Saturday, 29 November 2014

Desperate Journalist, Miscalculations, Keith Top of the Pops and his etc etc - Buffalo Bar 27 November 2014

Desperate Journalist

It’s a sad coincidence that I’ve been banging on about thegreat times that I had in Madame JoJo’s, as one of the reasons that I’m out tonight is to say goodbye to a venue that has played a huge part in my life.

In the early 2000’s, I used to practically live in the small red-walled shoebox that is the Buffalo Bar. It was noisy, crowded and the sound was often awful. You could be stuck behind a pillar or a bigger person with the result that you only had an approximate idea of what was happening onstage.

I saw dozens of bands here, the majority of whom never went on to play venues that were any bigger than this. I saw, amongst others, Kaito, Electric Eel Shock, Klang, The Hotwires, Mikabomb, Help She can’t Swim, The Long Blondes, The Grates, Bolt Action Five, The Chapman Family, Tiger Force, The Sam I Am, The Bisons, The Mighty Roars, The Tennessee Train Crash, Cat On Form, The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club. I was here earlier this year forA Witness and The Senseless Things. I (mostly) enjoyed them all.

I even enjoyed the gallon bottle of Buffalo Trace whiskey that I won in a raffle here one time. It was vile, but I persevered. You could certainly taste the Buffalo.
The Buffalo Bar is going to close at the end of the year, so tonight is the chance for me to have one more rowdy evening down here.

Things start off with the loosely-organised chaos of Keith Topof the Pops and his Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band. Tonight there are more than fifteen musicians wedged on a stage the size of two telephone boxes. The horn section are jammed next to the toilets, a sax player eventually has to stand on the bar.

Keith wrangles everyone as well as he can. It’s like herding cats. The general instruction is for those who are unfamiliar with a song to join in as best they can once it gets going.

A typical Keith TOTP song consists of a spoken/sung snark against bands or institutions that have slighted him. Targets tonight include The Cribs, “a band from Birmingham called Peace” and the IndieTracks Festival (“Fuck off with your Ukulele Orchestra!” is a fine chorus). It’s all very funny, the more so because there is a genuine bitterness underneath some of this.

The band finish with a naturally epic sweep through ‘Two of the Beatles are Dead’ and end in discordant triumph. A great show.

Miscalculations couldn’t be more of a contrast. They’re a spare and lean four piece punk band who do not crack a smile during their entire set. And they’re all the better for it.

Fronted by Marco Palumbo Rodrigues, a searingly intense presence tightly buttoned up in a black leather jacket adorned with badges, the band spit out short, sharp songs that reference the first generation spiky punk of Buzzcocks and The Clash. This is a new take on 70’s new wave music and it sounds surprisingly fresh and powerful.

The audience certainly likes it. The front row is almost entirely young women who dance exuberantly throughout. There’s an astringency to Miscalculations. I find myself thoroughly enjoying them.

Headliners Desperate Journalist get more enthralling each time that I see them. I can tell that we are in for a good show by the way that singer Jo Bevan warms up by bawling and dancing along to McClusky’s ‘To HellWith Good Intentions’.

This is emotional stuff. Jo has a voice that soars and roars, and she almost hunches double with the effort required. This, together with her bright blue hair, makes her an arresting figure.

In some ways Desperate Journalist are a ‘traditional’ indie band, if there can be said to be such a thing. What elevates them is that their power comes from their songs rather than particularly flashy musicianship. They are very hard to resist, so I settle down to loving them.

If this is the last time I go to the Buffalo Bar, then it’s been a brilliant way to bow out.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Madame JoJo's - Fun While It Lasted

Madame JoJo's. 

I’ve been talking to a very pleasant young lady. She wants my assistance with a problem that she has. There is a feather that has become stuck in an unfortunate place. Can I help her? It would be churlish not to.

Thus my first memory of Madame JoJo’s is of the time that I followed a naked stripper across the dance floor and pulled a long ostrich feather out of her bum with my teeth. As was often the case at Madame JoJo’s, there were not many people present and those that were did not bat an eyelid.

This incident occurred between sets by The Martini HenryRifles (a brilliant band who solved the problem of having two guys who wanted to be frontmen by having both careening and shouting at the same time) and the much missed and totally out of control Terrashima, a band that could barely play without getting involved in fights between themselves or with their audience. Aside from the occasional spat on stage, it was a joyous, peaceful night – as it always was when I went to Madame JoJos.

