Advance Base @ La Sala Rossa – 5 December 2021

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The gig ran backwards. Advance Base, the headliner, played first as he had to drive back to the States after his set.  Inside La Salla Rossa, a small crowd gathered. Outside the snow came down.

He (Owen Ashworth) opened with ‘Christmas in Oakland’ from 2016’s ‘A Shut-In’s Prayer’, followed by two more Christmas tracks. The man does, by his own admission, have more Christmas songs than most, and told us he needs to milk the only month he feels they should be played in. ‘New Year’s Kiss’, a stand-out track of sonic and lyrical loveliness from Ashworth’s previous project, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, followed.

The small crowd lapped it up in different ways. The standard way: clapping, cheering sort of thing. And the not so standard: a man in a sheepskin-collared jacket paced the floor and made what appeared to be sewing motions with his hands. Another, who had been sat up in the coats and bags with his eyes closed, seemingly blissed out from the first bells and synth notes of the opener, lay curled up on his side, hat covering his face, and slept.

Which I don’t think is an insult, not for Advance Base. Ashworth’s music occupies a strange, liminal space. The songs are warm, blanket warm (if the blanket was woven from synth, drum machine, and voice), and his delivery slow and deep. His lyrics build small everyday worlds full of conversation and character. They pull you in as a book pulls you in. And as a book in the morning can help wake you up, but in the evening might help you sleep, so Advance Base can either lift you into a greater awareness of your surroundings or soothe you into the unconsciousness of odd dreams.

Each song stumbled in, bruised, strange, and beautiful. ‘Summon Satan’ pleased the people. Ashworth asked for the dry ice machine to be turned off as he ‘felt like a ‘Häagen-Dazs’ (if I heard correctly). Then, all too quickly, after the last shimmering Omnichord stabs of ‘Christmas in Milwaukee’ had faded out, as the sleeping man woke with an audible snort, it was over, and our man was out in the snow with his suitcase of instruments, driving home.

*

Disclaimer: before tonight I had not heard of or heard either of the supports, fanclubwallet, and Thanya Iyer.

I don’t really know what to say about the band who performed next. It was all manner of awkwardness for me personally. All: the songs, the in-between song chat. I just couldn’t get into it.

They’re musically competent, tight, and play poppy punky stuff with titles like ‘What’s Up’ which have decent melodies and hooks, but they don’t do it for me.

It should be noted though that they seemed to do it for everyone else. People jumped around and wobbled their heads with joy. And to be fair, things did get better towards the end. A new song, which if it’s the one I think it was, was ‘Car Crash in G Major’, and a Christmas song, were easily the best of their set.

‘Car Crash in G Major’, by the way, has stonking 4 million listens on Spotify, which is where I retreated the day after this gig to work things out, to see if I really thought what I thought. And what I think this: fanclubwallet’s songs still don’t do it for me, but they do come across a bit better on record than live.  I could go into detail as to why that could be, but this is not an academic paper, is it? So let’s just leave it there.

*

Last onstage (and who might have been first if the gig had run forwards) is Thanya Iyer, and what a way to end. Loops of violin and bleeps, long, meandering songs that manage to both feel as if they are solid but falling apart, disintegrating and building themselves from those same splintered pieces. They are eerie, delicate constructions, and often you have to work alongside the band to hear their coherence.

But cohere they do, glued together from their foundations by Alex Kasmirer-Sibert’s complex basslines and the skittering beats of the percussionist, Daniel Gélinas, who jitters over his kit, one shaking leg tied with a band of seashells, jazzy and strange, like a spooked Ian Chang of Son Lux. 

And over it all floats Iyer’s voice, dipping and weaving through the music, as the music weaves through her voice, all braiding. A voice that shares a little in tone with Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards, and a little in technique with Bjork, Patrick Wolf, or Julia Holter. Although comparisons don’t really do it justice, as her voice belongs to her, as does the music to her and her bandmates who are somehow wrestling it all out to cover us, challenging, genre-defying music that is unique and totally itself, not trying to be anything other than what it is – even if that might be complicated and fragile – which is a beautiful thing.

Review & photos – Dominic Blewett

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