Sunday, 12 January 2020

1,171 NICK PARKER AND THE FALSE ALARMS, Abdoujaparov, Worcester Marrs Bar, Friday 10th January 2020

The first gig of the year – nay, of the decade – was a bit of a late call… I’d been on to Marr’s Bar to see if I could get Logan into this rare “full band” outing from Nick Parker, one of his favourite folk/ punk/ pop travelling troubadours (particularly so, given that this gig was due to be recorded for a future “live” album), but the 14+ only stipulation was sadly immovable. Thereafter I’d just let it slip my mind, intending to take my little man to the pics instead to see “1917”, only to find on the day that this was a 15 certificate! D’oh! However, Facebook came to my rescue, as comments from both my friend Rich and his mate Terry confirmed their attendance, so I got a late ticket and invite from the boys to tag along!

An early pick-up for a late departure at 7.30 saw us hammer up the M5, double-quick time, and park up in a muddy car park just around the corner from the venue, after a couple of laps around the town centre. My first time at this one – indeed, my first ever gig in Worcester! – and this small, scuzzy venue was already well-attended by the Parker faithful. Nick was at the merch stand, gleefully shaking hands with all and sundry, announcing, “this is great – I know pretty much everyone here!” Indeed, it seemed as though the whole Parker massive had come out of hibernation for this one, as I ran into both fellow Swindonians Grant and his wife Lisa, and also Claire, who I’d ran into whilst chatting to Nick at Wickham Festival!

Anyway, first on were Abdoujaparov. My previous exposure to former Jamie Wednesday guitarist and Carter USM wingman Les “Fruitbat” Carter’s current musical project, at Shiiine On 2018 (gig 1,112), was less than impressive, so hopes weren’t high as a jovial Fruitbat led his charges through some early doors old school punk rock with unsurprising Carter USM-esque song structures and flippant, punnish wordplay. Indeed, an early number recalled “Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie” by obscure 70’s comedy punkers Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias, and another had a “Dark Entries”-esque thrashy descending riff! I actually warmed to this set as Fruitbat seemed to be throwing the kitchen sink at it – a Ukranian-style jig-fest here, a Coral-esque sea shanty there, and a flippant but fun terrace chant about umbrellas being my set favourite. It felt a little overlong, but infinitely better than that Shiiine On debacle, a point I also made to Les himself at the end of the gig, also recalling those Jamie Wednesday days!

I took a wander down the front as Nick and The False Alarms – all 7 of them! – squeezed onto the cramped and busy stage, before kicking off a little early at 10 to 10 with the rousing Irish jig of “Never Been To Dublin” Straightaway this engendered a mass singalong from the Parker devotees, a state of affairs which pretty much continued all night, the gig feeling similar in atmosphere and general bonhomie to Gaz Brookfield’s “AGM of lovely people,” last time out. Nick himself sported a cheesy grin throughout, often remarking, “this is fun! Can we do this again next year?”, and threw himself into the performance, often laudably red-faced and sweating buckets for the cause, and looking after his congregation too, inquiring, “this is all good-natured, right?” every time an often violent mosh broke out.

“Make Yourself At Home” was a soaring, roof-raising early delight, “Down With The Yoof” a joyous ragged reel with some exemplary fiddle from the ubiquitous Ben Wain, and “Could We At Least Try” saw Nick and multi-instrumentalist Tom split the audience to fill out the harmony parts of song characters “Larissa” and “Sebastian”. However an amazing cover of Sugar’s classic popcore number “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” was a startling mid-set highlight, seeing me rock out like those 90’s Lev’s days to this irresistibly catchy number, which Nick and the boys did full justice to. Nick’s daughter Flo then joined him onstage to duet on a stark “Guess I’ll Never Know”, delivering a beautiful world-weary vocal well beyond her years. A couple of real contrasting numbers, but both stunning.

A couple of moshs broke out to later numbers, as I ran into a hairy specimen in the mosh wearing the same “B-Sydes” t-shirt as me (right down to the same purple colour!), grabbing ahold of him and shouting, “fuck me, it’s like looking in a mirror!” Les Carter then joined the False Alarms onstage (making that stage even more cramped!) for a run through of Carter USM’s “Only Living Boy In New Cross”, splendidly authentic right down to the pulsing beat and gabbling denouement. “Song For Suzy” finally rounded off a splendidly ragged-arsed, frantic yet totally fun singalong set, a damn fine way to kick off gigging year 2020!

After the aforementioned chat with Les and a quick word with a sweaty and elated Nick about Sugar, I located the boys and we headed off for an equally breakneck journey home. Shame Logan couldn’t join us for that, but actually that mosh might’ve been a bit much for him. So, glad I went – this may have been a late call, but t’was a great call!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

1,170 GAZ BROOKFIELD AND THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, B-SYDES, Jake Martin, Bristol SWX, Saturday 14th December 2019

