Wednesday, 23 December 2009

670 THE POSIES, Petra Jean Philipson, London Islington Academy, Saturday 30 July 2005

A mad one this, alright! It started in Wagamamas...

Rachel had just got paid, and fancied a meal in the splendid Wagamamas noodle bar in the Islington N1 Centre, the location of this venue, so we headed off at 4, ahead of Tim and his crew, and hit the restaurant at 6.30 to find The Posies dining there as well! Gloating texts to Tim ensued, after which I interrupted the Posies meal to ask them if they intended to play "I May Hate You Sometimes", the Posies number which Tim's band You Are Here cover! I explained to songwriter and Posies singer Ken Stringfellow that YAH claim it's theirs now, to which he replied, "well maybe they should play it!" So I said to him that he should call them up!

More texts followed, winding Tim and YAH vocalist Mark up that Ken was mad with them! Then Rach and I finished our meal and shopped awhile, buying "24" Top Trumps in Borders! How cool is that! Got into the brand new top floor venue at about 1/4 to 8, unfortunately in time to endure folksy dirge support Petra Jean Philipson, of which the less said the better.

The Posies were due on at 8.30 by which time Tim and co had yet to arrive as I went for a quick pre-gig squirt. However the band came on just as I entered the lobby, spotting Tim and co lurking by the merch stand, so I abandoned that idea, grabbed the gang and went back to our stage-right vantage point near the front. Good thing too, as the Posies chimed straight into "Dream All Day", and a most robust version of this splendidly harmonic post-grunge classic powerpop moment from 1993 it was too!

This set the tone for the early part of the set; tougher than expected, "Please Return It" was venomous and acerbic, the single from my favourite Posies album "Amazing Disgrace" (the point at which, for me, The Posies injected mood and emotion into their previous undeniably melodic and harmonic but occasionally anodyne work), sounding pissed-off and strident. Then things started getting mad...

With Jon Auer a monolithic counterpoint, the other main Posie Ken Stringfellow embarked on some obviously alcohol-fuelled anti-Bush ranting, which added another dimension entirely to an increasingly chaotic set. A thrashy "Ontario" and almost hardcore "Grant Hart" preceded a mauling of "Flavor Of The Month", Ken throwing shapes and spitting profusely around the stage. A cacophonous set-closer completely redefined the word "shambolic", after which Ken re-emerged, stripped to his grey underpants, for some equally loose encores, a surprisingly tight "Solar Sister" (featuring a wonderfully spot-on middle 8 riff from Jon Auer) notwithstanding. The encore culminated in a lengthy number, climaxing in a bout of instrument trashing, and a drunken Ken slurring, "to anyone I've offended tonight - tough, I spoke my mind!" Good grief!

Grabbed the list, and later got a merch stand bound, more circumspect (and thankfully fully clothed!) Jon Auer to sign it. Back home at 1 after a lengthy stop with the gang at Heston, after a mad mad evening!

671 THE PIXIES, The Futureheads, London Alexandra Palace, Wednesday 31 August 2005

Having opted out of Reading Festival this year - where the Pixies headlined and would have been pretty much the only reason to go - this gig was a must! That, allied with the fact I'd had one of my worst working days ever, meant I was really up for this one! So we hit the road at 5 and parked up in the palatial grounds of this very grand venue at 7.30. Unfortunately, this meant we had to watch support The Futureheads, after we'd taken a shuttle bus from the car park to the palace on the hill, and gotten in. The 'heads are extremely derivative of the current Wire/XTC jerky New Wave sound, and have no presence or tunes to rub together to make fire! Their best number by far isn't even their own - a cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds Of Love", which they did late on in this poor set.

The place filled up considerably between sets. A grand venue, this; a huge auditorium with an ornate glass roof which made it very hot! So we sweated it out, running into our London friends before the entrance of the Pixies at 9, to dry ice and rapturous cheers.

Finally recognised as the pioneers of US alt-rock that they are, the now-reformed Pixies are finally reaping the financial rewards with the big big gigs (this one of course following their Reading headline slot). You could excuse them for going into cruise-and-collect mode, and certainly the opening part of the set was restrained and low-key, easing themselves in with slower numbers from their canon of work (an eerie "Where Is My Mind" a highlight here), as if they were paying reverence to their material. Even an early "Vamos", with Joey extracting squally riffs from his guitar with the aid of a drumstick, seemed less manic than of yore.

However, following a spooky "Into The White", and a strident, bellowed "Ed Is Dead" (my favourite Pixies song!) the set really took off as the band loosened up and let fly. The bass-heavy, massive "Planet Of Sound" followed, really bringing the noise, and by an awesome "Tame", vocalist Frank Black (or should that be Black Francis, given he's back in the Pixies?) was roaring like the angered behemoth of old. The inevitable "Monkey Gone To Heaven" (which Rachel had been jonesing for throughout the set) followed a frantic interlude, and by "Debaser", still the snarling cornerstone of indie discos everywhere, we were enthralled, caught in the power of this harsh, sleazy, noisy yet strangely uplifting rock.

The 1 hour 15 minute set seemed over far too soon, and Kim Deal was then persuaded to perform "Gigantic", the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" quiet/loud template number which ended the set, all 4 band members then wishing each other goodnight before basking in the deserved adulation of a job bloody well done, and money well earned.

By that time we were off! Got a jump on everyone, ran down the hill to the car, and back on the M4 by 11 and home by midnight. Another in the recent run of big gigs, but perfectly executed by those returning heroes The Pixies!

I didn't get a set-list, but just FYI the set was as follows;



672 BOB MOULD, Youth Group, London Mean Fiddler, Tuesday 6 September 2005

I can't believe I nearly missed this one! After Bob's last CD, which was smothered with and spoilt by unnecessary electronica, the announcement of a one-off show wasn't exactly a huge enticement. However Tim did some digging and found out this was a full-on rock show featuring numbers from Bob's old bands, Sugar and Husker Du. That swayed me! Rachel was busy so it was Tim and myself setting off at 1/4 to 6, driving all the way in and parking up in gentrified Cafe Society Charlotte Street, round the corner from the venue, at 1/4 to 8. This meant we missed a chunk of support Youth Group; what we heard was nice enough, countrified Americana, not a million miles removed from the likes of Gin Blossoms or Creature Comforts. A couple of good numbers, but not enough to sway me to buy their record.

I'd not heard Bob's new one either - the previous "Modulate" being such a mess, so I waited to be impressed from my stage-right spot in this rapidly filling venue. Bob and the band sauntered on at the appointed hour, the first shock being that Bob, previously a man-mountain, looked lean and fit, with a white five-o'clock shadow which gave him the impression of Santa on his day off! And sure enough he brought us presents, plugging immediately into a strident "The Act We Act", the opener of Sugar's timeless "Copper Blue" album. Other Sugar numbers "A Good Idea" and the wonderfully growling, menacing "Changes" followed, by which time I was in the moshpit, eschewing my damaged ankle for some vital, venomous yet tuneful vintage American punk rock.

Bob wasn't the only lean thing here - the performance, ably backed up by a young and obviously passionate band, was lean, mean and totally lacking in extraneous frills, allowing Bob to give full rein to his full, low howl of a voice, and his solid, expressive riffery. Prowling around the stage like a caged tiger, Bob bashed away for all he was worth. Inevitably, though, the pace and tempo dipped as a clutch of newies - good, but paling in comparison to the opening triad - were debuted. Then an almost jolly "Hoover Dam" was followed by a quite awesome "See A Little Light" from his "Workbook" album, still one of my all-time faves. Wow! A heart-cracking "Hardly Getting Over It" preceded a frantic "Could You Be The One", and there was still time for a clutch of Husker Du numbers at the end of the set, "Celebrated Summer" climaxing a superb hour. Encores included "If I Can't Change Your Mind" and "Egooverride", before "Makes No Sense At All" and a sinewy "Man On The Moon" drew a remarkable resurrection to a close.

"Thanks, we've had a lot of fun tonight," said Bob as he left the stage, the grin he wore throughout much of the set being reflected by everyone here, including myself as I emerged, soaking, from the mosh. Totally failed to blag a set-list (something about "settings", hmmm...) but this didn't detract from a trip down memory lane resulting in a notable comeback. Welcome back, Bob!

673 THE LEMONHEADS, Eugene Kelly, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Thursday 15 September 2005

Continuing my recent early 90's US alt-rock revisitation (Pixies, Posies, Bob Mould playing Sugar songs), here's the Lemonheads doing all of "It's A Shame About Ray", their 1992 classic! Rachel and I headed down at 6-ish for this eagerly-awaited gig, part of ATP's "Don't Look Back" series of 90's artistes playing their best work, start to finish. Not an onerous task for Evan Dando's reformed Lemonheads, given that "It's A Shame About Ray" clocked in at a brisk 29 minutes!

