Monday, 19 December 2016

1,016 GAZ BROOKFIELD AND THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, Jake Martin, Jack Cookson, Bristol Fleece, Saturday 17th December 2016

Quite a sense of occasion surrounding this one, all things considered: a sold-out gig at The Fleece for The West Country’s hardest-working and finest folk/ punk troubadour, Mr. Gaz Brookfield; a gig celebrating the release of his 5th and maybe best album in “I Know My Place”, an album where the man deviated from his usual DIY ethic and embraced the glories of a “proper” studio and a backing band of excellent musicians, aligning them with probably his strongest and most consistent set of material yet; my 45th gig of a very busy 2016 gig year and overall my 15th time of catching Gaz “live”; and a chance, after a long time of asking on his part and thanks to The Fleece’s recent “over 8’s” admittance policy, to take Logan along to see one of his favourite artistes!

This would also be the culmination of a big “Boy’s Day Out”, as Rachel had taken Kasey to London for a show, and we had indulged ourselves in the excellent “Rogue One” at the cinema and a Nando’s lunch! Given that this was a Saturday close to Christmas, we headed off early doors in anticipation of heavy traffic and parking issues, but none were forthcoming and we parked up behind the venue just before doors, chilling by the river to kill time. Popped in early doors and bumped into Gaz, manning the merch stand, so took the chance to introduce Logan, chew the cud about the new album and Star Wars, and get a pic. Grabbed a sarny around the corner, then back in to find a spot on the barriers, stage left, for opener Jack Cookson. A young, curtain-haired bloke sporting a mouth organ and fat acoustic, he played material alternating between nice, quiet pastoral stuff (viz. “Ocean Song” about his dad) and groovier numbers with a more bluesy feel, punctuated with some laid-back and affable chat, which unfortunately was often lost against the background hubbub. A shame, as he was a genial opener, with his Kevin McDermott-like closer “Thistles” the best of his set.

Jake Martin, next up after a loo break, was however a different kettle of profanity; he really got the crowd onside and revved up with some terrace chant choruses delivered in an overt, Billy Bragg-esque swagger. The otherwise lovely, melancholy “King Without A Castle” saw him exhorting the crowd to enthusiastically sing back the, “you’re an asshole!” hook, “Modern Life” was a galloping and vicious polemic, bitterly railing against its’ subject matter, and the final number was a Frank Turner-esque road-weary travelogue. In between we had some smart, entertaining patter (“I tried to write the perfect punk rock song but realised I was a talentless little twat with a guitar!”), but also a great realisation of the trials and tribulations of life scratching a living at the lower rungs of rock’n’roll. He went down a storm, unsurprisingly, given his obvious similarity to tonight’s headliner, and left to a loud ovation after a fine set. Nice one Jake!

We’d made some friends down the front, including a friendly rocker with a huge beard and a collection of chunky steampunk metal rings, and Gaz’ mum (!), and whiled away the intermission in jovial chat. Gaz and his merry crew of Thieves – a 7-piece band in all, including usual cohorts Ben Wain and Nick Parker dedicated to violin and mandolin respectively! –didn’t keep us waiting long, however, invading the stage at 9.15 to a shout of, “Bristol! Been a long time!” Then straight into the jolly, almost old English Music Hall feel of new CD opener “March Of Progress”, followed by a rip-roaring “Diabetes Blues” which got the enthusiastic crowd roaring along and shaking the rafters loose of centuries of cobwebs in the process. Great start!

Backed onstage with the same copious talent featured on the new CD, armed with that record’s excellent material to augment an increasingly impressive back catalogue, and cheered on by a partisan sell-out hometown crowd, tonight might have seemed the musical equivalent of an open goal for Gaz. However you’ve still got to stick them in the back of the net, and I’m glad to report he totally smashed it tonight. Damn near burst the net, in fact! “The Tale Of Gunner Haines” was preceded with a preamble colouring in the edges to the story, the toughened-up rendition seeing Logan bouncing and singing along to his favourite from the new CD. Ben Wain’s virtuoso fiddle was a highlight of a galloping “The World Spins Round” (Gaz describing it as, “a fucking good workout!”) before Nick Parker took centre stage, embellishing the sway-along “It’s All So Rock’n’Roll” (“finding beauty in the mundanity – if that’s a word,” according to Gaz) with some lovely mandolin, then “Life Begins” featured some Dury-esque honky tonk piano from Jon Buckett. “Ferry Song” – apparently the result of a dare from Nick for Gaz to write a song about a ferry in the 10 minutes before boarding one! – was a touching and melancholy ballad, highlighting the breadth and confidence of Gaz’ songwriting, before the older material took centre stage again, a galloping “Land Pirate’s Life” again eliciting a rousing reception, and “The West Country Song” seeing Gaz balance precariously on the barriers in front of us (to Logan’s delight!) to conduct the terrace-chant chorus singalong.

