I really should pay more attention sometimes. If it weren't for the fact that I randomly picked up a copy of Roma C'e (i.e., Time Out for the Italian capital), I would have missed the fact that Ulan Bator were playing at Rome's Init club. UB is the brainchild of ex-Faust musician Amaury Cambuzat, an amiable Frenchman resident these days in Milan. I first came across him when Richo helped organise Faust's first ever Polish gig a few years back (a phenomenal show, documented on the LTC release From Our Souls To Your Ears, or however the fuck it translates into Polish). Amaury had been great company on that occasion and kindly handed me a few Ulan Bator CDs, which turned out to be full of fine, muscular guitar rock of the type rarely found these days.
So arriving at Init (located bloody miles from my flat in the poncey boozwah part of Northern Rome) I track down Amaury and we catch up. He apologises profusely for a guest-list screw-up, but I assure him that I really don't mind paying to get in like everyone else. The rest of the band (including London's James Johnston - Faust, Bad Seeds, Gallon Drunk, etc) is relaxing with the homemade wine of the roadie's Southern Italian grandfather - such geographical specificity is important in this country. At 11pm they disappear off to perform.
It seems that Rome is infected with the big-city gig-crowd malaise that afflicts places like London - everyone stands around like statues, refusing to react, so it's left to roadie Diego and me to move around a bit. This has always annoyed me - apparently, you risk the fate-worse-than-death of looking 'uncool' if you dare to show any sign of being viscerally affected by the music you just paid 10 Euro to listen to. Jesus, shake your booties, people!
It's the least this band deserves, because they're a PHENOMENAL live act. I tend to see the guitar/bass/drums/synth setup as largely redundant these days, especially given what the disease that is Indie Rock has done with the format, but UB injected an intensity and ferocity into it that I haven't seen since Swans' final gig in London a decade ago... or since Faust in Poland for that matter. Working seamlessly with each other, each musician displays both virtuosity and - more importantly, perhaps - SHOWMANSHIP, throwing themselves fully into the gig, culminating in a 'musical orgasm' (a la 'Death Valley 69') that left me gasping.
The new CDEP, 'Soleil' (to be reviewed elsewhere here soon enough) is a fine piece of work (ta for the freebie, Amaury!) but it can't do the impossible and reproduce the potency of the onstage experience. UB gigs a fair bit in Europe these days; if they play in your town, do yourself a favour and drag your lazy arse out to see them. Their finely crafted sound-of-the-mountains guitar work will shake you up in a way that little else seems capable of doing these days.