Live at Electrowerkz in London, UK | July 18, 2015
Written & Photographed by James Speers / Speers Propaganda
There is a lot to be expected tonight. Ever since Rome released their recent album, A Passage to Rhodesia, appetites have been particularly whetted as to how the new material stands up in a live setting. The untimely but unavoidable decision to cancel their original March date due to logistical errors only added to this anticipation, perhaps less welcomely it also put the show back to being in the dead of London’s June heat. We can’t always have what we want, but in time we can be treated to things perhaps better than what was originally intended. In the grand scheme of industrial offshoots who have their roots in neofolk, experimental and other martial takes on the goth-themed music, tonight’s acts are mostly beyond ‘recent’ age. These are groups who have managed to establish themselves with a roughly sizeable catalogue of work – both live and recorded, which they are free to demonstrate tonight.
Tonight’s first appearance by the London-based experimental rock group, Naevus is quite humble, to say the least. Less so a group in this instance, this opening act is the solo performance of Lloyd James on vocals and guitar. Playing from a moderate set list, numbers from this band’s discography that are otherwise bursting with instrumentation are stripped back and reprised much more bleakly, in better keeping with what’s to follow. The approach perforates the room with a sincere sense of loneliness, the tone is tense and the content of the music remains destructive. James’ vocals stand out amongst the minimalism, the chorus to “Hasty Bastard” in particular swings from his intonated voice with a numbing force of gravity. The well-paced moodiness is ultimately a little deceptive, James still leaves room to interject some humour, and a belted mid-lyric bit jolts the audience, awakening from the prolonged sobriety felt so far. Despite this, the darkness of his music does manage to linger throughout his performance. As James nears the end of his set with “Odour” and “Go Grow”, the repetition of his strumming illustrates a greater sense of anger as found in his lyrics, and is carried by the sternness of his voice.
Also from London tonight is Jo Quail as the second act. As a relatively new musician in comparison to the rest of tonight’s performers, Jo is an artist who has been an active live musician for some time now, her style leaves no doubt about her skill. Her performance takes place entirely with her cello along with a minimum of electronics. These electronics provide her ambient element – but rather than simply compliment her melodies, these are tightly effective and essential in their own light. Opening with “Jhanoem The Witch”, the very first thing to be impressed with is how enchantingly calm it is in such a short space of time, as well as its mysterious and crawling sound. Following this, it’s almost instant to see how personally-inspired her music is. The electronics pulse and reverberate beneath her cello, altogether creating a seductive web of sonic consonance. This composition stays consistent throughout her set and makes for a very inviting experience and purely instrumental showcase, deviating from the acoustic and lyrically-driven performance of Naevus. As with Naevus, experimentation is something also to be found in Jo Quail’s music, but unlike Naevus live in this instance, Jo carries this experimentation across the board. Introducing the song “Gold 320”, she describes it as something you would hear “about three streets away at 3 o’clock in the morning”. As this may suggest, the sound is dreamlike, spacious, distant, yet still able to be registered while evoking deep-seated thoughts as activity at this hour may do. Having such differentiation, Jo is a welcoming addition to this line-up and demonstrates herself as a very potent musician who plays with evident vigour, determination and focus on her cello.
The seminal Kim Larsen from Denmark drops by almost casually as the third and final solo act. Managing to be heard before he’s almost even seen, he comes to the stage with his characteristic, soft-spoken approachability to then begin his performance. The date range of the material he plays from is varied, melodic and catchy numbers abound from the likes of “Wonderful, Wonderful Sun” to “Shine Black Algiz”. “More happy songs…” Larsen jokes, taking us deeper into such material with the bright “Lost in Emptiness” before resurfacing with the slightly more joyful “Hold my Hand”. The atmosphere of Larsen’s work, as well as his proficiency for intertwining a well-crafted and captivating ambience, has been an extremely defining element of :Of The Wand & The Moon:. This element of his music is especially abundant in earlier releases, and how it translates into a live performance can either make or break an audience’s expectations. On record, Larsen makes use of samples, electronics, interludes and some purely aural soundscapes. As with Naevus tonight, the full effect of these components are stripped back to just being one man and his guitar. Again, it’s a humility which he exudes, but one can’t help but feel that with such layered recordings, Larsen would appear with a full band to better render some of the more ethereal aspects of his music. The focus is of course on him and his lyrics, which carry themselves wonderfully, igniting feelings of nostalgia, cynicism and insight, as well as the extremely romantic gloom and muted sorrow which :Of The Wand & The Moon: is known for, and which also is notably heard onstage. Considering the numeracy of his discography, he chooses a good selection of numbers that cycle his lyrical expression and act as an enticing scratch at the surface of his work. Also of some relevance to :Of The Wand & The Moon: is the wall projection from one of Larsen’s visual projects, displaying a ritualistic assortment of sun wheels in the woods, one very notable characteristic of his work. Despite this, the projection is not exclusive to Larsen’s set, for it is looped throughout the rest of the bands to the side of the stage. Although this provides visual stimulation throughout the beginning stages of this performance, the extended, overall effect is actually quite dulling and does not leave much of an afterthought.
Finally, having been heavily awaited since their originally scheduled performance three months prior, Rome now take up their headline performance. Appearing as a full band in comparison to tonight’s prior acts, Rome’s sound is far more complete, whole and markedly definite in terms of bringing across what is heard on record. It’s a very different change of pace from the earlier acoustic and instrumental performances, both in tone and delivery. Evocative songs chosen from the pivotal Flowers from Exile transform into more martial numbers from Masse Mensche Material, Jerome Reuter‘s composed and gravelly vocals drift among thumping instrumentation. Out of these more martial selections come songs embedded with a more touching notation, performed against a gentle wall of guitar and bass. Rome march on with “The Consolation of Man”, then pressing further on there becomes a shift in tone to intense sobriety. To my surprise, only a small part of the set tonight is dedicated to material from A Passage to Rhodesia. The decision to play a show that encompasses a number of songs off of several albums is a welcoming one, nonetheless. At the same time, Rome also perform a handful entirely new songs tonight, these manage to be on par with what is heard in A Passage to Rhodesia. The latter half of their performance is surprisingly more discordant than what is heard of the same material on record, making their show more energetic than expected while still retaining a quietly soulful air which it still retreats to in parts. The encore proves to be overwhelming and extensive; Reuter and his band mates quite effortlessly aim to deliver in their undertaking, making the wait since March all the more worthwhile.
As might be expected, Rome invite the most heartfelt spirit into the room for their headline show, delivering to a joyous audience all they could possibly want and expect. They accomplish this through a slightly more unexpected combination of choice songs in lieu of a recent album, along with a powerful execution. In this case, it’s a performance that picks up with a more energised step in a rock ‘n’ roll direction towards the end, embellishing the captivating thematics and essence. The small list of details I notice throughout this evening have let the night down slightly, such as how muddIed an otherwise sharp guitar tone sounds against slightly uneven vocals during Rome, and that Naevus and :Of The Wand & The Moon: ultimately come off as fairly pedestrian, given the strong atmospheres their records invoke. There’s still a lot to expect and be surprised by with these groups, however, with more elaborate and experimental material along with their performances to follow in due time.