Wednesday, 14 May 2014

917 WOLF ALICE, Superfood, Gengahr, Oxford O2 Academy 2 (ex Zodiac), Tuesday 13 May 2014

Last in a clutch of May gigs is this one, kind of a new band for a change! So here’s London’s Wolf Alice, a female fronted band whom I was (unsurprisingly) introduced to by Beef, finding them a challenging yet listenable mix of both shimmering and jagged guitar and vocals, reminding me at their best of my 90’s favourites The Julie Dolphin. A beguiling mix of the smooth and sharp on their small smattering of EPs to date, and therefore so far the most promising new band of this (admittedly fairly barren) year, I was intrigued as to how they’d balance both elements of their sound, “live”. One way to find out…
Beef was out of the country so couldn’t join us, so I travelled up with his mate Dean, taking my turn to drive as payback for Dean driving to Howler a couple of months ago! An early doors run up and a slight delay in Oxford, due to police navigating us around a shunt, nevertheless saw us parking up just after 7.30 in the – for once! – quieter Tescos car park, hitting the venue as openers Gengehr were working through their early numbers. They played some pleasant pastoral indie with some odd chunky guitar riffs which sounded all the more startling in comparison with their usual vibe, and featured a big beefy vocalist with an oddly keening, high pitched voice, reminiscent of Jonsi of Sigur Ros! A passable opener, overall.
Better was to come in the form of main support Superfood, on at 8.30; their opening track “Melting” appropriated the drum intro from the Boo Radleys’ classic “I Hang Suspended”, then bounded into a bouncy slice of Brit-indie pop, with those old fashioned staple virtues of good hooks and vocals, delivered by an impressive young vocalist. “Satellite” also featured a nagging choral hook and some fine harmonies, and the subsequent “Bubbles” was a looser-limbed sway-along with some deliciously discordant riffery. Their eminently tuneful set closed with an eponymous number which featured some heavier riffery and the hook, “you’re always hungry,” which was quite appropriate really, as I was hungry for more Superfood after this bright little gem of a set. Nice one!
The place filled up considerably after Superfood’s set, Wolf Alice’s appeal being evidently a broad one at this juncture – lots of old muso types (like ourselves) mixed in with enthusiastic teenage kids, keyed up and ready to mosh. And the place burst into floor-bouncing life when Wolf Alice took the stage at 9.30 in short order, ripping into the stomping grunge-lite of opener “Moaning Lisa Smile”, keeping up the momentum with the tumbling rhythm and Julie Dolphin-like soaring chorus of the subsequent “She”. That’s how to make an entrance!
Considerably more subdued on their clutch of EP releases to date, Wolf Alice tonight were a snarling animal, much harder-edged and strident “live”, with exciting proto-grunge riffery recalling a whole slew of excellent early 90’s female fronted bands. Whilst the opener “Lisa Smile” had the stomping strut of Veruca Salt, 3rd number “Your Love’s Whore" recalled early Madder Rose, not least in waif-like vocalist Ellie Rowsell’s vocal inflections, and the subsequent mix of the colourful and caustic in “You’re A Germ” was reminiscent of a punkier Magnapop. Original? Hardly, but I couldn’t fault their taste in plagiarism, or their enthusiasm, as they delivered this set with power and pace.
“You guys are great!” proclaimed a breathless Ellie to the young mosh, before calming things down with an ethereal, hushed “Blush”, nevertheless building to a jagged guitar crescendo before melting into a well-observed cover of Chris Isaak’s eerie “Wicked Game”. Final number “Bros” with its’ tumbling guitar riff, got the old room bouncing again, closing out a swift 40 minute set, before the band re-emerged for a crunching finale of “Fluffy”, guitarist Joff Oddie crowdsurfing into the mosh, to conclude an impressive set.
Grabbed the list and got it signed by a polite Ellie, lurking around the merch stand afterwards, before heading off after witnessing a couple of fine new bands still finding their own identities, but treading the boards with style. A couple of names to watch – I’ll certainly be back for more Superfood – and Wolf Alice!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

