Friday, 22 April 2016

985 WHITE LILAC, Wasuremono, Neverlnd, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 21st April 2016

A local one, this, and another of those rather splendid “Songs Of Praise” promoted evenings that I really, rather shamefully, never get to enough of... I could cite lack of cash and energy, Rachel’s swimming nights necessitating me minding the kids, nights in doing Netflix’n’chill (actually that – “Jessica Jones” was a recent binge-watch favourite, and I’m also loving “Daredevil”), and using up my “going out” tokens on gigs further afield; the truth however is I’m an inexcusable slacker and I really don’t take sufficient advantage of the fruits on my own doorstep. However, there was no missing this one, a return to the “live” boards for local favourites White Lilac, their first since releasing a rather splendid 5-song EP in “Unwelcome Wishes”, which attempts to distil and encapsulate the widescreen breadth and scope of their entire musical vision. And fails. I mean, seriously, they’re musically soooooo diverse, it probably needs a 20-song CD to fit all of that in...!
Accompanying White Lilac for this event were a couple of intriguing sounding bands of similar musical hue, so I resolved to get there early, picking Dean up just after 8 and wandering up the hill and in after parking in our usual (and freshly painted!) spot. Various chats with various folks (promoters Dave and Ed, White Lilac vocalist Faye’s ever-present parents Stella and Mike) ensued before we popped in for openers Neverlnd at 9. Formerly Balloon Ascents, and championed by Ed in particular, they initially evoked the likes of Talk Talk and Duran Duran with some New Romantic style leanings, before veering into 80’s jazz cafĂ© AOR/ funk, an odd direction for such a young band. The fluffy haired singer had an angular stage presence and an intriguing voice, and overall there were enough odd nuances to their sound to rescue them from bland plodding boredom. Their best number “My Heart Away” channelled 80’s funkers Hipsway (!) and overall I felt as if I should be watching their set whilst sipping daiquiri from a coconut shell on a beach in my ra-ra skirt...!
Enjoyed some nice socialising, including a chat with the White Lilac peeps, including compliments about their new EP and a discussion with guitarist Curtis on the merits of 60’s band Love (surely he’s not old enough to know them!), and also some muso chat with Faye’s brother, before Wasuremono, next up. 2 blokes, 2 girls, and a huge synth onstage set-up with masses of spaghetti liberally strewn around the floor, they played a nice set of eerie, mainly slow-burn dream pop, incorporating more atmospheric shoegazey elements, and in singer William Southward, they had a voice which flip-flopped octaves between smooth and low, to Jeff Buckleyesque falsetto (as soon as the sound was sorted so we could actually hear him!). “A Sigh Is Like The Sea” had a moody, reverb-heavy post-punk vibe evoking misty moonlit beaches, and an untitled mid-set new number (which William referred to as, “our disco song!”) featured an early Cure-like stripped bare rhythm coupled with some intriguing, almost soulful vocal gymnastics (a late-arriving Beef remarked, “like Marvin Gaye singing “A Forest”!”) “Boogeyman” was a Buckleyesque elegy, before a stomping finale of “Shhhh” featured some shimmering drumbeats, closing out a quietly impressive set from a promising band.
“We’ll just shift the Starship Enterprise and get White Lilac on as soon as possible!” remarked Ed, but a fiddly guitar soundcheck resulted in White Lilac not taking the stage until 11 pm. Maybe due to the lateness of the hour, or maybe due to some volumes of gin (allegedly) imbibed pre-show, they were up for making some noise tonight, and kicked up a glorious racket from the off. “Change Of Face” was a joyful, foot-stomping mess featuring some piercing banshee howls and yelps from Faye, setting the tone for the set. “Gone In A Day”’s slow-burn, discordant one-note opening melded into a militaristic drumbeat-propelled noise-fest crescendo, the band collapsing into giggles at the end (yup, maybe the gin then...!). A truncated “Night Visions”, next up, was the best and clearest sounding number of the set, particularly the frantic strumalong finale, and a subsequent newie, “I Don’t Believe” was a pulverising Sioux-alike wall of sound with a nonetheless soaring hooky chorus. The EP’s finest moment, “I’m All Colours”, received a stripped back arrangement tonight, rather than the, “57 instruments on the EP!”, but still retained its’ lovely harmonic 60’s vibe, and finale “Swallow” was all seething loud-quiet-loud, an epic sweeping journey over shimmering ragged guitar. Breathless and splendid stuff!
