Tuesday, 12 July 2011

825 THE 2011 SWINDON “BIG ARTS DAY”, Lydiard Park, Swindon, Saturday 9 July 2011

A welcome repeat of last year’s successful inaugural “Big Arts Day”, a one-day open air festival showcasing the performing and creative arts talent residing within Swindon, and another opportunity to take the kids to see Tim’s band The Shudders! This time we had 3 in tow; Evan was up for it, so we re-jigged his weekend visit schedule to coincide with this. So we set off about 12.30, hitting traffic which surprisingly cleared just the other side of the Link Centre, and parking up in the far field, a short hike from the Events Field and main park, about 1ish. It immediately seemed more professionally run; having apparently catered for 5,000 attendees last year and been overwhelmed with 20,000, the event organiser Steve Causer had advised us that this year they needed to bring in a better infrastructure to cope with the numbers, and this was immediately evident. It just felt better run straight away on arrival.

A concession this year was a smattering of fun-fair activities around the site; a bigger, better run event inevitably costs more to stage, so compromises need to be made to help bolster what is basically a non-profit and, more laudably, free event. Thus it was that we needed to drag Logan away from the “Hook-A-Duck” stand whilst wandering through the plethora of stalls to the Riffs/Holmes Music Stage, an inflatable raised stage which was a marked improvement over last year’s “Gazebo” affair, to catch some of THE FIXED. I’m used to seeing bands younger than myself, but this lot of indie tykes looked barely into their teens! Nevertheless, they seemed bright, enthusiastic and competent despite their age, and I’d liked to have stuck around to catch more of their set. However, I had an appointment in the belly of a whale…

An inflatable sperm whale sat in the middle of the field, with a Fish Wife beckoning the kids in; Logan wanted to go, so we entered the belly, enjoying some fishy pirate tales from a “shipwrecked” Pirate Queen, until it got too hot for Logan and we left. Rach, Evan and Kasey had met up with Sarah and Kate, and they were watching a “Time Trouble” theatre show which was apparently utterly bonkers, so we joined them, then wandered over to the Riffs stage where NOT JUST BUSINESS were rounding off their energetic, No Doubt-influenced pop set. THE SHUDDERS were next up at 2.20, only running 20 minutes late, a vast improvement from last year, so we took our places as the mid-afternoon sun emerged to welcome them. Introduced onstage as a “metal folk” band, which Liam quickly corrected to “thrash folk”, they played ostensibly the same set as their show last Saturday, albeit sounding better, more practiced and assured, and with a considerably improved sound in the inflatable stage (although Tim had suggested it would be like playing in a bouncy castle, and hoped the moorings held as he didn’t fancy playing a set floating 200 feet above the field!). Again, “Mary’s Grace” was a nice slow-burn vibe soundtrack to a sunny afternoon, and the singalong “Better Off Dead” was a well-played mid-set highlight. Logan and Kasey popped down the front for some dancing (including some incongruous breakdancing from Logan!) for the final 2 numbers “Words Of A Fool” and “Lost And Broke”, again Irish folk-tinged and fiddly-diddly fun.

Hung out awhile before we took a wander to the helter skelter for Logan, then poked around the stalls (including Nina’s beads stall, manned by the entire Prothero family!) while SLAGERIJ played a noisy, bolshy ska-punk set which drew a big crowd. Had a wander into the Lawn for ice cream afterwards, while SWINDON SAMBA plied their drumbeat dance on the Main Stage, then decided to call it a day about 4.30, as Logan and Kasey were getting a little hyper and tired respectively, and Evan and I had a Cinema appointment. I’d have liked to gotten more out of the day, but parenthood decided otherwise. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed our sampling of what seemed another fun and successful event!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

824 FOO FIGHTERS, Biffy Clyro, Jimmy Eat World, Hot Rats, Milton Keynes National Bowl, Sunday 3 July 2011

A real first, this one; the first time Rachel and I have dumped the kids with the Grandparents overnight, and pissed off to an all-day show! Honestly, we couldn’t resist this bill; I was interested in seeing the genre-defining Foo Fighters, the epitome of a modern “rock” band, again, after an absence from my gig schedule of 8 1/2 years, and having missed out on their intriguing “in the round” Wembley Stadium shows 3 years ago. However when Rachel’s current band crush Biffy Clyro and our enduring post-emo “live” faves Jimmy Eat World were added to the Sunday undercard of their 2 day MK Bowl mini-residency, I snapped up tix pronto, for what promised to be a good and proper grunting rock pig day!

