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British Sea Power
Artplay na Yauze 
By Martin Richardson
Moscow - or at least a section of Moscow's hip young things - has long been in love with the rock music of my native England. Maybe it's a subconscious throw-back to the days when learning the language with freshly smuggled Beatles discs was a subtly subversive gesture; maybe it's an abstract homage to the heady days of the early 90s when the Iron Curtain rusted in time for the golden age of Britpop, before Tony Blair's "Cool Britannia" reduced it all to propagandistic parody. Perhaps it's just a lingering symptom of having Elton John arrive as the first Western rock star to appear for a stony-faced army of politburo apparatchiks back in the grey days. Or, more likely, none of the above. Whatever the reason, the sounds of foggy Albion still carry a resonance in these parts - and even a group like British Sea Power, some way from being Blighty's biggest names, can draw a committed crowd to a Moscow venue.

The Brighton-based, Cumbrian-conceived band arrived with a reputation as one of England's best live acts, and their sound - part raucous terrace chanting, part miasma of overdriven guitars - is transformed on stage. Even a slightly sludgy sound mix - which robbed set opener "Who's in control" of any clarity - couldn't hinder the show once it got into its stride. Roared on by a word-perfect crowd of dedicated local fans enjoying the band's return to Russia after a seven-year gap, BSP rose to the challenge admirably to put in a blistering set for the opening night of Avant Fest 2011.

Unlike many touring acts, they looked genuinely pleased to be back; "Can you understand me at all?" asked Yan in a fairly broad accent of the fells. Approving cheers. "Fuckin' marvellous!" Fellow vocalist Hamilton added: "Youse are much better at clapping in time than the English." A pause. "This is not a man who gives compliments lightly - this means something," from Yan.

Musically BSP are hard to pin down. The name sounds like a diplomatic threat hanging over a 19th-century European peace conference to remind the Spanish that Gibraltar is going to continue helping Britannia rule the waves, and there's a certain wistful preoccupation with a sepia-tinted era of semi-rustification. It's almost "Dig for victory" meets "Withnail and I", with t-shirts on sale pledging "I'm a big fan of the local library". But the sound is more timeless than retro. It has a bovver-boy swagger and stomp - "easy, easy!" - allied to a shoe-gazing wall of distortion-heavy sound. But that is infused with the sort of energy that suggests My Bloody Valentine pumped full of Red Bull and amphetamines to create something which encloses the audience rather than puts them on the other side of the creative barriers.

Most of the set was drawn from the most recent album, "Valhalla Dancefloor", recorded in a bleak midwinter in a farmhouse in Sussex. Big skies and snow-covered fields infect its lyrical pre-occupations; musically the original four-piece has been expanded to six, with the permanent addition of violins and keyboards, plus the occasional bit of brass. New material was no challenge for the crowd: even "Zeus", an EP track unreleased in Russia, was immediately taken up by the download-ready locals.

But it was perhaps the older songs which really took flight. "No Lucifer" and "Flag Waving", from 2008's "Do you like Rock Music", perfectly marked the transition from concert into gig - that vital and elusive moment when the crowd stops listening and becomes part of the show. "Carry On", from the early "Decline of British Sea Power", lost its dreamy recording studio sheen to re-emerged as a brute of a live track, the original undertow overwhelmed in a mass of sound.

By the time the finale rolled around - "We're all in it" - the words became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tomato-flinging guitarist Noble crowd surfed his way across the sweaty hordes, pausing to hoist himself onto a low-slung ceiling support as the masses bellowed the chorus, helped along by the band. Britain's naval power may have begun its decline a century ago; British Sea Power remains as buoyant as ever, no matter how unfamiliar the port in which it docks for the evening.

11.06.11
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