Given the infrequency with which these guys tour, I had no idea what exactly to expect from them as a live act. I got into Primary Colours when it came out in 2009, because of the song "Three Decades", which starts out seeming like disjointed a-harmonious chaos, and becomes, at the exact moment you feel you're going to lose your mind, melodious and really quite beautiful. It's like being handed a glass of cold water when you didn't even know you needed it.
To me, they are what Joy Division would have become had Ian Curtis decided not to give the ghost up. However, after I listened to more, I realized I like them for one pretty obvious reason: if all the best aspects of shoegaze and 80's new wave were to have a love child, it would be the Horrors. You could say that the former progressed naturally out of the latter, but that doesn't necessarily mean the two sound good together.
The Horrors do pull it off though, pretty brilliantly. Playing into their new-wave aesthetic, they cultivate a louder-than-life persona on stage, with Faris Badwan's freakishly tall frame in the forefront, towering over the audience, his faced obscured by a mop of disheveled hair. The rock star ethos he works pretty hard to achieve (he prefaces each song with a slur of incoherent mumblings, for example) is tempered by the spacier lo-fi, effect of all the distortion and synth they employ. This contrast alone, adds a compelling ingredient to what could otherwise be thought of as a pretty formulaic recipe.
Anyway, I'm happy to say that their songs sound as good live as they do on their albums--which I find is often a conventional indicator of any band's ability to walk the talk.
They opened with "I Can See Through You"--an angry, incredibly loud love song, that combines post-punk lead guitar lines with various iconic, 80's-esque synthy arpeggios (think "Bizarre Love Triangle"). The evening progressed from there, with most of the work off their newest album Skying including "Still Life", which I think is the track that best (and perhaps singularly) captures the above-described conceit with which they began making albums, as well as "You Said", which to me, points to where they may be venturing next: a bigger, more ethereal and instrumentally complex sound that still maintains its basic foundations as music that induces profound nostalgia. For what? Who knows. Most of us--including these guys-- weren't around then...