LIVE REVIEW: Thank, Penance Stare, Smuj @ Little Buildings, Newcastle (23.02.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s tempting to contemplate what a random passer-by would think were they to stick their head into tonight’s Thank gig. Dominating the stage both spatially and through sheer force, drummer Steve Miles is a formidable presence; topless, heavily tattooed and assaulting his kit with the ferocity of an enraged wildman. Before him stands noise fiend Theo Gowans – tall, lanky, and commanding all manner of home-sourced oddities, from giant springs and assorted cutlery to wind-up chattering teeth. Diminutive vocalist Freddy Vinehill-Cliffe, meanwhile, orchestrates the chaos in a bright tropical shirt, yelling of Latin hymns and grim doomsday scenarios in broad Yorkshire drawl. Quite how comparatively low-key guitar/synth player Lewis Millard and bassist Cameron Moitt became entangled within this rabble in anyone’s guess.

Inevitably, such disparate components yield a jarring, off-kilter racket, yet as proven on debut album Thoughtless Cruelty, Thank are also an outfit of rare, unconventional synergy. It’s a factor which makes for a thrilling live proposition, coalescing with incendiary results even as the quintet spill onto the venue floor, unable to fit their set-up on the Little Buildings stage. Opening both the record and tonight’s show, From Heaven is a cathartic melange of anxiety and foreboding, its droning, doom-laden procession a hypothetical soundtrack to brick walls caving in from all angles. Good Boy on the other hand is all bulldozing rhythms and pulverising electronics, while Dread’s seductive grooves and quotable refrains are juxtaposed by the implosive, riff-laden din of A Social Contract.

Tumultuous and idiosyncratic throughout, it’s a brief yet blazingly brilliant appearance – facilitated by an excellent engineer who spins what could have been a muddy hodgepodge into a superbly balanced mix, particularly within so small a space.

In support, Penance Stare initially seem to have undertaken an earth-shakingly sludgy about-turn – though this leaden distortion is soon revealed to be the noisy protest of a busted guitar cab. While not quite so abrupt, Esmé Louise Newman’s project has nevertheless progressed considerably since the addition of drummer Skylar Gil, and once those technical issues are resolved we’re treated to a fiery showcase of their taut, gloomy shade of blackened metal. Remarkably dense for a mere two-piece, the murkier elements of the Penance Stare palette increasingly occupy the foreground; swilling in dormancy until perforated by inexorable charges of desolate riffs and fraught blast-beats.

The evening’s wildcards meanwhile are Smuj, three-quarters of whom are familiar as members of local noiseniks No Teeth. Those attuned with their sister band may already be forming hellish mental perceptions, and it’s true that much of the same DNA remains present and correct. Pitched in an unstable netherworld between The Fall’s angular punk and Beefhart-nodding avant-garde, their set likewise packs dollops of token absurdity, whether through synth/trumpet terror Sam Spencer-Whitbread’s contorted expressions or the quartet’s gloriously farcical attempts to keep in time. For all their obnoxiousness, however, Smuj’s most confounding characteristic is their improbable tunefulness – albeit in a manner that’ll later have you lowering your soundsystem or device’s treble in a bid to redress the balance! Febrile and discordant, their opening clamour nevertheless proves hugely enjoyable.

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