Mugstar / Black Bombaim / Three Dimensional Tanx @ The Roadhouse, Manchester 01/06/2014
As I entered the black basement club, the propellant rhythm of Three Dimensional Tanx,they’re from Lancaster, which strikes me as unusual because I don’t think I’ve heard of a band from Lancaster before (I can’t believe you forgot about infamous eighties hardcore shock-act Dr and The Crippens Mr Stone – Ed), hit me full in the face with driving beats and hummus-thick bass lines, all overlaid with a garnish of spitting fizzing guitar and swirling late-sixties keyboard.
Hats off to the drummer too, coated in thick sweat and wearing only what appeared to be small running shorts, beating the living shit out of a wonderfully minimalistic Gretsch kit (snare, floor tom, bass drum, hi-hat, two cymbals) and making it sound like he was playing on something that Carl Palmer would have set up on stage in the mid-seventies. This was a great performance by a band previously unknown to me and I’ll be giving them a good listen in future. Manic organ breaks, chugging twin guitars and a fluid rhythm section that was all power and no flower, plus a floppy crazy-puppet vocalist who really threw himself into the spirit of things, all came together for a short combustive set of cracking garage-psych that was high on thrills and never ever relaxed the throttle once.
Portugal’s Black Bombaim were a very classy (and classy is indeed the word) three piece that charged their instrumental psychedelia with a real layer of craft and skill. I couldn’t believe another brilliant drummer was on stage again, playing with such mind-melting power and precision. Fuck, there’s some damn good drummers out there. It’s frightening. Like a rhythmic plague. This chappie was more jazzy than the last tub-thumper, and my eyes were glued to his incredible display of ability. Watching a good drummer is like watching a talented dancer or sportsperson. They make it look so effortless and easy that you kid yourself you can do it too, but you never can. These humans are kinetically talented and it’s as simple as that. It’s a living joy to behold such physical intelligence. Anyway, Black Bombaim’s sweltering and lengthy instrumentals filled the room with arching head-trip wonder, and for any lover of stuff like Carlton Melton, The Cosmic Dead, Earthless and other such freak-out ensembles then they are a must live.
Mugstar are the best psychedelic instrumentalists in the world right now (with the possible exception of Earthless, who plough a more free form Hendrix-inspired furrow than Mugstar’s very English/German psych-beat). Their punky chunky riffs and motorised beats draw deep on the balls-out cosmic crunch of the first five Hawkwind albums and the eternal autobahn mantra of the three Neu! albums (plus the hallowed sacred genius song-concept that was/is Pink Floyd’s ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’), but to reduce Mugstar to such a focussed and specific historical output would be inaccurate. They have evolved since the early twenty noughties into a full throttle psych-machine that takes a well-loved template and hammers it with craft and guile into a new mode of inner transport, one that is so refined and beautifully executed in its simplicity that the music NEVER needs vocals, it just NEEDS to be heard live (preferably live, and if not live then loud on a quality stereo). A testament to their charging crackling power was the fact that amongst the modest and committed crowd a number of punters had started to properly dance, flinging their arms around and really bloody going for it like it was the 1972 Buxton Rock Festival . How could you not move to this? I myself was playing a kind of air drums set up, my right thigh being the high hat or ride cymbal, my left thigh the snare and my right foot naturally keeping time by snapping my heel on to the floor in syncopation to the bass drum. Whilst doing this I stared straight at the masterful Steve Ashton, battering out the most precise beats upon his kit with such loose-wristed ease it was like he had been drumming for a thousand years.
Kicking off with a head-kicking ‘Sunburnt Impedence Machine’ from 2010’s ‘Lime’, Mugstar steamrollered through their expansive back catalogue, including a circuit-frazzling adrenalin-burning ‘Today Is The Wrong Shape’ from the recently re-released on vinyl ‘…Sun, Broken…’ album. As tight as an amoeba’s anus, Mugstar work like a holistic unit of sonic attack, each member no more than the entirety of the band’s sharply defined and uber-driven sound. Having said that, Pete Smyth goes for the frontman role as he wildly oscillates and naturally draws the eye with his frenetic onstage activity, as he swaps screaming lead guitar for keyboards and then for melodica, whilst jerking around and twitching like a severed horse’s cock. Underpinning all of this are Jason Stoll’s titanic and ever undulating bass lines, perfectly recreating the massive cement and steel foundations that Lemmy so admirably provided on the early Hawkwind recordings.
If you haven’t already acquired their six studio albums (get them all from Mugstar’s bandcamp page) then do so with urgency. I find that I never take a Mugstar album off before its finished like I sometimes do with other bands, because their full blooded grooves never fail to draw me right in to their very centre. Indeed any time of the day seems to be Mugstar time. That sounded like a tag line for an advert didn’t it? Imagine a TV advert for Mugstar? Anyway, it was here in this very venue a couple of years ago that I first saw them, supporting Harvey Milk (where I memorably wrote “Mugstar wove a many layered Persian carpet of hypno-rock that showed off their pedigree as possibly one of Britain’s finest exponents of psychedelia, for want of a better genre term. Shall we just say music that is designed to appeal to ‘the inner voyager’?”), and then again last year at the second Liverpool Psychedelic Festival (where they completely wooed every midnight fuck-head in the hall). Both nights they pulverised the audience with mighty combination punches of out-there riffs, wildly off-kilter keyboard breaks and savage, ever insistent drumming. Where other instrumental combos often lapse into quiet noodlings and meanderings, Mugstar never ever let up the pace. Theirs is a breathless and joyful journey, where the drums and the riffs interlock in dynamic union to push forwards and ever onwards, an essentially punk aesthetic that says ‘don’t fuck about, don’t bore the listener, take the fucker by the throat and speed on down the road’.
We got one encore and then it was eleven pm and we all had to leave, satiated and filled-up on a creamy cosmic casserole of raw power. Sonic tonic.
Scribed By: Adam Stone
Photos By: Lee Edwards