Hope Of The States: The Late Room, Manchester: Wednesday, March 29
Doom merchants keep it simple with words, not pictures
Pissed-up Manc bruiser: “Put some bollocks into it!”
Dazed Sam Herlihy: “I’m trying to put some bollocks into it! Jesus Christ!”
Girl clinging to the bar for dear life: “Garlic bread!”
Such is life on this side of the canvas. Welcome, Hope Of The States, to the world of the Indie Toilet Gig – a place where the floors are paved with snakebite, the bell calling time can drown out your crescendo and the punters are prone to heckles read straight off a Dominos menu. It wasn’t like this at those hush-toned early gigs in candle-lit churches, and certainly no-one ever found it appropriate to shout foodstuffs at them while being bombarded with crackling war footage and cartoon winter-scapes of their usual live ‘installation’. But for this low-key tour to preview rocktacular new album ‘Left’ they’ve shed the smokescreen of the ‘important post-rock artistes’ Wizard Of Oz-style, and hit the bog-rooms of the UK determined to see the whites of their fans’ square pies. It’s a bit like Umberto Eco trying his hand at stand-up comedy down the Dagenham Scrote & Pintchucker. Only ‘doomy’.
Sam Herlihy: “How you all doing tonight?”
Girl losing grip on bar and slumping into jellified heap: “Fishcakes!”
Lesser bands would probably run for the hills, but strip HOTS of their arty visual flam and fluster – the marching Nazi armies, the squadrons of fighter planes – leaving only the spectacle of a fairly hairy frontman slapping himself on the head, and they emerge as six blokes on a tiny stage being somewhat kick-ass. It’s a timely move – with Arctic Monkeys laying bare our mid-decade modern culture with nasal poetry and barbed-wire guitar, and everyone from Maximo, Bloc Party and half of Yorkshire playing their art-rock with a capital ROCK – 2006 is all about art without artifice, and the new regime suits HOTS well.
They always stomped Biblically along the line between Mogwai-esque Alchemists Of The New Noise and a stonking guitar pop band, so, untethered by the intellectual nudges of the accompanying projections, the melodic bites of ‘Nehemiah’, ‘Enemies/Friends’ and ‘The Red, The White, The Black, The Blue’ – sounding ever more like the Luftwaffe bombing Chernobyl with grand pianos in a thunderstorm – make unmuzzled lunges for the jugular. And maul.
Of course, when you’re making your first attempt at being a Proper, No Bullshit Rock Band , it helps to have a new album that hits home with all the gritty pop clout of The Strokes on a Canadian seal cull. And ‘Left’ – for all its political inferences (“Why won’t someone tell me why my government doesn’t hear all the warnings… The factory cheats and the industry lies/Your daddy ain’t got a job in the morning” – ‘Industry’), its downbeat tributes to the closeness of the band following the death of guitarist Jimmi Lawrence (“I fell apart in January/But I fixed myself for everybody” – ‘January’) and its smattering of epic “bleeding sepia soundscapes” (copyright their excitable press officer) like ‘The Church Choir’ – is a stompmungous pop record at heart. ‘The Good Fight’ reinvents Pulp’s ‘Bar Italia’ as a dancehall symphony, there’s a Kaisers song trapped inside ‘This Is A Question’, with the sheet music for Mahler’s Sixth stuffed in its mouth and ‘Sing It Out’ is all Editors panache and bleeding sepia soundscape (sorry), the fantastic sound of Hope Of The Statres burning down the sonic cathedral and dancing in the rubble.
In such company the military drumming and flames-bursting-over-red-rocks sweep of ‘Black Dollar Bills’ sounds like a dated anomaly, soon to become a set-closer rather than the HOTS norm. For once they were the generals of the Albion Nation, musing over the battlefield from an echoey hilltop. Now they’re in the frontline, charging for the prize in an axe-swinging, flaming-violin stampede to the post-pop death. Garlic bread, anyone?