Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Charlotte Church and A Blossom Fell at Water Rats - 24 September 2012

This is one of those gigs that just had to be done…

We start off with Battle of The Roses, who don’t look well. This is entirely due to the lighting on the tiny Water Rats stage. Everyone is bathed in a harsh greeny-blue glare that cruelly exposes every drop of sweat and makes the band look like corpses that have been fished out of the river. Flattering it ain’t.

There are plenty of people in the band and they are rather enjoyable in a folky raggle taggle kind of way. Theirs is the sort of song that sounds as though they are telling tales of hardship on the sea even if they are not actually singing of things nautical. If you like The Decemberists, Battle Of The Roses could really polish your poop deck.

The band have an excellent violinist and a strong main singer. They add percussion by tapping and banging on the frame of their instruments. It turns out their drummer was recently deported and that they are now on the look out for a replacement. I actually think that tonight’s semi-acoustic approach suits them very well.

There is a lot of support in the room for A Blossom Fell. And as soon as they start up, you can tell why.

This London six piece are fronted by a trio of vocalists (Hannah, Louise and Sarah) who can really belt it out. In terms of volume I reckon that they are approaching six Aguileras on the full-on diva scale.

A Blossom Fell absolutely storm it this evening. It’s a naturally receptive audience, but there is so much sheer energy and obvious enjoyment pouring off the stage that resistance would be futile.

If there is a minor flaw it is that while each song is a perfect showcase for the power and range of the singers –and their harmonies are just terrific- that actual tunes are in short supply.

However, in the euphoria of a performance like this it doesn’t really matter if there is nothing that you can hum afterwards. A Blossom Fell just take the roof off tonight.

Charlotte Church is accompanied this evening by six very proficient guys who can barely fit on the stage. Church herself is resplendent in white and given a ghostly glow by the light from the lap top perched beside her.

She seems very nervous when she starts off, but soon relaxes and strikes up a warm rapport with the crowd.

It’s a mixed set of songs, encompassing the pure catchy pop of “Say It’s True” to the Rupert Murdoch – baiting “Mr The News”, which is genuinely angry and is closer to MBV noise rock than you would have expected.

Charlotte’s voice is a wonder and she does all that she can to protect it, wolfing down huge spoonfuls of honey and lemon every three songs or so.  It is during the several power-ballads that the Church pipes really come into their own. The clarity and emotional power that she generates is breathtaking.

The set meanders a bit and not all of the songs are as strong as their singer. One exception is a track that sees Church setting up a series of sound loops so that eventually her voice becomes its own backing track.

It’s a very winning performance and your heart goes out to her as, even as she unwinds, Church always has to be on her guard. She mentions the hot, dry atmosphere on the stage but admits that she can’t describe it in her preferred terminology because this would involve swearing.  She sticks to water and her honey/lemon mixture throughout.

The evening finishes with a disco-lite number called “James”. Charlotte smiles, waves and is gone, having already told us that she doesn’t do encores because she finds the experience of standing in the wings and wondering if she should return too traumatic.

It’s been an unexpectedly fine evening, with some stand out vocal displays. I can barely manage a grunt while A Blossom Fell and Charlotte Church positively soar.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Patti Smith at Troxy - 13 September 2012

Patti Smith

I was going to blame the venue…

I’m in the Troxy to see the mighty Patti Smith. Patti and her band are the gig equivalent of a home banker. Solid gold every single time.

But not tonight.

When Patti and co come onstage, the immediate impression is that they are very quiet. Not quiet in a reverential sense or because they are playing acoustic instruments (they are not), but quiet in the sense that if I play a Patti Smith record in my living room, it’s louder and more urgent than this.

It’s not an aberration. Smith and the rest sound like they are down the hall in another room.

It doesn’t help that I’m somehow blocked off by people and can’t see – it’s clear from the movement and unrest in the crowd that very few of them can see or hear either.

It is shaping up to be one of the most nondescript gigs ever, until around three quarters of the way through, Patti goes into one of her trademark monologues and dedicates the next track to Pussy Riot.

And then the band play ‘Because The Night’ and the house lights come up and we are all illuminated, a connection is made and it’s wonderful.

From this moment onward, we get a gig. Smith and co change from being something going on in the background to the rabble-rousing hand-clapping air-punching entity that we’ve always loved.

The last fifteen minutes are an extended and euphoric version of ‘Gloria’ intercut with ‘Pissing in a River’. It is wholly magnificent and amongst the finest live musical moments I’ve experienced in the last few years.

So I’m rather stumped as to why the band didn’t make any impression at all until they played a couple of the hits. It wasn’t due to not recognising the material; earlier on they played ‘Free Money’ from ‘Horses’ and I am familiar with the songs from new album ‘Banga’.

