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!

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