Friday, 23 March 2018

1078 THE VACCINES, Marlborough Thirty8 Café, Thursday 22nd March 2018

A proper family outing, this, then…  my dear lady wife Rachel, a massive Vaccines fan thanks to their evident classic 50’s rock’n’roll influences (albeit filtered through a new millennial indie rock sensibility), had already booked us tix for their forthcoming Alexandra Palace gig next month; however another, earlier opportunity arose to catch them, this time at considerably closer quarters, at Marlborough’s excellent Sound Knowledge record shop, where they were booked to do an in-store performance and signing session promoting their forthcoming, 4th, album “Combat Sports”. A phone call to the shop revealed a purchase of said album was necessary to secure entry, so I simply treated this as the price of admission and organised entry for the whole family. Rach is, as mentioned, a massive fan, I’ve been warming to them over time and have always enjoyed them “live”, and Logan and Kasey were both intrigued by some Vaccines numbers on rotation on the car stereo, both in particular singing happily along to oldie “If You Wanna”…

We picked up our “Vaccinated” wristbands the previous Saturday, after an abortive earlier trip, so had a drive down to this old Market Town after tea, parking up in the middle of the High Street for 6.30. The event, being held in Sound Knowledge’s neighbouring café Thirty8 (downstairs this time) was already rammed, so we got drinks in the upstairs bar before taking a spot outside the venue, next to the outside speakers and in neck-craning view of the side of the stage. Even this patch of earth however got fairly crowded as The Vaccines squeezed through to kick off their short set, and Rach took Kasey back to a less crowded spot as the opening bars of newie “Nightclub” proved too noisy for her! Logan and I stayed in, however, as The Vaccines powered through this impressive, spiky opener, plunging headlong thereafter into another, similarly swift and whip-smart newie “Surfing In The Sky”. Breathless stuff!

This was actually as good as I’d seen The Vaccines; however short, this was a performance of impressive purpose, and I found myself musing how their NME-hyped ascent up the ladder of rock’n’roll fame, a dozen rungs at a time, to Academy level headliners in the blink of an eye had actually robbed us of the opportunity to see how they performed in a small venue, where stages are cramped and festooned with wires and equipment, and you can see the whites of the baying crowds eyes. A shame indeed, as on tonight’s evidence they’d have been fucking great in, say, The Joiners or The Thekla back in the day, for this was a committed and razor-sharp performance, thrilling and dynamic, with vocalist Justin Young, who had been developing nicely into an arena-level mass-communicator of some note, proving even more impressive in these cosy confines, throwing shapes with a commanding strut and swagger.

And I’m pleased to report that I was very impressed with all 4 new numbers on display this evening; whereas swathes of their previous output had seemed so much like a hotch-potch of their influences (Ramones-like big fun dumb punk rock, naïve C86 jangle, and that ever-present Buddy Holly-esque 50’s soda bar doo-wop), tonight’s newies sounded, well, like The Vaccines. At last. Well done boys, it’s only taken you 4 albums (Ha! Well, for me, anyway…!)…

Logan sneaked into a spot by the side of the stage early doors, then a steward ushered him around to a spot stage right at the front, whereupon I spotted my mate Stuart Gould down the front, Logan squeezing through to join Stu at this vantage spot. So for the inevitable “If You Wanna” my lad was front center, bellowing the words back to Justin, a point not lost on the frontman. Another fine newie, the Summery “whoo-ooh-oh” catchiness of “I Can’t Quit” ended a splendid vignette, a serious appetite whetter for Ally Pally!

Rach and Kasey had danced at the side, then bagged early queue spots for the signing session upstairs in Sound Knowledge itself. So after a short wait (during which I chatted annoyingly loudly (allegedly!) with various friends, including James, Laura, Rich Carter and Stuart “Langers” and family) we all met and got pics and signed stuff with an affable band, Justin taking it in good humour when Logan (referencing Frank Turner) asked him, “are you the last great romantic poet?” A fun evening rounded off and we got the kids back home for a slightly later bedtime. Fine stuff from The Vaccines, and nice to see them in front of a couple of hundred folks; there’ll be 12,000 in at Ally Pally…!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

1,077 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, The Ruts, Bristol O2 Academy, Saturday 10th March 2018

Rounding off 3 gigs in 3 nights was the annual “Mad March To Bristol” to see 70’s punk legends and enduring “live” favourites Stiff Little Fingers, the usual old punk duo of myself and The Big Man being joined this year by my little man Logan! The 13th time in 14 years that Rich and I had made this punk rock pilgrimage, and my 18th SLF gig overall, but the first one for Logan, keen to take in another gig. However, experience has already shown me that where my 10 year old son is involved, there’s no such thing as “just another gig…”

