Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Besnard Lakes and Sweet Jane at The Garage - 28 May 2013

Besnard Lakes pic by Patrick Kelly

It's probably more than two years since I was last here in the Garage. Initially at least, I am surprised at how sparse the crowd is. However, those who decide to come and give time to the support band are amply rewarded.

What immediately strikes me about Sweet Jane is that I'm unused to watching bands that play anything like a version of traditional 'classic' rock.  Sweet Jane are a well set up five piece from Dublin who evoke the song craft of late period R.E.M. or even Neil Young. This is melodic guitar-led Americana done really well.

Singer/guitarist Danda Paxton has a very pleasing voice and an easy manner. His mighty moustache is a thing of beauty too.

I like Sweet Jane a lot. I enjoy their harmonies and appreciate that they can incorporate guitar solos into their music without derailing their songs.

I have recently been listening again to "Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO", the latest album from headliners The Besnard Lakes. It is an album of epic vastness and wonder, if a bit low on actual tunes. It will be interesting to see how the band approaches these songs in the live setting.

The immediate answer seems to be an overreliance on the powers of dry ice to convey mystery.

Singer Jace Lacek can occasionally be glimpsed through the fog, either wringing the neck of his guitar or coaxing sounds from a tall keyboard set up. He sings in a falsetto, his voice more a part of the grand sweep of the music than a distinct and separate thing.

When a more traditional voice is required to deliver a song, it is provided by Olga the bassist.

It is ludicrously hot in the venue and the band suffer along with the crowd, often stopping between tracks to mop themselves with towels.

The heat and the dry ice are distancing and damaging, much of the set passing by in a literal blur in which nothing can be distinguished. It makes for an at times dull and uninvolving show.

And yet. For the encore Jace leads the band through a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for Olga and a friend dressed as Fidel Castro presents her with champagne and a cake. It is a silly, human moment.

This rejuvenates the band. The dry ice mostly clears and we see a cheerful, sweaty group of musicians enjoying themselves whilst making epic music. It's a fine end to the evening and goes a long way towards sending me home a lot happier than I would otherwise have been.

Not a great night, but decent support and a strong finish. I'm not a fan of the Garage though - I've been in saunas that were less oppressive.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Drop Out Venus, Skinny Girl Diet, Ben Dodson at Sebright Arms - 22 May 2013

Skinny Girl Diet (what a picture!)

The Sebright Arms is famously hidden away down a side street and rather hard to find. As I walk along the road to the venue I find Skinny Girl Diet wandering the wrong way along the pavement. They are laden down with their gear and am pleased to point them in the right direction. I'll catch up with them later this evening.

Some hours later, I squeeze into the tiny space beneath the pub and find Ben Dodson already onstage playing a small piano keyboard.

Ben has a lovely deep and sonorous voice that rumbles round the room. He's very tall and almost has to bend over to fit on the stage. He's dressed in black threads and is sporting a hairstyle with a topknot that makes him look like a startled bird of prey.

The first thing that I notice is that he appears to be playing a song that references Drop Out Venus' 'Love + Desire'. The reason for this will become clear later on in evening.

Dodson's set progresses with him playing a guitar. His songs are long and intricate, and often declamatory in style. He's as much preacher as singer.  He ends with a drum tucked under his arm, beating a sparse tattoo and glaring confrontationally into the crowd.

I smile back at him, I like the cut of his jib.

It's over a year since I last saw Skinny Girl Diet and that thudding sound that you can hear is me now beating my head on the desk and going "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" - because tonight this band are stone cold brilliant and I've missed them so many times between then and now.

The three piece are deceptively basic - Amelia on bass seems almost too small for her instrument, teetering on massive shoes and occasionally emitting ear-splitting screams.

Singer and guitarist Delilah has a face of exquisite sadness, her eyes often closed. She is a soul singer in the original sense that the songs that she sings are deeply personal, utterly heartfelt and genuine in sentiment.

Behind the others, drummer Ursula is apparently transported by the music, almost unaware of the others. Her beaming smile lights up the room.

There is not a scintilla of archness or artifice about Skinny Girl Diet. There's a real purity of purpose about them. They rattle and thrash and they make you feel good about yourself and about them and about life itself.

Drop Out Venus are headlining tonight and have entered a new phase in their evolution, a direction which had been hinted at during the Roundhouse Studio show back in February.

The band has expanded to become a four piece and it is Ben Dodson who has been added on keyboards and occasional guitar. He and the rest of the band are now randomly splashed with blue face paint, which is all part of the 'Glitz and Glamour' campaign they are running at the moment.

They start with the new single ' Death is Screaming'. It's a weird beast of disconnected time signatures and lyrics. The band have always described themselves as 'junk jazz' and this is not an idle affectation - their current material is leading them in all sorts of odd directions, often in the same song.

The addition of keyboards is not always a good thing. The band's trademark sound is softened and at times it feels as if there are two competing acts on stage, with the intensity and violence that made the band so startling in the first place being swamped and diluted. A friend whispers to me that "they've sold out" i.e. gone commercial. It's a Dylan Goes Electric moment.

Iva Moscovitch is the same as ever- beautiful, compelling and terrifying all at once. She introduces one new piece with the promise that if "any one of you says a word during this song I will come down there and put you in the fuckin’ hospital!" She means it. No one says a word.

The addition of keyboards is not an unmitigated disaster. New song 'Pain' is a fabulous thing and the first Drop Out Venus song that could be played to a wider audience without a prior health warning.  It shimmers and throbs with a rhythm that flirts with the Gnarls Barkley track 'Crazy'.

When Dodson switches to guitar, things sound different. The lurching, staggering power that the band generates reminds me at times of The Birthday Party and that is never a bad thing.

For the encore, the band comes back and performs the only 'old' song of the night, a typically emotional read through of “I Don’t Know.”

A really enjoyable and fascinating evening. It's the first time that I've seen Drop Out Venus given a genuine run for their money, with Skinny Girl Diet stealing the show.

DOV are clearly still getting to grips with their line up change. But they are never dull, never still, never content, never afraid. They'll be just fine.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Mika Bomb at Dublin Castle - 17 May 2013

Mika Bomb pic by Martin Myers

The backroom of the Dublin Castle is a tiny dark space that has seen more rock history than a busload of geologists.

Tonight, there is a bill of five acts, as there is most days of the week. When bands 'pay their dues' by getting gigs under their belt then places like the Dublin Castle are where they pay them.

By the time that I arrive, the Black Dots are well into their stride. A girl plays guitar and sings, while beside her a guy stands and plinks away at a keyboard. They don't immediately grab you by the lapels, but they are perfectly enjoyable as a prelude to the long night to come.

Next up are Lord Numb, a three piece who are clearly a gig-hardened and experienced outfit. The main singer/guitarist is a really mean axeman. He's one of those players who can make his instrument do anything and tonight it's blistering rock all the way.

Lord Numb soon get the room stomping along to their set which is mostly original songs with the odd well chosen cover version of various punky standards. They finish with a rousing version of Jim Carroll's 'People Who Died' and as this is one of my all time favourite songs, they get two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

It's becoming almost a cliché of these multi-band bills that somewhere in the evening there will be an appearance from a bunch of lads who are in thrall to the terrace anthems of Kasabian. Tonight is no exception and the exponents are The Beautiful Game.

Musically they are actually perfectly reasonable (as all these bands are) but the relentless swagger and machismo gets a bit wearing after a while. The singer alternates between pumping his fist and exhorting us to get into the mood and rubbing his stomach and chest in a manner that might be better suited to the privacy of his own home. “Your Bones” is a tune, though.

Next comes Rhonda, a soulful, torchy singer from Germany who has the pipes and R & B vibe of this venue's most famous alumnus, Amy Winehouse.

