Sunday, 20 March 2016

981 THE WONDER STUFF, The Wedding Present, The Lottery Winners, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 17th March 2016

A real sense of occasion surrounding this one tonight; the 30th Anniversary tour for enduring Indie legends The Wonder Stuff, also coinciding with their aptly-named new CD “30 Goes Around The Sun”, signalling a renewed assault on the nation’s eardrums by Miles Hunt and his gang of reprobates. An added advantage to this one is also hopefully meeting up with their roadie tonight, my facebook friend Russ, Miles’ brother and a gentleman whom our mutual friend and former Gigolo Aunt Phil Hurley introduced me to some 20 years ago (yipe!), and with whom I’d crossed paths with infrequently but always very convivially since. So, a couple of key plus points for catching up with a band whom I’d seen 10 times before but, rather disgracefully, not for 10 years (Bierkeller, March 2006, gig 695 in fact). So, it’s hup hup hup tonight for The Stuffies!

Another plus point for The Stuffies is that they played a pivotal part in mine and Rachel’s burgeoning relationship (finding out early that Rach’s first gig was The Stuffies at Brixton Academy in April 1994, my gig 265), so happily Rach joined us tonight, along with the ebullient Mr. Gould and old Lev 3 friend Robynne. An early departure at 6 saw an enjoyably chatty journey down, hitting traffic into Bristol but parking up at 7.15, wandering in midway through early openers The Lottery Winners, plying a nice brand of upbeat and optimistic wide-eyed pop to a sparse crowd. I should have paid more attention to them, but by then I’d bumped into Russ and was otherwise occupied catching up briefly with a thoroughly nice and self-effacing bloke. Good to see him again! He warned The Stuffies were “on fire” – we’ll see...

Quick drink in the bar before taking our usual stage left spot, being joined by Rich, Jared and Nathan, and also gig buddy and former “big boss” Matt in the process! So a happy band of folks welcomed main support, and Stuart’s main reason for being here tonight, The Wedding Present, on at 8. Another band I’d not seen for awhile (July 2008 at the 12 Bar, gig 751 in fact), they kicked off with a couple of crowd-pleasers in oldies “You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends” and “Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?”, but despite upping the tempo for a subsequent choppy “Kennedy”, their brisk indie guitar rock left me strangely unmoved. Vocalist David Gedge’s loose-limbed guitar work was as dextrous as ever, but the sound, pindrop perfect in this venue as ever, did them no favours, leaving it all sounding thin. As the mid-set drifted, the performance, for me, went from perfunctory to pedestrian and, well, a bit dull really, enlivened only by a late “Dalliance” and a final “Brassneck”. Like a veteran pitcher who’s lost the pace of his fastball, but hasn’t replaced it with any guile or craft. All quite… blah, I’m afraid…

Nevertheless, the Stuffies were due up next, –and duly took the stage at 9.30 after a radio announcement intro tape (including old Peelie, god rest his soul). Miles Hunt, a raffish presence in billowing white shirt and combats, stomped onstage with an, “Oi! Oi! Bristol!” and led the band into chuntering opener, “30 Years In The Bathroom”, the striking Erica Nockall’s violin work immediately to the fore, remaining so for the tumbling rocker “Play”. Miles requested, “give me your voices, this is “On The Ropes””, before a thrilling, dramatic rendition of my favourite Wonder Stuff song, then remarked to all and sundry, “we’ve been friends for 30 years now; my plan was to make 1 album, 4 singles and then fuck off!”

