Saturday, 22 February 2020

1,176 THE MURDER CAPITAL, Egyptian Blue, Unorthodox Coolock, Bristol SWX, Wednesday 19th February 2020

Support set-list only this time... hey, sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you...!

Another early 2020 trip down to SWX for me, this time to see The Murder Capital, a band I'd just missed on their last go-round, moving too slow before their Exchange gig sold out... Following the likes of Spectres, Autobahn, Idles and more obviously 2019's much-hyped rock press darlings Fontaines DC (whom I like fine, but find the vocalist somewhat off-key and jarring, and for whom I gave up my Oxford O2 ticket to my friend Andy, as that gig fell one day after a knackered return from Boston in November!), this Irish post-punk band of gentlemen ruffians take their sonic cue from the likes of Killing Joke, The Fall and The Birthday Party with a bruising, viscerally dark, claustrophobic yet intriguing sound, encapsulated in an impressive debut album, last year's "When I Have Fears". It's a bleak, uncompromising vision, but, let's face it, with a name like "The Murder Capital", this lot are hardly likely to cover "Shiny Happy People", are they? So, prime proponents of the type of aggressive post-punk I'm increasingly referring to as "Arthur Shelby Rock" (as it all invariably sounds like it should be sound-tracking a scene from "Peaky Blinders", where the Shelby's attack dog gives someone a fucking good kicking down a darkened alleyway), I was curious to see how this worked "live"; a set to be enjoyed, or endured?

Equally curious was old school and recent Facebook friend Keith, along with the aforementioned Andy, so we left early, queueing to get onto the M4 but then enjoying a swift drive down catching up. Pitched up midway through opener Unorthodox Coolock, an Irish poet-raconteur whose social commentary was worthy if a little hectoring, so we stayed at the back of this already busy venue, wandering forward to a spot house right for main support Egyptian Blue, on at 8.15. Straight away a considerably more enticing proposition, all Will Sargent guitar textures, long gloomy raincoats, taut and tense rhythm and building mid-song crescendos, they not only elicited the obvious Bunnymen/ British Sea Power comparisons, but also the regimented, metronomic jangle and clipped vocals of the likes of Mission Of Burma or Gang Of Four. A study of insouciance, with very little audience interaction - only their change-of-pace last number was introduced, and that only with, "this is our last number" - this was nonetheless a fine support set from impressive if currently slightly derivative newcomers.

We kept our spot, but the place got proper old school rammed, with big blokes barging past left and right. An uncomfortable wait then, before choking dry ice, strobe and feedback welcomed The Murder Capital onstage at 9.20, intense vocalist Jack McGovern taking the stage last, barking out the terrace-chant hook of opener "More Is Less" to an increasing and adoring moshpit, whereupon he abandoned the stage and joined in! Sure, seen that plenty of times, but rarely if ever during the opening number...!

"What's the fucking story Bristol!" announced McGovern, relishing in his chief rabble-rouser role, before the discordant siren scream and militaristic drumbeat of "For Everything", which kept up the initial frenzied pace. No one-trick ponies however, this lot, as following an apposite address from McGovern emphasising the sense of community TMC have felt during this tour, they delivered the set highlight in an elegiac and astonishing "On Twisted Ground"; stark, bare and affecting, drawing not only reverential silence from the crowd, but an emotional, impassioned vocal from McGovern. The boy can sing, no messin', and judging by the moment he took to compose himself afterwards, the song clearly cut deep.

A staccato, Interpol-like "Green And Blue" changed up the tempo if not eerie mood; "Don't Cling To Life" again saw a frenzied moshpit spread out even to our vantage point, then the caustic, fractured punk of final number "Feeling Fades" (which in a Frank Turner "Photosynthesis" moment, initially saw the crowd crouch down - not me, not with these knees! - before bursting into ragged, raucous life) saw McGovern crowdsurf to its denouement, rounding off a stunning set which, if somewhat short at 50 minutes, never left anything out, material-wise or in terms of commitment.

The set lists went quickly to the moshpit massive (fair enough really), but we caught our breath then chanced to have a quick word and handshake with a surprisingly softly-spoken and humble frontman, laudably following up his onstage proclamation that he’d hang out afterwards at the merch stand. So, a dark, brutal and raw-boned set then from The Murder Capital, yet delivered with a confidence and swagger from a band clearly destined for much greater things. Glad I caught them on the way up, because the sky appears to be the limit for this lot. And as for McGovern? Well, judging by his flagrantly puffing away at a couple of ciggies onstage, he's not the messiah - he's a very naughty boy!

