By Vernon Crane

The Montague Arms is a great venue, half pub, half horse brass and stuffed stag’s head packed olde curiosity shop run by a family of friendly northerners and with a decent enough PA to boot, but it’s hard to muster strong feelings one way or the other for Caribou themselves, a three piece, guitar, double drums and keyboard set up who play a kind of covering-all-bases, poppy post-rock, mostly in thrall to Neu 3 and Trans Europe Express. This is my first encounter with them live and while there’s nothing exactly to moan about, there’s not much to drag you away from the bar either.

The back projection, an attempt to surmount the problem that nearly all of these bands face live, ie the lack of much going on onstage, half-a-tab’s worth of mildly psychedelic stills, sums the band’s approach up pretty well. They’re a bit Paisley, a bit swirly, a bit middle-of-the-road, a bit too polite. Even with the addition of a second drummer it all still feels rather undernourished, a little bit reined in, on the wrong side of sublime. It’s pretty rather than beautiful, intriguing rather than arresting. When it’s noisy, on, for example Hands First it’s reasonably noisy, but nothing too nasty, when it’s poppy it’s moderately exuberant, when its droney its... well it’s not exactly No Pussyfooting.

Caribou are a good example of how fine musicianship, good ideas and a discerning, progressive ear are all largely irrelevant without that mysterious, ineffable spark of enthusiasm that pushes something beyond its influences, that element which allows for a kind of subatomic, sub-molecular, integration and mutant growth. Some have got it, (Ariel PInk) some haven’t (Caribou) and therein resides much of life’s unfairness. The crowd of art students down from Goldsmiths nod politely along , after all, dancing’s not really an option, and its all very nicely produced live, here’s the Eno-ish bit, here’s the Merzbow bit, here’s a bit of folktronica, a smattering of Stereolab, a bushel of Beck and a pinch of Popul Vuh. All very nice, all very handsome, but ultimately, to these ears at least, unexciting, over familiar.

So, Caribou are... not bad. For four quid, tonight’s entry fee, worth going to see. A fiver might be pushing it now Dark Magus by Miles Davies has just been re-issued on budget price CD, though.
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