I always find the use of the first person in criticism a little discomfiting, memoirs or op-eds aside, but the live review seems to be a form that invites it, particularly when it’s an experience such as Friday’s gig at Stereo; its viscerally enhanced, of-the-moment nature also brings that well-worn cliché of ‘dancing about architecture’ all too readily to mind, particularly in this case. Perhaps that’s why we don’t do so many on Blasted. But here we go anyway. To reach the venue component of Stereo, the site of many of my favourite gigs, requires a descent into the bowels of the Mackintosh-designed building – we’ll go deeper still later on. The stage has been significantly lowered since I was last here (October, for an astounding Young Marble Giants) and I’ve mixed feelings about it, given how many great performances I’ve seen on (and in front of) the departed platform. There’s no choice but to get down the front now, and I’m glad we do.
Sacred Paws are Rachel Aggs (guitar, vox) and Eilidh Rodgers (drums, vox), both formerly of Golden Grrrls. They bear some musical resemblance to their previous band, as you’d expect, but theirs is an altogether more joyous racket. There’s less of the lo-fi American and NZ sound and more Raincoats and Afrobeat. They’re obviously having great fun, and it’s infectious. They’re also evidently both highly accomplished musicians but it’s completely unshowy and has that scintillating energy that the best bands project with that faintest hint it might all fall apart at any moment. It doesn’t. They put a big smile on my face more than once, and I'm certainly not the only one.
Howie B’s following set rather suffers on two counts: one, he has to follow Sacred Paws; two, his is most definitely club music, not gig music, and the crowd projects that sentiment quite readily, polite and moderately encouraging as they are. Feeling tired, a bit too warm, slumped up against a bare brick wall, I get the impression I should be feeling tired, too warm, slumping against a wall (as the bass shreds through my chest and vibrates my trousers) at 2am, not half 9. It’s very good, but it’s not quite right here, despite its obvious merits.
Shortly after, Ela Orleans takes up her place on stage, alone behind a microphone and a table with a laptop and various mysterious gadgets on it. After a short intro of thanks from her, we descend further still into Upper Hells (her new album, for which this night is the launch) and its hypnotic accompanying visuals. Orleans’ heavily reverbed vocals loop into choirs, drums samples and processed beats collide and intertwine, ethereal synths shimmer, it drifts, it lollops, it marches, it mesmerises. Howie B produced her new album and it shows, albeit discreetly; his set makes a lot more sense as its fractured echoes flutter through Orleans’. There’s a certain insistence to the songs, particularly mid-set, that could see them played in a club without batting an eyelid – there’s undeniably something trance-inducing about it all, with an oneiric, gothic undertone (possibly rendered an overtone by the Hieronymus Bosch et al sampling back screen projections). This is Grouper zoomed in, Broadcast beamed into Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari, a rave promoted by Piranesi.
Ultimately, it makes for a transcendental experience, the kind which is both unforgettable, yet difficult to remember the detail of, such is its transportive nature. Like a dream, it seems to last forever, and to be over in an instant – neither is quite long enough.
Ela Orleans’ ‘Upper Hells’ is out on 27 April on HB Recordings; Sacred Paws’ ‘Six Songs’ is out now on Rock Action.
Andrew R. Hill