Considering our experiences for the Green Day MK gig a few years back (easy in, easy out of MK, but then stuck in the middle of the countryside at midnight, home for 2.30am. Yikes!) we tried a different tack. So we dropped the kids off at midday, and drove in from the A5 North, encountering a bit of queuing traffic in but parking up in the splendidly named Teardrops Car Park, about 15 minutes North of the Bowl, hitting the already-heaving bowl at 2.30. The first thing to note was that the stage-front “Golden Circle” was not only massive, swallowing most of the bowl floor, but also already full and with huge immovable queues waiting, likely in vain, for entry wristbands! Sod that, we thought…

So we sat on the hill, chilled and chatted, then had a walk to get Rach’s traditional first band beer. BOB MOULD, yes even he, was DJ-ing, set up on one side of the stage and on the big screens, bopping along to some Hi-Nrg dance. Bob playing dance? That… makes no sense at all! Nevertheless, we got Rach’s beer and a better viewing position, on the slope left of stage (in front of a bloke who thought that putting a couple of empty bottles down guaranteed he had sole right to a goodly chunk of the slope!), for HOT RATS, first band at 4.30. An interesting concept, this; 2/3rds of Supergrass, including mainman Gaz Coombes, playing covers of their favourite material and influential oldies. When the stuff was intrinsically rocking (as in Bowie’s swaggering “Queen Bitch”) this worked, but other songs, like the Doors’ sublime “The Crystal Ship”, were handled too roughly. Even the Cure’s “Lovecats”, a song I don’t really like, was stomped all over with big Britpop Doc Martens, and I got the feeling this was overall a surprising waste of their time and talent. At barely 20 minutes, the set was short, too…

We wandered onto the bowl floor, with Bob back on the decks – as he was between all sets – and playing better and more representative disks, including Magnapop’s excellent “Lay It Down”, although he sadly resisted playing air guitar during Dinosaur Jr’s “Freak Scene”! However, we turfed up 3 or 4 rows back from the “Golden Circle” barriers, which still seemed hundreds of yards away from the stage! JIMMY EAT WORLD wandered on, unheralded, 5 minutes early at 5.25, and with the minimum of fuss burst into “Bleed American”, seething and dynamic, raggedly played and by no means note perfect, but thrilling as ever. Even better was to follow, as they were immediately into “A Praise Chorus”, my favourite number, fulsome and epic in its’ sweeping drama, and, with the sun breaking through the soft cloud cover for the first time this afternoon right on cue for the “crimson and clover” hook, as emotive and brilliant as ever. “God damn!” remarked Jim at the song’s conclusion, and I knew how he felt.

This evening, Jimmy Eat World were on fire. A band in a hurry, nary pausing for breath between each number, delivering a performance of sweaty, raw, slightly ragged but brilliantly thrilling rock of the first water. An unexpected but incendiary “Blister” was all seething power, followed by a strident singalong “Work” for a mid-set double-header highlight. “This is a dance number, so feel free to, y’know, partner up,” suggested Jim before the irresistibly catchy powerpop of “The Middle”. Then, all too soon, the “whoa-oh” of “Sweetness” heralded the end of a lightning-fast but utterly superb rock set.

Time for a breather then? Wrong! We took a walk to the back for a loo break, only to find the walkway even more crowded than down the “front” for Jimmy Eat World! Mental! We could only surmise that the huge “Golden Circle”, combined with two massive beer tents on the bowl floor, one each side of the stage, had significantly reduced the floor space whilst retaining the same capacity. Bah! We ended up snaking back through the woods fringing the back of the bowl, finding a good viewing spot on the hill, stage right, for BIFFY CLYRO, on at 6.45. A riot of noise and colour, they were also “on it” from the outset, mobile and kinetic, the sound much better on the hill than on the floor, blasting through a strident early “Golden Rule”, all drumbeat and drama, purposeful and pounding. A slow-burn singalong “God And Satan” built to a huge choral climax, whilst “Who’s Got A Match” showed a decided Seafood/Sonic Youth vicious guitar attack, jagged riffs strafing the crowd, and overall their confident display gave the impression it won’t be too long before they’re headlining here in their own right. Their best number, “Bubbles” echoed from all sides of this huge amphitheatre, before the lighters-aloft “Many Of Horror” precipitated a jagged and crushing closing “Mountains”, closing out a damn fine set from a band I’m really warming to. Mon the Biff!

So, there we stayed as dusk fell and DJ Bob Mould succumbed to temptation, playing Sugar’s “A Good Idea”. The witching hour nevertheless came quickly, and promptly at 8.15, with no entrance music or introduction, Dave Grohl raced onstage and down the runway joining the stage to the mixing desk set-up, about a hundred yards into the mosh, like some demented dog finally set loose. The rest of THE FOO FIGHTERS followed onstage, kicking in to savage opener “Bridges Burning”, the opening track to their current “Wasting Light” album, easily their best and most consistent since 1996’s classic “The Colour And The Shape”. And we were away…

Similar to their obvious antecedents Husker Du, Foo Fighters music primarily comes in 2 different digestible packages; the balls-out, amphetamine fast straight-ahead rocker with strident, yell-along chorus and a nevertheless melodic edge; and the thicker, mid-paced yet more anthemic moshpit sing-along. Both were fully in evidence tonight early doors; an immense “Pretender” saw 67,000 arms aloft pointing “who are you??” towards the stage, and the subsequent “My Hero” was off-kilter, strident and if anything even huger, a crescendo of noise and strobe.

