Live Report - The Unit Ama Album Launch
Posted on Friday, 19 July 2013 | No Comments
A brief note before we get down to the main business: in many ways, it's encouraging that Newcastle and the north-east takes its cultural heritage seriously, and wants to keep it alive for future generations to access. When this results in a horde of morris dancers blocking off the entrance to The Cumberland Arms on a blazing summer night however, I have to protest in the strongest of terms. The old adage that you should "try everything once, except incest and morris dancing" springs to mind - in my mind's eye, morris dancing sits on the list of truly evil works and deeds somewhere above shoplifting, the infamous mauling of The Magnificent Andersons and Katie Hopkins, and just below war, the legacy of Thatcher and Jimmy Saville. In other words, morris dancers, kindly just fuck the fuck off. I don't want nor need the sacrifical screams of Edward Woodward reverberating across the Ouseburn when I'm just trying to get to the bar.
That aside then, the real reason for this article. To celebrate the release of The Unit Ama's new record The Mason's Mallet, a live recording of their performance at TUSK Festival 2012, they took to the stage of The Cumberland Arms to dazzle the more adventerous minds of the region once again. Having been amazed by my first exposure to their unique spin on avant-rock at last year's Split Festival in Sunderland, it became imperative for this scribe to brave the sweat-box of The Cumberland's events room and exchange a note for entrance and a Unit Ama LP and set myself up for a night of left-of-centre delights.
Thankfully, before The Unit Ama's performance was a righteous support billing. Having never heard them before (having foolishly missed their opening performance for Mike Watt at The Cluny earlier this year), openers Fret! made an instant impact as another tight power trio on the bill, with brutish and incessant bass lines propelling the pieces through as the drums submit to flailing fury and the guitar splinters off into (post?) post-punk shards. With their short, largely instrumental tracks, it was a confident and empowering display of force - certainly a name I'll be looking out for on line-up's in the future. For some calm before the storm, the night then turned to the talents of a certain Richard Dawson, en route to a performance at the Latitude Festival. Covers of standards popularised Mike Watterson and Shirley Collins mingle with Dawson's own work, including Black Dog In The Sky and The Cumberland Rag from The Magic Bridge an an intriguing new guitar piece that operated at the more frenzied, explosive end of his work, taking off perhaps from where the instrumental interludes on The Glass Trunk left off. Throw in some pinapple-centric chat, and you've got a fine balm for the increasingly crowded and humid room.
When it came to The Unit Ama's turn though, it began without warning. The trio, on stage clad in their stage suits - which, on a night like this really takes some aesthetic dedication, so nice one gentlemen - work their way in without any notice, toying with their instruments and slowly bringing the sound up until the crowd notices that, hey, shit, this is actually the set you know. Over the next forty-odd minutes, they set out their stall brilliantly, with relatively composed sets of math-rock fury coming in and out of free-form chaos, with song and improvisation taking equal importance. One of the joys of The Unit Ama is how surprisingly difficult it is to tell what's pre-prepared and what's improvisation - the more obviously 'song' segments boast far too many odd shifts and turns to feel entirely pre-written, while even in their more abrasive and atonal instrumental patches, there remains a great sense of direction. Also key to the band is the wry humour they display, an all-too-rare acknowledgement that this kind of music can be fun and silly as well as intense and challenging. When their non-stop wall of sound finally fades into nothing, the roar of approval from the audience is unmistakeable, compelling the band into a brief encore of an older, shorter rock piece. On a night like this, the gauntlet they lay down to other rock trio's is simple and unmistakeable: we can get away with this and take the audience down some unexpected avenues and have them love it, so why they hell aren't you putting even a tenth of the thought and effort into what you do that we put in? Their public appearances may be rare, but good christ the wait between Unit Ama gigs is made more than worthwhile.