Vasa – The Art School, Glasgow – 28/6/12

Posted: 01/07/2012 in Local Music
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

First impressions of tonight’s headliners having been derived entirely from the experience of listening to their track Cynthia on a late-night drive home from a gig in Pivo Pivo, during which the atmospherics of the music seemed to perfectly tie in with the passing darkened scenery, a very high level of expectation has already been cemented.

With this in mind, there lingers the consequent concern that the live performance simply won’t be able to live up to this pre-set standard and said fear isn’t at all abated by the levels of hype that have quickly built up around the instrumental output of the post-rock four-piece.

In recent months, Vasa have been hotly tipped as ones to watch, but seemingly only in more involved musical circles. As a result, the boys seem to be the generators of a subtler buzz than others in the Overlook stable, coming across as something of the connoisseur’s choice of Glasgow Indie.

As bassist John, drummer Alex and guitarists Blaine and Scott ready themselves to perform, one microphone stand remains conspicuously on the stage. Presumably, this is intended to be used for nothing past introductions, between-song banter and pleasantries. These early gigs might, however, posit a stronger statement of intent and exude a higher level of confidence in their set-up if the idea of on-stage mics was dispensed with entirely.

Of course, the accuracy of such a musing remains to be seen…

Without an introduction, Vasa spark up their set and instantly succeed in establishing both a mellow tone and an atmosphere that seems to simmer with a sort of expert restraint, subtly suggesting the deluges of distortion that will soon flood forth. The ability to create an engaging atmosphere is, of course, something a strictly instrumental band could not possibly survive without and, although this first song holds the small crowd enraptured, there is the distinct impression that the absence of vocal hooks and post-10pm stage-slot on a Thursday night (the spiritual start of the Scottish weekend) mean they will have to pull something else out of the bag pretty soon.

Happily, they soon do just that as they lead wordlessly into a second song that eviscerates the previously mellow vibe with a veritable crash of sheer noise and lighting-rig insanity, which lasts just long enough to assert that this is not a set during which to rest on laurels, before the onlookers are just as abruptly lulled back into a calm slumber-like state.

This same transition is soon orchestrated again, as The Art School is pulled gradually but assuredly into a particularly grungy segment which soon sees eardrums assailed by guitars that whistle maliciously and seem to goad those gathered into downing the remainder of their drinks and crusading deeper towards the front of the crowd.

The next song is vocally introduced and, as predicted, this undeniably acts as an unfortunate detraction from the hitherto established mystique. As if in a conscious effort to counter this, however, the songs have been becoming gradually more atmospheric – undeniably aided by the simplistic yet striking lighting dynamics – and cavernous venue.

At one point in the proceedings, the drummer sees fit to dispose of enough garments to facilitate a scenario where each enthusiastic drumbeat threatens to set chebs a-shoogle and each break in rhythmic proceedings grants the opportunity to flex and set the ladies’ pulses a-quiver. Although this noticeably contrasts with the plaid-shirt and sensible t-shirt aesthetics of his bandmates, it serves as a gentle but decisive nod towards a rockstar mindset. This is echoed when the last song sees one of the guitarists abandoning the stage and backing a determined path through the small crowd, thereby exploiting a renowned Sixteen Sixteen Six soft spot and certifying a positive response with regards to Vasa’s capacity for showmanship.

In terms of professionalism, the guys handle their share of the technical issues – which have unfortunately plagued tonight’s gig – admirably and without any diva moments, even when a cymbal crashes from its stand and comes worryingly close to decapitating Alex.

It is notable that this same decorum was distinctly lacking in the members of one of the earlier acts on tonight’s bill who succeeded in sullying the evening with a disappointing display of supercilious twattery, in which other performers were openly belittled. As such, the maturity of the Vasa contingent wound up seeming all the more admirable, as their performance managed to neutralise the negative tone that could easily have continued to permeate the event.

If a band opts to entirely omit vocals from their repertoire, they have to ensure that the rest of their output does enough talking to compensate (as intimated in 2011’s As In Bear feature) and, judging by tonight’s performance, it seems safe to say that Vasa have given this careful consideration and prepared accordingly.

The fact that they choose not to make a song (no pun intended) and dance out of their instrumental tendencies shows they don’t feel they owe any explanation for this choice and this plays hugely in their favour. In all honesty, the inescapably haunting atmospheric guitar work that threads through their performance serves as a perfectly sufficient vocalisation of both meaning and intent.

Further to this, a definite upside to the lack of a vocalist in their line-up lies in the scope this allows for the challenging of the traditional stage set-up. Given the absence of an ostensible frontman, Vasa’s bassist doesn’t seem at all out of place in his centre-stage position and, visually, this provides a very welcome break from the norm.

This is, however, not to say that certain precautions should not be taken. Although tonight’s gig worked very well, it has to be considered that it fell on a night when the audience were free to move on to their choice of club afterwards. This is fortunate because Vasa definitely don’t work as the crescendo of the evening.

By no means is this intended as a slight against their performance, which was outstanding. It is merely an acknowledgement that this is not music to go apeshit to. Sure, there are blindingly heavy moments but they’re utilised as part of a running theme of intelligent musical contrast, rather than as a call to arms for the exorcism of the week’s pent-up rage through flailing limbs and thrashing heads.

The material, although proficient and engaging, comes across more as something to be enjoyed pre-night out, whilst one readies one’s self for a chaotic trawl of some seedy club, or post-night out, as heads nod through smoky senses and trance-like mind states.

As such, Vasa should continue to monitor their placement on prospective bills and ensure that they continue to be given the chance to perform in segments where there music will function best.

That said, tonight was exactly what one would expect from Vasa – based on their recorded work and growing reputation – and, as a result, it seems currently safe to believe the hype.

They should definitely dingy the microphone though!

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  1. Jason Costello says:

    Good review of a very good gig from the Vasa lads. Have to say, I also noticed the “disappointing display of supercilious twattery” as you put it – frankly not on and could have ruined an otherwise outstanding night of music.

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