24th August | The Lanes
Featured Image: Simon Moyse
In society, there are numerous examples of things that we never realised we needed, but cannot imagine life without once we have them. Heated car seats. Strawberry hullers. The internet. How did humans exist on planet earth for six million years without the internet? Inconceivable.
In the case of post-punk/no-wave band Drahla, the thing that we never quite realised we needed was a saxophone. On paper, the Leeds outfit’s wiry, monotone sound did not seem particularly conducive to it. As it turned out, though, Chris Duffin’s use of the instrument on the band’s debut album, Useless Coordinates, was masterful. Jerky and alarming, it was the extra dimension that really elevated the record. Useless Coordinates will appear on many ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, Duffin is a busy man, and cannot be a full-time touring member of the band. So no saxophone tonight, and just like those heated car seats, it turns out that life just isn’t quite the same without it.
Early on, Drahla seem more concerned with how effectively they can deafen us. After each song, both singer/guitarist Luciel Brown and bassist Rob Riggs are asking for more volume. By song four, most in the audience are likely wondering if the forthcoming bank holiday is going to be sufficient for them to recover their hearing before they go back to work, only to hear Riggs say, “I wouldn’t mind a bit more bass over ‘ere please.” Eventually, they are happy.
For those who have never seen Drahla before, they get to see plenty tonight of what makes them one of the best live acts around. Brown’s understated vocals and varied guitar colour provide the perfect foil to Riggs’ brilliant, bruising basslines and Mike Ainsley’s thunderous drumming. ‘Stimulus for Living’ is soulful and harsh in equal measure. ‘Circuit’ is a short, sharp rollercoaster, speeding up uncontrollably before exploding suddenly. ‘Form of Luxury’ and ‘Fictional Decision’ remain classic cuts from the band’s early EPs. Probably the highlight tonight, though, is ‘Invisible Sex’, a clanging, minimalist opening leading into a taut, tense core – “a glorious reflection to elevate my DNA.”
The audience are also treated to a new song, an instrumental, which appears to be less a song, and more a rather smashing bassline that Riggs had come up with that he wanted to play before he forgot it. It’s not really the finished article at this point, though. Stick a song over the top of that, guys, and it will be a beaut, cheers.
The absence of the saxophone, while far from devastating, is a bit of a disappointment though. In particular, set-closer ‘React/Revolt’ suffers from its absence. With its opening two-and-a-half minutes of sprawling free-jazz, ‘React/Revolt’ is one of the highlights of Useless Coordinates, but without the sax element, it plods along a little, somewhat embarrassed not to be showing its best side. Before the next tour, a little crawl around the jazz clubs of Leeds (surely there are many) with the Drahla chequebook in hand would be a wonderful idea.
All in all, well worth the princely admission fee of absolutely fuck all, but still this nagging feeling that there is more room for growth for this band.
See the video for ‘Pyramid Estate’ here: