Monday, 23 February 2009

Live Review: The Phantom Band + Scanners @ The Macbeth 21/2/09

It’s rare that the support act trumps the headliner, but The Phantom Band are certainly giving it a go tonight at Twisted Licks. The Macbeth is swollen at the seams by nine, quite a feat for a Saturday night, and as the band come on the door staff have to resort to one-in-one-out. The amazing turn-out is for a good reason: The Phantom Band have finally ventured down from Glasgow to unleash prolonged, moody Scot-rock upon us London types, aided by more various and copious percussion instruments than you could shake a beater at. It’s almost reminiscent of music lessons at primary school, each band member equipping himself with a wooden hitty-shaky-scrapey stick that swaps hands during the set.

There’s nothing amateurish about The Phantom Band, though, whose quiet confidence imbues every feedback-laden guitar effect and each dark, layered chord. With six of them on stage, it’d be hard not to produce a sound thick with instrumentation, but this is achieved with such guile that disparate elements, including keyboards, melodica and synths, seem inseparably mashed.

The Phantom Band are, at times, as noisy as fellow Scots The Twilight Sad, but rhythmic preoccupations makes some songs more angular and anchored than their distortion-laden contemporaries. There’s something indelibly Scottish about the way frontman Rick Anthony plays the melodica, too, as though it’s a budget set of bagpipes held aloft to the mic. The audience absorbs walls of intoxicating sound through shifting tempos and keys, awestruck at the level of technical brilliance and talent that The Phantom Band have managed to hide for so long (they’ve been playing together for some six years now). This is a band destined for big things.

Scanners, meanwhile, were a band destined for big things some three years ago, but for one reason or another early hype about 2008’s album, ‘Violence Is Golden’, never quite delivered. The four-piece create punk-pop rock PJ Harvey would be proud of, saturated in friendly hooks, catchy melodies, and formulaic lyrics about nightmares and heartbreak and the like.

There’s confusion over what exactly they want to achieve though – Scanners aren’t quite filthy or raw enough to match Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, although frontwoman Sarah Daley is turning heads with her blunt cut black hair and slightly whiney rock vocal. Equally, if they want to court a pop market there needs to be less rock-star posturing, a la Howling Bells (whose comeback album this year smacks of watered-down, chart-hungry blandness). That ‘Lowlife’, one of their earliest tracks and already twice released without causing much bother, should still come off as their finest moment among much new material, speaks volumes.

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