Death and Vanilla/ Martin Phillips/ Virginia Wing London, Lexington
Article written by
Ged M - Sep 19, 2014
This is another night at the Lexington promoting Fire Records’ ever expanding roster of bands – one known to us, another unknown, and then a legend who wrote the template for 1000 indie bands in freezing little Dunedin. The known first; Virginia Wing kick off with plenty of technology, which doesn’t always work to plan and breaks up the flow of their set. Their previous single and EP show off the way they weave the melodic into their experimental pop compositions. Tonight is heavier on the experimentation, with much button stabbing and pedal pressing, conjuring the spirits of Broadcast and Stereolab, as well as the haunted post-punk of Joy Division and Killing Joke. What’s most impressive is the way drums and bass constantly lock to provide a fiercely defined rhythm onto which to project the electronic shapes. It’s not the most compelling live act to watch but the sound is immersive.
Headliners are Sweden’s Death and Vanilla, a trio who draw attention for their looks (the birthright of every Swede apparently) and the amount of equipment they bring: not just synths, pedals and boxes but the vibraphone occupying stage left. Not only is it a sight, its powerful chimes add an organic feel to the more electronic atmospheres created by the loops and synth beats elsewhere. This is our first exposure to Death and Vanilla’s music but it’s a good experience; the singer’s soaring voice (on some songs she’s clearly been listening to Liz Frazer) is like another instrument creating soundscapes – think Broadcast (especially their hauntology collaboration with the Focus Group) and the United States of America. Haunted but melodic is what it is, and their show is not easily forgotten.
Between the two bands appears Martin Phillips of the Chills, solo tonight, having within the past 24 hours finished recording the last notes of the Chills’ new record Silver Bullets. The Chills have been through many configurations since forming in Dunedin in 1980 but Martin is the constant frontman, so hearing him alone is no loss. He starts with a powerful ‘Brave Words’, finishes with the touching ‘Wet Blanket’ and between them includes old numbers like ‘Kaleidoscope World’, the bluesy ‘Entertainer’ and ‘Evermore’, and includes at least one number from the new album, ‘I Can’t Help You’. He plays his tribute to Syd Barrett, ‘Residential Green Cell’, the always magnificent ‘Pink Frost’ (natch; though the lyrics sound even spookier when so audible); and ‘Street of Forgotten Cool’. In his amiable banter, he explains how this is a song composed in Dunedin as a challenge from the “pool bitches” (a group of pool-playing female musicians who, he says tongue in cheek, “disrespect men”). He’s in fine voice and these songs never lose their lustre.
It’s a slightly anti-climactic evening (the Lex is busy but not heaving) but immersion in this great music makes up for the lack of atmosphere offstage.