The Duchess, York

3 May 2016

I haven't seen the Moulettes live since 2014, and the line-up has changed since then. Not just the people, but the actual mix of instruments in the band, as they've gone from the seven-piece band that I first saw to a more compact five-piece, losing two violins, a harp and a couple of voices in the process. Which was a cause of concern for me, because I thought the richness and intricacy of their sound would suffer.

But I needn't have worried. Yes, to be truthful, I did miss the extra textures a violin gives, but the band still blew me away with the complexity of their instrumental and vocal arrangements.

The stripped-down Moulettes feature a front line of electric guitar, cello and bassoon, backed by an electric bass and a virtuoso drummer. All five of them sing, with the lead vocals being shared fairly evenly between the three at the front. And on top of that, most of them play multiple instruments, so the sound is rounded out by a second guitar, an autoharp, a xylophone (I think — the drummer appeared to play it, but I couldn't see him clearly), and two keyboards, at least one of them triggering sampled sounds.

So, ok, you should be getting some idea that this band doesn't play anything resembling simple or easy-listening music. The arrangements are clever, the rhythms are complex, and the vocal harmonies are probably the best I've heard from anyone.

And on top of that, the sound is monstrously heavy. They open with Behemooth from their as-yet unreleased new album, and the power of the sound is quite startling, and not really what I was expecting. And it continues throughout the rest of the songs from the new album. For a band that's played folk festivals in the past, they wouldn't disgrace the stage of a hard rock festival with a sound like this.

All that, and a political rant about Jeremy Hunt in the middle of the set (which got one of the best reactions of the night). What more can you ask from a concert? It's just a shame that the audience was so small. The Duchess is a cavernous (in all senses of the word) space, and we were a tiny bunch clustered in front of the stage.

The audience does freak me out, incidentally. It's so ... young! Most of the bands I see are ancient bands who attract equally ancient audiences. Even the new, young bands I see play the type of music that attracts (let's not beat about the bush) middle-aged men. The weird thing is, so too do the Moulettes. Any of the prog-loving audiences I'm normally in should be eating up this music, and yet those audiences don't seem to have found them, so the Moulettes are playing to predominantly [drops voice to a horrified whisper] young people! Which is great ... but ... weird.

It's hard to talk specifically about the new songs after only one listen. They're heavier than their earlier material, certainly, but they still have all the Moulettes hallmarks of complex arrangements, beautiful harmonies, and clever wordplay.

After playing the entire new album in the main set, the band came back for an encore of three songs from their three earlier albums. As they put it, a reward for us patiently listening to the new stuff!

And despite a stripped-down band, all three sounded just as good as the versions I heard live two years ago. Most interesting was Songbird, which was really the only time they got close to an "acoustic" number all night. The three-part vocals are beautiful, and when they got to what should be the violin solo it was played on (I think) xylophone, which is bonkers, and inspired, and sounds beautiful, and, well, that really sums up this band.

The last song is Requiem, and it ends with a long, powerful, joyous instrumental section where ... well, honestly, the closest comparison I have is, it's like Yes playing Würm. You know how you never want that feeling to end? It's like that.

Despite the changes, this band is still right up there with the best live rock bands I've ever seen. Even writing this 24 hours later (which is late for one of my reviews) I still have the feeling that I've just come out of the best concert I've ever seen.

Yes, the Moulettes are that good. Trust me, go and see them.