Here's looking at them
AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR / HREDA / NITKOWSKI / IVY'S ITCH, 23RD SEPTEMBER 2009, OXFORD CELLAR
Since last we met, just under a year ago, have Ivy's Itch mellowed? Er, no, would be the simple answer - though the sound is at least better than in the bar of the Regal (presumably because guitarist Jimmy Hetherington, also sometime member of Eduard Soundingblock, is the Cellar's resident knob-twiddler). The gothy bruisers - Tura Satana cast in lead, essentially - are unapologetically old-school metal, but stagger and slide from sludge (good) to stodge (bad) too often. Imagine being in a wind tunnel, only that wind tunnel is the Devil's anal passage. To be honest, I can think of better places to be.
Nitkowski are no strangers either. Last time the Londoners were here (or at least last time I saw them here), in support of Oxes, there was a moment of skull/ceiling interface that had me wincing. Not that I wasn't wincing already, you understand. Theirs is a tightly woven web of sound, with which they ensnare you before going in for the kill with clinical precision. Quite how they achieve the bass sound with just two guitarists is a mystery (well, it is until one of my gigging accomplices asks - pedals, apparently). Recent album Chauffeurs received an enthusiastic write-up in Kerrang!, but you wouldn't want to be driven anywhere by these guys - they'd probably take you to a deserted warehouse and recreate the scene from Reservoir Dogs with a blunt spoon and a soundtrack by Shellac.
Hreda are long-standing local favourites of this 'ere site - so much so that I can overlook the fact that they once sold me an EP rendered unplayable by the fact that the spray paint on the slipcase had also spotted the CD itself. Their most recent release was a double A-side single featuring a song called 'Minnows', but there's not much minnow-sized about what they do. All the same, there seems to be a subtle evolution afoot, gradually leaving the broad brushstrokes and majestic Explosions In The Sky sweep behind. The new songs continue to make the most of Russ Wainwright's fluid drumming, but now it's set in contrast to faster staccato sections, suggesting they're edging slowly and in their own way towards the more mathy ground occupied by fellow locals This Town Needs Guns (who, incidentally, have sent a deputation out tonight).
And so I watch And So I Watch You From Afar from up close. Fresh from headlining the Edge Of The Wedge Stage at Southsea Fest (a set I missed, knowing we already had a date a few days later), the boys from Belfast are not in the best of fettles. It later transpires that on the motorway en route to this esteemed seat of learning they learned a harsh lesson - namely, that the petrol gauge on their new tour van was not quite as accurate as might have been hoped - and as a result missed the window for soundchecking.
But, as one of the songs on their self-titled debut album (released on the Smalltown America imprint) would have it, 'Clench Fists, Grit Teeth ... GO!' - and, once diminutive guitarist Rory Friers has removed his glasses and put them on the amp, GO they most certainly do. Continuing with the song titles, 'Tip Of The Hat, Punch In The Face' implies a modicum of civility prior to the violent outburst, but that's never really apparent - 'If It Ain't Broke, Break It' is a more apt sentiment. For music that betrays the pervasive influence of Mogwai, it is at the same time far more visceral and face-ravagingly ferocious than most of what passes for post-rock. Volume and aggression are crucial, technical intricacy only a secondary consideration.
As it turns out, ASIWYFA have more than just an empty petrol tank and no soundcheck to contend with - there's also the supremely pissed girl who thanks the band for dedicating 'A Little Bit Of Solidarity Goes A Long Way' to her (and the other bands on the bill) by lurching and falling onto Friers' pedals mid-song, knocking his mic stand over into the bargain. Quickly and uncomplainingly, though, the guitarist rights everything and soldiers on unflustered. Clench fists, grit teeth ... GO!
I remain to be convinced that their recorded output quite does them justice, or that they have enough about them to ensure longevity and distinction - but tonight, at least, seeing is believing.