The 4th of 4 in 7 hectic gig days, this; following this one, I can wind down and reflect on a quite stellar 51-gig 2019. So it seems only fitting that my host/s for my final scheduled gig of this year are Gaz Brookfield And The Company Of Thieves, Gaz in 2019 becoming my most-seen “live” act and further extending his leading tally to 25 with a trio of autumn gigs, this being the final one. And well anticipated too; as soon as I heard Gaz’ best-yet new album “Lostfolk”, I realised I had to hear this excellent, superbly catchy and (dare I say it) mature material being given the full band treatment, so I passed on the clashing “12 Bands Of Christmas” event at the Vic in favour of this, Gaz’ traditional big Christmas headlining hometown show. The only downside was that, with Gaz having outgrown the Fleece and moving his “works Christmas party” to the bigger but sadly 14+ SWX, I couldn’t take my son and rabid Gaz fan Logan along… still, we’ll always have Salisbury (gig 1,166, barely 2 weeks ago)…!
Ady however was up for it – and old enough! – so, anticipating another early one (3 acts with a 10 pm curfew, yikes!) and mindful of Chrimbo shopping traffic around Cabot Circus, we left at 5.30, a swifter than feared entry into Brizzle pitching us up at SWX just before 6.30 doors. Nice! Grabbed a spot house left near the front as the place quickly filled, most folks aware of the early start. And quite so; a shade after 6.45, opener Jake Martin joined us to avail the crowd of a set of his raggedy-arsed, reactionary and joyfully profane sloganeering punk-folk. Wishing us a, “Merry Christmas you sexy sons of bitches!” he was the perfect opener for this evening, his half hour set being replete with beery sway-alongs and rousing singalong hooks, the crowd raising the roof with “For Fuck’s Sake Jake”’s rejoinder of “you’re an asshole!” A later number featured a la la la singalong, apparently an “up yours” to, “that lanky tattooed prick” Gaz, who’d been “talking smack” throughout the tour about Jake’s height and frequent woah-oh hooks. “We Sing The Words All Wrong” was another huge extended sing/swayalong, Jake leaving us with fulsome compliments and a huge burp (!) after a typically bolshy and ebullient set. Good start! 

Met up with Matt and his lovely wife Liz at the back, before I popped back in, going house right this time to try to avoid a slew of big bald bearded blokes who’d stood directly in front of us for Jake (cheers guys…). B Sydes was next up, fully banded up albeit with a debut drummer (!), and kicked in with a devastatingly anthemic “Crutches”, the soaring best number from splendid new album “Self Sabotage”. A similarly hooky and heavy-rocking “Good Times” was next up, Ben pointedly referring to the disastrous election result with, “good times are coming – hard to believe after the last 48 hours…” This was a quite remarkably superb set, the material sounding tough and robust and really taking flight given the full band treatment, answering that burning question as to what dark and angst-ridden emo Goth folk would sound like…! “All At Sea” recalled the shuddering riff-heavy dynamics of Boston emo rockers Cave In, and “Verbatim” the yearning angst of Dashboard Confessional, Gaz sneaking onstage to play the final note (not as well as Logan did at Salisbury, though!). A buoyant Ben remarked, “touring with Gaz has been the best 2½ months of my life!” before set closer, the singalong “Desperate Dance”, rounded off a brilliant dark rock set, the only sour note being that I had to deal with a(nother) massive bald bearded bloke repeatedly backing into me towards the end! Still, one shout of, “mate, have some respect for those around you,” seemed to do the trick… 

Thus irked, I headed back to Matt and Liz’ position, staying there for the first few numbers of Gaz’ set. On at 8.15 prompt and with none of this acoustic mucking about, he and the band were straight in with a groovy, catchy “Lostfolk” and excellently singalong “Gunner Haines”, before Gaz gave a big up for his tour banner again, leading into a quite deliciously harmonic “IOU”, with Chris Webb and co. giving the song extra layers with that Teenage Fanclub-esque harmony-laden chorus. Ady wandered down the front for a venomously-delivered “Black Dog Day”, and I joined him shortly after, this time pitching up next to a bloke who immediately apologised in advance for elbowing me during the set, as he was protecting his girlfriend, who’d cracked her ribs but still wanted to see the show. See, that I don’t mind at all…! 

Given the full band treatment – sadly minus the mandolin of the otherwise engaged Nick Parker – the new material sounded as mellifluous and melodic as hoped, occasionally almost veering into amped-up US college/ powerpop territory (viz. a rampant “Snakes And Ladders”, my set highlight). However, a folkier number was never too far away, as Jake joined Gaz onstage (Gaz introducing him with, “earlier there was a tiny little man onstage…!” and adjusting Jake’s mic stand down a few feet, to the rejoinder of, “wanker cunt!” from Jake) for a fiddle-powered, raggedy-arsed and supersonic “Aged Revolt”. “Uneducated Guess” was a superb punkish rant, and “Land Pirate’s Life” even descended into samba rhythms from Chris and the band! Mindful of the strict curfew, perhaps, Gaz didn’t pause for the “encores”, powering through instead with roof-raising singalong renditions of “The West Country Song”, “Diabetes Blues” and closer “Great Minds Drink Alike”, Jake and Ben both joining Gaz onstage for a rousing finale. “This has been a mind-blowing evening!” Gaz remarked, thanking one and all at the end of a splendid 1½ hours.

The usual slow SWX egress and a quick blast home still got us back in the ‘don for 11 (!), after another great Gaz Brookfield evening. “The AGM of lovely people,” Gaz put it, and, with a couple of knuckle-headed exceptions, I’m inclined to agree. 25 down, and no doubt many more to come from Mr. Brookfield!

Monday, 16 December 2019

1,169 THE WONDER STUFF, Jim Bob, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 12th December 2019

My eighteenth (!) time of asking with this lot; Stourbridge’s own enduring Indie veterans The Wonder Stuff, now well into their 30-somethingth year (a brief mid-90’s hiatus notwithstanding, during which time main-man Miles Hunt treaded water with Vent 414 and served time as an MTV VJ, interviewing young bands with barely a sliver of his talent), and for me (and like me!), indisputably getting better with age…! I’d already secured tix for this one before they utterly crushed it at “Shiiine On”, winning my Best Band award at a canter, so after that stellar performance hopes were raised for this; a 30th Anniversary run through of sophomore album “Hup”, plus – just because they’d missed doing that one – a full performance of their brash, flippant debut “8 Legged Groove Machine” as well! Add to that a promise of a smattering of tracks from new, return-to-form album “Better Being Lucky” as well, and it was clear that they’d have a ferocious amount to get through, so the key was, get there early!