Parked up in the Bush at 1/4 to 8 despite an above-average number of dickheads on the road, and met Tim and crew as he parked up. Took good spots in the venue (down the front, stage left) just before support Eugene Kelly came on at 8. I was happy that Kelly was playing, having missed his Dinosaur Jr. support earlier this year, and initially I enjoyed his laid-back, harmonious West Coast tinged pop, with shades of Teenage Fanclub, as you'd expect from this influential Scottish troubadour. An acoustic "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam", covered by Nirvana back in the day, was a highlight, but the set was overlong and started to drag. Still, plenty to show there's life in the old dog yet, despite him looking like a grey-haired bank manager these days!

The place filled up rapidly as the witching hour approached, and we noticed Kev from Seafood making his way through the crowd, saying hi to him in the process. The lights dimmed at 9.30, and Evan Dando led the Lemonheads on; not the classic "Ray" line-up, but rather a new 3-piece incarnation with hired gunslingers Bill Stevenson on drums, and our Boston buddy Josh Lattanzi on bass, backing Dando up. Nevertheless, they were superb - by the pogo-stick bounce of the second number "Confetti" I was in the mosh, singing along to these familiar, easy melodies and spaced out lyrics. Dando's genius is most evident on "It's A Shame About Ray", its perfect marriage of post-grunge US college rock and country, producing naggingly familiar melodies to form the basis for his rich baritone. And Dando, slim, healthy looking and content, was on top form tonight and clearly enjoying himself. Meanwhile, I pogoed on in the mosh, catching Josh's eye midway through "My Drug Buddy", a languid "hey" of recognition illuminating his features.

"Ray" whipped by in double-quick time, climaxing in a solo "Frank Mills", from Evan, conducting the sing-along moshpit. A few other solo acoustic numbers - a brilliant "Outdoor Type" and a messy but welcome "Different Drum" - before the band rejoined for a romp through "Hospital" and a surprisingly good "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You". Then Bill and Josh cleared off and Evan announced he was doing one more number; "any requests?" My voice was the loudest as I called for "Stove", and Evan looked directly at me before clarifying. ""Stove"? Uh, okay..." Needless to say, it was superb, even stripped back from the full band oomph. A well-deserved encore later, a strident, vibrant and punchy "Down About It" called an end to proceedings, after a brilliant hour in the company of a true superstar and his henchmen.

Hung out afterwards with Kevin Seafood, then tried to get a message backstage to Josh, but in vain, as we eventually tired and headed off, home for 1 after a superb night!

674, 675 MEW, Pure Reason Revolution, Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms and London Islington Academy, Sunday 18 and Monday 19 September 2005

A good old-fashioned double-header in the exquisite company of the best band currently "active" on Planet Earth. We'd booked the Islington tix before they'd announced a few provincial dates, and thought, Portsmouth on a Sunday? Why not?

So Rachel, Tim, Penny and I hit the road just after 6, and despite appalling traffic, parked up in Southsea before doors at 8. Knowing how bad the support were, we repaired to a local hostelry to pass the time, only to go into the venue at 9 to find they'd not even been on yet! D'oh! So we hid in the darkest recesses of the WWR bar while Pure Reason Revolution were on, once again peddling the kind of self-indulgent choral prog rock bollocks we fought the punk wars to kill off! Tim and Penny decided to stay at the back to get a Mew overview at this wide venue, but Rach and I wandered onto the dancefloor, stage right, for their entrance.

Without wishing to overstate matters, at this time in 2005, Mew are the best band "active" and currently making music on the planet. The sheer scope, breadth and haunting beauty and majesty of their work has in fact rarely been exceeded, and "Frengers" for me is probably one of my top 10 albums ever. They are the high watermark in music everyone else aspires to, and currently falls way short of. Got that straight?

Just wanted to make that clear, that the standards they have are colossal. And so, to start off, this set disappointed somewhat. A discordant yet intriguing opener was followed by the familiar drum crash opening of "Am I Wry? No", yet something seemed missing. The frenzied devotion of the crowd, that Mew thrive on and feed off, was absent, and subsequent "156" and "Snow Brigade" run-throughs only served to lift the admittedly sell-out crowd slightly above somnambulence. I remarked to Rach after a no more than lukewarm reaction to "Wry", "they'll have to work hard to win this lot over".

Then, it all changed, with "Zookeeper's Boy". A lush, slow burn of an epic, this new number is even special by Mew standards, its' sonic breadth and reach never exceeding Mew's grasp, but its multi-layered vocals, and pure falsetto lead from Jonas, fair taking your breath away. That solicited a huge ovation - finally!

A touching "Eight Flew Over", and a joyful and plangent "She Came Home For Christmas", and Mew were finally hitting their stride. A clutch of newies followed - the straightforward stomp of "Special" and the J Mascis "Grave" duet - J's image projected onto the backdrop, breaking up the dreamscapes and Beatrix Potter imagery of cats and rabbits in military dress playing violins. Then a strident, Savage "She Spider" closed a swift 50 minute set.

A jagged, nervy encore of "Apocalypso" preceded the slow-burning climax of "Comforting Sounds", which featured bassist Johan fulsomely praising the crowd - really though this was the other way around, as this was a minor triumph from Mew, an object lesson in how to startle and win over an initially apathetic crowd.

What a difference a day makes! And the question as to how two sets can be identical yet wildly different was answered emphatically at Islington. Rach and I only this time; we left at 6, parking up at the NI Centre at 8, and stayed in the venue lobby this time to avoid the support, gorging ourselves on merch instead! Hit the venue - heaving, another sell-out - and got a good spot near the front, stage left, for Mew.

They came on at 9 and played the exact same set as yesterday, but what a difference! This time, the drum crash of "Am I Wry? No" was greeted with a huge ovation, and Mew were soaring from the outset, bristling with confidence, power and strident, majestic brilliance. Once again, "Zookeeper's Boy" was an early highlight, the astonishing music complemented by the other-worldly images of dancing tigers and ballerina cats on the backdrop. Weird to the extreme, yet strangely fitting.

Every move Mew made tonight was greeted with huge cheers, and the band - particularly Jonas and Johan - reflected that enthusiasm back in their performance. Jonas' voice, at times strained the previous night, was choirboy pure and glitteringly emotive, and Johan brought the rock, the low-slung bass receiving a battering as his angular frame threw shapes, hair seemingly flying everywhere! Again, the set was blink-and-you'd-miss-it swift at 50 minutes (if only I could make 50 minutes go that quickly at work!), and again, the sinister, jagged "Apocalypso" and "Comforting Sounds" closed the proceedings. This time, however, as Johan thanked the crowd for being awesome on this, their biggest London gig to date, it made more sense. The crowd had played their part, and Mew had responded in kind by raising their considerably high standards even higher. Home by 12, still awestruck.

So Mew; untouchable right now, but even more so in London, it seems. And next year they're playing the larger-still Shepherd's Bush Empire...!

Monday, 21 December 2009

676 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, 4 Ft. Fingers, Frome Cheese and Grain, Tuesday 27 September 2005

My last gig before getting married to Rachel turned into one of my stag events; that is, Rach said, "I don't want to go see that horrible punk band again, so go with your mates!"

So on that pretext, I talked old punks Rich and Peej, curious party Ady and obligated best man Tim into coming along, and we headed off in Ady's new big bad jeep, eventually finding our circuitous way to the venue, situated behind a large car park, at 8. The venue itself was an old Corn Exchange/ Market Hall type of place, elegantly run-down - just like ourselves... and tonight's headliners!

Support 4 Ft. Fingers were loud, disjointed and crap, and largely ignored by this crowd of old punks, young punks and punk families! I remarked, "I'd rather be picking fluff out of my bellybutton than be watching this shower... if I had a bellybutton!", a quote which made it into Tim's Best Man speech!

We wandered to a vantage point near the front, stage left, for the Fingers at 9.45, coming on as usual to the "Guitar And Drum" intro, setting the buoyant scene. The band bounded onstage, old punks still angry and still with something to say, and ripped straight into opener "Tin Soldiers", a venomous yet tuneful anti-Army rant. "Roots Rockers" and "Nobody's Hero" followed in quick succession; this lot were in a hurry tonight, and the crowd, only half-full in this large hall, nevertheless were straight into the mood. "First time we've been to Frome - a bit out of the way, isn't it?" asked Jake, echoing our sentiments on the way down. The set was the usual collection of older numbers and newer, more politically-specific songs - an early "Silver lining" ("our attempt at a Motown song," quoth Jake) and "Just Fade Away",a couple of their later original songs, were both surprisingly good, and the band deviated from the usual beaten track to play some less familiar newies.

