Thursday, 20 December 2012

868 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Middlenamekill, Swindon The Victoria, Wednesday 19 December 2012

And just as I thought my 2012 gig year had come to an end, here’s Gaz Brookfield to prove me wrong! This one, a hastily arranged “BBC Wiltshire Introducing” Christmas Party cum farewell bash for the 2 presenters, was both a warm-up for Gaz’ high-profile – and sold-out! – Fleece “Apocalyptalooza!” show this weekend, and also one which confirmed him as my most prolific “live” act of 2012; his 6th appearance this year in my hallowed gigbook/ gigblog, drawing favourable comparisons with the likes of Seafood’s 7 showings in 2000, and The Gigolo Aunts’ 7 in 9 months between Reading Festival 1993 and their Stuffies’ Brixton support slot (Rachel’s first gig) in April 1994! Some exalted company indeed, so good on you Gaz!

However, I firstly was forced to perpetuate my current gig parking nightmare – I found one final parking spot in the second Old Town car-park I tried after a rainy drive up the hill, only to find, after wasting loads of time trying, that none of the ticket machines were working! This delayed my arrival at the Vic until 8.45, missing the opening act but catching Middlenamekill, 4 hefty blokes in truly hideous bad taste dad Christmas jumpers, playing an equally hefty brand of post-millennial Emo punk which was formulaic but actually quite listenable. So I did – and took the requisite step forward when asked to by the imposing vocalist. 4 big blokes – don’t argue! Gaz was rocking down the front as well, reliving his hardcore roots.

Checked on the motor between acts, arriving back in time for Gaz’ soundcheck. My first time of seeing him perform with his full band, although shorn of violinist Ben Wain who apparently had something better to do! Still, backed with a standard 4-piece line-up (including guitarist Jamie Trowbridge, who was a scarily authentic Gaz clone!), Gaz launched unannounced into opener “Diet Of Banality” at the conclusion of said soundcheck. And “launch” was the operative word – the thing took flight like an intercontinental ballistic missile, this galloping, breathless number being even more powerful and even more like the Stuffies’ “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”, with the full band treatment! The “conning money out of kids” line was delivered with especial irony given his current legal tightrope-walking, and a pointed comment about musicians getting sued underlined this.

This set the tone for a superbly delivered set, the band adding many extra layers and dimensions to Gaz’ material, and Gaz responded with increased venom and conviction. “Limelight” was brilliantly ragged; Gaz commented on the conclusion that, “when you replace a rehearsal with a gig you’re going to end up with a shambles!” which was not too far wrong, given some technical hitches, but t’was a glorious shambles, a ragged and wonderful mess. "Under The Table” was a tremendous booze-soaked swaying anthem, but that was topped by the as-ever brilliant “Be The Bigger Man”, Gaz in full flight for this, delivering 100% effort and energy, a wonder to behold. The full house responded to Gaz’ exhortations to sing the “Thin” hook with gusto, prompting the man to remark, “and that’s why I love this town!” A final, fitting “West Country Song” was another rousing singalong, to end a fantastic and indecently short set.

A few words with the man afterwards; I declared, “[after that band set] I’m never coming to see you play on your own again!” Only joking of course, as we parted with mutual Christmas greetings and promises our paths will cross again in 2013. It was rather fitting that Gaz’ 6th show in 6 short months rounds off my 2012 gigging year, and there’ll be more to come next year from this splendid performer!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

867 THE DAMNED, The Dickies, Oxford O2 Academy, Tuesday 11 December 2012

One final gig to round off another entirely satisfactory, 31 gig year. Nada Surf apart, this year’s top gig highlights have been pretty much exclusively provided by vintage or “reformed” acts (Adam Ant, Simple Minds, Furs, Hooky and Bob Mould amongst them), so it’s only fitting that a retro year gets a retro send-off, with an old school punk rock double header! I was tempted to go see true punk rock originals The Damned this time last year, having been impressed by their Motorhead support slot a few years back, and t’was only lack of cash, and the fact they were concentrating on their Goth crossover “Black Album”, rather than their sprawling punk epic “Machine Gun Etiquette” to complement their debut album in a dual run-through, that stopped me. So when they announced veteran California cartoon punks The Dickies, surprise returning heroes of gig 826 last August, as tour support, I was up for it, and when a cheap weekend visit with Evan freed up some cash, I quickly invested in a ticket before the money disappeared elsewhere!

