Owls at The Maze, Nottingham

OWLSIn a world that increasingly favors style over substance, Owls is unwilling to compromise the latter for the former. Unfortunately, it’s one of few things they can agree on, with over two decades since the band’s original formation (under the name Cap’n Jazz), and thirteen years since the release of the band’s debut album. Since then, the four have been biding their time with a manner of other projects (American Football being among these), and getting back into the swing of writing music took a lot longer than the five days their debut was busted out in. Eventually though, Two came about, along with a string of live shows.

What’s striking from the off (after a few technical issues) is the likeness between the set, and the music of American Football. Whilst the performance holds a certain control and sophistication, there’s also a sort of loose-ends sound, as though it’s fraying around the edges. Whether you class this as abstract or messy is personal preference, but it’s undeniable that the songs hold a strong resemblance, including the switches between clear and muffled vocals. This style also clutches onto the youth of the original formation, with the bountiful optimism and energy that typically ebbs off with age.

After a few more technical adjustment to the levels, Tim (Kinsella, front man and previous member of Joan of Arc) announces, “I’ll just listen to my head. My skull resonates”, to a few laughs edging him on. Keeping the attention, he muses, “it makes you appreciate your skull. Voice resonates in this concrete box, it sounds good”. With no clear warning the band burst into the next track of the set, and despite the slacker moments of the performance, moments such as this ooze with experience and remind you that two decades in bands make a four-piece very tight.

The energy on stage seeped into the crowd, with the front half of them joining in to the loud and unbound power that Tim forefronted. Unfortunately, the party became stunted with another “abstract” aspect; almost every track featured a long introduction, explanation or adjustment, and even picking up a guitar seemed a laborious task. This fragmented sense revisited the youthful novice style that brought the zest to the set, but also left a rather fragmented sense to the evening.

When Tim eventually decided the vocals were up to scratch you felt obliged to forgive him for the hassle, with the higher quality made up for the wait; huge and featuring a deadpan edge, they shattered the air and bounced off the walls. The occasional strained or flat moment added an honest and gritty note to the track, and if any moments were slightly off, they went unbeknownst to the ever-enthusiastic crowd. Moments of the deeper and more passionate vocals became lost in the weight of the instrumental, and in turn the more drone-esque end of the vocal work frequently served as a contribution to the backing.

“This song is about… um…”, Tim declares before bounding into another track and wrapping the mic cable around his face for reasons beyond my understanding. Chugging along with inconsistent but unavoidable energy, the band would either cut off applause to open another song or aimlessly fiddle before a tight intro, either combine for a close track or appear isolated to one another on stage. A few touches of feedback and overly high notes cut the set, but the energy fed into each line and every riff resulted in a fire-powered and memorable set.

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