Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Call Of The Wyld- Review of 2011


The Good Natured - C.O.T.W. Band of the Year


So that’s 2011 then. Another year packed with excellent performances.

Back in January I first made contact with Insect Guide, a marvellous bunch who made a tiny room above a Camden pub into a very privileged place to be.

In February I negotiated my way to a very run down part of East London to see P J Harvey perform her ‘Let England Shake’ songs. I caught her again later in the year at the Albert Hall. I have to admit that I find this whole current project a lot easier to admire than to love. My wish for Peej going forward is that she allows herself to loosen up and enjoy herself once more.

Also at this time I saw Yuck on the brink of a wider breakthrough during a performance at Bush Hall. They’ve done really well this year and their album is creeping into a few end of year ‘Best of...’ lists.

March was the only time in 2011 that I managed to catch long time favourites Cold In Berlin. Magnificent as always and my spies tell me that their new material is tremendous. Watch out for an early catch up on this blog in 2012.

In the Spring I saw the impressively histrionic Anna Calvi, who I really like on record but who displays perhaps a little too much artifice on stage. Another artist who could stand to relax a bit more.

No gripes on that front from Telescopes and The Coathangers, both of whom were having such a good time that resistance was futile.

I also checked on the progress of Homesick Hustlers, who are pretty much my favourite of those kids who are just getting started. It’s all potential at the moment, but I genuinely believe that they have greatness in them.

Judging by the widget at the side of this blog that helpfully indicates who has visited the site, it seems that my trip to see Asteroids Galaxy Tour was the most popular report of the year. Quite right too – the band are terrific live and are guaranteed to always cheer you up. I reckon that they would do well in front of most audiences.

I had a wonderful evening with Niki & The Dove, who turned the whole venue into some kind of weird neon rave complete with hula hooping dancing girls. The band has been picked up by the BBC as one of the Sounds of 2012. They deserve to do well.

Fun was had with Florrie and Paradise Point at the Borderline and a much more gruelling experience with Atari Teenage Riot. ATR are deliberately disorienting, but this is certainly the first time that their incessant strobe lights have made me feel nauseous.

June was more genteel, with safe and enjoyable sets from The Sonics, The Fugs and Yo La Tengo at various venues on London’s South Bank.

As summer wore on I enjoyed The Good Natured at Hoxton. This, together with a brilliant set at the Lexington a few weeks ago cements them as Band of the Year and one that I will try to catch each time they play. An album is due shortly and should be a cracker.

I found the 1234 Shoreditch slightly disappointing compared to 2010, a blinding Lydia Lunch performance notwithstanding. No Offset Festival this year either – I hope that this event can be revived.

I saw CSS turn XOYO into a bubble-filled aquarium and then had a quite astonishing evening back at the Lexington with Screaming Females & Human Hair. The sheer power and ferocity of the former and the tight-shorted strangeness of the latter will live with me for a very long time. The runner-up to Gig of the Year.

I enjoyed Shonen Knife’s 30th Anniversary celebrations and then couldn’t quite figure EMA out.

One of my favourite performances of the whole year was that of Paris Suit Yourself at Madame JoJos. They had ludicrous sound problems, but turned adversity to advantage, eventually abandoning microphones altogether and simply hollering from the front of the stage.

I had another memorable night with Japanese gender bending rock outfit Versailles. Not only do my friends and I still amuse ourselves by copying the uniquely fey guitar pose that we first saw that evening, but I also got so lost going home that I spent nearly two hours wandering forlornly around some pretty rough estates down the back of Kings Cross.

A night to be remembered for all the right reasons was the all Scandinavian bash at Hoxton Bar & Grill featuring Razika (whom I’d not seen before), LCMDF (whom I’ve never seen better) and Sykur (who were too drunk to see- and were brilliant).

I satisfied my metal urges with Kvelertak & co at the Underworld and was completely blown away by a resurgent Wire at 2011’s Venue of the Year XOYO. Great support that night from Talk Normal as well.

XOYO also provided a lovely evening with Givers- a band who in an ideal world really ought to be poised for world domination in 2012.

I had a thoroughly entertaining time spending Halloween with Britney Spears. Not a guilty pleasure, a pleasure full stop.

December ends with what has turned out to be the Call of the Wyld Gig of the Year. Duchess Says, o F F Love and WE are all worthy of mention, but came together in a manner that was both magic and mayhem. It was art. It was a Happening. It was a gig. It was an assault. I can’t stop smiling when I think about it and I’ve still got a very painful crick in my neck from when Annie-Claude forced my head into the floor.

Unforgettable events that bring to a close an unforgettable year.

2012 - .Top that!


Duchess Says: Gig of the Year

Friday, 23 December 2011

Your Army and Panda Cubs at Bull & Gate - 19 December 2011

Your Army: Photo Soulcatcher

I’m standing in front of the stage at the Bull & Gate. It’s cold, and there are not many people here.

This is rock at the bottom rung of the ladder. For many bands who play here, the only way is up. Actually, scratch that – from here most bands call it a day.

So I’m delighted to report that tonight I get to enjoy two acts who both deserve wider audiences.

First up are Panda Cubs. They’ve come all the way down from York on the Megabus. They reckon that they’ve had three hours sleep. It doesn’t show.

This four piece are dressed in black. The singer is striving for cool behind dark glasses (possibly the lack of sleep is having an effect after all). He lets his hip side down a bit by being extremely polite and solicitous about our health and general well being.

Panda Cubs have more than a touch of Editors or She Wants Revenge. It’s slow, melodramatic and punctuated with bursts of guitar fury. I lap this kind of stuff up and really like them. When they say that this is only their seventh ever gig, I warm to them even more.

All this lot need are gigs under their belt to be come a nice tight little outfit. Ones to watch.

Headliners tonight are Your Army, about whom I know very little except that they come from Brighton and have signed to a German record label.

So I derive great pleasure from finding that they rock like demons and have, in singer Lucy, a pint sized dynamo, who can wail with the best of them.

Your Army aren’t doing anything that is particularly new or avant garde, but they fill a space in my musical soul. If asked I would cite Two Day Rule and the Sam I Am/Boudica as amongst the greatest lost bands of the last decade. And Your Army remind me rather a lot of those bands.

Sometimes all you need is a powerful voice and some crunching guitar. The energy that comes off the stage causes the audience to start bobbing about, myself among them.

They don’t stay long, but I’m happily sated.

Two new bands to keep track of. A highly satisfactory evening.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Duchess Says, o F F Love and WE at CAMP Basement - 12 December 2011



Duchess Says photo by Tim Griffin


I’m lying flat on my back on the floor of CAMP Basement. A wild-eyed girl, her hair whipping wildly, straddles my chest and pushes my head down into the concrete.
How did it come to this…my mind drifts off…

…it’s a desolate wet and windy night outside. The streets are largely deserted. Down here in the venue a very few intrepid souls are about to be taken on a wild ride. Nothing is straightforward, even from the beginning.

WE are four in number.
WE wear Perspex blocks to mask identity.
WE stand shoulder to shoulder, not on stage but in front of it.
WE are interchangeable, in appearance and in sex.
WE are un-Google-able.
WE prod keyboards and hit drum pads.
WE intone vocals in unison.WE play songs that all start “We…”
“WE can help you.”
“WE want to hold your hand.”
WE just played a robotic Beatles cover.
“WE will always love you.”
WE finish with another brilliant cover version.
“WE kissed a girl and WE liked it.
-WE liked it.”

We like it.

WE are poorly focussed


After WE have gone, things start to get stranger still.

A video projection shows slowed down and silent images of dancers. An audience cheers noiselessly. You can’t tell whether they approve or are angry. A minimal beat starts up.

