Wednesday, September 01, 2004

party crashers

Me and Vic went to see Radio 4 at The Beach on Monday night. It's a nice venue for a gig; cordoned off in the middle to create a stage, it's smaller than usual, but the effect is good; a loud and crisp PA helps, as does seeing a band as good as R4. That said, the support act, The Infadels (sic) were really bad, or at least they started with a great song and then went swiftly downhill. They were, however, aware that they were in possession of a pretty amazing drummer, and as such started their set with a crashing great house beat, adding sharp bursts of guitar and throbbing bass to create a big, punk-funk monster of a first track. Everything after that was rubbish, punctuated by faux-stadium banter from their singer. Hmm. But sounding like the Clash gone acid house - if you can do it right - is a good move at the moment, as Radio 4 themselves might attest, were it not for the fact that their new record, unlike their debut, Gotham!, has been received poorly by some sections of the press.

In a way it's understandable. Gotham!, like the early records by Liars and the Rapture didn't quite escape the trap of sounding tinny and jagged, despite the invention stemming from the rhythm section. So, seemingly trying to solve this, the new LP goes for all out, technicolour sound - big, beefy bass, super-precise funk beats and plenty of shimmering keyboards. And whereas the Rapture album, say, was over-produced and short on decent songs (despite all the good reviews) this one contains several genius tracks. Yet, in part, it suffers from the same malaise; which is to say that it all sounds a bit glossy and over-cooked.

Live, however, the contrasting styles of the two albums meet perfectly in the middle. Like Blur on their astonishing Think Tank tour, Radio 4 live sound like a pop group plus; all the usual sounds you'd expect (brittle guitars, superb, heavy dub basslines and keyboard swooshes, Anthony's keen Anglophile vocals) augmented by a frenzy of percussion; cowbells, congas and a willingness to create pounding soundscapes brimming with energy. Crucially, they completely transcend the limitations of rock music, creating long dubby house work-outs where other bands wind meekly down. The set closer, and still their best track, Dance to the Underground was dance music in its purest form, every bit as anthemic and hip-jerking as Daft Punk, and totally brilliant.

Me and Vic walked back along the seafront, trying hard to avoid the odd veering lout (the seafront on a bank holiday undulates like the sea, or so it seems when you watch the staggering kids, lurching homewards) and expressing our enthusiasm. !!! are playing in October, which should be even better. It was only when we arrived home that it hit me that the last day of my holiday had just ended. I write this, then, seething with bitterness, and back at work.

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