Miles was in fine form from the outset, laid-back, entertainingly profane and ebullient, setting the tone for the band’s performance in kind. Whether challenging the crowd with, “what are you in the mood for?” asking them to “boo along in the key of “D”” to solitary new number, the fine and hooky “For The Broken Hearted” or touchingly dedicating the jig-along “Welcome To The Cheap Seats” to, “Bass Thing, Gilksy and Kirsty MacColl,” then re-starting the number after an off-key opening few bars (“they’d never forgive me if I played it out of key!”), Miles had the crowd eating out of his hand tonight. The, “good old Country and Western hoedown,” of the fiddle-powered “Golden Green” got the crowd ignited into a happy twirling mosh, and “millstone” pop number “Size Of A Cow”, with its jolly fairgroundesque middle 8, was dispensed with, “let’s get this one over and done with…”. But the final 1/3rd of the set saw them really crank up the ante; a hectic, galloping “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”, launched into a superb, slightly-delic “A Wish Away”, then POW! A flippant “Radio Ass Kiss”, BLAM! A titanic “Unbearable” SLAM! “Give Give Give Me More More More”, and finally the knockout SMASH! of an utterly incendiary, pounding “Ten Trenches Deep”, the lengthy and increasingly fiddle-embellished noisy crescendo a perfect finale.

“If you want encores from me, it’ll be pitiful broken hearted songs from when I was 21 – pitiful cunt that I was!”, announced a fulsome Miles before a 4-song encore capped with “Goodnight Though”, swirling strobe backlighting the band peeling off, one by one, to complete a blistering performance, totally fitting for the occasion, with that final 1/3rd of the set as good as I’ve ever seen the Stuffies. Fact. Russ warned they were “on fire” – boy, you were spot-on, my friend!

The night wasn’t over yet though; after Russ sorted me out with a set-list and we (eventually) dragged Stuart away from Gedge’s ear, we chanced upon Miles holding court behind the venue on the walk back to the car! Quick pics, signed lists (me and Jared!) and brief chats with the surprisingly open and receptive “Star Of The Show” before heading off. A great evening; and on this form, I won’t leave it 10 years before seeing the Stuffies again!

