Saturday, 5 December 2015

971 COURTNEY BARNETT, Big Scary, Bristol O2 Academy, Friday 4th December 2015

My Autumn mini-tour of Bristol (11 gigs, 8 different venues!) comes to an end tonight, and it’s in the company of an artist who’s been causing a bit of a buzz of late; Courtney Barnett, an Australian singer whose 2015 debut CD, “Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit”, has invited comparisons to mid-90’s era Lemonheads, with its’ deadpan, conversational delivery, insouciant, chilled atmosphere and post-grunge, slightly countrified slacker melody. Oh, and La Court’s habit of covering the likes of “Into Your Arms” as well…! I’d just missed out on her sell-out Fleece gig earlier this year, but booked myself a ticket in good time for this one.

On the train as well! Wednesday’s traffic carnage around Cabot Circus had made me think, crikey, what’s it going to be like for an early gig on a Chrimbo shopping Friday night? Luckily a planned early curfew and a decently timed final train seemed to fit well together, so I hopped on the 6.30 from Swindon and walked the steady 20 minutes to the venue, gaining entrance through the newly-installed airport style scanning archways and post-Bataclan searches, thereby arriving midway through the support act, fellow Antipodeans and Barratt acolytes Big Scary. However, they really didn’t do it for me “live”; they mainly played variously discordant and oddly samey jazz workouts and insipid 80’s wine bar funk, with the vocalists’ falsetto uncomfortably recalling Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. There’s a comparison I’ve not used it a while…

I wandered out to the lobby during their final number, and ran into the Bristol-domiciled Kieron and Alison, plus friends, for a nice chat and catch up. Wandered back onto the uncomfortably stuffed dancefloor, trying stage left first, then back to my usual stage right spot, eventually finding a pocket of space and a decent view. The diminutive Courtney, black clad with new INXS t-shirt (a local “find” earlier today, apparently), led her 3-piece band on, and straight into “Elevator Operator”, the laconic and witty, stream-of-consciousness current CD opener, her dry, deadpan and heavily accented vocals to the fore. “Avant Gardener”, next up, was a hooky slacker indie treat so redolent of “Shame About Ray” era prime Dando, and “Dead Fox”, my favourite from the current CD, was a laid-back Sheryl Crow Sunset Strip cruise with some strident harmonies to finish.

A good start; I wish I could say that this level was maintained... However, the slow-burn, sprawling “Small Poppies” dragged, and I was distracted by the cartoon backdrop of woodland monsters, before being snapped back by Courtney’s grungy howl at the song’s climax, which suggested there’s actually a snarling riot grrl in there if you scratch the surface… This juxtaposition continued throughout the set – lots of enticing, intriguing material, played well, contrasted with some flimsy, flyaway stuff which drifted along innocuously, and I couldn’t help but wonder that this would have been an excellent 45min-1 hour set at the Thekla or Trinity, but felt overlong and uneven as a 1 ½ hour job at the more cavernous Academy. Don’t get me wrong, lots of good moments here tonight; a delicate “Depreston”, initially recalled the stripped back US alt-rock of, ironically, Real Estate, and climaxed with the quietest singalong I’ve heard at a gig (prompting a, “that was nice,” response from the otherwise taciturn Courtney); “Debbie Downer” was an ironically upbeat and bouncy C86-tinged shamble, and the set finale double of the groovy 60’s influenced harmonies of “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party”, and the harsher, more confrontational “Pedestrian At Best” was the set highlight. Shame it felt like there was a fair bit of padding in between…

Courtney dragged Big Scary on for the first encore, a rambunctious run-through of The Saints’ “Know Your Product”, the support band’s saxophonist playing a starring role here and making this 37 year old swaggering punk rock number sound fresh and vital; then “oldie” “History Eraser” finished a set which overall was good, but not great. I snuck out quickly after snagging Larry Lights’ set-list from the mixing desk, then reflected on this on the swift walk back and train ride home. Maybe a case of popularity outstripping depth of quality material at the moment; maybe, in Courtney’s own words; “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you…” Either way, I’m sure there’s more to come from this undoubtedly talented young singer, so don’t write her off – or overhype her! – yet…!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