"Barbed Wire Love" however prompted a really cool moment as we all linked arms and swayed along to the 50's pastiche mid-section. A lot of fun! This, of course, was the key to this gig. Ragged around the edges their performance may have been, and Jake may have slipped up on the lyrics of a couple of numbers, but this was a whole chunk of fun. Even the newer stuff such as "Strummerville" is becoming increasingly familiar, and the anthemic, sing-along material fitted the mood and occasion. A superb "Fly The Flag", with Jake's usual "Rule Britannia" wanker sign, was a late highlight, before the inevitable "Wasted Life" and "Suspect Device" set closers. A surprising "Johnny Was" encore, lengthy and convoluted, was nevertheless splendid, and "Alternative Ulster", venomous as ever, capped an excellent evening which we all enjoyed, even the more press-ganged among us. Stiff Little Fingers - the perfect punk rock stag evening band!

677 IDLEWILD, Inara George, San Francisco Slims, CA USA, Wednesday 5 October 2005

First stop on Rachel's and my 2 centre California honeymoon - San Francisco! And a pre-booked gig by current faves Idlewild too, what excellent timing! Took a cable car uptown from our waterfront hotel, then bussed along to explore the disappointing Haight-Ashbury district, before taxi-ing over to the nearby gig just before doors. Had to endure a most peculiarly American phenomenon - the gig beggar - before getting into this old ballroom style venue, which actually achieved the odd feat of looking much bigger from the outside! Weird!

We'd not eaten, so got snacks in while support Inara George was on. Inara was a folksy Suzanne Vega sound-alike, only without the quality of material, so this set was a bit of an endurance test, particularly given that we're still getting used to being on California time! The sparsely populated - and cold! - venue filled up a little more, but was by no means full for Idlewild's entrance at 9.30. We'd chatted briefly with Idlewild's guitarist, working the merch stand, who'd confirmed that the band weren't very big in the US. T'uh, you really don't know what you're missing, America!

Anyway, Rach and I were down the front - along, oddly, with a couple of lads from Bristol! - as Idlewild came on and proceeded to rock our socks off. Their usually slick, toned-down REM-influenced rock was potent and powerful in a smaller venue, and their older, more frantic material really stood out in this more ragged, less slick but no less exciting set. An early "When I Argue I See Shapes" set the tone for this fast and ragged approach, the 3-pronged guitar/ bass boys throwing shapes and adopting Johnny Ramone-like poses as they rocked out. "Modern Way Of Letting Go" was particularly mad, all seething guitar and snappy finish, yet they were still able to do justice to their slower, more anthemic numbers, "American English" in particular receiving a great ovation after an epic rendition. "Roseability" (which we were pleased to hear on our honeymoon!) was superb, as was a jagged, acerbic "Film 4" encore, Roddy (who'd been in relaxed, almost playful mood throughout the performance) crouching down inches from us to deliver the impassioned vocal. You'd never get that close in the UK! Great stuff. We grabbed a set-list and got it signed afterwards by drummer Colin, before taxi-ing back to our hotel. Little did we know we'd have the chance to complete the signature set later - in LA!

Friday, 18 December 2009

678 GREEN DAY, JIMMY EAT WORLD, Flogging Molly, Los Angeles Home Depot Center, CA USA, Sunday 9 October 2005

We'd also sorted tix for this gig before we hit the US West Coast on our honeymoon, a home-state gig for the triumphant Green Day, climaxing their world tour which we'd seen twice already this year. But hey, we're in LA, so are they, so why not?

So Rachel and I took a drive from our downtown hotel to the Home Depot Center, a smart purpose-built stadium forming the home of LA's footy team (real footy, not this gridiron nonsense!) the LA Galaxy. Parked up, got our will-call tix and found our way to our allocated spot, which was a grassy knoll behind the far goal facing the stage. A bit far away, but hey, we're guaranteed a good view!

Took in first support Flogging Molly, a punkish thrash through a fiddly-diddly Irish sound, like the Pogues on fast forward. Fun but I couldn't manage a whole pint of it! Took a wander around and bought quite the smallest "big dog" for tea - more of a poodle than a leonburger - then back on the bank as Jimmy Eat World came on at 6.45. Opening with the "Futures" refrain, they then romped through strident, powerful versions of recent singe "Pain" and a tough "Bleed American". Clearly in a hurry, an early and excellent "A Praise Chorus" got us going, although it took the popular "The Middle" to really spark the still-sparse crowd into life.

(Here's a thing - the gig purported to be sold-out, and whilst the seats got full for Green Day, the floor was barely 2/3 full even for the headliners! Fire regulations must be really strict in the US!)

Anyway, back to JEW - their set seemed totally short, over in about half an hour, with "Sweetness" the climax of a short but sweet sampling.

Took another walk, blagging a free t-shirt from the KROQ sponsor stand, which hosted an impromptu appearance from the drummer of Slayer, there with his wife and son! Also got pretzels and chatted with a couple of Green Day first-timers, warning them what to expect.

We knew of course - the drunken pink bunny tottered out as the PA played "YMCA" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" before Green Day took the stage at 7.45, bursting into "American Idiot", complete with the sing-along chants and fireworks climax. This is the third time we've been party to this extraordinary show this year but it doesn't get tired. Yet again punk rock went stadium with style and substance, yet again the theatrics were justified and complemented rather than overshadowed the rock, yet again Green Day themselves seethed with venom and righteous vitriol, yet again Billie Joe Armstrong held the audience totally in the palm of his hand!

However, this one seemed to matter more to the band - back in their home state and determined to end their world tour on a high, Green Day were on it from the get-go and their power and musicianship overpowered the theatrics and pyrotechnics. A haunting "Wake Me Up When September Ends", dedicated to the heroes of Hurricane Katrina, was a standout moment in the set, and the final encore "Time Of Your Life" ended a brilliant night fittingly - just as the same song had ended our wedding reception!

No "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" tonight, oddly, and a slightly reshuffled set, but once again a supreme 2 hours entertainment from a punk rock band at the height of their powers and becoming increasingly comfortable at stadium level. We sprinted out at the end of "Time Of Your Life" and beat the traffic away - good thing to as the drive from South to Central LA was 45 minutes! That's how big and sprawling this place is!

679 IDLEWILD, Inara George, Los Angeles Fingerprints Record Shop, Long Beach, CA USA, Monday 10 October 2005

Whilst honeymooning in Los Angeles, we got wind of this one thanks to an advert in LA Weekly - an Idlewild acoustic set and signing sesh? We're up for that! So we'd seen Idlewild 5 days earlier in San Francisco? So what!

So after a day at La Brea Tar Pits and Venice Beach, we drove down to the further-away-than-you'd-think Long Beach, eventually finding Fingerprints after a couple of detours. Mooched in the racks, then took a good spot between the soul vinyl, right from the stage which was set up at the back of the shop. We had one acoustic number from Inara George, which wasn't to our liking, before Roddy Woomble (who insisted on playing with sunglasses on, under fluorescent light - what a rock star!) joined her for an incongruous yet absorbing version of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat".

Rod was then joined by the 2 Idlewild guitarists for a 5 song set, which as at their Bristol acoustic set earlier this year, emphasised the quality of their songwriting, particularly opener "You Held The World In Your Arms", haunting without the bullish guitar noise, and closer "Love Steals Us From Loneliness", epic and touching in this stripped-back form.

We then got stuff signed, pix taken and got to hang out briefly, and got a tip from drummer Colin about another LA show on Wednesday. Why not? Another nice footnote was that Rachel and I went for a splendid Italian meal just down the road from the record shop, and whilst dining, Idlewild's guitarist and bass player came in and both said, "hey". Familiar faces, I suppose, on this trip!

680 STONE HONEY, Los Angeles Knitting Factory, CA USA, Tuesday 11 October 2005

Talking about encountering familiar faces on our honeymoon; please welcome none other than Phil Hurley! Phil, late of the Gigolo Aunts and Tracy Bonham's band, and one of the nicest guys I know, is now domiciled in LA, so we'd hooked up with him earlier in the day and he'd showed us around for a few hours. So it was the least we could do to come check out his new band!

Drove over to Hollywood Boulevard early and had to suffer a parking-mare (the lot adjacent to the venue was shut so we had to park in the bowels of the earth, in a lot underneath the Kodak Theatre) and pavement-mare (the nearby Chinese theatre was hosting a premiere of new film "Domino" so 2 burly bouncers directed us up a blind alley then across the road, so Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke could get out of their limos unhindered by us plebs) before having a nice meal in the better-than-it-sounds, and Hurley-recommended, Hamburger Hamlet.

Hit the venue just before 9.30 and took a pew stage-right in this living room style venue, before Phil's new band project took the stage. Stone Honey are a songwriting collective of old-style trad country from main singer Shaun, more mature and complex soft-rock singer-songwriter stuff from Nick, and Phil's more Beatles-influenced upbeat pop stuff. Like the Gentlemen, all 3 writers sang their own stuff, although Phil took centre stage for much of the intricate guitar riffery, showcasing his picking talent and clearly enjoying himself in these close, intimate surroundings.