“There sure are a whole fucking lot of you out there,” said Grohl, before a comedy monologue (including calling Foo Fighters gig virgins “nerds”, but then saying, “that’s ok, we used to suck but now we’re rad!”) which essentially told us he was going to skip the comedy monologues and concentrate on the rock! This was an occasionally odd performance from the widely acknowledged “nicest man in rock”; without the natural swagger or stage charisma of, say, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Grohl seemed to feel the need to augment his usual open and enthusiastic persona with some Denis Leary-esque dialogue and antics. This was nevertheless entertaining, as was the rock: “this one’s for the crazy motherfucker in the boat,” he shouted to a crowdsurfer in a rubber dinghy (!) by way of intro for “White Limo”; a huge cheer followed him downing a beer in one during an elongated note at the start of the excellent “Arlandria”; and another scamper down the runway saw him appear on a little stage behind the mixing desk during “Stacked Actors” for a riffery shoot-out with his onstage guitarist, via the big screen.

The sublime “Walk”, possibly their best number since “Everlong”, followed, then the debt to Husker Du was acknowledged by a warm introduction of today’s DJ, “the genius that is Bob Mould”, onstage for “Dear Rosemary”, Grohl also admitting, “we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for this man”. Mould, humble as ever, nevertheless prowled the stage like he owned it, battering his Fender and growling his lines with his usual startling conviction during this brilliant rendition. A pregnant pause halted the subsequent “Monkey Wrench” as Grohl announced, “this is the part of the song where I scream until I see stars and feel like I’m gonna fall over,” before doing just that. Then, after a quick loo break for us, the lengthy “whoa-oh”s at the end of “Best Of You” saw Grohl cracking a huge grin, before a powerful “All My Life” rounded the set off.

Grohl once again took the small mixing desk stage for the encore, delivering a solo “Wheels” as night fell, before taking the stage again during “Times Like These”. Unlike the previous night, we didn’t get Alice Cooper as a guest, making do with Seasick Steve for a nondescript blues jam (hey, I’m psyched for his success, but his primitive blues doesn’t float my boat). We did, however, get a savage “This Is A Call” before Grohl, now back to his Mr. Nice Guy self, gushingly complimented us all prior to a final “Everlong”. We’d known this was the final number, and debated missing it to get a flyer and avoid the traffic, but that would have been, as Rach put it, “like going to Egypt and not seeing the Pyramids”. So we stayed, and she was right; my word, it was mighty! A lighters-aloft, robust and powerful as all hell run-through of their finest moment, with a delicious mid-song pregnant pause and a massive climax, the perfect way to end a great set, with fireworks accompanying our sprint back to the car.

So, 3 fine rock bands all delivered on the big day, with hardly a scrap of paper between them for top act. I’m still undecided about that! However the different tack worked a treat, as we left the arena on “Everlong”'s last note, on the stroke of 11, and blasted back largely unencumbered, getting home for 12.30! A perfect result, to end a great day out!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

823 THE SHUDDERS, Swindon Town Centre, outside Debenhams, Saturday 2 July 2011

A sampler for next week’s Swindon “Big Arts Day”, this; billed as “Mini Arts Day” in the town centre, this event featured various music and dance performances throughout the afternoon on a small temporary stage and performance area, one of which was Tim’s band The Shudders! We actually hadn’t intended to go along for this, but we saw the stage during a morning trip into town, and this enthused our 4 year old Logan into wanting to, “see Uncle Tim play guitar,” rather than go to Wroughton Carnival, which was the plan!

So we popped back into town at 2.30, parking and wandering around to hang out with Tim, the Shudders, friends, girlfriends and offspring! The band took the stage at 2.45 to the friendly and curious, a full band for the first time in ages following drummer Alan’s return to the fold after becoming a dad (congrats, big guy!). Unfortunately, the sound was dreadfully tinny and thin, plaguing them throughout; indeed, after 1 song I turned to Rach and said, “they sound like they’re playing in a tin can,” to which her reply, referring to the temporary open-sided van-style stage was, “well they are, kinda!” Hmmm, not wrong…

Nevertheless, the boys soldiered on, with their usual self-deprecating humour and improving stage presence ultimately winning out over the poor but improving sound. A lovely, slow burn “Mary’s Grace” was given an extra dimension with the drums, fuelling the songs mood changes splendidly, and the equally understated “Sunflower” cut a beautifully hazy mid afternoon vibe. A couple of their more upbeat, jig-along numbers rounded off a fine set, and saw me dancing down the front first with Logan and then Kasey, in between loo breaks for the kids; “Words Of A Fool” a breathless C86 strumalong, and “Lost And Broke” a fine rootsy folk romp, the distillation of their “Pirate Folk” trademark sound.

So, a nice way to spend the afternoon with good friends and good music, a useful warm up for The Shudders’ “Big Arts Day” set next weekend, and a nice lead-in to this weekend’s big outdoor gig for Rach and myself. That one comes tomorrow…