British Sea Power, Melkweg – Amsterdam 5/10/11

What the feck does this band do to people?



Where to start? Well maybe with a timeline. Early 2008 to late 2011. It’s been too, too long in coming, this Sea Power gig. The last time this great band hit Dutch shores was for a thirty minute stint at the Lowlands festival in August 2008, and before that February 2008 for a series of smallish club shows at Rotown and upstairs at the Paradiso. And just as it seemed there would be gigs in March the band cancelled. So you may imagine our excitement on seeing them again. In fact we were off to the Vera the following night: we were that excited. And how about Brussels, Paris or Cologne after that?


After getting royally tanked up in the pub (Philip Toynbee style) we sauntered into the Melkweg and caught some of the support, A Classic Education. We were pretty oiled but what they did was good, they clattered their guitars in a way we liked, and we made a mental note to catch their set at Vera*. (In fact they are very, very good indeed; a clanking, abrasive proposition hinting at Yo La Tengo and possessing a fine dynamic)

After what seemed like an interminable wait (made 100 times worse by the weird airco that smelt of sea breeze toilet hand soap) the band came on and started on an Odyssean set list that spanned their now decade long career. Immediately noticeable (well unmissable - given that they opened with Who's in Control? and We Are Sound), was that in a live setting the Valhalla Dancehall tracks were majestic;  possessing a much more shimmering, colourful musical coat than the tough metallic versions on the LP. These live takes had more time to breathe; there were more sides to them than listening to the LP suggested. The oft-criticised tracks Living Is So Easy and Georgie Ray sounded more quirky and more mysterious, whilst Observe The Skies and Bear were lovely floating ethereal things, both with a tough undercarriage; no cloying sentiment allowed.

Incendiary danced. Incendiary had another drink and, in amongst an increasingly warm atmosphere, (especially for arthole existentialist Amsterdam), Incendiary had a little think about the nature of BSP. 

For us, Sea Power’s strength has always been their essential strangeness; their seeming inability to follow a straight path. They are rum lads, a rum lass. It’s in their DNA to be wanton and messy and trying to direct it or contain it in a studio often seems to backfire. Still, this regret is tempered now by the fact that they are such a formidable and experienced live band, able to shape-shift with ease  & sneak up unawares on the innocent, like that Satan fella in Book Two of Paradise Lost.  BSP’s formidable trance/prog/70s underground side was there for all to see with Mongk II, coming on like some magnificently sleek, purring, stoner beast; straight from a 70’s Notting Hill practise room. Whereas Spirit of St Louis borrowed something of the bugged out, yogic insistence that goggle-eyed loon Michael Mooney brought to Can in 1968. On this performance the band were sounding less like the Dearly Beloved & Terribly English Indie Institution - a tag that some are keen to foist on BSP and a concept I have always hated - and more sounding like a band that could play beyond time and space or any other consideration.

Other surprises were tracks like The Lonely, Open The Door and North Hanging Rock, all sounding magnificent and glacially unconcerned, their shamanic qualities evident; offering a portal to another place for the audience to step through. The hits and usual crowd pleasers didn’t stand out as they have done in the past, and the seamless transition of mood and tone between a run of It Ended On An Oily Stage, Remember Me. Spirit of St Louis and Waving Flags was almost too much in its intensity. Fuck me were they good.

Things were getting late. Incendiary danced. Incendiary had another drink and, in amongst an increasingly warm atmosphere, and in a flood of emotions, Incendiary decided to help BSP. 

A magnificent left-right of Great Skua and Carrion had seen the emotional temperature at the Melkweg lift a notch. Jubilance was in the air and people began to cut some rug. The band segued into All In It, (in its recorded life a criminally undercooked opener to Do You Like Rock Music, here a smashing, pounding, ever-accelerating Behemoth of white noise) and then, lo! Foolishness did overcome Incendiary.  Ignatius fatiens, poet or gleeman, Iggy and his peanut butter, Loki chatting up Freya, Bennie from Crossroads dropping his shopping at the motel, it’s all the same shit really. Fuelled by myriad visions of smashing through shield walls at Hastings, pulling down Beyoncé’s long johns or rolling around in pie mixture (Hollands, naturally) whilst being carried buck naked through the streets of East Lancashire, Incendiary decided to make the portal between band and audience manifest. We can all go through to Narnia if we jog on the spot. Jogging on the spot would do it, it would, it’s obvious. And gurning faces – don’t forget the gurning faces, they want you to lead them through. You have to show leadership now, scare off any form of devilment, like being mugged by a Paul Young song. Don’t let that cunt Paul Young do to BSP what he did to Love Will Tear Us Apart

The din was thunderous and the lights were blinding… keep going, yoga, think karma yoga. Pain is outside you now. There’s a man on my back, it’s Martin Noble, he’s screaming something unintelligible but he wants me to do something, carry him through to the other side, that’s what he wants. And how? I know. I know how to help Martin. Draw out your inner idiot, a holy triumvirate of Les Dawson, Oprah Winfrey and Stan Laurel, pull a face that suggest  all three; this would help Martin and the band immeasurably. It is that or nothing. It’s that or Jeremy Kyle and I can’t do him and anyway he’s the Mouth of Sauron. Scott’s pulling my hair, the drums are deafening and a shard of white noise nearly has me toppling. Then darkness, a tumble and a damp walk home.

Next day it’s on the train, the hangover can sod off for a while as we have got to get to Groningen to meet up before the gig. I’m getting texts through and it’s 10am. “Where are you?”, “See you at the Amersfoort switch?”, “get us some fag filters, and hairspray”.

What the feck does this band do to people?


Photo by the Mighty Cath Aubergine