Thursday, 9 June 2016

993 TITUS ANDRONICUS, Esuma, Bad Vibes, Cardiff Gwdihw Café Bar, Wednesday 8th June 2016

The Mighty Titus Andronicus, in a venue about the size of my living room, on the hottest night of the year? Hoo boy… at the very least, this one’s going to get seriously sweaty…!

I picked up on this one on Facebook, and after checking with Cardiff resident Craig, some barely-believable details emerged, the gig being organised by a local Titus Andronicus devotee, in a venue which purported to be the size of a shoebox. Wow! Well, since their 2010 album “The Monitor” had utterly blown me away with its’ violent collision of vicious stomping punk rock, wordy literary subject matter referencing the American Civil War and general class struggles, and anthemic widescreen tuneage, causing me to proclaim it as pretty much the best album I’d heard all century (yes, I did say century), Titus Andronicus, in various guises, had become a similarly thrilling and visceral “live” staple of mine. So I wasn’t missing this potentially landmark manic evening out, booking a ticket quickly.

Craig managed to sort himself a ticket as well, so a sticky and close afternoon saw me heading off down the M4 and across the border, meeting up with Craig at his place just after 6. Long-overdue catching up with my old friend ensued, and plans were confirmed for an overnight stop, before we headed off into town, parking up at Professor Gurney’s grandiose work establishment and wandering through the city centre to this brightly painted and bohemian venue, ironically across the road from the cavernous Motorpoint Arena. Sure enough, it was minuscule, the main room actually being similar in size and orientation to my living room, the stage being more of a corner step to the front left of the boarded front window. My initially impressions were that you could probably shoehorn about 100 punters in, if they were packed like sardines…!

Sought open air refuge in the outside yet tarpaulin-covered beer garden, where Craig pointed out the neighbouring Cardiff Prison (oh lordy…), before we wandered in for openers Bad Vibes. Kind of wished I hadn’t, as they played an incoherent, shouty Nu-Metal mess, with screaming vocals delivered by the bastard son of Hermann Munster and Den Hegarty of 70’s rockers Darts. Decamped in short order to the beer garden as my ears are too delicate for this ham-fisted, clumsy and occasionally out of tune malarkey. Good thing their set was short! Esuna, next up, were a better proposition, albeit a very schizophrenic bunch, often straddling diametrically opposed musical genres in the space of half a song, and smothering what started off as either pleasantly meandering indie numbers or Manics-style anthems with hobnail-booted Sabbath style old school HM riffery. Still, the (initially) Tranmere Rovers-shirted drummer and clear bandleader was a hard-hitting and entertaining “live” presence, at least...

After another sojourn into the beer garden, we squeezed our way back in, Craig pitching up halfway back as I squeezed my way further forward, initially stage right, for the entrance of the 4-piece (for tonight) Titus Andronicus just before 10. “This is our first time in Wales – we’ve been dreaming of this moment for years and now it’s finally here,” quipped the angular, heavily bearded vocalist Patrick Stickles, tongue firmly in cheek and eliciting a chortle from the assemblage, Stickles then going on to warn us, “when we kick in with the rocking, just try and be careful – there’s potential for misadventures!”

Well, we couldn’t say we weren’t warned… the opening plaintive bars of “No Future Part Three” then burst into frenzied, roaring life, the pounding militaristic drum rolls powering the rock, as Stickles brandished his guitar like a broadsword, his conviction already clear-eyed and scarily intense, and I at least responded in kind, rocking out from the get-go, and fist-pumping the air to the all-inclusive and almost ironically joyful repetitive terrace chant hook outro of, “you will always… be a LOSER!” The eponymous and “White Riot”-alike “Titus Andronicus” was next up, one anthemic hook replaced with another (this time of, “your life is OVER!”), and it was clear that we were in for a very special evening, where audience and band combine into one, singular of purpose, revelling in the unifying power of rock’n’roll.

