LIVE REVIEW: caroline, Competition @ Gosforth Civic Theatre, Newcastle (01.04.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Rhiannon Banks

Local hero Competition got pulled in as a very last-minute replacement for the billed Able Noise (felled by more Covid fuckery). Given Craig Pollard’s interest in efficiency and concision and fitting his kit in a backpack, this kind of readiness feels like a win. And he was great (somehow it was the first time I’d seen a Competition set). There’s an awkwardness and vulnerability to what he does but that’s offset against the confidence being so exposed requires. Competition’s simple but artful loops and intimate vocals reminded me by turns of Jamie Lidell (sans hotel dressing gown), Arab Strap and a Tyneside Frank Ocean. Wonderful stuff.

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited for a gig but caroline’s album has barely left my turntable for weeks and I’ve been evangelising about them like a crazy person. This was, in short, a big deal. Walking into a rearranged Gosforth Civic Theatre – the stage curtained off, the equipment in the centre with artfully arranged lighting – added to the anticipation. And the whole thing floored me, frankly. I’m not ashamed of my tendency to get weepy at the right gigs, but tonight was a triple-whammy of dust in my eye.

They started – as the album does – with the Slint-pulse of Dark Blue and from the first “I want it all…” I was theirs. It felt powerfully intimate and almost like a privilege to be this close, to see the amount of non-verbal communication needed for this music to work, the encouraging looks and the almost imperceptible nods indicating changes. Playing in the round made perfect sense all of a sudden. Some of the eight-piece switched between instruments frequently and they were utterly immersed throughout, taking us with them. Moments of almost jazzy abstraction were coupled to simple plaintive refrains, stirring violin lines grounded by fathoms deep bass. There were exchanges of scratchy guitar riffs that had all the rock ’n’ roll removed, all the posturing ignored. Sometimes it was just the voices, raised in almost campfire harmonies.

I’m fumbling for comparisons because they don’t quite sound like anyone else. Hints of the aforementioned Slint, and on the more melodic tracks perhaps The Earlies or Sparklehorse. There’s some Godspeed in there – or more precisely, some Thee Silver Mt Zion. And the new wave of ambient folk made by bands like Old Saw. The nearest UK act I can think of is Haress (whose imminent second album Ghosts will serve as a perfect companion to caroline’s debut): that same marriage of post-rock exploration to bucolic instrumentation and folky refrains. They finished with Good Morning (Red) because of course they did, the entire gorgeous set bookended by perhaps their most powerful songs. And of course it ruined me and I knew that we’d all seen something very special indeed.

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