Arcane Roots – Rialto Theatre, Brighton – 19th October 2018

Photo by Anna Claxton

There are a lot of people here at the top of the Rialto Theatre. It is oppressive compared to the cool autumnal night outside. Dry ice begins to fill the air as the lights dim and three men appear through the mist. “Don’t you think it’s already over?” Andrew Groves asks with just a tinge of sadness as the heavy synth of ‘Before Me (Over)’ lulls the chattering crowd into silence, all assembled acutely aware that, in fact, it is already over, or it will be soon anyway. This is Arcane Roots’ last ever show in Brighton following the announcement earlier this year that they are disbanding after their tour to focus on other things. Fierce backlighting outlines only their silhouettes, including sinewy collaborator, singer Emily Denton, who has joined them. Did this venue’s stairs lead to heaven? The ethereal and transcendental atmosphere charging the tiny room suggests this is likely.

Picking up a guitar next – akin to some well-groomed bearded God – Groves displays the complex instrumentation and time signature changes that have previously earned the trio a place supporting the likes of Muse. Breaking down ‘Belief’ into a raw and frankly startling display of musicianship, gone is the slightly emo style from the recorded versions of their earlier tracks, laying bare a romanticism that previously massive guitar riffs have masked. The result is breath-taking and moving, as meaningful as Bon Iver with the edginess of alt-J. When support act, Bryde (aka Sarah Howells), adds her vocal to ‘Indigo’, it builds into a monumentally beautiful soundscape, three-piece harmonies repeating the same phrase like a mantra, with an intoxicating effect. “Just say the word and I’ll go/ If that’s what you’re saying”, they murmur. It’s clear that no-one wants them to.

Groves’ effortless falsetto continues to lead ‘Fireflies’ and ‘Landslides’ like a wise and slightly weary traveller about to make a journey into an unknown stratosphere, his fans more than willing to accompany him. Using drum pads to complement the synths here, the faithful audience gaze in awe as the lights now flash blue onstage; the high drama unfolding echoes Brian Eno’s tempestuous compositions for zombie invasion soundtracks and the end of the world. The venue is so small that the crowd are literally almost face to face with Arcane Roots, laughing as Groves gets tangled up with his own guitar lead and in turn satisfying the band’s apparent desire to create a show that allows them to see and hear their fans (and probably smell them as it’s getting a bit sweaty). Considering how close everyone actually is in proximity to each other is also testament to Arcane Roots’ commitment as genuine performers. Groves quips that it is like having people watching them perform round his house.

Playing a strong selection from their back catalogue of solid and sometimes experimental rock, a focus on second album, Melancholia Hymns, and their final EP, Landslides, sees trip-hop arrangements slice through the anthemic math/post-hardcore that Arcane Roots are perhaps best known for. They are haunting this evening as they linger somewhere between this very present moment and the next life. “Don’t go”, a few people shout half-mockingly when the band eventually begin to exit the stage, leaving only Groves gently immersing us all in his intense musical cocoon for one last time. Bassist, Adam, gives the singer a gentle pinch on the side as he walks past, though he doesn’t appear to respond and there is no encore. It’s a tactic that leaves at least me wanting more. Setting the stage for the other projects that they are working on, Andrew Groves has already joined Biffy Clyro on some of their recent Unplugged shows in Europe. If tonight’s show is anything to go by, what the future holds for any of these boys should create a bold impact. Simply, wow.

Anna Claxton