Friday, 30 September 2016

1,005 PIANO WIRE, The Dead Royalties, Sea Mammals, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 29th September 2016

Third in the recent run of local ones, this; a “Songs Of Praise” night from that excellent and under-appreciated two-headed promotion beast Dave and Ed, and this one also represented the first of a clutch of gigs attempting to bring some higher-profile names to the ‘don, for the Swindon musical fraternity’s general consumption and delectation. Johnny Foreigner and Faith No More’s Chuck Moseley in the pipeline, but for starters here’s Piano Wire, the band who emerged from the wreckage of The 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster. A band I was never really enamoured of, in all honesty, but checking out Piano Wire on YouTube, they seemed more coherent and tuneful, so supporting this venture was the least I could do…

Picked up the like-minded Dean, and parked in our usual spot for a walk up the hill and a convivial drink in an unfortunately deserted looking Vic. Joined a very small smattering of folks (mainly the other bands, from what I could see) downstairs in advance of openers Sea Mammals, on at 9. Apparently vocalist Adam had a hand in arranging tonight’s gig through connections with Piano Wire, so props for that. However I wasn’t sure about his band, as a dirty and beefy blues rock instrumental opener segued into a tub-thumping and hairy-chested psych/ proto metal follow-up. Uncompromising and hostile (no word or acknowledgement to the crowd between songs), their numbers were either thrashing dystopian hellrides, or primordial howls from hideous creatures violently birthed into nightmarish prehistoric swamps, half-formed and inarticulate. Possibly the band least likely to attempt a cover of “Shiny Happy People” I’ve ever seen, they should change their name to Primal Scream if that wasn’t already taken – it would fit them more aptly than Gillespie’s lot! Did I enjoy them? Not really sure… endured them would be the better word here…

Dead Royalties, next up after a short break in the pub to regain our hearing, were however a much more together and listenable proposition. Their itchy, insistent and amphetamine-fast opener recalled the likes of Placebo, early Biffy Clyro and even the Sex Pistols in its’ strident chorus and iterative guitar groove, whilst subsequent others featured some taut, angular math rock rhythms and Primus like stop start herky-jerky structures, whilst still retaining an ear for hooky and loud guitar-propelled terrace chant choruses, bellowed by the blond vocalist for all he was worth. “Bring Out Your Dead” was a tuneful little rocker which featured some Matt Bellamy-alike falsetto, whilst the subsequent number (about the descent into madness, apparently, so a cheery ditty!) recalled the dark art-rock of “Dirk Wears White Sox”-era Adam And The Ants, and thus was my favourite of the set. Young blondie collapsed at the conclusion of final number, the buoyant punk rush of “Do You Feel Good”, having put a shift in and garnered a favourable impression in the process. Coherent, inventive, tuneful whilst still being challenging, this was a band I’d like to catch again.

Ultimately, the same could be said of the headliners! Beef joined us midway through Dead Royalties’ set and we chatted in the bar afterwards, before I wandered back in just after 10.30 for a word with co-promoter Dave during Piano Wire’s soundcheck. However the chat was cut short, as da Wire perversely decided to launch, intro-less, into their set… They kicked off in front of a sparse crowd with a swaggering, strutting Stooges/ Heartbreakers NYC proto punk bluesy groove, overlaid by an impressive dual vocal attack from the two guitarists. This seemed to set the tone for their set, with influences such as 70’s proto punk and heavy glam informing their sleazy, growling and primal material, making me think they would have been right at home in the recent 70’s New York cocaine and sex-soaked record biz drama “Vinyl”, blowing off The Nasty Bits for the honour of house band. “Fifteen Year Comedown”, an unhinged punky thrash with a lovely descending guitar line and a great hooky chorus, was my set highlight, although closer “All Roads Lead To God” ran it close, with young guitarist/ vocalist Sean launching offstage early doors, before its’ sinister groove reached a thrashy climax leading to a lengthy Bob-Mould like ear-splitting feedback fest.