A figure shambles forward, his face swathed in cloth, like Rorschach from Watchmen. This is o F F Love and he yearns for us.

He sways and sings, his voice eerily and utterly distorted and non-human. It is slow and high and mournful. It is somehow ineffably sad and beautiful.

He moves among the crowd, approaching girls and imploring “Would You Dance If I Asked You To Dance?” They don’t.

Crestfallen, he drifts away, the projection now showing an image of himself, alone and still pleading.

He comes forward again, offering roses. Rejected once more, he moves off, solitary and inconsolable.

It’s like watching a species go extinct in front of you.

Headliners Duchess Says take to the stage and the world goes crazy.

…keyboards and bass pound remorselessly in a whirling ‘Space Ritual’ jam...the room spins…this is the gospel of the Church of Budgerigars, the cult whose acolytes are solely found within the members of this band…

…Out to convert us is saucer-eyed mistress of misrule Annie-Claude Deschênes. She rarely speaks except in a series of staccato yelps and screams. She gesticulates both intricately and weirdly, her eyes often staring into space or rolled back in their sockets completely…

…she fights with the audience, dragging people to the floor. She rips the clothing off anyone who is wearing anything that is still buttoned up. She makes us all sit on the ground and create a human arch of arms and legs through which she crawls…

…a nervous punter offers her one of o F F Love’s roses. Annie-Claude eats it.

The music is as tumultuous and out of control as the performance. Ismael Trembley pressing down on his keyboards as though trying to prevent them from leaving gravity behind. You can’t tell where the band ends and the crowd begins.

Spying the unattended bar at the back of the venue, Annie-Claude runs behind it. The band strike up new anthem ‘Time To Reiterate’, with their singer using the bar as a impromptu pulpit, with her on one side and her disciples on the other. She snaffles a bottle of rum and pours shots for everyone. The barman stands bemused.

We are then led Pied Piper style back across the room for a triumphant and riotous version of ‘Black Flag’.

We’re battered, bruised, amazed, delighted and exulted. WE were great, o F F Love was moving and Duchess Says like Armageddon. What a night!




Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Good Natured, Get People, Zen Arcade at Lexington - 06 December 2011

The Good Natured

I’m intrigued to see that the first band on tonight are called Zen Arcade. This leads to assumptions that they are influenced by the mighty Hüsker Dü. Hardcore guitar pop ahoy! Or not, as it turns out.

When Zen Arcade start their short set, I detect no traces of Minniapolis’ finest, but am pleasantly surprised to find a band who take their cues from recent British successes such as Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys.

The band have an ear for guitar pop and a damn fine tune and do not disgrace themselves. They’re still a little stiff and prim at this stage, but they’ll loosen up with experience. A very good start to the evening.

Get People have a plethora of musical appliances to assist them through their set. There may only be three members of the band, but there’s enough gadgetry on display to fill a branch of Maplins.

The band play euphoric dance pop of the sort that got many young people proclaiming a third Summer of Love a few years back. It’s the music of the rave, the chemically-enhanced happy clappy bliss of the sun rising above the rocks on an Ibiza morning.

It’s a vivid and uplifting groove and Get People er… get people moving.

I have a feeling that despite the reception that they receive, that the band are not completely happy. There is a lot of muttering about sound and equipment problems, none of which are apparent to anyone who is not on the stage.

Get People are very good tonight and if I can’t entirely enjoy them it is because I have never really connected with this particular sound. I never cared for fellow travellers Klaxons or Friendly Fires either. However, if you still like glo-sticks and tie-dyed T shirts, this is the band for you.

There is a lot of gear to move off the stage, and we are entertained by a DJ set from Charli XCX (whom I am due to see in her own right at this venue in February). I like the music that she plays and admire her enthusiasm and wine consumption.

Sarah MacIntosh, the resplendently dressed singer with headliners The Good Natured starts their set by mentioning that she has just knocked coffee all over herself and burned her legs. Every male in the place runs his eye over her long pins up to the point where they disappear into a tight pair of spangly shorts. They look fine to us.

This band grow in stature and confidence every time I see them. They play ebullient disco pop with huge choruses and are an instant party and a guaranteed good time.

MacIntosh is soon off the stage and dancing and writhing amongst the throng. We get songs such as ‘Wolves’, ‘Dead on the Dancefloor’ and (appropriately enough in light of the coffee incident) ‘Red Skin’.

It’s a marvellous show, and the stage is used very effectively. The band have decorated their environs with standard lamps, and these create the illusion of the musicians bopping around their living room. All back to theirs!

They finish with a stomping version of ‘Skeletons’ and everyone is grinning like fools.

A fine evening, with three excellent bands in evidence.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Kvelertak and Toxic Holocaust at Underworld - 26 November 2011

Kvelertak

It’s an early start at the Underworld. The place may be filled with black-clad hulks adorned with fearsome tattoos and facial piercings, but the management want these hordes of Satan out of the door by ten fifteen.

We start off with Wolves Like Us, who stand in a line across the stage and blast out a fine fast metal which gets the heads of the audience whipping back and forth.

The band sport impressive facial hair. You could imagine that in a very cramped dressing room that their beards could become entangled like so much Velcro. I like the band, they have a Motorhead no-nonsense simplicity about them.

Next act The Secret have taken the place of the rather more interesting Trap Them and I find it hard to warm to them. The singer is slightly too intense and gives the impression that this gig is a somewhat unpleasant ordeal that he will be glad to get through.

The band don’t really engage and I take the opportunity to look at the merchandising stalls. There is very little in the way of music to buy, but each band have a plethora of lurid T shirts on offer –this is clearly where the money is.

Toxic Holocaust are heaps of fun, and take me back nearly three decades to when I was sixteen or seventeen. This band are old school metal, certainly in attitude if not in actuality.

They are fast and furiously heavy and dedicate songs to the devil, songs to whiskey drinkers and they swear so incessantly that stage pronouncements become faintly ludicrous. You could imagine them announcing that someone in the muthafuckin’ audience had better move the muthafuckin’ Golf in the muthafuckin’ car park because they are muthafuckin.blocking some muthafucka in.

I enjoy them a great deal, but wonder if I am doing so ironically, as even though I love their noise there is a part of me that finds them funny. And of course the more serious they are, the funnier it gets.

I’ve been looking forward to the headliners ever since I was introduced to their album late last year. Kvelertak are a band from Norway and in this smallish venue they are like a bomb going off.

The stage is filled with sweaty men smashing at guitars and screaming. The crowd simply erupts and tries to storm forwards, often being fiercely repelled by a mean looking stage hand with a Zapata moustache.

Fists are pumped in the air; we are exhorted to “Fight! Fight! Fight!” and the drumming and flailing limbs are just tremendous. It’s big dumb fun.

However, as with all such bands, there’s not a great deal of light and shade in what they do and after some while fatigue sets in.

I do the management a favour by leaving well before the curfew, my ears ringing like a muthafuckin’ bell.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Wire and Talk Normal at XOYO - 23 November 2011

Wire

They’ve overdone the dry ice.

Heading down into XOYO there is such a chalky fug in the air that if you had a canary in a cage about you, the poor little fella would be turning his toes up.

The atmosphere does not appear to have anything particularly to do with the first band, Talk Normal. I take to them right from the off.

It’s a deceptively simple set up. Andrya Ambro stands behind a drum kit and sings, Sarah Register does unspeakable things to a guitar whilst also occasionally chipping in with vocal contributions of her own.