Titus Andronicus were utterly on fire tonight. The strident bluesy strut of “Mr. E Mann”, the skyscraping hook of “Fired Up”, and the crazed, wide-eyed hurtling punk rock thrill ride of “Dimed Out”, all prime cuts from the sprawling recent “The Most Lamentable Tragedy” double CD, were an awe-inspiring mid-set triple whammy. The band were totally in their stride by now, nary pausing for breath or a chance for the audience to even applaud before racing into the next, and by this time I’d wormed my way to front and centre, battering away for all I was worth (whilst keeping my feet planted and my dodgy knees soft!), leading the charge, immersed in the moment, completely lost in this magnificent, raw, ragged, strident, thrilling and utterly euphoric performance from this very special and unique band of ruffians. Following the Jagger-esque peacock strut of “Fatal Flaw” the band finally took a breather, Stickles thanking the promoter for, “inviting us to play here at… I’m not even going to try to pronounce it! “The Owl!” We’ve got those in America but they’re endangered!” then announcing a final couple of numbers…

The menacing jangle of the bilious, dramatic epic “The Battle Of Hampton Roads” kicked into life and the place went batshit crazy, almost impossibly finding new levels of frenzy as the song powered through the gears, swooping and tempo changing throughout its 14 minute plus duration, as I hung on down the front, backing the crowd up as best I could, lest we all collapse onstage into the band. Then, as if to demonstrate that even higher levels of magnificence could be achieved, “A More Perfect Union” threatened to unmoor this tiny café bar from its’ foundations, changing pace from manic careering punk rock to all-inclusive swayalong (“Rally ‘round the flag,” indeed!). An utterly fitting way to end an astonishing performance, Titus Andronicus surprising us all by reaching even higher levels of raw, visceral “live” brilliance, eclipsing even their own high standards. Holy fuck, what a show!

Suffice to say, we all needed to pause for breath in the immediate aftermath. I, drenched (Full Cleo! Yay!) and elated, chatted with Craig, the promoter and passing bassist RJ Gordon. I then noticed Patrick Stickles head down the road past his van, and after an appropriate time (at which point his fellow band members were asking of his whereabouts), I wandered down, discovering him sat in the corner of the car park opposite, collecting his thoughts after his performance, which had clearly taken its’ toll, requiring a prodigious level of commitment from him. We walked back to the venue as he composed himself, the two of us enjoying a brief chat about Crass and particularly the song “Big”A” Little “A””, before I took the opportunity for a pic, and Craig and I hit the road back to his place after an utterly epic night.

Big breakfast in the pub opposite and a brief shopping excursion in Cardiff before heading home at lunchtime the next day. This one was truly one of the greats; an utterly stellar performance from The Mighty Titus Andronicus!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

992 TELEVISION, Lail Arad, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Monday 6th June 2016

Well, recent gigs seem to be falling into a bit of an unexpected – and unwelcome – pattern, insofar as I’ve been going to far too many clunkers for my liking of late. Also, somewhat surprisingly, said clunkers are mainly coming from the old stagers, the experienced hands (with the splendid exception of The Stuffies, Adam Ant and Brian Wilson – well, Wilson’s back line anyway…) letting me down somewhat, and the young bucks – particularly the local boys (take a bow, White Lilac and Raze*Rebuild) – coming through strongly. Another case in point was this, tonight, from 70’s New York proto punk/ art rockers Television; despite their passing me by a little back in the day, I’d latterly come to acknowledge their rightful place in the pantheon of rock’n’roll, and caught them doing full justice to their 1977 masterpiece, the seminal “Marquee Moon”, a couple of years ago at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. So despite this gig being at the impossible-to-park-at Anson Rooms, I booked tickets anyway; c’mon, Television are bound to be pretty reliable after nearly 40 years of practise, right? Right?

Fellow veteran rocker Beef joined us for this one as we headed off early to maximise our parking chances, finding a lucky last spot just around the corner for 7, thereby necessitating a wait outside on a thankfully balmy evening for doors at 7.30, and running into Devizes gig buddy Alfie in the process. Drinks in the bar and chat, circulating around recent gigs (particularly Wilson) and job prospects, took us up to the support, a tousled female soloist with a minimally played guitar and a quirky line in cool, laconic late night bluesy balladry. One jolly, coquettish number was apparently written for Leonard Cohen’s 80th birthday, and another was a one-note wordy, dark and duskily delivered tune which recalled Drugstore’s Isabel Monteiro. The studied NYC cool groove of new number, “No No Nostalgia”, closed out an intriguing and charming little set.

