NB: I know I start every live review I have ever penned by telling you how tired I am, so I’ll be careful not to this time.
Christ, I’m tired!* But very very happy though. The cause of both states being going to see White Hills on the first night of their two-month European tour on Thursday. But first things first, what a great venue Islington Mill Studios is an old mill which has been converted into a complex of artist’s studios, exhibition spaces, vaulted live venue and a cool courtyard to drink in; the overall feel is scruffy and real rather than plush, which suits me. What more could a gig goer want? convivial company? check, I met some very pleasant like-minded souls before-hand; Exclusive Merch? yup, I bought a gorgeous 4 band split red vinyl LP featuring Naam, Flying Eyes, Black Rainbows and White Hills that I’d never seen before; Great live music? check, mate!
Support band GNOD were a turntable-based cacophony last time I saw them and I endured rather than enjoyed them, this time they were far rockier and had added some extra sax skronk which reminded me a little of Ted Milton and Blurt, actually. I could do with a bit more melody, but this time I definitely really enjoyed, rather than endured them.
The live room at Islington Mill feels like a subterranean cellar (despite being above ground), with a vaulted ceiling and narrow steel pillars and is a perfect place for a band like White Hills to play – the venue being suggested to them by GNOD, apparently. I plonked myself at the front, about three-foot from the stage which is raised about a foot from floor level, if that. After all the appropriate tinkering and testing of equipment**, the dry ice billows out, the intro music blares and on they stalk. They launch straight into ‘No Will’ from Walks For Motorists (which they play all, or nearly all of, tonight) and Dave is singing and not playing guitar – shock! Horror! It’s great too, all overblown theatrical gestures and preaching. They then slam straight into the mighty, mighty, mighty ‘Lead The Way’, which is so heavy it sounds like Galactus fighting Thor and Hulk in an amplified wind tunnel, the rhythm section somehow contrive to give this epic a sexy thrust and roll and the guitar bursts overhead rain down like friendly fire. It’s a wonderful experience and one I’m fully conscious that I just don’t want to end. Ever.
As always I end up dancing, swaying and head banging far too much to remember everything with total clarity; certainly far too much to get any good photos, but that’s the whole point of a gig isn’t it? it’s no academic exercise in appreciation, it’s a real visceral experience – the volume, the feel of the stubble of the benignly pissed dancing guy who keeps putting his arm around me and the way I grin so hard for so long my whole face aches afterwards. My real highlights are the groovetastic ‘Automated City’, the bleaktastic ‘Condition Of Nothing’, the hugetastic ‘We Are What You Are’ and the totaltastic ‘Walks For Motorists’^^. Luckily I’d bought my dancing shoes, as Dave recommended and they were needed too, especially on my absolute new favourite ‘Wanderlust’, where I was able to break out my patented sexy pointy-fingered dance; oh yes!
It’s drummer Rodney Rodriguez’ first gig with them, he tells me later, after two full days rehearsal and whilst White Hills have always used great drummers, he really ups the ante here, his touch is amazing, simultaneously feather light and anvil heavy. When this model White Hills rock out, which they frequently do, they almost have a sound of the Sex Pistols^ about them, rather than Sabbath – this is a sexier, dancier, rockier version of them than I’ve encountered previously. As much as they rock harder they, umm, space harder as well in the quieter bits too – one of my real highlights was ‘I, Nomad’ which would not have sounded amiss on Vangelis Blade Runner, which to my mind is as big a compliment as I can possibly hand out.
But I know the real reason you all click on over here is for my hot fashion reportage and so I can faithfully report that Dave was wearing an appropriately groovy shirt, black leather or PVC trousers and shiny, silvered shoes, whilst Ego was wearing the type of shiny long-sleeved, side-sequinned shirt last pioneered by Mick Ronson in his heyday and bright red, sparkling trousers. You heard it here first, folks!
All good things come to an end and so it was that night. This was definitely the best show I’ve seen from them and that really is saying something special^*, it was nice to see a band with a substantial back catalogue really gunning for their new tracks, rather than playing safe and pandering to us fans. Whilst thanking us profusely for showing up, Dave told us that Manchester is like a second home for them and I could tell that they really did enjoy themselves. I got a chance to thank them right back after the gig too, which was great – they were both very complimentary about my daughter’s picture of them, which was very kind. If they come anywhere near you, go see them. They’re brilliant and they’re very nice folks; good combo.
So off I toddled into the night, changed my shirt in the car, stowed my new LP carefully behind the front seat and drove off home to the sound of (what else?) Walks For Motorists.
524 Down (still).
*this was begun on Friday, I’m not still fainting with fatigue like some peculiarly anaemic Jane Austen heroine caught out in the rain.
**Is it just me or am I the only person who is fascinated by this? I’m not saying I enjoy it more than the shows I see, but I could watch a roadie say ‘1-2 … 1-2 …’ into a microphone for hours without getting bored and fiddling with guitar FX pedals. Oh, just me then.
^think ‘Did U No Wrong’ and ‘Bodies’.
^^is it just me, or does the beat sound like the end bit of Ministry ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod’? ok, just me again then.
^*although my perfect set list for them would also have included ‘Upon Arrival’.