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!