Wednesday, 3 December 2014

934 THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS, Mini Mansions, London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Tuesday 2 December 2014

My final scheduled gig of a totally satisfactory 2014 is a welcome reunion with those prodigiously talented tunesmiths, The New Pornographers! Since my last sighting, in this very venue (gig 804, a week shy of 4 years ago exactly), I’d done the work I’d implied I needed to do on their back catalogue and found it utterly rewarding, their 3rd album “Twin Cinema” in particular becoming a regular in-car favourite of mine. Their current album “Brill Bruisers” is again a work of dazzling tunefulness, the only real departure being a hazy sprinkling of 80’s style keyboard and synth to embellish their usual wide and varied chameleonic musical approach and irresistibly brain hugging hooks, so I pounced on tix for this one straight away on the pre-sale. Also, after badgering Rachel for ages to listen to them, she finally crumbled, then realised I’d been speaking truths about their wondrous tuneage, so booked herself a ticket to join me! Yay!
So we headed off at 5, stopping for tea at Heston yet still parking up in our usual spot before 7.30, hitting the surprisingly quiet early-doors venue for openers Mini Mansions, on at 7.45. A California trio of bass, synth and a dapper, white suited Paul Simpson lookalike playing drums standing up, they played some 80’s-influenced synth pop with falsetto harmonies overlaid, making them sound very dated (The Bee Gees and Hall And Oates were two comparisons we made!). A dour, plodding cover of “Heart Of Glass” was almost funereal in feel, and not even a subsequent brighter, upbeat original number recalling Our Daughter’s Wedding could rescue them for me. At 45 minutes, they overstayed their welcome considerably, too…
We stayed stage centre, down the front, as the place filled up, Rach correctly tipping the band to come on at 9, rather than my website-provided 8.45 schedule. Sure enough, at 9 the 7-strong New Pornographers line-up sauntered onstage, led by strawberry-blond mainman Carl “AC” Newman and bearded, bohemian Dan Bejar, two-thirds of the band’s songwriting triumvirate, with Neko Case being oddly absent tonight. They kicked into the glam stomp and almost orchestral harmonies of opener “Brill Bruisers”, but the sound didn’t do them justice, sounding trebly, echoey and a little thin, almost as if the sound was exclusively coming out of the onstage monitors and bouncing off the stage backdrop. A few numbers in, it had improved to the point that you could actually hear Carl and Dan’s vocals, but remained sub-par throughout. A real shame, this, at this usually pindrop-perfect sounding venue.
I however have no doubt that when the New Pornographers sit down to write new material, they hang up “Quiet – Genius At Work!” signs. They all deftly walk a tightrope between producing mature, sophisticated – almost, whisper it, grown-up – songs in various chameleonic musical styles, which nonetheless all possess a vibrant, hooky immediacy which prevents them degenerating into clever-cleverness, instead really making them shine and sparkle. That said, they were hindered with the poor sound tonight, throughout, and then there was the intrigue of Dan… The unkempt, almost Columbo-like Bejar kept disappearing, only returning onstage to add his low, laconic and nuanced vocals to his own material before bowing low each time and taking off again, leaving his partner-in-crime to attempt to explain his absence (“where does he go? I can’t answer that! I think he [goes off and] reads Camus or something…”
All that said, they were still never less than excellent tonight, particularly energetic keyboardist Kathryn Calder, who filled in on the absent Case’s vocals and for me was possibly tonight’s MVP. Bejar’s wry vocals on “Myriad Harbour” recalled the NYC cool of Mink DeVille, the wobbleboard carousel ride of “Use It” and the darkly dramatic “War On The East Coast”, with its’ soaring chorus were an early double-whammy, and the jagged “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras” was a mid-set highlight. “Testament To Youth” featured a lovely acapella “bell ringing” middle 8 which was received reverentially by the quiet, studious crowd, and set closer “Mass Romantic” saw a mini mosh break out to its’ galloping, off-kilter joyride.
However, they saved the best until last; an utterly superb encore of “Spanish Techno” was topped by “The Bleeding Heart Show”, building from almost murder-ballad hush, through sinister flamenco, then to a galloping crescendo layered with harmonies. Brilliant, and a perfect punctuation point on a splendid set.
The home journey was a stinker, however, with Junction 2 of the M4 being shut, necessitating a painfully slow crawl through Brentford and a diversion around Heathrow, culminating in a home arrival at a red-eyed ¼ to 1. Yikes! Nonetheless, a thoroughly enjoyable evening despite a couple of bumps in the road, in good company both with my Rachey, and with The New Pornographers!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

