Divisionists at The Betsy Trotwood, London - live review

Divisionists push the boundaries of rock

live shot
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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“We are Divisionists, and we play rock music,” is vocalist Brendan Quinn’s introduction to tonight, but he might be underselling their scope. Over the course of three albums, his previous band, Boston-based Abunai!, covered psychedelia, folk rock, space rock and, on one album, too many genres to even list. Divisionists have been posited as a return to a more straightforward sound, but there’s still so much happening here.

Opener Success instantly brings to mind The Beatles, but William McGregor’s drumming and backing vocals push it into The Who’s early territory, being three minutes of forceful pop. Lilting guitar work from Mark Bennett introduces Fraction Of Grace, a subtly psychedelic number resembling an uptempo Galaxie 500. That then flows into Dream Landscape, where the band’s folk influences begin to show, coupled together with a solo that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Marillion’s early albums.

Just as it seems we’ve settled into a mellow groove, Quinn dedicates a song to the world leaders who have taken away his peace of mind, and grinding distortion signals the start of The First Casualty. Coupled with Mike Whitaker’s bassline, this conjures images of Neil Young stomping around the stage.

Temporarily spent, the band then drift into Colours, the longest, most atmospheric song of the evening. Moonlight Devil sees their folk side once again coming to the fore, a cautionary ballad on the demonic perils of love that’ll have fans looking for ‘trad. arr.’ on the album cover (the song is all theirs).

A straight-ahead rocker, All Fall Down pounds along relentlessly, the bass occasionally twisting away from the main thrust of the song. Up next is Say Can You, which is the album’s lead single, and has seen comparisons to the melodic, alternative rock of Teenage Fanclub and the Lemonheads, but with its melancholy tone and wah-wah soloing, it arguably more closely resembles The Bevis Frond, whom Quinn has shared stages with in the past.

For the closer we finally get that trad. arr. number threatened earlier, Barbara Allen, which was reputedly Samuel Pepys’ and George Washington’s favourite song, although the frontman confesses, “I first heard it from that noted underground figure Porky Pig.” It’s an acid folk raga that sees the venue flooded with psychedelia from both the band and the visuals, which are provided by one-time bandmate Joe Turner.

Divisionists manage to take a whole heap of influences and roll them into a coherent whole. Not bad for a band that just play rock music.