Do you know who and what Upset The Rhythm is? You don’t? Lucky thing you decided to read this review then. Upset The Rhythm is a London based live promoter and record label. They’ve been at this promoting lark since 2003 and they do a damn fine job of it. They’ve recently been bringing some pretty ridiculously awesome bands to The Lexington in London: the incendiary Sleaford Mods last month (read our review), singer/songwriter Julie Byrne before the end of this month, and Detroit’s Protomartyr last night. What more could you want?
Last night, Upset The Rhythm provided more than promised in the form of two local support bands. FEATURE, a London based power trio, supply a drone influenced melodic punk that somehow finds the space for fast guitars and dueling harmonies. Liv, Jen, and Heather are a local supergroup of sorts as Jen also sings for tonight’s other support band DIY punks Sauna Youth, while Heather takes care of six string duties for pop punks Slowcoaches. For just under a half hour, they plunder their way through their latest EP Culture Of The Copy with endearing roughness.
Experimental punks Sauna Youth’s debut album Dreamlands landed solid reviews from the likes of NME, Drowned in Sound, and The Line Of Best Fit when it dropped two years ago. Witnesses at The Lexington of their ferocious, yet melodic, brand of guitar noise are left with little questions as to why. Since the release of their debut album, they have developed into a tight live unit, uncovering an aggression that was hinted at but not fully explored on that record. This leaves one question, when’s the next album out?
The post punk Protomartyr are an intriguing proposition. As they drive tautly through mid tempo opener “Maidenhead”, which is also the opening track of their latest album Under Color Of Official Right, I’m immediately struck by their ordinary appearance. Harking back to the 80s hardcore movement in the States, these guys truly look like they could live next door to you and work in the local factory. In fact, singer Joe Carey bears more than a passing resemblance to Bob Mould of Husker Du fame. You get the impression that these guys don’t spend their time sipping lattes and eating foie gras. It adds a tangible realness to their impassioned performance. It’s clear that these guys are amassing plaudits due to being damn good as opposed to an all pervasive marketing campaign.
Understandably, much of the setlist focuses on their critically acclaimed latest album. Diving headlong through their set, they have a tightness and confidence that only comes towards the end of a tour. They stamp through the propulsive “Ain’t So Simple” and the Strokes by way of Detroit blast of “Want Remover”, inspired by removing warts apparently, with off kilter vigour. Under Color Of Official Right‘s eerie New Wave-esque first single “Scum, Rise” is particularly potent in a live setting due to it’s unflinching diatribe against deadbeat dads. It’s tale of a seven year old boy being abandoned by his father and anthemic refrain of: “Scum! Rise!” make for uncomfortable but engrossing listening.
There’s a short respite in near ballad “What The Wall Said”. It’s unlike anything else in their arsenal, it’s underlying feeling of nostalgia encapsulated by the line: “What do you miss? Alice in Chains, played on repeat, feeling 20 percent”. The centrepiece of Under Color Of Official Right, it displays the band’s willingness to stretch their sound as far as possible. It’s not all looking forward though, with the rollicking rumbling bass of “Machinist Man” and the oddly Vaccines like riff of “You’re With A Creep”, Protomartyr also make space for some deeper, older cuts from debut album No Passion All Technique and their Colpi Proibiti EP.
Surprisingly, for a band from Detroit, whose economic decline as seen the population fall from 1.8 million to 700,000, Protomartyr infuse their music with a defiant hopefulness. It’s in evidence in the closing combo of the single “Come & See” and “I’ll Take That Applause”. “Come & See”, with it’s sharp, stabbing guitar riff, shows this idea most explicitly as Carey nearly croons the chorus of: “And I’ll try, to live defeated, come and see, the good in everyone”. Sure there’s a resigned despondency to the line, but it ends with an undeniable optimism. Finally, the incendiary soar of “I’ll Take The Applause” closes things out on a near celebratory note with Casey dominantly asserting: “And I’ll take that applause, cos I deserve it.” It cannot fail to resonate in a world where sometimes it feels like you only get want you take.
At the moment, Protomartyr are on an unstoppable primal charge. Under The Color Of Official Right could well be on it’s way to becoming a modern classic, while they have mastered the nuances of performing a totally engaging and near riotous live show. I don’t think it’s too much to say that everyone packed into the venue to see them last night is hugely anticipating what they do next. Whatever that is, it’s bound to be special.