The Honey ended up playing for 2 hours! An initial acoustic session was followed by the introduction of a fairly new rhythm section. Obviously I enjoyed Phil's material more, but I confess it was all good stuff, and the time whipped by. The last couple of numbers were notable for a crowd "stage invasion"; following the gig theme of "Songs From A Hillside Living Room", the band invited the crowd onstage to try to create that vibe!

The night had really only just begun though, as the entire audience then got invited back to Nick's place! After another parking-mare, we eventually made our way up the copiously long staircase to Nick's rambling, split-level crib in the Hollywood hills, overlooking the Hollywood sign. Thence we partied until 3.30 am, the band holding sway in the living room with impromptu acoustic versions of such as "Norwegian Wood", "I Feel Fine" et al. Phil, after showing us around and after we'd dodged the parking attendant, diligently prowling around at 1 am, by re-parking our car (legally this time!), picked up a guitar and, with his Boston expat friend Josh, who'd also been at the show, performed acoustic versions of Boston Rock classics such as "Where I Find My Heaven", "All Going Out Together", "Birdbrain" and "Larry". I even joined him on percussion during "Larry". Cool!

Eventually we had to call it a night, and we drove back to Phil's place halfway to our hotel, where we dumped our car and hopped into a pre-booked taxi back to the hotel, to try to foil the slurry sealing going on the next day in our hotel street. A real 70's Hollywood party experience!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

681 IDLEWILD, Harlem Shakes, Mutilated Mannequins, Los Angeles Boardners, CA USA, Wednesday 12 October 2005

The final gig of our honeymoon and 3rd of 3 for Idlewild! Got a pizza on the way over then hit the venue, just off Hollywood Boulevard, just before 10. Had to return to the car to dump my camera as I wasn't allowed to take it in - a damned shame, as it turned out!

This was a seriously weird venue - 2 indoor rooms pumping out alt. rock, but the gig itself was in the courtyard outside! The stage was set up in the corner, a couple of large tarpaulins suspended between the trees shielded us from the elements, and we sat around an ornamental pond in the middle. Odd!

However the venue itself was out-weirded by first support Mutilated Mannequins, who turned out to be quite the worst band we'd seen for a very very long time! A 3-piece consisting of two very bad transvestites and one actual woman, they peddled a form of dirge-like electro pop. However what made them so unbearable was the black "vocalist" - his voice was unimaginably horrible, both nasal and grating, out of key and like a cat going through a mangle. No-one clapped at all after one song, and at one point I looked in desperation at the sound guy behind the mixing desk, who just looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. That's how bad they were!

It couldn't get any worse after that, and the Harlem Shakes, next up, were an improvement, although they were a clumsy Killers rip-off, all suit jackets and pseudo-funky dance-rock beats. They finished with "Sickos", easily their best number, but didn't leave that much of an impression.

So, just before midnight (as we'd started to flag a little), an eager compere hopped onstage to introduce Idlewild to "Club Moscow"(?). Idlewild themselves were clearly, erm, "well-refreshed", and ready to kick some ass, and opened with a thrashy, unhinged version of the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated"! "So you're in that kind of mood, are you?" I shouted at Roddy as he launched into "I Am What I Am Not", and also launched into the audience, singing this and most of the subsequent set from the floor, barely feet from us!

"I like it down here, I think I'm going to stay here!" quoth Rod, as the band, onstage, ranted through a punk rock set of oldies. Visceral, fast, unhinged, raggedy-arsed and messy as all heck, everything they're not able to be in the UK, this was thrilling "live" rock'n'roll!

Complimented the boys afterwards before we hit the road. It's been a total pleasure to have Idlewild provide the soundtrack to our honeymoon!

682 SUPERGRASS, Son Of Dave, Wednesday 19 October 2005

Back in the UK following our honeymoon, but quickly back on the gig trail; this, the first of 4 in 7 days (!) came barely 3 days after touching down at Heathrow! A text from an old friend, now on the South Coast, prompted us to take a trip down on a wet Wednesday night to Southampton, to catch up with a band we've liked but not slavishly adored. So Supergrass, what are you up to these days?

Met our friends Doug and Sarah, who kindly fronted us the tix (free gig! My favourite!) and wandered into this large venue whilst Son Of Dave, a one-man busking disaster, was studiously ignored by all.

Da 'Grass came on prompt at 9.15, vocalist Gaz Coombs sporting a flop-hat and fat acoustic guitar, and giving the impression of a travelling hobo bluesman. Quite fitting really, as the material from new album "Road To Rouen" was quite a departure, being smoky slow acoustic bar-room blues, almost like Mike Gent's slower, rootsier Gentlemen moments. However the joint really jumped when they delved into their back catalogue, such as for an early "Caught By The Fuzz", a flippant and punky adrenaline rush, or 3 numbers from the end, a soaring "Richard III" which got Doug and myself into the mosh, singing along to the upbeat Britpop of the subsequent "Grace" and "Pumping On Your Stereo". A creepy "Strange Ones" encore climaxed an entertaining and worthwhile set which I'm glad Doug called us about. No "Alright", of course - thankfully they leave their overplayed best-known number out these days - but overall Supergrass; still alright!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

683 BOWLING FOR SOUP, AMERICAN HI-FI, MC Lars, Cardiff University, Friday 21 October 2005

The gig pace continues, and after one of my most horrible days at work ever, leading to my being sent home to cool off, I really needed the healing power of rock'n'roll, so I thanked the Lord for the Hi-Fi, added to this bill after we'd gotten tix! Took 2 hours to get to Cardiff, though, thanks to rain, Friday night traffic and half-term holidaymakers. Found the venue easily enough, but finding our way in was another matter, through this rabbit warren!

Eventually we got in and hooked up with the Big Man, preferring the bar and good company to the horrible carcrash that was "punk rock rapper" MC Lars. We then took a wander into the main hall, and, noticing old Boston buddy, The Hi-Fi's Jamie Arentzen, hooking up onstage, we dived down the front. Good thing too, as seconds later the rest of the Hi-Fi joined him onstage, immediately breaking into a powerful version of "The Art Of Losing". By then we were down the front - unfortunately behind some obvious first time gig-goers, who insisted on elbowing and kicking us throughout the set - and as normal, we were spotted and greeted by Jamie during the first number, and by Stacy at the end!

American Hi-Fi were just what I needed - raw, visceral powerpop rock'n'roll played hard and heavy, and Rachel and I moshed like crazy, blowing away the cares of the day. A whole shedload of oldies were augmented with the more strident and rocking moments from new, mellower and poppier CD "Hearts On Parade", although "Another Perfect Day" and the brilliantly sing-along "Flavor Of The Weak" won the day for me. However, their entire set recalled their brilliant 2001 Reading Festival set - equally thrilling and timely!

After that, I'm afraid The Soup stood no chance really. In fact we missed half their set (and the chance to watch them from backstage, which the Big Man took) as we chose to chat and catch up with the Hi-Fi boys. Some brilliant moments here also - "introducing" myself to Stacy as he'd apparently drawn a blank on me when Rich had mentioned my name at the Bristol gig one week earlier; and Jamie commenting on my and Rachel's recent wedding by saying, "yeah, I remember when you used to come and stay at my place, and you were all like, "this is my friend"!". No fooling Mr. Arentzen! We also had a long chat with Drew, and introduced ourselves to new sticksman Jason Sutter, an old friend of Phil Hurley's who claimed to be the Gigolo Aunts' first ever drummer!

We did eventually watch some of Bowling For Soup's set, which featured the usual fun antics, banter, upbeat punky pop and good harmonies, and went down an absolute storm with this young crowd, but for us the rock behemoth that is American Hi-Fi won the night tonight! Bade our farewells and hit the road after BFS' set finished, enduring an appalling storm on the way home. But it was well worth it thanks to American Hi-Fi!

684 MEW, Envy And Other Sins, Bristol Fleece, Sunday 23 October 2005

More Mew? You bet! Their second tour in the space of a month saw us getting tix for the Bristol show, so we drove down in inclement weather, hitting the Fleece just after 8 and just in time for another one of Mew's dubious support bands.

Or so we thought! Envy And Other Sins had a horrible name, and sported Farmers Boys-style waistcoats and neckties, so could quite easily have been a disaster. However this Birmingham 4-piece were much better than that - tunes with the urgency of early Marion, a quirky, quintessentially British attitude similar to British Sea Power, and a zeitgeisty XTC/ Gang Of Four sound nevertheless wrapped round some fine hooky choruses. One to watch, perhaps...

I took a quick squirt before Mew's due time of 9.15, bumping into drummer Silas on the way out, so I wished him a good gig. Took my place with Rachel down the front, stage left, for Mew's eventual entrance at 9.30. Operating largely with the same set as their 2 recent shows, with a couple of tweaks to satisfy and surprise us regulars, Mew were once again magnificent in themselves, their performance and the articulation of their deliciously crafted sound, despite a blown speaker near us fuzzing things up a little. Once again, like their recent Portsmouth gig, the Sunday Bristol crowd seemed flat and relatively unresponsive - don't these people know when they're in the presence of true musical greatness?

