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Volcano The Bear @ The Arts Cafe, London

(28th October 2000)

Booted and be-suited, Volcano The Bear are an odd proposition before we've even heard a note. Not only because the boots are Desert and the suits are Oxfam but because the band have thousand yard stares and a strange way of manoeuvring themselves around the stage in slow motion and with exaggerated precision so as not to disturb one another's concentration although the occasional fondle or stroke in passing seems to be allowed.

The stage under Volcano's supervision could be likened to an explosion in a music shop. There are instruments on tables and chairs, on the floor, propped against the mixer, in pockets, inside the bass drum and, in the case of the chap operating the 4-track, even one in the mouth. There are also enough cables to rewire London scattered hither, thither and yon, snaking around every vertical as if waiting for the right moment to constrict.

That moment arrives when, seconds into the opener, a snake-charmer's flute starts to fight against the mighty noise drone, the clarinet parps and the righteous racket of drums being played according to a pattern determined by the decimal expansion of Pi. Straightforward, this Bear is not.

As you might expect, there are highs and lows in a set that is largely improvised. The band seem to enjoy both equally, but the audience tends to restlessness when the downs stretch out for rather too long. Rapt attention is given to a section (there are no gaps in the set) about a third of the way in where two keyboards (one a toy, the other a doctored Yamaha) nail down a couple of groovy and almost stable riffs for the drums to play around and a little black box with buttons on to stomp over. Likewise, when the drums lock into a repetitive beat for everyone else to skip gaily to, there's a way in for the casual listener. Attention wanes, however, when the drummer, ever questing for new sounds, starts playing the snare with his elbow or rattling his sticks on the side of his bass drum.

It's a mostly successful noise, but Volcano The Bear remain an odd proposition even after we've heard every note.

[This review originally appeared at Bleedmusic.com]


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