Live Review: Squid – The Phoenix
Print Music Editor Harry Hawkins reviews Squid’s performance at The Phoenix.
They’re as tactile and coordinated as the 10 limbed sea creature – but they won’t obscure you with ink.
Exeter made itself the last spot for Brighton band Squid’s most recent UK tour, off the back of the improvisational Fieldworks shows and their debut record Bright Green Field. The group may have only released their debut record this year, but they have been a band far longer. With a variety of styles and influences explored since the Lino EP’s spacey stargazing, Squid possess an audience with a real mix of all ages – old punks, indie kids, and electronica enthusiasts all made up the crowd.
However, the event was first kicked off in unexpected form by two unassuming men in pullovers and sock-sandals. Seeing the duo of Huddersfield/ Torquay combo Fowl on stage, only occupying about a quarter of it with a singular keyboard, was initially a bit of a befuddling opener for a band like Squid, but it made sense as soon they began singing. Though their sonic palette is far more minimal, the musical and lyrical concerns touched on the same sense of confusion at ordinary life, whether it was the morose detailing of lockdown specified in ‘Human Kind’, or the humorous depiction of business affairs at the heart of their finishing song, ‘Hole’. Yet there was beauty too – ‘Hole’ built up on layers of piano loops and then soared in the final stage for a transcendent melodica solo evoking Stevie Wonder in its tunefulness. In between, members of Squid provided slight accompaniments on drums and cornet to their crucifixion depiction ‘Nailed’ – a sort of tone poem that sputtered along like Jesus’ death is painstaking described. It’s a touching thing to see a band bring their literal dads along to open their gig, and Fowl certainly weren’t just dad rockers hacking old tropes – they’re worth a listen in their own right.
But it’s really about the squid, not the fowl, right? So, they appear as an ensemble, starting off proceedings with some blustering and juddering electronics like any good Warp Records band – the machinery dies down as its processed into the cool groove of ‘Sludge’, a song which feels like the elemental nature of Squid as a group. Building up from the primordial ooze, they lurch into ‘G.S.K’, earning the first of several mosh pits at the front of the crowd – the Home Depot bassline clattering alternately against the sci-fi keyboard workings of Arthur Leadbetter and later some playful guitar and cornet lines. Arthur should really be considered the “special sauce” of Squid, with how much atmosphere he provides for a plethora of songs, really filling a room but also creating zany and downright disturbing sounds like the blasts that built up ‘Narrator’s’ terrifying climax.
it can’t be coincidence that a squid has 10 limbs and there are 5 band members
The overall nature achieved from Squid’s crazed grooves is the feeling of one entity performing as a whole – it can’t be coincidence that a squid has 10 limbs and there are 5 band members. Unlike classic ideas of rock bands with your Van Halens or Freddie Mercuries, every member seems at once essential and yet only a complement to the whole music – Ollie Judge may be the centre stage “frontman” the majority of the time, but he is also the drummer, supporting the rest of the group as they take flight, often switching between entirely different instruments or taking a time out.
As for their position as coveted “guitar group” – a British indie hyper fixation that can highlight grand tunesmiths like Franz Ferdinand but also the Twang – they’re also somewhat understated. The focus isn’t always on chunky riffs or scorching leads, but twanging lines or beautiful baroque guitar weavings – especially as heard on the unreleased track ‘Fugue’ which evokes some of Radiohead’s most idyllic In Rainbows work or Jeff Buckley – a welcome respite between the abstract violence of tunes like ‘Peel St’.
Of course, an encore was essential, with Squid heading out on the cataclysmic krautrock voyage of ‘Pamphlets‘ – necessitating a gigantic moshpit. As their (currently) latest track and the last song of their current tour, it’s a fitting end that left everyone overjoyed – and maybe a bit exhausted, considering its 8 minutes plus length. The screams of “we’ve got everything, everything that you like” certainly fits the mood of the show – Squid’s mix of electronica, funk, jazz, post-punk/hardcore is like no other group, but certainly satisfies many of our musical palates, and I’m sure whatever direction Squid take next will be both unexpected but also well received by the little-bit-of-everything music taste most of us have acquired through the advent of streaming.