YOUNG KNIVES / WESLEY GONZALEZ, 1ST DECEMBER 2021, CARDIFF CLWB IFOR BACH
How to move on after a couple of bad break-ups? Since Let's Wrestle fell apart, the band's former frontman Wesley Gonzalez has assembled a stellar new supporting cast consisting of Steve Hillage of Gong, Neil Peart of Rush, Les Claypool of Primus and "Paul Gascoigne of Lindisfarne" (though the man claiming to be "Greg Rusedski the tennis player" may possibly be fibbing about the identities of those on stage with him). He's also constructively channelled feelings arising from the demise of a romantic relationship into forthcoming third solo album Wax Limousine. Life, lemons, lemonade, etc etc.
Tonight presents an opportunity to air not only new songs but also material from his last LP, Appalling Human, released on Moshi Moshi in the middle of the Plague Year. Tracks like 'Tried To Tell Me Something' illustrate how Gonzalez has left the indie-punk of his youth far behind and instead shacked up with Metronomy in enthusiastically embracing funk-inflected disco-pop and yacht rock. Stepping out from behind synth and guitar armed only with a microphone, he commands the stage and captivates the audience's attention in much the same way as Future Islands' Samuel T Herring.
The set concludes with 'Man Of The People', a tongue-in-cheek self-tribute not only written in collaboration with Young Knives (in the inaugural episode of their new podcast Very Very Songs Go) but also performed with the headliners' help. Gonzalez may not be a man of the people just yet, but he's certainly won himself a few more friends.
"It's good to be back", says Young Knives' visibly delighted frontman Henry Dartnall on more than one occasion. Coming from someone who - with his long hair, beard, robe and lack of shoes - looks like Jesus on day release from the cross, it's somewhat disconcerting. Though not quite as disconcerting as some of the songs from comeback album Barbarians must be for anyone familiar only with Young Knives' first couple of records.
The set may be prefaced with a homemade mock meditation tape, and Dartnall sings the praises of Clwb's (entirely fictional) backstage sauna - but, other than trippy synth-ballad-of-sorts 'I Am Awake', there's precious little opportunity to relax. The new(ish) record's in-your-face title track sets the tone, fuelled by disgust at humanity's basest instincts, and 'Society For Cutting Up Men' (concluding chorus: "The scum will rise to the top again"), 'Sheep Tick' and standout 'Swarm' follow suit, all profoundly unsettling in their aggression as well as their strangeness.
Like many a band, Young Knives faced the challenge of returning to stages armed with new material that they've never played live before. It's been a steep learning curve, Dartnall admits, joking with this bandmate and brother Tom aka the House of Lords that they nearly christened this run of dates the As Good As It Could Be Tour. Recently recruited drummer Silke Blansjaar of fellow Oxford bands Self Help and Candy Says has fitted in seamlessly, though, apparently turning up to her first practice with all of the songs already worked out.
While faith in Barbarians is in evidence, so too is a tentative willingness to revisit a past that had come to haunt them (hardly helped by the inclusion of 'She's Attracted To' in Vice's bizarre "50 greatest landfill indie songs of all time" article). "We're over that", says Dartnall of a period in the late noughties that saw them flirt with what passes for success in indie terms and yet still end up semi-digested and spat out by an unforgiving industry. That yields fresh twists on fan favourites like 'Terra Firma' and 'Turn Tail' from 2008's Superabundance, the House of Lords temporarily leaving his electronic work station to return to playing bass.
The evening wraps up with the even earlier 'Part Timer', from debut LP Voices Of Animals And Men, which takes a few of us right back to our first encounter with the brothers, round the corner at the Barfly in March 2006, when they used to dress like a Sixth Form chess team that had just discovered alcopops. We drift out onto Womanby Street reflecting on the fact that we've never been serenaded by a man wearing an illuminated car tyre around his neck before - and secure in the knowledge that Young Knives remain magnificently odd.
(An edited version of this review has been published on the Buzz website.)