In the Cube foyer, it's hard to know what to expect. This venue is the fulcrum of Bristol's thriving arthouse scene, and the DJ is sequencing weird bleep sounds, looped horns, French chanson and Sixties novelty songs.
Clogs and The Books have been championed by The Wire and BBC Radio 3, but this is the first date of their first major UK tour. It's sold out, possibly because Clogs founders Padma Newsome and Bryce Dessner are members of the acclaimed alt.rock outfit The National, and The Books have picked up critical acclaim.
Clogs, whose four members met at Yale School of Music, are first on. The pony-tailed violinist and vocalist player Newsome started as a concert violinist, while the guitarist Dessner worked with Bang On a Can All-Stars; the other two are the bassoon player Rachael Elliot and percussionist Thomas Kozumplik. They've released four albums; Lantern, the latest, is their best-realised work.
Their sound is akin to a post-modernist chamber orchestra brought up on a diet of Chicago art-rockers Tortoise and Steve Reich. Apparently Erik Satie and Schubert are also influences, but the first three pieces "2:3:5", "Canon", and "5/4", have an avant-rock tinge. Their finest moment is saved for "Lantern", with Newsome's vocals evoking the great Robert Wyatt.
The Books are two guys who combine sampling with wordplay, guitar, cello and video projections. They're fascinating and charming, the guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto looking like a Gap-friendly New Yorker and the Dutch cellist Paul de Jong geeky and comical.
They take to the stage with "That Right Ain't Shit" from their 2003 album The Lemon of Pink. Surreally, the backdrop is a sequence of Mormons taking their hats off. On "Smells Like Content" from the wonderful new album Lost and Safe, Zammuto's lyrics are projected. He jokes that "An Owl with Knees" is based on Buddhist metaphysics, but the ululating melodies draw you in, as does the shimmering glitch blues of "Don't Even Sing About It".
The bands join each other at the end of their performances. This is an inspired pairing; catch both before the word is out.
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