Life Without Buildings, Live At the Annandale Hotel

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The music blogs showed up too late to save Life Without Buildings, the Glaswegian post-punk quartet that came and went in one spectacular flash of power and potential. Had they waited another three years to form they might have inherited the praise (not to mention the seven-figure record contract) bestowed upon Love Is All; instead, they burned up in midair, disbanding after releasing one perfect record on a tiny subsidiary of Rough Trade in 1999. So take this live document as a kind of delayed farewell, the ideal summation of everything the band did well. There's the fitful guitar, the rattling percussion and Sue Tompkins 'marvelous, exclamatory vocals.

A delayed farewell to a band that died far too soon.

If there's a single defining attribute to Life Without Buildings 'songs, it's a steady sense of wonder. Tompkins sings like she's surprised, shouting out her lyrics like a kid playacting in a back bedroom. Live, that giddy rapture is enhanced: she hurls herself into her performance, racing through the closing mantra of "Monday, exclusive! Tuesday, exclusive!" at the end of "PS Exclusive" as if she was afraid the song would end without her.

Above all, though, the songs possess a terrific sense of spontaneity. "The Leanover" starts off small and timid and tentative, Tompkins breathlessly repeating "If I lose you, if I lose you, if I lose you" over a gently twinkling guitar figure, then runs through the rest of the lyrics like they're occurring to her in real time. She stutters syllables, repeats fragments, and puts the whole story together piecemeal, a fantastic tone poem built from tics and hiccups. The band feeds off her energy — the music swells and dips in perfect parallel to her wild mood swings. "Love Trinity" opens with a slow crawl of bass and spindly fingers of guitar, but as Tompkins gets more and more worked up the song gets riled right along with her, working steadily to big, long swipes of sound.

The whole thing goes up in a fantastic flash with a riotous version of "New Town." The song starts steady but, like every Life Without Buildings song, it starts escalating, ramping radically upward until it hits a thrilling maximum altitude, Tompkins giddily hollering "Boys! Drummers! Boys! Drummers!" while the band quakes behind her. It's like a million different colored fireworks all going off at once — the perfect last word from a band that lit up big and bright and dazzling and burned out far too quickly.