916 ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, Black Submarine, Oxford O2 Academy, Saturday 10 May 2014

The hectic early May clutch of gigs continues apace with a revisit of my old “home team” Echo And The Bunnymen, the mythical voice of my late teenhood period of post-punk musical discovery, arguably the band against whom, consciously or sub-consciously, all other bands have since been measured. A crushing disappointment at this venue in 2010, when their “Masterclass in Rock’n’Roll” instead delivered a sloppy, off-key and frankly uncaring performance from main man Ian McCulloch, they nevertheless performed a resurrection of sorts with an excellent, nailed on showing supporting James last April. With a new album “Meteorites”, due out soon and apparently having re-ignited Mac’s enthusiasm and swagger, I was intrigued as to which Bunny would hop onstage tonight. So I booked myself a ticket with expectations suitably adjusted – I just want them to do justice to their legacy, that’s all…
I was joined tonight by new facebook friend but old Level 3 face Rich May, and we set off early doors, parking up after a short wait in what is now the World’s Busiest Car Park (official) behind Cowley Road Tesco, meeting up with Oxford-domiciled Rich Craven and his mates before hitting the venue about 7.15. Support Black Submarine were already onstage, plying some overpowering shoegazy noise. Maudlin, morbid and morose, and featuring ethereal vocals from their female singer, they seemed intent on creating mood at the expense of tunes. Apparently featuring a couple of members of The Verve, a band I also didn’t like very much, they did little for me – sorry, for me this Black Submarine has sunk under the weight of its’ pretensions…
I took a wander forward, stage left, for the main event, The Bunnymen coming on fairly swiftly after the lights had dimmed at 8.25 (10 minutes after their due time – which for them is early!) and the usual Gregorian chanting backing track had kicked in. Easing in with an elegiac new number, an unkempt Mac’s voice initially seemed strained, a gravelly rasp embellishing his higher octave work, which he ascribed to, “a frog in my throat, bear with me…” prior to an unexpected, shimmeringly eerie “Nocturnal Me”. “Rescue” finally kicked the gig into life, Mac asking for the crowd to sing along, and getting his wish; however subsequent newie “Holy Moses” (“it’s a potential classic... tell us in 3 ½ minutes, but I already know,” announced Mac with his usual bluster) sailed uncomfortably close to Simple Minds’ stadium bland-out “(Don’t You) Forget About Me”.
Given Mac’s admission of suffering with his throat tonight, we were inclined to cut him some slack; that said, The Voice settled down, only sounding slightly strained at higher levels, nailing the lower octave lines as perfectly and hauntingly as usual. A loose-limbed “Bedbugs And Ballyhoo”, with an extended, Doors-like piano mid-section, was an early highlight, then the “Porcupine”-like wall of noise of “Constantinople” proved the best of the new numbers on display tonight. We also got some Diva-like behaviour from Mac; he took 2 goes to get new number “New Horizons” started, asking a couple of punters to, “shut the fuck up while this is playing!”, then abandoned it altogether, claiming he wasn’t, “feeling it”. The subsequent “All That Jazz” also required 2 starts, but was full of bilious ire and seething drama, Mac’s frustrations channelled perfectly, and easily the best number to that point. A stately “Bring on the Dancing Horses” was also superb, for me even eclipsing the subsequent, slightly understated “Killing Moon”, then Mac introduced “the last song – it’s 3 hours long… minus 2 hours 57…”, a magnificent “Cutter”, the huge crescendo and Mac’s soaring vocals dovetailing perfectly to end the set on a real high.
The band returned after the audience sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, Mac quipping, “we only came back because you sang that,” then “Nothing Lasts Forever”, which Mac segued in with clips from “Walk on The Wild Side”, “In The Midnight Hour”, and a Brendan Rodgers namecheck (!), drew the performance to a close, Mac by now just about done. A few odd moments, but a million times better than last time out here, for sure…
An early one too! This finished just after 9.45, so we repaired to a local bar for an hour of entertaining music and comic chat, also being invaded by a couple of 20 year old girls who proceeded to lead us in rowdy versions of Squeeze’s “Up The Junction” and Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him”! A surreal end to a fine evening of good music and good company, and a band thankfully doing justice to their legacy tonight, and that’s all I can ask of them.

