Wednesday, May 20, 2009

All hail the partystarters


The last time Torontonian firewall-botherers Holy Fuck played in Oxford, back in October, watching the support band Kelpe was like being served a starter-sized portion of the main course before the main course proper arrived. By contrast, It Hugs Back are a bewildering choice, having very little in common with the headliners - except, that is, for the fact that they're really rather good.

Fans of Yo La Tengo circa Electr-O-Pura in particular will find much to love in the way songs like 'Q' unfold like a languid late Sunday morning stretch beneath a comfortingly snug duvet of fuzz, jangle and drone. Even when they get a bit louder, they could hardly be described as in-your-face - more tickle-you-under-the-chin.

The unassuming foursome look as though they might blush with shame at the mere mention of Holy Fuck's name, and afterwards, when I approach the merch stall and ask bassist Paul Michael for a copy of the album, he automatically assumes I'm referring to the headliners' LP, looking quite bewildered when I insist it's his band's debut Inside My Guitar I'm after. Aww bless etc.

Kent isn't often associated with musical wondrousness, but 4AD is, and with the label also currently boasting the likes of Deerhunter, TV On The Radio, The National and Bon Iver, It Hugs Back are in good company - but company in which they can quietly hold their own.

This is a Friday night, though, and it's time for the band Friday nights were invented for.

Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh aka Holy Fuck are experimental and innovative but high-brow only in the sense that your brows are guaranteed to be raised skywards for the duration of their set. They should market themselves as an alternative to plastic surgery - not to mention ecstasy and Viagra.

Avant-garde electronica, funk, rave, Krautrock and punk are all grist to the mill of an outfit equally comfortable touring with Do Make Say Think and MIA, the disparate styles fashioned into aural smartbombs that target your pleasure centres and detonate to maximum effect. There are casualties all around me - a bloke in a panama hat, another in a pair of horizontally-barred red Klaxons glasses, a curly-haired first-time pillhead - leaping around unself-consciously, all self-control joyously offered up and surrendered to the band on stage. Getting an Oxford crowd to respond (let alone to dance) is so often like getting blood from a stone, but Holy Fuck appear capable of slashing open a vein.

While the majority of the material is drawn from LP - the pick being 'Super Inuit' and 'Lovely Allen' (their "ballad", they claim, not entirely disingenuously) which close the main set and a whiplash-fast 'Safari' which brings the curtain down - there are also a handful of unfamiliar, presumably new songs that up the funk, particularly via groovesome disco basslines and drums that suggest the rhythm section is becoming ever more integral to their sound.

A week later Holy Fuck will be playing the Breeders-curated ATP. To refer to tonight's show as a warm-up would be to imply that they can be anything other than positively molten. And that, frankly, would be very wrong indeed.

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