In many ways, Mew have become my "home team" for me, as Echo And The Bunnymen were in the 80's, epitomising everything a rock band should be. Other-worldly, untouchable, glacially cool in both music and style, ready to rock and emote in equal measure, never less than brilliant "live". Once again "Zookeepers Boy" stood out as a, "what the fuck was that???!!!" moment, and whilst "She Came Home For Christmas" sounded a little thin, the funky "Special" ("about Mika," joked Bo, before singer Jonas cut him dead with a surprisingly hard stare) sounded tough, strident and never better.

Encores "Apocalypso" and "Comforting Sounds" ("this one's called "Mika"", said Bo again - luckily Jonas wasn't around at this point) capped another stunning set, which I have to say this crowd really did not deserve. Home in filthy weather - but we'd drive through any conditions to see Mew right now!

685 AMERICAN HI-FI, Johnny Panic, London Garage, Tuesday 25 October 2005

Fourth of 4 gigs in 7 days, and possibly the last of 9 in October. Not bad for an old (25 days old!) married couple - however we sleep for the rest of the month! This time we were joined by Tim and Penny for the Hi-Fi's sole headliner before their own rest period, following a hectic tour supporting Bowling For Soup. Left just after 6, parking up in Highbury at 8.15.

Joined an unexpected queue to get in - discovered they were "carding" people, and a number of ticketholders without ID had been refused entry. No such problems for us oldies, and we hit the venue while the horribly clumsy and out-of-key nu-metal first support were on.

A busy evening here tonight, busier than anticipated, but still the Hi-Fi braved the throng! Said hey to Drew, who was taking a quick turn behind the merch stand, then spoke at greater length to a slightly frazzled Jamie, a bullish Jason and an upbeat Stacy, who informed me he was nicking my idea of wearing a Cheap Trick t-shirt tonight with the line, "great minds think alike," and was the subject of some teeny adulation from a couple of girlies. Johnny Panic, onstage during this time, were a better prospect than the first band, but still innocuous nu-punk noise.

We later saw Stacy prowling around the venue holding the set-lists, just minutes before they were due onstage. No elaborate pre-gig rituals for the Hi-Fi, then! This of course is the crux of American Hi-Fi - no fuss, no nonsense, just good honest power-poppy rock'n'roll. They burst on, exactly on time at 10, strapped on, plugged in and just played, and once again totally rocked the joint!

"Thanks for coming along to the rock show," introduced Jamie before a thrashy yet thrilling "Break-Up Song". The early set whipped by in a frenzy as the Hi-Fi, tired yet determined to rock, played a ragged, occasionally messy yet exciting set. Whereas "Hi-Fi Killer" sounded disjointed, "Another Perfect Day" was perfectly executed, and an impromptu "Radio Radio", the old Elvis Costello number, was splendidly loose, Drew taking a lead verse and managing to sound just like Costello!

I joined the mosh toward the end, where somehow the Hi-Fi made much more sense. A brilliant "Wall Of Sound" closer, another Jamie-supplied set-list and a quick drive home ensued. Tired, ragged and raw, yet still brilliantly rocking from American Hi-Fi!

686 NADA SURF, John Vanderslice, Bristol Fleece, Sunday 23 November 2005

Thanks to a handful of exemplary, incendiary shows and a gloriously melancholic yet uplifting album in "Let Go", Nada Surf elevated themselves to the ranks of the very very special bands last time out. That, however, was a couple of years ago. What could we expect from 'da Surf, 2005?

Well, a delicious new album, "The Weight Is A Gift", a real grower rather than an immediate hit, whetted the appetite for more. So here we go, another Sunday night down to the Fleece! Hit the venue at 8 - a sell-out show but quiet early doors, so got the drinks in, Rachel got a t-shirt and we took a good spot stage right.

Surf vocalist Matt Caws spotted us and came over to say hello, which was cool! He then hopped onstage to provide an effusive introduction for support John Vanderslice, a fellow US Barsuk Records recording artiste. We'd checked out his website earlier, concluding he was a cracked, introspective singer-songwriter in the Elliott Smith mould; however with drummer and back-up tape machine in tow, he kicked off with some countrified powerpop licks a la Paul Westerberg or Tommy Keene. This then evolved into quieter, quirkier Americana, similar to 80's REM, including one number from this San Francisco native which totally recalled "Losing My Religion"! Overall a very favourable impression.

Took a spot stage left as the Surf boys gathered offstage, then hopped on to little fanfare at 9.15. After a sing-along "Blizzard Of '77" intro, they kicked into a clutch of openers which despite their efforts (especially the kinetic Daniel, deadlocks flying in all directions) sounded introspective and a little flat. Strumming along merrily they may have been, but they just weren't catching fire, which wasn't helped by a static, seemingly uninterested Bristol crowd.

"80 Windows" changed all that. The high watermark of their canon, it was glorious, heartbreaking and uplifting, and marked a sea change in the set. Thereafter, they went from introspective Sebadoh-like naval gazing, to power, pomp and pride, the quiet beauty of their music now layered with more oomph. New one "Always Love" led the charge, the rallying cry of "Imaginary Friends" kept the momentum, and the bare confessional of "Do It Again" was the summit.

A lovely "Paper Boats" featured Matt borrowing lines from Echo And The Bunnymen's "Ocean Rain", before "The Way You Wear Your Head" and final encore "Hyperspace" spat with venom and soared with power. Nada Surf are well and truly back!

Got my set-list signed too as the house lights came up - apart from Daniel who doesn't do such things, but who offered a beer and gave me a pick and a hug instead! Fair enough. Also, Matt stopped packing away to play "Bacardi" to a small group of after-hours hangers-on, including Rach and myself. They're back in the Spring - so are we!

687 THE CRIMEA, People In Planes, The Heights, Bristol Louisiana, Wednesday 23 November 2005

Rachel picked up the CD from former Crockett Davey McManus' new band The Crimea in Amoeba Records in Hollywood, so wanted to check them out "live". Mellower than the totally manic Crocketts, I was intrigued as to how McManus' crazed "live" performances would fit in with his new charges' more sedate stuff. Triumph or disaster? Let's see...

So we lost our way again down to the Louisiana, but arrived at this sell-out show just as the Heights were finishing off their set with a spiky number. Shame we didn't see more of them, rather than the ham-fisted People In Planes, whose grungy noise improved as their set wore on, but could still do with more rehearsal time!

McManus, looking smaller than I recalled and actually resembling Matt Damon, according to Rach (!), led a sharpish soundcheck in front of the packed crowd, and The Crimea then took the stage at 10.15 to the sound of breaking glass. Their set was slow-burning, uneasy mood music which had a definite sleazy and sinister undercurrent. Slower and mellower than the Crocketts, yes, but the air of underlying menace remains. McManus, whilst reining in his craziness somewhat, still performed with the jerky, twitchy attitude of a St. Vitus Dance sufferer, still the performer who once prompted Rachel to declare she was, "not entirely not scared of him!" "Girl That Died", with it's catchy hookline, "You want to see my happy side? Tell me that my girl just died" (!) was typical of the paradoxical nature of their lyrics, fitting in perfectly with the music's creepy mood.

The set built to a crescendo, with all band members joining McManus in going nuts onstage, before Davey performed the first encore amongst the crowd! To lighten the mood, a bubble blizzard erupted during a jolly final encore double-punch of the Rubinoos' "I Think We're Alone Now" and their signature "Lottery Winners On Acid" to cap a fine set. I complimented a sweaty Davey on the way out - this was definitely triumph!

688 BRITISH SEA POWER, Electric Soft Parade, British Sea Power (erm...), Oxford Brookes University, Saturday 26 November 2005

A horrible journey down made me wish I'd tried harder to persuade Rachel to go to the Monday night Bierkeller gig instead. The AA directions sent us round the ring-road to get us to the Point Roundabout (which we bloody well know how to get to anyway, and a damn sight quicker than that!), then we totally lost our way after that. It did turn out ultimately to be easier than expected - first turning off the aforementioned roundabout, then straight up the hill and it's on the left!

The venue hadn't got their shit together booking in the e-tickets either, so after an unnecessary queue, we hit the venue just after British Sea Power had come onstage for their opening set. An interesting concept, which garnered a lot of interest from the already busy crowd; they played a low-key opening set of mostly obscure stuff, which was fairly innocuous really apart from the closing track, which sped up and slowed down a few times! Intriguing.

Electric Soft Parade were next up; now in reduced circumstances following the end of their major label deal, but still demonstrating a good ear for a simple melodic pop tune, evidenced by a number of new choons from an EP we picked up at the gig. "Silent To The Dark", their finest moment, was hurried, unfortunately, losing its' lush harmonic charm in the process. Nevertheless, there's still life in ESP yet!

