Amplifier – XOYO, Shoreditch, London – 15th June 2011

We missed the first third of support act The Pineapple Thief‘s set, seen by yours truly for the third time this year, but what we did see was well worth it, ended as ever by psych wigout Too Much To Lose, and they got a good reception from a mixed crowd, including a few who were obviously PT fans judging by their t-shirts.

Actually, a word on the crowd. Being a couple of middle-aged blokes of around the half century, we were musing beforehand as to whether or not we would be the oldest in the audience, which we thought might be a crowd of young teen boy metal-moshers, certainly the impression I got from the only other time I’ve seen the band, emerging after a few hours in a submarine at 2000 Trees festival in 2009 – it was a tad wet. We need not have worried, as the crowd covered everything from young teens to folk even older than us two old codgers, and there were a fair (literal & metaphorical) number of female fans too. The moshing, such as it was, was limited to some spirited head nodding and a happily drunk couple near us shouting “A-Ha” in between songs for some reason.

Amplifier are a hard rock band. That description alone should put me off, as I gave up on hard rock decades ago. What makes this group now float my boat after many months of drip feeding by fellow gig goer Phill, is that at no time is singer Sel tempted to gargle barbed wire, a trait that turns me right off Opeth and dozens of other throat shredders. Sel has a great singing voice and uses it to full effect. Another plus point is that the rock is tempered by many proggish touches, and that combined with Sel’s intelligent socio-sci-fi lyrics makes for a compelling listen.

Back to the gig – After a short break, Amplifier, the eight-legged groove machine, emerged dead on their 9:30 scheduled kick-off time to a rousing reception from the 500 strong crowd. Sometime studio cohort and general helping hand Charlie Barnes introduced us to The Octopus, which he placed on top of the bass drum and there it remained until the end.

The eight-legged groove machine then dispensed their brand of heavy-rock-prog (rather than prog-heavy-rock) to an appreciative audience. Sel Balamir, Neil Mahony and Matt Brobin, and for this tour augmented by Steve Durose from Oceansize, effectively played two sets, the first hour and a quarter being 6/8ths, to use an appropriate fraction, of their epic double album The Octopus which live is as heavy as a neutron star. The thing is monstrous!

From the moment The Wave started the set, we were taken on journey into the far reaches of the strange Amplifier galaxy, propelled by bludgeon riffola, a fuel that never ran out, backing Sel’s lyrics of imminent social collapse under the boot of The Man. Highlight for me was a storming version of Interstellar.

Looking round the audience I thought to myself, that had this band been around in 1975, they would have had an audience of headbangin’ leather and denim clad longhairs, and they would have been playing somewhere like The Hammersmith Odeon to an audience of thousands. I reckon that as music becomes more peripheral to modern culture, and far more disposable, those days are long passed never to return, unfortunately for bands like Amplifier. And Muse* fill stadiums? There is no justice!

After a brief towelling down the band return for the second set, or encore or whatever it was, to play four pre-Octopus songs.

As I came to this band late some were unfamiliar, as I haven’t yet listened to their back catalogue enough, but the fans who had been with the band since the start upped the nodding into real headbanging for the last two numbers in particular.

Two hours of space rock heaviness, that’s the way to do it. A great time was had by all. “A-Ha” indeed!

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