Wednesday, 17 October 2018

1,105 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Jake Martin, The Hall Brothers, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 11th October 2018

21 today! Yup, this one is the 21st occasion I'd partaken of the delights of Gaz Brookfield "live", either with his Company Of Thieves, or, as per tonight, on his in-your-face, rabble-rousing, punk-folk semi-autobiographical troubadour tod. This, a sadly-rare Songs Of Praise-promoted date, represented the first time in 18 or so months Gaz had frequented his old home town (still looks the same, though...!) and saw him in good company tonight; not only spritely tour support Jake Martin, but an acoustic Raze*Rebuild line-up (namely Si and Matt, sans rhythm section)! With that prospect on the cards, I couldn't really grab my ticket quick enough...!

Not wishing to faff around parking, either, I headed up early and hit the venue at 7.30, greeting R*R's Si and Matt, SoP impresarios Dave and Ed, Mr. Paul Carter and Gaz himself outside, before heading in, where we were joined by Stuart and The Big Man, both - amazingly - availing themselves of a solo Gaz show for the first time! Stu and I took a front row spot for the introduction of "approximately 50% of Raze*Rebuild, by volume!" Si had expressed slight nervousness beforehand, there being no place to hide in this stripped-back version of the band, but no need as this was an exemplary performance, showcasing the strength of the songwriting, Matt's splendid guitar work (Si commenting, "isn't my little brother good on guitar!")... and, actually, Si's voice! This shouldn't have been a surprise really, but, without the need to compete with the loud guitars in the band line-up, Si dropped an octave, reined in the usual stentorian howl and sang... amazingly well! "Troubled Mind" was a perfect example, and the Northcote cover, "Worry" also benefitted from this treatment. "Kat I'm Sorry" (preceded by some fun preamble about "catharsis"..."sounds like a metal band with a logo made up of sticks!") hiccuped once or twice, but was largely its usual epic self, and closer "Back To The Fall" was a great galloping beast, even acoustically. "Our last song before we hand you over to Chris Webb... Oh fuck, sorry I mean Jake!" remarked Si, reading Gaz' tshirt, ending a great set with a slightly embarrassed smile...!

Chatted with Stu, Rich and recent arrival Ady before Jake Martin then took the stage. "How much did they pay for this Gaz? Come get your money's worth!" entreated Jake, so Stu and I hit the front again. An early "Revolution's Always Late " was a tongue-in-cheek Bragg-like protest number (methinks generally, Jake would have been right at home in those Red Wedge, Tory-protesting 80's, alongside Bragg and The Men They Couldn't Hang), and by now, Jake was in full acerbic flow, reflecting on his role as "the fluffer" on this tour (and delighting on the Swindon crowd getting this porn reference) and acidly and deftly taking down a couple of  chatty hecklers, to the audience's loud approval. "For Fuck sake Jake", with the audience participation, was inevitably the highlight, but an excellent "Mountains" (before which he asked for a hand, "for my buddies from Razorlight!", and called out a watching Gaz for being "stage rapey"!) ran it close. By closer "We Sing The Words All Wrong", he'd won everyone over, the communal singalong raising the roof. Nice one Jake!

We kept our spot as the place really filled up and Gaz sloped onstage at 10, with a laconic and funny "Solo Acoustic Guy". Almost an understated start, but that didn't last long, a wide-eyed "Diabetes Blues" getting the singing started early. "Swindon! Fucking hell, it's been awhile... it won't happen again!" confessed Gaz, before Ed, after handing him a can of Thatchers Gold, cheekily enquired, "am I responsible for killing you?" "Under The Table", Gaz' litany of debauchery, was introduced with, "[on] day 2 of the tour I had to play this in front of my mum!", before then confessing during a tribute to his hometown, "I'm sure I took a shit in the bushes next to the Regent!"

Typical Gaz! Again, revelling in the enthusiasm of a home-town crowd, Gaz turned it on, giving a consummate and inclusive performance, also revelling in the frequent mass-singalongs. "I've Paid My Money" ("not directed at anyone in particular", but pointedly dedicated to Jake after his heckler issues earlier) was great, bilious and acerbic, "Banality" was pointed and rollicking, and after the secret of the Aged Revolt tour name was revealed (it's - shhhh, can't say!), the eponymous newie, performed as a duet with Jake, was a flag-waving call-to-arms for the Rebel Alliance. Praise too for The Vic ("the Terminator of venues!") before a superb "Land Pirates Life" rounded off the set perfectly.

Killjoy time now; I hate Whitney – I’m sorry, but I do! - so can really do without that cover, but that aside, the encores were equally excellent, "West Country Song" raising the roof, and finale duet "Great Minds Drink Alike" being delivered "in the round" from the floor by Gaz and his faithful wingman Jake. Superb!