Thursday, 13 February 2020

1,175 PKEW PKEW PKEW, Abandon Ship, Southampton Joiner’s Arms, Tuesday 11th February 2020

I didn't need too much persuading for this one... a trip down to the South Coast to probably my favourite venue in the splendid Southampton Joiner's Arms, to see Canadian punk rabble Pkew Pkew Pkew, one of my breakthrough acts of 2019 thanks to a mighty fine album in "Optimal Lifestyles", and a breathless, euphoric and roof-raising Exchange set last May (gig 1,136) in support of Spanish Live Songs (ironically support stars themselves, last time out!). No pretending that just because I'm 54 and the owner of 2 dodgy knees that I'd behave myself and stand at the back delicately tapping a toe either... oh no, I know I'm going to lose my shit rocking out as much as my old bones will allow, so I prepared accordingly, with lenses, shorts, kneestraps and even pre-gig painkillers all sorted in advance!

Loins thusly girded, I set off at 7 as Rach was doing a pilates class, then enjoyed a fairly unencumbered drive down to Southampton and parked up at 8.30 about 10 steps from the Joiners' front door. Result! Sparsely populated - and cold! - in the hallowed back room early doors, so I popped back to the car to grab my hoodie, thence running into Pkew's bassist Emmett manning the merch stand. He remembered meeting me in Bristol, which was cool, and we had a quick chat about punk rock, The Menzingers and his own band. Popped back into the venue for some support act action; I'd missed openers Buds but was in place for main support Abandon Ship at 8.45, along with their young fanclub (!). A young 4-piece seemingly fronted by Seann Walsh's younger brother (!), they initially kicked into some fast-paced and heavy riffing post-grunge stuff, including an impressive "Worlds Apart" which recalled the frantic noise of Joyrider, before delving into more rhythmic-based and Britpoppy material, whilst retaining a penchant for a soaring hook and some impressive 3-part harmony or call-and-response choruses. A couple of later numbers recalled the urgent snappy pop brightness of The Candyskins (including the undulating fretwork of "See You Again", which needed a couple of goes as the hefty, hard-hitting drummer knacked up his kick pedal!), and closer "25 Minutes", with an almost ska/bluebeat verse beat powering up to an impressive chorus and building outro, climaxed a tidy little set from a band to watch.

A quick turnaround was expected, but there was still a fairly sparse turnout for some Tuesday punk rock in Southampton; still, at least that meant no problem getting down the front! Pkew Pkew Pkew came on at 9.35 accompanied by purple light and dry ice, immediately bursting into life with a ragged-arsed romp through opener "Passed Out", which immediately got me and a couple of other folks at the front rocking away, and which then segued hurriedly into the repetitive fist-pumping terrace chant of "Stop Calling Us Chief".

This was a proper punk rock show tonight; the "handle with care" signs having long since faded, Pkew Pkew Pkew gave their material a thorough and rather splendid roughhousing throughout. The sound was a bit muddied and dominated by guitar glare for me - not sure whether that was because it may have been set up for a fuller room, or because I largely had my head close to, or directly in, the onstage monitors! - but Pkew Pkew Pkew's obvious onstage enthusiasm and dynamism saw them powering through to deliver the type of ragged-edge "rise above" performance so redolent of the likes of American Hi-Fi and Raze*Rebuild. The boys happily shuttled between both albums - the Ramones-like dumbed-down drinking man's surf/skate-punk of their eponymous debut, and the more "mature" yet still frantic blue collar US alt rock-tinged material from that "Optimal Lifestyles" album - so a gleeful singalong "Asshole Pandemic" rubbed shoulders with a more considered Hold Steady-esque "Polynesian", and a more widescreen, Springsteen-like "Drinking Days" bookended with a ragged romp through an unexpected "Let's Order A Pizza" and a fist-pumping "I Wanna See A Wolf".

"We don't do encores so we've just got a couple of numbers left," announced Emmett in a rare up-for-air moment, then "Thirsty And Humble" and the official knee-killing, moshpit inducing "Mid- 20s Skateboarder" rounded off a brief yet kinetic 40 minutes. A little short, but probably just enough for my knees!

