North Atlantic Oscillation @ Soup Kitchen
Oscillations and TV’s: Anthony Firmin goes in search of soupy prog
It was a grim evening in Manchester’s Northern Quarter so it was down into my gran’s cellar, I mean the Soup Kitchens basement, for some Neu-Prog - the rescheduled North Atlantic Oscillation gig.
TVAM were the first “act” and were an audio-visual experience with the lone musician playing guitar to a backing tape as well as creating loops resulting in an alternative new-age type of music. One song played reminded me of the Dead Kennedys and some of the other material had a new-wave feel.
Interestingly the anonymous guitarist looked like Jarvis Cocker and had an old TV on stage which played distorted and stylised videos. I wasn't sure what to make of the video; some of it was bizarre at times from sped up gym workouts to disco scenes then moving to war and “pushing the button” - again a nod to the late 70’s and early 80’s.
With little interaction it was difficult to know what the songs were called but I did get Kryptonic Semen and Rewind And Repeat from the video. I really enjoyed the set, it took me way back to the experimental new wave music of the early 80s and has left me curious as well as wanting to see more although most of the audience were bemused by this Total Immersion.
Next up were Kolo Taman and the Soup Kitchens tiny stage looked very cramped with five members of the band along with their equipment on it. They were a complete contrast to TVAM with their jazzy song oriented tunes with lovely harmonies. Although pleasant enough there wasn't anything new or different on offer. They produced light dreamy textures and soundscapes along with their songs but this was not prog or art rock.
The audience quickly warmed to their “jazzy folk” style and the last two songs Summit and Ruminate were interesting. I hate to be negative about bands but they just didn’t fit in this evening but would probably be worth checking out in a different setting.
By the time North Atlantic Oscillation hit the stage the venue was only a little over half full which must've been disappointing considering this was a tour to promote the new album The Third Day. Considering the size of the stage the set up was ambitious with a large square, triangle and circle behind the band onto which a series of interesting projections were made with the band playing almost in darkness.
With such a complex setup of equipment things unfortunately went wrong and it was frustrating for both the band and the audience during what seemed like a long wait for a single cable to be replaced, but it was worth it. Back to loops, sequences and drum machines from a band with two keyboard players who also play guitar and bass, and supplemented by another guitarist who also played “laptop” creating a whole series of interesting soundscapes and songs.
For me the highlight was Drawing Maps From Memory from their debut album Grappling Hooks which came across much heavier than the original but was let down by poor vocals. The vocals were an ongoing problem through the whole show though, and although it didn't ruin anything they did make me cringe from time to time when high notes failed to be hit. Although it was good to see them perform again, they are definitely a band whose subtlety comes across much better on record.
Words: Anthony Firmin