Watching the Young Knives bassist (excellently still using the moniker ‘The House of Lords) setting up on stage I found myself imagining a scene from a US college comedy film. A smartly suited square, hair neat and side parted, arrives at a party, he is socially uncomfortable with the behaviour but reluctantly takes a drag on a spliff offered to him. The film fast-forwards a few weeks and the same character has long unkempt hair, a patterned shirt worn open over a band t-shirt, cut-off jeans and trainers.
Having only seen Young Knives once before, at the ill-fated Beachdown festival in 2008, I wasn’t aware of the band members radical change in style. However, looking at more recent images it looks like this may be one of the many changes that came with the band’s radical stylistic shift on last year’s album Sick Octaves. This was an album that ranked in our top 20 for the year and was an album that contained (in the words of our reviewer) “lots of weirdness and ethereal shit”.
Unlike earlier dates on their tour in 2013 the set-list wasn’t exclusively dedicated to the Sick Octaves album but it certainly dominated the set. The second song, a spritely version of ‘Love My Name’ from their previous album, ended with an extended repetition of the “the party’s over” refrain. This seemed to act as a bridging point between their first phase (albums one to three) and their new darker phase.
Visuals (on a projection and several monitors around the stage) accompanied the songs and supported some of the more theatrical elements of the performance. The new sound of Young Knives isn’t totally at odds with their old sound but it is certainly drawing more on the dark side of their personality and making far more use of synth sounds and noise than their traditional fans might be used to.
The late 70s is still the key influence on the band’s sound, but where XTC and Gang of Four may have been the lazy comparisons earlier in their career PIL and mid-period Wire are closer reference points here. There is a new groove to their sound and that helps hold things together when they threaten to get too weird or atonal. This is still a pop band, even if their take on pop is unlikely to attract a mass audience.
Just prior to playing a brilliant version of ‘Something Awful’ vocalist/guitarist Henry Dartnall can be seen at the side of the stage struggling to pull on a winged back-pack. Towards the peak of the song the wings are extended, their impact perhaps not quite was envisaged in the design, their crooked angle making them look a little sad. It is a Spinal Tap moment, but one that seems to fit perfectly with this least conventional of the post-punk revival acts.
‘Marble Maze’ is one of my favourite songs from the album and sounds great live, with a deceptively funky bass line supporting the desperate sound of the songs vocals. Kudos as well to Oliver Askew who provides excellence rhythms throughout the set and holds the more esoteric moments together brilliantly.
The evening’s encore includes a version of ”The Decision’ from their debut album, and rather than jarring with the rest of the set it reminds you what an odd band they always were. Their current career trajectory may not bring them a larger audience, and unlikely to see them back in the charts, but long may the oddness continue.
By Dorian Rogers