Joint tours can often be great value for money, although some gig goers may turn up to find that their particular favourite act only have time for a short 'support act'-length set. However, no matter what band people are here for tonight, all three groups compliment each other brilliantly while all offering something refreshing and different. Yes, this is the climax to the Quietus-sponsored jaunt around the UK that has seen shamanic drone merchants Thought Forms, and Brighton's "gothic pop" three-piece Esben And The Witch join the mighty Teeth Of The Sea in mesmerising audiences up and down the country. Throughout the tour the groups have been taking it in turns to headline, and first on at The Exchange tonight are Teeth Of The Sea.
Pairing squealing, otherworldly guitar sounds with hard disco beats, buzzing analogue keys and hypnotic repetitions, the London-based foursome play a tantalising set of doom-prog electro-psych post-rock to a room vibrating with the indescribable music's dark, ferocious energy. As well as a taste of their earlier material, they treat the audience to excerpts from the terrific new album 'MASTER', an apocalyptic cosmic beast of a record where their entrancing musical ideas reach new levels. As the brutal menace of the extraordinary 'Responder' sprawls across the final ten minutes of their set, stomping beats clash with vocoders, blaring trumpet and synths that receive an absolute pounding. It all flies by far too quickly, a short taste leaving you in no doubt that their full show would be even more of a wonder to experience. EVERYONE needs to hear this group. Your lives would be poorer without them.
Despite being the most commercially successful of the three bands, Esben And The Witch are the ones that I am the least familiar with. Hearing their songs interpreted in a live setting immediately casts a new light on the group, who are able to create intense, spiralling atmospheres with the aid of impressive dynamics and impressively focused musicianship. Pitch black post-punk moods drift through the venue like a ghostly mist, and the sultry mystery of singer/guitarist/bassist Rachel Davies' vocals add to the icy ambience. 'Smashed To Pieces In The Still Of The Night' sees the trio at their very best, closing the set with intertwining guitar patterns and dramatic drum work.
Although Thought Forms are from Melksham (my hometown in Wiltshire), the not too distant city of Bristol seems to have accepted them as its own. Appropriate, since they are part of the Invada Records family, and probably spend most of their time here anyway. So tonight is something of a homecoming for the captivating threesome, who put in a stellar headline set to end the tour on an explosive high. Kicking off with the heaving drone of 'Landing', it's a howling, crushing entrance to roughly 40 minutes of downtuned distortion, high impact contrasts, post-rock soundscapes and vicious guitar treatment. As the beautifully panoramic 'Ghost Mountain You And Me' rings out into the night, the other side to the group is showcased, a soaring, shoegaze-esque sound that transports the assembled crowd to a vast, scenic high point far away from these rainy streets of Bristol. Watching the bare footed Deej Dhariwal play is fascinating, turning his attention to his array of fx pedals at the most effective moments, and gently picking out delicate melodic notes one minute before subjecting his strings to a ferocious assault moments later.
The chemistry and tight-knit alliance between Dhariwal, the super-cool Charlie Romijn and explosive drummer Guy Metcalfe is something truly special to witness both on stage and on record. Tonight they seem louder and fiercer than ever, and yet you could have heard a pin drop during the immaculate opening section of 'O', which rages into chaos towards the end after a precise, suspense-fuelled build-up. What a way to end the night. Their recent 'Ghost Mountain' LP is an absolute revelation. Seek it out and thank me for my recommendation later.
It's a fantastic evening of musical pleasures, offering encouraging signs that real alternative music in the UK is alive and creatively thriving away from the conformism of the mainstream. With no commercial expectations or major label pressures to hold them back, these three groups are proving that the independent underground is indeed where the most interesting and potent ideas are coming from. Win, win and win.