Live: The Chills / Rats On Rafts

Norwich Arts Centre June 14, 2023

by Paul Hammerton

A cold drink in the garden of Norwich Arts Centre and the prospect of a Dutch/Kiwi Fire Records doubleheader make a trip into the city on a hot June evening an attractive proposition.

Rats On Rafts are a five-piece from Rotterdam who defy categorisation.

Defying categorisation: Rats On Rafts (Picture: Adam Williams)
Defying categorisation: Rats On Rafts (Picture: Adam Williams)

With retro equipment and a distinctive synth sound, at times they sound like early-80s pop. But at other times the performance becomes more of a concept album show with one track merging into another, tightly led by David Fagan on guitar and vocals.

However, a highpoint comes when the female members of the band, including bassist Natasha Van Waardenburg, take over the vocals.

Rats On Rafts: It's a treat (Picture: Adam Williams)
Rats On Rafts: It’s a treat (Picture: Adam Williams)

How many people here are familiar with Rats On Rafts is unclear, but with most of tonight’s material about to be recorded for the band’s fourth album, familiarity with their output is unimportant.

It’s just a treat to be offered something very different compared with most visiting bands, and the reception is warm from what is a sadly sparse crowd.

Rats On Rafts get a warm welcome despite the sparse early crowd (Picture: Adam Williams)
Rats On Rafts get a warm welcome despite the sparse early crowd (Picture: Adam Williams)

After another spell out in the garden with the setting sun (one of the joys of small venues), it’s time for The Chills.

Unlike with Rats On Rafts, there’s a cult following here for the Dunedin band, giving it almost a family feel.

It's a wide-ranging set from Martin Phillipps and pals (Picture: Adam Williams)
It’s a wide-ranging set from Martin Phillipps and pals (Picture: Adam Williams)

Vocalist and songwriter Martin Phillipps has been the only ever-present over their more than 40 years, but the current line-up is now well-established and they form a tight unit.

Idiosyncratic drummer Todd Knudson gives a performance to remember, with statuesque poses pointing a drumstick to the heavens and enthusiastic singing. It’s rare to see someone enjoy their performance quite this much.

There's top-notch sound at the Arts Centre (Picture: Adam Williams)
There’s top-notch sound at the Arts Centre (Picture: Adam Williams)

They dazzle with a range of instruments, with Erica Scally treating us to haunting electric violin interludes and Callum Hampton managing to play the trumpet and the bass guitar simultaneously. Oli Wilson on keyboards is credited by Phillips for orchestrating the show.

The set ranges from first release Kaleidoscope World from the early 80s to tracks from their most recent album, Scatterbrain.

Idiosyncratic: Todd Knudson (Picture: Adam Williams)
Idiosyncratic: Todd Knudson (Picture: Adam Williams)

And it’s all helped by the top-notch sound, with the vocals clear throughout.

The standout songs are Destiny (with the poignant lyrics “Destiny have empathy, shall I face this on my own”) and Monolith, relating the power of ancient standing stones. Both are catchy and provide a warm summer sound.

Erica Scally dazzles with a range of instruments (Picture: Adam Williams)
Erica Scally dazzles with a range of instruments (Picture: Adam Williams)

The friendly feel of the evening is highlighted by a Q&A interlude with a prize of original art from Phillipps for the best question (which is “What is your favourite pie?”). And he gives a shout-out to Petula, the youngest fan here, who appears to be six or seven years old and has a prime view sitting on someone’s shoulders.

It comes as a surprise to many that this isn’t Phillipps’s first appearance here. He claims not to recall much of that previous performance, but at least one member of the audience does have memories of it from back in 1990.

The Chills have a cult following (Picture: Adam Williams)
The Chills have a cult following (Picture: Adam Williams)

Back to the music, and the night closes with Knudson leading the crowd in encouraging the rest of the band back on stage before an encore that includes I Love My Leather Jacket, which is the rockiest moment of the night.

For many, no doubt, tonight is about hearing some old favourites again. But it also makes you wonder whether recorded music can ever match the intimacy of a live performance such as this.

No one wants an encore more than Todd Knudson (Picture: Adam Williams)
No one wants an encore more than Todd Knudson (Picture: Adam Williams)

It’s the sort of evening that highlights just how important venues such as the Arts Centre are to the culture of the city, and it gives welcome exposure to such contrasting bands as those here tonight.

(Oh, and Phillipps’s favourite pie is apricot…)

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