Monday, 31 March 2014

The Men, Baby Strange and Lola Colt at Village Underground - 27 March 2014

Some Men

The merciless sun beats on the parched yellow plain. Brittle tumbleweed roll slowly down the main street of a deserted cow town. NancySinatra drags the black-clad corpse of Lee Hazelwood into a gulch…

…we're at Village Underground and Lola Colt are performing. They are a pitch perfect slice of classic western gothic, by turns dark and menacing, desolate and yearning.

The band coalesces around the brooding figure of Gun Overbye. She has a powerful and commanding voice that rises and strengthens as she howls out in anger or torment.

Stage left, a striking keyboard/percussionist pulls focus. She's clad in black, stamps her feet, tosses her long mane of black hair and sporadically bangs the hell out of an enormous drum. I think every male eye in the room is watching her.

Lola Colt create a hugely atmospheric sound and in tracks like recent single 'Jackson' they have the tunes too. They're very impressive.

There are no frills to Baby Strange. This is a stripped down three piece of guitar, drum and bass. And they're a blast.

Guitarist Jonny is a gangly rebel with a teen star sneer. He's got the same mall rat cool of a young Di Caprio. Not orthodox, but magnetic.

Like all good bands, this lot are young loud and snotty, with good tunes and tonnes of attitude. There are regular obituaries for British guitar rock. Judging by these Scottish whippersnappers, the form looks to be in rude health.

Headliners The Men string four guitarists across the stage. It’s a statement of intent.

These guys are mid-tour and couldn't look more frazzled and dishevelled if they were sleeping on top of each other in a pile in the back of a transit van.

The Men are absolutely deafening. It's an ear-ripping head churning rush of sound. Vocals are swapped between up to four vocalists, guitars and keyboards thrashed and pounded as if their lives depended upon it.

Their music is evolving. The new album 'Tomorrow's Hits' moves away from the pure ears-pinned back blast of their earlier material into a much more classical American 70's rock sound. With the driving guitars and electric piano, Time Out New York referred to them as "Thurston Moore and the E Street Band" which is far better than anything I could have come up with.

This all means that 'Bataille', the ferocious song which first drew the band to the wider world's attention, is dispensed with only three numbers into tonight's set. It sounds like a jet taking off.

It's a wonderful, uplifting set. One of the band is wearing a Neil Young T shirt of fairly recent vintage and the towering yet tuneful rock they play is certainly on nodding terms with the wilder excesses of Crazy Horse.

The sheer noise generated is just painfully brutal. I'm aware as I watch them that I'm doing real damage to my hearing. But I'm not going to leave this…

…Sometime later, I'm walking down the road reflecting on the best three-act show of the year so far. All the bands were great, and I recommend them all.

My head is buzzing and full of voices and static. So much so that for a while I think that the passing cars are driving on newly-laid gravel. My ears are totally shot, and remain so for much of the following day.

Frankly, it was worth it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Cults and Famy at Village Underground - 17 March 2014

The Venus De Milo is onstage. Sure, she's wearing a tee shirt and a pair of baggy jeans, but it's definitely her.

The famous statue stands at the back of the stage behind Famy, a band with lofty ambitions.

They start with a roaring off-mike harmony of voices, gearing themselves up until the guitars come crashing in.

I'm a big fan of Village Underground and its towering brick vault of a stage.  The venue always shows bands off to their best advantage, and it’s the same again tonight.

However, while Famy look the part of a confident bunch of musicians, there is something about their sound mix that is stifling them. They seem stuck behind a glass wall, with any energy or emotion dissipating in the void a few rows from the front of the audience.

At one point the drummer straps a camera to his head and dives into the crowd. This should be more exciting than it is. (However, the footage is now on their Facebook page, so judge for yourself).

Musically, there's some interesting stuff going on. There are lots of harmonies, big choruses and elegant song structure. The overlapping voices put me in mind of Panda Bear or Grizzly Bear. Any band with 'Bear' in the name.

Even though I don't think that Famy quite deliver a knockout punch this evening, there's enough here for me to want to investigate their recorded work.

