I would deem myself a fairly optimistic pessimist, often finding myself anticipating the best, while ultimately expecting the worst. So when the pan-impact of COVID-19 began to make itself transparently manifest, it probably didn’t take me by quite the surprise it could’ve – if perhaps shouldn’t have – done others: “We’re in this for the long haul,” I concluded pretty quickly. Thus, a somewhat morbid curiosity in Worldometer sank without trace once the Diamond Princess started to descend the aggregator’s grim ranking system, and an annual fascination with eFestivals’ hive-minded forums also subsided when it became apparent that rumours concerning when the next festival jamboree would be, instead of who would be playing it, were considerably more relevant to then. Now, we’ve endured what has been a barren summer, and have slumped into an autumnal malaise – even the most cheery reading of the late Mark Hollis’ Life’s What You Make It shrivels in the damp lukewarmth of a season bereft of light, in more ways than one.
However, there is some perceptible hope somewhere along the proverbial horizon: not in the government’s very welcome, if still underwhelming £1.57 billion ‘Culture Recovery Fund’, but rather in those venues across the country who’ve taken not only the initiative, but also the financial hit in order to bring live music back into the spotlight. Not since an idle March had I set foot on the sticky underfoot of a dancefloor; winced in the lurid glare of a card reader screen, as a disagreeable lager sets me and my no-longer-contactless card back further than ever before; walked out into a street-lit nocturnal luminescence with a distant, aqueous din ringing in my ears. Then it was Supergrass, at Alexandra Palace; tonight, it’s Mancunian quartet Everything Everything, at Myu. (Or Pryzm, Kingston upon Thames in more normal times.) And fucking heck, has this been missed. All of this.
I’ve come to live without live music, and while a whole load of £ will have been saved in its absence, have appreciated the respite in certain respects. Having gone to hundreds of shows every year, for more than half of my accelerating lifetime, seven months without is some withdrawal; although that time and space has given rise to reflection on how’s, why’s, so on. But to cite Joni Mitchell, indeed, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” (On the subject, I’m doing my utmost to keep this as apolitical as is possible, but the prospect of many a beloved venue being razed and redeveloped as, say, “a parking lot with a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot” is as palpable as never before.) And a chasmic lacuna was left behind not just for me, but I suspect for many – Everything Everything’s two shows tonight, incidentally, sold out in a cumulative eleven seconds.
The capacity for these has, as goes without saying, been reduced dramatically: Pryzm will, typically, be filled with somewhere around 1,800 people for these ‘outstore’ shows, put on by estimable Kingston institution Banquet Records; tonight, ‘Myu’ only holds 180. They’re running at a loss therefore, across the board, but it’s to the advantage of a) the band, and b) their audience: a) because they’re recompensed, will have boosted sales of their exceptional latest album RE-ANIMATOR, copies of which were bundled in with tickets, and finally get to play songs they’ve slaved over, from a record the release of which was delayed by the pandemic; and b) because of course the fortunate 360 get to a gig for the first time in fuck-knows, but also because ‘Myu’ is a pilot venue. If this can be seen to be a viable alternative to normality, or a so-called ‘circuit breaker’ from the monotony of our ‘new normality’, then everybody benefits. No, it doesn’t stop the odd dunce contravening the very unequivocal rules (stay seated when not toing or froing to or from the toilets, et cetera), but hopefully most behave well enough for the council – members of which are, at least ostensibly, in attendance – to give approval to further gigs in our more immediate future.
Needless to say, it is odd: those aforesaid lagers are table-served to benches more reminiscent of a Bierhalle than a concert hall, see-through screens separate one table from the next, and many won’t remove their face coverings throughout. But what is most odd is being back in a dark room brimming with anticipation. It’s painted on those faces you can see, and writ largest on those of the band members themselves. Surprisingly, possibly, Jonathan Higgs gives little introduction, nor reintroduction to this now-unfamiliar medium. That being said, there is a springy vim to sprightly opener Lost Powers, as he’ll reassuringly assert and reassert: “Come on, you only lost your mind,” as though these past seven months were merely some ill-conceived fever dream. Having never heard the song performed live before, it’s novel – like a virus, conceivably – yet Distant Past hits much harder. A greater hit, well road-worn, it twangs away at pangs for a return to what seems an increasingly dislocated pre-COVID-19 time, the line: “Take me to the distant past, I want to go back” infinitely more striking than a second idiosyncratic simian remark in as many songs. Its typical euphoria replaced by a newly dawned resignation, if my ultimate phobia is of being left behind, then I’m left to long for 2019. And that, at the time, seemed dismal lest we forget.
Mercifully therefore, for the most part, Everything Everything call upon RE-ANIMATOR. It Was a Monstering and Moonlight – both of which unapologetically ape In Rainbows to befuddling degree – feature, but it’s the band’s iridescent ability to combine a distinctively singular palette with distinctly accessible sensibilities which shines brightest, even in these stormy times: Big Climb sounds huge over the sort of belting PA it was built for, Higgins’ prophetic declarations weird, and wonderful, and wholly hypnotic; similarly, Arch Enemy retains its every nuance over cavern-filling bass and bracing drums. At which point, a special mention should be made for the musical proficiency on show: this isn’t some dispassionate, plug-in-and-play brigade (à la those La La Loveless Pixies, for instance), but a band whose craft has been refined and finely rehearsed. Which, at a time when rehearsal studios are going bust rather than booming, makes tonight’s performance all the more impressive. With its lithe bass lines and fluttering guitar, Get to Heaven – from their exemplary 2015 full-length of the same name – is as tightly wound as was way back then, while Spring / Sun / Winter / Dread does its utmost to allay the gloom currently “loom[ing] heavy” overhead.
They leave us with perhaps their two poppiest compositions present (Violent Sun) and past (No Reptiles) and while the future remains bleak, evenings like these proffer not only light entertainment but essential solace. Persistent sloganeering reminds us that ‘we’re all in this together’ and such like, but rainbows in windows fail to kindle a viscerally collective togetherness in quite the same way as squawking: “It’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair, old enough to run/ Old enough to fire a gun” in impassioned unison can. And while there’s so much we still can’t do, getting these sorts of shows back on the road can only be a good thing in terms of keeping optimists, pessimists, optimistic pessimists, and everybody in-between compos mentis in this incredible bit of time we’re currently living through as much as in.