933 2:54, LSA, Follow The Sun, Bristol Louisiana, Tuesday 25 November 2014

I should really know better than to tip bands to go on to greater things by now, shouldn’t I? Having previously gleefully declared that the likes of Lush and Glasvegas were going to be “huge huge huge!” – and that really didn’t work out for either of those, did it? – I also said, after seeing promising ethereal dreampop pipistrelles 2:54 at my old 80’s tiny bolt-hole, Oxford’s Jericho Tavern, a couple of years ago, that I had a feeling the next time I saw them would be in a much bigger venue. Hmmm, I thought, 2 years on, as I booked tickets for tonight’s gig at, erm, tiny Bristol bolt-hole The Louisiana, bigmouth strikes again!
I also picked up their new CD, “The Other I”, but despite it generating a similar mood of wistful melancholy as their eponymous debut, I found it a bit, well, samey really, overall no real development or progression to their sound, a couple of numbers (notably the excellent “Crest”) notwithstanding. Nevertheless, one hopes that as at the Jericho, the band could rise above their lack of obvious tuneage “live”. We’ll see… So, I set off after 7 for a run down an increasingly rainy M4, rather stupidly over-shooting my turn in the centre of Bristol, but eventually finding a lucky parking spot directly outside the venue, nonetheless getting soaked while I got the ticket. D’oh! Dried off in the downstairs bar while watching the first half of the Man City Champion’s League game, then took a wander upstairs for opener Follow The Sun. Wished I hadn’t, as he was (again) “playing” low budget nature documentary theme tune bollocks through his tape loop machine whilst sitting there looking gormless. I hate these so-called “musicians” who do this… hate ‘em!
I was therefore more kindly disposed to main support LSA – at least they were a proper band! – and honestly they were much more the ticket. A gang of four black and red clad youths playing some generic but spritely and upbeat glam/indie guitar pop, with their third number displaying some shimmering shoegaze fretwork, and their best number, “Where’s The Time Gone” (?) showing some widescreen stadium rock tendencies. Set closer “Honest Man” spewed out impressive garage rock venom, closing a nice support set from a confident young band clearly still looking for their own identity. It’ll be interesting to see how they end up…
Back into the now-busy upstairs room for the main act; I took a spot near the front as 2:54, after a soundcheck and brief departure from the stage, re-appeared at 10, the 4-piece band led by sisters Collette and Hannah Thurlow and backed up by 2 beefy blokes. Opener “South” kicked off proceedings, the girls slowly swaying and rocking in time with this moody opener. An early “Scarlet” segued splendidly into the excellent, creepy “Sugar”, and a subsequent bouncy “Crest”, easily their best new number, was also head and shoulders above anything else tonight, a sweeping chorus featuring some almost early U2-like intricate guitar riffery from Hannah, and some pounding drums from the impressive, hard-hitting sticksman.
That, however, was as good as it got. All too often there was little variation in the otherwise patchy material, and it merged into one, relying too much on evoking a gloomy, melancholy mood and atmosphere, and on Collette’s strident atonal vocals. Like one of their obvious antecedents, 90’s pseudo Goth/electronica band Curve, they’ve got a couple of really good numbers right now, then there’s a big gap, then there’s the rest… The chorus line to new number “Blindfold” uncomfortably resembled Adamski’s “Killer” (covered by them last time out), and I confess my mood wasn’t helped by ubiquitous (and large) scenester Jeff turning up midway through and barging right to the front, necessitating a shift around just so that I could see! Appreciate your enthusiasm Jeff, but you make a lousy window…
“Orion” concluded a lengthy-feeling 45 minute set, prior to which Collette thanked everybody for coming, stating, “it’s been a long road back”. Perhaps they should have made a couple of more stops along said road to write more songs and develop their sound further, I thought as I swiftly exited the venue (no set-list tonight, so my recent run stops at 20, but after this show I wasn’t that bothered) and made my way home, a wretched journey down a sodden M4. Sorry girls, but I’m afraid that on the strength of tonight and the current album, 2:54 have been well and truly eclipsed in the doomy goth girl-pop stakes by the likes of Savages, and I’ve got the feeling the next time I see them – and there will be a next time, I’m not giving up on this still-promising band that easily – it’ll be in exactly the same size of venue as tonight…

Friday, 21 November 2014

932 MERCHANDISE, Shopping, Idles, Bristol Start The Bus, Thursday 20 November 2014

A new gig location for me, this, and a familiar band with possibly a slight departure to their previous sound. Merchandise, last year’s Reading Festival best newcomers and hosts of a fine Jericho Tavern show last Autumn, announced another small venue tour to promote delicious new album “After The End”, a record which, despite retaining their blueprint moody, textured and sample-layered sound, sees them moving away from the freeform structure and stretched Krautrock templates of their previous efforts. There are discernable choruses! Verses! Hooks aplenty! A move to generally more “conventional” song structures, with vocalist Carson Cox having declared in advance of the album, “we’re going to remake ourselves as a pop band,” how would this play out “live”? One way to find out…
So I hit the road fairly early, expecting lots of Christmas shopping traffic around Bristol’s Cabot Circus and oddly finding none, therefore parking up and hitting this central venue around 8. A small pub side area/room, not much bigger than the Louisiana (so, then… small!) cordoned off from the main bar with a bit of black material (but well within earshot of the bar), with steps down to a small dancefloor, and a wooden-clad corner stage which gave the impression the bands were playing in someone’s garden shed! Not enough room onstage for 2 drumkits so local openers Idles played on the floor. They were terrible; an unrehearsed, half-formed, half-baked mess of clumsy shouty pseudo-allegedly “punk” bollocks. The vocalist introduced most numbers with, “this is called [song x], and it’s about [ subject y]… only joking…” (?), and their only redeeming feature was some nice Editors-like ringing fretwork from the guitarist, who could obviously play a bit, so he’s clearly wasting his time there… Main tour support Shopping, on about 9.30, were more palatable; seemingly mining the middle ground between The Slits, early B52s and Talulah Gosh (!), they had a pronounced DIY ethic and a sound consisting of militaristic drumbeats, occasionally dubby rhythmic base, intricate mutant single-note guitar picking and minimal yelping vocals passed liberally around the 3 band members. Interesting stuff, but I couldn’t eat a whole one…
Between the 2 supports, I’d stopped a lurking Carson Cox for a quick chat, and had my ear talked off by this most gregarious and open frontman; he allegedly remembered me from Oxford, and we chatted about Florida, the state of rock’n’ roll and his future plans for the band (“it was only meant as a side-project!” Yeah, right…). I was subsequently even more up for this one, and took my place down the front as the band set up for their late-starting set, about 20 past 10. After locating their drummer (Cox quipping, “anyone want to play drums for us tonight?”) we were on our way with big, strident opener “Enemy”, the chiming, driving rhythm being overlaid by Cox’s deep, deliciously resonant vocals, and the subsequent “In Nightmare Room”, all louche and languid, prompting me to shake my ageing booty down the front, and prompting Cox to remark, “thanks for dancing!” Hell, that was enough to keep me dancing throughout!
Shorn of the samples and effects which add depth and texture to their studio output, Merchandise “live” were a full-on rock’n’roll treat, and Carson Cox was a brilliant, riveting frontman, mobile and angular, with oddball, slightly flaky charisma to throw away. “Little Killer” was an early, superb highlight, the chugging rhythm very reminiscent of The Smiths’ classic “The Headmaster Ritual”, and the hook dark and dramatic, then a slower “Beginning” (“for the disco ball!”) nonetheless morphed into a Doors-like psych-rock wig-out, and “Green Lady” thereafter was a real treat, soaring and imperious with a dramatic finale.
But it was the penultimate “Anxiety’s Door” which was tonight’s highlight; this lengthy Krautrock workout positively rocked, bristling with venom and purpose, and Cox’s frontman performance was committed, riveting and outstanding, jumping in and out of the crowd, teasing, tempting, loving this moment, not wanting it to end. And neither did we. Brilliant stuff from a real band with boundless potential.
Guitarist Dave Vassalotti handed me the setlist (“sure thing!”) and I hung out afterwards, catching my breath, chatting with the band, getting the list signed and buying a t-shirt (Merchandise merchandise!) before eventually heading home with Carson Cox’s thanks and compliments ringing in my ears, home for 12.30, late for a Bristol gig. Aching limbs the next day, but Merchandise were totally worth it!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