Old Level 3 friend Robynne was up for the gig as well, so I picked her up straight from work, making tentative plans to meet up with friend and Stuffies guitar roadie Russ before doors, only for said plans to go awry due both to some difficulties on Russ’ end, and busy traffic into Bristol which saw us park up at 20 past 6, just before doors. A swift half in The Hatchet, then in for 7 and in the usual spot, house left, running into Gloucester mate Simon Barton just before opener Jim Bob, on at 7.15. I’d missed the former Carter USM man’s set at “Shiiine On” safe in the knowledge that I’d catch him here; wandering onstage in an iridescent jacket and hastily discarded red sunglasses, the erstwhile Mr. Morrison ran through a set of acoustic versions of Carter USM singles and deep cuts, and some new numbers, with the veritable lyrical barrage of quintessentially English working-class references, puns and wordplay the main feature throughout. The woah-oh singalong to “Born Again Atheist” (a song I saw the man doing with previous band Jamie Wednesday, waaay back in 1987!) was an early highlight, newie “Victim” was dark, pointed and barbed, and the impressively held first choral note in “Only Living Boy In New Cross” drew cheers from the enthusiastic early crowd. Some flippant between song banter too, Jim lamenting being pipped to artist of the decade by Ed Sheeran (“curses!”), then introducing acerbic closer “Sheriff Fatman” with, “I’ve got time to do this then I’m off to hide in a fridge!”. Good set, glad I caught him!

Another advantage of Jim Bob’s set was just one guitar to unplug afterwards, so turnaround time was quick, and in no time at all, it seemed, Miles Hunt came flouncing onto the stage accompanied by some TV lounge music (!), channelling his inner game show compere with appropriate cheesiness to advise the format for the evening, then announcing, “to do this, I’m going to need me a band!” Once fully banded-up, then, opener “Feet To The Flames” was a joyous old school Stuffies banger, with a coruscating riff and insanely hooky chorus, and a great opener to a vignette set of new album material, another highlight here being the yearning “Don’t Anyone Dare Give A Damn,” described by Miles as the favourite song he’d ever had a hand in writing – high praise indeed!

A short break, then they were back on for “Hup”, start to finish. Retaining the upbeat catchiness and innate mischievousness of their debut (viz. an excellent early “Radio Ass Kiss”), “Hup” nonetheless marked a slight maturing of the Stuffies’ material, nudging the sound from the hazy, slightly-delic early feel into a rootsier, fiddle-embellished direction (again, viz. an amazing early “Golden Green”/ “Cartoon Boyfriend” double, overlaid by some wickedly undulating violin from Erica Nockalls). This was given full justice tonight, the band being in excellent fettle, with even lesser-played tracks being delivered with muscular power and excellence (the thunderous “Can’t Shape Up”, my “Hup” highlight, illustrating this perfectly), and Miles was again a confident, gregarious and generous performer and raconteur, urging the crowd to pace themselves as, “this is a mammoth fucking set! Manchester went nuts from the off and by “Unbearable” it was pathetic…!”, and reflecting on the set as, “a time machine – at the end you’ll be 18 again!”

“Hup” done, Miles paused for breath and to recount the inception for the tour, which, “like all good ideas, started in the boozer…”, then we were “back in the Groove Machine” with the ringing opening riff to a quite superb “Red Berry Joy Town”. However splendid “Hup” may have been delivered, “Groove Machine” took it up a few notches further, more remarkable given that by now they’d shed the extra guitarist and (occasional violin appearances from Erica notwithstanding) were actually performing this album as an 8 legged groove machine! The tumbling hook and urgent driving riffery of “No For The 13th Time” was an early highlight, a less practised “Merry Go Round” nevertheless fared superbly well with a wonderfully melodic repetitive hook, and the swirly roundabout twirl of “Wish Away” was top “8LGM” song for me. That is, until… set closer “Poison” was utterly tremendous, venomous and earth-quakingly huge, the undisputed highlight of the night, ending a near 2-hour set on a massive high. They’d left “Goodnight Though” off the “Hup” run-through, returning to play a herky-jerky, jagged version, peeling off one by one at its’ conclusion after a job phenomenally well done.

A pause for breath, then I caught Russ’ eye for a list as he scampered onstage – he later advised me that he’d waited to see me in the crowd before coming out and giving the lists out! What an excellent fellow you are, Sir, and you provided the topping for me on a quite superb evening. There’s always concern on such album showcase performances that lesser-played tracks would suffer, being suddenly brought out of cosy album track retirement to be played “live” (Echo And The Bunnymen’s notably less successful 2010 tour of their first 2 albums – gig 803 – being testament to that), but there was none of that here with this Wonder Stuff line-up. They nailed every. Single. One! And in doing so, further underlined that as far as hugely entertaining nights of brilliantly catchy, singalong “live” indie rock go, they currently have very few peers. Brilliant stuff from the Stuffies for my 18th time!

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

1,168 THE NATIONAL, Jenny Lewis, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, Monday 9th December 2019

The hectic week continues with the second in 2 nights and a lengthy trip over the (thankfully now toll-free!) border into Wales, to catch The National, for me now the de facto figureheads of the US alt-rock movement. Hot on the heels of 2017’s “Sleep Well Beast”, these Cincinnati, OH natives trotted out a new album this year, “I Am Easy To Find”, which continues their increasing descent into wallowing and morose melancholy for earnest musos in black jeans and with more than a fleck of grey around the temples. My people, then! I’m still well on board with The National, despite finding this new album on initial listens a little one dimensional and lacking in that one upbeat banger that punctuated previous releases and provided respite from all the bleak moodiness (think “Mr. November”, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”, “Graceless” or even last time out’s “Day I Die”), which in itself gives rise for concern that they may be disappearing into their shells, similar to how their predecessors REM did with the “Reveal” and “Around The Sun” albums. Still, “live” they’re still hopefully a pretty safe bet, even if we have to experience their sullen introspectiveness in aircraft hanger-type venues these days, an odd juxtaposition in itself?

