After a tragic few months, the band are firing on all cylinders...
There are things you might expect from a poignant comeback tour: a jaunty opening solo on a toy accordion is not one of them. But then [a]Hope Of The States[/a] never studied the rock’n’roll rule books. When they first emerged on the back of the Great Garage Rock Revival of 2002, they ignored fuzzy retro-riffs for spiralling space solos, chose grandiose arrangements over vomming up their own duodenums, and opted for military jacket chic instead of the fashionable soap-allergy look.
Since then, they’ve been through astronomical record deals, had a video banned from MTV, and faced the death of their guitarist Jimmi Lawrence. Yet tonight they emerge from the triumphs, traumas and tragedies, a little battered and bruised, but raging more wildly than ever.
It’s not like everything’s changed. On the surface, they’re still very much the same Home Counties post-rockers we fell in love with. The music – much taken from the awesome new ‘The Lost Riots’ LP – still sounds like it was recorded during the last five minutes of Earth’s existence. The crowd, mostly made up of angsty middle-class students and balding broadsheet readers, still refuse to bust a groove all night, preferring to stand there solemnly imagining their own doom in time to the eerie projections. And the band still have that frustrating ability to whip up a sound that turns music journalists’ descriptions into frustrated sixth-form prose. Shimmering towers of post-rock loveliness? Majestic waves of instrumental glory? Sonic cathedrals? [I](Tim, you’re fired – Ed)[/I]
But beyond the epic soundscapes of ’66 Sleepers To Summer’ or ‘Black Dollar Bills’ is a force-15 gale
of rage and passion. Truly, this band are realising just how close they are to making the impossible (widescreen loony-pop that gatecrashes the charts) come true.
So what’s changed? Well, whereas before HOTS showed occasional traces of nerves, now there are no such distractions. Instead, they spend their time hunched up like they’ve got huge grudges to sort out with their effects pedals, furiously trying to drag every last decibel kicking and screaming out into the venue. Sam Herlihy especially has grown into a great frontman, spitting and cursing his way through the likes of ‘The Red The White The Black The Blue’.
There’s also a sense of warmth and interaction, a human side to the band that other widescreen sound-sculptors daren’t express. Just take the way one believer hands a bemused Sam a demo of his own band, mid-set, which he accepts gratefully. We should point out that this kind of behaviour at a [a]Godspeed You Black Emperor[/a] gig would result in a ritual burning, followed by a 74-minute concept album about the whole thing. But Sam just takes it, smiles, and reads out a couple of song titles.
Most importantly, despite what must have been the hardest few months any band could imagine, HOTS are now more relaxed and self-assured than ever – perhaps the reason for the absence of any tantrums. Sam might have garnered himself a reputation over the last couple of years that makes Mariah Carey look like Fran Healy, but tonight there are no blue M&Ms on the rider as HOTS put all their efforts into conjuring (rather than complaining about) a mesmerising sound, forced home by their encore of ‘Static In The Cities’.
After the show, the mood backstage is triumphant, even though Sam’s hands are covered in blood and the excitement has given him a bout of the shakes. [I]”I couldn’t really hear much, but it seemed to go really well,”[/I] he laughs, bandaging himself back up.
Drummer Simon Jones nods with a similarly wide-eyed grin: [I]”This tour’s going really well. We’ve spent the last few days surrounded by girls. OK, one of them is my girlfriend, but that still counts, right?”[/I]
Like we said, HOTS were always gloriously out-of-sync with fashion. But at the moment, when new records by yesterday’s one-trick ponies leave everyone with seriously dry pants, it’s time to embrace a band with the soul and substance to actually connect with people. HOTS have always been a fighting type of band but now they’re drawing up battle plans. Their weapons of choice might include toy accordions, but victory is well within their sight.