931 BOB MOULD, Young Knives, Bristol Fleece, Monday 17 November 2014

And now for something completely noisy…! The US alternative rock legend that is Bob Mould, mastermind behind 2 of the finest and fiercest bands of the 80’s/ 90’s in Husker Du and Sugar, and compiler of a breathtakingly impressive body of work in his own right (including 1989’s “Workbook”, still one of my all-time Top Ten albums), playing the noisy rock music at The Fleece! Over the last couple of years, after a dalliance with electronic-tinged stuff, he appears to have rediscovered his alt-rock/ popcore mojo again, with an impressive 2012 release “Silver Age” (parts of which he premiered when we last saw him, after the “Copper Blue” run through of gig 848, a couple of Summers ago) being followed by an even better one in this year’s “Beauty And Ruin”. So I snapped up tickets pronto, disappointed that no-one else felt the need to have their ears sandblasted with some sheet metal rock’n’roll noise, thereby resolving to go on my own!
A bit of pre-gig research (I love!) indicated Bob would be playing a smattering of Husker Du numbers straight out of the blocks, so I made sure of an early departure, to ensure avoiding traffic chaos in the 24-hour jam that Swindon has suddenly turned into, and also to arrive in time to buy an old friend a beer. It worked in one way; I duly joined the queue for doors at 7.30, but the old friend didn‘t show! Luckily (?), this was an early scheduled show, so I didn’t have long to wait for openers Young Knives, on at 8. However, I just flat out didn’t like them; I should have, given some dark, driving rock from this eclectic-looking trio, but their tunes were smothered not only in echoey reverb but also pompous nonsense and a feeling of unentitled self-importance. Clearly a band who take themselves waaay too seriously (viz. the keyboardist being called The House Of Lords!), their best moment was when the singer donned a set of makeshift batwings (which actually looked like umbrellas!) during their final number!
From the ridiculous to the utterly sublime; despite this being a sell-out, I found a clear space, stage left, actually leaning against the monitors, for Bob’s entrance just before 9. He followed his band (bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster) onstage to a rapturous reception, then kicked into a formidable opening triad of 3 Husker Du numbers, “Flip Your Wig”, an incredible “Hate Paper Doll” and “I Apologise” with ferocious intensity. Holy shit, that’s the way to start a set, no mistake!
So that was me, rocking down the front as much as my knees would allow and occasionally bolting in my earplugs to give my eardrums some respite from the almost palpable noise. This was as uncompromising, relentless and powerful a set as I’d been subjected to for many a moon; after a few remarks about tribute bands (“so anyway, we’re Hugh-sker Du!”), Bob launched into a selection from the current “Beauty And Ruin”, the highlight being the phenomenal “I Don’t Know You Anymore”, as irresistibly catchy a number as he’s produced since “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” (which also appeared later on in the set!). Bob was imperious, his low, resonant growl rising above the guitar assault, as Jason wrestled his low-slung bass like Dee Dee Ramone, and Jon hammered the beat with thrilling kinetic Caldes-like energy. The slow-burn denouement to excellent newie “The War” segued into Husker Du classic “Hardly Getting Over It”, providing some respite but delivered almost power-ballad like, sprawling and epic. Then it was back onto the sheet metal noise onslaught, with a soaring “Helpless”, and a later, almost singalong “Hoover Dam” from Sugar’s back catalogue. The embryonic post-hardcore of “In A Free Land” closed an amphetamine-fast set of 21 songs in a breathtakingly swift hour, after which encores of the irresistibly melodic “Makes No Sense At All” and a cover of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” (no, not that one…) punctuated the set, at which point Bob took centre stage to bathe in the applause, leaving to lengthy and unrequited encore calls.
As good was to come afterwards though; I needed some time to catch my breath so hung back near the backstage entrance awhile, and my patience was rewarded as I met Bob and the band to get my setlist (handed to me at the set’s climax by Jason, whose monitor I‘d been pounding on throughout, as a thank you “for rocking out!”) signed, and a pic, handshake and a few quick words with the great (and very humble) man, one of my all-time rock icons. “Thanks for your support through the years,” he remarked, my response being, “keep coming back and I’ll keep coming to see you!” My ears are still ringing. Wow. Just…. wow.

Friday, 7 November 2014

930 THE WAR ON DRUGS, Steve Gunn, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 6 November 2014

I’m continuing my Autumn Dance Card “deep dive” through what appears to be the best American Alternative rock has to offer right now (Hold Steady, Real Estate, SoSo Glos in the books, with Bob Mould, Merchandise and the New Pornographers yet to come) by giving this lot another chance! My last outing with War On Drugs, 18 months ago, was a bit of a clunker, their intriguing metronomic Krautrock/ Americana mixture being submerged under swathes of indistinct noise by the Thekla’s sound system. Truth to tell, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, however WOD’s current album “Lost In The Dream” is a lovely listen; an aptly-named immersive, melancholy drift through hazy, half-lit smoky rooms bathed in early morning sunlight through latticed windows. It manages a rare feat of being intriguingly hypnotic and mesmerising, whilst at the same time evoking Don Henley’s 80’s cheeseball anthem “The Boys Of Summer”. Weird! Anyway, one hopes that the much better O2 sound system wouldn’t muck this up. We hope…
So, an early departure thanks to drizzly weather and traffic chaos in Swindon still meant I parked up at 7.30. However this was unfortunately well in time to join the early-comers for support Steve Gunn and his 2 back-up boys, on at 8. He kicked off with an interminably long – over 10 minutes! – opener which started pleasantly enough but then descended into Jethro Tull sludgy prog noodling. At its’ (eventual) conclusion I turned to a fellow punter and suggested, “I’m half expecting him to say now, “this is our last song”!”. Thankfully the rest of his set was a little better, tending towards forgettable strumalong alt-Americana with the odd unfortunate prog detour. However the best part of his set for me was when he introduced, “my brother Tommy on bass…” wait, what? His brother’s called Tommy Gunn?!?
After a loo break, I wormed my way back through an utterly heaving floor to an air pocket, stage left, in front of the speakers. Some shuddering pre-set feedback made me wonder whether they were trying to find the brown note (!), then War On Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel demonstrated control freak tendencies by coming onstage to lay out his own cables and pedals. You’ve got roadies for that, mate! Anyway, Adam then led the 6-piece band on to zero fanfare; they plugged in and kicked off the synth pulse and heavy guitar reverb of intriguing opener “Burning”, the sound already a quantum leap better than last time out. Hooray!
This was a fine, varied set of their melange of guitar-driven Americana, often evoking the strumalong heartland travelogues of early REM, and Stereolab/ Krautrock synth overlays. A lot of light and shade, with slower, more considered numbers mixed in, although I liked their sound better when it was off on a gallop. “The last couple of times we played [Bristol] we were on the motherfuckng boat! It’s nice to be off the Thekla!” announced Adam before the languid, absorbing “Under The Pressure”, then following the audience reaction, recanted somewhat; “oh, you like it? It’s better than here? OK, long live the Thekla!”
The excellent, upbeat “Ocean Between The Waves”, featuring a hard-edged, soaring climax almost recalling early U2, was a mid-set highlight, before a thoroughly noisy number (“Best Night”?), which was a little jarring, featuring swathes of everything (synth, brass, the whole darn kitchen sink!), but was thankfully followed by a quieter “Buenos Aires”. The subsequent, penultimate “Red Eyes”, however, was a thrilling, locomotive joyride and the best thing on the menu tonight. Adam was the pivotal point throughout; clearly in charge here, his detached, nasal tones, which recalled a hazy, lazy Bob Dylan (!), sprinkled over the music like desert sand, whilst his guitar provided the main thrust and propulsion.
“Baby Missiles” was the highlight of the encore, another breathless synth/strumalong collision, before the tender Laurel Canyon ballad of “Suffering”, the best of the slower numbers on show tonight, along with more compliments for the Thekla (!) and for tonight’s sell-out, totally engaged crowd, drew a 1 ½ hour performance to a close. Always fine, one jarring mid-set number notwithstanding, and at its’ best at full-on rhythm and jangle, this was a million times better than last time out, and a record-breaking set-list (my 18th in a row!) was the icing on the cake. I’m glad I gave War On Drugs another chance!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

