These New Puritans: Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds, 19/10/13
Bands often end up refracting past material through the lens of their later work, especially when there is such a seismic shift in musical style. Whilst it didn’t seem as though it would be the case at the start of their set, These New Puritans managed to let the sounds of their new release, Field of Reeds, influence their previous album, Hidden, to make for a more cohesive performance.
Hidden is an album where the drums are consistently at the forefront of each song and they have been given more of a backseat and sometimes even absent role on Field of Reeds. This was made clear by opener ‘Spiral’ off the new album which drummer, George Barnett, was unneeded and therefore didn’t even come on stage. This was not the case for long however as he soon appeared for the closest thing to a ‘hit’ that Field of Reeds will produce, ‘Fragment Two’. This seemed to go down pretty well on a night where the crowd seemed unsure of whether to attempt something that could be compared to dancing, partly the fault of These New Puritans largely impossible to categorise music. The crowd was a surprisingly awkward one all evening, the support act, East India Youth, despite being largely impressive, seemed unable to convince any members of the crowd to come any closer that four yards to him. Barnett overcame this problem by instructing the crowd closer to him making the concert an altogether more intimate experience.
Barnett’s stage presence was not as awkward as when I had previously seen them on the Hidden tour. It may have helped that this time he didn’t have a sore throat and therefore issues singing, and he may have come across as a bit more ‘normal’ as there was no longer chainmail protruding from under his shirt. He commanded the show with an impressive softness that fits their sound well instead of some of the jagged movements he made on the Hidden tour, although he could be accused of aping Thom Yorke’s head shake whilst singing. He chose to turn his back on the crowd for long periods of time, yet this didn’t feel like an insult to the crowd, he just seemed a bit consumed and therefore preoccupied with the music he was creating. The main difference between this show and the last was that there wasn’t an orchestra this time. They may have lacked someone whose instrument was actually to smash watermelons for one song, and whilst that was a nice spectacle that incredible attention to detail didn’t necessarily add anything to the live show. If anything it made that night too slick. I far preferred the new more laid back setup, even though they still had seven members on stage, for a band who officially only have four members.
The three songs they did play from Hidden maintained their focus on drumbeats but this newfound emptiness somehow managed to bring them to the centre of the songs even more, which is arguably their greatest strength. The rest of the new album validated its critical acclaim when they played the magical songs live. Standout tracks were ‘Organ Eternal’ and an untitled new song which seemed to combine the best aspects of both Hidden and Field of Reeds and therefore acted as an excellent coda for the show.