Hung out afterwards until I started to get some feeling back in my joints, before another chat with a buoyed Emmett, joking their next album might feature a song about me, entitled "Mid-50s Mosh-pitter"! Then, home for midnight after an easy drive up the A34. This was excellent fun tonight, a band on the ragged edge, on the verge of tumbling into chaos but powering through in true punk rock spirit, with gusto and enthusiasm. Sound not the best, but ultimately no matter, I was still totally immersed in the gig, rocking out to the rabble-rousing stylings of Pkew Pkew Pkew - as expected!

Saturday, 8 February 2020

1,173 SI AND MATT HALL, New Bedlam Asylum; 1,174 THE MENZINGERS, SPANISH LOVE SONGS, Swindon The Tuppenny; Bristol SWX, Thursday 6th and Friday 7th February 2020,

A couple of “grown-up punk rock” gigs on consecutive nights which might initially have been 3; then nearly became just the one…!

So, Thursday first; following the recent untimely demise of Swindon’s finest, grizzled blue-collar alt-rock combo Raze*Rebuild, this pre-arranged booking for an acoustic Thursday show at the Tuppenny pub up the Old Town became vacant, only to be happily backfilled by… R*R mainstays Si and Matt Hall! So I made plans to go, safe (but disappointed) in the knowledge that my knees will no longer take a battering at the hands of their banded-up rampant alt-rock. However, in a typical “wait for one bus then two come at once” moment, fellow local US indie rock acolytes Abstraction Engine, a band I’ve yet to catch but had been meaning to for ages, booked a support slot at The Vic, same night! Neither the Hall boys nor AE’s exemplary frontman David knew in advance as to their set timings, so I drove up early doors in the vain hope that they wouldn’t clash.
Parked up in the final spot in the car park opposite the Vic, then took a wander in to find AE soundchecking in the back room. Decided not to disturb their work because, well, I’m not a selfish twat and it’s not all about me, so I took a wander to the Tupp, where Si and Matt were setting up (Matt with his new guitar which he’d made on a 6 day course!) but were happy to be disturbed and to confirm their headlining set would kick off at 9.30. Thus armed, I chatted awhile with the boys before heading back down to the Vic, where David and the AE boys were hanging out outside. “Tell me you’re on in ten minutes,” I hopefully inquired, only for David to sadly reply, “nope, we’re on at 9.30!” Bollocks! So, I stuck with the original plan, extended my apologies to a magnanimous band, then ‘twas back to The Tupp to meet up with Stu and find a couple of seats for opener New Bedlam Asylum. This proved to be a pseudonym for Charlie Miles, a young green-haired punk who immediately impressed and entertained with some full-on in-your-face acoustic punk rock ranting, the man sawing furiously at his gaffer-taped up instrument and gabbling 90 to the dozen, all angry, bilious, bucolic and full of angst and self-loathing, but also erudite and actually bloody funny. “Depression Goatee” was not only a suitably angst-ridden opener but a theme he’d continuously return to, in between other numbers encompassing pro-wrestling, veganism, some seriously left-leaning politics (a brilliantly scabrous “Shy Tory” being my favourite number of his set) and a Neutral Milk hotel homage (!). Superb dumb thrashy acoustic punk rock fun on one level, but given the breadth of his referencing (including Jeff Buckley, The Supremes and a host of artists I’d never heard of!), one suspects there’s a very cultured and intelligent mind beneath the punk rock self-loathing exterior. Either way, an impressive performer whom I’d like to catch again, and not only because he referred to me as, “guy who likes Neutral Milk Hotel”!

And now for something completely different…! Si and Matt were always going to sound low-key, at least initially, in comparison to young Charlie, both being beyond their angry shouty punk rock years…! Si sensibly gave props to the crowd (“this is unexpected - a roomful of people… for now…!”) and the opener (“I can’t do miserable tonight because Charlie just blew it out of the water! Charlie, this one’s for you, it’s called “Face For Radio”,” an unexpected faux pas which drew howls of laughter) as they eased into their stride. A melancholy alt-country “My Remedy” was an early highlight before “All The Gear”, a full-on knee-killer in band form, finally saw Si cut loose with the vein-bulging stentorian roar. A couple of Buzztone numbers embellished the set, albeit allegedly slowed down considerably from their 200 mph skate-punk versions (!), Si joking about putting these oldies up on Myspace back in the day (“Myspace? We’ve got a page on Ceefax!”), then “Kat I’m Sorry” saw a particularly impassioned vocal from Si and some excellent fretwork from Matt (Si repeatedly commenting on Matt’s self-made new guitar throughout). A fun cover of “Dancing In The Dark” skewered the obvious Springsteen comparisons in their music, before closer “Back To The Fall” was dedicated to me (!) for sticking around and not going to the Vic instead! A night of contrasting sets then, both notable and entertaining in their own right.

