Saturday, 14 August 2010

Gig Review: Front Line Assembly @ Sheffield Corporation

Sheffield Corporation can be a harsh mistress. In the course of the gigs I have attended there, the sound has been both amazing and appalling. The mood has been similarly thriving or corpselike. The venue is unreliable with timings, the soft drinks taste like pipe cleaner but the stage view is excellent. So we're off to a double-sided start just by stepping through the door.
Fortunately, the reliable Front Line Assembly are headlining tonight with a setlist reputedly plucked from the best of their back catalogue and augmented with their storming new album (reviewed on this very site a couple of weeks ago).
But before Mr Leeb and his accomplices take the stage, we're given Novus UK as a support act. I'm always perplexed by bands that adopt a national identifier after their name because it has come to their attention that there is another band in Fuckstick, Nebraska that has the same one. Let's break this down, shall we?
  1. By adopting an appellation to distinguish yourself from the other band, aren't you kind of saying you're not as good as them? Or at least that they are more definitive?
  1. Could you really not just think of another name? If you're at the point where you are tagging 'UK' on the end your existing name probably doesn't carry much gig-booking, record-selling cache behind it anyway.
  1. Can anyone seriously imagine a band making it big with that tagged onto the end of their name? I mean, really? It's just a bit silly.
All of this shouldn't really matter though. What does matter is that Novus UK are yet another cookie-cutter gothy electronicky rocky thing with bog standard synthesised backing and the same effects pedals as everyone else. The female vocals are uninspired and quite flat, there is no real engagement in the performance and overall nothing to grab the viewer or listener and pull them away from a quiet conversation at the bar. This in itself is no great crime against humanity, and it's not that these guys are irredeemably awful. There is just nothing there beyond generic songcraft.
Thank the cyberpunk gods for Front Line Assembly, then. These days they have a welcome mix of gravitas and energy onstage and off, largely due to the weighty experience of Bill Leeb being complemented by a youthful array of fellow industrialists. They aren't just band filler either, as shown by their output outside of FLA. So while the long-serving frontman might not be leaping around like some kind of future noir madman, instead he provides a calm centre of the storm as the guitarist/keyboard elves jump around and shout at us.
The setlist is a relatively familiar one – despite the pre-tour hype buildup of rarely played classics being aired, only "Resist" was noticeable as not having been played on their last tour. That is no real complaint though, since the standard material is so strong that repeated hearings over a couple of years are more than welcome. There is the purer EBM of tracks like "Prophecy" and "Shifting Through The Lens" alongside the pounding industrial metal of "Millennium" and "Vigilante". The new album had a whole range of tracks played, and all of them slot into the setlist like old friends.
Before I had arrived with my companions, I declared that all I needed to be happy with the evening was to hear one of "Mindphaser", "Plasticity" and "Liquid Separation". In the end I had heard all three, hammered my frail form with some vigorous body movement and sweatily worshipped at the altar of Leeb. More please.

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