Monday, 29 June 2015

955 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Jake Martin, The August List, Swindon The Victoria, Friday 26th June 2015

Celebrate my 50th birthday with a Gaz Brookfield gig? Happy to do that! The 13th time overall for our favourite punked-up guitar-bashing former Swindonian travelling balladeer, and it’s been quite an interval, relatively speaking, between this and the last time out (September 14, gig 925), given that I’d missed his last trip to the ‘don (Valentine’s Day this year) as I was Ex Hexing! So Rach and I were happy to make the most of this one!
Picked Dean up on the way, and met Sarah and Lloyd in the Vic after somewhat of a parking-mare (lucking out on 3 parking places and ending up down Avenue Road, by the Town Gardens!). Dean and I popped in early doors to catch openers The August List (Dean getting in on my ticket after mistaking Sarah for Rachel and giving her his ticket; whoops!), on at 9. An Oxford 2-piece, featuring a seated sensitive singer songwriter type on guitar, and his female partner on some sort of mutant squeezebox, they plied some dusty, sparse alt-country which initially (and favourably) recalled the quirky backwoods murder balladry of Violent Femmes, but then drifted slightly into more conventional fayre as my attention wavered. Not too bad really, but not entirely to my tastes, so I left them to it before the end of the set, to chat with the missus in the bar!
So my return was delayed a little and I missed the start of Gaz’ tour support Jake Martin’s set. Sorry I did, as Martin, a scruffily-bearded and entertainingly potty-mouthed young oik, was tearing it up in front of a large and vociferous crowd. Feted by Gaz himself, and no surprise really as he was a Levellers/ Frank/ Bragg bolshy mini-me, albeit with much more profanity and piles of in-your-face attitude, doing his own thing and inviting you in, but caring not a jot if you don’t “get” it, he’s coming through anyway..! The lengthy between-song banter and quick, self-deprecating wit was as entertaining as the music, if not more so on occasion. One memorable example arrived after he’d invited the audience to sing “arsehole” back to him during the next number, the easy terrace chant chorus of “King Without A Castle”; then when one audience member did so immediately, said loudmouth was put down with an immediate response of, “you sir, have the look of a premature ejaculator!”. A subsequent “I Don’t Wanna Be Your Heroes” made the point that Martin’s voice was anything but his own, the key lyric of “we paint our own pictures” succinctly underlining this, and by his set’s conclusion, he had the crowd raucously singing and clapping along, and left to an ovation after declaring Swindon, “the best crowd of the tour!”
Gaz was up in short order, by which time we’d grabbed a spot down the front, stage right, for his entrance. Flying solo tonight, he was straight on it with newie “Diabetes Blues” from his just-released “True And Fast” album (a copy of which I’d picked up earlier), a lament on his seeming inability to drink cider anymore thanks to a misbehaving pancreas (which I can empathise with!). If tonight’s selections are anything to go by, said CD is another entertaining and personal set; we had paeans to his van, and a number expressing a desire for home ownership (after which he announced he’d recently taken on a mortgage – good for you, Gaz! – and thanked us all for financing his career – “if not for you lot, I’d literally have no roof over my head!”). The prior “Godless Man” was the best of the new lot on display tonight, a barbed and opinionated musing on the afterlife, which got me onside by referencing the immortal Bill Hicks!
New numbers aside, we still were treated to plenty of familiar oldies (Gaz remarking, “I hate going to gigs where the bands have a new album and just play that – I’m not going to do that!”); “Under The Table” set the tone early doors with the whole crowd singing and swaying along, “Black Dog Day” was bilious and vicious, an impassioned reading of his best song, and a more upbeat “East Winds Blow” again saw the audience fill in the chorus hook. “Be The Bigger Man” completed the set perfectly (“this is my last number – only it’s not really my last number!” before encores of an all-inclusive “West Country Song” and “Diet Of Banality” saw Jake Martin filming Gaz from onstage, and the boys bigging up their matching Star Wars tattoos (Jake showing his off, Gaz’ one kept under wraps for modesty’s sake!). A final “Thin” (“this really is my last number ‘cos I’m fucked!”) brought another splendid Gaz performance to a close, the man once again red-faced with effort, the sweat soaking his Marvel t-shirt underlining the shift he’d put in tonight.
We set off promptly as this had taken us through to midnight; but the late one was well worth it. Gaz himself thanked the crowd fulsomely during his encore, as, “without you [the audience], I’d just be a sweaty idiot in an empty room”. Never gonna happen, chap; we’ll always be back for more entertaining evenings from a true star and born performer!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

