Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gig Guide 8: Amplifier at XOYO, Shoreditch, London; 15th June, 2011

Had Amplifier been around in the 1970s they would have been so massive that Led Zeppelin might have supported them. Okay, perhaps not, but had this band's music happened at a different time then we might have been seeing them playing in venue befitting their chaotic cosmic rock brilliance, rather than a basement arena hosting 500 people. The thing was, the band seemed made up to be playing London to so many people, they even wanted to know what 500 people sounded like.

But this modern day Cavern wasn't about to quash a set that was raw, undiminished and remarkably audible - it's amazing the sound you can get in a coal bunker now days.

Amplifier's 2010 double CD concept album - The Octopus - is a true modern classic, mixing prog, space and hard rock in equal measure and weaving a sprawling tale of a Dystopian world and 8 legged monsters (I wonder what the band thought of Gareth Edwards' Monsters?). It is, quite simply, the best concept album to have been released in the 21st century and last night they played half of it - the half that transfers best to grubby little venues with minions of sweaty, bouncing fans.

I remember seeing the band for the first time at the 2000Trees underwater rock festival in 2009; having discovered the hard cosmic rock eccentricity of the band after listening to Last FM. I remember thinking that a day that dragged on in the torrential rain suddenly sped up as the hour long set by the Manchester trio (augmented by an extra Oceansized guitarist last night) disappeared in a flash. The sun came out, the band cemented themselves into my personal musical database.

I'd expected the place to be packed with kids moshing and generally cavorting around like whirling dervishes - there had been a number of young people at 2000 Trees who seemed to think that Amplifier were Slayer in disguise; so I was a mixture of pleasantly surprised and slightly disappointed that the core of the audience were all between 30 and 50. I was, however, very impressed with the amount of young nubile things who go crazy for Amplifier's oeuvre. At times I was hard pressed for where to be looking! It did get hot and heaving, but because of my bad back and fear of looking like a psychotic hippo, I hung at the back, with a handy wall to lean on and a reasonable view of the stage, although I only saw Matt, the drummer, when he walked on and off the stage.

Sel Balamir, the head of AmpCorps, was a commanding presence, even if Neil Mahoney handled the majority of the MC duties. Balamir looks like the kind of frontman a rock band needs, chiselled looks, a degree of charm and a voice that belittles the metal tag this band occasionally gets labelled with - he is a master lyricist, with a deep melodic pitch that enhances the riffs and pedal wizardry he seems to fiddle with every time I see him.

It astounds me that this band are not bigger; but perhaps the world isn't ready for them. I like a lot of bands that should be getting the recognition that other, less talented, individuals get, yet Amplifier are possibly this good because, after 11 years together, they seem more concerned with their fans having a good time than living in mansions drinking champagne from the bra cups of nymphs. I'm sure they wouldn't turn down the offer if it was forthcoming, but I believe they've realised the worth of the people who buy their records, follow them to gigs and become unofficial AmpCorps members; doing the necessary to imprint their masters into the conscious of the rest of the ignorant world. I was over a mile from the venue and found Octopus stickers in the men's room!

Anyhow, after a raucous 75 minute Octopus set, the band had a short break before coming back out for what was essentially the encore. Here they resurrected four classics from their back catalogue, much to the delight of the young girls squealing around me: Continuum, UFOs, Motorhead and Airborne brought the resounding success to a close. The punters left happy and one wonders where to now for this fiercely independent band.

I should mention that Pineapple Thief supported and this is the third time in just over a year I've seen the band and while they rock the boat of my good friend Roger, I find them a little too whiny for my liking; but they are accomplished musicians, their songs are always pleasant (which, I'm not sure is the desired reaction) and they are perfect to support bands such as Amplifier, especially as there seems to be a direct correlation between both sets of fans. I saw one Amp fan buy 3000 Days, the best of compilation PT released when they changed labels.

I saw Bruce Soord, the driving force behind the poor man's PT, watching the closing moments of Amplifier's set and you could see he was impressed.

I also saw good old Charlie Barnes. (pictured left in a dayglo pink glow) He appeared to be acting as a roadie kind of person for the band - he's just been touring Europe with them, so I figured he stopped around for the London show. Sporting a beard that belies his tender years, it would have been good to see him support the band - I would have paid more attention - but maybe his rather un-rock set wouldn't have set the right tone. I did manage to say hi and shake his hand and promise to get out and see him live again soon.

All in all a great gig, a ridiculously cheap price (£12 plus a 30p booking fee!) and the knowledge that I'm one of 500 people who have again witnessed the future of rock music! 8.5 out of 10

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