British Sea Power - Salty Water

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TTs The Bear's Place, Cambridge, USA

Contrived. Pretentious. Reckless. All of these words befit British Sea Power, the over-the-top indie pop band whose set at T.T.'s was nothing if not unbridled. Well, that's true as far as the lead singer, Yan, is concerned. He is a madman, traipsing around the stage in a hideous rainbow-colored women's sweater. He's terribly ugly, and skinny to boot, and he can't seem to resist hooting nonsense rock slogans into the microphone before and after every single. Given the excessive echo effect applied to the vocals, these notes pierce the air inside the club and the eardrums of those present and willfully witnessing this spectacle. Intermittently throwing his guitar down to the floor and demanding massages from his bassist Hamilton, the guy is a mess. And he likes it that way.

It's pretty obvious when a band has no respect for its audience. It's all contrived, though, with British Sea Power, and this should be pretty apparent from their stage decorations, which include branches, shrubbery, and stuffed birds, arranged with painstaking detail. The costumes sort of give it away, too. Clad in complementary sweaters of various patterns and styles, I guess they look British. They look more Canadian to me. I'll have to check the textbooks, but it's my understanding that trashy British equals classy Canadian. So they're somewhere in that not-so-happy medium. Details, details. Nitpicking aside, they hate Americans and they hate you.

Or so it seems.

If the "war on terror" never came about, Arab-poaching weren't the new fad, and Tony Blair had never declared his servitude to George "Strong Enough for a Man, But Made for a Woman" Bush, then I could definitely see British Sea Power being singled out as some sort of radical international threat. Tossing affected, über-British insults toward the crowd, Yan was the embodiment of the British jihad that never was. But somehow the crowd forgave him.

May I repeat that this band, however annoying, is tongue-in-cheek. Their album is called "The Decline of British Sea Power" and feigns at even further pretense, but the songs are basically harmless. This is a pop band; they have songs with titles like "Remember Me" and "The Lonely," the latter of which Yan sentimentally introduced as addressing "longing and loneliness." The fact is, though, that their songs are remarkably catchy, combining new wave-esque melodies with droning guitars and the occasional synth. "Carrion," one of their more upbeat numbers, is downright euphoric. Reminiscent at times of Boston greats Mission of Burma, BSP seems to have things pretty well figured out.

There are times in these songs, though, when the band seems to develop a distaste for, well, changing chords. Piling up the guitar feedback bit by bit and destroying amps in the process (seriously), some instances see volume supercede song structure. Indeed, this was one of the loudest shows I had ever seen, and yes, I have seen Lightning Bolt. After a minute or so of this one-chord noise-pop, the return to chord changes start to sound really satisfying; ultimately, the songs resolve themselves nicely.

Yan, however, never managed to get himself together, falling down with his mic stand and even pulling a stage dive (to no avail; he plummeted to the club's hardwood floor). Near the set's end, he left the stage and disappeared for about five minutes, leaving his band-mates to try their hardest to look like they didn't know what was going on, of course positioning him for a triumphant return before the bloody ten-minute closer. Over the course of this "song," the conspicuous birds and shrubs were torn down, guitars maimed, and psychological damage done. To say that the audience was "shocked," though, would be giving the band a bit too much credit. It's 2004, and the original punk demolition men (Iggy Pop, Darby Crash, and such) have long since pushed the envelope. Yan's antics are fun, but it's easy to pass him off as an imitator, a pretentious bum pushing some joke that nobody truly gets. While it's understandable to hate British Sea Power, I don't. Their songs are worth their weight in gold, and rather than detracting, I think their insanely affected live presentation enhances their three-minute goodness. This is noisy pop music, and anything to dress it up is fine with me.

And Yan, until next time, stay out of trouble, you knave.

Author: Peter Ekman
Source: The Harvard Independent
Date: 10th March 2004

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