Sunday, 21 February 2016

976 THE SHUDDERS, Yves, Swindon The Castle, Saturday 20th February 2016

Well, finally, they’ve got around to doing it! Tim’s band, The Shudders, have finally recorded and released their sophomore album, “No Angels In The Slipstream”, a mere 7 years after their debut, and have scheduled a CD release party/ show at The Castle. So, up I go!

Full of Chinese chicken curry from a family gathering after footy this afternoon, I drove up and parked on the hill, exercising my poorly knees with a walk up and around to The Castle for 8.30. Met and chatted with Tim and entourage; after blowing me out sick for Thursday’s Shearwater gig, he’d rested up and tried to throw off his dose of the man-flu, so was as ready for tonight as possible! A fine turnout early doors then greeted young support Yves, on at 9; a trio of young indie types, they blasted through a 20 minute set of fast, frantic and frenetic upbeat amphetamine indie rock, with occasional modish overtones. Their third number in appropriated The Smiths’ “This Charming Man” drumbeat, and the drummer generally was an impressive clattering sonic focal point. After their short set, the singer quipped, “we’re going to play “Bohemian Rhapsody” to take up some time!” before playing their opening track again! Their enthusiasm and energy was laudable, although the material is currently a Work In Progress, but minus several gig protocol points for loading out their kit during The Shudders’ set. Sorry boys, that’s not done…

Bumped into old friend Lynn at the bar (out with some friends, not here for the gig!), then chatted with Tracey while The Shudders set up, and various band members went walkabout! Finally, all were rounded up, vocalist Danny announcing, “are we ready to proceed?” and easing into the intricate guitar work and Posies-like understated harmonies of opener “Sorry”, also the leadoff track on the new CD! The clattering rhythm and folky choral feel of oldie “Words Of A Fool” followed – I guess there are still a few copies of the first album to shift as well! – and it then struck me, during splendid new number “Starbright”, just how far the band have evolved since the simpler, knockabout “Pirate Folk” material of that debut. Shudders songs now fall into two distinct camps; firstly a more upbeat sound with Posies-ish powerpop dynamics and occasional Replacements like proto-blues rock licks, and secondly a more expansive, slower burn type with a laid-back, 70’s LA Laurel Canyon late night gathering mood, almost reminiscent of Buffalo Springfield or even The Eagles…! The sprawling “Sunrise” and countrified rock of “You Look Good” exemplified the latter, whilst I preferred the chiming chorus and raw rock rhythms of “Thought I Saw You” and the hard-edged and raw-boned metronomic rhythms of “Rooster”, fading in and out of noisy crescendos. But both elements (the two main influences on the band, according to Tim afterwards) represent for me a quantum jump forward in songwriting quality from that earlier stuff. More considered, more intelligent, more (dare I say it) mature!

Danny was on the scrounge throughout for drinks to whet his appetite in this hot little back room, and 3 were lined up suddenly for him, prompting him to comment, “beer is like buses!”. The widescreen, slightly reworked sea shanty ballad of “Mary’s Grace” closed out the set proper, before a couple of encores culminating in the jaunty Pogues-like Irish jiggery pokery of “Lost And Broke” rounded off a fine near-hour set from a nicely evolving band.

A bit of chit chat with the boys afterwards, getting my CD copy signed, before heading off, leaving The Shudders in fine fettle for their CD release push. A few regional gigs sorted out, Tim advised, along with a double header at The Cavern Club in Liverpool. Now there’s an iconic venue for the band bucket list!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

975 SHEARWATER, Cross Record, Bristol Fleece, Thursday 18th February 2016

And here’s something completely different… more Texans tonight, in Austin-based band Shearwater, but a considerably more cerebral proposition, so none of the Bowling For Soup shenanigans expected from this lot! I’d caught on to this band thanks to their splendid slice of windswept and widescreen Americana, 2012’s “Animal Joy”, and enjoyed them immensely at this very venue on their tour cycle for said album (gig 865), so would likely have been well up for this one anyway. However, their brand new CD “Jet Plane And Oxbow” nailed it totally for me; adding an extra dimension of power, punch and dynamism to their thoughtful, intelligent, eclectic and highly literate UK alt-rock stylings, it’s easily their best album for me, so I was eager to see this material delivered “live”.