970 ASH, Asylums, Bristol Bierkeller, Wednesday 2nd December 2015

The main reaction I’d been getting, on telling people about this gig, was, “Ash? Blimey, not heard of them in years – are they still going then?” The fact is, it’s now 20 years - count ‘em, 20! – since they barrelled their way onto the musical landscape, as skinny Irish teens with surf-punk pop toons, bristling with youthful energy and spunky attitude. Amassing a canon of bouncy, pop-tastic hooks and earworm-friendly tunes that in any reasonable world should have seen them, rather than the Museplay Killers of this world, catapulted to stadium level success, they somehow never quite made their way out of the cult status ghetto. Thus after a 5 year hiatus, they’re back with a new, crowd-funded 2015 album, “Kablammo” and struggling to sell out the rickety old Bierkeller. No accounting for taste.
Still enduring faves of myself and Rach, though, tonight being my 14th “live” Ash experience, so we’d booked tix promptly; however, my poor missus was overcome with a last-minute flu virus, so the Big Man gleefully stepped in at short notice, and I abandoned my stricken wife, like the heartless cad I am, in favour of the rock. Utterly ridiculous Cabot Circus Chrimbo traffic delayed us by ½ hour (bah!) so we parked up in Rupert Street NCP and hit the venue at 8.15, just missing openers The Amorettes. Got drinks and surveyed the venue – a regular 80’s haunt which looks as if it’s not seen a lick of paint since those days! – before being assaulted by the schizophrenic guitar rock sound of Asylums at 8.30. Encompassing frantic thrash punk, tepid grunge, reasonable driving Annie Christian-like indie rock and one horrible, almost 80’s hair-band number, they actually had some decent stuff (I liked the one introduced by the candyfloss-haired vocalist as, “about the misery of the Argos catalogue”, and the final number, which purported to be about “tennis rackets” (although I might have misheard that) and recalled Midway Still’s mighty cover of MBV’s “You Made Me Realise” for sheer savagery) but at the moment are jacks of all trades but masters of none.
Ash bassist Mark Hamilton had a watching brief close to our stage-right spot; he then disappeared backstage and we ran into old mate Steve Aldridge and wife Caz, before wandering onto the old wooden dancefloor for Ash’s arrival, prompt at 9.30 to the sound of broken glass. Riff-heavy opener “Go! Fight! Win!” was raw and ragged, befitting the first night of the tour, and the opening salvos took a while to dial in (particularly vocalist Tim Wheeler’s voice), a superb chiming second number “A Life Less Ordinary” notwithstanding. “Thanks for selling out tonight – champagne for everyone!” announced Tim after the slow grunge of “Goldfinger” and before a low-key newie, “Free”, then the gig finally burst to life with the bratty surf punk of “Kung Fu”, the call-and response “whoa-oh’s” with the enthusiastic Bristol crowd demonstrating those wide eyed boys from those 90’s Fleece days aren’t too far beneath the surface of the now late-30something Ash (a point later made by Tim, remarking, “[this venue] reminds me of the old Fleece And Firkin days! Does that place still exist??”). Justifiably buoyed by this roof-raising response, they hit their stride with the Ramones-like groove and falsetto chorus of a confidently delivered and surprisingly full-sounding “Cocoon”, segueing perfectly into rampaging oldie “Angel Interceptor”.
This was tonight’s modus operandi – new material from “Kablammo”, which sonically harks back to those expansive, anthemic “Free All Angels”/ “Meltdown” days, interspersed with singles and greatest hits from that period. Tim introduced “Evil Eye” with “We’ll do a song from “Meltdown” ‘cos it’s so fucking hot in here!”, and indeed the fans were on throughout, to little effect in this sweatbox. “Oh Yeah” saw a terrace chant finale, and Tim invited heckling before a tremendous, soaring “Machinery”, the best newie on show tonight. The inevitable “Girl From Mars” was dedicated to the sex doll on sale at the bar (!), and after a lengthy, effects-heavy “White Rabbit” (the only track from their recent “A-Z” collections on show tonight), “Shining Light” ultimately brought a sweaty, ragged but completely fun set to a close. The encore saw a great “Walking Barefoot” before they tackled a cover of “Teenage Kicks”, the boys delivering fellow Northern Ireland band The Undertones’ classic faithfully. An acerbic “Burn Baby Burn” concluded the evening, Tim saluting the crowd with his Flying V guitar and the band taking a collective – and deserved – bow, after a splendid set which I spent rocking out and singing along to. Great stuff – as I mentioned, it baffles me why they never broke it really big, but on tonight’s evidence, there’s still time...

