Bush Hall, London Monday, January 25
In the foyer, a book containing sheet music is being sold at the merch stand; onstage a formidable taiko drum and five-piece brass band are producing the militaristic sonic assault of ‘We Want War’. Its prolapse-inducing percussive onslaught provides the sensation of being flayed alive by bass oscillations as Thomas Hein, hunched over a laptop, triggers the kind of synthetic post-Neptunes presets that make your optic nerve itch. If you stopped and thought about the live incarnation of the Puritans’ acclaimed second album, you’d laugh. And stop taking drugs forever.
Amid it all is Jack Barnett, imploring the heavens with outstretched hand, part-evangelist, part-Renaissance man touched by hellfire. Now and then he’ll give a cue to the orchestra, betraying the discipline at the heart of the maelstrom. We could be hurtling headlong into the apocalypse, the venue’s rococo ceiling roses crumbling to plaster dust, yet he’d still be in charge.
Few others could hold together such a disparate mixture of forms. ‘Hidden’ is a gargantuan record; live it’s almost unprocessable. ‘Attack Music’’s sub-bass is more shape than sound, the guttural flexes clash with the jagged bassoon and clarinet, creating a sonic discordance – the gap bridged by Barnett as he stands eyeballing the audience, clasping his chest. The fervour peaks during ‘Fire-Power’. George Barnett rolls his eyes as he keeps the rigid dancehall rhythms, his brother shakes his guitar like a pitchfork. Suddenly the cacophony ceases and the plaintive brass leitmotif begins, the crowd falls to reverent silence. Why don’t more bands use bloody leitmotifs?
The boundary-shunting leaves little room for banter, but it’s not like Christopher Marlowe peppered his plays with hilarious anecdotes either. “[i]All good things must come to an end[/i]” observes Jack before launching into ‘Drum Courts: Where Corals Lie’, the mid-range synths familiar to those who ever heard a Joker or Rustie record, while Hein jangles an assortment of chains that look like they’ve been lifted from Robert Dyas. But it isn’t until the gentle, lapping Steve Reich minimalism of ‘5’ that the band depart, leaving the crowd to go nuts in a suitably primal bout of footstomping, shepherding the band on for aggressive kiss-off ‘Infinity Ytinifni’. Then, in an almost tender moment, Jack gives the signal for the others to leave the stage. He’s left alone, triumphant. He should be.