Friday, 9 May 2014

915 AMERICAN HI-FI, The Hype Theory, London Oxford Street 100 Club, Wednesday 7 May 2014

“And now I can’t wait for the Hi-Fi to come over next year…” That was my closing remark, when the Hi-Fi rhythm section Drew Parsons and Brian Nolan brought their own brand of powerpop dynamism to a scratch Lemonheads line-up, brilliantly backing up Evan Dando at Portsmouth’s gig 834 back in November 2011. Well, despite Drew’s belief that they’d be back over the following year, they made us wait a further 2, totalling 8 ¾ years since they’d last crossed the pond (gig 685, back in October 2005!); not that we’ve been counting or anything! As for what the boys have been up to since then… not much really, vocalist Stacy Jones and guitarist Jamie Arentzen have only been playing in the backing band (Stacy returning to the drum-stool to do so) of the world’s most talked-about pop star Miley Cyrus! Hey, it’s a (very lucrative, I’d imagine) paying gig, playing in arenas and stadiums, so fair play to you, boys!
In fact we’ve got Miley to thank for this gig in a roundabout way, as her “Bangerz” tour is currently in the UK, so with a gap between dates, the boys decided to sort a gig of their own! I jumped on tix as soon as they went on sale, before they (eventually) sold out, and Tim and Tracey therefore picked Rach and myself up just after 5 for the usual hit-and-miss run into London. Tim decided to drive all the way in, which initially looked a shrewd shout as we parked up just off Charlotte Street, about a 10 minute walk from the venue. However a chunk of Oxford Street was cordoned off due to an “incident”, necessitating an increasingly frustrating hike around the rabbit warren backstreets behind Oxford Street, eventually arriving at the venue ¾ hour after parking the car! Yikes! So we missed the first support band, and headed to the bar for much needed refreshment while main support The Hype Theory were on. They were terrible – a clumsy, ham-fisted retread of oddly dated sounding millennial Nu-punk, with an overpowering drummer, and a female vocalist berating the crowd’s indifference.
Our mood was however lifted by spotting Jamie in the crowd, so I tapped him on the shoulder and we caught up awhile (well, as much as the onstage noise would allow) with one of the nicest, most chilled blokes it’s my pleasure to know. He eventually drifted off to get ready, and we took a spot stage left, spotting a spectating Miley and her entourage in the cordoned-off side-stage area next to us. Come to see what her boys are capable of when they really cut loose with the rock, no doubt…
Just after 9.30, the Hi-Fi bounded enthusiastically onstage, as is their wont, Stacy announcing, “we’re American Hi-Fi, we’re a rock’n’roll band from Boston, Massachusetts,” (nice to see that’s not changed!), then burst into the ringing opening riff to “Surround”, the leadoff track to that classic first album, 13 years old and still sounding fresh as a spring waterfall. That was it, the years fell away and I was down the front, finding a surprisingly easy pocket of space in which to rock out throughout, and being acknowledged by Stacy and Drew midway through that first number. A blistering “Scar” followed in short order, then “The Breakup Song” cranked it up an even higher notch, and at this point they were threatening to unmoor this revered venue from its’ foundations!
The Hi-Fi were totally on fire tonight: always at their best when tightrope walking right on the ragged edge, often threatening to tumble into chaos but somehow managing to pull it all together, they gave a perfect demonstration of that tonight, kinetic and committed, sawing away at their guitars for all they’re worth. “Hi-Fi Killer” was an incendiary yet tune-laden delight, before Stacy paused for breath, stating, “it’s really special to be playing for you guys tonight,” then announcing new material due in the Autumn with new single “Allison” (“We’re putting it out after this show so you’ll find it on the world wide web”), the turbocharged guitar riffs proving them new apples haven’t fallen far from the Hi-Fi tree of rock.
We only got a couple of the new numbers tonight (“they’re harder to play!” lamented Stacy), as the Hi-Fi delved increasingly into their classic debut. Some wag called for “Wrecking Ball”, Stacy retorting with, “I can play drums on that!” before “Another Perfect Day” required a couple of starts (“oh, that’s the wrong chord!”) but was brilliantly anthemic, Stacy introducing Jamie for the perfectly-delivered “All The Young Dudes” middle-8 riff. “Blue Day” was a loose-limbed itchy jump-about fest, Stacy admitting he’d tried to rip off the Charlatans when he wrote this one! This startlingly swift set rushed by in a breathless amphetamine blast of pace, power and
crushing powerpop riffery, drawing towards a conclusion with the inevitable “Flavor Of The Weak”, Stacy warning, “here’s one we’d better not fuck up,” but then totally nailing it, the crowd filling in the middle 8 hook to Stacy’s delight. A roaring, soaring and thoroughly absorbing “Wall Of Sound” ended a magnificent set, the boys not missing a beat overall despite their 8 year absence.
Before the encores, a tuning lull gave me an opportunity to congratulate the onstage Stacy on his recent nuptials, drawing a, “well thank you David Rose!” response from the man, and the story of Jamie’s Best Man duties, which prompted a, “Speech! Speech!” chant directed at the bemused guitarist. The encores were amazing, “The Art Of Losing” an all-inclusive call to arms and possibly the best number on show, delivered with a swagger and a grin. Final number “Happy” was preceded by fulsome praise from an effusive Stacy, who’d allegedly never expected this kind of response (“we thought if maybe 30 or 40 people came along that’d be cool…”), and saluted the enthusiastic crowd response at length at the end.