The percussion is particularly notable, a fast, skittering constant ticking sound that conjures images of insects and unease. Vocals are as often yips or barks as anything that might be called ‘normal’ singing. However, just because you can’t make out what is happening doesn’t mean that it is not exciting and enthralling.

At one point Register starts playing her guitar with a screwdriver. Harsh, metallic shards of sound result.

Talk Normal are very much in the tradition of classic New York ‘No-Wave’ bands. Their songs are punchy, urgent, intense and delivered with steely conviction. I’m extremely pleased to have seen them.

This is the third time that I have seen Wire in under a year and they have become better each time. Tonight they are on positively incandescent form, and clearly enjoying themselves.

Wire have almost progressed from being a band to something more akin to a cult for their devoted followers. Their audience tonight is almost entirely men in their late forties or beyond who have an almost encyclopaedic obsession with the minutiae of the group. It’s about collecting statistics as much as it is about the music.

The set covers the band’s lengthy career from the most recent ‘Red Barked Tree’ album to stuff off ‘Pink Flag’ like “Two People in a Room”. There’s even a version of mid-period favourite “Boiling Boy”.

The fan boy scuttlebutt is that Wire’s next project will be a re-visiting of the songs that were to form their unreleased fourth album, and which only appeared on the disappointing and confused live album ‘Document and Eyewitness’. Some of these tracks may have been played tonight – there are certainly things going on that sound both new yet somehow familiar. This is of course a very Wire-y thing to do, looking forward and backward at the same time.

Tonight’s set ends with a version of “Pink Flag”, which clocks in at around six or seven minutes. It’s certainly shorter than the ten minute version that they played in Paris in May this year. (If you can’t beat the stattos, join them!)

Another Wire gig for the collection. And a very fine specimen indeed.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Besnard Lakes, Suuns at Scala 22 November 2011

The Besnard Lakes (photo: Patrick Kelly)


There’s a sparse crowd in the Scala as Suuns take to the stage.

Whilst this would obviously be a disappointment to the band, it feels eerily appropriate to their music. Suuns are all about the space between notes, the crackle of electricity that buzzes through the ether after an instrument is sounded.

They start off with an upbeat, keyboard heavy number that pounds its way down the autobahn. The crowd, finding the grove, nod their heads in unison.

Vocals are often indistinct and electronically distorted, just another component in a maelstrom of sound. ‘Songs’ are nebulous concepts – a beat starts here, a guitar is struck there, loud and quiet, fast and slow.

If I have any criticism of the band at all, it is that on occasion it can seem as though they have got a little too caught up in an interesting sound effect rather than a coherent tune, but mostly this is majestic, epic stuff.

After watching the first couple of numbers from headliners the Besnard Lakes, I realise that I am here under a misapprehension. I had somehow got it into my head that they were a different act entirely (as it turns out, David Vandervelde). I’m glad to be wrong.

Besnard Lakes play a slow, woozy, fuzzed up version of classic US rock. It’s the Mamas and Papas on half speed, or Urge Overkill on opiates. Although of course Urge Overkill WERE on opiates at the time.

Centre stage is Jace Lacek, dressed up to the nines in leather jacket, huge sunglasses and mullet hair cut. Looking at him, I get flashbacks to Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople.

Lacek has an unexpectedly powerful falsetto voice, a pure keening sound that slices through the often monstrously heavy sludgy sound.

Equally impressive is singer and bassist Olga Goreas, effortlessly one of the coolest women in rock. She’s a powerful presence and clearly the subject of much fan boy love – which she accepts with good humour.

It may be a small crowd, but it is a warm and welcoming one and there is a great rapport between stage and audience, with banter back and forth. We are invited to “heckle the fuck” out of the band, but what follows is basically conversation rather than confrontation.

I really enjoy the band and would be happy to see them again. Ironically, the band have an album called “The Besnard Lakes are The Dark Horse” and for me, tonight, they were.


Besnard Lakes - Albatross (Live) from Big Ass Lens on Vimeo.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Givers, The Shivers at XOYO - 08 November 2011

Givers


I walk down the stairs of a chilly XOYO to be confronted by the fascinating and aptly-named-in-the-circumstances New York duo The Shivers.

Although confining themselves to guitar and keyboards, the band conjure an impressively wide range of music.

Keith Zarriello is pugnacious and direct and looks as though he might be useful in a fight, yet posses a voice that is sometimes a growl, sometimes a throaty roar and sometimes a near operatic trill. His colleague Jo Schornikow is one of the best keyboard players that I’ve seen, clearly properly trained rather than relying on the traditional two fingered ‘what does this button do?’ hopeful prodding.

On one track the pair sound as much like Sly Stone as it is possible for two people to get, on another there are traces of the Eighties Noo Yoik sound of Billy Joel. This is of course a good thing.

The Shivers are a bit jazzy, a bit muso, but are pleased to be here and have a good rapport with what is still at this stage a rather thin crowd. In fact, such is the sensitivity of their sound that a bit of space and quiet around the stage does them no harm at all.

Next up come local band Zulu Winter. This lot have back projection, stylish hair and are clearly under the impression that they are going places. I’d be amazed if this were the case.

The band lack spark. It would be lovely if they could parlay their swirling, windswept sound into something vital, but the truth is that they don’t have a single song that doesn’t fall short of its intent.

Musically, they sound fine in a populist Coldplay kind of way, but their tunes have no bite, no crunch, no soul. The word that I initially wrote in my notebook was ‘invertebrate’- they have no central spine, but are rather an amorphous pudding-y blob of a band.

Givers are a five piece band from Louisiana. I’m glad to finally see them, as their last scheduled London show was cancelled due to the summer riots.

It’s a small stage at XOYO, but Givers make it smaller still by crowding right to the very front, their equipment teetering on the edge. How Tiffany Lamson’s drum kit (one of two in the band) doesn’t end up in the crowd is a thing of wonder.

Lamson shares vocal duties with Taylor Guarisco, who clutches his guitar to his chest as though it were a loved one. The reports of Givers as being a ludicrously exciting and joyful band are about to be borne out.

Lamson smashes her drums with more power than seems possible. Watching her jump up and down, hair flying everywhere, her arms a blur is to immediately think back (or forward) to Animal of the Muppets.

A typical Givers song is an intricate beast, comprising several movements, a pounding Afrobeat and dual vocals that are part Merrill Garbus, part Yeasayer and partly something completely other. They aren’t songs that you can whistle, but your soul will be uplifted anyway.

The band is very chatty and engaging, which helps to distract from the unfortunate problem that they are rather disorganised and that they take way too long between songs. Even allowing for a bona fide five minute technical hiatus at one point, the band runs slow and late.

It is impossible to be cross with them though. They are as happy as a whole bed of clams and I am too. I climb the stairs of the venue with Givers’ mighty encore of ‘Up, Up, Up’ ringing in my ears. It seems appropriate.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Jeffrey Lewis at Heaven - 2 November 2011

Jeffrey Lewis


I arrive at the venue and am immediately taken aback. The place is absolutely rammed solid, a heaving mass of checked shirts and unfortunate facial hair.

The opening act , Seth Faergolzia (ex of Dufus) is just doing his final two songs. Judging by these I’m eternally grateful that we didn’t get here earlier and saddened that I didn’t arrive fifteen minutes later.

We edge nearer the front. An extremely nervous and uncertain girl with an acoustic guitar shuffles onstage. This is Alessi Laurent-Marke (aka ‘Alessi’s Ark’) and I have rarely seen anyone so unprepared and out of their comfort zone.

It doesn’t help that this venue in a converted railway arch tends to suck sound into the void above our heads, and this, coupled with her weak voice and lack of presence means that not only does Alessi fail to engage, but she has to keep stopping and apologising. It’s a pretty excruciating sight.