At least Cardiff Motorpoint is easy to park at and has spot-on sound as aircraft hangers go, so I really didn’t need much persuasion for this one. Neither did Stuart, although amazingly this was his first National gig for 10 years! Picked him up straight from work, stopping for noodle tea in the services and parking up at 7. Well in place, house right, for opener, the sparkly dressed, big-haired Jenny Lewis at 7.30. A suspiciously 70’s sounding almost power ballad opener answered the burning question as to what a cross between The Cowboy Junkies and the Carpenters would sound like, and Lewis – possessor of a fair set of pipes, I’ll give her that – mined this AOR/ Country seam for all she was worth, also recalling the likes of Fleetwood Mac, the Cali-country-isms of Sheryl Crow and even the yodelly vocal inflections of Dolly Parton! Waaay more trad- than alt-, then, all very musical and accomplished, but for me anodyne and definitely not a boat-floater. Her best number, one from her old band, Miley Kylo Ren or something (!) nicked the “My Sweet Lord” riff and was punctuated by huge balloons being released over the crowd, and the final number saw a tambourine playing snowman appear and eventually cart her off the stage!

3 wide screens bordering the stage then showed suitably moody black and white film loops of the new CD cover girl (who looks suspiciously like Greta Thunberg – coincidence? Or not?) and the backstage area, so when the lights dimmed at 8.45, the band were projected coming onto the stage (preceded by a very REM-like “Please Stand By” message on the screens). Opening with a couple of newies, it was apparent from the off that they were “on it”, a 10-piece augmented “live” National line-up really well road tested and sounding amazing, the off-kilter guitar interplay of the Dessner twins a particularly stunning feature, slashing through and really augmenting the mood and hypnotic atmosphere of the material, once again set by the rich clipped baritone of vocalist Matt Berninger. The lighting show and dreamlike screen imagery was augmentative rather than distracting, adding to the rich yet eerie atmosphere. And Berninger himself was mesmerising; he’s now shed that rather confused Geography teacher persona of the past, and really come into his own as an arena-level frontman, commanding all corners of the stage (and beyond! A couple of forays into the crowd during a mid-set “System Dreams In Total Darkness” and a later, savage “Graceless”) angular of pose, attention-grabbing and inclusive, if still slightly eccentric (case in point being a potty ongoing dialogue with some front row regulars about a Radiohead tee-shirt, Berninger repeatedly saying, “I gave you 50 euros 3 months ago!”). Funny and pointed too, remarking, “I figured everything out this morning – everything’s going to be fine,” and later contradicting himself (!), then asking the audience if anyone knew Christian Bale… to be told by a Dessner (Aaron, I think.. not sure!) that in Wales, he’s probably talking about the wrong Bale…!

(Considerate too… on seeing a repeated phone flashlight in the middle of the crowd, Berninger stopped one number to ask if this was because someone had problems… it was, and he asked everyone to, “clear a path,” so the distressed audience member could get help. Well done, sir.)

As for the music, this was a brilliantly paced set, full of light and shade, the “live” renditions of the new material in particular really adding that extra dimension and making much more of an impression as a consequence. So the crescendo drama of an early blood-red lit “Bloodbuzz, Ohio” was followed by a poignant “Hey Rosey” to great effect, the hushed and haunting “Green Gloves” followed by an utterly tremendous “Slow Show”, and even “Where Is Her Head”, led by the female backing vocalists and a track I flat out didn’t like on first listen, was mesmerising and hypnotic.

An acoustic “Wasps Nest” (apparently the Dessner’s mum’s favourite track!) opened the encore, before Berninger’s impassioned yell of, “vote motherfucking Labour!!!” preceded gig highlight, the brilliant, soaring “Mr. November”. This bumped the set past the 2 hour mark, so Stu and I watched the denouement, a Berninger-conducted singalong through “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, from the back, heading off at its conclusion at 11 for a swift exit from the car park and an equally swift drive home, back for 12.30. Comfortably the best I’ve seen The National, with all doubts and previous concerns about the one-dimension-ness of their material completely blown away. A brilliant gig. All hail The National, the kings of US alt-rock!

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

1,167 RIDE, The Soft Cavalry, Southampton Engine Rooms, Sunday 8th December 2019

You’d think that after such a mental rock weekend-punctuated November, I’d be looking to soften the toll on my 50-something bones and quietly ease out of this gigging year, right? Wrong! Tonight marked the first of 4 gigs in 7 days, all out-of-towners, and a swift return to a problematic venue in Southampton’s oddly-shaped, poor-egress affected Engine Rooms, to see Oxford shoegaze veterans Ride. Over 4 years on now from their surprise reunion (and a shade short of thirty years since that buzzsaw debut “Ride” EP assaulted our eardrums!), they’re pretty much a normal working band now, announcing this tour in support of new album “This Is Not A Safe Place”, the second since their reformation. Another balance of the shimmering guitar effects of the early Ride, the more straight-forward Britpop of their later first-time-around material, and a few odd diversions along the way, it’s an interesting if not overly gripping listen, but I’m always happy to book tix for a “live” Ride experience, in the knowledge that the old stuff will still sound great, and hopefully the new material will make more sense “live”, right?

Thankfully infrequent gig buddy Rich May (infrequent only because he’s on permanent nights!)  feels the same, so we booked tix separately and travelled down a sodden M4/A34 together, parking up and joining the queue for entry about 7.30. A little sparse early doors for openers The Soft Cavalry, taking the stage dead on 8. A side-project of Rachel and hubby Steve Clarke from shoegaze/slowcore veterans Slowdive, a band who I've recently warmed to after their making little to no impression on me first time around, they impressed from the off with opener "Bulletproof", a hazy summery vibe with a dark undercurrent and shades of understated New Order-esque bass. Nice! "Has anyone heard our record?" asked Clarke (who cut an impressive figure onstage, all big beard, black fedora and imposing gestures) to a smattering of cheers; "well, that's better than usual!" Dark atmospherics, slow-burn verses building to wild, windswept choruses and discordant keyboards were the order of the day, with "Spiders" variously recalling John Foxx and beloved (of me, anyway!) early 80s post-punkers Modern Eon, a later track being underpinned with some Beach Boys textures, and others featuring enough droney choral moodiness to suggest you can take the boy/girl out of shoegaze, but...! Final number "Ever Turning Wheel" featured a mesmeric crescendo redolent of The Pale Saints' classic "Sight Of You", ending an impressive set.