That wasn’t it thought – it never is when there’s a Boston band involved! Jamie, lovely guy that he is, dashed backstage to grab me a set-list (a couple of the boys had forgotten to bring theirs on, Stacy needing to refer to Drew’s throughout!), then we had pix and conversations with him and Drew, also meeting Stacy’s lovely bride Kristen and grabbing a quick word with the predictably-besieged frontman before heading off, breathless and totally elated. This was a pain to get to, but totally worth it, a resurrection of sorts for one of the most dynamic and incendiary live acts it’s been my privilege ever to see “live”. Brilliant though The Hold Steady were on Monday, I reckon this even topped that, and might just end up being my Gig of the Year. Yup, there, I said it. And now I can’t wait for the Hi-Fi to come back over again… when the album is out!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

914 THE HOLD STEADY, Cheerleader, London Shepherd's Bush Bush Hall, Monday 5th May 2014

“The Kings have returned to reclaim their throne” was how I proclaimed the return of The Hold Steady with their new album “Teeth Dreams” earlier this year; after an uncharacteristic 3 year absence, Minneapolis’ finest and consistently my favourite rock’n’roll band since I first heard the heady rush of their breakthrough album “Boys And Girls In America” back in 2007, are back – and with a vengeance, the lion finding its’ teeth again after a slightly disappointing effort last time out in “Heaven Is Whenever” with a bleeding-raw slab of prime rock’n’roll, a real stunner to match that last album’s 2 predecessors. Coinciding with the record, a short sojourn of small venues was announced, and it seemed I’d not been the only one bemoaning their absence as it pretty much sold out immediately! I jumped on the website when they went on sale, but my efforts were met with “not available… not available… sold out!” In frustration, I phoned the venue, who after some forlorn pleading, kindly put me on a “pay on the door” reserve list. So I was in!

