Bad Trip, Morton Valence – SUB071, Leiden 6/5/13

Hacker has this little strut that plays off Anne’s calm very well. Like a rooster in the yard he inspects all elements in the band, ensuring all is present and correct before turning his beady eye on the audience.

 

We’re waiting for Morton Valence. We get a call. “We’re stuck in Antwerp!” Once again, Belgium’s road systems conspire to thwart a band. We go back to the pub, smug with the knowledge that this is not the end of their trials. Because, unbeknownst to them, they are playing the smallest venue they will ever set foot in.

There’s something about introducing bands to SUB071. It mainly revolves around the knowledge that they will be startled, panicked even by the tiny nature of the venue in daylight. That panic evaporates when the lights go down, and then a sort of happy acceptance bordering on devotion takes over. Everyone who plays there wants to come back.

Even so, this promises to be an interesting one. Monday night at the SUB, a graveyard slot really. Luckily no-one seems to care. Maybe the sheer incongruity of the programme means any judgements are out of the window and most people in the place shuffle in to see Bad Trip and Morton Valence with no real preconceptions. In any case, Bad Trip is a post hardcore band from Greece who doesn’t sound like your average post hardcore band. And Morton Valence describe themselves as “urban country”, a moniker which is broadly right, but one that doesn’t encompass the whole of their sound.

Due to the Valence’s fun with Antwerp’s roads, Bad Trip kick the night off. Fags and joints dangle from all their mouths, seemingly glued into place. Hats are worn, including a flat cap on the lead guitarist. For once it looks fine. Maybe the fact he’s not some fresh faced, “Clean Boheme” type makes it acceptable. Their sound is a complex, metallic mix of time shifts and mood swings interspersed with, and often driven by some incredibly good interlocking guitar passages; where the music almost sounds welded or girded together.  The manner in which their parts played off each other was damned impressive. I suppose they could be seen as a heavy sludgy Tortoise, or a band that draws from the ticking grooves of the Soft Machine only to foist something darker and grittier on that beat. No eager beavers these lads either: there was an element of hard won, well-crafted patience in their music that meant they never overcooked a key change; rather the sound was confident and sure in its ability to win people over. (A side note – their LP is boss, worth it for the artwork alone).

Then Morton Valence hit the stage. But not before a considerable interval where everything got broken up and pulled down again: as the Valence have old fashioned, troubadour standards as to how things should sound: not to mention some intriguing kit. This is the first time a pedal steel has been played at SUB, the lads who run it can’t think of any other so… Alan, pedal steel player with Morton Valence, you now hold that accolade. Once up and running we got a set that’s drawn from their last two LPs, and a couple of newies from their forthcoming album.   

Things worth pointing out…

First: They are incredibly good band to watch, they demand attention. Alan and Anne are cool personified - Anne infusing The Woman in the Window with this ridiculously suggestive charm - the rhythm section oozes power and a confidence in its own abilities and Hacker has this little strut that plays off Anne’s calm very well. Like a rooster in the yard he inspects all elements in the band, ensuring all is present and correct before turning his beady eye on the audience. Then with a mix of harangues and cajoling he gets everyone’s attention.

Second: The band takes advantage of the PA (recently fixed) to dazzling effect; crashes of noise, (such as when the guitar kicks in on Man on the Corner and on If You Are the River), are balanced with crystalline moments of silence or incredibly subtle modulations of tone. They exploit the warmth of texture in their songs, never pushing it.  They dangle their sound on a thread at times, allowing the audience to come up, like curious carp at the bottom of a pond to inspect the morsels on offer. The unique thing you get in a small but attentive gig is when a band, playing on its strengths, knows it can literally make the audience hold their breath. There was a bit in Bad Times for the Hare Krishnas where this happened, just before the guitar smashed through literally you could hear a pin drop.

Third: It’s not all silence, we funk out with the incredible disco strut of The Hawkline Discothèque which mutates into this steam roller that draws on John I’m Only Dancing in its Young American phase, but has extra funk sheen. Bad Trip dance and everyone jives away in some form or another. It’s odd to see the crustcore and punk regulars falling for this showbiz pizzazz. Elsewhere, Man on the Corner was a sonic, Velvetsy blast and The Redrock Mountain grooved away very comfortably, thank you very much.

Final: SUB decided it liked Morton Valence.

We get an encore of Just Another Guy, and then it’s into the night for fun, and interminable fags and drinks whilst listening to Krautrock. Great night. SUB, what an institution.