Lightspeed Champion & Semifinalists, Fleece, Bristol
Monday 10 March 2008
Musical transformations don't get more radical than Devonte Hynes's. Far away from the screeching lyrics about offal, blood and sharks with his previous outfit, East London's Test Icicles, the charismatic performer has apparently been reborn as an Americana-bathed singer-songwriter.
Except you can tell that on stage he misses his hardcore just a little, so songs he crafted in Omaha, Nebraska are driven with a hefty punch of British winter grit and ebullience, thanks in no small part to his joyous band of Dalston, London scenesters. These include his good friends Semifinalists, with whom Hynes gets a chance to produce some bass turbulence.
In turn, Semifinalists Ferry Gouw and Chris Steele-Nicholson join his band for half the set, including an unexpected intro: a fiery, rugged version of "Space Age Love Song" by A Flock of Seagulls.
Test Icicles disbanded two years ago, Hynes dismissing the project as a joke band just as they received high acclaim for their debut album, For Screening Purposes Only. But he'd already, at the age of 19, written a body of songs. Whisked away by Bright Eyes to their Saddle Creek base last year, he became Lightspeed Champion and made a stunning new album, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge.
Considering Hynes's Texas-Essex roots, it kind of makes sense. And tonight, he pulls off the transatlantic translation admirably. Whether it's in the context of the playful math-rock, which never gets too weighted down with algebra, and Pixies-meets-Placebo rock-outs of Semifinalists, or Hynes's own autobiographical material, the players pull it off with a natural, almost casual aplomb.
What is most refreshing about Lightspeed Champion is that, despite the bittersweet themes of "Everyone I Know Is Listening to Crunk" and the rawness of "Devil Tricks For a Bitch", they would rather make merry than take themselves too seriously.
Violinist Mike Siddell, from Hope of the States, warms up the sound rather than gives it a maudlin edge as on the record, as the drummer Anna Prior pounds her kit with not unreasonable clout.
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