Complimented Sean during a chat with Dave afterwards, then left the boys in the pub and headed off for a post-midnight arrival home. I confess there were a few Piano Wire numbers I didn’t enjoy (notably the faster, more 80’s Matchbox-like numbers such as “Hooligan in The USA”, but there’s a promising band here, who play with commitment, energy, attitude and a strut and a swagger. I’d certainly catch them again – and in a bigger (and hopefully more populated!) venue next time, more likely…

Saturday, 24 September 2016

1,004 RAZE*REBUILD, Well Dressed Thief, My Social Decline, Swindon The Castle, Friday 23rd September 2016

Back up the hill for another local one – this time a real DIY show up The Castle. No promoters, no soundman (just the bands tuning themselves up through a sound-box situated on a covered pool table), but an impressive 3 band bill headed by The Mighty Raze*Rebuild, one of my finds of 2016 either on a local or (inter) national level. No word of a lie; if this lot were from, say, Philadelphia, and playing their nearest gig up in London, Cardiff, wherever, I’d be hot-footing it up (or down) the motorway to catch them. The fact they’re local, and playing a free gig up the hill, just serves to shorten the journey and curtail the expense!

So I duly headed up the hill, parking up and hitting The Castle at 8.30, being greeted on arrival by Raze*Rebuild mainman Simon Hall, who’d apparently been playing “gig-snap” on my blog, as we chatted about Llama Farmers gigs at Moles Club in the early 2000’s! Broke off from an entertaining conversation to catch openers My Social Decline. Apparently veterans of previous local outfits but their first gig together as a new band (according to RR bassist Paj, who joined me in between helping to tweak their sound onstage), they initially played a strutting metronomic one-chord punky new wave noise heavily reminiscent of mid-late 70’s NYC Max’s/ CBGBs bands such as The Heartbreakers. With the exception of their third number, a slower-burn guitarry vibe recalling Sparklehorse’s “Hammering The Cramps”, they mined this new wave seam throughout, one number also even recalling early Police with its’ quiet-loud dynamics and insistent repetitive hook line. Lacking a little bit of cohesion, they were nonetheless a good start.

Ran into Well Dressed Thief bassist Adam before their set – he’d facebook “friended” me after my tentative thumbs-up of their set supporting The Vim Dicta recently, so I joked that he’d kick me off his friend list if I slagged off their set tonight! No need for that, as da Thief (as nobody calls them) impressed more second time around, with a couple of angular math rock openers featuring some pseudo-funky bass from friend Adam leading into their trademark big “whoa-oh” choruses and impressive harmonies from the front three, underlaid by some nice discordant riffery. Vocalist James joked, “I’ve got a Freddie Mercury vibe going!” as he manhandled his cut-off mic, and he put in an energetic and impassioned frontman shift, exhorting the punters forward and jumping on a strategically placed stool in the front rows to project some strident vocals. “KitKat” was again the rockiest and most conventional number on display tonight, with the challenging backwards rhythm and Colin Moulding-alike vocals of newie “Red” hinting more at their potential. A quirky and bright set from a nicely developing band unafraid to challenge their audience – or themselves!

