Sunday, 16 March 2008

The Rational Academy, Do The Robot (supporting Mum) @ The Zoo (15.3.08)

I had been looking forward to this show for quite a while, and not only because of the headliners (to be honest, I don't own any of Mum's album and really only have a passing familiarity with their music - I just figured that they'd be a fairly safe bet for a quality gig, and I was right). Both Do The Robot and The Rational Academy are among my favourite local bands, so I was keen to see them on The Zoo's stage (with accompanying sound system).

I entered the venue just after Do The Robot started their set. The band has now been officially drummer-less for a while now, sticking with the basic lineup of Matt on guitar & backing vocals and Kathleen on lead vocals, keys and second guitar. However, this evening was the first time I've seen the band use a drum machine (or, more accurately, the drum rhythms that came supplied with their keyboard). The drum machine gives their music an interesting spin - back when they had a live drummer they had the vitality and energy of a rock band (albeit a repetitive, dreamy rock band), while when they were just playing as a percussion-less two-piece there was a stripped back, almost folky vibe to them. With the new mechanical beats their sound falls somewhere in between those two points, and yet also ends up somewhere entirely different. They seem even dreamier, more aloof, more austere, more ethereal than they used to. They're kind of the aural equivalent of an ice sculpture - beautiful, cold and fragile. A repetitive ice sculpture, at that. Indeed, I can imagine that a lot of people will find Do The Robot kind of boring, as enjoyment of their music largely comes down to whether you can get yourself into the somewhat trance-like stated required to appreciate the repetition inherent in their music, as most of their songs consist of a verse and maybe a chorus repeated ad infinitum.

I haven't managed to see The Rational Academy in a while (they haven't really been playing much, as far as I've been aware), so I was hoping the band would put on a quality show. This they did, and more (and all without their bassist... then again, they've had more than enough practice at playing sans bass). In fact, I would say that it was one of the very best shows I've seen them play - a pretty impressive feat when you take into account they took the entire set from their forthcoming album 'a heart against your own' (with the exception of the closer, 'Turin') and eschewed their relative hits such as 'Beach Party', 'Pop Repeats' etc. Considering most of the songs on the new record are still comparatively new, if I wasn't already sold on the album then this show would have sealed the deal (luckily I was pretty in love with the album anyway - review coming soon!). They pulled off every song perfectly - of special note was their performance of 'Squid & Whale', which came across as much more cohesive than it does on record, and the aforementioned 'Turin', which was transformed from a pristine electronic number into a visceral guitar epic.

I should also mention that this was my first time seeing the band with new recruit Ollie Makay on drums. I'm generally pretty picky when it comes to drummers, especially new drummers in my favourite bands, so I'm happy to report that Ollie fits in with the band perfectly. His playing has just the right mix of simplicity and complexity, and he gives the songs the degree of heft mandated by the huge twin-guitar attack. He also jumps out from behind the kit to add some extra guitar-noise when Ben and Meredith head off on their between-song feedback sessions (because we all know that what The Rational Academy needs is more guitars).

Oh, and I just wanted to make mention of the fact that for once The Rational Academy didn't have any technical difficulties, except for one little hiccup with the drum stool (which the sound guy hilariously tried to fix with gaffa tape).

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