Written for Clash. Read online HERE.
Release The Bats / London Forum / Oct 30, 2008
If punter costumes are rather thin on the ground tonight – Clash counts but a handful at ATP’s annual Halloween bash at the Forum (night one of two this year following huge demand for tickets) – on-stage thrills are in abundance. A six-band bill that’s the stuff of the more discerning rocker’s wet dreams, Release The Bats is a can’t-miss event that’s dragged your correspondent kicking and screaming from his sickbed for one evening of sonic indulgence.
Proceedings begin on the floor, in front of the stage, as Lightning Bolt typically set up their gear at audience eye level; the Rhode Island duo’s pulverising riot-rock is at its best when delivered at synapse-shredding volume, but equipment malfunctions see that the pair rarely strike any sort of flow. Intermittently brilliant, tonight’s not Lightning Bolt’s finest hour by a long shot – but try telling that to the faces packed tight about them, well and truly at ground zero, and expect to receive a thick ear for your cheek.
Pissed Jeans are the first act to mount The Forum’s sizeable stage, and vocalist Matt Korvette makes the most of the space, writhing and grinding in a manner wholly expected by acolytes of the Pennsylvania four-piece. Their Jesus Lizard-echoing squall – albeit a squall that’s the product of men fighting their instruments, rather than simply playing them – fills the cavernous venue with ease, and while their fractured punk songs might always be an acquired taste – discernable lyrics are in short supply, drama provided by the pure physicality of the performance – there’s no doubting the infectiousness of the Sub Pop-signed outfit’s raw energy.
While Pissed Jeans get the adrenaline glands working overtimes, San Francisco Kraut-stoners Wooden Shjips shift pulses down a beat or some, with a head-nodding set of songs taken from their self-titled of last year and this year’s singles collection compilation. Few in the limited front-and-centre throng truly get into their heady grooves, but slip into the fog they conjure and soon senses are hypnotized – there’s nothing revolutionary at work, quite deliberately so, and they certainly don’t mirror the explosiveness of their recordings live, but the in-your-face Wooden Shjips are certainly preferable to the off-you-face variety. Listen to this lot when out of your mind and you’ll never return from whatever hazy horizons you’ve wandered across.
The main event for many is the appearance of Les Savy Fav, and the Brooklyn five-piece don’t disappoint their growing fanbase. With the whole group decked out in corpse paint – four in hoodies and jeans, frontman Tim Harrington emerging in ghoulish vampire get-up – they’re into the spirit of the event like no preceding band, too (sorry Wooden Shjips – as nice as that gold turban is, it’s not winning any fancy dress prizes), and before long fists are punched into the air to the sounds of the band’s winning choruses. ‘Patty Lee’ is an early highlight, Harrington takes a tour of the venue, via the balcony, without missing too many words, and the likes of ‘We’ll Make A Lover Of You’ and ‘The Equestrian’ have many an onlooker wondering why this didn’t happen sooner for such a clearly fantastic band. They’re making up for their time spent languishing in relative obscurity though, and by the time ‘Who Rocks The Party’ thunders to a climax, after a brief sojourn for some amateur dramatics, it’s smiles and sweaty faces all round.
But Les Savy Fav are trumped, their should-be show-stealing set bettered by a three-piece whose sense of humour has rarely been worn so obviously. Taking the stage in full fancy dress, Shellac – Steve Albini as a mummy, Bob Weston as Frankenstein’s monster, and centrally placed drummer Todd Trainer as a wild-eyed Dracula – unleash a set that grips the audience tight and doesn’t let up ‘til the comedy gruntings of Weston, where there should have been lyrics, allow everyone to take a breathe while they’re laughing along. ‘Squirrel Song’ is vicious, ‘Steady As She Goes’ sensational, and before long the band’s attire is overlooked – the music consumes all. There are thousands, and it isn’t some kind of metaphor to suggest they’re all won over.
While doom titans Om close the show, Clash has to skip out early to make its train… which it misses anyway. Thanks, London Underground, for your brilliant service. Nightbus, street lights, ears ringing, Steve Albini’s nipples… Release The Bats proves (again) entirely worth shaking the covers off for.