And BTW, I went for a set-list but was unsuccessful this time... typical, really, as I strike out quite a lot with Ash, for some odd reason. Seen 'em 14 times, got 1 set-list!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

969 FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS, Skinny Lister, Bristol Colston Hall, Saturday 21st November 2015

Signed by Frank at his RPM Records set, 20 January 2018 (gig 1,067)!

I’m continuing to make up for lost time with Frank Turner! Having only latterly become a convert to this brilliantly incisive and articulate lyricist and extraordinarily hooky folk/punk troubadour (and thus having missed his Swindon gigs in various venues on his way up), tonight marks the third time in less than 2 years that I’ve managed to catch him “live”. That’s Adam Ant pace, at least…! Since our paths last crossed, this prodigiously prolific songwriter had churned out another excellent album, this year’s “Positive Songs For Negative People”, again crammed with huge, soaring anthemic choral hooks and lyrics which seem to speak directly to me (and no doubt many others). I mean, “you’re not delivering a perfect body to the grave… time is not there to be saved” might as well be stamped through my arm like words through seaside rock…! The accompanying tour was therefore an essential, and I jumped on tix for myself and Rach the day they went onsale, eventually securing them despite some website hiccups.
Longtime fan Jenny (who did get to see Frank at the Vic – jealous!!!) also secured tix for herself and first-timer Craig, so, with the kids on a sleepover at grandmas, we travelled down early and met up with our old friends for a lovely meal at Sergios and a catch-up before the show. We hit the large theatre venue at 7.30 and hung out with Craig, Jen, and also my old work boss and fellow Frank devotee Matt and his wife Liz, eventually repairing to the already-packed front stalls for support Skinny Lister. Championed by Frank, they were a gang of Irish-tinged street punks plus a pocket dynamo in a floral dress, playing a ramshackle self-styled “shanty punk” set. Clearly good-time music and rabble rousing stuff’n’nonsense, they went down a storm with the front rows but for me offered little to lift them above the Dropkick Mollys of this world, and left scant impression, apart from their number “This Is War”, during which Craig and I both turned to each other and simultaneously said, “Sally MacLennane!”, such was its’ obvious resemblance to The Pogues classic oldie. So they’re only 30 years behind then, this being underlined by their bringing on Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ violinist Helen O’Hara for a hoedown throwdown final number.
Grabbed a breath in the back bar before we headed back in, finding a pocket of space towards the back of the floor, stage left, for Frank’s appearance, bang on 9 to a huge ovation. And straight into “Get Better”, the stomping tubthumper from his new album, Frank already sprinting around the stage, whirling like a dervish and exhorting the crowd to sing along to the skyscrapingly huge hooky chorus. This set the tone for tonight, as this mightily enthusiastic crowd needed little encouragement to sing – or dance!