The Venus De Milo makes an ignominious exit, tilted head down and carted off by roadies.

I first saw Cults a few years ago at Bush Hall. Since then they have quietly gone about their business, wracking up a string of catchy tracks that burst out at you unexpectedly from radio stations and TV commercials.

Tonight Madeline Follin and the suspiciously-named Brian Oblivion perform in front of a bank of video screens set high above the stage. In keeping with the title of their most recent album the screens are buzzing with 'Static'.

They are garbed in black, with Follin's white face and red lipstick shrouded in a lush sweep of long black hair. She tosses and fiddles with her luxuriant mane throughout the show.

Oblivion busies himself behind a keyboard and occasionally joins in with Follin's high-pitched vocals. He is barely audible.

Cults' music is ultra modern but harks back to the simpler era of girl groups like The Shangri-Las or even the early Supremes. The ghosts of bygone days flit through the darkness.

The band are enhanced by a terrific and clever use of projected images, which are not confined to the screens but play across the vast brick walls of the venue. At times I lose interest in what the band are doing and just enjoy the son et lumiere of doves fluttering upwards or buffalo charging around the room.

The set borrows heavily from the new album but also finds space for their break out hit 'Go Outside' which is just as dreamy as it ever was. They also unveil a version of 'Total Control' by The Motels, another band that faced the future by referencing the past.

It’s a solid, enjoyable performance that perhaps doesn't quite hit the absolute heights. But it has been a good evening and Cults are agreeable company. I make like the song and go outside.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Fat White Family, Claw Marks, Atomic Suplex at Electrowerks - 25 February 2014

Fat White Family (pic via

Upon hitting Electrowerkz I discover what appears to be a riot going on atop the stage. Guitarists are leaping around and there's an almighty garage rock din. Once my eyes acclimatise to the apparent chaos, the individual components of Atomic Suplex start to become clearer.

The focal point is Suplex 98, his face obscured by a pilot's helmet emblazoned with the words 'Rock & Roll'. He wrestles with a guitar as though his life depends upon it (the guitar seems to be winning) and beneath his open leather jacket a black rug of chest hair is visible. It's fair to say that he would stand out even if he wasn't shrieking into a microphone set into the side of his helmet.

To his left, a tall guy lurches back and forth as he shouts and snarls at his own mike. It should all be a mess but the sheer rock and roll energy carries them through. I like Atomic Suplex a lot.

I'm very pleased with Claw Marks too. This is another band where apparent mayhem and anarchy are used in the service of a blistering performance.

Claw Marks feature a wildly bearded front man who dances daintily despite his size and who is within minutes stringing his microphone from the ceiling so that he can hang from it while declaiming like a demented boxing announcer. He looks fairly familiar and I suspect this is the same magnificent creature who sings with Human Hair, a similarly frenetic and uncompromisingly loopy bunch. (Indeed it is!)

This is what live music is all about and how it differs fundamentally from the recorded experience. It fills you with a warm glow- the energy from the stage infuses your very being. You could say this is just racket and noise and wilful stupidity – but you would be utterly wrong. This is rock and roll at its most exciting.

So – I’m a fan then.

Much has been made of Fat White Family. They are an underground band who have garnered mainstream attention in the inkies through the age old combination of outrage and actually having a whiff of danger about them.

They don’t disappoint this evening. They spend much of their performance topless and diving in and out of the enthusiastic crowd. This is nominally in support of new single Touch the Leather.

There’s very much a ‘gang’ vibe here and purely in terms of media attention they remind me of a previous generation of arty hooligans called the Lo-Fidelity Allstars -although the Fat Whites have a lot more about them than that bunch. That said, I don’t quite get the same buzz of excitement from them that I did from the supports. I think it might be that although they look the part, the music itself is relatively straightforward.

That’s a minor caveat though – this band, like the others tonight, are all about the live experience.

It all ends with Claw Marks invading the stage with the Fat Whites for a canter through The Monks ‘I Hate You’. Not a lot better than this.

It’s been a terrific night’s fun. All three acts have been worth a watch and restore my somewhat flagging energy levels.