Uneasy does it
ZU / DR SLAGGLEBERRY / DRUNKENSTEIN, 4TH OCTOBER 2009, OXFORD WHEATSHEAF
Tiresomely convoluted songs? Cursory nods to Faith No More overshadowed by gothy bluster and Chili Peppers style slap bass? A theatrical frontman who looks like the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb, who has a distressing penchant for a maniacal laugh that Dr Evil would think too contrived, and who reads some of his lyrics from crib sheets, explaining "I've just got back from Suffolk and still have the thousand yard stare"? Yes, Drunkenstein are gruesome all right - just not, I imagine, in quite the way they intended.
Far more unsettling are Dr Slaggleberry. Midway through the set my gig-going accomplice leans over to say: "I'm enjoying this, but get the feeling we might be about to get murdered". You'd call for the men in white coats - if they weren't already on stage, wearing blank face masks. "We all have court summons we're avoiding so we try to keep under the radar", they've explained in an interview - probably a joke, though I wouldn't be sure.
There are no shortage of local types for whom the adjective "mathy" is appropriate, but Dr Slaggleberry are the only ones I've yet come across who also take their cue from jazz and metal - all detuned guitars, double-bass pedal battering and odd time signatures - to impressive effect (i.e. I'm discounting Eduard Soundingblock). Unusual rhythms are probably only to be expected given that all three members started out as drummers. If they were to ditch the vocals and between-song banter, and borrow a bit of Drunkenstein's theatricality and (for instance) freeze when the riffs grind to a stop midsong, the trio really would be a frightening prospect.
Once they've packed up, the stage sits empty for a while - until the headliners stride in as if just arrived, set up and start playing, to dropped jaws. After an appearance alongside the likes of Mogwai and Fuck Buttons at Invada Invasion, the one-day festival organised by Portishead's Geoff Barrow, Zu are on a low-key tour of the country - certainly, the Wheatsheaf is rather more low-key than Bristol's Colston Hall, the reopening of which Invada Invasion was organised to mark.
Like Dr Slaggleberry before them, the Italian trio aren't exactly easy listening - needless to say, really, of a band endorsed by John Zorn who have collaborated with Can's Damo Suzuki, Fugazi's Joe Lally, Melvins' Buzz Osbourne, Nobukazu Takemura and the evening's spiritual curator Mike Patton amongst others. Tonight there are no collaborators, and not much in the way of electronics or nuance - just Massimo Pupillo's bass, ultra-deep and laden with effects; Luca Mai's sax, rigged to pack a punch more fearsome than your average distorted guitar - he plays what has been described as a "death bassoon"; and Jacopo Battaglia's extraordinary drumming, which shreds sticks and sends splinters flying.
The music is jazz-influenced, though definitely wouldn't be described as "nice" by John Thomson's Jazz Club presenter in The Fast Show. It's as dense and heavy as it is complicated - hardly surprising, given that latest album Carboniferous (their 14th, put out on Patton's Ipecac imprint) has been acclaimed as perhaps their most downright aggressive release to date. The only respite from the feeling of being simultaneously disoriented and steamrollered comes when a misfiring PA heckles with some incidental music during a quiet section, Battaglia suddenly as open-mouthed as those of us in the audience.
Another review of the gig - we may not agree on the merits of the various bands, but it's good to stumble across another local blogger who chronicles his gig-going activities