Tried to get a good view in this appalling eyeline venue, ending up stage right for BSP, on at 9.40. The BSP massive, replete with branches and leaves as usual, welcomed the Gregorian chanting preceding their entrance. They've now added more structure to their Bunnymen-esque choppy rhythms and atmosphere, and their best new number, "It Ended On An Oily Stage", kicked off this fine set. "Remember Me", the choppy, frantic number covered by none other than the Wurzels (!) on a split 7" we also picked up here, followed, vocalist Yan making up for his vocal deficiencies with a fine, nervous energy-fuelled performance. Now evolved into more than just the sum of their obvious influences, BSP are now a more reliable act, and this set, whilst a little overlong, highlighted their improved tunesmithery. Good stuff - almost making up for the nightmare journey, horrible venue, e-ticket-mare, ignorant crowd, etc. etc...

689 NED'S ATOMIC DUSTBIN, Mika Bomb, My Pet Junkie, London Kentish Town Forum, Saturday 10 December 2005

2005's last gig was payback for my dragging Rachel along to see Stiff Little Fingers and Love - a Ned's Atomic Dustbin gig which I'd actually persuaded her to go for, so she could revisit one of her first musical loves. Still, we had a day shopping in Camden and a Wagamama's in Islington beforehand, so not a total loss from my viewpoint!

Hit the deserted venue at 7.30, and chilled before the supports. My Pet Junkie featured a totally virtuoso drummer, a little bloke who made his drumming look like a sped-up film! The other 2 band members were utterly superfluous - all eyes were on the drummer! So much so, that at the end of the creepy but over-elaborate set, he (just he) got a standing ovation! Weird! Better than Mika Bomb though, who were a gang of Japanese punk girlies who played it hard and fast but mostly tuneless, like a very poor man's Shonen Knife.

The place was fuller by now, with half the crowd stuck in aspic since Phoenix 1994, seemingly. Neds came on to the "Wonder Woman" theme, mainly shorn of the long hair and dreads, and hamming it up like fantasy band camp. I'd not really enjoyed them first time around, and this was no different. For me, an unremarkable set of sub-Wonderstuff fraggly rock, better the older the songs were (viz the very good "Grey Cells Green" and an early "Until You Find Out"), but still passing me by. Rach enjoyed it though, happy that it wasn't as messy as she'd feared.

"I dunno about you lot, but I'm knackered," said the energetic vocalist Jonn, as they hit the final set number "Throwing Things". A good, frantic "Kill Your Television" was the inevitable encore, capping a crowdpleasing set. Not for me, though!

690 BOB MOULD, Si Connelly, Bristol Fleece, Monday 23 January 2006

A remarkable one to start off this new 2006 gig year. Rachel opted out, but Tim and Penny were up for this solo performance from one of the great guitar icons.

Parked in a spot immediately outside the venue (shoo-perb!) and had a drink in the pub next door, before hitting the venue just after 9. Support Si Connelly was on, a young chap who, judging by his plaintive warble and vocal gymnastics, had been listening to far too much Jeff Buckley. Nevertheless, a good set from a fine voice occasionally let down by his material. He was "very very" grateful for the applause, anyway! Bob himself wandered into the venue as we were watching Si, then we wandered down the front as Bob set up.

"Let's get this thing started, it's a school night after all," announced Bob, heralding his set at 9.30. "Wishing Well" from 1989's classic "Workbook" was first up, a passionate, intense opener, with Bob's low growl of a voice strident and sure. This was the template for the set - a retrospective of Husker Du/ Sugar/ solo material, played with a being-broken-in semi-acoustic, and a primal howl full of emotion. Nevertheless, it wasn't all heavy going, as Bob, looking slim and obviously content with life (for once!), told a funny story about being caught up in customs without his work permit, before the customs supervisor admitted to being a fan and letting him through. This story also featured a self-aimed joke about Big Gay Bob's sexual preference, so obviously he's in a happy place!

And so were we - right down the front, we had a perfect view of this intense and supreme demonstration of the singer-guitarist's art. A brilliant "See A Little Light" was my highlight, and "Hardly Getting Over It" a heart-cracking, drawn-out elegy, before the new guitar was abandoned in favour of a late full-on electric assault from the trusty blue Fender Strat. Husker Du classics "I Apologise" and "Celebrated Summer", and the encore triad of "Egooverride" and the brilliantly catchy "If I Could Change Your Mind" and "Makes No Sense at All" rounded off the set noisily and thrillingly.

Bob himself swiped his set-list and put it back in his bag, so I just (ha!) contented myself with shaking the great man's hand, telling him I'd seen him 17 years ago on the "Workbook" tour, and he was just as good tonight as then, for which he humbly thanked me. A great moment, to end a great night.

691 MEW, Envy And other Sins, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Thursday 9 February 2006

Suffering with a banging migraine today, but there was no way I'd miss this gig! This, Mew's biggest UK headliner to date, promised to be a real event, so we were on our way at 6, Rachel and myself with Tim and Penny, parking up at 8 and just missing first band the Perishers. Shame.

Took a position by the bar, stage right, as the place filled up - mainly with tall blond/e people who insisted on standing in front of us! Main support Envy And Other Sins were on at 8.30 - as before they were togged up like the Farmer's Boys and playing some frenetic post-Britpop New Wave jangle. For some reason, their itchy rhythms and intrinsic tunefulness recalled Kaiser Chiefs and a bit of Hot Hot Heat's bounciness, and despite being a bit lost on the big stage, they made a favourable impression again, with some memorable tunes.

So all was set for the entrance of Mew at 9.30. A rejigged stage set-up, with Johan on a riser behind vocalist Jonas, and Silas' drumkit to one side, also reflected a reworked set, with Silas' drum stomp getting the opening taut, funky "Special" under way. This, in fitting with their new-found status as Empire hosts, reflected a heightened sense of perfection and professionalism, all the hard work immediately worthwhile. Next up, "Shelter", occasionally discordant, had never sounded better, and the opening of "Am I Wry? No", like surf breaking in your face, was both refreshing and shocking in its strident noise.

We were spot-on with our pre-gig belief that this was an "event", perfectly planned and executed to the letter, the weird, baroque and dreamlike imagery projected onto the backdrop dovetailing perfectly into the ephemeral, gossamer quality of the music and untouchable cool of the band themselves. Spontaneous it was definitely not, with each move mapped with military precision. But it gave up none of its awe, beauty or emotion as a consequence. "Zookeepers Boy", this time late on in the set, was once again the brilliant highlight, at which point Rach and I decanted to the back to watch the set finale. Encores of "She Spider", jagged and harsh, and a soothing final "Comforting Sounds" rounded off this perfect 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Elation mixed with melancholy afterwards - as Mew get bigger and bigger, they're being swept up by undeserving people, as our less-than-joyful gig experience tonight (too many people, too rude, too tall!) proved. However, they deserve it, of that there's no doubt, and overall, it's been a pleasure and a privilege to accompany them on another step towards their inevitable superstardom.

692 STELLASTARR*, The Morning After Girls, Oxford Zodiac, Thursday 23 February 2006

It's been snowing all day but luckily didn't settle, so we were all up for this gig from NYC's Stellastarr*, a band who followed up the undoubted promise of a debut album by delivering 2005's most consistently excellent CD in their sophomore effort, "Harmonies For The Haunted". We'd picked said CD up on our honeymoon last October, but it was only just getting a UK release, hence this tour! So Tim accompanied Rachel and myself to Oxford, missing first band The Heights and heading straight to the bar, which was very empty at this shamefully sparsely populated venue. Oxford; Stellastarr* are great, don't you know that?

Main support The Morning After Girls, on at 8.10 for this early curfew gig, were reasonable, throwing atmospheric shoegazey shapes, but without any tunes to rub together, all this shimmering ephemeral guitar noise seemed a little aimless. Come back when you've mastered this verse-chorus-verse-chorus shtick, boys...

I'd announced my intention of starting a Stellastarr* moshpit (by myself if necessary!) to Tim and Rach in the bar, so we had a wander down the front for the entrance of the real NYC rock royalty, on at 9. They wandered coolly on in that "just took a wrong turn on the way to the bar" way, that the coolest bands seem to have, then casually plugged in and kicked off with the haunting, brooding "Lost In Time", the new CD opener. This was super-fine and emotive, despite Shaun's voice sounding a little ragged.

After this moody opener, however, the set turned into a full-on rock show, raw, ragged and savagely elemental. The tuneful precision of their CDs was gleefully abandoned in favour of hard rocking, riff-tastic balls-out versions of their superbly crafted and catchy songs. This was the type of set which American Hi-Fi do so supremely - powerful, visceral, thrashy, far from precise and occasionally sloppy, with bum notes aplenty, but when it's this much fun, who cares, right kids?

