CAT MATADOR / DALLAS DON'T / PUMP SHARK / ROBOTS WITH SOULS, 20TH APRIL 2012, OXFORD PORT MAHON
Robots With Souls is Steve Wilson, former tubthumper with noisy local favourites Phantom Theory. I'm pleased to report that as a solo artist his tubthumping is no less aggressive, and he continues to batter seven shades of shit out of his kit - though only after creating and then looping samples made by striking with a metal bar a bass set up horizontally on a cymbal stand.
It's a curious arrangement, but one that certainly works, as evidenced by 'Droids That Bleed' and 'Watch Out!', which together comprise Robots With Souls' first release. Both are trumped by 'Mad King Ludwig II', though, which Wilson tells us is about a Cowley Road character who lives on a houseboat and claims to have played the lead role (a labrador) in a film called When I Was A Dog. Generally speaking, however, this is no laughing matter, and it's Wilson's roared reminder that you "can't buy integrity" that's left ringing in our ears at the end of the set. Let that be a warning to us.
Tonight's out-of-towners are Pump Shark, all the way from High Wycombe. Well, two of the trio are, at least - the other is admittedly now an Oxford-based work colleague of mine, and one who sets about showing off a hitherto unknown talent behind the drumkit (and a similar disrespect for drumskins as Wilson before him).
The Hot Snakes T-shirt on display gives some clue as to the post-hardcore origins of their sonic aesthetic, and the songs are about as angular as they come, and the set is like being repeatedly jabbed in the ribs by the elbow of a particularly bony Steve Albini. The vocals could perhaps be dispensed with, as they slightly detract from the overall intensity, but nevertheless the ferocity of their racket is such that I'm not sure I'd want to suggest it to their faces.
Given that Dallas Don't vocalist/guitarist Niall Slater has been on knob-twiddling duties for the other bands, it's a bit of a surprise (and disappointment) that his own don't sound quite as sharp as they might, Jen's guitar in particular a bit too dominant.
The quartet are fast becoming fastidiously contradictory buggers, christening one poppier new track with a gorgeous dreamy coda 'Screaming At The Sea' and debuting another that sets grim tales of seventeenth-century Scottish witch burnings to a rollicking upbeat soundtrack. Recognising that some of his subject matter might be considered a bit pretentious, a smiling Niall announces, "Here's a song about going for a jog". The song in question, 'The Runner', might well be about that, but it also contains repeated references to "running out of time" and an allusion to suicide, and explodes as violently as a nailbomb. Dallas Don't, then: don't rely on them for the feel good hits of the summer.
Since Cat Matador and I last crossed paths, at the Jericho Tavern two and a half years ago, they appear to have both grown in number and undergone some personnel changes. The result is a bigger, fuller sound that exudes confidence, but - as with the transition My Latest Novel made in moving from their debut to their second album - I can't help but hanker for the low-key fragility they seem to have turned their back on. They can still kick up quite a storm with violin and frenetic drumming - just not the perfect storm.