Westminster Council have just revoked the venue’s music licence after an unsavoury incident involving a violent confrontation between bouncers and a criminal gang that was operating in the street outside. There have been claims and accusations on all sides. The Council has been accused ofusing this incident as an excuse to close down the venue as part of an ongoinggentrification programme. Other sources say that post-Olympics, Soho has been under-policed with the result that criminals had been targeting patrons and passers-by with impunity and that this brouhaha had been building for a while. In many ways, who is to blame is a moot issue – Madame JoJo’s is no more.

I prefer to think of the many great bands I saw there, mostly under the banner of White Heat, one of the longest running and most excellent club nights in London.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Loop and Younghusband at The Garage - 19 November 2014

Loop pic from The Liminal Eye

I’m still a little taken aback by The Garage. It used to be a dusty concrete bunker of a venue, but since it re-opened a few years ago there have been ‘improvements’. Wooden floors. Tables. Some kind of weird black-upholstered banquette behind the mixing desk. It’s all very disconcerting for an old fart like me.

The crowd tonight is mainly composed of men of a similar age and hairline to myself. We reminisce about the past and gather in anticipation of a band from yore that have recently decided that they have a future.

But first, the support. Younghusband are a four piece band of a drone-y, psychedelic disposition. The stage fills with projections of whirling images, hidden messages and other arcana.

The band seem slightly hampered by technical difficulties this evening. Certainly, they have difficulty in getting their three guitars to function at the same time.

However, there is a more fundamental problem. There’s a lot more to this type of music than it sometimes appears, and Younghusband fall headlong into a common trap.

Their songs don’t GO anywhere. The basic sound is OK, but there is very little oomph, nothing that makes you sit up and pay attention. I’m stood in front of the stage looking squarely at them and I find my mind wandering to other matters. The overall effect is pleasant enough, but I suspect that the band would not be content with merely ‘pleasant’.

Compare and contrast with tonight’s headliners. There is more pent up energy and anticipation in a single squall from Loop than in the entire Younghusband set.

Loop initially reformed about a year ago to test the waters and, after a small number of sold out shows, founder Robert Hampson has decided that he has unfinished business, although some other members from the reunion are no longer present.

Loop deal in noise and repetition. A riff is usually brutally short – sometimes no more than two notes- but bludgeoned over and over and over again as a second or third guitar takes flight.

It’s enthralling stuff. The crowd lurch in unison. It’s impossible not to be caught up in the (Wolf) flow.

There is a major buzz of excitement as the band perform the first new Loop tune for decades. ‘Procession’ (or ‘Precession’) is a loud staccato galloping riff that sits very comfortably with the rest of the band’s oeuvre. More new material is promised in the New Year. Loop are clearly a going concern again.

The volume gets ever louder, the feeling of disorientation ever more pronounced. An irony is that with improvements in sound technology, Loop sound clearer and crisper than they ever did back in the day when they would lurch around in clouds of dry ice and produce a muddy rumble from giant loudspeakers.

Loop make a lot of people very happy tonight. And there’s more to come.  


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Girlpool and Oscar - Shacklewell Arms - 17 November 2014

Girlpool pic by Amanda Hatfield

I’m back. I’m back. I’m back at the Shack. This is my third gig in a row at the Shacklewell Arms and my second in 48 hours. I’m starting to end up here on autopilot.

It’s a free gig, but sold out, so I’ve been encouraged to get here early.

First up are Oscar, who turn out to be a band rather than a diminutive Chelsea footballer.

There’s a lot to like. The band are fronted by the very convivial Oscar Scheller, resplendent in his new sparkly top and possessed of a rich, deep voice and a nice line in catchy, C-86 style pop.

Guitars jangle while the bassist multitasks and lays down beats via a keyboard. Oscar have solved the perennial Shacklewell drummer problem by dispensing with one altogether.

Each song bounces along complete with ridiculously memorable choruses. Aside from the Postcard bands, this kind of sweeping, emotional pop never entirely caught the wider public imagination, but those of us who like it, take this music to our hearts.

The band are occasionally joined onstage by an uncomfortable looking singer named Florence. She adds to the sound but finds it difficult to make eye contact with the audience. The rest of the band are cheerfully away of her awkwardness and lend support. This does not stop her from hastily exiting the stage at any moment that she is not needed.

A very relaxed and enjoyable start to proceedings.

The internet moves at a staggering pace. Headliners Girlpool only seemed to first hit the pages of Pitchfork and Stereogum about two weeks ago and yet here they are abandoning sunny Los Angeles for a damp Monday night in Dalston.