954 THE DEAD KENNEDYS, Slagerij, Bristol O2 Academy, Monday 22nd June 2015

The Dead Kennedys were probably the last great “original” punk rock band, in my view… I came across them as part of my Under-18 Brunel Amphi initiation in late 1979, hearing the distinctive drum intro to “California Uber Alles” (surely the most recognisable drum intro of any song ever!), followed by the vicious, bilious anti-US political tirade and strident, chanting chorus, and immediately “getting it”, understanding the message and meaning behind the obvious deliberately provocative “shock” factor. Picking up the magnificent “Holiday In Cambodia” on its’ release in 1980 and their subsequent first couple of albums, I admit I didn’t stay long with them, their subsequent descent into more unlistenable hardcore punk coinciding with my discovery of the slew of post-punk bands (Bunnymen, Furs et al) that defined and still shape my musical taste. Nonetheless, those first couple of releases hold a notable place in my formative musical journey, so I was up for a Dead Kennedys live show, the band having reunited some years back, albeit without frontman Jello Biafra, who long since had parted ways with his fellow Kennedys over royalties and other disputes.

I wasn’t alone; fellow old punkers Rich and Leightz, plus the younger Troy (undertaking a punk rock discovery of his own right now) joined us for a swift drive down the M4 into the setting sun. We parked up then chilled in the venue’s back bar before wandering into the sparsely attended hall for openers Slagerij, on at 8. A Swindon band in Bristol (!), their opener nicked the guitar riff from The Ruts classic “Babylon’s Burning”, but then descended into energetic but formulaic ska-punk. I dunno, that’s pretty much a genre where all proponents thereof sound exactly the same to these ears (and have done so for 20+ years, so don’t blame it on my age!), and make no impression on me whatsoever. A cover of “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” (which Rich called after the opening note!) was even clumsier than the original, and although the latter part of the set was punkier and thus more palatable, I still remained unstirred.

Saw a nice scene whilst heading into the loo for a pre-gig squirt – a couple of sizeable old punkers in the doorway both giving it the, “after you mate,” “no, pal, after you!” See, punk rockers have manners too! Got back to a good stage-left viewing spot, as a fuller audience welcomed the band dead on 9. Down to 2 original members, namely bookish, grey-haired bassist Klaus Fluoride, looking every day of his 66 years, and lankier guitarist East Bay Ray, crane-like features defying his own 57 years, they were straight into the pounding punk of opener “Forward To Death”, and the crowd of old punkers went mental, with a frenzied shit-kicking moshpit throughout the gig, and vocalist Ron “Skip” Greer a committed, energetic presence from the off.

Ah yes, the vocalist. There are big shoes to fill and there are BIG shoes to fill… nonetheless, “Skip” really put in a shift, his flappy-gummed, more nasal vocals (recalling, for me, Violent Femmes’ Gordan Gano) still fitting the material almost as well as Biafra’s Mickey Mouse-on-helium treatment, and his kinetic, scary-eyed conviction holding the attention. He also rejoiced in playing agent provocateur, condescendingly referring to Bristol as an “intellectual English town” and drawing boos from the crowd for sneeringly calling football “soccer” prior to “Jock-O-Rama”, before drawing the crowd back onside with some pointed tirades (“elections don’t change shit – anywhere!” and “it’s possible that there’s too many people looking at this show through the power of Instagram rather than just…looking at this show!” being two of the most memorable ones). An early “Police Truck” was brilliantly pointed and savage, “Let’s Lynch The Landlord” an almost anthemic surf-punk singalong, and “MP3 Get Off The Web” a savage skewering of social media’s self-obsession.

