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Trans Am / AK DK (live at Baba Yaga’s Hut)

Trans Am Baba Yaga's Hut November 2014Elektrowerkz, London
8 November 2014

One can learn a lot about two bands from their inter-set changeover. Here in the black box of Elektrowerkz, surrounded by dressed-down men with beards and a few women too, we are watching AK DK remove a lot of equipment.

There are two drum kits in there, a couple of synths with reassuringly wooden sides on tables covered in lots of other associated junk; and then behind them there’s that big modular system with a fetishistic dial-like module that has been cycling all through the set. We’re not even sure that it did anything but it looked kind of cool, so you definitely would leave it running if you’d bothered to drag that piece of furniture along to a gig.

For a duo it’s a lot of equipment, but that’s what you expect from analogue electronics, right? AK DK deployed all of this in roughly the way that you’d expect. They are wearing white shirts with ties and one of them is wearing a flat cap. They say something about nonsense in between numbers in a manner that is half apologetic, half braggadocio. So you don’t need me to tell you that they started with a motorik number, do you?

AK DK Baba Yaga's Hut November 2014

Some time later they drifted onto a more freeform track, and by the time we came back from the bar they were finishing up something that sounded disturbingly like “Duke of Earl” as electronica. With most of their equipment removed so that Trans Am can put their gear on to the stage, the guy with the flat cap nips between drum kit and keyboard stand to pick up one of those mats with a town printed onto it for children to drive toy cars around.

Trans Am Baba Yaga's Hut November 2014

There is no such whimsy to Trans Am’s setup. On one side there’s a Juno 60, on the other there’s a Nord; a guitar on the right and a bass on the left. Finally there’s a dense but compact drum kit in the middle. The pyramid of the power trio is tight and geometrical. It doesn’t budge. Their set is similarly tight.

Sebastian Thomson is a monster of a drummer; you can’t avoid using the word muscular to describe his technique. Between two numbers a toilet roll is thrown from the audience. Thompson dodges it and identifies where it came from, pointing with a very nasty grin. He then indicates the muscle on his right arm and gestures for them to come up. Sixteen bars into the next number a slim guy climbs up onto the stage. The drummers eyes are locked on him the whole time. Each of his beats is a pile driver blow. The metaphor is clear. The stage invader leaps from the stage with the remainder of his bravado and is led out of the venue by security.

Trans Am Baba Yaga's Hut November 2014

Philip Manley is dressed in orange. A boiler suit with the arms removed. It’s kinda Guantánamo Bay leisure wear. In spite of their electronic edge there’s a lot of guitar in tonight’s set, and Manley has developed into quite the shredmeister. We get less of the material from the new album Volume X than we might have expected. It’s as if Manley is missing the avant NWOBHM action of The Fucking Champs. Nathan Means is perhaps the most approachable of the Trans Ams. His all-white outfit and tall, pretty boy stature, air-punching the changes on electronic anthems like the opener “I Want It All” and the inevitable “Future World.”

Trans Am Baba Yaga's Hut November 2014Out of the three tracks that they play from Volume X it is notable that they attempt the Vocoder ballad “I’ll Never Get Over You.” I say “attempt” because alongside a lot of the shredding, muscular rock-outs and synth fests, the song has quite a different dynamic. Thomson comes out from behind his kit to join Manley on twin keyboard. He doesn’t look quite comfortable there as the ultra-cold drum machine plays out the measures. The audience is quite clearly enthused to see this number being performed, but the pyramid of Trans Am’s strength is broken, and perhaps that is fitting with such a fragile song.

There’s a lot of “Thanks for coming” and “Great to see so many of you here” between numbers tonight. Twenty-four years into their career there’s no need for any cryptic statements or arrogance. The music speaks for itself. Trans Am still put on a great show.


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