Live Review: These New Puritans @ Heaven, London, 18th May 2011

It’s not often I go out of my way to see a band any more, but as These New Puritans’ gig at Heaven in London on Wednesday was (apparently) to be their only UK show of the year, I figured it was worth the effort. It was the first time I’d been to Heaven, an arched, cavernous space akin to a higher-ceilinged version of Leeds Cockpit with a stage that was about level with my shoulders. The stage is already partially set for the headliners, but first we have a support slot from Nedry – who sound like Blonde Redhead gone dubstep, female Japanese vocalist and all. Her vocals soar over a backdrop of two-step rhythms, throbbing synths and the occasional, reverberating guitar line – overall, they’re both interesting and enjoyable to listen to.

These New Puritans

When These New Puritans take to the stage, the full extent of the the ‘expanded lineup’ is revealed – two trombonists, and two vibraphone/percussion players augment the band’s lineup, although keyboardist Sophie Sleigh-Johnson is notably absent. It seems that they’ve ditched the idea of doing a more pop-orientated record, with frontman Jack Barnett telling NME that “I’ve sort of abandoned that idea. I’ve realised I actually hate pop music. Most people don’t like good music so there’s no point trying to do something for them.” Pretentious, perhaps, but maybe he has a point. Instead, the two new tracks the band debut tonight sound like logical extensions of the ideas presented on Hidden. The tentatively titled ‘Vibes’ is, funnily enough, a lengthy, vibraphone-led composition akin to ‘We Want War’, while ‘Royal Song’ sees the band bring out a female vocalist (a Portuguese fado singer according to Stool Pigeon) to add another layer of sound to a combination of humming sub-bass and mournful brass.

Other than that, the band aren’t giving too much away, as the majority of the night’s set is taken from Hidden. ‘We Want War’ is still as vital-sounding as ever, the relentless ‘Drum Courts-Where Corals Lie’ is a perfect showcase for George Barnett’s powerful drumming, and the likes of ‘Orion’ and ‘5’ get subtly re-arranged without losing any of their beauty. I was surprised that the band didn’t utilise the singer from ‘Royal Song’ on either of those tracks though – she re-appears to provide backing vocals on ‘Attack Music’, but I thought that she could have sung the choir parts from some of the other tracks as well. Regardless, all the songs the band play tonight are well arranged to work with the new lineup, including welcome outings for ‘Infinity Ytinifni’ and ‘Costume’ from Beat Pyramid. It’s an absolute pleasure to hear songs this intricate and detailed performed live, and almost without a fault to boot.

These New Puritans clearly haven’t lost any of the ambition that lead to the creation of an album as remarkable as Hidden, and I can only hope that whatever they come up with next will be as interesting as the new songs I heard tonight. They’ve already proven themselves to be head and shoulders above most of their contemporaries – but I’ve a feeling that they’re only just getting started.

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