The Phantom Band & Indian Red Lopez – The Tunnels – 16/03/11
I know I’ve started my last couple of reviews with comments about it being a work-night gig. The thing is I seem to have had a run of bad luck of late. I work 12 hour shifts, week-on, week-off, out in the Shire and it seems that every band I’ve wanted to see recently has landed on a work night. I figure that, if I can’t have a wee moan about it on my own blog, then where can I do it. There’s a few things about worknight gigs that make them different from non-worknight ones. First of all, I’m generally pretty knackered after a stressful 12 hour shift and sometimes would prefer to be looking at an evening of sitting on my arse on the settee in front of the box rather than chasing rock ‘n’ roll kicks. Secondly, everything is so rushed because I have to dash home from work, fling on some clothes, (sometimes) fling some cold supper over my neck and drive through to Aberdeen and try to find a parking space. This generally means you’re not arriving at the gig in anything like a relaxed state of mind. Then of course there’s the fact you’re sober while all around you seem to be making merry. This is especially galling if, as sometimes happens, you’re volunteering your services as designated driver to a bunch of mates who, after a few pints, seem to lose any consideration of the fact you may not find their drunken psychobabble amusing and seem genuinely shocked that you’re none too keen on pushing on to Drummonds for a post-gig drink. And then finally there’s the late drive home, generally falling into bed, ears ringing, sometime between one and two and lying there fretting in case you miss your six o’clock alarm. Yes, it can be hard work being a provincial music fan, bloody hard work. Some nights you wonder why you bother, some nights you don’t.
Fortunately tonight it was one of the latter. The music far outweighed any hassles in getting here or getting home. Two excellent bands both striving to do something a little different from the norm with varying degrees of success.
First up tonight are local boys Indian Red Lopez who take to the stage soon after me and Mrs Johnny’s arrival at The Tunnels. The first thing I notice is they are without their customary projections that normally accompany their set adding to the mood their music creates. I’m not sure if it was this or because, as they stated, this was their first show of the year, but I felt they were a little out of sorts tonight. They didn’t seem to be having much fun onstage and engagement with the crowd (and indeed with each other) was minimal. Shame really – as a result the songs didn’t really take off as they normally would. IRL songs tend to start off slowly, the music deconstructed, minimalist, with front man Mike Chang’s vocal plaintive and gentle over the top. There’s a good use of space and atmospherics, then, as the songs progress, they grow in pace and intensity until they start really soaring. At their peak, the Lopez sound becomes all-encompassing, their power picking you up and pulling you along with them, a rush of sound and emotion. I get a similar thing with the likes of Doves and Spiritualized though sonically IRL sound like neither, it’s the feel of the songs and the feelings they evoke that I’m drawing the comparison to. Anyway, I felt that they only reached these heights at a couple of points in the set tonight. Still, it’s more than most of their contemporaries on the local scene manage and something that sets them apart. Hopefully, with a couple more shows under their belts, they’ll soon hit their stride.
A couple of months back when I first heard about The Phantom Band playing, I asked around my mates and work colleagues to see if anyone fancied the gig and it was a case of “Who?”. Same thing when I was trying to shift the spare ticket I was left with owing to my son’s college commitments. I began to think the Phantoms were some kind of closely guarded secret and it would be a half empty Tunnels they’d be faced with, particularly for a midweeker. This, I’m happy to say, couldn’t be further from the truth. By the time they came to fight their way to the stage, the Tunnels was rammed with a wide spread of ages and styles making up the audience. From the trendy indie kids up to the folky middle-agers and pensioners (yes, pensioners!), all walks of life were represented. I guess that range of fan shouldn’t be too surprising because, above all else, The Phantom Band defy categorisation. They don’t fit neatly into any pigeonhole. There’s a little bit of something for virtually everyone in their music. Unlike their support act tonight, there is no fixed pattern to their song makeup, or to the instrumentation used on them. No two tunes sound remotely alike and yet all have the bands spirit at their core. No mean feat in an age where seemingly “everything” has been done (to death) before.
Whether it’s the gentle folk leanings of Island, or the quirky slowed down techno of O or the driving krautrock drones of Crocodile, there’s hints and nods towards myriad influences and reference points across the musical landscape that all add up to something unique and special. At various points in tonight’s set we get acoustic and heavy metal guitars, banjo, duelling melodicas, acid house synths, staccato barber-shop harmonised backing vocals and assorted guiros and percussion blocks. At times I get a fleeting glimpse of Neu or Cash or Hawkwind or the Velvets, but it’s always just for a few seconds and then we’re fired off in another direction. It’s truly magical stuff.
The band themselves are also a diverse and endearing bunch. Singer Rick Anthony, with his swept-back red hair and bushy beard, looks as though he’d be equally as happy dressed in a plaid as the faded Levis he’s sporting, brandishing a claymore in his hand as opposed to a microphone. This mental image is further compounded as he swigs from a glass of whisky between songs as opposed to a beer bottle. At one point in the set, he confirms my earlier suspicions by advising us that there are mums, dads and aunties of the band here tonight so we should keep the swearing to a minimum. Equally appealing to me is the banjo / guitar player (sorry, don’t know his name) who sports his woolly hat throughout the set despite the rising temperatures in the venue and never turns to face the audience until he’s leaving the stage at the end of the set. But enough of this, what did they play?
Well, I can’t remember exactly which tracks were aired and what order they came in but it’s fair to say their two acclaimed albums were each equally well represented. They opened with early single The Howling which of course got everyone going from the outset. We got Burial Sounds with its Spaghetti Western guitar and the strange but wonderful Folk Song Oblivion. Into The Corn, my favourite song from sophomore album The Wants, drew a hearty cheer from the crowd as its quirky synth and bass intro is recognised. A Glamour (with the drums nicked from OMD!) came at some point mid-set. We also heard the folk/techno fusion of The None Of One and, giving (to my mind anyway) a nod to the Doors’ LA Woman, they closed the main set with Throwing Bones. Unable to leave the stage due to the densely packed crowd, they elected instead to take a wee breather onstage before offering us one final song then leaving the stage to a hearty applause. Their parents would have been proud.
So, another great Tunnels gig, another great Tunnels crowd. We seem to be going through a bit of a purple patch in Aberdeen at the moment. Kudos to all who make it happen and thanks to the Phantom Band for making the journey north. Haste ye back.
New York Johnny
Pics by Steve MacPherson.
Phantom Band on the web
Indian Red Lopez on MySpace