ROLO TOMASSI / IVY'S ITCH, 22ND OCTOBER 2008, OXFORD REGAL
From 'You! Me! Dancing!' the song to You! Me! Dancing! the promoters in the space of three days. The latter Y!M!D! are responsible for my first visit to Oxford's newest venue, the Regal, and it's a bit of a disorienting experience. I'm hoping it might strike a serious blow against the Academy, and have been led to believe it's a spectacular setting for live music, but the reality doesn't really compute - from the grand art-deco exterior to a low-ceilinged room that's too brightly lit, a long bar and a small stage. Eh? (But there's more - but you'll have to wait until the Don Cabellero review for that...)
Local support band Ivy's Itch describe themselves as "post-Beethoven-sludge-math-core", but again - inevitably - the truth is rather more mundane: old-school metal with the minimum of dressing up or finesse - think Tairrie B's assorted outfits (Manhole, Tura Satana and My Ruin) saddled with the meaty, lumpen chug of riffage borrowed from Metallica's self-titled album, albeit with a drummer who looks like an escapee from Foals who's pitched up at the wrong audition. My indifference to their set is compounded by the decision to end with their worst, least punchy song. Ivy's Itch, then: not really up to scratch.
Sheffield has a rich and varied musical heritage - Pulp, The Human League, Def Leppard and, more recently, Arctic Monkeys, The Long Blondes (RIP) and Monkey Swallows The Universe - but I'd wager that it hasn't produced many bands quite like Rolo Tomassi.
If ever there was a band to exemplify the old adage of never judging a book by its cover, then they're it. The cherubic quintet look barely old enough to tie their own shoelaces let alone be in a touring rock band. Bassist Joseph Thorpe spends most of the set smiling at his doe-eyed girlfriend in the front row, while I suspect that vocalist Eva Spence - all what seems like four foot six of her - might be snapped in two by a sudden breeze and is probably wrapped in cotton wool and bubble wrap and put in a box to be transported between venues.
And then they start playing.
Rolo Tomassi's songs sound like The Mars Volta, Acoustic Ladyland, assorted screamo bands and System Of A Down's 'Chop Suey' put into a blender without the lid on and allowed to splatter against and run down the walls. The complexity of their time signatures is truly extraordinary - the title of their debut LP, Hysterics, says it all, really. And what of their diminutive, formerly meek and shy frontwoman? Well, she turns out to be the band's USP. As the first note of each song strikes, she immediately transforms from a mild-mannered Agyness Deyn into a foaming-at-the-mouth Linda Blair, prowling the stage and cocking her head back for maximum projection of a fearsome scream. Christ knows what Blood Red Shoes' audience will have made of this...
However, as undeniably impressive as is their ability as musicians to stay on the same page despite each seeming to be scribbling something different in his or her own margin, it's ultimately also quite showy and not exactly involving of the audience. The Rolo Tomassi live experience may be a wonder to behold, but it's not really much more than that.
Del's thoughts on Rolo Tomassi's performance at Astoria 2 in support of Blood Red Shoes