Me / Skull Orchard

[B]LO-FIDELITY ALLSTARS and company finally get round to their London gig. And a very expectant ANDY CRYSELL finds the wait's been worth it...[/B]


[I]London WC2 Astoria[/I]

The first band is on and yet few people are here. Normally, you’d put this down to the fact it’s only 7.30pm – except [a]Glamorous Hooligan[/a] are prowling the stage, the mood is more ominous than a horror movie triple bill, and you’re forced to think again. Maybe they’ve all run home scared. Whichever it is, this grim-faced outfit aren’t letting it trouble their fractured jungle and rumbling dub. Indeed, they’re one of the few bands for which such inauspicious environs are almost fitting, such is the whiff of desolate urban hinterlands in their sound. Here at the Astoria they even get the inner-city equivalent of tumbleweed to embellish the atmosphere: empty beer cans rolling across the floor.

Accordingly, the Hoolie inflections are far more apparent than the Glamour. But though some splashes of brighter colour wouldn’t go amiss, the woe in the rapping and power-shifts in tracks like ‘Needle 23’ are delivered with devil-may-care [I]panache[/I]. “They’re fucking watching you”, they whisper conspiratorially at the end. And almost certainly more folk will be watching them before the year’s out. Sitar-twanging [a]Indian Ropeman[/a] are in for a harder slog. Best known for their humorous/irritating ‘Dog In A Piano’ single, they operate in two modes: as an update on instrumental jazz-funk and as practitioners of full-on big beat oomph, except with unsensational beats and a marked scarcity of the individualist streaks which the Chemicals, Leftfield [I]et al[/I] have used to stand out from the pack.

Two methods then, but close to zero chance of making a splash. LO-FIDELITY ALLSTARS are, of course, at a different point altogether. They’ve made their splash, only to get a fair mauling for their troubles when their ‘How To Operate With A Blown Mind’ album was deemed short of a work-of-wonder by many critics. Meaning their psychological battle must now revolve around retaining momentum, ensuring dented pride doesn’t diminish their close-packed bravado. So, how to operate with a damaged ego, yet show you’re still moving forwards? Why not have your vocalist come onstage bearing a blazing red flare while your drummer mounts a strobe-lit riser quite possibly bought from Mvtley Cr|e? That should, and indeed does, kick things off nicely.

‘Battle Flag’ and ‘Kool Roc Bass’ ensue and both visually and sonically it’s evident they take to the bigger stage well. Because tonight, the Lo-Fi’s come with additional epic traits scorched across their scattershot musicality, which makes for an ace prog-punk-dance party for people who aren’t much bothered that that should be a contradiction in terms. Indeed, here amid refugees from both indie and dance scenes, they turn out to be a band of the people. So much so that the people feel strongly inclined to join them, with punter after punter taking on the security for the honour of dancing daftly onstage and, um, hugging The Wrekked Train.

True, the Lo-Fi’s remain too self-absorbed and awkward in their pursuit of offhand cool at times – particularly when ploughing through dense slowies like ‘I Used To Fall In Love’. And if the Train’s vocals still remain irksome to you, that’s never going to change now. But when they’re slamming through the neon-lit house tones of ‘Lazer Sheep Dip Funk’ or dispatching myriad effervescent moves on ‘Vision Incision’, you’re hard pushed to think of a band who meld dance dynamism, smart inventiveness and weighty substance so well. ‘Disco Machine Gun’, which precedes the glutinous comedown chords of show closer ‘Blisters On The Brain’, highlights this point as masterfully as ever. Head-tweaking keyboard refrains zoom through the air, the frisky beats speak considerably more of rave anthems like ‘Energy Flash’ than of any indie lineage, and many punters reckon this is excuse enough to storm the stage all over again, a point the now severely testy security staff pointedly disagree with.

Still, then comes a salutary bout of zapping strobes, plus the Lo-Fi’s punching their fists in the air, knocking great holes in the wafting dry ice. It isn’t, in short, the sight or sound of a band who’ve had the confidence knocked out of them. Allstars taking over? Not just yet, but it’s still a ‘Battle Flag’, not a white flag, they’re flying.