Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Call Of The Wyld: Live Review Of The Year - 2009

The Farrs - Band Of The Year

As ever it has been a busy year. Many gigs attended, many strange sights seen. Most of it has been documented on this site, but incredibly, some of it hasn’t, such as a breathtaking show by The Decemberists at the Forum.

The band played their ‘Hazards of Love’ album in full, with guest vocalists, a version of ‘The Rakes’ Song battered out on five drumkits, and even the door men guarding the entrance turning round and clapping. The band also managed a trick often employed by Nathaniel Fregoso of The Blood Arm, where they get the whole audience to sit down – some mean feat in a venue this size and with pools of Christ Knows What on the floor.

Other goodies this year have been the Applicants playing a blinding set at the late-lamented Metro off Tottenham Court Road. This was one of my favourite venues – small, noisy, sometimes packed to the gunnels but often almost entirely empty apart from a no-nonsense sound lady and a resigned and weary looking barman.

The year started with epic shows from related Manchester bands. Buzzcocks played both their debut albums and made me all happy and silly, then Magazine reformed and were slow and majestic and proud and magnificent.

I had a lovely night in the wilds of West London with a brace of UK-based Japanese bands. It was my first exposure to the awesome Bo Ningen, whose name I didn't even catch at the time. Their set involved full frontal nudity and guitars being passed amongst the crowd. This was just a taste of what was to come later in the year. That night also saw me introduced to the wonderful No Cars, as delightful and funny an act as you are going to see anywhere.

One of the strangest nights of the year was an attempt to see Death Cigarettes at the Haverstock Arms, only to find the band fuming outside because the venue’s idea of a suitable performance area was a small shelf just inside the door, underneath an enormous telly showing a football match. Band and fans then tramped around Camden trying to find a location that would let them play. This ultimately proved futile so I diverted to an excellent show by the Kabeedies at Proud.

I loved Death Cigarettes and saw them more than any other act this year. They have of course now changed their name to the more media-friendly Cold In Berlin. So fingers crossed for that. Best Cigs moments included a couple of riotous shows at Mother in Shoreditch and a well received performance at the Offset Festival.

Death Cigarettes also indirectly introduced me to two new favourite bands – Breakneck Static, who virtually obliterated Tommy Flynn’s in Camden and The Farrs, who I have now seen twice and award the accolade of Call of The Wyld Band Of The Year for their blend of top tunes and aggravated audience and venue molestation. When The Farrs play, no-one is immune from an invitation to dance, be it members of other acts or bar staff goggling at their antics. And lovely people too.

This year saw excellent sets from more established artists. David Byrne used his collaboration with Brian Eno as a basis for a triumphant celebration of the best of Talking Heads, complete with dancers and a very bashful Eno himself.

Also back and barking (literally) was P J Harvey, whose new album with John Parish gets better with each play.

I’m not one for music festivals, but I always make exceptions for the Camden Crawl and Offset.

Perhaps not a vintage Crawl, not least because the event has become so commercial that it is little more than an adjunct to a single big show at the Roundhouse for well-established acts. However, it did introduce me to The Constitution, a Camden pub that I now frequent regularly.

The Crawl was also where I first got to see The XX, a band whose stratospheric success I find somewhat baffling. I’ve got the album, I’ve seen them twice – I’ve TRIED. And I still can’t deal with them for more than five minutes without checking my watch and wanting to be somewhere more interesting.

Offset was back for a second year and was wonderful. Ignoring the performances on the main stage, the real action was in the smaller tents. There were great performances by local bands, but the real finds were those from abroad, particularly Berlin Brides from Greece and Panico from Chile. If money and time and airlines allowed, I’d go and see those two again in a shot.

However, the best performance of Offset and one of the most extraordinary that I have ever seen was that of Bo Ningen, the four Japanese overlords of guitar based psychedelic mayhem. They were heavy like Black Sabbath and as full of violent slapstick as a Mack Sennett comedy. The packed crowd were awestruck, fearful and convulsed with laughter all at the same time. The band were treated like gods for the rest of the weekend, and rightly so.

