Saturday, 9 February 2008

Secret Birds, Nikko @ The Zoo (31.1.08)

Although Gav has said that I'm supposed to be writing a review of this show, to be honest I was only in attendance for 2 of the 4 bands - Influenza weren't really my 'cup of tea' so I took the opportunity to get some dinner during their set, and I was way too tired to stick around for Scul Hazzards (and figured I'd see them at their 7" launch later this month... you should do the same). That really only leaves us with Secret Birds and Nikko.

Walking into The Zoo I was greated by Secret Birds (two guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist and four drummers) playing a repetitive, descending riff while the drummers pounded out separate, interlocking rhythms. That pretty much sums up the Birds' modus operandi: repetitive riffs (all of varying degrees of 'massive') over the top of constantly shifting rhythms. Really, the drums are the focus of this band - the riffs almost seem like an excuse for the drummers to head off and do their thing. And do their thing they do, in one constantly moving piece of music (there's no inter-song breaks or stage banter for Secret Birds).

I imagine this isn't music for everyone. If you're looking for catchy melodies (or really, melodies at all) then it's probably best to look elsewhere. Secret Birds are all about the trance-inducing potential of pure rhythm and volume. The best moments were those when the guitars hit upon an appropriately massive riff which allowed the drummers to pound out their rhythms to maximum effect. By the same token, the least satisfying moments were when the accompanying riffs weren't quite thick enough to give the necessary wall of sound needed to make this style of music work. Thankfully the band hit the mark (a lot) more often than not.

That's not to say that Secret Birds were constantly going for 'everything-in-the-red' aggression. There was probably a 60-40 split between the band's loud sections and more ambient, introspective movements. During these quieter times the band seemed like a more guitar-oriented Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It was a good mix, with the more subdued sections helping to reinforce the impact of the band going all out. Actually, it was more than that - sometimes I found myself enjoying the quieter sections more than the loud ones.

For the first third or so of Nikko's set I thought they were some epic instrumental rock band (of the Explosions In The Sky / Mono variety). In this mode they were pretty enjoyable - not really mind-blowing, especially coming after Secret Birds, but good at that style of music. But then... they started singing. The vocalist attempted to sing in a mumbled baritone that was kind of juxtaposed against the music underneath. If it had worked, it would have been pretty cool (kind of like Wilderness, I suppose). However... it just really didn't work. The guy just doesn't have the vocal range to pull it off, and because of that he was hugely out of key for most of the time (as opposed to every other aspect of the band's music, which were generally pretty tight and relatively 'note-perfect'). Additionally, he doesn't have the necessary vocal gravitas to make such a style work - he sounds like a youngster (which he is) trying to sound 10 years older. With 5 years of constant smoking and whiskey drinking he might be able to make a pretty good go of it, though. Basically I think they have a good idea but aren't really able to execute it properly (yet). Still, they're instrumentally a good band, so maybe they'll get the singing thing working and everything will be peachy keen.

Oh, and they played quite a long set. Probably a bit too long.

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