What does a girl named Kristin do when she’s bought two tickets to Bastille months in advance, and still can’t figure out who she wants to take the week of? She calls a musician friend of hers and offers him the second ticket for free.
So what does her musician friend do in return? While everybody’s jumping around and having a screaming good time, he pulls up his phone’s audio recorder. And he bootlegs the show, phone in shirt pocket, while he stands perfectly still on his tip-toes in the middle of the crowd, examining how these guys make their sounds. Hope she wasn’t too upset that I wasn’t singing along.
Just a few observations about the show:
One. This band’s sound is very much about drums, which you know already if you’ve heard them. That’s good. It resonates because it’s so primal—look no further than to “Pompeii” for that—and a lot of great acts are doing the big-drum thing right now. What makes Bastille stand out, for me, is the pairing of those drum sounds with vocals that drip so heavily with Morrissey influence. (I think that combination’s also a lot of what gets the girls going, and they were screaming, let me tell you.) To facilitate that, every band member has big toms set up, and they must each go through half-dozen drum sticks every night. It seemed like the only toms I could really hear well, though, were the ones Chris Wood (the drummer) was playing on his kit, and maybe a few recorded to track. In a live setting it felt more cosmetic than anything. But people really do get a thrill from seeing performers go to town on something with a stick. (That said, laugh all you want at Imagine Dragons’ concert bass, but I’m pretty sure they’re really playing it, and that we’re really hearing it, and that it sounds really big.)
Two. There was a moment I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing: it was Chris Wood on drums, Dan Smith on vocals, and—wait for it—both Kyle Simmons and Will Farquarson on bass guitar. I wish I had a photograph to prove it. And I was surprised by how full the sound was, when the limited instrumentation could have made for a song with low end and nothing else. I listened hard and couldn’t make out any extra tracked instruments, whereas on earlier songs I’d been able to clearly make out strings and a few other things on track. So what was filling out the sound? First, one of the basses was playing straight sixteenths instead of holding out long tones, so the rhythm made the sound feel not at all hollow. But I especially think it was because every single member of the band was singing harmonies through the song, and some of these guys can sing pretty high. I just never expected that combination of voicings to sound—well, very little like Crosby Stills & Nash. With the driving drums and bass(es), my ears got tricked into thinking it was hearing all kinds of contemporary electronic stuff. The whole thing opened me up to voicings I’ve never considered for Grey Glass.
Three. I’ve developed my own minor obsession with one of their obsessions—specifically, frontman Dan Smith’s, with horror. These guys don’t strike me as dark, scary guys. I mean, this is flat-out pop music they make, even if frequently depressing. But I have to wonder what’s going on, given the number of creepy references they use:
- It’s at least a little disturbing to write “Laura Palmer”, a song about the murdered character who looms invisibly over the classic Twin Peaks TV series. But Smith has said publicly he’s a fan, so it just feels like homage to David Lynch, the series’ creator.
- What started me obsessing was a moment when the background videos started displaying scenes from what could have been horror films, and in many cases from what were. There were the shots of ocean ripples suddenly overtaking the camera like in JAWS, intercut with shots of Alfred Hitchcock floating on the Thames in the trailer for Frenzy. Then we see a girl at night, alone and apparently at home—except that as she pulls something disgusting-looking from the fridge for a midnight snack, we cut to a young man in a varsity jacket, his face obscured by shadow, suddenly in the house with her.
- Elsewhere during the show—during “Scrubs”—they played clips from old horror movies simultaneously, next to each other on the screen in triangle patterns; I spotted several Hitchcock movies and what I’m sure was Night of the Living Dead. And throughout that same song: recorded excerpts of the dialog in Psycho between Norman Bates and Marion Crane. “Well a boy’s best friend is his mother”—it ran chills down my spine.
- And to top it all off, to bring it back home, the music over the PA as soon as the show was over? It was the theme music from Twin Peaks. If these guys are just trying to dangle bits of bait out there for fans to catch themselves on, they hooked me with all that. And if they’re going for some kind of subliminal messaging, well they’re probably doing a pretty good job at that too. (Of course I doubt it’s anything other than a messaging aesthetic coming from Smith’s own personal tastes. But still…)
Four. You read that right earlier: they covered “Scrubs”. They recorded that for a mixtape they released on the internet a while back, but I was surprised to hear it live. Any band that can deliver a TLC cover that well deserves the tip of my hat.
Well look, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading to the end. For you diligent readers, your reward: I may have put my recording on SoundCloud. It’s pretty listenable for being taken w/ the phone’s native mic—enjoy.