It's the perfect time of the evening for Rhonda - the crowd is happily drunk and in the mood for some serious soul. Her band swings, she emotes and everyone falls into a joyfully lachrymose reverie. Great stuff.

I first saw Mika Bomb back in the late 1990's and they have now reformed for their first series of gigs in more than half a decade. 

Mika Bomb were pioneers of Japanese all girl guitar pop, taking inspiration from Shonen Knife. The line up was always very fluid and we always used to joke that Mika Handa would hang around Heathrow Airport and recruit any passing Japanese girl who came off a plane with a guitar in her luggage.

Tonight it's as though the band have never been away. The guitars still thrash at one hundred mile an hour, the vocals still a succession of high-pitched screams and squeals. The Chipmunks play The Ramones.

Mika Bomb released one of the all time classic pop/punk albums in 'The Fake Fake Sound of Mika Bomb' and a lot of this gets aired tonight. 'Contact Tokyo', 'Hey Man' and ‘Heart Attack’ come blasting past and we all go nuts.

A brilliant show and a really enjoyable evening. I derive pleasure from every single act tonight (to varying degrees).

The Dublin Castle is a Camden institution - treasure it. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Suuns and Valleys at XOYO - 14 May 2013


As I come trotting down the stairs and into the black subterranean pit that is XOYO, I initially wonder if I've got the right night.

The room is very sparsely populated. Just a few stragglers sat forlornly around the edges. When the music starts up, I move in front of the stage to give the band a target to aim at.

Valleys come from Montreal and consist of Marc St Louis on guitar and Tilly Perks, who fiddles with the buttons and knobs on her Korg.  They are a well matched pair, two identical heads of long hair cascading across their faces.

Valleys play a summery, hazy sort of music. They float rather than rock, but they always maintain their grip on an actual tune rather than drifting off into unstructured atmospherics.

Tilly spends much of the set crouched under her equipment, the only thing visible an arm reaching upwards to adjust a dial or flick a switch. Marc ambles in and out of the spotlight.

I like Valleys and am pleased that by the time they conclude their set that the venue has filled up and that they get a good reception.

With all the lights extinguished the venue resonates to the sound of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Dark figures appear in the murk and the sound gradually resolves itself into the opening bars of 'Music Won't Save You'.

This is Suuns and from this powerful opening until they leave the stage over an hour later, they barely put a foot or a note wrong.

I loved the bands' first album 'Zeroes QC' but have had difficulty in getting into their latest 'Images du Futur'. In the live setting, there is no distinction between the two - it's all majestic.

Vocals are generally performed by guitarist Ben Shemie, a curly haired figure twisting and contorting stage left. He is quiet but insistent and slightly sinister, his voice snaking in and out of the sound.

In the centre, the pulsing heart of the band is Joe Yarmush, making his bass a lead instrument, laying down a groove that shifts from machine precision to the loosest funk. He is so lost in his world of noise that he rarely raises his head to look at us.

Ignoring for a moment the excellent drummer Liam O' Neill (and such is the fate of drummers) the band is completed by the wiry Max Henry, wrestling with his keyboards as though trying to pin them to the stage, soon stripped to a T shirt as the energy pours from him.

Suuns' songs are expansive things, often starting deceptively simply but then gradually building in complexity and volume.  This is the perfect blend of krauty rhythms and dance. The audience doesn't know whether to stroke its chin or party its ass off.

If there is one minor flaw in the show it that some of the songs end too abruptly, leaving the crowd wrong footed. It's almost as if sometimes the band forgets the effect that its music is having on others.

Suuns deliver a terrific set this evening, and Valleys were none too shabby either. The show ends with a packed room full of sweaty, happy people. Good times.

The video below contains flashing images and stuff.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Adam Ant and the Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse - Roundhouse - 11 May 2013

Adam Ant

Twenty four hours after We Are the In Crowd have left this stage, I'm back at the Roundhouse again. The kids had their fun last night. Now it's time for mum and dad to kick loose.

The dress standard is high. There are feathers, ruffles, white face stripes and at one point a fully dressed Regency dandy swaggering about the venue.

