Another 3hr commute left me marvelling at the wonders of the West Country, debating whether it was worth a £50 train ticket to see Beak> in the flesh. After wandering around dense-headed for an hour or so I fell inside Bristol’s seemingly inherent calmness; no sense of urgency in this city, even at rush hour. First impressions reminded me of a giant Sainsbury’s. Fantastic. Fortunately its true beauty was revealed to me later on as I escaped the looming scaffolding of Temple Gate. The sun was shining and I was more than ready for Geoff Barrow’s rolling rhythms.
I think SWX doubles as a sweaty nightclub with floor upon endless floor of maniac music. I hope I’m right. Missed the opening act but caught all of Snapped Ankles‘ set, for better or worse. Closely akin to an acid nightmare but enjoyable purely for the confusion: 4 blokes (???) ghillied up with santa dreads in VOLVO overalls playing homemade synthesizers. It was probably useful I could only catch a maximum of 3 words a track. Behind the rowdy woodland boys projected gracefully was a gross mismatch of film footage interjected with many surreal happenings: floating tabby cats and a red stiletto crushing what looked like a tub of crème brûlée, centred around a trip to a dark forest which I think was described as a Metaforest. A middle-aged couple used up more than their fair share of energy throwing unknown alchemical shapes as this scene unfolded. I am unsure if any of this happened but I’m glad it did. Their unique combination of early industrial and revival alternative created an unexpected thrilling post-punk drive. I grinned at some of the vocalist’s Mark E. Smith drawls but my brain was somewhat relieved when they left the stage.
I expected a hero worship of Barrow as he stomped onto the floor on his home turf but only a cursory round of applause was given. Left me standing heartbroken as for me he was the driving force of Portishead and a goddamn pioneer. Despite this the Bristolean natures shone through, there was lots of chatting and amusing back and forths between band and audience e.g. Barrow’s verbal attack on modern hippies: “…that’s real hippie sweat, none of this cross-the-street avocado apple mac bollocks.”, as a worryingly tall curly-haired monsterman lovingly sketched him in the front row.
Their sound is best described as a hypnotic blend of 70s German innovation with dashes of Black Sabbath stoner crunch topped with Beach Boys harmonics from purgatory and an overlying adoration for classic film scores (Assault on Precinct 13 comes to mind) and atmospheric ambience. Not to mention the inescapable trip-hop vibrations. Barrow pays homage (and I believe he would sacrifice himself) to motorik Krautrock as a living testament and loving tribute to the Teutonic lords of rhythm, occupying that beautiful middle ground between influence and thievery. The bassist Billy Fuller was a pure Octavian pulsing force of nature, his 4-stringed sword lifted high despite his sedentary position, lurking hunched centre stage, looking left towards Barrow dominating the floor with his minimalist kit.
Beak> made a giant sound for 3 humans. Tickets were horrendously cheap at £15. If you’re local you won’t regret it, catch them if they come to town.
Words Brad Ford