There’s nothing more gratifying than following a band on a journey of incremental steps.
Last year, The Murder Capital slowly crept into our lives via word of mouth and a gradual flow of radio sessions before their fine debut album, When I Have Fears, found itself on numerous end-of-year lists. Justly so, as it’s one that rewards repeated listens, featuring a new slice of hidden drama or lyrical gem at every turn.
Their brooding intensity is now appearing at bigger venues; in autumn last year they were playing the 500 capacity Exchange in Bristol – less than six months on they are able to fill the SWX with over twice as many punters. Yet their power hasn’t diminished on a bigger stage, and nor have the theatrics. The musicians walk on stage first, bassist Gabriel Paschal Blake still leering at the crowd, its increase in number of little importance to him, while vocalist James McGovern makes his presence felt immediately as he dives into the crowd before powerful opener More Is Less has even finished.
Although pigeon-holed as gloom merchants in the vein of Joy Division, the quintet actually borrow most liberally from the Pixies, a famine and feast, quiet-then-explosive approach which serves them well. There’s a real maturity in the work too, songs are given the chance to breathe; Slowdance (I &II) is primarily powered with bass and drums, Damien Tuit and Cathal Roper on guitars dipping their toes into Pink Floydian grandeur but restraining themselves for the good of the song.
One thing that has changed is the lighting, now much more befitting a band with a measured depth of sound. When the more explosive tracks kick in the band can only be seen as silhouettes, all moving in time to their own bursts of life. In contrast, during the heartbreaking On Twisted Ground, McGovern stands alone in a spotlight. Excuse the cliché, but with the crowd silent, listening to his desperation, a lone pin falling to the floor would be heard. Aside from the low bass and McGovern’s distant vocals, the only sound that can be heard in the SWX is that of the bar staff.
Before the track, McGovern issues a message of solidarity to hold on to our friends. The song itself is a paean to a friend of the singer’s who took his own life, and it’s emotionally draining to watch, let alone play. The silence at the end, broken only by McGovern’s breathing into the mic, is both uncomfortable and spellbinding.
Following track Green & Blue, all tom-toms and Gang Of Four guitars, moves proceedings back to more familiar, anxious territory, and is a good bridge to the snarling guitar of Love, Love, Love. The twin hurricanes of Don’t Cling To Life and Feeling Fades bring urgency back too and close the set with a flourish.
As with the album, watching The Murder Capital live is an experience logically sequenced to target the hearts, heads and souls. Making small gigs feel intimate is easy but to be doing it now on a larger scale is a sign of real power.
Don’t bet against them bringing their majesty to festival tents, for this is surely the next step in their progression.