Once again I find myself in a seemingly familiar position with The Horrors; looking for validation in their “live” performance after a new album of their dark, post-punk meets (increasingly) libidinous Krautrock synthpop dance (this time in their appropriately named 5th album “V”) which whilst listenable, offered no great departure or development from its’ predecessor. Could The Horrors have found their groove, only to be in danger of it turning into a rut? An announcement of a gig at the Bierkeller, a smaller venue to their last Bristol jaunt (October 2014, gig 927 on the “Luminous” tour) added to my slight concern, but hey, I booked a ticket anyway as they'd been good value “live” before - well, apart from the Munsters-lite goth black balloon phase of their infancy, anyway!
A fairly easy drive down the M4 saw me parking up in the Rupert Street car park around the corner from the venue and getting in after a short wait at 8. Back to the elegantly run-down Bierkeller, scene of so many drunken rock’n’roll nights for me in the 80’s! I took a pew towards the back, but was tempted down the front to check out openers, Baba Naga, on at 8.15. They kicked in with an opener which was all Eastern style psych-guitar licks, reminiscent of the intro of The Doors' classic “The End”. However as soon as the thudding, ham-fisted drums hit, it degenerated into tuneless, lumpen pseudo blues/ psych sludge and overwhelming wah-wah riffery, with vocals buried so deep they'd probably need to be drilled for. One number indistinguishable from the next, they recalled that horrible lot Endless Boogie, or the worst excesses of Secret Machines. After an interminable 25 minutes, I wasn't even sure of how many numbers they played - pick a number between 2 and 5! - but I knew that they were all shit!
Joined the Horrors broad church (mixtures of goth punk types, students and old rock lags - I was by no means the oldest here!) down the front, stage left, head in the monitors but on a flat piece of floor so as to not risk damaging my knee, aggravated by a trip on holiday (!), as swathes of dry ice enveloped the floor (does anything else come in swathes, I wonder?). The Horrors themselves finally emerged onto a red backlit and strobe-splattered stage, easing into the loose-limbed Tubeway Army-like sheet synth of new CD opener “Hologram”, monochrome-clad and angular Goblin King vocalist Faris Badwan emerging last, then flailing around as if exhorting this relatively slow number to speed up a bit! Luckily, the more aggressive, darker “Machine” was next up, “V”’s best track given even more seething power “live”, and by the soaring JAMC-like oldie “Who Can Say”, Faris’ suitably dispassionate vocal a feature, The Horrors were in full flight.
Merely pretty darn good on CD, The Horrors are outstanding “live”, truly coming alive onstage, the songs given added power and potency and utterly making sense. And Faris is a consummate frontman; a stretched Marc Almond, climbing on the monitors to accentuate his already-impressive height, kinetic, all action and angles, teasing and tempting, he was a riveting visual presence throughout. “Mirror Image” was tough and lean, underpinned with a staccato keyboard pattern and droney guitar riffery, and Faris acknowledged the enthusiastic response with, “this feels like a home town show - thank you very much!” before the pulsating Stereolab-esque Krautrock metronomics of “Sea Within A Sea”, another looped keyboard riff powering this number to a growling, dissonant climax.
More compliments from The Goblin King for, “being a fantastic crowd,” before the elegiac opening to “Weighed Down” morphed into a heavily gloomy, slow-burn snarl. And whilst the latter stages of the set drifted lazily past in a whirling marshmallow haze, the penultimate “Endless Blue” snapped into ferocious life for its’ eventual denouement, and set closer “Still Life” was a suitably widescreen way to end a startlingly good set as it started; in washes of Doors-like keys and Tubeway Army/ Kraftwerk robotic synth. The libidinous groove of “Ghost” and the very 80’s (as in, Soft Cell/ Depeche Mode 80’s) “Something To Remember Me By” closed out a superb performance. A brief word and set-list signature from bassist Joshua Hayward (who enjoyed my “stretched Marc Almond” comment on Faris!) before I hit the road afterwards, suitably validated. While they keep delivering performances of this quality, you can bet I’ll keep coming back for more Horrors!