But it was the classics that shone; following an audience participation moment before “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” (“David Cameron…Multinational Corporations…”), the unmistakable drum intro of set closer “California Uber Alles” heralded a bilious, vicious rendering, the crowd erupting as one for the chorus line. Then encore “Holiday In Cambodia”, my highlight of the night, underlined East Bay Ray’s importance as the real architect of the Kennedy sound, his resonant reverb delay and creepy, sinister riffery making your skin crawl. Great stuff. One final, barbed and chaotic “Chemical Warfare” (featuring an ironic line or two from “Sweet Home Alabama”!) ended the swift 1 hour 10 performance, at which “Skip” scrunched up the set lists and threw them into the melee, before descending into the front rows to meet and greet. As far as I know, he’s there still… So, no Jello, but we all agreed this was still a damn fine (and early!) night’s punk rock from the Dead Kennedys!

953 THE KING IN MIRRORS, The Hi-Life Companion, Oui Legionnaires, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 18th June 2015

Well, suddenly the June dance card isn’t as hectic as originally planned, thanks to Dave Grohl's slight slip off the stage at Stockholm. However, this one was thankfully still on – a potentially very entertaining “Songs Of Praise” evening up at the Vic, featuring headliners The King In Mirrors, the jangle pop brainchild of Rich May, my gig buddy for Field Day a couple of weeks back!
So I headed off up the hill on a sunny Thursday evening, picking Dean up on the way but ensuring we could get there early doors, as Cheltenham reprobates Oui Legionnaires, whom I’d thoroughly enjoyed last time out supporting Nudy Bronque, were opening proceedings. Fortunately they didn’t kick off their set until 9, in front of a disappointingly sparse crowd of their fellow bands and the generally curious. Nonetheless, this was another visually chaotic but musically controlled performance of vim and venom from this spritely young trio of spunkers. A riff-slashing opener which lasted 46 seconds (!) was the precursor of another harsh and abrasive set of off-kilter time signature rhythm, emo-tinged screaming “yelpcore” vocals and hard-rocking, squalling and menacing guitar noise. Rather like early Seafood and …Trail Of Dead partying hard with even earlier Biffy Clyro; or if you prefer, rather like having your ears syringed with tequila then chainsawed off and used as squash balls. “We like insulting crowds”, remarked the bespectacled guitarist, “if you want to see twats in peak caps, go to a hardcore show in Cheltenham!” The fantastically named “Million Dollar Shark Punch”, ironically their most orthodox structured song of the set, a Husker Du popcore fest with fine call and response vocals, was my highlight of a damn fine and uncompromising set, after which I made straight for the merch stand to buy their EP/ t-shirt bundle, following the vocalist’s pleas to purchase said fayre “so we can get home!”
The Hi-Life Companion, next up, were very much the calm after the storm. Lauded by Mr. May, they opened with a languid, violin-embellished opener which recalled Garageland’s hazy, lazy “Nude Star”, then proceeded to play an eminently tuneful set of occasionally 60’s influenced, occasionally thoughtful C86-tinged, jangly pop. An older collective than the openers, they had a more laid back approach to their music and intros (the second number being introduced with, “this may strike a chord with anyone who’s tried to lure international tennis players back to rural locations (!)”), and were a nice juxtaposition to the blistering chaos of Oui Legionnaires, particularly their best number “One Man Team”, and their closer, which had a 60’s Spy/ B Movie feel and featured some nice textural harmonies. All in all, very pleasant indeed…
So, on to the headliners in short order, as seems to be the case for these “Songs Of Praise” nights. “SoP” co-host Ed Dyer introduced The King In Mirrors, making reference to Rich’s dayglo orange Bermuda shirt, but for me it was entirely apposite, as the sunset it depicted reflected the warm, summery vibe of their music. Summery, laid-back melody, cascading rhythms and intricate riffs were the order of the day, with the opening double whammy of “At The River’s Edge” and the tumbling choral drumbeat of “Rolling In The Sun” recalling later-period Teenage Fanclub, albeit with Rich’s more nasal, atonal vocal delivery replacing the Fannies’ honey throated harmonies. Nonetheless, this was still a varied and enjoyable set, with “Your Spell” a creepier, early Cure pastiche with a darker, pseudo Goth vibe, “Catwoman” a heavily 60’s influenced car-chase theme which Dean (as a former mod!) particularly liked, and “Little Voices”, their best number, a Razorcuts-like C86/ DIY backbeat jangle-fest.
The set closer, “Forever” was introduced by Rich as an old Baby Train number, a band he and bassist Jase had featured in some 20 years earlier, and had a heavier, more post-punk, intrigue, after which the by-now fuller crowd enticed Rich and band on for an encore, Rich himself dragging an old friend onstage for some fun and frolics during “Good Friends”. A warm, inclusive way to end a fine set, and indeed a fine night of 3 impressive bands, “Songs Of Praise” once again proving you don’t need to travel to find challenging, entertaining, varied and thoughtful “live” music. I should really get to more of these events…! And even better, no-one fell off the stage!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

