The Red Paintings / Iron Swan

Bodega Social Club, Nottingham on Thursday 6 February 2014

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Green. There is a girl selling T-shirts stood at the merchandise desk. She looks a bit lost but is dressed in Egyptian headdress and full on Pharoah garb. The last time I saw somebody dressed in such a way, I was at a school production of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Tonight feels very different to that. 

Orange. I'd not heard of The Red Paintings until a week ago. I chanced upon a review of the, five years in the making, made through crowd-funding, 'nearly perfect', Australian Orchestral Art Rockers' 2013 album, 'The Revolution Is Never Coming'. I had a listen, noticed that they were touring the country during February and thought this was a show not to miss. As it happens, I was right.Silver. For those not familiar with The Red Paintings, a potted history would suggest that this is a band formed to host the eccentric, creative endeavours of one Trash McSweeney. Trash (aka Jamie Barrett) claims to have been contacted by aliens, an experience that left him with Chromesthesia, a condition that allows people to perceive musical tones as having colours. From this experience, The Red Paintings were formed. It beats meeting at art college as a construct for a band and the sci-fi, futuristic fantasia is never far from our experience tonight. 

Black. First up we have the main support. I've heard the vocal ambition of the earlier support when I arrive and such is the level of strain I decide to stay downstairs at the Bodega. I sit near to three mild mannered gentlemen who appear to be writing out their setlist. It's hard to believe that, half an hour later, this same trio form Iron Swan. They produce a wall of noise, cathartic release of screams, a constant buzz of bass. They allow some blues, an element of southern rock and a layered depth-charge of grunge to surface which takes this above the out and out screamo head-bang that so many acts of this ilk seem to struggle to get beyond. These guys are as tight as Putin's arsehole and given adequate opportunities such as this they should see their profile grow. 

Yellow. A man is marched to the front-left side of the stage. A black box pedestal is placed down and a Sphinx like Pharoah's head is placed over his. He is turned to face the audience and it is there, like a human statue you might see at Covent Garden, that he stands throughout the set. Around us, we have a feast of Egyptian paraphernalia. Anubis, Mau cats and golden owls all hold a significance in the mythology of the land and we're encouraged to enter that world. 

Gold. The Red Paintings take to the stage. Trash McSweeney, dressed in Egyptian robes takes centre stage between a duo of Cleopatra's - violinist, Alix Kol, and an unidentified female bass player. Andy Davis could be the drummer that makes up this foursome. They crash straight into their opening track. Trash moves in angular fashion as he thrashes his guitar. He sounds a bit like Brian Molko and plays guitar as if he's Richey Edwards. His eye make-up accentuates their intensity. Alix Kol plays violin as if it's a lead guitar. It's Vanessa Mae playing as if she were Brian May. The most hardened cynical heart melts over her beauty. This is a band that it's hard not to love. 

Brown. But It's not all red and rosie from Trash tonight. In the first half of the set, after the jokes about how "a hardcore vegetarian" has found himself in "Not in ham", there seems to be a bit of a confidence lull. When he utters, "has anybody here been to Egypt?", he receives such a muted response from the shamefully sparse crowd, you sense he wants to run away from this gig in tears. Later, in a brief chat, he tells me that this gig was such a contrast to the jam-packed acoustic one at Koko on the previous night (also reviewed on eGigs) that you almost understand his pain. 

White. One suspects that Trash has traversed tougher troubles than this though and his confidence comes back as he tells us that "our next song is based upon Alice In Wonderland". The opening bows and plucks of 'Streets Fell Into My Window' creep out – an eerie spoken word piece transforms into a hypnotic vocal, the violin wails like a cat before we enter through a doorway into another world. The song takes us right into the rabbit hole. We are not turning back. 

Cream. The lights go out and Trash whispers that he'll back soon. My gig-going companion tells me that she's scared. I'm pretty sure she doesn't need to be. The Pharoah, still and silent on his black pedestal, is approached by a woman. He is wearing a black leotard. For the rest of the gig, she freely layers white paint onto his body. He doesn't seem to object. A blank, white canvas is placed upon an easel on the right side of the stage. Paints are placed beneath the canvas. The lights are turned back on and Trash encourages those who are watching intently to pick up a paintbrush and add their art to the canvas. Mumford and Sons this is not.

Pink. Encouraging us to paint on the canvas seems to break down the wall that seemed to exist between band and crowd. The audience are participating and Trash seems to respond. Latest single, 'Wasps' buzzes and swoops before an angry, orchestral paranoia stings your ears. What am I trying to say? Next up, we have the poppy, opulent beauty of 'You're Not One Of Them' and a man in the crowd decides to cover his hands in paint so that he can add to the canvas with his finger art. 

Purple. We're into the home straight and the tunes are increasing in their epic ambition. 'Hong Kong' clocks in just shy of nine minutes on the album. I have no idea how long it lasts tonight but as it builds to its conclusion, the band see fit to indulge in a set of silences between notes that almost feels awkward. This is a performance and we're not allowed to forget. The final song of the night is no slouch either. Title track, 'The Revolution Is Never Coming', bashes us into submission with all sorts of aural splendidness. At one point, Trash takes a hamster wheel (it looks like it has a white mouse in it) and uses it to play slide guitar. There is surely a point in this. 

Red. The Red Paintings are not a band for the faint-hearted. There's so much going on in this set that's difficult to fully convey. They are playing across the UK for much of February and my guess is that each show will take on a different personality to the one that tonight's has. This has been colourful, unique, out of this world cabaret. Trash draws our attention to the lost girl at the merchandise tent. "That's my younger sister", he tells us. "Touch her and I'll break your legs", he adds and with that you realise that he's only human.

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article by: Sean Tizzard

published: 12/02/2014 08:32