Friday, 15 March 2019

1,127 BOB MOULD, Pabst, London Camden Electric Ballroom, Thursday 14 March 2019

Ironic that the only 2 London dates on my "Spring Dance Card" should not only come less than one week apart at the same Camden venue, but also both feature Minneapolis natives! The ever-prolific US alt-rock legend (not a word I use lightly, but one which fits utterly appropriately astride his broad monolithic shoulders) Bob Mould dropped yet another album earlier this year, his 5th in a productive last 10 years, and this one, "Sunshine Rock", signalled a slight reframing of mood, if not of his trademark strident guitar-driven sheet-metal buzzsaw popcore. Mooted as his happiest and most upbeat for years, it's a glory-box of corking tuneage and buzzing hooky choruses, and I for one couldn't wait to hear it "live". However, the Electric Ballroom was the closest his short UK tour would get to the 'don (no Bristol this time... Boo!), so I'd just have to suck it up and hit the beat route oop the Smoke... again!

Another early departure straight from work, but unfortunately a reverse effect to last Friday; quick and easy run to Heston then a painful crawl into the Bush, parking up later than desired and a hike away from the tube. Bah! No delays on the tube this time, but because this was a later gig I arrived at 7.40, 40 minutes before openers Pabst were due on. Double Bah! When they eventually arrived (a little earlier than scheduled, thankfully), they announced themselves as, "from Berlin" (Bob's current home from home) declaring this their biggest show yet, and opened with a sneering, funky drummer beat-based psych-pop number recalling The Charlatans. Their subsequent set delved into more 60's, swirly and swaggering proto-blues, featuring some neat audience-fooling stop-starts and some drum-dominated, loose limbed effects pedal workouts resembling Dark Star (remember them?). Some dirty grungy noise thrown in the melting pot for good measure, and overall they left a favourable if not lasting impression. They seemed psyched to be here, at least...!

The place filled considerably and felt close to a sell-out; Bob clearly felt the same as, after the lights dimmed from a spot lit red to strobe white, the band took the stage to a kitsch German cabaret number and Bob mouthed, "wow!" to himself before greeting the crowd with a, "how y'all doing?", thence rampaging into opener "The War", the hooky upbeat popcore typical of the new material. The quickfire opening salvo also included forays into his old bands, with Sugar's seething terrace chant "A Good Idea" being followed by a rampant "I Apologise". This was all breath-taking stuff early doors, with Big Cat Bob prowling the stage and delivering his vocals with his throaty Smilodon roar, backed up admirably by his usual Superchunk rhythm section. However, the sound wasn't as loud and overpowering as usual Bob gigs (don't get me wrong, this was actually welcome as it revealed a number of nuances to the material, rather than burying them under swathes of white noise), and the audience was disappointingly static, despite a brilliant early "See A Little Light". However, rampant newie "Sunny Love Song" saw a big bloke smash past me, then another, then another... and by the tumbling thrill-ride of "Thirty Dozen Roses" I was being buffeted about in a wild but joyous moshpit.

A full band version of "Sinners And Their Repentances" seemed a little incongruous compared to ths stripped back, folky “Workbook” version, but normal service was soon restored with a frankly amazing "If I Can't Change Your Mind", a soaring, joyful mosh singalong and easily my set highlight (Bob's too, judging by the huge grin which crossed his snowy-stubbled features). "This is fun, right?" he quipped before a triad of Husker Du numbers to close the set perfectly, culminating in a brilliant, air-punching "New Day Rising", by which time I'd grabbed some barrier and was screaming the hook back at bassist Jason Narducy for all I was worth.

A poignant moment opened the encore, as Bob, solo, delivered a heart-breaking cover of Grant Hart's "Never Talking To You Again" (Hart, Bob’s bandmate in Husker Du being sadly lost some 18 months ago), before the irresistible hook of "Makes No Sense At All" closed out a supreme 1 1/2 hours rock, Bob taking centre stage and basking in the deserved applause afterwards, like a king surveying his domain. Quite right too!

