The Moon, Cardiff
Saturday, 4th February 2023
The opening day of the Six Nations is always special, heavy with anticipation and expectation, and Cardiff is swamped with rugby fans, the throng enjoying beer and atmosphere – despite the result – until late into the evening, despite the early afternoon kick-off.
I wondered how all this would affect attendance for this show at the tiny Moon Club, across the road from Clwb Ifor Bach, which I have been so looking forward to. Were gig goers going to be put off by the thought of having to fight their way through the crowds into the centre of Cardiff?
I shouldn’t have worried as it was a very nice turn out, a lot of people clearly having been there for the match and decided to take in a gig to finish the day. With three bands to get through before 11 o’clock, it was soon time to get things started…
First up, local trio Barrwg, from Caerphilly, who appear to have taken their name from that of a 6th Century saint, if Google is to be believed. And it’s kind of fitting as they play a pastoral and reflective form of post-rock that is immediately engaging, the intrinsic melody drawing the supportive audience into what the band do. It seems to be early days for them, having only played their first shows last year I believe, but they’re certainly onto something with great interplay as they worked through an enthralling half-hour, whilst clearly enjoying themselves. As their Bandcamp blurb says, “delightfully melancholy post-rock and musical equations,” and that’s a nice description. The set started with a laid-back lilt, building when it needed to but with a very organic flow. With all three adding dextrous phrases, special mention should go to the drummer who added some tasty fast rolls to spice up the delicate framework. Definitely a band to watch.
I first saw Chiyoda Ku in 2017 when they supported Nordic Giants in Cardiff, and I was very pleased to see that they would be playing this show. Of that initial experience I wrote at the time that the Bristolians tight performance of driving drums and fluid bass and guitar created odd rhythms and time signatures for them to play with and off, and that’s still true, although the band have taken it to another level of face-melting intensity as they telepathically negotiate the twists and turns of their enigmatically odd music, including selections from 2017’s How It Works. It is good to know that their sophomore album is due to be released later this year. A thoroughly blistering performance with clear-as-a-bell sound – as benefitted all three acts tonight – that was well-received by an audience who didn’t hold back. The unique elements that come together in Chiyoda Ku’s music are no doubt best served live, and you have to hand it to them, they played a blinder.
What more can I say about Poly-Math? Having been left gobsmacked by their performance at last year’s Portals Festival, where they easily became my find of the weekend, the release of their Zenith album and the subsequent release show at Signature Brew in London only served to seal the deal. This a band that have mastered their sound and presentation to deliver incendiary sets, running through Zenith in full with an older track to close the show. With expectations high, it was time to catch them for the third time in a year.
The first thing that strikes you is the beautiful balance to the sound. All of the players can be heard – and there is always something interesting to hear. Bassist Joe Branton’s eccentric dance moves add to the effect as the jarring angularity of the music kicks in. Together they’re as tight as the lid on a stubborn jam jar. Tim Walters’ guitar tone is just lovely, devilish Frippian lines giving way to the unexpected channelling of Dick Dale during Mora. At the back, Chris Woollison thrashes the bejesus out of his beleaguered kit and is spot on throughout.
Although synths aren’t central to the band’s sound, Josh Gesners’s contributions are vital in making it all sound as engaging as it does, cutting through here and there to give it another dimension. Perched front-right, his interactions with Joe and saxophonist Chris Olsen also add to the sense of visceral danger, Joe waving the headstock of his instrument in such close proximity that you could almost see the beads of sweat forming on Josh’s brow as he foresaw his head being whipped off. All good fun!
As for Olsen, over the course of the recent shows since the release of Zenith he has really grown in confidence and is now fully integrated into the presentation, while his wind lines cut through to give that extra dynamism that a well-blown sax can give, locking in with guitar and keys one minute, sailing above the carnage the next. It’s an elegant and eloquent thing of beauty. Once again, Poly-Math grabbed the audience from the first notes and never let go, and after we had managed to repair the faces so beautifully melted by Chiyoda Ku, we then had to deal with our brains being melted too.
Having given the happy punters a damn good shaking, they sent us off into the night with a lengthy Alchemy | Terra Incognita from 2018’s House of Wisdom. This is how you nail a concise set of fascinatingly intricate instrumental music and keep it fizzing breathlessly along. I already can’t wait for the next time!
SETLIST – Poly-Math
Alchemy | Terra Incognita
Joe Branton – Bass
Tim Walters – Guitars
Chris Woollison – Drums
Josh Gesner – Keyboards
Chris Olsen – Saxophone