WARNING – Contains extreme, graphic and prolonged nostalgia from the start. Readers of a cynical disposition may wish to skip to the actual ‘review’ part of this review.
|Live in Glasgow 28/11/11|
Photo c/o Vikki Nye
As we’ve explored, ELO were the first band that taught me music wasn’t shite; Pure Reason Revolution were the first band I loved. The Dark Third was the first PRR record I picked up and I was absolutely stunned. I’m sure a full retrospective in my trademark on-the-edge manner will be in the works shortly, possibly as a Christmas treat... Anyway. Today, PRR for me, die. They die for us all on the 30th of November, when they play famous London nightclub Heaven. This is the farewell tour. After that, they will disband. Like the Mayans, we will be left only with what they have already created. There will be no more Pure Reason Revolution albums. Like so many other gone-but-not-forgotten astral voyagers they leave those of us interested in these things forever asking: Did they make their masterpiece? I know they made several, but how many more could they have concocted? Alas, to compensate those few of us still interested in killer music, they are embarking on a UK tour which will be over by the time this has gone up; and they have released a new EP, with several old tunes given a new lease of life and one new one; which is great.So today, as I prepare to go and see them, I’m feeling that this piece is probably taking a slightly elegiac route, and perhaps so it should. I’m hopeful it’ll be a great gig; I’ve heard good things about previous outings on the tour. I’m excited because my favourite of their records is the Dark Third, which they are performing in full as part of a two hour set. I’m looking forward to seeing my favourite band for the first time, and a gig, and hopefully run into the band as well (maybe an interview if I can swing it) and all that goes with these things. I’m also sad, to be seeing my favourite band for the last time, and knowing that there’s so many people who’ll never see them at all – just as there are hundreds of bands I love that I’ll never get to see because they broke up before I got to hear them. Really it’s quite tragic.
Elegy for the dreamers
And so, a small three-album British rock group perishes. Yet another victim of the ever churning tide of the post-recession entertainment industry. It might get a mention in the music press. Won’t get a mention anywhere else. Tragic. But they were so much more. For my money, Pure Reason Revolution are the most and last interesting band to come out of the UK. Their debut album was a concept album about dreams, they have vocal solo songs sung entirely in Latin. This was not a band who screwed around. They’ve been a good friend to me since I picked up their debut, hot off the record presses, and I’ve followed their precious few releases with gusto. It’s been a hell of a trip, but morning’s coming and we need to wake up. You dared to be different; you dared to do what you thought was best. I’ll miss you.
It is beyond the capacity of my coffee wracked brain to comprehend the kind of vicious things that must have been inflicted on a young child to turn them into the kind of merciless sub-human beast that would organise a gig on a Monday. I have never been able to come to terms with Monday, it’s a day for traffic wardens and speed junkies still coming down off Saturday. It is my honest belief that a disproportionately large slice of the worlds tragedies, travesties, bummers, downers, divorces and atrocities occur on Monday. By virtue of being on this wretched day, any ability to cover this gig in a conventional press sense has been completely dissipated, I can only transcribe my thoughts verbatim and what I can decipher from the scribblings in my moleskine.
The earliest note or memory of that day is picking up the tickets to see the band at the Ticketscotland office in Rose street. I momentarily mediated on what kind of ups and downs in the life of a skunk freak led to the ticket guy looking almost happy on a Monday morning. The best gig to which I’ve ever been was on a Monday; Kyuss Lives! At the Glasgow ABC1. Kyuss were excellent (another of my top five recording artists of all time), but what elevated it from simply a peerless performance into the realm of life-changing was the crowd. Everyone was in superb spirits, and bouncing to this killer desert rock we’d all abandoned to the ages just like we will now abandon PRR. There was an exhausting, bouncing, sweating spirit I’ve never felt stronger and just for one moment, Kyuss made everyone literally feel as one. Pure Reason Revolution was a very different experience. What I thought before the gig and what became clear during was that to play any PRR songs, but especially to play their most diverse, complex and pacey album as one almost without stopping was going to be a massive technical undertaking – much more complicated than the usual concert preparation of hanging guitars round peoples necks, setting every dial on the mixing desk to eleven and taping everything down. PRR would require multiple instrument changes within songs. Extensive use of sampling, the dual vocal harmonies and especially Chloe Alper’s wispy delicate voice into the mic balanced against the clattering drums in the tiny space of King Tuts Wah Wah Hut; this was going to be a mammoth technical achievement, and it was. Things didn’t go precisely to plan, there were mixing difficulties and things were drowned out by the drums; but the gig was spectacular. It made me realise that Pure Reason Revolution, for years, have been dreaming up sounds and song structures that are constrained by reality. First and foremost, they’re all about the sounds they make. They don’t compromise at all with what is easy, or even technically possible. This can’t have been an easy gig for the PRR crew or their roadies. This is just another addition to the large list of reasons I freakin’ love this band.
