Sunday, 2nd September 2012
Islington Assembly Hall, London, the UK
The palatial Islington Assembly Hall (1930ís Modernity masquerading as Georgian splendour, a beautiful building nonetheless) is packed tonight for No Man.
The core duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson were joined by the now regular live line-up of Michael Bearpark on Guitar,
Steve Bingham on Electric Violin, Stephen Bennett on Keys, Pete Morgan on Bass, and Andrew Booker on Drums and backing vocals,
all of whom feature on the recent No Man live album, Love And Endings.
One thing about No Man is their consistency.
Many of the albums reviewed on these hallowed pages over their 20 year plus career have received DPRP recommendations.
You know what you are going to get from No Man , the edgy, haunted leftfield pop and the brooding, dark melancholia that characterise their sound are givens.
The angsty lyrics, largely about failing relationships, disappointments and failings are sharp and clear.
Coming in 4 or 5 syllable bursts, Tim Bowness is like a Haiku poet capturing the essence of loveís ichor,
both in its pathological sense of acrid body fluids leaking from ulcers and its mythological sense of the blood of the gods.
I think itís this blend of the visceral and the lyrical in No Man that impresses me tonight.
When they let fly, it really is heartstopping and powerful, when they are quiet, you have to remember to breathe; their shows should come with a health warning.
Itís not all gloom and navel-gazing, I must add.
Tim and Steve Wilson have a canny line in banter with jokes at the expense of Norwich and Warrington and indeed at the expense of Tim himself,
revealing a self= deprecating awareness of his own morbidity.
Tim is on top form, whispering and incanting his way forlornly through the set like a doomed horse and loping around the stage like a neurotic priest
seeking evidence of his faith in a padded room.
Occasionally he sits on the drum riser in a mournful hunch, absorbing the weight and groove of the music when itís the bandís turn to shine.
And shine they do. The instrumental sections of the set, which largely reflects Love And Endings, are very impressive.
Hypnotic and mesmerizing, they build intense, textural sonatas that can be as delicate as they can be crushing.
The often minimalist and ambient approach in their songwriting belies how much is going on.
It all develops and transitions with slow and deliberate care, even when it spirals out into scything and spiky chaos,
often hinging on Steve Binghamís wonderful and expressive violin, but more often than not,
the dynamics are controlled by Andy Brookerís drumming or Steve Wilsonís superbly weighted guitar work.
There are many, many things in this life that I have yet to experience but little compares, within the compass of my observation,
to a really good live drummer with a well miked kit. Brooker is excellent and his kit sounds like the moon on a trampoline.
Additionally he has a couple of electronic kits that add all sorts of glitchy hits and kicks alongside various e-percussion like congas,
djembes and timbales that offer variety in the rhythmic landscape.
The electronics in Steve Wilsonís fairly conventional looking guitar are probably controlled by nanobots from the future at this stage in his career.
The guitar as science fiction. if you will. I say this because the dynamic range of it and his playing is incredible.
It cuts through everything, even when playing a simple picked chord as a background motif,
its presence is conspicuous and possesses a sharpness that is the nonpareil of transparency, even in full-on moments of crunch or fuzz.
On this note, I must finally applaud the sound engineers. No Man sound like the best Hi-Fi system imaginable.
The balance is such that every nuance is audible and the seated audience hang on every droplet of sonic information like submariners avoiding detection,
such is the wonderful tension in the songs, perfectly captured in the mix.
Why then do some people feel it necessary to talk, very loudly, through the whole gig, and not just in the loud bits, but through introspective passages too?
I really donít understand, but itís my only gripe in a richly rewarding evening of complex and emotional music.
No Man Official Website
No Man Myspace
DPRP's Review of No Man's "Love And Endings"
Islington Assembly Hall