An evening of a trio of three piece bands is opened by London rebel rousers Civil Villains. As evidenced by original tunes like ‘Pale Horses’ they’ve an angular sound that’s full of left turns and time changes that’s akin to a ball bouncing perpetually between to walls. Backed by a solid rhythm section vocalist Luke is like a demented preacher as ‘Soap Box’ continues at a frantic pace but the band are wise enough to temper their sonic fury with some quieter passages that only make their punchy sound more bruising.
Led by twin sisters Susan and Catherine the Tall Poppies have a ’60s psych rock vibe going on, both sonically and visually. Tonight they perform as a trio, sans haunting violin, but they lose none of their power. Laying close vocal harmonies over a solid backbeat they create ethereal, dreamlike soundscapes such as ‘Don’t Lose Your Temper’ but there’s plenty of variety on offer with ‘Let’s Go Out’ and its satisfying rumble while ‘Cat Got Your Tongue’ ensures they end on a high.
There was a time when East Asian groups replicated their Western contemporaries to the point of facsimile (think Loudness and E.Z.O.). However Taiwan’s Elephant Gym are at the vanguard of a new wave of cultural re-evaluation and their drawing inspiration from traditional Asian music gives their sound a fluidity and elasticity that opens up a world of possibilities. Tonight’s set begins with ‘Shower’ and that segues effortlessly into the cascading title track from their new album Under Water. ‘Frog’ follows and siblings (bassist KT and guitarist Tell) seem to share telepathy as all the neat time changes are handled effortlessly.
Elephant Gym have a sound that’s hard to categorise as they frame catchy motifs inside complex math rock song structures but they’re progressive in the true sense of the word insofar as they explore the boundaries of what music can be. A prime example is their swapping the traditional roles of bass and guitar so the bass guides the songs while the guitar has a more anchoring role. In the live environment KT attacks her bass like a heavy metal six stringer most notably on ‘Finger’ where she taps the strings like Eddie van Halen on ‘Eruption’. Drummer Tu plays with metronomic precision and tethers the band while Tell has an almost jazz sensibility and the bands genius lies in forming these different elements into a cohesive whole.
The band are genuinely delighted to be playing their debut UK club date and their unbridled enthusiasm renders them extremely likeable. KT’s between song banter would suggest a second career as a comedienne as the band deliver a set culled from their two albums as ‘Quilt’, ‘Shell’ and ‘Head & Body’ follow in quick succession. Elephant Gym’s sound is very evocative as ‘Moonset’ and ‘Spring Rain’ create strong mental imagery while ‘Half’ has a cinematic feel and would make a great soundtrack to a really cool film noir. But, be warned, these songs are real earworms and once they’ve eaten into your cranium they’ll haunt you for days. Tonight’s set is a macrocosm of Elephant Gym’s songs in that it ebbs and flows perfectly as ‘Ocean in the Night’ and an expansive ‘Galaxy’ close the show to a rapturous response.
Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
Elephant Gym Set list:
Head & Body
Ocean in the Night