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Trans Am Live

Support duo AKDK are well worth catching, issuing as they do wave upon wave of relentless motorik rhythms.

One of their tracks appears to be a medley of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive while another sounds like the theme tune to The Flintstones played on Palitoy instruments by cavemen.

Trans Am’s very name has always connoted momentum and drive, and in that sense, tonight the trio from Bethesda, Maryland don’t disappoint with a set full of pulsating electronic rock and bionic boogie. Dry ice and synth arpeggios announce their arrival as the low bass throb and vocoder-vocals of their opening number suggests a motorik/Krautrock Daft Punk. Much has been made of Trans Am’s melding of post-rock, indie and electronica, but they received mixed acclaim, too, for their poker-faced exploration of classic 80s rock and pomp-pop, and there are moments tonight when they sound like Kraftwerk jamming with ZZ Top. They offer a tour of styles: Anthropocene is a drone like the dark shimmer of wave forms vibrating in space: think Metallica if they were a synth-pop group.

“Thank you, London, it’s good to be back,” declares Nathan Means, the small but devoted crowd delighted to be able to worship their cult heroes once more. Firepower is like a more ’tronic Hawkwind, with plenty of bass whomp and guitar sizzle.

Trans Am have always suggested they can recreate any genre at will, although at times that means they lack a readily identifiable character of their own. They don’t particularly convince as psychedelic cosmonauts – they’re way too studied for that.

Still, cerebral exercises or not, there’s no denying their music’s power. Actually, Backlash isn’t so much a surge as a high-speed pummel, a showcase for Sebastian Thomson’s furious drum calisthenics and Philip Manley’s guitar pyrotechnics. Suddenly they’re not a proto-electronic band at all, they’re a death metal unit.

Megastorm, also from new album Volume X, is a slow-motion assault featuring the kind of sci-fi sonics normally the preserve of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Meanwhile, I Want It All from 2000’s Red Line sounds like a hit single from that parallel universe where Space’s Magic Fly isn’t a novelty one-off but a song that merged with Can’s I Want More to create the future of music.

Two more from that album close the show, intimating that they peaked early in their career. But who cares with a metalloid drone as pulverising as Slow Response and an amphetamine jam as frenetic as Play In The Summer? As cold demonstrations of dexterity and creativity, it’s hard to beat.

Paul Lester
Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.