A tour with several false starts must play havoc with the mentality of a band. Originally due to be the fourth night of their UK/Ireland tour, Everything Everything‘s visit to Bristol’s Colston Hall ended up being the opener having been forced to cancel earlier dates in Dublin, Norwich and Birmingham due to the weather phenomenon dubbed ‘The Beast From the East’. And the pent-up frustration that touring for a few days without any shows to play must have caused was unleashed with a fine performance in the Westcountry once they did get to do business.
Now whenever we write about bands like EE, we have to take care to tone things down a bit, having been big fans since the very beginning. There is, after all, no point turning our pixels into an EE fan website – not least when there are fine reads such as At The Border out there doing such a good job of that kind of thing.
But it is pretty hard to resist gushing about this particular show, such was the new heights that it reached in terms of material, performance, lighting, sound and energy. It was the first time for the band in Bristol’s largest music venue; we’d previously seen them performing at the smaller o2 Academy, and the smaller-still Thekla, but as their stock has risen, so too has demand for tickets. The risk with the 1900+ capacity Colston Hall is that it is big enough to swallow up any act not up to the task, with one or two we’ve seen there – who will remain nameless! – failing to live up to the grand and potentially intimidating surroundings. There were certainly no such worries on this occasion.
The four-piece – bolstered for their tour as ever by the talented Peter Sené on keyboards – delivered a varied set of old and new, but with understandable emphasis on tracks from their most recent LP A Fever Dream. This fourth album is arguably their most challenging yet for the casual listener, picking up where previous release Get To Heaven left off in stretching the boundaries of what a band’s growing creative confidence can achieve. Always characterised by the falsetto vocals and cryptically complex lyrics of lead singer Jonathan Higgs, the album has fewer obvious radio-friendly hooks than some of the earlier work, but then to be fair, the band has always seemed somewhat bemused that their eccentric, unconventional and often slightly odd brand of music would ever get the kind of airplay that it has anyway.
The new material included several breathtaking highlights. Good Shot, Good Soldier was immersive and all-consuming enough to send shivers down the spine. Run The Numbers brought a bolder, brasher and heavier edge than comes across in its recorded form, while Ivory Tower takes on an entirely new feel, full of urgency and energy. Epic and breathless, it also demonstrated a key component in the continued development of the band in an apparently expanded role for the guitar talent of Alex Robertshaw, whose presence and influence on their material continues to impress, bringing greater variety and richness to their all-round game.
There are other notable ways in which the band has grown though. Higgs vocals appear more controlled and confident than ever, the accompanying harmonies of Robertshaw and bass player Jeremy Pritchard have increasingly been brought to the fore and are pitch perfect throughout, while drummer Michael Spearman has become one of the most technically accomplished in the business right now.
Long-time fans will not be altogether surprised to witness this evolution of the band, although some may struggle a little to come to terms with the inevitable omission from the live setlist of some old favourites now that the band has four albums worth of songs to pick from. Early material Photoshop Handsome, MY KZ UR BF, and Schoolin’ – key moments on each of the previous times we’ve seen the band – were all missing in order to make space within the 90 minute show for the new songs.
Some of the more recent additions sound like instant classics for the band however. Can’t Do, and Desire just leap out from the very first few bars, while Distant Past and Cough Cough from the Get To Heaven album both grab the attention as few others can. Kemosabe too was a welcome friend from the past, and sounded as fresh and invigorating as it did when it first appeared on 2013’s Arc.
A five-song encore included New Deep, White Whale, Don’t Try, Distant Past and finally No Reptiles – how such a fundamentally weird song can work so well as a show-ender is something only EE fans will ever truly understand.
Perhaps the most incredible moment though was White Whale – the final track from A Fever Dream – from its slow, measured initial build-up to something truly moving. It underlined how their most recent tracks – perhaps more than anything that went before – take on a whole new dimension in their live shows, and typified what was a remarkable performance from one of the UK’s most consistently inventive bands.
Review & photos: Martin Allen
Setlist: A Fever Dream / Breadwinner / Desire / Cough Cough / Regret / Run The Numbers / The Wheel Is Turning / Big Game / Good Shot, Good Soldier / Put Me Together / Night Of The Long Knives / Qwerty Finger / Kemosabe / Spring Sun Winter Dread / Can’t Do / Ivory Tower /// New Deep / White Whale / Don’t Try / Distant Past / No Reptiles
— EverythingEverything (@E_E_) March 6, 2018