Wednesday, 24 February 2010

571 THE CLAIRVOYANTS, London WC2 Borderline, Thursday 27 July 2002

Well, I certainly said we'd try to get to this one, and thanks to some hospital appointment re-jigging, we succeeded! Hit the road at 5.30 after a doc's appointment, and walked into the Borderline at 7.45, after a journey made with one eye on the temperature gauge of our ailing car!

But the first person we bumped into at the bottom of the stairs leading into this evocative subterranean Tex-Mex bar-style venue, was none other then Clairvoyants main man Brian Dunn! Brian, a former colleague of American Hi-Fi's Jamie Arentzen in the sadly-lamented (by me, anyway!) Sky Heroes, officially The Greatest Band You Never Heard Of Ever Ever Ever, remembered us from our previous meeting in Boston back in October 2000, and we caught up and swapped news with this very personable and softly spoken young man.

Got the cokes in and chilled before taking up position stage left (which wasn't hard as this gig was only attended by a few dozen people) for Brian's set; despite being billed as "The Clairvoyants",. Brian was flying solo on this one, with just voice and acoustic guitar embellishment. "Just" voice, I say... hah!

The general chat and hubbub continued at the bar while Brian introduced himself, but as soon as he opened his mouth to sing, all chat stopped, seemingly in mid-sentence, to listen to THE VOICE. The man, quite simply, has one of the most extraordinary singing voices it's ever been my privilege to hear, in over 20 years of gigs and 30 years obsession with this thing called music. Deep, low, Belgian chocolate-rich and polished mahogany-smooth, Brian's voice could stop birds in flight, and tonight weaved a spell which kept everyone present enraptured. Despite my love of The Sky Heroes, I have to admit that The Clairvoyants' material, verging on the Brechtian in its' late-night torch music intensity and introspection, really brings out the best in this captivating voice. A handful of moody, slow-burning numbers were dispatched in supreme style, Brian even abandoning the mic to raise an octave or three. I swear, you'd have heard a pin drop.

Brian's friend and headliner Fillup Shack joined him for some backing vocals on the last number, then Rachel and I grabbed a couple of words of compliments before we hit the road at 9.30. No Fillup set for us, as Rach has an early start tomorrow. Besides, we'd heard what we came to hear - that extraordinary voice!


Sheriff's Diary, Day 1 - Friday 23 August 2002; Misled! Bah! I'd been led to believe that this weekend would be scorchio, but warm yet overcast was the order of the day as we drove in on day one and hit the arena. Wristband collection and info tent visit dispensed with quickly, we got on the mobile and located our camping friends Ady and The Big Man, conveniently located on our walk in. Cool!

Hit the arena just as host Steve Lamacq introduced mainstage openers THE MOLDY PEACHES. Now a 6-piece, they still sounded like a bad joke in a college bar. Got the beers in - a Rachel Reading Ritual! - before the first band on in the Big Tent, FINCH. They played some good hard-rocking stuff in a similar vein to Husker Du/Therapy?, and did half a good Pixies cover of "Where Is My Mind?" in front of a large crowd - more than for The Moldy Peaches, that's for sure! THE VON BONDIES were next up, playing some "La Woman"-era Doors/"Lust For Life"-era Iggy style metronomic bluesy rock which quite impressed my by-now buoyant brain.

Got some noodles and met some more friends before THE BELLRAYS Big Tent set. They kicked off with their best raucous blues number, "Fire On The Moon", but as at the recent Essential Festival in Bristol, their set went downhill thereafter. I like their adrenalized Tina Turner/MC5 blues rock, but I can't eat a whole one! So we nipped off after 20 minutes to catch the early-running MERCURY REV in the Main Arena. Despite it being 2.30 on a sunny afternoon, their dark and broodingly mysterious swirling rock worked on the big stage, although admittedly they did pick some of their bouncier numbers (e.g. the swampy chug of "Delta Sun Bottleneck Blues") early doors. Nevertheless, the achingly haunting oldie "Frittering" and the stripped back epic "The Dark Is Rising" were the breath-catching showstoppers in a dry-ice drenched and shining set.

Took a quick walk back to the Big Tent for the last knockings of the Big Man recommended FENIX TX. Despite being recipients of the first Horrible Cliché of the Fest award ("hands in the air, scream like you just don't care" - bah!) they kicked up a reasonably energetic SoCal surf punk set. We then saw enough of GUIDED BY VOICES (i.e. 1 1/2 songs) to know they're still not doing it for me, then Rach and I took a quick shopping trip before joining the throng in the small Tiny Tent to catch THE DATSUNS, who appeared to be The Bellrays without the female vocalist, i.e. bluesy, primitive and monotonous. Left after 4 numbers.

We then caught the much-hyped WHITE STRIPES in the Main Arena. Having been singularly unimpressed with this Detroit blues-rock 2-piece thus far, I actually quite liked their unhinged and haphazard Hendrixy set "live", whilst still failing to completely grasp all the hype. I had to confess Jack White was an entertaining babbling lunatic frontman, though. We then had the first upsetting band clash of the weekend, and eschewed the Vines Big Tent set to see WEEZER, who kept us waiting for 40 minutes but played a fine, slightly mad, chunky set of their catchy, sing-along powerpop, smothered with their trademark guitar assault. The set sounded spot-on and went down really well, but grated a tad when the monstrously-egoed Weezer vocalist Rivers Cuomo started his own, "Weezer, Weezer," chant. A great "Buddy Holly" closed the set, by which time we'd been joined by some Boston friends, namely Ben Kweller's back-up boys Josh Lattanzi and Fred Eltringham!

We left Josh and Fred to get grub, and met up with our crew outside the Big Tent, subsequently venturing inside as it started raining. Bah! ELECTRIC SOFT PARADE played a cool, inventive and clearly-pop sounding set, with the usual metronomic Krautrock-like build-up of "Silent To The Dark" a highlight. Stayed in as night fell for THE BREEDERS. Hopes weren't high following their recent disappointing, low-key and dour "Title TK" CD, but, with mad old drunk woman Kim Deal firmly at the helm, The Breeders actually pulled off the Set Of The Day, with an optimistic, quick-fire thing of joy and jagged, brutal wonder. Concentrating mainly on their 1992 "Last Splash" material, they fired out haunting soundbites which were thrillingly absorbing, particularly "No Aloha" and the brilliant "Divine Hammer". Great stuff, all the more for being unexpectedly so. Got some more snacks before FEEDER's evening Big Tent set. Their first major show since the untimely death of drummer Jon Lee, they played an understandably subdued but honest set of their likeable pop-rock, with the set closer "Just A Day" received rapturously by the packed tent as an affirmation. More power to them.

Popped to the loo just as THE STROKES Main Stage headlining set kicked off, so heard their first 4 or so numbers, including a couple of "newies", one of which ("Meet Me In The Bathroom") was a dead ringer for "Hard To Explain". Are they so struggling for new material that they're already recycling their oldies? Hmmm... Anyway, Rach and I were off to the Tiny Tent for THE POLYPHONIC SPREE. 25 people in white robes, a melange of Super Furry Animals' studious psychedelia, Neutral Milk Hotel's unorthodoxy and Beach Boys lush harmonies. Actually, they were more "normal" sounding than I expected, with "Soldier Girl" their best number by some distance, but were nevertheless jolly entertaining, and a good way to close out day one!

Sheriff's Diary, Day 2 - Saturday 24 August 2002; Cartrouble! No, not Adam And The Antz, but our old Rover, last night, so we had to take it to the garage before ferrying up with day-tripper Beef. Despite the prospect of thundery showers, it was hot today - damn hot! So we parked up, slathered up then met up with the weekend campers on the way in.

Beers in hand in the arena, we were then ready for first band SAHARA HOTNIGHTS. They dished up some bright and spunky Swedish lesbo-pop - Beef thought Babes In Toyland, Rach thought Kenickie, the truth as ever was somewhere in between, and quite good with it. We then headed over to the Big Tent for THE LIBERTINES, whose set started out full of spark and New Wave attitude, but then hit technical problems which fucked the set up badly, earning them slow handclaps which obviously dented their confidence, as thereafter they appeared subdued and agitated, set closer and Jam-ish single "What A Waster" notwithstanding. A real shame.

Back in the arena for excellent madman ANDREW WK who put on an energetic, enthusiastic and brilliant performance of his fist-punching party-licious hard rock, really firing us and the crowd up. So his songs all sound the same - Joey Ramone fronting Van Halen - so what! The man is an utter diamond, a fiery ball of energy and enthusiasm who walks it like he talks it. He loves it and takes everyone else with him. A top-notch entertaining festival set!

We then ran into the Big Man by the backstage entrance and also met Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, who was happy to be accosted by my bare-chested self and stop for pix and a chat. A nice guy! Then over to the smallish Concrete Jungle Tent - an EMO alternative for today only - running into Ben Kweller on the way, and catching HOT ROD CIRCUIT when we got there. They were dynamic and polished in an Emo-esque, Jimmy Eat World way. Very promising, and more so than next band up, THURSDAY, who were shoutier and riffier in a Hundred Reasons style. Too much noise and not enough tune for my tastes, so we got Hog Roasts and went for a quick walk around the stalls, before returning for DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL. They played a plaintive, emotive strum-along set, so much so that when they did crank out a riff it seemed so much more powerful. This set was more about songs and emotion than riffs, though, and was easily the most impressive new band set seen thus far.

Back into the now-baking arena for a sit down before THE HIVES started up. Their set turned into more of a random jam than an actual set, with the excellent, acerbic "Hate To Say I Told You So" the only thing on the menu resembling a song. So after they played that, off we went! Over into the Tiny Tent to get a good position for BEN KWELLER's set, Ben of course backed up with our Boston buddies Josh and Fred, whom we'd steadfastly failed to bump into all day today (even asking Ben where they were when we ran into him!). Ben, a young but confident Evan Dando wannabee, and the band played some cool, laid-back slacker pop, which was simple, effectively hooky and a real Lemonheads/Redd Kross-esque college rock pleasure. A shame I couldn't do it justice, as I started to flag towards the end of the set.

It got worse - after a quick sit down in the early evening sun, I started to feel wobbly and shivery. We met up with Beef and tottered back to the Big Man's tent, where I collapsed for an hour while Rachel got me extra layers of clothing from the car. I can only assume I got a bit of sunstroke! Anyway, after this rest, and extra fluids and layers on board, I recovered sufficiently so we could return to the arena for the last half of the ASH set. A shame we missed the first half, as this was picture-perfect powerpop, tight, taut and layered with attitude and vim. More triumphant also, as their set was delivered barely a week after a European tour road crash. "A Life Less Ordinary" and dynamic set closer "Burn Baby Burn" were terrific highlights of another fine Ash set.

