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Electric Soft Parade - The Astoria (Nov 12, 03)


Review: Graeme Kay

AS I enter the cosy, smoky confines of The Astoria, in London, British Sea Power, supporting fellow Brighton residents, Electric Soft Parade (ESP), are just finishing off what has apparently been a barnstorming set made up of songs from their debut album, The Decline of British Sea Power.

Although the vocals are all but drowned out by the terrible mix, it's evident, from just this one song, that BSP, who are about to commence their own tour of the UK, have something powerful and original to say.

If you don't know them, check them out.

But enough BSP, let's get down to the ESP.

This is the last date of their current UK tour and if they haven't got it off by now, they never will have.

At approximately 10.45pm, the house lights dim, the searchlights start to sweep the audience and bingo! there they are, Tom White (now permanently on guitar/vocals, thanks to the recruitment of Mat Priest, formerly of Dodgy, on drums), looking all rubber-legged and Sgt Pepper-ish in his military tunic and bootleg denims; brother, Alex (also guitar/vocals), in skateboarder-grunge attire, take front of stage as Matt Twaits (bass), the aforementioned Mr Priest and Steve Large (keyboards) take their places at the back.

1-2-3-4, bang: we're off! - Things I've Done Before, with its slithery glissando work, and power riffing opens the proceedings.

And it's evident right from the start that ESP will not be suffering from the same muddy-sound as their support bands.

The PA is tweaked to perfection, more than able to cope with the calm as well as the storm.

Start Again, the moody opening track from Holes in the Wall follows - delicate harmonies weaving between periods of brutal chord abuse.

Next up, Bruxellisation, chimes in with its elegantly cascading melody lines and by now the band and the audience are bathing in bliss.

After this almost pastoral breather, it's onward and upward as Lights Out explodes with an energy so fierce that it creates its own solar wind: you could power space craft with this stuff.

And so it goes on: through The Wrongest Thing In Town, Silent to the Dark, the new single, Lose Y're Frown, and the title track from the band's current album, which features an exquisite acapella section.

By now, the moshing is well and truly a go-go, so much so that Tom makes a plea with the audience to 'take care of each other'.

On another occasion, the guitarist takes the opportunity to ponder out loud on the need for another Paul McCartney album, and congratulates the crowd for their warm response: 'We usually get shrugged shoulders and bad reviews, from London audiences," he complains, obviously miffed at a less than flattering recent review from a national newspaper.

Chit-chat over with, the band thunder on with Chaos, and by now they have built up such a head of steam that Mat Priest's seismic drumming is giving everyone in the place a second heartbeat.

One more track from the first album, and it's lights out. End of show.
Strangely, for such a blistering set, the calls for an encore are at first rather feeble - maybe the audience is simply knackered.

But, eventually, Tom and Steve reappear, and deliver the plaintive Existing (again from The American Adventure), wherein Tom serenades the crowd.

Unfortunately, this proves to be a bit of a faux pas, because, charming though the song is, it is perhaps too gentle, too melancholy, to grab the attention of the talking-heads up in the balcony. A sensitive moment is thus ruined.

However, help is at hand.

Old favourite, There's A Silence, an inch perfect replica of its studio predecessor, quickly thunders into view, robustly reminding the crowd that this is a rock gig, not a cocktail party.

Last, but not least, comes a pulsating Empty In The End, perhaps still the group's finest moment.

Blimey, that was some show.

Excellent in every way; lights, music, sound. I don't think I've ever been to a gig where the PA coped better with the dynamics of the music - megawatts of power masterfully harnessed to serve the needs of the band and pleasure the audience.

ESP, remember the name. They're going to be around a long time and they're going to get bigger and BIGGER.

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