Bar one more show in London, their gig at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds represents the short farewell for the group, following four years out of the limelight where they struggled with no management and accumulated debt; frontman Ric Phethean apparently worked as both a flower arranger and a grave digger to make ends meet. They haven’t had it easy, that’s for certain.
The decision to split amplifies the dichotomous quality of their music tonight, in parts lifted by both poignance and celebration. Tall Ships have always pulled from the post-rock imbalance of noise dynamics, but have typically pared it back from expansive, straggly moodboards to something approaching the poetry of folk prose.
Here, give or take a handful of intelligent, angular post-punk workouts, characteristic instrumental passages are sidestepped for more narrative-driven compositions; propulsive tracks like Petrichor and Will to Life, tinted with hope and resignation on record, are pop-tinged busts of catharsis that feel utterly at home cloaked in their story of sufferance and triumph.
Their more hushed, delicate qualities are markedly absent for the most part; of their billowing, ethereal prog side, only the metronomic eighties-grandeur of Home is present. Instead, this au revoir offers more of the out-and-out indie-math rock of their earlier days, needling and jagged; the clarion call of Chemistry, the clattering, braying Gallop. Snow starts out with similar skittery, hypnotic qualities before erupting into reverential, gothic riffage.
Throughout it all, Phethean and bassist Matt Parker stand like totems in the towering sea of sound, goofy between tracks and stoically reverential within. T
hey clearly project an undercurrent of sorrow, in the Pulp-goes-emo gung-ho of Plate Tectonics, but the result feels tinged with relief and resolution. As the muscular, off-kilter grunt of T=0 triggers an outbreak of laddish whooping, it’s clear Tall Ships will be missed; free of their contradictory melancholia though, they certainly appear to be no longer gasping for breath under the pressure.