Hobgoblin – Staines – 1st March
Arcane Roots are like a rock and roller-coaster… gnashing, clawing and crashing their way through unconventional time signatures and frequent changes of tempo like an out of control Thorpe Park thrill ride might cut through a throng of ne’er-do-well pink-faced chavs playing chicken on the rails. Their combined energy, the electricity that this band produces, could easily replace a dozen off-shore wind farms.
The sheer exhilaration and power of their stage presence reminded me of Muse. However, although the AR songs may sometimes be sweet, and the themes melodramatic, the overall nu prog effect is actually more similar to Coheed and Cambria than Muse. The agony and the ecstasy is often ’emo’ (in a good way) and the foundations of each track are defined as solid slabs of rock.
The song ‘Rouen’ starts with gently gathered stringwork beneath a thin lace of sweetly latticed vocals posing the question ‘what are you waiting for?’ This is followed by a change of pace and some raspy distortion fueled arrangements and it is here that we witness the truly exceptional talent of Andrew Groves. Andrew is the AR frontman, singer and lead guitar supremo. Andy looks and sounds like a 1964–66 Ray Davies. He plays furious rhythm and lead guitar, often simultaneously, upon his trusty Gibson. He plays this with a surprising and terrible intensity that reminded me of a ferret in a flask fighting for freedom. ‘Rouen’ sounds ‘Kooks-ish’ with its lovely tapestry of gently chiming soulful images and high-toned voices. This tale of nostalgia and despair is a bittersweet experience for any listener. The sense of loss is magnified by the wailing, repeating chorus. The grief is spread out like a blanket might be across a corpse, the final stage of a magnificent hymn to sadness.
The song ‘Nylon’ is another tune that reminds me of The Kooks (although Andrew’s voice is not as exceptional as Luke Pritchard’s.) But there is more substance and depth of feeling in the Arcane material than within the Kooks prep-pop style- there are rusty razor-blades on their kitchen tables and the streets are littered with broken glass in the Arcane world. Daryl Atkins on the drums adds backing vocals to the emotive harmonies of each number and plays astounding firecracker percussion on a stripped-down kit. Whilst Adam Burton, on bass, does a sterling job- but you can’t help thinking that he is always struggling just to ‘keep up’ with Andrew Groves- who zips ahead of his bandmates without so much as looking back.
‘An easy smile’ is far more ‘SOAD’ than the other AR sounds (I kept getting reminders of Serj throughout the gig) with driving chords and changes of tempo and pace. The pauses are important to the Arcane Roots…just as in good choreography, the audience is called to witness and appreciate these frequent stops and starts. Each pause is like a blinding flash of sunlight from a broken mirror. The sounds seem to be swirled around the room like silken scarves, and the sudden bolts of energy seem to whizz harmlessly away- far above your head. This evokes a feeling of disharmony and disjointedness that, perhaps, prevails in our daily lives.
Even if the room smelt faintly of old leather boots and denim, the crowd at The Hob were in fact quite young and well-groomed (on the whole). They were also unnaturally restrained. To be fair most of the punters were there for ‘the other band’ who were hosting a single release party straight afterwards- so the plaintive soul-searching of the Arcane Roots songbook was, perhaps, a little too ‘full-on’ for most of this fun-loving hip crowd. But the standout performer of the night, for me anyway, was the ferociously attacking guitarist Andrew Groves who possesses the rare emotional power of a cathedral on fire. He employs guitar techniques that are normally reserved for ‘right on’ jazz musicians – or at least prog-rock stars- techniques like glissandos & stomps on the effects pedals are all part of his glistening repertoire. I particularly enjoyed the new song, ‘To The Hold You Had’. (Andy gave me this title – so don’t blame me if it is wrong!) This song had a simple structure and an enjoyable riff but also revealed a satisfying complexity.
So the band ripped down the flag of indifference and crushed it with their teeth. Rock is a jungle and this group are the predators. Watch the blood spill and the fur fly. But don’t look away!