Quick list then I was off and running, or so I thought; back to the car and out of London in short order, but then a sodden M4, a lengthy and confusing diversion around the M25 and A4 in Slough, and 16 miles of 50mph roadworks (!) saw me get home at a red-eyed 1.15. Bah! Not many I'd grit my teeth and do that journey for, especially on a school night, but on tonight’s form, the legend that is Bob Mould is firmly on that list!

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

1,126 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 10 March 2019

From one tradition that's just starting, last time out with The Hold Steady, to one that's well established with original politico-protest punks Stiff Little Fingers! For the 14th time in 15 years - and 19th time overall – da Fingers appear on my "Spring Dance Card", their usual March tour making its traditional Bristol Academy stop, this time on a Sunday (sadly meaning junior punker Logan was left at home on a school night). Only one thing to say, as ever... Go For It!

Going For It with me was The Big Man (as usual) and Ady too, and I picked them both up from Rich's new place promptly, for an early drive down. The reason for this early arrival was that I wanted to catch support Eddie And The Hot Rods' set given that it was likely their last tour, having already played a farewell 100 Club gig under the banner of "Done Everything We Wanna Do". The Rods came on at 7.45 to the rockabilly bar-room blues of "Teenage Depression", thereafter rocking through a well-played set of their proto-punk New Wavey powerpop, with elements of that mid-70s Canvey Island pub rock Feelgood sound. The problem however tonight was vocalist Barrie Masters; apparently 62 but looking (and carrying himself) at least a decade older (particularly when his trademark sunglasses were discarded), his voice deteriorated badly after a decent mid-set "Quit This Town", and by the otherwise fine set closers, the ubiquitous and classic "Do Anything You Wanna Do" and cover of Them’s "Gloria", he was being propped up considerably by his excellent guitarist and the crowd singalongs. A bit of a shame, but glad I got to see this classic old band one last time.

A lot of shit 70's pre-punk records over the PA (which prompted me to remark to Rich, "this is why punk was so necessary!") were eventually – and thankfully – cut short by SLF's excellent, rousing  singalong "Go For It" entrance music, heralding the boys onstage at 9.10, and whilst unexpected opener "Law And Order" and a drum-propelled "At The Edge" felt like them gradually easing in, an early, incendiary "Suspect Device" really kicked the early gig into life. “We’re gonna blow up in your face…!” damn right!

"You may have noticed [from the opening numbers], that we're gonna wander off the beaten track a bit tonight!" announced Jake, and so it proved! So we had a higher proliferation of post-reunion numbers, thankfully mostly introduced with some of Jake's trademark scathing social commentary (a bit absent, sadly, in recent years); newie "16 Shots" dealt with the grim subject of a teen killed by the police and was delivered with suitably fitting anger and vitriol, "Don't Call Me Harp" attacked institutionalised racism ("since the rise of Kommandant Trump and his cronies, some people think racist behaviour has become normalised. It fucking hasn't!") and an equally Irish folk-tinged "Guilty As Sin" set its sights on abuse in the Catholic Church. A warm ovation also met Jake's referencing of the recent untimely loss of The Prodigy's Keith Flint, his comment of, "if you're suffering with depression, for fucks sake talk about it please, don't become a statistic!" leading into an entirely apposite, and rather superb, "My Dark Places".

This "off the beaten track" approach however meant the omission of the likes of "Barbed Wire Love", "Roots Radicals" and "Johnny Was" in favour of the above “newies”, plus a smattering of rarely-played oldies; "Law And Order" aside, "State Of Emergency" was introduced by Jake as "possibly the first song I wrote for the band," and, later, a solo Jake number, the almost Cochran-rockabilly feel of "Drinking Again", got an even rarer first encore outing. However, the old familiars still shone brightest; a triple threat set closer of "Just Fade Away", "Nobody's Hero" and a brilliant terrace chant-along closing "Gotta Getaway" (my highlight tonight by some distance), was a superb way to end the set, and encore "Tin Soldiers" was sprawling and epic, before the usual punctuation point of "Alternative Ulster" and fulsome thanks and bows from the band to end the night.

