Live Review: Dutch Uncles

Steve Buttercase 23 May 2013

The Portland Arms – Wednesday 22nd May

There is a school of thought that if you play Mozart to a child in the womb it will improve its general level of intelligence. If that is true, then I’m pretty sure Dutch Uncles were played Shostakovich, Stockhausen and Frank Zappa every day for the whole nine months.

They use the word “atypical” to describe their astonishing cover of Grace Jones’ “Slave To The Rhythm” which had to wait for the encore at The Portland Arms and the word is an apt description of their whole persona.

Lead Singer Duncan Wallis is equal parts Alex Kapranos and Brian Ferry to look at, with Jools Holland’s stage manner but David Byrne’s dance moves. His twitching and jitter-bugging really brought the performance to life when he left his beloved keyboard to indulge.

The band themselves have that down-played fashion sense that characterised early Talking Heads photo shoots. Wallis looks a bit like an estate agent, right down to the sensible shoes and shiny black trousers, and the two guitarists seemed to model themselves on Simon from ‘The Inbetweeners’… so they give the impression that they are a band that lets the music do the selling –and boy does it do that.

Dutch Uncles would probably be filed alongside Clock Opera and Hot Chip but they offer far more than either of those bands. They owe much of their creative force to the influence of bands like XTC, Television and Talking Heads and perhaps later 80’s bands like Japan and the quirky Stump (who had viral success with their initial indie release “Quirk Out” but the follow up – “A Fierce Pancake” – fell flat somewhat ironically).

The mathematical perfection of Dutch Uncles’ rhythmic creativity is actually cerebrally stimulating on one level – you feel refreshed after listening – and their funk grooves go from the downright infectious via the inventive to the impenetrable – but I love that. Great art should require more of those who experience it and you need to dig deep to get every nuance of this band. Of course when you get there it is satisfying and rewarding. “Easy come easy go” is not a bad cliche to describe the enjoyment and comprehension of performance art.

The new album “Out Of Touch In The Wild” is a little gem and played live all the tracks take on a wonderfully organic realism, sometimes lost in the record’s sharp clean production. I particularly loved “Threads” and “Brio” because having wrestled with them for a week or so the angular rhythms and time signatures were more familiar to me. The single “Fester” weaves its way around some jaw-dropping timing without sacrificing the obligatory “hook” – all in two and a half minutes. I could go on.

Dutch Uncles are a truly atypical and astonishing band, as tight as the fabled aquatic fowl’s fundament and with originality and creativity to spare. They are on the bill at Glastonbury. See them if you can.

Steve Buttercase