Crystal Antlers - The Cluny 2, Newcastle-upon-Tyne - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Crystal Antlers - The Cluny 2, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

by Mark Hammond Rating: Release Date:

There's an inauspicious start to the night when the words "You're not on the list" are casually muttered by the young lady tempering the doorway. Her eyes drearily inspect a crude sheet of A4 that decrees who shall be allowed to pass into The Cluny 2.

"Don't you know who I am?" I wail. In my head. I'm simultaneously incredulous and indignant, mindfully eyeing the hipsters waiting in line behind me. My internal diva tantrum subsides and the rigours of humiliation take up residence in my beetroot cheeks. I humbly grovel my way into the venue passing Damien Edwards of Crystal Antlers on the way who chinks his half-consumed Budweiser bottle with my Lindeboom. I look back at those at the door and feel my prima donna outburst validated. See, I know the band!

The Cluny 2 is a quaint music venue. It reminds me of university media rooms which I visited with primary school on the odd occasion. I half expect a frumpy, be-permed 20-something to come ambling out replete in baggy sweater, Doc Martins and Deirdre Rasheed glasses to act out some allegorical play about the perils of drug-taking. I shirk the distorted association of my 90s educational jaunts when I spy an enigmatic figure sat on stage quietly tending to his guitar. It is then that I realise this non-descript character is in fact Paul Smith.

MeandthetwinS are the band Paul Smith formed with twins (funnily enough) Rachel and Laura Lancaster in 1998, two years before Maximo Park's inception and Smith's subsequent flirtation with pop stardom. The opening track begins languidly and swirls into a melancholic sweetness, Smith displaying deft ability on the guitar hitherto unbeknownst to me. I am immediately reminded of Mogwai as the song wears on; carefully picked arpeggios ruminating aboard a moody bassline. In a moment of witty interstitial banter, Smith confirms the instrumental ethos of the group in saying the band is a "21st Century Shadows." Sans Cliff, of course.

As the opener delicately winds down we are introduced to Narbi on drums as he opens with an hypnotic beat Smith claims is doo wop. Though a little hard to imagine, he isn't actually far off. The twins are happy to stand to the right of Smith, playing with soft precision while beneath the guise of hood and baseball cap, he draws the focus of most of the crowd thanks to not only his fame but his abundant charisma. The music is at times saccharine and emotive and then, as with a song I think Smith announced as 'Soft Chunky,' they veer away from Low-like lo-fi into upbeat romps with sharp hi-hat permutations before abruptly settling again.

The dynamic of the music on offer is mirrored in Smith's onstage behaviour. Initially I sensed that his sartorial choice was a mindful manouevre to downplay his presence, but the music soon takes him over and he seems to discard any imposed self-consciousness of his star along with the hood that obscured his face. He's restrained, but only compared to the jack-in-the-box firecracker associated with his other project. The brooding instrumentals coax him out into the crowd soon enough though and his Nike hi-tops are dancing around frenetically as if at the behest of gunshot. This genuine passion for music is infectious and a real sense of fun pervades the pocket-sized room that is every bit as unpretentious as the man that playfully skips around it.

Coal Train are next. I'm trying to contain my excitement at the prospect of listening to one of jazz's greatest saxophonists, so imagine my surprise when four guys from Sunderland wander out. I don't know if it's this initial disappointment that informs my mood throughout Coal Train's set or the very fact that MeandthetwinS were so surprisingly good, but I can't seem to get into the songs. Everything seems a little middle-of-the-road, almost indie-by-numbers. 'Wishlist' sounds scarily familiar (much to my chagrin. It reminds me of what I'm convinced is a Pearl Jam song but I can't put my finger on it and it's driving me mad. Before anybody suggests, no it's not the Pearl Jam song 'Wishlist') and for all the energy the band display on stage, I'm left a little wanting.

It doesn't help that the deck-shoe-wearing keyboard player is inaudible and then decides to leave three songs in. Lead singer Richard Amundsen's vocals are inflected with his Sunderland brogue much like contemporary Barry Hyde. They don't so much sit with the song but wail over the twang of guitars in an altogether annoying manner. This is the only truly discouraging aspect of Coal Train for me. Like I say, they play well, there are some clever lyrics beneath all the guitars, but all in all it just doesn't inspire me. Following their set I notice the keyboard player sat outside courting the attention of two females. How does he do it? He leaves the band half way through to do all the work and then he gets all the kudos. I add deck-shoes to my shopping list.

My good friend Damien Edwards wanders over to marvel at my patent white leather winkle-pickers (the thoughtful fella must have noticed my deck-shoe envy) before encouraging all and sundry to huddle closer to the stage. It's hard to resist Edwards who reminds me a little of Kanye West in his white sunglasses yet inexplicably brings to mind Tom Jones with all of his hip gyration. The lights dim and the shaggy psych-punk of Crystal Antlers explodes. The band have travelled over from Long Beach California to play to this dank room and they play as if their return ticket depends on it. Jonny Bell's strangulated catterwaul tears through the darkness, while Andrew King looks effortlessly cool in his 70s moustache. Many working in the music press may allege that Crystal Antlers are bandwagoneers troubleshooting their way into their own discovery, but I am wholly convinced from this performance that they are more than comfortable in their own skin. By the time single 'Andrew' comes around and Bell wails "don't let me die alone" and Edwards is through dry-humping his bongos, I doubt there's a smiling face in the crowd that would disagree.

As I'm leaving I catch the eye of Paul Smith who has stayed for the duration of the night. I approach him all too aware of how cringeworthy this whole exchange could potentially be, yet I am buttressed rather splendidly by Dutch courage. I introduce myself and proceed to slur some barely coherent gibberish about not liking Maximo Park but really enjoying what he did with MeandthetwinS. In a moment of shocking clarity despite my level of inebriation, I append my candid statement with "...but what do you care what some buffoon thinks?" Paul Smith is extremely coy away from the stage and very sweetly says "Yeah, but I'm just some buffoon in a band."

Mark Hammond

Photos: Kelly Mounsey

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