No list, though, the obstreperous head roadie haughtily ignoring requests, but a more helpful soundman declaring they're "not allowed" to hand them out tonight. Dunno why, it's not like someone's going to scan it and put it up on their blog... Oh...!

So we headed off after another wholly entertaining SLF "Mad March" gig. Kudos to the boys for shaking the set up and taking the path less trodden. Whatever, we'll no doubt be back for more – my 20th – in 2020!

1,125 THE HOLD STEADY, Crewel Intentions, London Camden Electric Ballroom, Friday 8 March 2019

“Let this be our annual reminder...", or, how a one-off becomes deja vu, then a tradition... Minneapolis’ finest, The Hold Steady, seemed to enjoy last March's 3-night London stand (itself a continuation of their celebratory round-tripper honouring the 10th Anniversary of their breakthrough album "Boys And Girls In America") so much, they announced plans to do it all over again! And so, inevitably, did I... Having asserted, probably since "Boys And Girls..." first rampaged its' way into my consciousness with its blend of deliciously wordy, ragged and raw-boned US alt-popcore, encapsulating so much of what I love about this rock malarkey, that this lot are indubitably The Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band on Planet Earth, I was determined to keep this Killer Party going as well, booking tix (again) for the Friday night Leccy Ballroom first night. 

So, I left early from work oop the Smoke, hitting traffic near Windsor then the aftermath of a shunt shortly afterwards, as the traffic police held us for 15 minutes to clear the debris. However, after a change stop at Heston (lenses, shorts and kneestraps - all personal necessities after last year!), further access into London was startlingly easy and I parked up usual spot, usual time, no problem. Another delay, though, being held on the Underground at Edgware Road, saw me hitting the venue just after 20 past 7 to find this was a (very) early one! After the necessary loo stop, then, support Crewel Intentions (apparently former Palma Violets mainman Chilli Jesson's new Spaghetti Western direction) were but a low and quickly disappearing rumble in the distance. 

Grabbed a spot near the front and chatted with a fellow punter (hey Ian!) before the lights dimmed and the "Pink Panther" theme tune crept surreptitiously in, heralding the entrance of The Hold Steady at an unfeasibly early 7.50. "We're The Hold Steady, we're going to build something this weekend!" announced vocalist Craig Finn to cheers, the band thereby bursting into the strident Husker Du-popcore lite of "Constructive Summer". And we were away... or so I thought… Craig Finn was his usual ebullient, rabble-rousing self, repeating lines off-mic as usual with a huge stupid grin never far from his features; the band were in fine, rocking fettle, swaggering and strutting, and a moshpit was responding in kind. However, that fabled and almost mystical connection between band and audience, the elusive X Factor that elevates a Hold Steady gig to the ranks of the Very Special Indeed, seemed oddly absent early doors. Don't get me wrong, even a routine Hold Steady gig knocks most gigs into a cocked hat and I was still enjoying myself; it just seemed a little... erm, flat... For them, anyway... Despite highlights such as a rollicking "Sequestered In Memphis", the tumbling chaos of "Yeah Sapphire" and the backlit spotlight of "On With The Business", there may have otherwise been maybe too many mid-paced numbers for me, and I often found myself hoping for a real moshpit-kicking banger such as "Frighten You" or "Adderall", both sadly absent from tonight’s set. 

One hour in, though, it all changed... announcing it as a song about love, hope and other myriad things, Finn counted in Tad Kubler's riff into "Stuck Between Stations", and the place erupted. Like, really fucking Vesuvius-style erupted... One huge explosion of rock'n'roll joy and rapture, the moshpit expanding exponentially, sweeping me along in its wake. The rest of the set was thereafter one huge communal event, the type where you sweatily hug complete strangers and scream lyrics in their faces; a brilliant "Hoodrat Friend" saw Finn proclaim God gave him permission for a pre-Lent "pre-tox"(!), "Massive Nights" and "Southtown Girls" were huge, euphoric communal singalongs, and "Slapped Actresses" a swaggering set closer. 

