Thursday, 28 May 2015

949 PITY SEX, The Death Of Pop, Bristol Louisiana, Wednesday 27th May 2015

A heady early Summer rush of gigs – up to 8 before the end of June, including a couple of big days out in London town! – starts tonight with a jaunt down to the Louisiana to see Ann Arbor, MI’s Pity Sex, a band whose name I can’t really decide whether I like or not (put it this way, as a dad of 2 inquisitive little kids I won’t be buying any t-shirts tonight!), but whose debut album, “Feast Of Love” has intrigued me with a mixture of lazy guitar groove, slightly submerged and mumbly vocals and post-grunge riffery. A very 90’s slacker/ shoegaze feel, but enjoyable to these ears, so I was up for some “live” Pity Sex!
I hit the road at 7.30, which normally pitches me up well in time for the Louisiana’s evening events; however, after I parked up in a tight squeeze on the “free” side of the road and wandered through the quiet pub, then shoehorned into this small and already packed upstairs bolt-hole, I realised openers Pushing Daisies, onstage, had actually just finished their last number. D’oh! Things were running early tonight; I should have taken the hint…
I guessed Pushing Daisies were local and had brought their mates, as the place was appreciably less packed for main support The Death Of Pop, who were given the, “away you go,” instruction by the soundman at 8.45. Their set eased in with an opening number which started off all resonant, jangly laze-pop, then morphed into a more shimmery, shoegaze wall-of-noise reminiscent of Ride’s early, slower moments. A promising start which continued with some faster-paced stuff, delving variously into C86 territory, jangle pop and psych-fuzz, with a strong sense of warm melody overlaid by very apposite echoey vocals and occasional shards of guitar noise. “Whenever” segued impressively into “I’m Really Into Sally”, and a final breathless and galloping number stretched out into a slashing riff-fest and final squalling cacophony of noise. An impressive set overall from this young support.
Nice chaps too – I took a wander back to the car between sets, and bought a CD and chatted Boo Radleys with them as they hung out by their transport (I’d spotted some similarities in their set to Martin Carr’s mob’s 90’s pre-Britpop psychedelic masterpiece “Giant Steps”, which the guitarist confirmed was one of his favourite CDs, remarking, “you’re the first one to have noticed that!”). I then wandered back upstairs 5 minutes before Pity Sex were due on, only to hear on my approach the opening bars to “Wind Up”, the lead-off song from the LP and this set! D’oh! Again! I hastily squeezed back in to a spot near the front, stage left, for the rest of this upbeat and dynamic Dinosaur Jr.-alike opener, noting the male/ female call and response vocals were more in evidence “live”. A good start!
Pity Sex numbers at this point are pretty much set to one of two speeds; a more upbeat, galloping groove typified by the opener, and a more slow-burn, lazy pace punctuated by big grungy riffery and higher octave vocals either from mainman Brennan Greaves (straining his vocals, often uncomfortably, in a similar vein to Mac from Superchunk) or the more ethereal and atonal sounding Britty Drake. The set chopped and changed between said 2 speeds, and was punctuated by some entertaining slacker chat from Brennan (remarking on his day with, “I had a nice nap in the van, drank some warm beers and had a walk by myself… aaand that’s my story…!”, and following Britty’s compliments of Bristol’s ambience with, “I saw a swan on a garbage barge – sleeping on another dead bird!”). The opener notwithstanding, I actually preferred the slower numbers on show tonight; “Sedated” was musically more stark and bare than most of their riff-loaded material, almost recalling Galaxie 500, and the penultimate “Dogwalk” was probably the most melodic number on show, a hooky and almost tender melody which drifted lazily along.
I grabbed an easy set-list following the conclusion of Pity Sex’s decent 40 minute set, which overall was high on mood and guitar vibe, with the slacker shoegaze grunge melting pot of guitar noise making up for their relative lack of memorable material at the moment. Definite promise tonight, though, from both bands on show, both of whom I hope to check out again to see said promise being realised. A good start!

