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Toy – Bumann & SOHN, Cologne.

Toy – Bumann & Sohn, Cologne.
Review by Gavin Fearnley.

“What the f*** are you doing?” asks Maxim Barron during ‘You Make Me Forget Myself’. It’s a healthy thing to ask oneself at the best of times. But Toy’s bassist isn’t trying to open a philosophical discussion. Jabbing at the microphone and snarling at the poor soundman at the back of the room, it’s fair to assume he’s having difficulty hearing. Pity. Because to a blissfully unaware audience, it’s all sounding peachy. But it sets the tone for the rest of the gig. Toy are pissed off, and we all know it now.

You could very well throw the question back at Toy, though. ‘What the f*** are they doing?’ A band hard to pin down in terms of genre – and almost ‘un-googleable’ due to the myriad of search results which pop up when typing in the band’s name. With hairstyles which look like a cross between the mullets of Slade and the eternal cool of Brian Jones, they would look like they’re here to perform a set of hits from the 60s and 70s if it wasn’t for the all in black almost Goth garb (that’s except for drummer Charlie Salvidge, who is sporting a white T-Shirt promoting an old Dutch radio station). But tonight, it sounds like they’re straddling a number of music styles at once. Promoting their new and fourth studio album, Happy in the Hollow, Toy have definitely started to expand on the psychedelic guitar reverb heavy pop they have previously shared with the likes of The Horrors, Slowdive and the Kitchens of Distinction.

In a recent German radio interview, the band talked of being inspired by Hitchcock movies with a desire to one day score some incidental music for a film themselves. You can hear it. There is a thematic feel to their live sound in concert opener ‘Jolt Awake’, ‘Last Warmth of the Day’ and ‘The Willo’. Three songs with more than a nod to the greatly-missed Broadcast, the criminally-forgotten Electric Sound of Joy and the thankfully soon-to-return Stereolab. The (original) Krautrock sound of Neu!, Can and Kraftwerk which has always been around in Toy’s music also shines through, shown with aplomb in the tuneful digital stomp of single ‘Mechanism’. ‘Motoring’ and ‘Dead & Gone’ from their debut eponymous album also make appearances, but tonight is very much focused on newer material. This is a great shame, because Toy have a strong, long back catalogue and could still use it to great effect in front of audiences still new to their music.

Notably missing this evening, is the eight-minute long 2011 epic ‘Left Myself Behind’, which sounds like five live chainsaws falling down a staircase of diamonds, being hit by a speeding steam train. This is not only a shame because Toy’s first single is one of their best songs, it’s because it’s one of the best songs to come out of the UK in the last ten years. It’s a reminder, though, of how long the Brighton five-piece have now been together – more or less with the same line-up from those early days (keyboardist Alejandra Diez departed after the second album) and the crossroads they have come to in their career. The band left their label Heavenly Records last year and shortly after they joined Tough Love Records, Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti remixed ‘Strangulation Day’, also a mark of their growing reputation. The Stereophonics they aren’t.

Tonight, Toy look confident. They’ve grown together and you can see it, playing as a tight unit, beguiling their still youthful years. But Toy look angry, and with piercing feedback and microphones not working you can understand why. Now, it’s frontman Tom Dougall’s turn to frown and shake his head at the beleaguered soundman. The band are obviously struggling with what they can and can’t hear on stage. As a result, set closer ‘Energy’ doesn’t seem to be emanating from the numerous guitar effect pedals but from their collective frustration and exasperation. The rest of the band is putting a brave face on it, but it starts to boil over. Barron plays his bass for the last few seconds without it strapped on and merely drops it like a dead weight onto the stage before walking off sternly faced. No ‘goodnight’, no ‘thanks for coming’, no ‘get home safely’. Hilariously, however, instead of walking through the stage door he storms directly into the ladies’ toilets, inconveniently placed directly next to the stage. He comes out five seconds later in what is the Spinal Tap-esque ending of a bit of a chaotic gig. To his credit he exits the female lavatories smiling, with a quizzical look on his face. It’s the first time anyone from the band has grinned all night and provides a bit of light relief from what was an intense and irritating concert from their point of view.

“What the f*** are you doing?”, he may very well have asked himself stood looking at the row of toilet cubicles.

Well, indeed.

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