929 REAL ESTATE, Alvvays, London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Wednesday 29th October 2014

I’ve got John Strohm to thank for Real Estate. Strohm, one of my all-time Boston rock axe heroes and, I’m honoured to say, a Facebook friend thanks to our paths crossing a smattering of times in the 90’s when I saw him perform in 3 different bands (none of which, I’m sad to say, being the seminal Blake Babies), eulogised about this young US Indie band on his facebook feed. Given that one of his other recommendations was as a guest reviewer in Melody Maker in the 90’s, during his tenure as guitarist for The Lemonheads, when he gave the excellent Fountains Of Wayne’s debut “Radiation Vibe” his Single Of The Week, I was inclined to check them out! So I did, and found in their current, 3rd, album “Atlas” a lush, laid-back and lovely collection of tunes, interwoven with smooth, laconic melody and harmonics. A mellower version of early Death Cab For Cutie, perhaps… either way, another US alt-rock band brimming with promise, so I booked a ticket for this one fairly promptly.

On half-term kid duty, I left at 5.30 after Rach got home and the house was tidy (!), but then had an utterly horrendous journey with heavy weather traffic throughout, delaying my arrival until just after 8! Yikes! So I unfortunately hit the venue a couple of numbers into support band Alvvays, and immediately cursed the traffic, as here was a band well worth catching. A Canadian 5-piece, they impressed with some spritely, bright pop tunes; “Atop A Cake”, with its’ flippant “what’s it got to do with you” hook, was a Popguns-like blast, delivered by Molly Rankin, their dynamic female vocalist, in vocal tones a clear octave lower than her Minnie Mouse speaking voice! “We’re from a part of Canada where no-one ever goes unless they want to revisit “Anne Of Green Gables”, Minnie, sorry, Molly lamented before “Adult Diversion”, the highlight of the set, featuring an excellent layered guitar climax. Overall, this was a beautifully judged mix of bittersweet melancholy and Summer bounce with a definite fanzine/ C86 edge, the guitarist’s Breton shirt more evidence of this. Damn fine start!

I took a wander but returned to my usual stage right spot here, a couple of rows from the front, as Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” provided an unorthodox musical backdrop for Real Estate’s entrance at 9 to a reserved but enthusiastic welcome. They eased into the intricate guitar riff of opener, the low-key, pastoral “To Hear You”, which immediately set the tone for the performance. The sound was perfect, lush and resonant, and the band’s performance was winsome, polite, understated, often quite quiet, yet clearly very accomplished. They were not here to rawk’n’roll, more to weave a tapestry of sound, Martin Courtney’s gossamer-like vocals adding to the fragile, atmospheric opening to the set.

“What a beautiful location!” announced bassist and main cheerleader Alex Bleeker; indeed, the band seemed a little overwhelmed by this, apparently the biggest gig they’d ever headlined, and repeatedly praised the crowd and venue. 5th number in, “Atlas”’ groovy instrumental “April’s Song”, was an early highlight, then “Fake Blues”, a melancholy, almost devotional short little hymn sung by Bleeker, was a nice segue into their best number, “Talking Backwards”, with its’ Toytown guitar riff recalling the old “Chigley” theme tune for this old guy! “It’s Real”’s soaring “whoa-oh” chorus was as rock as this band got, then the stretched chiming, repetitive riff of penultimate set number “All The Same” was an absorbing way to finish the set. Which, perversely, they didn’t, slipping in another one before ending a lengthy-feeling 1 hour 15 set.

Before the encore, the band chugged Smirnoff Ice whilst the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to Alvvays’ drummer Phil; a bit of a mistake as Courtney’s reaction was, “that was disgusting!” Encore “Past Lives” ensured the band left us as they’d arrived, with a whisper rather than a scream, although I was then annoyed that the keyboardist threw the sole set-lists into the crowd whilst exiting the stage. Bah! So, I scrounged a pic from the mixing desk then hit the road, taking half the time to drive home as I took to get here. Cripes! Overall impressions; a real contrast in the bands’ performances, with Real Estate as understated and undynamic as their support had been upbeat and bouncy. I’ll certainly check out Alvvays again, hopefully in a small venue, and I liked Real Estate, sure, but I’m not so sure I’d endure another journey like that to see them. Still, a fine, melodic band nonetheless, so thanks again to John Strohm for the recommendation!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