Thankfully, the encores continued this all-inclusive vibe, with the blaring riff of "The Swish", the roaring chorus of "Stay Positive" and a magnificent final "Killer Parties", introduced by Finn announcing that this will indeed become a tradition ("we'll do this again next year! And the year after...!"), then further tapping into the spirit of the night by asking the audience to join in with his usual proclamation that, "There is so much joy in what we do up here!" And tonight that was reflected down here as well... eventually, at least!
Collected my thoughts, chatted with a few punters inside and out (including my moshpit friend from last year's gig!), then a swift drive home pitched me back into the 'don just after midnight. Nice work! A bit of settling in for a long weekend initially, maybe, but when they did hit their stride it was the same old Hold Steady. That being, as euphoric, essential and brilliant as rock'n'roll gets... I've already set my reminder for THS 2020!

Monday, 25 February 2019

1,124 THE SKIDS, Borrowed Time, Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre, Saturday 23 February 2019

The Skids 40th Anniversary “live” odyssey continues, but also shows signs of winding down… Having seemingly been “on the road” ever since their June 2017 sole-intended 40th Anniversary London Roundhouse date turned into a tour, and then another tour, then another (!), my early teenhood anthemic punk rock faves announced a further clutch of gigs to welcome in 2019, albeit with the accompanying warning that these may be the last electric band dates for the foreseeable future. So, following the cancellation of their January Swindon MECA gig, I thought I’d better grab “One Last Chance” to high-kick, Jobbo style, until my knees cried “enough”, and sing these cherished choruses loudly and lustily. Gloucester Guildhall was the closest, so I relished the chance to bounce to The Skids on one of the springiest dancefloors I’d ever been on!

Strapped my knees up (still sore after Thursday’s Brand New Friend gig!) and hit the road at 7.15, with some road closures in Gloucester throwing some diversions into my planned route, nonetheless not keeping me from my usual Gloucester car park (free after 6. Yay!). Noise was already emanating from the upstairs hall as I entered; I’d got the timings all wrong, with doors at 7 not 8, and support Borrowed Time already halfway done. I chatted to friendly merch guy Gordon, set up by the hall doors, discovering from him that the Swindon cancellation wasn’t at The Skids’ request, they were just told about it. Hmmm… Popped in for the last couple of Borrowed Time’s set, a couple of buzzsaw formulaic leather and studs numbers to round off what seemed a crowd-pleasing set from this gang of local punks. Not my cup of Pasti-Chron-Partizan Discharge though…

Had a chat with some fellow punters, before getting a tap on my shoulder just before The Skids were due on… “are you David Rose?” I sure am, I replied, as I happily – and finally! – met up with Simon, a Gloucester native who for a few years had been commenting on my blog under the (surely Aardvark-inspired!) name of Cerebus 660. Great to meet him at last! We were front and centre for The Skids’ entry onstage at 9, as usual to the backwards loop of “Peaceful Times” and a roar from the full and enthusiastic crowd. Gloucester were representing in style, no messing… The low rumble of “Animation” segued in perfectly to open proceedings,  moshpit breaking out, forcing me and my dodgy knees back to its’ periphery. Vocalist Richard Jobson, as ever, was in fine, voluble fettle, remarking, “Gloucester! It’s been 38 years! You’ve aged well… I can see more hair, so you’re either younger or you’re all wearing wigs!”, then, after another preamble about The Forest Of Dean (“my brother moved there 35 years ago and I’ve not heard from him since!”), he introduced the staccato riffery of “Charade” with, “let’s raise the roof! Really.. we want to nick the lead, as we’re thieving Scots!”