Stellastarr*s music evokes the 80's rock landscape with its big sweeping tunes, intricate guitar patterns, and haunting vocals from this young man Shaun Christiansen, possessor of a voice old way beyond his years, deep and weighty. They'd fit perfectly alongside the likes of Echo And The Bunnymen or Modern English, but nowadays share peer influences with The Stills and Interpol, bands using the 80's rockist template as inspiration rather than photocopy. The dark, brooding nature of their new material was evident in superbly rocking versions of "Damn This Foolish Heart" and "Sweet Troubled Soul", whilst "On My On" featured a raw, bleeding portrayal of life after a bitter break-up, with a tortured vocal to match from Shaun. "My Coco", their bouncy, euphoric and best-known number, actually saw a mosh (other than myself!) develop, and an unhinged "Pulp Song" brought a ragged, breathtaking set to a close.

Encores "Somewhere Across Forever" and the frantic "Jenny" closed an excellent hour. Ragged as hell but not lacking in entertainment for that, Stellastarr* rocked the house tonight!

693 JULIANA HATFIELD, Chris Colbourn and Hilken Mancini, London Shepherd's Bush Bush Hall, Wednesday 8 March 2006

The first gig in a hectic March was the much-anticipated return of an old Boston favourite who'd not muddied these shores since 1995! Indeed she only played Reading Festival that year, having cancelled a solo tour earlier that year due to nervous exhaustion. The excellent Fuzzy were scheduled tour support, and I had tickets - d'oh! Anyway, enthusiasm for this was initially tempered by the news from EdV that Juliana was "flying solo" on this tour, rather than bringing her band - which included both Ed and fellow Gravel Pit man Pete Caldes! Then enthusiasm was revived by Buffalo Tom man Chris Colbourn and ex-Fuzzy vocalist Hilken Mancini being announced as support. Lose some, win some...

So Tim, Penny and I scooted down the M4, parking up and meeting Rachel (working/ shopping in London today!) in the venue just before Chris and Hilken's set at 8.15. They were all amped up and accompanied by a drummer, which unfortunately tended to smother their fine vocal interplay somewhat. The set, almost exclusively from their fine recent CD, was beset with sound problems, and their Buffalo Tom gone country (the apples don't fall too far from the tree, after all!) easy melodic material occasionally sounded discordant. That said, a brilliant "Darl" was a real highlight, and the set overall was entertaining despite the issues, Chris insisting on introducing each track as either a "good girl" or a "bad girl" song!

Juliana was next up, prompting a mass of male movement towards the front, even to take pix of her tuning up! Looking older and stick-thin, Juliana kicked off with a technically-beset "Hotel" which needed 3 attempts to finish! This unfortunately set the tone for her set - she seemed distracted, why particularly we didn't know, but it consequently felt that the opening numbers were a chore for her, until an excellent "Girl In A Box" seemed to rescue things somewhat. However, 20 minutes and a fine "Everybody Loves Me But You" later, we nipped into the bar, disappointed that she didn't have the whole band with her, as in the acoustic stakes her melodic college pop doesn't have the quality of, say, the Lemonheads material, and solo, it just seemed a little flimsy and lacking much-needed oomph.

However a disappointing evening was rescued by our running into Chris Colbourn at the bar, who remembered us from various Boston encounters, and we spent time chatting and being bought drinks by this very affable Bostonian. Popped back in for the denouement, which included a discordant "Spin The Bottle" and a good "Raisans", and Juliana promising to bring her band next time. Let's hope so!

Monday, 14 December 2009

694 DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, John Vanderslice, Oxford Brookes University, Saturday 11 March 2006

Bloody Brookes again? D'oh! When I originally booked tix for this show, it was scheduled for the infinitely preferable Zodiac, but demand saw it switched to the bigger Brookes venue, which also then sold out! Flip! Tim and Penny were also due to come with us, but they had clashing commitments so backed out. Perhaps they just didn't want to go to this horrible venue!

So, Rachel and I set off at about 7.30 with somewhat heavy hearts, not really looking forward to this one. We found the place OK this time, but again an unnecessarily long queue coupled with attempts to sell Tim's tickets (we managed to flog one) meant it took nearly 15 minutes after arriving to get in, and we missed all but the last half of the last John Vanderslice number! As he had a band with him this time, this would have been worth watching...

So we got drinks and wandered around the venue in the usual futile search for an adequate viewing spot, eventually settling for an angled view stage left by the entrance to the toilets! Great...

Death Cab For Cutie sauntered casually on at 10 to 9 - early! Good on 'em! - and kicked off with the opener to their recent very fine "Plans" CD. A band who've never come close to matching their brilliant 2002 "Photo Album" CD for me, their set tonight was nevertheless much better than my last viewing at the aforementioned Zodiac. Their intricate and introspective bedsit ballads were played with care and respect this time, and they only "rocked out" when there was a specific need (e.g. the middle 8 to the excellent "We Laugh Indoors"). Wordsmith and vocalist Ben Gibbard was in playful mood, but the song delivery tonight was deliberate, controlled and appropriate. Very fine indeed - certainly more than the venue, or the static and unappreciative audience, deserved!

A sinewy "Movie Script Ending" (one of only 2 "Photo Album" numbers tonight - boo!) and set closer "Sound Of Settling" were the highlights until the encore, which provided a faithful cover of REM's classic "Driver 8", and a triumphant, end of tour "Transatlanticism", which included John Vanderslice and his band getting a piece of the action. Great finish, fine set, poor audience, crap venue!

695 THE WONDER STUFF, Amsterdam, Doolittle, Bristol Bierkeller, Tuesday 14 March 2006

Back to 80's "local" The Bierkeller again, and an 80's feel completed by headliners The Wonder Stuff, now plying their trade in somewhat reduced circumstances, out of the music media glare. Nevertheless, the lure was sufficient to attract Rachel and myself, plus pretty much Tim's entire family! So we parked up in the inordinately expensive NCP at 8, getting in as openers Doolittle were kicking off their dull, wallpaper music, drum machine-led set. We particularly turned our noses up at bland covers of the Stuffies "On The Ropes" and Eat's classic 90's track "Shame". However, I didn't click on until after the set that Doolittle was actually Ange of Eat fame, formerly one hell of a dynamic performer but now just evidently treading water. How the mighty have fallen...

Chilled out at the bar as the place filled up and Amsterdam plied their more upbeat but still instantly forgettable folky rock. Noticed both Miles and Malc wandering around the venue with impunity, and also Phil Hurley's old buddy Russ Hunt!

The place was however still only about 3/4 full as we wandered onto the dancefloor fringe at the back for the arrival of the Stuffies at 9.30. An ebullient Miles larking around from the off and using his usual, "how the fuck are ya?" greeting, was evidently in fine fooling, gregarious and relaxed. The set however initially disappointed with poor sound (where are the guitars?) but an early "On The Ropes" entertained, and by "A Wish Away", a couple of numbers along, they were in full flow.

The classic 80's-90's Stuffies this may not be, but this band were always all about Miles Hunt; his swagger, his creativity in writing and performing their upbeat, flippant, slightly arrogant yet humorous and self-effacing folk-tinged pop rock. This was all in evidence tonight as the NME, "Neighbours", the music press, the NME (!) and other usual targets came under fire, "Let's go after the James Blunt crowd - with knives!" being a typical example of Mile's outpourings tonight. An hour long set, brought to an end by an earth-shaking "Ten Trenches Deep", preceded about 45 further minutes of mainly "Groove Machine" encores, and the unusual sound of Miles actually praising his audience! They earned their money tonight - reduced circumstances these may be, but The Wonder Stuff still know how to entertain!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

696 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, Gold Blade, Blood And Whisky, Bristol Academy, Wednesday 22 March 2006

Another night out for the old punks Big Man and myself, as Rachel opted out of another SLF gig! So, we drove down, getting there nice and early, as Rich wanted to check out first support Blood And Whisky. A raggedy-arsed bunch of old punks and traveller types from Ireland, they played a punked-up Irish jiggery pokery, fast and frantic, like an unhinged Flogging Molly. Lots of fun but I couldn't eat a whole one! Much better however than main support Gold Blade, the former Membranes line-up playing clumsy hardcore punk rock, loud, fast and dynamic but totally tuneless!

But SLF was what we were here for, and we joined the throng of old punks and their kids (!) on the dancefloor, stage left. Coming on to the usual sing-along chant "Guitar And Drum", the Fingers joined us to a huge ovation from the now-full Academy. You get exactly what it says on the tin from this lot - vintage punk rock, occasionally politicised, occasionally personal, but invariably sing-along, bursting with conviction and bristling with venom, despite the band's advancing years. Tonight was no different, despite Jake suffering with a horrible cold which he kept apologising for, and which made his voice sound even more rasping, if that's possible. Joined again by original bassist Ali McMordie (who was clearly in fantasy band camp tonight, whooping it up throughout), Jake led the boys through a fun, rocking old set initially beset with technical problems, but sorted out by the continuing flow of punk classics. "Tin Soldiers", "Nobody's Hero", an affecting "Strummerville", a frantic "At The Edge", a venomous "Wasted Life" and solitary encore "Alternative Ulster"; the hits kept coming in another entertaining 1 hour 20 minute set.

