It has long been a frustration that Oxford, a city with such a rich recent heritage of music, should be so poorly served by live music nowadays. Fourth rate tribute bands, pointless 70s and 80s reunion tours and over-hyped next-big-things clog up what remains of the city’s venues ad nauseam. Every time we check the tour dates of bands and artists we’d love to see Oxford is rarely, if ever, on the map anymore.
Amongst this plethora of dross shines a beacon with the Bullingdon, a perfect venue that shames the corporate blandness of the O2 Academy just a few doors further up (Antarctic Monkeys, Boot Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam U.K. anyone?). And so it was there we headed last eve along with Chris T Popper and The Italian Job to see TRAAMS – a proper band. In Oxford. A cause for celebration. A shame the good citizens of the city couldn’t rouse themselves in larger numbers to come out and watch.
We arrived in time to see Vulgarians, the final of three support acts. New to us, but every bit as abrasive and as dark as one might have hoped. With echoes of the Birthday Party and The Fall and plenty of noisy, crunchy guitar they set the scene nicely for the main attraction. We liked the name too, particularly as Vulgaria is the land of one of our favourite villains, the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Enough of the frivolity though. TRAAMS don’t do frivolity – not for them the light-hearted banter between songs – one shouted request for Wonderwall elicits the briefest of grins in response, but that and a couple of terse thank yous are about as far as it goes. What TRAAMS do is play hard and fast – propulsive, enthralling, electrifying songs blending punk rock and experimental avant-garde, Television and Can into a brilliantly relentless barrage of motorik jams and hypnotic, thumping percussion.
There was no quarter asked and none given, the pace unrelenting, the rhythms undeniable. Costner and Neckbrace were short, sharp, staccato shocks to the system, Low a mid-weight throb and drone, new song Penguin was a juddering highlight. Crowd favourite Succulent Thunder Anthem’s venomous urgency ratcheted the intensity up another notch before another new song, the epic A House On Fire churned and roiled on a ferocious pulsating beat and Flowers provided some brief, fuzzy relief. Finally it was Klaus, a modern-day krautrock classic that provided the perfect, climactic finale ending in a punishing squall of feedback as the band took their leave of the stage.
Then it was over like a thunderstorm that rages then passes. The Italian Job was all agog on her perfectly positioned stool and we traded superlatives as the too thin crowd began to melt away. Gigs like this don’t come along that often, especially in Oxford – walking back up the road the Academy proclaimed the delights of Alien Ant Farm. Maybe we get what we deserve.