Bo Ningen Destroy Offset

The Japanese march to a different drum to most acts and props this year also go to Baguette Bardot, the dancing dolly-bird with bread sticks for arms who supported a delightful Shonen Knife at a heaving and humid Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. Shonen Knife also provided my favourite T shirt of the year- all I’ve got to do now is lose more weight so that I can properly get into it. Afrirampo also rule, as I’m sure you know.

The most unusual gig of the year was seeing LA weirdos We Are The World provide the accompaniment to a fashion show held in the Victoria Miro art gallery. After a trip around an exhibition of strange knitted sculptures, we were lavishly fed and watered and then bombarded by the twin percussion attack of WATW, who paraded around in a succession of impossibly bizarre and shape-altering costumes. Followed by more hospitality by the side of the canal.

Kudos this year also to Kap Bambino for their high energy set at Cargo and Dengue Fever for their surprisingly loud and upbeat show at the Scala. Also great fun were Bang Bang Eche and the seriously strange Duchess Says at Madame Jo Jos.

It’s also been a fine year for what I would term ‘proper’ pop music. Music Go Music’s appropriation of Seventies disco made for a memorable evening at the ICA and The Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s recent brass-injected extravaganza at Bush Hall will also live long in the mind.

Random moments of greatness:
– Amanda Palmer swinging from the balcony of the Union Chapel, strumming a ukulele;
-lying on plush red beds in a boudoir beneath the Café De Paris with Rakell Sa;
- Bearsuit dressed as chickens at Offset;
-Innerpartysystem at the Constitution, spraying beer everywhere so that it dripped from the ceiling throughout their set.
- Mark E Smith skittering around the stage in his wheelchair like a Dalek;
-hiding from the rain and thunder with a pile of bedraggled Goths, their hair and make-up in disarray after a show by The Birthday Massacre;
-Doing a pas de deux with The Farrs at Camden Rock;
-The Horrors fizzling out like a spent firework at Offset as I sit down with a coffee.

Things I could do without:

- Soko at Dingwalls. A performance that was indistinguishable from a mental breakdown. Not good to watch, it was less a question of whether to clap as whether to call the emergency services.
- Pens at Cargo. If you’re going to play, then play. If you are not, then not. Don’t just stand there and simper.
- Telepathe at ULU. Maybe try turning your equipment on?

Finally, this year also saw me finally catching up with a band who I have admired for years and who played their first UK and European dates. Phantogram were everything I could have hoped for and more. Let’s hope for more from them and all other Call Of The Wyld favourites in 2010.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Afrirampo, Pens, Fair Ohs at Cargo - December 10th 2009


It’s the week before ATP and all manner of bands are in town for warm up gigs. This has led to tonight’s venue being less full than I expected, apparently due to Lightning Bolt playing elsewhere. I’m sure the ‘Bolt were great, but the real fun is right here.

We start off with the elephantine dance funk of Fair Ohs (it was Egyptian Hip Hop on Monday – is this a trend?). These three guys jig up and down and are as subtle as a sledgehammer, but are having such a good time that the party is well and truly started. Repeatedly self-referencing Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’, most of their choruses involve yelling and whooping. It’s too early to whoop back, but a good vibe is engendered…

…Until Pens show up. This band completely divides the audience (and my own party) and for once I find myself on the side of the nay-sayers. As seasoned readers will know, I don’t give a damn about technical ability, but I do expect to be entertained.

Pens have got the audience/band relationship ass-backwards. Their entire schtick is “Hey, we’re just girls who haven’t rehearsed, isn’t it crazy and amusing how crap we are?” All that they do is beg for the indulgence of the crowd. It’s cynical and infantile. Watching other people’s kids being irritating is never amusing; no matter how much their loving parents may dote upon them.

I last saw Pens about a year ago and assumed that they were just starting out and cut them some slack. No slack for them now.

In addition to the existing four horsemen of the Apocalypse – Death, Famine, Pestilence, War – we can now add a fifth. Afrirampo. The last are two fearsomely manic Japanese girls, clothed in red and smeared in war paint. They are louder and scarier (and more fun!) than the first four put together.

