Photo by Valerio Berdini
Beards are a major part of rock. They signify dedication and appreciation, a laid back attitude and something to stroke during widdly bits. The Beard’s anaemic cropped cousins may be the hijacked uniform of fey hipsters, but it’s still possible to spot a true Beard – its wearers unaffected by tastemaker bribery, the kids in Skins or the passing of time. The Beards are out in force, congregating at London’s XOYO for the legendary stoner space-age shoe-gaze of Bardo Pond.
Tonight The Beards are circling before roosting in their primed position. Not for a clear view, but to carve space for their own sonic cocoon from the aural barrage to come. Bardo Pond are not a band to watch, but experience, and waiting their arrival is as intimidating and exciting being a Victorian bachelor and catching a flash of ankle, it’s blood soaring.
This is the band which defines experimental noise rock. Without these there would be no Mogwai, no God Speed You Black Emperor nor Arab On Radar. Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine may be the populist entry level options for the passive drone-gazer, but Bardo Pond are the cult heroes, arousing The Beards for over 20 years.
It’s fitting that as Bardo Pond start, the venue’s air-conditioning comes on, seemingly synchronised with the monstrous Marshall stacks and bass cab belching a guttural chug which is crisply clear as it is loud. The air is reverberating as Isobel Schollenberger’s flute flutters through a distorted thundering embrace of mid tempo stoner doom. It’s wonderful, with hairs tingling and ears clamoring to acclimatise.
Knowing exactly what songs Bardo Pond are playing would defy even the wisdom of Bob Holness, but it’s clear the set is leaning heavily towards their 1996 seminal album Amenita and the recent and 2010’s eponymous disc from which ‘Just Once’ is ferocious. Unlike Mogwai who are purveyors in the quiet-loud paradigm, Bardo Pond just do loud; be that sludgy loud or screeching loud. But as the ‘Tommy Gun Angel’ proves they impart beautiful melodies perfectly shadowing Schollenberger’s whispy slacker drawl.
Seeing them on stage is the anti-performance, there’s no showmanship or bravado, but the experience doesn’t require it. The Beards are flowing in the depth of druggy grooves and the air has the unearthly resonance of the moment before a storm.
The set goes remarkably quickly as if we’ve been hypnotised- anything could happened, they return for an encore cut short by The Man and his curfews but perfection often comes in small doses. As they exit the air con is off, then we realise it was never on, it was Bardo Pond simply blowing us away.