Kayo Dot at Signature Brew, Haggerston

Support: Maud the Moth
February 24, 2023 at Signature Brew, Haggerston
Promoter: Chaos Theory

There are few bands in progressive rock and metal that are quite as overlooked as Kayo Dot. That is quite the statement. So, what do I mean by it? Apropos of nothing, it reads in this day and age merely as clickbait.

There are clearly myriad artists around the world operating in the progressive, experimental and avant-garde shadowy crevices of the rock and metal musical world who are sadly, regretfully, painfully overlooked – with far fewer column inches taken up and time spent on them than the musical group known as Kayo Dot, who have been driven relentlessly onward for over two decades by composer extraordinaire Toby Driver.

However, in terms of sheer influence, Toby and his ever-morphing, chameleon-like musical entity deserve their own chapter-heading in the extreme, underground, the Bible of the call-it-what-you-will musical canon. Where that river flows has, at least in some part, been guided by the butterfly-wing effect of Kayo Dot’s output.

Given the complexity of the material, the vast changing of musical palette, and the unlikely homunculus-like genre-splicing Driver imagines and then realises, it’s fair to say that the band have been ridiculously prolific across their twenty years of official releases.To date, Kayo Dot’s discography contains ten albums, a split, a single and an EP. If one includes Maudlin of the Well, the original line up of whom (Jason Byron, Greg Massi, et al.) graced the stage for the 20th anniversary celebration of Kayo Dot’s debut album, Choirs of the Eye, then we can add another four albums. We can also include spin-off band Tartar Lamb, who released two albums, and Toby’s four solo LPs, plus a 2020 collaborative record with Nick Hudson. There’s more…  That’s a lot of extraordinary, boundary-testing, imaginative, challenging music in the last twenty-five years.

It is against this backdrop – but principally focused on Kayo Dot and their debut LP – that people have gathered at a sold out event at Signature Brew in Haggerston, London, to witness the only UK performance of Choirs of the Eye in full, as Driver and co. tour Europe breathing new vivid life into an all-time classic experimental metal record. It was always going to be a special evening.

Few knew that more than Amaya López-Carromero, aka Maud the Moth, as they are the sole support tonight. Stunning, haunting vocal work, set against sparse yet glistening, neoclassical instrumentation – a bridge between piano, guitar, loops, sample work and the very faintest idea of translating these into ‘beats’ rustling restlessly in the background. Amaya’s vocal range is impressive, breaching into a classical approach recently made stage centre by LINGUA IGNOTA, before settling into something approaching varying different kinds of folk, feeling free enough to dance along the Iberian peninsula before hop, skip and jumping across to the Baltic region. So many influences, sometimes disparate, swirled together in a creative cauldron. It’s clear to see why they are the chosen support.

Maud the moth. Photo: Chris Keith-Wright

This elasticity of style is wondrous to behold, with several of the audience previously impatient of the KD cohort suddenly transfixed, mouths agape. The music, too, is impatient… fluttering between styles. Most assuredly this is by and large to its credit – blending between austere drone flecked with vocal cascades, to a hand-break turn into a folk-rock rhythm with Amaya almost trespassing upon alt pop in her vocal delivery. Occasionally, ever so occasionally, there’s one change too far – or perhaps, rather, made too quickly – that, to my ear, I would prefer the music to simply rest in on itself longer, and for Amaya to pursue an idea to greater fruition. But this is nit-picking. The start to Maud the Moth’s set was delayed due to sound set-up issues and it’s testament to how much the audience was enjoying their set, that they manage to negotiate one more song due to audience support, despite initially being informed time was up.

Kayo Dot takes to the stage in their pre-KD line-up. It’s a dream come true to witness this and despite being a fan of the band and all of Toby’s work for all the lifespan of the band, this is incredibly the very first time I have ever seen them live.  It’s fitting after all these years of veneration that it should be to celebrate a momentous anniversary for the record that started them on the path.

Their task tonight is to play Choirs of the Eye front to back in full. No small feat, even for a band of their considerable talents. The record is a dazzling array of technicality and virtuosity, across a myriad number of instruments, well outside of the ‘basic’, traditional vox, guitar, bass, drums mindset. Not to mention a few members not only having to make vast tuning changes, but also swap the instruments they were playing during the set (and often mid-song). Timba Harris of Secret Chiefs 3 is also on stage with them, whom I recently saw play live with Toby, as they were touring with Charlie Looker, in support of the recent (most excellent) Extra Life LP. What a luminary musician Timba is, swapping effortlessly between violin, viola, trumpet, vocals and more during that set, and being a tireless multi-instrumentalist on the KD celebratory evening, too.

Kayo Dot. Photo: Chris Keith-Wright

Given Choirs of the Eye is only five tracks long (albeit four of them are very lengthy!), each song was met with rapturous applause at their conclusion but also huge whooping anticipation before they began.  It is difficult to pick out a favourite moment in my memories, as the live experience felt like the culmination of two decades’ worth of prolepsis, but to hear ‘Wayfarer’ live was very, very special indeed. Chaos Theory need to be credited with putting on a wonderful show, and for also trying out new venues [at least Signature Brew was a first for me], but unfortunately the venue didn’t meet their end of the bargain, with sound issues and a rookie mistake halfway through a song, meaning some of the shine from those brewing vats slightly wore off and rusted against the night…  That said, the band navigated it skilfully and found the mistake amusing, rather than off-putting, if anything, so it felt like it was mostly forgiven by the majority of the audience present.

The band returned to the stage for a fantastic encore too, not content with leaving us dazed with their sumptuous, perfect live rendition of Choirs of the Eye. The London audience were treated to the live debut of ‘Void in Virgo (The Nature of Sacrifice)’ from the band’s most recent – and utterly incredible – 2021 LP, Moss Grew On The Swords And Plowshares Alike, before being sent home into the cold night with fan-favourite ‘Crown-in-the-Muck’ from Hubardo (2013) and finally ‘Ocellated God’ from Gamma Knife (2012).

Kayo Dot. Photo: Chris Keith-Wright

Toby and his musical menagerie of incredible musicians, produced a Wonka-like, dream-like, dazzling evening of daring, demanding and exacting music. For many in the audience he has never surpassed the work on Choirs of the Eye, something Driver alluded to when addressing the audience, early in the set. It was said with love and certainly with genuine appreciation, but I felt also with a sense of mild frustration or annoyance. While I venerate the debut, I believe Kayo Dot have consistently released incredible, intriguing and – yes – influential records, that the rest of the underground, knowingly or not, has often orbited around for years to come. So, perhaps it’s not the best, but it was the beginning of the journey, it was the wonderful opening to an epic story… and the very best stories always have a memorable beginning.

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