High Places @ Cargo, London 04.05.10

After a few gripes with the bar tariff, Ben Wood lets himself go to some groovy monkey business.

May 4th, 2010 at / By Ben Wood
High Places @ Cargo, London 04.05.10 If there’s a recession on, no-one has told the people who own Cargo in London’s fashionable Shoreditch – a can of Bulmers costs an eye-watering £4, and a tiny stubbie of Heineken not much less. As a result, despite a decent turnout the bar was pretty empty throughout. Come on chaps, you can do better…

After being bombarded by distortion and dissonance by SF avant-gardists Chen Santa Maria, a rapidly filling Cargo was treated to a surprisingly uptempo set from Kiwi space-pop merchant Bachelorette. Her thumping acid house beats and anthemic electro touches made for a much stronger set than at Madame JoJo’s the previous week, and prepared the crowd for the tribally percussive groove of headline act High Places.

Brooklynites Rob Barber (multi-instrumentalist) and vocalist Mary Pearson (vocalist) have recently relocated to LA, and their music is suitably poised between warmth and neurosis. On record, the unusual percussion instruments and clear, pure tones of Pearson are oddly reminiscent of the ethnically inspired global techno loved by 1990s crusty ravers; but in their live incarnation, the duo introduce gnarly, sometimes complex breakbeats which provide a more menacing undertow.

The pair, both playing guitars and jittering around like monkeys undergoing ECT treatment, look suitably cool/ridiculous: Barber modelling unseasonable rolled-up shorts and huge 1980s Timmy Mallett glasses (ask yer dad); while the demurely pretty Pearson wears pointy leather shoes and a hyped-up yet distracted vibe that she attributes to a backstage electrocution (!). This is transformed into beatific rapture every time she steps to the mike so sing another sweet-sounding but sadly unintelligible line.

The deeper the bass shudders, the more frenetic the grooves, the more the crowd loves it and soon the pair are treated like conquering heroes. It’s a story as old as time, predating the music business by several millennia: get a hypnotic enough beat going, and people will feel compelled to dance.

However, it seems that the crowd is divided between those positioned in the full blast of the speakers, and those outside that charmed circle. If you’re in the latter group, and the rhythms aren’t hitting you with full force, it’s not as if High Places have any songs, as such, to fall back on. It’s a relief when the tempo drops for a couple of tunes, a dubby interlude and hints of jazzy drum and bass providing a much-needed change in tone before the set comes to a close.

To these ears, Bachelorette are the more interesting proposition – but High Places did a pretty good job of transporting the crowd on a cold Tuesday evening. The same performance at 3am at a club would see the walls torn off and no mistake.