British Sea Power w/the Catch, Rotten Apples
Sat Oct 25, Crocodile, 9 pm, $7.

After witnessing British Sea Power's first American performance last March at SXSW, I have no problem coming up with an opening question for frontman Yan (no last name) when we speak on the phone seven months later. His band's scheduled to play the Crocodile this weekend, and my question is asked on behalf of those of us who plan to attend: Are you going to hurt us?

Though only a handful of festivalgoers saw it, Yan and his military-costume-attired bandmates (all of whom go by one name only) nearly demolished the club and even bloodied a fan or two after dislodging a stack of folding chairs (freed from the rafters by the singer during an impromptu climb to the ceiling), which then cascaded onto the audience. Bossy types fearing lawsuits turned red, hollered, and swiped at the air before Yan, like an escaped circus chimp shaken loose from a tree, landed headfirst on the stage.

"Oh, were you there?" asks the soft-spoken Brighton boy before making sure I hadn't been one of the show's casualties. "I personally, definitely, will not try and hurt you," he says in reference to my question, laughing in recollection of the scene. "Yeah, it kind of got a bit strange that night," he recalls, then offers a forgivable explanation: "We were really stressed out and [the band members] had some kind of energy drink that evening, this thing called Rockstar. I really didn't think it was going to have an effect like that, though."

The band's stage décor (tree branches, stuffed birds, and other bits and remnants of once-living flora and fauna), along with their battle wear, lends one to believe our boy gets off on history. Coincidentally, as Yan was waiting for my call he was reading a collection of criticism on William Blake. "I'm reading about his vision," he says, marveling at the poet's ability to paint portraits of people he'd never seen. In psychic terms Blake's perceiving might have been considered "remote viewing," something that songwriters employ, to a lesser degree, when they write about lives they haven't actually lived.

Yan's fascination is fitting, given that there's a distinct sense of another era emanating from the album The Decline of British Sea Power, sounding most recognizably reminiscent of early Echo & the Bunnymen--way back when Ian McCulloch was singing about the pictures on the walls of his imagination, rather than the pictures of the kids in his wallet. More than just that, though, British Sea Power crank out the kind of murky guitar rock that angular jags and lazily frantic vocals punctuate so well, making them a modern-day version of one of Britain's most painterly bands.

At some times plaintive and insistent, at others rolling and retrospective, the songs on The Decline of British Sea Power whoop and wail with a barely reined-in spirit. Walkmen fans fortunate enough to have gotten their hands on a copy of antecedents Jonathan Fire*Eater's stellar first release, Tremble Under Boom Lights (now woefully out of print), should fall willingly under the spell of Yan and his brother/bandmate Hamilton's lyrics, which are draped in shadowy grandeur and roiling with historical characters. "I think it's important that songs have a lot of depth to them," says Yan, "so that while they work on the surface level, the more you find out about them, whether it's based in fact or not, you can learn from them as well. It's fun to throw [characters] in who you think people might find interesting--maybe you'll hear about someone in a song and then go and read a book about them." The singer notes that the Smiths were a band that did the same for many of their fans. "It's certainly not a brand-new thing," he says in his soft, thoughtful voice.

It's hard to place the gentle conversationalist on the phone against the naughty, dressed-up teen-on-a-rampage I witnessed in Austin last March. Then again, it's British Sea Power's incongruence that makes them sound so exciting, threat of injury to life and limb aside. There's an infectiously genial brightness shining from the songs and the band members' faces as they stand up onstage wearing threads of the past, as if they're trying it on for size and finding out, thankfully, that it doesn't fit like a glove. There may be no more beautiful song heard this year than their soaring 13-minute epic "Lately." ("All through the years, all through the dead scenes/Call through the memories, across the memories, melodies.")

"You find some old magazine with a picture of mountaineers from the 1930s," says Yan, "and they just look like they're having so much more fun than people out there these days in jeans and Nikes. I'm hoping it could catch on."