Over to the Concrete Jungle tent as evening fell and the clouds gathered. SAVES THE DAY played some tight, bright, shiny Emo-lite, including their stunning single "At Your Funeral", but I needed to excuse myself midway through, getting soaked by the thundery rain on the way to the loo. Got crushed in the melee at the cusp of this little tent on my return so I didn't really enjoy the rest of their set! Bah! Found Rach after they finished and as the rain eased off - slightly - and we got some tea before hitting the other side of the Big Tent for nice guy Jim Adkins' JIMMY EAT WORLD. They were "on it" from the word Go, kicking off with "Salt Sweat Sugar" and playing a varied set from their 3 albums, well paced, and if the set was subdued at times, closers "The Middle" and "Sweetness" kicked up a hooky and Buzzcocks-like shiny New Wave punk fuss, as the whole tent seemed to join in on the "whoa-oh"s!

We then hit the stalls with Rach, then caught the FOO FIGHTERS headlining set. They were also a little subdued, with the new material not as powerfully Husker Du popcore rocky and venomous as the older stuff. Indeed, it was the older numbers, particularly a frantic "Monkey Wrench" which stuck in the mind. But by now I was shivering again - with cold and wet this time - so we hit the road right at the end of their set.

Sheriff's Diary, Day 3 - Sunday 25 August 2002; Still feeling ropey this morning, but as 2 of my most anticipated bands of the weekend are on today, we soldier on! Bacon butties and 2 cans of Red Bull do their best to revive me, and 2 more cans on arrival at the arena help, but still leave me needing a wake-up call.

I get it - and how! DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, purveyors of my No. 1 Album of 2002 thus far, the absorbingly narrative "Photo Album", all slow-burning and heart-aching on CD, positively rock "live"! Surprisingly and startlingly upfront, they leave a tingle where no other band has gotten even close to this weekend. Advising us not to go into the front few rows for ...Trail Of Dead, they actually recalled the Texan terrors with their onstage movement and dynamism - small wonder then that TOD's psycho drummer Jason Reece was filming them from backstage! A superb set closer, "Why You'd Want To Live Here" answered my prayers, a choppily played paean to Los Angeles, closing the absolute Best Set Of The Weekend utterly perfectly.

More Red Bull - totalling 6 cans! Yipe! - to get me further kick-started, then we sat in the sun by the backstage entrance (I dunno, the only day it's forecast to rain all day, so we've brought our waterproofs, and it's nice all day!), unfortunately within earshot of RAGING SPEEDHORN's ham-fisted - even by Nu-metal standards - set. Unbelievably shite; at one point the singer calls himself and the band, "a bunch of c*nts", which was the only thing I reckon he got right all set. At least AMEN, next up, had some tunes in a nihilistic punk rock way, even if you had to blast for them. Amen's tattooed vocalist even threatened the complacent crowd with a ballad - but didn't deliver.

We'd wandered over to the Tiny Tent during Amen to see half a song from shouty Nu-Metal boys ELLIS, as this was Rachel's mum's maiden name! However, we returned after Amen for DRAGPIPE, who were non-descript soft-core nu-Metal. Suffered this lot, then met our weekend camping friends outside said tent at 3 for JETPLANE LANDING. Much more like it, this; passionate rock played with a huge smile on vocalist Andrew Ferris' face throughout, musically recalling Pixies and Joyrider in their jagged rock riffery, upfront and dynamic without being too OTT. "Do you love Jetplane Landing?" asked Ferris, "man, I love this band!" and you got the impression he meant every word.

Got grub then sat down during PUDDLE OF MUDD's party-like-it's-1992 old school grunge set. Still none of the promised thundery showers, but the next mainstage band, NOFX, kicked up a storm with possibly the most entertaining Festival set of the weekend. Original, SoCal ramalama old skool ska-punk, maybe, but NOFX's set was interspersed with enough political satire and downright funny pisstaking of, ooh, Bush, the Scots, the French, fat people, young people, Mexicans etc.etc. to have Bill Hicks smiling from above. Sure I won't be buying any of their stuff, but this was great fun.

headed over to see HAVEN in the Big Tent. Last year's Best New Band are up the bill a bit this year, and justified it with a passionately delivered set of slow-burning, sometimes bland but more often haunting pop, delivered with the nasal tones of Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) sound-alike Gary Briggs. A quick trip to the car for layers, then back in the arena for tea and CORNERSHOP's Richman-esque mellowness. Catchy and foot-tappable, specially "Brimful Of Asha". Then over to the Tiny Tent for EASYWORLD's last couple of numbers. Beef's top tip, they sounded chunky, hooky and good. Sorry we missed the rest!

Back in the tent for this Festival's denouement; ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD, the Texan terrors themselves, who laid the smack down on the festival in a big way, entering to the "Willy Wonka" theme tune, then tearing the place up with some frantic and breathless punk rock. Jagged, edgy, fast and frenetic, with some superb basslines courtesy of our friend (!) Neil Busch, TOD finished with a titanic "Perfect Teenhood", ending in the usual cacophonous conclusion, with the drums being kicked over by Keith Moon fan Jason Reece, then lobbed into the crowd! Apparently Ady was in the melee at the time and caught one of the drums - for a couple of seconds, anyway!

Headed into the arena one last time, as the time ticked over to 10 and an inky night fell. Caught the last couple of OFFSPRING's corporate singalong punk from the mainstage. Too sanitised for my tastes, but I enjoyed "I Want You Bad", and their failed attempts at getting the crowd to do some recorded sing-alongs. Then finally to the Tiny Tent for THE MUSIC - really not impressed by these Stone Roses wannabees' attempts at trippy psychedelia, so we got snacks and left.

Thus endeth the Festival! Good overall, but a lot of bands were strangely subdued and seemed to go through the motions. The ones I'll remember put their heart and soul into it, like TOD, The Breeders, NOFX, Andrew WK, and most of all Death Cab For Cutie!





STARS OF THE SHOW - ANDREW WK for being barmy, JIM ADKINS for being a nice guy, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE for being brilliant!

Monday, 22 February 2010

573 LOVE, Bristol Fleece, Tuesday 3 September 2002

Love? LOVE?!? Yup, I was amazed too, when I found out that this 1960's West Coast psychedelic ensemble were doing the rounds, so similar old hippy Beef and myself sorted out tickets for this unmissable event. Fact; if there were no Love, there would almost certainly be no Echo And The Bunnymen or Teenage Fanclub, for starters. The fact that this Love incarnation was led by original vocalist and inspiration Arthur Lee made it all the more remarkable; how could Lee, doubtless now in his 60's and an acid-fried casualty with a notorious past and a one-time appetite for recreational pharmaceuticals which could only be described as prodigious, be even in a fit state to think straight, let alone perform?

So, with many questions to be answered, Beef and I hit the Fleece at 8.15; already busy, and with dozens of folk outside scabbing tix for this long-since sell-out gig, this one was going to be heaving... With no support band on the cards (not that Beef and I actually realised that until 9.15, by which time the stage was set up for Love), it was a long, frustrating and increasingly uncomfortable wait until the appearance of the band at 9.30. And it was evident immediately that Lee would be the only original member on parade, as the rest of the band didn't even look as if they would have been born in the 1960s!

Lee joined us, last onstage with a fanfare, and immediately led the band through raucous opener "Seven And Seven Is". A tall, louche and languid figure, he cut a stylish dash with a red sweatshirt emblazoned with "Freedom For Tooting" hugging his rakishly slim figure, huge "de rigueur" sunglasses and a brown beret atop a stars'n'stripes bandana. Another advertisement for the benefits of recreational drug use as, eyes aside, he looked a good 2 decades younger than his 60.

My favourite, the modish punch of "My Little Red Book" followed, then the pastoral elegance of "Orange Skies". The all-time classic "Alone Again Or", stylishly dispensed with early doors, nevertheless received a huge ovation from this audience of assorted students and dads-night-out musos (we both felt very young!) and the set, drawn mainly from the psychedelic lushness of the first 3 Love albums, was exotic, spine-tingling and exciting, played by a tight, professional band and an old guy in Lee, who was in not only surprisingly good voice and fine fettle, but also in no mood to take any crap (responding to one heckler thus; "I'll come down there and kick yo' punk ass!"). As with the recent Flaming Lips gig, this would have been perfect at 1 hour or so, and with fewer solos from the admittedly impressive young guitarist. But arguably better too much than too little, and at 1 hour 45 minutes this set proved there's still lots of life in the old dog yet! Arthur "Be Thankful For What You've Got" Lee, as he introduced himself, left us with the instruction to, "love one another," a fitting footnote for the band called Love!

574 NADA SURF, Ashton Lane, London WC2 Borderline, Thursday 26 September 2002

Another gig at the Borderline! This time we were up for some serious rock, however, as opposed to the recent acoustic interludes there. Nada Surf, last espied in Boston in October 2000, were finally playing a UK gig we can get to; they did one at The Monarch in June this year - the night we flew to Boston!

Anyway, we enthusiastically hit the road at 6.15 with friends, parking up in the Bush as usual and nearly hitting a pizza delivery motorbike in the process of doing a U turn into a parking space! Hit the venue at 8.30, completely failing to sell our spare ticket. A sell-out this may have been, but no touts or ticketless fans were milling about. Bah! Chatted through Ashton Lane's singularly inappropriate and very wallpaper-like Sheryl Crow strum-along country opening set.

Nada Surf were on at 9.45 sharp, kicking off with "Blizzard Of 77", the acoustic opener of new album "Let Go", followed up immediately with the insistent groove of splendidly named new single "The Way You Wear Your Head", with its' Cheap Trick lyrical steal. The Surf are very hook-laden, intelligent and emotive, and their sound thrillingly mixes post-Grunge American rock with a more textural moody sound, harking back to the likes of Pale Saints and even strum-along pseudo-Goth types Modern English! That said, the set, initially drawn primarily from their new and comparatively understated CD, took awhile to catch fire, but when it did, it blistered with a fierce vengeance. The watershed was the magnificent, brooding emotional wound that is "80 Windows", sung with heart and feeling by an extremely good singer (not only a vocalist) in Matthew Caws. Easily the best number currently in their canon, and in this set, but thereafter Nada Surf were magnificent; a smooth rock machine, operating with depth and emotion. The breathless adrenaline rush of "Hyperspace" approached "80 Windows" for brilliance, and they climaxed the set with a couple of newies. Nothing from "High/Low", their first CD, but they more than made up for it. Overall, a quite superb gig!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

575, 576, 577 THE SHEILA DIVINE, The Realistics, London Spice of Life, Camden Dublin Castle and Islington Buffalo Bar, Monday to Wednesday 14-16 Octob

It's October, so this must be The Sheila Divine! October had been looking a pretty slow month for gigs - we'd gotten tix to see Australian mod ruffians You Am I for this Thursday - but we then found out TSD were in London so we resolved to get to as many of their 4 London shows as possible, before our car, our money or our energy and tolerance levels gave out on us!