This was another solo jaunt though, so I took a careful drive along in freezing and thickening fog, once again having a trying time parking; when did Cowley Road Tesco become the busiest car park in the world? So I hit the venue just after 7.30, happily vindicating my early departure, as The Dickies were due on at 7.45! They duly arrived onstage in front of a disappointingly sparse crowd, looked around as if to play “spot the punter”, before hammering into a totally appropriate destruction of “Silent Night”. And we were away, with me rocking out down the front from note one…

For a set which relied so much on adrenalized, lightning-fast punk rock electric guitar and Leonard Graves Phillips’ signature helium-fired vocal gabble, the Dickies actually sounded great. Phillips, whom lest we forget is north of 60 these days, was already throwing body shapes and elastic hand movements, a wiry and energetic stage presence belying his advanced years, feeding off the wide-legged rock stylings and strong-armed solidity of fellow original member Stan Lee, whose Spiderman guitar sticker, I was happy to note, matched his forearm tattoo! “I’m OK, You’re OK”; saw Phillips pointing directly at me for the chorus line; I am indeed, Leonard! He then demanded the house lights on to look at the crowd, remarking, “what a sausage-fest! I mean, not wanting to offend, but do any of you guys have girlfriends?” I, unfortunately was the only one replying, “how old??!” to his “Give It Back” intro line, “this song is so old,” until he gave the crowd instructions with a patient, “we can do this all night!” The usual props were brought on for the magnificent set highlight “Waterslide”, although a garble-along “Manny Moe And Jack” with a slow (?) false ending, ran it close. Phillips, clearly a complete stranger to good taste, replied to a, “Jimmy Savile!” chant with, “I know we were on Top Of The Pops in 1947, but Jimmy Savile did not perform oral sex on me!"

By now the set had degenerated into sheer chaotic brilliance. “If Stuart Could Talk” saw the penis puppet singing, “we’re one big happy family,” before a racey “Gigantor” finally saw the crowd joining in with Phillips’ exhortations to sing along. They won them over in the end, as a fully deserved encore saw the inevitable “Banana Splits” to end a frankly amazing and thoroughly entertaining hour long, 23 song (!) support slot; worth coming just for that!

But we also had The Damned to contend with, although they faced a challenge to follow that set for me. Still, the place was close to full by the time The Captain raced across the stage incognito, just before the house lights went off at 9.15. An incongruous looking bunch these days, indeed; a ticket inspector guitarist, Captain Sensible in his full cartoon punk regalia, red beret in place, what seemed like a prog druid wizard on keyboards; and then Dave Vanian; snake hipped Vanian, the gentleman ruffian in a smart black greatcoat, black quiffed hair slicked back, and looking superb and stylish. Stately and tuneful opener “Under The Wheels” was followed by a rabid and chaotic “Noise Noise Noise”, which set the tone for this schizophrenic but fascinating set, a melting pot of the influences and phases, from street-cool original punk through wild and warped psychedelia via hooky Goth pop, of this veteran band rapidly approaching their 40th year (!).

I confess I’m not too familiar with their recent works (and by “recent” I pretty much mean anything after the early 80’s!) but the unfamiliar, power-poppy “Danger To Yourself” was an early highlight before oldie “Neat Neat Neat”, (introduced by The Captain with, “you might know this one”) featured a lengthy and creepy Doors-like keyboard interlude from Monty the keyboard Wizard, masses of curly hair tumbling over his black silken robes. “Grimly Fiendish”, a keyboard-led music hall pop Goth number, saw Vanian giving a menacing performance, his prowling stage presence dovetailing in perfectly with his deep, imperious vocals, before the stylish jacket was finally discarded for a superb “Love Song”.

“This one’s for all the scumbags,” announced The Captain before an epic, driving “Anti Pope” which was breathtaking, a set highlight for me. Then “New Rose”, the first punk rock single, still frenzied and moshpit-huge after 35 years, a growling, titanic beast of a song, before a soaring, psychedelic “Ignite” with “whoa oh” chorus, and a fast, frantic “Sanity Clause” to end the set. The encore saw “Lovely Money”, another extended psych workout, dedicated to Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band mainman Viv Stanshall, before The Captain invited a fan, old punk Johnno, onstage for his 68th birthday to play air guitar with his feather duster to inevitable finale “Smash It Up”, climaxing a Damned fine 1 ½ hour set.

