Review: Ist Ist live at Bristol Louisiana

Ist Ist

Mancunians Ist Ist have been together for the best part of a decade, but have been upping their profile recently with an album each this year and last.

The pandemic slightly knocked the wind out of their sails, but this Friday night show (December 3rd) has a real ‘making hay while the sun shines’ energy.

Prior to the release of Architecture last year, the four-piece had already built up a strong catalogue of EPs and singles, and a loyal fanbase followed, reflected in the crowded merchandise table at the venue before and after the set.

Recent album The Art Of Lying (which hit no. 87 on the Album Chart on the day of the gig, bassist Andy Keating dryly announces) consolidated their position as the latest proponents of indie-gloom rock, whilst putting their own contemporary spin on the well-worn genre.

The shadow of their spiritual forefathers, Joy Division, does hang over them (as the smattering of pulsar T-shirts confirm) but it’s an inaccurate comparison; Ist Ist may be gloomy and Mancunian with a baritone-inclined singer, but there is more power and yearning to their oeuvre. Association with other heavily-influenced bands, such as Interpol, Editors and White Lies, are valid however.

Fat Cats Drown In Milk and If It Tastes Like Wine both feature Interpol-esque basslines, although the guitars on the former are more sonically hair-raising as it powers through the low-ceiling venue. Likewise, Watching You Watching Me is the disconsolate sound of 2005 Editors before they tried to become Coldplay/U2/R.E.M. (delete as appropriate).

Wolves pulses gradually like a life-support machine announcing the arrival of something special (for, regardless of influences, the gig feels like a holy experience) and, when it kicks in, as cymbals and keys clash, the chiming guitars strike like daggers.

The icy 80’s synths of Discipline sprinkle magic dust over a righteous rock track, and the desperate, menacing vocals from Adam Houghton (intensely focused throughout) on the turbo-charged Emily presumably reflect only a fraction of the damage that the Emily in question has done.

Houghton does undeniably have the air of Bernard Butler, unassuming and even dour, as he barely acknowledges the crowd (not even as he walks through them at the end of the gig).

Yet to behave otherwise would undermine the music (e.g. Harry McVeigh shouting ‘come on everybody’ during a song called Death), and he is nothing less than in tune with the sound and vibe. Occasionally he will scrunch his face to deliver a line, but it seems he has very little interest in showmanship, mainly singing lyrics matter-of-factly.

The rest of the band are perhaps more affable; as stated above, Keating does the talking, Joel Kay provides backing vocals and hits his drums like a demon, while Mat Peters multi-tasks on guitar and keys. Yet not one of them seem to have any interest in looking cool (no offence chaps), creating a sky-scraping sound considerably more than the sum of its parts.

A long set (circa 18 songs), there are intentional peaks and troughs but the closing run of sci-fi rocker (and recent single) It Stops Where It Starts, a mighty You’re Mine, the pneumatic-drilling Heads On Spikes, a moving-yet-stomping Black and the icing on the cake, the wondrous Slowly We Escape, ensure a satisfied audience.

In particular, the latter song features the best ‘rock-out’ ending since Muse’s Knights Of Cydonia and should go on forever, the type of song it’s physically impossible to listen to only once.

Chilling, fully rounded, powerfully epic and superb, Ist Ist may not be wholly unique but they are most certainly special.

Richard Bowes
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