Back on stage, a multi-instrumentalist’s reverie and a sound technician’s nightmare: Human Pyramids, the heartening punk-orchestral project led by charismatic composer Paul Russell, play London on a one-off release show of their second album ‘Home’.
Human Pyramids don’t play live gigs often – understandable, when you take in the band’s sheer size. Squeezed onto the humble stage of The Lexington is a 16-strong ensemble and 20-strong choir, equipped with an explosion of instruments across the musical spectrum: electrical guitars to cellos, trumpets to glockenspiels. An oboeist in one song transitions into a melodica player on the next. At one point, among a euphonious sea of percussion instruments, a wine bottle and stick are eagerly brandished.
And everywhere you dare to look, Paul Russell is there (or he’s busy finding a path to get there). Percussion player, composer, conductor and performer all in one fell swoop: he weaves between the band to keep eye contact and conduct them accordingly, bashes at the glockenspiel and drum at any spare moment, and crawls under instruments and performers alike on his quest (at one point, relinquishing all hope of getting past a trumpet player, he gives them a hug instead)
It’s been three years since their debut album ‘Planet Shhh!’, so what’s new on their second album? Throughout the production of ‘Home’, Paul has been collaborating with an impressive array of names in the world of music – Rod Jones from Idlewild with guitars, Pete Harvey for strings and Simon Dobson for brass arrangement. Big names, with a big effect; each instrument in the orchestra is no longer ‘playing or not playing’, making noise or not making noise, but deftly arranged, honed and sculptured for maximum effect. The sound has evolved broadly into a modern orchestral symphony. At The Lexington, four new songs are played including ‘Louise’, an avant-garde-orchestral demonstration of Human Pyramids‘ unabridged energy. Old favourites from the first album such as ‘Tall Tales’ and ‘Relapse’, full of character and love, are received with just as much relish from the crowd as their new hits.
There’s a reason why Human Pyramids are forming a much-loved fixture across the musical festival scene (recent shows being at End of the Road, 2000 Trees, Arctangent and even Glastonbury). It’s not just their musically diverse vision that brings back and wins new fans time and time again, but the fact they’re clearly having a fantastic time. Every song is served with an ensemble of smiles. The project is formed out of an entourage of professional and casual musicians, and no show ever has the same players – but it’s evident to see that they’ll all make great concessions to get to perform at one of these shows. Guitarists rock out in their element, the mini brass band are in their own happy world, and the most enthusiastic triangle player I’ve ever seen has taken up camp in the corner of the stage. In a production of such a size, a moment of chaos would be understandable – but with such a body of professionals, dedicated to giving their all to that one night, that moment never comes. The sound is always impressive, commanding, and most importantly, utterly joyous – a testament to Paul Russell’s relentless hard work and the entire project’s professional vision.