And onto Raze*Rebuild in short order, as the boys set up and Simon brought the crowd to attention, announcing “t-minus 1 minute – prepare for launch!” And launch was pretty much right…! Raze*Rebuild are the band, more than any other, who make me wish I still had two fully functioning knees – they’re always out of the blocks “live” at an utterly blistering pace, and tonight was no exception, with usual opener “Back To The Fall” its usual rampaging self, blowing the cobwebs away with its soaring multiple hooks and fist-pumping power, then segueing into the jerkier new wave rhythm of “Jaded Heart”. Simon was “on it” from the outset; Swindon’s answer to Bob Mould, strong-arming his guitar and delivering every vocal with neck vein-bulging and clear-eyed conviction and a Mould-like deep, guttural and primal roar. For me he’s pretty much Swindon’s best pure songwriter since, ooh, probably even Andy Partridge, able to turn his hand to balls-out indie rock anthems and emotive, bleeding-raw ballads (viz a gut-wrenchingly honest “Kat I’m Sorry”) in equal measure, and, backed up with the intricate guitar work of brother Matt and the powerful, rock-solid rhythmic base of Paj and drummer Jamie, he’s finally found his voice. “This is our best song, so come forward – this is as good as it’s going to get tonight!” Simon joked before the call-and-response vocals of the superb “New Leaf”, and newie “Today The Music Died” (“a cheery one then,” joked a fellow punter) was a hurtling breakneck speed popcore blast with some Rush-style quickfire fretwork from Matt. All too soon, the set neared conclusion, a clearly chuffed Simon remarking, “it’s genuinely been beautiful,” to the engaged and attentive crowd, before an immense yet heartfelt “Sand In The Petrol” closed out the set proper – although the boys squeezed in a riotous, singalong destruction of Fleetwood Mac’s cheese-fest “Go Your Own Way” to cap an all-action, raw and ragged, sweaty as hell but utterly superb set.

I’d been rocking out as best I could, so took a seat to massage my knees back to life, enjoying a chat with WDT vocalist James, a thoroughly good bloke, about our respective passions for music. Caught my breath, bade farewells and headed off, Jamie’s drumsticks in my pocket as a gratefully received gift and the anthemic noise of Raze*Rebuild still ringing in my ears. No promoter, no soundman – no problem!

Friday, 16 September 2016

1,003 POLAR FRONT, homeplanetearth, Luke DeSciscio, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 15th September 2016

A little clutch of local gigs now to augment my increasingly (and accidentally!) copious Autumn Dance Card, and the first one is a promise kept. After rocking up too late at the Castle to catch Polar Front’s recent Swindon Shuffle set, I spoke with vivacious vocalist Sophie – a friend of my “sister-in-law” Sam – and promised that I’d catch their intriguing sounding band at a later date. Tonight’s “Songs Of Praise” event being the first opportunity to make good on that promise, I determined to catch a band of whom reports suggested a collision between pop accessibility and atmospheric yet punchy electronica-embellished indie. A dreamier Pvris or a female-fronted, poppier White Lies, perhaps? One way to find out…

A baking hot evening so I stuck with the shorts for the drive up the hill. Hit the venue at 8.30 for an entertaining chat with hosts Ed and Dave as usual (“how’s retirement?” If only!), before they rounded up the opener, Luke DeSciscio, for his set at 9. I’d seen him once before, supporting Gaz Brookfield and Lonely Tourist, where his more minimal atmospherics were at odds with the more overt and punker prevailing mood of the night. Tonight, however, he fit perfectly; the opener (“about Stanton Park!”) wove an intricate guitar pattern and a Love “Forever Changes”-esque mood of pastoral melancholy, overlaid by his eerie, octave-changing voice. One obvious comparison could be made to his vocal gymnastics, but it was a valid and wholly appropriate one, as “Vivid Love” saw him deliver a Jeff Buckley-esque haunting quivering quaver over an awed hush of a song, and “To Carry You” (which followed a lengthy re-tuning – “it’s so worth it!” he announced) saw a falsetto chorus so redolent of the great man. I also admired his use of quiet and space to create his atmospheric mood, and his reluctance to compromise his set; intending to play 2 more numbers but having only time for one, he announced, “you know what, I’m done – come see me another time.” Brave boy. Fine set!

