Live (Elysium / San Sebastian)

Subway is a charmless venue which looks like it hasn’t been cleaned this side of the millennium. There are a series of nine large and intriguing porthole windows on the back wall, on one of which someone has written something etched into the grime with a finger. It looked like it said ‘idiots’. ‘A reflection on Subway’s clientele?’ I wondered morosely.

I was sharing a table with my date for the evening (who looks uncannily like Ben Stiller) and a rather special pair of ‘ladies’, who looked like they must have sneaked past the doorman (or alternatively head-butted him and stolen his wallet – but I didn’t hear any sirens). After dribbling into their Smirnoff Ices for some time, the younger of the two (we’re talking a fifty-year age difference here) appeared to fall off her seat and I think they were firmly escorted to the door, with many curious pairs of eyes following them out. Welcome to the classy Subway. I wouldn’t expect much more from Edinburgh’s Cowgate though.

My apologies go out to Elysium, who I missed all but one track of and wouldn’t like to judge on this occasion.

‘We’re San Sebastian’ the frontman declared ‘and we’re Weegies’ he added, in the same presumptuous tone I used just the other day to state that, yes, I knew I had a stain on my skirt (it was toothpaste). Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience playing in Edinburgh before or just have that popular big fat greasy chip (with salt and vinegar, not salt and sauce) on their shoulder many Glasgwegians have about Edinburgh’s inhabitants. I hadn’t been planning to hold it against them, but I might now. However hailing from Aberdeen myself (it’s up near Inverness…and yes we do have electricity), where people barely speak English, I can’t comment much.

When San Sebastian took to the stage I was compelled to shout ‘I can see your pants!’ but resisted. They wore low-slung jeans, sideburns with attitude and I believe there was an anorak or two up there as well: retro chic. ‘The Funk’ was their first track, which was sort of awkward sounding, although they looked far from awkward performing; slightly bored even – possibly a little disheartened by the quality (or lack of) of the venue.

San Sebastian’s blend of indie-rock with emotive melodic guitar and moody vocals hinted at the bygone teenage angst sympathisers The Smashing Pumpkins, The Killers and The Stone Roses among others. I get the impression they pride themselves on their musical flexibility and will work hard not to be pigeon-holed.

The drummer held this band together well but the barely-audible vocals were a let-down. Two of San Sebastian sang, and they weren’t at all bad, harmonising well together; however the vocals were consistently muffled and nearly completely drowned out by the drums and guitar. Or at least drowned out to the point where I wished they didn’t bother. ‘The Funk’ ended unexpectedly and abruptly, almost before it had begun. The band looked a bit sly at this point – like they knew it was a controversial move. It was a memorable tactic, but I was left feeling a little short-changed.

Their second offering was ‘Six Months Old’ and an additional member of San Sebastian emerged (reluctantly) from the gaggle of pretty girls he was entertaining by the bar and took up a guitar for this track. I imagined he was irritated he’d not got to finish his pint and/or pull one of the girls first, although I noticed he succeeded on the latter in due course. Again I was disappointed by the unforthcoming vocals and cynically noted that they employed the same ‘surprise’ ending technique – with considerably less impact upon repetition.

‘Seems So’ featured a powerful and penetrating guitar riff, with a sort of U2-esque universal appeal which would even have your dad drumming on the steering wheel. Coupled with the spot-on drums, this track really was quite special. It accelerated into thrashing rock with some particularly frantic guitar-tickling (these boys must be good with their hands), eventually slowing up again to sneak back in the epic riff for a more reflective phase. I liked this track when I heard it live and having listened to it again on Myspace I’ll second myself that it’s mighty good.

San Sebastian’s retro chic was eye-catching on stage and they utilised crescendos and sudden endings to keep the crowd entertained, which was relatively effective, against the odds. I just hope their vocals would be stronger with a half-decent set-up.

Coriolis were less in number than San Sebastian but seemed to produce a bigger sound. They were two guitarists and a multi-tasking drummer who sneakily harmonised with the lead singer: not only tunefully, but without any negative effect on his timely rhythm, even during the more intense parts, which was quite something.

Coriolis’ lead singer was an unsubtle homage to Kurt Cobain and this band reflected Nirvana, although they were more friendly-sounding – in the way of The Strokes. Their performance was smart: they faded one track out into another, bridging the two with affecting residual guitar. When tracks ended, they ended neatly with a sort of confident satisfied feeling. All three members of Coriolis sang during the set and none was a disappointment: their vocals were adept and mature. A source of great amusement to me was their animated guitarist, who waltzed and pirouetted around the stage continually. I wondered if his guitar might rely on kinetic energy to operate.

Coriolis also used variations in tempo for emphasis, though again this lost its effect somewhat with repeated use. The last track performed was a touch on the ropey and desperate side, with screeching guitar; however, they seemed very much still in control and the agreeable vocals saved the day. A nice little outfit all in all.

Guest article from Laura S.

Written by Guest Writers on

Between 2003 and 2009, [the-mag] had regular contributors from music correspondents covering their local scene. You'll find them all in the guest writers section. The specific writer is mentioned at the bottom of each article.

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