“We don’t actually want to hurt you,” Ed Nash assures a receptively warm audience huddled around the small stage of the Brudenell Social Club. He grins demurely. “Please don’t all run away.”
He and his four-piece band – including his support act Liz Lawrence on guitar – have just performed a caustic rendition of You Thought I Was Your Friend (I Want to Hurt You), a buzzing, mumbling slice of off-kilter indie-pop.
The influence of Nash’s role in Bombay Bicycle Club is palpable; the apple of his side-project Toothless has not fallen too far from the tree, with mixed if rarely dull results.
The outfit’s debut record, The Pace of the Passing, only saw release last month, though Nash refrains from complimenting a tight eleven-song set with additional material culled from his other musical career. Instead, he creates quixotic textures, oddly misty in their quality, such as on the hushed-chants that gently float underneath opener Charon or the choral flavour that permeates a winsome The Sirens. Though occasionally cloying in their execution, there’s a subdued mournfulness to Nash’s vocals that helps sell his songs, a wispiness and wistfulness in equal part; on the grooving Palm’s Backside, he unfurls a velveteen croon that feels like an intimate caress.
Conversely though, the band struggle all too often to carve a separate identity from Bombay; Nash occasionally finds himself slipping back into the soundscapes associated with his main group.
The mid-tempo blast of Kairos, one of the first tracks the band debuted last spring, could have easily sat on So Long, See You Tomorrow, whilst the krautrock-inflected rhythm of Sisyphus, with its glassy piano-percussion, is dazzling in a familiar way.
Closing duet Pray for Two is evocative too; but only the restrained guitar snarl of The Midas Touch feels significantly like a step beyond the periphery. Abruptly, it ends and the band blink owlishly as the house lights flicker on, before they begin to dismantle their gear without fuss.
Toothless may be possessed of a beguiling slickness live; but with tracks lacquered in the same old varnish, Nash perhaps needs to broaden his horizons into the sonic distance – or risky slipping into dream-rock ambiguity.