Monday, 14 March 2016

980 WOLF ALICE, Swim Deep, Bloody Knees, Oxford O2 Academy, Sunday 13th March 2016

My Top Band of 2015, back out treading the boards in 2016... after delivering very nearly Album Of The Year with their marvellously plangent, sparkling and spunky debut “My Love Is Cool”, plus very nearly Gig Of The Year in their startlingly powerful and thrilling Trinity set in April (gig 944), this extremely promising young London band somewhat blotted their copybook for me a little, last time out at the Bristol O2 Academy in September (gig 959), an over-emphasis on polish and slick professionalism for the step up to Academy Headliner level rather blunting their hitherto growling sharp edge “live”. Still, I snapped up a ticket quickly (I loves the O2 pre-sale, me!) and eagerly for this one, in the hope that Bristol was just an opening night bump in the road to world domination, and that they’d be back to their potent, powerful best. C’mon, boys (and girl), don’t let me down...!
I was joined by recent gig buddy Stuart for this one and it was also his turn to drive, so we hit the road at an early 6 pm, taking Stuart’s beat route to Cowley on the Southbound ring-road, surprisingly managing to get a parking spot immediately in the normally rammed-full Tescos car park. Yay! Joined a queue to get in at doors, therefore, and took a spot stage left down the front as this sold-out gig rapidly filled up with a very young and seemingly predominantly female glitter-clad audience, Stuart and I conspicuously feeling like old fogies at this one...! First band on, Bloody Knees (again) joined us at 7.45 in a whirl of hair and amphetamine-fast grungy rock riffery; their Nirvana fixation is still very evident indeed as 2 versions of “Territorial Pissings” flashed by, before they got onto the slower, sludgier grunge material. The kids went nuts for them, though, a circle mosh opening up as early as the third number, and by their final, “Lithium”-lite number “I Want It All”, the mosh was extensive and violently kinetic. For me, though, it all seemed oddly dated, and the most entertaining part of their set was noticing the vocalist’s arms seemed to stretch for further than they biologically should...!
Next up, Swim Deep, took us back a further decade in the rock’n’roll time machine, their upfront, clean-sounding synth-embellished pop giving a definite reverential nod to those new romantic early 80’s. The first number came across like John Foxx fronting Duran Duran, and subsequent songs had inflections of OMD, “Temptation”-era Heaven 17, and even the slick AOR of Hall and Oates (yikes!). The crowd again were up for them, though, the high-waisted and effeminately voiced blond vocalist remarking, “Oxford, glad to see you’re up for a party!” They threw everything they had, kitchen sink included, at their final number “House Of Fun”, this elongated, clattering and chuntering number proving the best of an interesting if not particularly original set.
The place was old school heaving and anticipation palpable, so when the lights went out at 9.30 the screams erupted like a hockey international. Guitarist Joff took the stage first, strafing the crowd with some shimmering shoegaze riffery, before joined by his bandmates for a textural intro piece before a surprisingly overt-sounding “Your Love’s Whore”. Then the scalding, screeching punk rock and strident, shouty chorus of “You’re A Germ” really sent the place utterly bat-shit crazy, and we were away, good and proper!
I’m delighted to report that tonight Wolf Alice were back to their best “live”, the power and searing passion fully restored, adding extra dimensions to their intriguing shoegazey indie rock and allowing it to really soar, and their kinetic, energetic “live” performance onstage being reflected back by a rabidly enthusiastic young crowd. An early, angular and bouncy “Bros” was both jaggedly powerful and somewhat touching, and drew me into the fringes of the mosh (partly to distance myself from the sharp-elbowed girl in front of me), and “Lisbon” (preceded by bassist Theo announcing, “Yes! Oxford! It’s fucking hot in here!”) was a metronomic and cacophonous blend of strobe and white noise. Even the slow numbers, such as an eerie, stripped and stretched “90 Mile Beach” and an epic, backlit power ballad “Silk”, somehow collapsed into crescendos of noise. This band had their mojo working tonight, no doubt...
“Fluffy” was a careering delight, diminutive vocalist Ellie screaming the choral hook like a banshee, and all too soon the 50 minute set was over in a rush of sweat and strident power. A fragile “Turn To Dust” opened up the encore before a singalong “Blush” segued into inevitable finale “Giant Peach”, Ellie and Theo adopting ZZ Top rock poses before the mad crescendo again saw a frenzied circle pit open, before the riffs exploded into life, laying waste to the crowd and providing an entirely apposite punctuation to a brilliant set.
Grabbed my breath and a set-list, then we hit the road, the searing snarl of Wolf Alice ringing in our ears. Thankfully restored to full plangent pomp, who’s to say 2016 won’t also be The Year Of The Wolf?

Friday, 11 March 2016

979 PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT, Cardiff Tramshed, Thursday 10th March 2016

The Peter Hook musical odyssey continues, and for me it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for”… after catching Hooky and his charges deliver the first 2 New Order albums perfectly at The Fleece back in September 2013 (gig 886), I was hoping he’d continue in that vein and move onto their 3rd and 4th, namely 1985’s merging of synthesised dance and brooding, rumbling post-punk rock that was “Low-Life”, and the harder-edged 1986 follow-up, the darkly schizophrenic “Brotherhood”. Sure enough, he moved onto that, announcing a tour after a successful London date, so I booked up for the Cardiff gig, the nearer Reading one clashing with mine and Rich’s “Mad March To Bristol” SLF date last Sunday!

Cardiff on a Thursday then, so I left just after 5 straight from work, hitting traffic around Bristol and then grinding to a halt for massive queues at the Severn Toll. Unfortunately this shitty stop-start state of affairs continued around the car-park that is the M4 around Newport, thus it was a frustrated Sheriff that parked up around the corner from the venue on some free street parking at 20 to 8, some 2 ½ hours after setting off. Bah! My Cardiff-domiciled friend Craig unfortunately cried off for financial reasons, so I headed solo into this new venue, a smallish but wide hall in, I guess, an old Tramshed! I didn’t have too long to settle into a stage-right spot near the front before the lights dimmed at 8 and Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” heralded the entrance of Peter Hook and his 5-piece back-up boys The Light at 8, for an initial set composed mainly of numbers from his first band, Joy Division, and opening with a dark, moody “Dead Souls”, Hooky’s sinister, growling bass already a prominent feature.

