Maps and Atlases / Tall Ships @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 09.10.10

Ready that dead horse for a fierce beating, because this show was an odd one. Without getting too bogged down in some polemical preamble, let’s just say that it’s easy to see when a genre – as a scene or a community or a trend or whatever – is in trouble.

Oct 9th, 2010 at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds / By Rob Evans
Maps & Atlases The shows are suddenly full of people wearing Leeds fest wristbands who would never have been there a year ago, the newer bands have little of the spark or originality of the pioneers and more and more of the mainstream (for want of a better term) that the loyal fans were trying to escape in the first place seeps in and dilutes things. This is an elitist view, yeah, but when it gives an experience like that on offer at the Brudenell last Saturday, it’s a little easier to get weighed down by it all.

First on stage were Loose Talk Costs Lives, who were a bit of an oddity. Typically, math rock bands at shows like this tend to have obvious influences from bands that involve a Kinsella brother, or something like Meet Me In St. Louis, but Loose Talk sounded (and, at the risk of being ridiculously shallow, looked) like they’d started finger-tapping because of Foals and had more in common with Born Ruffians than This Town Needs Guns. Whilst it was a pleasant set of chirpy and upbeat poppy math, it does cause a little concern – this is NME Math, easily accessible and radio-ready in the same way that Takk... was for post rock, a genre that really didn’t hold out for long after it hit the mainstream. If this seems harsh and elitist, then don’t worry: this band will earn plenty of well deserved great reviews. They are just in the unfortunate position of being amongst a wave of bands that are stuck in an awkward position.

Fortunately, Tall Ships were on next and proved to be the highlight of the evening. If Loose Talk are taking math rock towards the straightforward indie pop end of the spectrum, then Tall Ships are the perfect experimental, loop-loving, instrument swapping, absolutely epic counter. From the frantic proggy keyboards on ‘Books’ to the showstopping group singalong on ‘Vessels’ and with all the loops and dual drumming you could want in between, Tall Ships are one of the best live bands in the UK right now, and one that doesn’t deserve to just be tour support for more popular acts for much longer. Those in attendance tonight were also lucky enough to get their hands on the band’s new EP (Spoiler alert: it’s amazing) a couple of weeks before its release. Thank you, Tall Ships, for blowing away everyone brave enough to approach the stage and proving that there’s plenty of life left in this genre yet.

Maybe it’s because Tall Ships were so good, maybe it’s because of that gosh darned elitism that objects to how accessible they’ve become, but despite how much the young crowd seemed to enjoy Maps & Atlases when they weren’t busy checking Facebook on their BlackBerrys, something just seemed a little off for the Chicago band. Whilst the Trees, Swallows, Houses EP was an awesome example of how well straight-up math rock can be done and this year’s Perch Patchwork was an interesting and clever mix of math with art rock and folky influences, the Maps & Atlases live sound just seemed to sit uninspiringly between the two. With the problems of stage sound and a live setting, many of the folksy intricacies that make Perch a great listen were lost. Maps & Atlases came off sounding like a vaguely mathy indie rock band which entertained the crowd but displayed nothing of real interest. It was a distinctly average set, and a shame to see a band that holds such high esteem within the genre sounding so flat. At least Tall Ships were there to be the shining stars of this distinctly good-but-not-great evening.