928 THE HOLD STEADY, THE SO SO GLOS, Birmingham O2 Academy 2, Monday 13 October 2014

Off once again to see The Hold Steady, possibly my favourite band over the last 7 or 8 years and for me the band that, above all others, currently encapsulates my love for this many-splendored thing called rock’n’roll. It’s a lengthy jaunt up to B’rum tonight, as their Bristol gig next week in support of tremendous new album “Teeth Dreams”, likely my favourite of 2014, coincides with our family break in Butlins! Still, after the form they displayed at their Bush Hall gig back in May, I’d go to the ends of the Earth to see them, so Birmingham is just a quick drive up the road in comparison! If further incentive be needed (hah!), support is provided by The So So Glos, probably my favourite new band discovery of this year, a raucous, terrace chant anthemic punk rock rabble also known for instigating the “Shea Stadium” venue and recording space regularly haunted by the likes of the Mighty Titus Andronicus.
A real potential double whammy in prospect, so nothing’s standing in the way of this one for me! I duly drove into work and set off directly at my Monday afternoon 3.30 finishing time (usually to fetch the kids but tonight to fetch the rock!), purposefully hitting a sodden road oop North, and arriving at the venue after a wet old journey 20 minutes before doors. A filthy night, this; even the touts stayed in their cars and shouted, “got any spare? Buy or sell,” at passers-by! I was second in at just after 7 (the venue not being prepared to throw us damp early-comers a bone and open up early), hitting this upstairs venue resembling the Oxford Zodiac room in both size and orientation, thence sitting and watching the place slowly fill up.
A poor turnout early doors – it was barely 1/3 full by 8, so I got a spot on the barriers, stage left, quite easily for the So So Glos’ entrance. This young Brooklyn 4-piece took the stage, and the stage stayed well and truly took! Storming into the strident, ballsy opener “Son Of An American”, a swaggering statement of intent, they were dynamic, kinetic, intense and committed from the outset, playing their powerful, upbeat punk rock with a raucous, carefree attitude. Surprisingly more punchy, powerful and together “live” in comparison to their nevertheless excellent album “Blowout”, which often feels like Black Flag’s seminal “TV Party” times 10 and consequently on the verge of collapse at any moment, they nonetheless surfed constantly on the ragged edge, delivering a thrilling set. “This song’s about Xanax, America’s legal drug dealers!” announced wide-eyed vocalist Alex for third number, the breathless “Xanax”. That’s punk attitude for you! “Wrecking Ball” featured some in-your-face rap call-and-response vocals and a crushing terrace chant hook, whilst “Speakeasy” recalled early Hot Hot Heat with its’ yelping vocals and bass-powered rhythm. However the penultimate number “Everything Revival” was the highlight; unplanned but shouted for by (and subsequently dedicated to!) me, this was utterly magnificent, a joyous punk rock romp with a soaring singalong hook, which I shouted raucously from my front row spot. Great stuff!
Follow that, gents! The place finally filled up but was by no means full, as I kept my barrier spot and chatted with some fellow front row punters, before The Velvet Underground’s “We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together” heralded the entrance of The Hold Steady, just after 9. “Like the man said, we’re gonna have a good time together!” announced effusive frontman Craig Finn as the band raced headlong into the careering, Ramones-like opener “Ask Her For Adderall”. And we were away on another Hold Steady thrill ride, Finn as ever everywhere, exhorting the crowd, repeating lines off-mic, and generally revelling in the sheer unalloyed delight at being the singer in a rock’n’roll band. “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” and the brilliant swaggering blues of “Sequestered In Memphis” were similar early highlights, Finn again sarcastically emphasising the line, “I went there on business..”
“Truth is a squirrelly concept in rock and roll… one thing is true, you CAN make him like you!” announced Finn by introduction to that number; indeed the frontman was on verbal overload tonight, his endless yet entertaining between-song banter matching the articulate verbiage overload of his lyrics. One such soliloquy started with, “I think we’re a pretty good bar band,” and ended with a headlong tumble into the roaring “Constructive Summer”, whilst the next kicked off with, “this is important, so humour me,” went off on a tangent into a debate on the development of the Internet (!), finally returning with, “my point being… there are SO many ways you could be spending your Monday night, yet you’re all here!”
The subsequent “Spinners” (“about going out”) was the set highlight, ebullient, all inclusive and joyfully rendered by the enthusiastic Finn and a band totally on top of their game. Occasionally muddy sound couldn’t spoil the fun tonight, as I again abandoned myself to the moment and bounced along throughout, singing myself hoarse and ignoring the inevitable sore knees the next day. Some light and shade too – “Ambassador” diffused the mood before Tad Kubler delivered the plangent opening riff to the inevitable “Stuck Between Stations”. A Motown-esque “What A Resurrection Feels Like” segued into a singalong “Walk On By”, to close a breathless set.
We got another soliloquy from Finn, a man after my own heart, who also believes in cutting a short story long, during the encores, then a ragged, none-more appropriate “Stay Positive” ended a brilliant 1 hour 40 performance. Gathered my thoughts, chatted and hung awhile with the Merch stand-bound So So Glos, then hit an utterly awash A38 out of Birmingham and a less sodden M5 home, catching my breath. Tonight The Hold Steady were again utterly imperious, and cemented their reputation as, for me, the finest purveyors of rock music right now. But spare a thought for The So So Glos; tonight 4 Brooklyn upstarts went toe to toe with the best band on Planet Earth and emerged with flying colours. So as I said, a real double whammy!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

927 THE HORRORS, Telegram, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 1 October 2014

I’m such a horrible person, me… rather than spending my 9th Wedding Anniversary at home with my lovely wife, or indeed even taking her out on the town (as it were), I’m off on my own down to Brizzle to catch former black balloon comic Goth troupe turned early 80’s dark rockist and Krautrock/ baggy disciples The Horrors! After flying under my radar for so long, thanks to that “Munsters” style initial sighting back in 2007 (gig 723), they’d impressed last time out (gig 837), opening my 2012 gig year with some absorbing rock tomfoolery. I confess the new album “Luminous” hasn’t made much of an impression on me, being no great departure from the previous effort “Skying” and a little more devoid of memorable tuneage, but I wasn’t going to let that little detail stop me from checking their 2014 incarnation out!
Hit the road at ¼ to 7, driving swiftly down the M4 but then hitting horrendous slow traffic trying to get into Bristol. Apparently they’ve made a permanent speed limit change to the end of the M32 – from 60 to 40. Ridiculous! I therefore took half an hour from junction to car park (bah!) and arrived, a little frustrated, but still in time to check out openers Telegram. Good thing too, as they impressed mightily with some brash blasts of dark, expansive, amphetamine-fast punky power and swagger. I took time warming to the vocalist’s slightly reedy voice and very Welsh singing accent, but everything else was good, with the Doors-like driving groove and soaring chorus of “Aeons” a mid-set highlight. Some rather clever and selective plagiarists here; odd riffs or choral hooks sounded naggingly familiar, but I couldn’t quite place them! “This last one’s for the ghost of the balcony,” announced the vocalist for their last number, “Folly”, a suitably dry-ice enshrouded and dark spooky number to end a damn fine set, which recalled Marion and My Vitriol.
A word about the balcony here; it was shut tonight, with plenty of space on the floor around my usual stage-left spot, even as the witching hour approached. A surprisingly low Bristol turnout for The Horrors tonight, methinks… nevertheless, the band took the darkened stage at 9, easing into pounding, loose-limbed opener “Chasing Shadows”, the lead-off track from their current album. Vocalist Faris Badwan, the Goblin King of gig 837, appeared last, leather-clad and angular, throwing expressive shapes from the outset like a young Julian Cope, along to his band’s predominantly bass and synth led music. Third number, the oldie “Who Can Say”, was a more potent, strident Jesus And Mary Chain sonic groove, otherwise the set veered from libidinous and freeform baggy slightly-delic dance, to more driving metronomic Stereolab-esque Krautrock, with Faris’ vocals drifting hazily over the top, like a cloud of evaporated meringue, and the backlit laser and dry ice combining to create a compelling visual spectacle. Clearly preferring mood, texture and atmosphere to song structure, The Horrors tonight weaved a musical spell; music to bliss out and sway along to, like a pastoral acid trip or half remembered dream, so I duly closed my eyes and swayed along!
“Endless Blue”, with its’ abrupt mid-song tempo change, was a highlight, with the pink backlit spotlights, mixed with the smoke, giving the entirely appropriate, out-of-focus, impression of staring at 3D without the 3D glasses on! The staccato synth and dramatic riffery of “Mirrors Image” segued into the synth powered, Tubeway Army-esque “Still Life” which was the set highlight, smoothly building to a roaring crescendo, like an aircraft revving to take off. “I See You” then closed out a set which was never less than absorbing and thoroughly enjoyable, and at times tremendous.
“Thanks for being such a great crowd,” announced the otherwise taciturn Faris, before final number, the lengthy, sprawling “Moving Further Away”, which recalled the European synth travelogues of early 70’s Kraftwerk, before again building to a stretched crescendo of noise, smoke and light, with Faris directing operations through the haze. A splendid way to end a 1 ½ hour performance which for me, cemented The Horrors growing reputation as purveyors of intriguing sonic mood and atmosphere. Grabbed a set-list, then chatted with Telegram’s back rows at the merch stand on my way out, getting my previously grabbed Telegram set-list signed and being pleased to discover that their guitarist had actually heard of Marion! A startlingly swift drive home, feeling less horrible about seeing 2 fine performances from Telegram and The Horrors!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

