Review: The Chills live @ Leeds Brudenell Social Club


It’s been a long period of hibernation for The Chills – at times it looked like it might be a permanent hiatus – but the band who began life in Dunedin in 1979 now seem well on the way back to full productivity.

The journey might have been circuitous, but frontman Martin Phillips makes no apologies for a set which mixes the more familiar songs with a clutch of those from new album ‘Silver Bullets‘, of which he speaks in confident terms. It will be an acid test of their revival like no other; their last studio effort ‘Sunburnt‘ was released in 1996.

It’s somehow fitting that their return to Leeds after a gap of roughly 20 years is held in the city’s Brudenell Social Club, the venue which in spiritual terms at least has succeeded the now defunct Duchess of York as a local nexus for alternative acts. The Brudenell’s punters are sat outside en-masse this evening, soaking up the kind of weather which makes climate change at least temporarily another man’s problem, drawn mostly by the sort of word-of-mouth cache which The Chills have relied upon ever since their 15 minutes of fame spluttered to a halt in the early nineties.

Now a settled five piece – Phillips is joined by Oli Wilson, Erika Stitchbury, Todd Knudson and James Dickson – their long absence is swiftly rolled back during opener ‘Night Of Chill Blue‘, its swells and ripples undulating, a song about being in love but rejecting its conformity. This, and the following ‘House Of a Hundred Rooms‘ both come from an era in the mid-80s where the outliers of indie rock were still being laid out, one in which fellow antipodeans The Triffids and The Go Betweens were creating arguably the movement’s most lucid work.

Bravely there’s little time here for material from ‘Submarine Bells‘ either, the album which raised expectations and its rumoured intra-group tensions in equal measure. Consciously sidelined maybe then, but the pair of of songs from it which do feature are still wonderful; Phillips stuffs up the brief but tender guitar solo on ‘Part Past, Part Fiction‘, but it still enthrals, whilst the ubiquitous ‘Heavenly Pop Hit‘ closes the main part of the show, a jaw droppingly astute piece of retro-pop that even now sounds like the best song Michael Stipe never wrote.

Phillips is clearly excited, however, that the Chills are now a fully functioning outfit again, laying down tracks for ‘Silver Bullets’ in Dunedin whilst he stays on in London at the conclusion of the tour to complete its post production. He refers to the new material as partially “epic” and the grandly unveiled title track is, whilst still familiar in mode, expansive and a prelude to material which may for the first time in two decades begin to break new ground.

This progression is all well and good, but there’s still not sufficient hubris for the encores to be anything other than old favourites, the irony-soaked ‘Doledrums‘ eventually giving way to ‘Rolling Moon‘s C-86 jangle. Towards the end the now avuncular looking Phillips tells the crowd that the band will be back, and that the audience won’t have to wait as long next time.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that when he does, it’s the statement of a man who feels he has marked time for too long, one who still has lots to do.

(Andy Peterson)

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