By: Cameron Piko
Photos: Charlie Gardner
Guapo | website | facebook | bandcamp |
Support: HIRVIKOLARI | website
Since recently moving to London, I had not yet been to a prog show and was in dire need. Guapo were the answer, playing with support from HIRVIKOLARI at The Lexington. After I got over the initial shock of the low ticket price (for an Australian, £8 for a show of this calibre is ridiculously cheap), I headed over to The Lexington and met up with fellow Echoes & Dust crewmen Gaz Cloud and Charlie Gardner.
It was great to put faces to names and after much prog-related discussion – I seem to recall an enormous number of Gong-related anecdotes throughout the night – we bumped into Kavus Torabi from Guapo (and Knifeworld, and Gong, and every band ever.) He talked about recording an album in the Pyrenees next week; the man literally cannot stop!
We soon headed upstairs to the stage. Steve Davis (yes, that one!) was on DJ duties and played, after a questionable choice of ambient water droplet sounds to start his set, a great mixture of avant-garde and minimalist electronic music. I was only aware of Davis’ snookering from my obsessive watching of Mitchell and Webb back in Australia, so Gaz enlightened me to his impeccable music taste and radio show.
After the mood was appropriately set up, HIRVIKOLARI took to the stage. Being a complete newbie, I was totally unaware of Teeth of the Sea or this off-shoot from it, but I was well impressed regardless. A duo made up of Sam Barton on trumpet and Mike Bourne on modular synth, these guys took the crowd on a wondrous journey. From Tangerine Dream-esque sequenced synth to pseudo-techno to avant jazz, these guys ran the gamut for the lengthy single-track of their set. I’ve always had a love for effects on trumpets and saxophones, which Sam applied in spades. By the end of their set, it was near-impossible to distinguish what noises were coming from the synth or the trumpet!
Next up were Guapo. I am relatively unfamiliar with their latest album Obscure Knowledge, having heard only the ‘radio edit’ on youtube, so I was quite unprepared for the 40+ minute, 3 movement journey we were about to undergo. Guapo played an ‘extended’ version of Obscure Knowledge and Charlie, being more familiar with the album, pointed out that the plethora of jams and lengthy improvisations were for the most part additional. The band also had Michael York guesting on obscure instrument duties: playing gong (another Gong reference!), a wooden flute resembling a pipe or bong, and several bagpipes. With this openness to experiment with their own recently written material, Guapo seemed intent on covering as much musical ground as possible. From that Crimson-meets-Magma style of prog zeuhl that they’ve mastered so well, to jazzier sections, introspective jams and full-on rock, Guapo left no stone unturned.
Intense, odd-timed rhythms, shocking shifts in dynamics and Kavus looking shocked and impressed by the noises coming out of his Gretsch, by the time the album was finished I was so satisfied by the journey I simply assumed the set was over. How wrong I was when the band kicked into “Tremors From The Future” – a personal favourite from 2013’s History of the Visitation. They dug into this far-rockier tune with relish, and even surprised us with a guest appearance of two violinists who took the song to an almost post-rock-esque climax. I met one of them after the gig and they jokingly complained about playing for only 35 seconds and being expected to know when to come in with Guapo’s mathematically bonkers music.
As I know this song well, it was here that I could see just how much better Guapo are live. The music is played just as immaculately as it appears on the album, and yet there is a fresh, exciting energy to how they perform it live. It could just be how massive they sound compared to the relatively cold production of their albums, but I found it hard to pinpoint exactly why it was they sounded so much better. All I know is I’m going to be attending many a Guapo gig in the future until I find out!