An early curfew was on the cards for this one, so we hit the road at 6.30 (after a quick return home to collect Logan’s diabetes testing kit!) and parked up on Trenchard Level 9, dropping down the road to the venue for 7.30. After that quick pop home, Logan had all his diabetes gear in his “Smiggle” bag, advising the stewards at the door of his condition. Immediately on hearing this, the O2 medical host Pat (whom we’d met 2 years ago, gig 978, Rich hunting him down to thank him for looking after his daughter Jess during their trip there to see Bowling For Soup) quickly ushered us through the back bar to the “staff only” area, offering us not only the use of the First Aid room for Logan’s diabetes testing, but also a couple of seats in the disabled viewing area overlooking the dancefloor, stage left, both offers Logan being very grateful to take up. So we set up camp there, Rich supping on his quart of cider just the other side of the rope, as support The Ruts rolled through their set. I was only familiar with their clutch of late 70’s singles, recorded before the untimely death of vocalist Malcolm Owen, but they were another damn fine support, having weathered well and toughly, vocalist “Segs” Jennings commenting, “[we’re] still angry… well, more like grumpy these days!” “Staring At The Rude Boys” sounded great for a nearly 40-year old single, and reggae crossover “Jah Wars” prompted me to give Logan a brief history lesson on those early Don Letts punky reggae days. “In A Rut” got the woman in front of us fist-punching the air, and the inevitable – and brilliantly spooky – “Babylon’s Burning” was dramatic, undulating and very impressive. Whilst “Segs”’ higher-pitched vocals may have lacked the seething, sneering menace of Owen’s own, this was still a splendid opener.

We took a trip back to the First Aid room and sorted Logan’s degladec insulin jab, before taking our seats again, as the lights crashed to black at 8.30. I’d schooled Logan on SLF’s intro music – the greatest in rock, in my view – and he lustily joined in with the roof-raising “diddly-doo” chants from the packed-out floor. “Y’alright – Saturday night in Bristol!” called vocalist Jake Burns, as the band then burst into a totally unexpected opener, a raucous and rasping “Wait And See” from their excellent 1980 “Nobody’s Heroes” album. The rollicking title track from said album followed, then another rarely-played classic in the terrace-chant “Gotta Getaway”, all 3 numbers delivered with no little conviction. Great start! “We’ve decided to shake things up a little bit – you may have noticed from the first 3 songs,” announced Jake impishly, before a story about a video director completely misinterpreting the meaning of “Can’t Believe In You” preceded a purposeful version. In fact, rejigging and refreshing the set certainly seemed to have re-invigorated the boys, as tonight their delivery was consistently determined, dripping with intent and conviction. “We brought this one back last year,” remarked Jake before a sinuous “Safe As Houses”, “and it gets to stay because, fuck it, I like it!”

Despite a few splendidly pitched curveballs, the oldies still got a good airing; “Barbed Wire Love” (“a song we wrote basically ripping the piss out of ourselves from start to finish”) was great, the collapsing riff leading to the doo-wop middle 8 punctuated by Jake warning, “don’t fucking encourage him!” before rakish bassist Ali McMordie added his usual bassy backing vocals, and the final set triad of “At The Edge”, Logan’s favourite and a rather epic “Tin Soldiers”, and a venomous “Suspect Device” were all as powerful, potent and relevant as ever. Before that, however, we had evidence that there was still songwriting life in the old dog yet with a new number, Jake finally reflecting on the precarious current state of the world with scathing ire; “Brexit – that’s going really well, isn’t it? Then America lost its’ collective mind and elected some screaming orange shit-gibbon… I thought, what can I do? So I wrote a song!” Said number, “Tilting At Windmills”, was superb and pointedly accurate, also targeting No. 10’s current incompetent incumbent with, “you’re neither fit nor able to be strong and stable.” Spot on, Jake!

I’d primed Logan about the militaristic drum opening of the sprawling encore, “Johnny Was”, tonight’s reading stretching to nearly 8 minutes. Then, 2 seconds before the 10pm curfew (to Logan’s delight!), the opening note of finale “Alternative Ulster” kicked in, a searing rendition to end a great set, possibly one of the best I’ve seen from Stiff Little Fingers. Getting older, but like fine wine…!

