Late last month, I went to see the Young Knives at The Cellar. The Young Knives are used to playing much bigger venues, so this was a rare chance for fans in the band’s hometown to see them in the venue that they played six years ago, before The Cellar even had a stage. Back then, support act Listing Ships would have been incongruous opening for them – Listing Ships’ heavy, moody instrumental rock is at odds with the humorous indie pop of Young Knives’ past. Now, their music is much more compatible; the Young Knives have developed a more intense sound on the new album Sick Octave. This gig at The Cellar was effectively a preview of the album and a testing ground for the new material.
I’ve seen the band several times since they released their first album in 2007, and every time, I’ve gone half for the music and half for the laughs. The launch at The Cellar was an unusual gig, though, because it was so planned and structured – singer and guitarist Henry Dartnall expressed his fears during the show that the concept was a bit pretentious. At one point, he said, “We’re playing the whole of Sick Octave, track by track. But it’s a short album. It’s not self-indulgent… this isn’t a midlife crisis…” ‘Pretentious’ is perhaps too strong, but the gig was definitely arty. Tom Dartnall came onstage wearing a mask that looked like a giant Smartie with a manic face Sharpied onto it, and the band were dressed in matching T-shirts, backed by video loops of naked men and trampolines. Between songs, the usual banter was replaced with recitations of poetry and planned sound bites.
I liked the performance, but it’s probably best that it was a one-off set-up. Full album run-throughs are usually avoided in live shows, and it’s not hard to see why – the whole audience eased up when the band dropped the rigid structure and played some old classics. They sounded tight and well-rehearsed on ‘Turn Tail’ and the perennially relevant ‘Weekends and Bleak Days’, which bodes well for their impending UK tour.