Monday, 4 May 2015

948 FAMILIARS, Cirencester The Golden Cross, Sunday 3rd May 2015

Another (relatively) local one for a “2 gigs in 2 nights” double-header; this time being my first ever gig in nearby Cirencester, a sleepy market town about 10 miles North of the ‘don. My hosts for this venture into the unknown are Cirencester residents Familiars, who impressed me greatly with an understated yet dark and delicious set of keyboard-led rockist stuff and nonsense, in support of Faye Rogers’ White Lilac in February. I’d gotten wind of this one thanks to their Facebook event page, which also promised some new material, so I took a swift 20 minute drive up the A419 on a pre-Bank Holiday Sunday evening to check them out!
Got a little confused around the Cirencester one-way system, but parked up in Market Street, relatively unencumbered by other traffic – so far Ciren was living up to its’ “sleepy” reputation! This was underlined further as I found The Golden Cross down a pedestrian side street, inhabited by a dozen or so locals being assailed during their evening meals by Familiars’ soundcheck! I grabbed a chat with Familiars’ frontman and keyboardist Steve Skinley after they’d finished soundchecking, happily discovering somewhat of a kindred musical spirit with a shared musical heritage (Bunnymen, early Simple Minds, Throwing Muses, 80’s Bierkeller nights etc.). We also lamented the turnout tonight, which literally promised to be one man and his dog – the dog being a lolloping old golden Labrador who (I shit you not) actually wandered up onto the raised back-bar stage area a time or two during their set, and the man being me!
Nonetheless, I took a seat in front of the stage as Familiars eased into their opening set at 9, the chiming, elegiac opener “Landscapes” initially slow burn, Steve’s vocals low and mournful and again favourably recalling The National’s Matt Berninger, then the song picking up a head of steam, galloping into a more dramatic crescendo. Thus was and is the band’s modus operandi – dark evocative songs which more often than not are built around a repeating keyboard refrain, with a hint of underlying menace recalling open, windswept landscapes and dark threatening clouds, then building to impressive climaxes, more joyous and often anthemic in nature. A number of different threads and moving parts to the intelligent song construction as well; “Battle Stations” featured an almost “Terror Couple” Bauhaus opening drumbeat and some slashing, Wire-like fretwork from guitarist Rick Morton before the typically soaring chorus, and “Tooth And Claw” threw in some almost Summery C86 jangle amidst all the high drama. A real melting pot of disparate, often juxtaposed elements, yet working in perfect harmony, and I enjoyed them all!
And the man can sing – despite, like last night’s host Jim Kerr, suffering from flu after effects (at one point he asked me to grab him a brandy from the bar – “purely medicinal!”) – Steve Skinley’s voice was again a standout feature; haunting, sombre and mournful when required, mostly as their songs eased into life, but also soaring, the “whoa-oh” harmonies often driving the numbers along to their impressive finales. “Call To Arms” required a restart due to a swarm of angry bees infiltrating the monitors, but the subsequent, faster paced and rockier “Techa” had a “Pearl And Dean” style “ba-ba ba-ba” crescendo, which Steve happily acknowledged!
The band took a break after a fine 40 minutes opening set, and I joined Steve, Rick and bassist James Thring for some entertaining muso chat in the smoking yard before set 2, which was basically more of the same! Second number “Half Life” was a highlight with a fluctuating bassline courtesy of James, “Ticker Tape” almost ventured into Scott Walker territory with its’ rich balladry, then the final double whammy of the excellent, haunting “Ballyhoo” (“a sad song,” announced Steve) with its’ “Killian’s Red” keyboard riff, and “Bottleneck” (“a silly song to finish”) rounded off a consistently splendid and impressively committed performance from this intelligent band. Shame really, that there were so few people taking notice.
Some more rock’n’roll chat with my hosts, who were grateful for my support and attendance, before I reluctantly hit the road just after 11. I’ll be back for more Familiars though, and so should you!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

947 SIMPLE MINDS, Swindon Oasis, Saturday 2nd May 2015

Simple Minds… at The Oasis? Simple Minds? Oh, go on then…!

Truth to tell, I would have been happy to leave Simple Minds be, following that brilliant Birmingham show in February 2012 (gig 845), part of their epic “5 X 5” tour whereby they revisited those halcyon early days and albums when they were cutting-edge sonic innovators, rather than the pot-rattling stadium bluster uber-bores they unfortunately metamorphosed into. Let’s face it, there’s no way they’d top a set which featured the likes of “Premonition”, “Factory”, “Chelsea Girl”, “70 Cities” et al (well, maybe if they decided to do “Real To Real Cacophony” and “Empires And Dance” start to finish on the same night…?). However, a gig at the Oasis, 10 minutes’ walk from my front door? OK, I’m game for that, happy to grit teeth through the post “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” muck for the Glittering Prize of some early material knowing it was a short walk home afterwards, and happy to shell out the steep – hell, make that vertical – £50 ticket price knowing there was no add-on petrol or car parking outlay!