That wasn’t it though – far from it! We thanked Pat and the steward for looking after us so well (same again for Frank Turner? Hope so!), then a friendly roadie sorted a list for Logan; we then ran into comedian and fellow Boston Red Sox fan Phill Jupitus for an entertaining chat about the Sox and The Skids (Phill commenting on Rich’s t-shirt with, “I wish I’d gotten to see them last year” – hey, they’re out this year as well Phill!), then decided to wait outside, our patience being awarded at 11 with pics and signatures from Jake and Ali (guitarist Ian McCallum having passed by and signed Logan’s list a little earlier, not sure where drummer Steve Grantley was!). A foggy drive back slightly later than anticipated, then, but worth it to finally shake Jake Burns’ hand after 18 SLF gigs, and make another indelible memory for Logan’s nascent gigging days!

1,076 THE HOLD STEADY, Scott Hutchison, London Camden Electria Ballroom, Friday 9th March 2018

The Hold Steady, a band I glibly yet (to my mind) totally accurately describe as The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band On The Planet, and featuring in vocalist Craig Finn a complete onstage Force of Nature wrapped up in the slight bespectacled frame of a middle-aged geography teacher, celebrated the 10th anniversary of their breakthrough album “Boys And Girls In America” last year with a series of party gigs around their native USA. Like all killer parties, however, this one was bound to spill over beyond its’ scheduled time, so 2018 saw them return to these shores to continue that celebration, with a couple of London shows. No fucking chance was I missing that, so I was “on it” for the tickets as soon as they went on sale, sadly blowing out of my preferred Saturday slot before they sold out (or so I thought), but happily snagging one for the Friday opener. Good thing too as it turned out, as the usual SLF “Mad March” date was announced for the Saturday, completing a “3-gigs-in-3-days” mad weekend… but I digress…

Made arrangements to leave work early and hit a sodden M4 at 4pm for a difficult drive up the Smoke, inching along painfully from the Chiswick flyover and parking up, somewhat frazzled, at 7 in the Bush. Tubed it over to the Electric Ballroom and took a spot, stage left near the front, wandering in as the PA was playing “Life Begins At The Hop” by XTC! Sang along to that and subsequent XTC classics before Scott Hutchison took the stage at 8 to a cheer and a remark of, “well, this is a bit exciting…” Hutchison, main-man of Scots’ fuzzy psych-folk backwoodsmen and Grandaddy acolytes Frightened Rabbit, a band whose 2013 “Pedestrian Verse” album I’d enjoyed, but whose accompanying gig (no. 895) and subsequent follow-up, 2016’s “Painting Of A Panic Attack” I’d found a bit, well, pedestrian, set about proving me wrong with a fine and well-chosen set of FR moments; “The Modern Leper” was a morose and angst-ridden gallop-fest, followed by a pacy, slightly-delic “Old Old Fashioned”. Also entertaining was his dealing with a request with, “I don’t know if that works acoustically,” then when said heckler replied in the affirmative, responding with, “it works for you, maybe…!” “I Wish I Was Sober” was a plaintive, mournful elegy, and a rousing “Woodpile” and foot-stomping “Loneliness And The Scream”, the crowd woah-oh-ing along to the dramatic and building denouement, were fine punctuations on an unexpectedly splendid and well-received set. Need to re-appraise some of that Frightened Rabbit stuff, obviously…

The place got proper old-school rammed as XTC again filled the time, before the lights dimmed at 9 and the “Pink Panther” theme started up, The Hold Steady sauntering onstage to a rapturous, lengthy and building ovation. Last to take the stage was Finn, already beaming from ear to ear, taking a moment to bask in the adulation before announcing, “we’re going to have a good time tonight!” as Tad Kubler hit the opening notes to “Stuck Between Stations.” From that opening riff, the place went bat-shit mental (myself included), audience responding as one, an eruption of sheer effervescent joy and immersion in the power of rock’n’roll, all-encompassing and all-inclusive. All, that is, except for one dickhead…

The mosh was a violently jostling yet joyful and good-natured body, arms aloft, a multitude of singing and hugging total strangers, yet this one bloke, on the barriers stage right, treated anyone who dared bash into him as if it was a personal assault, viciously elbowing back with indignant fury etched across his face. On more than one occasion he squared up to me – I just beckoned behind me and yelled, “look at that, mate, what can I do about that??” – so I sought a bit of space from this gig virgin moron. He later squared up to another fellow mosher – a much heftier bloke than myself (if you’re reading this mate, I mean that in the nicest way!) – at which point a bouncer intervened. Shame, I’d have liked to have seen him try to take on my mosh companion. Would have been one a punch fight there, methinks…

