Kylesa / Arke / Jacknife Holiday @ Moho Live, Manchester 07/08/12

Kylesa @ Moho Live, Manchester 07/08/2012

I can’t quite decide if I like this venue or not, which is of little consequence to this review, apart from the fact that you need to start somewhere. Now I have I can tell you that I managed to catch the last half of Jacknife Holiday’s set (which means I missed Bastard Of The Skies – sorry). The extroverted hirsute singer was rambling on in an amusing fashion I suppose. The trouble with this was that my hearing isn’t as sharp as other people’s so I hardly caught any of what he was saying apart from an announcement of an upcoming gig where there would be lots of drugs to take. I’m too old for that shit. Anyway, they were pretty okay. Heavy riffs, pounding drums, and wild snarling vocals that reminded me of times of the late lamented Johnny Morrow from Iron Monkey, but nowhere near as good. I’ve actually seen JH before at the Alma Inn in Bolton (once described by a certain member of a brilliant but sadly inactive Scottish band as ‘a special needs metal club’), but I was talking to someone so I couldn’t concentrate. I hate talking to people at gigs when bands are on. I can’t hear a fucking word. Why can’t they just write their questions down for me on a small notepad?

Manchester’s Arke are a potent and interesting mix of High On Fire and a hundred other bands, but mainly High On Fire. At certain points the genial vocalist sounded like an exact impression of Matt Pike. He should go on the sludge version of ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ and do a turn. Maybe a quick blast of ‘Rumours Of War’. How the audience would whoop with delight. Anyway, they were okay to good (I can see them really growing in terms of popularity though – they’ve only been gigging for a few months) and substantially better than the previous band in terms of musicianship, tightness and power (particularly as the bassist was constantly beset by technical problems). The drummer looked like Bill Gates, but he played a hell of a lot better than Gates (although in fairness I’ve never heard Bill Gates play the drums). They were plugging a few tracks off their new EP and they seemed like really nice guys. Maybe too nice. Almost chatty at times. They should have spat and goaded the audience like Mike Williams did the night after at The Academy.

Kylesa took to the stage at the child-friendly time of ten to ten and proceeded to blast through a solid fifty minute set that was mainly selected from their last two albums. Starting with a tasty bit of Star Trek-tastic Theremin, they launched into the rousing build up of ‘Tired Climb’ and the small-ish and well behaved audience started to pogo and head bang like they were at a proper gig. I was actually so near the Theremin at the front of the stage that I felt tempted to interrupt guitarist/vocalist Phillip Cope’s playing of it with my own deft hand, but I thought that may start a fight and get me thrown out. You never know how people are going to take things do you? ‘Bottom Line’ and ‘Forsaken’ followed in thumping swirling fashion; Kylesa using their trademark double percussion blanket of drum power to sterling effect.

Kylesa - Illustration by Adam Stone

During their set, I got to musing about Kylesa from an objective and distanced viewpoint, like some lab-coated scientist of popular music. They’re an odd band really. They never really smack people between the eyes, but they kind of nearly do sometimes. They don’t particularly enthuse the metal masses like other heavyweights that I could mention do but they do make a very driven and attractive sound that endears many to them. I’m not saying they’re mediocre or average because they’re patently not – they are a quality outfit – they can and frequently do ‘rock’. It’s just that for many fans of the ‘eavy they don’t immediately figure in the starting line-up. They have been described as the heaviest indie band in the world, and that’s not bad a description. Without doubt there are elements of wistful shoe-gaze rock (although I don’t know how intentional this is on Kylesa’s part) and elements of hardcore and metal, all intertwined. In fact Phillip Cope’s voice reminds me of Ian MacKaye when he was a shouty pimple-faced skinhead in Minor Threat, whilst Laura Pleasants’ vocals often evokes memories of bands such as My Bloody Valentine and various other eighties/nineties girl-fronted British indie-rock outfits (although maybe such comparisons are just too journalistically lazy). There’s even an element of Siouxsie and the Banshees about their kaleidoscopic percussion-driven sound, and certainly more than a tablespoon full of prime seventies Hawkwind to their huge Lemmy-like bass propelled and pseudo-raga exotic headswim psych-rock .

Crunching through well-built numbers such as ‘Distance Closing In’, Said and Done’, ‘To Forget’, ‘Hollow Severer’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’, Kylesa ended on a ripping ‘Running Red’ (Laura Pleasants igniting into axe-heroine mode with comfortable aplomb) and then returned for a brief and super-charged encore of ‘Spiral Shadow’ and a nigh-on brutal and proudly strident ‘Scapegoat’. Verdict – deeply pleasing but undoubtedly without the visceral thrills required to make the band stick long and fondly in the memory bank. More bronze medal than gold methinks. And ultimately this could be the snagging point with Kylesa – what indeed, will be their musical legacy? I’m glad I went though (even though I’m not a real fan like many were in the audience) – Kylesa are still well worth seeing and definitely one for the band-spotter’s compendium and checklist. Adios amigos.

Scribed by: Adam Stone