Beak> in The Button Factory, Dublin, on Thursday 6th January 2020
Geoff Barrow talks with fondness about a recent visit to Bristol by our own Lankum. Having played their show and embraced the post-gig session where, we are sure, drinks were drank and songs were sung, the Dublin band left for the airport only to find themselves grounded by a delayed flight.
The band took this as their cue to re-join the session and pick up where they left off, a move that impressed Barrow almost as much as the band’s musicianship. One of those musicians, multi-instrumentalist and singer Radie Peat, has been chosen to open for Beak> tonight in a sold-out Button Factory, and as the gregarious drummer says, “we’re not worthy for that voice today.”
Peat sits in a chair on a stage filled with the main band’s gear, switching between electric guitar, accordion, and harmonium over her set. She stands at the latter for a solo take on Lankum’s The Granite Gaze, her contribution to the track accentuated when isolated from the album version. Nirvana’s Something In The Way “isn’t a folk song at all”, but takes on an even more mournful hue in Peat’s subdued retelling. She warns that the ensuing You Are My Sunshine could come off as cheesy but segueing as it does into Vashti Bunyan’s Diamond Day, and with Peat’s singular vocal delivery, that could never be the case.
Lankum colleague Cormac MacDiarmada joins on backing vocals for a song about “political disillusionment” that holds that bit more resonance just two days before a general election that may well signify the beginnings of change. The set closes, then, on the bleak, evocative imagery of Dark Horse and the contrasting richness of three complementary tones – two voices in harmony and the all-consuming air of Peat’s sonorous accordion.
Beak> have to follow that, but as they toy around with volume on The Brazilian, dropping low and throwing it back up, it’s clear that theirs is going to be a pleasingly kinetic rout through three albums (Beak>, >> and >>>) and sundry. As Eggdog ends, Barrow asks how it went down – apparently not so well elsewhere. Bassist Billy Fuller reads out some negative Youtube comments, the favourite being that theirs is “literally the worst combination of sounds in the history of the world.”
They’re conscious of the fact that this evening’s set has a definite deadline in the form of a student bingo night, so things zip along nicely. A mid-set pairing of Allé Sauvage and Wulfstan II prove unstoppable, the former escalating with every switch up on the synth, every new passage triggered by the drumbeat, the latter a grungier psych workout inching towards its climax via Will Young’s baroque organ experimentalism. A crowd heckle after Allé Sauvage, as sincere as it is succinct, is echoed with a laugh by Barrow: “Very good!”
As with Radie Peat’s set earlier, accompaniment is called for, and a tall dude called Tom appears briefly on percussion (“He’s the best drummer I know so that’s why he’s playing bongos“). Tom’s stint would mark the set’s end and the encore’s beginning, if such a thing were acceptable (“The whole going off and coming back on thing is a load of bollocks“), so things continue right up to the bingo’s impending influx. The slow, repetitive build-up of Battery Point edges onward, eventually cracking open to let the song breathe as the spaces between sounds become more pronounced and the musicians’ hands fall ever-gentler on their instruments, quietening to the most delicate strum and tap.
The kinship of Beak> and Lankum is easy to understand. The drones the Bristol trio make, those of Radie Peat and those of Lankum, come from the same spiritual well. The machines that produce them are irrelevant, but the ambition and consequence is the same – ascendance through sound.