Over the years the years we’ve seen a few bands we never expected to be able to see live, but few have been quite as unexpected as This Heat. But that’s not quite right, as the poster proudly proclaims: this, in fact, is This Is Not This Heat. Or is it? Of the six people crammed together on stage, only two represent the original line-up, bassist (and, according to his obituary, Rough Guide author) Gareth Williams having passed away in 2001.
This is the first of two nights at Alice, the first dedicated to the recordings of This Heat, and the second to soundtrack work. Tonight guitarist Charles Bullen and drummer Charles Hayward are joined by Daniel O’Sullivan (of Grumbling Fur, Laniakea, Guapo, Æthenor, etc. etc) on bass and synths, looking remarkably youthful next to his gaunt elders, as well as an extra drummer, guitarist and a distorted clarinet (for Roxy Music kudos).
The first portion of the set is pretty much the exact tracklist from their self-titled debut, full of sparse, cold instrumentation and plaintive chants. It almost makes you wonder for a while why two drumkits are necessary. But the songs from Deceit answer that question with proto-industrial fervour. At the first frantic chord of “SPQR” a group of teenagers in the first row cheer and do shots, which is as baffling as it is cute.
Although This Heat are often lumped together with post-punk, you can clearly hear a lot of Robert Wyatt in the plaintive vocals of “Not Waving” and “The Fall of Siam”, a certain weird Englishness that reveals in the influence of The Soft Machine and Gabriel-era Genesis under the obvious Krautrock and musique-concrete references.
It is these moments of detached weirdness, more than the guitar-driven noise, that make This Heat a band still worth listening to and seeing after all these years.