Thursday, 8 December 2011

Trailer Trashing Tufnell Park: Karma to Burn play at the Gaff, November 11th, 2011

Hyped up by nothing more than caffeine, killer music and the invigorating influence of physical movement, the chill of autumn touching sweat-drenched patches of skin has the effect of sobering, bringing a spirit which has been soaring back to solid ground. This sensation of returning to reality will come again in two hours, when the process of locking up a pedal cycle (Dedzed) and its trailer (Rayweld) is reversed so that the final thriteen miles of this thirty-odd mile day can be ridden and home can finally be reached. Right now, the incredible journey of this most special of Fridays continues. Walking into the Gaff toting Rayweld's bag - it's nearly 3-foot long and could fit a good few sub-machine guns - a bouncer asks, 'What's that? Your boxing gear?' Told that it's actually off the trailer from a 'pushbike', they wave 'no' to the offer of searching it, and the kind woman handling the list at the door agrees to keep it safe. Finding two friends (Flydrummer and Deathsinvoker) already settled into watching the band onstage, I make the assumption that that band is Desert Storm - after seeing two people in identical t-shirts it seems clear that this must be the name of tonight's local support. Pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work for a band at such a stage in their career, it is somewhat disappointing to discover that the band onstage is in fact the already-signed End of Level Boss. Still, the best is very much yet-to-come.

So, cards on the table time. I wish I could say I would have made it to this gig come hell or high water. When Karma to Burn next come to London that will be the situation: I will not miss it for the world. But tonight, I'm here because someone put faith in me to write what you see before you. I am indebted to that person because had I not been locked-in to going to this gig, I would have decided to go home and get sleep instead of making that ride to Tufnell Park from my previous location, Elephant and Castle. On Thursday I'd been called to work Saturday, which meant a start at before eight in the morning 15 miles away from home, 90 minutes of riding if cycled fast. I am indebted to that person because the last four weeks of my life  have been immeasurably enhanced because of the faith he placed in me. I hadn't even heard Karma to Burn before 22:10 on Friday November 11th, 2011. In the four weeks since, over half the time that I was able to listen to music has been spent listening to what must be West Virginia's finest export.

Going to see a band live as a 'virgin' to their work is perhaps a gamble, but it is a gamble that can pay off beautifully. Such was the state in which I first got hooked on Pentagram at 2009's 'Hole in the Sky' festival in Bergen. A mere few notes into the performance I was hooked, and for the next hour when there was music, I was headbanging.  (They play the Garage tomorrow, so if you haven't heard them you should go down and see what you're missing). My experience with Karma to Burn on November 11th was much the same. Not having listened to them on record, I had also forgotten what their 'selling point' had been when they appeared back in the late '90s. As a result, I mistook the first couple of tracks for lengthy introductory jams, building to the point where all four of the band's instruments would be brought to bear - they need but three. Just before the third number, guitarist William Mecum cleared things up. Without saying a word, he put his guitar to the side, picked up the microphone in front of which he had been playing, carried it offstage, came back on, flashed a grin and launched into the next song. It is easy to be cynical about the concept of a band who play feel-based, riff-oriented music which seeks to use no more notes and chords than is absolutely necessary and yet is devoid of vocals. You'd think it would get boring, that something more than drums, bass and one guitar would be needed, but with music this visceral, music that is so essentially rhythmic, it works perfectly. The effect is enhanced immensely tonight by the fact that the band say nothing at all. In the two live performances I have been obsessively spinning since my conversion on November 11th, Karma to Burn always open their mouths somewhere: not in Tufnell Park. They don't introduce themselves, they don't stop to make a crack before removing the microphone, and devoid of microphones they don't ask the crowd whether they 'want some more' after 'Twenty-Eight' and 'Thirty-Two' (as I later discover they are called) have provided the set's high point and one more number sees them rest, only to be greeted by howls which force them on for three more numbers. I leave one song before they finish because my good bud Flydrummer has to get a tube, but I'd bet they don't even say 'thank you and good night' and I'd say their performance is all the better for it. Though I hadn't heard a note before I walked in, I was hooked from early on and for most of the set was shaking like a madman, moving to the rhythms like I knew every note. Like classic Sabbath or indeed Pentagram, Karma to Burn's cuts come across more as discoveries than creations; songs encased in rock like a fossil or the proverbial sculpture: artifacts which have always been there, it is just that someone had to come and chip away the bits that weren't needed.

It was great to see so many people out late on a Friday when not only were Dripback playing at the Unicorn down the road but, more significantly, Devin Townsend was at the ULU doing all of 'Addicted' with Anneke van Giersbergen from the Gathering. The Gaff may not be London's most prestigious live venue, but tonight's impressive sound and warm atmosphere encouraged me to come again. It was great to be on my bike, as though it would take some time to get home towing the trailer and all, I had no worries about the tube. Even better, though I had rain to contend with and got lost around Kilburn, extending the ride, even once my MP3 player had run out of juice and Trap Them's 'Darker Handicraft' thus fell by the wayside, 'Twenty Eight'continuined running around my head, and humming its catchy refrain over and over, I got home with a smile on my face.

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