GLASSJAW. Forum, London. 02.02.16.
There are some bands that you buy a ticket for every single time they come to town. Glassjaw are one of mine. It hasn’t always ended well, the Long Island outfit have looked worn out before now and the last time they were over for Reading Festival there was just a hint of a band bored of their material and bored of their audience. But hell, it hasn’t always ended with a show- Daryl Palumbo’s health appears to have improved but my collection of unused tickets to cancelled Glassjaw shows of the past confirms he wasn’t always doing so well -so I guess I should count myself lucky when they can make the trip at all. Except then they come and play a show like this.
The beginning is beautiful. The staccato riff of ‘Tip Your Bartender’ pierces the gloom and I’m doused in adrenaline, woken up from the inside out like only music can wake you, excited like a cliché on Christmas morning. But then it all comes undone.
Just as the meat of the song is supposed to kick in, Glassjaw slip out of gear, Beck’s guitar is loud but just a sketch of what’s on record and the wide open space of the Forum is utterly unforgiving. The room is booming and fuzzy and the details, if there are any, are lost.
Over the years and the shows I have become more and more convinced that, consciously or not, Glassjaw’s legendary 7/7/7 Brixton gig was a catharsis of sorts for the band, one last party in an old skin before it was shed forever. That night they were electric and explosive and emphatic and Daryl punched the floor like he was possessed, like he felt that old anger again, the prickly, raw, immature white hotness of ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence’, just for a moment. Since then Daryl and Beck, for they are Glassjaw, have taken explicitly conscious steps away from heavy music and what they used to be. Now more interested in textures and moods than riffs and hooks they play a new song called ‘Shira’ that feels half finished and they stretch and pull at the ‘The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports’, already one of the band’s loosest songs, until it tumbles apart.
For all the effort they put in to trying new things with their music though, Glassjaw put in a minimal shift on stage. It’s brilliant to see Beck is smiling under his hat for the whole show, singing along to almost every single song, but the boys barely move. The stage seems huge all of a sudden, the band small, and at one point Daryl completely disappears and it’s like a goddamn jam session. Maybe this is how you stay engaged with a song after playing it 10,000 times, I have no idea about that, but it sure as hell is hard to stick with from a seat in the audience.
Somewhere in the murk is the band I adore. The untidy wall of noise actually suits the bratty power of ‘Mu Empire’, and when Daryl belts out the chorus of ‘Pink Roses’, peppering new vocal inflections everywhere, his voice is perfect. The new rhythm section is tight too, maybe the tightest the band has ever had, but they look disinterested, almost like they are the latest hands hired into a group going through the motions, all night.
Glassjaw are out for themselves, this much is clear. They are performing how they please and doing exactly what they want with the songs that they wrote. Which is fine, except maybe that means they’re not for me anymore.
I’ll see you guys next tour.