The decline of British Sea Power began with an unseasonably chilly bite to the April air in Austin this past weekend. Well, it wasn't so much their decline, but you know, the start of their latest gig on their US tour in support of their latest album, Do You Like Rock Music? The album is a return to form of sorts for the Brightonians,after their last LP, Open Season, received just this side of lukewarm reviews. The latest is a perfect blend of the last's softer, more polished side, and the first's (The Decline Of...) straightforward, post-punk persona.
The night started out reasonably enough, at the door we found out the show was free. The crowd was moderate but growing steadily, and the drinks were cheap. What more could you really ask for?
Openers Colourmusic filled the night's sky with beautifully bright melodies and second act Film School's romantic drone echoed off the limestone cliff that is the back wall of Club de Ville; each doing their own part to ready the expanding crowd for the headliners of the night, British Sea Power.
For the first time catching them live, I was immediately surprised and ultimately pleased with their throwback look. I knew they were an intelligent, literate group but to carry on with such an outward aesthetic really warmed my heart. The members from center to the right side of the stage were clothed in tattered and torn rags, making the Brothers Wilkinson (Yan and Hamilton) out to be throwbacks from an era of immigrant potato farmers or chimney sweeps, just trying to keep warm in threadbare cotton. Violinist Abi Fry was clad in a most conservative white dress that gave her the appearance of a Sarah Plain and Tall, and as her minimalist work on the violin floated through the opening few songs the crowd began to sway with enjoyment. I will say though that most of her work throughout the night was kind of covered up by the rest of the band, save for a few moments where she was left to add her delicate touches all alone. Was she there just for kicks? Maybe, but they were enjoyable kicks nonetheless.
BSP covered a lot of ground, working through tracks from all three efforts, and even managed to plow through some serious obstacles, first being what could mostly be described as an awful sound mix. Feedback plagued a little bit of Film School's set earlier in the night, and I suppose not all of the kinks were worked out by the time BSP took the stage, because lead guitarist Martin Noble's work could barely be heard for what was the first quarter of the set. This ultimately led to a few detracted shouts from certain perturbed members of the audience to the likes of, "this sound guy sucks" and "turn up the guitar!" They must have been heard because by the time guitars were switched five or six songs in, Noble's searing lead was finally heard. Unfortunately, the second obstacle to overcome was the sound spilling over from sister venue The Mohawk, whose close proximity didn't help the sound mixing problems. Front man Yan had no qualms about mentioning his apparent distaste midway through his own set.
"DJs over there," he stated, chuckling. "Perfect sound to lead into this slow tune."
Despite the few setbacks, everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy the Britons, especially as Noble really started to let loose, showing off his best free climbing skills on the limestone wall, shouting back down at the rest of the group. They played crowd pleasers and deep tracks, but I'd have to say the two that really seemed to fit the best were two from their latest album - "Atom" and "Waving Flags" - whose melodies carried like anthems over the still makeshift-looking venue. Club de Ville still seems to be working through it's awkward adolescence as a live music venue, but you can see where it will one day make strides toward legitimacy. For what it's worth though, I think it's a venue best suited for quieter, more intimate acts rather than blasting Brit Rock.
Enough nitpicking about venues, British Sea Power showed up and performed with a zest mine eyes hadn't seen in quite some time, despite everyday problems that go into performing a live show. I'm sure all that went down Saturday night was nothing they hadn't dealt with before, and the poise and confidence with which they plowed on through says more than my words. BSP should continue on plowing through (hopefully with less technical problems) for the remainder of their US tour, ending in mid May.