40 Watt Sun / Coma Wall @ The Black Heart, London 11/10/2013
I’ve played 40 Watt Sun’s The Inside Room to death over the last year or so, and I’ve done the same with Warning’s Watching from a Distance album. I’m completely captivated by the massive sombre riffs, the folky frail vocals, the personal and poetic content of the lyrics, and the overall emotional weight and sincerity of both those records. I’m near obsessed with the music of these Patrick Walker projects; I think these bands have achieved a truly perfect and complimentary marriage of music and lyrical content, and produced two of the best doom albums I’ve ever heard – maybe, at least for me, it’s some of the best music of any genre. I just think it absolutely works; it’s got such clarity of vision, and is heavy in terms of feeling – not just in terms of the abstract weight that describes so much slow and loud guitar music.
Whatever your feelings about the material, you’d be hard pushed to say that Patrick Walker doesn’t know heartache. And given that fact, despite reservations about the lack of loud guitars and about acoustic nights in general, I was convinced that watching a man pour his heart out in the back of a pub in such a bare bones fashion would still make for a brilliant and affecting 40 Watt Sun performance. Coma Wall (the acoustic alter ego of Undersmile) was the lone support, and I was really excited to finally see them live too, being a fan of Undersmile as well as having really enjoyed the Coma Wall side of the Wood & Wire split 12”.
A few years ago I saw Michael Gira play an acoustic set at Roadburn, during which he shouted “shut the fuck up” at the audience more than once. As much as I love Swans and a lot of Gira’s solo stuff, I couldn’t help but think: “you’re playing to a crowd made up of a lot of people who are simply here because it’s a bar that’s easier to get to than others right now; it sucks for you that an acoustic set makes that fact so easy to hear, but shouting ‘shut the fuck up’ is only convincing people you’re a bit of an arse”. I did completely understand his frustration, but that’s what you get at festivals where all the venues have or are bars, and so people talked the whole way through Michael Gira’s increasingly frustrated performance.
That whole disinterested talkative audience thing should not have been an issue at the 40 Watt Sun gig, because this was a show in a small venue where people had paid to get in specifically to watch two bands play acoustic sets. The sad fact is that it definitely was an issue – and for the whole fucking night. It seemed like if you could squeeze into the front three tightly packed rows, you might have just about been able to hear the music over the chattering crowd, but for me the sets of both bands were somewhat ruined by a definite lack of hush. Part of the problem might have been that the venue is so small and still has to accommodate a bar, but ultimately the music was too quiet or the crowd were too loud – depending on how you look at it.
With one half of Coma Wall absent due to The Black Heart’s lack of birthing facilities, Hel and Tom performed as Coma Wall lite, and did a pretty good job of making as full a sound as possible with only two out of four band members present. But I’d be lying as well as doing Taz and Olly an injustice if I said that Coma Wall didn’t lack something for being only half the normal size on the night. That being said, tracks like Summer lean heavily enough on great guitar and banjo riffs that were this your first taste of Coma Wall, you’d hardly be disappointed. The crucial eerie Americana, haunted desert vibe was still there, it just lacked some of the power and atmosphere without the full line-up.
Mike Scheidt of Yob having cancelled his appearance long ago, the night was firmly about 40 Watt Sun, and given how few and far between live appearances seem to be there was a genuine buzz before they played. I think for some those expectations might’ve been met or even exceeded, but I hate to say that I was kind of disappointed. And I really do hate to say that, because I love the band and I hadn’t been that excited about a gig for a long time; but talkative-audiences-ruining-quiet-gigs aside, this version of 40 Watt Sun just didn’t do it for me.
After only a few songs I was convinced that they needed the encompassing cascade of loud distorted guitars and pushing-obelisks-up-a-hill drums to properly reflect and do justice to the extremes of emotion in Patrick Walker’s lyrics and vocals. It also seemed like without that wall of volume behind him, his vocal performance became slightly less confident and powerful. He might’ve made a conscious decision to appropriately tone down the vocals in line with softer and subtler instrumentation, but less is not more when it comes to 40 Watt Sun as far as I’m concerned. Stripped back renditions of Patrick Walker’s songs do come over as far more sincere than any of the millions of maudlin, self-indulgent guys with acoustic guitars; but those stripped back renditions ultimately missed the point of 40 Watt Sun for me. The Inside Room’s opening track ‘Restless’ was about the only song that stood up as an acoustic version I thought, and it was the only one that really stood out in a set that featured some new material plus versions of existing songs which were too different or lacking in their original energy to really move me.
Seeing an acoustic set didn’t put me off the band – it’s just that that particular version didn’t do it for me; I’m still as anxious, maybe more so, to see ‘electric’ 40 Watt Sun now. Until then, I’ll be in my flat, The Inside Room on repeat; collapsed on the floor, sobbing into my gin, clinging to the arm of the sofa, and howling along…
“But I will say for you anything you need to hear. I mean it, take the longing from these restless eyes, And keep it for as long as you need it. I mean it, take the longing from me.”
Scribed by: Chris Moore
Photos by: Cláudia Andrade