Unable to retain a Vessels state

Live Review

Written By Ria Wilkinson Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Vessels fuseleeds09 at The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Vessels are rather popular. Perhaps not overly with this crowd gathered here to see David Gedge later but if they're working on their second album and are touring Europe, they must be doing something right for someone.

I want to like Vessels. I should like Vessels and their fellow “post-rock” peers. I'm ideally placed in the centre of the Venn diagram where guitar led rock meets ambienty dance in my musical tastes. I was there and thoroughly into the “Chill Out” phase of music fashion of the turn of the millennium. I know my Mr Scruff from my Bent, my Groove Armada from my Kinobe. I am not afraid of ten minute instrumental epics, nay there was no finer way to soundtrack the musings on the intricacies of “cell signalling”... but that was then and a decade on, we have arrived at “post-rock”.

Now, I have tried with some effort to get into this genre, hoping it might pick up and move me on to somewhere a bit darker from where “Chill Out” left off. I've listened to four Animal Collective albums (most accessible I found was Sung Tongs), two by Deerhunter, one from Atlas Sounds and have seen local proponents Laboratory Noise perform too. But I just don't get it. And by gosh, I want to! Almost as much as I want to “get” British Sea Power (but that's another story...).

Sadly Vessels are not the act to provide me with the cipher to unlock the magic factor that enthralls so many others for this genre. This type of music is often described as “aural soundscapes” and I understand that. It lends itself to soundtracking certain sorts of movies and scenes. In fact Laboratory Noise have scored short film by Jon Yeo called ‘Beauty is the promise of happiness’. But this is not a review of Lab Noise.

So Vessels. Well they accomplished four discrete tracks within a forty minute set. There may have been more tracks merged but there seemed only to be four pauses for applause. This is fitting as when watching the Leeds based five piece, they really seem to be doing it for themselves rather than for the audience. All five exhibit the pained expressions of musicians lost in the (lengthy) moment of just them and their instruments, and like modern jazz, prog rock or porn, you do feel they are having so much more enjoyment playing then you could ever derive from watching.

Are they good? Well they certainly showed off their skills by playing “musical chairs” with the various guitars, keyboards and two drum kits. It became tiresome to see them swap about, retune their inherited guitar and kneel down twiddling knobs on the boards whilst the music seemed to carry on regardless, care of a laptop. Maybe this might have been entertaining if it was a solo act (like, for example, The Voluntary Butler Scheme) or if they bothered to engage with the audience at all.

However no eye contract or utterance (save some mumbled vocals) was made until end the end of the penultimate song by which time we'd seen the VT projection behind them (to keep us visually stimulated, one supposes) though several times and had become zoned out. The utterance was polite and informative when it arrived but it wouldn't have hurt to have it at the start (support bands not introducing themselves or acknowledging the audience is a pet irk of mine, admittedly).

Looking around the seated audience, and also hearing the accidental applause in silent bits within the tracks, indicated to me that I wasn't alone in restlessness during Vessels' performance but then such is the hardship of a support act – you're never going to thrill all the audience as it's not you they've primarily paid to see. I felt I needed more melody to ride me through it.

Some occasional clue and small satisfaction of feeling where a tune is heading would have mentally engaged me more and I think that's symptomatic of a lot of “post-rock” for me. I guess I've become more attached to a little structure in a tune than I've realised. I do wonder (in a simplistic way), how they know when to come in with different instruments when there is no obvious rhythm or structure to count in? I guess that's practise and psychic synchronisation or something!

So would I recommend Vessels? Yes, I really would if I knew you enjoyed Animal Collective et al. Unfortunately they are not the conduit for “post-rock” I was hoping for but if I do discover the key one day, I will pay Vessels another visit with my ears...

Written By Ria Wilkinson Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

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