he brought to mind images of Schroeder from the Peanuts cartoons as he hunched over his kit – provided some space-y keyboards in the middle section. It wasn’t the pounding drum-line that grabbed us during the next track, but the fact that Chloe Herrington had swapped her saxophone for a bassoon – yeah, I had no idea until my gig-buddy Googled it – starting a period of instrumental gymnastics during this and the next track as she frequently switched between the two, while Josh Perl also switched between saxophone and acoustic guitar. But this was nothing compared to the complexity of the music, which held me enthralled until the explosion-of-drums finale. A simple drum-line and audience clap-along opened the next, much shorter track before Torabi’s guitar and vocals, and then the rest of the band, joined in. Bookending Orphanage, In A Foreign Way started with more of that complex discord while The Prime Of Our Decline was bewildering in its complexity. Older track Torch was the quietest part of the set and contained a lovely three-part vocal harmony section that turned out to be just a promise of things to come as Me To The Future Of You saw Torabi initially move back to allow Woods, staring stoically off into the distance, and Herrington prominence on stage as they delivered an even lovelier vocal duet. The track and, indeed, the set was brought to a close with a crashing drum and cymbal section and the band left the stage to the inevitable shouts for more only for Torabi to come back on and admit that they had, “Shot their wad,” and hadn’t planned for an encore because they didn’t expect the audience to shout for one. That didn’t stop them for playing one, though, even if it was a repeat of one of the earlier tracks.
I’m not quite sure what we saw on stage tonight. The band list their genre as Psychedelic Rock but they were livelier than most that I know of that genre. If the definition of Prog rock is changing of time signatures during tracks and pushing the boundaries of music, then this was Prog, but not in any form I’ve heard before. The music was clever, complex and above all interesting. Hearing it live was one experience but I suspect listening to the band’s recorded output will allow you to hear something new every time. I walked away from the gig with a copy of the band’s first album, Buried Alone: Tales Of Crushing Defeat, buying it solely on the fact that Me To The Future Of You is included on it (as well as the brilliantly titled Corpses Feuding Underground and Pissed Up On Brake Fluid), albeit a version recorded before Hetherington joined the band. I’m looking forward, with a small degree of trepidation, to having time to listen to it properly, probably when the rest of the family are out. Somehow I can’t see them liking it…