Tuesday, 22 September 2015

960 TORRES, Harkin, Bristol Louisiana, Monday 21st September 2015

After declaring my 12-gig “Autumn Dance Card” closed, this one was squeezed in at late notice, thanks to Beef’s enthusiasm for Torres, the musical pseudonym for Mackenzie Scott, a young Nashville raised singer songwriter. A new name on me, but having checked out a couple of tracks on YouTube and finding them possessing a late 80’s 4AD Pixies/ Throwing Muses quiet-loud dynamic (no wonder Beef likes her!), I snapped up the last-but-one ticket for this sell-out show, and also ordered up current album “Sprinter” for a hothouse listen at my desk during the day of the gig! Larry Last-Minute, that’s me…!
Beef and Dean collected me at 7 for the trip down to Bristol, my majority destination for my Autumn Dance Card, pitching up at The Louisiana for 8 after a circuitous and confusing diversion. Chilled in the bar before the rope was removed, and we eventually wandered upstairs to the already-heaving venue for opener, solo songstress Katie Harkin. After a low-key start, she eventually got motoring with some forthright and upfront amped-up indie guitar licks and riffery, the punchy power and occasional reverb/ distortion juxtaposing her fey, Harriet Sunday vocals nicely. Her “apostle epistle” “National Anthem Of Nowhere” and the rambunctious, rocking closer “Nothing The Night Can’t Change” revealed a tunesmith of some note, and I mused what these numbers might sound like with a full band behind them. I bet they’d rock…!
I stayed in and inched my way closer to the front for Torres’ entrance at 9.30, the striking blonde vocalist leading her band onstage in matching black boiler suits to unsettling background feedback. This actually set the tone for the show perfectly, as the spooky, spiky riffery and heavily pounding, funereal death march of “New Mother Earth” kicked the set off, then the excellent “New Skin”, next up, creeping in like a relative lamb, but then descending into a pit of Manchester Orchestra-like heavy guitar noise, with Torres’ vocals detached and menacing, like a younger Patti Smith, before thanking the crowd as its’ conclusion, “for joining me in my hot box!”
This was a riveting, unsettling show of remarkable, dark, pseudo gothic music, delivered with clear-eyed conviction and intensity by a unique talent and voice. In a similar mood vein to the likes of Savages, although much less in thrall to that gloomy early 80’s sonic template, Torres’ songs are invariably unsettling and bleakly confessional, with dark, foreboding clouds never far from the horizon, giving them a claustrophobic, menacing feel, a sense of impending doom. Nonetheless, her compelling performance, the intense gaze and worried, staccato shakes of her head, had an often indifferent Bristol crowd hushed, reverent and enthralled. A cheer greeted the introduction to “Sprinter”, Torres replying with, “you don’t have to cheer, I was just telling you…!” but then delivering a deliciously wallowing version of this sleazy, morose little number, the initial hushed, almost operatic chorus then leading to a more powerful climax, affording Torres the opportunity for some scary, wild-eyed vocals. This was however topped with set highlight “Strange Hellos”, a barbed, vicious stomper with Torres unleashing a blood-curdling howl mid-song, prior to a lengthy squalling guitar outro of almost Bob Mould proportions. Crikey.
The Pixies-like slow-burn sway of “The Harshest Light” (introduced with, “we’ve got 2 songs left… one’s an encore but there’s no exit [from the stage] so let’s be real with each other”) preceded set closer “November Baby”, a quiet, hushed and eerie opening bursting into a thrilling noise crescendo, with Torres taking to the front rows of the floor for some slashing riffery, bringing a startlingly fine set to a close.
Grabbed some welcome air as the place emptied, then we hung out afterwards downstairs, enjoying a conversation with support star Katie Harkin about The Replacements in the process. Our patience was finally rewarded with pics and signed set-lists from the band and the Star Of The Show, a quiet, self-effacing and almost humble young lady quite at odds with her strident and frankly a bit scary stage persona. A talent destined for great things, no doubt, and with any luck an individual who won’t compromise or dilute her art to get there. A great discovery – I’m so glad I made space on my Autumn gig schedule for Torres!

