Live Review – Solars @ Actress & Bishop


Actress & Bishop

Review by Rob Greenfield


A frightfully dismal Friday night at the Actress and Bishop in Birmingham, the perfect backdrop to a night of getting my teeth knocked in by some hefty slabs of post-rock and saxophonic warbles in a secluded room on the first floor. It’s the launch of the new E.P by four lads by the name of Solars, a perfectly fitting title for an outfit that will attempt to shed light upon the great mischief that lurks in the shadows of the great sun, on our little watery home. I was coming into this whole evening almost entirely blind (or deaf), I’d heard and seen the video to their single, A Million Invisible People, and was suitably enamoured with its hypnotic, slightly peculiar repeating rhythm, but that was about all.

First on the bill were Messages to Mars, a three piece electronic vaguely jazzy combo. They stood under the red lights in the corner, introducing themselves with an ominous one-note droning synth bass line, before adding a cosy welcoming sax to the situation and absolutely hammering home a beat that knocks the hairs off your legs. Their sound is reminiscent of The Comet Is Coming mixed in with a dribble of chaos akin to some of John Coltrane’s more offbeat moments. By the third song, the beat is particularly irresistible, almost everybody in the room is shuffling to some extent and it becomes clear that the band must have a right old time doing this on their own, the jam feeling like it could go on indefinitely and almost no one would mind, least of all the band members themselves. There’s some madness going on here, but the groove persists, and they’re clearly getting into it more as the set goes on, and so am I.  The last song of the night begins with a darling bit of piano like lying on the floor during one of the good hangovers, as it starts to groove once again, the creeping sax starts grasping a hold of its keyboard bed. It’s a delightful medley of sound all round then we’re introduced to the first bit of vocals from our lad, the saxophone player, who it must be said, has played a blinder all night, he sings a wordless melody to the tune of the main saxophone riff, and it’s an absolute delight. The whole thing closes out sounding like something from Bowie’s Blackstar. I’d definitely enjoy bumping into these chaps again.

The second band of the night is Man Punches Cloud, a screaming high guitar introduces us to them before the rest of the band join in, the sound is colossal, drilling through to your marrow before leaving again. The drums and the bass are locked in with each other so firmly that it allows both guitarists to weave in and out, painting pictures of vast open expanses and endless highways of madness. The way the band works together is particularly admirable, each member stands out in their own particular way, where one guitarist seems almost entirely to be focused on the high end and screaming at us, the other weaves in his own peculiar chopping rhythms and volume swells, choosing to focus on any particular instrument at any particular time brings its own pleasure. As the bass player stands stoically centre stage, it feels as though the band have eternally  been on stage and we all just so happen to be there.  Their sound is especially varied, at one moment you’re being poked in the eyeballs with 1000 guitars at once, then suddenly you’re treated to a lullaby sounding bass line before once again, being hammered with distortion and screaming guitars. The last song of the night is particularly ridiculous, I didn’t catch the name of it, or any of the songs, as they weren’t mentioned but it featured a riff that slid about all over the place, it was like falling down the stairs on the best day of your life. The sound they’ve managed to create seems bigger than the building itself. A firm sound you could stake your life on, whatever they were building in that room, I’m sure its presence is still there.

The final band of the night, Solars, begin to set up their stage beneath blue lights. They start standing entirely still while a sound bite from Apocalypse Man plays, warning us that a new level of consciousness is required if we’re to save ourselves and the planet.  This sets us up for what is to come, as a plethora of images play on the screen behind them while the band mash through their thrashy first song of the night, it’s certainly tight stuff, the two guitarists trading off each other as they take us through images of city streets. The next two songs show off the skills of the musicians in the band, tapping their way through while the drums sound as if they’re fighting off the guitars for the sake of their own being.  Again, this band also works exceptionally well together, never missing a beat, you can tell they’ve honed their skills to perfection playing together to the point where they know each other’s idiosyncrasies as their own .

We’re next taken through images of war, as they launch into their single A Million Invisible People, it feels like a forced military march against your will, the riff just doesn’t let up, perhaps suggesting the brutal monotony of human wars. Entirely instrumental thus far, we’re informed that the next song usually features vocals, but the guest vocalist couldn’t be here tonight.  As unfortunate as this is, the song works perfectly well without vocals, against the backdrop of images of nature, it’s an entirely immersive experience. I look forward to hearing the song with the vocals, as it features on their new E.P which they’ve been giving away free tonight, and I have duly shoved in to my coat pocket.

For the final song of the night, the guitarist sits down to the piano, introducing another side to the band, soft and gently we’re lead along by the guitarist/pianist who is joined soon after by the drummer, pushing the song along before the guitarist gets up from his seat to join in the finale of the track, the song builds up to an overwhelming crescendo before finally dropping off to some gentle mesmerising harmonics.

As the night ends, it’s been quite an experience, secluded in a small dark room, it’s almost like being part of a club, we were in on something tonight, a truly cinematic experience, cerebrally challenging as well as sonically, for a night of instrumental music, there’s certainly been a lot said!

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