The Horrors + Toy + Bo Ningen @ HMV Institute, Birmingham – Friday 18th May 2012


Review and Photos by Paul Broome

When The Horrors first arrived on the scene (half a decade ago now), the image seemed to arrive before the music did, and while the first two albums hit heights that many other young bands seem incapable of hitting (especially the second) it wasn’t until their third Skying was released last year that Faris and the boys finally managed to eliminate The Hype and deliver an album chock full of incredible songs. Almost a year on from the album’s release, and the band have rolled into Birmingham to reward the faithful with a quality bill.

Bo Ningen are a whirlwind of hair, screams and broken strings. They are as much a visual sensation as they are an auditory one, intense, joyous and extremely entertaining. What’s more they have the riffs and the grooves to back it all up, and it takes them no time at all to work the Birmingham crowd up. “We love you!” cries one particularly enamoured audience member during one of the brief moments of quiet time. The inter-song banter is barely identifiable, but it is full of happiness and mutual gratitude. By the time they finish their set in a frenzy of feedback and athletically twirled guitars, I think I have a new favourite band, and it is comprised of four Japanese men with quite probably the loveliest hair in rock. For those who know their Japanese rock – Bo Ningen are Boris with focus, and that combination is a mighty powerful tincture.

Toy are already being touted as one of the Next Big Things in the arena of ‘alternative rock pop’ (should such an arena actually exist), and they have many things on their side. Most importantly they have some great songs, and while the nuance and layers that are present in their limited recorded works are somewhat lost within the mix tonight, they manage to maintain the air of controlled experimentation ignited by Bo Ningen. Like the first band they also are at their best when they embark upon a groove-led freak out, and I hope this is a side of their sound that they continue to develop moving forwards. The gothic-revival baritone vocals are also a captivating component when set against the psychedelia of some of their soundscapes. My only reservation is that name: not only are there already several other bands out there called Toy, but it makes searching for their music on Amazon practically impossible…

And so to the main event, a bloodbath of red light soaking the stage is the cue for Southend-on-Sea’s finest to take to it. What follows is a textbook demonstration of a crowd pleasing and consummate performance. The set list draws heavily on the new album, and each and every track is raised to anthemic status tonight. ‘I Can See Through You’ (which on the album comes across like a mash-up of Giorgio Moroder and Simple Minds) has the whole venue bouncing, its pop-savvy chorus leaping from the lips of every one in attendance. Even the slower tracks, such as the elegant ‘Still Life’, keep the place moving.  A few Primary Colours tracks colour the palette (if you pardon the pun), particularly the bass-tastic ‘Scarlet Fields’ which weaves an intoxicating spell over proceedings.

Live The Horrors used to suffer from what can be most kindly described as ‘sound problems’, and I know several people who swore they would never go to see them live again. Well, whoever they’ve drafted in to man the desks now is doing a sterling job, as the sound on this tour is quite simply astounding: it’s damn loud, but every instrument and every word are perfectly perceptible. The bass punches through, the high frequencies resonate perfectly, the guitar and synth dovetail superbly, and the end result is breathtaking. Highlight of the night has to be the final encore pay-off, an epic recital of the already epic ‘Moving Further Away’, which rises and falls in waves of groove and freak-out – at one point Faris swiping and stabbing at the guitar amps with his mic and stand, building the thrash of freak to gut busting heights. The whole band exudes confidence, but not (importantly) arrogance – this is a performance of brilliance but also one of great connection.

Just one final comment, I was also lucky enough to see the show the following night at the HMV Ritz in Manchester, and while all three band’s performances were equally excellent, I have to say that as a venue the tighter walls and deeper balconies of the Institute nurture a much more immersive gig-going atmosphere than the warehouse-like Ritz. (Just another tick in the box for the Midlands there.)