Crofters’ Rights, Thursday May 18
For all the new-fangled craft beers and barn-like high ceiling, once you get into that black back room Crofters Rights becomes, once again, The Croft – longtime home of leftfield performances that have ranged from the forgettable to the legendary. For myself, I’d rate among the latter the time I first saw artful popsters Bizali as the standout act in a long and otherwise forgotten benefit gig. Their catchy combination of lyrical originality with musical complexity lit up the Croft’s gloom and announced, in Daisy Palmer, the arrival of a great drumming talent on the Bristol scene. The band evolved, dissolved and moved to London but just before they did three quarters of them formed Chairfight, a feisty and smart proggish rock band just ahead of the ‘skronk’ curve. There were a couple of awesome gigs and then they were gone. Now, six years later, here they they were in that back room. “We’ve been on a 6 year holiday” explained guitarist Aaron Zahl before We Don’t Indicate kicked off and the room, packed with the wishful, filled with raucous electric happiness and some thumping great beats.
Chairfight music is a shifting collage that is ponderous, fractured and frenzied by turns, with hefty nods towards 60s archetypes Captain Beefheart, Led Zeppelin and Velvet Underground. It was mostly tightly written, Aaron’s elaborate guitar phrasing woven with Dave Johnston’s liquid bass lines, Daisy’s percussion an energetic driver that encompassed Mo Tucker style four-to-the-floor slamming, roaring, rolling excursions a la John Bonham and Ginger Baker-ish cross-rhythms. While it was finely balanced on the tipping point of mayhem the music’s deeply organised sensibility kept it satisfyingly purposeful. Whatever they’d done on their holiday it had only improved things or else maybe the music scene has simply caught up with them – either way it had better be a lot less than six years before we see them here again.
By comparison Olanza were much more to the point, their bassless twin guitar and drums line-up driven by full-energy downhill metal thrash principles yet able to open things out with the kind of straightforward dirty electric guitar sound that evoked Neil Young turned up to 11. The hyperpercussive drumming was satisfyingly seismic, whether slipping into a relentless Motorik beat or a defiantly Krautrock stomp, and their live sound wrangled the more mannered tones of their debut album into something bigger and badder. Like Chairfight, Olanza’s music shifts through distinct segments, guitarists Ben and Aron swapping roles and leading tunes away, drummer Shaun integrating and thickening the sound with abandon. It was intelligent stuff, for all that it masqueraded as primal at times, with a sense that even more would come if they just let go some of the time and followed their instincts.
You could trace a similar progression in The Brackish, one of the city’s finest musical experiences, whose two albums have seen their sonic vocabulary extend its range and whose live experience regularly reframes those ideas with what seems like intuitive spontaneity. In Luke Cawthra and Neil Smith the band have two guitarists with a deep understanding of the history of rock guitar and the distinctiveness of each as a player was evident from the start, their opener a Grateful Dead-recalling modal space odyssey locked down with tighter-than-tight drumming from Matt Jones and Jacob Myles Tyghe’s thoughtful bass. It was a sound at once perfectly of the 60s and also of the present, uniting the eras of The Riff and post-Minimalism in the most contemporary way. If jazz rock’s origins lay in those early electric experiments The Brackish understand how it can also relate to a more 21st century notion of what rock music has learned.
Above all it was the language of electric music, the subtle use of pedal-power to shape sounds – like Jacob’s shivering sub-bass, or the brusque sharpness of Neil’s cutting tone against Luke’s more depth-charged echoing wail – that added richness to what they played. If this was ‘grown-up’ rock it was far from sedate or settled, rather a demonstration of mature confidence that didn’t need to boast to strut its stuff and provided the ideal finale to a perfectly satisfying celebration of rock music.