Live at The Library on Wednesday, 27th January 2010
Juffage is a potential health and safety hazard. During his set tonight (over and above the short circuit-inducingly large amount of loopers, delay and fuzz pedals), various pieces of equipment are carried around Upstairs @ The Library high above his head, an incongruous table lamp atop an amp stack is wobbling violently and his cavalier style of guitar playing seems to centre on physical contortions in the middle of an already-large crowd.
Musically, of course, Juffage is significantly less of a liability. Hidden in between layers of dense and apparently nebulous sound, there's a wealth of tentative and lilting melodies and a surprising pop hook-like simplicity to his ethos. This is Jeff T. Smith's reimagining of the pop song, where terseness and slickness of production are traded for slow, organic structural changes (creating the impression of almost meditative stasis) and unbridled enthusiasm.
The promised collaboration between Vessels and Quack Quack in a so-called drum battle, composed by Vessels' Lee J. Malcolm, seems to coax out the closeted percussion geeky-ness in the audience. In fact, its terming as a 'drum battle' - or drum-off, or similar - undersells its structural coherence and textural complexity, as well as its very mathematical and rational approach to rhythm. Limber group phrases and woodblock and cowbell-led sections oppose and then interweave in ever more brain-addlingly intricate patterns. Impressively, the quartet are very much in-step despite the huge potential for confusion and musical disaster: even cymbal chokes are spot-on unison. Responding applause and heckles even ask for a second whirl round of the surreally-titled 'Unwieldy Din for a Quadrangle of Mammalian Beaterscoops'. Disappointingly, one rendition is all we get, but I'm with the crowd - more, please!
Quack Quack's solo set is a similarly frenetic affair. There's a predominance of gurning here - as well as some quite impressive limb flailing - but this is more or less justified by high-register gliss-ing work in the bass, elaborate drum grooves and an almost-continuous stream of twisting melodies on keys. Their slightly fairground timbres are well matched to their sense of humour on stage; at any given point, one or other of the two has most punters smiling.
Vessels have the job of bringing the evening to a conclusion and, true to form, they pull off a set of spine-tinglingly expansive soundscapes and often astoundingly beautiful textural and melodic turns. Their brittle and translucent 'introvert' moments (see: slow, droning e-bowed guitar, fragile keys and guitar arpeggio work, gently-spoken bass) and more crowded, interlocking textures (rhythmically unpredictable with busy kit lines) are both equally as stunning. The live visuals, too, enhance the effect without becoming overwhelming - they seem to ring true with the Vessels temperament and blur the dividing line between the physical show and the virtual, projected one. Vessels' short switch out of character to engage in some banter also makes a nice counterpoint to the intensity of their set - although the music itself speaks worlds of Vessels and their ambitiously proportioned and emotive output.