Though the lack of easily locatable cash dispensers in the neighbourhood results in my ultimately missing the opening act, I am across the door in time to catch Manchester-based ‘main support’ TVAM, something of which I soon become glad. With a sound pitched somewhere between My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, Ride, Godflesh, Konstruktivists and Neu!, and a set-up consisting of literally one mike, one guitar, one tape machine and (as the name suggests) one telly, he’s certainly impressive: true, I can’t detect any actual songtitles from within the droned, mumbled melee (which I get the feeling is the whole idea, and besides, they’d probably all consist of one singular verb anyway) but I’m definitely looking forward to catching him play a full set at some point. TVAM: one to watch (groan…)
Pinkshinyultrablast, by pinkshinyultracontrast, have already long passed the point where they can be described as a ‘new’ act: three albums (and three distinct progressions) in, and the St Petersburg outfit are on their way to becoming masters and mistress of their niche trade. Evidently aware that they could easily drown in the azure yet murky waters of the “nu-gaze” movement (Spectres, Whirr, Underground Youth etc) and presumably well tired by now of the endless Cocteaus/MBV/Slowdive/Astrobrite/Lush comparisons, they’ve plumped, with their latest release Miserable Miracles, for a considerably lighter, dancier direction: that said, rather than shaking off all their early Nineties influences, they’ve merely added another playlist’s worth, and now, the amphetamine ghosts of Frazier Chorus, The Beloved, Sunscreem and St Etienne hover in the air next to the swirling shades of the abovementioned guitar bands.
However, though it’s undoubtedly added another ‘layer of loveliness’ to the mix, this sideways step has not been without its casualties: perhaps realising their redundancy in the evolving scheme of things, bassist Igor and drummer Sergey have departed never to return, thusly trimming the group down to a core trio of vocalist Luybov, guitarist/noisemaker Roman and synths/samples man Rustam, and inevitably, that means much of the first two albums’ “fzzzzrummmmzzzz” and “eeeeeeeeeeee” are now absent, replaced instead by a generous helping of “whoooosh” “pinggggg” and “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” What you’ll be pleased to know , however, is that the new approach works: true, as a side-effect, tonight’s 70 minute set does lean rather heavily on the new opus, but with sumptuous tracks like In The Hanging Garden, Taleidoscope and Dance AM at hand, this gradually becomes less of a setback and more of an enjoyable challenge.
Shuffling from side to side like an entranced commuter lost in her private headphone world, cooing in seemingly wordless tongues (though trust me- it is actually English) the diminutive frontwoman is a hypnotic sight: stage left, our behoodied keyboard wizard presides over his bank of tricks stage left like an obsessive apothecary, while conversely, our opposing six-string maestro plays mainly with his back to the crowd, only occasionally turning to face his bandmates and swing his headstock with what appears to be demonstratively deadly intent. Put together, the three make for quite a spectacle: yet, as with most bands of this genre, it’s the sonic tapestries we’ve come to observe, not the visuals, and despite the Castle & Falcon remaining fairly brightly lit throughout, they could easily play in pitch darkness and achieve much the same impact. Then again, that really would be a shade too close to their forebears- so on reflection, perhaps it’s best avoided after all.
Beneath and betwixt oceanic cadences of guitar and keys, perky loops of string and woodwind variously conjure shades of Cluster, Popol Vuh, Penguin Café Orchestra, Bang On A Can, Terry Riley and even Michael Nyman: yet they’re all absorbed in the sonic hurricane that is PSUB’s alone, and it’s this distinction, more than anything else, that will undoubtedly eventually propel them to larger venues. If there’s one slight chink in their armour, it’s that there is a minor sameyness to the newer material- which for certain listeners, could well have the end effect of washing over them rather than creating washes of sound- but given the lengthy careers their own favourite bands (as well as other ‘outsider’ rock artists like the Flaming Lips, Built To Spill, Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor) have built on such templates, I don’t think that will trouble them too much. In fact, it could even be counter-argued that though PSUB have been around ten years now, they’ve still barely begun their journey into the unknown proper: indeed, much like Sigur Ros, they could easily dabble in either electronic or orchestral works in future, and prove equally adept at both.
Nonetheless, their fans are definitely ardent enough, even at this juncture, to cheer the arrival of ‘old favourites’ Wish We Were, Metamorphosis and Initial: sadly, the great sounds don’t continue after they leave the stage, and though the Castle is one of the Midlands’ premier live venues (and regularly illuminated by Birmingham Promoters’ superb roster of indie acts) you can tell from the rapidly-gathering crowd of ‘norms’ in the front bar that the ensuing club night is going to be of a ‘mainstream’ nature, leaving me no option (should I wish to hear more guitar-based music) but to head for popular Digbeth venue Subside. Unfortunately this also means I end up spending half the night talking to a complete and utter prick: ironically, he’d been at the gig too, but I can lay no blame whatsoever on either PSUB or the C&F for that. If anything, I should simply remember to give middle-class nobendies with Stewart Lee haircuts, especially ones who claim to be ‘male feminists’ then do a runner the minute they realise the girl they’ve been trying to crack onto (and have been happily freeloading lager off) for the last five hours lives with her boyfriend, a wide berth. Mea culpa.
Maybe the next time a band of Pinkshinyultrablast’s calibre play, I’ll simply contend myself with the transcendence I’ve just witnessed, then head home: great memories, after all, are better kept great and unsullied. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know that 30 years on, the ‘scene that celebrates itself’ is still – albeit only til 11pm – as celebratory as ever.