Henge – Live Review – Leeds HiFi Club
By David Schuster, November 2018
You’ve got to hand it to Henge: They manage to both look and sound extraordinary. As they take to the low stage in the atmospheric confines of Leeds HiFi Club, they are already in character; Zpor, the front man, resplendent with plasma globe headgear and brandishing an illuminated staff, leads the way. Behind him walk Goo, a grey-skulled Venusian, then Nom, the squid-headed Xylanthian and finally, the band’s only human, Kent Paxman, brings up the rear.
Fortunately, this mixed bag of lifeforms have all manged to master Earth musical instruments. Kent takes up position behind the keyboards, with Nom on drums and Goo, bass and sound generators. Their first track of the evening is ‘Unit of Power’ which, like the majority of their songs, is very difficult to categorise, so I’m going to go with Space Dub; imagine Hawkwind jamming with Orbital. There’s a lot of clever changes of tempo and style in all of their numbers.
“Honed their skills”
Several of Henge’s songs build on the intergalactic premise, in an endearing tongue in cheek way. Zpor points out that ‘Humans’ is about us, the audience, and that he himself isn’t human. He reveals that he is in fact billions of years old. “I know what you’re thinking,” he says, “looking good for someone that age.” He puts it down to being able to clone a string of replacement bodies. ‘The Great Venusian Apocalypse’, which Goo apparently witnessed, tells the story of how the Venusian’s killed their planet through global warming, a fate which the singer reminds us may lie in store for the Earth. And indeed ‘New Planet’ suggests that colonising space may be the most effective means of insuring mankind against such extinction events. There’s many a true word spoken in jest. “The earth is generous, but finite,” points out the singer.
Remarkably though, none of this gets in the way the band’s central mission; to show us humans how to have a good time. Their clever dance beats are infectious, and early in the evening there are groups of people dancing at the back of the venue, as well as the front. Always a good sign. This then is Henge’s secret: They are very good at what they do, having honed their skills through their own popular Space Cassette warehouse dance nights in Manchester. As well as the tempo changes there are crisp breaks where the music stops with pinhead precision. My favourite tracks of the evening are the quirky but catchy ‘Monolith’, which sounds like Jigsaw from the Saw franchise rapping over an Egyptian sand-dance, and ‘New Planet’ whose Stratocaster guitar riff could have been played by 60’s sensations The Shadows.
The group’s natural environment is festivals, and I’m sure that they would go down a storm in the dance tent at Glastonbury, but I’d also love to see their outlandish musicality dropped into a prime-time TV programme. I think there’s every chance that this juxtaposition would generate the same shock and awe as Future Islands’ legendary appearance on the Letterman Show.
Mid-way through the set there’s an unplanned instrumental interlude when the singer/guitarist breaks a string. Handling this with humour and aplomb, the band play their own special take on ‘Girl from Ipanema’, as Zpor gets a member of the audience to help him thread the string through the body of the guitar. “Normally I have a robot to do this for me,” he jokes, getting her a round of applause.
All too soon the evening comes to an end. “Have we got time for one more?” Shouts the frontman to the staff at the rear of the venue. “YES!”, shout back the whole audience. In fact, they manage to squeeze in two more numbers. Their most commercial track ‘In Praise of Water’ has the whole room dancing, and they finish with ‘Demilitarise’. As well as featuring a riff played on the Mbira, this last song has a repeated chant, the words to which the keyboard player helpfully holds up on placards (as in the video to Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’) allowing the whole crowd to join in. Zpor steps down into the audience and leads a conga around the room! By the second lap, the band have overrun by 15 minutes, and the front of the conga has encircled the HiFi Club, joining with those at the back.
The most fun I’ve had at a gig this year.
Top and bottom images: Gail Schuster