This bumped us up to ¼ to 12, so after compliments and farewells, I took my leave. Another great “Songs Of Praise” night – another promising lot in Wasuremono, and as for White Lilac; tonight they eschewed their more delicate side in favour of a big stompy punk rock set, and it was actually all the better for it!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

984 GET INUIT, Supporting Vant, Soeur, Bristol Louisiana, Sunday 17th April 2016

A second Sunday night trundle down to Bristol in a row; this time it’s in the fine company, both onstage and off, of young Summery indie-rock spunkers Get Inuit, a band rapidly becoming a regular fixture on my dance cards of late. Displaying an admirable, almost Mega City Four-like work ethic for simply piling into a van, getting in front of punters and playing the rock, they’ve just returned from a US jaunt encompassing the Industry whore-fest that is SXSW in Austin, Texas, and are immediately back on the road again in support of fellow up and comers Vant. So let’s face it, if they’re making the effort to tramp all over from Kent, then I can make the (relatively) short journey to Brizzle from the ‘Don!
I mentioned “company, both onstage and off”; following a sunny run down the M4 and a wander over the temporary bridge after parking up at the nearby Thekla car park (the usual Prince Street road bridge being closed for extensive-looking repairs – note for future reference), I wandered into the Louisiana’s downstairs pub, immediately catching sight of the Get Inuit boys. They recognised me, which is always nice, and I joined them for a brief catch-up and chat about their US adventures, and the pros and cons of Record Store Day (the previous day, ignored by me this year)! Eventually wandered upstairs to check out openers Soeur, a new Bristol trio fronted by a couple of guitar-toting femmes fatales, knocking out some hard and heavy, hair-swirling power chord riffery and channelling the likes of Veruca Salt in the process. Set closer, the aptly-named “Tough” was the best of their short set, a loud-quiet-loud “Lithium”-alike, which after a creepy slow-burn middle 8, saw the girls jumping offstage for some primal screams into the mic (also set up offstage in the front rows), and some manic whirling about, one such leading to me getting caught plum on the chin with a guitar head! Well, I guess if you stand too close to the fire, you’re gonna get burned now and then...!
Took a spot down the front, stage right (the other side to the ubiquitous Jeff) whilst Get Inuit set up. My mate Rich Craven, at the NEC in Birmingham for ELO tonight, had posted a pic up on Facebook of their stage set-up, with the comment, “ELO – not long now”, so I retorted by posting a pic of the Get Inuit boys plugging things into things and generally milling about onstage, with the legend, “Get Inuit – not long now...!” Sure enough, it wasn’t, as the boys burst into strident, poppy life with usual opener, the yelping and joyfully amphetamine-fast “Mean Heart”, followed by the swampy, creepy “I Would”. Jeff and I were shaking our booties from the outset, and got an early name-check from vocalist Jamie thanks to our front-of-house dancing. A pounding “Cutie Pie” channelled Buddy Holly through a Vaccines filter, and following a spritely new number, Jamie remarked, “that was a brand new song, but let’s face it they probably all are [to you]”, to which some wag down the front (okay, me...!) retorted, “not to me and Jeff!”
