2018 was a landmark year for UK art rockers The Fierce And The Dead. The release of their third full length album really caught the imaginations of those at Prog magazine and their readership. Always progressive rather than prog, TFATD really branched out on that record. Some of its material (‘Truck’,’48K’) showed the band in a slightly heavier mood than before, while other bits seemed more commercial…without actually being commercial, if that makes sense. Whatever, the album and its subsequent coverage found the band in a position of strength. With an army of new fans, they could now legitimately call themselves a cult band.
The lead up to ‘The Euphoric’s release was first documented on ‘Field Recordings’, a live album recorded in 2016 at the second Rambin’ Man Fair in the UK. This second live release captures the band a year later at Rosfest 2017 during a rare visit to the US. But…with not that much time since ‘Field Music’, is there any real need for a second live release?
Quite simply, if you’re already a fan of the band…the answer is yes. In almost certainly in a deliberate move – ‘Live USA 17’ features an entirely different set of songs. What’s more, the source material is much better. Without the weather and other outside elements affecting their performance, the band seem so much tighter and the quality of the recording itself is fantastic.
A couple of minutes into set opener ‘1991’, it’s clear there are a few nerves as the band appear to be charging through the number at a frantic pace. This burst of nervous energy leads to an even heavier “chorus” section, but what really impresses here is Stuart Marshall’s prowess behind the drum kit. He’s really tackling this at full pelt. Following an announcement that TFATD “are a band you can dance to” (no mean feat at a prog festival), ‘Let’s Start A Cult’ (more of a statement of intent than a theme song) really highlights some great twin lead work between Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton and their respective positions on stage translate very well thanks to a fantastic stereo split. Cutting through various echoed loops, Kev Feazy introduces the funky as hell ‘Flint’ via a bendy sounding bass and thanks to a great recording, the many layers within Matt’s incessant loops sound nice and bright. Moving into the meat of the number, the quartet sound in great shape and the near call-and-response between the bass and clean guitar parts shows off TFATD’s sound at its most accessible. By the time Cleaton adds a third lead melody, it’s hard to believe this is live – there’s a lovely separation between the instruments and since Fierce/Dead have no real desire to release their own ‘Live & Dangerous’, this almost certainly isn’t a product of any obvious later tinkering.
Less punchy, a great rendition of ‘Spooky Action’ lends another highlight full of shimmering and almost shoegaze guitar parts and another older number ‘Andy Fox’ seems more like a cross between David Lynch’s ‘In Heaven’ and an old b-side from a 4AD band than ever before. Given that it doesn’t have any of the energy of most of the other chosen numbers in this set, it’s hard to gauge how the audience would’ve taken it on the day in question, but as part of an archive recording, it really lends a sense of balance. With its first half stripped of the heaviness and quirks, it’s a welcome opportunity to consider Matt’s guitar playing which, here, comes much closer to some of his solo recordings. By the time the noise and distortion takes over, this provides a pleasingly aggressive alternative to its studio variant. Likewise, set highlight ‘I Like It, I’m Into It’ demonstrates how TFATD can blend hard rock, post rock, funk and weird proggy tinkles and how when heard live and unfettered, the complex layers have a genuine impact. For those looking to experience a similar intensity to various Fugazi recordings and a clever twisting of other alternative sounds in a supposed prog setting, this is a must hear.
Moving towards the end of the set, another nod to the debut ‘If It Carries On Like This We’re Moving To Morcambe’ comes via the lovely ‘The Wait’ in a performance sounds so bright and perfect for a live recording. An effective lull, it is used as a lead into absolutely crushing versions of ‘Truck’ and ‘Parts 7 & 8’. By the time of this live album’s release, both tracks have become fan favourites, but it’s worth remembering that at the time of this actual recording, these would have been brand new to the audience, so it’s a real thrill to experience a crowd responding positively – especially one that might usually baulk at such an obvious stoner rock influence. [It’s been said before, but bears repeating: lots of prog fans are not very progressive or open minded. The fact that so many of them have really taken to this band seems like a miracle.]
Live albums: you either love ’em or hate ’em. What should be obvious to most, though, is that this is one of the great ones. Where as ‘Field Music’ acted as a welcome stop-gap and an official bootleg of a band on the ascent, ‘Live USA 17’ is the definitive Fierce And The Dead live document. For those unable to catch the band first hand and with all the volume, heaviness, complexity and unrehearsed banter that goes with their greatest shows, this is the next best thing.
Read Real Gone’s interview with Matt & Kev here.