926 THROWING MUSES, TANYA DONELLY, Bristol Trinity, Tuesday 23 September 2014

It seems only appropriate that, given the last time I visited this evocative old church venue it was for the spiky, challenging and confrontational female-fronted noise of Savages, last Autumn, that my next visit should be for their obvious spiritual forbears Throwing Muses! Barely 3 years after I, along with fellow Muses uber-fans Beef and Ady, was regaled by a returning Kristin Hersh tour de force at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, we were looking forward to another one. Adding intrigue to tonight’s sell-out show was the presence of former Belly main-woman, and of course also former Muse, Tanya Donelly, as a “plus” on the bill. How would this work; would Tanya be simply support, or would she actually join her former bandmates and step-sister during some/most/all of the Muses set? Would said set include some of Tanya’s Muses songs, always the aural candyfloss to Hersh’s harsh spiky peanut brittle? Who knows with these crazy girls?!
Still a little sore from a chest muscle strain at the weekend, I persuaded Ady to pick us up in the monster truck, and we clattered west into the setting sun early doors, parking up around the corner in good time and heading to the bar, thence bumping into lots of people I knew as we found a spot stage right, near the front, for Tanya’s set at 8.30. I’d run into fellow veteran gig-goer Stuart (again!) who’d given me a brief heads-up on tonight’s possible events, so we were ready when Tanya took the stage, accompanied by guitarist hubby Dean Fisher, plus a bassist and violinist, but oddly no formal percussion. A few slow-burn, countrified openers ensued, driven by her pure, sugary lilting vocals, now a little richer and more resonant with age, with “Swoon” an early highlight, embellished both by some haunting violin and Tanya’s swooping, high-octave warblings. A spooky “Low Red Moon” was flesh-creepingly good, Tanya whispering the verses and giving this old Belly number the feel of a spaghetti Western murder soundtrack. By now she was mining her old bands’ material; a moody, gothy “Dusted” was an odd gallop when powered by Dean’s frantic acoustic strumming rather than drums, “Honeychain” was lovely, and the subsequent “Slow Dog” was a rushing, euphoric delight and the highlight of the set. Closer “Not Too Soon”, Tanya’s poppiest Muses moment, was a little subdued and understated after “Slow Dog” but nonetheless featured some fine vocal interplay between Tanya and guest vocalist Laura Kidd, and was a fine way to end a surprisingly splendid support set.
So, what could little step-sis do to match up? We headed into the uncomfortably hot crowd, stage right, for Throwing Muses entrance at 9.45, bassist Bernard Georges already advising, “make sure you drink lots to hydrate!” and the waif-like Kristin remarking, “its’ really hot… and we’ve not even started!” The set was initially drawn from last year’s sprawling, intertwining 32-track album “Purgatory”/ “Paradise”, which I confess I’ve really not put the work in to get to know well, but which featured copious amounts of the usual Muses trademarks of creepy mood-music, challenging and confrontational vignettes of noise, and odd lyrical stories emerging like little animals from Kristin’s fragile and febrile yet fertile psyche. Delivered by an intense, stock-still and wild-eyed Kristin in her harsh, dissonant rasp of a voice, variously sounding vengeful and disgusted, the new material was nevertheless more coherent and conventional, often without the weird backwards rhythms and off-kilter time signatures of “classic” Muses material. Some “interesting” between-band banter as well, with Kristin, rather tellingly, admonishing Bernard, “don’t tune! I didn’t tune!”, and lots of talk about “ass-towels” (!).
Things got really interesting, however, when Tanya wandered on, unannounced, 40 minutes in, for a creepy “You Cage”, then the storm clouds parted and the sun shone through for a beautiful “Red Shoes”, followed by the jagged guitar of “Devil’s Roof”. “Green Eyes”, sung by Tanya in a haunting, skin-crawling delivery, featured some brilliant backwards drumming from the excellent David Narcizo, then the cacophonous, chugging steam train wall of noise that is “Say Goodbye” closed out the set with the best number of the night, a soaring, searing rendition which transported me back to those 80’s/ 90’s Bierkeller nights, when the Muses were just about the most visceral, incendiary “live” experience on the planet. Wonderful stuff.
Final encore “Pearl” was a stark, austere end to tonight’s marvellous performance, after which a genuinely humbled Kristin remarked, “thank you SO much,” to the devotional audience. No no Kristin, thank you. Really, thank you! Set-lists grabbed, we hit the road bubbling. This was all we’d hoped – and more!

