Sunday, 24 February 2013

872 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Julesbury, Jimmy Moore, Benji, Swindon Victoria, Friday 22 February 2013

Second time already this year I’ve seen Gaz Brookfield and eighth time overall, but I’m nowhere near getting tired of being entertained by this passionate and committed performer, who effortlessly blends punk rock sensibility and attitude to an acoustic delivery, and an innate feel for catchy hookery and clever, pointed wordsmithery. That said, I’m still not sure I’ve yet been to a definitive Gaz gig, one where the audience reaction is as charged and enthusiastic as the man’s performance itself. Maybe this Friday night up the Vic will deliver such a gig. Let’s see...

Hit the already impressively busy Vic pub back-room venue about 8.30, in time to catch a plethora of support acts. First up, Benji, a smooth and soulful vocalist with an impressive octave-straddling voice, drawing from a smattering of eclectic covers (Jimi Hendrix’ “Crosstown Traffic” rubbing shoulders with The Jungle Book’s “I Wanna Be Like You”!) and some well-structured laid-back originals. Talented and clearly enjoying himself up there, this was a fine opening set. Next, a young bloke called Jimmy Moore then played a more knockabout acoustic set, dropping in a bit of rap and Gaz-like guitar percussion into his more upbeat, in-your-face and occasionally anthemic set. Not bad either, and I was kindly disposed to both of them as they actually played their instruments, rather than backing them through tape loops like some recent support acts.

I caught up briefly with Gaz before main support Julesbury, mentioning my thoughts on not yet having experienced a “definitive” Gaz gig. With a by-now full crowd, tonight looked promising... Julesbury themselves were a two-piece with a blonde vocalist, who unfortunately reverted to the dreaded tape loops to augment her harmonising. More trad-folk, they weren’t my cup of Steeleye Span, so I took a breather, returning to take a stage-front spot while Gaz set up.

Gaz and violinist Ben Wain took the stage at 10.15 - this was originally intended to be a full band performance, but 2 of Gaz’ band allegedly had other commitments, which either fell through or were actually for different nights, prompting Gaz to subsequently dedicate “Tell It To The Beer” tonight to, “the most talented but flakiest bunch of b***ards I know!”. Opening with “SN1”, for his father in law’s birthday, Gaz’ performance was superbly overt and committed from the outset, and this was met in kind with some loud and parochial “ooo-ar”s from this thankfully enthusiastic crowd. A chat about Swindon needing a “Swindonian Way” preceded a lovely “Frank And Sam”, Ben’s virtuoso fiddling already dovetailing in perfectly with Gaz’ acoustic guitar bashing and dextruous guitar percussion. A mellower set mid-section ensued, a touching, almost love-song “Glass Half Empty” a highlight, before a more upbeat “Limelight” was preceded by an explanation of how, since the Levellers had taken Gaz on tour, the 3rd verse was now a “dirty pack of lies”! This ignited the crowd, and was followed by newie “Land Pirate’s Life”, detailing said Levellers tour (“the tour I thought I’d never get,” according to Gaz) and recalling The Men they Couldn’t Hang’s excellent “Going Back To Coventry”.

“Drinking song,” “Under The Table” got a rousing singalong, before set highlight “Be The Bigger Man”, Gaz’ venomous delivery being diffused by his reaction to Ben’s brilliant violin sawing during a lengthy middle eight, which got a deserved ovation and a tribute from Gaz (“Ben Wain; making me sound good since 2011!”). “Thin” and, “ill conceived Christmas single,” (Gaz words, not mine!) “Diet Of Banality” were both mass singalongs to end the set, although a thunderous ovation saw him dragged back for a final “West Country Song” to end proceedings, Gaz leaving the stage to tour through the massed singing front rows in an all-inclusive, elongated finale.

Breathless, brilliant stuff from a born performer. Quick compliments and signed set-list later, I hit the road, having finally experienced a “definitive” Gaz Brookfield gig!

Monday, 18 February 2013

871 THE HISTORY OF APPLE PIE, Duck House, Follow The Sun, Bristol Thekla Top Deck, Sunday 17 February 2013

Not the best way to prepare for a return to work after a lovely week off looking after the kids at half term, but an enjoyable one nevertheless; a gig on the “Dirty Boat”! Tonight’s hosts: The History Of Apple Pie, whom I’d seen about 18 months ago in Cardiff supporting Male Bonding, being diverted by them in a shoegaze/ Lush kind of way but unmoved by the paucity of immediate tunes, and promptly forgetting about them… That is, until a chance meeting with Beef prompted me to check them out again on YouTube, this time thoroughly enjoying both the spiky guitar textures, but also the hooks! Thus re-enthused, I opted to join Beef on this trip to the Thekla. Any excuse, I know!

Mindful of previous early gigs at the Thekla, Beef picked me up at ¼ to 7 for a roadworks-affected run down to Brizzle, getting there an hour later, and puzzled by the lack of activity around the venue. Realised when we got in that not only was this a later gig, but was also on the much smaller yet thankfully covered top deck of the boat, rather than down in the belly of the vessel. Subsequently, we were the 6th and 7th punters to arrive! This however meant enduring a couple of risible support “acts”; Follow The Sun, up first, was a solo guitarist/ keyboardist playing dour instrumentals and following the current “trend” of playing a riff then programming it into his PC or effects pedal loop, rather than playing the damn thing “live”. Sounding like music for low budget nature documentaries (i.e. the ones who can’t afford a Sigur Ros soundtrack), this was interminably dull; sorry, for “hypnotic”, read “repetitive and boring as all shite”. Duck House, next up, were just as bad; a duo playing really bad 80’s wine bar funk/ synth pop, recalling the likes of Shakatak (seriously!) and reminding me of some unfortunate 80’s nights at former Swindon nightclub Bubbles (!). Again, another band smothering their sound with pre-programmed tracks and effects, their “performance” effectively consisted of punching keys on their PC. I do that all day at work and I don’t expect anyone to clap. Guys, play your flippin’ songs “live”, or you might as well not be there onstage!