They start by being carried shoulder high through the crowd, their faces covered by masks, throwing CDs, sweets and other goodies among the throng. They then scramble on stage, Pikachu behind her drum kit and Oni to her guitar. The noise that they then make would get a medium–sized airport shut down.

Oni puts her foot on the monitor and thrashes her instrument. Pikachu bashes and squeals. They shriek back and forth, call and response. The really impressive thing is that this is clearly not random, it’s practiced and structured, even if improvised.

After about ten minutes Oni grabs a member of the audience and drags him onstage by the hood of his parka. He is given a guitar and he immediately begins to play, while the two girls climb atop their drum kit and chatter. This seems suspiciously pre-planned, but it works.

Later on, the two bring another fellow onstage, perch him precariously on a chair and encourage him to make bird sounds while they blow flutes at him. He seems suitably nonplussed.

And so it goes on. Pikachu and Oni alternate between deafening riffage and barmy percussion. Occasionally something approaching a tune breaks out. They chatter away in Japanese, although their English seems to improve remarkably if they need the sound or lighting altered. It is wonderful, silly fun.

As the audience file out, they charge back onstage for a mostly unexpected encore. Oni runs straight off the stage wielding her guitar and crashes into the crowd. It’s insane. As the mayhem subsides, the girls declare themselves to be off to Lightning Bolt’s hotel.

It’s probably no longer standing...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Ellie Goulding, Egyptian Hip Hop - Upstairs At The Garage, 07 December 2009

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

We are gathered in the relatively confined space that is Upstairs at The Garage to see three acts that have been flagged up as having the potential to break out of such small arenas and dominate much bigger venues.

First up we get Egyptian Hip-Hop, a very young bunch of Mancunian lads who touch on any number of musical trends, without really seeming particularly at home in any of them. Many of their songs display a love of the punk funk that Vampire Weekend employ, but also contain a series of protracted instrumental wig outs which must be fun to play, even if the trick is repeated too often.

The problem that I have with them is that it is in their moments when they are being most earnest and prog-rockish that they seem the most amateur and ham-fisted. Otherwise they lay down a series of good, danceable grooves and that singer Alexander’s voice is mostly inaudible doesn’t particularly matter.

This lot could go in either direction- they could become humourless musos or they could become a highly infectious dance/rock act. Fingers crossed.

Ellie Goulding is pretty much at the top of every list that predicts who is going to be huge in 2010. On tonight’s performance, such confidence is cynical in the extreme.

Accompanied only by a guy on acoustic guitar and occasional keyboards, Ellie starts off with her best known song to date, ‘Under The Sheets’. It is pretty good in an unremarkable way, i.e. nothing that would surprise you at a decent acoustic night.

Ellie is not an effortless singer. Her face contorts as she strains for the high notes, making a strange gnawing motion with her mouth which is rather unsettling and makes me feel like a tree must feel when a beaver comes towards it.

It is also the case that by three songs into her set, she has almost entirely lost the attention of this small audience, and the buzz of private conversations is so loud that she can barely be heard. As she finishes, her face is flushed with temper. Never mind, she won’t be exposed to an indifferent crowd again.

That Ellie Goulding will be a star has already been decreed by the music industry. However, on this evidence, she’s going to need a lot of polishing and carefully managed gigs to justify the money that is being put behind her.

In the six months or so since I last saw them, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have taken off big style. Tomorrow night they are headlining the Scala, so it is a bit of a coup to catch them in these small surroundings.

They have also evolved musically. In the early days they wore their influences as conspicuously as Ed Gein flapping around in the skins of his victims, but now they have a fierce confidence that makes this a real thrill ride of a performance.

They are led by the preppy charms of singer/guitarist Kip Berman, who is a young Paul McCartney, right down to the mop top hair and the cardigan. The band fairly fizzes along. If they used to be called twee, they now ally their simple catchy pop with a power that sees them take on Ash on their own territory and win.

The crowd go berserk. There are girls jumping up and down, crying and screaming and calling out. It’s genuine Bermania. I’ve not seen anything like it directed at a band like this for years. TPOBPAH are brilliant tonight, not just stars in the making but supernova right now. The future is theirs.