Copious compliments and handshakes with performers, promoters and friends completed a superb night of entertainment, chat and bonhomie. A great 21st - not long now until Gaz inevitably catches and overtakes the Mighty Seafood as my "most seen act", and that will be an accolade well deserved!

PS A fun footnote, the night after, saw Gaz texting me to ask if I'd swiped his setlist - guilty as charged! - and asking for a pic of it!

Saturday, 6 October 2018

1,104 OKKERVIL RIVER, Honey Harper, Bristol Thekla, Thursday 4th October 2018

Despite the M4 closure last night, I’m braving a trip down to Bristol again… time to catch up with Okkervil River, a band I’d “discovered” following an “Uncut” magazine subscription in 2010. I’d been utterly startled by the power and dynamism of their Trinity set in November 2011 (gig 833) in support of the excellent “I Am Very Far”, however a subsequent pair of releases hadn’t stirred me sufficiently to make a concerted effort to catch them again. I therefore wasn’t in a real hurry to pick up current release “In The Rainbow Rain”, but Tim’s enthusiasm persuaded me otherwise. As with Death Cab For Cutie, a couple of years ago, he was right, as “ITRR” was a more immediate collection of tunes, wrapped up in the usual Okkervil River widescreen Americana/ Byrdsian tinged musical style, oozing with intelligence and songcraft, but also with a seam of blue-eyed 70’s soul running through, recalling Lampchop’s finest hour “Nixon” or even Bowie’s “Young Americans”. Also, in leadoff track “Famous Tracheotomies”, it featured one of Okkervil River’s finest numbers, a gorgeous and languidly delivered autobiographical story of mainman Will Sheff’s childhood illness, linked into a history of, well, famous tracheotomies! Good stuff indeed, so tix were duly snapped up for their Bristol return, this time on the “Dirty Boat”…

Tim picked me up early, and we circumnavigated the reprioritised mess that now passes for Bristol City Centre, our convoluted journey nonetheless parking us up outside the venue at 20 to 8. The opening act was just rounding off at that point – an early one indeed, this! We therefore caught only a couple from Honey Harper, apparently both a band and its’ frontperson, a right proper poser in a suit; the first seemed very trad country, and the second was an overblown tape-backed cover of Dusty Springfield’s 60’s standard “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”, which just seemed an excuse for Honey to fling his arms around ostentatiously. Not particularly impressed, as you might gather…

Took a wander right down the front, house right, a good viewing spot slightly obscured by the roof-suspended speakers. The new Okkervil River – apparently a brand-new line-up since that 2011 gig – traipsed onstage, with Will Sheff arriving last, eschewing his previous nervous Geography teacher persona for a cross between full-on Fillmore East and beardy peacenik Lennon, all double denim, hair and round NHS glasses. Thoughts of Midlake’s similar metamorphosis were immediately banished, however, with excellent opener “Pulled Up The Ribbon”, sweeping, upbeat and darkly dramatic, Sheff “on it” from the outset and his band backing him up in kind. An early “Love Somebody” was all laconic plastic soul with an absorbingly wordy middle 8 section (Sheff also, rather splendidly, being a lyricist who is unafraid of cutting a short story long), and “Famous Tracheotomies” was given a fully deserved treatment, lazy, hazy and quite, quite beautiful, with the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” keyboard riff (Ray Davies had a tracheotomy, dont’cha know…) a totally apposite outro.

Gregarious too – whether recounting a lengthy story about his nephew’s first words (“prostitute”, “apocalypse” and “pink slips”!), snarkily suggesting newie “New Blood” is, “available everywhere for 1p a stream!” or lamenting a van break-in in Birmingham in which nothing was taken (“they just broke our ignition and now we’re in a shitty rental!”) Sheff had plenty to say and did so in a most entertaining manner. “Judey On A Street” had a lovely undulating keyboard pattern and a touch of the laconic Jonathan Richmans to Sheff’s vocal; “John Allyn Smith Sails” was a ragged and rousing sea shanty singalong, particularly the “Sloop John B” homage; and after a reference to the protests surrounding the Supreme Court vote (“there’s all sorts of shit going on [in the US] that I wish I was there for [now] and glad I’m not!”), a startlingly reworked oldie “Black” was a venomously delivered Frank Turner-esque protest rocker, and the set highlight.

“Our Life Is Not A Movie”, with a dramatically collapsing and discordant middle 8 augmenting its’ widescreen musical scope and vocal loop, ended an utterly rocking set, with the pulsing “Charming Man”/ “Sporting Life” beat of “Lost Coastlines” and a joyous, riotous and communal “Unless It’s Kicks” rounding off an overall one hour 45 minutes performance which seemed half that. Wow. True to his word, Sheff then decanted immediately to the merch stand, so I eventually got to chat and compare trache scars with a very personable frontman who, once again, had led his band through a stunning performance, way better than anticipated. M32 and M4 closures on the way home but after that, who cares? This was just a superb gig!

