Poly-Math / Thumpermonkey / A Formal Horse at Signature Brew, Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow, London, November 2022 – Another bit of end of year whatever, should really have said something about the whole angular delight of this gig already, it did happen a couple of weeks ago now (make that a couple of months, I just dug out the half-written review that there never was time to finish once the Art Car Boot Fair started eating up all the hours), did need to be mentioned on these pages though, Poly-Math do play in such a forward looking angular kind of way, it really does deserve to be mentioned here, recorded as it were. Poly-Math move like triangles, all arms out and base lines pumping, they look great, we have said this several times before, they are one of the best live bands out there. I had, I must confess, forgotten just how damn good they actually are live, it had been a couple of years since we last encountered them on a stage and in that time they’ve expanded in more ways than one. No noodling about here, no beard-stroking, no inward looking math rock fragility (Math rock can be far too predictable), these people like to move, their crowd likes to move, Poly-Math are an urgent band, Poly-Math seriously rock! Really really should really have said something about the whole gig out there in the wilds of Walthamstow and Blackhorse Road already, doing way too many things at once here, there really is no excuse though, Damn Organ slackers! It all happened a couple of months ago, just along from the sad sight of the once semi-vital Royal Standard, the sight of many an Organ gig or Organ interview (until they banned us for putting on Creaming Jesus!), sad to see the old place looking so down-hearted, Blackhorse Road was once Organ home turf and for proper rock bands The Standard was once, for quite some time, only second to the Wardour Street Marquee.
Turns out Chaos Theory and their co-promoter mates Portals are rather good at organising piss ups in breweries, this was a very (very) yeastie gig indeed, the smell was strong! The gig smells great! Signature Brew is actually one of those relatively new breweries, all big shiny pipes and giant tanks and massive chemistry sets of things, there’s loads of these things popping up, they are the new black or at least the new amber, we did an art fair in a fancy new brewery in Hackney back in the Summer. This particular one, Signature Brew, is on an industrial estate over in E17, just along Blackhorse Lane, a walk along the road from the tube station, over there in good old Walthamstow. Feels like quite an adventure going (back) out there actually, there’s a bit of a buzz on the walk from the tube station, little groups of people connecting up. You can hear the talk of bands and such on the way, if feels like a little more than just another gig, it feels like a bit of an event, a little bit of a secret, a touch of that underculture that’s been lacking recently. Damn, it feels a little bit exciting walking along the Blackhorse Road. Actually it isn’t that easy a place to find if you don’t know the venue, hard to find on a dark Saturday night of a slightly deserted industrial estate there’s a deceiving bar over there pumping out the wrong type of music, might have been yet another brewery actually? Groups of people are walking around trying to figure it out, cars going round in circles, kind of feels like a throwback, is that it over there? Are A Formal Horse on already? This is a damn good bill, a well put together bill, a proper bit of gig curation, three bands that feed off each other in just the right way, there is an art to these things, they don’t just happen. Actually someone said that it was a bit like an old Organ gig, we happy go with that, we’ll take it as a compliment…
Actually A Formal Horse are suffering a little, the sound is not good in here, is it bouncing off those big tanks? We are quite literally in the brewery, the stage is surrounded by the machinery and the paraphernalia of brewing. Is it that most of the crowd haven’t got here yet? Whatever it is, the self-styled “Avant-rock awkward squad” are having to battle a little bit, the Southampton band’s subtle details are getting a little lost in the mess of it all as are Hayley McDonnel’s words. A Formal Horse are a fine band, it is coming through, cleverly melodic prog, a strong personality, a healthy stage presence, a band balanced just right – they are really here, actually there’s a lot of depth to A Formal Horse, a warmth, a big heart, they’re properly prog in the best of ways, they are managing to cut through the bad sound as their set warms up. Their 2021 album Meat Mallet was excellent, the sound may have been harsh but they more than proved they can cut it live, we look forward to the next time, A Formal Horse didn’t disappoint
