Sunday, November 23, 2008

And you will know them by the trail of destruction


Earplugs in for a night of sonic savagery courtesy of Poor Girl Noise and Big Hair? Then we'll begin...

Prefontaine eschew what seems to be the uniform of Oxford's musical underground, check shirts, in favour of tight-fitting late '80s/early '90s Oxford Utd strips, a look mirrored by a gaggle of fans at the front - surely the first time in many a year that the club could be described as fashionable. Fair play to the drummer, in his green 'keeper's jersey - the goalkeeping gloves probably help to ensure his sticks never slip from his grasp as the duo crash their way through a set that sounds like a twenty-minute-long version of Nirvana's 'I Hate Myself And I Want To Die' broken up into short suites. Bonus points for having a song called 'Owls', too.

Eduard Soundingblock I've seen before - wasn't impressed then, and I'm even less so tonight. The Cellar's house band (well, their guitarist is the resident soundman) deal in over-long songs that are equal parts Mr Bungle and prog rock but sadly nowhere near as good or even interesting as that might sound. They do at least help set the tone for the evening, though, with the bassist prodding at the low ceiling with his headstock like a seven foot tall and particularly wired Nick Oliveri in his first day as a chartered surveyor.

Much better are Nitkowski, whose songs by contrast benefit from both brevity and focus. That doesn't mean they're any less complex, though - but while their bass-free and frequently intricate take on post-hardcore is of a mathy persuasion, each song is still more than capable of staring you out before planting a fist firmly between your eyes. A dizzying experience, as it is for one of their pogoing guitarists who goes one further than Eduard Soundingblock's bassist by bashing the aforementioned ceiling with his head rather than his instrument.

Bilge Pump have shared stages with the likes of Les Savy Fav, Lightning Bolt, Foals, The Mars Volta, Erase Errata, Part Chimp and Trans Am. As if that wasn't enough to recommend them already, they're on discerning Nottingham label Gringo Records and have been branded "unlistenable guff" by NME. Peddling art-punk-funk to make you flinch and lyrics to make you smirk, the Leeds trio haven't been mentioned in the same breath as Shellac for nothing - though the combination of sinewy non-linear aggression and the very British exaggeratedly polite call-and-response vocals ("I like your style!" "Thank you very much!") makes Mclusky and their phoenix-from-the-ashes progeny Future Of The Left a more accurate comparison.

"Can you guys give a little back, please? We're playing at up to 120 beats per minute here..." Surveying the apocalyptic scenes unfolding around me, it's safe to say that impeccably moustachioed Oxes drummer Christopher Freeland has a decidedly un-American grasp of irony.

One song into the Baltimore punks' headlining set and the other two-thirds of the band - guitarists Marc Miller and Natalio Fowler, like Freeland clad in de rigeur Oxford Utd shirts - have already performed atop their trademark boxes before taking full advantage of their wireless instruments to meet and mingle with their frenzied public in the midst of the moshpit. For Oxes, clearly, all the world's a stage.

Not content with simply destroying the fourth wall, though, they seem intent on inspiring the crowd into continuing the evening's rigorous structural examination of the venue - and we're only too happy to oblige. Crowdsurfers - including the Prefontaine drummer and DJ - are scraped along the ceiling until a light fitting is brought down, the one solitary moment of sobriety of the entire set being when a punter gingerly hands the long strip lightbulb to a member of the bar staff.

So, you will know Oxes by the trail of destruction, then - but you'll also know them by the scatting interlude aimed at loosening us all up (as if that's needed); by the cover of Nirvana's 'Drain You' featuring guest vocals from an enthusiastic but anonymous member of the audience; and by such bright ideas as inverse crowdsurfing, by which people are pressed to the ground rather than the ceiling, thereby helping to clean the floor at the same time. "Keep Britain Tidy", smirks Freeland.

It's been alleged in certain quarters that Oxes are a math rock band - but suffice to say that if anyone dared stroke their chin tonight they'd soon have a flailing boot in it. This is fast, raw, heartbeat-quickening, ear-mangling punk, played in the sort of grubby, constrictive venue it should be played in, accompanied by the whirling limbs and structural damage it should be accompanied by. What else to do but to rejoice and abandon yourself to the chaos?

"England is just as I remember it: cold, wet and there's fifteen guys to every girl", says Freeland. They may not love England, but England - or at least this sweaty little pit of it - certainly loves them.

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