Tim and I got tix sorted well in advance; however on the day Tim and his lady were grabbed by a nasty virus and cried off, and thus it was that fellow gig-counter Stuart joined me at very short notice for a swift jaunt down to The Fleece, the muso rock chat making the miles fly by. Parked up easily, just round the corner, and hit the very quiet venue dead on 8. Support act Cross Record joined us early at 20 past 8; Emily and Dan, a husband/wife duo whose largely insubstantial material was smothered and suffocated by swathes of effects and keyboard sonics. I’d checked out some of their intriguing ethereal vignettes earlier, but “live” they were a disappointment; I found the sweetly cloying vocalist’s between-song banter (“my dad’s here tonight – he started up a “Dan’s not a wanker” chant at our wedding!”) better than their somewhat jarring juxtaposition of hushed melody and noise. Sorry, not for me.

The place was still only about 2/3rds full when the 5-piece Shearwater took the stage, again early at 9.20 and led by very tall vocalist and mainman Jonathan Meiberg. Either ignorant or oblivious to the meagre turnout, however, they set to their task with gusto and quickly demonstrated that the band’s new-found power and dynamism is not solely confined to the studio. New CD opener, “Prime”, kicking off the set, was a melange of dramatic drums and oscillating keys, with Meiberg’s excellent dark, rich voice a clarion call to arms. “Filaments”, next up, was a deliciously dark, claustrophobic number recalling early Comsat Angels, accentuated by the vertical fluorescent strip lighting casting a red pall over the stage. Meiberg then announced, “it’s great to be back at The Fleece, the inexplicably best-sounding stone room in the universe!”

Praise apart for the Fleece’s sound, Shearwater made the most of it tonight with a superb set bristling with thrilling crescendos, widescreen tempestuous soundscapes and atmospherics, and anthemic, soaring choruses. “Quiet Americans” was a delicious Bowie-esque “Young Americans” pastiche, and “Wildlife”’s skyscraping hook gave Meiberg’s voice a serious workout. However the best was saved for “Pale Kings”; introduced by Meiberg about, “surviving an election cycle,” this was a brilliantly building thrill-ride redolent of U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” and featuring some Edge-style guitar licks from Meiberg! “Backchannels” (“about that little voice in the back of your hear that tells you you should kill yourself…”) was an understandably morose and melancholic mood-piece, but closer “Stray Light” saw Meiberg donning some green laser gloves for a dramatic visual finale (by way of explanation for said gloves, Meiberg offered, “what would my 8-year old self think was cool?”)

For the encore, we had a lengthy and entertaining preamble from the immensely erudite and learned Meiberg about catching vampire fish in South America (!), then an unexpected duo of covers from Bowie’s “Lodger”, the backwards drumbeat and Eastern influence of “African Night Flight” and the clattering rhythm and euphoric hook of “Look Back In Anger”, which nailed Meiberg’s influences to the mast somewhat, but formed a perfect punctuation to an unexpectedly upfront, dynamic and downright splendid set. A bit of face time with the reserved but friendly singer afterwards was a nice way to end a fine evening in great company both off and onstage. If there’s any justice, “Jet Plane And Oxbow” should give Shearwater the deserved boost that War On Drugs received with “Lost In The Dream”. We’ll see…

Sunday, 14 February 2016

974 BOWLING FOR SOUP, The Dollyrots, Lacey, MC Lars, Southampton Guildhall, Saturday 13th February 2016

And tonight I was joined by my 8 year old son Logan! Wait, what? Logan???? Yup, this was Logan’s first “big” gig, after a small sprinkling of local things, and hooo boy, did it turn out to be one to remember – forever!

Bowling For Soup, Texas’ finest proponents of scatological and surprisingly harmonic beefy pop-punk and a “live” mainstay since our first sighting at Reading Festival 2000, had actually retired from UK touring since their 2013 jaunt (which we missed), but had announced another “Howaboutanotherround” tour for Feb 2016. This had coincided with Rach playing some of their stuff to the kids in the car, to a very positive and singalong reception, albeit ignoring or bleeping the “bad words”! Thus we gave some thought to taking Logan (at 8, old enough for O2 venues) along, only to find the Bristol show sold out, and the Southampton show coinciding with Rach’s 40th birthday girly trip to Iceland (yes, the country…!). However, Grandma kindly stepped in with an over-nighter offer for Kasey, and it was all systems go!

We dropped Kasey off at Grandmas and hit a sodden M4/ A34 beat route at 5.30, finding nearby street parking and joining the smallest of the 3 snaking GA queues to get in the rapidly-filling venue just after 7. Met up with Rich near the front, stage right, and Logan joined Rich’s daughter Jess on the barriers right down the front. MC Lars kicked things off pronto with some rabble-rousing compere work and a couple of quickfire rap numbers. Not my cup of tea, but Logan liked it, enough to stop and chat with MC Lars afterwards, at the merch stand on the way back from a quick loo trip. Got a quick pic with our erstwhile compere, and I explained to him that tonight was Logan’s first “big” gig, which elicited an offer of a free CD from the man. Chap!

