The Flowers Of Hell in Bello Bar on September 24th 2015

You have to wonder what’s unfolding in front of Greg Jarvis during The Flowers Of Hell’s set in Bello Bar. Jarvis has synaesthesia, a hereditary brain wiring where two of the senses are fused – he perceives sounds as abstract shapes. It makes for interesting music, certainly. Heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground with elements of post-rock, shoegaze, psychedelia, classical – and with the just-released ‘Aria 51’ EP, an operatic slant – the trans-Atlantic outfit’s spacey orchestral soundscapes unfold in rich, measured swathes, helmed by Jarvis’ experimental vision.

Tonight’s gig, moved from the banks of the Liffey to those of the canal, sees Bello Bar play host to some equally inventive musical traversing in advance of the main act, with Katie O’Neill challenging the room with an electric guitar and a vocal that at times recalls Nico. Sparse notes are dispensed – often simply a two-note riff layered up with hissing, chattering vocal effects, insect-like almost. Those effects knit the songs together, a constant motif as one song melts into the next; ballad-like at one juncture, discordant textured noise at the next.

¡NO! explore improvisational lines as keys and bass rise over a tom beat, the rhythm section leading the way as the guitar plays skitterish, echoing notes. Each of the quartet take different lead roles, adding nuances to the accumulating rumble, gently toying with acceleration and pulling back again. A wailing sax becomes the main sonic, and then a tribal drum pattern comes to the fore as various instruments wrestle for supremacy. Early Pink Floyd are echoed briefly, before a motorik beat drives things along to the conclusion of what seems a largely aleatoric set; loose, organic, but completely cohesive.

As line-ups go, tonight’s incarnation of The Flowers Of Hell is modest by the band’s standards. They generally number sixteen members, give or take – thirty if you count 2009’s ‘Come Hell Or High Water’ album – but tonight it’s a sextet that dispense the aural medicine. Soprano Julia Morson’s often-startling vocal floats atop trumpet and keys, the sounds solidifying as a drumbeat gives it all a backbone. Jarvis comes out from behind the keyboard for a cover by Czech band The Plastic People of the Universe, a nod to The Velvet Underground that leads into Darklands.

He takes lead vocal on Street Hassle – embellished by Morson – before rejoining the band, leaving her to hit the high notes while the metallic clang of his electric guitar stands in contrast to the lofty trumpet that dances around her sky-high notes. “This is a bit of a song called ‘O’” Jarvis says, excising a section from 2010’s forty-five minute instrumental release. He assumes the role of conductor, standing in front of the band, variously accentuating one part, lowering another – pulling in with both hands then giving each a surging presence until both arms are windmilling it all to a crescendo.

This is a song from fifty years ago“, we’re told, as The Velvet Underground make their overarching presence felt most overtly and Heroin’s undulating tempo brings the night to its conclusion. It’s a bit of a Flowers miscellany tonight – thematically diverse, old and new orchestral manoeuvres in the dock. If six people can make sounds as fully formed as these, you can only guess what the full complement is capable of.

Check out our interview with The Flowers Of Hell’s inimitable band-leader Greg Jarvis here