Next up were Oxfords homeplanetearth, who apparently were, “bringing tie-dye back – and Star Trek fashion!” announced Ed, making reference to the male vocalist’s shirt and the blonde female vocalist’s glitter make-up and short velveteen dress. Their set also aimed to create a dreamy atmosphere, albeit via more keyboard driven shiny 80’s “Bubbles” style funkier pop which was a pleasant listen, but which bordered slightly on the repetitive and bland for my tastes, like some of Talk Talk or China Crisis’ more throwaway material. A brand new number debuted tonight was a slightly clunky mess, and although a punchier, more upbeat closing number hinted at some promise, for me they’ve got a ways to go to be the finished article. Good luck to ‘em, anyway…

It then seemed that suddenly we were inundated with an influx of punters for the main band! Fans, friends and family, including a few already bedecked in “16916” t-shirts celebrating the Polar Front debut EP for which this was a de facto release party. Ed took the opportunity to address the crowd and exhort them to come see more original “live” music, before Polar Front played “happy birthday” to CD producer and mentor Sam Bates, then after a false start we finally got the gig under way at 10.40. Opener “Saints” was an appropriate agenda-setter; a slow-burn start leading into a thunderous drum-propelled soaring pop hook, powered by some dramatic and resonant White Lies-style indie rock guitar and Sophie’s impressive smoky, soulful late-night vocals. This set the tone for the show; a powerfully played clutch of numbers, all sweeping drama and occasional dark menace, yet with a definite pop accessibility and impressive brain-hugging choral hooks. Like recent Vic hosts The Vim Dicta, in spirit at least, there’s a genre-straddling melting pot of influences here, all melding into their own cohesive identity. “Brother” was a stripped back opener leading to a tumbling drum pattern climax; the unnamed “G#” saw some resonant guitar work from guitarist Perry, and a cover of Destiny’s Child’s throwaway pop number “Say My Name” morphed into a moody, angular torch song epic, capping an impressive and surprisingly accomplished set from such a young band.

Grabbed the list and got it signed (much to the surprise of the band, for whom this might’ve been a first – get used to it, folks!) and chatted with drummer Liam (a son of an old work colleague!) before saying my farewells and heading home for midnight. Definitely more to come from another very promising local band in Polar Front – I’m glad I kept my promise!

Monday, 12 September 2016

1,002 NOTHING, Chain Of Flowers, Bristol Start The Bus, Sunday 11th September 2016

More Philly boys tonight; following Modern Baseball last time out, this time joining us from the City of Brotherly Love is the intriguingly named Nothing, another band I’ve only picked up on recently – from the same freebie mag that introduced me to their compatriots, in fact! I checked out some rather splendid little rockers on Youtube, then picked up Nothing’s current, sophomore album “Tired Of Tomorrow”. Superficially, it’s an intriguing collection of guitar-heavy, melancholy mood pieces operating in an early 90’s post-grunge/ shoegaze/ slacker rock headspace, with the likes of Ride and Dinosaur Jr. immediate comparisons, however repeated listens reward perseverance, revealing other, more esoteric influences, ephemeral hints and hidden depths. A real grower, then, from a band potentially possessing great substance, totally at odds with their name! And who says Americans don’t “do” irony…!

Tim picked us up at 7 for this, a nearby and early-doors date in their rather intensive European Autumn tour, and we parked up in Trenchard after a stunningly quick drive down. A lot to catch up on; it’s been too long since I’ve seen my very good friend Tim! Noise was already emanating from the venue as we approached at 10 past 8, so after a quick loo stop upstairs, we wandered through the pub and through the curtains into this corner venue to catch openers Chain Of Flowers, who’d kicked off at 8. They played a selection of quickfire, breathless numbers in a definitely post-punk early 80’s haunting pseudo goth “rockist” style, with chiming resonant guitars embellishing some moody rockers, and the angular Ian Curtis dancealike vocalist’s occasionally yelping, Robert Smith-like vocals submerged in the mix. A bit too heavy on the occasionally suffocating keyboard for my liking, but this stuff was right in my Bunny/ Joy Division wheelhouse, so I enjoyed their set, the galloping climax of which saw the vocalist jump offstage into the front rows.