“Be The Bigger Man” saw the longest and loudest ovation of the night, a clearly moved Gaz remarking, “Bristol… I have no words…!” then encore “Thin” rounded off a superb showing, Gaz commenting, “this is the most fun I’ve had all year!” before climaxing the performance with his trademark scissor kick jump. Quite appropriate, in fact, as this was possibly as good as I’ve seen him, a man raising his game in advance of what surely must be a near-future well-deserved breakthrough to a wider audience.

Fond farewells to our front-row friends, then a really nice surprise, our rocker friend generously presenting Logan with one of his steampunk rings to wear at future gigs. Lovely gesture, lovely bloke. Thank you, my friend! A quick signed list for Logan from a breathless Gaz in the corridor afterwards, then I took a weary boy home, after another excellent occasion, to continue to kick-start his gigging days with a real bang!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

1,015 SO SO GLOS, Supp. Faux, Scarecrow Boat, 4 Days Out, Southampton Joiner's Arms, Friday 9th December 2016

A late change of plans led me to this one tonight; I actually had a ticket for the Frightened Rabbit gig at Bristol Trinity tonight, which I booked up before I heard their current album and found it, well, a bit rubbish actually! Monitoring their lists suggested they were also omitting my favoured tracks from their last albums as well (including, criminally, easily their best number in “Backyard Skulls”), so I was looking forward to said show with scant relish. However, Brooklyn manic punk thrillers The So So Glos then announced a short tour in support of current album “Kamikaze”, a darker, more “mature” sounding album than their previous deliciously chaotic affair (and by “more mature”, I simply mean, “the songs don’t sound as if they’re going to collapse over themselves at any moment…!”) with a Joiners Arms date on the same night. After a debate with myself about the ethics and economics of an unemployed man booking 2 gig tickets for the same night, I looked into this gig and discovered tix were only £7! Result!

So a dilemma suddenly became a no-brainer, and I took a drive down in inky blackness to Southampton, parking up a stone’s throw from the venue on free-after-8 street parking. Yay! A band were already on, so I popped into the sparsely-attended and smaller than I remembered “L” shaped pub back room to catch the last half of their set. 4 Days Out, for such they were, had a very Welsh sounding vocalist who was initially set up on the dancefloor, leading his band through a decent line in stripped-back impassioned verses and dual vocal attack, tumbling into more discordant choral noise – very emo-esque. After asking for a, “follow the leader conga,” as he re-took the stage, they played a final number, “Long Way Back”, which was a more straightforward indie rocker, almost recalling Ash in a driven, hooky “na na na” chorus. Not bad!

I then popped back to the bar, and enjoyed a chat with So So Glo brothers Ryan and Alex, manning the merch stand, before checking out Scarecrow Boat, next up in short order. A painfully young 2 girl, 2 boy combo, they announced, “we’re gonna play some songs about Star Wars!”, but actually plied an effervescent brand of youthful, spunky C86-influenced pop bounce, with tough, crunchy guitar power chord overlays and bratty choral hooks. A lot like recent finds Martha, I thought (a point I made to the vocalist afterwards, who seemed to take it as a compliment), and I enjoyed both the song about spaghetti, which was delivered in an impassioned vein by the blue-haired female guitarist, and their thrashy, yelping cover of Brand New’s “Seventy Times 7”, both numbers epitomising a set played with vim, vigour and enthusiasm. Smart and spritely if a little shambolic around the edges, but hey, that’s the essence of rock’n’roll, right kids?

A couple of bright support sets in the books, and So So Glos next up… this was shaping up to be a good night! A shame the clientele didn’t reflect my enthusiasm, as the venue was still sparsely attended as the Brooklyn boys set up, Alex eventually calling, “get those people from the back up here!” before kicking into their set at 9.20. Straight into wild, thrashy opener “Dancing Industry” and the more drum-dominated “Longview” sound-alike of “ADD Life”, the double whammy openers of the new record, and they were immediately “on it”, Alex wild eyed and kinetic, throwing Johnny Ramone poses with his low-slung bass and exhorting the crowd to, “come down the front, I promise you’ll have more fun!”, and his swarthy sibling Ryan all rock star leathers and bandana to his right. I was already down the front, giving it as many as my dodgy knees would allow, in prime position for the likes of the joyous Ramones-ish “Going Out Swingin’” and its’ multiple goodbyes, the powerpoppy “Diss Town” with its’ skyscraping hook and “whoa-oh” mid-song pause, and the galloping, almost “Charming Man” beat of “Lost Weekend”. Mature and darker newer material or no, The So So Glos tonight delivered a fast, frantic and superfun set of Black Flag meets Dickies US punk rock, manic and amphetamine fast, the raw ragged edges as ever enhancing the experience.

