By: Charlie Gardner
Support: Luminous Bodies | website
Brighton can prove to famine or feast for the music I like; so it’s perhaps not surprising that on April 1, the day of all fools, the programming fates have conspired comedically to offer me not one but eight excellent bands on the same evening, in three different venues….
My initial reaction is that I’m determined to give this marathon a go, however appropriately foolhardy it might seem, and prepared to try anything to expedite it: a bicycle, perhaps (and you should see me on a bicycle); an alcohol ban, definitely (and you should see me on a bicycle without the influence of alcohol). In desperation, I even entertain programming each set as an ‘event’ in Google calendars!
After some consideration, though, the desire to have the last laugh prevails over the risk of humiliation, and I scale back my ambitions to a mere five bands. Priorities have to be made, and with Brighton proving to be the only UK date on their European tour, Mugstar are the automatic choice for the top of the (mug) tree.
In the end, I needn’t have worried: the set timings work out niftily and the bike proves unnecessary for the brisk walk from the Hope & Ruin via the Prince Albert (and it’s splendid Dead Rock Star mural) to the Green Door, where I am in time to catch most of the main ‘support’ in the form of Luminous Bodies. And they are worth the walk – seeing them live, for the very first time, is more than a validation of the wave of excitement their eponymous debut album stirred up in Echoes & Dust last autumn.
And what a roller they’re still riding. You really do have to experience them live to realise what a crazy, cosmic car-crash of a band Luminous Bodies are – utterly shambolic and yet utterly brilliant, at the same time. But tonight, their ability to improvise is tested to new limits. I mean, just what do you do when you have a band with two drummers but a stage barely big enough for a trio? Answer: put the other drummer in the audience without any amplification. It’s so crazy that it might just work… and it does!
Every genre needs a group to be its Madness, and in Luminous Bodies psych rock has just that. Half Hawkwind and half the greatest pub band you’ve never seen, the trippy mayhem they style as ‘psychedelic stupor’ is simply seismic. And in Gordon Watson, they have a frontman in whom the spirit of Lemmy is still alive and picking.
And so to Mugstar, touring to support the magnificent Magnetic Seasons, released at the end of February. And it is here that the comedians in the programming fates decide to stir the pot once more, for Neil Murphy is indisposed this evening, sadly, and unable to play. Undeterred, Pete, Jason and Steve have come up with an adapted set and will make Mugstar a trio, on this occasion.
It’s a noble effort: Mugstar on three cylinders are better than most bands on four and a turbo, but of course the soundscape is much narrower without Neil’s guitar work. Nevertheless, it’s an effortless ensemble – Jason a complete rock on bass, Steve measuring time with jazz-drummer sensitivity, Pete moon-jumping from keys to guitars, and all three sourcing their inspiration from the same psychedelic hub somewhere in deep space.
If prog and math are genres to make you think, then psych is surely music that empties your mind and does the thinking for you; at its best, it’s like finding yourself in a fast river… there’s only so long before you surrender to the flow and let it take you over the rapids. Tonight, almost certainly because of the truncated set, I find myself holding onto the bank longer than I expected, in a programme that lacks the expansive dynamic of tracks like ‘Regency Blues’ or the delirious ‘Remember the Breathing’. But ‘Flemish Weave’ is utterly mesmeric, and as they shuttle into the second section of the magnificent tapestry, I finally let go of the reeds and capitulate to the irresistible tide. And by the closer, ‘Time Machine’, the whole room is aptly in another dimension of space and temporality.
Mugstar, like so many of their Liverpool antecedents, are a band that lodge themselves in your affections on a first date; and with the triumph that is Magnetic Seasons it surely won’t be long before they are accorded the same National Treasure status as their proggier neighbours, Anathema. And while tonight’s show may not have fully opened the gates of dawn, I’ve more than glimpsed the unbridled force they will be in their usual formation on tour. The rest of Europe is in for a treat.
Get well soon, Neil, and here’s hoping you can fit in a larger tranche of UK dates in the second-half of the year. And if Mugstar are playing a town near you, don’t even hesitate to make the trip. It might not be April 1 but you’d be a fool to miss them… in fact, you’d be a mug.