Fantastique Nights, Botanique Witloof Bar, 27 October 2008
To cut a long story short, For Against released Sunny Side Shade Side at the beginning of 2008. It proved to be an absolute cracker, got some rave reviews, and they embarked on a 2-week tour of Europe in the Fall, covering France, Italy, Germany and the Benelux. Saturday night fortunately coincided with a cancellation at the Fantastique, and we got the opening slot.
Fantastique Nights is a quarterly event that’s been happening for about 6 years now. Run on a voluntary/non profit making basis, the objective is to give “underground” bands an opportunity to play to a decent crowd, and give the crowd the opportunity to see bands who can’t normally to get to Belgium. They will usually get 3 bands on, and the opening slot tends to go to a local band. That night, it was Perverted by Language.
One thing that is clear is that everyone without exception at Le Fantastique is a complete music nut. Usually with quite a Goth/Post-Punk or Electro flavour. The organisation was excellent. Proper food, and real professional sound engineer.
I was on stage for the first part, so no comment there. The crowd was excellent, the bar was very quiet, and we disposed of the best part of 50 CDs, and got some extremely positive feedback afterwards.
I’m afraid I spent most of Red Zebra recovering in the bar, and so missed most of their set, but from what I did catch, they did a mixture of original material and a few choice punk/post-punk covers. Very nice guys, and a really pro outfit. I must get to see them again sometime.
I was very much looking forward to For Against – I’d been listening to Coalesced for a couple of years, and had recently got hold of the CD re-issues of December and Echelons, and the new album. I love the very simple imagery in the lyrics – Jeff Runnings has a very economical way of putting things, and you get a real feeling that what he’s telling you in just a few words goes way deeper. They’ve been through a number of lineup changes over the years. Original guitarist Harry Dingman rejoined the band in 2007 when Steve Hinrichs moved away from Lincoln, Nebraska, and that’s brought the sound back to a slightly harder edge.
Sunny Side Shade Side is a really excellent album, and takes off exactly where 1987’s December left off. Both are compulsory listening, and Coalesced is also excellent, with a slightly more “acoustic” flavour. We got treated to about an hour and a half of material going through the whole catalogue. Opening with Sabres, right from the first bar, I realised we were going to be in for a real treat. Jeff doesn’t have the world’s strongest voice, but suits the music down to a tee. His bass playing is accomplished without distracting from the songs. Harry is an exceptionally creative guitarist. Using a well stocked pedal board, but rarely distortion, his riffs seem simply to swirl through the set with an elegance that is both intimate and eclectic. Somewhere between the twangs of the Chameleons, or the virtuoso effects laden thunder from Kitchen of Distinction.
Coalesced was a particular highlight – quite different to the album version. Harry brings a harder edge to it (he later explained he swaps to a 12-string at ‘home’), and the long outro has been somewhat curtailed.
I know they’re huge fans of the early Factory Records, and an excellent cover of Section 25’s Friendly Fires features on the new album. If I understand correctly, it was a decision that also prompted a change of drummer. The new kid, Nick Buller, is well up to the job. His timing is immaculate – a particularly important aspect to the For Against way of doing things, as they often use subtle timing changes to speed up sections of the song and build tension. Brilliant drumming, but never getting in the way of the song. And the song is always at the centre of everything they do, with a particular talent for adding the odd touch of genius when it comes round to a bridge, taking the song to a new level (Stranded in Greenland is a particularly good example)
Towards the end of the set, Jeff stepped back from the mike and Michael Sordina (from The Names – Factory Benelux’s flagship band) took to the stage, much to the great delight of the crowd and the band, for a cover of Speak my Language. The encore was wrapped up with Shine, from the 1st album – Echelons, and the ubiquitous Autocrat.
So in a tried-and-tested clichéd sort of way, I can really only finish this in one way – using Jeff’s own words – so elegant in their simplicity:
Yeah that’s right, that’s the way it is.