Live – Tom Vek & Olga Bell @ Meltdown

Metldown, for anyone who doesn’t already know, is an annual festival of music, arts and film, held annually at the Southbank Centre. It is generally one of the highlights of London’s summer music calendar. This years curator, James Lavelle of UNKLE fame, joins such names as Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker and the late, great John Peel, in selecting his favourite performers across a multitude of formats to perform at what is always a unique series of events.

Ok, so it’s always a hugely mixed bag, and there are a lot of highly pretentious pieces that seem to appeal more to peoples sense of a good concept than an actually good show (see most of what Yoko Ono put on last year), but even a brief look at the artists who have performed shows that generally the curators get it just right. John Peel brought us Sonic Youth & The Delgados, Patti Smith roped in Eels & Cat Power, and David Bowie signed up Coldplay and The Dandy Warhols….really David? You don’t have any better contacts? Ok so he got Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The International Noise Conspiracy as well, so I might let him off, just this once though!

This year James Lavelle, whilst perhaps not a “big name” compared to some of the people who have been before him, has arguably produced one of the most interesting line ups they have ever had. There were acoustic sets from Mark Lanegan & Josh Homme, a live score of Under The Skin, the always brilliant Edwyn Collins, plus a UK premier of Nick Zinner’s alt-classical composition 41 Strings.

Most intriguing of all though was Friday nights show featuring Tom Vek & Olga Bell.

Olga Bell opens the show. The Moscow born, Alaskan raised Brooklynite, is nothing if not eclectic. She plays keyboards and sings for Dirty Projectors and recently released an album of brutal classic compositions, sung entirely in Russian. Additionally, based on what we see tonight, Olga also does a rather nifty line in bonkers and charming pop music. The hints of Bjork in her work are undeniable, but there is also something of the playful, jerky, marionette pop of Laura.J.Martin. She’s a wonderful performer, bouncing around personifying the age old saying, dance like nobodies watching. Olga is wonderfully uncool, something she undeniably shares with the nights headliner. As you would expect from such a magpie like collector of sounds, there are moments where it seems to get lost and a touch messy, notably the track she plays from Krai, which, whilst undeniably complex, is both scarily intense and just plain scary. When she sticks to upbeat, complex dance pop however, she’s brilliant, and as she shows on the brand new closing track, she also does a mean line in depressed balladry. She’s a stunning talent, and she wont stay underground for long, lets hope the intriguing edges don’t get smoothed out too much along the way.

If Olga Bell is a rough diamond, Tom Vek has somewhere along the line become a polished and brilliant arist. His set borrows heavily from latest album Luck; his third and best album to date. Mr Vek first burst onto the scene way back in 2005 via a major label release for his debut album We Have Sound. It seems strange looking back on it now, but at the time he seemingly had the world at his feet: an heir to Beck’s alt-pop crown. Via tracks like I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes and Nothing But Green Lights, Vek created a delightful sound, perfectly suited to the early 2000’s dance-floor indie boom. Then, just as he looked set to become a huge deal, he disappeared, his second album Leisure Seizure took six years to appear. That’s longer than The Stone Roses took to get The Second Coming out!

When Leisure Seizure landed the musical landscape had changed, indie was dead, guitars were gone, dub-step was in. Thankfully, Tom Vek didn’t really give a hoot about that, and he just released a really rather good album, and now in 2014 he has followed it up with an even better, and even less on trend album! Brilliant!

His set is book ended by tracks from his most famous early work, but as good as they are, his newer material sounds much crisper, and more exciting. Ton Of Bricks, starts off sounding like an inspirational 80’s movie about a teenage sports star, all plonking keyboards, and filthy guitar lines. When the vocal enters it’s almost rap like, and the drums are utterly brilliant, as they are throughout the set. There’s a sort of chorus, that is catchy but also entirely untuneful in the best way possible. Vek is not a great singer in any traditional sense but everything is perfectly matched and wonderfully balanced. Oddly live, his voice actually sounds better than on record. There’s a brilliant breakdown and when the scuzzy guitar line bursts back in, the audience would surely have lost their minds in a crazy dance party way, if we hadn’t all been sat down in a delightful concert hall. Incidentally all gigs should be seated, dancing outside of the confines of comfy leather seat is for chumps and children.

Trying To Do Better, sounds a bit like Deftones. I’m sure very few people would make the link, but the chorus is undeniably angst ridden metal, set to a funk pop production. For all the electronic squelches and catchy beats, these songs at their very core are basically rock songs. As Vek puts it himself, when he re-introduces Olga Bell to join the band “she’s coming out here to help me perform my very simple songs” and it’s their simplicity that makes them so brilliant.

A Chore from Leisure Seizure pairs 90’s rave keyboards to crunchingly heavy drums and a delightfully grimey bass line. Broke has the same North African influence that’s been permeating Damon Albarn’s work for the last ten years, indeed he’s a pretty good reference for Tom; they share an understanding of how to make complex pop music, and also a lack of respect for what’s fashionable, both seem to exist in their own bubble, far away from what anyone else is doing.

The set is closed by probably his most famous song, I Ain’t Saying My Goodbye’s, and it turns out he’s not. He returns with Olga to play us three tracks from their collaboration Nothankyou, they’re wonky dance songs, setting Olga’s beautiful voice to Tom’s sense of melody. They are brilliant, for everything they’ve done as artists so far, there’s unquestionably a feeling that the best is yet to come, and in Tom Vek’s case especially, who would have said that four years ago when people were questioning if he’d even be back at all?

Tom Vek’s third album Luck is out now on Moshi Moshi. Край by Olga Bell is out now on New Amsterdam

 

 

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