Back to the bar and ran into day trippers Jason and Julia, who were joining us for the return journey. We then all decamped to the main hall – by now crammed, particularly down the front – then had to wait an uncomfortable 20 minutes past Television’s allotted 9 pm arrival (enduring some painful freeform jazz in the process!) for the gents to finally join us. Led by guitar legend Tom Verlaine, they played an atmospheric opening piece highlighting Verlaine’s dextrous picking before “actual” opening number, “Prove It”, a bleak, yearning elegy with a Tex-Mex feel. The next number (which was preceded by Verlaine proffering some very explicit instructions to the lighting man, and when the beleaguered roadie failed to meet his detailed demands, suggested to the crowd, “I think you should all turn on this lighting guy!”) highlighted hired gun Jimmy Rip’s excellently snaking, sinuous fretwork, Rip coaxing an almost plaintive keening out of his instrument. Excellent, virtuoso musicianship.

However, thereafter the gig seemed to morph into a contest between Verlaine and Rip as to which could play the most elaborate – and interminably lengthy – solos. Don’t get me wrong, there were some highlights amidst this; the tango rhythm verse and tumbling, cascading chorus of “Venus De Milo” was utterly gorgeous, and the later, Velvet Underground-invoking eerie street balladry of “Guiding Light” was also superb. However “Little Johnny Jewel” (which preceded these two) was a lengthy, stripped out workout which tested the patience, and an even lengthier, creepy and largely instrumental number saw Verlaine and Rip indulge their art-rock/ avant garde selves and frequently sail uncomfortably near tedious prog rock self indulgent boredom.

“I’ve got to have a big pile of jokes next time we play, so as to be the total pro entertainer,” quipped Verlaine, uncharacteristically, before set closer, the classic “Marquee Moon”, initially a studied classic in haunting, hypnotic art-rock, lengthy but absorbing – right up until an unnecessary post-break which (there’s no other way to put this) kind of spoilt it, really. An encore of “Friction” brought a frustrating evening to a close, the only main redeeming thought was that said frustration was seemingly shared between all 4 of us in the car home – and Alfie too… Guys, keep it simple next time please?

Friday, 3 June 2016


There’s fortuitous timing for shows, and then there’s The Hand of Fate, intervening where considerable need is required… Today marked my final day at work due to redundancy, so I was dealing with some self-esteem issues and generally feeling pretty crappy about myself, and in serious need of the healing power of rock’n’roll. Luckily, this was on; the 10th Anniversary of Swindon’s “Songs Of Praise” promotions, the current incumbents Ed and Dave (whose birthday this also was!) continuing their determination to bring original quality “live” music to the denizens of Swindon, kicking and screaming if necessary! The fact that an enticing bill was embellished by the presence of The King In Mirrors, my friend Rich May’s fine band of jangly pop purveyors, only added to the attraction!

So, after an evening at the lake (still too cold for me to swim just yet!), I headed up the hill, parking up in my usual spot for a wander up, and meeting with Dave, Ed and Mr. “Paj” Jellings to lament my employment predicament. Took a wander down at doors, continuing the chat with Rich before opening act Canute’s Plastic Army. An army of one, it seemed; CPA comprised one chap and his battered acoustic, deploying some eloquent musical shenanigans ranging from Celtic tinged folk recalling Kevin McDermott or The Fat Lady Sings (“What Makes You Pretty” being an example), to a more groovy US college pop vibe (particularly set highlight “To Die For”), all played with notable dexterity. His nan was also present, bless her, and he quipped, “she’d love it if I’d do some John Denver,” then reeled off a couplet from “Annie’s Song”! Recalling compere Ed’s pre-set comment declaiming the proliferation of covers bands, he introduced a well-observed cover of The Kinks’ “Do You Remember Walter” with, “this one resembles a song written by Ray Davies in 1969,” and finale “Day 35” was a late-period Jam-esque confessional, highlighting mod-ish roots and closing out an intriguing opening set.