The place cleared to the bar thereafter, as is its’ custom, and before we took our spot down the front on the dancefloor we had a brief chat with a passing Domenic Palermo, Nothing’s vocalist, who seemed to appreciate my Boo Radleys comparison, which was cool. A quick set-up, then they came onstage in short order after the place darkened just before 9. A mumbled intro, then straight into the powerful, palpable crashing riffery of new album opener “Fever Queen”, a tremendous, towering wall of sound setting the tone for tonight’s performance. This was going to be a loud one, no messin’… A searing rendition of the excellent “Vertigo Flowers”, one of my favourite tracks of the year with its’ fast-paced, laze rock groove overlaid with some shimmering, “Giant Steps” era Boo Radleys psych-pop melody (hence my mentioning the Boos to Domenic) was next up, after which the softly spoken Domenic revealed, “it’s my birthday! 9/11! Yeah…!” then regaled us with a story of rocking up in France in the early hours of this morning in the middle of a police-heavy sting operation, then eating Pot Noodles at 4 a.m. Phew, rock’n’roll…

The feeling of space and heavy melancholy of the wallowing, slow-burn “Dead Are Dumb” recalled a heavier “Heaven Up Here” Bunnymen through a shoegaze filter, before “Get Well”, a careering riff-fest, the climax featuring some echoing, resonant guitar work from co-vocalist Brendan over its’ MBV base. Then, the morose, brooding “Eaten By Worms”, with its’ bleak, stripped back, “it’s unavoidable, it’s uncontrollable” hookline segued perfectly into the thrillingly noisy “7/4” via a textural interlude link which recalled the excellent early Pale Saints. Domenic commented, “Kyle’s cymbal is hitting me in the back – it’s like getting tazed!” which drew a laugh from the unusually silent Bristol crowd (attentive? Or simply stunned by the wall of noise?). The backwards drumbeat and widescreen haunting chorus of “ACD” was titanic, a sonic cathedral of despair, insular yet strangely epic at once, and probably my highlight of the night. Then, “Curse Of The Sun”, a possible latter-day twin for Ride’s classic “Drive Blind”, closed out a superb 45 minutes of rock, delivered with power, passion and the volume cranked up to 11.

Brendan kindly grabbed me the sole set-list and I got it signed, grabbing brief chats with the boys (especially Domenic, clearly a man of excellent musical taste and a respect for his rock history) and a rather superb t-shirt, before a nice and early exit for an equally swift drive home, back before 11 to surprise the missus! Another great gig from the second Philadelphia band in a row – I don’t know what they’re putting in the water there right now, but I’m a Phan(atic)!

Friday, 2 September 2016

1,001 MODERN BASEBALL, Winter Passing, Vicky Speedboat, Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach, Thursday 1st September 2016

Another of my recent “post redundancy blues” musical discoveries, this band, and probably my favourite of the lot; let’s face it, with a name like Modern Baseball, I should like them! An intriguing write-up in a freebie mag picked up after the Titus Andronicus show, and a checkout of some fine YouTube clips (including the superb joyous amphetamine rush of current single “Wedding Singer”) prompted me to pick up the Philadelphia natives’ current album “Holy Ghost”, and glad I was of it! A superb set of short, snappy blasts of shiny punky powerpop (or powerpoppy punk, whatever), with crunchy, galloping guitars and garbling, angsty emo-lite lyrics delivered variously in an impassioned, Dashboard Confessional style, or an almost Philistines Jr. laconic drawl, it’s fast becoming a 2016 favourite. A possible Transatlantic cousin of similar recent discoveries, Durham’s Martha, then, and like that lot I resolved to catch Modern Baseball “live” at the earliest possible chance. Just missing out on an apparently sold-out Electric Ballroom gig (wow, this band really have passed me by), I was however quick to jump on tix for this post-Reading Festival show, before this one sold out too!

Hit the road just before 5, encountering slow but moving traffic around Newport for once, and parking up at 7 behind the Grand Halls of Learning where my friend Craig (unavailable for this one) works, after a tea stop. A wander around to the Clwb revealed a queue and doors not yet open, so I popped into the adjacent Castle Emporium, where, ironically, a young band were playing a half-formed and unrehearsed but spunky and enthusiastic grungy rock set in a pop-up space. After 4 or 5 numbers, I excused myself and joined the large queue for Clwb entry at 8. Up the metal stairs to this claustrophobic and brick-lined room, which was smaller than I remembered – we’re 4 flights up but it feels like underground!