Adam Ant has had his ups and downs since he first blazed his unique trail across the pop charts. I've always found him fascinating - his blend of rock, tribal drumming, fashion and self mythology was unlike anything else at the time and has remained so.  He'd have been extraordinary and original if he'd only been a cult concern. To become as wildly popular as he was without compromising his act at all remains an incredible feat.

Adam Ant has created a succession of flamboyant stage personae. Currently he inhabits the role of the Blueblack Hussar, a rakishly dishevelled officer from the Crimean wars. Now bespectacled, Ant beams out from beneath a battered Napoleon-style hat. He's raring to go.

The backing band are The Good The Mad and the Lovely Posse and have been chosen as much for appearance as for musical ability. Ant has always created a 'gang' to play with and his current entourage are certainly idiosyncratic.

There are two drummers providing that trademark Burundi beat. One of them is the spectacular Jola Rodowicz, modelling a gigantic Sixties inspired tower of hair that makes her look like something sexy off the Flintstones. Really! Andy Woodward on the other set of skins barely draws an eye.

The set is impeccably balanced between material from the latest album (catchily titled 'Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter') and oldies from throughout his career.

It has to be said that the sound in the venue is very indistinct and this causes quite a lot of discontent in some sections of the auditorium. Things improve before the end, but there are walkouts.

Ant can't quite hit the high notes as easily as he could in the past and has drafted in the frankly astonishing Georgina Baillie to augment his performance. She does a fair job of even upstaging the man himself, dressed in a skin tight shiny black dress and vamping it up to levels that are beyond parody. She's like Jessica Rabbit, but made flesh.

All the hits are played - we do the 'Prince Charming' dance, we thump along to 'Dog Eat Dog', we 'Stand and Deliver'. Forgotten gems like 'Press Darlings' and 'Whip in My Valise' are unearthed.

The only blot on what I find an exhilarating evening is some cunt throwing their beer all over me, destroying the mobile phone in my pocket in the process. It seems to have been some altercation going on some way away, but that’s no consolation.  'Hard Men, Tough Blokes' indeed. Twats more like.

I'm delighted with the show and delighted that Stuart Godard, aka Adam Ant aka The Blueblack Hussar is back on his game and performing to crowds who love him.

We Are the In Crowd and NeverShoutNever at Roundhouse - 10 May 2013


This is a night for the kids. Female kids.  The whole evening I am able to walk to the bar unimpeded or wander into the gents without let or hindrance. I'll return to this venue tomorrow and things will be very different.

First onstage are Fort Hope. They're young, professional and covered in tattoos. Real ones, and not the 'Hello Kitty' kind.

Fort Hope are actually OK. They play training wheels metal and hit the important cusp of being a bit bad boy but not actually evil that teenage girls love. To my ears they don't have a single distinctive song, but they get their young audience to wave their arms from side to side, so job done.

Having checked Twitter before the gig, it is abundantly clear which of tonight's bands is generating the most excited internet traffic.  NeverShoutNever have drawn declarations of love, pictures and smiley faces from all quarters. When the band comes on stage there is such a high pitched shriek that bats chasing insects in the evening air outside the venue plug their ears and fall from the sky.

'Band' is a relative term. NeverShoutNever is a vehicle for the rather weird but undeniable charisma of Cristofer Drew. He is dressed as some kind of Victorian street urchin but addresses the screaming crowd with the formal courtesy of a Missouri gentleman.

Drew's youthful charm is his major selling point. He alternates between a green guitar and a ukulele and appears to have only a rudimentary grasp of either, but it really doesn't matter.

If a lot of teen acts flirt with metal, rap or dance, Drew is unique. The majority of his performance is a kind of shuffling skiffle blues. It's Justin Bieber playing Lonnie Donegan. It's certainly an original take.

The young girls scream themselves silly. Drew's actual music seems to be the least important part of his performance. He teases them, advises them that they are all special and not alone and plays the perfect non-sexually threatening teen boyfriend.

