Live Review: These New Puritans

Heaven, London, Wednesday 18th May

When you’re diving for pearls as deep as [a]These New Puritans[/a], it’s good to come up for air every now and again. Fresh from wheeling the big guns of [b]‘Hidden’[/b] across the continent at the back end of 2010 (an experience frontman Jack Barnett likened to “steering a massive tanker”), the Southend doomsayers retreated into the shadows to pen its follow-up. No small matter, since that record was a quite flabbergastingly good set, casting off the post-punk shackles to forge a new music drawing oddly persuasive lines between pastoral and modernist traditions. Now they’re surfacing for a one-off show at Heaven with scaled-back ensemble in tow, offering fans a glimpse of the new material and a chance to hear [b]‘Hidden’[/b] in a newly slimline guise (no watermelons are harmed during the course of this gig, and the kids’ choirs have all been packed off to bed).

Jack has also hinted the performance will be their only UK show this year, so expectations are running understandably high. The stage is set with the sound of cars bombing past and lights projecting a fierce, headlamp glare into the audience. From the off, it’s clear that changes are afoot: keyboardist Sophie Sleigh-Johnson is an absentee, and the band are joined by a pair of bass trombonists and two vibraphonists, whose inclusion is immediately justified by the performance of an opening new song called [b]‘Vibes’[/b].

The track sounds like tentative steps towards a new direction more than anything else, pitting interwoven, Steve Reich-ish vibraphone lines against soothing brass and a muttered vocal from Jack, who begins loosely plugging away at a bass guitar. Then we’re straight into a blitzkrieg rendition of [b]‘We Want War’[/b], whose gnostic dancehall sounds brilliantly sinister as ever, Jack framed excitingly by the lights as he extends witchy fingers in dark-hearted rhapsody.

The gunsmoke menace of [b]‘Three Thousand’[/b] is tightly marshalled, and [b]‘Hologram’[/b] sounds terrific, its smaller-scale, warm-from-the cold feel perhaps the closest cousin of the two new tracks aired tonight — the second being [b]‘3rd Song – Royal Song’[/b], which sees Jack joined on vocals by a Portuguese fado singer in black dress. It opens ominously with gloomy gusts of brass, but then the weight seems to lift and the song becomes more of an ambient, mood composition. When the unnamed fadista starts singing with Jack, the effect is spine-tingling. It’s still more than a touch sinister, but light on the slo-mo convulsions that course through [b]‘Hidden’[/b]. Better take a deep breath for now, though: [a]These New Puritans[/a] are heading back to the depths.

Alex Denney