It’s a simple set up. Two girls with guitars, one tall and red haired (Cleo Tucker), one shorter and blonde (Harmony Tividad) playing sharp sassy songs with a mocking slant. Their harmonies fall somewhere between folk and the country-inflected pop of outfits such as Those Darlins’. It’s a whole heap of fun.

Despite many of tonight’s songs running less than two minutes, they tend to be pithy vignettes that pack a punch. Literally in the case of the track ‘Jane’ in which the eponymous heroine thumps boyfriend Johnny for “talking out of both sides of his mouth”.

There seems to be a similar theme in a lot of the Girlpool material as tracks ‘Slutmouth’ and ‘Blah Blah Blah’ also touch on the consequences of trash talk.

The Girlpool set is short and sweet. Even allowing for the traditional girl band swapping of instruments, everything is over well within half an hour.  In honesty, the performance is a little rough around the edges, but that is very much part of their charm.

Yet another good night at the Shacklewell. But I’m going to have to go somewhere else soon…

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Coathangers, Skinny Girl Diet, Abjects at The Shacklewell Arms - 15 November 2914

The Coathangers

The first thing you notice tonight is the quality of the lighting. There’s a harsh filter that renders the performers almost monochrome. Glaring black and white figures against the blood red curtain. It’s a great effect, although it doesn’t suit everyone.

So Tess Parks, long black hair, black lined eyes and a striped jumper resembles nothing so much as a figurine from a Tim Burton animation. Stick thin, huge eyes, she doesn’t look real. She plucks at a guitar and rasps with a throaty growl.  A good start.

I saw Abjects at the beginning of the year and didn’t go hugely overboard for them. In the ten or so months since they’ve grown beyond measure.

Noemi, Yuki and Alice are utterly commanding tonight. Where before there were hints of uncertainty, they now exude confidence. It’s not a radically unusual sound, but it’s put over really well and the crowd start to buzz with the joy of it all.

The lighting gives Noemi a set of cheek bones that could cut you open. Yuki smiles beneath a woollen cap that makes her look like PaRappa the Rapper. Alice clatters away at her drum kit. Good times.

Skinny GirlDiet get better each and every time I see them. In a world where most girl bands play pop, SGD unashamedly ROCK. They have enough grunge to sink Seattle.

The crowd starts to mosh about, a rolling churn. The girls are as relaxed as ever, laughing at private jokes. They look great, they sound great, they ARE great. Skinny Girl Diet are one of the best bands in Britain, let alone the London area.

The Coathangers are an odd bunch. They have a strange combination of chaotic goofiness and a heads down almost Ramones-like dedication to a no nonsense riff.

Julia Kugel sings half her songs in a childish ickle-girl voice that is deliberately infuriating. Such songs are accompanied by much gurning and flapping of hands.  She only does it as the music demands, because other songs are roared out like a banshee.

Stephanie Luke becomes the second drummer that I’ve seen at this venue that has trouble with the lighting. It’s clearly an ongoing problem. Once this is solved she batters and barks through the entire set.

The Coathangers are funny, fierce and everything that an all-gal band should be. They even do that thing that seems exclusively the preserve of girl bands – the swapping of instruments so that everybody gets a turn either banging the drum kit or strumming the guitar. It’s an odd phenomenon, girls like to share whilst boys tend to be more possessive about their gear.

A riotously enjoyable set and a fine conclusion to a very good evening.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

White Lung at The Shacklewell Arms - 03 November 2014

White Lung

It’s a quiet evening in North London. The pub that houses the venue is largely empty. The pool table is dark.

I’m an idiot. I’ve been staking out the wrong door. The actual entrance is on the far side of the bar.

Entering the confined space in which the bands play, I swiftly discover two things. The first is that one of the acts that I had come to see, Tweens, are absent this evening and that their replacements on the bill are well into their set.

I therefore don’t get to see as much of The Wharves as I would have liked. That’s a pity, because they are very enjoyable.

The Wharves are an all-woman three piece who play simple songs and employ a lot of dual vocals. They are slightly halting and uncertain and I kind of like that. On this very brief acquaintance they come across as likeable rather than musically interesting, but ‘likeable’ goes a long way. Certainly, their harmonies are gorgeous.

This back room at The Shacklewell is odd to say the least. It feels like it has been through a number of incarnations before the owners just threw their hands up and turned it over to live performance. It looks like an Hawaiian tikki bar that has fallen into disrepair, been turned into a jazz club and that at some time or other they may have run a ghost train through here. Visually, it’s a mess.

