Before their mid-afternoon set on Sunday I met up with the three Carney brothers who make up Pontiak. I offered them the free Subway cookie I had acquired on the way to the venue (they declined) and I told them that I was feeling nervous about the face-to-face interviews I had scheduled with various people throughout the day. Van Carney, who plays a red guitar and sings lead vocals, told me how nervous he was feeling about playing.
Me, I was feeling pretty ecstatic to finally be in front of a stage where they were setting up and to top it all my hangover had lifted about halfway through the preceding set (by the lovely Nancy Wallace, review and interview on the way…), leaving behind that warm fuzziness that rubs up pretty smartly with seeing one of your all time favourite bands. Whoops, I gushed all over you didn’t I?
So my expectations/hopes/coffee intake were all riding high. The other major reason for coming to Supersonic was to see Arbouretum, and I had already seen them play a blistering hour-plus set elsewhere in the country before the weekend. This was my only chance to see Pontiak and if I’m not wrong they only played for half an hour. That half an hour also seemed to fly past pretty quick. Was that because I was enthusiastically bobbing up and down and generally taking advantage of my photo pass in order to stand in front of the speaker stacks with no intention of taking more pictures? Does time fly when you’re having fun? It does, but it also flies when a band increase the speed of their songs and it felt like Pontiak might have done that very thing.
It had a positive and a negative effect, a balance that might be very different at a show where they had the room to space out and vary the tempo. Most of the show was drawn from their latest album Maker; they have told me before that they like to structure their records as if they were live shows and they proved it by structuring their live show as if it were one of their records.
Not exactly mind you, but they opened with that album's first track, ‘Laywayed’ and moved through some of that records bruising first half. They might have played ‘Wax Worship’, I have to say that I was kind of just burying my mind in their sound, which was loud enough to do them justice and as such I didn’t keep good tabs on what song was what, I was very excited... After the show Jennings (bass) told me that his favourite song on Maker was ‘Heat Pleasure’, a minute and a half of pure throbbing errr… “heat pleasure” pretty much nails it… they might well have played it!
What I do know for sure is that they hit us up with an awesome version of the thirteen-minute (on record) title track, ‘Maker’. Van put his guitar down and sat at a small second drum kit, joining brother Lain to beat out the tracks double rhythm while Jennings leads with some fuzz bass riffs (didn’t notice that when I reviewed the record here did I?). After a few minutes of that Van left the kit and started to pick the woozy guitar line that slowly ushers in Maker’s sole passage of indulgence in Southern psych rock bombast; an indulgence I scarcely remember except to say that I know I was in a trance beating out some kind of crude rhythm on the steel railings and occasionally turning my twisted, smug grin to the audience.
It seemed faster than the record, but now I’m listening to the recorded version and perhaps I was wrong, perhaps it was just seeing them physically playing it that gave it some unexpected urgency. After all I didn’t get to sleep till the sun came up and I was feeling a hard-won recovery buzz I had almost forgotten existed. But I think I was half right, maybe it was their nerves, or maybe time constraints, but it felt like they didn’t languish (like the gentlemen of the road they are in their bearded, blood group sharing hearts) in those short passages of warm groove that make their abrasiveness so effective and as such I felt like it had flashed by.
Having said that, if they had slowed down I might not have stayed afloat and overall it worked very well as a short, intense afternoon set. I could name a dozen tracks I wished they had played, but they’ll be back. I think they closed out with Sun on Sun’s ‘Shell Skull’, by which time I was singing along with the group vocals and remembering the time that I drunkenly discovered it’s two chords on a broken Spanish guitar, prompting a similar sing-along with my housemate. Seeing them play really emphasised how integral Jenning’s bass playing is to the last album, to be honest I had mistaken a lot of his work for guitar. He’s an articulate player and puts as much thought and effort into his sound as Van does with his dead and dying amp approach.
Talking with them later on they revealed that there is a new album which is about to be mastered and released as a limited edition in the Autumn. They talked of a quick two weeks of recording in their usual pro-tools-at-the-farm manner, and they talked of guitars tuned down not one step, not two, but four. Oh, and they paid me for all these great reviews I give them - and I bought one of their t-shirts with the money (I’m cheap and yes, I’m wearing it right now).