Micachu and the Shapes @ Coalition, Brighton, 13th Oct
The great thing about seeing a band play live rather than hearing their music through yer own solipsistic headphones is that you get context. When Micachu & the Shapes play here at Coalition, down on Brighton beach on a dark damp Saturday night, under the Victorian brick arches of the venue’s cavernous insides, you get a whole world of context.
At most gigs a band’s particular generic style is clearly echoed in its audience: I’ve almost drowned in beard’n’flannel when watching Americana acts and the stripy tops going in and out of phase at hipster indie shows can cause hypnosis in susceptible beings. It’s a bit of a surprise to see such an oddball as Mica Levi mirrored in her audience but here she is, in the baseball caps and androgyny of the friendly teenage-Grimester-to-middle-aged-indie-kid crowd in front of the stage. [At one point a boy, here with his dad, all of 13 in his cut-off Joy Div tee and cap, is greeted with great delight by the similarly-attired but older and queerer Micachu fanbase.] It’s good to see in practice who it is that loves this quirky stuff: overwhelmingly positive reviews from the faceless critics [especially those of The Shapes’ edging-into-avant-garde-territory collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, at whose concerts apparently the audience didn’t applaud between songs] aren’t necessarily translated into actual bodies dancing in a nightclub under Brighton’s promenade.
And dance they do. We’d love to see a film made of someone pulling shapes to Micachu music; perhaps, a la Thom Yorke in ‘Lotus Flower’, it’d be all gawky slink and sway, with no time for the dancer to get into a groove before another shift of tempo or tune, a constant morphing of pattern and colour, the aural equivalent of an unfolding Jacob’s Ladder. It’d be good, whatever. It’s good here, because while the foundations of a Micachu song tend to have a crash-bang simplicity about them, there’s that drummer, knocking out precise reggae rhythms or hip-swinging ska beats or relentless Fall-ish sycopations over the top of a foursquare playschool -simple riff, turning it into a remarkably funky – if still kitchen sink clattery – beast.
The three members of the band stand on the stage in their co-ordinating shirts, each printed with a different shape [square, triangle, circle] like toddler shape-sorter boxes. Square pegs, round holes. Does this lot fit in? Well, perhaps, if you care to go looking you could find progenitors and peers [The Raincoats, Bush Tetras, CocoRosie, Pram, Tricky’s Nearly God project; bands which tend to attract epithets such as quirky, amateur, off-kilter, dissonant, wilful, shoddy… ] but the fact remains that Micachu and The Shapes won’t easily fit into any box. They don’t sound that much like anything else. They certainly don’t sound like the past, which is a rarer thing than you’d imagine. I found myself thinking of Throwing Muses [another band which sounded like itself if not actually something utterly alien] while watching them, not least because Mica Levi’s face – clear, youthful, unprettified – has certain similarities with Kristin Hersh’s, which is also often to be seen twisted into a grimace of, what? Anxiety? Wry amusement? Concentration?
We get to hear much of Never, in all its short sharp stabby funny sweet ramshackle noisy maximalist glory. We dance along, not exactly gracefully, not exactly with groove, but certainly with huge amounts of cheer. It becomes clear that MatS are resolutely anti-twee; there’s not a hint of cupcake about them. They’re robust, angular, strong, self-aware and witty without having to resort to the dreaded detachment of the terminally ironic. There’s not a hint of machismo either, not until a hefty and frowning security guard prowls on stage to kick aside the bra that someone’s thrown at Mica, causing peals of laughter from audience and band alike. The exhilaration is obvious: there’s even something immensely pleasing and telling about the incongruity of a shiny laptop perched on a stool next to a zither played with a travelcard…
Micachu’s shapes might be contrary and twisted but they have charm in buckets. Get yer gawk on!