“We’re a dysfunctional band of brothers!” Alex announced, which summed it all up, before a slightly shambolic but still ace “Wrecking Ball”, then a breathless 50 minutes concluded by Alex remarking, “we’re on the Brexit from the USA tour! We see your Brexit and raise you a Trump!” before the joyous punk romp of “Son Of An American”, probably the set highlight and a fitting closer. More chat with the boys during “headliner” Faux’s reasonable if more formulaic indie rock set, and an (eventually!) fully signed set-list was the punctuation point to a great night. Drove home very buoyant – this was definitely the right shout!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

1,014 BIFFY CLYRO, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, Tuesday 6th December 2016

This cough just won’t fuck off… so another attempt to try to rid myself of it via the power of “live” rock’n’roll is called for! And in the recent past they’ve not come much more powerful than Scottish late bloomers Biffy Clyro, a band who skirted around the periphery of my musical consciousness whilst on their way up, but only really asserted themselves for me when their collision of borderline goth/ metallic noise and odd indie time signatures was aligned with some blazingly massive anthemic hooks and stadium friendly rock, said reinvention coinciding with their breakthrough to arena headliner status. And people say I like to follow little bands and lose interest when they get bigger… well, Biffy Clyro followed the opposite route for me! Having said that, their new album “Ellipsis” is taking time to grow on me, my initial investigations concluding that it’s a step back into a harsher, more metallic sound, albeit with a few skyscraping choruses thrown in for good measure. Rachel was still keen to continue her Biff band crush, so tix were duly booked. Maybe it’ll make more sense “live”; it often transpires that way…

Joining us on the trip was increasing gig buddy Stuart and his son Rory, so we picked them up early then faced a frustrating queue (not the first of the night) to get out of Swindon via the Wroughton rat run. That completed, the drive down was pretty plain sailing, even the black hole of Newport proving relatively navigable, and we parked up in the open air car park near the Motorpoint for ¼ to 8. We then faced another annoying queue to get in – tonight’s show was subject to a “ticketless” entry, requiring photo IDs and bank cards. A promising idea, maybe, if it eliminates the touts, but clearly teething problems are still prevalent judging by a 15 minute wait for entry, causing us to completely miss openers Brand New. Not that that was a big deal, but still, I just don’t like queueing, particularly for administrative cock-ups like this…

Nonetheless, we made our way relatively near the front, stage right, after bumping into Troy for a quick chat. Even moments before the band were due on, there was still plenty of comfort space around our spot. “Sold Out” at the Motorpoint doesn’t mean “cram them in like sardines”, like at the Bristol O2 Academy! A squirt of dry ice, then the lights dimmed and a haunting and discordant piano and choral backing track kick-started, and Biffy Clyro joined us onto their elaborate stepped and layered stage set up, all stark white lighting and interconnecting metallic slopes, and a far cry from the “Opposites” Goblin King lair. Then straight into the somewhat overblown opener “Wolves Of Winter” and the staccato riffery of “Living Is A Problem…”, all power and noise. A bit too much noise, in fact… Just prior to their appearance, we’d had a conversation about loudest gigs, and this seemed suddenly prophetic, as the Bunsen Honeydew lab-coated Simon Neil and his bare chested cohorts seemed to be on a mission to fill this large arena with huge swathes of sound, avalanches of almost palpable noise. And for me, at least, the sound seemed distorted and over-layered, and the early songs, the fine and groovy newie “Howl” notwithstanding, suffered in consequence.

A flippant “Bubbles” however marked a sea change in the sound, the taut and racy verse structure ceding to the terrace chant hook, reverberating around the venue. “Black Chandelier”, slightly leaden on record, took flight with another massive hook, “Golden Rule” was dark, dynamic and dramatic as The Biff really hit their stride, and a huge yet brooding “Folding Stars” was for me possibly the highlight of the night, the hook both desolate and uplifting. Excellent lighting and stage projection onto 3 big rear-stage screens complemented but gladly never distracted or detracted from this performance upturn. A bit of light and shade in the set too, as Simon ascended to the top of the stage set-up (“this is the best view”!) for an acoustic “Medicine” before the slow-burn intro to an excellent, jagged “Different People”. A couple of more titanic, almost operatic singalongs in “Mountains” and “Many Of Horror” bumped us, incredibly, up to the 2 hour mark – where did that time go? The Biff finally closed out an uneven yet still dramatic and entertaining set with Simon delivering a solo “Machines”, the “take the pieces and build them skywards” line again a metaphor for their band. A 3 song encore ending in “Stinging Belle” saw a rapturous reception and profuse thanks from the band, as they hurled anything not bolted down into the front rows for souvenirs (including set-lists – bah!).

