After a year of next to no live music, the stakes couldn’t have been much higher for Squid’s Fieldworks tour. On the surface, the band’s sound seems at odds with socially distanced touring – their disordered, jazzy, eclectic post-punk demands audience engagement and movement. This only heightened my anticipation for last month’s show at Sheffield’s The Leadmill – how would Squid’s chaos translate to a crowd so controlled, stringently seated two metres apart?
Far from faltering under this pressure, the Brighton 5-piece used their seeming incompatibility with our new normal as an opportunity to explore and experiment. Despite a substantial back-catalogue of successful singles and the release of their Dan Carey produced debut album Bright Green Field two months ago, Squid largely abandoned their officially released discography. Instead, they opted for a set-list comprised of ‘work-in-progress new music.’ True to the tour’s name, Squid took an experimental approach both in musical style and concept, using the opportunity to test out their newest auditory chaos – and it paid off.
Squid dove in right at the deep end, beginning their set with unreleased, instrumental tracks ‘Cube’ and ‘Intro Drone/Cello’, plummeting the audience into a soundscape which fused extra-terrestrial synths and classical cello. It is this blending of varied and unexpected sounds, tempos, and instruments that sets Squid apart from the increasingly monotonous post-punk scene (and makes their live performance all the more interesting).
Multi-talented drummer and vocalist Ollie Judge then candidly admitted that ‘It’s quite hard playing drums in crocs’, before launching into more familiar territory with the second single from Bright Green Field, ‘Paddling’. This prompted cheers from the crowd and led once cellist Arthur Leadbetter to instead pick up a cowbell. The band also played ‘Documentary Filmmaker’, the sixth track from their debut, which marked a welcome change in pace. Judge stood from his drum set, hand on hip, his spoken vocals and Laurie Nankivell’s soothing trumpet taking centre stage over the previous floor shaking noise experimentation.
This soothing, yet slightly unnerving, jazz-inspired atmosphere carried through into the soft start of the unreleased track that followed, before picking back up into frenzied explosions of sound. The band seem to have nailed down exactly where they excel – disjointedly mixing heavier moments with soft, tender interludes. Though present on their studio recordings, nothing compares to the thrill of experiencing Squid’s extreme changes in pace live.
Mirroring the album, the set climactically ended with ‘Pamphlets’, a perfect layering of instruments exhibiting the band’s range, accompanied by Judge’s repeated declarations of ‘I don’t go outside, outside, outside.’ A finale song from conception (Louis Borlase called it ‘an important part of [their] set, particularly finishing a set… a long blow-out ending’), the band stayed true to this sentiment and immediately left the stage. The overwhelmed crowd were jolted back into reality as Justin Timberlake’s ‘CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!’ jarringly played over the speakers. Upon the realisation there would be no encore, desperate boos followed but to no avail. The band were content to leave the crowd wanting more.
Rather than putting on a crowd-pleasing show of fan favourites like ‘Houseplants’, Squid’s Fieldworks tour was far more creative, working with COVID limitations to prioritise intimacy and experimentation. The band extended this to their venues. With choices ranging from Manchester’s classical Stoller Hall to Margate’s Cliftonville Community Hall, The Leadmill seemed like one of the few locations the band might normally play. Despite being their biggest show of the tour, the set felt like a privileged glance into a jam session with the band, providing a look into their process, their mastery of a multitude of instruments and genres, and a preview of what might be to come.
Header image: Squid at The Stoller Hall, Manchester. Credit: Piran Aston.