To enact the Kauffman-esque humiliation upon their audience they are known for: that is the incentive. And now here in 2013, absent record label and foregoing a new album since 2009, Horse gladly take on bonus levels for touring outside of the US. It has become increasingly clear: American audiences no longer excite Horse, and our incessant need for retro gaming nostalgia is exactly what drove them to other shores. We could have been a bit more appreciative that they didn’t always write lyrics about video games, and from our folly, Europe has capitalized.
Along for this particular tour is UK band Rolo Tomassi, past tourmates of Horse who also call themselves admirers of the band. When asked about watching Horse address the audience on tour, keyboardist James Spence sums it up in a very apt description, joking that they are “a mixture of entertaining and terrifying.”
“Having spent a fair amount of time around them offstage,” he continues, “it starts to make way more sense. I appreciate their honesty and that they’re unafraid to be themselves at all times.”
The tour’s Berlin date meant a brief homecoming before departing to Russia for Horse’s Lord Gold (Erik Engstrom), who now calls Berlin home base. It would also be the end of the road for Rolo Tomassi, whose upcoming tour schedule has them visiting Japan and Australia this fall. Between the matched amount of enthusiasm for animated keyboard playing between both bands and Horse’s outlandish hilarity, the show at Berlin’s Magnet made evident that Horse’s fun on tour is exponentially higher when not playing at home.
August 12th, 2013 @ Magnet in Berlin, Germany
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSH CONNOLLY (ROLO TOMASSI) AND MATT CARTER (HORSE THE BAND)
Rolo Tomassi is a band destined to draw comparisons to Iwrestledabearonce, but the band have been doing progressive metal with an agile female lead in the UK long before IWABO. The split vocal duties between front woman Eva Spence and sibling keyboardist James Spence are a growling screamo call-and-response that is segmented by Eva’s delicate turnovers into melodic soprano range vocals. At the behest of James’ keys, which hit the air like bright tingles of 8-bit synthesizer and zappy dominos tumbling over the bands odd metered breakdowns, Rolo Tomassi’s sets can easily go from mathcore riffing to dramatic builds.
The band kicks off with “Howl” off their most recent album Astrea, which sends Eva and James into energetic jumps and skips across the stage, their being the two most handsfree members of the band. Live, the single “Party Wounds” drops with jaunty diminished chords only to slide from a disco funk bassline right back into southern rock and an eerie aside from Eva’s clean vocals. This kind of peek-a-boo genre-mashing is a trademark of their contemporaries such as Genghis Tron or An Albatross — although Rolo Tomassi’s borrowing of other styles is far less blatant of a momentary music theory joke than other bands have played it off to be. If there is any truth behind the tag “cosmic-core,” Rolo is surely forging it, and much earlier in their careers then any bands similar to them.
Horse the Band
A live set from Horse the Band can feature anything from costumed bear mascots to free tequila shots for the front rows. This show, while only featuring the latter, wasn’t without a heavy grain of on stage sarcasm. As they went through classics from The Mechanical Hand and A Natural Death, they sparingly touched songs from their last album, Desperate Living. They did, however, play “Horse the Song” and the chameleon-paced “Shapeshift”, the former an anthem-like ode to themselves. Sadly, no songs from the Pizza EP made it onto the set list; their rarity has made them a frequent audience request, with this Berlin crowd being an exception to that phenomenon.
When not launching into breakdowns laced with Engstrom’s suspense grabs of rapid keys, singer Nathan Winneke and Engstrom like to play the part of the Muppet’s Stalter and Waldorf in bantering to each other or at the audience. At their shows it’s easy to realize that being a part of the audience in a way makes you the unwitting entertainment for Winneke and Engstrom.
At one point between songs Winneke indulged a fan onstage by asking him, “Can you kneel right here and intimidate this guy in the front row with your stoic manliness?”
Other antics included a rant by Engstrom in fractured German and the pair lampooning their friends Touche Amore/a> in Winneke claming, “I used to give them tiny glasses of orange juice because it was all their hypoglycemic indexes could handle.”
In doing aggressive music with an approach that is humorous and snobby rather than typically hostile, Horse the Band remains pertinent around the world in hardcore and indie circles. The outpouring of their European fans has proven them far more than just a musical novelty, and it is in our sincerest hopes that this is not game over for them.