952 DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, We Were Promised Jetpacks, London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Tuesday 9th June 2015

London… again? Yikes! Oh well, here we go again…!

My third trip oop the Smoke in 7 days promised to be an odd juxtaposition; an unknown quantity of a well-established act! Death Cab For Cutie, those cerebral Seattle indie craftsmen, who’d infiltrated my consciousness in 2002, producing my favourite album of said year in the superb “The Photo Album”, and had then continued to crank out a succession of albums of decent enough but diminishing quantity, almost to the point where I was about done with them. However, new album “Kinsugi” received a big up from Tim, so I picked it up and decided to give them another chance “live”, given they were playing at the accessible (and compact!) Shepherd’s Bush Empire, rather than the cavernous likes of Brixton Academy, where their blander recent material had bumped them up to. I liked the new album well enough, finding it more immediate than of late, with a slew of brain-hugging, easy melodies; not a patch on “The Photo Album”, of course, but better than Rach’s view – she thought it sounded like The Pet Shop Boys! A bit harsh, that, although I’ll concede that Ben Gibbard’s clearly enunciated and slightly lilting vocals might slightly resemble Neil Tennant’s, but still…

Anyway, the promise of a good support necessitated an early start, so Tim picked me up just after 5 and we parked up on the Uxbridge Road at 20 past 7, hitting the venue for this, the second of a sold-out 3 might residency, and watching the place fill up before said good support joined us at 8. Scotland’s We Were Promised Jetpacks (for ‘twas they) eased into some powerful, emotive rock, the opening number almost recalling the strident delivery and seething emotion of The Sheila Divine; “Human Error” a powerful, drum-led mood piece, and a subsequent “A Part Of It” another pounding, almost militaristic drum base underpinning a tune of epic power, building to a crashing crescendo which recalled their compatriots Biffy Clyro, no less! Vocalist Adam Thompson was a solid, formidable presence with a strident, soaring voice which held the attention, particularly during widescreen set highlight “Keeping Warm”, a tempo- and mood-changing slow-fast-quiet-noisy number, where his vocals veered from a yearning keen to a scalded howl. Closer “Thunder And Lightning” (prior to which, Thompson really couldn’t say, “thank you,” enough times!) built to a crashing rhythmic ride, then careered to an abrupt end, to cap an impressing opening set. Follow that, Death Cab!

The place was old-school packed as we moved forward to a decent spot a few rows back, stage right, for Death Cab’s entrance at 9 to some odd radio announcement tape. As if picking up the gauntlet thrown down by their impressive support, they were excellent from note one; the sound shimmering and crystal clear, opener “No Room In Frame” chugging along fulsomely, Gibbard’s vocals dancing over the high-pitched melody. A good start, which was well received by the enthusiastic crowd, whom Gibbard welcomed with, “what’s up London! Welcome to night 2 of “Death Cab Does Shepherd’s Bush!””. However, waaaay better was to come 3rd number in; “Why You’d Want To Live Here”, the crown jewel of “The Photo Album”, an assiduous, acerbic critique of Los Angeles, ironically Gibbard’s short-lived marital home with ex Zooey Deschanel, and easily their best number. Mean, moody and magnificent!

