Monday, 28 July 2014

921 TELEVISION, Louise Distras, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Sunday 27 July 2014

I’m correcting an ancient error of omission with tonight’s Television gig, seeing these original punk rock pioneers for the first time! Television, who emerged from the New York CBGB’s/ Max’s Kansas City scene in the mid 70’s with contemporaries The Ramones, Patti Smith and Blondie, passed me by a little back in the day, I’m ashamed to say, and I only recently acknowledged their genius (actually, when I say recently, I kind of mean mid 90’s, so it’s not that recent really!) given their obvious influence on the likes of the jerky tinny Britpop brigade, and the new millennial crop of New York rockers like The Strokes, Stellastarr* and Interpol. Never saw them “live” until tonight, though, when an opportunity to break up a barren gigging July with a London trip presented itself, to see Tom Verlaine and crew do a set consisting of their seminal 1977 work “Marquee Moon”, a tense, fragile masterpiece, innovative, chilling and atmospheric, and still a great listen, 37 years on.
So I set off on a balmy early evening, initially encountering frustrating heavy traffic but nonetheless parking up in my usual spot around the corner from the venue, getting in at 7.45 and watching the place fill up, mainly with studious old rocker blokes with Ramones or “Marquee Moon” t-shirts. At 49, I actually felt quite young! Took a wander forward for support Louise Distras, a raven haired and tattooed punk/ folk songstress with an overt gravelly delivery for her strident political (both personal and party) Guthrie/ Bragg-esque manifestos. What kept her just the right side of screaming harpy sloganeering clichĂ© for me was some dry wit and carefree enthusiasm, which grabbed my attention, if not the majority of the crowd. I enjoyed her set, although I couldn’t help but wonder whether a Hyde Park Corner soapbox might be a more appropriate venue…
Kept my spot stage right, four or five rows back and next to some bespectacled lairy bloke (more on him later…), as we were subjected to what seemed an eternity of patience-trying pealing bells as a “musical” backdrop, before the band finally emerged, looking like a group of lawyers on their way to the golf course, with the obvious exception of be-hatted and pointy bearded rocker guitarist Jimmy Rip. After some wall-of-noise Byrdsian psych-fretwork, mainly from Rip, they kicked into the herky-jerky rhythm and tumbling NYC street cool riffery of “See No Evil”. This immediately set the tone for tonight’s performance; laconic albeit submerged vocals from iconic mainman Tom Verlaine, pounding tom-tom dominated rhythm, and intricate and virtuoso fretwork from both Verlaine and Rip, who particularly (and ironically) can play guitar just like ringing a bell…!
As I’d suspected, this was a non-sequential run-through of the “Marquee Moon” material, as the Spanish guitar of “Prove It” was next up, featuring an impassioned, yearning vocal from Verlaine, followed by a squalling “1880 Or So”, notable for Rip’s white noise guitar work which was eerily reminiscent of Bob Mould! Prior to an eerie, elegiac “Torn Curtain”, Verlaine, in response to a heckler, replied, “there’s always some guy who shouts, “come on Tom,” and I never figure out what the… fuck he means!” The band then suffered some technical problems before the nevertheless excellently chugging “Friction”, and the subsequent “Elevation” was superb, dramatic and windswept, but was punctuated by lairy bloke (remember him?) pushing forward, pissing off a few folks in the process. It all seemed ready to kick off before the “come on Tom” bloke, a hefty chap to my left, deftly diffused that situation by removing lairy bloke’s glasses and luring him out of the vicinity, while the band, oblivious, played on… “Venus” was my personal set highlight, a plangent thing of beauty, wondrous and haunting with Rip’s tumbling, intricate guitar riff as much a work of art as the subject matter of Venus De Milo. However, towards the end of this number, lairy bloke returned, pushing and shoving, before one guy, whose girlfriend he’d insulted earlier, flew into him and gave him a good old fashioned chinning which sent him sprawling to the ground, before bouncers dived in to remove lairy bloke from the premises, to everyone’s relief!
Thus relaxed, it was time for set closer “Marquee Moon”, tonight’s version of this definitive New Wave classic rendered perfectly, the mood detached and urbane, with Verlaine and Rip weaving intricate guitar patterns which built over its’ sprawling length to a rocking crescendo. Marvellous stuff, and a total appropriate way to end the set.
We didn’t really need encores after that, but “Glory” (which I know largely due to Lloyd Cole’s cover!) was the best of the 2. However “Marquee Moon” was the real star on display tonight. So overall, an ancient error corrected by myself, and a splendid evening with these enduring New Wave pioneers Television!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