It is sad to say that her entire act depends upon the expectation that an audience will be tolerant of a simpering girl listlessly strumming a guitar and bringing very little to the party. Such environments may exist, but this isn’t one of them. If she wasn’t so lacking in any kind of spark, you’d feel sorry for her.

Jeffrey Lewis has become a pretty big act these days, which I’m sure surprises him as much as anyone. When he and his current band appear, they are welcomed with whoops and squeals of delight more appropriate to Justin Bieber.

Frankly, Jeff doesn’t look at his best this evening. He seems frazzled and exhausted and he is going to have to address the issue of his receding hairline sometime soon – a lank and greasy comb-forward is not a cool style and doesn’t even cover the gaps. Embrace the razor, Jeff, and you’ll be liberated!

He is joined tonight by his brother Jack and also by the lovely Nan Turner, moonlighting from her regular band Schwervon.

Jeff’s new album “A Turn in the Dream-Songs” is given a hefty push this evening. The songs fit seamlessly alongside his earlier work and his talent for witty, clever and self-deprecating lyrics that focus on his own predicaments (“Cult Boyfriend”) or which tell bizarre stories (“Krongu Green Slime”), is well to the fore.

The band are energetic and tight, but as with the support act, they don’t seem to quite cope with the cavernous acoustics in here.

Jeff also treats to several of his trademark illustrated story songs. Tonight, we get a tale of an alien inventor and a history of the life of Marco Polo, Jeff crouched on the floor, beaming images onto a sheet at the back of the stage.

The old material is not entirely forgotten and Jeff plays a bravura rendition of (shall we call it a classic?) “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror”.

The crowd lap it up and you get the impression that if it wasn’t for pressure from the venue’s management, who want us out so that they can get a club night started, that Jeff and co would play all night.

So we get an encore of the silly “Mosquito Rap” and one last illustrated story detailing the adventures of “The Creeping Brain”.

This has been Jeffrey Lewis’ biggest ever London show and I don’t think that it has been entirely comfortable. His charm and ingenuity are ideally suited to intimate spaces and I don’t think that he has quite adapted to a more amplified, less forgiving sphere of operations.

However, Jeff is amongst friends here tonight. And every time that he plays, he makes more.


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Britney Spears at Wembley Arena - 31 October 2011

It's Britney, bitch

It’s Halloween and I’m surrounded by zombie schoolgirls.

I’m here at Wembley Arena for Britney Spears on her ‘Femme Fatale’ tour.

I had expected spectacle, but what follows over the next ninety minutes is just astonishing, both in terms of excess and quality. The tickets weren’t cheap, but you can see where the money went.

There is a theme that runs through the show, something about surveillance and persecution and the role of the Femme Fatale in history. It doesn’t make a jot of sense, and I almost feel that someone designed a brilliant stage set based around the industrial bleakness and spikiness of the ‘Saw’ franchise and that the supposed story that runs through the song list was a bit of an afterthought.

Once the wheels are set in motion, there is no let up. Indeed, unlike many mainstream performers, Britney pretty well eschews ballads and anything else that might slow down this juggernaut for a second. Instead, Brit and her dancers and acrobats gyrate and pound their way through a series of ever more lavish set pieces.

At the beginning our heroine and the female dancers are imprisoned in a series of cages, menaced by the guys in police uniforms. They soon escape and a short time later are dancing on top of a pink mini convertible that has appeared on stage. In the back of the vehicle support act Joe Jonas is manacled to a seat and lap danced to within an inch of his life.

The dance routines are punctuated by video footage of an apparently menacing evil mastermind who somewhat laboriously introduces the theme of each new extravaganza.

At one point Britney appears on a gigantic Egyptian barge to a backdrop of towering neon pyramids; later, she’s dancing her way through an endless procession of picture frames, or singing the only slow song of the evening in a swing high above the auditorium, with an acrobat dangling beneath her.

The volume is deafening and is produced by two guys playing on banks of equipment up in a gantry. They are never introduced or thanked. It is unclear how much of the vocal track is actually live – certainly all the guest raps on particular tracks are performed via film on the giant video screens.

However, the strength or authenticity of Britney’s voice is not really an issue. On all her recent albums, her voice has been distorted and digitally mashed about and just becomes one component of the overall song. A typical Britney track could be performed by the ‘robots’ of Daft Punk – and no one worries if they are miming.

What Britney has is the tunes and the unswerving love of the crowd – even before the concert has started it is noticeable that everyone you see milling about the Wembley concourses is just ecstatically happy to be here.

The great show stopper is ‘Piece of Me’, Brit’s thumping riposte to the then tabloid scandal surrounding the break up of her marriage, her weight, her shaved head. Tonight, the song is played out to a backdrop of golden Armalite rifles and exploding hand grenades. It’s a Bond film credit sequence come to life. It’s fabulous.

The show never slackens its pace and just gets ever more way out. ‘Toxic’ sees Britney in a kimono, with various ninjas propelling themselves around her ears.

By the time of the encore, the baddie has been defeated and the entire cast are clinging to two life size electricity pylons while nuclear bombs detonate behind them. By this stage this seems entirely logical and appropriate.

Some critics have been a bit sniffy about this show, but I think that they miss the point. This is a grand spectacle designed to ensure that everyone has a great, inclusive time, and to make your jaw drop, even as you dance your ass off. Britney may be playing to her core audience, but there are very few acts that don’t.

The previous evening, I had seen P J Harvey at the Royal Albert Hall. It was another superb show (but not one that was sufficiently different from the last time that I saw her to justify a separate review). It was meticulously staged and orchestrated and perfectly presented to a fan base that hung on every note and loved every moment of it. I see no distinction between this and Britney Spears playing to an arena full of zombie school girls.

The show ends and we pour off into the night. Everyone is happy, even the undead.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Tribes, Dog Is Dead, The Supernovas at Electric Ballroom - 28 October 2011

Tribes (Photo from Alfie)

When we arrive at the Electric Ballroom, the first band are already well into their set. It’s clear that the promoters want to get the whole evening done and dusted early, so that they can run a club night afterwards.

The Supernovas are young, cocky and as smart as a pistol. Literally- they spend quite a lot of time with their guitars to their shoulders like machine guns pretending to mow us down. They’re big of mouth and massively self-confident.

Rightly so, because they sound like a non-sensitive version of Ash, the songs being crisp and punchy and with big choruses. None more so than set closer ‘Dusty Air’, which I initially mishear as a tribute to the legendary Leicester and England rugby player.

If Connor McNicholas was still running the NME, The Supernovas would be all over it. Make of that what you will.

Dog Is Dead are this week’s contender for the band with the worst name in pop music. However, their silly nomenclature should not detract from their music, which is excellent.

The signature style of this five piece band is that they often sing in harmony, a rich Beach Boys effect that is enough to win over the hardest heart.

The young crowd love them and sigh and sway along with the music. The band are as sensitive as the Supernovas were brash. Both approaches are finding favour here tonight.

Tribes are local lads and this big hometown gig is a statement of intent. The crowd may be predisposed to like them, but on this showing, the band are going to draw big crowds up and down the country.

Flanked by flashing strobes, the band are adept at hitting the balance between sensitivity and bombast. Lots of arms are raised in the audience, and everyone seems to know the words. It’s an undeniably impressive spectacle.

The recent single ‘Sappho’ is dispensed with early, and may be the catchiest song about lesbian love triangles on record. Majestic stuff.

The set progresses and they even safely negotiate the dreaded acoustic guitar interlude that many rock bands have foundered upon in the past.

