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Squid - The Regency Ballroom (San Francisco) - February 27, 2024

3 March 2024

All photos by Sammy Braxton-Haney

On February 27th, at The Regency Theater in San Francisco, the Brighton, England-based band, Squid, came out swinging, opening with (what else), “Swing (In a Dream)”. It’s probably an overworked comparison but it feels like a lost song from Radiohead‘s OK Computer. Drummer/vocalist Ollie Judge delivers his non-sequitur style lyrics in an agitated talking pattern that locks in step with his steady, motorik playing. The crowd tonight is eager for the unique melange of Squid’s electronically produced noise, clipped guitars, samples, distorted bass, and trumpet. The band’s success has grown considerably from playing at the small Rickshaw Stop club in San Francisco just a few years ago.

“If You Had Seen the Bull’s Swimming Attempts You Would Have Stayed Away” follows, with bassist Laurie Nankivell leading the charge and injecting the song with a growly gravitas. By the time “Undergrowth” arrives, heads are bobbing in the crowd, and fists go up in the air as the audience shouts in unison “I’d rather melt, melt, melt away”, with Judge’s yelps sounding like David Thomas from Pere Ubu.

As the evening unfolds, the energy swings from extended jams with band members improvising electronically, to tight, unison ensemble playing. Songs like “Leccy Jam” also bring out a more aggressive edge to their music that isn’t so apparent in their most recent recording, O Monolith. It becomes clear that, like early Syd Barrett fronted Pink Floyd, some songs act as launch pads for in-the-moment sound explorations with keyboardist Arthur Leadbetter sparring with multi-instrumentalists Louis Borlase and Anton Pearson on guitars, keys and percussion.

The stage lights tonight are set up so that most of the time band members are not front-lit and instead the audience sees lone silhouettes hunched over instruments. Despite the often stark visual presentation, occasionally things border on funky, such as in “G.S.K.” or the 80’s keyboard pop-flecked “Narrator”.

A small pit gets formed midway through the show with a few brave souls crowd surfing. Squid are hard to pin down musically, and they are all the better for it. Live, songs often flame out in a sputtering noise fest, with a lone trumpet swooping through the debris, delivering the promise of rebirth. On stage, the band relaxes more, and it’s a welcome respite from the sometimes relentless drive of the recordings. Emotional crescendos come and go and the crowd tonight feels every one of them, throwing back to the stage their appreciation. Whether it’s sounding like Kraftwerk mixed with Pixies or Radiohead on a Pere Ubu bender, Squid covers a lot of ground in their approximately 90-minute set. It’s a radically impressive show that whets the appetite for their next tour.