I bade farewell to all and sundry, promising to meet up with Si at the Menzingers’ gig in Bristol the following night; then things all started to go the way of the pear… Home at 11.30 to find an upset Rach up with Logan, the pain he’d been having in his legs for a couple of days having intensified. Rach took him up to A&E, leaving me to toss and turn all night, do Kasey’s school run the next morning then join her up in an A&E cubicle. After tests and admission, it was subsequently found to be a temporary viral infection, thankfully, but as I left at 4 to take Kasey for her swim lesson, they were still on the ward awaiting blood test results, so it looked as if I’d be needed to collect them and the intended trip down to Brizzle would be off…

Happily, the final test results came back OK and they taxi-ed home, and after checking things were OK, Logan was more comfortable and Rach could definitely cope without me, the gig was back on…! So, I left just after 6.30, hammering down the M4 then being held up by an utter dickhead BMW driver on the run into Bristol city centre, but still parking up, hitting the venue and squeezing down the front in time (just!) for Spanish Love Songs’ main support set at 7.20. An added attraction on tonight’s bill, they’d impressed last time out with a noisy, sweaty and all-hands-together Exchange set, and the crunchingly heavy riffery of opener “Losers” suggested more of the same tonight. Monolith vocalist Dylan Slocomb came up for air after a couple of bulldozing numbers, proclaiming, “Holy shit! Last time out we played the Exchange but I was super sick – this is more fun!”, before a speedier, strident and robust singalong “Sequels”.

The humble and self-effacing attitude of Dylan and the band – a feature last time out – was again to the fore, Dylan commenting, “I never thought we’d be releasing album No. 3 [today] and playing a room this size!” before completely filling it with their own brand of massive riffery, heavy and strong-armed drumbeats, and huge anthemic singalong choruses. Much of the set recalled the similarly bone-crushing relentlessness of Manchester Orchestra, although the likes of “The Boy Considers His Haircut” and a superb “Buffalo Buffalo” delved more into angsty yet gloriously shouty emo-punk territory. Dylan again announced, “really, this is the coolest thing ever!” before set closer “Beer And Nyquil” again underlined their inclusive vibe, their connection and empathy with their audience, with the hooky choral line of, “I want to hold it together” sung back by the crowd, providing a very fitting and apposite for a killer set. And this was just the support…!

Grabbed a breather and ran into Si (as promised), plus recent Gaz support star Ben Sydes! I knew there was an emo boy in him…! Took a spot house right on the crowded floor, as “A Praise Chorus” played over the tannoy, eliciting a singalong to the “crimson and clover” section… Then, 8.30 saw the lights smash to black and the intro music of “Rebel Rebel” herald The Menzingers onstage. Straight away they were “on it” with enthusiasm and gusto, the fast-paced opener of “Anna” ringing out, albeit sounding smoothier, shinier, and even a tad quieter after the behemoth Spanish Love Songs set…

I’d been late to the Menzingers party, having joined in for the ironically titled “After The Party” a couple of years back, which saw a maturing of their ragged emo punk into a more Gaslight Anthem-lite hooky and polished sound. New album “Hello Exile”, one of 2019’s finest, continues this journey for me, continuing the recent lyrical themes of moving from an extended adolescence into “proper” adulthood, and incorporating elements of Pixies-ish alt-rock, Americana and even a more countrified feel into their sound. Thus, the early likes of “Anna” and a soaring singalong “House On Fire” recalled a faster Gin Blossoms, and saw me plunging into a good-natured mosh – which featured a larger percentage of girls than I was expecting – and singing along with gusto, just the tonic I needed after a fraught day.

The boys were certainly having fun onstage, swapping vocal chores between bald, perpetually grinning Brian Bendis lookalike Tom May and his heftier, strong-armed colleague Greg Barnett, however things got increasingly violent in the mosh so I retreated to a supposedly safe distance, only to be followed by a white t-shirted bloke who, no matter how far back I went, seemed to be right in my face! I soon tired of this and swapped over to house left, the clarion call of “Burn After Writing” thankfully snapping me back into the gig. Greg remarked on an early singalong from a punter with, “I love it when that happens – especially when it sounds like a Disney pirate!” Don’t know what he’s insinuating about the Bristolian accent, but anyway… A mad mosh accompanied a tremendous “Telling Lies”, subsequently and thankfully diffused by a melancholy “Last To Know”, then later a punky double of “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole” and “Nice Things” preceded some proper old school punk, Tom channelling his inner Joe Strummer for a fine reading of The Clash’s “Death Or Glory”. My final mosh-visit was for their best number, the irresistibly bouncy set closer “Lookers”, by which time I was also on guard for a horde of crowd-surfers – again of both genders!