Frank was brilliant tonight – “on it” from the outset, the archetypal mass communicator, barely pausing for breath as he whipped through the opening quartet of songs, the band backing him up with an effervescent performance. The jaunty mandolin jig of “Losing Days” gave way to the darker, almost heavy “One Foot Before The Other”, before Frank welcomed us to, “show 1,790!”, promising, “new songs! Old songs! Mid-period songs!” and arranging a dance-off between the two halves of the crowd for “Out Of Breath”. “Peggy Sang The Blues” was introduced with the announcement of “there are two rules at my show – one, don’t be a dickhead, and two, if you know the words – sing along!”, and the brilliant, Hold Steady-esque rocker “Josephine” saw huge “Whoa-oh” singalongs from the crowd which nearly raised the roof.
It wasn’t all anthemic terrace-chant sing-along rockers tonight, though – after celebrating various Bristol venues he’d played (“97 times – The Thekla!”), Frank delivered a gorgeous “Polaroid Picture” featuring a particularly affecting and poignant ending; a punk rock “Long Live the Queen” was fast and frantic until the melancholy stripped-back wallow of the final verse; and during an acoustic interlude, Frank dedicated “Demons” to merch guy Nick Alexander, one of the many to lose their lives last Friday at Le Bataclan, during the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris, this being one of a couple of diatribes tonight against this senseless act, and the fact that it will never – NEVER – stop the rock. “Demons” was replete with voice-cracking emotion, and featured the utterly apposite final line, “we will never be defeated”. Damn straight.
The all-inclusive audience shenanigans continued – Frank requested we all sit down during a superb “Photosynthesis” (I declined to do so due to my dodgy knees), and starjumps were the order of the day for the fairgroundesque romp of “Recovery”, crew member Lee leading the crowd whilst wearing an audience-supplied heart monitor (his heart rate leaping from 88 to 122 in the process!). “The Next Storm” closed a magnificent 1½ hour set, at which point I realised how much my jaw hurt, thanks to my singing along raucously pretty much throughout the set!
“This is the 10th year [of being a solo performer] – I didn’t think anyone would give a shit at this point – certainly not 2 Colston Halls’ worth!” Frank gratefully remarked (referencing tonight and tomorrow night’s shows here, sell-outs both) before opening encore, the touching solo “The Angel Islington”. Then a mandolin-led “Way I Tend To Be”, the rip-roaring manifesto “I Still Believe” and a final kick-ass “Four Simple Words” rounded off a near 2-hour show about as perfect and all-inclusive as it gets, capped by a quickly grabbed set-list and a swift drive back, home by midnight. A lovely evening out in the fine company of good friends, and another brilliant Frank Turner show; more lost time made up!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