Always worth the effort; Stiff Little Fingers are still burning!

697 SECRET MACHINES, Oxford Zodiac, Thursday 23 March 2006

Ah, Secret Machines, Secret Machines... the best new band by default only of a truncated Reading Festival 2004, a band who had then taken a step up following a fine Interpol support slot later that year, but who had still flown under my radar since, due to a Spiritualized-like tendency to sonic monotony at the expense of tunes. That is, until recent sighting of the video for new single "Lightning Blue Eyes" which surprised me with its power, concise punchiness and verve. So I sorted tix for this one, unfortunately prior to the new CD release, with a challenge to Secret Machines. Could they make the step up from promising support to quality headliners?

Rachel and I hit the venue at 8.30, having left this late so missing the support, and having only Bowie's "Scary Monsters" over the PA to amuse us until Secret Machines arrived at 9.10. The trio took the black back-lit stage to the sound of a synth driven nuclear meltdown (so it seemed), and initially tried to match it, in mood at least!

The first 4 strobe-lit numbers took 35 minutes to dispatch, each veering from monotonous to absorbing to metronomic and back again! They share 80's gloomy headspace with Interpol et al, but go overboard on the drone factor. The poor sound and slightly ham-fisted drumming (still!) added to my difficulty - my random thoughts included, "playing shoegaze in Oxford; like carrying coals to Newcastle, isn't it?", "actually, this is a bit proggy at times, like Pure Reason Revolution" (Rach also noticed this unfortunate comparison), and "if my head was inside a washing machine, would it sound like this?"

Then, after an almost bluesy stomp, a superb "Lightning Blue Eyes" lit the place up, and suddenly I realise - it's the Drop Nineteens all over again! The Drops, Boston's early 90's purveyors of shoegazey soundscapes, had one utterly brilliant song, "Winona", reducing all their others into pallid and frustrating insignificance. Such are this lot - "Lightning Blue Eyes" is strident, concise and superbly catchy, whilst retaining Secret Machines' love of metronomic delivery. Why, oh why, don't they have more like it??

A couple of numbers later (including a naked version of Dylan's "North County Fair") we were gone, having given Secret Machines an hour and gotten one song and a mess of frustration back. Guys, you can do it; write more songs like "Lightning Blue Eyes" and you could be one hell of a band...

698 NADA SURF, The Feeling, Inara George, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Tuesday 28 March 2006

The best gig thus far of a nascent 2006 started with us, still tired from a weekend in Worthing visiting friends, grumbling about being dragged up to London on a school night, and ended with us eulogising over an utterly perfect show from one of the best and most important bands on the planet right now. So here's the story...

Rachel and I grumbled and groused our way up to London in the horrible rain, getting into Shepherds Bush and parking up at 10 to 8, waiting in the car until 8 when it was legal to park, which also meant we walked into the venue just as Inara George finished her last number. Got drinks in and wandered down to a spot stage right as the place filled up. Ran into Idlewild guitarist Rod, who'd apparently been backing Inara; he remembered us from California - after a little prompting - and we had a brief chat.

Heard good reports about main support The Feeling, so we were buoyed by their impressive start, a powerpop number laden with 3-part harmony and a great chorus. Unfortunately it went downhill from there, as the remainder of their set took on a schizophrenic quality, veering from quirky Zutons-lite to Aerosmithy power ballads, folk-tinged rock like The Fat Lady Sings and a fine closer which recalled the rock stomp of Waltham! Their best numbers bookended their set, but this was definitely a case of mixed Feelings...!

It got busier in our little area as Nada Surf's stage set-up, featuring huge cymbals as reflecting mirrors, was adjusted before they wandered on, halfway through Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" backing track, at 9.15. No pissing about this time, no early flat feeling - this time da Surf were straight on it with the stomping bass of "High Speed Soul". The early numbers set the tone - veering between the last 2 albums, it was perfectly paced, understated when called for, strident and rocking when allowed, and sounding clear as a bell.

Again, an early "80 Windows" was a brilliant highlight, but "Inside Of Love", featuring audience participation swaying conducted by vocalist Matt Caws, topped that for heartfelt emotion. Matt, evidently buoyed by headlining here for their biggest UK date ("the last time we were here the Vines gave us 22 minutes!") was affable, chatting throughout as if to old friends. This wonderfully melodic and emotive set wore its' influences on its' sleeve for all to see (a beautifully understated cover of the Smiths "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"; snatches of the Bunnymen's "Ocean Rain" during a stark "Paper Boats", partially duetted with Inara George, and the "Stalemate" middle 8 segue into Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart") but was always uniquely Nada Surf, perfect and pure.

"This is for all of you who drove tonight," thanked Matt as he introduced "Always Love" and we were enthralled. A quicker 1 3/4 hours (including generous encore) I've rarely spent at a gig. The final 2 numbers - a quirky one about a kitten (!) and the thrilling "Hyperspace" brought a brilliant set (which we'd enjoyed from 3 rows from the front of the stage, after getting twitchy feet and pushing forward to dance) to a close. Home for 12.30 - late but elated. As I mentioned - best of 2006 so far!

699 KAISER CHIEFS, Graham Coxon, Polysics, Birmingham NIA, Wednesday 26 April 2006

Oddly enough we weren't looking forward to this one so much by the time it arrived. I'd first come across Kaiser Chiefs a couple of years previously, latching on to their excellent "I Predict A Riot" single first time around, then trying to persuade Rachel to get tix for their Spring 2005 Bristol Anson Rooms gig. Rach preferred to wait until she heard the album, so we did, and on the day of its release the whole tour sold out! D'oh! Further tours went the same way, so it was that we had to get tix to see a band with one album behind them, in a cavernous 13,000 capacity arena. In the meantime, the KCs had become ubiquitous; Live 8 appearances, backing music of "Match Of The Day", and 3 releases for that "Riot" single in total! Overexposed, overhyped, we were getting a little sick of Kaiser Chiefs, so we set off at 4.30 with slight trepidation, accentuated by Rach's loathing for "big gigs".

A good run saw us parking at 6.30 and into this cavernous venue - which we'd last visited to take Evan to see Monster Trucks! - early doors to watch it fill up. Bitched about all the gig virgins to pass the time before Polysics joined us at 7.30. They were horrible - a car crash of all the worst bits of Shonen Knife, Kraftwerk and Devo, only without any tunes. The less said the better...

Main support, former Blur man Graham Coxon, was a much different proposition. He thrashed wildly like it was 1977 all over again, with short, snappy New Wave punky pop soundbites recalling the likes of the Buzzcocks, Jilted John and even the Shapes (I was half expecting a "Batman At The Launderette" cover!). Quite hilariously low-key and self-effacing too - he greeted one applause with "thank you, you seem nice!"

By now the sell-out crowd was in a party mood, with Mexican waves going around the seats. The PA played XTC's "Helicopter Helicopter", then got turned up for a sing-along rendition of the Housemartins' classic "Caravan Of Love". Nice!

Lights out dead on 9.30, then after a suitable pregnant pause, the keyboard intro to "Every Day I Love You Less And Less" emerged from behind the red curtain encompassing the stage. This parted to reveal the band, already on and in full flow, to a frenzied reception. A great entrance, allaying our fears and precipitating a great show. Vocalist Ricky Wilson was in energetic form, hurtling around the stage like a demented rabbit, urging and exhorting the crowd to sing along or go nuts, not that they needed much invitation. The sound was spot-on, and their XTC-influenced Britpop was showcased to perfection, with energy and dynamism. "La La La La La", Rach's favourite, recalling the Wonderstuff's "Poison", was an early highlight, then after a few new numbers (including a sure-fire hit in newie "When The Heat Dies Down") the set really hit its stride with "Modern Way". It suddenly struck me that this band are writing the kids' anthems for today and that the Chiefs, not Franz or Bloc Party or the flippin' awful Futureheads, will be the Blur of this current clutch of New Wavey style pop bands, the ones with sticking power. Listening to "Modern Way" tonight was like listening to "Common People", Pulp's timeless anthem and manifesto.

A frantic "I Predict A Riot" was 3/4 in, strident and mesmerising, after which the ebullient Ricky appeared standing on the mixing desk in the middle of the floor, a decidedly Bono-esque move, singing "Caroline Yes". All in all, the set was one hour plus 15 minutes of encores, very short for an arena show, but by then they'd done the whole album, half a dozen newies, and we were on our way halfway through closer "Oh My God" to avoid the traffic. Home for 12.15, glad we made the effort, and with faith maybe renewed a little in Kaiser Chiefs!