The JD Set presents...
¡Forward Russia! and The Hellset OrchestraEdit this event
Friday night, the working week over, and I'm stuck in traffic in the middle of a city centre that for some strange reason resembles the pre-Christmas rush rather than the post-New Year comedown. Unfortunately, this causes us to miss openers You Slut!, but that level of congested pandemonium is nothing compared to what awaits us in the venue.
Don't tell the environmental health people, but the lure of free Jack Daniels and a 'name' headline act to go with it means Junktion 7 is well over capacity tonight, and even the sardines in the room are running for cover under a hail of sweat and beer stains.
Of course, all that pales into insignificance when The Hellset Orchestra take the stage. Confident as lions prowling through a dark, eerie jungle, the band haven't merely developed into a compelling mix of theatre, operatic tendencies and general rock-steady dramatics. They now provide one of the most intriguing, and downright do-not-miss live shows playing the field at the minute.
Front man Michael Weatherburn scales the speakers, lording it up like a hyperactive phantom who can't decide whether he's best suited for the opera or a gig. It doesn't take long for the audience’s reaction to convince him that a bit of both never hurt anyone. Like a stripped-down Arcade Fire convincing the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band to put down their pension books and reform, The Hellset Orchestra are a most engaging spectacle.
By the time ¡Forward Russia! take to the stage, it's impossible to see the bar let alone get anywhere near it, so with the prospect of dehydration for the next 45 minutes looming one can only stand back in awe as their numeric-based repertoire induces a mass collusion of singing, chanting and arm-waving. Well, you try dancing in such a confined space and see how far you get.
With a star-studded audience whooping at every opportunity – an audience that features members of Editors and just about anyone currently in or who's ever played with a band from the East Midlands – it feels like a triumphant homecoming show for Leeds' finest. And to an extent, it is: not so long back ¡FR! seemed to play at least once a month here.
What some may have seen as novelty tunes – who else could get away with calling a song 'Fifteen pt. 2'? – have now evolved into genuine anthems. Those early comparisons to At The Drive-In suddenly don't seem so far fetched anymore, as singer Tom Woodhead throws himself around with reckless abandon. When he isn't attempting to decapitate and throttle himself, that is.
The songs you'll all be familiar with by now: the choruses to 'Nine' and 'Twelve' are now as ecstatically received and repeated as the most infectious football chants, while 'Eleven' is a pulsating riot of stop-start greatness that only the easily-pleased Fratellis fan could find disappointing.
And they even get to play a couple of new ones, too. Nameless though they appear on the set list, both seem to have lost the band's angular edge for a more wholesome, dare I say it, progressive sound that old chestnut Bixler and co. would do well to emulate with their Mars Volta bore-athons.
With a full tour planned next month, you'd be a fool to miss out on the excitement. ¡Forward Russia! are back and, if the new material is anything to go by, they’re most definitely here to stay.
Photograph by Gary Wolstenholme
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