Once again this was a superb rock performance by a practised and finely-honed band in absolute top form, and loving every moment. The perma-grin across the shadow-boxing, wise-cracking Jobbo’s face, the solid base of bassist Bill Simpson and drummer Mike Baillie, and the deft, synchronised interplay of the excellent duelling guitar duo of Bruce Watson and son Jamie. What a band. In the last 2 years “live”, they’ve had few peers and no superiors. “Yankee Dollar”, more so pointedly relevant now than ever, “Woman In Winter” both mournful and triumphant at the same time, “Circus Games” racy and rambunctious, and the classic “Into The Valley”, causing the old dancefloor to take on trampoline proportions as the mosh bounced along. “Out Of Town” closed out a set which seemed barely minutes long, but the encores were utterly magnificent; “Albert Tatlock” (which saw Jobbo wave a laminated pic of the man, handed up from the crowd!), a rampant run-through “Pretty Vacant” then “What Do I Get” in homage to Pete Shelley, a brilliantly snaking, sinister and creepy “Scared To Dance” to mark the 40th Anniversary of their debut album’s release (today!), then an unexpected and reverential reading of Bowie’s “Heroes” (“something we’ve never done before!” quoth Jobbo), before a rampaging “Of One Skin” reprise took us right up to the curfew, and a huge ovation to close the night.

Waited outside awhile, catching my breath and reflecting on the gig before a swift drive back topped with a Penhill layby kebab (!) for a (very) late supper. As I’d remarked to Gordon on the way out, if this is The Skids winding down “live” shows, they’re going out on fire. And honestly, it’s been one of the greatest pleasures of my gigging days to accompany them on this odyssey. Songs I’ve cherished for 40 years, songs which until 2 years ago I never thought I’d hear “live”. And for that, boys, you have my sincere and heartfelt thanks.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

1,123 SEAN MCGOWAN, BRAND NEW FRIEND, Nerve Endings, Swindon Level 3, Thursday 21 February 2019

It’s supposed to be the other way around, this; go see a great headliner and be won over by the support act… but then, I am, I guess, me…! I’d picked up on Northern Ireland’s Brand New Friend last year, one of an impressive clutch of new young 2018 bands I’d discovered thanks to the pages of the excellent “Louder Than War” magazine, along with the likes of Basement Revolver, Liines and Teenage Wrist. Their debut, “Seatbelts For Aeroplanes” made an immediate impression, bursting out of the blocks with some effervescent, upbeat indie-powerpop in a similar vein to Happy Accidents, Martha et al, but with some big beefy choral hooklines, and in “Why Are You So Tired”, a bona fide, first ballot, nailed-on dead cert for my “Best of 2018” CD. Been keeping an eye out for any “live” BNF gigs since then, just never dreamed they’d actually come to my hometown and play my 80’s-90’s “spiritual home”, Level 3! The fact they were support was of no consequence, I booked tix pretty much immediately… headliner and Extra Mile Records labelmate Sean McGowan was a largely unfamiliar name to me; I’d caught part of a set supporting Gaz Brookfield once but didn’t recall much from it. So, here for the support, open mind on the headline act…

Hit the venue about 8.15, after an early evening watching my daughter’s Street Dance class, to find it deserted… apparently the previous night’s soundman had pissed off with the keys, so things were late getting started! By 8.30, only a small smattering of folk were in situ for openers Nerve Endings. Only their 5th gig, this, they ploughed a furrow between driving riff-heavy grungy rock and more QOTSA-like slow, sludgy stoner blues, in both cases proficiently but oddly politely and understated. The beefy vocalist was an entertaining sort, though, and a lower-key set closer “Chin Up” showed more promise, so you never know… By now I’d been joined by Rich Carter and his mates, and a few more punters had trickled in for Brand New Friend, on just after 9. And after a spritely if unfamiliar opener, “Karma”, there was an immediate example of what top chaps they are; I’d expressed disappointment before the set to vocalist Taylor Johnson, tuning up, that “Why Are You So Tired” seemed absent from the set-list, and second number in, he announced, “we weren’t going to play this one, but this is for that guy down there [on the dancefloor]”, immediately bursting into an ebullient rendition of my favourite BNF track, the keyboard-led speeded-up Senseless Things’ “Too Much Kissing” underpinning riff ceding to its’ soaring chorus. Tremendous stuff, and they had me after that, as I threw myself into as many shapes as my knackered knees would allow. “I Was An Astronaut” was preceded by a sincere reference from Taylor to the “shit time” Swindon is currently experiencing, and praising tonight’s attendance with, “this is a victory for music!”, and “Girl” was tongue-in-cheek dedicated to Joni Mitchell (“who’s here tonight on the balcony!” Yeah, right…), this knockabout track proving particularly excellent “live”, the dual call-and-response vocals of Taylor and keyboardist sister Lauren a feature. All too soon, newie “Carparks” ended a set replete with fresh, buoyant indiepop with towering hooks and melody. That was the real victory for music, right there!