Another added bonus for this evening was that my brother, who, despite having seen similar post-punk rockists turned flag-waving stadium filling tub-thumpers U2 over 100 times, had never seen Simple Minds before, was able to join me! So, after some Bobby’s chippy tea, we wandered over to the sparsely attended Oasis early doors (no sell-out, this), taking a wander down into the hall when it opened at 7, and sat in our centrally located seats, about 2/3rds back, chewing the cud whilst watching the hall fill up.

Wait, what? Seats? Oh yes. In their infinite wisdom, The Oasis had determined that tonight was a seated performance, the hall set up in temporary rows like a sales rep conference, a potential atmosphere killer. As the witching hour approached, and the audience of Saturday night couples and the long-standing faithful filed politely in, we reflected on this state of affairs. It just seemed… well, wrong, really…

Happily, we weren’t the only ones who thought that… As the lights dimmed at 8 following their stirring orchestral intro music and the band filed onstage, vocalist Jim Kerr, typically the last on, took to the mic and remarked, “a seated audience at a Simple Minds gig? It’s impossible to sit down at a Simple Minds gig – it’s like going to a party in Glasgow and wearing underwear; it just doesn’t happen!” That thankfully got the remaining seated audience members on their feet and immediately rocking to set opener, a rambunctious cover of sadly forgotten 80’s band The Call’s “Let The Day Begin”. Immediately Kerr was in stadium frontman mode, the archetypal audience mass communicator, all extravagant gestures and fulsome movements, exhorting the crowd to clap along. “There’s not too many places we come to for the first time,” he announced before the synth opening to the solid and rather good actually newie “Blindfolded”, getting the crowd onside further with a plangent early “Glittering Prize”.

Then… the unmistakeable staccato quickfire synth opening to the epic “I Travel”, easily Simple Minds’ finest hour and one of my favourite records ever to dance to, a thrilling krautrock rollercoaster ride through stark concrete 80’s European cityscapes. I gave it loads to this breathless and breathtaking rendition, arms flailing wildly about and knees taking a pounding to the pulsing beat, and shouting “keep going!” and “play it all night” when it sadly reached its’ all-too-soon fadeout conclusion. Following that, the subsequent “New Gold Dream” was, sadly, both tremendous and disappointing at the same time!

“Live Aid... Mandela Day... now Swindon on a Saturday night!” remarked the firmly tongue-in-cheek Kerr before a stripped back “American”, the acoustic treatment proving rather lovely, after which I took a seat for a couple of later numbers before getting up again for the synth pulse and snare snap of a splendid “Love Song”. The inevitable “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” rounded off set part one, Kerr oddly checking his watch and saying, “some of us have work tomorrow”, before thanking us, “for making us feel like rockstars” (odd, I’d not noticed anyone giving them cocaine and blowjobs, but still…).
After a short intermission, set part two was less remarkable; backing vocalist Sarah Brown took lead on the opening couple of tracks, with Kerr himself being more understated, more economical with his vocals, legacy of a recent bout of flu alluded to earlier, happier to allow the enthusiastic audience to backfill his vocal lines. Despite 2 starts (“2 screw ups!”), a haunting, expansive “Someone Somewhere In Summertime” was far and away set 2’s highlight, again evocative, plangent and magnificent.

An uneven but understandably very professionally delivered performance was capped with an odd, almost funky reading of The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”, featuring 3-part lead vocals delivered by Kerr, Brown and keyboardist Catherine AD, before the closing “Alive And Kicking” saw me throw shapes in the aisle as if it were 1985 again. I grabbed the set-list from the obliging light-man before wandering off with Paul, reflecting on a set with many memorable moments amongst the stadium pop, most notably the brilliant “I Travel”, and in Jim Kerr a frontman who can still ignite a crowd despite advancing years and a recent flu bout. Worthwhile overall again, and better for Paul, who after wandering home with me to collect his motor, drove past the venue again and got selfies with guitarist Charlie Burchill and drummer Mel Gaynor (whose performance he’d been (positively) critiquing most of the evening). Lucky sod!