I missed Mclusky on their last Toronto visit because I really hadn’t seen the fuss at that point. The music seemed a bit, well, pointless, but suffice to say I didn’t really get it. Recent reevaluation suggested that I was way off base, and their show this past Thursday confirmed I had missed the point entirely.
Not an avid show-goer, I arrived at the Horseshoe in time to miss nearly all of openers Oceansize’s set. The final song by this shuddering Manchester noise machine was all pedals and shaking bones. I mean, the sheer size of their sound, oh dear, the term ‘loud’ hardly approaches this group’s description. They have been heavily touted by the British press of late, and this praise is largely merited. Mogwai and Radiohead psychedelia course through their triple Marshalls and you simply have to stand back and fear Oceansize. Honestly- like, you wouldn’t be able to hear your screams of pain otherwise.
The dust literally had no time to settle before Mclusky arrived on stage. Convinced more people were into the group, I was surprised at the show’s modest turnout. This judgment, it would seem, was flawed as the venue soon filled with fans who knew all the hits and the good shouty bits.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the group live, but after one song it was clear that guitarist/singer Andy Falkous is the most acerbic, biting frontman I have witnessed in some time. Bassist John Chapple’s blood stained pickguard indicates that a more likely use for this instrument in the past has been his defense from Falkous’ wit. From a glacial interview in one Toronto weekly earlier in the day to an avid sentencing of two of the bar’s misplaced patrons as ‘steelworkers’ after requests for more ‘metal,’ this man could reduce a Gallagher brother to a tearful, self-soiled mess; and I’d pay to see it, mostly because he’d scare me into it. His guitar squelched and squealed, churning out Mclusky’s ominous overdrive and piloting the band through material from 2002’s ‘Mclusky Do Dallas’ and their recent release, ‘The Difference Between Me and You is That I’m Not on Fire.’
Hearing these songs live just seriously makes you want to push people around; a luxury you are readily afforded at a Mclusky show. If you were a fan, they played every song you wanted to hear; urgently, as though their lives depended on it. And this is why you love Mclusky. Virtuosos by no means, their appeal is a palpable urgency driven lyrically by fear and sarcastic skepticism. These are The Fall but tighter and, well, better. And when you see Mclusky live you are convinced somehow. Your neck is sore; there’s blood on your shirt; your legs and throat are dead from the jumps and the shouts.
My only complaint was that the show dragged on toward the end. Mclusky have a specific and largely unvaried sound, and a 40 minute record is the perfect dosage. Unfortunately, much more than that and the band start to sound repetitive; after an hour or so things just dragged on a bit. I was similarly tentative at Andy Falkous’ half hearted attempt at a SY-style noise-up at the end of the set. John Chapple had long left the stage while his guitarist remained, in a post-rock lab of pedals and feedback, twisting knobs and sliding instruments about on the floor to uncertain effect.
After the show, Chapple seemed disappointed with his band’s performance, insistent upon its lackluster delivery. There were admittedly some technical problems, but the band managed a convincing set regardless. You can tell Andy Falkous believes in this music, and for all his slack-rock posturing it is clear that he wants you to as well. The Mclusky sound is not one of universal appeal, but it certainly merits closer attention paid. There’s an insight here that goes beyond sarcasm and fuzzy bass; these are kids our age, saying and doing what kids our age think and feel. And I suppose there’s value in that. I also get the sense that Mclusky kind of just want you to get drunk and rip things apart. And you have to think there’s value in that as well.