Los – Hobgoblin Staines
Thursday 19th February 2009
Self-obsession and self-absorption are not kind words for a band…but there is genius afoot here…so these guys can be
forgiven for being a tadge ‘up themselves’. Los is a trio of power-hungry power-rangers. Chris Hamilton (guitars) is the Paul
Benedict (Rev. Lindquist) of the tribe. He rallies and hounds the troops, biting heels like a sheep dog on the loose. Daniel Hale looks like a hairy 1974 version of Jeff Bridges (Thunderbolt & Lightfoot) and provides the substantial percussive element and then we have the blonde heroine, Helen Sargent, on vocals and synthesizer. It wouldn’t be unfair to describe their sound as a kind of ‘Ting Tings’ for grown-ups with Chris playing the multi parted Jules De Martino character and Helen playing the Katie White role.
The band cites influences from the late Jeff Buckley, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana right through to Nina Simone. Note that all these artists are considered ‘serious’ as in highly academic and ‘significant’. But don’t imagine that Los mitigates any excitement just because they may possess a ‘Guardian Reader’ following and post-graduate credentials. They are more animated than words alone can describe! Think of an army of whirling dervishes together with a host of Cossacks playing rugby football together and you get close to the idea of the mayhem and energy of a Los gig.
Unusually, there is no bass guitar within the Los structure. So Helen provides (at times) some moody keyboard baselines to add some darker colours to the overall texture. But the ace of bass ain’t all that, especially when the extraordinary guitar-work of Chris is enough to satisfy any cravings you may have for deeper contextual tones. There are imaginative chord progressions aplenty and occasional funk or jazz elements springing up like unexpected fireworks. The total effect is more substantial than pop art or art-rock … more like the musical equivalent of heavy-duty sculpture.
The melodies are often hidden beneath swathes of disproportionate energy like a nutmeg might be hidden under several layers of a daunting crinoline Elizabethan petticoat. And the organic and frenzied drumming from Daniel is demonstrated like a kids magic show- with sleight-of-hand and colourful tricks, conjured up from nothing, for the adoring crowd.
Softly creeping up on you like a bar-lounge lizard, some of the gentle songs seem to sweetly hypnotize and mystify you and,
before you know where you are, they suck you into their cruel world like a cephalopod might devour her prey- captured and
drained- drawn in by unseen suckers. Without knowing, your are about to be digested in bite sized chunks. It is at these moments when Helen comes into her own and, at the high points, her soulful vocals can be favourably compared to the work of some mighty divas such as Doris Troy.
One of my favourite Los numbers is ‘Ba Ba Ba’. This song is about missing someone so badly that it messes with your head. We
all know the feeling. The rat-a-tat percussive elements from Daniel Hale and the stunts performed by Chris are, this time, outshone by the sheer drama of Helen’s singing. Her face a series of contortions and extortions, she gurns her way through the number and you can share her anxiety and suffering. In fact, you might even somehow feel to blame for the pain of living through it all. My, my…this lot could probably qualify for some sort of Arts Council grant with all those theatricals and histrionics going on.
My only (small) criticisms are that I would like to have seen Chris play ‘to the crowd’ rather than to his band-mates. He seemed, to me, to be too shy to face his audience and too self-conscious to be part of the act. I would also have liked to have heard a lot more keyboard work from Helen. Frankly, it seems a pity to bring your synth all that way and then let it become a shelf for your drinks.
But, all-in-all, this was a powerful piece of work by a great three-part talent. A tipping point maven trap for any person who may genuinely want to witness artistic, non formulaic, rock and jazz-laced blues.