Cool for cats
COUGAR / ELAPSE-O / BALLS DEEP, OXFORD JERICHO TAVERN, 21ST OCTOBER 2009
By way of a prologue, a general observation: the Jericho Tavern - or at least promoters You! Me Dancing! - have a serious love affair with the Japandroids album. Not that I'm complaining, of course - it's entirely understandable, gawd bless 'em.
"Like Bob Marley forcing out a 4am shitwank after a night on the smash with Lightning Bolt at Blackout Crew's pad"? Self-penned descriptions on MySpace sites don't come much better than that. So kudos to Balls Deep, the genetically malformed offspring of the late Prefontaine and Twat Trot Tra La. Ed Bates, last seen drumming for the former in an Oxford Utd goalkeeping top, is on bass duties but still looks like a lost archaeologist. Their kit set up on the floor in front of the stage Lightning-Bolt-style (though more out of practicality than choice, I suspect), they subject us to the best part of half an hour's worth of songs like 'No Arms, No Qualms' - obtuse, freaky, brutalist fist-funk. Not pretty - no, definitely not pretty - but pretty effective.
Another pair of local noiseniks follow in the form of Elapse-O. It might just be my ears, but the duo appear to have undergone something of an evolution since last we met, well over a year ago. Largely gone is the Suicide-in-a-dungeon clang, clank and drone of yore - and with it, sadly, my favourite track, the single 'Sonny Liston' - and in its place, for the likes of 'Tinseltown', has come a greater sense of urgency. Singularity of purpose was always key, but now the narrowness of focus seems to give their music a weightier anchor where before it threatened to spiral off into the leftfield stratosphere.
If The Big Pink tended more towards abstraction than pop, they might sound like this. Elapse-O still aren't totally convincing live - cranking up the electronic drums so they can compete with the guitars would be a start - but if you like Fuck Buttons, then these two might push yours.
After the locals' padded-cell funk and shoegaze apocalypse, Cougar can't help but seem, ahem, tame. Not that the Wisconsin outfit are pussycats, though, you understand - far from it, as they prove on more than one occasion, suddenly and breathtakingly abandoning the intricate interplay and letting rip. But that's the point - if songs like 'Your Excellency' and 'Stay Famous' didn't slink seductively or prowl with quiet understated menace for long periods, then the moment at which they pounce wouldn't have such devastating effect.
Touring in support of their second album Patriot, released on Ninja Tune, the preppy-looking bunch could I suppose be best compared to Fridge, at the cleverer (though never too clever) rather than the more abrasive end of the post-rock spectrum. There's a dash of jazz thrown in too, largely thanks to drummer, conductor and nominal frontman David Henzie-Skogen. Also a member of the Youngblood Brass Band, the band's affable mouthpiece is a virtuoso who treats the rim of his drums as as much a part of the instrument as the skins and who has found a novel use for sweaty tour T-shirts, stretching one out over his snare drum to muffle the sound before whipping it off mid-song as those around him shift smoothly through the gears.
At first there's a slight tension in the room, one which is heightened when a patently off-her-face-on-something-that-probably-isn't-booze girl barges her way to the front, moshes vigorously even to the slower passages and heckles between songs. The rude interruption is thankfully only brief, though, and after she's forcibly ejected the tension completely dissipates. Henzie-Skogen recalls a promoter in Hamburg telling them he'd enjoyed them but that they'd never amount to anything as the kids can't dance to their songs. "I want to send him a video of that girl", he chuckles - though he and his band have already made a persuasive case for being better known.