Guillemots - Live Review
Guillemots /Royworld, Leeds Metropolitan Students Union 26/5/08
It's a fine line, this pop business, between caputuring the universal with a brushstroke and plunging towards trite cliche that says nothing to no-one. With the likes of The Feeling and Orson hoovering up chart success and huge album sales however it's also a hugely profitable one, whether or not the creative muse bothers to inspire anything of lasting artistic worth. It's also a line that this evening's two acts have taken upon themselves to tread, but which way of the rope will they inevitably fall?
Within seconds it's fairly clear in which hemisphere Royworld have positoned themselves; this four-piece are unashamedly peering out from the 80's, and especially the much-maligned Brat Pack era. Each song they unleash during their set strains to be heard alongside Simple Minds, Journey and John Parr as another young white teen overcomes their privileged upbringing to achieve relatively little, in slow-motion. So we get dated synth pads, big pounding Phil Collins toms, and reverb on everything as drummer Gerry Morgan delights in waving his sticks in the air while frontman Rod Futrille excels in disengaging the crowd. Throughout the set it remains staggering just how heroically uncharismatic the four are; 'Wish Ourselves Away' and 'Tinman' sound for all the world like demos on a high-end old-skool synth while 'Man in the Machine' features some particularly nasty treated vocals and electric piano sounds over a repetitive chord structure going utterly nowhere.
Depsite the horribly dated sound we're not even afforded the one staple consolation of that 80's preening and pomp excess - the absurd axe-hero fret-frottage; it's not until the third song from the end that we catch the first whiffs of cheesy guitar riff and guitarist Robbie Parkin is largely ineffective. Most of the time the six-string remains buried in the echoing morass that is the Met, aided no doubt by all that awful reverb.
Before the start of the second verse in their closing song Futrille appears to catch himself, as if questioning what he's doing up there. He's not the only one. Horrible, horrible stuff, and about as interesting as you would imagine a whole world populated by people called Roy to be. Urgh.
From the moment Guillemots step onstage however, and the twinkling 'Made-Up Lovesong #43' flickers over the throng things seem right again. Fyfe Dangerfield starts proceedings with a tiny handheld keyboard before sitting down at its bigger brother, and it's noted that, instead of a stool, he's perched atop a large antique wooden chair. It's a lovely touch, but an attention to detail that doesn't stretch to geography - later on in the set Dangerfield admits he's unsure if Leeds is a city or a town; not a wise move in front of a Yorkshire audience. The song itself prompts a bit of a crowd-singalong, possibly in relief than anything, but the mood is relentlessly upbeat and the lights get to show their stuff. All good so far.
Yet for a band so keen to chuck the kitchen sink at their recordings and mess around with them in live performances it is frustrating when intricacies often get swallowed up in the muddy morass of the Met. 'Through The Windowpane' hammers with some fairly heavy D&B stylings but Dangerfield's vocals get lost in the process, and the force dissipates as a result. Likewise the eurovision-aping 'Last Kiss', which suffers from a lack of melodic focus that could make up for the overbearing beat. The tastier filling for this particular sandwich is current single 'Falling Out of Reach', casting a tender spell over the swaying crowd despite an incongruous upbeat rhythm that gives the song a levity it possibly doesn't need; the effect is to imply, if only slightly, that the emotion is not wholly meant. Nonetheless it's a highlight of the set, with Dangerfield exhorting the crowd in introducing the song to "kiss your partner... or touch yourself". Quite.
Throughout the band's set however it seems as if it is often drummer Greig Stewart forcing the pace, and somewhat awkwardly; although in the past Guillemots gigs have been characterised by wilful improvisation and experimentation this has been largely toned down since major success has been foisted on them. Tonight it appears that Stewart just can't help it, especially on the slower numbers; 'Words' suffers from such an imbalance, while by the usually gorgeous 'If The World Ends' (which still sounds like Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game' at times - no bad thing, mind.) it appears that guitarist MC Lord Magrao has also been afflicted, showering the song's gossamer beauty with atonal guitar squeals - if it's meant as an attempt to keep things edgy then it's badly-judged. There are times nonetheless when the tricksy drum patterns do work; 'Annie, Let's Not Wait' is imbued with a emphatic carnival atmosphere, while an encored 'Trains To Brazil' is somehow even more euphoric than on record - Dangerfield's hysterical yelp reaching wonderful near-incomprehensibility. Conversely, the chorus of 'Get Over It' appears a little too high for the singer on the night, although the crowd don't seem to mind. Nor do they care a jot that the rest of the band leave the stage momentarily as Dangerfield plucks a minimal, spiderweb 'We're Here' - fingers barely touching the guitar at times, while his ardent voice soars over the silent audience. It's a lump-in-throat, showstopping moment, and one which displays perfectly just how effective these songs can be when handled sensitively - perhaps the inevitable solo project may prove rewarding when the time comes.
It's a bit of a kick to the synapses when the band reappear for 'Kriss Kross' - on disc it's a huge staccato album-opener; in the flesh it's an even heavier beast, an unstoppable climactic air raid stomp that justifiably ends things on a high. Yet that is not the end - the grandstanding finale is, as ever, the magnificent 'São Paulo' - and this time the kitchen-sink approach does work a treat with all stops pulled way way out, twisting from restrained piano flourishes to the massive prog tsunamis of the closing moments and a genuine feeling of catharsis as the final, ridiculous coda comes to a thrilling crescendo. We are thrown onto the streets breathless, dazed and revitalised - if only this feeling could have been sustained all the way through, then Guillemots would really be onto something.