LIVE REPORT: Liars At XOYO
, June 13th, 2012 08:28
It's one of the gigs of the year... Luke Turner sees Liars deliver a stunning performance of songs old and new at XOYO. Photo by Jenna Foxton.
In the past 14 days, I've seen Liars three times. On Friday June 1st, at a tiny warm-up show at Brighton's Green Door Store venue. In front of 100 or so people, Liars blustered their way through a set that, while ramshackle (one of the synths was supported on packed lunch boxes emblazoned with Liars stickers) suggested that something exciting was afoot with this return to the core trio live line-up. At Field Day 15 hours later, a mid afternoon crowd watched a band who thrive on darkness and intensity pull off the difficult feat of a great set in the uncomfortable mid-afternoon sun. Great as those two shows were, they were just the warm-up for tonight. The true art of live performance lies in the strange alchemy where something clicks and an intangible connection is made between band members and then out to the audience, when the circuit is completed. That is what happens at XOYO.
That much is clear from the opening hum of 'The Exact Colour Of Doubt'. Liars albums have often ended with a quiet, reflective track that waves you away. WIXIW, of course, begins with one, and that's what's aired first tonight, Angus Andrew leaning forward in a suit jacket, eyes closed. With the darkness and the smoke and the deep warm hum, it feels like an incantation, and greases the room nicely for 'Octagon', where the bass kicks in harder, deeper. In fact, right back to that first night of the WIXIW dates this use of deep, electronic bass has been a notable feature of the new Liars set up. Whereas with five members the sound was rich (listen to their limited edition post-Sisterworld live tour CD for evidence of that), the bass tones generated by the three piece create a fuller, stranger atmosphere.
Making an electronic album like WIXIW work in the live arena is always a daunting prospect. This must have been especially so for Liars who, as they have readily confessed in recent interviews, found the shift to a more electronic practise a difficult one. Nonetheless, they triumph tonight by making a strong virtue of minimalism. Listen and watch them closely, and it's clear that the power of Liars' music comes from how well the basic elements – drums, bass or guitar, Andrew's howl – move around each other. Credit especially is due to Julian Gross – oftentimes the drummer playing to click track results in the slow, suffocating death of the rest of the music. Tonight, he switches between clicks and headphones off with ease, accompanied of course by the occasional battery and crash of Andrew and Hemphill on toms and cymbal. When all three members come to the front of the stage for the pugilistic 'Brats', its as heady and heavy as anything off Drum's Not Dead or Sisterworld. Interestingly, ancient Liars track 'Pillars Were Hollow and Filled With Candy, So We Tore Them Down' is beefed up from the ESG-with-an-itch of its lo-fi recorded version to a mordant, funk monster.
But there's never a sense that the more contemplative moments of WIXIW will be drowned out by the ferocity of the likes of 'Scarecrow On A Killer Slant' or 'Broken Witch'. Instead, the ebb and flow around 'Who Is The Hunter' and the eerie 'Ill Valley Prodigies' gives the set a terrific dynamic: although it was most obviously stated on Sisterworld, Liars have always been about creating their own autonomous space in which to exist, grow and develop. With the pulse of their set tonight seeming to have a hypnotising effect on the crowd (who go completely barmy for 'No 1 Against The Rush'), this is certainly underlined at XOYO.
I've seen Liars many times over the past decade, and this counts as one of the very best of the lot, up there with a particularly unhinged performance the night before the Nightmare Before Christmas ATP in 2004 at London's Rhythm Factory that saw Andrew, wearing a dress, carried around the venue screaming. Tonight, with the WIXIW material more bedded in, he seems freed up to maraud around the stage. Liars come alive when they're at their most psychotic and absurd, when Andrew becomes a gesticulating priest of the pop avant-garde. When he comes onstage to the encore of 'Broken Witch' brandishing a knife with hammy horror flick malice, it sends the room bananas. The closing, furious 'Plaster Casts Of Everything' is Liars' stab of brilliance. "I wannarunaway I wannarunaway I wannarunaway" Andrew screams... "I wannarunnaway I wannabringyoutoo". We're all there with him.
What's interesting is examining this gig in the context of Liars' ten year history. Whereas all of their contemporaries over the past decade have failed to move on, Liars have redrawn their own blueprint with every album, gaining new, different fans along the way. The stagnation in musical progress at the hands of so many has meant the current, deathly reliance on classic album retreads by the kinds of artists who were always supposed to be against such things. Tonight, with music from across every phase of operation juxtaposed together, it's clear that Liars are in a constant state of flux, both external and internal. Long may these eddies continue.