Rich left me then to take up position onstage, so I chatted with his delightful wife Helen before The King In Mirrors were ready to go. From the outset, their sound was tougher and fuller than previous shows, giving their material an extra dimension, the Razorcuts-like warm and optimistic opener “Little Voices” being first to benefit. “Rolling In The Sun” sounded positively “Songs From Northern Britain” Teenage Fanclub-like, its cascading choral drumbeat underlining this, and “Your Spell” (“about meeting [hefty bassist] Jase at the roller-disco in 1982,” quipped Rich) was its’ usual spookier, Cure-like self. “Hallsands” (the first time we’ve played this “live”,” warned Rich, “so prepare for it to go wrong!”) was a diversion into darker territory, an almost Violent Femmes-like death march building to a cacophonous climax, before it was back to the pop songs, the set coming full circle with finale “I Used To Be The Manager” a meandering yet insistently groovy Orange Juice/ C86-esque chiming pop choon, embellished by Rich’s fitting, slightly nasal vocal delivery.

Good stuff, as ever, and all the better for the beefed-up sound tonight! I was also hoping for a decent racket from next band up, Raze*Rebuild, having been pre-warned by Mrs. May retreating to a safe – and less noisy – distance, however I wasn’t quite prepared for the strident sonic assault that assailed my senses from the get-go. Powering out of the blocks with opener “Back To The Fall,” a Husker Du-alike fist-pumping, breast-beating, bleeding raw slab of anthemic popcore, the band, featuring Paj on bass and led by Simon Hall, of whom I’d caught a couple of enjoyable, passionately delivered solo shows in the past, played the type of strident jet-propelled US post-grunge/ powerpop collision which, 20 years ago, would have turned my shorts- and knee-strapped self into a Level 3 top dancefloor whirling dervish. “Kat, I’m Sorry” was a Springsteen-like blue collar power ballad with some neck-vein-bulging vocal passion from Simon, recalling the likes of Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, “New Leaf” was a Gaslight Anthem galloping rocker, apparently about, “dumping your girlfriend and feeling bad about it", and after fielding some friendly heckling about sweating more (“hey, I used to be 6 feet 4!” remarked the, erm, compact Mr. Hall), they set about a wilful destruction of Fleetwood Mac’s AOR cheese-fest “Go Your Own Way”, recalling China Drum’s similar demolition of “Wuthering Heights.” A titanic, lighters aloft “Sand In The Petrol,” resembling Jimmy Eat World’s classic “Hear You Me”, brought a stunning set to a close, eliciting a big cheesy grin from me as I came to the realisation that I may have just found my new favourite band…!

Paused for breath, brief compliments with Paj and Mr. Hall, also taking the opportunity to avail myself of some of their merch, then took a seat with Rich stage left for final act Port Erin. Opening with a bleak, slow-burn atmospheric number featuring some echoey, resonant guitar work, then going onto joke about coming from a small village in Wiltshire and having nothing to do (hence forming a band!), Port Erin tonight played a tight and professionally delivered set of intelligently crafted songs, occasionally veering towards 70’s AOR/ MOR (I think they called it “soft rock”, back in the day…) but at best evoking thoughtful US indie types such as Grizzly Bear, The National and even The Dears, and thankfully mostly keeping out of the “prog” morass they threatened to descend into, last time out (apart from one, somewhat meandering instrumental). However for me they just suffered in comparison with previous acts, particularly the overt dynamism of Raze*Rebuild, despite their own best number being their uptempo, careering finale.

Bade my hails and farewells to all and sundry, and finished off one of the cupcakes splendidly supplied by Ed’s girlfriend, then hit the road, weary but elated. A great “Songs Of Praise” night out, as ever, totally fitting for this occasion, and a superb new discovery (for me, at least...) in Raze*Rebuild. All in all, testament to the healing power of rock’n’roll!