Tribes are aptly named, many of their songs are about banding together, about belonging. It’s a trick that Suede often used, and it breeds loyalty amongst the fan base. So we get ‘Coming of Age’ and ‘We Were Children’, the latter featuring a rallying call to kids “born in the mid-90’s”.

I sing along too. I know no shame.

The gig ends nice and early and everyone has had a grand time. All three bands have been good to excellent and make me feel that UK guitar pop is in a pretty healthy state.

The club night afterwards is called “I Love the 90’s”. Sounds that tonight’s bands must have heard in the cradle. Blimey.





Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Blood Arm, Paris Suit Yourself, Great White Shark at Madame JoJo's - 18 October 2011

Paris Suit Yourself by Sebastien Dehesdin

I’m not sure that I like surprises.

What has caught me off guard is a previously unforeseen third band on tonight’s bill. This throws the timings out and will have implications later on in the evening.

The unexpected pleasure is Great White Shark, who hail from Berlin, but are originally from the UK. They illustrate how times and fashions change.

Fifteen years ago you couldn’t move for bands that sound a little bit like Oasis, a little bit Verve, a little bit Stone Roses. We used to sneer at these chancers and run them out of town on a rail.

Yet tonight, Great White Shark exhibit all of these tropes and sound fresh and (whisper it) pretty good. There is nothing here that hasn’t been heard before, but their skinny frontman knows what he’s doing (and throws a good rock star pose), while the band certainly understand the value of a catchy chorus.

There is nothing familiar about Paris Suit Yourself. A set that could have easily come unstuck because of massive, repeated and ridiculous technical problems becomes an unalloyed triumph, a performance that will live long in the memory.

The band come in all shapes and sizes, a foxy bassist, a cool keyboard player/guitarist, a semi naked tattooed drummer and the massively muscled and dreadlocked singer Luvinsky Atche, the sweat shining on his torso.

This is a primal performance that speaks to basic, animalistic emotions. It‘s all about drumming and rhythm and ritual. What is really impressive is that even though the microphones don’t work for much of the time, this is incorporated into the show, Atche filching mikes where he can from the other musicians and even at one point standing at the front of the stage and singing unamplified altogether, howling at the audience. He pants, yips and snorts as though expelling demons.

The percussion is relentless, including some proper honest to goodness drum solos. The bass line is immense and the combination recalls Doug Wimbish, Skip MacDonald and Keith LeBlanc and the heyday of Tackhead.

Towards the end of the set, Atche descends into the crowd, his body dripping with perspiration. He leads them in a frenzied dance that is wild and wonderful and completely unlike anything I’ve seen.

Paris Suit Yourself are unique and are heavily recommended.

This is all dandy and fine, but it does mean that headliners The Blood Arm come onstage horribly late.

Although perfectly clear, the sound mix seems wrong, with singer Nate Freguso almost inaudible behind the guitars and keyboards.

There is nothing wrong with tonight’s show, but I’ve been so spoiled by the Blood Arm over the years, with them always being exceptional, that when they are merely very good it seems a disappointment. This is of course a ludicrous state of affairs.

Time is against me and I have to leave half way through their set. I am told that I miss Freguso being mauled by a member of the crowd and Eddie Argos and chums getting up onstage for a drunken sing-along. Apparently things finally wind down at about 11.40. It’s very frustrating, and unusual for promoters White Heat, who generally run a slick operation.

However, I’d have been even more annoyed to have missed Paris Suit Yourself and I consider it an excellent evening.


Monday, 3 October 2011

Versailles at Islington Academy - 02 October 2011

Hizaki of Versialles

The queue has formed two hours before the venue opens its doors. The heady mix of extravagantly dressed Goths, metal heads and cosplay aficionados are drawing stares from the muggles passing by.

We are here to see Versailles (aka Versailles Philharmonic Quintet in some territories) who are one of Japan’s foremost exponents of visual kei metal and are over for a European jaunt.

This form of music values appearance almost more than the songs themselves, and the more elaborate, androgynous and rococo a band looks, the better it goes for them.

There is a strict moratorium on all types of photography, video recording and images recorded by mobile phone. Although you might argue that this is the equivalent of KISS going “Don’t look at us!”, the ban is impeccably observed throughout the show.

The venue is about three quarters full and there is an incessant chorus of girly voices chanting “We Want Versailles!” They keep this up for twenty minutes solid.

After a minor delay, the lights go down and the show begins. Each member introduces themselves in isolation, slowly rotating to show off their finery, flashing devil horns and whipping the crowd into frenzy. It’s kind of like the music box opening from an episode of Camberwick Green, but in better costumes.

And then they start with thunderous kick drums and squealing guitar solos. This is good old fashioned thrash – with a twist.

A typical Versailles song lasts around ten minutes and consists of crescendo after crescendo. Everything they do sounds like the very final encore of a Metallica gig. It’s almost unrelenting.

The band look amazing. Singer Kamijo is dressed in a red frock coat that drips with gold brocade and incorporates a gossamer cloak that he can sweep in front of him.

The twin guitarists are Teru, who has silver sculpted hair like an anime hero and the other is the quite astonishing Hizaki, who is dressed as a lady of Louis XIV’s court. And is male.

Hizaki’s guitar work is extremely impressive, as is his dedication to his character. He maintains an impassive poker face throughout. Whilst most metal guitarists screw up their faces and stick their tongues out, Hizaki’s face remains as expressionless as a porcelain doll- even with one foot on the monitor, which is not something you often see from someone dressed in a crinoline.

Bassist Masashi is dressed in black and mostly stays at the rear of the stage, occasionally hulking over the others and drawing appreciative screams from the audience whenever he does so.

The band are tightly choreographed, always moving in synchrony with each other. They have perfected a graceful wave at the end of each guitar flourish – a courtly, feminine gesture a world away from the windmilling of the likes of Pete Townsend.

Versailles also often spin around, as though they are dancers in an elegant waltz rather than purveyors of metal mayhem .

At the halfway point, the rest of the band scoot off for a quick rest, leaving Kamijo to sing a slow, hugely lachrymose ballad. Most of the audience have purchased glowing fluorescent roses, which are waved in unison amongst a sea of hands.

The rest of the band return and it is back to the bombast.

At one point Kamijo and Hizaki dive off the stage into the audience, who were clearly not expecting them. No one is hurt.

Versailles are (obviously) an unusual proposition. In some respects they could be deemed to be very limited in what they do – any twenty minute passage is much the same as any other. Yet they are hugely entertaining and their ninety plus minute set passes in a blur.

Versailles have completely achieved their goal. They are a beautiful, intricate clockwork toy that is completely artificial and could almost be put under a glass display case. And they rock too.

I forego the opportunity to meet the band afterwards and spin off into the night, waving gracefully.








Saturday, 1 October 2011

Razika, LCMDF, Sykur at Hoxton Bar & KItchen - 29 September 2011

Razika

It’s the end of September and quite unexpectedly, the weather in London has turned as hot as hell. No one expected this, certainly not the bands playing here tonight.

Tonight’s entertainment is bought to us courtesy of Ja Ja Ja Music, purveyors of top Nordic pop fun.

We start off with Sykur, who hail from Iceland. They are three young guys called Halldór, Stefán and Kristján, who hunch over keyboards and produce a minimalist, stripped down Knife-like funk.

However, the undoubted star of the show is their guest singer Rakel Mjöll, who has prepared for the performance by getting cataclysmically, heroically, gloriously drunk. She crashes onto the stage dressed in a white manga school girl outfit and just lets rip.

Sometimes she raps, sometimes she sings, often she just wails off microphone, producing a sound not unlike the Clare Torry vocal solo in Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig In The Sky’. She also jumps up and down a lot and bashes the rest of the band about.