They totally had me after that; the subsequent set was perfectly paced, taking in all aspects of their intelligent, eminently melodic and insidiously catchy canon, from a haunting, eerie “Black Sun”, through the underlying hint of menace behind the libidinous groove of “Doors Unlocked And Open”, to a touching and totally lovely “Movie Script Ending” (a pastoral elegy to their home town of Bellingham, WA). Also, whilst possessing more oomph than on CD, the set never rocked out

excessively (as had been a criticism of mine in past DCFC shows), the songs treated with respect and delivered accordingly. Gibbard was also in good fooling, commenting, “in this beautiful venue it feels like you’re all in my lap – in a Santa Claus kind of way,” and later delivering a bizarre, almost stand-up skit about the recently announced Virgin Sex Pistols credit card (“I can whip it out and show everyone I’m as punk as fuck!”).
A beautiful solo “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” was hushed and reverential, and “Soul Meets Body” was lush and melodic, the lyric “a melody softly soaring through my atmosphere” an apt metaphor for tonight. A nice touch as well when, after introducing his 5-piece band, Gibbard introduced himself; “I play guitar and sing in the band Death Cab For Cutie… we are Death Cab For Cutie!”

After a messy encore run-through of “The Sound Of Settling” (which guitarist Dave Deppar right royally fucked up, almost playing a different tune and providing pretty much the only jarring note of the evening), Death Cab climaxed a 2 hour set (wow! Where did that go?) with a sprawling, building “Transatlanticism”, travelling inexorably toward a soaring climax. Great stuff.

Grabbed a list (!) and some merch, then we had a difficult 2 hour journey home with late night roadworks at both Chiswick and Reading forcing us to abandon the M4 a couple of times. Another London red-eye, but another trip well worth it. I didn’t expect “Why You’d Want To Live Here” so that in itself made my night; however the rest of the set held my attention in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I’m really glad I gave Death Cab For Cutie another chance. They’ve got me interested again!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

