27th October 2012, Deaf Institute
I first saw Rolo Tomassi play live about four years ago and they gave me the shock of my life. The evening’s headliners were Blood Red Shoes – for the uninitiated, a Brighton-based two-piece who sound like Fleetwood Mac if they’d made a grunge record – and when you go to see a band who make comparatively straightforward rock music, you don’t tend to expect them to have handpicked an outfit quite like Rolo Tomassi to support. They’re halfway between math rock and hardcore, and they won me over that night with a thrillingly energetic live performance, although their debut record, Hysterics, was decidedly uneven.
Their second record, Cosmology, was startlingly controlled by way of comparison, bringing frontwoman Eva Spence to the fore by introducing angelic, sung vocals alongside her demonic screaming. The result was a tremendously well-honed album that moved away, sonically, from their chaotic first, and left you wondering exactly where they’d progress from here.
Judging by the opening one-two of tracks from new full-length Astraea, still a week from release, they’ve moving to slightly more direct territory than the experimental – and occasionally ponderous – Cosmology; ‘Howl’s tension-building, synth-driven intro quickly gives way to an avalanche of guitars, while ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ makes excellent use of the vocal back and forth between Spence and brother James, who sounds a little road-worn tonight. The band do a good job of incorporating Hysterics‘ better moments; ‘Oh, Hello Ghost’ slowly thunders its way towards a frenetic climax that leads nicely into early single ‘I Love Turbulence’.
It’s disappointing, then, that some of Cosmology’s finest cuts are overlooked; ‘French Motel’ and ‘Unromance’ would’ve gone down a storm and provided a break, midset, from the unfamiliarity of Astraea material, and therein lies the problem when you’re touring behind a record that most of the audience won’t have heard yet. Absolutely criminal is the decision to omit Cosmology‘s title track, the peak of the band’s recorded output, and while an explanation is offered – they don’t have the right gear on the road with them – and Astraea closer ‘Illuminare’ proves a decent substitute, the set still feels a little flat without it.
Genre-wise, Rolo Tomassi are a little tricky to pin down, but a live show as hectic as theirs is a real breath of fresh air in the current musical climate – if only the show had come a fortnight later, the crowd might’ve been able to fully appreciate Astraea beforehand and, therefore the entirety of tonight’s set.