Tuesday, May 13, 2014

psychedelic alien invasion of Queen Alexandra's Music Hall!

21st April 2014
The Penny Theatre, Canterbury

This was the final date of Lapis Lazuli's Alien tour, a sort of local launch party for their new album of that name.

Adam had been hoping to get Bison Bonasus as support, but they're keeping things under wraps at the moment, rehearsing intensely for a high-profile showcase gig (Domino Records seem very interested after the media attention generated by their first single). He'd asked who else I could think of that might work, and I suggested a young psychedelic band Liam from Syd Arthur had introduced me to down at The Unicorn in St. Dunstans a while back. I'd not heard them, but his enthusiasm, and theirs, seemed promising. I'd heard their name as "Bloom", but it turns out to be "Plume". It turns out that Adam knew the drummer (a non-musical connection) and they were more than happy to take the gig. They played a very competent set — rather badly marred by the awful mix (expecially on the drums), but you could hear through that to what it should have sounded like. There's a definite Tame Impala influence, with touches of local psych heroes Syd Arthur in there too. Lead guitarist Jason has a pleasing fluidity to his style, especially evident in the last, extended jam piece. The rhythm guitarist turns out to be Richie, an affable Irishman I've met around the area without realising he was a musician. I look forward to hearing them again this summer, hopefully outdoors on a warm, sunny afternoon. They've just got one demo up on Soundcloud at the moment, not quite doing justice to what they're already capable of, but it gives some indication:

A very heavily pregnant Maria Sullivan (presumably a mother by the time this entry is published — her old Delta Sleep bandmate Adam was joking that she might give birth on stage!) then played a set as Koloto, including most of her magnificent Mechanica EP. I've seen her play her organic glitchy electronica live twice before, and this time there seemed to be an extra edge — she's triggering all the complex layers of percussion sounds in real time with an Akai sample-pad module, so despite the sequenced nature of the underlying music, it sounded to my ears like she was able to breathe further life into it though subtle micro-temporal deviations from the "intended" timings. It might be the last Koloto live set for a little while, so I'm glad I was there to catch it. A VJ had come down from London for the occasion (he told me he was just really into the current Canterbury music scene) and was projecting Mandelbrot zooms above Maria during her set, which worked particularly well.

Lapis had come up with the idea of getting me (as my eccentric alter-ego Professor Appleblossom) to introduce the band with a mini-lecture. The only starting point I was given was the word "alien", so I contrived a fast-moving 25-minute lecture on "the evolution and standardisation of the alien archetype in my lifetime", which culminated in a band introduction. I took to the stage in my labcoat, Adam kindly introducing me and explaining that something unusual was about to happen, so could everyone to move forward (the projection screen was quite small) and listen attentively. The VJ handled the slides of my Powerpoint presentation expertly and I was completely in my element. Amazingly, for a notoriously rowdy pub-type space, I got a more attentive audience than I'd expect in the average university lecture hall! I got on a real flow, only losing my train of thought once (and people seemed to find that quite endearing). It covered a lot of territory, from folklore to rave culture to DMT experiences to car design to "Space Raiders" crisp packets to Henry Corbin and the "Mundis Imaginalis"... As far as music goes, Irish fairy music traditions, Sun Ra, Hawkwind and psy-trance all got passing mentions, and in the background Lapis were making ambient space-rumbling sounds which built up in the final minutes. A real coup occured when I mentioned Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Phil immediately played that five-note scale that's broadcast by the spacecraft in the film (which I've still not seen!). This all got filmed:

The band then launched into their opus magnum, "Alien", which sounded fantastic live (I'd heard a pre-mix album). Dave has now left the band (very amicably — he was in the audience enjoying himself along with the rest of us) and his contributions were missed, but they're compensating nicely with a crunchier, punchier, more energetic Lapis sound. "Alien" is 40+ minutes, so they only had time for one more piece, and that was "Big Bird", Dave's tune from the very early days, which they affectionately dedicated to him. It seems they had a good tour, Lapis morale is high, and this night felt like a real occasion for all involved. In my recent readings of the history of Canterbury I discovered that "Penny Theatre" originated as the local nickname for what was originally "Queen Alexandra's Music Hall", a late 19th century institution that provided "low class entertainment" at a time when the Northgate area of the city was something of a red-light district catering to the nearby barracks, generally known for fights and debauchery. Although the Penny is still a bit like that on a typical night (students instead of soldiers these days), this was many steps removed from "low class entertainment"! Thanks to the Lapis crew, the VJ (sorry I forgot your name), Maria, Plume, and everyone else involved.


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