She is hilarious but utterly brilliant at the same time. Occasionally slurping from a pint of lager secured with both hands, she has a magnificently expressive face, across which every thought and emotion can be read as though it were on a ten foot billboard. Confusion, determination and terror being the feelings most prominently featured.

Despite, or perhaps because of this apparent chaos, Sykur are absolutely fantastic. The music is catchy and the sheer lack of inhibition and open vulnerability on display completely disarming.

You can tell that the band are a bit disappointed with the static, gobsmacked crowd. This is a shame because this is one of the most memorable performances of the year.

I have seen LCMDF several times over the years and had pegged them as kind of ‘ok’ but not much more than that. Tonight, my preconceptions are not so much blown away as completely vaporised.

The two Finnish sisters Emma and Mia Kemppainen are accompanied by Christian, an unflustered and cool drummer. It is quite clear that the addition of a live percussionist has completely rejuvenated the band and allows the two girls free rein to bombard us with their full on bouncy pop.

Blonde singer Emma struts, preens and dances in a pair of denim shorts and works herself up into a breathless frenzy. Mia plays guitar and gradually sheds clothing in the heat, each laughing at the other deteriorating into a sweaty, sticky (sexy) mess.

The set starts with crowd favourite ‘Gandhi’ and proceeds from there, each track more energetic and joyous than the last. LCMDF are on terrific form tonight and have not just raised their game, they’re playing a whole different sport. They have a track called ‘Cool and Bored’ – it’s pretty much the least appropriate title imaginable.

Headliners Razika thus have two very tough acts to follow, and that they don’t manage it is hardly their fault. This is their first show in London and they are clearly extremely nervous.

Razika are an all-girl quartet from Norway, who dress in black and white and play ska music – although not in the usual sense of the term.

In some respects the Razika approach to ska is the same as Vampire Weekend’s appropriation of Afrobeat- measured, deliberate and more of a mathematical exercise than an explosion of energy and fun.

The girls stand stiff and awkward and you rather feel for them. They come across as sweet and earnest, but very daunted by the experience and hopelessly outgunned by the acts that have preceded them.

It has been a sweltering, rowdy, booze-fuelled belter of an evening. There’s talk of an Indian summer – but it looks like a brilliant Nordic night to me.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Miracle Fortress at Madame JoJo's - 13 September 2011

Miracle Fortress by Cindy Lopez

There are strange things happening in the venue.

One of the in-house security guys has got it into his head that on no account must any object, be it a bag or a coat, touch the floor. So for most of the time while the first band are onstage, I am watching this petty martinet harassing punters, only for them to break his cockamamie rule as soon as his back is turned. It’s ludicrous and it is insulting. And of course, once the venue fills up, he is unable to do it.

The three guys who comprise I Ching are rather a sideshow to this kerfuffle. They stand in a line and are a bit synth-y, but are generally so wishy washy that they can’t hold your attention even when you are looking directly at them. The kindest thing to say about them is that they are not offensive and they don’t hang around for long.

Brasstronaut start off very well. This six piece outfit from Vancouver include a trumpet and an electric clarinet, which they put to good use.

On the whole, I would say that they are a jazz band with some indie leanings rather the other way round. They are prone to lengthy semi-improvised excursions that detract from the rather Randy Newman piano/vocal style of Edo Van Breemen.

Their very first song is terrific, a heartfelt piano ballad that gradually builds into something epic, as all the other musicians come in and do their stuff. The problem that they run into is that all their material is very similar and, despite the number of people on stage, they are not particularly dynamic. I’d be interested in their recorded works, however.

Miracle Fortress is essentially a solo project of talented musician Graham Van Pelt, although he is joined here this evening by a live drummer. The album ‘Five Roses’ was big favourite around certain parts and it has been a number of years since there has been a sighting of this iteration – possibly because Van Pelt has been touring with his other outfit Think About Life.

At first, things seem a little off. The sound of the vocal is extremely muddy, and the tunes seem rather naff. I rather cruelly compare him to Coldplay and receive a chastening boot on the shin from a companion.

And then things get very unexpected. Making use of an impressive set of lasers and day-glo lights, much of the rest of the set is devoted to full on 80’s disco-flavoured stompers that are very fine, even if the ghost of Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’ album looms rather obviously over proceedings.

We boogie about and don’t care where on the floor we put our bags. Everything is rattling along very nicely.

Unfortunately, good things cannot last, and the last number is another solo ‘Coldplay’ tune. Not unpleasant, in fact exactly the opposite. Too damn nice.

An interesting if not wholly successful evening.

And seriously, Madame JoJo’s – sort your staff out.



Sunday, 18 September 2011

EMA, Waters at Cargo - 14 September 2011

EMA

I’m beginning to wonder if fists in the air college rock is making a comeback. We’ve recently had Butch Walker and the Black Widows’ “Summer of 89” and tonight in Cargo we get Waters.

Of course much of the best blue collar apparently American rock was actually Canadian in origin. And it is the influence of Neil Young and Bryan Adams that is very much apparent.

So this is rousing stuff, with much thrashing of guitar and tossing of hair. There is an urge to drink pissy American beer. An urge not indulged while Cargo thinks that £4.50 is an acceptable price for a small bottle – but I digress.

Van Pierszalowski is a handsome front man, fashionably dishevelled and breathless. He is extremely happy to be here tonight, as he repeatedly tells the rather aloof audience. I enjoy this set – it harks back to a time when bands didn’t care about being cool, but just wanted to have a good time. Waters warm things up nicely.

I have been looking forward to seeing EMA aka Erika M Anderson ever since she was one half of the brilliant but dangerously self-damaging combo Gowns.

Tonight, she is joined by a drummer, violinist and bassist. It turns out to be quite a ride.
Musically, the band are all over the place. In the sense that they head off in all sorts of different directions. What follows is less like a coherent set, but more an audition piece, designed to show range.

Abuse and victimhood are recurring themes, with first track “Marked” featuring the repeated line ‘ I wish that every time he touched me left a mark’. It’s all a bit gothy and witchy and ‘look at me, you don’t understand me’. She later sings her song ‘Butterfly Knife’ which is even more explicit about personal violence.

Songs veer from a whisper to a scream, often accompanied by sheets of distorting guitar and violin drone. It’s great, but a bit wearing.

EMA changes personae throughout. Sometimes brittle and vulnerable, sometimes a Courtney Love style rock chick and sometimes a sassy rap rock. It all reminds me of Pink – safe rebellion for tweenagers. It’s very impressive, but it also feels manipulative and fake.

We get a cover of a Violent Femmes song, and a blistering version of ‘California’, a free association letter of hate to the Sunshine State that throws out lyrical quotes from Bo Diddley and even ‘Camptown Races’.

I’m really glad to have finally caught up with EMA, and I’m a big fan of the album ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’ – it’s just that things don’t quite coalesce for me tonight. I can’t believe in this angst, because I suspect, the artist doesn’t either.



Live on Radio K: EMA - "Marked" from Radio K on Vimeo.




Monday, 12 September 2011

Shonen Knife 30th Anniversary Party at Scala - 11 September 2011


Shonen Knife


It’s a Sunday. It’s ten years since the twin towers came down. It’s the 30th Anniversary tour of Shonen Knife. There’s only going to be one winner.

I get into the venue just in time to see Slowgun wrap up their last two songs. I rather like this band, and have seen them previously, always low on someone else’s bill, always deserving of more attention than they actually get.

It’s the same tonight – they sound as though they should be headlining somewhere else.