So, off to number 1, at a downstairs pub venue in Leicester Square, opposite "Les Miserables". Ady joined us for tonight only, which we found out shortly beforehand would be the only acoustic show of the 3! He came along anyway, unfortunately for him! We found the pub fairly straightforwardly and got drinks in, meeting TSD bassist Jim Gilbert in the process. Spent time catching up with this most open and thoughtful of chaps. It was during this that we learned that tonight's set was not only acoustic, but it would be a) Aaron only, and b) as it was part of an "Open Mic" might, it was likely to be only 2 numbers long! Not so much of a problem for us, as we'd enjoyed catching up with Jim and would see them the next couple of days, but a real pisser for Ady. Still, at least it was free!

The rest of The Sheilas joined us in the car before we popped downstairs to catch some of The Realistics' set. This NYC band are The Sheila's travelling partners on this trip, so it was only polite. Acoustically themselves, they sounded energetic and spiky; I remarked to TSD drummer Ryan that they weren't a million miles removed from The Figgs, to which he agreed.

Aaron was up next, so we grabbed a seat before he came on. Sure enough, the set was a mere 2 numbers; a long, convoluted newie, and a haunting version of "The Swan", sounding stark and dramatic when delivered with pure voice plus guitar only. Aaron's vocals were soaring and strident, and rose impressively above the confines of the acoustic delivery. A real appetite whetter for the next 2 nights.

We then met our London friend Lisa at the bar, and chatted until I tired of being shushed by the soundman. So we headed to the bottom of the steps, chatting with Aaron and a visiting Q Division producer Matthew Ellard, before Ady tired of this acoustic nonsense and we decided to hit the road at 10.30.

Despite offers of a lift and guest-list slot, Ady couldn't join us the next night, so it was Rachel and myself venturing forth to the Camden Dublin Castle, a venue I'd passed on numerous occasions on the way to other Camden venues, but had never actually been to before! Parked up pretty much directly outside, and met the Sheila boys - plus guitarist Colin's wife, who'd just flown in to join him in the UK - for chilling and chatting in this most English of bars. Just like being back in the Britpop days of 1995, as they blasted out The Jam and Supergrass over the PA.

In on the guest list for this one, so we took a wander in to this dingy back-room venue, to check out the Realistics. They leapt onstage with a flurry of energy and enthusiasm, kicking off a set at odds with the studied cool of most current NYC bands. No, this one was more in line with the frantic mod-ish superfast powerpop of The Pills, with some Stones-like raw rock licks reminiscent of The Figgs thrown in for good measure. And energetic? I've rarely seen a band so kinetic onstage since the first sighting of The Gravel Pit. Compliments don't get any higher than that!

Went back into the pub for a breather before popping in and down the front for the late arrival of The Sheila Divine, on at 11. Luckily I'd loaded up with Red Bull to keep awake - so had Aaron! Unfortunately, most of the crowd had left (bloody Realistics fans - bah!), which in turn meant the sound, spot-on for The Realistics in a packed venue, was now glaringly over-loud, and took a couple of numbers to sort out. By "Dramatica", however, The Sheilas were well into their stride, and delivered a powerful set of their soaring, hauntingly intense rock. Lacking the kinetic stage presence of The Realistics, they relied on the brooding magnificence of their performance to catch the attention, and threw in a clutch of newies, of which the slow burn of "Ice Age" sounded best at this point. A screamingly jagged double whammy of "Like A Criminal" and "Back To The Cradle" completely exhausted the emotion and energy in the room, and knackered this sore-kneed dancer! Also, as this took us to 1/4 to 12, Rach and I hit the road pretty much immediately, with renewed enthusiasm to make it along to the next night as well.

And a good thing we were enthusiastic, as the Wednesday night journey was an absolute nightmare! The boys had told us that they were first on at The Buffalo Bar, which we'd ascertained was right by Islington tube, so Rach and I left at 5.45 for a slightly longer journey. It all went pear shaped when we turned left at the Angel; the worst kind of roadworks all along Upper Street, the kind that just don't budge! After sitting in these for over 15 minutes, watching lorries crawling along in the opposite direction, and people on buses in front of us getting off and walking, we parked the car in desperation in a poorly signposted disabled space, then got out and walked!

Good thing too; as we hit the venue 1/4 hour later after a half walk, half sprint, we were greeted with the strains of The Sheila's opener "Black River" emanating from the downstairs room! Threw a tenner at the ignorant tosser on the door, after he'd failed to find us on The Sheila's guest-list, and bolted downstairs to the front of the stage, rocking out immediately to second number "Portugal".

I have to say, that despite all the other problems getting here etc. etc. etc., I enjoyed this set far more than the other 2. The sound was superb, clear and well balanced, and The Sheilas gave a consummate performance of haunting, resonant and shimmering emotive rock. "Swan", third number in, sounded better than I'd heard it before, but its' elegiac tones were merely the taster of what was to come. Jim had warned us that they were planning a cover by a band who were, "a primary influence" on The Sheila Divine, and sure enough, they delivered a supreme rendition of... Echo And The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon"! This was made their own by Aaron's superb performance; it didn't hurt that it was dedicated by the singer to me, either!

A truncated performance ("I hate this venue! We're never playing here again! They made us cut a number!" moaned Aaron later, with some justification) was capped by a ragged wig-out of "Back To The Cradle", which left these dancing Brits sweaty and breathless. The Sheilas. along with The Gravel Pit, are on a totally different plane from the rest right now, and no mistake!

After congratulations to and from the band - primarily for the Bunnymen number - Aaron and I talked rock, planning out the Sheila's next cover; "Transmission" (with Aaron amazed that I'd nailed this as his Joy Division cover of choice). We then had pix and fond farewells, before recovering the car (thankfully not clamped!) for an easier journey home.

And thus endeth 3 nights in October with The Sheila Divine, Take 2! Hopefully we can make this an annual event!

578 THE VINES, NADA SURF, The Bandits, Bristol Academy, Saturday 26 October 2002

This was an early one, so Rachel and I decided to make a day of it, meeting friends for lunch and shopping, then into the queue for this sold-out show at 6.15. As doors were 6.30, this wasn't as crazily early as it sounds! Made our way into the foyer and spotted Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws by the merch stand, so we stopped for a few words. Matt, an old acquaintance of Gravel Pit bassist and our good friend Ed Valauskas, had a lot of complimentary things to say about The Pit, liked my TGP tattoo, and invited us onto the Guest List for Thursday's Cardiff show! Shame we had to decline - we'd already booked tickets for that one!

Got down the front to see The Bandits, first band on at 7. They were a Scouse band peddling a ramshackle and clumsy clash of musical styles, like the guys who failed the audition for the Coral or something. I heckled, then headed for the loo!

Back for da Surf's set at an early 7.45; a truncated 8 song set serving as a taster for their own forthcoming headline shows. They were on it straight from the off; from the touching strum-along of "Blizzard Of 77", then straight into the punky Buzzcocks groove of "The Way You Wear Your Head", one of the best singles of 2002 and surely the best title! Nada Surf's set again surfed, appropriately enough, between a textural, shoegazing wall of guitar sound and a more clear college rock sound a la early Sebadoh. They sounded superb in the big venue, and put on a committed performance. A brilliantly heartbreaking "80 Windows" was followed by a totally unexpected "Popular", their sarcastic MTV hit High School romance "millstone number", with a thrillingly amphetamine-fast "Hyperspace" capping a superb vignette-style show from one of the real rediscovered joys of 2002.

Afterwards, Matthew confided that "Popular" was a, "one-hit for tonight only;" we met another Surf fan who'd travelled from Bournemouth to see them; and I clumsily tried to explain how much "80 Windows" increasingly means to me. Matt appreciated the sentiment, I think.

We're then in for The Vines, possibly the single most over-hyped band of recent times. So-say unhinged frontman Craig Nicholls has all the credentials; pretty, skinny, great scarecrow haircut and an engagingly potty stage presence. He now needs to learn that intensity doesn't necessarily mean screaming inaudibly, and the band need to write some original material, rather than just rifling through Nirvana's dustbin. Don't believe the hype; or rather, ignore the hype and let this very young band develop in their own time. I quite liked the snappy "Highly Evolved", though. Matthew and Bournemouth fan joined us at our bottom of the stairs, stage right, vantage point, for "Get Free", by which time Nicholls is shirtless (to the delight of the young sell-out crowd) and flinging himself about with gay abandon. But we'd seen The Vines play their best 3 numbers - all singles - by then, so we head off.

Not until we're back at the car do we realise it's only 9.15! This was an early one and no mistake, but a trip to the mosh for da Surf had left us knackered. So home for pizza with the sounds of Nada Surf ringing in our ears!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

579 NADA SURF, Arnold, Cardiff Barfly, Thursday 31 October 2002

I'm beginning to think that recent gig escapades have been nothing if not convoluted. This time, after originally intending to drive and picking up workmate Shaun up, we realised our car's back light had gone! So, after buying the wrong size of bulb from Tesco's garage, we ultimately had to press-gang Ady, our 4th gig-goer, into driving to this one! D'oh!

Anyway, we hit the venue at 8.30, parking in the midnight-closing multi-storey by the Hilton around the corner. Got stamped on the door as we'd reserved tix, and got in just as Travis, sorry, Arnold, were kicking off their set, which veered between inauspicious yet nice wallpaper music, and slight pseudo baggy dance stylings. Very bland indeed; surprised they're not huge!

The venue was well packed, and I accosted Surf drummer Ira - visible throughout the venue thanks to his large cowboy hat - to find out their onstage time. At the appointed hour - just before 9.30 - I wandered down to a vantage point stage right, a couple of rows back. I was up for a mosh, me!

The Surf ambled nonchalantly onstage just after 9.30, a little taken aback, it seemed, by this large crowd and rapturous reception. "Blizzard Of 77" and a fantastic sounding "The Way You Wear Your Head" set the tone early doors, as myself and a few other lads gamely started a small mosh to give the Surf the sweat and energy they deserved. The set, to coin a phrase, was winningly ragged, in contrast with the well-oiled smoothness of their 2 recent shows. This particular set, however, benefited from the raw approach, as it was a more balanced pick across all 3 of their albums; the jangle rock of "High/Low", the rockier, more power-chord driven "The Proximity Effect" and the more polished "Let Go". Matt, who'd acknowledged me during the first number (always nice), was again an engaging, self-effacing presence, and the set superbly melded beauty ("80 Windows" and the reverential version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" during "Stalemate") and power ("Treading Water", a brilliant set finale, and the unplanned, messy yet awesome "The Plan"). Another shining, shimmering set from da Surf!

Afterwards, I ran into old friend Craig, who'd watched the set with Rachel and loved it. We caught up - it's been far too long - and also hung out with the guys and an again-personable Matt Caws. I had to tear myself away to get to the car before the car-park "witching hour", otherwise I could - and probably would - have stayed all night!