Friday, 19 September 2014

925 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Lonely Tourist, Luke DeSciscio, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 18 September 2014

And as before, a Frank Turner show is followed in pretty short order by… a Gaz Brookfield show! Rach and I had a lengthy and in-depth conversation about Frank and Gaz’ evident similarities on the way back from Saturday’s show, my conclusion being that considering their remarkably similar backgrounds (members of former punk bands – who, despite their best efforts and hard graft, never cracked it – turned solo folk-influenced performers) and usual subject matter (staying true to their punk protest roots whilst also drawing from their own life experiences), it’s pretty much a given that there would be musical and thematic similarities. Gaz even acknowledges this fact on his song “Frank And Sam”; however for me Gaz deftly walks that fine line between influence and plagiarism, his own individuality and voice shining through. I’ve certainly got room for both of ‘em in my life, record collection and gig itinerary, me!
This also being a full band show, there was another incentive (if one be needed) to attend this gig. So I trundled up the hill early doors under foreboding skies, hitting the venue for a chat with “Songs Of Praise” promoters Dave and Ed, fellow veteran gig-goer Stuart Langsbury, and a few words with Gaz himself, minding the merch stand, before opener Luke DeSciscio at 9. A raffish tousled gypsy-looking young chap with a tremulous, haunting voice, straddling the octaves between soprano and often atonal falsetto, his songs were minimal guitar embellishments for his talented vocal gymnastics and softly spoken, often trance-like delivery, as he weaved an eerie, melancholic atmosphere, which I enjoyed despite the lack of real hooky tuneage.
By complete contrast, Lonely Tourist, next up, was all about the tunes and the banter. Oh, the banter; “I’ll try to make this a referendum-free zone,” announced the expat Scot, “let’s face it, if [the vote is] yes, well it’s not you, it’s us, and if it’s no, then things will have to change!” The erstwhile Mr. Tierney’s short snappy banter was intermixed with short snappy tunes delivered at a hectic, rollicking pace, quipping along as he went (“a mad shagger for President! That’s the kind of country I’d like to live in!” and “what’s with the dry ice, is Kate Bush on next or what?”). “I Am A Fly”, which (deliberately?) appropriated the hook from Wire’s “I Am The Fly”, and the excellently received “The Ballad Of Paul Tierney” about his journeyman footballer namesake, were highlights of another entertaining set from the Bristol domiciled Scot who, as Ed remarked afterwards, “we might have to deport tomorrow!”
Things cracked on apace, and barely 10 minutes later Gaz and his 5-piece band were hooked up onstage and ready to rock, in front of a thankfully full and enthusiastic house. They were in no mood to fuck about; straight into the ramshackle rollercoaster ride of the double salvo of “Limelight” and “Land Pirate’s Life”, the crowd already rocking and singing along, and Gaz feeding off their/our enthusiasm. This was a damn hot one, the packed house really cranking up the heat, Gaz remarking on both this and the amazing Thursday night turnout on a number of occasions. A couple of numbers in, the differences between Gaz and Frank Turner were becoming evident; Gaz drawing more from the folkier aspect of his sound, particularly in a full band setting, with Ben Wain a focal point throughout with some virtuoso and frantic violin sawing (Gaz remarking early doors, “I don’t know about you but I could listen to [Ben] all night!”). After a huge ovation for the opening line in “Towns”, “I grew up in Swindon…!”, a cacophonous opening guitar squall and pounding drumbeat led into a tremendous “Black Dog Day”, delivered with scary, wide-eyed conviction and startling venom by Gaz, articulating the gravity of the subject matter perfectly and even giving the energetic singer reason to pause for breath at its’ conclusion. A savage “Be The Bigger Man” followed, equally dramatic and fiercely delivered. Gaz was totally in the zone for this mid-set double, no mistake!
We needed a sway-along “Under The Table” to lighten and diffuse the mood, then a solo interlude showcasing a new number “I Can’t Drink Cider Anymore” highlighting Gaz’ recent pancreas and diabetes problems, which I could empathise with. A half-spoken, confessional “Tell It To The Beer” evoked a melancholy mood, but Gaz and the band roared back to round off a startlingly quick hour set with singalong versions of “The West Country Song” and a ragged set closer “Diet Of Banality”, before staying on (“is there any point in us walking off then coming back on again? No? Then we won’t bother…”) for encore “Thin”, another rousing singalong to close out another tremendous set from this earnest, punk/ folk influenced hard-working balladeer and his fine band.
Said my goodbyes and left, driving home under sheet lightning-lit skies, to ease my aching limbs into bed (I’d been rocking out throughout from my front row, stage left spot). Aching knees the next morning, but Gaz was definitely worth it!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

924 FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS, Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Salisbury City Hall, Saturday 13 September 2014