I’ve seen the next band before as well – the last time that I saw Shonen Knife. I originally thought that Smallgang have some kind of symbiotic relationship with the Japanese combo, rather like mistletoe grows on an oak tree. It’s actually because they share a record label.

The four piece all wear glasses, not as a fashion statement, but because they can’t see very well. They make the most of this, and fans can buy a t-shirt featuring four pairs of glasses upon it. It’s an image, of sorts.

Musically, they are very mixed. Never less than proficient, they mostly rather drift by without noticing in a gentle alt-rock shimmer. That said, they have a big wig-out guitar frenzy that concludes their set and one quite excellent song ‘Cockpit’ (about a crashing airplane) in the middle. This track alone justifies my time with the band.





Cockpit by smallgang


Shonen Knife are celebrating thirty years of existence, even though line up changes in that period have left with them with only one founder member, Naoko Yamano. It’s a bit Trigger’s Broom, but we love them anyway.

The current line sees Naoko joined by the ever-beaming Ritsuko Taneda on bass and Emi Morimoto on drums.

Shonen Knife are as much a fundamental part of the fabric of rock and roll as the Rolling Stones. Nature abhors a vacuum and there must always be a place for heads down, minimalist happy punk bashed out by three perma-smiling Japanese women. It’s what guitars were invented for.

It’s a simple recipe and a successful one, three chord rama-lama fun that has the crowd bouncing like lunatics.

The set draws from their entire career, with the latest album represented by a paean to the Capybara. This ska-inflected song may, unless I’m mistaken, rhyme ‘Capybara’ with ‘Happy-bara’ – which is some kind of genius.

For an encore, Shonen Knife assume their alter ego as Osaka Ramones and rattle through ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’, ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’ and ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’. We all go mad, of course, and I realise that many here tonight are too young to have seen the Ramones in any form.

Shonen Knife are a great institution. Here’s to their next anniversary.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Screaming Females, Real Numbers, Human Hair at The Lexington - 9 September 2011

Screaming Females by Carl Fong


I’m enjoying the bands. My face is covered in fluorescent green make-up. The two are not unconnected.

The first act on tonight are Human Hair. Things start off extraordinary and progress from there.
It would be easy to lose sight of how good this lot are, because the rest of the band have to stand in relative anonymity because of the appearance and antics of vocalist Jack Lantern.

The beard is full, but acceptable. The crotch tight khaki shorts and bare feet are less expected. Lantern capers and hops around like a lascivious bare legged homunculus, thrusting his pelvis and using his microphone as a phallus as he roars and bellows.

It’s all very primeval and shamanic, rock front man as Lord of Misrule. He worries me because as he jumps and climbs around the venue, vaulting down amongst the crowd and writhing on the floor, there seems a real danger that he will stomp on something metal and pointy and injure himself. But disaster is averted.

The rest of the band stand on stage and bash out gargantuan riffs. It is wonderful, one of the performances of the year. Even so, it is clear that the band are having misgivings about some of their equipment. During a brief breakdown we are treated to a strange and disturbing poem from Lantern, who seems to be channelling some rural demon.

Human Hair have to be seen to be believed.






SUN GODS by HUMAN HAIR

Real Numbers hail from Minneapolis and have distilled power pop to its most basic form. This three piece are as rigid in their template as the Ramones were in theirs, although they are far sunnier in disposition than Da Bruddas.

No song lasts longer than two and a half minutes, no song consists of much more than its title sung over and over as a chorus.

They are light, airy and completely insubstantial. Fun while they last, but not really nourishing.

While being entertained by Real Numbers, I am approached by a group of kids and have my face painted. They are fans of headliners Screaming Females. But mainly, they are fans of face paint.

Melissa Paternoster of Screaming Females is an extraordinary character. She is tiny, barely five feet tall and clothed in a long black dress that makes her look like a member of a particularly strict Puritan sect...

...until she hits her guitar and the back of the venue gets blown out.

Screaming Females are not so much a band as a detonation, a monstrously heavy and thundering rock band that are part Hendrix, part Sabbath, part White Stripes and wholly phenomenal.

The audience goes bughouse crazy, heads banging and even some surreptitious air guitar.

Melissa pounds her axe as though she wants to destroy it, occasionally stomping on a battery of FX pedals to shred a squealing solo. Her voice is almost mechanical, precise and clear- except when she screams so loudly that even the guitars are drowned out.

This band are a force of nature and would go down a storm with any audience. It’s like standing in front of a herd of charging elephants, you admire the power even as they mow you down.

When the set finally ends, and silence reigns, I feel bereft.

I wash my face as well as I can and stagger off into the night, glowing greenly.






Wednesday, 24 August 2011

CSS and Alpines at XOYO - 23 August 2011

CSS

It’s been a month since my last gig and I’ve been suffering from withdrawal. I couldn’t find a venue in Stockholm and I had an evening rioted off in Shoreditch. It’s been very frustrating.

But tonight, I’m back, baby.

It’s a rather inauspicious return. I desperately want to like gloom pop trio Alpines but I find them very hard work.

Singer Catherine Pockson is a sight to behold. Strong of voice but teetering very much on the cusp between thin and emaciated, her fingers genuinely give me the creeps – the last time I saw bones like that they were being carbon dated in a lab.

Alpines are not bad, just rather over familiar. There’s nothing here that really stands out, except for the occasions towards the back end of their set when the keening, emotive delivery suggests that the first Portishead album may not have been too far from their thoughts. You feel that Alpines will be more interesting on record, and there is certainly material here that might come alive in the remix.

It’s been a while since Cansei De Ser Sexy were last on these shores. In fact I haven’t seen them since they played to a cold and indifferent Wembley Arena as support act to Gwen Stefani.

In many ways, Lovefoxxx and co have followed the classic trajectory of fashionable pop bands. A first album that everyone loved, sell out tours, media chasing them all over the place and then a second album that failed to excite much interest at all. Now, some four or five years later, they are back with a new collection of songs under the heading of ‘La Liberación’.

CSS are a brilliant party band, so they ought to be great in a small underground venue like this. However, it doesn’t quite work out that way…

As the band appears onstage the venue is suddenly filled with soap bubbles. It is magical and unexpected, as though we are suddenly little plastic divers affixed to the bottom of a fish tank.

Singer Lovefoxxx starts the evening in a heavily studded leather jacket and neon finger rings. She’s up for a good time and so are we. By the second song she’s crowd surfing around the venue and all seems well.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that the sound tonight is just awful. It’s both quiet and muddy and despite the frenzied efforts of the band it’s very difficult to get more than a rough outline of the songs they are playing. Admittedly I’m not helped in this regard by a disinterested, loud mouthed wanker yapping in my ear throughout.

It also doesn’t help that the band are beset throughout with technical problems that bring them to a halt between songs and break ups any momentum that the set might have been gathering.

The performance is split fairly evenly between their first two albums and the new one. Naturally enough, it is the material from their debut that gets the best response. ‘Alala’ and ‘Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above) are still stone classics. New songs ‘Hits Me like a Rock’ and ‘Fuck Everything’ suggest all is well in the song writing department.

For me, a rather mixed return to live action. I enjoy the bubbles and can’t fault the effort of the bands. I just wish I’d been able to hear them clearly enough to get more into them.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

What I Did On My Holidays...


My recent attempt to catch some live music whilst on holiday in Venice and Stockholm was a bust. Not from want of trying though.

As it was, I had to run to the hills from the prospect of Sting and his Symphonicity tour stinking up St Marks Square. (Warning: The video contains images of extreme smugness). The Biennale was good though.

Stockholm on the other hand was teeming with good music – if only I could have found it. I spent well over an hour searching under a motorway for fabled rock club Debaser, before the needs of others took priority.

