Tall Ships/Maps & Atlases – Reviewed

Thom Isom finds a pair of headliners in fine fettle at the Kazimier…

This show has been subject to great anticipation, one of those rare events that comes along once in a blue moon. Promoters EVOL and You Do The Math combine to bring two acts with a weight of history and hype behind them: Brighton based Tall Ships and the alt-math-folk-rock (whatever tag you wanna give them) of Chicago’s Maps & Atlases.

The night kicks off with support from Emperor Yes and Ninetails, the latter Liverpool locals attracting a good level of national interest over the past 6 months; their recent release, Slept And Did Not Sleep, shows a shift in direction for the group, away from their standard math-rock sounds into a more mature and explorative setting. On record this shows some promise, live however, it feels somewhat formulaic. Energy is high but their math-rock traditions still take centre stage – all well and good in isolation, but there are plenty of other bands out there taking this style to far more interesting places.

First up of the twin headliners tonight are Tall Ships, their standard outfit of three expanded by one with their producer Jamie Field (who led the production of their latest album Everything Touching) supporting them on stage. The record is a solid release – exploring a pick of inspirations from post-noughties bands such as Youthmovies Soundtrack Strategies, Oceansize and 65 Days of Static – a list that rings a rich sense of nostalgia for any post-rock music fan. One thing missing from this release though is the ferocity the band present live – thankfully tonight we’re treated to this in abundance.

“Vocalist Ric Phethean’s presence is magnetic and one that’s hard to ignore”

Tracks T=0 and Best Ever sway from punchy riffs to swells of keys and vocals with brutal and beautiful progression – it’s a standard formula but done well. As the crowd show their appreciation after each track, there’s an air of silence and anticipation – vocalist Ric Phethean’s presence is magnetic and one that’s hard to ignore, throwing himself across the stage with his grungy (dare I say it, Cobain-esque) appearance.

The band are full of energy, surprising as 2012 was a hectic year for these guys, one featuring headline slots at Kneedeep, Leeds and Reading festival. Notching up those slots shows just how far Tall Ships have come over the past couple of years – from the back of pubs to some of UK’s most respected venues; now is a time of transition as this week see’s their biggest show to date at London’s Scala. With all the hype and excitement surrounding this band, let’s just hope they don’t get caught up in the moment – there’s a natural charm about Tall Ships that could easily be lost at a moment’s notice.

Next sees the turn of Maps & Atlases. Sprawling guitar work, frantic drum patterns and the throaty drawl of vocalist Dave Davison shifts the atmosphere in The Kazimier immediately. Their set presents a solid mix of tunes both old and new – Living Decorations and Pigeon making for a great start. The band gel well together live; no surprises there – with almost 8 years worth of performances under their belt, there’s history between these musicians, history that holds a special place in audiences hearts. M&A are one of those bands that radiate nostalgia. Their early EP’s of 2006/08 are particularly standout releases, an exploration in alt-folk and math-rock inspiring a wave of bands in their wake.

But it’s this love for their earlier material that has divided opinion on more recent releases. Their latest album, Beware And Be Grateful, is awkward listen, the band falling into the trap of their own sound – the same old gift repackaged. Hearing this new material live is a whole different story though. Tracks Remote & Dark Years and Fever represent a depth and groove which outshine older songs – the band bury themselves in a complex sprawl of guitar and drum work – it’s a dangerous road but as soon as you fear yourself lost they drag themselves back with a killer chorus.

It’s these moments of self-indulgence that really stand out though – reminiscent of genre bands Hella and Don Caballero – this stuff is intense, complex and most of all fun. A surprise cover of Tears for Fears Everybody Wants to Rule The World shows this bands ability to shift new wave grooves into math-rock beauts. Plenty of dancing all round – fun stuff.

Thom Isom

Image courtesy Thom Isom

Posted on 08/03/2013 by thedoublenegative