trioVD at The Vortex, 09 March 2012

trioVD's Chris SharkeyAt this pre-launch concert for trioVD’s new album, due out on Naim this spring, most of the music the trio played was either from that album or the recent X e.p., with most of the tracks from 2009 album Ghosts being substituted for fresher material.

The group has developed since I last reviewed them, having compacted and focused their energies, and they now make much more effective use of live electronics to flesh out their sound. Still ferociously sharp in group interplay, they mostly take their repertoire through dazzlingly kaleidoscopic changes at a lick, but on occasion they slow things down in passages of enervating aimlessness, detouring into culs-de-sac of knob-tweaking entropy.

It’s when drummer Chris Bussey locks into a driving rock rhythm pattern and guitarist Chris Sharkey chops into some repeated chords that trioVD get the crowd most on-side.

The trioVD sound is still very much influenced by John Zorn, and bands like Fantomas and Zu that build on the blueprint laid down by Zorn’s Naked City. At their best, trioVD likewise marry the heaviness of Metal to the speed and concision of hardcore, and give it a jazz or third-stream twist. But the group I thought of, while watching this performance, was Mars Volta. trioVD similarly get the balance of excess and self-parody right most of the time, but equally risk lapsing into self-indulgence. This could be a result of the long hours of wood-shedding trioVD apparently undertook in the recording of the new album, and no doubt the benefits will show there.

They began the first set by live-sampling the audience, trading gritty and impressionistic abstractions over the playback before Chris Sharkey let loose some strafing guitar and the band finally locked into some solid riffs. The following number featured some atypically liquid post-prog guitar soloing from Sharkey, which was broken up by a stop-start drum rhythm and Christophe de Bezenac’s pecking saxophone. An atmospheric ballad later in the set may have been a version of Radiohead’s “Nude”. Chris Bussey’s triggered FX was subtle and effective here, briefly underpinned by a sub-bass rumble, and enhanced by multi-tracked vocals. de Bezenac developed his ambient alto abstractions into a lovely cinematic alto solo.

The second set began with the staccato skronk of “Tulisa”, from X, with its irritating “oh oh” vocal sample, and this was one of the pieces where the band got bogged down in a morass of triggered sound. Fortunately, the next piece showed they can do live sampling effectively, with some nice Korg touches from Sharkey.

The highlights of the night came later, with a sequence that began with a composition that might be titled “Interlocking” segued into “Pet Shop Boys”. More of de Bezenac’s peckin’ time served as a prelude to unison riffing of fearsome intensity that drew roars of approval from the crowd. A drumless interlude allowed Sharkey and de Bezenac to trade clean, fluid Frippery with Berne-esque saxophony, before Bussey brushed everything up into a steady rhythm. Sharkey played a particularly tasty country-blues lick, and later some interlocking figures to knit some of his partners’ abstractions—including de Bezenac’s short, effective solo on his saxophone’s detached mouthpiece—into a satisfying coherence, achieving a nice tension by withholding intensity.

The trio wrapped up the gig proper with the bellicose “Brick”, its initial fiery aggression leading to a seemingly inevitable breakdown into noodling, thankfully rescued by a by drum break that would’ve made early Iron Maiden proud and an audience sing-along chant “brick by brick” accompanying a tumble into playful riffola. Since the pumped-up audience demanded more, the trio gave us a surprisingly sweet encore, in the form of a wonderfully woozy and inventive version of Rodgers and Hart’s 40s showtune “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”.

The next London show, the album launch gig at Camden’s Purple Turtle at the end of March will be, we are promised, “much louder”.

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