You can often find out a lot through people watching. Taking a second, processing those around you. In music you can also get a big hint at what a band or show may be like. Standing in line outside Rough Trade East, and slowly being baked by the sun, it was noticeable in this creative commercial explosion of the East End, the sheer number of simply intriguing individuals that had converged upon the record shop. From the 6 Music elders, to the neon youngsters; the down to earth, to the vibrant few who tread dreadfully close to the line of self-importance – everyone was raring to see Squid perform just a snippet of their latest album ‘O Monolith’. And O boy, no one left disappointed…
It was my first time at Rough Trade and moving through the doors from the beaming hot day, to a cool dark hive of wall to wall records, was a welcome change. For the 5:50 pm show, the odd industrial fan and high ceilings kept the punters temperate. Well, that alongside a steady flow from the bar. Anticipation built as band members poked their heads over the balcony dressing room-type area and then as the time came, they descended humbly - kicking the show to a start with the hypnotic rolling of ‘Undergrowth’.
Admittedly, it was my first time catching Squid live, yet instantly their in-person set up and proficiency was made crystal clear to me. Live, the elements of the new album were so tangible and well executed. From the segues between tracks, musical fills and all components’ complementary nature with each other, it was a brilliant display. In the opening song, whilst percussion and vocals tag teamed the audience, and whilst the backing keys created this ethereal atmosphere (especially at the song’s end), the trumpet haunted the space with a raw and almost liminal quality.
Moving into ‘Devil’s Den’ with a sweeping quality and a picking riff – trumpeting subtleties flickered in and out alongside the chirpy keys. This came before an electric break out and hell-for-leather tempo shift that thrusted the keys into the limelight with their seemingly east Asian tone. In these flurries, seeing lead singer and drummer Ollie Judge fly is just so impressive. His emotive talking head sits atop a contrasting writhing body. Nearly reminiscent of a Squid or Octopus himself, with the rhythms he drives loose, at times its almost unfathomable he only has four limbs. His vocalising and screaming… frenetic. Flawless.
It must be said, again like a multi-limbed creature, the band itself presented a twitching, switching dexterity just as much as their front man. By this I mean between songs, not only were the segues effective, this was helped by the highly rehearsed swapping of instruments. For instance, one moment saw Laurie Nankivell’s trumpet grappling with energetic rhythms, before he traded for a shaker or even a bass. Guitarists Louis Borlase and Anton Pearson dovetailed in such a complimentary fashion yet were capable on both an electrical mixing front and again with a bass guitar. It could be said that Arthur Leadbetter was the only constant: a synth master amongst the calculated carnage. He helped mold the soundscapes with a cool breeze akin to that of the industrial fans, crafted steep crescendos like the venue’s high ceilings.
In Squid’s live performance, it seems there’s a creative licence of course, yet even when working-in songs from the previous album ‘Bright Green Field’ – like ‘G.S.K’, ‘Peel St.’, and ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ - there was this perfectly created connection between new and old. So much so, that it could even be a compilation release in itself.
As the intertwining setlist moved on (see below), Squid doused their near-300 strong crowd with infectious methodology. Beautiful trumpet sections. Almost-holy chord ascensions. Driving percussive buildups came before the plaster was ripped off – leaving viewers in limbo, like being placed directly on the back Evil Knievel’s bike whilst flying and falling over the Grand Canyon. Just when you think it’s over, bam, the tyres on the ledge and the band pick you back up out of the fall effortlessly.
‘Swing (in a Dream)’ was the final track. Almost symbolic of their electronic and sonic tinkering on the new album, it stuttered like a failing start motor before juddering into life. A desperate Passat on a snarling winter morn effectively evolved into a rhythmic wild buggy storming the winding, ruggedness of wriggling cowbells and growling guitar. In Squid’s well known percussive dalliances, they have incorporated a thrilling, ever-developing aspect – now going stride for stride effortlessly with electronica.
After the Flash
Swing (in a Dream)