The sound, probably set up for Vant’s heavier and screamier riffery, wasn’t great tonight, and Jamie’s more nuanced, idiosyncratic vocals were often submerged in the mix, but the boys powered through gamely, their ebullient enthusiasm more than making up for it. “My Oh My”’s doo-wop harmonies were followed by the more expansive “Barbiturates”, this slower-burn number giving the angular Jamie more scope for some vocal gymnastics; then the gabbling, rampant new-waveisms of “Pro-Procrastinator” saw me doing some Logan-like arm-swings in the slower middle-8 section! “I Am The Hot Air”, the most “pop” and Candyskins-like number in their current catalogue, closed out a breathless vignette of a set, bookended by Jamie’s final comment of, “we’ll be down by the merch stand giving you puppy dog eyes!”
Got my breath back as the small room then filled up considerably for the headliners; I gave Vant a couple of numbers but found them formulaic post-grunge Nirvana copyists (although probably not as blatant as Bloody Knees). The kids went mad for them though, a jumping mosh in full swing as I extricated myself from the crowd. Hey, no accounting for taste... Grabbed a few quick words of mutual appreciation with Get Inuit guitarist Ollie downstairs before hitting the road, back home for an entirely sanitary 10.30. That’s 3 in the books for Get Inuit in the last 6 months, and here’s to many more from this eminently promising Summery, powerpoppy band of young bucks!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

983 NADA SURF, Amber Arcades, London Camden Town Electric Ballroom, Monday 11th April 2016

The second of a 2 gig double header and a Monday night up the Smoke as well... however, despite tiring limbs and ageing bones (poor old me!), there was no way I was going to miss this one. A 4-year hiatus since Nada Surf’s wonderful “The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy” album thankfully came to an end recently with another sparkling, splendid album in “You Know Who You Are”, ‘da Surf again melding their own blend of thrilling, joyful and upbeat powerpop, smooth and warmly lush melody, and heartfelt introspective yet self-empowering lyricism, to produce another worthy addition to a supreme quality canon of work that stands comparison with any other band or artiste you’d care to mention. Ever. Yup, ever. There, I said it... The Electric Ballroom, an enduring Camden venue I’d oddly only been to twice before (!), was however the closest their subsequent short UK tour passed by the ‘don, so a Monday night out in the big city was in prospect for this country boy!
No messing about for this one journey-wise either; I set off straight from work, hitting the M4 then breaking my journey at Heston so I could park up at the Bush as usual just after 6.30. Tubed it over to the Electric Ballroom, hitting the venue just before 7.30 and finding it actually pretty deserted early doors! Down the front therefore for openers Amber Arcades, a 5-piece from Amsterdam (“kind of”, according to the blonde vocalist) consisting of 3 guys and 2 girls. They joined us at 8, easing into a set which was smooth, melodic and lush, recalling the likes of Stereolab, Luna and (what I know of) Belle And Sebastian. A couple of their bouncier, rockier numbers also recalled the excellent Alvvays, and their set closer was a metronomic groove that built to an impressive lengthy crescendo. Not entirely original, but seen a whole lot worse support bands...
By now I’d finagled my way onto the barrier down the front, pitching up next to Julian, an affable chap who apparently remembered meeting me at Nada Surf's Koko gig 4 years ago (“you’re the guy who does a gig blog, right?”). So a nice chat about gigging experiences whiled away the time before Nada Surf took the stage, dead on 9 to a rapturous welcome from the by-now very amply full venue. Straight into “Cold To See Clear”, the new album opener, which eased in with a smooth refrain, then broke out into a strident bouncy stomp with a deliciously soaring chorus and an impassioned vocal performance from singer Matthew Caws. Brilliant stuff for openers, and, bad knees be damned, I bounced along straight from the off, already assured that this was going to be a special one.
Nada Surf were quite simply brilliant tonight, totally “on it” from the outset, also bucking the trend of their recent performances wherein they’d largely eschewed the rocker aspects of their canon. Nope, this was full on “rock” from note one, the band rediscovering the visceral delights of simply playing loud and hard. Every one a winner, even the sprinkling of already-familiar new numbers; I could honestly wax lyrical about the delights of each and every song in this set, but I’d get some serious writer’s cramp!