951 FIELD DAY (Sunday Only), London Victoria Park, Sunday 7th June 2015

So here's a rare treat; an all day Festival; day 2 of “Field Day”! A chance combination of circumstances led me to this one; I’d booked tickets to see reformed 90’s rock/ shoegaze legends Ride at The Roundhouse at the end of May, having won a bet with Rachel about whether/ how quickly they’d sell out – they all went within ½ hour, well below my hour limit (Rachel having said they wouldn’t sell out at all), and Rachel’s forfeit was to buy me the ticket! However, Swindon Town FC, whom I’d been intermittently following this season for the first time in years along with an increasingly interested little boy (Logan), then scuppered things by getting to Wembley for the League One Play-Off Final – on the same evening! D’oh! A quick look into this Festival, where Ride had also been announced as headliners, revealed that it was a) not sold out, b) blessed with a very enticing undercard, c) seemingly accessible, albeit via a lengthy tube trip across London, and d) relatively cheap, only £15 or so more than the Ride Roundhouse tix (which I then managed to move on elsewhere at face value) had cost!
So after speaking very nicely to my dear lady wife, I secured tickets for this and the footy, recouped the cost thanks to a (modest) work bonus, then took Logan to Wembley on the clashing day, where Swindon duly went belly-up and lost 4-0! D’oh! Still, hopefully Field Day would make up for this… I was joined on the day by Rich May, who also took his son to Wembley but wanted to catch Ride, and we set off at 9.30 on a sunny Sunday morning, armed with sunscreen and water. Parked up at Osterley, under the Heathrow flight paths, then tubed it over to Victoria Park, hitting the venue about 12.30 after a short walk from Bethnal Green tube, but finding the arena not yet open! We mused about the actual purpose of all the variously fluorescent orange and green clad security bods, before they eventually let us in at 1 pm via a thorough search, which stopped just short of rubber gloves and cavities, I’m glad to say… We got our bearings in the long but compact 10,000 capacity arena, and headed over to the Big Tent (sponsored by the local Shacklewell Arms venue) for our early wake-up call. EX HEX were still soundchecking as we arrived into a deserted tent, but when they came back onstage for their performance at 1.25, the tent was respectably populated. The all-girl Washington DC trio kicked into their scuzzy garage rock set with a groovy “Don’t Wanna Lose”, following up with “Waterfall”, their best number, which for me sounded a bit understated. However, they warmed to their task and by “How You Got That Girl”, sung by bassist Betsy, they were their usual kinetic whirl of lurid red lippy, sunglasses, hot pants and rock poses. “We slept for one hour after our show last night – we’re in the crazy zone!” announced Bets, and they proceeded to invite us in! “So Hot So Cold” nicely appropriated a riff from The Knack’s classic “My Sharona”, and the final number saw a lengthy rock guitar workout, closing a fine opening set. A nice punctuation was provided as, following my request for the list, Betsy folded it up then executed a laser-like, “across the diamond” throw, which I caught. Spot on!
We headed out into the dusty, sun-drenched arena to check out the merch, but were waylaid by some tough sounding soaring pop from BEACH BABY in the small Verity Tent along the left side of the venue. Their vocalist recalled Justin from The Vaccines with his rabble-rousing howl, but after their early U2-like opener, their set moved into blander Boo Radleys/ Britpop territory, pastoral and pleasant but a tad forgettable. So into the main arena, where EAGULLS were kicking off their mainstage rumpus with a song based on that “Come As You Are”/ “Eighties” growling bass riff… I slathered up with sunscreen and checked them out (only being distracted by a passing Betsy Ex Hex, whose throwing arm I complimented) enjoying their spirit and attitude, but their resonant punky blast seemed promising but a little one-dimensional at this point. So I gave them 20 minutes then headed back to the Big Tent to check out ALLAH-LAS, who’d been recommended to me by Mr. Dean Ford. They were also pleasant but forgettable; jangly pop with both C86 and very 60’s Merseybeat overtones, with one number recalling the languor of “Mayflower”-era Weather Prophets, and others reminding me of the Searchers!
Their set done, we passed by the Verity tent again for a couple of numbers from LEOPOLD AND HIS FICTION, which were bluesy rockabilly struts, albeit not particularly well done, then wandered to the back of the arena to check out the merch – a pretty poor selection really (sorry, I’m too old and messy for white t-shirts these days…!), so the money stayed in the wallet! DIIV were kicking off their 3.30 mainstage set as I left Rich to meet up with his brother and returned; they sounded more coherent than before, in a slightly ethereal, Cure-like way, but I was back to the Big Tent!
