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Oxbow/Harvey Milk/Part Chimp (live at The Underworld)

The Underworld, London
15 July 2008

The first time I came across Part Chimp, a few years back, they were tipped as The Loudest Band in London, but now that the reanimated corpse of My Bloody Valentine has reclaimed that title with its rotting, maggoty fingers, Part Chimp have mellowed a little. They’ve also shed a bass player recently, and no doubt that has something to do with it. In any case, the volume level as they open this night at the Underworld has eased from “blistering” to something more like “mild sunburn”. Their songs have matured to fill the volume vacuum, though; whereas they previously played Black Sabbath riffs at ketamine speed and relied on sheer decibel level to get their message across, the band now have room for a little more complexity and, god forbid, even a little subtlety. There was this one Spinal Tap moment when one of the guitar players, I think his name’s Tim, was playing his guitar with another guitar, but even then Part Chimp didn’t quite turn it up to 11.

(PROTIP: Part Chimp are in fact 99.9% chimpanzee, genetically speaking. Except the drummer, he’s part octopus.)

After the surprisingly mellifluous opening act, Harvey Milk make your fillings hurt. They kick off with twenty solid minutes of relentless sonic assault – the word “sludge” doesn’t seem to do justice to this deep, sulphurous, anaerobic guitar mud. The tracks roll forward at glacial speed, held together by a rhythm section both stoic and brutal. With the first break, however, comes possibly the most shocking moment of the whole evening. The vocals so far have been a scraping, guttural howl, so when vocalist Creston cracks into some stage banter you expect to hear a voice like Nathan Explosion from Metalocalypse, all lava and scorpions. Instead, he opens his mouth and out comes a soft, pleasant, southern twang. I’m floored. Then halfway through a sentence the guitars roar into life and it’s back to whisky and razor blades. We haven’t heard the last of those dulcet pipes, though, they’re called upon later for some delicate melodic passages, which sprout briefly amid the murk before they’re crushed again under the guitars, as fragile and bruised as so many audience members’ eardrums.

There are a few of us looking a bit dazed and in need of a comforting pint by this point, but when San Francisco’s Oxbow take the stage the entire room’s attention snaps to them and stays glued there for the whole set. It was he opposite of the usual stand-around-chatting-to-your-mates London indifference – Oxbow are simply riveting. This is mostly due to the sheer physical presence of front man Eugene Robinson, a hugely-muscled, tattooed black dude with taped-up ears and hair like the bride of Frankenstein. He snarls, screams, croons, and dances – yes, dances – his way through the final set. When was the last time you saw a metal frontman dance? Like, never? Well, mine eyes have seen and all I can say is MORE, damn it there should be more of this. Not that Oxbow just play metal, of course, they dabble in a slew of styles: there are shades of the Birthday Party, stripes of the Melvins, a sprinkling of the Boredoms, and… hell, what else IS there, really?  Credit must be given to the rhythm section who lurch from straight-up hardcore drive all the way to mutated swampy backbeat and back again like it ain’t no thing, but the uniting factor through all of this is the menace and magnetism Eugene brings to the whole show. He starts the set in a three-piece suit and finishes it with his cock flopping around in tiny pants, tattoos and a waistcoat, it’s crazy and beautiful and intense as all hell.

-Anton Allen-

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