13th April 2009
If you can’t stand unbelievably abstract similes, look away now, because this review is going to contain a lot of them. Apologies, but that’s just the way it’s going to have to be. There’s a great difficulty in describing what HEALTH (all caps, don’t ask me why) actually sound like, chiefly because they sound like precisely nothing else. Looking at the four men standing on stage as the gig starts, you might be forgiven for thinking that the sound they’re about to produce can’t be that radical. I see a drummer, a bassist, and two guitarists, one with a microphone, one with a synthesiser. Sure, there are a lot of wires and pedals going on, but they can’t sound that dissimilar to a traditional rock band, right?
Wrong. Because after about five minutes of unadulterated mayhem, band members clambering over each other, beating drums, screaming, hammering god-knows-what buttons to produce full-throated blasts of multi-layered noise, you come to realise that you have never seen a gig like this before, and will probably never be lucky enough to see again.
HEALTH are only doing five dates on this UK tour, and Brighton’s The Albert is the first venue to play host. They’re famous enough (Their collaboration with Crystal Castles on ‘Crimewave’ charted in the UK top ten) that they don’t need to play gigs this small, but on tonight’s evidence alone, booking HEALTH into a succession of sweatbox rooms above pubs might just prove to be an artistic masterstroke. The sell-out crowd are packed in tight to the low stage, and the energy and enthusiasm is palpable, only increasing in fervour with the painstaking sound-check, each individual drum tested and retested a hundred times until the desired ‘robots fighting in a lift shaft’ tone is achieved.
Then suddenly, without warning, the show begins with new single ‘Die Slow’, hinting at a move into more dance-oriented territory, perhaps buoyed by the success of remix album ‘HEALTH//DISCO’, certainly the point in the band’s career at which they began to garner more attention in the music press. The band have remarked in interviews how often people come to their shows and shout for a song that has already been played, not recognising it from the remix, and it seems that their response has been to hone their chaotic noise palate into rhythms and grooves.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of chaos going on, but it steps up a notch when the band plunge into early single ‘Triceratops’, showcasing what made their noise-rock debut so suitable for remixing in the first place; that whilst the bizarre, roaring sounds HEALTH make may sound unhinged, as a unit they are incredibly tight, handling labyrinthine, polyrhythmic beats and guitars that sound like a jet engine playing a harmonica, at breakneck pace, without ever slipping out of time. Loops upon loops of feedback and zoothorned vocals pile on top of each other and coalesce into a dense, pulsing throb.
The crowd are certainly in a mood to move their feet. Heads and arms flail everywhere as the front five rows bounce and writhe with the noise. Up on stage, this unleashed energy is reflected by the band, who tear into each song, giving every last ounce of themselves to the performance. They speak only once in the whole hour they are on stage – “Hi, we’re HEALTH, we’re from Los Angeles. Thanks for coming out tonight. This is our last song.” – before exiting on the frenzied, minute-long ‘Courtship’. A drumbeat, a scream, some mutilated vocals and the spectacle is finished, and all that is left are the hundred or so reeling audience members, trying (and failing) to put into words what they have just witnessed.