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The Phantom Band / Adam Stafford / River of Slime – The Tunnels, Aberdeen – Friday 6th June 2014

Friday night at the Tunnels was a good reminder of why I don’t go to that many shows in Aberdeen. Even with the show finishing at 11:30, it was still nearly 2 a.m. until I got to bed. But the combination of acts made both the show unmissable and the late night more than worthwhile.

It was my first time at the Tunnels and first impressions were quite favourable with a dance floor in front of the stage and the bar sited on a raised level to the rear of the room. The Tunnels definitely falls into the category of sweaty basement, particularly, as was on the case on Friday night, when it contains a 300 strong sell-out audience.

Opening act was Kev from FOUND’s River of Slime alter ego and, as on previous occasions, I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

The first time I saw RoS, the set had a very cut-up feeling but since then the sets seem to have become more focused. Interestingly these more coherent pieces aren’t a million miles away from the electronic direction that the mothership FOUND seems to be taking.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t experimental elements included but overall, thanks to a beefy sound and a nice range of electronic tunes, this was the most satisfying River of Slime set that I’ve seen to date.

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River of Slime

Experimental was a good word to apply to Adam Stafford’s 4 song (but still half hour) set. It was the first time that I’ve seen Adam deliver a set wholly with his voice (no guitar at all) and was effectively split into two halves.

The first half comprised two familiar songs, one from each of his last two LPs. ‘Build A Harbour Immediately’ was represented by the opening ‘Shot Down Summer Wannabe’ whilst the SAY long listed (but criminally overlooked) ‘Imaginary Walls Collapse’ contributed (just) ‘His Acres’.

The remaining songs were both ‘instrumentals’  (or to be more accurate – wordless) and those explored the sonic possibilities that one man can create with just his voice and vocal looping. The lengthy latter piece in particular was complex building up layer upon layer of samples to dramatic effect.

If ‘Imaginary Walls’ was the sort of pop music that Adam would like to hear played on the radio then these two pieces suggest that his next album (due to be recorded imminently) will take things in a far more avant garde direction. As ever though he was met by an appreciative audience and received a terrific reaction.

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Adam Stafford

And so to the headliners themselves. The Phantom Band were a big part of the early years of this blog with two albums released in 18 months and loads of great live shows. This however was first time I’d seen them play in more than two and a half years, with the release of third LP ‘Strange Friend’ last week finally ending their hibernation

I sometimes think that the best time to hear a record live is after just a handful of plays when the songs are fresh and still revealing things with every play. Which is where I found myself on Friday as the album had only arrived the previous day. There’s no doubt that the timing of the show offered a great opportunity to explore (much of) the new record since seven of its nine tracks were played in the course of the evening. And on the basis of Friday’s evidence, the new tunes fully live up to the pedigree of their illustrious predecessors

The set was filled out with many of their best songs from the first two albums although it’s  a little surprising that there was just one (‘A Glamour’) drawn from ‘The Wants’.  The four selections from ‘Checkmate Savage’ make a convincing case for just how great the Phantoms are as a rock band that you can dance to. (Or at least sway to in the case of elderly bloggers).

So there were plenty of positives on Friday but unfortunately the show didn’t quite manage to be the truly great experience of previous shows.

That it fell a little short was entirely down to a rather sludgey sound with, in particular, Andy’s keyboards (so prominent on ‘Strange Friend’) struggling to find space in amongst the sturm und drang of the rest of the band. In fact Rick’s comment at one point that the band had some ‘bunker busters’ lined up later in the set could honestly have been applied to the sonic shock and awe tactics deployed virtually throughout.

This wasn’t always a drawback, as both ‘(Invisible) Friend’ and first encore  ‘No Shoe Blues’ (which included a vocal reprise of set opener ‘The Wind That Cried The World’) stood out for their more subtle approach. But on the whole it did blunt the attack somewhat meaning that the show fell frustratingly short of its potential.

Nevertheless Friday was still a really good experience best illustrated perhaps by the fact that I’ve spent much of the weekend since listening to, not just ‘Strange Friend’ but the band’s entire catalogue.

The Phantom Band played:

1. The Wind That Cried The World 2. Folk Song Oblivion 3. Doom Patrol 4. Sweatbox 5. The Howling 6. (Invisible) Friends 7. A Glamour 8. Throwing Bones 9. Clapshot 10. Women of Ghent

Encore:

11. No Shoe Blues 12. Crocodile

‘Strange Friend is available in all good record shops and from Chemikal Underground.

The Phantom Band play Lost Map’s  sold out appropriately named Howling Fling (18-20 July – Isle of Eigg) and further dates are expected in the autumn.

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