It’s fucking criminal that whilst so many bands continue to drag their fetid corpses on long past anyone else ceased caring, Youthmovies have opted to bow out right at the top of their game. Always the most interesting of the whole mathy-rocky scene thing, tonight the Oxford five-piece are on fire, possessed of an energy and conviction that few bands ever attain, let alone those just one gig away from their demise.
Yet it’s hard to stay sad in a room this packed and with a volume this brutal: even side-of-stage behind the speaker line my glass is pulsing with its own heartbeat, and twelve hours on the tinnitus is continuing to serenade me, evolving from simple ringing to full-blown symphony. It’s harder still when the band themselves are having this much fun, all five members a world away from the drawn, wraithlike figures that imagination may have expected: there was nothing funereal to this performance.
Actually, it didn’t really feel like a performance, either. A performance is one-way, the energy largely transferring from the stage to the crowd: this was more like a party, with longtime collaborator and touring-partner Adam Gnade kneeling upon the stage’s edge, punctuating every shifting rhythm with a full-body contortion, bottle of vodka held aloft like a flag. Friends and fans and band alike yelled out every lyric and anticipated every riff, beat, synth or trumpet squall, the room alive as one despite the bittersweet pathos of knowing that every passing note was one we’ll likely never hear again.
Highlights? The whole damn set, really, but main-set closer If You’d Seen A Battlefield best distilled the conflict at the heart of both Youthmovies’ music and the occasion itself, at once achingly melancholic and gloriously uplifting. First encore Honey Slides was a touch too drunken, Gnade’s flailings around the mic stand more engaging than his indiscernible mumblings, but it was enjoyably shambolic, and a stark contrast to the staggering tightness of the rest of the set: these are songs of byzantine complexity, constantly shifting and thwarting expectation, the jagged rhythms and dark brass breaking down and reforming our tired notions of what a song should do before us. Riffs ebb and flow into waves of synths and glitchy electronics like magma meeting ice, drummer Graeme Murray’s terrifyingly precise beats propelling each song forward with bruising intensity: as Andrew Mears’ puts it in a caustic Soandso and Soandso it bubbles and blisters, it bubbles and blisters. As obituaries go, this was white hot.
What was Cobain’s line: it’s better to burn out than to fade away? Well, maybe – but that’s little consolation to everyone here tonight wishing Youthmovies would change their minds. Still, at least they got to see it end. All those people yet to discover the band, or worse, the billions who will never know them – well, they’re the ones we should really save our sorrow for.