Sacre Bleu, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition. The Limiñanas are Perpignan-based duo Lionel and Marie Limiñana and Perpignan is, well, close to Spain. But somehow seven band members in all were crammed onto Soup Kitchen’s stage including five guitarists, and they make a heck of a racket, a sort of guitar orchestra at a volume to rival the likes of Swans and My Bloody Valentine.
They’re fairly new to me and a quick root through some recent YouTube videos prior to this short-notice gig couldn’t prepare me for the experience of one of their live shows. Firstly, it’s relentless and everything seems to be played about half as fast again as their recorded material, with on average five seconds between songs and sometimes nothing at all. Like they’re concerned they might miss the last train home out of Gare d’Austerlitz.
They got through 22 of them in less than 90 minutes and there was hardly a break, even for the encore. Leaving the stage is not de rigueur for this band. They just wiped themselves down after #17 on the roster, ‘Betty and Johnny’ before asking rhetorically “you want some more?”, the only words in English I remember all night, then moving straight into Encore #1, ‘Pink Flamingos’, the closest they come to a ballad.
No explanation of the substance of the songs, no titles, nothing. You know their work already or you don’t. The energy expended on stage was of Olympian proportions, especially by Marie on her cymbal-less drum kit, hacking away inexorably in common time like the Duracell bunny with pretty much the same beat every time, and from a guitarist/contortionist who looked like the archetypal villain from a Hannibal Lecter movie and who towards the end of the performance set about sexually assaulting his guitar with a spoon. It leaves you breathless just watching them.
Many ‘styles’ have been attributed to The Limiñanas including psych, shoegaze, garage and yé-yé. I find it difficult to reconcile “psych” with them apart from a couple of tracks; it’s all too frenetic most of the time although the rhythm and volume combined did border on hallucinatory at times. Shoegaze, maybe. While I’m not a student of French music of the 1960s and I know well only one singer from the genre – France Gall – I can recall just one song that I would class as pure yé-yé, which was ‘Prisunic’, which came early in the set. It was partly delivered by a female vocalist, stage left, who spent most of the night alone with her tambourine but who lit up the stage when she did sing. Imagine if you can a cross between Brigitte Bardot and France Gall, both vocally and in looks, oozing élégance as only the French can, even with this material, in this former textile sweatshop basement.
What I did hear was a lot of garage though perhaps it was the set selection on the night that was responsible. Plenty of garage bands have passed through this establishment but few would even aspire to these standards and I’ve never heard one play a song deliberately in discord as they appeared to do on ‘Tigre du Bengal’. Not so much garage as showroom.
One thing they do well is the swapping of vocals. Lionel has a go from time to time, but most of the singing duties, live, are shared between another (unnamed) male vocalist stage right and the aforementioned Brigitte Gall, though almost all of them provide backing vocals, including Marie when she can catch her breath. When that happens, together with a weird keyboard sound they conjure up, it adds to the overall volume and creates an industrial hum that seemed to echo off the back walls of the venue as if there were hidden speakers there.
All of this – the guitar orchestra, the beat, the hum, came together in ‘Istanbul is Sleepy’, from their most recent album, ‘Shadow People’, one in which the pace picked up further, to Usain Bolt proportions and the closest to a genuine 1960’s psych sound, with a distinct flavour of The Velvet Underground. It was the highlight of the evening for me but then, as if to highlight their suppressed diversity, along came the title track from that album, which features a quite exquisite piece of acoustic guitar-playing.
That said, the two most tuneful songs were actually encore covers, namely the Lords of the New Church’s ‘Russian Roulette’ played more slowly and in a yé-yé-like style and sounding nothing like the original, and Them’s ‘Gloria’.
The place was packed with local and regional cognoscenti who seemed to study every word, note and nuance just like audiences did back in the 1960s and 70s. Appreciation was given up grandly and acknowledged en retour by the band, who seemed a little surprised at the reception on the first night of their tour.
That tour continues with shows in Glasgow, Leeds, London and Brighton.