Thus buoyed, we caught most of Nottingham’s Lacey, who plied some clean sounding but initially inauspicious shouty emo/ pop punk, but then startled with a fine Jimmy Eat World-alike slow burn tearjerker “Contender”. Their humble attitude impressed, as did a hooky final number, their new single “Shadow”. Nice! MC Lars then returned for a couple of literary Edgar Allen Poe-influenced (!) rap numbers, before 2-girl, one bloke trio The Dollyrots burst on with some initially thin sounding but improving punky stuff. An early cover of “Brand New Key” (“about love, not farming equipment,” according to gregarious blonde vocalist Kelly) was silly fun, and subsequent numbers added some Pixies-ish sleazy guitar chuntering. Then we had MC Lars back again, for a final rap based on Iggy’s classic “The Passenger”.

This bumped us right up to 9.30; the lights plunged and da Soup took the stage to their own nursery-rhyme silly backing track. “We’re fucking back, motherfuckers!” announced a surprisingly corpulent vocalist Jaret, and straightaway I thought there was no point even trying to censor this evening for Logan…! Ahhh, fuck it! So a boisterous “Bitch Song” and “Emily” kicked things off, before Jaret paused to compliment Southampton, “scene of the first ever Bowling For Soup parking lot fist fight!” He went on to state the bleedin’ obvious, bless him, commenting, “some of you may have noticed I’ve got really fat during the break,” remarking that he’d probably stolen Big Chris’ “fat love” in the process, but maintaining that this still made him a medium size in America! Then “Ohio”…

Logan had picked up an “Ohio” t-shirt the previous week to wear to the gig, celebrating one of his favourite BFS numbers, and as soon as the song moved into raucous shit-kicking gear, he rocked along, lifting his shirt over his head to show the band the logo. Inevitably, the observant Jaret noticed him, then incredibly he broke off from the song before the middle 8 to announce, “there’s this little kid with an “Ohio” shirt down the front… bring me that child, hand me that child!” So a bouncer lifted Logan out, and up he went, joining the band onstage! Erik remarked, “it’s pretty badass to be named after Wolverine!”, Jaret got him to get the crowd to wave their hands, wave at Big Chris etc. and Logan even sang a line when the band got “Ohio” going again; “there’s a seat for you at the rodeo and I’ve got every slow dance saved…!”. Ultimately, the whole audience, some 2,000 (!) in tonight, seemed to be chanting, “Logan! Logan! Logan!” Utterly amazing!

Well, that was it; they totally had me after that, could pretty much do no wrong in the eyes of this incredibly proud and grateful dad. A frantic “Punk Rock 101” was stopped half-way through for tonight’s first “digitally enhanced” trip to the “pub”, a mock-up bar at the corner of the stage. Jaret remarked to the guy holding his girlfriend aloft on his shoulders, “your neck’s gonna smell like a vagina!”, and before an acoustic interlude of a surprisingly affecting “Passengers” and a touching “Friends Of Mine”, Chris introduced Jaret as, “acoustic Jaret” before announcing that acoustic Jaret ate electric Jaret! The effervescent vocalist again stated that BFS were, “the band you can wave to,” bitching about Rammstein not waving back when he saw them (!).

A riotously singalong “1985” saw an acapella intro leading to some fiery pyrotechnics, before a medley of pop-punk classics (including clips from “All The Small Things”, “Basketcase” and an excellent snatch of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle”), “to prove that pop punk isn’t dead!” To underline this point further, a delicious cover of “Stacy’s Mom” followed, before “Almost” needed 2 goes to get started, Jaret mistakenly playing the riff to “1985” instead, then asking the line-up of assembled roadies and guests at “the bar” to give him a kick in the ass, before getting it right next time! Encore “Shut Up And Smile” was an all-inclusive love-fest, channelling the celebratory mood of the night, then the finale of “the best song ever”, a rambunctious “Girl All The Bad Guys Want” ended a thrilling and entertaining set of irresistibly harmonic and singalong pop punk. Which on tonight’s evidence is quite far from dead!

On the way out, Logan got lots of attention too; fist bumps from the guys, and hugs from the girls (!), and even free stuff from the merch stand! An equally sodden drive home saw us get home at a red-eyed 12.30 am, probably the latest Logan has ever stayed up. But hey what a way to kick-off his “big” gigging days. All I can say as a very proud dad is; thank you, Bowling For Soup, Thank You!