However, as a treat, here is a link to Swedish label Labrador and their free compilation ‘Stockholm Belongs To Us’ . It’s really good.

Normal service is now resumed . Plenty of stuff coming up...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Good Natured, Josh Osho, Lovelle at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen - 20 July 2011

The Good Natured

There are those who feel that they haven’t had value for money unless a band has played for three hours. Not me. I like a bit of brevity.

I’m in the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen for a Gold Dust night and the emphasis is on sets that are short, sharp and sweet. No-one gets more than half a dozen tracks, if they’re lucky.

That said, it’s a slightly odd bill, with such a disparity between the first three acts and the headliners that there is a complete cultural apartheid. The composition of the crowd changes almost one hundred per cent.

First off this evening we have Lovelle, a highly personable and extremely talented R & B/Soul singer. She says that she’s nervous but it doesn’t show in her performance, which is absolutely note and move perfect, I suspect even down to the ‘ad-libs’. She’s accompanied throughout by a scary Catweazle-looking dude on an acoustic guitar.

Lovelle is very impressive, but in a Brit School world, she faces a lot of competition. In two years time she’ll either be massive or out of the business.

AlunaGeorge are also on a soul kick and remind me of school discos back at the end of the Seventies, when I’d just hate everything and try to sneak ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ on when the DJ wasn’t looking. When punk broke, the main opposition wasn’t metal or prog, it was The Commodores.

Aluna is long and thin, with a nasal, high pitched and rather whiny voice. George bobs behind a keyboard and ticks things along with a series of glitch-y bleeps and bloops. There are two other guys on stage, but they aren’t considered important enough to be included in the band name.

And then, amidst the dross, a miracle. They announce their next single ‘You Know You Like It’ and it sounds awesome, an absolute monster of a track. Terrific stuff, but sadly unrepresentative.

{DISCLAIMER: When preparing this piece I listened to said track in the cold light of day. It’s nothing special. But last night, in the live setting, it was great}

There’s a lot of buzz about the place for Josh Osho. And you can see why – he’s got all bases covered.

His set ranges from plaintive ballads, to hands-in-the-air party tunes to urban soul. When Josh sings, he reveals a fantastic crooning voice. He’s easy on stage, he’s pleased to see us and is generally as charming as hell. Another potential star in the making.

The tracks ‘Birthday’ and ‘Redemption Days’ are massive crowd pleasers, the latter featuring a Ghostface Killah sample approved by the man himself. Osho’s forthcoming album is 'executively produced' by RZA (whatever that term means in reality), but it shows the level of support and expectation that surrounds this very talented young man.

After Josh Osho, we have the changing of the guard, as the R & B posse leave and the indie kids press down the front. It’s the place to be.

Singer Sarah McIntosh adheres to a simple rule. As long as you start and finish a song actually standing on the stage, you can mess about on the floor of the venue all you like for the rest of the time.

This is The Good Natured’s first gig since McIntosh’s recovery from a broken leg, and she’s keen to make up for lost crowd invasion opportunities. For most of the time she can be tracked around the venue by the huddle of people surrounding her, cameras and phones recording her every move.

The band use the occasion to unveil a new toy. This is billed as a ‘laser harp’ and allows McIntosh to ‘play’ beams of light in the manner of Jean-Michel Jarre. Or at least pretend to, because it doesn’t appear to make any noise. Looks good, though.

The songs sound excellent this evening, which is ostensibly a showcase to launch the band’s new Skeletons ep. I’ve only seen The Good Natured once before and already everything sounds like greatest hits – a good measure of how catchy these grandiose electropop tunes are.

It’s been a really enjoyable evening. In addition to the headliners I’ve seen a couple of excellent performers in a genre that I’m not often exposed to. Well done to all involved.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The 1234 Shoreditch - 9 July 2011

Throwing Up

I’m here once again at 1234 Shoreditch, the boutique music festival in the heartlands of hipster heaven.

Things are a bit shaky at first, with all the bands appearing to have technical problems at the same time. I wander from stage to stage watching musicians huddled around their equipment and looking a bit baffled. There’s not a lot of music being played.

After a long delay Argentinean Big Beaters Polen get things off to a lively start. They look like a cheap 80’s sci-fi flick and even have a heavily synthesised vocal that sounds like a guttural Dalek. They’re good cheesy fun, and props to their two pals dancing like loons at the front of the stage.

I find Rainbow Arabia a tad disappointing on the main stage. I’m a fan of their Los Angeles take on eastern rhythms, but in the flesh they seem rather lethargic. I had hoped that they would be more uplifting.

The four girls from Novella have drawn a large crowd in a sweltering tent. And…they’re alright. Decent and straightforward songs are mostly well put over. However, they do have two singers and one is markedly better than the other. This band is worth keeping an eye on.

I soon tire of the elaborate facial hair and proggy tendencies of Love Video and head off to get me some Sex Beet.

These lads jangle along at a jaunty lick. For promoters eyeing up an act to attract followers from the likes of The Drums, they could be just the ticket. It’s nice to hear a pop band play fast. One of the happier bands of the day.

Nitewreckage are just bizarre. This band includes such diverse talents as a visibly over relaxed Dave Ball (ex Soft Cell) prodding a piece of hand-held kit the size of an ash tray, a dancer who is so thin that she looks as though she would have to run around under a shower in order to get wet and a fierce (and funny) Boadicea of a front woman who may be filling in until Pat Evans leaves Eastenders. I like this band, because they are largely mad, but the tent does get emptier the longer they go on.

Stage timings are all over the shop, so I catch less of Throwing Up than I had intended. Two thirds of this band used to be in Headless and this band has a lot of what I liked about them, namely thrashy, heavy guitars and shouty female vocals. I wish that I had seen more of them.

Echo Lake are doing good business crowd-wise. Unfortunately I can’t quite share the general enthusiasm. Linda Jarvis is not so much a singer as a sound effect, cooing and aahing over a wash of guitars. It all sounds very relaxing, but there is no dynamism or much to distinguish one song from another.

Over on the main stage, consummate live performers The Chapman Family are delivering a fine, if largely familiar set that draws an appreciative crowd. Some uber fans have even kitted out their baby with blue ear defenders so that it can join mum and dad in sticking its head in the speakers. All seem to be having a good time, so calls to the Child Protection services are put on hold.

One of the themes of the day is to try to arrive at a tally of bands that incorporate one or more members of Bo Ningen. Patent Saints certainly do.. They nurdle along playing a flamboyant organ-driven space rock. It’s ok for a bit, but like much of this type of new psychedelia, it’s clearly more fun for the musicians involved than it is for their audience.

Lydia Lunch on the main stage is a revelation. She’s dark and malign, obscene and a lot of fun. Her voice is a low and lascivious croaking rasp, her band a perfect accompaniment, slow and sludgy and monstrously heavy. Her profanity strewn version of ‘Your Love Don’t Pay My Rent’ is my personal highlight of the day.

From here on, I find that things kind of peter out. While some of my gang enjoy the free form musings of Damo Suzuki (more Ningen here), I discover Toy. They look like Spinal Tap, but play mostly instrumental Krauty, motorik music that always seems to be building up to the start of some mighty anthem without ever delivering one.

I eschew The Raveonettes on the main stage, not because they are not good, but because I can’t face picking my way through the throng to get close enough to see and hear them properly. I make do with Warm Brains, who are pleasant enough but don’t leave any kind of impression.

By now it is getting late and there is no one else due on that I would particularly care to see.

It’s been a thoroughly decent day out, let down only because I didn’t find any acts that completely blew my socks off. Glad I caught Lydia though.