Abney Park/Thomas Truax

Electrowerkz, London - 25 April 2009

"An eclectic melange of Professor Challenger, Max Headroom and Pirates of the Caribbean"

Thomas Truax: eccentricSurrealistic folkster Thomas Truax played guitar with hand fan and had homemade instruments like the three-pronged rotating contraption strapped to his back producing a low-fi beat to strum along to. This was pretty unique in my experience and the only faint resemblance is Daniel Johnston, but whereas with the legally certified Johnston there is a sense of empathy, Truax instead comes across as a genuine eccentric.

Spending a good chunk of his set actually walking among the audience like a deranged balladeer, he wasn't remotely concerned that in doing so he had to unplug his guitar and so as he strolled still strumming his wonky tunes he was oblivious to the fact that only those directly in front of him could fleetingly actually hear the music - such that it was. His wavering voice carried though and the crowd flipped back and forth between silently transfixed to rapturous laughter and spontaneous applause. It came as no surprise to hear that his next album is a collection of covers versions of songs appearing in the films of David Lynch. Apparently, Lynch is a fan. That's even less surprising.

Having only first heard the band via their massively impressive website a few days before the gig - attendance tonight was very much as last-minute decision. The main driver was an expectation of being seriously entertained, for Abney Park are a steampunk concept band! Steampunk for the uninitiated (and Google shy) is a term coined by SF writer K.W. Jeter evoking an alternative history wherein Victorian era society had the benefit of modern technology like computers. Abney Park take the concept a stage further and present themselves (tongue firmly in cheek thankfully) as a steampunk band - an eclectic melange of Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger, Max Headroom and Pirates of The Caribbean all performing sea shanties as if written by a loopy version of Dead Can Dance. Odd, yes, but it actually works.

Abney Park's Captain RobertThey even have their own steampunk clothing and accessories range - so you can look just like they do on stage. And most in the packed out Elektrowerkz were so attired. This was the only time I'd ever seen multiple pith helmets in the audience! Others were draped in crushed velvet and faux Victoriana costumes, goggles and walking canes were popular accessories, as were spiffing handlebar moustaches. The atmosphere created by all was of a huge, fun, if slightly mad party.

A number of technical hitches delaying their start challenged their patience but, to their credit, did nothing to dampen their spirit - they simply joked about the hold-up and entered into an impromptu dialogue with the audience which only served to further endear the band especially to newcomers like myself. Finally underway and despite the stage being a bit small for such a grandiose act (their stage setup is a rather theatrical affair) they delivered a well-honed set of their creations including a preview of some new tracks from their latest album Lost Horizons.

The handsome visages of the two lead performers, Captain Robert and Finn Von Claret are the perfect visual presentation: like luminescent 1940s movie stars appearing in a lavish, Technicolor production of The Lost World. Each member has their own, distinctive character and role. Von Claret's is as exotic dancer and vocalist. Her constant laughing before the set began disarmed those who thought her striking looks might suggest a narcissistic bitch. Instead she came across as someone you'd want to spend an evening drinking with. Daniel is the bassist, Nathaniel the violin, mandolin and guitar player and Kristina on keyboards and other accoutrements. The absence of live drums wasn't the drawback it could have been.

The eclectic style varies from the aforementioned sea shanties, through gypsy fireside songs, through darkwave, goth and the odd dash of world music thrown in for good measure. Other than the way they've so expertly defined and packaged the steampunk concept (something only brought in on the last two albums following major line-up changes), if truth be told, there's nothing that stunning about most of the songwriting itself, but that sort of misses the point. The eclectic influences behind the music are brought together well and Abney Park deliver on a value for your hard-earned entertainment dollars. No wonder then that they are building new recruits whenever and wherever they play live. 7/10

Rob Dyer