I guess I should have “That Debate” at this point; a few friends of mine have expressed concern about the premise of Hooky out on the road, playing his former charges’ material, given the acrimony in which he split from his former New Order bandmates. I’ve got no problem with it; for me Hook has every damn right to play these songs, not only given the influence he was within those bands back in the day, but also how much of a sonic factor his unique bass-playing was on said songs, underpinning the material and giving them mood, structure and magnificently brooding power. Also, he’s always played them like he owned them, his deep low vocals giving the songs added gravitas, and his former Monaco bandmates who comprise The Light back him up authentically and overall very well indeed. Such was the case tonight; a racey, snappy “These Days” featured some echoey, resonant guitar from David Potts, but this was topped by a frankly magnificent “Ceremony”, the unmistakable opening bass riff giving way to a glacially cool rendition with a brilliantly haunting crescendo, easily the highlight of this 40-minute opening set.

Barely 7 minutes later, they were back on, easing into the later “Brotherhood” set via slow-burn opener “Lonesome Tonight”. The opening tracks were a frantic, almost punky blast with the taciturn Hook taking centre stage with vocals, growling bass and the occasional guitar riffery; then it all went a bit disco with the bubbling synth of “Bizarre Love Triangle”. The full-length version, this, “BLT” (!) ignited the hitherto equally taciturn crowd into life, with a singalong of the joyful chorus hookline which was the highlight of the “Brotherhood” run-through. A morose, slow-burn “Every Little Counts” rounded off this section, Hooky grumbling the prophetic lyric, “I guess I should’ve known I’d end up on my own,” over the “Groovy Kind Of Love” refrain, before leading the band off for a brief respite.

A 5-minute pause this time before they were back on, opening “Low-Life” with a powerful, potent “Love Vigilantes” which was brilliant, another highlight of the night, embellished by Hook’s melodica refrain. Next up, “Perfect Kiss” was another highlight; again the full-length rendition, synth-dance powered with the cluttering, clattering middle 8 and happily featuring the chirping frog chorus before a lengthy playout. In fact, this album featured more memorable highlights, justifying its’ later run-through; “Sunrise” was a careering thrill-ride, “Elegia” was haunting and eerie, Hooky picking out the guitar riff from a chair (!), the disco pulse “Subculture” was a little discordant, with the bass-line a little low, but “Face Up” finished the set on a high, the choral hook of, “oh, I cannot bear the thought of you,” sung back by a now-fully engaged crowd, Hook again walking off at the song’s conclusion, still playing the bass riff.

“Thieves Like Us” kick-started the encore as I held my spot at the edge of a jump-about but good-natured mosh, then Hooky remarked, “you all look religious – the merch guy is a priest so you need to go and bloody confess – watch out for the thunderbolt!” before an angular, loose-limbed “True Faith”, then the staccato keyboard stab and brilliantly singalong hook of “Temptation” ended the set – or did it…?

“I’ve had a request – it was to “fuck off” so I’m coming back on – when you’re 60 you can be a right cantankerous bastard!” commented Hook, before an impromptu and utterly amazing “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, one of the high watermarks in post-punk’s musical history being delivered with a brilliantly judged balance of power and reverence, and an exhortation from Hook to, “c’mon you fucking sheep-shaggers!” as the middle-8 grew to its’ haunting crescendo break. Simply brilliant, with Hooky (who’d really put in a shift tonight, the time now bumping up to 10 to 11) whipping his “That’s What She Said” t-shirt off, throwing it into the crowd and taking a deserved bow. Well done son, bloody well done!

I grabbed a set-list, and the aforementioned guitarist Mr. Potts, onstage tidying up, not only signed it but took it backstage and got Hooky to sign it too. Bloody result! A considerably better drive back (despite a diversion onto the M48 Severn Crossing) saw me home elated at 12.30 after another evening in the company of the legend that is Peter Hook. “Substance” next up? Long may this odyssey continue!

