Arcane Roots at Bush Hall, London - live review

Arcane Roots' hometown show falls short of the mark

Arcane Roots keyboard player
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

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The odds are all in favour for Arcane Roots tonight. They’ve got a friendly hometown crowd up for a good time, and new material to test out live. The last time they headlined London they borrowed drummer Jack Wrench from In Dynamics. Now he seems to be a permanent fixture, but today the sound isn’t on his side. His bass drum is inaudible in all but the quietest moments of the set, and despite his vigorous exertions, all that comes through the PA most of the time is a washy snare drum and thrashing cymbals.

The mix generally is very poor, with Andrew Groves’ voice in constant danger of being swallowed whole and the three musicians all sounding like they are fighting each other for space, rather than working together. They open with the Mogwai-like post-rock of new song Before Me, a measured start to the proceedings with its slow climb to peak intensity. Resolve introduces some energy and momentum, while Over & Over prompts an enthusiastic singalong from the packed Bush Hall. Sacred Shapes, from 2013’s album Blood & Chemistry, finds the band at their most ambitious with its staccato rhythm, abrupt changes of tone and passages of frantic mania.

“You’ve brought out the rowdiness,” bassist Adam Burton tells the audience ahead of Leaving, from 2015’s Heaven & Earth (they do love a good ampersand). It’s the stuff anthems are made of, even if the band’s quiet-loud-repeat formula is much in evidence. Off The Floor, another new tune, lets Groves really reach into the upper atmosphere for the high notes, although the rather abrupt ending might warrant another look in the studio.

Slow Dance begins with just a sparse drum beat, but grows in stature until the pummelling mid-section inspires the first mosh pit of the night. The band then leave the stage, despite only having played for 45 minutes. They return and encore with three tunes, but still the set scarcely sneaks over the hour line. For a band approaching the tenth anniversary of their first EP and for a headline, hometown show, that’s a disappointingly curt performance.

The encores are the soaring Hell & High Water and Curtains – which they have to restart after the first attempt goes pear-shaped, prompting Groves to joke, “I can’t play all the riffs and know the songs at the same time” – and the smashing If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves.

This is a trio with a powerful batch of songs to choose from, loads of energy when they’re on stage and an utterly devoted fan base. So next time, fellas, can we have some more please? It’s Friday. We don’t have to get up in the morning.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.