Grabbed a table space at the back to rest my knee as the place filled up rapidly with the young Mobo (!) massive, then openers Vicky Speedboat joined us at 8.30 for a solid set of yelping slacker/ grungy laze rock which featured a splendid yearning emo-rock opener with nice harmonies, then went a little sludgy proto HM in parts, but was overall played with honesty and openness. A song about a lost night in Newport, during their last sojourn to Wales, was the best of a good opening set. A subsequent chat with VS drummer Sean at the merch stand revealed he was actually the Modern Baseball sticksman pulling a double shift tonight! The Winter Passing were up in short order thereafter; an Irish band with a nuanced dual vocal attack from a brother and sister pairing, played over a poppier US 90’s alt-rock soundtrack, their occasional quiet/ loud dynamics recalled later period Magnapop, and some strutting riffery also resembled Veruca Salt. They closed out with their best number, “Daisy”, an insistent, soaring slab of powerpop with some fine bratty female vocals. Nice work!

I wandered down the front, extreme stage left, as the boys set up, then took the stage prompt at 10 to the introspective title track from the current “Holy Ghost” CD. We knew what to expect then, as they launched headlong into the brilliant galloping circular riff of “Wedding Singer”, and the kids went batshit crazy. An incendiary start, with momentum maintained by the muscular, undulating and building “Note To Self”. The reason for the two disparate vocal styles then became apparent, with the first 2 numbers being vocally dispatched by the laconic, bespectacled Jake, whilst his more bookish, baby-faced co-guitarist Brendan delivered the more impassioned vocals, particularly on older numbers such as “Fine, Great” and the wry, chant-along “Weekend”. “Tears Over Beers” was an early highlight, a cowpunk gallop with a gauche yet witty lyric, after which Brendan exhorted the crowd to “take two steps back – this guy’s [down the front] knees are killing him!” (Not me, someone else!)

The set varied between old and new material, and the distinction became evident; whilst the older material has a na├»ve, powerpoppy charm, recalling early Weezer or the excellent Surfer Blood in its insistent hookiness (evidenced by this knowledgeable young crowd singing along for much of the gig), for me the “Holy Ghost” songs represent a quantum step forward, being punchier, more immediate and dynamic, and could be the material which catapults them to a wider audience – their “Bleed American”, perhaps? The Hold Steady stream-of-consciousness of the nonetheless concise “Mass” was great, featuring an unexpected soaring harmony from kinetic and constantly-beaming bassist Ian, and “Re Do” broke out after a slow start into a frenzied gabble. A plug for the “Head Above The Waves” mental health charity revealed them as thoughtful and considerate human beings as well as a potentially great band in the making, and the set finale, the excellent, chiming and slow burn-to-crescendo “Just Another Face” was dedicated by Brendan to Vicky Speedboat mainman Will, with, “gee golly gosh, he’s such a wonderful person!” A moshpit-tastic “Your Graduation” was the encore punctuation to a splendid set of enthusiastically delivered US emo-powerpop rock, after which Sean kept a pre-set promise and delivered his set-list to me on his way offstage. Chap!

Hung around awhile afterwards, catching breath, thanking Sean for his integrity, being complimented on my Hold Steady t-shirt by Jake, and quickly chatting Mets baseball with bassist Ian (the only baseball fan in Modern Baseball! What’s up with that???!!!), before being ushered out by the bouncers, which necessitated a lengthy but ultimately fruitful wait outside for the final signature on my set-list from Brendan (who found it funny I referred to his bandmates as “your colleagues”…). Car at midnight, and home at 1.10 after a swift drive home on a clear motorway, reflecting on the performance. Great stuff from this young and still-developing band Modern Baseball; in gig terms, this was a loud moon-shot, a Green Monster-clearing home run!