Bristol Fleece And Firkin

Hey. You're looking real cool. Great hair. Why don't we split this joint and... oh, right, you've got an essay to do...

Hey. You’re looking real cool. Great hair. Why don’t we split this joint and… oh, right, you’ve got an essay to do…

Okay, so the suave, sharp-suited style of Soulwax may seem a little at odds with this venue’s post-Fresher’s Week scruffiness. Conceptually, they’re far more suited to playing some mythical Las Vegas drinking den, Prince in one corner, Dino in the other, both tipping expensive cocktails to this sleazerock soul revue.

Crucially, though, these Belgians attack like that’s exactly where we are. And they do it without a glimmer of irony, or face-saving goofiness, or any concession to reality which might widen the gap between their fantasy and the beery, hairslide truth of the situation. Like Crosby, Stills & Nash to Beck’s Neil Young, Soulwax, with their handsome tailoring, kitsch strobe-light mic stands, and old-skool dance moves, could be dismissed as mere role-players, were it not for the feeling that the make-up is never removed.

So they get away with it. With ushering in new number ‘What Now’ with crunchy electro breaks, before Yank rawk guitars overwhelm us. With David Dewaele’s Kershaw-tastic Casio guitar, on which he picks out Darth Vader’s theme before a rendition of Prince’s ‘Pop Life’. With David again doing human beatbox like he’s alone in his bedroom karaoke-ing over old LL Cool J records.

Such retro-futurist tactics can often serve to distract us from the fact that their sound loses some of its subtlety in transition from CD to stage. When they use this to their advantage, as on the raging guitar overload of ‘My Cruel Joke’, it’s a case of fuck the complex pre-programmed drum flickers and turn up the amps. But the same approach on soul ballad ‘When Logics Die’ renders it bloated and clodhopping where it should be light and groovy.

Sensing this, Soulwax concentrate on the heavy stuff. The closer, ‘Too Many DJs’, sees Stephen bent double, face red, bawling into the mic. Like his band, he means it. He really means it.

Christian Ward