968 WHITE LILAC, Familiars, Swindon The Castle, Friday 20th November 2015

Two of the best and most promising “local” bands I’ve come across this year – heck, two of the best new bands I’ve heard for ages, local or not   - playing on the same free bill in town? Thanks, I do! Familiars, utter superstars last time out, having played a blinder in support of Messrs. Fij and Bickers, were tonight joined by the ethereal wonder that is White Lilac. Two bands at markedly different stages of their musical journeys (Cirencester’s Familiars all pushing – or pushed over! – 40, and thus more of a hobby band, fitting in with day jobs and the like, plus mainman Steve Skinley’s Vaudeville alter-ego; whilst Faye Rogers’ White Lilac, all not yet out of their teens and therefore in hopes of taking their music to a wider stage whilst not compromising their fierce talent and expression), but seemingly kindred spirits in mood and melancholia. “Songs Of Praise” (for this was one of their excellent nights) promoter Dave Franklin promised a “sonorous” evening – sounds good to these ears…!

Old Town is becoming a bit of a bastard to park in, I however discovered, taking 20 minutes to eventually find a sneaky spot opposite The Bell, then a long and cold walk around to The Castle saw me pitching up as Familiars were setting up for their soundcheck. Lots of chat with the boys – and promoter Mr. Franklin – about the epic events of last fortnight, plus other entertaining musical discourse, took us up to 9, when Familiars took the pub backroom stage in front of a handful of interested punters and locals. “Landscapes”, their stark, almost stripped bare, opener, eased in, morose, understated and deliciously maudlin, then built like a head of steam to a strident and startling crescendo, setting the tone for their performance perfectly. Mainly built around a piano refrain with guitarist Rich’s riffs intertwining and complementing that main thrust, Familiars’ songs ease in slowly then take flight, evoking the dark, rockist and pseudo-Gothy sonic landcape of the early 80’s, when a million post-punk bands found their voice and I loved pretty much all of them. “Battlestations”’ backwards drumbeat and Interpol-esque slashing guitar riff was typical of this, dark and dense and again leading to a widescreen chorus propelled by Steve’s resonant and soaring vocals. The boy can sing, no messin’… A spot of monitor trouble delayed matters, but Steve stated, “we can wing it,” and they gamely continued with a splendid “Half Life”, before more set-up trouble, this time from Giles’ bass drum, saw Rich pass the time with some “Local Hero” Knopfling and playing “Smoke On The Water”! Sadly, a couple of numbers were dropped due to time constraints, but finale “Bottleneck” (“the silly song”) was again the highlight, taut and driving, a couple of false endings and tempo changes building up the drama. These boys just keep delivering excellent performances, and tonight was no exception. Great stuff!

A quick change-over and chat with Faye’s mum Stella, again in attendance, and it was time for White Lilac at 10.15. Faye’s shy, often giggly onstage persona clearly hides a pronounced talent and dark edge, with opener “Change Of Face” showing a change of pace from mysterious, swirling Lush-like guitar chuntering, to brooding, slow-burn melancholia. The wonderful “Night Visions” was up next, but here the band hit a couple of bumps in the road with the mix, Emma’s cello too high in said mix, making the lush dreamscape opening sound a bit discordant and off-key, before the smothering guitar crescendo seemed to sort things (that bit should sound discordant, anyway!). Thankfully the sound was better for the pastoral and elegant “Empty Hours”, although the odd screech of guitar feedback continued to plague them throughout. “He’s Not Himself” was startling, waves and layers of sound and drama counterpointing the subject matter perfectly, whilst newie “Let Me Love You” switched moods, a jangly opening giving way to a pacey, shoegazey gallop and a strident duet chorus between Faye and guitarist Curtis. Intended set closer “Swallow” evoked Throwing Muses in style and substance, that enticing juxtaposition of jagged harshness and sweet melody, although there was time for an unplanned and unrehearsed encore, Faye gushing about how much she loves Christmas then typically playing a depressing Chrimbo number, a messy but fun “Blue Christmas”! Despite a couple of sound/ mix issues, this was another fine set from a young band who are developing very nicely thank you, and from whom there’s plenty more to come…

A quick chat with affable young guitarist Curtis, and farewells to all, before heading off into the cold night. As promised, this was a sonorous – and rather splendid – evening’s music. Great job, all!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

967 PETE FIJ AND TERRY BICKERS, Familiars, The King In Mirrors, Swindon The Locomotive, Saturday 7th November 2015

The first gig since The Pills, waaaay back in 2004 (gig 634) that I’ve had a small hand in organising! This one was over a year in the gestation; I’d picked up on the splendid 2014 album by this dream pairing of 90’s indie legends, namely Pete Fij, alias Piotr Fijalkowski, former vocalist and leading light of the excellent Adorable and Polak, and Terry Bickers, seminal guitarist with House Of Love and Levitation, subsequently “liking” their Facebook page to keep up with their events. So when they announced an embryonic Autumn 2014 tour and asked fans for further venue suggestions, I got in touch promptly about a Swindon date, mentioning the possibility to “Songs Of Praise” promoters Ed Dyer and Dave Franklin, who were keen on the notion from day one. Sadly we couldn’t make the dates work then, but a window of opportunity opened up earlier this year, when Pete contacted me to see if this November date would work as a “stopover” for them, as they were booked to play the Butlins “Shiiine On” 90’s revival weekender on the Sunday!

