The Pleasure Unit
15 August 2007
Words & pix by Alissa Ordabai
Every now and then you get to see a band that can’t be categorised into any genre, an act whose imagination will defy all attempts of classification, proving once again that true creativity doesn’t care for tags, brands and labels.
London duo Keshco are exactly that kind of outfit oddballs extraordinaire who take British genre-bending eccentricity to a level beyond Barrett, Bowie, or Beta Band, arriving at a style and an approach that are uniquely their own.
Tonight at the Pleasure Unit, a miniature East London venue, Keshco’s frontman Andy Brian immediately set the tone for the show appearing on stage wearing red jeans, a purple shirt, a pink belt and pink canvas sneakers. The resemblance to a young Marc Bolan was uncanny, complete with long “corkscrew hair” and elfin features adding to an image of a coy young man only vaguely aware of his own charisma.
The first song the band played, “Chancery Lane”, partly confirmed the Tyrannosaurus Rex parallel, Andy playing a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment to his vocals, supported only by his bandmate Robert Follen on the keyboard, but at the same time denied the similarity, because Keshco aren’t much interested in rock hooks and rock rhythms and rock swagger and rock chase-the-buzz obsessions. Or rather they choose to create a buzz of a different kind, the one that is simpler but at the same time more complex. The stuff which is basic in structure, but is varied and diverse, with ideas drawn from all over the place and mixed in all possible combinations.
Another way in which Keshco get their kicks is by never letting you guess what’s coming next. Their second number, “Climate Dance” was a brilliantly funny song where the melody and the lyrics combined to a hilarious effect. (“Leaders have a climate dance, it’s easy to do You grab onto a tree and then you tear it in two.”) And the melody was of a kind you have to hear once to remember forever.
While Keshco can be very funny when they want to, their humour is so unobtrusive that you begin to acknowledge it only by the time you are not smiling any longer, but laughing loudly and openly. In the same way, you only become aware that Keshco’s simple sincerity is really charisma when it’s too late, you have been disarmed, and are already a fan. And if by that time you still haven’t lost the ability to think critically, what you realise next is that regardless of all the fun and charm, Keshco’s tunes have steely hooks that grab you stealthily but firmly, because despite all the merriment, the band are superb songwriters in possession of all the know-how that goes into constructing a flawless pop song. The way these guys work their magic by making you believe that they stumble upon their charm and humour and musical ideas by chance, as a kind of unforeseen result of a flight of their whimsical fancy, could easily be a calculated ploy or simply their pure innate genius. So far there is no way of finding out which one it is.
Throughout the set the band went from pop to cool blues riffs to folk to avant-garde psychedelia to synth-pop. Along the way Robert Follen was changing between the keyboard and the electric guitar, but the band was also introducing some bizarre and wonderful instruments such as a small kiddie melodica (a cross between a wind instrument and a keyboard) and a Dynamike (a kind of vocal distortion device that looks like a shower head mounted on a tube), as well as stage props that included wigs, masks, plastic guns and mute glowing maracas. There was also a third person helping to play the keyboard and assisting with the stage show, but I have no idea what his name is or what his role is in the band. What I do know is that I’ve never had so much fun at a show since Alice Cooper was last in town.
If you absolutely have to look for influences in this band, forensic scrutiny will trace a few things back to Dylan, a few bits to the Kinks and some stuff to Syd Barrett, but for a large part Keshco are completely unique and because of that totally mesmerising. Watching and listening to this band you realise that musical eccentricity in Britain didn’t end with early Pink Floyd, Family or Tyrannosaurs Rex. There are still people who have great talent but choose to ignore the ultimatums of the market and play purely for their own enjoyment. And Keshco are not only very talented, but have lots of aesthetic savvy too. So much so that if they chose to sacrifice having out-and-out fun for a career in entertainment, they could become a name in no time. What makes me curious is if these guys will ever trade a party in a toy shop for a party at a big record label’s headquarters.