I don’t know who curates this stuff over at Ramsgate Music Hall, but I hope they’re getting paid well. Sunday evening saw three bands, ten ridiculously talented musicians, and yet, unbelievably, one venue not sold out. However, in fairness, it was the kind of night where you might need a calculator to figure out what time signature each band were playing in, and by the time you’ve figured it out, you’re behind again. This is Math Rock.
Opening band, A Burial at Sea sound like Sigur Ros produced by Idlewild with Alexei Berrow playing lead guitar. They’re the only purely instrumental band of the night, performing on the floor of the music hall, addressing the modest but attentive crowd without microphones. On first listen, the set’s songs seem somewhat formulaic – sweet extended chords are picked, drums and bass join, the guitars get louder, and then half way through a bar of what feels like 97/12, the band break in to gargantuan choruses that you want to sing along to, if only there were words… then it all breaks back down like some kind of musical palindrome.
However, they’re so good at what they do that they manage to draw the whole audience in, the music painting emotion without the need for a verbal narrative. Formulaic or not, every good story needs a strong start, middle and end, and A Burial at Sea are musical strongmen.
Next up were main support, Tangled Hair. Drummer James Trood feels like the centrepiece of the band, confidently addressing and engaging with the crowd. On stage he bigs up Ramsgate fish and chip shop ‘Shakey Shakey’, discusses the best chip accompaniment, questions variable pronunciations of mayonnaise, and asks the audience about the town’s Micro Museum. An unbelievably good drummer, I think the man must sleep with his snare drum such is their special relationship; something he confirmed to me after-show with his tongue firmly in cheek, …I hope.
Every beat and note the band play feels considered. They’re stupidly tight; cymbals seem to be choked as often as struck to tie in with the guitar and bass parts, using silence and dynamic changes to great effect, in a slightly more unpredictable way than A Burial at Sea managed to. Simple and sweet vocal harmonies accompany pretty unchallenging lyrics, but the vocal’s purpose is to add texture and, importantly, a different kind of timbre that as a three-piece can feel necessary. Key listening: ‘Keep Doing What You’re Doing’.
Headliners Tera Melos hail from Sacramento, California. Facing 40mph winds and sub-zero temperatures in Thanet this weekend; you’d think that, in his Beach Boys t-shirt, frontman Nick Reinhart must feel pretty far from home, but home is wherever he lays his pedalboard. Bassist Nathan Latona thrashes like he’s playing air guitar, and drummer John Clardy has the precision and focus of an Olympic athlete. One who’s taken performance enhancing drugs for that matter (disclaimer: I don’t know if he takes drugs, performance enhancing or otherwise).
Tera Melos sound like they’ve gathered up every broken ‘80’s computer in the world and plugged them back in inside one room. You get the feeling you could pull all the cords out and they’d still be making the noise of a hundred pneumatic drills. By this, what I’m really saying is take away their pedals and they’d be screwed. That is not to say it’s a bad thing, unlike Bill Bailey’s famous sketch mocking U2’s The Edge, they’re not used to make their playing sound better; but the guitar and bass pedalboards are the band’s fourth and fifth members.
Even in-between tracks, effects loop round giving us a non-stop, frenetic medley of sounds and songs, with just a simple sideways glance from Reinhart triggering the whole band in to blistering, unified action once again. To a newbie like me, the headliners are the least immediately accessible of the night’s bands; firmly in the math rock genre, they also seem inspired by the sludgy, grungy American late 20th century, never better shown than with the best riff of the whole night, found in ‘Treasures and Trolls’. But they’re certainly capable of catchy moments too (check out the chorus of ‘Westham United’). Key listening: ‘Trash Generator’.
This was the kind of night that makes your favourite musicians sound like amateurs. It’s brains and brawn, impeccably rehearsed, and you could have seen all three bands for the price of three pints. You do the math.
Review by Tom Stephens