So, we'll start with the last point and make our way back to the first. The new setup at Fat Louie's isn't hugely different, the main difference being that the stage and old carpet has been removed, leaving a polished wooden floor that puts the band and audience at the same height. Personally I like having the band on the same level (though I imagine it might be a pain at a much busier gig), and the wooden floor gives the venue a more sophisticated look (not too sophisticated, mind you - this is still a relatively DIY venue). I wasn't really able to judge the improvement in the PA, since two of the three acts were instrumental guitar bands.
Now to the bands. First up was Mass Migration, a band that I've seen twice previously. Ultimately, they're a fairly traditional post-rock band - pretty guitar bits transforming into big riffs, massive bass chords and crashing drums, ebows, the occasional piano-based song, no vocals. If you don't know my views on post-rock (and why would you?), have a quick read of this gig review. My thoughts on Mass Migration are pretty much the same as my thoughts on most bands who play that Mogwai-esque, guitar-based, crescendoing post-rock; it's enjoyable while I'm listening to it, but doesn't really satisfy in the long-term and soon starts to sound kind of one-dimensional and stale. That said, there are a lot of people who are still really into that sound, and for those people Mass Migration will most likely be an enjoyable band to listen to. I must admit that I did enjoy their set, even moreso than I have on previous occasions.
Del Toro were next. I suppose that Del Toro are also a 'post-rock' band, but they're somewhat unlike any other such band that I can think of. Sure there are big riffs and nimble guitar lines in equal number, and the band utilise repetition and buildups to provide a big musical payoff, but to my ears their sound owes a lot to that other 'post-' genre, post-punk. I've always thought that they sound like Love Of Diagram's rhythm section backing a mexican mariachi-band guitarist who has fallen in love with delay and flanger pedals. The drums are more cutting than crashing, the bass more driving than crushing, and the guitar more fluid than airy.
With that said, at recent Del Toro shows I'd begun to think that the band was turning into a one-trick pony. Half the time I have been unable to tell if the song I was hearing was new or old. When they begun their first song on Friday my first thought was 'here we go, another Del Toro song that sounds like every other Del Toro song'. But in the second song things were different - the bass was lighter, and the song didn't so much break out into a wall of noise as much as gradually and gracefully unravel and then return from where it came. Over the course of the set the band unveiled many songs that somewhat surprised me in one way or another. Some of the songs were even *gasp*... happy! Hell, some of them could even have been mistaken for some sort of post-rockified pop songs (if they had some sort of vocal over the top). I was pleased to see that the band have begun to widen their range.
When Del Toro were done it was time for the main event, as far as I was concerned (although I guess that other people didn't agree, as the venue emptied out fairly considerably - it was approaching midnight, though). Turnpike ripped into their music right from the start, singer/guitarist Adam King being drenched in sweat before the end of the first song. That's pretty much why I love the band - I've never seen them be any less than completely into the music they're playing, and they always put out a huge amount of energy from onstage. Friday was no different, though the band were admittedly somewhat under-rehearsed (as evidenced by the aborted second song... although they replayed it much more successfully towards the end of the set). To be honest, they seemed to have their regular mix of crazy tightness mixed with an endearing looseness - the band members seemed to be able to read each other minds in terms of moving the songs through their different sections. As a fellow audience member said after the show, if you think you can play guitar, after watching Adam you'll realise how boring your parts are. Similarly, if you think your band has chemistry, after seeing Turnpike you'll realise you have years of playing to reach their level. The way that Tim anchors the band on bass while Adam rips out dissonant riffs and squealing lead lines, with Chris moving somewhere between the two on drums. It wasn't the best ever Turnpike show I've seen, but it was a damn good one, and considering they haven't played all that much in recent months, that made it very satisfying.
Turnpike's set was also the first chance to hear the venue's new PA in action. Despite some feedback issues (which were mostly sorted by the second half of the set), the sound seemed pretty good, with Adam's vocals being as loud in the mix as I've ever heard them (no mean feat, seeing as he has a tendency to shake his head from side to side from about a foot away from the microphone). It will be interesting to see how the new sound system handles a more complex setup than those on show this particular evening.