Scott Harris reviews...
How would you define a concert? What are the key features, and most importantly, the purpose? Three-piece experimental electro-jazz band The Comet is Coming, with support from local Leeds composer and DJ Jake Mehew, show that a gig can be about so much more than just the music.
Reported to have been recorded in just a matter of days, their newest album, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam, is clearly the focus of The Comet is Coming’s current tour, setting them off to stylish venues such as Green Man Festival, Coachella, and, of course, Stylus. Although it was only in preparation for this review that I’d delved deeper than a few songs into their back catalogue, from the t album cover art and the first few minutes of music, I understood exactly the aesthetic they were going for, and had high hopes for what could be delivered at the gig. And overall? Yes, absolutely, they delivered.
First, it would be remiss of me not to talk about Jake Mehew’s set - one of the most interesting performances I’ve seen in a while. Using technology I have neither the time nor knowledge to fully explain, Mehew uses a panel of modular synthesisers for the most glorious 70s sci-fi concoction imaginable - to create, loop and layer musical motifs there and then. I’d read about them before, but actually seeing someone know what all the many dials did made it look so easy. What’s more, it sounded great. It sat at just the right level - hyping the audience up for the main attraction, but bringing a unique flavour. Using (I believe) a video synthesiser to manipulate the visuals in the same way a regular synth would control sound, he was also able to create an evolving set of monochromatic green, matrix-esque shapes that pulsed in time with the music and, along with some pretty great lighting design, made the whole experience more than just the music.
We then had a gap between the two acts - while a little longer than ideal, it was still nice to have a break from the action, especially in this case. When the time came, The Comet is Coming more than made up for any agitation in the room as they started the performance exactly how they meant to go on. A beam, in and of itself, of unending, infectious energy coupled with impressive demonstrations of technical ability on their instruments. It was refreshing to see a band give each member the same musical gravitas - there aren’t too many occasions when an extensive drum improvisation would be a welcome part of a set, but why not?
Again, the visuals were outstanding. It was pre-programmed, in contrast to Mehew’s on the fly demonstrations, and combined elements of astrology, science fiction and early computing to create an atmosphere that resembled the experience of playing Public Service Broadcasting’s ‘The Race for Space’ on double speed; a blend of fantasy and the past to create a nostalgic excitement for the future. Although, by the end I did find one of their greatest strengths - the sheer power and presence they bring to the stage - to also be a weakness.The dial was turned up to eleven, as it were, right from the start, and left them with nowhere to go beyond their (admittedly awesome) first impression.
All in all, there is little to complain about the night. While it was certainly intense (for better and worse), as a part experimental performance piece, part music technology nerd-out session and fully a great environment to be immersed in. Both Jake Mehew and The Comet is Coming demonstrate how the art of live music is progressing in many different directions and how pioneers are embracing technology to facilitate that development. While I’m aware it’s done at the end of every review, I feel like it’s especially relevant to ask here: What are they going to do next?
Words: Scott Harris