Phew

Live review from Underground 110:

IMG_9741.jpgSetlist:

1. Gentle Rain
2. Lord of the Flies
3. Beautiful Night
4. Desert Sand
5. Of Infinite Space/Time
6. Jaded Moon
7. Walk in the Park

It’s rare a night begins with words like “classic” and “legend” going around the crowd, but this night was one of the rare ones. I can’t remember the last time I was at a show where the anticipation was quite as heavy in the air is it was before Phew started, but it was a great feeling. However, I must say I was surprised when the band started playing….mostly because I didn’t expect them to be quite as good as they were. When most people use words like “psychedelic” and “atmospheric” it usually means a lot of meandering half-tunes without and drive or punch behind them; this was not the case. Phew uses simple notes and chords and repeats them to create feeling and franticness, such that the anticipation only grows as the song progresses (which, from all I’ve heard of and about ….HUH!? and Edmund Leung, is pretty much their forte). They sound something like a mix of Audioslave, Smashing Pumpkins and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and a little bit of Television, especially with regard to the general lack of distortion in the sound. The smooth, interlocking dynamic between the two guitarists is also very similar to that between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, which I found great to watch. Additionally, it’s rare to see a band who play with as little fanfare as Phew – despite the fact that most people in the crowd at that point were visibly there to see them, the band’s body language was almost like they were in a practice studio and not a stage, which was intriguing to watch. Weird in a good way. Their songs also have consistently good lyrics – songs actually seem to be written to make a point, and the lyrics are interesting in themselves, not just as something you sing, which adds an extra dimension to the songs.

Perhaps it’s a testament to all of this skill that only a few seconds into Gentle Rain the song had already achieved a feel like the slight uncomfortable but exciting feel of jazzy rock. This was only made better by the fact that Edmund Leung’s singing voice has the quality of Eddie Vedder’s; slightly uneven, deep, and often whispery. Their first few songs didn’t really place much emphasis on openings, which I thought was an interesting choice to have made considering they were going to be how the show was opened, but it also made the songs stand out. Lord of the Flies was an early-Pumpkins-esque song, with the notes being played creating immense space in the soundscape, like on Mellon Collie… Of Infinite Space/Tiem had the feel of a Bob Dylan song, with its juxtaposition of almost nursery-rhyme like melody and deep lyrics. Jaded Moon was an unexpectedly faster song, almost funky and sounding a bit like The Clash after Sandinista!. As was to be expected (so I’m told), they ended with the ….HUH!? classic Walk in the Park, and it was an amazing closer; the amount of tension built up during the song was almost physically intolerable, and the composition of the melody deliberate confused and appealed to the ears, something like Skin Yard, or Nirvana was able to do in their best songs on Bleach. In all, I’m glad I got to see these guys, and I don’t think I’ve seen better openings to a show, or a set that was as consistently strong as this in a long time.

– Shashwati Kala

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