It’s a long time since I’ve sneaked up to Bristol after to work to see music. In part, it’s because so little music of any note seems to emanate from the city. Others would tell me differently, but I just see a mess of proficient but fairly uninteresting covers bands playing over and over whilst the rest of the place seems to rumble on in the same drum’n'bass rut it’s been in since the late 1990s. It’s also partly my own fault of course. I’m getting old, and whilst we kid on we’re all John Peel’s musical offspring, it’s hard to find the time to be as expansive and gloriously indulgent in our tastes as the man himself managed to be. There is, of course, also the pleasure to be had in watching a favourite band develop over time, and when pushed for time and resources it’s easy to end up with a small group of bands or a scene to follow relentlessly rather than looking further afield. For me, in recent times, the vibrant and ever-changing scene in my beloved Glasgow has provided endless new opportunities and ear-opening moments – and it’s partly though participating from afar in this burgeoning musical network that I even heard of tonight’s act.
Belfast’s And So I Watch You From Afar could easily have slipped past me – tipped hotly in places I’d never be looking (including the likes of Kerrang!) their brand of instrumental genre-busting sonic mayhem doesn’t really fit anywhere. It certainly didn’t seem to fit into The Cooler – a tiny venue on familiar Park Street, with something of a faded 80′s cocktail bar theme in evidence – though it’s hard to tell whether this was intentional or just a relic of the venue’s past life. Support was from another tipped NI act, LaFaro. I’d heard a lot about them, but lazily knew only one song – the punishing “Tuppeny Nudger” – which grabbed my attention with a collosal drum intro, but lost it with dreary mock-American vocals. Live, LaFaro were a much more engaging prospect with tons of energy and plenty of noise. A forthcoming album will be worth a listen – but only if the low menacing growl of the live vocals hasn’t reverted to a not quite Born in the USA transatlatic drawl in the comfort of a studio. The future hit single closed the set to audience appreciation, with a few new fans being won.
As the tiny stage was cleared for the main event, there was an air of anticipation in the room which I’d not felt at a show in ages. Perhaps it was the combination of decent (albeit bottled) beer and – rare for me these days – company to chat to while waiting, but I was really enjoying this evening when I’d usually be nervously pacing the venue feeling uncomfortable and out of place by now. Suddenly, and with apparently no effort whatsover, ASIWYFA took to the stage and began to make an incredibly beautiful noise. I love the way this band appears to have no pretensions whatsoever – there is little chat, no vocals to cloud the issue, and on-stage antics are confined to the paroxysms required to coax wonderous riffs from the guitars. The recent “Letters EP” was aired in near entirety – with “S is for Salamander” making an early and absolutely monumental appearance. The sound was far from perfect – but any louder and The Cooler may just have collapsed around us. But ASIWYFA are not all about loud/quiet instrumental cliches – and the intricate, sometimes near orchestral passages of clever drum and guitar interplay sounded just as clear and crystalline live. Add to this the drummer’s shirtless performance, and I think some people were definitely converted to the cause! I don’t think that ASIWYFA will be playing anywhere near as tiny as The Cooler next time around. The set closed with the staggering “Set Guitars To Kill” – this was always going to be the track which hooked people, with it’s provocatively silly title and amazing twists of thunderous racket and intricate melody. The Cooler erupted to it’s footstomping intro tonight too, with random outbursts of dancing – never a big feature of Bristol gigs given the reticent audiences here.
Out into a strangely warm Park Street night, ears ringing and feeling strangely happy. I had to be up in only a few hours time, and still had a potentially tricky train journey home tonight to face – but I was incredibly glad I’d made the effort to see this band, particularly in such an intimate setting. I’ve never aspired to write reviews, my early efforts being torturous amalgams of other’s voices and styles – but the message here is buy the records and see the band. You won’t be disappointed, even if it’s just a cynical attempt to view the shirtless drummer!