Bumped into TSC's Rachel after a loo break, who signed my set-list despite my mentioning my lack of enthusiasm for Slowdive! Well, at least she didn't call me a cunt, like Ian Prowse did...! Back to our house left spot just before Ride, only to note we were suddenly surrounded by big fuckers, including one directly in front of me who was practically blocking out the sun, never mind the stage...! Ride took the stage to their discordant new CD opener, the Viet Cong-like "R.I.D.E", teasing in with a couple of breezy newies before the loose-limbed danceathon of "Leave Them All Behind", Andy Bell coaxing off-kilter psych riffs from his guitar on the spotlight and dry ice-swathed stage. Vocalist Mark Gardiner, buoyant and smiling throughout, remarked, "alright! This is fun!" and initially things were going well, the stomp and dual vocal attack of "Charm Assault" an early highlight. However, the set drifted for me thereafter, a proliferation of new material played well enough but not really adding the extra power I was hoping for "live", a few mid-song thrashy guitar crescendos notwithstanding. It really took until a tremendous and undulating "Lannoy Point", 50 minutes in, for Ride to really soar to their fullest, the subsequent "OX4" hypnotic, and "Taste" the skyscraping and magnificent best number tonight. A brash, urgent "Killswitch" was the best new number on show before the feedback fest of "Drive Blind" saw Mark throw shapes and conduct proceedings through the onstage murk, and "Vapour Trail"s moody melancholy ended the set of a high, before encore "Seagull", stretched, sinuous and effect-heavy, closed proceedings.

Missed out on a list (D'oh! Still, sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you), before a problematic drive back saw us diverting off the M3, then me taking a wrong turn back on the M3 heading back towards Southampton! D'oh! So, twas a slightly later than anticipated 12.30 when I dropped Rich off, ruminating on a variable Ride set. A shame much of the new material didn't shine through as hoped, but the likes of "Lannoy Point" and particularly "Taste" showed Ride can still hit the heights if their aim is right. So I'll remember that from tonight!

Sunday, 1 December 2019

1,166 GAZ BROOKFIELD, B-Sydes, Trapped In Amber, Salisbury Wincnester Gate, Saturday 30th November 2019

The more I listen to Gaz Brookfield’s new, 6th album “Lostfolk”, the more I’m convinced it’s easily his best yet and one of the best of 2019, the sound of a songwriter tackling both other musical styles beyond his normal barnstorming punk/ folk singalongs and tears-in-the-beers balladry, and more diverse subject matter (mental health, the shitstorm that passes for politics right now), pretty much hitting the bullseye with every song. So, despite catching him up the Vic last month for the record-breaking 23rd time (gig 1,156), I was still up for more, booking for both the December full band “homecoming” gig at SWX, plus this, a solo Saturday in Salisbury, at a venue where Logan (who’d pretty much declared “Lostfolk” his new favourite album halfway through the first song!) was able to join me as well!

So we headed off for a boy’s evening out, Logan navigating me there for 7.30, squeezing into a small parking space in the pub car park and popping into the bar. A real old school spit’n’sawdust place, this, with locals gathered around a pool table and well-thumbed copies of “Viz” in the magazine rack. We hit the venue at 10 to 8 doors to secure Logan a front row spot; good thing too, as the low-ceilinged former drinks cellar (I’m guessing!) was quite the smallest gig venue I’d been to for ages, making the likes of Moles, The Louisiana and even Cardiff’s Gwdihw look expansive in comparison! Local acoustic/electric duo Trapped In Amber played a diverting opening guitar set of “mostly songs about ex-wives”, in a repetitive knockabout new wave / pub rock style which would have likely seen them signed by Stiff Records in 1977. The vocalist’s easy conversational delivery seemed at odds with his obvious stage-fright, and I got the impression they’d be a decent watch, if he could control the nerves…

Had a quick chat with support guy Ben Sydes at the merch stand, before a quick loo trip and a wander back down the front to join Logan to catch his set. Once again, he attacked the set from the off with vim and venom, the opener full of tension and furious strumming, and overlaid with his unusual yearning nasal vocals (although he admitted his voice was “on its’ way out tonight”). Second number “Crutches”, my favourite of his also-rather splendid new album "Self Sabotage", was terrific, a soaring melodic opening building to a strident chorus, and “This Was My City Once” saw woah-oh’s from the attentive crowd (Ben cajoling the audience to sing along with, “it’s like Jake Martin wrote it – it’s not very taxing!”). A monologue on stage-fright ended with Ben commenting, “the trick, Salisbury, is don’t stop drinking!” which elicited a heckle of, “what if you’re under age?” from Logan! “Verbatim” was a splendid dose of emo-esque wallowing melancholy, recalling Dashboard Confessional (Logan getting to play the final chord of the song this time!) and closer “(Still In) Saigon” was a galloping, dark and baroque Placebo-esque rocker, preceded by the affable Ben thanking the crowd for, “supporting the support”. Easily done, when the support is as good as B Sydes!