Easy out of the car park but a pretty crappy drive home, thanks to diversions off the M4 and through Newport, saw a 1am arrival home. Another fine night out from the Mighty Biff – not always at their best tonight, maybe, but still a potent, powerful and remarkably quick performance. As ever… ‘Mon The Biff!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

1,013 WHITE LIES, The Ramona Flowers, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 1st December 2016

Feeling as rough as the proverbial badger’s butt-hole at the moment, with a migraine-inducing cough that just won’t go away, so this one – despite being booked some time ago – was a genuine late call. I really didn’t want to miss White Lies though; this underrated young London trio have reappeared this year after a 3 year hiatus with another album, “Friends”, which continues their journey from pseudo-Goth doomy Editors types with a definite rockist 80’s inflection, to a more synth-led and smoother, cleaner sound, underpinning the trademark big beefy choruses and intuitive hook-line repetition which always renders their songs serious earworms. From Joy Division/ Psychedelic Furs territory to Tears For Fears, or even A-ha perhaps? Whatever, they’ve always been good value “live”, so I was definitely inclined to make every effort to climb of my sick-bed (sick-sofa?) to catch this lot for the 4th time – each time at this venue, oddly enough…

Not so inclined to scrape the ice off the car before setting off, but needs must… had a slightly foggy but remarkably unencumbered run down and into Bristol city centre, parking suspiciously easily in Trenchard and hitting the venue at ¼ to 8. Very quiet early doors, then a wait until support The Ramona Flowers took the stage at 8.25 to the strains of The Wurzels’ “I Am A Cider Drinker”! The Bristol natives announced, “it’s great to be home!” before opener “Hurricane”, which featured an angular, math-rock verse leading into a smooth, synthy 80’s hook which served as a pretty accurate precursor for their set. Thereafter, they mined a similar 80’s seam to tonight’s headliners, albeit with a more mainstream sound, and an impressive vocalist whose earnest, soulful delivery made me recall the likes of ABC or Swans Way. Their middle 2 numbers, new single “Start To Rush” which was a big building ballad, and a similarly slow-burn “Sharks” which was more moody and menacing, were the best of a pretty decent support slot.

Then the place suddenly seemed to get a whole fuck-load busier during my loo break, and my usual stage-left spot was well occupied (although not as heaving as for the recent Jimmy Eat World gig). The lights dimmed at 9.30 for White Lies’ entrance – no fanfare, no choking dry ice this time! – to a brief, “hello,” from vocalist Harry McVeigh, then into the 80’s Euro-synth and robotic beat of impressive newie “Take It Out On Me”, the double hook already ringing out. A similarly strident singalong “There Goes Our Love Again” followed in short order, then the monochrome-lit, gloomier yet no less singalong “To Lose My Life” completed a very impressive opening salvo.

“This is our last UK show for a while, so we’re going to enjoy ourselves!” announced McVeigh, and they seemed intent on making this a proper end of tour party. To be honest, it felt as such throughout – a relaxed, honest and professionally delivered gig from the boys, albeit occasionally understated and rarely scaling the heights of true greatness, and also sounding a little road-weary, with Harry McVeigh’s deep, resonant and old-beyond-his-years baritone dropping out of the mix on one or two numbers. Nonetheless, Still no less than thoroughly enjoyable, though; “Price Of Love” featured a blood red backlight as it built from a requiem march into a gallop, “Morning In LA” achieved the tightrope act of sounding both elegiac and anthemic, and “Is My Love Enough” (“one of our favourites from the new record,” according to McVeigh) was a lovely little brooding beast. 

A dramatic “A Place To Hide” was followed by the very Tears For Fears like “Don’t Want To Feel It All”, before McVeigh thanked the audience for their loyalty and enthusiasm with, “after 3 years away, you really don’t know what you’re going to find when you come back!” then the band really thanked the audience with the highlight of the night in “Death”, the sinister, moody number gaining drama and gravitas as the band slowed the hook to a virtual standstill, before unleashing it like an erupting volcano. A great way to end the set, although a 3-song encore culminating in the strident, immense hook of “Bigger Than Us”, and more fulsome compliments and a deserved bow, finally finished off affairs.

Not all for me, though; I grabbed a list and made some friends down the front, then after a short wait outside got some face time with Mr. McVeigh and my list signed. Some gentle piss-taking with “H-Bomb”, a gregarious and personable young chap, before escaping the Bristol fog for an easy run home. Not their absolute best showing, maybe, but an entirely worthwhile and enjoyable show. Shinier and synthier they may be going, but so long as they keep writing those big killer hooks, I’ll happily keep coming back – even off the sick bed!