REVIEW: Narcissus at Pizza Express 04.01.15
We are big Narcissus fans and we were looking forward to hearing them at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on this brisk January afternoon. Last time we reviewed them almost exactly a year ago, we described them as: ‘sublime chaos, a great schizophrenic identity crisis of genre which against all odds makes sense.’
Eager to hear their signature pop grooves and melodic lines that weave through the Narcissus sound, we were a little unsettled to hear at the top of the set an aimless sound world. Whilst pianist and leader Peter Lee still played with heartbreaking beauty we were longing to hear melody with regular time, longing to know where this tune was going. So unusual was this start, that when the melodic ‘head’ was breathed into life by sax player Josh Arcoleo, it was like the shoulders relaxing down after being taught with tension. No wonder it had that effect: Lee told us afterwards that the tune is entitled, Bi-Polar. The ‘aimless’ alongside ‘happiness’ juxtaposition is a new sound to Narcissus. Highly effective and definitely an unnerving start to the set it was good to hear the group play slightly riskier tunes.
Dependency starts as many Narcissus tunes do, with a piano introduction: hymn-like homophonic sounds. It has parallels with The Dreamer – a cover played later in the set. Dependency, with it’s lilting 6/8 rhythms, also welcomed guitarist Tom Varrall to the stage. In some ways it’s a very ‘classical’ tune – with an exposition of the melody and a haunting piano cadenza leading back to the head. The tune ended as it started, with the rest of the band adding small sounds, like a memory, lost in the echoes of subtone. Mirror Stage, a tune familiar to regular listeners starts with sparse unison chords, sounding like a syncopated bell chiming on the hour. The much awaited delicious groove appears, alongside beautiful melodies. This is possibly our favourite tune in the set. Lee’s Dave Smith synth emerged. We’ve raved about how much we love it and it’s radiophonic workshop sounds before, so we won’t so do again here. Narcissus went crazy. Arcoleo and Lee were epic and Varrall played a great funky guitar riff behind the madness.
The final tune of the first set, Did you have something to say? (Lee added, ‘in this case, no’) included most notably a beautiful bass solo from Foster. Most distinctively it ended with a frankly funny 80s synth sound wall from Lee. It appeared to have the rest of the band laughing too. It acted as a response to the tune’s question: Did you actually have something to say? No. Make of that what you will.
Untitled announced the start of the second set – with an epic solo from Varrall. It’s perhaps the most ‘pop’ influenced tune of the set, with groove juxtaposed by lyrical balladic melodies. Criss Cross featured the beautiful lines of Huw Foster on bass – giving space to explore that sound world with no hurry. Just before they started their only cover of the set, The Dreamer, Lee explained that this tune demonstrated the more electronic route these guys have decided to pursue. That comes as no surprise – the distinctive sound of Lee’s synth playing have become more and more involved and each time we hear them play – and choosing the electronic vibes of this Mehliana tune fit in perfectly. The Dreamer segued seamlessly into Writer’s Block a tune where you never know what’s coming next. Yes, we happen to know this tune fairly well, it’s performed on most their gigs and is strong melodically and harmonically. Yet still it is filled with surprises and the band work so well as a whole on this tune. Narcissus are an electric ensemble, juxtaposing solid groove with utter chaos. They sit together so well and love listening to one another play. There are moments that are just massive – and then a mere breath later, there is a perfect silence. Maybe that is what they do best. Cherish the quiet.
Dear Narissus – please please please record an album.
Line up and set list are below. You can find out more here.
3) Mirror Stage
4) Did you have something to say?
2) Criss Cross
3) The Dreamer (Mehliana Cover)
4) Writer’s Block