British Sea Power - Salty Water

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93ft East, London, UK

"How many? Count them. And such a press of people" intones a sonorous voice over the PA; "So many waiting, how many waiting?... Are they coming? No, not yet. You can see some eagles./And hear the trumpets/Here they come..." And here they come indeed. It's hardly common practice to have a little known TS Eliot poem as an introduction, but as these five young men walk onto a perfectly lit stage strewn with foliage and wild birds, it emphasizes why British Sea Power are so important at a time when their contemporaries, even those with supposedly left-field leanings, are thinking reductively.

It's the attention to detail that makes their performance so compelling, both aesthetically and musically. For example, new recruit (named The Official Fleet Reserve) appears utterly terrified as he sits, adorned with a WWII era tin helmet, doing very little save bang a marching band-style bass drum - a spectacle in itself, to be sure, but the attention to detail is in the symbolism of the white feathers he is made to wear. Even offstage the band eschew the clipboard and scrap of paper approach to gaining names on their mailing list, instead opting for a leather bound 'visitors book'. You could argue that all this is a smoke-screen of pretension. You could argue that this is intended to win hearts through aesthetics, leaving the music as an aside - but you'd be as mistaken as General Gordon's campaign against the Dervish. For British Sea Power are an increasingly fearsome musical proposition. They're able not only to blast out the caustic post-punk of set opener "Apologies To Insect Life" and "Remember Me", but also craft elegiac laments such as new single "Childhood Memories": "God help us if the radiation leaks/God help us if nobody knows for weeks" and the beatific-becoming-Bomber-Harris epic that is customary set-closer "Lately".

Whereas breaks in the set once heralded pauses of epic proportions while the band retuned their instruments, tonight there's barely time to catch one's breath... one brief interlude is even filled with the sound of a Merlin engine roaring low overhead. There comes a moment for every band when they face that challenge to move beyond the endless round of coffin venues and blank audience indifference. Tonight, British Sea Power espied the new territories open to be conquered, believed they could be theirs and seized them, deftly. Reports from the field suggest that the working title of the band's forthcoming album is to be The Rise and Fall of British Sea Power. On tonight's evidence, they'd do well to pick something more triumphant.

Author: Luke Turner
Source: The Stereo Effect
Date: 29th October 2002

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