Squid live in Bristol: evolving in real time

Live review of Squid's SWX set in Bristol

While there’s no doubt Squid have become one of the UK’s most beloved proprietors of forward-thinking indie rock over the last half decade, it can’t be denied that they’ve taken on many different forms over that period.

Where early singles like ‘The Dial’ and ‘Houseplants’ saw them exhibit a fervent post-punk energy, they began to gravitate towards greater levels of experimentation with each subsequent release. Debut EP Town Centre had two tracks which continued along these lines, but also showcased a taste for ambient and post-rock sensibility, and the album that followed in Bright Green Field incorporated more electronic influence.

Whatever they’ve tried their hands at, there hasn’t really been a dud in their ever-expanding catalogue, and their latest full-length O Monolith was a bold continuation of this pattern. However, it wasn’t without its detractors, who saw the album’s lack of standout ‘singles’ as a flaw; inviting criticism that the band were perhaps becoming too obtuse for their own good.

Squid’s intentions are clear at this point in as much as they’re not deliberately steering clear of what they initially created as a group, but are trying to continue innovating in a scene that is often plagued by bands intent on rehashing their previous work to satiate the desires of fans.

As they embarked on a UK-wide tour to promote the recent release of O Monolith, the band began with two back-to-back shows at SWX in Bristol, the second of which comes with support from Bristol newcomers Sunglasz Vendor and London art-rockers Blue Bendy.

Appropriately, the two opening acts are both equally as proficient as the headliners in demonstrating a knack for pushing the envelope with their experimentation. Sunglasz Vendor have been turning heads in their local scene with their complex emo-adjacent style. 

The trio weave frontman Rafi Cohen’s knotty guitar lines around Eve Rosenberg’s steadfast bass-playing, while drummer Harry Irvine restrains himself from the frenetic free jazz outbursts he is usually known for, with the three elements coming together as a force of nature.

Similarly, Blue Bendy avoid simple categorisation through intricate arrangements and layering varied elements over one another. There’s something inherently awkward about the six-piece’s songs, which is largely driven by the anxious delivery of frontman Arthur Nolan. 

His humorous yet oblique wordplay often wrangles a small smirk out of him and his bandmates alike, while the vibrant synthwork of Olivia Morgan adds an extra amount of etherealness – not to mention that Harrison Charles’ acoustic guitar is filtered through so many effects it barely ever sounds like the instrument it was built to be.

While both support acts could be a substantially entertaining show by themselves, Squid happen to also be in the form of their lives, and roar through a set comprising of highlights from their two studio albums. 

Opening with ‘Swing (In A Dream)’, the band set the tone for the remainder of their set by allowing an already progressive track take on new forms in a live capacity. Adding extra percussive and electronic elements to tracks such as this was a regular feature throughout, and has brought another dimension to their show. 

Tracks also now seamlessly bleed into one another with slick segues and interludes, with the brash outro of ‘Swing’ effortlessly morphing into the funky ‘Undergrowth’. This doesn’t just apply to the tracks from O Monolith, as songs from Bright Green Field have begun to evolve from their initial forms to fit in with the developed sound.

While the increased amount of time the band continue to spend together only seems like a good thing for their development, the company they’ve been keeping in the studio seems to have had a substantial effect on their artistic growth. Having recruited John McEntire to mix O Monolith, it’s quite easy to see the influence that Tortoise have had on the way the band tastefully mix post-rock, jazz and electronic music to create their sprawling compositions.

Sure, there might be the occasional audience call for ‘The Cleaner’ or ‘Houseplants’, but it’s clear that Squid aren’t going to oblige when it comes to reeling out these older cuts. It’s not a problem for most, since the new material still packs a punch in the way they “start quiet and end loud” as drumming frontman Ollie Judge jokes mid-set, but there are a few punters clearly unenthused by the maturation the band have undergone.

In a set packed with highlights, the closing double-jab of ‘Narrator’ and ‘The Blades’ was a perfect way to cap off proceedings – the two tracks emphatically highlight just how bold the band have become in their songwriting since the early singles. Squid are a band evolved, and judging by this, they don’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down in their constant innovation. 

Photo credit: Holly Whitaker

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