Thumpermonkey have been the real deal for quite some time now, thankfully the venue is full enough to absorb the improving sound and warm things up a bit, the atmosphere is building, the pit is coming to live although Thumpermonkey’s brand of dramatically restrained old school prog isn’t really a thing you go off and things to, they’re not a pit band. Thumpermonkey deal in slow-building drama, epic colour, theirs is a polite style, they’re, in the best possible sense, a very nice band. They kind of sneak up out of the dark on you with their subtle electricity and their pieces of things that fit together so so well. They are very much a very proper progressive rock band, powerfully melodic, slightly awkward, delightfully so, they really are warming the rapidly filling up space rather well, starting to feel like a proper music venue rather than just a gig in a brewery now, things are starting to feel properly proper in here, more than just a warning, Thumpermonkey are watchers of the sky if you know what I mean, putting it right back where they found it, Thumpermonkey are on top form tonight…
By the time Poly-Math come on the place is rammed, quite a battle to get back down the front (with a fresh beer) now, but then they are a band who demand you get down the front, they’re a band that demand your involvement rather then just your observation, they are one of the best live bands around. From the off they have a serious pit, from the off this is seriously happening, from the off thing feels good. The Brighton band are playing their impressive new album Zenith in full tonight, they’re as aurally and visually exhilarating as ever, no, scratch that, everything is up a notch, everything is more, the recent addition of Chris Olsen’s saxophone isn’t the only reason for this, there is just more to Poly-Math now Bass player Joe Branton, his instrument worn as high as usual is the centre of attention, all that angular movement that’s so awkwardly fluid, so naturally right, the brooding power of it all. That Saxophone really does strengthen those King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator comparisons we’ve made before, not that Poly-Math are in anyway looking backwards or even sideways. They’re Playing the whole of Zenith in album order – this is the launch party gig – the sound by now is just right, the soundman really does deserve a name check (only I didn’t ask him his name). There’s an energy here, a strong band, a band who know they’re good, that this is their time – down the front, in the pit the there’s a real bond, a real feel of it all being together, yes, this is what going out to a gig is about, this is everything that’s right coming together. Is there another instrumental band operating in such a powerful way right now? Is there a better live band right now? It isn’t all muscular power though, it could easily become claustrophobic yet never ever does, there is light and shade here, plenty of space for the music to breathe, to just throw your arms in the air and soak in the majesty of it all, enough for the older progheads not wanting to venture into the pit to feel good about it all, there’s more than enough grinning beer-clutching faces around the sides and up the back, everyone is together in here tonight.
Now and again a gig really comes together, the right place, the right bill, the right people, the right promotion (good beer), by the time the band leave the stage (after a blistering encore) and the DJ kicks in with an inspired bit of Bee Gees, we’re more than staying alive. Three fine bands, an excellent headliner, a venue that turned out to be more than good and a real sense that something special just happened.
The latest Poly-Math album, Zenith, came out in mid November 2022 (on NWFA Records), Zenith is a brooding monster of an album that takes in all kinds of progressively angular flavours in with the Van Der Graaf meets Meshuggah via King Crimson-ness of it all. Zenith is a monster in the best possible sense, big walls of interweaving instrumental sound, no vocals but the addition of a saxophone give the whole thing such strong voice. This is the band’s fourth album, they’ve all been good, but, as we already said in the live review up there , everything is more now. Things feel more focussed this time around, leaner, fitter, muscular, concentrated, succinct (not that there was a problem with what they were previously doing in terms of albums).
Zenith is concise, consistent, complex instrumentation without ever feeling the needs to force the cleverness of it all on the listener. Huge riffs, poly-rhythms, alive with colour, heavy where it needs to be, very heavy, but don’t be thinking this is tedious progressive metal, Zenith is far too good to easily place in any convenient pigeonhole. Zenith is a highly recommended album. (sw)
Do click on an image to enlarge or to run the slide show