Every so often you come across a band whose passion and simple joy in the act of creation render criticism of any technical deficiencies moot, whose internal coherence drives them forward as one. It’s one of those ironies of life when the band you’re sent to review really aren’t that band. Stonethief are one of those bands that lack that ‘thing’. Their songs have their moments, but all in all they dream of waking up finding that they’ve suddenly transmogrified into Difford and Tilbrook, but this is Squeeze without either D&T or Jools Holland, the Blockheads sans Dury and Jankel. It’s a band in which practically every member has forgotten that playing a groove is something that requires a commonality of purpose, and one that doesn’t involve playing your own bit (a bit shakily). It’s harsh, but true. The lead guitarist wafted over the band without connecting, and lacked the chops or imagination to make his solo flights interesting (though, to be fair, he did afterwards say he’d had an awful gig). The bass player seemed to think that if he played some notes a groove would come, while the lead singer laboured under the misapprehension that we the audience caught every nuance – his vocals were not indistinct purely because of the sound, but the arrangements, his diction and the lack of aural space in the music.
It is also inevitable that when someone asks you why you came and what you thought that it should be the drummer and that you’d fail to recognise him. Luckily, he was a mild-mannered Glaswegian, with whom I had a long and interesting discussion on the nature of groove, the art of performance, and the dead giveaway it is when singer and bass player pogo … and hit the ground at different times.
This is my short review:
Every so often you come across a band whose passion and simple joy in the act of creation render criticism of their technical deficiencies moot, whose internal coherence drives them forward as one. Stonethief’s performance was summed up by the moment when singer and bass player began to pogo and their feet hit the stage at different times. With dreams of waking up as Difford and Tilbrook, they try too hard and are found wanting in every department, failing to understand that a band is an entity. Mind of a Lion, the threepiece that followed, showed them the way. I hope Stonethief were paying attention.
Luckily, he also agreed over Mind of a Lion. Yes, they were ragged, dog rough at times. Yes, the drummer’s imagination sometimes betrayed his technique and stamina. Yes the arrangements were sometimes over-complex. Yes, I could cite a thousand things that need improvement, but the passion, the joy, the ‘one-ness’ … the band was simply there in a way Stonethief couldn’t match. I think the drummer may be in possession of superior musical intelligence.
I heard a story that Bob Fripp gave a writer’s credit to Bill Bruford for a King Crimson tune for saying that he thought any percussion was superfluous. Were I in a studio with Stonethief it would be a long, hard week or two. With Mind of a Lion, I’d simply tell them to carry on. Then I’d go to the pub.