580 YOU ARE HERE, Ipanema, Swindon Victoria, Thursday 21 November 2002

The threat of rain drove us to drive up the hill to this one! Lazy, but there you go. Met Tim and Mark before popping downstairs to catch Ipanema, Wiz from Mega City Four's new band. Despite being the wrong side of 40 these days, and with the salad days of MC4's Top 40 hits some years behind him, Wiz nevertheless still retains an admirable enthusiasm for playing rock'n'roll music, evidenced by his willingness to haul ass to Swindon to support a local band in front of half a dozen people on a school night! Ipanema retained the usual Wiz formula of amphetamine-fast rock with helium-fuelled vocals, but like MC4 before them, failed to make a lasting impression on me.

You Are Here were next up at 10.15. This was the first time I'd seen YAH since former drummer Al's departure from the drum stool, and the subsequent recruitment of a new drummer and bassist as "musicians" rather than mates. This seems to have coincided with a shift in attitude from both Tim and Mark, as the new numbers debuted tonight showed an increased maturity and confidence, whilst retaining YAH's obvious 90's US alt-rock influences. Also, this was reflected in the performance; "Ordinary Day" was great, and the brooding "Far Cry" never sounded better. Mark is transforming into a confident sounding frontman, and his vocal performance - particularly on Posies cover "I May Hate You Sometimes" - has benefited.

However, there's a ways to go; on occasions the new bassist sounded understated to the point of invisibility, and conversely Mr. Drummer threatened to take over the show, turning "Hard To Stop" into a drum exhibition, over-complicating and suffocating the song in the process. Very much a "work in progress", this new You Are Here need more gigs to bed in the new line-up and find their identity. Good luck to them!

581 DAWN OF THE REPLICANTS, Oxford Zodiac Downstairs, Friday 22 November 2002

Though I knew it not at the time, this would be my last gig for nearly 4 months thanks to a brush with death from my pancreatitis. Oh yes. Shame I had to sign off with a disappointing one. But never mind... Drove Ady and a slightly half-cut Rachel (out on a works "do" this afternoon) to the Zodiac, spending ages trying to park and being delayed to the point that when we hit the venue at 9.10, DOTR were already on!

Paul Vickers, the weird and wonderful mad scientist of post-Beefheart Scottish rock tomfoolery, was in good fooling tonight as ever; if he ever gave up this music malarkey, surely a career in stand up awaits. However, the new material - "Rockerfeller Center" apart - is not a patch on the crazy yet occasionally approaching genius stuff of old, and the new band were messy and disjointed. A funny run-through of country classic "Rhinestone Cowboy" and a welcome oldie, "Cocaine On The Catwalk" as closer, were the best of a disappointing bunch. Home before 11 as well...

582 CHEAP TRICK, Salford Jets, London Royal Albert Hall, Thursday 13 March 2003

The longest between-gig break since 1983 is now over! I'm now suitably recovered from my recent abdominal surgery to be able to go to gigs again. And I couldn't think of a better way to start (a trip to Boston excepted) than Cheap Trick at the Royal Albert Hall! Particularly so, since this ticket was courtesy of my brother, thanks to a promise made while I was in ICU that he would pay for the gig if I recovered enough to actually go!

So, Rachel and I made a couple of days of it, coaching up and staying nearby. So we walked to the gig, taking our good floor seats, stage right, about 7.15 in this huge amphitheatre. The Salford Jets were first up; an old punk rock band from Manchester who'd recently reformed, they were unfortunately in the Sham 69 ham-fisted "Oi Oi" punk mode, despite conversely appearing to be very good musicians, especially the guitarist. They ended with their only chart-bothering record, which was called "Who You Looking At?". Need I say more?

From the ridiculous to the sublime; da Trick came on at 9 to "Good Evening Ladies And Gentlemen" and a subsequent, titanic "Big Eyes", before launching into a Greatest Hits set interspersed with a couple of new numbers ("only a couple - we want you to play them in your houses," said Rick Neilsen) from their forthcoming album, and doing what they do best, namely entertaining this sell-out crowd supremely!

An early "If You Want My Love" was spine-chillingly epic, and for me remained the overall highlight of the set, but the anthemic "Tonight It's You" and the always-brilliant rush of "Surrender", which closed the set and featured Rick's 5-neck guitar (!), ran it close. To think that for a long time I'd dismissed this band as a metal "hair" band, rather than the epic powerpop kings they undoubtedly are! First encore "Dream Police" had everyone in the seats up on their feet, and we were lost for superlatives after a brilliant 1 1/2 hours of top drawer rock. Cheap Trick - what a way to return to gig duty!

583 YOU ARE HERE, Swindon Victoria, Thursday 20 March 2003

Easing slowly back into the gig swing of things still; this time it's a jaunt up the Vic to see Swindon faves (and our friends, of course) You Are Here! Drove up the hill with Rachel and got to a quiet Victoria at 9, meeting Tim and Mark up there. Chatted while the local (and poor sounding) support were on.

YAH are in danger of over-playing the Vic - there were only about a dozen of us present when the boys eventually took the stage at 10.15, and those were mainly family and friends! Nevertheless, YAH again showed potential and some improvement from their previous gig here, last November. The new boys sounded more like part of the band, and Mark in particular has grown in confidence, becoming a focal point and performer as well as vocalist, especially during Posies cover "I May Hate You Sometimes", and set closer "Goodbye". YAH - slowly realising their full potential; a shame more people weren't there to see it!

584 THE THRILLS, The Delays, Solar, Bristol Fleece, Sunday 30 March 2003

Saw this one in the NME classifieds, and took the opportunity for an intriguing Mother's Day gig! Drove down with Rachel, spotting deer on the way (always a good sign), and hit the venue at 10 to 8. First band Solar had just started, and played a pleasant set of quite tuneful mid-paced numbers, with good choruses a feature. One to watch, perhaps. Second support The Delays were on at 1/4 to 9 as the place filled up. An intriguing start, with good use of keyboard embellishment, faded mid-set into a blander, quieter experience. A little disappointing after that good start.

Found a spot near the front, stage left, as The Thrills came on at 10 to 10, to the backing track of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days". I had only their beguiling surf-pop single "One Horse Town" to go on prior to this gig, but found this set a delightful blend of lazy hazy Summery tunes, delicious 3 part harmonies (for which I'm always a total sucker), Byrds-ish melody (a little bit country, a little bit rock'n'roll), and self-effacing humility. The single and "Corey Haim" were my highlights of an excellent set loaded with potential and promise. It's verrrrrry early days yet, but this lot could be the best British band since Seafood. Let's wait and see...

585 BURNING BRIDES, Winnebago Deal, Swearing At Motorists, Bristol Louisiana, Tuesday 8 April 2003

First of 3 gigs in 3 nights - a good thing I'm feeling better! This one was a speculative jaunt down the M4 to see a couple of tipped bands, including Burning Brides, who'd impressed me with a Seafood-esque track "See You Empty" on an NME compilation CD. So off we go...

Got a little lost on the way to the Louisiana, as revised road priorities had seemingly cut off the most direct route! Swearing At Motorists were therefore already on when we arrived at 8.30. An oddball, angular 2 piece, they entertained with some melodic yet dark strum-along tunes and a very funny stage presence, courtesy of their deranged vocalist, who was a hippy lookalike and a Phil Lynott sound-alike. I liked them, but I'm not sure I could eat a whole one...

Oxford 2 piece (another one! What is it with these bass-free bands these days? The White Stripes have a lot to answer for...) Winnebago Deal were next up. They were intense, extremely noisy and as utterly tuneless as they were bass-less. We endured their set from the bar - downstairs! Nevertheless, they were still way too loud from there!

Back up for Philadelphia trio Burning Brides at 10. Their set started well with grungy single "Plank Of Fire", dipped into mulchy 70's blues-rock/proto HM riffery (quite Black Sabbath-like at times) in the middle, then perked up with a couple of better numbers (including the very good "Arctic Snow", their best number and next single) at the end. There's definitely potential, but currently a few more misses than hits in the set of this nevertheless dynamic live band. They missed "See You Empty" from this set as well, which was a shame. Maybe next time?

586 AMERICAN HI-FI, Fake Ideal, Bristol Fleece, Wednesday 9 April 2003

Second gig in 3 nights, and the most anticipated of the lot despite my initial disappointment with the new Hi-Fi CD. Nevertheless, it'd just be great to meet up with the Hi-Fi guys again! So, 2 carloads decamped from Swindon, arriving at the already-busy venue just after 8 and taking a good viewing spot by the door for the evening. No moshpit return for me just yet, with my post-op hernia!

Fake Ideal, first up, rocked out in a Jetplane Landing type of earnest, passionate rock'n'roll way. Some reasonable tunes, but they were met with indifference from the crowd and ourselves, and at the moment, their reach is exceeding their grasp (or something profound like that!). The Hi-Fi themselves were due on at 9.45, but as they didn't get off the tour bus and into the venue until then, that wasn't going to happen! Greeted the Hi-Fi boys as they came through the door, making arrangements to hang out afterwards.

The Hi-Fi came on at 10, and after the usual welcome intro from Stacy, "we're a rock'n'roll band from Boston, Massachusetts," belted through a couple of new numbers from new CD "The Art Of Losing", before stylishly dispensing with best-known number and potential millstone "Flavour Of The Weak" 3rd number in, Stacy letting the crowd sing the middle 8 fill. It was clear by then we were in for a good one, as the sound was top-notch and the Hi-Fi's anthemic powerpop was doing it full justice. The harder-rocking, riffier new numbers made perfect sense "live", especially "The Breakup Song", which they did twice in a row, as they were filming it for a future video. I shouted, "play it again!" as they finished it the second time. Stacy was his usual "fantasy band camp" self - "you guys are the best audience; and I'm not just saying that to kiss ass" - as the Hi-Fi finished a rapier-sharp set with the mesmeric "Safer On The Outside". Great stuff.

And we did get to hang out afterwards, especially with Drew and Jamie. News of my recent hospitalisation and brush with death had reached the Hi-Fi camp, and story specifics were re-told to sympathetic ears. I mentioned to Jamie that he could report back to EdV and other Boston friends that I'm back gigging and in rude health, as indeed are the Hi-Fi themselves. "Feel better," said Stacy as we departed. I do now!

587 Four Kings, YOU ARE HERE, Northern Girl, White Knuckle, London Camden The Verge, Thursday 10 April 2003

Despite obvious fatigue, we're off to another gig, the third in 3 nights. We're troupers - John Dragonetti said so! So, we're off in this organised mini-van supporting Swindon's own You Are Here, our friend Tim's band. Took a circuitous route to Camden, arriving at this toilet-circuit venue just as the opening trio were completing their painfully loud and crap set. Larked around while second band Northern Girl - a trio of presumably Northern girls and a sheepish-looking bloke drummer - plied their innocuously St. Etienne-like strummy pop onstage. Nice, but really not the type of music you want to listen to when you're fighting to stay awake!

