Wednesday, March 26, 2008

British quartet powerful but limited in small venue

If you've only heard British Sea Power on record, when you listened to them and imagined seeing them live you probably envisioned being at a large outdoor venue or an arena. Their bombastic, anthemic music just sounds like it should be heard someplace big. So seeing them at a tiny venue like the Empty Bottle was initially a little off-putting, as I knew I wasn’t hearing all the force and nuance this band applies to its material.

That said, they were still pretty amazing. The four main members, along with a violinist and keyboardist who occasionally played some horns, made the small stage their own, ripping through an hour-long set that consisted mostly of material from their recent release, Do You Like Rock Music. The album is the band's most overt attempt at playing straight-up rock music, and that transferred over to the live show well. They kicked the night off with "Down on the Ground," and immediately went into "No Lucifer," which built up to a fine crescendo that got everybody's attention and kept it. You could sense that after that the crowd was realizing this new album is something worth paying attention to, and even more so during "Atom," which is the strongest track on the album.

About three quarters of the way through the mostly up-tempo set, they dimmed the lights and turned on a disco ball for the epic guitar wandering of "Great Skua," which was about the only time the band slowed things down. They brought things back up with "Carrion," perhaps the band's most recognizable single. Having listened to this song on record hundreds of times over the past couple years, I always imagined hearing it at someplace huge like Wembley Stadium or maybe even Grant Park. In a small room, however, the song didn't have its dramatic punch. The sweeping guitar hooks just before and after its chorus were diminished and Yan’s voice was not nearly as sweeping. But they did the best they could, which seemed to be good enough for the sold out crowd.

Hopefully, someday, we'll be able to see them at the massive venue they deserve, and which their sound is more suited for. — Jeremy Schnitker