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Sunday, March 30, 2008

British Sea Power and the 1900s at the Billiken Club, St. Louis University, Saturday, March 29

Posted By on Sun, Mar 30, 2008 at 11:30 PM

For a slideshow of photos from this show, click here!

When Eamon Hamilton departed from British Sea Power in late 2006 to focus on his spiky post-punk band Brakes (called BrakesBrakesBrakes in the U.S.; recommended listening includes all of The Beatific Visions, especially “Porcupine or Pineapple”), quite a bit of BSP’s shtick went with him. You see, Hamilton was notorious for jumping into the crowd during a show and marching around while banging a drum – an act that drew attention to the UK band’s concerts.

The key words in that paragraph, however, are “quite a bit.” At Saturday night’s Billiken Club show, Noble – defined as performing the duties of “guitar and climbing” on British Sea Power’s MySpace -- scrambled atop a speaker and hung his head through the slatted ceiling like a marionette. While still playing. After that bit of monkey business, he also perched atop one of the Billiken Club’s big-screen TVs – and managed to hop down the high perch safely. (Who has photos? I saw enough cameras shoot up during this part…)

This restless movement, thankfully, didn’t take away from the band’s fantastic, hour-long-plus set. In fact, it came within the strongest part of the night. After a jagged rendition of new, Echo & the Bunnymen-influenced song “A Trip Out,” the group launched into a raucous version of “The Spirit of St. Louis.” Vocalist Yan placed special vocal emphasis on the name of the city, drawing great cheers from the audience. (Read the lyrics here.) Old favorite “Carrion” followed, as the band became more and more animated; for instance, trumpeter Phil Sumner got into the spirit and danced around the stage like a marching band loon.

British Sea Power’s brilliant new album Do You Like Rock Music? was well-represented in the setlist. Despite being compared to Joy Division during its early days (a comparison I never really thought was fair), the band revealed a heavier debt to the Smiths – at least in the dreamy guitar textures and erudite lyrics – and (as mentioned) Echo & the Bunnymen’s plaintive vocals/crashing riffs juxtaposition. (Corollary: Also hinted at is the Arcade Fire.) Highlights of the night included the oceanic crescendos of shuddering instrumental “The Great Skua”; a strident, hardscrabble “No Lucifer”; a sprawling “Lights Out for Darker Skies” and, naturally, the lovely lavender echoes of the soft-build “Waving Flags” (which bears more than a passing resemblance to later-era Church, another unheralded influence on British Sea Power).

(fantastic clip of "Waving Flags"; user has more BSP videos here)

The only complaint about the show was that it was loud. L-O-U-D, one of the loudest shows I’ve been to at the Billiken Club, which rendered the mix quite muddy. It wasn’t until almost halfway through the set that the viola flourishes from Abi Fry even became audible – a shame, as BSP’s acoustic KDHX session on Saturday was beautifully wrought.

Chicago’s the 1900s opened the night with a tight, sassy set of throwback rock – as in, retro in a Partridge Family/Swedish-pop/flower-power-bubblegum-pop type of way. Opening with “Acutiplantar Dude,” the band proceeded to win over many who weren’t a fan (and bizarrely enough, it felt like more people were there for the 1900s than British Sea Power), with co-ed harmonies and sunny guitar jangle.

-- Annie Zaleski

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