Have you ever seen a lion at the zoo or a great white shark in an aquarium? Both are majestic creatures of grace and power but in that small cage or limiting tank, they can’t quite flex their muscles or open their jaws wide and show the crowd how mighty they can be. It just seems off. The same could be said of The Horrors’ show at The Bottom Lounge this past Thursday, June 21st.
The Horrors are a phenomenal band with a dedicated following in their native UK and across Europe, where they’ve received tremendous critical acclaim for their five albums to date that span gothic-punk screams to disco-tinged soundscapes. They are true masters of their craft and have been known to put on a dramatic show that overloads the senses in their world of electronic rock – a show that I was incredibly excited to experience for the first time as a relatively new fan of the band.
2017 saw the release of the band’s fifth album – “V” – in which the band embraced electronica in heavy doses and delivered dark, digital post-punk and they’ve recently embarked on a 14-date tour across the US and Canada to promote last year’s album.
The album’s highlights (songs like Machine, Ghost, Something to Remember Me By) made up the bulk of the set that lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. Other songs included fan favorites from their other albums (Who Can Say, In and Out of Sight, Still Life). A personal highlight for me was the night’s rendition of the 2009 single, A Sea Within A Sea. The 7-minute epic was given a monstrous and wonderfully heavy guitar intro by guitarist Josh Hayward accompanied by the pulsing but steady fuzz bass from bassist Rhys Webb.
The band looked scarily fantastic – dressed in all black, the best worn by singer Faris Badwan, who wore a fish-net blouse with face-covering black hair à la Siouxsie Sioux – incredible! With fantastic outfits and better music, what was off about the show?
Unfortunately, the high praise and following that the band has across Europe has not quite found its way to the United States, where they have more of a cult following. The show’s crowd was not to capacity and was populated by fans of the music of course, but only a few enthusiastic enough to jump and shout to the band’s anthems, with most happy to simply stand and watch. The stage was small. The Horrors are a band that should have room to spread out and truly perform but Faris’ manic and mesmerizing stage presence was hindered by limited space. Synths and keys played by Tom Cowan, who I was excited to see in action given that his inventive and interesting playing is one of my favorite elements of the band, were crammed in the back of the stage right up against Joseph Spurgeon’s drum kit and both were obscured by an oddly placed fog machine that only seemed to spew into them.
To the Bottom Lounge’s credit, the stage lighting was impeccable. Colored flashes and white strobes lit up the band in a moody neon. Half way through the set, Faris requested more strobes, and the venue delivered a delightfully blinding array of flashes that gave the band an eerie robotic look that meshed perfectly with their digital sonic attack. Despite the size, the venue’s sound was done perfectly for a band like The Horrors, whose music is incredibly nuanced, with the elements of surreal synthesizers, roaring guitar, fuzzed bass, steady drumming, and gothic crooning all emphasized clearly from one another which allowed the new songs of “V” to translate to a live setting very well.
It was a good show. A great set by one of the most interesting and put together bands in the world today. I would have loved to see them in a setting that would have allowed them to truly showcase their powerful atmosphere to its full potential, but I suppose it’s the music that is most important and The Horrors delivered that with incredible skill and power. Faris’ last words to the crowd were “See you again,” so perhaps they’ll be back in Chicago some day and I won’t have to travel to Europe to witness their unlimited might.