British Sea Power, Sea of Brass at The Barbican, review: Eclectic, passionate and unique

The band is phenomenally consistent at keeping fans on their toes

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The Independent Culture

British Sea Power usually sound bigger than their six members as it is – let alone when they throw a brass band into the mix.

Still one of the most enigmatic presences in British music, BSP have evolved from previous incarnations yet continue to reimagine notions of heritage and identity through a varied, complex performance.

Fans who have been pining over their conspicuous absence will have been pleased to see the traditional foliage dotted around the stage, glinting with small fairy light. Sadly there are no bears present tonight.

“This is a lot more sophisticated than what we usually do,” frontman Yan Wilkinson tells the audience. ‘F**king hell,’ he mumbles as an afterthought.

His words resonate with an audience who are itching to stand up from their seats, sometimes failing to contain themselves when a particularly uplifting chorus takes off.

Riveting visuals from Johnny Gaskell flit across the screen behind the bands: cogs, dials, eyes, elements, explosions, the wings of birds - while the band skitters across work spanning over a decade.

Brothers Yan and Neil ‘Hammy’ Wilkinson trade instruments between songs  - there’s a strong sense of sharing throughout this event – with the members of BSP, the brass band, and of course the audience.

Elements of The National filter through in the heavy-heartedness that Yan and Neil commit to their songs: the latter closes his eyes and tilts his head to the side, feeling his way through the music. Yet the dominant personality in this performance is always BSP’s own – eclectic, passionate and unique – very few musicians can bring together so many ideas together in one show.

Punk poet Jock Scott ambles onstage for a stark, aggressive reading – accompanied by the band – before he tears up his papers and walks offstage again. An electrifying rendition of ‘Atom’ from 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music? rewrites its original punk fury with imaginative flair.

Fusing melancholia with chaos, the collaboration with the brass band is brilliant albeit slightly baffling: certainly they are phenomenally consistent at keeping fans on their toes. While involving the Redbridge Brass Band is certainly an ambitious move, on occasions the production can feel overly cluttered and threaten to drown the subtle complexities in BSP’s instrumentation. Yet Abi Fry’s keening viola remains clear and bright throughout.

Much of the material from 2013's Machineries of Joy slips into the set, quirky and transitional. 'A Light Above Descending' is phenomenally good, concluding with Yan’s devastating delivery of those final lines: "You will remember me won't you?/ You do remember me don't you?"

Hushed, tender quiet in 'No Need To Cry' recalls early Radiohead while ‘Wooden Horse’ features a lilting to-and-fro rhythm that mimic the movements of the song's subject.

There is a brief moment of silence at the closing note before (with a ringing in their ears that is sure to remain for some time) the entire audience get to their feet celebrating something that took two years to produce: a beautiful, exultant and rather emotional return to form.

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