Let this not detract from the onstage fayre, however; from note one, The Hold Steady were utterly magnificent tonight, the distilled essence of rock’n’roll, thrilling and transcendent. I dunno, I’ve been doing this gig malarkey for 38 years now, but I can probably count on the fingers of one hand those very special “live” bands where the distinction between performer and audience is so blurred you can’t see the join, where everyone comes together in a celebratory mass, giving themselves (ourselves) over to the moment. “This 6-piece line-up [including original and returning member, keyboardist Franz Nicolai] is the best live line up [of The Hold Steady],” announced an all-action Finn, and after a huge singalong “Sequestered In Memphis” and rampant “Same Kooks”, nobody was arguing!

After a few numbers, however, it dawned on me a) that I’m 52 and owner of 2 dodgy knees, and b) how ill-prepared I was for this one. Knowing I, like 99% of tonight’s attendees, was going to completely lose my shit to The Hold Steady, I should really have donned contact lenses, kneestraps; hell, even shorts (!). So I took a mid-set rest before working my way over to the other side of the crowd, away from barrier moron. “Are you guys having as much fun as I am?” asked an elated Finn before “First Night”, which featured a keyboard vignette from Nicolai; then an utterly incendiary “Constructive Summer” saw me back in the pit, bouncing off my fellow moshers and rejoicing in the moment. A new number, “Eureka” (“about Eureka, California – it’s beautiful but really sketchy!” according to Finn) promised well for the next album, and “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” was immense, featuring a ball-crushingly massive middle 8. “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” featured a typically tangential soliloquy from Finn on the history of the Hold Steady before its usual soaring denouement, and the soulful confessional of “How A Resurrection Really Feels” saw everyone take a much needed breather at the end of an utterly rampant set.

“I usually give up drink for Lent,” announced Finn upon returning for the encore, gleefully clutching a plastic cocktail cup, “but God granted me a European exemption!” “Citrus” was lovely, plaintive and singalong, before a punked-up “Adderall” and roof-raising “Stay Positive” followed, the crowd’s “whoa-oh-oh’s shaking this venerable old venue’s foundations. Then, “its’ come to the part of the evening that I only have one more thing to say…” Finn built the tension as the band eased into the framework of “Killer Parties” before releasing it with, “… there is SO MUCH JOY!!! in what we do!” to a huge ovation. “Killer Parties” took us to an astonishing 2 hours that simply raced by, Finn leaving us with the message, “we, you, you and you, we ALL are The Hold Steady…!”

Elated, I grabbed a list, chatted with fellow punters about what we’d just witnessed – hell, what we’d just been part of – before collecting my thoughts and what little remaining energy I could muster, thence disappearing into the London night, car by midnight, home at a weary 1.30. It’s not just hyperbole on my part, for me The Hold Steady are indeed The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band On The Planet, and tonight they emphatically underlined it again. Long may this Killer Party continue!

1,075 SHE MAKES WAR, Oxygen Thief, Supp. Ginger Wildheart, Swindon the Victoria, Thursday 8th March

The first of three in three days, well that’s just how they fall sometimes… thankfully this, to ease my tired limbs into this hectic schedule, was not only a local one, but promised to be an early one too as I was just up for the support! Said support was She Makes War, the nom du guerre of Bristol based musician Laura Kidd, a fiercely independent DIY performer and recording artiste whom I’d seen dovetail perfectly in with Tanya Donelly on some backing vocals, back at that Throwing Muses Trinity gig (September 2014, gig 926), yet, despite recommendations from such disparate bedfellows as Messrs. Franklin and Timms, had somehow neglected to check out her own material. That is, until a Facebook posting by none other than Wonder Stuff mainman Miles Hunt of the video for her excellent 2017 single, “I Want My Country Back”, a venomous yet cleverly targeted attack on the ills and prejudices of current UK society wrapped around a hooky and chunky US college pop style hook, inveigled its’ way into my consciousness (and my kids’ as well – they love it!). My Bristol friend Alison was in the vid as well – nice! So, a pledge on her tentatively titled “She Makes Four” album, due out later this year, and purchases of the first three, finding them lovely listens full of brittle, bittersweet dreampop, occasional post-punk inflections and, let’s face it, damn fine and memorable songwriting, caught me up nicely. All that was really needed was a gig, so despite potential logistical issues (more on that below), I booked tix for this one, to set that right.