“Lookers” was the clear highlight of the night, so I could happily have done without the encore, then afterwards I held out for the drummer’s list, a helpful roadie throwing me the screwed-up ball as a prize. So, another night of equally meritorious yet contrasting sets, the gloss and tunefulness of The Menzingers contrasting with the seething and bludgeoning power of Spanish Love Songs. Heck, I liked ‘em both! A quick drive home and a kebab rounded off a fine evening and this two-in-two. Great stuff from all 4 acts… and, more importantly, a son who’s now fully on the mend after a brief but scary illness. That’ll do for me!

Monday, 27 January 2020

1,172 OCTOBER DRIFT, Bristol Rough Trade Records, Sunday 26th January 2020

I have my good friends the Gurneys to thank for pointing me in the direction of this excellent young band October Drift, although it took me awhile to act on their recommendation... Craig popped a link on my Facebook feed as long ago as last September, but it took until their early 2020 tour was announced for me to give them any more than a cursory check. When I did, I found some thrilling shimmery guitar wall-of-noise right in my wheelhouse, and immediately cursed the fact I was already spoken for on the dates that said tour took them to Bristol Louisiana and Southampton Heartbreakers. All was not lost, however, as an in-store performance and signing session in Bristol’s Rough Trade record shop not only afforded me the chance to check this promising combo out, but also to pick up their debut album as it was included in the ticket price!

A busy weekend unfortunately not only meant a lack of time to add to my cursory research on their music (rendering the band pretty much sight unseen and unheard!), but also a later than anticipated departure, just before 6.30 for the scheduled 7.30 start. Hit traffic on the M4 just the other side of Bath which delayed me, so I pretty much had time to park up in my usual SWX car park just past the Bearpit, find this cafe venue at the back of the Rough Trade record shop, pick up my CD from the bar and take a spot near the front in the small and suitably rock'n'roll dingy side room, just before the boys took the stage bang on 7.30. Beckoning the curious few dozen of us forward then patting my shoulder as I took a big step forward, rakish, chiselled and wild-eyed vocalist/rhythm guitarist Kiran Roy led his charges, via a cacophony of noise, into opener “Losing My Touch”, a driving, layered opener that recalled Ride's classic shoegazing anthem “Drive Blind”. However from the off it was evident there was no shoegazing to be done tonight, the band launching into a dynamic, energetic and kinetic performance, the front three all throwing shapes with furious abandon and intent, and Kiran particularly sawing away at his instrument (which he had on such a short strap I thought at one point he'd start playing it with his chin...) for all he was worth, whilst strong-armed drummer Chris Holmes seemed to be working out his own personal exorcism, pulling some crazy intense faces as he pummelled seven bells out of his kit. Hard, fast and mighty!

“Cherry Red”, an upbeat thrill-ride of a track, saw me reaching for my explosive taut post-punk comparisons, coming up with the likes of The Chameleons, The Sound and even the goth-inflected strident rock of Flesh For Lulu; then Kiran took to the floor, embellishing a superb “Death”-era White Lies-esque “Just Got Caught” with his doomy, sonorous yet yearning vocal delivery. He repeated the trick for an acapella intro to the subsequent overt soaring chant of “Forever Whatever” before jumping back on (and around) the stage; then “The Past”, which recalled a couple of Pale Saints numbers at the same time (!) closed out a quite startling and utterly incendiary half hour, a total belter of a set, which left me lamenting my previous engagement next month. This lot would be amazing at The Louisiana, I reckon...

Kiran shook my hand as he stepped offstage and thanked me for stepping forward, which was nice; I then joined the short queue to grab some more complimentary words, pics and signings with him and the rest of the band, before heading back to the car, just under an hour after parking (!) and home by 9 pm (!!) after a quick inky blast down the M4. Result! And a hell of a result in this outstanding young band too, possibly the most exciting prospect since Desperate Journalist (high praise indeed!). I'm glad I saw them this close up, as I'd imagine such opportunities will be scarce in the future. And, Craig and Jenny, I certainly owe you one for recommending October Drift to me!


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!