Grabbed a list and some compliments from a breathless Taylor, before taking more of a watching brief for Sean McGowan’s set. And, as hoped, it didn’t taking him too long to win me over; with quite the broadest Cockney accent since Danny Dyer, which understandably bled (no, make that haemorrhaged…) into his singing voice, the rock was firmly and splendidly in Turner/Bragg tubthumping protest folk/punk territory, hooky, barbed and pointedly acid-tongued, holding up a mirror to the fucked-up world we currently find ourselves in, and the often lengthy but entertaining banter veered between achingly sincere (viz. his lengthy tributes to his support acts tonight) and comic (lamenting his usual bandmate who’d apparently entered a crown green bowls competition in Bolton instead of coming on tour!). A mid-set solo break (“it’s all going to get a bit emo”) to play a heartfelt tribute to his best friend and his sadly-lost mum was powerful and poignant, but my highlights came later, with an excellent “Autopilot” documenting his efforts to “wind my neck in” and reduce the booze, and a superb, euphoric and inclusive closer “No Show”, by which time the BNF guys were chanting a very Glasvegas-like, “here we fucking go!” from the balcony and waving their shirts around with glee. Leaving us with a positive and inclusive message, Sean’s set was as entertaining for us as it was evidently cathartic for him. Excellent!

Handshakes, selfies and compliments with the performers afterwards at the merch stand, before I took Rich and friends home, then home to grab some kip before my 6.15 a.m. alarm call (yikes!). So, Brand New Friend were as spunky, spritely and splendid as I’d hoped, and Sean McGowan won me over. A great double-header!

Sunday, 10 February 2019

1,122 JOHN GRANT, Southampton O2 Guildhall, Friday 8 February 2019

This’ll teach me to book gig tickets in advance of listening to new albums, I thought as soon as I copped a listen to John Grant's new album "Love Is Magic". I'd latterly properly picked up on this veteran US alt-rock soloist following a track on a "Best Of 2015" magazine compilation, subsequently investigating his 3-album solo oeuvre and particularly falling hard for 2010 solo debut "Queen Of Denmark", a pristine collection of dark, lyrically honest and confessional yet lush and sweeping ballads, sung with the kind of rich, mahogany voice that could frankly stop birds in flight. The subsequent 2 had similar high moments, whilst unfortunately also increasingly indulging Grant's predilection for quirky dance-inflected electronica which seemed quite jarring against the beautifully sung, Scott Walker-esque soaring balladry. A 2016 gig (no. 973, ironically at tonight's venue!), despite walking a precarious tightrope between these 2 radically different styles, was nonetheless an enjoyable affair, hence my promptness at getting a ticket for this one. However, I then heard the new album... with a notable swing more towards the self-indulgent synthy stuff, and a considerable downturn in the quality of the material, this for me was at best patchy, at worst utterly pants. Oops.

So, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I set off for a sodden drive down the South Coast, looking forward to the old stuff and hoping that the new material made more sense "live". Like, waaaaaaaay more sense... Parked up in my usual spot and got in just after 8.15, just in time to see the roadies packing up after the opening act, which, as it was apparently a soloist from backwoodsmen Grandaddy wannabees turned hoary hippy bores Midlake, was no great loss! (And yeah, I know Grant credits Midlake with dragging him out of his post-Czars doldrums and prompting him to make music again – a point he continually made tonight – but that still doesn’t mean I have to like them, right?) Took an easy wander down the front – only about half full, this ornate old hall, tonight; maybe a lot of old school Grant fans had heard the new record before buying tix and had voted with their feet, I thought, cynically… still, open mind, open mind…

