Invada Invasion: Mogwai & guests - Bristol, Colston Hall

A fair proportion of those rolling up to tonight’s show at the jaw dropping golden splendour of the newly extended Colston Hall may have had to traverse Whiteladies Road or even proceed along Blackboy Hill. It is unlikely, however, that many will have given a second thought to how these enigmatic street names came about but that’s all changing; Bristol is a city struggling with its past. A past which saw over half a million slaves transported to the city in the C18th, the profit from which paid for many of the landmarks we now take from granted. Chief among those profiting from this vile trade was Edward Colston, Sir Edward Colston no less, whose hall now stands upon the site of what was the first slave owning house in Bristol. This is where it all began but it is time for Bristol to look to the future and make a break with the literal and metaphorical shackles of the past, the Hall is now under new management and this £20M refurbishment and re-launch should be a catalyst to expunge the past and celebrate the new. It is certainly a massive improvement to the 142 year old venue, placing it in a bracket alongside Cardiff’s flagship Millennium Centre, and Invada Invasion really puts it through its paces tonight.

Still, a venue that has survived two catastrophic fires and the attentions of the Luftwaffe should have no problem in hosting what amounts to a mini music festival, stick a stage in the entrance hall, another one in the old bar, cross your fingers and hope for the best. The majority of the Invada Invasion bill comes, as you might expect, courtesy of Geoff Barrow’s Invada label, which is committed to unearthing the best new, largely local, experimental talent . The first to step up to the plate, at the indecently early hour of 6pm, are Thought Forms who defy the glaring chrome brilliance of the foyer to captivate a sizeable crowd with their dynamic, if rather anonymous, post rock soundscapes. It seems unlikely that the venue was built with such performances in mind and yet the acoustics are impressive, with the band’s coruscating guitar wash sounding as good to those looking down from three floors above as it does right in front of the stage.

There’s always something happening somewhere in the sprawling venue and so there’s no time for contemplating navels as by the time Thought Forms are downing tools Team Brick are opening the evening’s entertainment in the main hall, ably assisted by Bristol string section The Emerald Ensemble who remain on stage to also perform with Joe Volk and Crippled Black Phoenix. Volk takes to the stage and cuts a nervous figure, eventually admitting that he’s spent the last hour trying to balance nerves and drunkenness with a cocktail of beer and cognac. It seems to have done the trick and early nerves are soon dispatched allowing his delicate acoustic guitar melodies to shine. Over in the second hall Rosie Red Rash are just taking the stage and, again, it is a set which sees the band somewhat overawed by their surroundings and clearly not firing on all cylinders, which is a shame as their awkward, energetic Grrrl punk clearly has great potential.

Crippled Black Phoenix have no such worries. Volk is back onstage but clearly far more comfortable in the company of his bandmates. Having the string section on stage makes for a hell of a spectacle and vindicates the decision to invite Invada to take over the building, it just wouldn’t work in less salubrious surrounds. It also makes for an epic sound, the strings combining so effortlessly with the band’s Floydian psych-rock that it is hard to believe that this isn’t a permanent partnership. Post rock, riot grrrl and orchestral psychedelia, what better way to follow this than with some free form Italian jazz rock?

Zu are a primal force and amidst the cacophony created by their drums, bass and saxophone it is easy to lose sight of the exceptional, delicate and precise musicianship which underpins their bludgeoning set. Performing in the foyer they capitalise upon a schedule which sees them as the only act onstage and captivate a colossal, curious crowd with an unrelenting set of howling sax and pulsating percussion. After that onslaught the rather more gentle afro-asian rhythms of Zun Zun Egui serve as a blissful comedown and it’s impossible not to move your feet to effervescent east-african guitar melodies the like of which have not been heard since the heyday of the Peel show.

As successful as the Invada bands have been tonight, it is the post rock apocalypse of Mogwai that most have turned out to see tonight. I remember being pinned to the wall by this lot way back in the 1990s when they supported the Manic Street Preachers, the howls of glittery derision from the partisan manics fans only serving to make them stronger, louder. Nothing can ever recreate that initial shock to the senses that they generated but what they lack in the element of surprise today they make up for in subtlety and precision. Where they initially relied upon a formula of quiet/loud/quiet/loud they’ve now incorporate many more shades of grey into their performances and, tonight, Mogwai’s explosions of sound infiltrate every inch of the Colston Hall, cleansing it of any dubious past it may once have been associated with. Emerging blinking into the artificial light of the foyer there’s little time to recover before Fuck Buttons appear to melt what little remains of eardrums and consciousness. It is time for Bristol to bury its past, just look what the future holds.

Words & Photography: Steve Burnett

Category Gig Review

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