You Are Here, on just after 10, were much more like it. Kicking off with the strum-along, groovy "Down To Me", they delivered the best - and best-sounding - set of the last 3 occasions I've seen them with the new line-up. Clear, concise and together, and with the new drummer sounding more like a band member than a virtuoso solo-ist, this was the sound of a young band starting to come together. "Hard To Stop" was much more straightforward than of late, and closer "Goodbye" saw a fine vocal performance from young Mark.

Hung out outside with Tim afterwards before catching some of the baggy-ish headliners, then leaving halfway through their set for another circuitous journey - home this time!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

588, 589 NADA SURF, The Mendoza Line, Tennason, Oxford Zodiac and Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 May 2003

A couple of shows which elevated Nada Surf (who were admittedly primed for promotion anyway) to the ranks of the Very Special Indeed, occupied by such as The Gravel Pit and The Sheila Divine.

Firstly, Oxford. A quick trip got us there for doors, so we could sort the ticketless Ady out (Rachel and I had already booked!). So we had time to check out the merch and get a drink (soft for me, of course, these days) before first band on, Tennason. They impressed with some moody, atmospheric early numbers which built to a crescendo. Sound familiar? After half a number, Rach and I turned to each other and said, "The Sheila Divine!", and by the end of the opener we were out of the bar and down the front. Not a patch on TSD at this stage, admittedly (especially the singer, who was definitely no Aaron), but Tennason showed enough edge to mark them out as a young band of real potential. After a fine set, we bought the album, and noted the TSD comparison to their vocalist, who said he'd heard of them but not heard them. You should!

Back in the bar and stayed there for main support The Mendoza Line, who despite being from Brooklyn, were insipid and inconsequential Irish folk, with a female vocalist who had might as well not been there, for all she added to the band. I dunno, Ashton Lane and now this lot - da Surf do like their supports to be wallpaper-like!

Headed down the front at the appointed hour, shaking my booty to Matthew Sweet's excellent "Sick Of Myself" over the PA. Surf vocalist Matt Caws however hopped onstage halfway through this, with an apologetic, "sorry to interrupt a good song," and hooked immediately into a crystal clear "Blizzard Of 77". The sound tonight was pindrop-perfect, and Matt and the boys did it total justice with a consummate performance of pace, controlled power and occasionally beautiful clarity. The jagged, change of pace number "Treading Water" followed on, with Nada Surf thereafter locked into an effortless powerpop groove. Occasionally flippantly spiky and punk rock ("The Way You Wear Your Head"), occasionally hauntingly majestic ("Killian's Red" and the awesome "80 Windows"), they were never anything less than utterly superb tonight. Once again the "Love Will Tear Us Apart" segment during "Stalemate" recalled both Nada Surf's roots and aspirations, and the encore closer "Hyperspace" (by which time I was rocking out down the front with an expat Canadian called Dan) was a superb full stop at the end of a wonderful set.

And ditto for Portsmouth the following night! Only this time Rach and I were the ticketless ones, so we hit the venue well before doors, remembering that it really isn't that far down to Pompey after all. This time we ran into the talented Mr. Caws early in the evening, who, nicely, remembered us from our 2 previous meetings last Autumn. Once again my recent pancreatitis story was told to sympathetic ears, as we conversed with one of rock's (and life's) really genuine, warm and nice blokes.

So, to the rock. Tennason were once again impressive in their Sheila Divine-lite way, this time the vocalist leaving his shirt on, and the Mendoza Line were again a forgettable background noise from the safety of the bar! As for the headliners, da Surf turned it on again in an effortlessly impressive way, to a much more enthusiastic and receptive audience than last night's somewhat blasé Oxford crowd. Having been told by us just how good they were last night, Matt and the boys turned round and did it again! Another clear-as-a-bell sounding set of their intelligent mix of powerpop, atmospheric rock and 90's strumalong college rock, with the New Order groove of "High Speed Soul" and the breathtaking glacial beauty of "80 Windows" (rapidly becoming one of my all time favourite songs) outstanding from this set. An unexpected dash through "Popular", and another excellent "Hyperspace", rounded off things to a "T", confirming Nada Surf's deserved place amongst the elite. Very brief congrats with the deluged-by-fans Matt afterwards, before belatedly hitting the road. Home by 1 - but back at Portsmouth on Wednesday...

590 CAVE IN, THE DAMN PERSONALS, This Is Prologue, Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Wednesday 7 May 2003

...and here we are, back on the South Coast for the second time in 4 days. This time, an intriguing gig for Cave In, a Boston band packed with potential, was doubled with the Damn Personals, friends of The Gravel Pit and victims of an unfortunate gig clash in Boston last June, being added to the bill. So once again we motored down and were waiting outside for doors at 8!

Virtually the first person we bumped into in the lobby was a mop-topped character sporting a Seafood t-shirt, which turned out to be DP's bassist Jimmy Jax! We instantly struck up a rapport with him, as again the Gravel Pit tattoo gained some attention! We also met and chilled with vocalist Ken and drummer Mike, and heard the tragic news that The Sheila Divine had split up! Aargh! in fact, big Jim Gilbert nearly accepted the DP's invite to accompany them on this tour as manager/ merch man. Now, just how freaky would that have been?

Popped into the bar with Rach, and suffered the horribly bassy shouty nu-metal stylings of openers This Is Prologue. Not quite as appalling as Winnebago Deal, but really not far off! We then took up our usual (ha!) position at the front, stage right, for the Damn Personals' first ever UK gig. They introduced themselves as hailing from Boston, Massachusetts (just as I'd predicted beforehand!) and burst out of the blocks like prize greyhounds, with opener "Better Living". On record, the DPs brand of rock veers closely to the jagged Who/Stones influenced primal variety, but "live" their numbers really take flight, and assume an identity and purpose of their own. "Better" was easily a quantum leap better (groan) than the CD version, and next number "Fucking In NYC" was raw, aching rock at its freshest and most bloody. The Rumble judge who had to choose between this lot and The Gentlemen sure had a hard job!

Visually too, the Damn Personals are a treat; a highly kinetic band with barely restrained energy and enthusiasm bursting from every riff. This was particularly true of guitarist Anthony, who moved onstage as if he had a snake down his back! Overall, the Damn Personals were damn superb, and the set simply flew by.

Chatted and congratulated again afterwards with Jim, and got free t-shirts from the merch guy! Cool! We then popped back in for headliners Cave In, on at 10.20. They have a Boston reputation for being "proggy", a term which for me, in describing modern bands, really doesn't mean much anymore. However for me, new CD "Antenna" has shades of the pissed-off powerpop of the Posies' "Amazing Disgrace". They certainly left the power full on tonight, as from the outset their set was potent, powerful and strident. Another example that you don't need to scream incoherently to emote, Cave In were a perfect example of dramatic hard rock perfectly restrained and balanced. A pregnant pause during single "Anchor" really appealed to me, although Rach could have done without the squalling white noise of the subsequent number. Overall, though, they also left a very favourable impression.

And we left pretty much straight afterwards! Quick goodbyes with the DPs, as Rach was knackered, and we hammered home in 1 1/4 hours. Wow!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

591 EVAN DANDO, YOU AM I, Pieces, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Tuesday 13 May 2003

As if I needed another reason to get excited about another gig from one of my all-time rock icons and the man I named my first-born son after, Mr. Evan Dando, I got two - firstly, the esteemed You Am I, a band we missed seeing recently due to our Sheila Divine marathon week in London, were announced as support; and secondly, a call to EdV revealed that Boston friend Josh Lattanzi was playing bass for Evan!

Thus galvanised, we zoomed to Bristol with friends, hitting the venue at 1/4 to 8. Got drinks before launching a Josh hunt; called out Chris Brokaw from backstage and got him to look back for him, but he wasn't there. However, we wandered into the hall to catch a bit of first support Pieces, and Josh was practically the first person we saw. Typical! Also typical was that Josh recognised my Damn Personals "Our Rock Will Fuck You" t-shirt before he recognised me! Nevertheless we got welcome hugs as we caught up with one of the sweetest guys in rock.

Introduced Josh to the crew in the bar, following Pieces cute and inoffensive yet inauspicious set (sounded a bit like Smudge in its' laid-back feel, and lauded by Josh) and chewed the cud before Josh went backstage, and we hit the hall for You Am I, back in the UK after 7 years.

The reason for You Am I's current UK ascendancy is down to the patronage of fellow Australians The Vines; however they can make it on their own thank you very much, and proved it tonight with a corkingly incendiary rock set. Shades of The Who and The Stooges in their raw power and rootsy rock feel, You Am I were great tonight and made us glad we finally got to see them. A largely unfamiliar set ('cause I'm a couple of albums behind with them right now), but embellished with their "biggest hit" ("number 74 in New Zealand," said vocalist Tim Rogers), the touching "Heavy Heart", and an incendiary run-through my favourite You Am I track, "Cathy's Clown". Great stuff.

Stayed near the front, stage right, for Evan, but were joined by a plethora of drunken numbskulls singing barmy army songs and spilling beer. Surely the wrong gig for that! Evan came on at 9.45 to a herald of freeform jazz, which he inexplicably wanted turning up! However, he eventually got down to playing a few acoustic numbers from the Lemonheads' classic "Shame About Ray" album and some new stuff, before being joined by Josh and the rest of the band for "Big Gay Heart" and "Great Big No" from "Come On Feel The Lemonheads". A selection of standout moments from the Lemonheads musical canon, augmented with toughened up numbers from his disappointing recent "Baby I'm Bored" CD - sounding way better "live" - followed, highlighting Evan's excellent rich voice and his penchant for easy, laid back guitar melody. The second-best bassist in Boston (sorry Josh, but EdV's number one) held the bass steady and sure, and Evan's performance exuded new-found confidence and total star quality. "Down About It", the set closer "Rudderless" and unexpected second encore "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" were my highlights; although I'm a little concerned by Evan's continued over-reliance on an album now 11 years old, it's conversely still great to hear all that "Shame About Ray" material "live" again!

592 CAVE IN, THE DAMN PERSONALS, London University Of London Union, Wednesday 14 May 2003

A promise of a guest-list spot is always good enough reason to justify a midweek trip to London, and thus we tanked it up the M4, avoiding footy play-off traffic near Reading, and amazingly finding a good parking spot in Shepherd's Bush, despite QPR's own play-off game! Tubed it over and hit the venue at 8.15, immediately bumping into Kev and David from Seafood! It subsequently turned out we didn't have a guest-list spot after all, having been "bumped" so Seafood and their +1's could get in free. Bah! Still, we forgave them, being the lovely people we are.

Chatted with da Fooders in the bar, before the opening bars of "Better Living" heralded the entrance of the Damn Personals onstage, so we headed in and down the front. The boys were struggling a little with poor sound set-up in this venue, but their performance was once again incendiary, kinetic and very committed. An early "Fucking In NYC", all jagged and joyful, was probably the set highlight, but this lot share a Boston trademark of being so damn better "live" than on record (and their raw amped-up Stones-ish sound is pretty damn good there too!), and thus are quickly becoming another Beantown favourite!