The lights dimmed at 8.45 and the band entered, (once again featuring punk legend Budgie on drums, this time restored to Banshee-era straw-blond hair) followed by Grant himself, bedecked in black trucker chic apart from Chicory Tip-style glitter glam make-up around his eyes, partly obscured by the farmer’s baseball cap. Giving the crowd an affable double-handed wave, he immediately seemed to set about winning us over with opener “Tempest”, his wonderfully deep, sonorous vocal towering over some early Human League-like synth backwash. Things seemed very promising then, right up to an early “Jesus Hates Faggots”, (“an old traditional folk song from my country,” quipped Grant), his stately, commanding voice conveying the caustic lyrics perfectly. However, thereafter was when the synths kicked in…

“Smug Cunt” saw Grant stomping around the stage in time to the plodding synth riff, but at this point the monotonous dirge-like sheet metal keyboard riffery started smothering Grant’s own vocals, and after a few numbers like that (including newie “Metamorphosis”, which was just plain awful and headache-inducing, Grant delivering a sneering and unpleasant vocal performance too), I was seriously considering going home… “TC and Honeybear” was however beautifully rendered, touching and tender, throwing a welcome “thank fuck for that!” moment into the proceedings, and newie “Touch And Go” was better too, with the synths embellishing rather than overwhelming the nuances of the song. However, the throwaway disco stomp of “He’s Got His Mother’s Hips” then funnelled us back to the synth-dominated material, so I high-tailed it to the loo to give my ears a break, thereafter watching the rest of proceedings from the back.
The man however saved the best for last, as I knew he would (thank fuck for “”, otherwise without prior knowledge I might well have gone home midway through!). Set closer “Queen Of Denmark” was utterly majestic, the plaintive, piano-led Nilsson-like verse contrasting with the thrilling white noise of the crashing hook (that’s how to blend these two styles, right there!), and all the encores were superb too, a stately “Sigourney Weaver” and “GMF” the highlights. Worth enduring the frankly painful noise just to get to these songs, I concluded as I left promptly, mixing desk list in hand, and drove home in inky blackness. I do worry, however, as this feels that Grant is no longer walking that tightrope between these two styles anymore; I fear he may well have tipped right over into the wrong territory, and that’s really not the John Grant I want to see.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

1,121 FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS, JIMMY EAT WORLD, Grace Petrie, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, Saturday 2 February 2019

Now the 2019 gigging year can really get under way, thanks to this potentially corking double-header... Following Frank Turner's stellar performances last year during his sold-out Academy gigs in support of excellent - and timely - new album "Be More Kind" (gigs which promoted this honest, lyrically incisive punk-folk troubadour, in my eyes, to the ranks of the Very Special Indeed), there was no way I was passing up on more Frank. So I booked tix pretty promptly for the subsequent inevitable arena tour for myself and fellow Frank fan Matt, securing a return to the Motorpoint, scene of my first Frank gig! However, when US alt-rock emo veterans Jimmy Eat World were added as support, we were sure of some company - my dear lady wife and Jimmy uber-fan Rachel jumped in immediately, and, after putting "Bleed American" on constant rotation in the car for awhile, so did my little man Logan!
A huge dump of snow Thursday night and Friday threatened to put the kibosh on travelling; however I'd dug the car out and cleared the drive Friday night, and the main roads were clear, so we hatched a plan and tiptoed out of our slippery and compacted drive to drop Kasey off at grandma's for a sleepover. Hit the road at 4, therefore, an easy drive to a clear M5 Gordano Services seeing us meet Matt there for the onward journey to the 'diff. Roads clear there too - did it just snow in Swindon, or what? - so we were easily in the queue for 6.30 doors, grabbing a bit of barrier, house right, for Logan, next to Sarah, a lady who'd travelled from Paris just for this gig! In place therefore in good time for opener Grace Petrie, on at 7. She was great - a self-confessed "masculine" lesbian protest singer ("I've been doing this for 9 years, trying to make the world a better place with my songs... so I've been doing a pretty fucking terrible job so far!") with a wide, almost "Wild Ones" brief ("what are you protesting against?" "What have you got?") and an impassioned, Bragg/Guthrie style delivery, sprinkled with no little humour. So both the parlous state of current world politics and Kasabian ("who the fuck cares about Kasabian," being a lyric couplet from her touching "Ivy") fell victim to the Petrie broadside; however it wasn't all left-wing tubthumping, with the aforementioned "Ivy" a song for her young niece, and closer "Northbound" recalling Gaz' "Let The East Winds Blow" in it's subject matter. A fine start from a talent with plenty to say; I'd certainly pay to hear her say it again!