Thursday, 17 September 2015

959 WOLF ALICE, Drenge, Made Violent, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 16 September 2015

Well, it might be the Chinese Year Of The Sheep, but 2015 in rock has certainly been the Year Of The Wolf… following my hopes, after their blistering Trinity gig earlier this year, that Wolf Alice would totally nail their debut CD and deliver one of the Albums of the Year, they duly went and did so, with the superb, plangent and forthright “My Love Is Cool” a brilliant reflection of all the disparate elements of their sonic template. They then swept all before them during Festival Season, their “secret” tiny “BBC Introducing” set in particular being the talk of Reading Fest. Bouncing straight into a sell-out Academy Autumn tour as well, they’re making this world domination malarkey look pretty easy thus far…!
I’d booked for this one on the pre-sale and convinced Rach of their live prowess, so the two of us headed down a damp M4 early doors, getting caught in traffic on the way into Bristol and therefore hastily parking in Trenchard about 20 to 8. The haste was due to my desire to catch openers Made Violent, a young Buffalo, NY, 3-piece, on at 7.25 and therefore well into their set when we arrived. A whirling mass of big hair (especially from the Eddie Vedder lookalike vocalist/ guitarist), big choruses and big riffs, their scuffed-up, scuzzy rock’n’roll also had some big influences, the likes of Pearl Jam’s stadium grunge, The Pixies’ gutter sleaze, Primus’ angular yelping and even The Strokes laconic new wave chuggery all featuring. Schizophrenic, sure, but enjoyable and intriguing, their best number (another amphetamine-fast Strokes-alike) ending a briskly and punchily delivered set.
The floor was already proper old school rammed, so we had a watching brief stage left by the stairs for main support Drenge, late on at 8.30. A 2-piece expanded to 3 for the “live” setting, their rock was driving, dark and sinister, with echoey, often nasally garbled vocals and occasional middle-Eastern influences overlaying their droney, menacing and fast paced numbers. “Backwaters” for me was their best number, possessing an almost Spaghetti Western feel recalling Ken Stringfellow side-project Chariot, and token slow number “Fuckabout” appropriated The Pixies creepy “Where Is My Mind” opening riff, but those apart, the set became a bit samey for me, the formula wearing a bit thin. Would have liked more of the first band, scattergun and all over the place though they were. However, they went down a storm with the young Wolf Alice massive…
Ran into old friend and prodigiously talented photographer Martin Thompson for a brief chat before he went off to photograph the band with his 1903 Kodak for his splendid "Face Collective" portrait series, which was cool, then, as the witching hour approached, Rach and I squeezed into a tiny spot on the floor, 2/3 back. I mentioned to Rach that if they started with “Fluffy”, the opening number from their Festival sets, this place, already seething with anticipation, would go bat-shit crazy from the off… Sadly, t’was not to be; Wolf Alice took the stage, unheralded, spot on 9.30, and eased into a very quiet, plaintive opener, Ellie’s lilting voice sounding almost nervous. The languid, libidinous “Your Love’s Whore” followed, still low-key and understated, the band very evidently feeling their way into the opening night of the tour, and it wasn’t until the tumbling cascade of the lovely “Bros” (the touching album version), 4th number, that we saw even a glimpse of the real Wolf Alice…
The step-up to Academy level venues has obviously required an increased level of professionalism, slickness, call it what you will, from the band, and tonight the sound was perfect, a lot of the numbers replicating the textures and shimmering soundscapes of that splendid album. However somehow, something was lacking, some maverick, spontaneous spirit suppressed... I don’t know, I feel a little disingenuous criticising this band for trying to play their songs more in the style of my favourite album of 2015; it’s just… I expected more power! More punch, pace and strident in-your-face swagger and attitude! I wanted the Wolf! That mighty animal that snarled so impressively at The Trinity! Instead the mid set was packed with their more understated, shoegazey material, and it wasn’t until the carefree, careering riffery of “Fluffy” that the set really took flight as it could, with the subsequent “You’re A Germ” a magnificent, bristling punked up groove with a countdown chorus of colossal magnitude. I turned to Rach at its’ conclusion and said, “now THAT’S what I’m talking about when I call this lot Mighty,” her pointed and accurate response being, “shame it’s taken them ¾ hour to get this gig started!”
A short 50 minute set was capped by encores of a Madder Rose-like “Turn To Dust”, an equally hushed “Blush” which nonetheless built towards its’ impressive hook, and another splendid “Giant Peach”, the intensity of this riff-tastic finale reflected with another frenzied circle pit from the crowd, who’d been up for it throughout. By anyone else’s standards, this was still a bloody good gig, but overall below their own high standards, and not a patch on that Trinity set. Grabbed half a set-list and eventually persuaded a fellow punter to let go of the other half (!) before we set off (if that was you and you're reading this - comment on this article and I'll get in touch, I owe you!). Hopefully this was just a slight bump in the road on Wolf Alice’s way to world domination, as they’re still on their way!