“We first played in the UK 20 years ago across the road [in the Camden Underworld],” announced Matt before a high octane “Happy Kid”; “it’s taken us 20 years to cross the road!” “Happy Kid” was propelled by a brilliantly Caldes-like octopus-limbed performance by drummer Ira Elliott, prompting some wag down the front (OK, it was me...!) to shout, “Ira, great job there!” which elicited the response of, “I’m just warming up...!” The subsequent “Do It Again” was also astonishing, the huge final crescendo hook of “maybe this weight was a gift” both confessional and joyful at the same time. “80 Windows”, plangent and lushly moody as ever, featured a haunting and elongated middle 8 guitar riff from recent Surf joinee Doug Gillard; “Jules And Jim” diffused the mood with some touching 60’s melody and yearning vocals, and following the Replacements-style bluesy stomp of newie “Animal”, Gillard was to the fore again during the rampant “The Way You Wear Your Head”, tearing off some hard-rocking power chords from a low-slung stance, prompting SWDTF (OK, me again...!) to shout out, “Joey Ramone on guitar!” at its’ conclusion!
Prior to this, Matt (clearly chanelling Mr. Chatterbox tonight) had lamented not being able to visit London more often from his current base of Cambridge, blaming the not-so-late late train, then brainstormed an idea to build a tower with a zipline to all corners and charge a pound for use! The lush harmonies of “Friend Hospital” was bookended with a discussion on the premise behind the new album; about getting out, meeting friends, and generally living life to the full. Admirable sentiments as ever. Set finale “See These Bones” was preceded by a story of Matt’s visit to an ossuary in Rome, which turned out to be an uplifting experience, prompting him to “think about today”. “See These Bones” was equally uplifting, the absorbing repeated riff building to a crescendo overlaid by another transcendent vocal performance from Matt, closing out an utterly stunning set.
More was to come; a 4-song encore opened with a kinetic, thrilling “Hyperspace” and ended with the profane chant-along party-starter of “Blankest Year”, closing out the onstage performance. However, a few minutes later, Matt, fat acoustic in hand, led the band out to the merch stand at the back of the hall, then played a singalong “Blizzard Of 77” and “I Like What You Say” in the round to the remaining punters. So we then got some face time with the band, for pix, chats and getting my set-list signed. A swamped Matt remembered me from old, which is always a nice surprise, and asked me to pass his guitar over to the merch crew (!); Ira complimented my “Big Dipper” t-shirt, prompting a quick chat about Boston rock (doesn’t take much, really...!), bassist Daniel Lorca actually signed my list this time (!), and Doug did a disappearing act!
I finally and reluctantly made my exit and got back to the car at midnight, home for a bleary eyed 1.15 a.m. Good thing I had the next morning off... It’s only April, and I’ve got some pretty sparkling 2016 gigs already lined up (including “Month of Legends” in May – more on that later...!), but I won’t be surprised if tonight ends up being my Gig Of The Year. A completely and utterly flawless and faultless Nada Surf show!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

982 BRIAN FALLON AND THE CROWES, Good Old War, Jaret Hart, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 10th April 2016

Another good old-fashioned double-header for these old bones to contend with, kicking off with a Sunday jaunt down to Bristol for Brian Fallon, vocalist of those strident Noo Joisey blue collar flag-wavers The Gaslight Anthem, on his first solo jaunt promoting his debut solo album in “Painkillers”. Truth to tell, this one being billed as “Brian Fallon And The Crowes” had captured my attention somewhat, given that the man had previously recorded a quite splendid, more stripped back and introspective album with a “side project” as The Horrible Crowes (2011’s “Elsie”) in conjunction with his GLA roadie Ian Perkins, but to my understanding had never toured the damn thing. So I was hoping that this set would eschew any delving into his rockier, more dynamic GLA canon in favour of a sprinkling of “Elsie” material over his more alt-country/ Americana tinged new album material. Here’s hoping, but either way an intriguing night was in prospect...
