It’s a road-to-Damascus moment. An epiphany. A revelation. Or is it just a load of journalists stood in an arty east London cinema watching a massively hyped band get even more hyped?
Well, the answer is all of the above and much, much more besides. Whatever you think, or thought, about The Horrors, get ready to change your mind. The ambush release of the eight-minute krautgaze thrum of ‘Sea Within A Sea’ was the sort of disorientating shock
we didn’t think bands could pull off any more in these days of leaks, rumours and over-exposure. Like an irritating younger sibling who without warning morphs overnight into a really cool person that you actually want to hang out with, they’re suddenly a totally different band.
As Faris Badwan raises his arms above his head, mad preacher style, and kicks off the sultry, Mary Chain-ish ‘Mirror’s Image’, it becomes clear that something huge is happening. Any fears that their new sound, forged in monk-like months of darkness under the tutelage of maestro of morbidity (and Portishead man) Geoff Barrow, would fall apart live are instantly dispelled. No longer like a teenage girl hiding behind his hair, Faris has become a magnetic frontman. He may be singing about “crippling shyness” but he’s certainly not manifesting it as he drives his newly confident band through the rush and swoon of the My Bloody Valentine-like ‘Three Decades’ and the doomed romance of ‘Who Can Say’.
Clambering over the crowd, riding on the shoulders of a large tattooed man, he’s surprisingly sexy in plain black T-shirt and young-Bobby Gillespie hair. Someone else in the crowd obviously thinks so, and hands go-a-wandering. “It’s like being in Japan,” spits Faris angrily, clambering back onstage. “There’s a bit of petulance for you,”
he adds, lobbing a bottle back into the crowd. For the rest of the song he paces in circles like a disturbed zoo animal, slapping his thighs like an over-excited toddler.
What’s even more astounding to witness, though, is the way they’ve reined the scattershot energy of early days at limb-threatening gigs in tiny Hoxton venues, where the ferocity of their attack drew a dizzying veil over the paucity of their five or six-song sets, into a propulsive, dramatic, complex live sound, currently blowing out the cynical neural circuits of all present.
No longer hiding in the shadows, The Horrors are now conducting light and shade like sorcerers’ apprentices, as Exploding Plastic Inevitable-style backdrops of flashing circles in red, green, yellow and blue flicker across the dark stage. Rather than the glossy, power-steering and sat nav despair of White Lies, it’s more than clear tonight who are the real princes of psychedelic darkness as Faris bawls “THE AGONY!” during the menacing Germanic clank of ‘New Ice Age’.
The crunch of people chowing down on words and hats all around is audible; while ‘Strange House’ was a black and bilious riot, perhaps The Horrors’ depth, their potential as a band, wasn’t always clear from the Screaming Lord Sutch-goes-to Shoreditch shtick of tracks such as ‘Jack The Ripper’, hysterical fun as they were.
There are only two old songs tonight, ‘Count In Fives’ and ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’, and while they gel much better than you might expect, they do sound a bit gauche, a bit pantomime in comparison when the musical erudition that always made itself clear in interviews is throwing its weight around over the stage for all to see in the early Stone Roses gothic groove of ‘Do You Remember’ and the sleazy Spiritualized-style rampage of ‘I Can’t Control Myself’.
Closing, awesomely, on ‘Sea Within A Sea’ and no encore, Faris drops the mic sullenly on the floor, then takes a Polaroid of the crowd, looking wonderfully, compellingly sarcastic, before strutting off without a backwards glance. And just like that, they’re our new favourite band all over again.