I’m not entirely sure what path of random links let me to Twelve Foot Ninja almost 15 months ago, but suffice to say it was more than good fortune.
At first, I was unsure. I’d come into part way through a song and figured the semi-discordant djent jinn-jinn riffing was that of some generic new-age band. My mind can sometimes make a call or opinion too quickly when it comes to music and I subsequently end up ruing my foolish oversight (as I still do about Chimaira). When those riffs suddenly swooned into jarry-pseudo-jazz-surf-acapella with evident tings of Mr. Bungle though, I was hooked. I was also incredibly curious about these Australian legends… So I ordered their back catalogue and a patient few weeks later, I had my new staple of car music.
Though digression is my middle name, it should be noted that this new found car soundtrack was poignant in my life as it was all that my (then pregnant) partner and I listened to for a good number of weeks. I like to think much of the head-bobbing my little boy does now is in some part a result of all the great and funky times we had (driving) in that car (now now).
Fast-forward a year and I get word that Twelve Foot Ninja are taking a break from the sun and headed my way on a European tour; to say I was eager would be an understatement, especially when I saw they their London stopover would be at the Underworld.
I made it to the venue early, just like the old days, in time to catch openers In Search of Sun (6). Now… at the time, I thought they were pants. They’re tight and groovy, no doubt, and sans ‘Jingles a-la Bungle’ they’re really not vastly disparate from the TFN blueprint but I really didn’t feel the vibe. Hindsight and a concentrated listen post-gig has confirmed that they’re not a bad band… But such is the fine line between the right time and place that these things happen; had I been watching them on another day in another venue, I might have had a polarised perception.
Main support (for the tour) comes from France’s Uneven Structure (7.5), who are a vastly more polished band. They too are from the ‘Low-tuned School of Twang’ (that surely must be over-subscribed by now) and in truth offer absolutely nothing you haven’t heard or seen before but what they do, they do well and the riffing pulse is a welcome addition to the clammy underarm of the Underworld on this Bank Holiday Monday.
As is customary with such events, I often aim to make some effort in catching band members for a quick chat, mostly because I’m really curious rather than I am desperate for an autograph and fortunately a well timed cigarette break allows me 5 minutes with Twelve Foot Ninja, save for Stevic who was obviously keeping himself busy elsewhere (I know, it almost writes itself).
There is a clear atmosphere of anticipation here tonight and it’s bloody rammed; two elements that go hand in hand towards contributing a significant amount to how the night will pan out, especially in a venue like this.
An excellent 1960/70s mix-tape tempts the crowd forward (well, into the 4ft of space left, at least) and the vibe is generally upbeat with a sea of smiles; a far cry from the moody, sombre darkness of the Mayhem gig I was at but a few weeks earlier.
Twelve Foot Ninja (9.5) take to the stage and lap up a very warm reception before dropping into ‘Collateral’ from their latest album ‘Outlier’ and then three belters from ‘Silent Machine’ in succession (‘Vanguard’, ‘Mother Sky’ and ‘Kingdom’). Unfortunately some rather dubious mixing leads to some otherworldly reverb meaning parts of ‘Collateral’ and pretty much the first minute or so of the anticipated ‘Mother Sky’ are but a wall of noise, so much so it sounds like you’re listening to the set from outside; you can tell what it is, but it’s not as good as it should be.
One thing that’s evident in their music is the varied style of influences and the natural comfortability the band share; this is possibly the most fundamental trait of all the great musical artists. Talent is important, but the comfortability and ability to conduct your musical output into a mesh that works is crucial and, frankly, rare. You know these guys understand each other on more than just a personal level and it shows in their performance, and most importantly, their songwriting.
Complete with the expected banter, the band rumble through anthem after anthem and every eye in the house is on the stage. My memory is clearly a little hazy as I was certain they’d played ‘Shuriken’, but a root around filling in the blanks I’d left in my notes suggests otherwise, but needless to say, getting to hear ‘Manufacture of Consent’ from the 2010 ‘Smoke Bomb’ EP was an unexpected treat. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is smiling and reveling in the moment. There is no pretense or nonsense here; the place is bursting with people who are well aware that we’re all part of an exclusive gang who are very much onto a secret gem… I’d wager the band are familiar with this atmosphere and, understandably, they smash through the entire set beaming with glee themselves.
A comical story about Harold from “the greatest TV show; Neighbours” jesting a heckler leads, in a roundabout way, to the most important question of the evening; have we been busy? The mob responds with fervor and the mighty ‘One Hand Killing’ finally shatters all shins in the house as Underworld becomes a bouncing swarm of gibberish.
In a word, we certainly have been busy. Most of us, it seems, have been spinning their two albums (and where possible the two EPs) on repeat keenly checking tour dates. Tonight, the labour of love comes full-circle and everyone in the venue are all the better for it.
Setlist (As best I remember!)
- Mother Sky
- Post Mortem
- Point of You
- Manufacture of Consent
- Coming for You
- One Hand Killing