Following that, Gaz nearly caught us all off-guard, sneaking onstage at 9.30 and slowly easing in with hushed opener “Pen To Paper”, before a strident, impassioned “Lostfolk” got things really started… “New album! New backdrop!” announced Gaz, “that cost £80! Money well spent, I’m sure you’ll agree,” before promising to mix some old favourites in with the new material, the subsequent galloping “Gunner Haines” getting Logan singing along loudly and lustily. “IOU” (apparently the only song on the album not about losing one’s self in some way, and only on the album because Mrs. B insisted!) saw the crowd harmonise in the splendid chorus hook, before a serious moment, Gaz touching on his depression issues then dedicating the brilliant “Afterthought”/ “Black Dog Day” segue to friends lost to this illness. Back on a lighter note, Gaz challenged us to join in the “la la la”’s of “Rock And Roll” by stating “you’re not obliged, but last night’s crowd did it really well!”, and a savage- punk rock “Uneducated Guess” was introduced with, “here’s to not having a clue what’s going on!”

Gaz as ever really put a shift in, his energetic style meaning he was visibly tiring towards the end, but still kept some in the tank for a venomous “Bigger Man” encore, and a beery singalong to “Great Minds Drink Alike”, accompanied by Ben and delivered from the floor. A nice way to end another great Gaz evening, Logan loving it too. Congrats with Gaz and Ben and a merch stand stop before we headed off home through inky black country roads, tired but happy. Looking forward to that SWX full band gig now!

1,162-1,165 BOSTON 2019, Featuring LETTERS TO CLEO, BILL JANOVITZ and the ANGIEC BIRTHDAY BASH!, Various venues in Boston, MA, USA, Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th November 2019

Gig Specifics:
1,162 LETTERS TO CLEO, Speedy Ortiz, Boston Paradise, Friday 22nd November 2019
1,163 BILL JANOVITZ, Boston The Burren, Saturday 23rd November 2019
1,164 LETTERS TO CLEO, Speedy Ortiz, Boston Paradise, Saturday 23rd November 2019
1,165 THE ANGIE C BIRTHDAY BASH, Boston Q Division, Sunday 24th November 2019

After a “slight return” to my regular early 2000’s Rock’n’Roll bolthole of Boston, MA, USA in March 2017 (gigs 1,028 and 1,029), that being the first time my footsteps had muddied the banks of the Charles for full on 9 years, I was kind of expecting not to be back anytime soon… little did I know…! One of the new friends I made on that most recent trip was local DJ (and co-host of the ACLU benefit show that comprised gig 1,028) Angie C Shaw; we became fast friends over Facebook, bonding over our love for music and Boston rock in particular, and she gave me a heads-up earlier this year about her 50th Birthday plans, ultimately inviting me over to her confirmed “Hot AC Sunday Funday Birthday Bash”. A tempter in and of itself, but when it coincided with a “homecoming” double-header from Boston post-grunge powerpop heroes Letters To Cleo, a band whom I’d adored back in the 90’s but only saw a couple of times during their sole UK sojourn in 1996 (gigs 321 and 324), it became a really enticing prospect…! A few hurdles to overcome first, but luckily Rach was happy for me to fly over (and more than a little jealous too, Rach being a massive LTC fan but never having seen them…), I got my leave from work aligned to make a long weekend of it, sorted out a cheap – economy, hand luggage only! – flight, and Angie sorted me with some accommodation with Dennis White, a chap I’d also met on that 2017 visit. So it was suddenly all systems go for David Does Boston – Take 11!

A stupidly early start on Friday – up at 5.15 am! – to drive to Heathrow, get the car parked and check in in time for my 9.40 flight, then an equally stupidly turbulence-affected flight (when the cabin crew are also strapped in and they can’t serve the food because it’s “too dangerous”, you know you’re in for a bumpy ride) still got me into Boston about lunchtime. Quickly bored after an hour or so poking around an increasingly rainy Harvard (Boston testing me at this point, given I’d brought no change of shoes or trousers!), I then popped over to Q Division to wish old friend Ed Valauskas, bassist with local heroes The Gravel Pit, a happy birthday! Enjoyed a chat mainly about our kids (!) before I headed over to Dorchester, hitting Dennis’ place just as mine host arrived home. He fixed me up in “The Elvis Room” (a veritable shrine to Elvis Costello, whom Dennis has seen 80+  times!), before we Uber-ed over to the Paradise (this is how we do, now, apparently… taxis are so 2015!) for about 8, rather inevitably running into man-about-town “The Peach” Pete Stone outside!

Took a wander in for openers Speedy Ortiz, who played a very Veruca Salt-esque mid-paced and oft-times off kilter stompy post-grunge US alt-rock fayre. Striking and vivacious vocalist Sadie Dupuis, apparently a local lass, was gushing about being back in her old stomping grounds (“it’s great to be back here – I used to come here when I was 18!”) and about supporting her idols Letters To Cleo, and I liked “Plough” (their tribute to old Boston venue The Plough And Stars) with its’ “freaking the fuck out” hook-line, as well as their obvious jumpy enthusiasm onstage, although the sound was often drum-dominated and the set seemed overlong at 45 minutes. Still, a pretty good start overall…

Hung out on the balcony, totally failing to bump into anyone I knew (later for that!), then took a spot on the floor, house left, just behind a tall bloke who was leaning against the stage. Bah! As the clock ticked on past the Cleo’s scheduled 9.15 onstage time, I noticed guitarist Greg McKenna lean out from backstage in an attempt to catch the DJ’s attention to say the band were ready to play! Eventually the message got through, and the Cleos took the stage, joined last by vocalist Kay Hanley, deadpanning, “we’re doing this again, huh?” Oh yes, indeed we are… this year with extra added Brit fan!

