Cranes – Live At Amsterdam Paradiso, Feb 22, 1991

Live At Amsterdam Paradiso, Feb 22, 1991

If you only know Cranes from the most recent albums or the American Express TV commercial featuring Kate Winslet (with Cranes’s song “Astronauts” as the soundtrack – all delicate, music-box, chiming notes), then you don’t know Cranes – at least not the early incarnation of the band when their sound was labeled as “true” gothic – not bats, black lipstick, or boiling cauldrons, but disquieting soundscapes, “little-girl-lost” wails, and dark, violent, and austere songs.

This live performance album, recorded right before the release of the Wings Of Joy album, is Cranes at their most aggressive, with seven slices of raw, industrial power and vocal intensity that plumb the depths of the heart of darkness. The album is available for download as MP3 files at the web site . The original band line-up appears on Live At Amsterdam – Alison Shaw on vocals and bass, her brother Jim Shaw on drums, Mark Francombe on guitar and piano, and Matt Cope on guitars.

The opening salvo “Starblood” starts with a backbone of muscular, primal-beat, but measured-pace, drums, then swiftly blasts the ears with razor-sharp, distorted guitars that plunge straight into the sonic abyss. Ali comes in with her tormented, baby’s-breath wails as the metal-shearing guitars build up on the chorus.

There’s a stark break where it’s just the pounded out beat of the drums and Ali exclaiming in distress. The guitars soon launch another assault, all scouring and serrated, as Ali’s vocals turn defiant-sounding, and the sound devolves into noise, like factory machinery gone haywire, until a sustained, “off-air-TV-station” note quells the catharsis.

“Dada 331” continues the industrial-sounding vibe, with a flat-smacked drum beat that drives the rhythm of the song, short, repetitive bass guitar notes, and a dark undercurrent of gritty, distorted guitars and “driving-down-a-deserted-highway” synth sounds. Ali’s vocals are sweet and airy, but also strong and troubled, and slightly echoed, riding on top of the pressing darkness. The guitar noise ratchets up on the chorus to blistering levels, all burnished and scorching, as a fast-ascending line of guitar sparks ends the song.

Included on this live album is the rare “Slow Song”, a tune that is not on any other Cranes album, but was played live in the early days of the band’s career. The title does not lie – the song is very slow and short, with a strictly-paced rhythm that starts each cycle with a hollowed-out, gong-like sound, followed by three drum beats, and then a lull, creating a stark, gothic atmosphere that builds up the tension of the song.

Ali’s delivery is very toned-down against the sparse, deep, bass guitar notes and other minimal sounds, creating a contrast between her hushed, but sweet vocals and the heaviness of the instrumentation.

An undercurrent of sustained “darkness-dawning” synth sound pervades “E. G. Shining”, placed against the fast-paced, propulsive drum beat and sheets of noisy, but not overdone, circular saw guitar. On the verses Ali sings in a lower-key, hushed on certain vocal lines, sometimes whispering, but still emphatic.

Right before the second chorus, Ali murmurs delicately, and then, Bam!, a short burst of whirlwind guitars kicks in, and Ali starts dramatically exclaiming against the shrieking, chainsaw-like guitar lines. The upheaval finally settles down as Ali shifts back to murmured vocals that play out against the full synth sound.

A spinning-spiral metallic noise starts off “Give”, until it gives way to a strong, steady drum beat and Ali singing in short phrases. Low-end, grimy guitars come in as Ali exclaims against the roiling ocean sonics and even more guitars are added to the mix, this time in short, buzz-cut bursts.

Ali’s vocals become more floating and echoed as the song progresses, with Ali singing in a higher-register, baby-doll-like voice, as the “roiling-ocean” guitars continue to propel the song, until finally Ali is keening on the last lines, and the guitars and drums briefly build in momentum, only to fade away…

“Sixth Of May” contrasts a dampened, marching beat rhythm with short, insistent runs of piano notes, as Ali sings calmly at the start. Then a siren-like guitar noise slowly curves around the plodding beat, creating a build-up of sound. Soon after, a buzzing frisson of guitars comes in against the constant piano and drum beat, as Ali builds to an exclamatory pitch that blends in with the slow, drawn-out siren-like guitar line. The guitars build up to cycling loops of screaming fury, like birds of prey circling under the glowering clouds until they fade away and leave just piano notes and the drum beat.

“Reach” features blasts of harsh, but bright, “licking-flame” guitar noise, with short cycles of ascending notes of low-end bass and a steady drum beat. Ali sounds tormented from the start, wailing in a higher tone, sometimes against drums and guitars and sometimes just against the drums. Sustained, reverb-guitar noise comes in as Ali’s vocals become more dreamy and echoed, like she’s slowly waking up to reality after being trapped in a nightmare.