Originally booked for The Vic, this one was moved to the newer, more compact and (due to the “pub” location) free admission Locomotive venue down the bottom of town, following a clash of dates and a late case of cold feet by The Vic. So I drove down early doors to meet up with Dave, overseeing Pete and Terry’s soundcheck in front of a clutch of daytime drinkers outstaying their welcome. Ran into Rich Craven, who’d braved public transport from Oxford to get here (respect!) as the soundcheck concluded, then, as a happy part of my duties as “co-host”, I took the boys to Jack Spice for a curry and some entertaining music chat. An interesting dynamic between the duo – Pete, laid back, open and gregarious, and Terry more reserved and softly-spoken, but fine company both, an hour or so’s worth of rock’n’roll gossip flying by.

We paid up at 9 and I wandered back into the sparsely attended venue to catch up with Rich and Helen May, before Rich led his band The King In Mirrors onstage for 20 past 9. In keeping with tonight’s mood (and because of a schedule clash for their drummer!), Rich, Colin and Jase played as an acoustic trio, with the material actually benefitting from this treatment, giving it a hazy, lazy Summery vibe, exemplified by opener, the C86-tastic “Rolling in the Sun”. Despite Rich’s admitted and evident nerves at playing in front of exalted company, and the unfortunate chatter from the still-going daytime drunkards, the trio relaxed into their performance and delivered a fine support slot, with “Good Friends” (featuring Mr. Craven on co-vocals) and the slightly out of kilter, darker oldie “The Beach Hotel” personal highlights. Despite the nerves, nicely done indeed, Rich!

Familiars, up next, set up in short order, the only act tonight to employ a drummer and full band set-up. I’d personally invited them onto tonight’s bill, feeling that their delicious melancholia and upliftingly morose material would be a fine fit with the headliners, and thankfully my faith was totally justified. From note one, they played a blinder – vocalist and keyboardist Steve Skinley’s face-crackingly wide smile in evidence throughout, relishing this opportunity to play in front of Terry Bickers in particular, a self-confessed idol of his thanks to his turn in Levitation, and the band backing him up with a tight and superbly sounding set. “Half Life”, third number in, followed the usual Familiars modus operandi of being a piano-based slow-burn intro, which then built up a head of steam to a galloping crescendo and soaring “whoa-oh”s from Steve, a born performer and a really talented singer. Steve related an interesting story before one mid-set number, having played it in a slowly-deflating blow-up stage at the Stroud Fringe Festival earlier this year, only for the stage to re-inflate when the chorus came back in! I could see that, as Familiars music has that soaring, euphoric quality…! The circular keyboard refrain and National-esque dark drama of “Ballyhoo” was gorgeous, and only bettered by finale “Bottleneck”, introduced as “a silly song” but played with fun and relish, a couple of false crescendo endings building the gravitas. Familiars – you knocked it out of the park tonight, gents, and did me proud. Well done and thanks.

This took us somewhere approaching 11 and the witching hour, but by now a few of the local drunks had dispersed, leaving the place emptier than before. Despite promises of attendance from many and sundry, and plenty of promotion, it sadly looked as if Fij and Bickers were going to play to a frankly embarrassing turnout consisting primarily of the support bands, Rich Craven, Dave, Mr. “Paj” Jellings and myself. Shame on you, Swindon, shame on you.