Down the front as the guys from VIET CONG, who had apparently only just turned up to the festival site (“like, 3 minutes ago…!”) and were thus still soundchecking, the blond moptopped drummer wandering onstage, viewing the large assemblage and saying, “fuck, yeah!” to himself. After thanking the crowd for waiting, vocalist Matt Flegel referred to his band as, “sloppy Canadian fucks,” but their set was anything but; bursting into life with the breathless, Interpol/ Bloc Party-like opener “Silhouettes”, Matt’s vocals an even more low, menacing growl than on their challenging, confrontational current CD, they were taut, wiry and immediately conveying a sense of early 80’s Cold War claustrophobia, an uneasy feeling of impending doom which was both unsettling and yet, perversely, appealing. The off kilter slashing riff of “Bunker Buster” followed, moody, echoey and schizophrenic, then after a newie (“Unconscious”?), they tackled their sprawling CD closer “Death”, both absorbing and disturbing, building speed to a Husker Du-like crescendo, cutting the speed in favour of mighty slashing guitar riffery mid-song, then swooping breathlessly off in another direction throughout its’ 15 minute length. This climaxed a brutal, bruising and uncompromising set of thrilling guitar noise from a very promising new band. Good stuff!
Had a brief conversation with beefy bassist Marty whilst packing his gear up onstage (during the set, he’d alluded to his equipment getting fucked up beforehand), failing to scrounge a list as they hadn’t used one (well, they only played 4 songs, so no surprise!), then ran into Rich and scooted off to the food village , to grab pulled pork rolls for tea. MAC DEMARCO, on the main stage, spun a Summery vibe that was pleasant enough and appropriate for the sunkissed arena, but was lightweight and gossamer thin, like Toploader if they’d blanded out even more, and so inoffensive it was, well, offensive! We gave him 10 minutes, by which time his onstage larks were more entertaining than his music, then called in on the Verity stage for the last couple of numbers from IN HEAVEN. I liked their closer, as it had the scuzzy, sleazy loud-quiet-loud dynamics of The Pixies, then was left frustrated as their set finished 10 minutes early! So with time to kill, we set up on the fringes of the Big Tent awaiting former Supergrass man GAZ COOMBES. However, the breathless, fast-paced and rocking opener aside, his set was also largely forgettable, suffering from a general paucity of quality material. It felt as if, in an attempt to distance himself from those knockabout pop Supergrass days and go in a more crafted, widescreen and “mature” direction, he’s lost his mojo somewhat. A shame, but this performance (which also included a turn from Ride drummer Loz Colbert) was certainly a better use of his time and talent than his desperate Hot Rats covers project. Took a break mid-set to check out NIMMO on the Verity Stage, to find a terrible dance outfit, so ‘twas back to Gaz!
So, into the early evening and the main stage for US punk icon PATTI SMITH, touring her piece de resistance, the 1975 masterpiece “Horses”, celebrating its’ 40th (!) anniversary. Drawling the opening line, “Jesus died for someone else’s sins… not mine” in her laconic New York tones, she held the biggest crowd of the day captivated throughout, as opening track “Gloria” swept from her shocking lyrical manifesto into galloping primal garage rock, then “Birdland” sprawled, widescreen, epic and fractured as Smith recited the extensive lyrics over this jagged musical base with the aid of a slew of cribsheets, and “Free Money” rocked like an absolute bastard, a galloping fist-pumper.
“So, the record “Horses”; that was side “A”, and this is Side “B”” announced Smith thereafter, clearly a fan of vinyl! She allegedly fucked up the intro to the strident “Break It Up” (“I never do anything perfect… I only fuck up perfect!”), but no-one really noticed, and again “Land” sprawled and rocked, taking in vignettes from “Land Of 1,000 Dances” and “Gloria” again. A final “Elegy” (“written 40 years ago… when I was a toddler!”) was a touching tribute to friends lost, and a reverential hush fell as Smith read out their names, a cheer greeting each name (“Joe Strummer…  Joey Ramone… Fred Sonic Smith…”).  Sombre and haunting, yes, yet it seemed totally appropriate that this celebration of one of rock’s classics should acknowledge those who walked alongside Smith on her journey.
