Protest The Hero Safely Fires The Contortionist
There was not a band on the bill this evening that I wasn’t excited to see. Even though Destrage weren’t making the trip over to the UK, their replacements Palm Reader have impressed before – supporting ’68 over the summer – so I was annoyed to miss their set entirely, arriving just after The Contortionist had begun.
Having come such a long way – their first time doing so – and having such a short set (only 40 minutes or so), the guys played a spread of all three of their records – but it’s the material from latest offering Language that grabs the attention. Two-parter “Language I: Intuition” and ”Language II: Conspire” oozes grace, despite frontman Lessard’s juddering robotic movements, and his vocals are absolutely spot on. For me, he’s elevated the band, but not alone; their compositional nous is top notch, and it’s a testament to their craft that they perform it so well. Older tracks still sound good though. They close with “Flourish“, the opening track from debut album Exoplanet, which is suitably climactic.
With the technical nature of the music, it’s hard for the band to move too much, which is a shame – there’s energy to be exploited on stage, but that in particular I didn’t see a lot of.
The Safety Fire take the stage with a notable absence – bassist Lori Peri isn’t with them, and his parts are replaced by a backing track. Combined with Callum’s thundering drums, it’s actually quite difficult to hear Derya and Jo’s guitars – high-end and weedly as they are – so whilst the ever-present groove of their songs isn’t lost, some of the technicality is. They stepped in quite late on to replace The Faceless – who now appear to be down to just one member, Michael Keene – and with Lori out of commission, their preparation time was likely insufficient to get everything up to their usual high standards.
Nevertheless, tried and tested solids like “Huge Hammers” and “Glass Crush” have plenty of heads moving across a rapidly-filling Koko, and they certainly do well under the circumstances.
Protest The Hero are obviously the main event though, with some having travelled from miles around to be here – one of our party came all the way from Bournemouth, a three-hour train ride away.
I’m a fan, but I have to admit the set is not entirely to my taste. Volition didn’t especially grab me, and it’s Fortress and Scurrilous classics, with a bit of Kezia energy, that I’m on the lookout for. It’s an entirely selfish gripe – they are technically still in the album’s touring cycle, even if it came out over a year ago – so ignore me on that.
That said, I’ve seen Protest three or four times over the years, and each time I’ve been technically impressed, but soured by Rody Walker’s stage antics. Drinking is fine, but more than once he’s come across more than a little lairy. Pontification between songs is over-long and not as funny as he probably thinks; cut some of it out, and you can probably get another song in there.
There are a lot of highlights though; opening with “Sequoia Throne” and closing with “Bloodmeat” are no-brainers, and in all honesty, it’s probably a good idea to get people into the new material live, as they’re probably bored to death of the older material.
It wasn’t quite the night I was expecting, but certainly not a bust. The Contortionist in particular are promised back on our shores next summer, so keep an eye out so you don’t miss them next time around.