It was one of those nights: you turn up on time, not quite knowing what to expect…you’ve got a rough idea of what it might entail, but the evening won’t go to ruins should it not turn out that way. With a sample-driven album like The Milk of Human Kindness, one might envision a DJ taking the route of a laptop performance, or even blending the original elements together “live” from vinyl. The sight of two drum kits to either side of what is already a cramped stage, however, suggested something else entirely.
Beginning with the Neu!-based rhythm of “Barnowl,” Ryan Smith powered ahead as if he were Michael Rother himself, unblinking as he proceeded to be sandwiched in between two synchronised explosions of percussion. My first impression was that this all sounded a little too good to be true…Obviously, samples would be required at various points throughout the night, logistics alone would tell you that much. So when I saw two sets of arms flailing incredibly, yet simultaneously making such a precise, impressive racket, I immediately suspected that the foul hand of miming might be at play.
I strained my eyes, leaned forward, my heart wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt, my ears inclining toward scepticism…but, to my relief, everything was indeed on the level. While Dan Snaith juggled the call of his extraneous musical responsibilities superbly, frequently switching from drums to keyboards, vocals, and even a melodica, from the outset it was his thundering tandem-act with drummer Peter Mitton that sparked much of the magic.
The songs from their latest release were reshaped, resized, and reshuffled, completely changing my opinion of the album. The songs were played with enough urgency and presence that, if one was previously unfamiliar with their work, you’d assume they belonged to some wonderful recorded substance where it was all even more acutely contained. A clear standout on The Milk of Human Kindness, “Bees” was now simply just another live gem, indistinguishable in terms of quality from the rest. In fact, the album as a whole proceeded to be shed as if it was merely a handy reference point, its sampled, cut-and-paste cohesion paling in the face of such a live reproduction, gladly lost in translation.
The best kinds of gigs are those that not only strike you with pleasant degree of surprise, but make you re-think the recorded material as well. Now when I listen back to The Milk of Human Kindness, I know that those intense bouts of drums are most likely real, not just expertly picked from dusty vaults of vinyl a la Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden.
Unsurprisingly, each and every number was unequivocally hailed and treated to a warm, vibrant reception. And thanks to the psychedelic overhead animations of Dublin’s own Delicious Nine, which was synched perfectly to the music every step of the way, the memory each of those individual segments will linger on that little bit more vividly.