The congregation gathers on the coldest night of the year so far to attend the double sermon at the underground temple that is The Arches.
First to take to the pulpit is John Knox Sex Club; opening with fan favourite ‘Kiss the Dirt’, the sharp, deep guitar sets the tone for what is to follow.
The haunting echo reverberating around the cavernous walls rouses the interest of the first footers, drawing them like moths to the flame.
Those that are unacquainted with JKSC listen with intrigue, which soon turns to awe draped in unease as singer, Sean Cumming, shakes into his role as the ‘possessed preacher’; writhing awkwardly into the crowd shouting with intense canonical passion about kissing the dirt beneath their feet.
This dynamic continues throughout their set, with the intensity cranking up through album opener ‘Minotaur’ from their latest Oh Wow, Must be the Devil; drenched in melodrama straight from the off; continually slapping your face with wonderfully dissonant melodies.
The crowd is clad in their winter attire, though this doesn’t prevent the cold chill running through our collective spines.
The gathering crowd remains fully engaged throughout; they do not seem permitted to be otherwise engaged as Cumming dives to the floor intermittently, held back only by the wire on his microphone as he performs some kind of dust dancing ritual.
After only playing a handful of songs (which admittedly last on average around seven-minutes each), they leave the stage without ceremony; ironic as their whole set seemed to reflect a dark melodramatic liturgy in itself; safe to say the crowd seems warmed up.
Time for the main act of the night, The Phantom Band; there is a tangible buzz around the venue that has seemed to be lacking whenever I have seen the band in the past.
Bludgeoning tribal drums break out for the opener, ‘Burial Sounds’, sending the crown into in a semi-psychedelic trance, which would give any regular Arches clubber a run for their money.
JKSC are a hard act to follow but The Phantom Band are more than capable of leading us into their warped world; their set is a tapestry of songs, new and old, but drenched in a darkly-tinged energy.
The likes of ‘Doom Patrol’, from their latest album Strange Friend, shake the very foundations of The Arches, or maybe it was the train passing above the venue.
Frontman Rick Anthony has a kind of ironic swagger, which brings a more light-hearted edge to the band’s performance, engaging the audience in a somewhat less oppressive manner than the members of John Knox Sex Club.
However, there are notably similar themes to the performances; the two frontmen donning the role of the preacher, preaching to the feverishly converted.
Fan-favourite ‘Throwing Bones’ riles the crowd into performing some noteworthy dance-moves, culminating in a doo-wop sing-along, while songs such as ‘The Wind That Cried The World’ sound like a Star Wars bar fight, laser-gun sounds and all.
The set itself closes with a pair of seemingly out-of-place brass musicians joining the band onstage for ‘No Shoes Blues’; a swelling, shimmering six-minute refrain.
Before the track begins, Anthony jestingly explains, somewhat ambivalently, that they found them busking on the streets before the gig, though you would never believe it as the song rounds off in a beautiful cacophony of noise; what a nice way to end a Christmas party.
Words: Calum Stewart
Photo: Bill Gray