And this was the best kind of farewell tour, all radiance and cheerful tearful goodbyes; thankyou’s and signing sessions. Some farewell tours, the band wishes the previous tour was their final; bitterness and anger. There was none of that here, it seems like an amiable breakup; Chloe Alper was looking spectacular as ever, and the rest of the band were smiles and impassioned playing. It was a veritable template of how to execute a final tour. Pure Reason Revolution, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure you’re not), darlings, you were sensational!
The set? What can I say. Two hour set in two parts. The first part was their debut (and in my opinion most concise) album the Dark Third played in full in all its glory. And the second segment was a selection of crowd-pleasers from other albums. I was pleased because they covered all my favourite songs from the latter-day albums.
Seeing my favourite album of all time played live is something I’ll be eternally grateful for, and will hopefully never forget the power of. I’ve been listening to it more and more as the gig approached but to see it live, constrained admittedly, was like witnessing the long-awaited directors cut of your favourite film. The live version took a very different form, sounds were heavier, more electronic; like the Dark Third had been filtered through the prism of their later more electronic influenced work. The moment in Goshen’s Remains, at around the 3:40 mark (on the record) where the music builds as the vocals come together is my favourite music moment, and recreated live was just as heart-palpitatingly visceral as I hoped it would be. There were also PRR’s trademark heart-stopping pauses followed by relentlessly heavy groove breakdowns. Everything special about this album’s ability to recreate the sugary plasticity of a dream and synthesise it through music was right up there on stage; the special guitar tone, the use of chord progressions and time signatures that are eerily déjà-vu inducingly similar without lapsing into that old prog mainstay- leitmotif.
The second half was a re-tread of the best bits of the intervening years. Exceptional recreations of Les Malheurs, Deus Ex Machina, Last Man Last Round, my personal pick from the latest album, Valour, which was probably the crowd-pleaser and summed up all of Hammer and Anvil’s instantly familiar ground-pounding beat spectacular. The end of the set was two of PRR’s best songs; the Twyncyn followed by AVO. In retrospect AVO was the only track they could have ended with. Love conquers all, amor vincit omnia. The closer of their album of the same name plays like a doomed electronica love song. Balancing soft electric piano with electric beats and dreamy, soft lyrics from Courtney and Alper. Did you feel love? Did you ever know? Everyone in King Tuts that night was exuding the same thing all truly miraculous concerts do. A group of people all united, barrier between stage and crowd destroyed, barrier between sound and people destroyed. Free flowing energy as we all bounce to the same wicked sounds. Pure Reason Revolution have played their last date by the time you’re reading this. But their ghost remains to comfort us in the form of spinning black astral gateways to bliss, sorrow, love and all points east. Why not go and find one, and set that sucker a’spinnin’.
To close, I’ll misquoth a line from my piece about last year’s best album. If music wasn’t considered so perfunctory; just some sound and fury to fill another 45 minutes between cradle and grave in the evenings and weekends, interchangeable with tennis, swinging, a drug habit or ritualistic serial killing; if the makers and the funders and the listeners realised that music is emotion and colour expressed through sound and an ancient and human key to understanding each other; and that to trivialise it with sales charts and review scores and profit-strategies is sacrilege. If more bands felt like Pure Reason Revolution, that music is a force that can change a life and more than just that, plough through gender, race, sexuality, creed barriers like a speeding train; making all of us one. Call it god, call it Gaia, enlightenment or Nibbanna; I call it rock and roll; and if we all realised its transportative power, the records have been ready pressed for the enlightenment rock and roll revolution. Rock and roll is ready to change the world, if we only let it.