Lighterthief aren’t a band in the conventional sense, a more apt description would be a studio project that spawns the occasional foray onto the live stage from time to time. Consequently live outings are a bit of a rarity, which explained why by two thirty, the Beehive was already overflowing for what proved to be one of the most interesting and original bands to play their Sunday afternoon sessions in a long time. If you look up eclectic in the dictionary, it has a picture of the Lighterthief’s album, Incubation, a diverse and heady mix of grunge blues guitar, soul pounding bass, electronic loops and beats and vocals that cover such a wide range that you could fit a small African country in between them. It was an album that on paper didn’t seem entirely up my street, but one that I warmed too immediately. What I was intrigued to hear was how a project that seemed so rooted in studio technology would transfer to the live performance. I need not have had any concerns.
There was an air of anticipation in the venue as Stuart Rowe kicked off his new batch of songs, fairly trimmed down at first but gradually joined by performers old and new to make more of the magic that had won me over on Incubation. Like all of the best music, its difficult to pin down exactly what it is that they do. Underpinned by an almost Portishead-esque series of dark loops and beats, layers of seemingly incompatible genres are added, thick swamp blues guitar licks, spiralling strains of dirty saxophone, random electronica, wailing freight train harmonica, driving bass lines, off beat jazz and more besides, creating an inconceivable yet beautiful creation. Look up juxtaposition in the dictionary and it has a video of this gig.
And if the music isn’t enough to sate your musical appetite, a small roster of guest singers took their turns to add the icing to this strange and addictive cake. Pete Cousins was right at home complete with his Tom Waits like growl, right at home beside that warped down south delta grunge element that wandered through the set. I must admit that I was surprised to see Sam Bates in on the act and even more pleasantly surprised as this new territory seemed to push his vocals into even more sublime soul realms, without doubt the best I have ever heard from him. But if those two were not enough, Julianne Bastock took over vocal duties and added the most evocative and ethereal of sounds to both contrast and compliment the heavier beats behind her.
It’s a difficult concept to pull off live, trying to combine the fluidity of musicians playing very much in improvisational off the cuff mode with the rigidity of fixed samples and loops, but not only did they manage to do so with style and professionalism, they seemed to be having a bloody good time as well. And as guests came and went and the players bobbed and weaved, through it all Stuart Rowe sat like a man conducting in the eye of the storm and seeming to be having the time of his life.
What set this show above most others is the seamless blending of genres, the heavier elements lift the music above the predictability that more straight forward electronic formats often fall foul of and the use of samples and taped trickery steers the blues-rock sounds away from the clichs of its genre. All in all the dovetailing of all of these diverse musical styles creates the perfect marriage. It’s as if someone has taken the usual building blocks, melted them into interesting new versions of their original self and then uses these new musical shapes to construct something totally original.
So what do you give the man who has heard everything musically. You give him a ticket to a Lighterthief show, a show that contains not just everything, but everything blown apart and then put together in ways that you haven’t heard before.