They’ve announced a new album coming this Autumn, but before that gets into full swing, instrumental post-metal darlings Pelican returned to London ahead of time as part of a short run of European dates. Hugh Platt went down to nod along and sweat it out in London’s summer heatwave.
6 things we learned watching Pelican in London…
1) Whether it’s because of the sweltering weather clinging to London right now, or the fact that it’s only been just over a year since Pelican last toured the UK, but The Garage is thankfully not sold out tonight. Sure, it’s a bit disheartening to see a band of the calibre of Pelican play to less than packed-out houses, but if it means we’re not arse-toelbow with every sweat-soaked riff-lover in London (and yes, we’re looking at you, fellow bearded fat guys).
2) Before Pelican JK Flesh, aka Justin Broadrick, aka one half of Godflesh. Even with just a single electric guitar and a laptop, Broadrick’s solo work has an equivalent industrial pummelling effect to that of the band he’s most famous for. What little vocals Broadrick deploys are little more than feral howls, with the texture and timbre of his set dictated to by the harsh, remorseless beats programmed into his laptop, and the screeching, violent lines coming off his guitar. While it might be a stretch to claim enjoyment from the display, no-one could deny it certainly achieved its aim of unbalancing, unnerving, and altogether oppressing its audience.
3) One of the best comicbook stories of the last decade is a little known 2000AD story called Cradlegrave. 2000AD themselves describe it as “Skins written by David Cronenberg“, but to be honest that falls woefully short of capturing the hellish blend of council estate grimness and mutant body-horror that Cradlegrave was. Why bring up a comic book no-one has ever heard of in a live music review? Because that’s what JK Flesh sounds like. The comparison is rammed all the harder home by Broadrick’s slideshow backdrop of black’n'white photos of deserted urban decay, which given London’s current climate have an althogether blisted-by-the-sun vibe to them. While Broadrick’s set (thankfully) doesn’t end like Cradlegrave, with a a full-on council estate arson-riot led by gangs of hoodie-wearing teenagers addicted to sucking the black milk from the mutant teats of a cancer-ridden pensioners, it sure as shit sounds like it could be the soundtrack to it.
4) Compared to their warm-up act, Pelican start out seeming almost polite in how they take to the stage. They get a bit of fire back when their second song, ‘Lathe Biosas’, snaps everyone in the venue out of their heatstroke-torpor. As unintentionally backhanded as it might sound, there’s a real solid professionalism to how Pelican unleash their ocean of sound. Instrumental bands often struggle to provide focus live, but the intricacies that sneak out between Pelican’s mountainous riffs when they play live subvert this pitfall perfectly.
5) To that end, the two songs of new material that appears in tonight’s setlist – ‘Immutable Dusk’, and ‘Deny The Absolute’ - fit the flow of Pelican’s repertoire even if their presence inevitably means a few old favourites (Where was ‘March to the Sea’? Oh). Of the pair, ‘Deny The Absolute’ has a bit more grit’n'crunch to it. The weak link in the band remains Larry Herweg’s drumming – which tonight seems confused at times, rather than outright faulty – but given that Pelican’s USPs are both the monstrous size of their guitar sound and just how deftly and delicate they can flip it rond to when required, it’s not a set-killer tonight.
6) Pelican’s set is relatively concise – they’re on stage for little more than an hour. Neither shining now sputtering, tonight’s show demonstrated a band in control of their dominion. Their willingness to subvert some of their more popularist songs from their setlist with untried material feels more like a genuine wish to maintain their artistic progression, rather than a thick-headed we-want-tp-play-our-new-material-so-fuck-you attitude from the band. The promise of the band returning in the new year with a whole set of fresh material, and the rejuvenated enthusiasm from the band that tonight’s new song moments showed will follow with it, should be something very special indeed.