I think that it was a combination of a band initially going through the motions and a crowd that stood passively and took it. It needed the sudden spark of an impromptu Patti rant and the lights coming on to kick-start both performers and audience out of a rut.

I’m still not that sold on the Troxy as a venue – I’ve noticed sight and sound difficulties here before. It may be that the thick carpeting on the floor muffles noise and that when bands perform everything goes up into the gallery rather than out to the people standing at ground level.

However despite the myriad problems, tonight’s gig ended as a triumph. We got there in the end.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Deap Vally and The Death Rays of Ardilla at Sebright Arms - 10 September 2012

Deap Vally pic from You Aint No Picasso


It’s an awful word when applied to music. For me, it is never about a slavish dedication to detail, or even about a band ‘paying its dues’ (which is another nebulous concept). For me it’s about belief. Whether I, as a punter, believe in you, the band.

There are two acts playing tonight. One that is less fashionable and relatively unsung and another that is accomplished, image conscious and have already ‘arrived’ (and that is yet another extremely subjective piece of terminology).

First up, on the tiny stage of the Sebright Arms, are The Death Rays of Ardilla. Google research links me back to a novel written by Captain W E Johns, better known as the author of the Biggles books.  As far as taking your name from works of literature, this is not as cool as calling yourself ‘Heaven 17’ or ‘The Doors’. But it does seem appropriate.

TDROA ( as Twitter has them) are a two piece from Sheffield. Nick Tietzsch-Tyler plays drums and his brother Thom, clad in black leather jacket, clutches a guitar and sings gruffly.

Theirs is not a revolutionary sound. They are a very basic and deliberately old-fashioned heavy rock band. They are relatively dour and not much prone to spectacular displays of showy stage craft. Yet I like them rather a lot.

The pair have a genuine ‘take us as you find us’ respectability. They ask us to buy their record so that they can afford to get back to Sheffield. Is this true? Probably not, but it FEELS right.

Towards the end of their short set the brothers play a rattling version of Screaming Lord Sutch’s signature tune ‘Jack The Ripper’. TDROA invest this track with more weight than the late Lord ever did.

I last saw Deap Vally just over a week ago on the main stage at 1234 Shoreditch. Lindsey Troy (guitars and rawk growl) and Julie Edwards (drums and back up vocals) were in their element. Entertaining a crowd, banging out some bluesy rock numbers, encouraging spectators to get naked and generally being everything a good festival act should be.

So why is it that tonight they leave me cold? It’s a very indefinable thing. The music is fine, they engage with the audience, they look the part.

My problem is this concept of ‘authenticity’. I don’t believe in them. They seem superficial and fake. I don’t expect them to overdose on heroin before my eyes or carve ‘4 Real’ on their arms, but I can’t get past a feeling that this is like Janis Joplin sung by the cast of ‘Glee’ – technically correct but somehow ersatz.

It’s the diaphanous difference between an act that has a genuine spark about them and one that will usually never get beyond their local bar. I don’t dislike Deap Vally, they seem like good people. But I can’t suspend disbelief while they are on.

It’s been an interesting evening and it has given me plenty to ponder. My views are diametrically opposite to those of the rest of my party. However, I must admit that if the two bands playing tonight had swapped places on the bill, it would have been more to my taste.

You decide.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Grimes at Heaven - 5 September 2012


As I make my way into Heaven, my initial impression is that there is someone onstage killing a cat.  Fortunately, I don’t need to alert PETA or the RSPCA – the appalling noise is Majical Cloudz, a project of whizkid Devon Welsh. The music is fine, but the vocals are excruciating.

To be fair, I only catch the last ten minutes or so, so it is perfectly possible there may have been a moment of serenity when a note was hit accurately earlier in their set. However, what I hear is pretty much the sound of a wino wailing under a bridge.

Becoming Real is the alter ego of Toby Ridler, a musician who is left onstage to entertain us with a set of rather nifty electronic dance music. He faces the great DJ dilemma.

This problem occurs when all the music is stored on computer and doesn’t require much more attention than remembering to hit the ‘On’ button. Ridler compensates for this by shuffling and twiddling as though his life depended upon it. Watching him closely, he is rarely doing anything to his equipment at all; he is merely pretending to be as busy as Glenn Gould pounding away at the ‘Rach 3’.

There is no real reason for him to be onstage, as the same effect could be gained from him slipping his CD on and leaving the crowd to their own devices while he enjoys a long cool drink. Instead, we are presented with the knob twiddler’s equivalent of an air guitar solo.

Claire Boucher aka headliner Grimes is all too aware that unadorned electronic music is not much to look at. So she lays on plenty of distractions.

The first, and by far the most impressive, is a lithe and Amazonian pole dancer who contorts and disports during the first two numbers. It’s a genuinely awesome and athletic performance.

