Quite what the Avalanches have been doing for the past fifteen-odd years since the release of their totemic debut LP is anyone’s guess, but like that friend you never see who always seems to be up to something impossibly glamorous in an unreachable location, their absence has gradually generated for them a sort of mysterious fascination. “We’ll come and see you next year”, they promise, every year. “We just got held up”, they apologise, every year, with a smile. Until, perhaps, now.
Now, at 3am on a beachfront in Barcelona, the listing reads, simply, “The Avalanches”. With a second album imminent but still shrouded in secrecy, there’s no idea what to expect; a crowd assembles out of a combination of voyeurism and loyalty to a single, singular album, looking for some sort of long-lost reunion or, at the very least, a status update,
And so, the Avalanches, long time no see. What’ve you been up to? From tonight’s showing, the answer to that appears to be something along the lines of “all sorts of nonsense”: the reckless punk aesthetic that they toured to accompany Since I Left You has been replaced by banks of DJ equipment, and the result is a sort of gloriously shambling house-party DJ set, with wilfully amateur mixing spliced with huge samples from Bowie, Prince and Stevie Wonder and a giant amount of grinning jubilation. Yes, this is a daft, almost heroically maniac approach to making a live comeback, but for every inch of technical imprecision there is a mile of attendant joy, as snippets of Since I Left You pop out from time to time like old familiar friends, and newly exhumed samples are slotted in wherever the pair on stage can manage.
From there, their hour descends - or perhaps elevates - into a straight DJ set: Joe Cocker’s Woman To Woman gets played in full as an overture to the band’s own Frontier Psychiatrist, which itself is followed by new tracks Subways and Frankie Sinatra.
Just as they appear to be hitting their stride, time is called. It’s as if the neighbours have rung and the police have come round: the pair are ushered off stage by security, still dancing with bottles of beer in their hands as their set is faded out.
It’s a curiously anticlimactic end to a tantalisingly evasive reappearance. Anyone coming to see the Avalanches in search of information about their new album will be disappointed, but it would be a hard heart that begrudged this spectacle of freewheeling delight on those grounds. “Avalanches above, business continues below,” goes one prominent repeated sample tonight - while that somewhat enigmatic business is clearly ongoing, this brief return seems all about simple, scattergun, attention-deficit pleasure.