Having released their critically acclaimed debut album Bright Green Field in the midst of the global pandemic, Squid were more than ready to hit the road and play these songs live for the first time. Their UK tour included a stop at Nottingham's Rock City, so Louis Griffin headed there to see how one of the frontrunners of the British post-punk scene held up in front of an audience.
Lighting is a curious thing in live music. It’s almost never noticed, unless it’s particularly good (The 1975’s monolithic screens come to mind) or particularly bad (after all, it’s nice to actually be able to see the performer). But the lighting when Squid took the stage at Rock City caught my attention for a different reason. The band were lit from the side: blue light rippled across them, as if reflected from water below. It felt like a perfect choice.
"The band eschew many of the conventions and assumptions found in rock music today; they don’t really have one singer"
The band eschew many of the conventions and assumptions found in rock music today; they don’t really have one singer, but the closest thing they have to a focal point is Ollie Judge, who is also the drummer. He’s centre of the stage, but at any one time your attention might be drawn to the left of the band, where you’d find Arthur Leadbetter surrounded by keyboards and synthesizers, or over to the right, when Laurie Nankivell switches from bass guitar to trumpet and back again. Or even, at one memorable moment, when Louis Borlase and Anton Pearson gather behind Judge’s drum kit to fine tune a modular synthesizer, as Judge himself traipses around his kit, hitting cymbals and drums almost at random, from any angle, in an oddly thrilling subversion of the usual role of the drummer. But anyway. The point I’m trying to make is that Squid aren’t a band preoccupied with how things are usually done. Over a set of tracks taken from their critically acclaimed first album, Bright Green Field, alongside a couple of older cuts (The Cleaner, Sludge) and work-in-progress material (Fugue, Sevenz), the band seem uninterested in anything but the music itself. There’s very little performance by way of audience interaction or clichéd showbusiness; the band are simply interested in conveying these songs with laser-guided precision.
It becomes quickly apparent that Squid have spent the past year locked in a practice room, working on these tracks. The sheer technical proficiency required to segue between some of the material on show is jaw-dropping – the album veers between violently different extremes, between crushing breakdowns and gorgeous interludes, hard electronica and taut rock. The live set does the same, and indeed what seems most different to the band on record is how heavy a lot of this material feels in the live arena. Every new riff and rhythm is greeted by a wave of motion from the crowd, and despite Squid’s guitar lines striking as slightly outré in the studio, live they feel almost arena-sized.
But the real place that Squid thrive live is in the rhythms. They’ve always been a band preoccupied with rhythm, right back to their beginnings as an ambient project, but live it seems like the fundamental distillation of the band. Each member is constantly flitting between various forms of percussion, as new patterns emerge from the murk, mesh with one another, and then are replaced again. It’s a thrilling dance.
"Squid have had to release their debut album largely without the medium of live shows to communicate the songs, and to see them play venues as large as they are, with material as experimental as theirs is, and still connect viscerally with audiences, is a privilege"
Ultimately, the live set feels refreshing. Squid have had to release their debut album largely without the medium of live shows to communicate the songs, and to see them play venues as large as they are, with material as experimental as theirs is, and still connect viscerally with audiences, is a privilege. The work-in-progress songs on show blend seamlessly with album tracks, and even though they’ve already got far more than one set’s worth of outstanding material, it’s hard not to get the sense that Squid are only just getting started. As the last notes of Pamphlets ring out across Rock City, and the band stand up from behind their instruments, almost emerging from a daze, they seem genuinely thrilled by the intense connection the audience had with the set. Whatever Squid do next – and you really feel that it could be almost anything – it will be awaited feverishly.
Written by: Louis Griffin
Edited by: Gemma Cockrell
Featured image courtesy of Squid via Facebook.