Thankfully, we had an actual band to rescue us from tape loop hell. We popped down to the front of the small corner stage for The History Of Apple Pie’s arrival at 9.45. A young 5-piece, featuring a 2-girl vocal attack, they were quite crowded on this tiny stage (a point main vocalist Steph made after their first number, to which a punter shouted that the ubiquitous Big Jeff should move back and give them room!). They nevertheless eased in with a couple of low-key, atmospheric openers, before unleashing “Mallory”, their finest number, 3rd track in. An upbeat, soaring delight with an off-kilter, repeating riff and some lovely intertwining harmonies, this delicious number was my set highlight, although it was almost matched by a similarly upbeat “Tug”, next up, before the band moved down the gears for a sprawling, slower-burn and more widescreen “See You”. Musically, they’re still in thrall to the late 80’s/ early 90’s sonic template of shimmering wall of sound guitars and shoegazey submerged vocals, with the likes of Lush and Pale Saints obvious reference points, but the discordant and dramatic “Do It Wrong” also recalled Madder Rose, and there’s now quite a sly and surreptitious level of tuneage here, creeping up on you and burrowing into your consciousness.

A spiky, angular “Before You Reach The End”, their lengthy album closer, fittingly brought a short but sweet 40 minute set to a close, before I grabbed a set-list, got the girls to scribble their Jane Does on it, and we hastily hit the road. Work tomorrow, you see, but this was definitely a fine way to spend my last “holiday” evening!

Monday, 4 February 2013

870 THE SHUDDERS, Alex Taylor, The Right Hooks, Swindon The Victoria, Friday 1 February 2013

Another one at the Vic, this, and it’s a welcome return to gigging for Tim’s band The Shudders! Apart from heralding a return to treading the boards for Swindon’s finest pirate folk/ Americana/ dusty understated Country dabblers (OK, I know, I’m biased here…) this gig serves a further double purpose; firstly a chance to really start to bed in new drummer Jim in a proper “live band” setting, as opposed to the acoustic outings thus far (such as gig 857 at The Running Horse last October); and secondly a celebration of Tracey’s birthday!

We set off up the hill after Rachel's mum had arrived to babysit, hitting Longs Bar (yikes!) about 8 and meeting up with Tim, Tracey the birthday girl and her entourage for a drink. Ventured into the more sensible confines of The Vic afterwards, popping down to see the (already late running, uh oh…) Right Hooks, an acoustic 3-piece playing folksy numbers to a sparse crowd of mates. Some good humour and in-between song banter partly made up for the fact I found their numbers… well, just dull really, I’m afraid. Main support Alex Taylor seemed more promising initially; a personable trilby-hatted young chap, his first stripped back number was haunting and evocative and recalled Hobotalk, but the next song was smothered in unnecessary pedal effects and delivered in a harsher, more off-scale, almost scat vocal style, and seemed convoluted in comparison. Unimpressed, we decanted to the bar, there meeting up with a visiting Rich Craven for an entertaining chat.

Back down for The Shudders set, chatting with an, erm, well refreshed vocalist Danny at the bar before he was called to duty with the band about 10.30. Initially things went well, with a set drawing on an all new set of numbers, the basis of the next album they’re planning to start recording shortly (in Sweden, no less!), showing considerable progression, maturity and diversity from their debut album batch of songs. Melancholy opener “Sunrise” was followed up with a Men They Couldn’t Hang-like “Truce Song” (evoking The Men’s “Green Fields Of France” in the verses, yet featuring some striking, toughened-up riffery in the chorus lines), then an excellent and more upbeat “New Design”, which pleased Rach, as there’d been too much slow stuff this evening up to then!

“Epic” hadn’t yet been a word suitable to describe The Shudders, but a couple of their numbers (the ambitious, widescreen sea shanty lament of “Mary’s Grace”, and the slower, Sparklehorse-like “Sunflower Blues”) now show some serious attempts to broaden their scope and range, and the new drummer, finally behind a kit with this lot, was impressive from the outset, giving extra hard-edged dynamism and drama to their sound, with lots more sudden outbreaks of thrashy and thrilling noise than before. Some good harmonies as well, particularly on the Gigolo Aunts-like “Yesterday” which (a little predictably, I know…) was my set highlight, and may well become my favourite Shudders song.

Towards the end, however, things got a little ragged and all over the place; the odd bum note or two, understandable given their lack of “live” practice, became more prevalent, and the beer ended up getting the better of them during the final double of “Sorry” (which featured a verse refrain similar to Bowling For Soup’s “Punk Rock 101”) and a raucous closer “Angels” (which featured a verse refrain similar to the theme from “Grease”!). The very tall vocalist Danny in particular was swaying like a big ol’ tree towards the end, just needing one well placed chop to completely fell him.

We dashed off promptly at the end, given the lateness of the hour, nevertheless looking at the positives of this Shudders showing. Seeing past the lack of practice and a surplus of alcoholic beverages this evening, the new material is a quantum step forward, and Jim is an excellent drummer who seems to have fitted in seamlessly. So things are definitely on the up for The Shudders!