Birmingham XLs

February 12 2000

I guess there's an argument that I could be accused of bias towards earthtone9 in that I don't think I've given them a bad review. but there again, that's because every time I've seen them they've warranted a good review. But I have wondered about whether I'm objective or not. There again, music isn't objective. If you like something, you like it, if everytime you hear something it sends a shiver down your spine, then that's what it does. You don't second guess it. On the other hand, having seen them so many times, you can also be even more critical. And so, in a perverse way, it was kind of a relief to me that tonight I thought they were slightly off form. Maybe I'm still cruising on the back of last weeks Nottingham gig, which was awesome. But for the first few songs tonight, it almost appears that they're going through the motions. Mind you, if I get constantly pissed off at seeing them (and many other bands) playing in front of such a pitiful apathetic crowd, then you wonder how it must be for the bands. Birmingham, second largest city in England, can be pretty pathetic for crowd turnouts and everything. Not trying to attack the place, I've got some good friends that live here, but for a place this size, with a history so steeped in heavy music, it's disappointing. tonight's performance is not help by the sound gremlins that see Karl's vocals becoming tinny and then cutting out, and towards the end of the set it sounds like the snare pretty much disappears. I thought there was a sound engineer here.

But that's what I mean, having seen a band so many times can make you harsher. Fundamentally there's nothing wrong with the performance, especially if you're seeing the band for the first time. After the first track, Serpentine, about 10 people wander onto the until then empty dance floor and strike "the pose". They shuffle that sideways, back and forth thing, keep the upper body rigid, move from the waist, use the hands and fingers a bit to gesture, and then hurl into each other with reckless abandon during the fast bits. Ah yeah, that's good. The rest of us are way too cool. We stand at the back or lean nonchalently against the bar. "You're the band, impress the fuck out of me, cos I haven't got to do anything, hang on, just going to check me make up."

But there's a highlight. The band air a new track, I think it was called Two. On first listen it's excellent. More melodic and immediate than anything they've played live before, there's a nice fast start, before it breaks down, and there's bass coming through, some really nice bass parts. It's like it's the transitional step from the harsher material that they play live to the more melodic atmospheric tracks that are on the albums but don't get played live. If it's indication of the direction of the next album, then it already sounds like competition for album of the year is going to be tough, and that's with Tool rumoured to be releasing an album this year. Interestingly enough it also gains as good a reaction as pretty much the rest of the entire set. Because fundamentally everything they play is "new material" to most of the people. It's only when Withered is played that there's a look from one of the shuffle crew of "weyhey, I know this one". Yeah, hey, revelation for you, earthtone9 have more than one song. You know those CDs on the magazines, they're not the only ones they been involved in. If you take yourself along to your local record emporium, look under E in the alphabet, or "potentially Godlike" under musical category, you'll discover their name. There you'll find two items, which you can take to the counter and take legal possession of in exchange for money. You can take it home and discover there's about 90 minutes of aural joy to experience.

There's also confirmation tonight of the rumour that guitarist Owen is planning to release a book entitled "101 ways to fuck up a guitar scrape", as he demonstrates technique no 34. Which was actually quite a good one, and the explosion of Simon Says brings things to a halt. The assembled throng applaud as the band wander through the dance floor taking their leave. I know, I shouldn't bag on about the people there, the ones at fault are really the ones that simply can't be arsed to go, but simply write a letter to the magazines bleating about the fact that our cousins over the Atlantic only come over once every 4 years and charge a mere 20 quid or so for the privelige of seeing them. (Not an attack on American bands, I've said before that I listen to as many, if not more US bands than UK ones, and am always in their tops - but you know the score by now, if you're unhappy with them, take a look closer to home.)

So, the end of another gig on the "how apathetic can UK audiences really be" tour. A tour not undertaken by any one band in particular, but it would seem just about any UK band worth their salt. I'm so proud to be British sometimes.