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Comets On Fire - Scala, London, 30/5/2007

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 18 / 5 / 2007

Comets On Fire - Scala, London, 30/5/2007


American psychedelic group Comets on Fire's latest release, 'Avater', has been applauded by many aspects of the media. Chris O' Toole watches them live up to the hype at a show at the London Scala

All Tomorrow's Parties began after Barry Hogan and his company, the Foundation, grew tired of listless festival line-ups across Europe and decided to curate his own event. We all know the results and Hogan currently presides over one of the most innovative, engaging and vibrant musical carnivals in the calendar. But what is often forgotten is that the Foundation began life as a London concert promoter and still exists, under the All Tomorrow's Parties banner, as the one of the prime event organisers in the capital. As such London has been treated to shows by Shellac, Patti Smith, Slint and a host of others in recent months, showering flashes of sunshine on the drab post-Libertines doldrums portending to be contemporary music. The Comets on Fire performance at the Scala is one further example of this remarkable organisation in action. Having ridden waves of thunder for nearly a decade the band arrive on stage tonight ready to celebrate. Their latest release, ‘Avatar’, has been applauded by increasingly large sections of the printed and on-line media and their fan base continues to grow. Their present incarnation, now including Ben Chasny of ‘Six Organs of Admittance’, has also honed an ecstatic, frenetic and chaotic sound to the delight of their fans. Their present style is at once immediate and thrilling, evocative of their early experiments, but also fresh and filled with a new dynamism. As such Comets on Fire are filled with confidence, riding an upward curve in their career and ready to overwhelm all those who stand in their way. Sauntering out under the lights Ethan Miller, the band's key protagonist and song writer, takes his position on stage left. He is supported by long time collaborator Ben Flashman on bass, Chasny and Noel von Harmonson on guitars and Utrillo Kushner on drums. There is little or no banter before the band launch into their sonic journey. Separating tracks is impossible, not to mention irrelevant, as the band careen through diverse material from their back catalogue; seamlessly bleeding tracks together into one mesmerising whole. The Comets on Fire sound, at least on the evidence presented tonight, is a heavily amplified version of 1960's West Coast Psychedelic rock. The band evokes comparisons with Blue Cheer, Birth Control and the other freeform, loose and reckless bands of the era. True to this form the dual guitars of Miller and Chasny weave in, around and over each other, creating a deluge of sound, but the Scala somewhat fails to transmit this to the audience, as surprisingly the sound system is found wanting. Miller’s guitar is rather muddied and the rigid separation of the distinct elements the band employ on their records is lost in the mêlée. Given this impasse it is Kushner who emerges as the star of the show. His precise yet aggressive drumming is the real propulsion of the band in the live arena, inexorably driving them toward greater and greater heights. The show is one continuous blur of colour, only broken by a brief rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Flashman, and Chasny’s brief foray over to an organ for a couple of numbers. Outside of these diversions, however, the sound is continuous and nerve wracking. This is not to say the Comets on Fire are repetitive. There is great intelligence and ability behind their performance. The opening act tonight, Part Chimp, had demonstrated how to be loud, without being effective; monotonously bludgeoning the crowd into submission with their relentless twin guitar attack. The headliners are rightly regarded as the superior band because of the dextrous ability of their music, a trait which they carry right through to the end of their set. This is, however, not the end of the show tonight. With the houselights on full, technicians and sound engineers standing by astonished Comets on Fire return for a full twenty minute encore. The band play with unshakable passion and verve for the single track under the glare of the bright lights, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. The vein is much the same as the entire performance, a relentless assault on the senses, weaving around the venue like storm clouds and filled the horizon for miles around. Towards the end Chasny handed his guitar into the crowd allowing some bedroom virtuosos the chance to shine in front of their peers for a few fleeting seconds. The offer is warmly appreciated by those in the front row who take their chance to dazzle before, surprisingly, handing the guitar back to the band. In the aftermath the crowd still want more. This is a cult band and will remain so but their fans make up for their small numbers with dedication to the point of obsession. One criticism of tonight's performance would be the lack of diversity the band are able to present in their live show, especially given their expanding pallet on record. Whilst it is certainly an attraction that the band are able to lose themselves in their sound, taking the audience with them, this is provides only a short term fascination. On too many occasions tonight Comets on Fire indulged their own whims and failed to account for their audience and this would have grown increasingly tiring but for the rabid fanaticism of the crowd. Yet there was enough on show to ensure the band maintain their present upward trajectory, and whilst they may never make the mainstream, they are assured a place at the top table of contemporary rock.

Picture Gallery:-
Comets On Fire - Scala, London, 30/5/2007

Comets On Fire - Scala, London, 30/5/2007

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