Thankfully this didn’t put Pete and Terry off, as from note one of their show tonight they were amazing, their chemistry undeniable, their talent in full force and effect, delivering their mature, melancholy songs of love, loss and heartbreak with respect, reverence and simply glorious and blazing beauty. A telling acid test of the quality of a song is how it stands up to a stripped back rendition, and on that note Pete and Terry’s material holds up brilliantly, pared back to an almost naked hush, the boys understanding the emotive power and effect of silence. Their early cover of “I Fought The Law” attested to that point, the boys extracting the bombast of The Clash’s version and turning it into an achingly gorgeous and lilting ballad. Prior to that, the delicious Velvet Underground-alike “Betty Ford” opened proceedings and set the tone for their performance, and a new number “Let’s Get Lost” was playfully introduced by Pete as, “a love song – from me to Terry!” Then, “If The World Is All We Have” was identified by Pete as his attempt at both a James Bond them and a Eurovision entrant, and possessed a marked tango-esque French B-Movie feel to the verse.

At this point it seemed they’d won over the locals, the entire crowd paying attention to each note. Sadly, the chatter started up again towards the end of their set, and was a constant irritant for me. The duo soldiered on gamely, newie “Millionaires” being another autobiographical number (“the second album’s become a very self-obsessed affair!” quipped Pete) and “I Love You” a touching ballad with a sly undercurrent of menace (Pete relating its’ origin thus; “Terry said, “why don’t you cheer things up? Write a song called “I Love You” – what could possibly go wrong?””). However, after Pete introduced finale, the Adorable classic “A To Fade In” by thanking myself and Dave F for putting on tonight’s show, I was moved to try to quell the chatter with a loud “shhhhh!” then a “for fuck’s sake, SHUT UP!” to the disrespectful amongst the crowd. Nevertheless, “A To Fade In” was my undoubted highlight of the night, a massively heart-cracking elegy, wallowing in glorious sadness and bittersweet regret. More so when Pete, perhaps recalling our curry-house conversation earlier (wherein I’d asserted that Adorable should have had the career trajectory of the completely inferior Oasis, in which case “A…” would have been their “Wonderwall”), caught my eye as we echoed the “baba ba ba” denouement back to each other. A genuinely moving moment.

A swift (and for me unnecessary) encore later, and it was onto photos, post-gig chat and compliments, apologies for the paucity of the crowd (though it mattered not to the boys, true pros both) and signed stuff aplenty (particularly from Mr. Skinley, who’d brought a stack of Levitation vinyl for Terry to scrawl over!). Like Friday, I really didn’t want this night to end, but, realising it was bumping up to 1 a.m., I reluctantly headed off. A little conflicted at the time (pissed off about the attendance and background noise), I’m now realising this was a triumphant evening, a brilliant performance from 2 genuine Indie icons who, 20 years removed from their alleged “heydays”, are still making music from the absolute top drawer. Overall, it was an honour and a privilege to have been associated with tonight!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

966 TITUS ANDRONICUS, Washington Irving, Bristol Thekla, Friday 6th November 2015

“Off down to Bristol to that there Dirty Boat tonight, to see The Mighty Titus Andronicus. They turn it on the way they can, and they might just sink the fucker...”

That was my Facebook massage as I set off for this one tonight, to the Thekla indeed, for an evening of visceral, confrontational amped-up, cranked-up bar-room blues/ punk rock crash collision from Titus Andronicus, purveyors of the stunning, ragged yet literary, spontaneous yet cerebral, and just mind-blowingly awesome 2010 album “The Monitor”, which sounded for all and sundry as if the American Civil War had taken place in 1976 Max’s Kansas City or the ’77 Kings Road. This time, however, Patrick Stickles and his band of troubadour ruffians are touring current release “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”, a 29 track, 93 minute sprawling epic, documenting Stickles’ own transition into his 30’s with raw, ragged-arsed punk, blues, swagger and attitude aplenty. Don’t do things by halves, these boys…

A Titus Andronicus gig is a pretty essential thing for me, so I booked a ticket for this one ASAP and found myself driving down an M4 festooned with fireworks either side from various local displays, expecting some musical pyrotechnics of my own on the Dirty Boat! Parked up about ¼ to 8 and wandered past the band’s tour van, noticing Mr. Stickles rummaging through various piles for his tour shirt; “got to look the same in all the photos!” Had a brief chat with this most personable of vocalists, recalling my previous TA gigs and remarking that this was gig 966 for me. “You’re a dedicated patron of the arts!” was his response. Nice! I therefore only caught one number of support Washington Irving, actually a 5-piece guitar-dominated combo with some shimmering and dramatic guitar noise embellishing their finale.

