Review: Three Trapped Tigers

Sriya Varadharajan 11 May 2016

If you tell someone that you’re going to see a band in the back room of a pub, the assumption is that they’ll be small, unknown, and generally not of the highest quality. In the case of Three Trapped Tigers’ show at The Portland Arms on 10th May, the last show of their three-week tour in support of the release of their second album, ‘Silent Earthling’, this could not have been further from the truth.

Before the main event, the support band, local slightly-harder-than-indie rock band Grieving, were a pleasant surprise – some impressive technical guitar work on their second song of the evening, ‘Little Armoured’, along with varied vocals throughout lent the set an air of self-assurance. Crucially, though, it felt like Grieving comprised four normal guys, drinking their pints and thrashing out a few chords simply because it was fun, and the audience’s head-nodding definitely signalled that they seemed to think so too.

Three Trapped Tigers were fantastic. They aren’t exactly easy listening – with influences from pop, rock, metal, experimental and electronic music shining through, this is a progressive band with a fierce sense of uniqueness, and blinding technique to match. Layered soundscapes are juxtaposed with punchy bass riffs, and an extensive pedalboard transforms guitarist Matt Calvert’s instrument into yet another synthesiser (taking the count to five), producing delicate melodic riffs alongside lush atmospheric sweeps. Calvert and synth wizard Tom Robertson describe themselves as ‘semi-vocalists’, with their harmonised, wordless vocals ethereally floating over the top of the dense textures.

Adam Betts’ drumming is some of the most impressive I’ve heard from a progressive band in a very long time, with endless invention transforming the kit from a time-keeping device to an integral part of the band’s musical makeup – a chaotic, intense barrage of not only acoustic drum sounds, but also electronically-aided synth hits by way of his various drum pads. The combination of these three musicians with their many instruments, acoustic and electronic, results in an intense, compelling and rewarding musical experience: complex time signatures and constantly shifting soundworlds mean that Three Trapped Tigers don’t present a normal rock gig, instead pushing the limits of both their own capabilities and those of their audience.

That is not to say that the band are inaccessible, however. Their music is esoteric, but there remains enough recognisable material to be relevant and interesting to a broader listenership. From bass riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place in Cindies to synth layers that could be spun by an IDM DJ, the band somehow manage to be original and exciting without alienating their potential audience. However, there is a downside – Three Trapped Tigers’ sound is unique yet so crystallised at this point in their career that the songs do begin to sound quite similar to all but the most diehard fans. There was a slight dip in energy in the middle of the set for a couple of songs, but the start and end were so captivating that the lull was soon forgotten.

Perhaps one of the most arresting aspects of their performance was the distinct lack of filler material. Three Trapped Tigers don’t bullshit – their stage show consists of song after song, often linked together with ambient fills, with an absolute minimum of talking. Keyboardist Rogerson acts as the band’s ‘frontman’, though he can’t have said more than 100 words to the audience in the hour the band was on stage. This no-nonsense attitude is so integral to the band’s sound, infiltrating their ethos through both performance and music, presenting a hugely entertaining show that had me grinning ear to ear from the moment they stepped on stage to the second they stepped off.