LIVE REPORT: Liars In Brighton

Ben Walker sees Liars play a set nearly entirely composed of brand new fierce and intense material at Brighton's Haunt venue. Photograph thanks to Andy Sturmey

Liars file on in silence and arrange themselves left to right. Backlit, they exchange quick glances and lurch into something completely new. It swallows the room whole.

I last saw Liars at XOYO almost exactly a year ago, at the beginning of the WIXIW treadmill they’ve been on ever since. That gig saw them with a great deal more equipment on stage, grappling with precariously stacked samplers and sequencers. It was exhilarating because it felt as if both the songs and their towers of wires could have fallen apart at any moment. Tonight, having battled with this gear for twelve months they appear to have streamlined it. They have mastered their new arsenal of weapons and they use them to brutalising effect. Liars have never been a group to rock back on their heels so it’s unsurprising that the bulk of tonight’s set is entirely new material.

It begins with Julian Gross’s metronomic kick and the clattering samples he triggers. Angus Andrew looms over his tiny box of tricks, and bass grinds out of the speakers at his touch. Aaron Hemphill – eyes ever fixed on his gyrating vocalist – delicately weaves synth lines which blur and twist about the room as his bleach-blonde jagged mop begins to bob. Our assembled heads nod in unison. As Andrew lurches for his mic, he shakes his facefull of fringe to the side and slides his distorted vocals into the slipstream. Another melody added to the maelstrom: undecipherable to anyone but the man himself.

The beauty of tonight’s set proves to be in its tension, the attention to detail in its assembly: each song finds perfect juxtaposition with it’s neighbour. It begins monochromatic. One early song’s beating heart is a treated loop that sounds like a respirator pipe crushing with inhalation. There’s nervous laughter from behind me when they drag it out for a few extra bars at the song’s end. Other than the sole giggle, we are silent; stunned, a little frightened, especially since we haven’t heard a word from any of band yet. None have cracked a smile.

This doesn’t come as a change from the band who managed to make a whole record out of the kind of syncopated percussion that closes Can’s Aumgn. But they successfully create a whole world in this little room. It feels like we’re listening to the playback of a new record in its entirety, one significantly darker than last year’s WIXIW, and with more menace and mischief. It’s the title track of that record though that breaks up the first batch of new songs and sees the first glimpse of light break from the fog. Tonight it is an almighty thing, the early Philip Glass arpeggiated organ circling itself as a caged beast, Gross’ crashing cymbals finally breathing into life and Andrew’s and Hemphill’s vocals struggling to harmonise against the din. They expose themselves as human after all, and it’s these moments of release dropped through the set that strengthen the tense power of the newer material we’ve heard. 

Amongst highlights of the many new songs is one which Angus dedicates to somebody in the room, and he mouths along to the "give me your face" samples he unleashes on the crowd. It is mischief incarnate and climaxes with Andrew and Hemphill barking in unison something about fractious fictions. Julian Gross pounds out beats as sleazy as the off duty Mexican gunslinger look he’s been working on this tour. Another sounds like Underworld in double time, as if they weren’t fast enough already. Gross’ percussive embellishments begin to slip out of time, not because of the delay Andrew appears capable of smothering them in; but because he’s struggling to keep up with the mania they’ve summoned from their samplers. 

After a bracing run through ‘Brats’, more taut and muscular than I last heard it, they play their final new song. Gross and Hemphill are the source of intertwined droning chords that wash the crowd in a flood of colour and noise, Andrew grapples with a melody so understated and beautiful that it instantly brings lump to your throat. Liars have always had an ear for a sensitive finale (‘The Other Side Of Mt Heart Attack’, ‘Too Much, Too Much’). This is redemptive, resuscitative, and it’s joy they leave hanging in the room before the band return for their brief encore: Hemphill on bass for a lilting ‘Who Is The Hunter’ and then back to his searing Jazzmaster as the trio demolish The Haunt with ‘Broken Witch’. Beneath the strobe there’s a flicker of a smile from each of them. 

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