The Horrors - The Cockpit, Leeds
A lot has changed since I first saw the Horrors perform in a field at 5am last July - they've released their first long player, Strange House, had their potential cultural influence laughably compared to that of the Sex Pistols, and as I learn tonight, their keyboard player has acquired a rather fetching new cape. It soon becomes clear that they've also reached new heights as a live band, tearing into album opener Jack the Ripper, a nod to their well-noted influences and - most important of all - a roaring good tune. Early demos of their version of Screaming Lord Sutch's original barrelled straight out of the gates howling bloody murder and didn't stop until you were exhausted or dead, but now the track's intro has been slowed down to a whirling maelstrom of menace before the band launch into a full-blooded feral assault of choppy organs and biting guitar work. This change of pace alone is a marked progression from the hugely fun but essentially one-note entertainment offered up nine months ago.
Of course, some things never change. The Horrors have a very defined sense of style, and the devoted crowd of followers and wannabes here tonight wouldn't have it any other way. Guitarist Josh, cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, looks like he's just stepped out of a vintage New York Dolls performance video, a mass of hair on a skinny frame playing with rare ferocity. And it's LOUD. Louder than you might imagine, with Count in Fives maintaining the breathless pace, transformed on stage from crackling, gothic Moog-pop into a thunderous mixture of pounding drums and maniacal, wounded vocals. Though he's still an animated frontman, where once Faris Badwan would have taunted the audience, thrown himself head first into their midst and daubed their best new skinny jeans with black paint, there's more playfulness than aggression to his performance than I remember. That confrontational edge certainly hasn't disappeared, as evidenced by his iconoclastic destruction of an Elvis Presley bust in Boston, Massachusetts a few weeks previously, but as any intelligent performer knows, there's a lot more to lose from cheesing off your audience when preaching to the converted than trying to cultivate a reputation. It's a shame though, because although it may well have upset some of the teenyboppers present, a semblance of menace or unpredictability in his performance would have enlivened some of the set's weaker moments. As it was, in terms of visceral thrills we had to make do with seeing Faris scale the light rigging, which takes on less of a dangerous air when you've seen the singer from indie also-rans easyworld pull off the very same manoeuvre.
By the middle of their set (all eight songs of it, value for money lovers) things did indeed start to tail off, with some of the album tracks not translating nearly as well live as the singles - without the spoken-word monologue of broken bones and deceitful sweethearts that runs through Excellent Choice, for example, Faris's frenzied yelps lose all context and the number meanders pointlessly rather than gaining any real pace. The 90-second sonic attack of Sheena is a Parasite is the band's get-out-of-jail-free card though, and easily the best tune of the night, reinvigorating both the crowd and the men in black stalking the stage. The momentum carries us through another storming cover, this time of the Syndicats' Crawdaddy Simone, a glorious mash of classic girl-group pop and Southern gothic that featured on the B-side of their second single Death at the Chapel. The high doesn't last but leaves the audience craving another hit, even after the strangely bloodless run through of Gloves that brings an end to proceedings.
A lot has changed for the Horrors. They're now really, really good live. When they hit top form the din they produce is amazing, strangely danceable and utterly compulsive. The rhythm section hammers away magnificently for the thirty minutes they're on stage without letting up once. Their frontman even tries to sing now. But they remain, now and probably forever, a band best enjoyed in small doses.