Merchandise were initially a standard three-piece punk band but have evolved into something completely different. However, the lo-fi, DIY era of the group still lingers in the back of frontman Carson Cox’s mind, “This all feels too adult to us. You’re all too polite and it’s very early,” he joked to the sold out London crowd on Wednesday evening. The Florida band are one of the most interesting groups in music and their vast catalogue of genre defining compositions all exhibit this perfectly when placed into a gig setting. From the early home recorded EPs Children of Desire and Totale Nite, to the unashamedly pop After The End, as well as the recent sample heavy LP A Corpse Wired for Sound, the four-piece’s live spectacle covers each of the varying corners of their back catalogue in a seamless display of intense musicianship.
Cox’s urbane demeanour and natural interaction with the audience coexists perfectly with the phenomenal axe-wielding ability of David Vassalotti. Even the distraction of a broken string turned into a spectacle, with Cox acoustically crooning his way through an old country cover as Vassalotti rapidly sorted out his instrument. They both then jointly struck the final chord to conclude the unplanned interlude to onlookers’ visible delight.
The sporadic rhythmic pulses of ‘Crystal Cage’ sets off a gig which features masses of hazy bass reverberations and layers of effect laden guitar. All this forming the backdrop to Cox’s stunning lyrics, “Patience left you in the ocean/Reason left you out at sea/I’m through with begging for approval/Now I’m asking to be free,” he sings on ‘Green Lady’. The profound chord sequence on this song is given a renewed life and allowed to be fully appreciated when placed into a performance situation. The same can be said for ‘True Monument’s intense riff, ‘Time’s delicate bass line, ‘Flower of Sex’s aggressive throbbing core and ‘Anxiety’s Door’s Smiths-esque shredding. The various facets of each of their compositions are either removed or heightened when played live and it’s a testament to the US-based band that they possess the knowledge and capacity to know when to sanction each.
One glaring admission from the set list though was the stupendous ‘Become What You Are’, but the sheer excellence of the Tampa Bay residents’ vast sonic output makes up for this. Whilst it seems to be a regular occurrence for bands to state that they’re moving in a ‘new direction’ only for them to sound identical to their former selves, Merchandise are in a mesmerising state of natural indecision. This leads to you questioning each idea you have about them with every new release. “I think there’s a new space that we are approaching in our personal and artistic lives – that is really cool,” stated Cox in a recent interview. They’re a band that continue to astonish in the studio and on stage.