Those logistical issues involved waiting for Rach to finish a School Governor’s meeting at 8 before dashing up the hill for She Makes War’s scheduled 8.45 start. However, as her meeting ran late, it was a somewhat agitated (and dare I say, rude) Sheriff that set off at 8.25 as Rach pulled up. Hared up the hill and grabbed the last parking spot in the usual car park, before making my way in to find Oxygen Thief, scheduled main support, already on! Turned out that a rejigged schedule meant Laura was due on at 9.15! Watched a couple of OT’s numbers before excusing myself and phoning home to apologise to my understandably irked wife, then wandered in for the last knockings of the set. I’m normally reasonably kindly disposed to a hairy bloke shouting at me, but somehow this seemed a little jarring; to my ears he’s clearly overdosed on The Fall and John Otway in his youth, and I just wasn’t in the mood for his overtly confrontational style tonight. Happy to admit that on another night I might have enjoyed him, just not tonight…

Wandered down the front of an amply packed venue as Laura set up, then retook the stage at 9.15, gigface firmly on, glitter makeup encircling her purposeful and determined stare. The room fell silent as the haunting, Nirvana-esque electric guitar refrain of “In Cold Blood” kicked in, Laura’s smooth vocal clarity adding to the atmospheric delivery. Quite by contrast to the moody opener, however, was the between-song banter, Laura underlining her pleasure about playing in Swindon again with an enthusiastic recommendation for the Baila Coffee House, next door, before a pastoral, dreamily drift-along “Slow Puncture”.

This was a fine and polished performance from a very talented musician and singer, simultaneously making me glad I’m now on board with She Makes War, and kicking myself I’d left it so long. She even made me appreciate those dreaded tape loops, the subtle use of overlaid harmonies to the outro of “Paper Thin” adding to the stark beauty of this “song of hope” (according to Laura, there’s one on every album!). “Delete” also used vocal loops for the underpinning rhythm, Laura venturing forward to partly deliver the vocal through a megaphone. A couple of newies showed great promise for the new album, particularly “Devastate Me”, a Veruca Salt grunge-alike which should sound even more strident with a full band backing on the album, although I also enjoyed the intro to the other newie; “the new album’s hope song, about how we can be stronger together – but not in a fucking Tory way!”

All too soon, a melancholy “Scared To Capsize”, recalling late Madder Rose, closed a fine set, only slightly spoiled by a couple of loud talkers, to Laura’s evident irritation (a couple of hard stares thrown in their direction said it all). Nonetheless, most of the audience were on board, and behaved accordingly. Headed off for an early night after a couple of headliner Ginger Wildheart’s numbers (was never a fan of The Wildhearts, heard nothing to change my view tonight), but not before a quick chat with the Star Of The Show, promising to make it to more She Makes War gigs. That’s a promise I fully intend to keep!

Monday, 26 February 2018

1,074 BRIAN FALLON AND THE HOWLING WEATHER, Dave Hause, Bristol SWX, Sunday 25th February 2018

Well, I suppose that given the excellent 2018 Gig Year thus far, I was due a complete clunker… just didn’t expect it to be from Brian Fallon…

Fallon – former mainstay with The Gaslight Anthem, a band once described as “the “CSI” to The Hold Steady’s “The Wire”,” a shinier, pacier and more user-friendly version of The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band On The Planet, a band who would’ve soundtracked “The Wild One” had Bruce Springsteen and not Marlon Brando been cast in the main role, all fast-living, fast rocking anthemic blue collar rock – announced a tour in support of sophomore solo effort “Sleepwalkers”, and given his fine solo showing last time out (April 2016, gig 982), I was keen to see him again, so signed up on the CD release pre-sale and duly snapped up tix before it swiftly sold out. Initial listens of the CD were inconclusive – a bit of bluesy “Treme” type material, some almost early Motown-esque soulful stuff, but overall a bit schizophrenic and lacking cohesion – but hopes were that it would make better sense “live”. Little did I know…

Rach dropped me off at Matt H’s place after Logan’s swim sesh, Matt (with brother and Raze*Rebuild colleague Si in tow, as well as myself) hitting the loud pedal for a startlingly swift drive down, meeting Matt C outside and hitting the already-rammed and difficult-to-navigate venue at 20 to 8. Took a wander to the balcony, stage right, which served us well last time out, for opener Dave Hause at 8. Accompanied by brother Tim on occasional keys and mandolin, he worked through some acoustically-played old school Springsteen-esque flag-waving rock anthems similar to the headliner – a little too similar, perhaps? Full of references to “cold hard towns” and the like, it all seemed very serious, very earnest. Si mentioned during “We Can Be Kings” that that number prompted a rewrite of R*R’s vastly superior “New Leaf”; didn’t see the comparison, myself… Hause continually played up to the Bristol crowd, listing all the local venues he’d played in, and trotted out a cover of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” as his penultimate number. A decent if one-dimensional start; he went down well with the packed floor, so what the fuck do I know?

