Live review: British Sea Power/These New Puritans/Surfer Blood/Sparrow And The Workshop

Scala, London, Tuesday February 9

With that name and a voice as athletic as frontwoman Jill O’Sullivan’s, [a]Sparrow And The Workshop[/a] are going

to be a target for the talons of every A&R desperate to grip the new Flo and co. But those hawk’s eyes are dimmed;

you can’t get away with a swoop like that any more, especially with a trio with the grace of this one; [a]PJ Harvey[/a] singing in the [a]Beach House[/a]. [a]Surfer Blood[/a], meanwhile, are a curious, enjoyable hotch-potch of the sounds of the last decade or so; a squall of ‘Definitely Maybe’ guitar here, a brush of Strokes and NY punk-funk from the Chk! Chk! Chap! with the big hair and the cowbell.

“Battle of the bands!” cries Jack Barnett, and it’s perhaps easy to understand his cattiness, for [a]These New Puritans[/a] have a less canonical understanding of recent musical history. [b]‘Hidden’[/b], a masterpiece of 2010, is made of fragments sucked by the gravity of Barnett’s brain into an austere moon that orbits the mundane planets of their peers. Theirs is a music, lyricism and aesthetic built around codes – why, at every gig, does one member or another wear a baggy top with ‘alive’ emblazoned on the sleeve? Ask no questions and you’ll get no lies. Tonight, the Enigma machine is in full effect – the drums are naked aside from Jack’s vocals and minimal synth as TNP persevere in the tricky task of trying to decipher their own creation in the live setting.

Though they deal in arguably less adventurous sonics, [a]British Sea Power[/a] have, for nigh on a decade, ploughed the furrow from which the Southend troupe now reap such rewards. With eloquent evocation of those things that lesser groups leave behind, they’re the treasure to be found buried beneath the indie landfill that, for a while, threatened to eclipse them. An obsession with the past is a criticism frequently levelled at BSP but, if there’s nostalgia in what they do, it’s merely for a lost idea of perfection, for being able to keep buggering on under your own steam. That’s especially pertinent given that tonight is the venue for the airing of new material – the cry of their last album [b]‘Do You Like Rock Music?’[/b] is duly answered. Songs new and old see the strictures of the sturdy riff exploded into their undeniably curious sense of romance via acrobatics, violin and judicious deployment of the air raid siren.

[b]Luke Turner[/b]