A slippery early evening drive down the M4 and a parking-mare double-whammy (firstly my usual level 5 entrance to Trenchard Car Park being closed – apparently until 2017! – and then the machine eating my money, prompting an irked call to the attendant) meant I actually hit the venue at 8 in an uncharitable mood, not helped by finding the venue stuffed full early doors as well... bah, what an old mizzog I am...! Not feeling kindly disposed towards support acts then, but I have to say opener Jaret Hart turned me around. A soloist (and also a member of Brian’s backing band tonight), he played a gravelly-voiced set of bleeding-raw alt-Americana not too dissimilar to tonight’s headliner, with tinges of the honest emotiveness of Dashboard Confessional and a nice line in repartee (on selfies, and the evident debt he owes to Rancid for his music). Nice stuff, and preferable for me to main support Good Old War; another acoustic act, this being a two-piece (voice and one guitar) clearly in thrall to a more 60’s harmonic folksy vibe, they came across like a whimsical Simon And Garfunkel. Diverting (particularly the vocalist’s shape throwing) but wispy, insubstantial stuff overall.
Kept my usual stage left spot for this busy one – surely a sell-out on the door tonight – as the lights eventually dimmed and, unheralded, Brian Fallon and his 6-piece Crowes took the stage at 25 to 10. They kicked off with a couple of the more dynamic cuts from Brian’s solo effort, the bouncy country of “Red Lights” and the more strident, fist-pumping “whoa-oh” soaring chorus of “Rosemary”, proving you can take the boy out of Gaslight, but you... aaah, you know... Then we were treated to a lengthy and entertainingly bizarre preamble from the man, taking in compliments about Bristol, a critique about coffee around the globe and some odd comparisons to crack cocaine and hair growth (“I used to drink black coffee because I thought it would put a beard on my face!”), rounding off with a discussion on fellow Americana artiste Chuck Regan’s fishing habits! Strange!
This was actually typical of tonight’s show, as Brian treated us to a relaxed, open and inclusive performance (“don’t worry, there’s some songs included in this whole thing!”) and thankfully the set consisted solely of cuts from “Painkillers” and “Elsie” (hooray!). So the sombre late night funk of “I Witnessed A Crime” bookended nicely with a passionate “Painkillers”, before another discourse, this time on New Orleans and witch gender preference (“I guess I’m not an equal opportunities witch guy!”) and a splendid subsequent “Sugar”, which was a U2 “Joshua Tree” esque parched early set highlight.
After a lovely, touching mid-set double of newies “Honey Magnolia” and “Steve McQueen”, bare and tender acoustic ballads both, and a more anthemic “A Wonderful Life”, I confess the set thereafter trod water a little for me, before happily roaring back with a vengeance, with a growling, deliciously discordant “Mary Ann”, the spooky keyboard refrains giving it some chilling New Orleans voodoo licks. “Crush” was another highlight with some angular and deliciously circulating and descending hooks and riffery, but the best was saved for last; “Behold The Hurricane”, the centrepiece of “Elsie” and possibly one of Brian’s best ever songs, straddling both the epic and introspective, with a lengthy and discordant crescendo a thrilling punctuation to an overall excellent set; just what I’d hoped for from tonight, and how!
Straight off after taking a bow, no encore; so I mulled around, eventually procuring the last set-list and a quick chat onstage with one of the Crowes, who mentioned they’d be loading up shortly if I wanted said list signed. So, I hung around a short while afterwards, my persistence not being put off by stewards claiming the band wouldn’t be out until 1 a.m (yeah, right), and sure enough, at 20 past 11, my onstage mate popped out for a quick chat and a signature, promptly followed by Mr. Fallon himself for the same! A gregarious and softly spoken chap, I enjoyed a quick conversation and pic with The Star Of The Show before heading off for a late and equally sodden drive home. As I mentioned, just what I’d hoped for from tonight. Top show, Mr. Fallon, Sir!