Thursday, November 07, 2002

Sparta cussed

Showtime again, and back to Rock City to find a far more youthful crowd than attended the Queens Of The Stone Age and even The Vines gigs. So, lots of little brats running around, but at least that means being head-and-shoulders taller than most and getting a perfect view from pretty much anywhere. Result!

Kinesis show the odd flash of the talent that has endeared them to the likes of Steve Lamacq and ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (the latter no doubt attracted to songtitles like 'Kiss Your Blood-Stained Lips' like flies to shit) but they aren't really any great shakes. Sloganeering and self-proclamatory rhetoric is such an easy route to attracting attention, and needs some musical substance to back it up. Surely a set-closer called 'Everything Destroys Itself' should sound like something dragged screaming from a set by Nottingham's very own noisehounds Wolves! (Of Greece) and not like the rather tame reality?

Hands up who thought Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez were the chief talents in At The Drive-In? Well, even if the pair's new outfit The Mars Volta sound like dizzyingly unique genius to your ears (and they do to mine), Sparta might make you re-evaluate the contributions to the ATD-I dynamic made by Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos. For they, along with bassist and old compadre Matt Miller, are Sparta, and in Wiretap Scars they've made a fantastic record. Like so many of the bands I've fallen in love with over the past couple of years - Fugazi, Juno, The Dismemberment Plan, Les Savy Fav, Burning Airlines, At The Drive-In themselves - Sparta have broken free of the restrictive ghetto mindset of much post-hardcore and broadened their horizons to stunning effect, without ever allowing themselves to lose touch with where they've come from. Sparta's particular trick has been to introduce the majesterial epic of albums like Pearl Jam's Ten and Screaming Trees' Dust into the post-hardcore lexicon, without diluting the righteous fury or politicised edge of the original language.

Live, these songs should be FUCKING HUGE. But tonight they suffer the indignity of a truly appalling sound set-up, the subtleties of nearly every song lost. Tracks like 'Mye' and the expansive slowburners 'Glasshouse Tarot' and 'Collapse' fight valiantly against the circumstances, but predictably it's powerful album opener 'Cut Your Ribbon' that goes down best with the Hundred Reasons fans, and even though with set closer 'Air' they strive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, it's clear they're fighting a losing battle. It's a terrible shame - in this company, they really are men amongst the boys.

Predictably, when Hundred Reasons take to the stage, the sound is perfect. Even though the evening has been rather soured for me by the sabotage of Sparta's performance, I can appreciate there is a lot to recommend Hundred Reasons. Refreshingly ego-free, defiantly populist and armed with massive songs like 'I'll Find You' and encore-closer 'If I Could' and a killer anthem in 'Falter', they're easily the best-equipped British band to take on the metal might of the Americans. Having already seen the same set three times at various festivals this year, I was hoping for a bit of variety, though, and they just about deliver - alongside the familiar ('Silver' mid-set, nestling near fine album tracks 'What Thought Did' and 'Dissolve') they debut a couple of new songs, 'Lullaby For The Gullible' and 'No Sympathy' that, while hardly heralding any new direction, are a welcome addition to their repertoire. They're also probably the goofiest band around - sample onstage banter: "So this is why they call it Rock City", "This song is dedicated to Andy's mum, it's her birthday", "You guys rule". There's no doubting that, live, Hundred Reasons are a very enjoyable and well-oiled rock machine - but I still leave with the nagging feeling that they could have been something truly special had they not side-stepped in from the left-field after 'Remmus'.

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