Live Review: Liars at the John Peel Festival of New Music

With six albums to their name, Liars’ headline slot at the John Peel Festival of New Music might seem perverse, however the band’s constant pursuit of reinvention makes the weekend’s macabre conclusion entirely appropriate. Indeed, between the dance-punk of their debut, the psychotic Sisterworld and the synth hypnotism of their most recent album WIXIW, each new release brings with it an eclectic update on Liars’ live persona.

Frontman Angus Andrew’s vocals complement the unpredictability of the band’s career-spanning set. At times his delivery is a measured drone, seductive and sinister in equal measure: “believe me, I will break your heart” he eerily slurs on the bass-heavy Octagon as the stage quickly fills with smoke. When the pace quickens however, during the chaotic Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack! for example, he breaks into a frenzied shriek, colliding with industrial electronics and frantic tribal drum beats.

Make no mistake, Liars are a band that thrive on audience reaction. In fact, whatever sound they’re tackling, the common thread throughout is how pagan it all comes across, particularly on older cut Broken Witch, which is given a much more riotous overhaul. Hands in the air, eyes closed, Andrew’s voice becomes unescapably ritualistic. “We are the army you see through the red haze of blood” he howls. It’s completely terrifying, that much is obvious, but alongside heavy percussion and repetitive beats, Liars emerge as a band that are surprisingly easy to dance to.

Whereas live staple Scarecrows On A Killer Slant fails to replicate the propulsive force of its studio counterpart, new single Brats fares much better, sounding like LCD Soundsystem if James Murphy ever developed cabin fever. Encore The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack is a sobering comedown, showing the band at their most stripped back. “If you need me, I can always be found” Andrew mournfully repeats over a delicate guitar. Liars habitually shock, but they rarely conjure such heartfelt emotion as this.

Indeed, it’s this teasing of tone and style through which the band emerge as such a dynamic live prospect. Rather than delivering a ‘best of’ set, Liars mine their diverse back-catalogue in order to create a scene of true catharsis. Carefully disarming you with WIXIW’s synth textures, they lure you in with the danceable rhythm sections of their debut before erupting with noise  – all while maintaining complete focus.

Despite this uncompromising nature, Liars nevertheless remain current. These, then, are our modern punks: at times quietly unnerving, at others outrageously frenetic, but always exciting.


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Hayden East

June 2021
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