Gig review: Vessels at Canal Mills, Leeds

It's hardly unheard of for rock bands to introduce electronic elements to their music. Even so, the circuit board-surfing transformation undertaken by Vessels in recent years is unusually bold.

Vessels. Picture: Imogen Love
Vessels. Picture: Imogen Love

The Leeds five-piece started out as a predominantly instrumental Post-Rock band with epic intentions in the vein of Explosions In The Sky and Mogwai. By 2015’s Dilate, the band – with the original line-up intact – had evolved into a purely electronic act, albeit one anchored by live drums, and with occasional sprinklings of guitar weaved into a bank of noise-generating apparatus.

Last year’s strong LP The Great Distraction continued the band’s evolution by catering to the needs of the home listener with moments of pop-savvy songwriting and languid dreaminess amidst the beat-led workouts. pumped up by extensive touring, the band offer no such respite at tonight’s enthusiastically received hometown show, which constitutes the opening party of the Leeds International Festival: if the album is aimed at the head, the target audience for tonight’s performance is unquestionably feet.

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The (in the best possible sense of the word) pummelling set includes no nods towards Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, John Grant or other guest vocalists from the most recent album. although the crowd cheer enthusiastically whenever a familiar hook evolves from the band’s richly layered attack, there’s nothing you would necessarily describe as a “song” on offer tonight.

But that’s not the point. Vessels build up and sustain a muscular groove, with tracks blending seamlessly into one another, lest any let-ups in the momentum should lead to a depletion of hypnotic prowess.

In lesser hands, such relentlessly energetic bombardment could lead to monotony. Peppered with judiciously administered peaks and throughs and rich with captivating detail, Vessels risk no such disappointments: tonight’s set resembles the gradual build-ups of a painstakingly constructed DJ set, albeit one hugely enriched by the surprises and dynamics allowed by a live band set-up.

The captivating, muscular results subvert the well-established preconceptions of what a ‘rock band’ should sound like, as well as shredding the idea of an electronic music auteur as a solitary figure staring intently at a laptop. On this dynamite form, Vessels could be said to have morphed into the latest deluxe model of the Man-Machine Kraftwerk dreamed up way back in the 70s, when the techniques and technology that feed the band’s current incarnation were in their infancy.