Friday, 4 September 2015

958 ALVVAYS, White Reaper, Bristol Fleece, Wednesday 2nd September 2015

Summer’s gone, days spent with the grass and sun…! Luckily the onset of a long Autumn, and a jarring return to the drudgery of work, is offset for me by a swift commencement of my Autumn gig Dance Card tonight! An enticing dozen scheduled shows kicks off with the return of Nova Scotia’s finest, Alvvays, who cleaned house on the “Dirty boat” earlier this year with a sparkling set of breezy C86 influenced jangle pop, but with a hidden undercurrent of menace and subterfuge which belied their superficial innocence, an enticing juxtaposition which denotes a band of true substance. Stepping up from the sold-out Thekla, they then proceeded to sell this one out too; luckily Tim and I acted quickly!
Also joining us for the familiar jaunt down the M4 was work colleague Claudia, who loved Alvvays’ “Archie, Marry Me” on my 2014 “Best Of” CD, so decided to join us. A chatty and entertaining trip down saw us park up early doors and hit the Fleece bar (rocking up beside local gig legend Jeff before he took his customary stage front spot), before being rudely assaulted around 8.15 by a pounding and repetitive drum-roll. Thus was how support White Reaper kicked off their set, belting out a succession of bright, upbeat pop-punk numbers with nary a pause for breath, and only an echoey toy organ (played by a wall-eyed dead ringer for Willam from “Mallrats”; it’s a sailboat, dude!) to distinguish their sound from the Sum Found Glories of this world. A Knack-like chuggy powerpop 3rd number was cool; a subsequent virtual clone of Green Day’s “Basketcase” less so, and after that their knockabout sound and jumpy onstage antics got a little wearing and samey. Seen much worse, though, to be fair…
Despite the sell-out, we quite easily picked our way down the front, stage right, and at 9.15 prompt the Celtic pipe backing track heralded Alvvays’ arrival onstage; they’d been sat just off stage at the end of the bar anyway, so no lengthy trip to get there! Straight into the ebullient and fast-paced Primitives-alike opener “Your Type”, before the Rickenbacker chimes of the excellent “Adult Diversion” really got us under way, vocalist Molly Rankin announcing at its’ conclusion, “what’s up! We’re not on the boat this time!”
Alvvays were great tonight. “Live”, their joyful jangle took on extra dimensions of power and drama, and sounded more fully rounded and harder-edged. Molly’s vocals, previously detached and insouciant, are also developing nicely, conveying more emotiveness than previously, adding gravitas to the likes of the melancholy wallow of “Agency” and the soda-bar balladry of “Ones Who Love You”. The charming and diminutive vocalist was in good fooling too, informing us that fellow Canadian Mac DeMarco sends dirty videos to keyboardist Kerri on Instagram (!), joking with the crowd about her love of Oasis and Coldplay (at least, I hope she was joking…!), remarking in her startled Minnie Mouse voice, “That was punk!” to the spectacle of a punter climbing one of the Fleece’s ubiquitous poles and, when said punter threw his monkey-shaped backpack onstage, retorting quickly, “I hope there’s candy in there!”
A couple of brisk, almost Buzzcocks-like new numbers were thrown in for good measure, but the set centred largely round that excellent 2014 debut album. Thus, “Atop A Cake” was a sunny singalong joy with an underpinning of Byrds-ian jangle, “Party Police” was a melancholy confessional (Molly announcing beforehand, “we’re baring our souls to you!”) and the brilliant set closer and highlight, “Archie Marry Me”, took on anthemic qualities with the “Hey! Hey!” hookline raising the roof. A superb way to end an all-too-short set from a band who are developing quickly, and continuing to grow on me like a rash.
A solo “Red Planet” from Molly preceded a delicious and touching encore of Kirsty MacColl’s “He’s On The Beach”, a touching tribute to a like-minded pure pop soul, and a lovely way to end tonight’s proceedings. Kerri handed her set-list to me and I quickly popped back afterwards to get her and Molly to sign it, then we bumped into Andy Fenton and son for a chat before heading back to the car, all fully satisfied with tonight’s entertainment. A great gig and a superb way to kick off the Autumn schedule for me; Summer might be gone, but thanks to the effervescent pop and sly menace of Alvvays, it had a rousing send-off!