Matt C and I took a wander onto the floor for a better view, as Brian Fallon led his charges onstage at 9pm sharp. From the outset, however, the sound was subdued and flat, with “Rosemary”, second number in and probably the most Gaslight-like of his solo oeuvre, cantering gently when it should gallop, Fallon’s very gravelly voice dominating proceedings. The mood remained restrained, understated, dull even, with a soulful “Ladykillers” – a product of his excellent Horrible Crowes side-project –  the best of this early set (an earlier “If Your Prayers Don’t Get You To Heaven” was flat-out rubbish, reminding me of Phil Collins’ awful cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love”). His backing band seemed frankly disinterested throughout and added nothing to the performance. Then we had the vaudeville routine…

I’d seen Fallon both monosyllabic and voluble before, going off on odd tangents; however I didn’t expect a near-15 minute incoherent ramble and dialogue with the audience, which started off as a discussion on accents, went through the origins of Blackbeard the pirate, took in why turnpikes and parkways are thusly named, and the merits of chasing cheese down a hill… All a little unnecessary and wearing, and clearly distracting for Fallon, as the set, which was struggling to start with, deteriorated markedly thereafter, a sparkling and deliciously haunting “Sugar” – another Horrible Crowes number and easily head, shoulders and torso above anything else on show tonight – notwithstanding.

More ramblings and odd interaction with the audience about his jacket (“it was made from the tears of Noel Gallagher!” which at least was a funny line) rounded off the set; the encore featuring a wholly inappropriate voice/piano version of Gaslight’s rattling, anthemic “59 Sound”, an attempt to turn it into a sombre murder ballad which didn’t work, given its’ soaring chorus. After a perfunctory final cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (me neither – I’m looking for a good gig!) it was thankfully over. I took a run at a set-list anyway, but the head roadie/ tour manager was being a complete cunt about that as well, arrogantly stopping his more helpful colleagues from handing one out, despite my very polite requests. Small man on a power trip. Fuck you, mate.

Bade farewell to Matt C and we headed off home digesting tonight’s events, all in agreement. I rather hoped it wasn’t just me, and I rather hoped that I wasn’t comparing the poor sound, flat atmosphere, pirate bullshit and disinterested performance to my gig last Friday, when Gaz Brookfield and his merry men put in 100% effort, left it all onstage and delivered an utterly cracking performance. No, this wasn’t a rubbish gig in comparison with Gaz. It was just a rubbish gig. “Sleepwalkers”? Sadly, absolutely…

Sunday, 25 February 2018

1,073 GAZ BROOKFIELD AND THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, Nick Parker, Chris Webb, Southampton Talking Heads, Friday 23rd February 2018

Above pic courtesy of Kit Bliss. Thanks Kit!

Another trip down to Southampton that Logan’s not likely to forget in a hurry…!

First 2018 gig for me in the company of Gaz Brookfield, the ‘Don’s very own folk/punk in-your-face traveling troubadour and old school balladeer; yes I know he lives in Bristol these days but us Swindonians are still claiming him as our own! Having missed his “Christmas works do” as he refers to his annual sold-out Bristol December date, due to it both clashing with the “12 Bands Of Christmas” and, more pertinently, being moved up to the 14+ (and now sadly closed) Bierkeller, thus preventing me from taking Gaz uber-fan Logan along, I was keen to book tix for this, his February weekend full band tour. Southampton was the closest port of call, and e-mail correspondence with the venue confirmed Logan was good to come along, so tix were duly snapped up for my 4th full band Gaz date in the last 5, and my 19th overall. It’s starting to get up to Seafood-level numbers, this...!

