Full disclaimer: I have been itching to see Squid live since they released “The Dial” back in 2018. In fact, they (along with black midi) are how I fell down into the deep and twisted rabbit hole that is the punk revival being seen in the UK right now. As such, my anticipation for this show was through the roof—I bought my tickets 8 months in advance—and it did not remotely let down. The beauty of this punk…or post-punk… or Windmill… or Jazz-rock… or math-rock (whatever suits you) is the immense range of concert experiences you can anticipate. I was rag-dolled in the most intense mosh pit of my life during a black midi show, but stood front row of a Yard Act concert and would’ve been able to tell if a fly landed on my head. Then there are acts like the Viagra Boys, in which about a dozen fans showed up in shrimp costumes and frolicked around the mosh pit for an hour straight. Squid, being the methodical and jazzy band they are, drew a crowd of its own, one that would have fans self-adorning the title “sophisticated.” While I do have my ~strong~ stance on musical pretentiousness (we’ll save that for another time), I understand why people feel the way they do about Squid. It was clear that each band member is incredulously meticulous and thoughtful, each member displaying an array of talent across multiple instruments.

The group is amid the North American portion of their O Monilith! tour, with their third stop being The Basement East on the first Monday of February. Although the 2023 sophomore album did not meet the critical acclaim of their debut, Bright Green Field, O Monolith! displays the band’s continuous growth and desire to push boundaries, and is equally as composed yet tumultuous as their previous work. Touring with them for all of February is another post-punk act, Water From Your Eyes. If Squid were a fine bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, then Water From Your Eyes, would be a piquant block of Gorgonzola. Like Squid, Water From Your Eyes has been touring for their 2023 release, Everyone’s Crushed, which surfaced on multiple year-end lists and received massive critical acclaim. Formerly considered an indie-pop duo, Rachel Brown (vocals) and Nate Amos (guitar) made a stark transition to an experimental and progressive sound on their 2020 album, 33:44, and are now beginning to see the fruits of their artistic labor. The long-time collaborators are supported by drummer Bram Wollowitz and bassist Al Nardo for their tour.  

Though mellow, the quartet sauntered on stage with subtle confidence with, Amos pressing play on the back track without hesitation. Over the distorted bass and synths blaring from the speakers, Brown introduced the band, and thus began the show. Water From Your Eyes spun each of their studio tracks into unique live versions that created an unsettlingly pleasant unfamiliarity. Particularly, Amos plucked singular strings on the guitar to the cadence of Brown. Although this muddled her vocals, it created a distinctly natural autotune effect that complimented the band’s already off-kilter sound. Opening with the existentially punky “Buy My Product,” the crowd braced for a noisy show. They proceeded to juxtapose their opener with the psychedelic lullaby “Structure,” which sounded just as much like a kid was mashing buttons on a keyboard live as it does recorded, but went back into action with the indie-hit single “Barley.” With its relative popularity, Water From Your Eyes maintained “Barley’s” compositional base, which condensed the dispersed particles of concert-goers into a liquid, filling the open space.

Rachel Brown showing her appreciation (by dancing) to drummer, Bram Wollowitz, and bassist, Al Nardo.

The highlight of the opening performance was the chaotic “True Life.” Nardo’s bass ripped through the speakers and each chord felt like a blow to the gut. Paired with an arhythmic guitar riff, “True Life” was a true punk banger. Ready to start the mosh pit myself, I peaked left and right, and, to my dismay, found only a few others in the same mood. Water From Your Eyes closed the set with the extraterrestrial ballad “14”. Amos swayed the crowed into a trance as the foursome set their equipment down and meandered off stage.

To balance Water From Your Eyes’ mellow manner, the members of Squid frantically ran on stage to prepare their equipment. Like firecrackers, each member rushed to tune guitars and, shift around their instruments, even if just by an inch, bouncing left and right to tighten the drum set. Spectators anticipated a rapid turnaround between sets, yet Squid knew to let the sea of concertgoers dry, yearning for rain to come again.

And when it rained, it poured. From beginning to end, Squid put on one of the greatest live performances I’ve ever witnessed. They opened with “Fugue (Bin Song),” a song that they had begun playing live after the release of Bright Green Field, but only recently released onto streaming platforms. I will try to refrain from using “epic” as a descriptor because my reaction to every. single. song was “that was epic”. Nonetheless, it was an epic opener. Guitarist Louie Borlase opened with a set of harrowing arpeggiating chords and Anton Pearson was shortly called into action, plucking a new layer of stinging notes. For what could’ve been 20 seconds or 20 minutes, Laurie Nankivell set his bass guitar rumbling through the crowd and Ollie Judge, both drummer and lead singer, began reciting an animistic poem in his distinct holler, all while Arthur Leadbetter maintained sonic cohesion by operating a cap-peddler’s set of keyboards.

Louie Bourlase (left) layering synths while Ollie Judge (middle) sings and drums and Anton Pearson (right) stares into your soul.

Squid was clearly in their element, as they soon played two songs that had yet to bless an audience’s ears (well, one had not yet made its way across the pond, while the other was completely new). Showcasing “Pancake Day” first, Borlase and Nankivell sandwiched Judge at center stage and began playing around with their own sets of keyboard toys. With synths pulsing, Pearson laid down a rhythm, soon followed by Nankivell back on the bass. What had begun as an eclectic electronic track soon transformed into a relaxed jazzy jam, reminiscent of The Smile. Their other unreleased track, “Glass”, similarly relied on outré synths but played into a funkier tune that featured a banjo-y bassline similar to Big Thief’s “Spud Infinity”. The hundreds in attendance at The Basement East were not only geeked by the performance, but on the edge of their seats for what other tricks Squid might pull from their tentacles.

The anxious expectation for what might come next was pervasive throughout the entire show. Despite Squid’s long-winded and complex compositions, they never left the audience with wandering eyes, moving seamlessly between elegant jazz-rock and head-banging crescendos. Squid embraced their subversive nature, and when the audience began to applause at the end of “Pamphlets”, the crew all looked at each other with smirks on their faces and proceeded to flash the venue with another two minutes of explosive emotion.

Pearson shows off his multi-instrumental talent on the trumpet.

Their twelve-song selection might seem light for some artists, but the show lasted nearly two hours and still felt too short. The fifty-fifty split between tracks off O Monolith! and singles/Bright Green Field painted a candid picture of the band’s range. No one would’ve complained if they played a few more of their early singles, like “Houseplants”, “The Cleaner”, or “The Dial”, but it’s clear that Squid is moving on from their frivolous anthems and into more introspective themes.

The Monday night setting subdued the crowd to abstain from the standard post-punk affairs of bumping shoulders and sharing sweat, but there was no doubt in mind that every soul was captivated throughout the entire experience. Squid walked off stage past everyone’s bedtime, but their performance caffeinated the audience enough to throw encore chants back-and-forth with no cessation in mind.