British Sea Power - Salty Water

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Manchester University, Manchester, UK

Duke Spirit seem like a day at work; highly functional yet uneventful and predictable. Unfortunately it's drone rock in more than one sense of the word. You will notice from a distance that their singer's platinum locks dig up images of Debbie Harry as do her rather versatile piercing vocal strains. You will not remember what Duke Spirit sound like only who they sound like; namely a monotone version of Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and possibly Mazzy Star. One can hardly criticise a band for sticking to their influences but influence alone especially such common ones are seldom going to garner much attention. In the dying moments of a fairly unmemorable set, some dirt, noise and grit is given a temporary employment contract. The new boy in the office strengthens the heart beat of the organism somewhat but it's likely he'll be out on the street sometime soon.

The stage looks a set from Dad's Army; military delusions in the tranquil background of middle England. The local forestry commission would be up in arms as somebody it appears, has been out with a set of shears, assaulting the local tree population. Amplifiers, speakers and drums look like they've been dragged through the bushes outside bedecked in leaves and branches. Images of indigenous birds and plant life are projected over the back wall. British Sea Power's dancer/occasional keyboard player sits reclined like a wounded soldier, sporting an air-raid warden helmet. Apparently this is standard procedure so forgive me if novelty overwhelms. No sense of insanity is lost as Yan, Hamilton and co. occupy the stage but one begins to understand why they go to such lengths to decorate their surroundings.

Their appearance is particularly underwhelming. They're slight to say the least and ordinary looking to the point of affectedness. In the context of the near inscrutable nonsense in the background, their almost transparent lack of stage presence converts them into a gripping centre piece. As shy unlikely stars, the spotlight freezes them. Yan's mouth seems the only active feature on his face. He utters two words during the entire set, presumably a gaff letting his character slip for a millisecond. At this point it's clear that the apparent chaos has been somewhat arranged but entirely to British Sea Power's advantage.

Impressive though "The Decline of British Sea Power" is it could hardly be described as stunning. For the first time at least, it's another tale live. The whole unpredictable nature of the show takes nearly as much importance as the music itself. Tunes like "Remember Me" and "Apologies to Insect Life" understandably start something of a ruckus but it isn't until the finale that hell truly bursts from under the crust of the earth. What looks like the exhumed corpse of Gentle Ben invades the stage; somebody wearing a tatty ten foot bear suit held together by duct tape. The man in the tin hat strolls through the crowd beating a dilapidated tom-tom until he's wearing it over his head. Noble stands aloft the speaker stack and stares like he's awaiting the return of his ship. In Monty Python style the rest of the band play on like everything is perfectly normal until Hamilton brings the curtain down - literally! Encores fool nobody and here there's no clearer conclusion.

The sheer inscrutability of tonight's show elevates it above pretentiousness. The impetus may be lost with repeat performances but British Sea Power's sonic ability alone still justifies a return to a land that even Lewis Carroll would be baffled by.

Author: Dave Himelfield
Source: Manchester Music
Date: 22nd April 2004

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