Volcano!, Hind Ear, Esben & the Witch

Angus Finlayson 05/04/2009

For south coast left-field evangelists Ejector Seat, tonight must feel like something of a family affair; all three bands on the bill have played for them at least once before, with Brighton locals Esben & the Witch having made an appearance at the promoters' 5th Birthday all-dayer just last week.

No signs of performance fatigue here though, with Esben's guitarist and creative mastermind Dan Copeman giving it his usual convulsive-from-the-knees-up vim. The band's relative inexperience (they're barely into double figures on the gig front) does reveal itself in the odd sloppy moment, but a passionate intensity is more or less maintained throughout their set, which is by turns all thumping rage and mournful austerity. Highlights include diminutive frontwoman Rachel Davies hammering away at a floor-tom a la Martin Grech (anything that reminds me of that epic live show will be viewed favourably), and the opening of latest track Eumenides in all its sparse, elegiac glory. The one drag seems to be the high level of laptop-dependence throughout; call me old-fashioned, but I can't help feeling that a dedicated live drummer could have done the music more justice.

Next up are Hind Ear, formerly Revenge of Shinobi. The name may have changed (allegedly for fear of copyright issues...honestly, where's the sense of danger these days?) but the joyous, lo-fi racket remains pretty much the same. The four-piece belt out close vocal harmonies over stomping beats and looped guitar, with a generous helping of analogue drum machines, cavernous-bathroom reverb and unrestrained yelping. The whole mix is thoroughly pleasant to the ear, though in this case it is marred considerably by poor sound; it's a shame that the majority of sound engineers seem to crumble in the face of any sort of challenge (and Hind Ear's labyrinthine setup must certainly have been that).

Sound issues persist into the final set of the night, that of Chicago trio Volcano!. The modus operandi for these fellows seems to be to construct flamboyant, oftentimes beautiful pop songs, and then proceed to clatter around inside them, ripping bits out and sticking them on top of other bits, scribbling over sections with electronic cacophony and hyper-tense tremolo guitar, and just about managing to squeeze in the odd rousing chorus. The result is simultaneously breathtaking and hilarious, and ever so slightly hispanic, as if the last 40 years of guitar music finally overdosed on its own self-importance and haemorrhaged all over the floor of a tapas bar. Sort of.

Painstakingly overworked analogies aside, the band's latest album release, Paperwork, does actually possess a great deal of subtlety and nuance. Fortunately - in spite of awfully balanced sound - this delicate touch survives live rendition, as do freeform noise wig-outs, ball-tinglingly tight math interludes, and pretty much everything in between (including an Otis Redding cover which simmers almost to the point of boiling over). In short, this is a band who are well and truly on the money, and should be caught live before they either go stellar or implode from the sheer intensity of it all. It's just a shame that we couldn't hear the vocals, Mr. sound man.