If anarchy is a virtue of youth – as anyone who’s had the misfortune of turning on their television recently to be confronted with the sight of John Lydon in a tartan dressing gown, buttering his morning crumpet in search of the dairy dollar will surely attest – then Rolo Tomassi have plenty of it to go around. And yet, while the Sheffield quintet look green enough to know their Tweenies from their Teletubbies and play music like it’s only just been discovered – with all the joy of invention and demented abandon that entails – there’s absolutely nothing about them that sounds wet behind the ears.
It’s safe to assume that when they take to the stage for tonight’s gig supporting Blood Red Shoes, at least a couple of audience members will have clocked the rolled-up T-shirt sleeves, the stack of synths and frontwoman Eva Spence’s stylish blonde bob and expected a Klaxons-lite indie-rave racket. They don’t get it. What they get instead is ‘Oh, Hello Ghost’; 90 seconds of eerie, spectral calm followed by disjointed, doomy riffage and a storm of visceral screaming from a girl who looks sweet enough to re-congeal melted butter in her mouth. It’s confusing, disorientating, and utterly thrilling; music that dares you to defy it and laughs off any feeble attempt you might make to fathom it, while its architects spasm away uncontrollably onstage.
But there’s more to Rolo Tomassi than cut-and-paste hardcore; there’s a surprising range of influences at work here, from screamo through classical, flourishes of elevator jazz and – most striking of all – prog. Their love of The Mars Volta is evident in the fractured structures of their songs, but guitarist Joe Nicholson also noodles away like a man three times his age and with five times his beard-growth. ‘Nine’ is a case in point, with some truly deranged fingerwork that wouldn’t sound out of place on a King Crimson record. Come the close of their all-too-brief set tonight, bassist Joseph Thorpe is frantically shaking his instrument against the ceiling, attempting to elicit as much bottom-end terror from it as possible over the sound of Eva’s guttural howls, while keyboardist James Spence throws himself around with scant regard to his own health or safety. And then just like that, it’s over. Eva thanks the crowd in the politest manner possible and trots offstage; no confrontational riposte, no anarchic kiss-off, nothing. But then, when you walk the walk like Rolo Tomassi do, sometimes talking the talk isn’t necessary.