Less is Always More: Athlete get ‘Stripped Back’ to basics

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The Thekla, Bristol – 23rd July 2011

After missing out on tickets for last year’s tour, you could say I was fairly excited to finally seeing Athlete perform on their Stripped Back Tour. Athlete are one of those bands which, though not always in the forefront of the musical industry, consistently produce brilliant and moving music. Instead of the countless songs about break ups and sex that often dominate the charts, inspiration often  comes from less talked-about subjects such as miscarriages, a concept that brought us the beautifully haunting Wires back in 2005.

Within a few moments of being there, with just enough time to grab a cider or two (what else could you drink at a gig in Bristol?) the support band took upon the stage with a very modest air about them. My First Tooth were instantly likeable, chatting with the audience and bringing off-stage jokes onto the set with ease. Not only were the musicians friendly, but the music was a delightful surprise. Warming the crowd up with ‘Sleet and Snow’ and ‘Territories’ (the namesake of their first album), they were an absolute pleasure to watch; it was obvious that they were doing what they loved, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mumford and Sons. I enjoyed their performance so much, I purchased their album, and have had it on repeat ever since.

Athlete’s entrance began the gig as it meant to go on. Just feet from the stage, we felt incredibly involved with the entire event. A ‘Stripped Back’ tour suggests a sense of intimacy and vulnerability, and the venue in which the band performed was ideal. The Thekla in Bristol presented us with a small room and a tiny stage, perfect for acoustic music. Frontman Joel Pott and his bandmates Tim Wanstall (piano), Stephen Roberts (drums) and Carey Willetts (bass) casually chatted and joked upon their arrival and between songs. The audience were invited to incessantly cheer and applaud to fill any silences as part of a running joke throughout the performance, to which we all willingly obliged. Later, after a spat between two members of the audience, Joel asked for cameras to be put away for the rest of the gig; because, he argued, sometimes it’s just nice to enjoy the music without trying to get that perfect shot. He was met with cheers; clearly everybody agreed. After all, how can you enjoy the moment with too many cameras being held up in front of you?

Each track seemed to sound better stripped back. Playing songs such as ‘Rubik’s Cube’, ‘Black Swan Song’, ‘El Salvador’ and ‘Twenty-Four Hours’, the band allowed us all to enjoy their vast repertoire of music, spanning each of their albums, playing both favourites and the rarely heard. ‘Beautiful’ from the album Vehicles and Animals lived up to its name, and ‘Chances’ was all the better for being performed in a smaller venue. It was clear that ‘Wires’ would be left until last and we were not disappointed; what other track could be their final performance of the night? As was the case for the entire evening, the audience joined in and once again we realised how fantastic it was to go back to the basics; to leave the technology behind and just hear instruments and voices together. Keen not to disappoint, we were graced with an encore, and left the event wanting more-  the sign of an excellent night.

It is always impressive to be wowed by the support band almost as much as the main events and I am now a firm fan of My First Tooth. As for Athlete, I will be looking out for more events in the future; this is a band not to be missed live.

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