Gigging with upcoming bands can often be perilous for established musicians. ‘The wolf at the top of the hill is never as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill’ goes the caveat, and so it often proves on the relentlessly competitive touring circuit.
Tonight at Ivory Black’s a young four-piece band from East Kilbride called The Clock somewhat upstaged headline act This Will Destroy You with a spirited set before a crowd just beginning to form. Performing four songs, three of which come from their new EP. ‘2’, the band thoroughly engaged the audience with a rollicking stage performance that culminated with frontman Calum Stewart, apparently unconcerned by the limited number of spectators, launching himself over the barrier and ratcheting the final trigger-quick chords from set closer ‘Letter of Farewell’, a song dedicated to a ‘lost dear friend’.
The band opened with ‘The Years We Shared in Chinatown’, a dreamy, Mogwai-esque instrumental with a tempered drumbeat and pearl-perfect guitars. It is the kind of song one expects more established acts to roll out during gigs, and it is refreshing to hear an unsigned act insouciantly drop it in as a set-opener. Second song ‘Calling The Right Names’ offered a markedly different sound, and Stewart – though young at 18 – seems a formidable frontman, wide-eyed with innocence, but with a cocksure attitude that turns each chorus into a veritable onslaught. He also sings with the broad Scots accent favoured by Twilight Sad singer James Graham.
The atmosphere builds throughout the middle portion of the song with the repeated refrain of ‘It takes a long, long time to retrace your steps’ as drums beat quietly away in the background like a bevelling current before a cacophony of distorted guitars boom from the speakers. The music is loud and heavy but not oppressive; it sends you to the floor but doesn’t kick while you’re down. What is evident during track three, ‘The Thoughts’, is The Clock have more than their fair-share of presence; Matt Keenan on bass commands the stage, adopting a wide-legged stance and thrashing at his instrument like his life depends on it, drummer Robbie Stewart threshes behind his kit in a flurry of elbows and kaleidoscopic drumsticks.
The bellowed chorus of ‘Silence Is All We Need!’ rings out as bedlam unfolds on stage, Keenan leaping into the air and assaulting his strings. One feels for a moment like he is viewing a disorderly menagerie as the band threatens to combust. The crowd are thoroughly warmed-up by this point, interest piqued. Set closer ‘Letter of Farewell’ demonstrates wide-screen ambition in its sound, pitched somewhere between the slow, condensed melancholy of Brand New and the wistfulness of Camera Obscura. A tenderly arranged song that relies almost exclusively on Stewart’s vocals, it works through the strength of its lyrics (‘Some things are best left unsaid, by the bedside painted black and red’) and the aforementioned intangibles that keep the crowd captivated.
Of course, the band are first and foremost about rock, and in the final two minutes are happy to remind us as they power their way to a conclusion, an octopus of limbs as they move restlessly across the stage hammering out the remaining notes. Definitely one to watch for the future.
To the main act then, and This Will Destroy You took to the stage with the same dilemma they face before each gig – how to translate their visceral, distortion-drenched sound to a live environment. Bringing post-rock to the club circuit is no easy feat (though the band themselves are quoted as saying, “Fuck post-rock and fuck being called post-rock”), but after the requisitely interminable delay to tune their guitars and make sure each knob on their amps and effects pedals was twirled to millimetrical perfection, the band started well with ‘Little Smoke’, the lead song from new album ‘Tunnel Blanket’. An evocative, 12-minute ‘wall of noise’ they are so good at replicating, it does however begin to drone around the eight-minute mark.
The band seem to have thoroughly eschewed the clean, plaintive sound of debut ‘Young Mountain’ and overhauled it with heavy, discordant layers of sound. ‘Glass Realms’ is an aurally-challenged, sombre dust storm of a song that verges on unlistenable (it would not seem out of place soundtracking, say, Silent Hill or a torture scene from Saw), while ‘Communal Blood’ is held in check by an anchor melody and the band’s super-concentration. The note pattern, however, is almost too minimalist, with endless single-plucks. They opt for earlier material with the next track, ‘Burial on the Presidio Banks’ from their self-titled record. Juxtaposing this rough gem with the undeniably transgressive deadzone of new tracks brings greater appreciation to ‘Burial..’ for it is the first time the audience seem engaged.
The band have always encouraged the tag ‘doomsayers’, but new material sounds like a musical fusion of algorithms, drug trips, spliced footage of the moon and twenty years in hell. The band unveil just one more song from ‘Tunnel Blanket’, perhaps recognizing the polarising nature of the record. ‘Black Dunes’ is sheer sonic reverberation after a slow build-up, with consumptive Tarentel-esque guitars and crashing cymbals. It is perhaps the best song showcased among the dronescape of ‘Tunnel Blanket’ tracks featured here.
This Will Destroy You are a band that do not rely on an audience, and on the evidence of this gig, they seem keen to tell us just that. There is no audience interaction whatsoever. One is able to count on a single hand the number of times a member of the band make eye-contact with the crowd (once, notably, was when the bassist told someone talking in the front row to be quiet, holding a stern index finger to his lip; not very rock and roll).
A Glasgow crowd is notoriously difficult to please, and TWDY do not seem to have been informed. The rest of the set is saved by the maddeningly beautiful ‘There Are Some Remedies Worse Than Disease’ and an encore rendition of ‘3 Legged Work Horse’, but overall the homeostasis is compromised by such torrentially experimental numbers as ‘Cosmic Fold’ and ‘Quiet’.
The crowd are left to feel thoroughly invasive; the band does not seem to want them here. Though, of course, that is not true – it is, in fact, a paradox, there is a smattering of such comments from punters leaving the venue. One is left to wonder what could have been.