From the off Letters To Cleo sounded utterly amazing; despite this being only gig 4 of a 5-date mini-tour, they sounded tight, tough and road-tested, the rock totally on point, and, like so many of their late 90’s Boston contemporaries, waaaay better live than on record. Dynamic, kinetic, joyous, rocking like bastards, and in Kay Hanley possessing a frontperson par excellence; the Homecoming Queen, focus of all the attention in the room, stripily attired and tousled hair piled high like a young Kim Wilde, she was commanding, smart-mouthed and sassy, swaggering and strutting the stage as if she owned it. Which, of course, she did… Hard rocking, grungy opener “Go” segued into an almost 60’s-esque colourful and groovy “4 Leaf Clover”, and an early “I Want You To Want Me” was terrific, bettering even Cheap Trick’s original (I know, I said it…) with a thrillingly cacophonous climax. “Veda Very Shining” was utterly blistering, a hard-edged, amphetamine-fast and rocking thrill-ride, and “Awake” saw pretty much the whole band bouncing in time to hard-hitting sticksman Tom Polce’s strong-armed drumbeat. A diversion into their Christmas EP material didn’t break momentum for long, the scorching late-set double of “Demon Rock”/ “Fast Way” roaring back with a vengeance, Kay also admonishing phone photo takers (of which I, regrettably, was one…) and suggesting they/we, “be in the present!” Point taken!

The circular choral hook of “I Got Time” ended the set proper, the band returning for an encore, with guitarist USA Mike Eisenstein (with whom, similarly to Bill Janovitz at the Buffalo Tom Bristol gig last December, no. 1,115, I’d exchanged glances during the set but again wasn’t sure whether he’d recognised me) giving me a shout-out for, “coming all this way”(I guess he did, then…)! The Cleos then brought bona-fide Boston rock legend Greg Hawkes of The Cars onstage, to play some funky organ on a Cars cover encore triad, Kay clearly in Fantasy Band Camp here and totally unable to wipe the huge grin from her features throughout, remarking, “this is so awesome!”. Awesome indeed, but so was the whole set!

Hung out by the upstairs backstage door afterwards, running into EdV, USA Mike, Tom Polce, old Senor Happy buddy Joe McMahon, and visiting American Hi-Fi guitarist and old friend Jamie, a man who seems utterly impervious to the ravages of time, looking possibly younger now than when I first met him in 2000! Eventually we were ushered in backstage, much socialising ensuing with the Cleos and their entourage, including birthday girl Angie C and partner Dave. Eventually Dennis (slightly worse for wear at this point) and I reluctantly tore ourselves away, sorting an Uber back to his place after an utterly stellar evening of rock!

A fairly early start on a bright and chilly Saturday saw Dennis and I (amazingly in good shape after his heroic amounts of imbibing!) heading out for a superb breakfast in Quincy, making a couple of stops to walk his dogs on the journey. An afternoon shopping trip to Harvard was problematic, a huge chunk of the Red Line “T” replaced by an interminably slow bus service, so I got back to Dennis’ at 5ish. His mate Tom had happily sorted us guest list spots for Bill Janovitz’ set at the snug Burren backroom (standing room only, but who cares?), so we headed over there in a slow-moving Uber (taking ages to inch through Chinatown in particular) for just before 7, having just enough time for a quick greeting and handshake with Bill before he took the stage, bang on 7 for his first set of 2 of the night.

This was the relaxed, urbane Bill, playing to a small room of friends, acquaintances and other assorted diners, kicking off solo with a couple of Buffalo Tom deep cuts (“Sunday Night” in particular being welcome, and featuring the requisite amount of intensity and melancholy, albeit low-key!), then being joined by a band including brother Scott, and also Cleo’s drummer Tom, pulling a double shift tonight! “This is a Crown Victoria reunion – we broke up after a couple of years [but] no-one noticed!”, quipped Scott before an understated and delicately countrified “Fireworks On TV”, and an almost soulful, confessional “Mary Kay”. The material (described as a “Last Waltz” set by Bill) was largely Crown Victoria stuff, more understated and alt-country than the Tom whilst still retaining Bill’s usual oeuvre of raw passion and melancholy. “Helpless” was chiming and melodic, with excellent harmonies from Scott and Tom, then Bill brought the set to a close, promising “a new drummer for the next set – I can say that with certainty!”

I was off and running then… I’d arranged a lift with Tom to The Paradise, so we headed through the kitchen where Joe was waiting with the motor running! He dropped me and Tom off around the corner from the venue, where I left Tom to go in (parting with a huge bearhug from this affable gent – a real pleasure to run into him again after nearly 20 years!) as I collected my will call ticket. Speedy Ortiz were already midway through their set, which was more of the same heavy-hitting languid post-grunge, albeit sounding fuller and brighter than last night, with vocalist Sadie again throwing compliments around (to the Cleos and Boston in particular) with gay abandon.

The place felt considerably fuller tonight, so I grabbed a spot close to last night’s house left position, albeit a couple of rows further back. Tried to squeeze through but couldn’t. Bah! No matter, we didn’t hang around tonight, Angie C introducing the band onstage pretty much on time, and being surprised with a massive birthday cake and birthday singalong in the process! Following these festivities, Letters To Cleo weren’t in a mood to mess about either, bursting directly into a powerful “Demon Rock”/ “Fastway” double-whammy segue, with Kay, sporting rock-star chic tonight (black support band t-shirt and ripped – nay, savaged – jeans) again “on it” from the off, bouncing around as if on rubber knees, exhorting the hometown crowd to sing along throughout. An early “Cruel To Be Kind” was lovely, delivered with just the right amount of deliciously understated harmony, Kay and Michael thereafter conducting an onstage band pow-wow (“we want to get it right for you people!”) before an angular, rocking “I Got Time”. “Awake” again saw the band bounceathon, Michael also prowling his corner of the stage like a young Bob Mould (!), and the slower-burn “Jennifer” was introduced by Kay as, “a rock’n’roll hymn to Dorchester,” the accompanying backdrop slideshow illustrating this point. “Veda” was again a blistering amped-up powerpop delight, but that was even topped by rampant set closer “Pizza Cutter”, the undulating harmonies a feature of possibly the highlight of this homestand.