It got busy but remained friendly down the front, Logan keeping his spot comfortably for Jimmy Eat World's entrance at 7.45; good thing too as from note one they absolutely smashed it, a jagged, breathless "Pain" heralding a huge, anthemic "Futures" opening triple-salvo. Early oldie "Blister" was a seething delight, vocalist Jim Adkins remarking at its conclusion, "we've got some old school fans in! Here's another..." before a splendid if slightly understated "Lucky Denver Mint". Adkins then teased the crowd with, "the Welsh are renowned singers, right? Now's your chance..." before the towering, heart-rending ballad "Hear You Me", then a dark, growling "Cheating Gets It Faster" (thrown in unplanned, instead of "A Praise Chorus"... shame, but it was still great) led a "Bleed American" closing triad, the incredible title track preceding a buoyant, singalong "The Middle" to round off an utterly superb 45 minutes. Having seen them in other prestigious support slots (Green Day, Foo Fighters) we were expecting that; not stupid, these boys, they know what's expected in such circumstances, and delivered in spades. A brilliant support set of utter bangers, at the end of which drummer Zach Lind handed Logan a set of sticks. Nice!

The plan was then to head to the back for Frank, but the front remained remarkably hospitable, Logan was happy there, so there we stayed! Frank and the Sleeping Souls bounded onstage dead at 9, and, as if raising their game to match their exemplary support, they pretty much smashed it from note one too! "Loosen your seatbelts, let's rock'n'roll!" announced Frank as they ploughed into the frantic Irish reel of opener "Out Of Breath", the pyrotechnics spitting out plumes of fire at its conclusion. "Welcome to show 2,308! This is a punk rock show, but there are two rules; one, don't be an asshole, and two, if you know the words, sing!"

Much singing therefore then ensued, from our party down the front (including Logan, hollering along to the likes of "Photosynthesis" and "If Ever I Stray", both early and rousing singalongs) and from the packed and enthusiastic crowd in general. Frank complimented both supports, quipping about 25-year veterans Jimmy Eat World, "I like to have a spot to give a new band a chance!" "Brave Face" saw a charming animated backdrop film illustrating the lyrics in the style of the "Be More Kind" cover, as Frank teasingly berated the audience for a lukewarm singalong ("7 out of 10!"), but then curried favour with this partisan Cardiff crowd by bringing on a roadie to hold "phonetic" lyrics for him to sing "Eulogy" - in Welsh!

"I Am Disappeared" - as ever, a poignant, personal highlight - preceded a solo interlude from Frank, an almost rockabilly obscure oldie "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The One Of Me" (so obscure, Frank had to Google the lyrics beforehand!) the highlight. The rousing singalongs then kept pouring down, none more so than closer "I Still Believe", which rounded off another brilliant, inclusive Frank Turner set, appropriately shaking this 8,000-capacity arena to its foundations. Woah.

At the conclusion of 3rd encore, the ragged, fist-punching "Get Better" ("let's see what you've got left," remarked an equally ragged Frank, who as ever had given his all), we headed toward the back, watching the crunching punk rock of "Four Simple Words" plus the accompanying fireworks and confetti explosion from there, conscious of plummeting temperatures which might make the homeward journey tricky. In truth, after a quick getaway, bidding farewell to Matt at Gordano again, and a careful drive up the M4, the last 10 feet of the journey were the trickiest, seeing me stall then wheelspin getting onto the drive. D'oh! But no such slip-ups from Frank tonight; another stunning show from a true performer now totally at ease in front of such a huge crowd, and backed up ably not only by his stellar and tight band, but also 2 very fine supports. The 2019 gig year is now under way, good and proper!