Monday, 7 March 2016

978 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, Ricky Warwick And The Fighting Hearts, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 6th March 2016

So here we are again! An even dozen times in a row that Belfast’s original socially conscious punk rockers, Stiff Little Fingers, have been at the Bristol O2 Academy in March, and 11 times in those 12 years that I’ve been there with them! Every time a good time, as I’ve mentioned before, so once again Rich and I donned our punk rock trousers and girded our loins for the annual “Mad March to Bristol”!

Rich’s turn to drive this time, as payback for our recent Ash Bierkeller jaunt, with the usual Lauda-esque run down on a crisp, clear night being punctuated by catch-up chat around old friends. Parked up in a relatively quiet Trenchard Street and wandered in about 8, during the early knockings of support Ricky Warwick And The Fighting Hearts. Warwick, formerly of 90’s hard rockers The Almighty, also saw time as frontman of the Thin Lizzy line-up that played Swindon’s MECA in June 11 (my gig 819), doing a pretty good job that night, as I recall. Now shorn of the hair metal band hair and with a a slicked-back Mohican, he strong-armed his way through a rabble-rousing metallic rock set with occasionally militaristic drumbeats, which was a little ham-fisted and didn’t do much for me. I thought I heard shades of New Model Army (although on latter consideration, also bits of Gothy hard rockers The Cult), Rich thought The Clash; and as ever The Big Man was right, as Warwick trotted off a pretty passable cover of “Tommy Gun” which got the best reception of their set by some distance. An Almighty cover to finish also went down well with the old rockers down the front, but again didn’t do much for me…

We took a wander around the venue looking for “Big Pat”, a steward who’d looked after Rich’s daughter Jess really well during their Bowling For Soup gig a couple of weeks ago, then headed to our usual stage left spot quite easily – maybe a case of diminishing returns, or just Sunday night ennui, but despite a late rush in, there was plenty of space on the floor tonight… Then the Best Entrance Music Ever (official), the rabble rousing terrace chant of “Go For It”, kicked in for the entrance of Stiff Little Fingers, dead on 9. A venomous opening “Wasted Life” was followed in short order by “Just Fade Away” and a rambunctious “Roots Radicals Rockers And Reggae”, the band nary pausing for breath in the process. A blistering start!

“We missed out on the [Brit] Awards again, but I never believed in awards, I believe in the power of guitar and drum!” announced rasping vocalist Jake Burns before the singalong manifesto number of the same name, tongue firmly in cheek. In fact, Burns was overall in an upbeat mood tonight, the usual political sloganeering absent tonight (a shame really, I’d have like to hear Burns’ views on the likes of Donald Trump’s recent rantings) in favour of more personal declamations. “Barbed Wire Love” was preceded by a preamble from Jake and rake-thin bassist Ali McMordie about Ali’s “doo-wop” debut; a splendid skanking “Doesn’t Make It Alright” was dedicated to The Specials’ John Bradbury, lost to us at the end of last year, and the most politically-motivated tirade came before a passionate acoustic “Guilty As Sin”, with a heartfelt oratory about abuse of trust, particularly of children.

The rock was solid and well-practised as usual; “At The Edge” fast and frantic, “Fly The Flag” an ironic terrace chant anthem, and “Tin Soldiers” sprawling and epic. Set finale “Suspect Device” was powerful and bilious, and saw the best moshpit reception of the set, but this was topped by an unexpected encore. “Don’t read anything into [us playing] this; I got tired of being sent Youtube clips of tribute bands playing this (a dig at XSLF, perhaps?) and I thought, fuck it, I wrote it, I should do it properly!”, Jake announced before a superb “Gotta Getaway”, the hook of tonight’s rarely-played best number ringing out around the venue. “Alternative Ulster” again ended the night, at which point the boys took a deserved bow after another fine performance from this vintage punk band, proving age doesn’t diminish passion.

Oh and we tracked down Big Pat afterwards for a good chat with him and his boss before heading off. A nice punctuation point on another fine Mad March evening. See you next year!