1,103 AMBER ARCADES, BASEMENT REVOLVER, Bristol Exchange, Wednesday 3rd October 2018

So I’m back on the road again! My first out-of-town gig since The Cure, on 7th July (gig 1,095), actually formed part of an impromptu 2 nights on the bounce as a late addition to the ol’ Autumn Dance Card; I’d been tempted by pastoral Dutch indie-pop combo Amber Arcades on their own, headlining a short tour in support of beguiling new album “European Heartbreak”, but this one then became a must with the support addition of Basement Revolver. The young Hamilton, Ontario 3-piece had produced what is rapidly becoming a 2018 favourite in their debut, “Heavy Eyes”, a heady mix of slow-burn early 90’s post-grunge US alt-pop, absorbing droney guitar and crystal-clear, pure vocals from young singer Christy, so I booked up for a potentially intriguing double-header of female-fronted indie pop!

Hit the road at 7 for a deceptively quick drive down, parking up in a street space virtually opposite The Exchange! That was easy, I thought, and subsequently realised why, as the gig was utterly deserted! Whiled away the time trying to find the gents loos – hint, there aren’t any, it’s just ladies and “all gender” now! – and overheard Amber Arcades vocalist Annelotte limbering up her larynx in the upstairs “backstage” room, then popped back in for showtime. Basement Revolver took the stage at 8.15, sadly still at this point in front of a crowd barely numbering out of the teens… understandable “first night nerves” were subsequently initially on show from this young trio, and the mix was a bit too bass-heavy from my house-right spot, but things soon settled down. Opener “Baby”, a Madder Rose “Car Song” soundalike, was quickly followed by “Friends”, a lilting, almost hazily lullaby number recalling Belly’s more tender moments. “Wait” needed a couple of starts (“sometime I need to figure out how to play our shit!” quipped Christy), but by now the band were hitting their stride, the darker, more growly bass underpinning an almost Juliana Hatfield college pop vocal delivery. “Johnny”, my clear favourite and a shoe-in for my “Best Of 2018” end of year CD, was pure and plangent, resembling fellow Canadians Alvvays (a bit of a lazy comparison the band suffer from, according to Christy afterwards, and honestly the only such number tonight!), but a thoroughly absorbing, droney “Words” (preceded by Christy’s entertaining sales pitch of, “we’d like to sell some merch as our bag was overweight on the way over!”) was beefed up, menacing and the set highlight. A more stripped back “Knocking” saw an exemplary vocal performance from Christy – the girl can sing, no messin’! – and overall, this set ticked all the right boxes for me. Tuneful, charming, absorbing and overall very lovely indeed!

A chat with an open and friendly band at the merch stand, Christy earnestly writing band names down as I mentioned their supposed soundalikes (the clear Americana-tinged post-grunge of Madder Rose, the monotone slowcore growl of Galaxie 500), then I popped back to the car with some merch before heading down the front for Amber Arcades, on at 9.30 to a slightly bigger crowd (still way less than half-full, though…). Another false start, as the guitarist left his instrument backstage, then came back as he’d forgotten the backstage room lock combination! D’oh! Opener “Simple Song” finally got proceedings started, sounding more overt and dynamic than the rather polite, hazily drifting St. Etienne-alike CD version, and “Right Now”, my favourite from their debut album, was lovely and bouncy Summery pop. “We’re Amber Arcades… from the European Union!” quipped Annelotte, resplendent in her de rigeur amber velvet pyjama suit, before a wistful, pastoral and harmonic “Oh My Love” and a darker, more melancholy “Goodnight Europe”. The set then meandered pleasingly and enjoyably along, touching on various styles (“I’ve Done the Best” a jolly, almost fairgroundesque knockabout tune, and a solo “Self Portrait” a poignant, 50s style heartbreak ballad) whilst retaining their air of easy, pastoral dreampop melody. I do have to confess, however, that at 16 songs (including a 4-song encore which the band powered through, Annelotte announcing, “I don’t want to play the game; actually, we have 4 more songs!”) the set seemed a little stuffed and slightly overlong, and maybe a more concise 12 or 13 number set would have been better. Less is more, sometimes…

No matter, this was still an enjoyable performance from Annelotte and her white-clad band, the absorbing monotone rhythm of “Fading Lines” and a groovy, set highlight “Come With Me” bookending the set perfectly. Fine stuff from both bands, then, although I confess Basement Revolver shaded it for me tonight. A quick chat and signed list from Annelotte before I hit the road, running into a diversion off the M4 on the way home. Bah! Later home as a result, but worth the effort to be back on the road again!