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Trans Am / Gum Takes Tooth (live at Green Door Store)

11 November 2014

In one swift motion I will disperse any notions of latent ’90s cool – I’d never knowingly listened to Trans Am before. I didn’t even know if it’s Tram Am or Trans AM, an automobile or a radio station. Entering the venue I was immediately struck by the very particular nature of the audience – not a one under 30, few over 40 — the vast majority of them looking slightly out of place, emblematic of an audience who only frequents gigs of bands they liked as teenagers.

Gum Takes Tooth Green Door Store November 2014Gum Takes Tooth Green Door Store November 2014

Rather than linger on ill-informed judgements as to the audience’s tastes and motivations, let’s get straight to the point – Gum Takes Tooth are phenomenal. Within minutes of mounting the stage I was pretty sure I hated them, repelled by their disparate aesthetic — noisy, inelegant vocals covering shapeless synths and repetitive percussion. It’s hard to shake the feeling the band members are singing from different metaphorical hymn sheets — nothing quite works, it’s neither rapturous noise nor legible clarity, but instead a somewhat uncomfortable middle ground. But then it doesn’t end. Drums, once repetitive, turn tribal, almost snarling and howling through the mist of vocals, which in turn seem increasingly unhinged, as if you’re locked in a room with the last guy standing after a three day party, all rave-hands and unenviable palpitations.

Occasionally, bits of actual rock music appear — a riff bursting through the haze, a sensible, but temporary apparition. There’s something strange going on with the electronics too — I think, but can’t quite know for sure, that the drums are the synths — beyond syncopation, jabs at toms birth the resonant, timbral oscillations, all sound literally merging as one save for the omnipresent, delay-drenched hollers of the perpetually pompous, jiggling frontman.

The set is defined by subtle, intangible evolution. Each song builds upon the last, painting new colours with the same palette, and by the time they plough into their final song — a swaggering, confusing crucible of feedback and fractured drums — I am completely sold. It is rare to see a band for whom there are no easy comparisons — and if Gum Takes Tooth sound in passing like mid-era Refused, that reference is splintered moments later by their sheer tribalic eternality, the intensity of their formlessness.

Trans Am Green Door Store November 2014

I must admit that my initial Trans-amic preoccupation is with the drummer’s necklace. It’s huge. I’m not convinced it’s comfortable. It sort of makes him look like a rock ‘n’ roll mayor, and I’m not immediately sure he’ll be able to drum in it. Thankfully, it turns out I am wrong — rather than hindering his performance I can only assume, like some magic pendant, that it amplifies it — for the drummer of Trans Am is breathtaking. Every beat is administered with gusto and panache, every fill — copious and often potentially awkward affairs — juts through the wash of synths and staccato guitars with an incomparable and well-deserved arrogance.

Trans Am Green Door Store November 2014

Trans Am Green Door Store November 2014

Indeed, the whole band is perfectly honed, operating with near flawless cohesion — and while you could easily argue that the music is never, ultimately, all that complex, its execution is a thing of beauty. Limited instrumentation, driving, charismatic drums, and a bizarrely effective over-reliance on vocoders makes for a band who seem literally capable of going anywhere within the forty minutes of their set, and do so without ever ceasing to sound distinctively Trans Amish. At one point they come across quite a lot like Herbie Hancock. Then a bit like John Carpenter. Moments later, it’s Megadeath, replete with cheesy rock solos. It absolutely shouldn’t work, but work it does — the band are fearless in their encapsulation of everything and anything that interests them, veering wildly from genre to genre, a diverse functions band at the wedding of a madman.

Judging by the audience’s occasionally loud whooping at the opening bars of a song, it becomes fairly easy to identify which the ‘classics’ are, but unusually for a band this long in the tooth, there is no sense that their earlier stuff is vastly superior to later work. Indeed, two of the best songs of the night – “Backlash”, a sort of synth-thrash hybrid, and “I’ll Never”, which could feasibly have been penned by Stevie Wonder — are off the new album, and perfectly surmise the eclectic, slightly bonkers aesthetic that the band exudes in general. Trans Am manage an engaging, powerful performance with seemingly little effort — neither particularly big nor particularly clever, the band excel at perfectly-executed fun, a welcome relief from the often tiresome rigmarole that plagues the vast majority of ageing rock bands.

-Words: Daniel Alexander Hignell-
-Pictures: Agata Urbaniak-

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