As before, bassist Jimmy Jax hunted out a set-list for me at the end, and we repaired to the bar with Kev and David before the commencement of Cave In's early-starting set. Took an initial place towards the back of the venue, for their powerful, strident hard-rocking early numbers. The excellent "Anchor", once again featuring the pregnant pause (this time not justified by the vocalist. Good!) was the early highlight, at which point we headed to the back to chill with DP's merch man Jay, during Cave In's more psychedelic interlude. We were joined variously by DP's Ken and Jimmy, and VCR-wielding drummer Mike, who videoed my hernia and stomach scar to show mutual friend EdV back in Boston. That should freak him out... again!

And the band played on! Cave In, still more than adequately audible from our merch stand spot, were laying down another fine, heavy yet restrained melodic rock set with edge, but I was happy to chill with the DPs, comforted by the knowledge that Cave In had just been added to the Reading Festival bill. Bade our farewells shortly after Cave In's set finished, and hammered home to get in for 12.45. God bless The Damn Personals!

593 GRANDADDY, Easimart, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Wednesday 11 June 2003

Three days after releasing their most conventional sounding CD yet in "Sumday", Grandaddy hit the road. And despite competition from the England game on TV, we were there! Pretty deserted when we got there, though, after the usual parking-mare at this horribly positioned venue, so we thought the footy had won! Got a drink and popped in for support Easimart. Obviously Grandaddy buddies, they were quite schizophrenic, with short, half-finished punky numbers interspersed with more contemplative, introverted driftwood. A spiky cover of Wire's "Strange" was however the highlight of a forgettable set.

Grandaddy were due on at 9 so we got more drinks and took up an uncrowded position stage left, for their fashionably late entrance at 9.10. Easing into their set with "For The Dishwasher" and a very well-received "Hewlett's Daughter", they were immediately in good form and proceeded to play a superb set, culled variously from their wide canon of work. Grandaddy's music is very warm and human; soft psychedelic organ-led interludes merge with more hard-rocking material, but it's all optimistic and upbeat. The pregnant pause of "AM180", which the moshpit wrongly anticipated, brought a smile, as did Jason Lytle's self-effacing attitude and claims that we, the audience, were "Awesome". "The Group That Couldn't Say", my favourite from their new CD, was an early highlight, with its' gentle pastoral narrative, but a powerful rendition of new single "Now It's On" was definitely the highlight of this delightful set.

Conventional and less experimental their new CD may be, but "live" it was superb, and installed Grandaddy as a pre-Reading Festival tip for top band. Great stuff, and home for 10 past 11 as well!

594 OK GO, MEW, Cherry Falls, Bristol Fleece, Sunday 15 June 2003

This was one of those, "Holy Shit!" gigs, when you just stare in awe at what you're witnessing. After delivering one of the most original and challenging albums of the year - hell, of any year - with "Frengers", hopes were high for this one as we travelled down the M4 listening to the Canadian GP on the radio, and anticipating... well, something special from Mew. We were not to be disappointed.

Hit an already well-attended venue at 1/4 to 8, and got drinks in before first band on, Cherry Falls, at 8. A Scottish combo, they kicked off in a Candyskins-esque perky pop manner, but quickly degenerated into plodding post-Radiohead dullness. Disappointing after a good start, and the vocalist was a total dick.

Down the front, stage left, for the entrance of Mew at 8.40. We were glad to note on the set list that they were kicking off with album opener and awesome new single "Am I Wry? No", but we were little prepared for the impact it would have. The strident, chopping guitar opening actually made Rachel jump, and the soaring, occasionally Pulp-like mid-section really took a startling hold. The beautiful choirboy vocals of Jonas Bjerre (who'd previously fooled Rach into believing this was a female-fronted band!) were a haunting highlight of a superb rendition of this single, which is rapidly becoming one of the best for years.

Then, incredibly, it got better! A brilliant "156" followed, 3 tunes in one, all out-there and otherworldly. The rest of the set, all culled from "Frengers" whirled by in a blaze of haunting, shimmering magnificence. A sure sign of how great a band is, is how low the bass player holds his instrument, and in that regard Mew pass with flying colours; the Pixies t-shirt clad, Hugh Jackman lookalike bassist Johan practically had his strapped around his ankles in a Ramones-like fashion, a point I remarked to him afterwards.

The absorbing, drawn-out "Comforting Sounds" concluded an awesome, inspirational set of power, precision and beauty. Easily the best set I've seen this year so far, this 45 minutes was over waaaaay too soon.

After that, OK Go stood no chance. They were better than their plodding, Reef-like single would suggest, and almost harmonic in a sub-Fountains Of Wayne way, but after 3 numbers Rach and I decided to hit the road, still elated by the magnificence of Mew. So off we went, and were home before 11 - ideal for a Sunday night gig!

595 THE THRILLS, The Delays, Oxford Zodiac, Monday 16 June 2003

Two gigs in two nights, as Rachel and I donned shorts and bopped down to Oxford for this sell-out gig from current music press faves The Thrills. Hit the venue at 7.30 and got stopped by the bouncer, who thought I was smuggling something into the venue under my shirt. He got a shock when he found out it was my hernia - he then called his fellow steward over, who also happened to be called David Rose (Andrew David Rose, that is), and who also had a hernia, although nowhere near as big as mine. Weird!

Right, medical report over, on with the gig review! Rach and I plonked down in the bar and chatted through an inconsequential, although better than before (although that wasn't difficult really), set from support The Delays. Scheduled support The Zutons were mysteriously missing; shame, as that would have been a useful "Z" in the gig alphabet!

Took up position in the uncomfortably large crowd, behind 2 guys whose heads I threatened to bang together if they elbowed me in the stomach! The Thrills joined us at 9.30 to a rapturous reception, and set to their task with humility and a fair amount of reverence for their music. The fey, Morrissey-esque stage presence of vocalist Conor Deasey was a feature throughout, and indeed this gig recalled early Smiths shows in their youthful optimism and anticipation of greater things to come. Musically, they were again a splendid melange of all your favourite 60's west Coast jangly pop and harmonic surf groups, with a toughened up "One Horse Town", featuring excellent 3-part harmonies, a highlight. Conor commented on what an honour it was to sell out Oxford on their first visit, but they'd better get used to that, as on the evidence of this show they're destined for greater things. Potential slowly being realised, although they still need room to grow and develop - and write more songs, as this set plus encore was barely 45 minutes. Another home by 11 job!

596 INTERPOL, British Sea Power, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Wednesday 24 June 2003

Nothing better on my birthday than having a gig to go to, and there were plenty in London to choose from. However, we'd already gotten tix for this one before the clashing REM and Longwave gigs were announced, so we stuck with it - REM sold out in moments anyway! So Rachel picked me up from work and, after a good run, we parked at the Bush at 7, getting KFC picnic tea on Shepherd's Bush Green before hitting this old theatre venue and taking our circle seats early. Good view!

An intriguing new band supported - British Sea Power, all chunky socks, tin hats and tree branches adorning the stage. After 3 songs I'd written them off as a sub-Coral early Bunnymen rip-off with a bad vocalist (the second number in particular sounding exactly like the Bunnymen's "Crocodiles"), but then the guitarist took over vocal chores for a surprisingly affecting number which recalled the atmospherics of Kitchens Of Distinction, and thus was far and away the best number of the set. Things picked up thereafter, actually, with a bit more originality, whilst retaining the Bunny similarities in their edgy spookiness, which left me wanting to check them out at Reading this year. A set of two halves, indeed!

We knew what to expect from Interpol, following their dark, brooding Joy Division-esque debut CD "Turn On The Bright Lights", and they did not disappoint. From the stark, bare stage set up to the black suits, through to the mesmeric and melancholy music, led by the metronomic fretwork of guitarist and mainman, the impressively-sideburned Daniel Kessler, their set was an exercise in precise, studied atmospherics and effortless cool. Vocalist Paul Banks' haunting baritone even recalled Ian Curtis at times, as their dark little songs, more together and dynamic than the occasionally fragile CD versions, created a chilling atmosphere, and was rapturously received by this sell-out crowd. More than any of their contemporaries, NYC's Interpol seem well equipped to develop into larger venues, although it'll be interesting to hear how their next album progresses their notably derivative sound. All in all, though, an impressive set and a perfect way to spend my 38th birthday! Also, a quick sprint home saw us back by midnight!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

597 PEDRO THE LION, MEW, Saint Joan, London 93 Feet East, Thursday 26 June 2003

A gig which could quite easily have gone "the way of the pear", turned out to be a startling triumph from a band that is rapidly joining the pantheon of the very special indeed. Rachel picked up on this gig the day before, so we rapidly sorted tix, and I persuaded a work colleague that he could put off a house viewing but couldn't put off rock'n'roll! So we hit the road at 5.15, and after a long tube ride to Liverpool Street and a hike through Spitalfields Market to find the venue, we arrived at 8. Of course, the first people we ran into at this smart little club was our friends David and Kevin from Seafood, doing the DJ chores tonight! Caught up with them before first band, Saint Joan, who clearly had been listening to a lot of Kristen Hersh, but their low-fi strum-alongs were cloying and indistinct rather than hypnotically melancholy.

The front got a little busy for the entrance of Mew, just after 9.30. Singer Jonas came onstage and warned us that as their equipment had seemingly all broken down simultaneously earlier in the day, tonight's set was going to be, "a little different", as he played an unfamiliar and gloomy little solo opener. The band then joined him for the low-key numbers "Symmetry" and "Eight Flew Over, One Was Destroyed", all brooding and slow-burning, but not the burstingly plangent pop of the likes of "Am I Wry? No" or "156" (both bravely omitted tonight) that we'd anticipated. However, the set really hit top gear for next number, "She Came Home For Christmas", which was starkly magnificent, emotive and pure, with Jonas' clear-as-a-bell vocals a prominent feature. The jagged, angular spookiness of "She Spider" was next up, Jonas admitting, "some of our gear still works," as the band made the most of it with a brilliant rendition. By set closer, another stellar, absorbing "Comforting Sounds", we stood convinced that we were again witnessing true greatness, a band who'd tuned adversity into a resounding triumph. A standing ovation from the awestruck crowd, and sadly unfulfilled chants for an encore, were no less than Mew deserved.

We gathered our wits after this superb set before Pedro The Lion joined us at 10.30. So slow-fi as to be stationary on last viewing, Boston 2000, this latest version of da Lion was a bass-free 2-piece ("Jesus is our bassist - he's more reliable than our last one," was the explanation from mainman David Bazan), who conversely sounded more upbeat and robust than the previous fragile hush. They were also quite good, in an American Music Club meets Grandaddy kind of way, but as with OK Go recently, they paled into utter insignificance after Mew. So after 4 numbers we bade farewell to Kev Seafood and left, to get a jump on the way home.

Wrong! After waiting 20 minutes for a Hammersmith and City train that never came, we switched to the Central line, getting back to the car just before midnight. We then hit an inexplicable amount of traffic on the M4 roadworks near Slough, reducing us to a crawl, and didn't get home until 1.30. D'oh! It takes a very special band indeed to keep us up so late on a school night these days - luckily we saw a very special band tonight in the magnificent Mew!