Friday, 5 February 2016

973 JOHN GRANT, Soley, Southampton Guildhall, Thursday 4th February 2016

And on to the next one; quite a different proposition from last night, however, tonight’s host being US alt-rock singer-songwriter John Grant, whom I’d previously checked out on Bonfire Night 2010 (gig 797) with Jason Lytle, enjoying his wry, confessional and oft quirk-laden lyrics and dusky, Scott Walker-esque moody vocal delivery. Never followed up on it at the time, however, so he remained resolutely off my radar until “Down Here”, a splendid track on a late-2015 “Uncut” magazine compilation, prompted me to pick up his current, 3rd, album “Grey Tickles, Black Pressure”. An odd juxtaposition of similar deliciously dark balladry to that on display back then, and some unexpected electronica which varied from the weirdly attractive, through cheesy, to downright jarring. Still, discovering his other 2 albums thanks to Grant fan Tim (and loving debut “Queen Of Denmark” in particular) underlined that here was a maverick, idiosyncratic talent worth checking out again, so I booked for this one, unfortunately being unable to persuade Tim to join me!
So, flying solo again, I set off down an inky A34, hitting unexpected slow traffic on the M3 approach to Soton, but parking up in the last space in the cobbled car park around the side of the venue. Wandered into this magisterial and ornate hall midway through support Soley, an Icelandic female pianist who meanderingly wittered on between her hushed schoolmarm ballads. I actually liked her oratories (“this is a little bit sad song, but it’s ok, I’m over it... I’m actually a happy person!”) more than her set numbers, which left little impression.
Thereby followed a half hour wait before the witching hour, as the place filled up amply but by no means completely – I reckoned about 2/3 full in this quite large hall, and plenty of space and a great view in my stage left spot, about 5 rows back from the front. Played “Spot The Hipster” to pass the time, which was easy – the place was replete with brogues, blazers and berets. And beards. Of course. Beards proliferated the place, beards on young, beards on old, bumfluff to lumberjacks. But of course the best beard of all was due onstage soon... Spot on 9, the lights smashed to black, and the 4-piece band took the stage to the taped layered spoken word opener to Grant’s current “Grey Tickles,” album. Grant himself took the stage last, a t-shirted big friendly bear of a man, smiling and waving to all, basking in the reverential reception. Following the sweeping orchestral grandeur of opener “Geraldine”, Grant paused to greet the crowd and introduce his band, including, “on drums – the incomparable Budgie!” Sure enough, black clad and hair dyed boot-polish black, it was the former Big In Japan/ Slits/ Siouxsie sticksman – crikey, we’re in the presence of punk rock royalty tonight, no doubt!
Grant’s set tonight reflected his musical oeuvre... an opening salvo of the lush, emotive and haunting balladry, with “Down Here” a widescreen, almost Bond theme moody piece and “It Doesn’t Matter To Him” eerie and elegiac, being followed by a mid-set interlude of more 80’s style electronica heralded by the almost tangible synth pulsebeat and Kraftwerkian traffic noise blasts of “Pale Green Ghosts”. Very much like Scott Walker, the man ploughs his own idiosyncratic furrow, seeking to blend these 2 uneasy bedfellows of musical styles together. I have to say some of these mid-set fuzzy electro grooves left me cold, but the subsequent “Glacier” was the set highlight, a stark and gorgeous piano led ballad with an exquisite sonorous vocal performance. Simply, Grant has a quite beautiful voice, more beautiful than any man – even a gay man – really has any right to have. Rich, haunting, dark, mysterious and melancholy, able to convey a range of emotions, and for me displayed to best effect on his more slow-burn, conventional material. A very relaxed between-song orator as well; praising Southampton as, “a beautiful city,” and responding to ironic laughs from the home crowd with, “you didn’t see where I grew up!” and thanking everyone for coming out on Thursday (“it is Thursday, right?”), remarking that during the week, “I wouldn’t leave the fucking house!” The Harry Nilsson-like “Queen Of Denmark” with its’ freeform prose lyric, leading to a slashing chorus noisefest, was also a highlight, almost topped by the entertainingly profane “GMF”. A couple more electro-dominated numbers bookended the set and encore, but the best was saved for last, with final number “Caramel” a stark and deeply intimate love song, with a Jeff Buckley-esque, octave straddling vocal performance. A beautiful way to end a real set of contrasts.
Grabbed set-lists for myself and Bristol gig buddy Alfie (whom I ran into down the front) before hitting the road, back home for midnight. As I said, a set of contrasts, but when it worked, boy was it a lush and lovely noise. And Budgie too! Splendid night out!

