Review by Duncan Wilkins for Brumlive
And so the celebrations start. Capsule, Birmingham’s leading promoters are 10 years old, and from their humble beginnings at the start of the new millennium have now taken over Vivid, a warehouse space in Digbeth for a series of shows to commemorate.
Also hosting an exhibition featuring gig posters, live photographs and merchandise from bands who have played under the Capsule banner over the past decade, it firstly made me feel ancient – given that my first Capsule show was nine years ago – but most of all proud, knowing that I had played at some of these shows displayed and celebrated here tonight.
Opening up tonight’s four-band bill were the exquisitely named Cum Dogs, the latest project from Brian Duffy of Modified Toy Orchestra fame. Adopting a sleazy, heavily distorted blues sound, they were engaging from the start, with a thick, oppressive sound even more impressive when noting that this all came from a mere two guitars and synthesiser. Clad in cut off flannels, trucker hats and quiffs, you could easily mistake the band for some renowned dirt-blues act from the deep south, rather than yet another Birmingham artist expanding his portfolio with something new. Armed with a really unique sound this was a notable debut, one keeping in touch with the nights theme of nostalgia for the artists who have trodden the boards over the past decade, albeit with one eye looking to the future.
If Cum Dogs managed to draw the crowds appreciation in over the course of their set, one-man (for tonight at least) noise terrorist Esquilax managed to aurally repulse the majority of them within seconds. Starting what was to be a single continuous performance with some teasing ambient sounds, once the harsh power electronics kicked in, the leap in volume and aggression was startling, and the impetus for a multitude of fag breaks for some.
Bringing to mind everything from noise staples Whitehouse and Merzbow to the gonzo grind stylings of Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Arsedestroyer, layers of white noise built and built, with occasional tortured screams punctuating the almost overwhelming crescendo, which was aided visually by the sight of mainman Matt contorting himself over his bank of effects.
However, whilst the gig was encouragingly loud, it wasn’t quite loud enough to be uncomfortable, which I believe these types of performances need to be. Having seen both Wolf Eyes and Whitehouse in the past, the one thing they shared was an almost sadistic level of sonority, and for Esquilax’s undulations to have the same disturbing effect as their peers, I would have liked it cranked just a little more, although that’s my admittedly masochistic personal taste.
And so to Birmingham’s most motley crews of reprobates, wasters and rockers, Beestung Lips. Having released their debut ‘Songs To And From An Iron Gut’ EP as the first release via Capsule’s record label a couple of years back, they are yet another knowing choice for this lineup, not least given that the members are all old Capsule hands, having done time in the likes of Solway Fifth, Knives, Noise Noise Allore and deadsunrising over the years.
Whilst the debut was released on a tidal wave of gushing reviews, broken gear and damaged venues, ever since then you could be forgiven for thinking that all has gone quiet in the Beestung Lips camp – if they were still together at all. A full albums worth of new material has been written and mostly recorded, and the recent forays back into live shows have been heavily based around their newer tunes.Building upon the wide-eyed promise of the EP, they still touch on reference points from Jesus Lizard to Hot Snakes, all wrapped up in a swaggering, anarchic wrecking ball of contemporary punk rock aggression that spits in your face before they smash it in. Opening with ‘Blues Number’ vocalist Biff proceeded to career around the stage and into the crowd with reckless abandon, a whirlwind of idiosyncrasies with his voice more focussed, more aggressive than his older, higher-pitched and more divisive style.
Backed by my favourite rhythm section in the whole of Brum, tracks such as ‘Walking Goldmine’ are a tempered, slightly more restrained take on their signature sound, adding a little more maturity to their songwriting to go with the obvious intelligence at play.
With ‘Sick History’ the only EP track played tonight, it’s clear that Beestung are more comfortable in the presence of their newer material, and given how long the album has been gestating, I hope the band are trying to make up for lost time. When it finally drops we can start to reaffirm the myriad praises slung in their direction a couple of years back.
Clad in ever-so-short shorts, football socks and sweatbands, Monotonix proceeded to quite literally destroy the warehouse space within moments of their sets commencement, despite the aesthetic shortcomings of looking like the Wolverhampton Wanderers substitutes bench circa 1971. Before a note was even played, vocalist Ami Shalev was intertwined with improbably named drummer Bonanza The Cat after a brief spot of amateur acrobatics, the almost intangible hum from the crowd giving the impression that all fucking hell was about to break loose.
And surely enough, from the very first note an absolute maelstrom of unpredictable activity gushed forth across the floor space. With the three-piece set up dead centre of the venue (for now at least), they immediately radiated out into the throng, ensuring that the audience knew they were about to experience this show as opposed to impassively watching it.
I forgot to mention the bit at the start where Ami clambered across the roof beams to stand on his drummers (or was it an audience member’s?) shoulders.
With a guitar seemingly held together with gaffa tape and a drumkit so stripped down you could at best describe it as ‘bare guts’, the hirsute Israelis were the epitome of garage rock, and their sound – hang on a sec, the singers running round with a bin on his head – sorry – their sound that mixed elements of early Queens of the Stone Age, Mudhoney and the Stooges was so wonderfully danceable the gig swiftly morphed into a full-blown party, a party revelling in the very spirit of the impromptu.
The bin’s gone flying.
By now Ami’s split Bonanza The Cat’s drumkit in half, playing bass drum and cymbal over the opposite end of the venue whilst the actual drummer’s playing just snare and hi-hats. I believe this was after he’d lifted a girl to sit on the Bonanza the Cats shoulders whilst he was playing, stole numerous pints from the audience to pour over him and decant the venues entire jar of earplugs over the hapless percussionist, before spitting mouthfuls of them over anyone within gobshot.
I haven’t witnessed a gig like this since the legendary first Oxes show at the Jug of Ale, although to be fair I’ve never witnessed a gig that was part rock concert to equal parts Funhouse and Takeshi’s Castle.
During the hilarious video played between bands, Capsules Lisa Meyer remarked upon how one of the main reasons for Capsules continued growth was the reaction of the audience or the involvement of the audience, but Monotonix’s performance seemed to be a perfect example of that, and I’d bet no one present tonight will forget this one for a while.
In a perfect world, these guys would be on TV every week, rampaging across Jonathan Ross’ studio, kicking the lottery machine over and throwing a bin at Simon Cowell, but sadly I’ll have to make do with keeping a keen eye out for whenever they play again, and I strongly suggest you do the same.
Finally, just to put these superlatives into context, bear in mind I had to catch the bus home so I only caught four songs.