Rolo Tomassi, Grammatics, Pulled Apart by Horses

Tim Miller 01/05/2009

Four and a half years I've lived in Bournemouth, and tonight's gig is the biggest live music coup I can recall; certainly in terms of eye-catching and wave-making new bands. The Gander - a grotty, carpeted room that looks inside like a local football team's decrepit clubhouse, sitting above a much trendier bar - welcomes four acts, and three are what you call in the indie scene 'names'.

First up though is Yaaard, a one-man-band kind of guy. But a 21st century one-man-band: his instruments simply number a Sony laptop, a Boss delay pedal (DD-3 I think), some sort of Kaoss type oscillator and his mic. Looping his languid beats and dub basslines, Yaaard sings somewhat apologetically over the top, juddering his vocals with constant manipulation of the delay pedal. It's a bit messy, a bit rough, but sounding as he does like an ill Panda Bear or one half of Fuckbuttons, it's intriguing enough and the slowly-increasing hoodied cardigan and drainpipe trouser-wearing crowd musters a genuine round of applause for the bearded singlet.

Next, one of the names is imminent (obviously, if you've read this properly) and it's Pulled Apart by Horses. Part one of this Leeds-based trilogy, the four lads shuffle onstage and give us a diary entry: they've been up since 6am, when they had to catch a flight back to the UK from Amsterdam. It tells a little it has to be said, as their set is held up with guitar problems, but the raw force of the two erratic guitarists, the still-stoned (?) bassist and bellowed vocals is still a force from the soul, and the wild-eyed guitar-wielding pair bound off the tiny stage among the crowd. It's aggressive, loud and affronting - the sort of sound your limbs would be making were you indeed being pulled apart by horses. Conveniently.

This is where I got confused. Grammatics have had one of the most impressive and widely-heralded debuts of 2009, and yet on the bill, they're below Rolo Tomassi, whose debut Hysterics was a much smaller critical success back in autumn 2008. Nevertheless, it's the Owen Brinley-led foursome that go first. And, without doubt, they're the best band of the night.

The grandeur of their epic self-titled debut's pop/indie/rock collages is fully and fantastically realised live, despite there only being four of them in the band. Owen's stark, almost classical voice is captivating as it moves through its histrionic reaches, ably backed up by cellist Emilia's harmonies. Driven by the boundless enthusiasm of drummer Dominic, and offset by the wryly grinning bassist Rory, Owen manages to draw a plethora of glorious sounds from his sole guitar and effects set up, with Emilia's cello overlaying sumptuous nuances, all in order to transpose their superb album into an equal live experience. And, despite Owen's misgivings - while tuning up he murmurs into the microphone 'No one can be fucked', and it's true, the emo kids are chattering away - it works. Both Shadow Committee and D.I.L.E.M.M.A are wonderfully bold and soaring renditions of their recorded selves, and they close with a crashing, explosive working of fan-favourite Relentless Fours. By this time, everyone's listening.

Having noticed that Dance to the Radio are carrying this very site's review score on the band's promotional posters, it gives me a useful way in to start chatting with Emilia after they come off and Rolo Tomassi are meticulously setting up (I didn't fancy trying my usual charm and quick wit after a long week at work, a late Friday night and just the one drink). After exchanging pleasantries about each other's ventures, the lovely Emilia tells me that the track I didn't recognise tonight was a newie, with the working title 'The Hip Hop One', and talks about the mammoth tour they're embarking on currently, least of all their unfortunate trip ahead tonight back to Leeds. Usefully, I also get introduced to Dominic and, though tired, he promises a guestlist to their Bloc Party-supporting show in October (which I'm sure he'll definitely remember!).

Rolo Tomassi, then, tonight's final band, are a five-piece from the Yorkshire city, and the crowd's noticeably more tense. And also taller. When the band slope onto the stage, a troupe of what seems to be college kids, I was clearly one of the few underprepared for the visceral assault that Rolo Tomassi dish out. You wouldn't think that the petite and undeniably attractive Eva Spence, who shimmies around the stage delectably when not using one of her two microphones, is capable of emitting a noise akin to that of a one-tonne mother rhino giving birth. To triplets. But from somewhere in the depths of her 5 ft 1inches, it erupts, and so do Rolo Tomassi.

To the uninitiated, it's a complex and vicious mess - impossibly-tracked time signatures, psychotic Korg synths, bewildering guitar riffs, the shared vocals scorching, none too clearly either, above it. And while the bust up goes on among those admirably trying to incite a pit in a venue the size of a conference room, and the band know instinctively how to handle the obscene racket they make, it's a punishing examination if you don't know what the hell is going on. Gradually, though, it makes sense as a performance, rather than a set list, while the band...well, the band make sense as lunatics rather than musicians. But that's the draw of Rolo Tomassi, it seems clear, and it would take a far crueller man than I to deny them their volatile headline slot after all.

These bands will have played, and will play, bigger and better venues to more rewarding audiences than the 200-odd in The Gander tonight. But they all seem passionately grateful to those who bothered to come at all, which is testament to the attitude of the new crop of exciting young British bands. The night itself is testament to the buoyant music scene in Leeds and its surrounding cities, but on a personal level, it's a no holds barred success purely on the strength of three such acts, in one place at one time, for a miserly 7, gracing a grimy first floor dive in Bournemouth to display their art. You might not find an as enthusiastic, raw, varied, passionate and rewarding trilogy of young bands in one night in 2009, and I would urge anyone who can get to one of these dates to go along and show continued belief in the future of great British music.