They had it all wrong, those screenwriters, every one of them. A Delorean? That strafing, crackling electricity from Terminator? A hot-tub? Pah – mere gimmickry. If it’s stepping back in time you want, you just need a ticket and a long, long walk through sideways rain to Brighton’s Concorde 2.
Inside it’s late Britpop once again, Gallagher anoraks and cans of Red Stripe and a distinct smell of soil throughout, as though half the room had come straight from a rave off the M25. The shuffling, flailing movements begin long before anyone has taken to the stage, limbs jostling for space within a tight crowd that – in the nicest way possible – largely looks as though they were around to support the headliners from the start.
Which was seventeen years ago, terrifyingly, yet there’s little hint of either those watching nor Death In Vegas themselves mellowing with age this evening. Unless, of course, the volume is in compensation for hearing loss, in which case we’re all pretty much in the same position by the end, holding flannels to our ears to catch the blood. And in between the screaming torment? Well, that’s a mixed bag.
Starting with Von Haze, the Brooklyn two-piece whose Outside The Night EP was produced by DiV mainman Richard Fearless. It’s a bad sign when a band’s stage garb makes considerably more of an impression than anything that actually comes through the speakers, but when guitarist Travis Caine looks as though he’s emerged from the grave of 1980s cock-rock and singer Katherine Kin seems to be wearing nothing but a negligee – well, the music becomes pretty irrelevant at that point. Which is probably how they saw it too, given the lack of any kind of innovation in a half-hour mostly drawn from a ceaseless Garageband loop and three chords churned through a steel mill. There’s some moments, sure, but most of them are down to the smoke machine. And the lights. They were good lights.
It’s a red bulb that introduces Death In Vegas, wide-beamed and piercing the wall of smoke obscuring the rest of the stage as though searching out a target. Below it the windswept hollow that opens comeback single Your Loft My Acid slowly builds, Fearless and his bandmates mere shadows in the darkness. It’s an atmospheric entrance that the song itself can’t quite match, suffering from an over-reliance on vocal samples and never quite engaging a crowd still anxious to finish off their conversations.
Dirge fares much better, feet coming to life and arms spilling pints in every direction. Even twelve years on it still has impact, its murky rhythms both urgent and exhausted, like some ancient horror emerging from the ocean depths. New track Coum does much the same, Fearless’s voice gravel pressed into flesh against layers of drone and keening white noise: it’s dance music for sociopaths, charged with malice and a little bit frightening.
And at its best this is great, but far too much of Death In Vegas’ set is given over to drawn-out and misanthropic expanses of noise that work far better through 3am headphones than a Sunday evening club, where restless crowd chatter forms by far the liveliest element. It’s not until the midpoint that they seem to discover their strongest component, the drummer brought to the fore for a series of strikingly abrasive tracks that grant future noir a potent allure.
A doomy, military take on Aisha is a clear misstep, though, the band taking arguably their biggest song and rendering it into something that might accompany a particularly brutal interrogation, replete with lighting directed by the Ministry Of Truth. Certainly it’s a tense rendition, pared down and dramatic and focused around a single synth loop, but it’s not much fun, as Iggy Pop’s slowed and drugged vocal sample only emphasises. There’s a gulf here, between what the audience want to see and whatever it is that the band are hoping to achieve, and it’s a disconnect that makes for – despite the warmed and airless room – a pretty cold experience overall.
Give the people what they want is a maxim that should pretty much never be adhered to, but some level of compromise is clearly in order. In a recent interview Fearless stated that he wanted to make music that could stand outside of time, rooted nowhere in particular but speaking to us all. But as he stands on stage tonight, largely obscured by the mounting smoke and silhouettes, he seems largely to be talking to himself.