Live Review: Oceansize/And So I Watch You From Afar/Vessels @ Heaven, London

Artist: Oceansize + And So I Watch You From Afar + Vessels
Venue: Heaven, London
Date: 3/2/10

“What the fuck do you say to 500 people?” is the question on Vessels guitarist Peter Wright’s lips as the band break their vocal silence and take time to introduce themselves to the throng of observers gathered in Heaven tonight. If they feel out of their depth, then the Leeds band are doing an extremely capable job of hiding it.

Opening for Oceansize is one knee-quivering experience, but Vessels charge the stage with a massive live sound, exacerbating both the delicate and heavy elements of what they showcased on debut release ‘White Fields And Open Devices’. ‘Altered Beast’ is the only track performed from that ’08 album, and the live setting gives the band a chance to tear it a new arsehole, as well as deafening those standing near Heaven’s respectably loud speakers. The rest of the set comprises of fairly new material that goes down well, fluctuating between idle post-rock meandering and progressively destructive climaxes that leaves the crowd baying for just a little bit more after the climactic feedback has died.

In making notes for And So I Watch You From Afar, there are just three words written in big capital letters that summed up the band’s performance: ROCKED IT HARD. Having exploded out of nowhere with their self-titled debut album, the band tonight prove why they’ve got so many people excited about the destruction of the instrumental music template.

Sounding absolutely gigantic, at one point the band are pushing out so much energy that it almost feels as if the sturdy walls of Heaven are about to collapse. Near the end of the set a power plug gives up and falls out of its slot, whilst the pounding vibrations creep across the audiences skin, turning insides into residual matter and sounding damn good whilst in the process.

ASIWYFA’s biggest boon is their sense of humour. Throughout, they remain fun to listen to, refusing to give into the typical nature of pretentiousness that so often dominates bands that avoid vocals. Yelps and howls help accentuate the likes of opener ‘Set Guitars To Kill’, whilst the whole set remains a treat of dynamics for the ears: the penultimate track builds into a crashing crescendo, whilst the set finale sees a lone guitar riff get quieter and quieter until the point where you are physically straining to hear the notes before it just absolutely explodes in a blaze of glory. Despite a few sour comments from members of the audience longing for a chorus they can obnoxiously scream along to, ASIWYFA trample over any and all opposition with a fantastic performance.

Having been forced to reschedule this show due to Oceansize drummer Mark Heron’s unfortunate run in with a nasty leg infection, you could say that the band might have a hint of pressure building on their backs. Indeed, with two impressive support acts preceding them, there’s a sense that the band have got to pull out something really special to avoid being usurped. Mike Vennart appears dressed to impress in his suit trousers, but it’s going to take more than a smart casual dress code to blow everyone away again tonight.

Things get off to a rather irritating start. A loop of ear-raping feedback goes on for five minutes too long, and once the band do kick things off it’s with unfamiliar new track ‘Part Cardiac’, all screams and gusto but somewhat taking the wind out of the audiences sails. It’s an issue that affects the band for the rest of the night. Vennart explains that the band have been longing to diversify their setlists, fatigued of playing the same songs all the time. It’s a respectable stance, and one that leads to a lot of new material being exhibited (although nothing from latest EP release ‘Home And Minor’ due to technical gremlins). The new stuff itself is difficult to sum up. Oceansize have always had the ability to write solid tracks with little to no effort, but a lot of tonight’s exhibits seemed uninventive compared to their past highs. Interestingly, the set closer leaves the most positive mark, taking a few cues from the bass heavy groove of Kong.

This issue of new material is only exacerbated when the band do play ‘the hits’. ‘Charm Offensive’, ‘Homage To A Shame’ and ‘Massive Bereavement’ all sound spectacular and only shows how fantastically engrossing this band can be at their best. Vennart is visibly incensed when security guards assemble to eradicate a supposed smoker amongst the crowd, and for that brief moment you realise how much a perfect performance means to the front man. The trouble tonight is that they don’t get any luck, and as the technical faults persist you can see the band struggling to gain any kind of momentum.

In the end tonight’s show ends on a rather disappointing note. The set is curtailed, Vennart’s mood is one of grateful despondency rather than anger and the performance is definitely not up to the usual high standards that Oceansize have set themselves over the years. I’ve always wondered why Oceansize have never found themselves making the same great leaps and bounds that the likes of Muse have done in the past, and it would seem that it essentially boils down to two things. Bad luck, and a respectable moral charge to commit themselves to sometimes overreaching demands, be it in performance or the songs that they record. Oceansize remain one of the best bands that the UK, let alone Manchester, has ever produced. But it’s growing increasingly clear that the band is becoming steadily weary of the lifestyle of flying under the radar for so many years.

Originally published at The Line Of Best Fit.

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