So, after a lovely day at Kasey’s 5th birthday party, I hit the road just after 5, hitting Bank Holiday traffic on the outskirts of London but still parking up in my usual spot just before 7. Joined the queue after samosa tea, gleefully handing over the £20 entrance fee and entering the ornate dimly pink-lit room early doors, people watching from stage left as it filled up, mainly with blokes! Chatted with a young couple, Silas and Laura, before openers Cheerleader took the small stage at 8.30 prompt. A Philadelphia 5-piece, they played a brand of summery jangle pop which initially was wide-eyed, innocent and insubstantial, sounding cloying and dated. However they toughened up with a couple of more powerpoppy numbers to finish, a chugalong “Perfect Vision” and a very melodic, driving Posies-like “Tomorrow Never Knows”, hinting at greater potential. Write more like these last 2, boys, then we can talk…!

Then suddenly the stage front filled up considerably, and the place felt like the super-quick sell-out that it was. The place felt about to blow, with anticipation palpable, before the highly appropriate entrance music of “We’re Gonna Have A Good Time Together” hit, and the band sauntered onstage for 9.30 to a frenzied reception, mainman Craig Finn striding on enthusiastically and announcing, “I bet you all thought you were going to a Hold Steady gig… but instead you’ve all been invited to our Cinco De Maio party!” They hit the opening bars to “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You”, the blazing opener to the new album, and the place erupted, a huge moshpit breaking out from note one and staying in situ throughout. And I was right in it – hell yes, I was!

This was one for the books, a raw, ragged, elemental, euphoric distillation of the all-inclusive power of rock’n’roll. “Frighten” was brilliant, then incredibly it got better, a punk rock “Ask Her For Adderal” savage and strident, and “Stuck Between Stations” a euphoric blast. And Craig Finn was everywhere; kinetic, brimfull of nervous energy, fire and verve, exhorting the crowd throughout, constantly repeating lines he’d just sung off-mic, a stupid grin never far from his features, a man in permanent fantasy band camp, his performance was utterly mesmeric. I abandoned myself to the mosh and the moment.

Thankfully there were moments of light and shade in the set, a reverent hush descending for “Almost Everything” (“about being on tour and meeting cool people,” according to Finn) and the later, slow-burn to anthemic chorus of “Ambassador” diffused the mood after the tremendous Thin Lizzy-like snaking riffery “Spinners” (the lyric, “there might be a fight, there might be a miracle” pretty much summing up tonight’s show!). But the rock was aplenty; “Hoodrat Friend” was ragged and frenzied, and a brilliant singalong “Southtown Girls” saw the set out, Finn high-fiving his guitarists as they delivered perfect middle-8 riffs.

Then, incredibly, it got even better… the encore sneaked smoothly in with a hushed “Citrus”, but then roared into the terrace chant “Whoa-oh”s of “Massive Nights”, Finn theatrically pausing to deliver the final line of “when the chaperone said…. we’re gonna build something this Summer!” taking us into the Husker Du-like riffery of the magnificent “Constructive Summer”, the highlight of the night – hell, the highlight of my gig year to date. Brilliant. Another terrace chant “Stay Positive” segued into a languid, libidinous finale of “Killer Parties” and saw the wide-eyed Finn deliver a lengthy thanks, culminating in the statement, “there is so much JOY in what we do up here!” And I get it. I totally do. Grabbed a handshake with new guitarist Steve Selvidge (plus his set-list!) as Finn ended with the totally appropriate, “you, me, all of us.. WE are The Hold Steady!” Damn straight, this was a brilliant, totally all-inclusive demonstration of the connection between band and audience, rock’n’roll at its finest.

I extricated myself from the melee, the suddenly realised exactly how sweaty and battered about I’d become, my condition requiring me to drive out of London shirtless, with the windows down! I’m writing this the following lunchtime and my ears are still ringing. The Kings are back – and how!