Sonic Undermind at Pop Toys, Reading. 08/11/2003
Alchemy beat the greatest brains in history. Even Sir Isaac Newton spent 30 fruitless years attempting to turn base metals into gold, and all he had to show for this was the fact that he ingested so much mercury that he was 5 foot 8 in winter and 6 foot 3 in summer.
9/11/03 by Lazarus and the Gimp
So what could Sonic Undermind achieve on a night featuring a stricken singer and a PA murkier than lentil soup? The prospects didn't look great at the outset. Pete was visibly wilting in the curryhouse before the gig- then again, I'd never met him before so maybe a state of wilt is the norm for him. There didn't appear to be a great deal of confidence coming across from the band, and I was beginning to steel myself for a grim evening of buttocks-clenched embarrassment. I'd been in their position before, and when a gig-night starts out looking like shit, the prospects of it turning into gold are pretty damned slim.
"Helix" and "Zombie Wedding" kicked off the show, and it quickly became clear that I was in no danger of ending up watching it through my fingers. The Sonic Undermind sound is a hybrid of metal guitar, hard rock drive and more left-field influences. I've previously seen them described as "The Streets meets The Darkness", which (I must be honest) sounds like a recipe for the worst band ever to crawl on the face of this blighted planet. I can see where the Streets comparisons come from, but to me they sounded a lot more like "Minor Threat meets Killing Joke", which is a far more enticing proposition. This is probably down to the fact that the PA was swallowing up Nikhil's guitar and sucking the life out of the top end- with a cleaner sound, the metal elements would have come out more strongly.
As it was, the sound was dominated by the low-end punch, and when SU launched into riffs they packed one hell of an impact. It was the lean and pummelling tracks that hooked the audience, and these came across hard and strong. SU are blessed with a taut and muscular rhythm section that kept the show barrelling along with ruthless efficiency. The pedal-to-the-metal freakout frenzies sounded promising, but were instantly transformed into impenetrable grey fuzz by the PA. This didn't pose much of a problem- at least, not one that their memorable frontman couldn't handle.
Pete's one of those skinny little guys apparently thrown together out of left-over tendons and elbows. He doesn't so much arrive as inexplicably materialise in front of you. However if ever I've seen a born frontman, it's him. The boy's possessed. Lurching around the stage, dancing to a tune probably only shared with the demons in his head, thrashing at the air or just spasming in some kind of rock rictus, he's rivetting viewing. If he was sick, it certainly wasn't slowing him down let alone silencing him. I'm convinced that he's got some sort of auxiliary lungs and larynx stuffed down his pants because I'm buggered if I can work out how so much volume can emerge from such a skinny frame. Veering from self-deprecating comedy to raptured extremes, he put on one hell of a show.
By the time "Hundred Years" and "Magic Helmet" closed the set, SU had clearly lost any trace of nerves and were going for the throat. "Hundred Years" featured sterling backing vocals from the irrespressible Phil Gunns (possibly the world's most enthusiastic spectator), and built up an unstoppable momentum that barrelled straight into "Magic Helmet". The crowd may have been small but the cheers were genuine and deserved.
Thanks for a good night, folks. You turned shit into silver, and that's worth feeling good about.