As Frank Sinatra played on the PA, the place filled up notably and I took my place at the front, stage left next to the keyboardist set-up (more on him later), as the atmosphere became palpably anticipatory and the stage became enveloped in a pink haze. Stickles and keyboardist Elio DeLuca wandered onstage, almost absent-mindedly, reciprocating the cheers with a semi-startled wave… “We’re on a boat! We normally wouldn’t rock the boat, but tonight we’re gonna do just that,” he remarked, before advising us to not go too crazy as “we’re all in the same boat!” Opener “Icarus” eased in like a lamb, slow-burn and polite, then turned into a triumphant sticky-floor bar-room romp when the rest of the band took the stage. This pretty much set the tone for the early set – the wide-eyed Stickles rampaged through a half-dozen numbers in quickfire succession, the band enthusiastically and kinetically backing him up with a strut and a swagger. I loved the synchronised rawk steps during “Fatal Flaw”, and the beer-soaked Irish tinge to “Come On Siobhan”, then when the boys finally stopped for breath, a half-hour in, Stickles continued his punning routine; “it’s been 100% fog machines on this tour! You British like your fog – why it’s not more common in America… I haven’t the foggiest idea!” Groan!

Back onto the rock, and a couple of numbers later, the menacing drumbeat of “A More Perfect Union”, the fantastic, epic, widescreen and sprawling opener from “The Monitor”, kicked off, and the place went utterly batshit crazy. “Union” was awesome, lying waste to the Thekla with its’ skyscraping terrace chant hooks and venomous bile and indignation, then “Titus Andronicus Forever” completed a double whammy, the presciently prophetic hook chant of “the enemy is everywhere!” being delivered both punk rock and boogie woogie piano style.

“A Pot In Which To Piss” was also magnificent, kicking off as a tortured lament before crunching into a pounding, almost rockabilly backbeat with some Buddy Holly-like harmonies from appropriately bespectacled bassist Julian Veronesi. The almost Dickies-like amphetamine thrash-punk of newie “Dimed Out” followed, before another terrace chant double to close the set; “No Future Part Three”’s military drumbeat and tortured confessional giving way to the repeating closing chant of, “you will always be a loser!”, then the eponymous “Titus Andronicus”, kicking off with a savage riff recalling The Clash’s “White Riot” and closing out with another repeating chant, this time, “your life is over!”. Simply brilliant stuff, the essence of raw, visceral rock and roll delivered triumphantly with style and justified swagger.
We weren’t letting them go that easily though; despite the stage lights going up and PA music kicking in again, the repeated encore clamours enticed the band back on for a powerful, strutting version of “Brown Sugar” which the heavily bearded Stickles delivered, shirtless and soaked with sweat, underlining the shift he’d put in. And that wasn’t it for me either – after grabbing a couple of lists for myself and a fellow punter, I hung back afterwards, patience being rewarded outside with another chat with Stickles and the band, mutual compliments and signed set lists. As if more was needed, the icing on the cake was a lengthy chat with keyboardist Elio DeLuca, an expat Bostonian and friend to the likes of Corin Ashley, The Sheila Divine and… The Gravel Pit. “In that case, I’ve got something to show you,” I said as I rolled up my sleeve to reveal my TGP tattoo to another incredulous response!

Eventually, I reluctantly dragged myself away and headed home, following another triumphant, euphoric performance from one of the greatest “live” acts currently treading the boards. Titus Andronicus… they didn’t quite sink the fucker, but they certainly laid waste to The Thekla tonight. Awesome stuff – Titus Andronicus Forever!