Saturday: The Horrors Update the '80s at Bimbo's

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Chris Trewin
The Horrors at Bimbo's 365 Club

The Horrors
September 12, 2011
Bimbo's 365 Club

Better than: The Horrors in 2005.

The problem with watching bands on a Saturday night at Bimbo's 365 Club in North Beach is that a certain portion of the crowd is there by accident. Like drunk, middle-aged couples on a monthly date night who stumble in from Columbus Avenue having not been able to get in to the rock club down the street: "Let's go to a rock show, the last time we saw a rock band was The Cure in '86!" They normally sit in the back, where the house lights never go down, drink martinis, and complain that pop music used to be more melodic.

Fortunately for them, The Horrors are now in their crowd-pleasing '80s-influenced New Wave phase. Their much anticipated (by the English press, at least) career took stumbling start with the all-style-and-no-substance garage punk-debut album, Strange House, but was followed with the outstanding Krautrock-inspired sophomore effort, Primary Colours. Now, the makeup-laden Camden Town scenester darlings are touring in support of their critically acclaimed third LP, Skying.

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Chris Trewin

Lead singer Faris Badwan channels the baritone of Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs as he looms over the crowd with an undersized leather jacket and oversized hair; imagine Julian Casablancas as Roald Dahl's BFG. The band's punk origins are apparent in Faris's violent handling of the mic stand and his gloomy glare, but absent from the setlist, as the band stuck to songs off its more mature recent albums.

Guitarist Joshua Hayward swung his long mane around joyously as he stomped on his home-made guitar pedals with bare feet, creating glorious swathes of Kevin Shields-style shimmering chords. Rhys Webb dances around as though waltzing with his bass guitar, which suited the old dancehall atmosphere of the venue. His bass lines are intentionally simple and repetitive, giving a swelling heartbeat underneath the ferocity above.

The band finished the set with the big recent single, "Still Life," with its big synthesizers, singalong chorus, and a horn-laden outro. It sounds like it could have played over the closing credits of a John Hughes movie, and the aforementioned middle aged couple at the back were finally able to stand up and pump their fists.

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Chris Trewin

The band knows its heroes well, and could be criticized for wearing those influences a little too heavily. The highlight of the night came as the members returned for an encore with an extended version of the epic "Moving Further Away," from the new album. The song is as indulgent as any prog-rock, but as intense as any punk. It grows and grows until the middle-aged couple has retreated back out onto the safety of Columbus Avenue. It finally breaks out into a soaring coda that is not derivative at all, and is truly the band's own triumphant sound. After plenty of recent critical acclaim (Skying will surely make many of the blogosphere's end-of-year top 10 lists), The Horrors are at a pivotal stage when they may either blow up into the big time, or carry on perfecting the sounds of decades gone with their own swagger.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: As an Englishman in America. I appreciated Faris' exaggerated, Hugh Grant-style mumblings between songs -- like, "It's smashing to be in such a lovely city." We don't all really talk like that.

Highlight: "Moving Further Away," an epic post-rock face-melting finale.

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Bimbo's 365 Club

1025 Columbus, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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