972 GET INUIT, Fish Tank, Van Zeller, Many Monika, Bristol Exchange, Wednesday 3rd February 2016

It feels like I’m coming out of hibernation... following a man-flu infested Christmas and a gig-free January (the first such month since July 2013...), it feels like the year’s finally getting under way with this, the first of two in two nights, and 5 in Feb! After seeing splendid young bucks Get Inuit at Start The Bus in November (gig 965), I’d described their sound as a plethora of summery powerpop bands distilled down through a distinctly 2015 filter; however after picking up the buoyant guitar noise of their 9-track EP, it kinda came down to 2, namely Silver Sun and The Candyskins, locked in a scrap over who gets the last sunbed. Certainly enough to drag this old rocker down to Bristol on a school night for some surf-punk infused fun!
So I hit the road at 7 and easily found the Exchange (a new one on me), parking down the road and hitting this scuzzy rabbit warren venue (which recalled Southampton’s fine Joiner’s Arms) midway through openers Many Monika. A trio fronted by an androgynous but hirsute male vocalist with quite the highest-pitched lilt I’ve heard since Sweet Jesus’s Ben Bentley, only with a similarly fey speaking voice. Despite a poor early turnout (about half a dozen punters and assorted Get Inuit chaps), he gamely shook his booty onstage to some punchy glam pop, of which penultimate number, “Suburbia” was the best, a Lou Reed style street story set to some VU-esque droney guitar. Not bad for starters, and better than the next band up, local lot Van Zeller. Following a somewhat fiddly soundcheck, they took the stage to a suddenly full and fulsomely enthusiastic home crowd (clearly everyone they knew...), and played some high-octane and driving but formulaic and ham-fisted rock, which went down well with da yoof. Not for me though, so I passed the time chatting with various passing members of Get Inuit, vocalist Jamie popping over having remembered me from Start The Bus, which was nice.
Everyone fucked off after Van Zeller! As tour support Fish Tank soundchecked, I commented to a fellow punter that there was a crowd here, once... So Fish Tank again came onstage to a small clutch of interested punters, but, undeterred, they set to their task with gusto. Another 3 piece, they had the right attitude (evinced by the bespectacled vocalist’s opening shout of, “Oi! Smokers outside! Fish Tank are on!”), and an immediately evident ear for a snappy, Britpop-influenced tune. Clearly of a similar hue to their tour buddies and headliners, their set was upbeat, spritely, hook-laden and eminently listenable crunchy guitar pop with some modish push’n’shove rhythms. No little humour either; early between-song banter consisted of, “small talk between songs but keep short!” and new single “The Bend” was introduced with, “this is our next single, we hope you like it ‘cos if you don’t we’re fucked!” This toughened-up number featured some intricate guitar picking from said vocalist, plus some Frank Turner-esque bellowing during the strident chorus. By the cacophonous climax of finale “Wizard” they’d enticed a good crowd back. Good set – good band!
So again, a bit of a wait in an empty room (where does everyone go?) as Get Inuit set up. Rather than issuing a bolshy rallying cry to start their set, however, they kicked straight into opener, the glorious helium pop of “Mean Heart” bang on 10. The irresistible mutant surf-psychobilly gallop of “I Would” was next up, and I rocked out as best my dodgy and heavily strapped knee would allow (dancing from the hips up these days, guys...!). Vocalist Jamie promised us, “a margarine tub of songs!” and delivered them with soaring, nasally tinged vocals and an energetic, kinetic and pliable performance, ably backed up by his equally up-for-it bandmates. The quiet/loud dynamics of newie “Barbiturates” featured some pregnant pause mucking about and playful “Sweet Child Of Mine” riffery, also showing a hitherto-unseen darker edge to their rampantly optimistic guitar pop, whilst “My Oh My” possessed a singalong, Buddy Holly-like chorus hook and deserves to be a Summer smash. Some Fish Tank baiting and drummer Rob’s repeated playing of the “Seinfeld” theme on a beatbox provided some between-song fun, and “Pro Procastinator” was again a flappy-gummed quickfire pseudo New Wave delight. All too soon, the set was done, Jamie remarking, “time for bed, take your calpol!” to the young crowd, before the soaring chorus of final number “I Am The Hot Air” concluded a set which for me cemented Get Inuit as a very very promising band indeed, and hopefully a regular on future gig itineraries.
All splendid chaps too, writing some lovely compliments on my setlist afterwards, and a quick chat with Jamie onstage revealed he’d checked out – and loved – Silver Sun following my recommendation. Cool! A damn fine way to kick off 2016’s gigging year overall, and you bet I’ll be back for more Get Inuit!