There was no better place to be in Portland on a damp Monday evening in November than at the Doug Fir Lounge, when Squid, one of the more exciting post-punk bands took the stage (although their sound and style encompass a much wider variety of influences than any one genre can pin down). The band broke through fairly recently but laid strong sonic waste to this log cabin decorated venue with an enticing blend of raucous and rambunctious pounding tracks, long, swelling electro orchestral pieces, brass and horn-themed instrumentals, and krautrock inspired oddities.
Hailing from Brighton, England, and fresh off of a run of dates across America supporting their debut album, the brilliantly accessible yet avant-garde Bright Green Field (released on May 7, 2021 via Warp Records), Squid showed throughout the night exactly why they’ve been attracting so much buzz and praise since the release of the 2019 EP Town Centre, produced by Dan Carey of the heady English label Speedy Wunderground.
The band kicked things off with the high energy, fast-paced crowd favorite “The Cleaner”, and it was immediately apparent that those lucky enough to be at the sold-out show were in for a treat. Drummer/ lead vocalist Ollie Judge’s unhinged and unique vocal style boomed through the speakers as he kept the thumping, motorik beat plowing full speed ahead, while guitarist/vocalist Louis Borlase’s left field, punky guitar riffs spit venom towards the crowd. Everybody was moving within about 3 and a half seconds. Keyboardist Arthur Leadbetter and bassist Anton Pearson, stage right and stage left respectively, melded together more kooky, catchy sounds while bassist and brass player Laurie Nankivell rounded things out, shifting between instruments with ease at a moments notice. Every member of the band played multiple instruments at times throughout the show
Next came the album standout “G.S.K”, another thumping, high octane genre-spanning track that sounded just as good live as it does on record. Borlase, exemplifying the ever-present dexterity and bold musicianship of the group, whipped out what looked like a cowbell to hammer along to Judge’s heavy beat and Nankivell’s swelling saxophone, with Leadbetter twisting the knobs on his Moog and Pearson holding things down with rock steady, ever-present rambling precision. Borlase’s spider-y guitar lines (he had put down the cowbell by now) melted together with Nankivell’s saxophone to wind down the track in psychedelic fashion.
After “G.S.K” came a handful of tracks that showcased Squid’s unwillingness to be pinned down sonically, as “Fugue” and “Paddling” were performed with a level of spontaneity, precision, aura, and relentlessness that only comes from a group who have been playing together for years and aren’t afraid to take chances. The tracks seemed to medley and blend into one another, slowing down at points only to then magnify into swelling, orchestral sounding pieces. Ollie Judge roamed the stage in a trancelike state at one point, while Leadbetter looked up from his keyboard and nodded slyly to his left towards his bandmates as if to say “watch this”. Borlase, by now, was huddled over another keyboard; Pearson’s bass still underpinned everything, and Nankivell navigated more between bass and brass.
“Narrator” and “Pamphlets” winded down the evening, and by now the mosh pit had been well-formed. Judge’s agitated, Mark E Smith-esque delivery rang out over the top of the frantic yet always controlled and supremely composed tunes of his bandmates. It was like watching an All-Star NBA team during shoot-around, throwing down dunks from the free-throw line one minute, running intricate pick and rolls the next.
The breadth of Squid’s ability as musicians and performers was absolutely captivating, and even if you went into the show never having heard a note of their music, you knew quickly to expect the unexpected. On Bright Green Field, you get the sense that the members of Squid aren’t interested in being pinned down at all; rather, their interests lie in pushing the boundaries of what a post-punk band can sound like. It’s apparent that this attitude translates directly to their live performance, and it definitely translated into a stunning show for the lucky crowd in Portland.