Rach was out too, so Grandma babysat Kasey, and me and Logan packed emergency layers for a chilly drive South on the A34 to Talking Heads, this cool new (for me at least) venue just around from the Guildhall, scene of Logan’s onstage Bowling For Soup shenanigans 2 years ago (gig 974). A diversion around Southampton and a slight parking-mare delayed us, so we hit the venue at 10 to 8 for a quick chat with Gaz on the Merch stand about Logan’s recent diabetes diagnosis, and his current Swim22 sponsored event, Gaz donating £20 on the spot. Chap! Then we checked out the opening act – neatly enough, both support acts were actually members of Gaz’s backing band The Company Of Thieves! So first up, we had Chris Webb, whose solo material I was unfamiliar with prior to this, but whom I enjoyed immensely; quite the paciest and most overtly upbeat of any acoustic performer I’ve recently checked out, his material was often groovy, full-throttle and replete with an over-abundance of lyrics, in a Hold Steady or 1st Del Amitri album kind of way. Fine by me, I’ve always preferred cutting a short story long…! He greeted Logan, sat cross-legged on the floor, with, “we’ve met before, right?” Correct, at All Roads Lead To Frome, gig 1,036 last May; good memory Chris! “Let’s Crash A Ceilidh” was an early highlight, and the motormouth Chris (often packing as much verbiage into his between-song banter as into his songs!) joked about getting the subsequent “Heat” right about 90% of the time – no surprise as his delivery of this number called to mind Stipe’s garbled vocals on REM’s “It’s The End Of The World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”! “Compass”’ melodic 90’s indie feel capped a fine set from a Gent whose material I’ll certainly get to know better…!

We know all about Nick Parker, however; next up, accompanied by fiddling maestro Benny Wain, he entertained with his laconic, laid back earworm tunes and detailed observational lyrics, his best material as ever reflecting and celebrating the minutiae and mundanity of everyday life, evidenced by splendid opener “Departures”, his ode to a few hours kicking around an airport departure lounge. The knockabout satire of “Down With The Yoof” entertained, then Nick handed out lyric sheets for the audience to sing along to “I Guess I’ll Never Know”, his friend Anna joining him onstage for this touching little ballad. For a brilliantly jaunty “Es Tut Mir Leid”, however, he invited Logan onstage to hold up one of the German phrase signs; as no-one else joined him Logan was tasked with holding all 4 up himself! “Terry And June” rounded off another splendid set from this self-effacing but very wryly talented songsmith.

By now the place was well packed – probably an on-the-door sellout, this! – and Gaz led the thieves onstage at 9.30 for a galloping “World Spins Round” opener, before he incredulously announced, “Southampton! There’s bloody loads of you!”, segueing into “March Of Progress”. Then, before the scheduled and entirely appropriate “Diabetes Blues” he invited Logan onstage, not only telling the audience his diabetes diagnosis story (to a collective, “aaaah”, Gaz replying with, “alright, it’s not a panto!”), but exhorting them to sponsor his Swim22 event! Brilliant! Then, if that wasn’t enough, Nick threw his spare mandolin over Logan’s shoulder, and my son strummed along onstage to “Diabetes Blues”, also duetting on backing vocals with Chris Webb. Another proud dad moment!

Apart from that, the rest of the gig was bloody nails too – “Gunner Haines” sounded immense and fulsome, “Under The Table” was a drunken, all-inclusive swayalong (Gaz remarking, “I’m glad to see everyone wore their singing pants tonight!”), and the band played a quick round of “Grapes”, which involved attempts to catch a grape thrown across the stage in one’s mouth (Nick proving the most successful in this endeavour), before “The Buskers Song”. This number actually saw an amount of money tossed onstage by the crowd, which Gaz immediately donated to Logan’s sponsorship fund! Double Chap!

Gaz rolled out his new toy, a black bodied electric Fender, giving his battered acoustic a rest and lending the likes of a punk rock “I’ve Paid My Money” and a venomous “Black Dog Day” extra strident power. “Diet Of Banality” was a welcome retro delight, skewering manufactured music pointedly and perfectly with the excellent lyric; “let your children hear something real”… oh, I do, Gaz, I do! “Thin” raised the roof and ended the set, but a brilliant “Be The Bigger Man” and rattling, rambunctious “Let The East Winds Blow” closed out the evening, Gaz and the band having sounded brilliantly together throughout, and having put buckets of sweat and effort into delivering a stellar, committed performance.