Grimes bounces and bobs backs and forth behind her keyboards and flicks her long blonde ponytail about. She’s electro-Barbie.

With the pole dancer off for a rest, Grimes is joined by various musicians who are flamboyantly dressed and who help to keep the crowd engaged. To this end we also get back projections of Japanese anime plus an assortment of balloons and bubbles blown about the venue. It’s not so much a gig as the kind of bright and shiny distraction afforded to toddlers plonked down in front of the television. I’m fine with it, but then I get the giggles if someone jangles their keys at me.

The music is a kind of sparse and atmospheric distorted pop that is kind of like the first Madonna album given a good tweaking by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Vocals are sampled and run backwards and forwards, beats are stretched and distorted.

The percussionists clap, Grimes bounces and we watch the visuals. Everything is amicable and cosy. In ‘Genesis’ Grimes even has something that could be played on the radio as a spectral but straightforward pop song.

There is a minor equipment glitch during the encore, but Grimes shows her showbiz chops by making light of the problem and chatting easily with the crowd until power is restored.

It’s been a good show rather than a great one, but ‘good’ is not to be dismissed. Ooh look – bright lights!

Monday, 3 September 2012

1234 Shoreditch - 1 September 2012

La Femme

What better way to shake off the cobwebs of a largely gig-free Olympic summer than a day out at the 1234 Shoreditch. I come here each year and it rarely disappoints.

For me, the day begins with Drop Out Venus doing ‘I Kill Foxes’ on the main stage. It is an exhilarating, uncompromising start. They’re brilliant, as ever.

I then dash across the field to catch the second half of La Femme, a six piece attack of driving synths. They are very French and clad in matching white T-shirts. Vive le no difference!

The Pukes are a vast ukulele orchestra of mature ladies blasting out punk classics. This ought to be twee, but is just joyous. There are at least seventeen of them bouncing and running about. I bawl along with ‘GLC (You’re Full Of Shit)’ and have a great time.

JEFF The Brotherhood are uber-macho American rockers, who produce a fine old racket and are clearly used to playing to large festival crowds. Their swagger contrasts with Los Cripis, who are a rather fiddly and introspective outfit from Argentina. These last are ok, but do get special Wyldman points for including an unexpected cover of Devo’s ‘Blockhead’.

The most divisive band of the day are The Pre New. It’s impossible to tell whether they are an elaborate joke or something brilliantly strange.  A solidly built guy dressed as though he’s come straight from the bar of his local golf club half talks and screams alongside a younger guy in combat fatigues and Pierrot make-up. Behind them a band blasts out crunching dance beats using everything from drumkits to Macbooks. There is much abuse of equipment, with microphones and ice cream thrown at each other. It’s chaos, but good entertainment. Pierrot appears to have a drumkit set up purely so that he can lurch over and punch it occasionally. The audience is split between those who think this is all a hoot and others who grump off to watch something else.

The most hyped band here seem to be Zoetrope, who have drawn much attention to themselves by being young, female and all over the free newspaper that you are given containing today’s stage times.  Unfortunately, they just don’t seem very interesting. They play to a packed tent, but I soon get bored with them and bail out.

Antlered Man are a much better proposition. I could listen to them do ‘Platoono Of Uno’ all day. They’re part prog, part hardcore, all business and go down a storm.

I run my eye over Black Moth (phenomenally heavy, but perhaps not overburdened with tunes) and The Neat (impressive power pop and very jolly).

I try to avoid Deap Vally on the main stage as I am due to see them headline their own gig next week, but from what I catch, these two girls are going to make a big splash with their piled high hair and blues rock clatter.

I then head off to see Public Service Broadcasting after a passer by begs me for details of their set times. And they turn out to be a bit of a revelation. 

It’s a simple premise. Two guys use samples from vintage movies and documentary footage and marry these to Krauty dance rhythms. It might be rather self-limiting, but for half an hour they are mesmerising, with a whole tent nodding along to Blitz-set epics ‘Britain Can Take It’ and ‘Spitfire’. PSB are one of the finds of the day.

I skirt round Buzzcocks on the main stage – they are fun but too familiar – and finish off the day with Mark Stewart, who is playing with the Trio VD. This set turns out to be the most deafening and uncompromisingly harsh noise of the day.

As ever with Stewart, vocals are treated and distorted and the music is an assault on the senses. It’s a greatest hits set, if anything that he does could ever be so categorised. It’s bizarre to hear versions of ‘How Much Longer Will We Tolerate Mass Murder’, ‘Feed The Hungry’, ‘Liberty City’ and ‘Stranger Than Love’ – this last dedicated to Max Bygraves with all sincerity.

They finish with a stonking, howling version of ‘Hysteria’. It’s a rousing end to a really enjoyable day out.

I’m back on the gig scene, baby!