There Is Audienceby Roger Young, images by Peter Reyneke / 21.09.2010
Kids are literally chomping at the bit to get into Merc. I don’t know if it’s the prospect of this being an Isochronous “farewell” gig (Hey! You’ll be back before the end of October you super enthusiastic freaks, not exactly forever right?) or the hype building around the two support acts. Anaphys kept a solid attack on the PR slash social net vibes in the months building up to their launch gig at Albert Hall a few weeks ago and have been received well. Bateleur have been taking the mystery route, playing a gig here or there and vanishing; maybe it’s their instrumental vibes but, when reverently described by the music geeks, no one seems to be able to tell me exactly what kind of music they play. Whatever it was, it works because from nine thirty people are already in let’s-get-this-show-started mode.
Bateleur come on strong; rhythm section heavy and swift changing, the keys, trumpet, guitars and viola are mostly just texture at this point. It gets all maths folk rock; which makes sense because Bateleur all look like they’ve been clothes shopping at the Wiliamsburg Maths Folk Rock store. Slowly all the instruments, including the spooky voice bits and the lead guitarist’s fringe begin to play equal parts (all, except the trumpeter, who is less present) in the orchestral constructions. Instantly the crowd eats the Battles-esque pace of it all up. There is something deeply exciting about Bateluer at first, genuine music nerds closing their eyes, feeling the music and punching out solid technically challenging music; but three songs in and it starts to feel thin like they’re not really engaging the crowd. It doesn’t stop the first half of their set being mesmerizing. The lead guitarist shreds like a motherfucker and the keys player jams like Ray Manzerak on mushrooms, but without lyrics to hang onto, nor any straight up melodies to hook attention to, the novelty of Bateleur starts to wear thin. They’re the kind of band that would have gone down really well at The Armchair Theatre, if it was still around; surrounded by Obs beatniks and being allowed to experiment freely with no one really paying attention. But right now instrumental prog is high on the radar and Bateleur are going to need to be more than just great, experimental music students with amazing hair and a cool dress sense to capture a slice of the public imagination, I mean,
ask Kidofdoom or Benguela.
After an exceptionally long wait for their errant guitarist to pitch up, Tim Lester leads Anaphys’ new romantic rocky hallelujah prog onto stage like the bionic leader of a race of undersea fish-men. As well rehearsed, as super post prog and Tool-like they are, Anaphys still come across as embryonic, a mix of complex instrumentalisation and over keen-nees; like they need more audience time blended into the music to perfect the balance of delivery. Lester’s performance is alien and weirdly sexy but his voice is low or lost in the mix and he seems to be performing at and not with the crowd. It could be that the excessive wait has prejudiced me against them but their waves upon waves of epic laser beam music, even if cleanly delivered and technically sharp, start to dull my hearing after a while. I’m watching them thinking that they could be as good as Muse and then I remember that I fucking hate Muse.
Isochronous immediately show the younger bands what they’re lacking; from the second they open with “White City”, they jam with the audience like a fifth band member, making the Merc a stadium with their space jazz rock. Before the first chorus hits, the crowd is air punching like Pavlov’s dogs. By the second song, as one voice howling: “We cannot win, against this storm”. Down stage front, it has already got ecstatic. Really it’s a mistake to call the crowd the fifth band member because Isochronous play as one person, bonded together through many shows, they’re like the melodic borg of prog, four people subsumed into one unit, taking over the consciousness of the crowd making them, one by one, part of them. From the metal dudes slow head banging off to the side to the over enthusiastic philosophy students in boho chic, from the fat music journos mouthing the words to the twirling earthdance escapees, all those in direct contact with the stage seem hypnotized. Isochronous re-version their more popular songs so that, almost every time you see them, they’re playing the choruses that everyone knows but taking slightly different routes to get there. The songs are strong enough as they are but the changing of the journey makes them new and familiar every time. They might have started out as post-prog but they’ve slipped away from their Mew roots and are carving out their own space.
Gravity lags, feels langorous, a miasma of a rendition, maybe purposefully because it provides respite from the onslaught but in this moment attention starts to slip, only to be saved by a heroic guitar solo from Brokensha, leaning back on his knees into the spirals, jazz mouthing the chords as he goes, with Schoeman backing him on throbbing bass and matching lean. Sometime in the course of either “Into the Tide” or “The Attic” some guy jumps on stage to dive as they do some kind of cyclical thing, he stutters on the edge of the stage waiting for it to break, the movement repeats, he almost jumps, he looks back at them, at the Balkan cave man on drums, senses the break coming but it doesn’t, not yet and then finally they let him go, flinging him into the lights and waiting hands. During “Secret Connection” the audience ooooo’s along so strongly that Brokensha exclaims “everyone here must come do backing vocals on our next album”. The crowing glory is a long, clean and tricky version of “Beauty Queen”, it’s masterful, rolling and, in the true sense of the word, epic. Parker, bubbly and geeky, comes out from behind his keyboard and points/conducts the sea of crowd where it’s gone way beyond mere air punching, urging them on through the spiraling upwardness toward the heavenward plea.
And then it’s encore time but they don’t come back, the crowd seem sated, people drag themselves away from the stage, half hearted attempts to clap them back on break out limply but it’s not enough, they do not return, they have exhausted the audience and they know it, because for the for the entire set they were part of them. Isochronous know themselves too well to overplay their hand.
*All images © Peter Reyneke.