It’s a night of a thousand stars for Knifeworld’s first London show since the release of their second long-player and InsideOut debut, The Unravelling.
Well, several stars. Folk from The Fierce And The Dead are here, as is Prog’s own Steve Davis, looking rapt, accompanied by TV fella Matthew Wright, looking happily dazed. There’s no denying this is a special gig.
The first band on, Dead Days Beyond Help, comprise Alex Ward and Jem Doulton, a guitarist and a drummer, but basic blues rock à la The White Stripes or The Black Keys this is not. Think instead frenetic, complex drumming with freaky guitar extrapolation on top, with multiple tempo changes, a lattice of riffs and solos, and virtuosic displays. The music requires total focus, from audience and players, and offers a lo-fi solution to the question: do you need money to make prog?
Thumpermonkey play an entertaining set of multiphrenic prog’n’roll. One track is like new wave boogie, the middle ground between XTC and ZZ Top. Another is about Mars. “The chocolate bar or the planet?” someone asks. “The planet,” confirms Mike Woodman.
Knifeworld could have surely filled a far bigger venue, it’s so packed in here. I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight is a typically fluid mix of prog and psychedelia via Canterbury and Cologne, with an operatic grandeur, and visuals that nod to the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
Kavus Torabi is a compelling frontman, joking with the crowd, notwithstanding the gravity of the songs. On The Orphanage, anxiety is alluded to in the rhythm and arrangement. Send Him Seaworthy is a showcase for Chloe Herington’s bassoon-ery. Don’t Land On Me features bursts of brass and prog funkadelia. It’s a foray into the bucolic, but there is a darkness to their experiments – purveyors of prog noir and explorers of the human condition more than the outer limits of the cosmos, Knifeworld are more Van der Graaf Generator than Yes.
But they can do succinct, too – or at least they know how to secrete pop sections within songs. There are bits on Pilot Her that recall Mansun, even ELO – albeit a metallic, surging, abrasive ELO.
Like their new-prog peers Schnauser, Kitten Pyramid and Ninetails, Knifeworld do intricacy, yes, but also concision. Really, they’re too manic to meander. Intense? “The next song was written before my recent revelation that there is no such thing as time,” Torabi prefaces The Prime Of Our Decline, which is a micro-jazz odyssey with folk inflections: think Sandy Denny with Caravan in space. It elicits huge cheers, the audience applauding the band’s sheer ambition.
Some wag shouts for Johnny B Goode. They end instead with Destroy The World We Love, but rather than leave us on a dejected note, they encore with Me To The Future Of You.
Somewhere, Chuck Berry is smiling. The Fierce folk, Wright and Davis definitely are.