A great double header to end the year. I think The Dickies shaded it for me for sheer crazy entertainment value, but The Damned were also superb tonight. Well worth the freaky journey back in thick freezing fog; a splendid punctuation point on the 2012 gig year!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

866 MISSION OF BURMA, Future Of The Left, Bristol Fleece, Monday 3 December 2012

… and we’re back at the Fleece again! Barely a week after No. 50 at this venerable old venue, here’s number 51! My hosts this evening are also equally venerable, as well as venerated; some proper Boston Rock Royalty, in the shape of The Hub’s very own veteran noisemakers Mission Of Burma, fresh from producing another album of challenging and uncompromising noise in this year’s “Unsound” CD, and also fresh from an ATP Xmas Festival appearance the previous weekend. So, just two years after trekking up to Dingwalls on a school night to catch a remarkable show from this bunch, it’s nice to have a much closer trip to Bristol!

So I tiptoed down a clear but cold (and potentially frosty) M4 after the kids went to bed, parking round the corner and hitting the venue at 8.30, missing openers Cursor but hearing a screamy soundcheck from main support Future Of The Left. I liked their t-shirts, advertising current CD “The Plot Against Common Sense” and featuring a man walking a penguin (!), and was also intrigued by their rousing reception from an already-busy Fleece, on their entrance at 8.45. Initially they baffled and frustrated me; for every piece of dramatically thrilling and jagged rock in the style of …Trail Of Dead or an extreme Seafood, perhaps, there were 3 or 4 clumsy stabs at screamy Nu-Metal. But I liked the patter (responding to a, “yeah baby,” shout, the vocalist berated the punter with, “that’s for the 4th date; there’s other names to go through first; “Captain”, or if you’re dressed the right way, “Mr Squirrel”!”), and the crowd were going nuts for them, with an increasing and frenzied mosh, making for a great atmosphere which the band fuelled with an impressive performance. This culminated in a lengthy and utterly mental final number climaxing in the blond guitarist screaming, “I trusted you!” repeatedly whilst jamming one guitar down a punter’s shirt (!) and handing another out to the mosh, while the drummer played on as his kit was dismantled around him!

After a fiddly set-up and soundcheck (which also included putting perspex screens around drummer Peter Prescott’s kit!), the 3-piece Mission Of Burma eventually took the stage at 10.15. I suspected this would be a noisy one, which was underlined by guitarist Roger Miller handing out free earplugs beforehand (!), so I took his advice and donned my own! After a largely instrumental opener we were into “Devotion”, bearing the jagged, visceral rock and barking, submerged vocals which are Miller’s stock-in-trade, Miller also belying his age by throwing Chuck Berry shapes reminiscent of The Gravel Pit’s own Ed Valauskas! “Fell-à H20” followed, being introduced by drummer Peter Prescott with the admission, “we’re on the older side, so this one is about falling down!”

As expected, the set was noisy, dramatic, powerful and kinetic, with a notable demarcation between “hook machine” bassist Clint Conley’s more accessible, hooky, herky-jerky New Wavey material and the growling, seething noise of Miller and Prescott’s songs, where staccato, militaristic drumbeat-led rhythms melded into choruses which often concluded in tumbling chaos. “Photograph”, a prime example of the latter, was followed in short order by new CD highlight, Conley’s “Semi Pseudo Sort Of Plan” mid-paced and almost singalong, embellished by Miller’s eerie backing vocals, then a lengthy “Donna Sumeria” which featured a repeated bubbling riff building into an apocalyptic climax. However the inevitable, wonderful all time classic “Academy Fight Song”, toughened-up “live” tonight, was a strident and all-inclusive chant to end the set.

A two song encore of a Wipers cover, followed by another classic oldie in “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”, was a perfect way to close proceedings; although, of course, as they’re a Boston lot I had to catch brief words with them afterwards, chatting to Peter Prescott about mutual friend Gary Waleik of The Big Dipper, and hearing Roger Miller’s story of seeing a young Jimi Hendrix “live”, having tried to give his ticket away first! I left with eardrums ringing (despite the earplugs) and a message for Roger to, “give my regards to Boston,” after a fine night in the company of this particular band of Boston Rock Royalty!