And true to Gaz’ request, a number of people approached me afterwards with donations for Logan’s Swim22 event! Overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, I happily collected names and cash, amassing an impressive £87 in total from the night. Wow. Just… wow. Thank you so much, all! Chats and profuse thanks to Gaz and co later, I scooped a tired but elated little man up and we finally hit the road, a diversion around the A4 getting us home at half past midnight. No matter, Saturday’s a lie-in…! What a performance from Gaz and the boys, what an incredible evening!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

1,072 INDOOR PETS, Gaffa Tape Sandy, Socket, Bristol Louisiana, Monday 19th February 2018

An odd situation, this; a debut gig for a band I’ve seen five times already! Let me explain… current “live” faves and one of my “pet bands”, according to my dear lady wife, spiky power-popsters Get Inuit, were contacted by an Inuit throat singer expressing concern about the band appropriating the “Inuit” word in their band name in a derogatory manner. Things escalated and suddenly the band were in the middle of a twitter shitstorm, wrongly accused of racism, when it was only meant as a throwaway pun…”get into it”… “get inuit”,,, get it? The only sensible recourse was to change the damn thing, to something equally throwaway, hence it was now Indoor Pets I was preparing to see for the 6th time! Or is it the first…?

Confused? You will be…! Anyway, to try to regain some momentum potentially lost by this furore, and maintain their “live” edge honed on recent tour support slots with Ash and The Big Moon, the Kent boys decided to hit the road for an early 2018 tour. Thus it was that I hit the M4 to Bristol, circumnavigating the underbelly of the city to avoid the stupid new road layout, and pitched up about 8 directly outside. Drummer Rob was manning the merch stand, so we caught up on recent events before I took a wander upstairs to check out local openers Socket. A young trio, mining a similar C86 jangly powerpop groove to the headliners (and sporting their own floppy fringed, bespectacled Jamie lookalike in the bassist!), their strumalong stuff recalled a toughened-up Chesterfields, with a couple of later exceptions which were a bit Foo Fighters-lite rockier. Plenty of work required here, but a brisk and breezy set for openers, Mr. Specs announcing about this support slot, “we were coming to the show anyway – so we got in for free!”

More practised by far, though, were main support Gaffa Tape Sandy. Another trio, they laid down a couple of early strident bluesy rockers recalling The Subways, then went all Pixies on us, “Pink Neck/ Trainwreck” featuring some “Wave Of Mutilation”-alike loud/ quiet/loud dynamics, creepy bass from the female redhead bassist, and some nice atonal vocal interplay between her and the gregarious, confident guitarist/ main vocalist. Regretting the choice of woolly socks on a hot stage, he remarked, “it’s a different season in my shoes…” and similarly made light of some sweat-induced guitar tuning issues. I do appreciate a singer who sweats for his art, me…! “L’Appel Du Vide”, my set highlight, came across like a sleazy Tex Mex bar-room rocker, and generally this was an impressive, hard-rocking support slot, prompting me to pick up their CDs, to (as the bassist mentioned onstage) help wean them off their exclusively bread tour diet!

A break back at the car and a quick chat with the ubiquitous Jeff bumped us towards showtime, as the Indoor Pets boys set-up to the sound of children’s TV theme tunes over the PA (!), vocalist Jamie spotting me for a quick greeting before they were ready to go. Back on in short order in front of a 2/3rds full but appreciative Louisiana crowd, they burst into a ragged “Mean Heart”, thereafter segueing into the thrashy grunge “Electrify”, prompting a couple of guys to form a violent and manic slamming pit which, from my stage right spot down the front, I managed to steer clear of. Appreciate your enthusiasm, boys, not sure this tiny upstairs room is the right place for it…! “We’re a band called Indoor Pets and we’re brand new!” deadpanned a tongue-in-cheek Jamie before a slightly understated “Coping” ceded to a Wannadies-like newie, “Tread The Water”, bursting with big hooks and crunchy, heavy guitars.

Thankfully very little else has changed from their previous incarnation, as this performance displayed the usual Get Inuit hallmarks; ragged, youthful enthusiasm, kinetic energy, splendid helium vocals and harmonies, and even a curveball or two, in this case a thunderous demolition of Aretha Franklin’s soul classic “Say A Little Prayer”. “Teriyaki” was an off-kilter, hurtling delight, before Jamie reflected that, “it’s been a tricky few months for us,” the subsequent newie “So Soon” impressing with a Silver Sun harmonic opening leading to a seriously earworm hook, a Summer smash in the waiting, if there’s any justice…!

A frenzied mosh greeted closer “Pro Procrastinator” to close out a raw and deliriously thrashy performance. Chatted with the boys on the merch stand afterwards, all buoyed by the enthusiastic reception and gratified that thus far, the name change doesn’t appear to have stalled their momentum. Made my sweaty way home reflecting on this; Get Inuit may be dead, but long live Indoor Pets! An impressive debut!