Before the crowd are presented with this evening’s star attraction a first course is offered in the form of the Early Years. This neo-psychedelic trio from London create epic, yet strangely safe, dirges of electronics heavy guitar squall. In creating their sound they employ both the swagger and feedback of the Jesus and Mary Chain, marrying this to the light show that Primal Scream have championed over the last decade. They, however, lack the class and real bite of their predecessors, frequently slipping over into mere bludgeoning noise and mistaking their shapeless clamour and mechanical aberrations for melody and structure. And although the band also utilize a vision warping strobe light show it cannot paper over the evident cracks in the Early Years' sound. All the tracks presented here are formed from strictly defined blue prints, attempting to give the impression of liberation and rapture, but never once allowing a song to grow too raucous or beyond their absolute control. There is little to engage the audience during their show and they come off sounding like an over-confident noise band; a Fisher Price Cooper Temple Clause. After their pomp and bombast subsides the band slink quietly off stage, making way for the evening’s main event, Electrelane.

Since their inception in 1998 the Brighton based quartet have released four albums, shifting in shape and texture with chameleon charm from each to the next. Their instrumental first album, ‘Rock it to the Moon’, was followed by ‘The Power Out’ which added vocals to their dramatic soundscapes. These were followed by breakthrough album ‘Axes’ which explored a more textured, even experimental, sound and this year's ‘No Shouts No Calls’, which moved once again in a more accessible direction. Such an oscillating back catalogue is one of the bands intriguing attractions and also one of their most prominent blemishes; for every fan they have beguiled with their shifting charm they have alienated another with their irregular development and fitful progression. In short Electrelane have consistently defied expectations and plotted their own unique trajectory, and as such one wonders which version of the band will arrive this evening.

Performing tonight in the deftly proportioned Scala, a handsome mix between intimate club and spacious amphitheatre, expectations are running high as the band takes to the stage. The crowd is obviously a devoted, even cultish, gathering of like minded individuals and a female majority dominates the room; a rare sight for a rock gig in London. Electrelane have a strong feminist rhetoric in their work, not in the egregious or outlandish form of say Le Tigre, but nonetheless it still pervades their recordings and performances and remains one of their attractions to a large number of their fans. Electrelane begin the show with the piano lead ‘Bells’ which immediately sets a promising tone for the whole performance amongst this loyal crowd. The sound is focused primarily on the adroit bass playing of Ros Murray and the heavily Krautrock influence drumming of Emma Gaze. These foundations are then, occasionally over, embellished by cyclical, droning keyboards and the sharp, pointed guitar playing of Mia Clarke. In their studio recordings the focus of the band remains Verity Susman, but live Clarke is the only one of the four performers with any real presence on the stage, throwing suggestive looks at the crowd and revelling in the occasion.

This initial burst created a tremendous atmosphere of expectation and release. For their fans a performance of this kind must be a spiritual, even celestial affair; the crowd find redemption as one in the gaze of their idols. The opening, however, marked the beginning of the end, and Electrelane were unable to sustain or build any coherent momentum in their set and at times became monotonous and even predictable. Each track was initiated by Gaze on the drums at breakneck speed, offering a sort of challenge to her band mates to come along for the ride. In response slow crescendos of organ and guitar begin swirl and build, but they never seem to come to fruition in those moments of euphoric bliss that so define a live show of this kind. The band, whilst certainly proficient in what they seek to achieve lacks that spark to propel them into the higher reaches and remain just short of the exaltation they seek. Over the course of the show all four members of the band rotate vocal duties in an attempt to add variety. They also delve into their back catalogue, playing the longer instrumental pieces they were initially famed for alongside the stricter, more formal tracks from their latest incarnation. There, however, seems a lack of definition to the band tonight, the guitars lack character and the keyboards cannot muster the poignancy the audience wishes, even believes, they can hear.

As the audience file out the talk from the crowd was of Spiritualized meeting Neu!. Tonight at least though, Electrelane lacked the insular atmospherics of the former and the quality and dynamic control of the later. Perhaps it is that they have tried their hand at so many genres and never excelled at any, perhaps they are presented with undue credibility as one of the only female alternatives in this male dominated world, or perhaps this was just a bad night. Whatever the reason, live, Electrelane do not live up to their fearsome recorded reputation, producing muddy, poorly defined, even generic rock; delightful for the few, tepid for the majority.

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Commenting On: Scala, London, 3/5/2007 - Electrelane and the Early Years

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