Maps & Atlases with The Physics House Band
Dingwalls, Camden Town, London
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
It's a peaceful, if slightly damp, night in Camden, as the good ship Motel's editor gets back on the horse after relocating 200 miles down the road and a protracted winter's hibernation/adjustment period/busy times at The Day Job. Dingwalls is a fine place to get started - nice door staff, warm atmosphere by London live venue standards and a good all-round view of the stage (unless you're stood by a structurally important yet inconveniently-located pillar - regulars of The Ruby Lounge in The Fugitive Motel's native Manchester will sympathize).
The Physics House Band have a wonderful name, and if you hadn't heard a tune by them, your preconceptions might steer you towards quaint shouty agit-pop. The reality is far more enticing and challenging. Earth-shuddering, meandering basslines take centre stage, prompting occasional Motel contributor Charlotte to observe that she would file them under "lounge jazz". There's a song towards the end of the set that seems to pass through 6/8 and 6/4 (at least) on its way to a thunderous 4/4 (?) passage that leaves you feeling a bit giddy.
The Brighton-based group master dynamics, mood swings and the aforementioned time signature shifts with class and expertise. When the relentless bass groove is cut of in its prime for a shy, delicate looped sample of a heartbeat, it hits you square in the face - they will go far. It comes as no surprise to learn that they are labelmates of Three Trapped Tigers (Blood and Biscuits, you guys sure as hell know a good thing when you hear one), and if you hear their name on everyone's lips as festival season gets underway, then there is some justice in the world.
In contrast, headliners Maps & Atlases at times fall flat - which is a shame, because their most recent record Beware and Be Grateful is really rather good. The perky, summery guitar licks of 'Pigeon', complimented by a hefty dose of cowbell, grab one's attention right at the start, and 'Winter' evokes fond memories of Kings of Leon in the good old days before they trimmed their hair and beards, stopped putting suggestive-looking flowers on their album covers and started making derivative, uninspiring rock'n'roll nonsense. So far, so pleasant.
After the first fifteen minutes or so, the attention starts to wander with a couple of proggier numbers which don't really seem to translate to the stage from their recorded form. The bluesy stylings of 'Will' and 'The Charm' - where the large, illuminated bass drum parked at the front of the stage gets a thorough workout - get things back on track. However, things go off the boil once again until a bloody excellent cover of 'Everybody Wants To Rule the World' by Tears for Fears hushes the chattering classes in the stalls and gets people tapping their feet in time. The atmosphere immediately lifts, and it's probably the peak of the night. 'Silver Self's perky afrobeat stylings prompt the first audience piggyback, and the show ultimately finishes on a high.
Musically, there's plenty to get excited about when it comes to Maps & Atlases - elements that would appeal to fans of The Maccabees, Modest Mouse, Beirut... and that's just a small cross section of comparisons that could be drawn beyond those already mentioned above. A set of ups and downs will have delighted the band's hardcore following regardless, but alas, it leaves the casual observer heading home frustrated.
words: Kate Goodacre