all words: William Alberque
all photos: Emily Cohen
British Sea Power is so very reliable. Ten years – ten years! – of solid, anthemic, glorious rock and roll songs. Their semi-annual procession through DC is a ritual I await, patiently – always at the Black Cat, and always glorious. They returned once again this past Tuesday to thrill us with a whole new raft of songs, as well as to entertain us with the well-loved songs of yore.
BSP is currently a six-piece, with the familiar visages of Yan (vox, bass, guitar), Noble (guitar), and Hamilton (vox, bass, guitar) joined by Eamon’s permanent replacement, Wood (drums), and relative newcomers Abi Fry (viola, vox – formerly of Bat for Lashes), and Phil Sumner (cornet, keys, self-injury). Their output has been produced largely in cooperation with Graham Sutton, a masterful musician in his own right – some of you may remember and light candles to the memory of Bark Psychosis.
Yan’s voice is the constant throughout – a desperate, imploring voice that sounds like it has something VERY IMPORTANT to tell you, even when he’s saying very little at all. The music is immense, straddling a fine line between the power-chords of Mogwai and the accessibility of dreamy guitar-pop. This latter connection was most obvious on their stunning soundtrack to the Man from Aran – a nice (if baffling) confluence of artistic obsessions of mine.
I had not heard more than one song from the new record, Valhalla Dancehall – the storming, “Who’s in Control” – so I feared (but hoped for) the unknown. In all, I found the reliance on new songs slightly distracting, and the band seemed to start with relatively low energy. No fewer than six of the first eight songs were from the new one, and, if I’m being honest, this was not the best order to introduce us to the new works.
BSP broke their set into six acts – with “Atom” as the early standout (a galloping bit of beauty from the superb Krankenhaus? EP), injecting some vitality in the first act. This energy was vitiated at the start of the second by the beautifully realized but intensely soporific “Blackout” from the first album.
The third act started promisingly enough, with “Oh Larsen B” (probably the only ode to a glacier in rock music – fun fact: Esja is a volcano), but tonight’s rendition of the track sounded oddly static. I was growing increasingly agitated – would this be the end of my love affair with BSP live? – but my fecklessness was unfounded. “Remember Me” instantly provided a much-welcomed adrenaline injection, followed by a pleasing rendition of “It Ended on an Oily Stage,” and a slightly less impressive “Living Is So Easy” from the new album closing the set.
On to acts four and five, each with two songs. Four started with a gorgeous new addition to the repertoire, “Mongk II” to start things off – the strongest of the new songs in the set. “No Lucifer” followed, with act five comprising of the golden oldie, “The Spirit of St. Louis,” with an enormous-sounding “Lights Out for Darker Skies” from the third album, Do You Like Rock Music?
The final act, though, exploded with color and feeling. The energy coursed from the appropriately-epic “Waving Flags” throughout the room, and the band continued to give, pairing it with a new one, “The Great Skua,” followed by another aged classic, “Carrion.” They ended the show with the appropriately-titled, “All in It,” the lead track from DYLRM – I am truly ashamed I doubted the boys. Starting with the halfway mark, the show grew and grew in stature, and will be remembered by me and many others as another in a string of triumphs for the band. Well done, lads, well done.