Take one band. They tour, build up a steady fanbase, release an album and EP that are promisingly healthy in all respects from production to writing ability. But they still go largely unnoticed. During a two-year hiatus things remain on a low boil: the odd gig/tour here and there, but musical output-wise there is zilch. Fans are left scratching their heads in puzzlement as to when and where their heroes are going to return to claim their god-like status.
Then comes 2013 and a rush of news from an album in the works, to a UK tour, and more imminently the build-up to the ‘Second Coming of Exit Calm’ with the single release of ‘The Rapture’. Suddenly it all seems to be working. Press and media are sitting up and radio DJs, who never so much as have them a namecheck previously, are now clambering to be first in with airing the single (which was released on 18th February) on their show and staking their ‘tastemaker’ claim to the ‘new brilliance’ of the Yorkshire band. And judging by the opening night at London’s Borderline on their present headlining tour, that’s not all that has changed.
The lights dim for several minutes before the band make their entrance (to Primal Scream’s ‘Higher Than The Sun’), allowing time to raise the expectancy of the fuelled-up crowd. Exit Calm have always made an entrance like gladiators into a ring, and frontman Nicky Smith – armed tonight with two bottles of beer and one of water – given to limbering up with flexing neck moves like a boxer ready for battle. As they kick off with ‘You’ve Got It All Wrong’ and proceed through the eight-song set, something starts nagging in the consciousness – the conscious part that is, that still remains intact from the noise-blast levels that resound from the massive sonic booms emanating from bassist Simon Lindley and guitarist Rob Marshall. ‘Something’ is not necessarily ‘wrong’, but something is different.
The quartet, who although might have put Barnsley on the music map no longer reside within its confines, know what an audience want, and on one hand they deliver that in plenty. The aforementioned ‘You’ve Got It All Wrong’ is an art in itself as to how to burn a classic. While Marshall keeps head bent low over Yamaha, goading it to produce even more scintillating sounds, Smith adopts throughout his familiar crouched poses; hammering away at the vocals, though the previously mean glowers appear absent: the channelled Ashcroft/Liam G/Ian Brown vibe has been put aside to let his own persona come to the fore. Now not so much Grizzy bear as Teddy, going by the grins, the frequent banter with the largely male contingent in the front row.
What has happened? Maybe it’s a newly found confidence that has been borne from the inner knowing that their time spent away from the public eye is one that has been creatively well spent. Though one criticism may be the very lack of such evidence, certainly on this first night anyway. Although songs such as ‘Albion, and ‘Fiction’ may be new in one respect in that they have yet to appear on a recorded work, to many who have caught the band over the last year will already be familiar with both. ‘Holy War’, from the forthcoming follow-up album, is one of the few that has seen less live outings as yet, though given its impact with menacing overtoned opening and well-timed basslines, it could well be on course to become a set standard. A few more songs on the set, and an encore – missing on this occasion and took the audience by surprise, with most feet refusing to move from the spot they were rooted to for more than five minutes after the band had left the stage.
Other than that, Exit Calm put on a fine show for this first night, with applause and cheers most audible for ‘The Rapture’, the song that seems set to put them firmly back on the map this year. It is once again employs the big sound that has become synonymous with their name; as to hard hitting lines like ‘You’re in the dictionary next to what a bitch is’ prove Smith has lost none of his mastery of penning a few caustic words when necessary. The anthemic ‘Hearts And Minds’ concludes the set. The power chords, the undeniable mastery of Marshall and Lindley (at times with the former it becomes also hypnotising: watching as he creates such a sonic palette from his instrument, you find yourself becoming almost oblivious to the actual song itself as concentration becomes focussed on how on earth he coaxes such an exquisite sound out of it), the fusion of psych rock-meets-shoegaze-esque songs, all fit together perfectly. The Rapture has indeed arrived.
by Linn Branson
Photo by Mike Goodsoul