The expectation I had for seeing The Horrors live has built massively since the last time I saw them, in a tent at Reading Festival in the heady days of 2007. In the near five years since, the shouty, riotous goth-punks with strange names have evolved into carefully considered, sophisticated shoegaze gods, releasing two albums worthy of modern classic status.
Having finally seen them live again last night at Birmingham’s HMV Institute, I can confirm that, while the band I saw in 2007 and the one that blew me away last night are almost incomparable, that is in no way a bad thing.
And, almost a year on from releasing third album Skying and after touring the globe non-stop for five months in 2011, as well as a jaunt supporting Florence earlier this year, the band could be forgiven for going through the motions on this tour. However, they did anything but. This performance was a clear signal of a band that have honed their craft; technically brilliant and refined but still intense and thrilling.
Of course having two amazing albums to choose songs from is an excellent foundation for any gig, but like all truly great bands, they took great songs and injected them with added vitality and edge, making them an entirely different prospect live.
The production of their third album took away the scuzz of their earlier work, putting it in Simple Minds territory rather than the My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain sound of Primary Colours, but onstage the scuzz is brought back in full force and smacks you in the chest from the get go. The thumping bass drum, synth line and synchronised strobe lights that begin Mirror’s Image grab you and you’re not let go for an hour and a half. Playing a set entirely from their second and third albums, the quality never drops even for a moment.
And each member of the five piece play their part in delivering a near-perfect set. Each song is built on a consistently exciting rhythm section, courtesy of drummer Joe Spurgeon and bassist Rhys Webb, whose roles are brought to the fore in the live arena. The drums pound and the bass punches, with everything else layered on top.
Tall and dark, Faris is an imposing figure on stage, looming over his mic stand and the audience below. His voice, whether brooding or booming, is distinguishable from all other sounds, filling the air and soaring to the rafters. He is one of the best frontmen British indie currently has to offer without doubt.
When not singing, he still headbangs and throws himself around with abandon, at odds with Rhys Webb who calmly bounces alongside him. They are flanked by guitarist Joshua Hayward and keyboard player Tom Cowan, who are reserved throughout, delicately tempting weird and wonderful sounds from their respective instruments.
That is until half way through 10-minute finale Moving Further Away, when Josh lets loose with a unhinged solo, flinging himself around and creating a frenzy of feedback and distortion The Velvet Underground would be proud of.
Highlights for me would be the anthemic Sea Within A Sea and Still Life ending the first set, the riotous Who Can Say and I Can See Through You shaking the building after the ominous opening and the extended finale, in particular Joshua’s crazy solo.
Support on the night came from TOY, a band born from the ashes of Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong in 2010 and not too dissimilar from the band they were supporting. With an endorsement from Rhys Webb and two great singles released so far, I was excited to see what they could bring. Any band with the skill and guts to release a debut single that clocks in at just under 8 minutes is worthy of attention.
And they certainly grabbed their slot by the throat, with 6 songs comprising blistering drums, soaring synths and a wall of fuzzy guitars, the highlight being aforementioned debut single Left Myself Behind.
On a final note, it seemed poignant on reflection that 32 years on from the date of Ian Curtis’ suicide, his influence was stamped all over this gig. Can either of these bands leave a legacy like his? Who can say.