598 DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL, London WC2 Astoria, Friday 15 August 2003

We had visions of this one being a non-starter due to a dodgy motor, similar to our last gig trip where we missed Sparklehorse at Bristol Academy due to a car breakdown, but luckily it wasn't! We topped up the oil before we left at 5.30, but as soon as we hit the M4, the car stated smoking like a 60-a-dayer, and obscuring the vision of the motorists behind us. We limped along to Membury Services and called the AA out; they arrived within 10 minutes and the bloke advised us we'd overfilled the car with oil - by about 2 litres! He drained off the excess, which took an absolute age, and we finally got going again at 7.30. Thus delayed, we parked up in Shepherd's Bush at 20 to 9, and tubed over to the Astoria, the revised venue for this gig after the LA2 sold out. Got hassled by the doorman who thought I was smuggling stuff in - no, it's my hernia! Had to lift my shirt up to show him, so it was 9 before we got in, just as Dashboard Confessional were taking the stage. Talk about timing...

Dashboard Confessional have upgraded from the hands-down (!) Best New Band of last year's Reading Festival, to a heart-crackingly emotive favourite thanks to the brilliantly desolate "Places You Have Come To Fear The Most" CD. Furthermore, they appear to have been embraced by a generation of disillusioned rock kids searching for some meaningful music to hang their post-nu metal beanie hats on. No surprise then that mainman, the strikingly photogenic Chris Carraba, was welcomed onstage tonight like the messiah. Second number "The Good Fight" was rapturously received, and featured the Dashboard live staple of Chris abandoning his mic and leading the moshpit choir, who returned with every word. Haunting, superlative stuff.

Much of the early set was taken up with the more optimistic yet currently unfamiliar new CD material, but it really took flight following an awesome "Screaming Infidelities"; heartbreak never sounded so good. This was, however, topped by final encore "Hands Down", the new single about, "the best day of my life," according to Chris. A beefed-up, stunning and soaring number, this one is possibly Dashboard's best number, and it's up there with the best releases of this year. And that was it - away from the venue and on the road by 10.30 - a quick dash for Dashboard, but well worth it!

599 HOT HOT HEAT, Franz Ferdinand, Vue, Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Tuesday 19 August 2003

Rachel's and my Reading Festival warm-up schedule continues apace (well, bands do Reading warm-up gigs, so why can't we?) with the second of 3 scheduled gigs designed to get us in the Fest mindset. This one, for hotly (ouch) tipped newcomers Hot Hot Heat, came about simply due to big fan Rachel's desire not to see them, "do a Libertines," at Reading, and disappoint mightily with a technically beset performance, as the similarly hotly tipped Libs did a couple of years back. Covering all bases - fine by me! So we hit the road at 6.30 and passed the massive queue for this sell out gig, on our way to park, amazingly, just round the corner. Obviously the queuing lot got lifts!

Drinkies before first band on, San Francisco's Vue, at 8.30. They were good in a Doors-ish, West Coast rhythm and driving blues kind of way, also recalling You Am I in their occasional raw and dirty raunchiness. However none of their material really made more than a mildly pleasant impression, and their vocalist, while procuring the moves of a young Jim Morrison, obviously didn't pick up on the stage presence. I then noticed, between bands, that standing behind us in the crowd was none other than Fulham boss Chris Coleman - obviously scouting for that much-needed new dynamic frontman!

Intriguing Scottish combo Franz Ferdinand were next up, and right royally entertained with a mix of, ooh, all sorts of weird late 70's New Wave references. The staccato, choppy chord changes of XTC and Wire, the choral vocals of a young David Byrne, or in parts (whisper it) Big Dipper's Bill Goffrier, from the horribly-haired vocalist, some British Sea Power style quirkiness, and even a bassline nicked wholesale from the Undertones' classic "Teenage Kicks". It was all chucked in there, into a melting pot of intelligence which stayed just about on the right side of clever-dickiness. I thoroughly enjoyed their set, which climaxed with a rambunctious number which had the vocalist screaming, "Ich heisse Herr Super-Fantastisch!".

The place was now full and getting hot hot hot for the entrance of Hot Hot Heat, just after 10.15. They joined us, all piles of tousled hair and black drainpipes, bursting into a number from their "Knock Knock Knock" EP. Steve Banks, their painfully young-looking and impressively energetic vocalist, was the focal point, with his yelping, Robert Smith-like vocal delivery, although the whole band delivered a fine, spunky and totally fun performance. Very derivative of early XTC themselves they may be, but Hot Hot Heat's material is upbeat, optimistic, clever without being po-faced, and irresistibly infectious. I surprised myself by singing along to almost every number, from the early "Oh Goddammit", through to set closer, the excellent keyboard-propelled anthem that is "Bandages".

This set was as fun, smart and snappy as this young and talented band themselves are, and made this the most "fun" gig since, ooh, Cheap Trick earlier this year. Oh, and in Banks, I think Chris Coleman might have found the dynamic frontman he was looking for!

600 SAVES THE DAY, Cardia, Shouting Myke, Oxford Zodiac, Wednesday 20 August 2003

Two landmarks here; gig no. 600, obviously, but also my first gig accompanied by... earplugs! I'm tired of getting my ears blasted by shit support bands piped haphazardly through poor sound systems, so a friend has kindly provided plugs which clean out the sound, cutting out the glare but not the volume. I used them tonight for the first time on support Shouting Myke, who started with a very long Pearl Jam-like number, then thankfully got shorter and snappier. Also left them in for Cardia, an NYC combo who featured Rival Schools' guitarist Ian Love as singer, and sounded very dark and moody without sounding Radiohead-like dull. A point I remarked to Ian afterwards, who noted my Jeff Buckley t-shirt and said he'd figured I'd like their stuff. He'd certainly exhibited some Buckley-esque top range vocal gymnastics in their intriguing set!

We'd come to see Saves The Day tonight, despite them playing at Reading Festival next week, in order to avoid a potential band clash at the Fest. However, they put a case for seeing them again at Reading, with a good, upbeat and enthusiastic set of their punky and perky emo-pop. The set featured some toughened up new numbers, the obligatory (at emo gigs, so it seems!) singing along to most numbers from the devoted crowd, and vocalist Chris Conley's slightly excessive early-Bono-esque humility towards this enthusiastic crowd. Their best number, "At Your Funeral" (a top five single for me last year, and easily head and shoulders above the rest of their output) was saved till last, which made it a fitting end to a fine gig, one worthy of a milestone or two!

Friday, 5 February 2010


Sheriff's Diary - Day 1 Friday 22 August 2003; Unlucky 13 turned out to be the case, with probably the worst Reading Festival I've been to. It didn't bode well from the outset, with a crap bill and leaden skies as we travelled in on the first day. Ignored road signs telling us day trippers go a different way, and parked in the normal, albeit busier than usual, industrial estate behind the festival site. One thing we noted immediately was that the place was heaving; we had to queue (!) for wristband exchange, and after the usual info tent stop-off, the crowd to get into the arena early doors was worse than ever. Also, I got frisked on the way in due to my odd body-shape, thanks to my post-operation stomach hernia. Am I the only person who's ever had one of those, or what?

COLOUR OF FIRE, first band on in the Tiny Tent, kicked off with an opener nicking Ultravox's "Young Savage" riff, and kicked off a punky fuss which oddly enough also recalled Suede, albeit only in the vocalists' inflections. Not too bad a start, overall! Hit the main arena for a lunchtime rendezvous with The Big Man, camping this weekend, thus also enduring the last couple of INME's dull, grunge-too-late numbers. Stayed there for our Festival wake-up call, the mainstage debut of BOWLING FOR SOUP. They delivered a perfectly executed set of festival punk-pop fun, which featured not only the first bona-fide festival anthem in "Girl All The Bad Guys Want", but a superb cover of the Ramones' classic "I Wanna Be Sedated", spliced with the opening riff from Black Sabbath's "Paranoid"! The usual quips, piss-taking humour (including a pro-fat people chant!) and hi-jinks went down a storm.

Chatted and chilled during FINCH'S set. This was the first example of the horrible scheduling mess this year; Finch on the Main Stage, Saves The Day in the Big Tent, and Franz Ferdinand in the Tiny Tent; all bands we want to check out, and all on at the same time! D'oh! Nevertheless, we stuck around for Finch, having recently seen the other two, but in retrospect this was a mistake. They were dynamic and earnest, fine, but far too po-faced after the Soup. They also missed out their best number, "Letters To You", as well, and finished ahead of schedule. So did Saves The Day, as we found out to our chagrin after a sprint over to the Big Tent!

Back in the arena for a late lunch while LESS THAN JAKE's ska punk got the mainstage mosh going. Not my cup of tea but I suppose they did it well, though not as funny as NOFX last year. Crossed over the arena after their set, picking our way through the huge crowds and queues for, well, everything (it's only Friday, what's going on??). Into the Tiny Tent for Australia's ROCKETSCIENCE, who became the second band of that name I'd seen (a first for me, surprisingly!). They were quite 60's retro and in-your-face, with a dominant keyboard-driven blues sound; like listening to Love's "Seven And Seven Is" 6 times in a row, apart from one number which sounded like Duran Duran! I liked them fine, Rachel wasn't so sure, but we agreed on one thing; Boston's Rocket Science are way better!

Nowt to do for 3 hours or so, which made the earlier 3-band clash all the more galling, so we plonked ourselves down in the warm arena, near backstage. Caught the last of the DATSUNS set, which wasn't improved from last year, and had some wanky guitar toss thrown in as well. They also didn't know how to finish a song gracefully and get off. Oh dear. STAIND, up next, kicked off their set in an ominously clumsy manner, then their guitar rig blew up, necessitating a subsequent acoustic set which actually wasn't bad at all! Candidates for pleasant surprise of the day, the guy can sing - perhaps he should go solo! The crowd lapped up this acoustic interlude, although the Staind vocalist had a face like thunder as he left the stage. They were, however, much much better than THE DARKNESS, who played horrendous 70's pomp rock a la Queen and Status Quo, everything we fought the punk wars to eradicate. Gah. They went down an absolute storm. Kids these days.

Early evening now; over to the Big Tent for ELECTRIC SIX, along with a zillion others, for one reason only. E6 battled gamely with some dense, sax-propelled sleazy and sinister funky rock which occasionally recalled The Psychedelic Furs. However, the crowd's chants for "Gay Bar" throughout the set, only partly placated by a blisteringly funky "Danger High Voltage", showed what they were there for. When "Gay Bar", a silly sing-along piece of kick-ass punk, was trotted out, the place erupted, then totally emptied straight afterwards, the throng missing a funny version of Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" in the process!

