Show Review: Loop @ Middle East Downstairs 4.19.14

by Ben Stas (English/Journalism), published May 1st 2014

photos by Ben Stas

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It feels like standard policy to preface a reunion act review with some measure of context-setting. Bands get back together to celebrate anniversaries or reissue seminal records or take ownership of a legacy they were only granted long after breaking up. Grab hold of one of these angles and the story writes itself. For long-dormant U.K. shoegazers/psych-rockers Loop, however, the context of their 2013/2014 reformation boils down to little more than a line straight from the pen of frontman Robert Hampson: “I can’t seem to find any excuses for why not to anymore.”

And really, it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. Loop soldiered on for five years between 1986 and 1991, releasing three LPs of scorching psychedelia before disbanding in fairly unspectacular fashion, as bands are wont to do. They were a niche act for those five years, but one which still appeals to a subset of fuzz-loving music geeks in 2014. The blissful looks on a few hundred faces at April’s show as the band’s waves of noise crashed over them seemed like justification enough.

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Hampson, along with 1989 lineup members Scott Dowson and Neil Mackay, plus newcomer Wayne Maskell on drums, hardly looked the part of a confrontationally noisy band. It was all clean cuts and button-ups on stage, but if one was to close their eyes and remove their earplugs, it wasn’t difficult to imagine being at the band’s last Boston gig at the infamous Rat some two and a half decades ago. Loop’s sound is rooted in the intersection of uncluttered percussion and Mackay’s insistent bass lines with Hampson and Dowson’s searing guitar tones, and each element fell together in exactly the right ways. There was menacing magic in the piercing, impossibly distorted, feedback-laced sounds pouring from the half-stacks on stage, with the rhythm section holding it all in check. The full aural assault was reminiscent of an alternate-universe Jesus and Mary Chain where the brothers Reid listened to less 60s pop music and more krautrock.

The Loop approach, on both record and stage, tends toward the hypnotic and entrancing. The songs are not particularly complicated, driving themselves into one’s head through sheer force of repetition more so than anything else. At a towering volume in a dark basement venue lit largely by psychedelic projections, it’s still an approach that works remarkably well. By the end of the hour-plus sensory overload, Hampson’s decision to bring it on the road once more, even after all this time, was much appreciated.

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The band opted not to take an opener on the road with them, resulting in bills across the country filled out by like-minded locals. Luckily for Boston, that meant opening sets from ex-MMOSS guitarist Doug Tuttle and heavy-psych luminaries Ghost Box Orchestra. Tuttle and his four-piece band opened the night with pastoral, 60s-tinged psych-pop that made heavy use of a wah-pedaled organ and Tuttle’s own inspired guitar work. Ghost Box cranked up the volume and the tension with a dynamic, tightly-focused set. They command a room by alternating simmering atmosphere with stomping, heavy crescendos, and they seem to get better at it each time I see them.

[Photos via BDCwire]

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