Review: Preoccupations live at Gorilla, Manchester

Posted on 13 November 2016
By Ollie Rankine
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It’s a dreary Sunday night in Manchester and a small but excitable crowd of weekend gig-goers are all huddled, shaking off the rain beneath the railway tracks, tickets clutched tightly within numbing hands.

The last time Canadian post-punks Preoccupations played in England, they had released their self-titled debut and were rounding off the last couple of dates of their first ever world tour. At the time, they were still known to fans by their original name, Viet Cong – a title that had been attracting a fair amount of criticism for being what many believed to be offensive and disrespectful.

Almost a year has past and the band who once introduced themselves as a brutal communist insurgent group who fought against the US and South Vietnamese, have felt compelled to change their name, acknowledging its insensitive implications. Now having released a second self-titled record in September, this time under their new name Preoccupations, the band return to the UK carrying a new identity and sounding more upfront than ever before.

It seems any previous controversy has long been forgotten as the growing numbers outside Gorilla begin to file into its notoriously compact interior, all drenched in buoyant spirits. The atmosphere is relatively calm but there’s a definite palpable feeling of bated anticipation in the venue.

Despite the welcoming cheers and applause, the band’s eventual entrance to stage is silent and ominous. The lack of acknowledgement of the crowd is a fitting extension to the band’s reincarnation, leaving behind their washed out foundations and replacing them with a concrete sense of menacing alienation.

First track and album opener, ‘Anxiety’ gives an indication of their newfound power, the pounding swell of the bass resonates under the haze of the electric blue mist that engulfs the stage. The rising temperature amidst the narrow crevasses of cramped onlookers is slumped against the ghostly chill of the Preoccupations sound, each fighting to make you feel more uncomfortable than the other.

Each drawn-out wail of synth is brutally lacerated by the serrated edge of the guitar riffs. Though at times the intensity lulls with the ethereal beginnings of each song, the energy is usually quick to reengage through an unanticipated ambush of noise.

Tipping the hat to earlier achievements, debut classics ‘Continental Shelf’ and ‘March Of Progress’ are met with the tumultuous reactions of diehard fans scattered throughout the crowd. It seems nostalgia for their old style is yet to wash off, Matt Flegel’s screams of “suffocating, suffocating!” are fiercely convincing with each word trailing off with the croak of piercing desperation.

At times, gaps between songs suggest technical issues are afoot and then the arrival of ‘Zodiac’ confirms an unfortunate mishap. Usually driven by the underlying bass hook, the song feels a little undermined with its absence. Whether or not the previous technical pauses were linked, the somewhat disappointing rendition of ‘Zodiac’ is hastily swept under the carpet and replaced with the pumped up drive of ‘Stimulation’. Sounding more post-punky then ever before, ‘Stimulation’ is coated in dazzling ‘80s guitar riffs and the crowd is now in a frenzy of chaotic appreciation.

The set ends in ‘Death’, a 15-minute bombardment where Preoccupations takes Gorilla to a bitter climax of sonic depth and magnitude before dumping the packed venue awkwardly back on its head. The band exist the stage in silence, leaving behind the aftermath of the upturned drum kit and guitar equipment, and leaving only their songs to speak for themselves.

Preoccupations’ return to England comes carrying the baggage of a band that remain bold in their intentions but more calculated in their approach. Although the resurrection from their controversially titled debut has brought a indisputable shift in sound, its properties umbrella both old fans and new and will no doubt keep them moving on an upwards trajectory.