(Underworld, Camden, Friday 4th February)
It is difficult coming to terms with the fact that you are not cool. Nothing you do or say is cool. We are not cool people. I am not cool now, possibly never was, and definitely never will be again. I’m barrelling full throttle towards middle age; everything you kids like nowadays is as baffling anachronism to me, and all the sarcastic tweeting in the universe is not going to change that. It’s time we grew up, don’t you think?
Stoner rock is not cool music. Its fans are not cool people, and nor are the guys who play it. We’re all white, middle class, middle-aged dorks, clinging desperately to the trappings of a subculture that doesn’t need, want or deserve us, and the musicians are the nerdiest of the lot. You don’t see many fashionable kids at the Colour Haze concert, and why do you suppose that is? As fans, we’d probably like to pretend it’s because the music is too dense, too complicated, and the kids too stupid. This helps us sleep at night, but it’s bullshit. The kids are all watching My Chemical Romance and sexting on their cleverphones. They couldn’t give a shit about your stoner rock because it sounds like it emerged from the 1970s, and the 1970s were fucking brown.
Point being: It’s a night for throwbacks, and all the town’s oldest swingers have made it out tonight.
Arriving at 7pm for the doors opening, we are immediately dismayed to have to queue for nearly half an hour just to get hold of the tickets we reserved three months ago. This means Sungrazer are already halfway through their set and we haven’t even got to the bar yet. I very much like Sungrazer’s album, but have not got around to reviewing them because I am at a loss for anything to say besides ‘I like Sungrazer’. Tonight, they seem to be playing all their songs at 75 per cent speed. We watch a handful of these strange slow-mo songs and then they fuck off, not in slow-mo, swiftly replaced by Rotor.
I’ve never really been that bothered with Rotor, even though they tickle all my boxes. So it proves tonight. I have a wee look, a wee listen, a wee wee-wee, and I think ‘yeah they’re alright.’ Lots of what they play seems to come from their newest record 4, but it could be other stuff too, I’m not really sure. I give them alright out of ten. I’d have rather seen more Sungrazer to be honest, but when you’re our age, it’s nice to get chance for a sit down, isn’t it?
Still, I am shrieking a different tune by the time the headliners emerge. I head directly to the front and refuse to move until I have to. And that turns out to be a few minutes later, when during Aquamaria, some ballbag attempts to start a mosh. Perhaps it is the age talking again, but I have always disliked moshpits; and they seem especially inappropriate at a gig for the perma-stoned, where literally all of one’s faculties are needed to Fucking Dig That Fucking Riff Man Unfgh. Nobody is really all that impressed, and eventually the instigators stop and we can all get back to stroking our beards.
Colour Haze turn Underworld into a sauna. There is something indefinably incredible in the way they combine melody and heaviness with the warmest of tones to produce music that can crush your skull and elevate your mind all at once. In their song structures, they tread similar ground to Zappa, Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel; following sinuous compositions from one end to another, without much repetition, and with all the immediate vitality of a jam. Except it’s not a jam, it’s stuff we know intimately and love, and it’s practically note-perfect. You can even hear people in the crowd singing along with the guitar solos.
In as much as there’s a formula to this music, it goes like this: You set a hook, then gradually, gently, you wind that line in, tighter and tighter. You don’t let go until the tension, comprising riffs, ruffs and bass fuzz, is at absolute breaking point. Then you flick it all into the air, and punt it off between the uprights, leaving the listener riding a dynamic sine wave that kicks like psylocibin.
Here is what I mean:
Via Moon, Tempel, and All, a blazing rendition of Peace, Brothers and Sisters! is intended to give way to Love as the set’s closer. And this is the tune I’ve been waiting to hear. So it is disappointing when the venue decides to cut power to the PA system five notes into it. There’s no rock past 10.30pm, apparently. The atmosphere fizzles, the band apologises, and we all awkwardly hang about to see if the joint will relent. They don’t, so we just sort of shuffle off out the door and into the night and that is fucking well that.
It is an absolutely shitty way to end such an incredible gig, and now I have balls so blue they could hatch out into Smurfs.