In 1974 I was at the flicks when there was a gasp from the audience as the whole place began to shake. The reason was that it was an old cinema which had been converted into a double screen place and the movie showing in the other auditorium was called Earthquake. It used a new system called Sensurround which replicated the feeling of this natural phenomenon by the use of ramped up bass (or should that be ramped down bass). Having been next door at the Grand Theatre to see the opera La traviata a few nights before, I wondered if the audience there were experiencing a similar effect generated by I Like Trains, as Violetta was dying in the arms of Alfredo. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with turning the volume to 11, or even 15, especially when the physical experience is as important as the musical one.
Before this, however, we witnessed a performance from the warm-up act, Polevaulter. No, I’m not going to tell the old joke, although it will take a lot of self-restraint. I couldn’t find much about them on the internet except that they are an ‘alt noise band’ based either in Huddersfield or Leeds.
Their particular brand of noise was pretty lightweight when compared to I Like Trains but they still managed to churn out a few decibels. There is no note as to their names but they comprise a bass player and a singer who also occasionally utilises a mixing desk. The bass player remained fairly static throughout whereas the vocalist went through half an hour of angst, illustrated by throwing one long moody. Sadly I couldn’t understand what his problem was as the microphone was half way down his throat thus totally impairing the diction, but he made Morrissey sound euphoric. I am happy to admit that this is probably an age thing as there seemed to be a loyal coterie in attendance.
After a 20 minute break I Like Trains took to the stage. This was the first standing event at Howard Assembly Room which had filled up ready for the headliners.
At this point I must declare an interest as the drummer in the band, Simon Fogal, is someone I have come to know, respect and admire over the past few years, but I promise that my review will accurately reflect the evening’s entertainment without any bias. Actually, I was half hoping that he would be rubbish so that you would believe me but, sadly, he, and the rest of the band, was superb.
The set comprised their music along with a video presentation projected onto the back of the stage. Most of the images were either multiple frames or distorted in some way so the slatted effect of the wooden backdrop at Howard Assembly Room distorted them even further and added an extra layer of dystopia.
Whist I had not seen the band play before, I had had a look at some of their stuff on YouTube but this is an act which really needs to be witnessed live. I hate making comparisons but trying to describe music is like trying to describe colour or a taste, (and no, they didn’t sound like chicken) so I have little alternative as we need a common reference point. I realise that my musical reference points will be different from yours but here goes anyway. The description I came across was alternative/post-rock band which I am sure will help those of you who are annoyingly much younger than I.
One of their first songs was Desire is a Mess which ends with the line ‘How do you sleep at night’ which is repeated several times and put me in mind of Talking Heads or Prodigy with the line being half sung and half spoken/shouted. This was to be a theme, with one exception, a slower song dedicated to a ‘member of the I Like Trains family who we have lost.’
I Like Trains is made up of the aforesaid sticksmith, Simon Fogal, guitarists Ian Jarrold, Guy Bannister, who also did a stint on keyboard/synthesiser or whatever it is called nowadays, David Martin, who is also the lead singer, and bass guitarist Alistair Bowis.
The programme would have done justice to an arena, what with the special effects and the visuals, so was extremely powerful in this small room. The various subjects on the films were politicians, oligarchs, television evangelists, contestants on the US quiz show Jeopardy, Bobby Fischer the one-time World Chess Champion and various interesting looking members of the public. There were also abstract shapes and intervals of brightly coloured spotlights whose beams were accentuated by a haze within the auditorium.
Most of the songs were concerned with the state of the world and how we all seem to be doomed, a 21st Century version of the protest songs such as Eve of Destruction and Good News Week, but louder and punchier.
Simon’s drums were much to the fore, not just keeping the beat but adding an incessant, chest thumping bass register along with his forays into the tune, which the guitars embellished upon making me fear for my dental fillings. I just wish that my knees were in better condition so I could have ventured to the front of the main level to get the full effect.
The show ended with the single ‘The Truth’ a powerful piece about fake news. The last line was ‘I am the truth. You will never see me again and even if you did you wouldn’t recognise me.’ This is intense stuff even when viewed as the video in a domestic setting, but when performed live with few constraints, either in the number of repetitions or the volume level, it was relentlessly hammered home and the most incredible way to end a show. This is from somebody who hates being shouted at. I find those who need to yell are either hammered or trying to cover their lack of knowledge or logical argument, if you are saying something sensible I will listen. Here it seemed to me to be irony in the use of the style of those against whom the band were railing, for once – no pun intended.
Nowadays my sole opportunity to see new bands is on Later with Jools Holland so am not as connected to modernism as I used to be, when The Old Grey Whistle Test was compulsory viewing, another age thing I guess. I found this to be an intelligent performance for thinking people, despite the odd ‘whooper’, so if that is what post rock is then I am all for it.
You know that you have been affected by a performance when the tunes and lyrics keep reverberating in your head all the way home. When I put my earbuds in on the bus I just turned on the noise cancelling facility, as anything else I listened to at that moment would have been an anticlimax and detracted from the main event.
The band will shortly be embarking on a European Tour but will be playing gigs back home again in December. For full details please go to https://iliketrains.co.uk/shows/
For more information on Polevaulter see https://polevaulter.bandcamp.com/
For other events at Howard Assembly Room it is https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs provided by I Like Trains
So a chap walks into an athletics meeting carrying a long metal tube. The security guard says ‘Are you a polevaulter?’ The chap replies, ‘No I’m from Germany but how did you know my name vas Valter?’
My resolve cracked.