Friday, March 10, 2006

Cold comfort


CF10, the smallest of the University's three venues, has a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. By day a bright and airy cafeteria for staff and students, and by night a darkened honeypot for the city's music lovers. Tonight's visitors include a gentleman with a heavily tattooed head, only the comically incongruous pot plants giving much indication of the room's daytime alter ego.

First up are the frighteningly youthful Neath outfit Adzuki, whose drummer Dean Gorno is sat exactly where I was enjoying a leisurely lunch earlier in the day. Perhaps not surprisingly for a foursome with an average age of around 18, they wear their influences on their sleeves - fellow Celts Funeral For A Friend (on whose label Mighty Atom Records they released their debut EP 'Five / Four'), Sparta (the chap at the merchandise stall flogging their wares sports a Sparta T-shirt, appropriately enough), a touch of Yourcodenameis:milo, the more melodic end of the screamo scale.

The songs could perhaps be stronger, as could Dan Thomas's voice, but there are certainly the seeds of something good here if this sort of stuff is your thing and they look the part, guitarist Richard Williams having that jack-knifing style of movement down to a tee.

And, as it turns out, Williams's purple patterned golf jumper and bassist Matthew Fry's Hooters T-shirt are perfectly in keeping with what follows. Tonight CF10 is a man's world, the testosterone hanging heavy in the air, thanks in no small part to Taint.

Much of Taint's power rests in the element of surprise. The ponytailed and trucker-capped bassist aside, they don't look much like sonic skullcrushers. If my memory serves me correctly, bearded vocalist / guitarist Jimbob bears more than a passing resemblance to Malcolm of the Viz comic strip The Modern Parents. If it wasn't for his tattoo, you might expect to bump into him at a church fete. Drummer Al looks similarly out of place setting up his equipment on stage - until, that is, he takes off his shirt and they start playing. According to their MySpace page, they sound like "thunder". I won't disagree.

It's not hard to see why Taint caught the ear of Cathedral / Napalm Death frontman Lee Dorian, whose label Rise Above released their most recent LP The Ruin Of Nova Roma. Their songs, blessed with such titles as 'Zombie Barnstorm Revival', are slabs of awesomely heavy sludge metal but with more than a hint of a post-rock sensibility, suggestive of Clutch jamming with Mogwai, or Aereogramme had they come from a metal background. I note their forthcoming show at the Medicine Bar in Birmingham - as good an indicator as any of their leftfield credentials. Not your average knuckledraggers, then, and to the liking of many of tonight's audience (myself included), judging by the swift mass migration towards the merchandise stall at the end of their set.

I'm not entirely sure what to expect from Cave In. From their inception in 1995 a ferocious hardcore metal band, they gradually morphed into a more experimental outfit. The Jupiter LP was a landmark, and they left underground label Hydra Head to sign to RCA / BMG, which released Antenna in 2003. In many ways Antenna was - and still is - a remarkable record: melodic, muscular, epic and ambitious, if occasionally lyrically absurd ("Nothing in his mind, the rent there's much too high", anyone?). With a striking album under their belts, major label money behind them and the patronage of Dave Grohl, the future looked more than rosy.

But, as is so often the case in these instances, it didn't work out, and while last year's Perfect Pitch Black LP didn't signal a step backwards to the hardcore days of yore, it did mark Cave In's return to Hydra Head. For much of their core fanbase, Antenna must have sounded utterly alien, a betrayal or - yes - a caving-in to the lure of mainstream success. How will they respond?

Vocalist / guitarist Stephen Brodsky's Anthrax T-shirt says it all. Sure enough, they kick off with a dual-vocalled bludgeoner which finds Brodsky and bassist Caleb Scofield taking it in turns at the mic, the former crooning and the latter emitting a fearsome vein-popping growl.

The next song is much the same.

And the next.

I've spent much of the day refreshing my memory of Antenna and the mini-LP that preceded it, Tides Of Tomorrow. Before long it's apparent that I needn't have bothered. During a set that can only be around an hour long Cave In don't play a single song from either record, meaning that the only song I recognise is the rendition of Nirvana's 'Breed', which comes towards the end after a trio of breakneck-fast Misfits covers.

All four covers feature guitarist Adam McGrath on vocals - a rarity, he assures us, but also apparently a necessity. Brodsky, you see, has a cold and doesn't feel up to singing much, meaning the set-list is decimated - hence being reduced to cover material. Sure enough, he's coughing away, but this is the last night of the tour (as they point out on more than one occasion) - surely he should be prepared to risk it for the sake of the fans who've come out if there's no reason for him to conserve his voice for a gig the next day? I'm feeling cynical, though, and - rightly or wrongly - can't help but think that it's a convenient way for them to ignore material which they've grown to dislike, even if that's primarily what many of us have come to hear.

No matter about us, though - the band are clearly having a great time of it, if Brodsky's incessant grin and McGrath and Scofield's self-absorbed banter are anything to go by. When they scuttle offstage and don't return for an encore, it's almost a relief.

As the lights go up I'm handed a flyer by a chap from local promoters Lesson No. 1, and subequently spot him in conversation with Jimbob of Taint. Another Cardiff date for them in the offing perhaps? At least then something good would have come of the night.


Review of Cave In at Nottingham Rock City, February 2003

Review of Cave In at Leeds Festival, August 2003

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