Syd Arthur – Bau Wow – 23rd November 2017

Syd Arthur – Bau Wow
Photo by Liam McMillen

Syd Arthur, the Kent band that get their name from both Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee, are a band that you don’t see too often nowadays. 60s revivalists with a big foot in the modern, they combine 60s psychedelia with jazz, funk and indie-rock. Their show at the recently-opened Bau Wow, along with Bristol’s Cousin Kula and London-based Laucan, was a triumph – and proof that psychedelia is still thriving in the modern age.

Opening on the night were Cousin Kula, who were mightily impressive. There’s a definite Tame Impala influence to the Bristol six-piece, but the likes of ‘Working For It’ has a slower, more old-school psych vibe to it. ‘Hesitation’, the first song they ever released, actually reminded me of Emerson, Lake and Palmer with its sharp, thriving keys, synth and progressive sensibilities. For such a young group, Cousin Kula seem to be very musically literate, and it gives their band an increasing amount of depth. There’s a dancier atmosphere to them live, but they’re a band you could party or chill to as well.

Laucan, on the other hand, are a more ambient folk outfit. Originally a solo project, they’ve now added a myriad of different instruments on top of Laurence Galpin’s falsetto tones. Galpin created classicist lyrical portraits, with shadowy folk delicacy and encircling backdrops. There’s an ambient quality to Laucan. At times they reminded me of Jeff Buckley and at others, particularly on ‘Just Off the Old Kent Road’, they sounded like OK Computer-era Radiohead. There’s a texture to the music – with its fingerpicked guitars and double bass – that adds a balance to their music.

Syd Arthur, of course, took things up another notch. The four-piece – featuring the Magill brothers Liam, Joel and Josh plus Kate Bush’s nephew Raven on keyboards and guitar – had a lot more of a prog-rock edge to them than I originally thought they would. With Bau Wow’s intense and luscious strips of red, green and blue lighting hitting the backdrop and the ceiling, there were times where both the moog, keys and synth connected with the lighting to create an intense psychedelic moment worthy of an early Pink Floyd gig.

They have a lot more to their progressive armoury, though. Weaving fundamentals of jazz, folk, psych and classic indie-rock, they created a gracious and impassioned sound calling from all genres. At times I think they’re a little bit too experimental with their live show, however. Bau Wow was sold out, but I’d be interested to know how many had not seen them before and how many would see them again after. There’s not a great amount of accessibility to their music throughout the gig. With so many guitar pedals, wires and different instruments, the band resemble mad scientists on stage and it can become quite overwhelming. Additionally, frontman Liam Magill, who kept talk to a minimum throughout, spent the majority of the time with his back to the audience, almost conducting the rest of the band. It felt like they were playing for themselves more so than playing for the audience.

Of course there are times where they connect with the whole crowd. ‘No Peace’ almost forgoes the psychedelic for a straightforward indie-rock song that revels in its catchiness. With its zippy, flashy chords and its direct chorus, it created one of the finer moments of the night. Altogether, it was a very fine night of experimental, but diverse music. All three bands were impressive, bringing a whole host of different genres and influences together. Small Pond, the well-known Brighton recording and promotions company, have kicked off Bau Wow’s live proceedings with a very impressive line-up. On the whole, though, it was Cousin Kula’s opening set that was the most remarkable.

Liam McMillen