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Oh yes, the World Cup is over. OK. Thursday night, Radio 4 headlined The Bowery Ballrooom in Manhattan. Towards the end of their set, they were joined on stage for an even more percussive than usual ‘Dance To The Underground’ by the entire cast of Small Sins, the Canadian support act whose own eponymous debut album has just been released by Astralwerks.

Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance to the Underground: Small Sins bust in on Radio 4 at Bowery Ballroom.

The Small Sins album is good, in a mellow, low-key, subtle, melodic, plaintive and relatively lo-fi electronica pop vein. (Comparisons have rightly been made with The Postal Service.) But, recorded as it was at home almost single-handedly by Toronto native Thomas D’Arcy, the album sounds nothing like the live band that’s been on the road these last few weeks. General consensus is that Thom should recall the album that exists (while keeping the superb artwork, full of retro keyboards) and re-record the songs as they sound on stage: energetic, rocking mini-anthems that balance aforesaid melody with considerable humour and panache.

Dressed all in white, like a cross between lab scientists and a quintet of teenage Keith Moons, the Small Sins’ stage plot takes the focus away from Thomas D’Arcy, who stands off to the right, and instead places it all on Kevin Hilliard, whose main center-stage role initially appears to be that of handclapper. Nothing wrong with that: as we know from Bez, the role of vibe merchant is no less important than that of lead singer. But Hilliard doubles up as a second keyboard player, and steals the show with a particularly fierce-some and entertaining acid synth solo during ‘It’s Easy’ which, like the single ‘Stay,’ is almost unrecognizable live from its recorded version. It will be interesting to see which group consumers prefer more: the mellow album act or the full-on stage band. My preference is evident.

Clap Your Hands Say Small Sins: Four-Fifths of the Toronto group in full rhythmic mode, Hilliard centre-stage.

Opening the Bowery Ballroom show was New York’s own Professor Murder, a quartet that also rebukes the conventional band line-up, in their case by completely abandoning the 6-string guitar, focusing instead on drums, bass, percussion, keyboards and… more percussion. And vocals. Fortunately, Michael Bell-Smith’s voice does not lend itself to straightforward songs, but rather to chants placed over deliberately loose rhythmic grooves. This follows in an honorable New York tradition that dates back to Liquid Liquid, and includes, over recent years, The Liars, !!! and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! Whether this makes Professor Murder the coolest band on the block or merely the latest in a long line of imitators is uncertain – at least until I get my hands on their debut EP Professor Murder Rides The Subway. In the meantime, their live show is an absolute treat. And you can get an idea of their instant appeal by listening to the excellent MP3 of the unreleased song ‘Champion’ right here.

Michael Bell-Smith leads the guitar-less Professor Murder through another tribal work-out.

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September 2022