The Voidz, for those who don’t know, are weird.
The other band of The Strokes’ lead singer Julian Casablancas, they combine a mix of neo-psychedelia, electropop, world music and hard rock with an underground, punky-80s aesthetic; which is about as far from The Strokes as you could get.
Nowhere is this more evident than in their choice of support for their gig at the Ritz in Manchester in early November. Promiseland is described as ‘your imaginary friend come to life’. And judging from his set, it’s a shame he’s not imaginary. Arriving on stage, you’re left wondering whether he’s been dragged in off the streets as a last-minute replacement. His performance certainly seemed to suggest so – a jarring, synth-y, punk-y, thrash-y mess that seemed to be being made up as it went along. His long, rambling songs never appeared to go anywhere and seemed to run out of ideas early on.
If he devoted as much time to his singing as he did his prancing about, maybe he’d be half-listenable. This must go down as an attempt at experimentalism that completely misses the mark.
Thankfully, however, The Voidz were on hand to save the day. After finally coming on stage to a rip-roaring cheer for the audience – most of it for Casablancas, judging from the seemingly never-ending chanting of his name – they launched into a brilliant rendition of ‘Leave It in My Dreams’. Arguably one of the poppier songs on their latest album, ‘Virtue’, this would prove to be a rarity for the band, with songs such as ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’ and proto-metal rocker ‘Black Hole’ showing off Casablancas’ darker side and illustrating the stark differences between his two bands. The Voidz have expertly cultivated their own sound and vibe: and unusual as it may be, it is definitely their own.
Much has been made of The Voidz’s experimentation and the more explicit political undertones of their music. Little of that was on display, tonight, however, and the show was all the better for it. You often get the feeling that the band desperately wish to be taken seriously as social commentators, yet this comes undone when they try and navigate the current, tumultuous, political climate. Their aesthetic often undermines legitimate points they make in their music.
Fortunately, they let the music do the talking here and were more subversive as a result. Take ‘QYURRYUS’, for example, an utterly confusing and jolty song Casablancas describes as ‘cyber Arabic prison jazz’ (no, I don’t know what this means either). The studio version fails to impress and makes the band seem experimental for its own sake; live, however, its sloppiness and quirks seem almost natural. This is a band that excels at performing live; making carefully constructed songs seem like on-the-spot jams.
Guitarists Amir Yaghmai and Beardo play with such fluidity and the band as a unit adapt and react to each other’s playing perfectly. One of the best moments of the night was a jam devoted to a little girl in the audience whose dad was the subject of ire from Casablancas for irresponsibly placing her right next to speakers ‘without earplugs’. I genuinely thought it was a new song at first. The crowd reacted very well to this and to other moments throughout the set.
Whilst this was not a sell-out gig by any means, the passion and energy of those there was enough to make this not matter. The audience hung off every one of Casablancas’ words and it was clear how invested they were in the night. The band played songs primarily from ‘Virtue’, though did perform a few tracks from their debut album ‘Tyranny’, including ‘Crunch Punch’, a personal favourite of mine. Vocals were on point throughout; Casablancas in particular seemed to be a lot stronger live than he has been in the past.
The set was brought to a close with an epic 11-minute rendition of ‘Human Sadness’, a supreme, chaotic voyage through Casablancas’ reaction to the death of his father. It was the perfect way to end – a song that summed up the approach and vibe of the night.
Although it was disappointing the set only lasted an hour – 13 songs – it was made up for the musicianship on display. When they focus on their music, The Voidz really do know how to entertain.