Some nights you get off on the wrong foot. You leave home at the wrong time and miss the bus, with the next being 20 away. Your phone’s battery jumps from 78% to 12% by the time you’ve walked the 15 mins to the venue. It pisses it down as you walk to the venue only to stop when you reach the venue’s doors. The venue’s chip and pin machine isn’t working and you only have enough to pay the person on the door, so must decide between merch or a drink. In a way this was going to be one of those nights. I’d missed the bus and walked to the venue before the next bus had caught me up. It rained all the way until I reached the Rose Hill’s welcoming door and the chip and pin was on the fritz when I tried to order a drink.
Kate Arnold opened the night with live looping of her hammered dulcimer, vocals, violin along with anything else that came to hand. The music flitted between being twee and drones. One song, ‘2n=24’, was introduced as being “Written for trees. So, if it takes a while to get going, that’s ok. It isn’t aimed at us”. If you didn’t like the music, you had to admire Arnold’s ability to create a complex song live using only what she had to hand. After Arnold came Hákarl. His set was broken into two elongated improvised performances. One on an Oud, a Turkish stringed instrument, the second on a violin. The first was filled with expansive hypnotic melodies, the second was tight, a claustrophobic affair. Proper fingers down the chalk board stuff. It was captivating.
Then came the reason why we’d braved a dismal night. MXLX. It had been two years since MXLX had last released any new music and the chance to witness him live could not be passed up. From the opening moments, MXLX had something on his chest to get off. As the set progressed the music intensified, broken techno
Halfway through the first section of his set you could tell that MXLX wasn’t happy about something. This frustration came to a head as he reconfigured his table to tricks for the next onslaught. He called out members of the audience, and a support act, for talking during his set. They didn’t hear/respond as they were still talking. It ticked him off, but he carried on. Ratcheting up the noise and distortion until it was all consuming. Then as abruptly as it had started it was over and he was off the stage.
As I stepped out of the Rose Hill, I saw a fox. Our eyes met and we both knew what the evening had in store for the other. As it scampered off in search of food before heading back to its den, I walked to get some food, contemplating what I’d seen. MXLX’s set felt cathartic. The music was acrid, mordant with hints of redemption. Throughout this set he combined dubby soundscapes, swelling organs, broken techno and was able to vent his frustrations. Some of those frustrations were aimed at the members of the audience and sound issues. It felt like these issues made the set feel more volatile than if things had gone smoothly. Loveridge had something between his teeth. He could focus his rage directly at his detractors.
MXLX is a unique talent as you don’t listen to his live shows but feel them. You feel the bass in your guts, his stream of consciousness lyrics relies totally on the listener, rather than telling a precise story, but mostly you feel his emotional outpourings. His music can be just brutal in places, but there is a fragile beauty to it that is hard to ignore. It’s good to have him back. Let’s hope this run of gigs is the first of many.