Live Review: School of Language at Newcastle Cluny – 7th April 2014

By on Thursday, 10th April 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

One would be forgiven for not understanding the subtle difference between School of Language, in which David Brewis sings and Peter Brewis plays the drums, and the Mercury-nominated Field Music, in which David Brewis sings and Peter Brewis plays the drums. Well, School of Language is ostensibly David’s solo operation, so despite the live presence of Pete (and the bassist looks somehow familiar too), pretty much everything on the album was written and recorded by David. So tonight there’s no Field Music-style instrument swapping: David takes full frontman responsibility throughout.

And he’s rather good at it, clad in ‘70s-dad chic complete with slacks and linen jacket, displaying an awkward cool which reflects the mindset of the music. He helpfully points out that this is the first School of Language gig since September 2008, a fact which surely does nothing to calm first-night anxiety – nervous fiddling with guitar controls and an in-and-out-of pocket plectrum are telling giveaways. Perhaps the knowledge that bro isn’t going to step out from behind the drum kit tonight adds an extra frisson of tension. But as the photos attest, when initial nerves give way to concentration and growing confidence, Brewis certainly looks the part, sharp of cheekbone and jawline, even throwing some modest guitar-hero moves.

The songs are as precise and efficient as the workings of a Swiss watch. ‘A Smile Cracks’ has two electric guitar solos and a drum solo, which in another context could be a byword for excess, but in fact both are the very model of restraint. There’s acres of space in the arrangements, allowing exact placement of the various melodic components. As the album cover art suggests, this is the motion of an architect’s pencil made music: line, form, and placement are elegant, specific and unambiguous – as if played on a set square and recorded in thin graphite strokes.

One shouldn’t assume that such methods preclude the portrayal of emotion, or that the end result must be soulless. Far from it: the whole SoL experience is one of restrained white funk. Mary has already mentioned Talking Heads in her review of ‘Old Fears’, and the comparison is apt indeed. Self-described “kinda the single” ‘Between the Suburbs’ hints at Nile Rodgers-era Bowie in its stop-start rhythm and chorused Stratocaster work. ‘Dress Up’ is so retro it hurts, heavy with FM synth, tremendous auto-wah guitar, and drums that again refuse to play anything even vaguely resembling a conventional beat. ‘Suits Us Better’ is a dreamy interlude of ethereal backing vocals and reverbed guitar, and a groove conjured from looped beatboxing: at once ethereal and lo-fi.

The introspective-on-record ‘So Much Time’ is slightly faster and certainly more intense live, and works well as a full-stop to an evening of fine virgin music. It’s the sort of gig one wishes to experience again – not because of any particular mind-blowing spectacle, more because of the nagging certainty that with music as subtle and charming as this, the first reading cannot reveal the true depth of everything that’s on offer. Oh well – that’s what records are for.

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[…] School of Language show in Newcastle earlier this month, I invite to view his photos in his review here as […]

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