My Autumn Dance card starts in earnest with this one, another Frank Turner show, mere months after opening my account with this extraordinarily talented and perceptive punk/ folk influenced wordsmith and balladeer (in the truest sense of the word; a travelling troubadour musician flitting from town to town, telling stories and reflecting incisively on the issues of the day, rather than just some jumped up hair band vocalist singing pseudo-romantic plodding slush from some drippy rom-com soundtrack). Well, after so long missing out on Frank’s talent, I’ve got some ground to make up, so I was all over the pre-sale for this one, selecting Salisbury rather than Bath or Oxford as it fell on a Saturday!
I dragged an initially reluctant Rachel along for this one – well, she likes Gaz Brookfield, I figured, so she should like Frank! – as we made our way down for only our second ever gig in Old Sarum (the only other occasion being Julian Cope at this very venue, gig 460, a mere 14 years ago!). A leisurely drive through rural Wiltshire’s villages saw us, thanks to good directions and navigation from my sweet Rachey, parking up behind the venue at 1/4 to 8. However we had to fully circumnavigate said venue just to find the entrance, tucked away in a rear courtyard! Not the only issue with this venue tonight, as it transpired...
Support Koo Koo Kanga Roo, despite having Frank’s personal ringing endorsement, were terrible; 2 idiots in sweatpants jumping up and down to a muffled hip-hop backing track, singing “songs” about dinosaurs and fanny packs. Allegedly Frank’s initial reaction to them was, “what the fuck?” before warming to them. Me, I’m still on that first reaction… Maybe passable as first warm-up on a They Might Be Giants kiddies matinee show, they were wholly inappropriate for a rock gig, although Rach was left considering booking them for the next school disco… So we sought shelter and refreshment in the packed foyer, only to find the queues for both bars immobile and about 20 deep! Massive queues for the tiny loos as well; it’s no wonder this venue doesn’t host gigs more regularly, given its’ wholly inadequate facilities…
Anyway, we popped back in and found a pocket of space towards the front, stage left, then the lights dimmed at 9 and Frank and the band, uniformly white-shirted, took the stage in short order and rocked straight into the ramshackle sea shanty opener of “Try This At Home”. Straight away the whole audience was enthusiastically singing and clapping along, totally engaged and swept up in the inclusiveness of the Frank Turner “live” experience. A tremendous mandolin-powered “Losing Days” (reminding me of James’ 80’s classic “What For”) preceded Frank welcoming us to, “show 1609!” before introducing the first of a smattering of new numbers and asking 2 requests of us; firstly, no filming during the newies (“film the rest of the show, I don’t care!”) and secondly, treat them like the old numbers! The audience responded perfectly to the speedy, off-kilter rollercoaster ride of “Out Of Breath”, the best newie on offer tonight.
Once again Frank was on top form; a born performer, charismatic, voluble and gregarious, a lot to say both in song and between, relating to the audience in this large hall as if we were a group of friends in a pub back room (still kicking myself about not turning on to Frank earlier and thereby missing the chance to see him in those type of venues!). Following a rambunctious “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot”, an energetic Frank remarked, “I have to address the issue of my untied shoelace or I’ll fall over and kill myself!” before the raw, passionate, backlit rendition of the Dashboard Confessional-alike “Disappeared”, an early highlight. This however was topped by a solo “Better Half”, which Frank claimed to only have played 3 times ever, but which was delivered brilliantly, with scary conviction and heart-cracking emotion as raw as his strained but passionate delivery.
We were regaled by an account of a 1998 Salisbury show for Frank’s old band, in which they turned up only to find they were double booked, told politely to fuck off, then ended up playing to 3 people at The Hobgoblin pub! A bit of a change to tonight, in which “Photosynthesis” saw this sell-out crowd all sitting down during the middle eight (not so fond of this, due to my dodgy knees…), before the hoe-down denouement saw everyone jumping about. A suspenseful “Plain Sailing Weather” followed, building to another passionate crescendo, then Frank introduced another newie “Get Better” (“about trying to get better… ha!”), with, “one more new song, then it’s wall to wall hits! I’m talking Bon Jovi, Squeeze, Del Amitri…!” No Dels though, but instead we got the jolly maypole dance of “Recovery”, with a crew member acting as dance instructor, before a toughened up set closer “Long Live The Queen” which nevertheless featured a slow, stripped back finale, showing how much this song – and the audience’s reverential singalong – still means to him, maaaan.
The encore highlight of “I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous” preceded another lengthy monologue from the man, thanking us for selling out tonight and reflecting on his current success (“I’ve been asked on this tour, why are you playing small venues [after playing arenas earlier this year]… there’s NO WAY this is a small venue!”), then a punk rock “Four Simple Words” brought a consummate 1 hour 45 performance to a close. Another fairly simple set-list later, we joined the queue to get out, as the entire audience was uncomfortably funnelled out through the small entrance, instead of opening up the fire exits at the back of the venue, again showing this venue’s complete unpreparedness for such a gig. Then a swift drive back in inky blackness, nonetheless reflecting on another excellent Frank Turner show!

Friday, 5 September 2014

923 CASE HARDIN, THE SHUDDERS, Tamsin Quin, Swindon the Victoria, Thursday 4 September 2014

A redemption of sorts to start off a hectic Autumn gigging dance card, with a trip up the hill to catch Tim’s band The Shudders. They’d been off my schedule since January, when a sloppy, drink-fuelled performance in front of a minimal crowd slightly tarnished a burgeoning reputation. Still, I’m prepared to give them a lot of rope (Tim’s my best friend – of course I’m going to give them a lot of rope!), and Tim’s recent promises that after a bumpy 2014 to date, things are coming together as they focus on the final stages of recording their second album, reassured me somewhat. I’d actually tried to catch them on the last night of the Swindon Shuffle, but couldn’t get into the 18+ only Beehive with a visiting Evan. So this was the next opportunity!
A drive up the hill with Dean, recovering from his knee op, saw us park up at 8 then socialise with Tim, Tracey, the rest of the band and the usual Vic crew for a while before the late-running “Songs Of Praise”-promoted evening finally got under way at 9, and we decamped into the venue to catch opener Tamsin Quin. A strikingly attractive young girl with a tumbling mass of brown curls and a self-deprecating smile at the end of each number, she poured her heart into some dark and soulful Delta blues and occasionally Celtic-tinged numbers, embellishing her emotive balladry with a smoky dark, world-weary voice which sounded old and wise way beyond her years. Charming too; “I’m going to sing a song about alcohol – because I like alcohol a lot, and sometimes it doesn’t like you back!” Some playful banter with Jim from Case Hardin over final number “Been So Long” was an entertaining end to a fine set.
The Shudders were next up and were keen to crack on, all guitarred up and onstage before schedule! It was clear from the outset that they were “on it”, with the soaring, Posies-like opener “Sorry” a melodic powerpop delight and a great way to open the set. Indeed, this set showcased a growing maturity and wider variety and breadth of songwriting prowess, taking in powerpop, indie rock, Americana and rootsy, dusty folk, highlighting their new album material perfectly. In fact, Danny plugged their first album then announced most of the songs tonight weren’t on it, prompting Tim to sardonically retort, “we’re great at this [self-promotion], aren’t we?”
The Shudders were actually great tonight, certainly the best I’ve seen them; “Sunrise” featured ringing guitar interplay interwoven with delicate harmonies, recalling Buffalo Tom’s rare quieter moments, then contrasting with the subsequent brash 70’s “Grease”/ rock stomp of “Angels”, which featured a surprisingly strident vocal performance from a confident Danny. Some comical Ardal O’Hanlon moments from Liam whilst tuning up (“My van ran out of diesel on the M4 today! Brilliant!”) preceded a toughened up “Words Of A Fool”, the only first album number on display tonight, and sounding way better thanks to an excellent drum performance from their (I still think of him as…) new drummer Jim, possibly tonight’s MVP. The superbly swaggering Replacements-like bar-room bluesy romp of “Thought I Saw You” segued into the sprawling set closer “Mary’s Grace”, now deserving of the epithet of “epic”, and capping a superb performance. Well done boys!
After that, headliners Case Hardin had a hard job of it, and for me fell short. They delivered a set of countrified folk and rock, mainly falling more into pedal steel/ Nashville swing trad country territory for me, rather than parched alt-Americana, with an energetic Captain Beefheart lookalike vocalist. Very accomplished both from a musical and songwriting perspective, and vaguely reminiscent of Jimmy LaFave’s red dirt music, and occasionally ”Rattlesnakes”-era Lloyd Cole minus his gauche charm, they went down well with this respectful audience (apart from a couple of out-of-place noisy slappers!) but didn’t press too many buttons for me. I liked the fun acoustic interlude on the floor, the bassist producing a huge double-bass to pluck in the process, but overall I admired rather than enjoyed their set.
Nevertheless, The Shudders came through tonight, so congrats were in order afterwards before the lateness of the hour (now bumping up to midnight! On a school night!) saw me drag myself off after another splendid “Songs Of Praise” evening, As I said, a redemption tonight for The Shudders!