I hit the loo during PLACEBO's mainstage rendition of "Pure Morning", then headed back to the Big Tent on my own, Rach sticking around for the rest of Molko's mob's set. NYC's INTERPOL, a most un-festival-like of bands, nevertheless played a damn fine set of their gloomy and doomy yet magnificently brooding Joy Division-esque cool rock. "PYD" was an absorbing mid-set highlight of a highlight of the day. Met Rachel, then got late tempura and noodles tea, then left the arena to get some cool retro t-shirts!

Back in for a bit of SPARTA in the Tiny Tent, dynamic and rocking but a little short on tunes. Ran into our Boston friend Josh Lattanzi and chatted awhile, debating the weirdness of EVAN DANDO headlining the New Band (Tiny) Tent! Josh and Evan subsequently hit that stage at 10.45, and together they rescued the day with the perfect festival set of easy melody and harmony that is the Dando trademark. Equally drawn from new CD "Baby I'm Bored" and his impressive Lemonheads canon of work, this was the perfect end to the day. The sing-along "Rudderless" and set closer "Shame About Ray" were the note-perfect pop highlights of today's best set by miles. Evan, the smooth baritoned space cadet and true star, loves Reading; and we love him!

Sheriff's Diary - Day 2 Saturday 23 August 2003; Beef joined us today, so we conned him into driving! Some fluffy stuff in the air, but skies were mainly blue, so Rachel and I slathered with sunscreen before hitting the arena at 11.30 for THE REAL in the Tiny Tent. They cut a mellow morning-after vibe, with the Grant Lee Buffalo sound-alike vocalist also trying some Buckley-esque vocal gymnastics. THE SLEEPY JACKSON then opened up the Main Stage, playing a varied set featuring intriguing rock, Beach Boys harmonies, Big Star slow-burn moody stuff, and, particularly, Byrds-like country rock. Beef also reckoned odd-looking vocalist Luke Steele was rocking the David Crosby look, circa 1965! Nevertheless, The Sleepy Jackson ultimately emerged as the Best New Band of this poor festival. Damning them with faint praise, I know...

An upsetting clash meant we missed Cave In (bugger!) in favour of STELLASTARR* in the Big Tent. Purveyors of a totally addictive 2003 single, "Somewhere Across Forever", they played an excellent amalgam of 80's rockist styles; the sparse taut spookiness of early Cure, the sleaze of The Psychedelic Furs, and the Bunnymen's haunting space. Chuck in Pixies style riffs and a vocalist with a deep yet yelping voice and you've got a damn fine set. Left halfway through their last number to at least catch some of Cave In, but they'd finished early. Double bugger!

Over to the Tiny Tent for WHIRLWIND HEAT, who despite the Sonic Youth name reference, were this year's Fall-like experimental stop-start freakazoids. Lasted 3 numbers before changing tents for MY MORNING JACKET, who played some worthy yet somewhat outdated country pop, before degenerating into Coldplay-esque plodding dullness. We got some grub - my Hog Roast of the weekend! - then ate during the last knockings of JUNIOR SENIOR's poor Europop Main Stage set, which featured a massacre of the Beatles' "Twist And Shout". Then to the Big Tent for JET - hotly tipped but disappointingly derivative of the Rolling Stones' down-and-dirty bluesy rock, and lacking the swagger and style that, say, the Gentlemen bring to that particular party. One nice number - "Make A Fool Of Everyone"? - was the best of a generic set. However we were by now settled by the Big Tent, having brought shooting sticks along today. Best thing we've ever taken to Reading! Met up with the similar seat-supplied Big Man, and chilled and listened to Rich's radio - tuned for the footy - during THE RAPTURE, who were a cross between the Goth funk of late Cure and the bleak industrial funk of a lot of early 80's Sheffield bands. A bit puzzling therefore as to why they're considered so cutting edge! Warmed during THE KILLS, the cloud clearing and the sun baking the arena, making 10 to 5 the hottest part of the day! The Kills themselves were all sleaze and wall of guitar noise, recalling early PJ Harvey.

Popped briefly to the Tiny Tent for THE SIGHTS, who despite being billed as Big Star strum-along powerpop, were more keyboard-driven 60's San Fran psychedelia. Ideal music to skin up to, apparently... Back afterwards to the Big Tent for the early evening set from THE THRILLS. Theirs was a pindrop-perfect sounding set of their now very familiar countryesque lilting West Coast 60's influenced pop. All perfect harmonies and piano-driven melody, all that is lacking in so many new bands these days, and the perfect accompaniment to a lazy late-Summer evening, with delicious set closer, the re-released "Santa Cruz", a highlight.

Rich then popped off to try - and fail! - to get near the heaving Concrete Jungle Stage, and Rach and I endured some of THE MARS VOLTA's tuneless experimental nonsense before giving it up as a bad job and getting tea! Decided not to give the Cooper Temple Clause another opportunity to disappoint me, so Rach and I prised our way past the huge Concrete Jungle crowds, bumping into our friend Thom on the way! Hit the main arena for BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB, and did a lot of people-watching during their set, which opened with a Phil Spector girl band number, and developed into a pretty cool 60's influenced motorbike punk rock set, with a hint of Jesus And Mary Chain on the side, although not as much as before; are they finding their own identity?

Off after loo queues to the Tiny Tent, meeting a frustrated Big Man on the way - still no CJ punk rock for him! Watched BRENDAN BENSON deliver a splendid upbeat set of simple, Summery, laid-back US college pop, with a smattering of Kinks-iness for good measure. Based largely on fine CD "Lapalco", this was a little treasure of a set, and a perfect way to bring on the night. Even Rich had to admit that! Finally, over to the Big Tent - via the beer tent - for headliners AFI. The hardcore-punk survivors turned old-school Goth deities turned in a very energetic show which was lapped up by their army of devotees, who sang every word of every song, even the real hardcore punk numbers! This was good, enthusiastic stuff from a band on the up, and featuring a Bono-esque frontman in Davey Havok.

That was that for the day - we met Beef by the car (he'd watched Blur), and picked up very official-looking "Don't Park Here" leaflets which had been placed under the windscreen wipers. T'uh, what next at this very poor Reading Festival???

Sheriff's Diary - Day 2 Saturday 23 August 2003; So, late last night, another thing was added to the list of Things You Can't Do at this year's Reading. So far you can't;
see the bands you want to, as they clash with other bands you want to see
rely on the running times!
crowd-surf (not that I do, anyway)
go to the loo in a clean bog - it's NOT me being more sensitive this year, the toilets ARE the worst they've ever been!
get a soft drink - a soft drink, mind you - for less than £2! Bloody rip-off!
move for people! More packed than ever!
park where I've parked for the last 12 years!
No wonder we're getting Festival Fatigue!

Anyway, off we set at 10.30, parking in the usual place. Fuck the warnings! Met a solemn Big Man who'd had his wallet nicked after leaving it in the tent awning, a Festival Virgin error. Piss was duly taken during flippant pop-punk Man Stage openers SUGARCULT. Fairly generic of the Blink 182 meets Jimmy Eat World sound, they were nevertheless well sorted for decent tunes, and won some fans with the vocalist's offer to locate the only clean "restroom"! We split up, then, and I headed over to see CARDIA, our support from the recent Saves The Day show. Their Tiny Tent set was once again full of Buckley-esque swirling menace, even more so than before, with Ian Love's gyrating and soaring vocals a prominent feature. More dynamic than the recent low-key Oxford set, this was overall damn fine. Had a quick chat with the besieged Ian afterwards, who was giving away free stickers and badges, and got my set-list signed!

Met everyone again for ALL AMERICAN REJECTS, on the Main Stage. They were surprisingly, and a little disappointingly, more rockily rabble-rousing than their jangly Cuckoo-esque pop single "Swing Swing" suggested. Lots of swearing and rock posturing detracted from a Jimmy Eat World-like set of upbeat new punk tunes. We left the arena after that for the Big Tent, catching the last knockings of SERAFIN's not-quite-sure-what-to-make-of-it strummy rock set, then settled in - with Rach in the big foldaway chair today and extolling its' virtues! - for THE RAVEONETTES. They played a fun yet flimsy Phil Spector 60's girl band sound via Jesus And Mary Chain guitar feedback, making them sound like 80's faves The Shop Assistants! Superb single "That Great Love Sound" apart, however, their material is thin and the set became samey. Good riffs and undoubted cool are all well and good, but you need tunes to back it up! Got noodles and tempura for dinner afterwards, during RADIO 4's set. An intriguing start, with the zeitgeisty sound of early jerky New Wave (XTC and particularly Talking Heads) taking on a funkier feel with bongos thrown in, making this lot sound a little like Pigbag! Enjoyable stuff but I couldn't eat a whole one.

Bit of shopping outside the arena, with Rich buying 3 t-shirts then wondering where his money went! Then I queued for ages for the loo in the arena, which made Rach wonder where I'd disappeared to! PRIMAL SCREAM were doing their rock histrionics on the Main Stage, but I ignored them. We then hatched the plan to leave early - sorry and all, British Sea Power (Tiny Tent headliners whom we'd subsequently miss), but we've got Festival Fatigue good and proper!

Went to the Tiny Tent for half of CALLA's heavy yet dull and plodding set, then stuck around for LONGVIEW, who were moody and atmospheric, slow-burning and melodic, and fronted by an extremely hairy Norseman lookalike! Whatever, they were very good, and we were angry that they would fall victim to yet another clumsy scheduling clash. Halfway through, we were over to the big Tent for the early evening arrival of HOT HOT HEAT. Took a vantage point as near to the front as we could for the Vancouver perky New Wave popsters. HHH were great again; effervescent, angular danceable pop played with enthusiasm and energy, and insanely catchy tunes sung along by the huge crowd, the atmosphere happy and fun, and making up for the slightly poor sound. "Bandages", sung along with passion, was the ideal set closer and another festival anthem!

Rich joined us, as dusk fell on the festival, both actually and metaphorically, and we pondered - had we indeed saved our best for last? Our final band of the festival, GRANDADDY, joined us forthwith, kicking off with jaunty new single "El Caminos In The West". It sounded perfect, particularly in comparison to the slightly muddy sound of Hot Hot Heat, and Rach and I just sat there and let this warm, lush sound flow over us. An early "AM180" (the intro of which caused Rach and I to go, "aaah!" simultaneously!) and an unusually speedy "Summer Here Kids" were notable, but the sparking psychedelia of "The Crystal Lake" got me off my seat and into the melee. Jason Lytle was in an odd mood - feeling very much the outsider on this bill, he chastised the falseness of the plethora of manufactured "punk rock" bands on the bill, claiming Grandaddy were "true punk rock!". No arguments there - this was fresh, exciting and superb, and won the day for the Modesto, CA. natives.

Then - we were off! Glad to get away from the poorest, worst organised Reading on record, but glad that thanks to Grandaddy we'd left the Festival on a high note!





STARS OF THE SHOW - THE BIG MAN for being barmy and fine company all weekend, IAN LOVE for being a nice guy, JOSH LATTANZI see Ian Love!