Pelican & JK Flesh at The Garage: Live Review

By on 18 July 2013

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In preparation for their new Southern Lord backed record ‘Forever Becoming’, Pelican are hitting the road, and they’ve even brought Godflesh / Jesu mainman Justin Broadrick (under the guise of JK Flesh) for a select few dates!

JK Flesh‘s ‘Post Human’ debut was one of last year’s more startling records, sounding like a potent mixture of all his previous bands combined. Live shows from the project have been relatively sparse, and quite highly anticipated; it’s always interesting to see how what is essentially a one man studio project translates to the live environment. Normally if you place a laptop on a stage, it seems to act as a black hole that sucks up all the stage presence within a 40 mile radius, but Broadrick manages to avoid this trap. Partly because, well, he’s Justin fucking Broadrick, and has a tendency to twitch about like an epileptic raver during the more hectic passages, but also because isolation, paranoia and urban decay are such prevalent themes across most of Broadrick’s work – and especially JK Flesh – that it makes absolute sense to see a single human being completely surrounded by machines for this performance. The stark images of deteriorating cityscapes projected in the background add to the effect, as does, strangely enough, the fact that Justin seems tethered to his laptop to a certain extent. Sure, he may be allowed the occasional fleeting chance to dance his troubles away, but then, just like so many of us in this modern age, it’s straight back to that familiar glare of the ever present screen. An entirely unintentional statement perhaps, but an interesting side point nonetheless…

Anyway, dystopian navel gazing aside, JK Flesh transitions remarkably well from record to the stage. Unfortunately the sound isn’t quite as spot on as it could be, with much of the guitar disappearing into the ether, but the bass (oh lord, the bass!) could probably rupture your spleen if you’re not careful. The staccato, dubstep mimicking riffs of ‘Idle Hands’ and the absolutely colossal (and aptly titled) ‘Earthmover’ are highlights, but there’s really not a dull moment to be found here at all. Bravo!

It’s a bold move for Pelican to select an artist as pivotal as Broadrick to open for them (as guitarist Trevor de Brauw himself admits half way through the show, Pelican was born out of “obsessively listening to Godflesh!”), and they have a hard time following him. They just about manage it though, and opening with ‘The Creeper’ from 2009’s ‘What We All Come To Need’ is a good choice – those initial, gloriously down tuned chords really do creep out of the amplifiers and kick start the proceedings in a suitably bulky fashion. With a set that draws exclusively from post ‘City of Echoes’ material, it’s hard not to miss the presence of classics like ‘Drought’ or ‘Mammoth’, but the generous helping of brand new songs certainly help to put these qualms at ease. On the basis of tonight, it sounds like the new record is going to be their heaviest in some time, as some of these songs sound positively crushing (new single ‘Deny The Absolute’ especially).

Now, a lot of criticism has been hurled at drummer Larry Herweg over the years, and much of it has been rather unfair (call it a coincidence if you will, but Lair Of The Minotaur have sounded noticeably less vicious since his departure), but he certainly doesn’t help his case much tonight with a fairly sloppy performance. There’s nothing wrong with simplistic beats, and in Pelican’s case these basic rhythms are actually quite fitting, but when you’re slipping out of time after playing with a band for over a decade, it’s time to up your game. That said, it doesn’t detract TOO much from the overall performance, and there’s always the possibility that this could just be an off night, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt… for now!

Somewhat predictably, there’s a drop in momentum around the halfway point, but Pelican clearly know their way around a good riff, and despite a few meandering sections, when they hit their stride they sound pretty great indeed. Pelican excel at sounding pleasantly optimistic whilst also achingly cumbrous, and whilst they may not be the heaviest, the most apocalyptic, or even the most atmospheric of the post-metal crowd, their sound is fairly unmistakeable and has a certain triumphant quality that comes across well in the live arena. ‘Dead Between The Walls’ is an odd choice of encore, but by the time its final notes ring out into a synapse frying feedback frenzy, it’s hard to argue really. Despite their flaws, Pelican really do put on a decent show tonight. Here’s hoping that new record sounds as juicy on wax as it did this evening!

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WORDS: Kez Whelan

About Kez Whelan

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