Into the Pit: 081: HEALTH – Live at Brudenell Leeds – 06-October 2009

Yet another gig which was running horrendously late from the start. We didn’t see the whole set of any of the support acts – our need for food in particular saw to that. But then, some of the supports tried our patience somewhat, too.

Not so Castrovalva, though, who were a fascinating proposition. With just the three of them playing vocals, bass and drums, they are exceptionally loud and abrasive, with short, sharp attacks lasting each time little more than a couple of minutes. The vocalist – not a small guy – sang at least in part in an unexpected falsetto, and screamed and growled in others. In the vocals and unusual song structures I was hearing Brainiac, another track stole outright the bassline from Girls Against BoysKill The Sexplayer, and there was one other band whose influence was looming large that I couldn’t place at the time, and which other comments about the band I’ve seen now reminds me is Shellac. In other words, this trio were great, if a little unrefined. I’ll be checking these guys out again sometime.

Rather less good, and rather more trying of my patience, were the other two support acts. Chops were, frankly, jazz-wank desperately wanting to ride on the coattails of the likes of Battles…but without a decent understanding of dynamics and playful fun, instead involving a horn section and a set that at points I was beginning to wonder when it was ever going to end. So, after far too long stroking my beard in a “mmm…nice” fashion, we got the last support act – Pictureplane. And sorry, but I simply didn’t get this. One guy behind a deck of keyboards and stuff, seemingly playing half of it through an iPod (with many songs that ended suspiciously fast, as if being cut off by whatever was playing it). Mainly snippets of old school electro, rave and fuck knows what else, chucked together with a desperate hope that it might pay off. In the main, it didn’t. Maybe, it was the wrong place for it. As a friend noted, this was the kind of music you’d expect to hear in a tent at a large festival on a summer’s day. On a wet midweek night in Leeds, at the back of an old working men’s club, it didn’t have quite the same effect. Oh, and be warned – the myspace page is pretty horrendous.

HEALTH may have finally taken to the stage some forty-five minutes late, but it didn’t stop a fantastic and mesmerising performance from a band that are, well, not your usual indie band. For a start, they are VERY FUCKING LOUD for the most part, and while they are nominally vocals-guitar-bass-drums to look at, sonically they are anything but. Little, if any of the guitar work is “clean” (we were a little too far from the stage to see exactly what kit they were using, but the assumption was that they had whole racks of effects pedals), and the interplay between the band is incredible – they are one of the tightest live bands I’ve ever seen. Which is some feat, with their songs twisting in on themselves and changing tempo and style so fast and so often (changing instruments mid-song happened more than a couple of times). Trying to pick highlights when songs bleed into each other so much was actually quite difficult, although a couple of tracks in particular were of note – Crimewave‘s astonishing dual-drummer close was a joy to watch, and when Die Slow finally was teased in – and going from the reaction is was the only track half the crowd knew – it became clear that it isn’t programming after all that is the bedrock of the track, it’s very heavily treated guitar, which like just about everything else they did it was played fully live. And I may be wrong, but I could swear that new-album-highlight We Are Water was one of the closing pair, and left my ears ringing. In a good way.

Seemingly being touted as the next big thing, I’m not convinced that a breakthrough will really happen. Far too noisy and abrasive for many, I suspect, they don’t generally deal in “traditional” pop structures and I’d be surprised if a number suckered in by Die Slow aren’t repulsed again pretty quickly. For me, though, they are great, even better live than on record, and who’d have thought that a merging of My Bloody Valentine-style shoegaze, neo-tribal drumming, noisy hardcore rock and the odd dab of industrial effects could ever work?

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