Live Review: Pelican, 18 April 2007

Leeds Cockpit.

Support: These Arms Are Snakes

Boo. We missed most of the support act (allegedly the second band on, and they were finished by twenty to nine?), which gutted us immensely; they were the main reason we bought tickets. What was doubly gutting was the fact that what we did see was excellent. What was a fine slab of Jimcore last time out had been replaced by frazzled, overwhelming noise, as the vocalist skittered and flew around the stage. All the while a white noise and sub bass torrent was drowning all around it. This was good noise, a sense of the rib cage rattling, the lungs filling with some kind of bizarro-tar that replenishes the soul. It had been far too long since I had felt this, felt the vibrations ripple up my entire body in an ecstasy of sound. And then, all too soon, it was over.

I was well gutted; not only because we had missed most of their set, but because it also seemed numerous times more intense than their December set.

We were left with only the prospect of hippy-metal heroes Pelican. My history with their recorded oeuvre was not especially positive; their albums range from nice-but-bland to rubbish aural wallpaper. That their music becomes exponentially better the louder it is played, though, semi-filled me with optimism for this show.

When the band entered the stage, my optimism was rewarded. Not massively so, but rewarded nonetheless. Much has been made of the current ‘post-metal’ scene, wherein everybody tries to sound like Neurosis and Earth, but Pelican aren’t even a part of that. Not really. They sound like they should be included with the scene: their songs are long, rolling and quite dynamic; they are on Hydra Head records, home of cool metal bands (though that status is being thoroughly challenged by Crucial Blast); they have referred to themselves, largely due to their instrumental nature, as ‘metal that non metal fans can listen to’.

And if all of that wasn’t enough of a turn-off, the truth of the matter seems more to be that the band consists entirely of old school rockers pretending to be a cool post-metal band. One of them looks weirdly like Varg Vikernes (a.k.a. Count Grishnakh, who’s currently serving a life sentence for killing a rival black-metaller), and one of them sort of resembles a malnourished James Hetfield. And let’s face it: a scary amount of old school rockers look like a Hetfield that has suffered various maladies. He also reminded me a bit of Klaus Meine from the Scorpions. When the band rocked out, which they thankfully did quite often, they synched and all I could think of was Status Quo. So, not cool then.

Still, the music was there and it was good. Anybody familiar with this post-Neurosis generation will know what to expect: Isis, but a little less exciting. Perhaps that is a tad harsh, as it takes a lot of nothing to be less exciting than Panopticon, but I digress. The songs were generally of a decent length, and usually started out slowly, before kicking into a riff-groove in which they tended to remain until the band stopped playing.

Initially this was slightly awkward, as I was too aware of the performance rather than feeling the music that was filling the venue. The band played loudly enough that the simple fact that they were riffing allowed me to coast through the ostensible falseness of the whole thing, the formulaic construction of the music and the annoying blokes next to me. But something didn’t feel right – it was all too mannered.

What was really weird is that I seemed to be experiencing a different gig to everyone else – or at least the band. The main talker (obviously not the lead singer, but the spokesman, as it were) made numerous mentions of how ‘you guys are always great to us’ or ‘we always have great gigs in Leeds’. Perhaps I have a different idea to them of what constitutes a ‘great gig’, as nobody seemed to even be dancing. Do people sleep at the average Pelican gig? Do they walk out, or bend the guitarists’ fingers back as they try to play?

Even weirder was the fact that I eventually had a really good time. Maybe it was the amount of time I had spent watching the band, rooted to the spot (I was admittedly sort of swaying – there really isn’t much in the way of dancing one can do to this music). Maybe the music got a lot better. Maybe I just got used to it but, whatever the reason, it really started making sense.

There was a lovely little period of time where the awareness left me and I sunk myself into the groove, into something of a trance state engendered and encouraged by the warmth of the venue, the music that was rolling and breaking like so many waves, and the fact that I was getting quite tired. Due to the latter fact, this period was eventually succeeded by a tiredness that articulated itself in the form of yawning, slight annoyance and a desire to go home. Before that, though, I loved it. There was one song in particular, I think it was called ‘Lost in the Headlights’, that signified the beginning of this positive stage in my appreciation of the set.

I synchronised with the groove, my mind filling with colours and feelings as I rocked with the rhythm of the music, the ebbs and swirls, and it really started to make sense. The last song, too, was great, as high-note droning gave way to massive feedback that subsided into very heavy music. It was rather a shame it was an encore, because I can’t stand the things. That period between main set and encore is the musical equivalent of the fans pleasuring the band until they splurge another song or two. It makes me feel dirty.

Anyway, the set ended up being a very positive thing, though no compensation for missing the lions share of These Arms Are Snakes. That I enjoyed the headliners more than I expected makes me want to catch isis when they roll through town, as they should be louder and better. After a couple of drinks, I bumped into a fellow gig attendee on the train home, and I convinced him to go see Isis too. He confirmed that These Arms Are Snakes were on at eight. That sucks.

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