&U&I / Shapes @ The Star of Kings, London 22.10.11

Whatever the reasons for the acrimonious split of Blakfish, you might think that the lyricist of &U&I may have had enough time over the past eighteen months to let things subside. You might even forgive them expressing their displeasure throughout their debut EP, Kill The Man That Shot That Man. But it is - and which was evident on this occasion - the constant lyrical references to Sam Manville (now playing in Hymns) which were both exasperating and wholly frustrating.

Oct 22nd, 2011 at The Star of Kings, London / By Francis Newall
&U&I Supporting &U&I on their headline tour are Birmingham ‘noisy alt-rock’ triplet Shapes; who are certainly on the up - in terms of popularity as well as musically - and at a stupendous rate. In between the releases The Pasture, The Oil in mid-2009 and their stunning new album Monotony Chic, Shapes have clicked maybe even more than anyone could have thought possible. Including only one older song in their set (‘Our Children’s Children’), their confidence in Monotony Chic shows; and for good reason. Storming through ‘Lipstick Vulture’ and the album’s opening track, ‘Siren Song’: the two vocalists screaming “sweat it out, sweat it out” it is evident that Shapes have been doing just that - seemingly ready to take the next step up to the rigors that heavily touring an album requires. With Wiz (&U&I) not joining them on drums for ‘Judgement Bespoke’ – due to the unsurprising lack of a second drumkit –Shapes storm through ‘Syncope (Muzzle)’, ‘Magister Navis’ and ‘Cacophony of Silence’ with sickeningly frenetic melodies and harmonies, matched only by their relentless capability to hit every wonderfully discordant note whilst drenched head to toe in sweat.

After a brief changeover, Shapes’ Birmingham buddies &U&I take the stage. Raging through their set, it is hard not to be taken in with their exciting melodies and well-worked dynamics. However, it is the tireless fashion in which they not so much as subtly quip at, but unceasingly and purposefully tear into their ex-bandmate. Songs from their EP such as ‘Chancers Paradise’ (“you think you know what’s best for me, like you’re some hero or savior of me; you’re sick ‘cause you can’t stand the heat”) and ‘Terror Back’ (“so save your breath ‘cause it’s not worth the air you’re breathing”) musically are fantastic – characteristically very ‘Blakfish’ - yet it is the constant assault on the subject of this ‘hot topic’ that lets them down. It is certainly understandable that the evidently horrendous break up of Blakfish in the middle of 2010 during their European support slot for Biffy Clyro must evidently still be entrenched in the trio's mindset - the reasons for Sam’s departure still being fairly unknown to the regular fan – yet it would seem that it is this conviction of belief which can either endear or distance their audience; unfortunately, this time it was the latter. &U&I continued to steam through their set, impressing with ‘Talk With Steam’ but disappointing – again, lyrically – with ‘Baskerville the Atheist’ (“You’ll never make it on your own, you’ll never make it on your own”).

Thus for &U&I, an evening of polar opposites. Musically, the wealth of material they hold between ‘Kill The Man…’ and ‘Light Bearer’ is of great quality. But it may be their seeming inability to let go of the past that – if anything – will hold them back. It might be a good idea for readers to note that the overwhelming majority of the crowd were thoroughly enjoying themselves, and that if you’re thinking of going to see them, please do. Shapes and &U&I will no doubt continue to tour together; they are a great accompaniment to one another. However if the triad continues to wage this lyrical “World War Three” (from new track ‘The Screaming Skull’) and Shapes continue to rise at such a rate, then the running order may well be the other way around next time.