– Image by Jacqui Dunne
The Bulbs? Is the name derived from the consistent no. 2 haircuts and subsequent head shape of the three visible members of the band? No – it turns out, we’re here to be, quite literally, enlightened. And we are – though not necessarily in the manner intended.
The third Liverpool outing for the band, some of whom formerly comprised the larger Neil Campbell Collective led by the eponymous guitarist and co-writer was, in fact, quite a triumph. A freezing December evening, dubbed ‘Mad Friday’ because of the plethora of office parties held that night, a steep £6 entrance fee, and a heart-attack-inducing three flights of equally steep stairs (albeit to a very beautiful gallery) did nothing to deter a respectable crowd of clearly committed fans from venturing out to see this very interesting quartet.
Other than Neil, the members tonight are long-serving bass player Andy Maslivec, Joey Zeb on drums, and Marty Snape configuring the samples and synths. All but Marty are seated.
A consistently driving rhythm underpins the music from the outset with Joey and Andy dovetailing perfectly. Quickly the time signatures change to the more unusual like 15/8, but the tinny, boxy snare somehow sits perfectly on top of the deep and sinuous bass.
In fact the multiple and ever-changing tempo becomes hypnotic and engaging; three songs in, and much of the audience appears quite entranced.
This must be difficult as some of the set is played along to a live-input soundtrack, and the accompanying visuals which elucidate the band name, showing details of various events about which conspiracy theories have arisen over the last 40 years. While undoubtedly relevant to many experiencing the performance, the images sometimes seemed a little extraneous and unnecessary – honestly, the music is powerful enough – but, somehow, all of these highly accomplished musicians produced an event which was compelling, driven, and surprisingly enjoyable. This cross-platform performance has a well-established history, and I was put in mind, in places, of projects so far apart as Byrne’s and Eno’s ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’ and, echoing Neil’s t-shirt, some of the more experimental parts of King Crimson.
Marty, hidden behind the PA, is a welcome addition to the mixture, with quite subtle sound effects creating a rich atmosphere within the already somewhat apocalyptic and doom-laden set, yet adding notes of lightness and humour, using film-like climaxes at the ends of the pieces.
This was much more of an ensemble work that any of the previous incarnations originated by multi-talented, versatile guitarist and writer Neil Campbell, but also his most successful.
Inevitably with any gig dubbed ‘prog-rock’ or falling within the genre, much of the audience is male. But this doesnt detract from the enjoyment in any way – it’s just that the women don’t seem to nod and shake their heads so much. There again, I did need to write this review.