Glad though I was to have witnessed all of “Horses”, I was eager not to miss a second of my potential highlight, so after “Dancing Barefoot” and an impromptu “Happy Birthday” to her bassist, I cleared off to avoid any possible rush back to the Big Tent, pitching up stage left, 3 rows back for the Tent headliners, due on at 8. SAVAGES, all dressed in black, duly arrived at the witching hour and burst into impossibly dramatic and strident life, vocalist Jehnny Beth remarking, “let’s pick it up where we left it, right?”. Hoo boy, did they ever… opener “City’s Full” was thunderously powerful, Fay Milton pummeling the beat like a muscular blacksmith pounding on a red hot anvil, “Shut Up” was snarling, startling and dramatic, the pseudo Goth guitar licks circling the tent like a conspiracy of ravens, and a clutch of new numbers showed promise and progress, whilst thankfully not straying from Savages’ harsh, jagged post-punk 80’s rock sonic template (one brutal newie featuring some resonant riffery which almost recalled Killing Joke!).
But this was all about Jehnny Beth. Prowling the stage, snarling and spitting like a cornered wolverine, wild eyed and scarily intense, she gave an unsettling, threatening yet totally captivating frontperson performance throughout, abandoning the stage to lean into her frenzied and adoring public, challenging them to generate noise and fury (“we’ve just come back from Greece… you need to be louder than them!”). “She Will” (“one you might know…”) was brilliant, their best number being delivered with aplomb, building relentlessly into the crashing, cymbal-led chanting chorus crescendo, Beth hunched over onstage just like Seafood’s David Line used to, during their equally intense “Folk Song Crisis”. A simple but effective message prefaced the lengthy absorbing workout of “Fuckers” (“I know these are hard times and we’ve signed up for another 5 years… but looking at you all, I think we’re going to be alright… don’t let the fuckers get you down!”), then morphed into the all-too-soon set climax, the careering hellride of “Husbands”, the Dead Kennedy-like bass riff propelling the song to a breaktaking climax, bringing the Set Of The Day to a close. Brilliant.
I gathered my thoughts and a set-list (yay!) before returning to the main arena for the Main Event… As dusk (and the temperatures!) fell, headliners RIDE were just easing into their set opener, the stretched, loose-limbed and libidinous guitar workout of “Leave Them All Behind”, then into the groovy descending verse of “Like A Daydream” from their sophomore “Play” EP. The subsequent set drew almost exclusively from those youthful spiky early EPs and the first two albums, the heady amphetamine rush and shimmering guitar effects and reverb of “Nowhere” and the more expansive “Going Blank Again”, which saw them as the darlings of a new vanguard of British guitar rock, rather than from the troubled pseudo Britpop of their later work. Give the people what they really want, indeed… Drenched as much in their influences (the effortless cool and widescreen expanse of Echo And The Bunnymen, the smothering reverb dreamscapes of My Bloody Valentine, the juxtaposition of squalling feedback and easy melody of The Jesus And Mary Chain) as in their guitar effects, they were nonetheless a shining star in that early 90’s period, another band who should have been stadium massive back in the day. Still, there’s yet time…
Tonight saw them deliver a faultless, professional and perfect sounding performance, a little understated at times but thoroughly absorbing and eminently listenable throughout. “It’s been a great bill; I can’t believe Patti Smith went on earlier [than us]!” remarked vocalist Mark Gardiner before the wah-wah of “Seagull”; “Dreams Burn Down”’s normally powerful crashing drum intro seemed a little understated, but the song ultimately soared to a chiming, plangent crescendo; the splendid jangle of “Taste” (which Gardiner dedicated “to anyone who’s had a tequila slushie today!” and which I almost missed thanks to a pre-emptive loo trip) brought to mind those early 90’s Level 3 nights, and the sinister, spooky march of “Drive Blind” featured a thunderous, drawn out and thrillingly thrashing middle 8, which Andy Bell subsequently announced was, “for the Valentines!”
The chiming, echoey opening riff of “Chelsea Girl”, their debut EP’s leadoff track and the scheduled last number, resonated around the arena at 10.20, prior to which Gardiner announced that this was, “the beginning,” of a new phase for Ride, which was good news. During “Chelsea Girl”s noisy JAMC feedback stomp, we moved to the back, getting a jump at the end back to the tube station, then back to the car just before midnight after a relatively smooth cross-town journey, and home for a red-eyed 1.15 am. I think Mark Gardiner put it best, having incredulously remarked, “what a time, what a gig!” and I can only echo that. Good company with Mr. May, at a splendidly organised, generally very friendly (slightly over-zealous security at the entrance notwithstanding) and all inclusive Festival in Field Day, featuring great sets from Ex Hex, Viet Cong, Patti Smith, Ride and my Band Of The Day, Savages. I’d certainly recommend it, and I hope to be back in future. A great (Field) Day out!