I had been looking forward to this gig at Norwich Arts Centre for quite some time, certainly since well before the attempt to book them earlier in the summer of this year. Tonight it is actually happening, and we get a chance to see and hear Mica Levi's 'pop band' perform live on stage.
First, though, is a support slot from a new Norwich band - Painted Heathers. Formed only three months ago this is Brandon, James and Lauren's first ever live gig, and they have produced free CD's for the first fifty punters through the doors tonight. 'So Can I', the lead track has already been played on BBC Radio Norfolk, and is a good marker for their style of music, which is pop-based guitar, bass and drums and reminiscent of Dandy Warhols. Impressive debut, and thanks for the CD.
I have seen Norwich based Popop several times over the last couple of years, and I have to say I love his wonky lo-fi creations more and more with every performance. His trademark plastic skull is back tonight, but is tonight mounted on an old videogame joystick instead of residing as a microphone diffuser. In fact, Popop's appearance always reminds me of a modern-day Doc Brown creating electronic sounds and vocals from what looks like the contents of a Maplins clearance catalogue and charity shop junk. He is joined on stage tonight by Pip Cotterill on drums for an amazing half hour journey that not only has the audience mesmerised, but clearly leaves an impression on tonight's headliner as well.
Mica Levi is indeed quick to praise Popop's set as she brings her band on stage to commence their set. Playing tonight as a three piece of Mica on guitar with Raisa Khan on keyboards and Marc Pell on drums. In fact, her pedigree and back catalogue of sounds created from anything from a vacuum cleaner to a collection of home-made instruments has made her the darling of the avant-garde, with a creepy soundtrack to 'Under The Skin' gaining a BAFTA nomination for best film score.
Tonight's show, though, is all about 'the Shapes', and accompanies the release of the band's third studio album 'Good Sad Happy Bad'. The performance is not as experimental as some would have perhaps expected, and is carried largely by Levi's clattering guitar work and raspy vocals, a combination that contrasts and fights alongside Khan's gentler contributions and effects. This is a meeting of present-day anger and grime with the rhythms of early Talking Heads and the experimentation of Laurie Anderson, but the overall effect is a streetwise aggression that at times borders on self-obsession. There is certainly little time for niceties or engagement with the audience, hence the added significance of her tribute to Popop's performance. Certainly they both share that 'mad-scientist' air to the way in which they approach their music. A rewarding act to watch, and an intriguing album to listen to, but be prepared to put in the effort in order to pull out the substance.
Micachu and The Shapes