CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX
Thursday 3rd May 2012
The Garage in London, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
London-based Pantheist are the only support act of the night and, with doors opening at 7pm and their stage time an hour later, it's disappointing to see only around 40-50 people in the venue as the doom merchants begin to play. There's a strange atmosphere in the Garage to say the least with the poor attendance leaving its 600+ capacity feeling like a large, vacuous space and most punters who have bothered to show up stand and chat in the bar area. However, Pantheist seem undeterred and fill the void with their neatly layered down-tempo instrumentations as the minimalist setup of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums combine to create some thoroughly absorbing music. Fronted by Kostas Panagiotou, one-time keyboardist for tonight's headliners, it takes a little time to acclimatise my ears to his vocals as, in a live environment, at least tonight, there are some dissonant tones in his melody lines. However, after a few minutes, the quasi-droning and incongruous nature of his delivery actually starts to sound so apt for the music over which he sings. Sporadic death growls from guitarist Pepijn van Houwelingen add another dimension to Patheist's doom aesthetic which is, overall, pretty engaging stuff albeit largely lost on the diminutive audience.
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CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX
With Anathema also playing in London tonight at the nearby Koko in Camden, I wondered how much each band's one-off UK gig would impair the other in terms of attendance. Signs were not favourable for Crippled Black Phoenix earlier in the evening with the meager-sized audience during Pantheist's set. However, ten or so minutes before CBP are due to hit the stage and a plethora of bodies seem to materialise from nowhere as the Garage fills out nicely with what looks like at least four hundred or so people, including one or two attired in Anathema t-shirts! With a truly astounding, genre-bending new album, '(Mankind) The Crafty Ape', released at the start of the year, it seems a large number of people are eager to experience the material in a live context.
A well-oiled machine having recently completed a lengthy trek around mainland Europe, CBP are on fine form from the off and throughout, with guitarist Justin Greaves informing the audience a few songs in: "This is our first show since the European tour; we've played a few warm-up shows for you!" Opening with a duo of tracks from 2010's 'I, Vigilante', 'Troublemaker' and 'Fantastic Justice' (amusingly written as 'Fantastic Justin' on a setlist taped to the stage...along with other similarly modified titles including 'Laying Traps in Da Toilet!'), third up is Floydian new album number 'The Heart of Every Country'. And CBP sound amazing through the PA so kudos to whoever occupies the sound desk for mixing no less than seven musicians into a coherent, resonant and generally well balanced whole. The only track of the night aired from the band's debut album, 'A Love of Shared Disasters', 'When You're Gone', follows which Justin affectionately dedicates to a departed friend and then two more '(Mankind)...' tracks, 'A Letter Concerning Dogheads' and 'The Brain/Poznan'.
What becomes apparent as the set progresses is the musicians who currently comprise CBP have a discernibly natural chemistry on the live stage. This comes across in recorded form on the latest release, helped in part by an almost 'vintage', organic production, but the material and its execution excels in a live environment. It's a joy to witness so many skilled players complimenting each other's parts and purely at one in their overall delivery of the material. And then there's newly recruited singer Matt Simpkin who does a remarkable job in vocalising each and every lyric in a note-perfect performance. Considering he only came into the fold just a few weeks ago to fulfil lead vocal duties for the European tour, he already looks at ease, even during some of the lengthy instrumental passages where he doesn't merely stand around like a spare wheel, but moves to the groove of the music. Greaves has bursts of energy over tracks' up-tempo, heavier parts (which sound heavier live than recorded) as he plays his axe with a dynamic presence as well as a assuming a more composed posture during the mellower music. And then there's the fretboard talents of Karl Demata who demonstrates a wide repertoire of styles and techniques on a rather nice looking PRS, often closing his eyes during some emotionally-charged leads as if he's genuinely 'feeling' the music rather than a perfunctory rendition of it.
Following a Journey cover, 'Of A Lifetime', the remainder of CBP's lengthy 2+ hour set includes more new cuts - 'Laying Traps'; 'Born in a Hurricane'; 'Release the Clowns' - along with older material which culminates in pre-encore set closer 'Burnt Reynolds' (or 'Burnt Bugger' if the setlist by Greaves' array of pedals is to be believed). And it's that last song that engenders something quite remarkable that I don't recall ever previously witnessing at a gig. At least seventy five per cent of the audience vocalise its "woah ooh ooh" chorus...pretty standard. But then the band finish the song, exit the stage, a minute passes before virtually everyone present recommences the "woah ooh ooh" melody. This continues for a couple of minutes and then band members reappear, drummer Ben Wilsker counts in and CBP continue to play the last few bars of 'Burnt Reynolds' in time to the audience's singing. Maybe this is a regular occurrence at a CBP gig - with this being my first, I am unsure - but suffice to say it's a truly beautiful moment where band and crowd are at one. A couple of encore tracks follow and then the show's over. And what a show it has been, characterised by a rollercoaster of sonically stimulated emotion and fine musicianship. Those Anathema fans will undoubtedly be glad they chose the Garage over the Koko tonight.
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Crippled Black Phoenix at The Garage, London, UK, 3rd May 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com