A relaxed and buoyant band then took the stage one last time, in Christmas hats and tinsel and accompanied by Speedy Ortiz, to run through their “Christmas” EP tracks, their reading of locals The Dogmatics’ “Christmas Time (Sure Don’t Feel Like It)” the flippant, acerbic best number. I didn’t hang around tonight, however, making a quick visit to the merch stand and a lap of the top balcony, running into Melissa Gibbs and Jen Trynin for a nice chat and catch up before heading off. An early departure tonight, as I was unsure as to my ability to hail a cab, Boston being all Ubers these days, and this proved to be the case, so I abandoned that idea and took the “T” for a happily swifter than earlier Green-bus-Red transfer, back to Dennis’ for midnight, totally wiped out but elated after another brilliant Cleo’s performance!

Unsurprisingly, Sunday didn’t start quite as early – particularly as it was totally bucketing it down! Dennis and I eventually headed off just before lunchtime to grab another Quincy breakfast (hey, I liked it yesterday, so stick with what you like!) then I took it easy back in the “Elvis Room” before we headed off to Q Division for 3 pm. This was to be the venue for the Angie C Birthday Bash, with socialising and buffet in a side room and an impromptu stage set up in one of the recording studios. This was clearly to be the social event of the season, as I immediately ran into so many old Boston rock friends (EdV, Jamie, old Gravy friend Michael Jordan, Ad Frank, “The Peach”, Kay, Michael, Jen, Melissa and a later arriving old Pills buddy Corin!), and met a whole swathe of hopefully new friends (hi Keith, Josh, Rice, Hilken, Kirsten… plus legendary Boston music scribe Brett Milano!). Also greeted Angie and Dave, of course, and gave Premiership footy fan Angie a present of a Liverpool FC shirt personalised with “Angie C – 50” – judging by the hug I received, I think it went down well…!

In between the chat and general party spirit and bonhomie, there was some music too! First up, the excellently named PRETENDICA, featuring Cleos guitarist Greg McKenna and a vivacious vocalist in Linda Gioscia, regaled us with some authentically-delivered Pretenders covers (including, happily, my favourite, the racey “Tattooed Love Boys”) and one Elastica number, their “Stutter” being miles better than the oft-shambolic original. Then, with a slight shuffling of personnel (notably Ad Frank in for Greg) and costume (Linda donning a blonde wig and alluring short dress/ boots combination), they became HEY! BLONDIE!, again delivering a fun party set of Blondie covers, my highlights being “X Offender” (which apparently features in the set because Ad wouldn’t join the band unless they played it!) and “Dreaming”, the drum-dominated 60’s-esque pop classic, drummer Mike Gioscia putting in a hell of a shift to channel Clem Burke!

I grabbed another quick chat with Jen Trynin, hanging out with Hilken Mancini, and got the chance to more rationally convey my admiration for both her recorded output and rather excellent book. However, before I get the chance to tell Hilken what a fan of Fuzzy I was in the day, they were called to the stage, as BAND OF THEIR OWN were next up. Angie introduced them onstage after a lovely short speech, then BOTO played a relaxed, fun and sparkling set of well-chosen covers. BOTO are a loose collective of distaff luminaries of the Boston Rock community (and herein ends any references to gender, as I appreciate that anything I, as a white male non-musician, have to say on this point may come across as dangerously patronising), who are quite simply supremely talented musicians and performers. Case in point being that the shining star of the last 2 evenings, Kay (who, in taking lead vocals for a couple of numbers, is admittedly reining it in this afternoon), didn’t even come close to being MVP of this performance. Nope, for me that honour went to Hilken, although Jen ran her close with an astonishingly impassioned reading of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” (typical that the first time I get to see Jen perform, she’s doing a cover… still, it’s, ahem, better than nothing…!). Anyway, it’s Hilken; high kicking, husky voiced, posing and strutting onstage, owning it and delivering a stunning version of “Different Drum”, the highlight of BOTO’s set. Although kudos also to Melissa, who delivered a Stevie Nicks cover with all the commanding growl of a Patti Smith…!

Then, a total surprise; the birthday girl’s beau, DAVE DOW, hopped onstage, accompanied by Josh on guitar, with the intention of singing a couple of numbers for the birthday girl. He eased into first number, Men A Work’s “Overkill” and those present let out an audible gasp – Dave, who’d apparently never sung before, was utterly crushing it! Spot on pitch and delivery throughout; about 3 seconds after he went up through the octaves for the final verse, I was looking around for my jaw. On the floor…! This was not only the highlight of his four song vignette, but one of the musical highlights of the weekend, no foolin’, and judging by the conversation I overheard between Dave and BOTO and Belly stalwart Gail Greenwood, I wasn’t the only one to think that…!

Next up, I had a promise to keep, and Kay helped me to keep it, signing my daughter’s copy of the “Josie And The Pussycats” soundtrack and sending her a lovely video message, which just about made Kasey’s day/week/month/year. There was time for one final act, BIKINI WHALE, a B52’s tribute led by my old Gravy buddy Michael, playing “under the watchful gaze of Emperor Caldes,” (a huge painting of Gravel Pit drummer Pete, propped up at the back of the stage and keeping watch all evening!) and channelling the kooky goofiness and deadpan delivery of Bill Schneider perfectly. Once again, they were great, faithful to the originals and a perfect party band to round things off. However, the weekend began to catch up with me, and when Dennis suggested bailing just before the end, I happily joined him, saying my goodbyes on the way out.

An early night for an early start, as Dennis (who’d been the perfect host) drove me to the airport for my 8 a.m. flight, a less bumpy ride seeing me back in Heathrow earlier than expected (despite 20 minutes of circling because we were so early!), and home just before 10 p.m. Elated and buoyed once again by another stellar weekend in Boston; whenever I fleetingly thought I was out of place, an interloper, there was always one old friend or other there to greet me. Once again, the Boston rock community showed nothing but the most amazing hospitality to this Brit Boston Rock fan, and for that I’m forever grateful.

As for my “Live Band of the Year”? Well, after that incredible homestand, it’s got to be LETTERS TO CLEO! Oh and yeah… Happy Birthday Angie!