BEAK> AND GET THE BLESSING
Portishead are one of those bands that seemingly all music fans can agree on. Regardless of affinities to metal or hip hop there is something about the Bristol outfit – and in particular Beth Gibbons’ sultry tones – that really seems to do the trick. So it’s no surprise that, on the first night of a double-header that features three different members playing in two side projects, the Kaz is packed to the rafters to witness BEAK> perform.
Before that though the crowd is treated to an airing of seven new tracks from local songwriter/producer AGP’s upcoming release. Through the resident sound system, his spacey and rhythmic creations sound almost unsettlingly perfect. For those present who have been following his progress, it is quite apparent that he has really gone up a level.
Headliners Beak> provide the near-capacity crowd with a performance that raises the bar even higher. Their stripped-back sound is never lacking in depth, and it is admirable how much they do with so little. With just bass, drums and synths they create a sonic wash that is rhythmically driven and clearly rooted in their Bristolian trip hop background. At times there are glimmers of post-hardcore influence, marking a satisfying change from what is otherwise a tight and focussed set. With minimal vocals delivered by the drummer, and occasional switches onto the guitar by the keys man, there is a lot of space left for the bassist to inhabit. He does this superbly and his contributions are probably the most imaginative and memorable of the three. Overall it is a thought-provoking set that melds the contemporary and the past seamlessly whilst managing to preserve what is most interesting about each.
For those who enjoyed the previous night’s outing there is not long to wait for that post-gig itch to be soothed – 24 hours to be exact – and tonight the balm comes in the form of GET THE BLESSING. This time featuring Portishead’s rhythm section in Jim Barr and Clive Deamer, as well as two other members on trumpet and saxophone, we stroll ecstatically into Lounge Lizards-esque territory. We are informed that the new songs in tonight’s set were written in a house in Cornwall and so, naturally, all of the track titles are derived from the names of fish. As we settle into the strains of Yellow Herring, it becomes clear that the marine influence stretches only as far as the name, and what we actually experience is at times an almost industrial take on the jazz form. Not straying too far from their output in their other band, the rhythm section is solid yet bouncy, providing structure for the horn section whilst still playing around and enjoying themselves. Eschewing any vocals, the melody is delivered mainly by the horns and also quite often by Barr’s high-end bass riffs, which weave effortlessly between the cracks of space afforded to him by Deamer’s drum work. The symbiotic relationship that has formed between the two after many years of playing together is clear for everyone to see, and it is really them that drive the songs forward. One of the more surprising elements of the show is the charisma and wit of bespoke frontman Barr, who at first appears moody and serious but actually turns out to be a hilarious on-stage presence. The songs themselves are also at points light-hearted and airy, creating an atmospheric and dynamic shift that makes for a pretty interesting dichotomy.
In terms of musicianship there is little to be desired, as each member demonstrates their virtuosity neatly whilst still serving the song and bringing new elements to the mix. There is sometimes the risk that instrumental music with jazz stylings can become verbose and slightly overbearing, but with Get The Blessing this is never the case, and the songs are fully-fleshed and well realised, meaning that they hold up as straight pop songs to which you would gladly listen at home, whilst still retaining their experimental nature.
Though the closure of The Kazimier has perhaps been over-lamented within these fine pink pages and generally across the board of Liverpool music publications, it is worth noting that it is hard to imagine witnessing such an adventurous and impressive double-bill in other venues. Not that this city is lacking in forward-thinking venues that will jump at the chance to fill the inevitable vacuum that the Kaz will leave, but such unique events could not really have a better home. But songs about fish will always find a home in which to prosper.