Live Review: Pelican & Torche

Gig Review: Pelican and Torche
Venue: The Underworld, Camden
Date: 19th September 2008

I can’t believe this gig never sold out. Pelican, one of Hydra Heads most mesmerizing exports playing alongside one of the most praised new bands to come out on the label, Torche. All this, and they’re playing inside the tiny Underworld, which uncannily resembles the basement level of Guitar Hero II. Absolutely ridiculous if you ask me, but for those who didn’t go, know this – you missed out on one of the loudest, heaviest and most fucking awe-inspiring gigs I’ve seen in a while, and it was all thanks to those glory boys, Torche.

Coming onto the stage with little fuss, the band were met with a strong applause that more than suggested that those who were here were here to see Torche just as much as tonight’s headliner. Despite some really terrible sound balancing, with Steve Brooks’ vocals completely and utterly drowned out by the barrage of down-tuned guitars and raucous drumming the band pretty much blazed through a stunning set covering tracks from their recent success ‘Meanderthal’, as well as a healthy showing of the older, sludgier stuff from their self titled and ‘In Return’ EP.

Wall of noise? Let's just say, I'll be bringing earplugs next time.
Torche: Wall of noise? Let's just say I'll be bringing earplugs next time.

What surprised the most about the performance tonight was the utter unrestrained joy you could see in the band’s faces as they played. Brooks’ resembled an even more psychopathic V from V for Vendetta, with his wicked smile and goatee beard offering some of the most comical facial expressions I’ve ever seen on a singer, and drummer Rick Smith looked like he was having a whale of a time at the back of the room in nothing but swimming shorts. As they ripped through a three song run of continuous tracks from ‘Meanderthal’, guitarist Juan Montoya became nothing short of mesmerizing to witness, as he managed to hurl his guitar around his neck whilst still picking out the sweet spots of tunes such as ‘Pirahna’.

In true rock band fashion, things came to a cataclysmic end as Brooks and Montoya ended up in the crowd, losing their instruments to the now baying fans that were hungry for more. Montoya even ended up slamming his guitar on a friend of mine’s face, playing the final chords with what was essentially his forehead. An absolutely brilliant performance which overcame the horrible sound issues and managed to burst along at a pant-tearing pace despite a few too many stops for tuning.

This man pulls the greatest facial animations when playing.
This man pulls the greatest facial animations when playing.

So after the sheer fun of all that, it struck me as a little odd that the crowd seemed thinner for Pelican. After drifting onto stage to another healthy applause they wasted no time with their instrumental tunes. The band gave their impressive discography a varied showing, and also found time to play a couple of new tracks that are soon to appear on split EP’s with These Arms Are Snakes and Young Widows. The newer tunes were shorter than the majority of Pelican’s older samples, and came across as a bit lost and wandering, never really standing out or finding a pattern immersive enough to hold the audience’s attention.

The biggest conflict for the band was the constant struggle to overcome the sound issues. As some points the music was just a wall of noise, making it nigh on impossible to make out the finer elements of the Pelican sound that make them so enjoyable on record.

Subdued, but never lacking confidence.
Pelican: Subdued, but never lacking confidence.

Even with the sound issues, throughout the whole set there was a constant niggling feeling that something just wasn’t quite right with the band tonight. Whether it was the rather lacklustre response from the crowd, most of who looked pretty bored by about halfway through the set or the constantly irritating crack of Larry Herweg’s snare that cut through absolutely everything, people just seemed ready to go way before the encore of ‘Last Day of Winter‘, which, with its steady build up and explosive conclusion, certainly stood out as the highlight of a set plagued with mediocrity. Although absolutely spot on with their playing, it just seemed that something was missing after the thoroughly enjoyable set Torche had put on. In any case, it seemed certain that tonight it was a case of the support act taking the show away from the headliner, and anything they were to do was always going to come off worse, even tedious some might say. But there’s no doubt about it – when it was time to leave tonight, the band on everyone’s lips was Torche.

Oh, and on a side note – to those photographers out there with your fancy kit and fashionable hair: I appreciate you might have a job to do and I also appreciate if you just want to get some good photos for whatever purpose you might have, but have some respect for the fans who are there for the show and make the effort of getting to the front before the band have started. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw two examples of your kind barging past everyone paying attention to the artists and then physically shoving the front row out of the way to make room for your oversized camera. Disgusting behaviour.

This review is also published over at Sonic Dice.

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