Monday, May 19, 2014

Sound city

"You bunch of cunts." Despite Hot Hooves (Purple Turtle) being the first act of the evening, vocalist/guitarist Mac welcomes us to this year's Punt with about as much warmth as one might a dog turd in a box hand-delivered by Kasabian. Battling against lighting issues and the fact that "Mike's printer's broken, so he doesn't know the set", they come across like a belligerent Buzzcocks battering Guided By Voices - though what voices Mac is guided by it's probably best not to speculate.

Also reminding us that the Punt is a showcase for those who haven't played before (rather than exclusively for the young and wet behind the ears) are The Trophy Cabinet (Cellar), who may have originally formed in 1989 but who have matured like a fine wine over the years. Their sensitive, gently jangling, neatly contructed songs are a portal to the pre-Britpop period when the word "indie" still meant something.

But here, at last, come The Youth in the form of The Cooling Pearls (Wheatsheaf). The standout track from their set of mournful folk is 'Black Elizabeth', which vocalist Aiden Canaday claims to have written on piano ten years ago (not even the band believe him, apparently) and which finds him advising "Eat your greens and die of age". However healthily you live, you're still going to kick the bucket - a depressing thought, particularly from ones so young. Sod it, then - back to the bar...

Musical rather than lyrical intensity is the order of the day with The Neon Violets (Cellar), whose slow, deliberate, droning riffs, reminiscent of Wooden Shjips, grip your brain ever tighter like a boa constrictor until your mind goes blank and you're seeing stars. It's a lovely way to go.

Not going anywhere is Punt veteran Seb Reynolds, back once again, this time with Flights Of Helios (Cellar). Clever without being obnoxiously pretentious, inventive without being perversely leftfield, Reynolds' latest outfit may be resolutely uncategorisable (Grizzly Bear on an electro-avant-pop tip, perhaps, though that still doesn't come close) but they're already sounding like the city's next big breakout act.

Not that the likes of Beta Blocker And The Body Clock (Purple Turtle) can be too far behind. The trio specialise in the sort of hazy lo-fi indie rock that has been unjustly trampled in the stampede to revive grunge. If J Mascis' music bore a closer resemblance to his voice and general appearance, then this would be the result.

Ex-Euhedral man Lee Riley (White Rabbit) sits hunched over his gear, carefully constructing electronic incantations that build into something that might summon up the devil. If these soundscapes convey one overriding emotion, it's dread - on the scale you might feel ahead of undergoing open heart surgery carried out by a drunk armed only with a fishslice.

Komrad (Purple Turtle) are hardly any less terrifying, the name alone conjuring up visions of being awoken trussed up in a Siberian forest by a combination of barked orders and a torch shone directly into the face. Faith No More are a touchstone in the way that brawn meets batshit craziness in songs that don't merely seem to toy with time signatures but straddle whole time zones.

The prize for the loudest act of the evening, and by some distance, goes to Kid Kin. While Lee Riley was trying to raise the devil in the White Rabbit, Peter Lloyd is hell-bent on razing the same venue to the ground through sound alone. The set may be a touch self-indulgent in the middle, perhaps, but the first and last tracks - euphoric cacophanies of electronics, beats and live guitar scree - are tremendous and suggest he may yet deliver on the promise of becoming the Fuck Buttons you can safely take home to meet your parents.

The night's closing act Vienna Ditto are reason enough to be thankful that the White Rabbit is still standing after Kid Kin's attempted demolition job. The scheduling of their set is perfect - there's certainly something of the night about a duo who draw upon both blues and a dark-hearted electronica reminiscent of Sneaker Pimps. Hattie Taylor possesses a voice like Howling Bells' Juanita Stein that oozes sultry sexuality even when she's cooing "Liar, liar", while gospel standard 'I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole' is given an astonishing industrial transfusion that probably isn't available on the NHS and that would leave its populariser Blind Willie Johnson claiming he could see the light.

If, as is rumoured, Ronan has finally been broken by the various logistical headaches and this does prove to be the last ever Punt, then it's reassuring to know it was one of the best.

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