920 THE VERY MOST, Yakuri Cable, the King In Mirrors, Swindon The Victoria, Tuesday 22 July 2014

Poking my head out above the parapet for this one, a local gig organised by old Level 3 face and recent facebook friend Rich May to showcase his band The King In Mirrors, and to also put on a couple of other indiepop bands, including Boise, Idaho’s The Very Most, over to play the Indietracks Festival this coming weekend and with a couple of evenings to fill in the meantime. TKIM’s presence would have been enough to drag me out on a sweltering Tuesday evening, but further incentive was provided by Rich Craven, donning his “DJ Mark E Moon” persona and promising to spin some suitably appropriate C86 tunes. Oh, go on then…
So, shorts and kneestrap bolted on, I drove up and hit the venue at 8.30, catching up with the 2 Richs and availing myself of some vintage tuneage (Close Lobsters! Pastels!) courtesy of Mr. Craven. Mr. May then gathered his troupe together and took the stage on this “Songs Of Praise” promoted evening at 9, easing into jangly opener “At The Rivers Edge”, before second number “Your Spell” was introduced as, “a song about being seduced by an other-worldly being in the local disco – true story!”. This one really impressed, despite being slightly at odds with TKIM’s usual material, being darker, edgier and with an early 80’s pseudo-Goth guitar feel redolent of Scars or Modern English. Good one!
“He’s good, isn’t he? He’s been practising!” remarked Mrs. May to The Very Most’s vocalist Jeremy, standing stage front next to me. Indeed, practice seemed to have made perfect with this impressive set from The King In Mirrors; “Your Spell” aside, this was a set of punchy, upbeat C86-esque jangle with nicely layered guitars and Rich’s slightly atonal vocals recalling the likes of The Razorcuts. “Catwoman” had a more kitsch 60’s B movie feel about it, and “Good Friends” saw Mr. Craven emerge from behind the decks to duet with his old friend, a nice touch. Overall, Rich relaxed into his performance as it progressed, ultimately delivering a set tougher than TKIM’s elegant but slightly wispier CD material, full of optimism and promise. Nice work!
A quick chat outside with Dave Franklin and an elated Rich May, before next band Yakuri Cable – their name and Glaswegian origins may have suggested a shambolic but harmonic noise, but instead they were a drummer-less 4-piece sonically in thrall to 80’s synthpop. They were occasionally interesting with some jagged edges a la China Crisis or Blancmange, but all too often veered more towards jazz cafĂ© wallpaper pop. Nice, pretty and melodic, maybe, but also unobtrusive and forgettable to these ears. Sorry guys.
After another quickfire turnaround (seemingly the modus operandi for these Songs Of Praise nights!), The Very Most hit the stage at 10.30. This was apparently a “manufactured” version of The Very Most, featuring bearded singer and mainman Jeremy over from Idaho, a couple of members of Yakuri Cable pulling double shifts, a drummer from Spain (!) and Vinnie, a voluble and chatty female backing vocalist. Apparently this iteration of the band had only been together for 6 days, but you’d not have noticed, as from the outset they delivered an upbeat, summery and fun set of bouncy, melodic indiepop, with some splendid male/female call and response harmonies and interplay. Mining the middle ground I never knew existed between C86 faves The Hit Parade and the excellent New Pornographers, there was also a real craftsmanship about the songs on display, an evident intelligence in making them sound so immediate and infectiously catchy. Second number “Patricia” was an early highlight, “When Summer Dies” an odd juxtaposition between the lyrical content and the song’s optimistic, upbeat feel, and I loved the story about Vinnie apparently being licked on the face by a Fall fan in Nottingham (!), before she delivered lead vocals on the bouncier penultimate “Things Too Obvious”. A final “Congratulations For Ever”, was a chugalong exclamation point on a fun, inclusive little jewel of a set. Vinnie had remarked, “It’s just indie pop, Jeremy!” in response to the singer’s uncharacteristically high string breakage rate this evening, but this was impressive, intelligently crafted and fun indie pop.
Grabbed both an armful of TVM CDs and a lengthy chat with affable vocalist Jeremy before saying my farewells and hitting the road, nearly collecting an unloading Vinnie as I drove down the side of the Vic. Still, at least it wasn’t another face-lick…! A late one but another fine “Songs Of Praise” evening out!