The Sunburned Hand of Man: Wharf Chambers, Leeds
Human sunburned hand | Vibracathedral Orchestra | Neck Neck
Quayside Chambers, Leeds
Sunday, March 20, 2022
Andy Brown heads to Wharf Chambers to catch experimental oddballs, Sunburned Hand Of The Man. He shares his thoughts on Louder Than War.
Try to describe the music made by Man’s sunburned hand may prove to be a thankless task, but I will give it a shot anyway. Imagine free-jazz played by a noise-rock band living in a basement with a penchant for Don Van Vliet’s desert blues and a heroically ruthless disregard for song structure. With a rotating cast of collaborators, the Boston, MA-based collective has been crafting uncompromising and deeply eerie music since the mid-’90s. The buzzy, psychedelic offspring of the Sun City Girls and early Butthole Surfers. It’s one of those shows where I don’t know what to expect. One thing is certain, this will not be an ordinary Sunday evening.
With a practice amp perched neatly on upturned boxes and a table full of stompboxes, Leeds-based experimenters, Vibracathedral Orchestra, are ready to roll. Guitarist Julian Bradley kneels on stage with his back to the crowd while multi-instrumentalist Adam Davenport leans intently on a synth. John Godbert settles comfortably behind his drums while Neil Campbell surrounds himself with all the instruments he can get his hands on. Raw materials and a belly full of inspiration are all they need. Guitarist Michael Flower went missing tonight. however, we are always ready to receive a good dose of psychedelic instrumental improvisation. And then it starts.
The sound slowly builds as the band locks into an ever-wobbling, rising drone. Campbell crouches under the pedal table and strikes his violin with a severely frayed bow. Godbert pushes his way through the music and creates a beat from cymbals and, at one point, a metal chair. The incessant repetition is almost frenetic, but strangely calming at the same time. Kalimba, bird sounds, whistle and sporadic percussion are agitated in the intoxicating sound whirlwind. The band’s music resembles a living, breathing organism. I come out of the 40-minute sound ritual feeling revitalized. It’s been far too long since I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the Vibracathedral in full flight.
Neck Neck are the new kids on tonight’s programming block. The trio play gritty, urgent post-punk; the kind of music Leeds have always been particularly good at producing. Bobby Glew invokes the early days of Sonic Youth as he draws a steady stream of beautifully jarring noise from his guitar. Squint hard enough and he might even look like a young Thurston Moore. With a swipe on his finger and a tablespoon to beat his strings into submission, the guitarist never settles into anything predictable.
Bassist Claire Adams and drummer Kathy Gray form one hell of a rhythm section; giving Nape Neck their provocative post-punk swagger. The band is a tight-knit unit, but it’s the kind of untamed sound that feels like it could implode at any moment. Oh and they all sing, scream and generally kick ass throughout the set. This, dear reader, is exactly what post-punk should be. Just in case you have any concerns, the underground scene is alive and well. “Is that too much guitar? Too loud?” Glew asks at one point. Turn up the volume as the crowd responds. More of this, please!
“He’s going to get cold feet,” my friend says as he watches vocalist and synth manipulator Shannon Ketch approach the stage without his shoes on. It quickly becomes clear that Man’s sunburned hand are a band that does things their own way. To hell with cold feet and splinters. A minute later, Ketch, John Moloney (drums), Mark Perretta (guitar) and Robert Thomas (bass) all start moaning, moaning and moaning into their respective mics. A few minutes later, Ketch put on a roughly sewn cloth mask that covers her entire face. With clear throats and wide open minds, the group is ready to spring into action.
We are immersed in the skewered universe of the band with an incredibly loose and desert rock jam that gradually evolves into a hypnotic and psychedelic groove. The track gradually descends into chaos; the music is constantly changing and unfolding before our eyes (and ears). “And the clouds are falling” sings Ketch as he sways to the band’s wayward swing. It’s the kind of sound that makes other rock bands feel hemmed in by the tyranny of form and structure. Sunburned Hand Of The Man is unreservedly free and seems to be having the time of its life.
This is when the legendary Herb Diamanté appears to join the band on stage. A mysterious, impeccably dressed lounge singer with a penchant for red wine and surrealism. This is all the more relevant as I was trying to describe his act to a friend earlier that evening. Eggplant and Scott Walker have been mentioned. They give us a long rendition of Wasp In A Jamjar that finds our new vocalist crooning over a half-eaten hard-boiled egg and a trapped wasp to a truly hypnotic, flowing groove. I’m sure that wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m beaming from ear to ear.
When Moloney dons a rubber alien mask, it seems to serve as a cue for the group to let it all hang out. As if they weren’t already. The sound gets wilder as the night progresses, the five musicians on stage are well and truly in their element. Brilliantly battered harmonica bursts add to the subversive stew and the band is in full swing. Diamanté told us with a smile, “You are all doomed! It is a locked room with padded walls and no key”. A gothic lounge singer by day and an ax maniac by night? I may have a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome, but I’m really having fun.
In the midst of the madness, someone hands Diamanté a hard-boiled egg. Luckily, it’s not half eaten. If birds were to hatch from such an egg, I’m sure they would be very strange indeed. Diamanté says he could go out for a quick cigarette, unfortunately for him the band and the crowd have different ideas. In a beautifully ironic twist, Diamanté has now become something of a prisoner. Trapped, you might say, like a wasp in a jam jar. The crowd asks for more. One more trip to the psychedelic wastelands of Sunburned Hand Of The Man. Best Sunday night I’ve had in ages!
You can find Sunburned Hand Of The Man on Facebook, Instagram and Bandcamp.
Find Vibracathedral Orchestra on Bandcamp HERE and HERE.
Find Nape Neck on Bandcamp HERE.
Discover Herb Diamanté on Bandcamp with A Delicate Stiletto, A Piece Of Master, May I Light Your Cigarette? and the Steam-Powered Pope EP.
All photos by Jim Mumby.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.