When NeverShoutNever depart, the composition of the crowd down the front alters subtly. The younger girls move to the back, allowing the slightly older ones and, gasp, boys, to move forward.

We Are the In Crowd bound onto the stage and immediately deliver a fine old pop rock racket.

Vocals are shared between Tay Jardine and Jordan Eckes and soon everyone is bouncing up and down, waving their arms (again) and generally loving it.

My own party is here because they happened across the band at a tiny gig at the Borderline a couple of years ago. Since then, WAtIC's popularity has clearly soared.

What I like about the band is that they haven't smoothed off their rough edges. They're very competent but they are not slick - they still feel like a proper young and hungrily enthusiastic rock band.

There is one moment that makes me blanch. Tay describes how when she put up some band photos on Twitter she got bombarded with messages along the lines that she had gotten fat but that this was OK because Twitter followers are family and families can say horrible things to each other.

To me this just seems horrifying, and not just because she is clearly a regularly shaped young woman. I'm more disturbed by the apparent validation of cyber bullying and that it seems almost unremarkable to the people involved.  To paraphrase William Gibson in Neuromancer, I've just been generation-gapped.

The set roars on and for the encore all the bands appear onstage and celebrate the end of the tour with a big group hug.

We Are the In Crowd look all set to progress further and maybe horn in on some of Paramore's fanbase.

Cristofer Drew may go on to rule the world.


Saturday, 4 May 2013

OMD and John Foxx and The Maths at Roundhouse - 3 May 2013


Tonight it is a gathering of not just the old guard, but the original guard. These acts weren’t just the first out of the blocks, they were the guys that built the race track.

The Roundhouse is filled with folk of a certain age (my age) and the fact that the warm up DJ gets everyone bawling along with Phil Oakey’s ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ gives a pretty good flavour of the mood.

First up we have John Foxx and The Maths. The Foxx-led Ultravox! (exclamation mark important) were one of the first bands that I ever truly loved and I am glad to see that his current line-up retains the keyboard/violin dynamic that made his original band so great.

Foxx is in good humour and fine form, his massive chin thrust forward and his arms often aloft. His sound has barely altered from his early solo ventures – this is electronic music that is declamatory rather than danceable.

I enjoy his set a lot and in particular the final string of songs ‘Catwalk’, ‘Burning Car’ and ‘Underpass’. When I was at school, we always used to snigger and sing ‘Underpants!’ to this. In tribute to lost youth, I still do.

I will ‘fess up right now that I always found OMD (as they now style themselves) problematical.

They were pioneers of electronic music. I bought ‘Electricity’ because I liked the song rather than because it was on Factory Records – there wasn’t even much buzz about Factory back at this time.

But for me, there was always a niggle with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. They were awkward. They weren’t cool. And not in the sense of not being the latest, greatest version of the cat’s pyjamas in pop magazines, but because they looked like your embarrassing dad having a jig at Christmas.

The current OMD album is called ‘English Electric’ and it is an apt description of them. When electronic music went on to provide the beats that powered disco and led to DFA, EDM and any other futuristic acronym you can think of, OMD meditated on serious themes.  They smuggled songs about Joan of Arc and the bombing of Hiroshima into the charts and put Vorticist paintings on their album covers. Which is of course, brilliant.

It’s just not much fun.

OMD continue this approach on the new album. There are songs about Edward Hopper’s ‘Night Cafe’ and Dresden.

Some bands are different live than on record. OMD are not one of those bands. They are thudding, anachronistic, awkward and just as great/naff as they ever were.

The hardcore fans around me absolutely love it. I’m a bit underwhelmed.

Frontman Andy McCluskey comperes the gig like a favourite uncle at a wedding, chatting and joking with the crowd about the dilemma of whether it is an affront if your single doesn’t make the Radio 2 playlist.  

The band plays the hits, the crowd sings along and everyone is content and yes, together in electric dreams.

I tip my hat to them and leave them to it.