The drum kit is set up in an alcove behind the stage. Bands go in and out of their dressing room through a small black cubby hole that looks as though it may once have been part of a fairy grotto.

When White Lung emerge they are not impressed. They don’t like the lighting or the sound. They do not profess themselves happy until drummer Anne-Marie Vassilou has been plunged into darkness and is out of sight and mind.

The band themselves have two settings – standing on the stage chatting to each other or screaming into your face from a few feet away in a full on assault. A White Lung gig is not one for the casual bystander.

Singer and chief instigator Mish Way is wearing a leopard print coat and has sprinkled her face with what looks like a light dusting of glitter. In the sweaty confines of this room everything starts to run together and get stuck in her hair.

The other focal point in the band is bassist Hether Fortune. She constantly joshes with Way and takes great pleasure in mocking her increasingly manic appearance.

White Lung thrive on interaction with their audience and as the set progresses Way decides that the crowd is not doing its bit. She demands more response from those down the front and dives down among them. This causes a wild melee with beer flying in all directions. Way emerges even more bedraggled than previously but pleased with the result of her intervention.

And so it continues. White Lung do not have any individual songs that particularly stand out, their great strength is the verve and energy with which this music is put across. This set is a thirty minute shot of pure adrenaline which ends with the band eventually disappearing through the door to their grotto.

That’s them done for the night.

A riotously fun evening which the crowd enjoyed more than the band. White Lung are a blistering live act, but you’ve got to bring your own ‘A’ game too.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Charli XCX at Heaven - 30 October 2014

Charli XCX

I’ve arrived in Heaven early. I’m not dead, it’s just that the venue of that name likes to get its acts on in good time so that punters can be turfed out ahead of a club night afterwards.

The place is already pretty full and the crowd is boisterous and enthusiastic. They are enjoying a set by CuckooLander, a four piece pop rock outfit that serves as the live vehicle for Holly Hardy. There’s lots to admire.

Hardy and her boys play a slinky type of guitar pop with catchy choruses and a surprising amount of grit for an act at the more obviously radio-friendly end of the spectrum.

Holly clutches her guitar and undulates in a black leather sheath skirt. I’ve not heard her music before but singles ‘Dumb Dee Diddy Dumb’ and ‘What’s Out There?’ make an instant impression. One to watch for the future.

It’s not entirely a surprise to find CuckooLander on tonight’s bill. Holly Hardy is the ex-drummer from headliner Charli XCX’s live band. They’ve both moved up the pop ladder.

Tonight is Charli XCX’s triumphant homecoming. Her songs have graced radios and stadiums across the world, but she’s often only been acknowledged as an associate, an ‘also featuring’ credit on the hits that she’s written for others. Tonight is her opportunity to take centre stage.

And how! Right from the start Charli walks on and just bosses it. She’s rocking a cheerleader outfit with ‘Sucker’ written across it. Her band are similarly attired. This is the title of the forthcoming album and the first song tonight.

It’s a banging hit right out of the gate. Within seconds everyone’s arms are aloft, giving the middle digit and chanting ‘Fuck You, Sucker!’ It’s great sweary fun and from here on we are putty in her hands.

Charli primps her vast mane of black hair, adjusts her tiny tiara and swaggers through her set with bratty brilliance and uber confidence. She doesn’t deal in wistful lovelorn ballads, these are all in-your-face declarations of strength and positivity.

The hits keep coming. Third song in is a riotous version of ‘I Don’t Care’, the global smash that she wrote for Icona Pop. The audience is so uplifted that they are practically levitating.

Despite the new album being a couple of months away, this already feels like a ‘Best Of…’ tour. There’s virtually no flab in this set at all – ‘Stay Away’, ‘London Queen’, ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’ are all stripped-to-the-bone live monsters.

Charli has always had a good ear and this is shown tonight by her only true cover version, a ramped up tear through The Flying Lizards’ take of The Beatles’ version of the Barrett Strong track ‘Money (That’s What I Want).’ It’s all so meta that your head spins.

Just before the end of the evening a net is released and we are bombarded by the heaviest deluge of balloons I’ve ever experienced at a gig. It’s balloonageddon! The venue resembles an enormous pink and white gumball machine as Charli signs off with ‘Boom Clap’, yet another massive worldwide hit.

It’s been a fantastic evening. Charli XCX has arrived!