7th St. Entry, Minneapolis
Monday, June 9, 2014
Eagulls might be ear-splittingly loud, defiantly introverted, and cryptic, but their mission as a group is by no means difficult to identify with. The Leeds-based five-piece use their songs as a catharsis to release the overwhelming anxieties felt by tortured young creatives the world over. The paranoia drawn from proximity to abject suffering, the ennui of mind-numbing wage slavery, the frustrations of stifling ideological confines -- all of these grievances are brought to bear and torched away by the intensity of their performance.
Frontman George Mitchell filters the group's existence before their break into international buzz with a profoundly dark and misanthropic lens, transforming the crushing banality of retail work into menacing chants and howls. Much of the band's material on their debut, played in its entirety last night, centers on the crumbling dreams built up by the group's middle-class education. Songs like "Hollow Visions" decry the "dark taunts" of eventual prosperity and happiness promised by universities everywhere with foreboding missives: "The future's died" and "fossilized thoughts never turn out to be."
Mitchell delivers these dire warnings in a trance-like state, sunken eyes tightly shut or staring with unnerving focus. He's a magnetic performer, in an Ian Curtis vein, using his stark vulnerability as his greatest weapon. Lithe to the point where one starts to worry, and seemingly caught in a permanent sulk, Mitchell embodies Eagull's sickly post-punk sound. Swaying with the intensity of his delivery, the singer never engages with his audience individually, instead spitting caustic chants like the chorus of "Nerve Endings" at the crowd as if they were the cause of his psychic burden.
Eagulls offer the antidote for all of this poisonous emotion with melodic instrumental work shoehorned in between crushing noise riffs and krautrock nods. Mark "Goldy" Goldsworth's Marr-esque leads on "Amber Veins" offer a glimmer of hope among the rumble, flicking a confident, catchy run before Mitchell's raging lyrics about heroin addicts come to the fore. Near the middle of the set, Eagulls also tossed in two older tracks recorded during the four-year run-up to their debut that showcase just how poppy the band can be. The anthemic "Coffin" could have been a hit for Japandroids, and also offers a tell that Eagulls' punk pedigree reaches further back than '80s and '90s hardcore. "Mouting," another cutting-room-floor gem, followed shortly after, with Mitchell waxing about shitty apartments over a fist-pumping chorus riff.
Bassist Tom Kelly and drummer Henry Ruddell are given the difficult task of reconciling these disparate, often intentionally clashing parts with the band's usual breakneck tempos, and they did an admirable job. Kelly is a true disciple of a certain school of bass-playing that does not allow for luxuries like upstrokes with a pick, instead chugging along with solid, driving lines that anchor the guitarists' dueling noise directly to Ruddell's floor tom. The resulting force can be destructive on songs like "Fester Blister" and alternately redemptive on "Opaque," even though the latter's lyrics suggest some incredible sinister yet familiar force. Apparently Mitchell prefers not to perform the song because of its origins stemming from his observation of sexual abuse at his place of work, but the song was a standout, even in a quality set, making a case for its continued existence.[page]
It goes without saying at this point that Eagulls are not ones for small talk or banter onstage. Most of the 12 songs in the set where strung together with feedback interludes and pedal wankery, and when there was a pause long enough to merit comment, Mitchell's microphone was so reverb-soaked that his already-sullen mutterings were rendered nigh-incomprehensible. While the band began their set appearing cornered and uneasy, they found their mojo near the midway point and by the time their lead single "Possessed" rolled around, the band seemed exactly that. Clutching the mic stand like a bridge's handrail just before the jump, Mitchell seemed absolutely taken by the moment, and even his more timid bandmates threw themselves into the final leg.
During those moments, Eagulls didn't seem so far away from their practice space after all. The need that drove them to escape their daily grind is the same one that drives them to play with this urgency every night. For all of his nihilistic posturing, Mitchell writes lyrics that sum up that need for release perfectly. "I don't want to know you because I am something else, I'm possessed, I am still free."
The Opener: Cheatahs looked significantly worn down by this point in the tour, but they'd also reached that golden state of execution of their songs that can only be won by hard hours on the road. Their exceptionally tight, melodic guitar leads sounded pitch perfect in the already well-attended Entry, and frontman Nathan Hewitt's worn vocals had crossed enough miles to complement the ragged, vulnerable nature of their songs. The group even gave us a cover of "In a Big Country" as a treat, debuting it to Minneapolis "before it reaches the internet" as part of a special session the next day. The group's guitar-oriented take on the song gave the original a serious run for its spot on the throne.
Critic's Bias: Got a chance to interview these guys prior to their show, and their attitude and solid debut record impressed the hell out of me.
Random Notebook Dump: Neither band opted for the Entry's usual light setup, favoring darkened, red-washed stages instead. What's with the Brits and not wanting to be seen anyway?
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