The Coral

Merseyside folk-rockers
O2 Academy Oxford, 190 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1UE, Wed 17 November - Tue 15 March 2016

March 16, 2016
Intriguing Liverpudlian psy-rockers back on tour

Intriguing Liverpudlian psy-rockers The Coral are back on tour promoting their new album Distance Inbetween. After a break of several years pursuing solo and side projects, they return with a darker, heavier, multi-layered sound very different to the harmony-driven, trippily nostalgic melodic soundscape that brought them fame in the early 2000s. They're accompanied on tour by 'friends' who in this case, also turned out to be relatives, as 2 out of the 5 Sundowners - who introduced this show with a long set - are siblings of Coral frontman James Skelly.

The Sundowners were, unusually and refreshingly, fronted by a female duo with big rock hair from the eighties (if you're the Bangles) or possibly the seventies (if you're Patti Smith), singing in surprisingly sweet and poppy close harmony behind a thunderous wall of heavy rock guitars and drums. I say behind, as I'm not sure the sound set up did them justice; the sheer volume was certainly impressive, but it was impossible to make out lyrics or even hear the vocals much at all - and there was virtually zero audience interaction which could have acted as a check or balance on this. The packed in, sold-out audience stood mirroring them in a wall of people, looking slightly dumbfounded and slightly deafened. Note to self: now I am old and don't get out much, remember the earplugs. Though to be fair to me, I looked like one of the younger people there, despite the 8+ age limit. We stared dazed at the women rocking the stage and wondered what was happening. Was it good, or just loud? It was certainly very tight - and the excellent drumming came through clear as day. I wanted to hear more of the bassist as he was obviously laying down some pretty important foundations somewhere under that wall. Aside from that, musically, The Wall (as I shall now call it) made the band's close connections to the new sound of The Coral pretty evident.

After an interminably long setup for the main act (in which it became clear that the Sundowners' bassist was also The Coral's instrument tech), The Wall was turned up to 11 and a psychedelic, strobing light show foretold that The Coral were approaching. There was enough bass to literally shake my teeth. Leading us in with a track from the new album, the giant starlings from the album's cover that had been circling behind the band were replaced by swirling multicoloured screensavers. Heavier than their early work? For sure. And the audience were clearly most appreciative when the odd track from their biggest albums (e.g. 'Simon Diamond' from 2002 album The Coral, or 'Jacqueline' from 2007's Roots & Echoes) popped up in the set. The comedy, fairground-style melody behind 'Simon Diamond' and its whimsical, charming little poem of a plot were a welcome relief from the dark roaring oscillation of new tracks such as 'Connector' ('I'm the connector, you're the receiver; you're the rejecter, I'm the believer'). Having since given that one a listen on YouTube, however, it's a lot better and gentler on recording than it was in a dark room whilst thinking I might pop / have permanent hearing loss.

This is a good mixed show for the old fans who want to combine a bit of a nostalgia trip with an introduction to the band's new work, or for the new fans who love that dirty, heavy, grinding new groove. All in all, it was good to see The Coral back on the road - and to meet their talented protégés.

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