This new, dark Young Knives is an interesting prospect. The modicum of loveable hopelessness and wit in their music has grown and festered into an evil, blood-soaked screamer of a thing.
Promises were made by Young Knives on the outset of their Sicker Octave tour. It was a promise of tweed jackets, flashes of nudity and a throat-full of screams. Their show at the Fleece signals the beginning of a seven-stop stint across the UK, and tonight at least they deliver on their promises, for better or worse.
Stepping in the door it doesn’t look hopeful. The Fleece is by no means a ‘big venue’, and as openers Brown Brogues kick into their first track the room is a scattering of disinterested groups mostly pottering at the bar. Brown Brogues provide a wave of sinister atmosphere which helps to buoy the room, and after a few songs the modest crowd have begun to take notice of their distinctive noise. Their set oscillates between the heart-pumping and vicious to the fucking weird. On this evidence the duo know how to make a powerful racket, but it is hard to pin down whether the heavily-effected vocals and stomping beats are enjoyable. It’s the soundtrack to an alleycat killing spree; an unnerving and relentless noise, not wholly unenjoyable but difficult to process. It is a crunchy, fuzzy affair, riding a line of garage revival, stoner groove and the jaggiest of the indie scene. In any other line-up Brown Brogues would be an ill fit, but as openers for Young Knives they are perfect.
It’s the first show of the tour and Young Knives feel rusty. The band have always had a roughness to them both live and on record which has leant them a bumbling and off-kilter charm, but here they are hampered by technical issues, broken guitars and lengthy waits between songs which, mid-set, staggers their flow. What they do bring with them is that distinctive Sick Octave ambience. Henry Dartnall may take to the stage in his signature tweed, but this is soon removed and thrown aside to reveal a blood-spattered shirt which is ripped and ruffled throughout the set. Bassist/keyboardist/general everyman House of Lords cuts an imposing figure in an orange jumpsuit, his on-stage persona mirroring the unhinged synth-swathes he uses to cut through the room.
Unsurprisingly Young Knives lean heavily on ‘Sick Octave’ tracks and more recent material. What sounds brave on the new record sounds brave live too, and ‘We Could Be Blood’ provides the first highlight of the evening. The vocals feel intense, the reedy quality that is sometimes heard on the album completely overcome by the richness of their live sound. The stage is flooded with smoke, giant DIY bat-wings are adorned, and the combination of startling visual stimulus from screens dotted around the stage (rotting fruit and naked jumping jacks, anyone?) and the aural helter-skelter the newer, synth-heavy material provides makes for a disorientating but unique experience. Young Knives are dark jesters and they are most compelling when these elements all work together.
There are other highlights: ‘Woman’ is as sultry and seedy as ever, while fan-favourites ‘Indecision’ and ‘Turn Tail’ inject a dose of sweetness and melody into a set almost overcome by the unhinged and the strange. But just as these opportunities are seized other are left to flounder. An airing of B-side ‘I Only Want Your Love’ is a grating experience and a test of patience, while it is frustrating to hear tracks like ‘Marble Maze’, which sing on record, failing to hit their mark live.
This new, dark Young Knives is an interesting prospect. The modicum of loveable hopelessness and wit in their music has grown and festered into an evil, blood-soaked screamer of a thing that, when unleashed on-stage, has the capability to both awe and disappoint.
Going back to the lighter days, watch some ‘classic’ Young knives right here: