Monday, 30 January 2017

1,020 KEVIN DEVINE AND THE GODDAMN BAND, Laura Stevenson, The Lion And The Wolf, Bristol Thekla, Sunday 29th January 2017

Number 4 on the year and we’re still not out of January – so much for my easing back on gigs this year! This one was also a very late shout – as late as Thursday, in fact, when I finally got around to checking out an e-mail recommendation from “Beef” for a gig he was going to anyway; he suggested Brooklyn native Kevin Devine might be right in my wheelhouse, and boy, he was spot-on – a couple of YouTube videos revealed some exciting and upbeat punchy powerpop/ US post-grunge college rock, with sneaky underhand slivers and nuances of many familiar sounds, some clearly identifiable (Death Cab! Nada Surf!), some more intangible. Either way, a tantalising prospect, so tix were duly booked, and Mr. Devine’s current, 9th (!!!) album quickly procured and placed on heavy rotation all through Friday. How have I missed this guy??

Beef picked me up, with Dean already riding shotgun, and we caught up on a swift and soggy run down to the Thekla, hitting the venue for doors at 7.30 and joining an impressive early Sunday crowd for opener The Lion And The Wolf, 10 minutes early at 10 to 8.A beardy soloist called Tom with a fragile, fractured and occasionally eerie vocal delivery, his material was fittingly bleak, bare and confessional, juxtaposed with some humorous between- and in-song banter (calling for a moshpit (!) and quipping, “that’s enough of the happy ones!” after “My Father’s Eyes”, a suitably sombre piece commemorating his father’s recovery from a heart attack). Another one, “Symptoms”, about an Alzheimer’s victim being cared for by their partner, understandably hit close to home, and a final number about a friend’s mother’s recovery from illness, was a suitably melancholy end to an impressive – if not particularly cheerful! – set.

A chat with Tom at the merch stand preceded Laura Stevenson’s set – Beef’s real motivation for tonight, she generated a folkier vibe, with a more laid back, laconic and often conversational or stream-of-consciousness delivery in her nuanced, almost angelically-pure voice, recalling for me Suzanne Vega, or Tanya Donelly’s quieter moments. Some Tanya-esque lyrical imagery as well (one such lyric being “I have dreams about bears with the reddest mouths…”, or pretty much the whole of “Fine Print”, referencing a “monster in my clothes”). I also particularly enjoyed the one about, “a lady – she used to be my stepmom but now she’s a lady again…”, and some vocal gymnastics closed out a charming and slightly off-the-wall set.

By now we’d hit the front, stage left, running into former White Lilac inspiration Faye Rogers and her new beau Mike, chatting before Kevin Devine’s arrival in front of this by-now packed and reverential crowd, spot on at 9.30. A solo opener featuring a very apposite and topical couplet, “there’s a fight to be won… it’s begun” was impressively prescient, and the slight, hirsute Kevin was then joined by The Goddamn Band, a tight bassist/ drummer combo who proceeded to back him up perfectly throughout with a rock-solid base for his thrilling powerpop/ college rock collision. “See Me” was a racy early highlight, recalling “Phaseshifter”-era Redd Kross, and the Ben Kweller-alike “Instigator” was a chunky powerpop trampoline ride, Kevin and his bassist conspiring to knock the keyboard off its’ stand with their kinetic stage antics. “Magnet” and a galloping “No Why” had me singing along to their instantly memorable hooks, whereas the more chugalong oldie “No Time Flat” featured a more political protest message. In fact, Kevin’s evident and righteous disgust with the new US administration was evident throughout, bubbling to the surface on the likes of a venomous and impassioned “Both Ways” (dedicated to, “the American president and any other motherfucker who wants to stand it the way of people”), a subsequent anti-Trump diatribe, and some pointed social commentary during a mid-set solo interlude. Preaching to the converted, maybe, but things need to be said, and Kevin Devine clearly has the wit and wherewithal to articulate what so many believe. Rock’n’roll is fighting back!

Back to the rock, then, as “I Can’t Be With Anyone” took flight with a Nirvana-esque roar after an initial understated groove; “Daydrunk”, preceded by a funny story of an onstage collapse (!) was tremendous, a soaring singalong and my overall set highlight; and “No History” slunk in with a Nada Surf “Killians Red” circular riff and a plaintive, Death Cab-alike vocal, before roaring into strident choral life. Another final solo vignette closed out a 1 hour 30+ set with a touching, singalong “I Was Alive Back Then”, Kevin leaving to a huge ovation with a positive message, “we’ll be OK”. A quite excellent set, during which I also saw a lot of parallels with Frank Turner, with Kevin also seemingly holding up a mirror to the horrors of this scary, fucked up world, but also preaching the politics of self-empowerment and hope in the process.

No set-list for me – only one and it was laminated to last the whole tour! I got a pic anyway, but I guess my No. 700 will have to wait... then a quick chat with Kevin afterwards, chatting about Nada Surf (whom he’d namechecked during the encore) and the parallels between his and their music, particularly in terms of easy melody, warmth and humanity, before bidding farewell and hitting the road for a late arrival home. I’ve clearly got some homework to do on the man, but this is a task I’ll certainly relish, as this very late gig shout has yielded a quite significant musical discovery in Kevin Devine!

Friday, 27 January 2017

1,019 GET INUIT, Twin Wild, Mellor, Southampton Joiner’s Arms, Thursday 26th January 2017

Barely 9 months since I last crossed paths with Sittingbourne’s finest self-confessed purveyors of “dirty surf pop” music, Get Inuit, yet it seems longer… given that I missed their last UK jaunt last October on account of being out of the country, I was keen to renew acquaintances, and booked this Joiner’s gig up pretty smartish, one of a smattering of headline shows in advance of a larger February tour supporting Spring King – a tour I can’t get to, due to other gig clashes. Happy to get to this one then!

A freezing cold yet fairly clear run down to the South Coast saw me parking up a stone’s throw from the venue entrance at 8 – hooray for free street parking! The venue was already reasonably well attended, certainly a larger – and much younger and more female! – crowd than for the So So Glos, last month… Took a watching brief for openers Mellor, on just after my arrival. They kicked into some upbeat and catchy guitar-heavy pop, robust and rhythmically driving, with those good old fashioned and often overlooked virtues of strong hooks and tunefulness. “It’s a bit chilly, innit – let’s get warmed up!” announced young vocalist Gary before the push’n’shove modish rhythm of next single “Visitor”, Gary also enjoying his wordplay with, “looking forward to Get Inuit? Forget Inuit, we’re getting you into it…” (groan!) “Fire On Fire” recalled the Candyskins or even early U2 or Ash in its’ wide-eyed optimistic indie pop and featured a well-observed pregnant pause (I like those), but closer “I Don’t Know Where I’m Sleeping Tonight”, a whip-crack fast B movie sci-fi soundtrack thrill-ride recalling early Scars, was the highlight of this bright set. A couple of bum notes and missed vocal lines, sure, but here’s a band with some talent and potential.

Main support Twin Wild were up next, as I popped out briefly beforehand to check the motor, but their set was late-starting, initially technically besieged, and when they got going, their scuzzy proto glam/ blues sound was reasonable but poor fayre after Mellor.  The leathered-up and bequiffed young vocalist was an imposing presence, reminding me of The Blow Monkeys’ Dr. Robert (remember him??), but I preferred my chat in the bar with Mellor vocalist Gary, a personable bloke and clearly a student of his indie rock, citing The Smiths as his all-time favourite band. Good man!

Took my front-centre spot after one last trip to the car to dump my hoodie; Buddy Holly-alike vocalist Jamie spotted and recognised me, which was cool, and broke off his set-up for a quick chat (“I thought you lived nearer to Bristol!”). In short order, however, Get Inuit were good to go – no technical difficulties for these boys! They smashed into opener and recent single “Teriyaki” with their usual bucketloads of vim, vigour and enthusiasm, inciting the same from a young moshpit – and this old dodgy-kneed bloke too! Jamie was his usual kinetic stage presence, throwing shapes, high knees and rawk moves, as the 60’s doo-wop surf pop of “My Oh My” and the slower, growlier but still splendidly harmonic newie “Tread The Water” set the scene for a brilliant, amphetamine double whammy of “Mean Heart” (featuring some rabble-rousing primal screaming from the slightly built vocalist – where’s that coming from?) and the frantic “Cutie Pie”.

“It’ OK to slow down once in a while,” Jamie remarked as he introduced a more considered newie “Heavy Thoughts”... A word on the smattering of new numbers here – despite sounding more proficient, dare I even say mature, them apples didn’t fall too far from the tree, underlining Get Inuit are exploring their sound and realising their own potential very nicely indeed thank you. “Barbiturates” (“a bugger to sing,” apparently!) was a grungy trampoline marathon with the second pregnant pause of the night – this one maybe milked a little by Jamie! – and the dynamic closer “Pro Procrastinator” sent the kids off to their beds with one last mosh and a mini-stage invasion, after another jet-propelled and all-too-short set of spiky, spunky powerpop thrills.

Hung about afterwards, enjoying a particularly long chat with bassist Ollie and greetings from the rest of this gregarious young band, before a quick pic and a Lauda-esque run back up the chilly A34/M4 beat route home. Chilly tonight, but Get Inuit brought the sound of Summer once again!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

1,018 RAZE*REBUILD, Supp. As The Sun Sleeps, A Way With Words, All Ears Avow, Swindon Level 3, Saturday 14th January 2017

My home town is hopefully going to serve me well during the early knockings of this new gig year, it seems; despite the downsizing of activities from the splendid “Songs Of Praise” promotional duo, I’m scheduled for at least 3 potentially excellent local shows in the next handful of weeks. Kicking things off is a gig curated by young local pop-punk combo As The Sun Sleeps, with the inclusion of Raze*Rebuild, my favourite new local band discovery of last year – hell, one of my favourite new band discoveries from anywhere, for some time! –  really swaying my decision to pop along. Another plus point is the venue; my old 80’s/ 90’s haunt and “spiritual home” of Level 3, now an occasional gig venue only, it seems...

The late inclusion of earnest emo-rockers All Ears Avow, last-minute replacements for reggae/ ska tinged party band SN Dubstation, made this a real guitar-heavy grunting rock pig bill, so I girded my loins accordingly and headed down early doors, hitting the venue at 20 to 8. Amazingly, Raze*Rebuild were on first at 8 – this bill is upside down! Had a brief chat with vocalist Si Hall, bassist “Paj” and the boys while they set up, then took a spot stage left and surveyed the scene... old ghosts of Level 3 past wherever I turn, the eerie atmosphere augmented by a distinct chill in the venue air. Nonetheless, a small but respectable early turnout were on hand to greet the band onto the top dancefloor stage, the top barrier thankfully having been removed, so, for once, we could watch as well as hear from the bottom dancefloor…

A short sound-check – their only such check tonight! – and Si introduced the band on at 8, remarking, “hi, we’re Raze*Rebuild, can you all at least skirt the dancefloor, [although] we’re not expecting anyone to throw shapes at 8 pm…” to which Paj pointed me out… “he will!” Sure enough, the opening bars of the rampaging “Back To The Fall” got me started, as I rocked out as best my crumbling knees would allow, to a raw, ragged and rambunctuous version of my favourite R*R track, which would have been my leadoff track on my “Best Of 2016” CD had it actually been released that year! “Jaded Heart” followed as usual, although probably due to the lack of sound-check, the sound took awhile to really bed in properly, Si’s full-on primal roaring notwithstanding. However, by an impassioned “Kat, I’m Sorry”, the sound was sorted and the band were in full flow.

Both elements of Raze*Rebuild’s current song template were on display in full force tonight: “Kat” a heartfelt, brutally honest emotion-led slow-burn yet heavy power ballad, followed by the strong-armed, blue-collar Gaslight/ Sugar anthemic popcore rock blast and call-and-response choral hook of newie “New Leaf”. Some corny jokes about guitar G strings preceded a hushed solo “You’re The Chalk” from Si, then a whip-crack fast double whammy of “All The Gear” and a toughened up “Face For Radio” got my knees working again, prompting Si to remark, “such energy for such an early show! You must all be trying to keep warm!” A ball-crushingly massive set highlight “Sand In The Petrol”, as skyscrapingly epic as I’ve ever heard it, closed out the set and threatened to lift the roof to another, erm, level…! Compliments from Si after as raw, pure and hard-rocking a half hour as you’re likely to get. Raze*Rebuild fucking killed it – yet again!

Caught my breath and took a watching brief for the rest of the evening, being joined by various R*R chaps for some entertaining rock history chat, with the remainder of the bands on the bill as musical backdrops. The late additions All Ears Avow were probably the best of the other bands on offer, with some very competently played gothic-tinged heavy emo rock, not a million miles removed from the Evanescences of this world. A racier, poppier “Gone” was their best number on show, otherwise the fayre was decent, if a little dispassionate and  anodyne for my overall liking. A Way With Words were more conventional straightahead grungy rock with a touch of the Thin Lizzys about them, but something sounded a little off with their set, making then a little morose and murky. And headliners As The Sun Sleeps, playing at 10.45ish to a now full dancefloor, were energetic and enthusiastic, but the sound was again a bit off, thin and drum-dominated, and although the mix ultimately improved, giving their generic and lightning-quick pop-punk a fuller guitar sound, the material lacked an identity of its own and felt like a breakneck yet homogenised journey through the boys’ record collections, no doubt filled with the likes of Blink, Sum 41 and New Found Glory. So with the knees falling asleep, I bade farewell, having seen the true headliners open up tonight. Another incendiary show (yup, I just called this gig a “show”, Si!) from Raze*Rebuild, and I was totally right – this bill was upside down!

Friday, 13 January 2017

1,017 SUNDARA KARMA, Marlborough Thirty8 Club, Thursday 12th January 2017

A new gigging year kicks off relatively early; and after last year’s rush-of-blood-to-the-head 45 gig total, I need to cut back to more of a 30-something level this year, as befits my current status as a gentleman of much leisure and no job. Either that, or I need more local gigs! More free gigs! More free AND local gigs! So how’s about this for starters, with promising new guitar band Sundara Karma announcing an in-store performance and signing session, promoting their just-released (and splendidly titled) debut album, “Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect”, at independent record store Sound Knowledge in Marlborough, a small handful of miles south of the ‘don? I’d heard about Sound Knowledge’s in-stores before (particularly a Craig Finn in-store a couple of years ago, which I frustratingly couldn’t get to as it clashed with a Wolf Alice gig) but had never been before; likewise I’d already picked up on Sundara Karma via a “Top New Bands for 2017” list somewhere on the interwebs, checking them out and finding some fast, urgent and insistently hooky material somewhere in the Marion/ Annie Christian territories, and had already bought the album and a ticket for their forthcoming (hometown) Reading gig. But SK at SK as well? Why the hell not?

Stuart had seen them open up the main stage at Reading Festival last year and was suitably impressed, so joined me on a frosty yet short run down to Marlborough, parking up in this Olde Worlde market town’s high street, apparently (according to Stu) the widest such high street in the UK! Popped into Sound Knowledge to get the gen for the performance; due to anticipated high interest, the band were due to play upstairs in the nearby Thirty8 Club rather than in-store, and purchase of the album from the store guaranteed admission. As I already owned it, however, I bought something else which was OK, so Stu and I chilled in the downstairs bar of Thirty8, watching it fill with da yoof. A popular one, this, no doubt…

We ventured upstairs to the L-shaped club room as the rope came down, taking a spot stage right (right in the path of the speakers), and ran into Stuart Gould there for some entertaining pre-gig rock and footy chat. Apparently Stuart Pearce was also in the crowd although we couldn’t spot him – shame that, as a pic of the 3 Stuarts would have been fun…! Eventually the band took the stage at 7, to a wild reception from this young crowd, bursting into the shimmering glare and anthemic choral hook of opener “Young Understanding”.

As I mentioned, I’d picked up on Sundara Karma thanks to a “Top New Bands for 2017” list, and there’s no denying they’re already recipients of the dreaded “Hype” as this year’s great new hopes, saviours of guitar rock, blah blah blah etc. For me, however, what already sets them apart from the Catfish Blossom 1975s of this world, and other such recently hyped bands of skinny white boys playing guitars, is that old essential trait of excellent tunes. It’s not enough to have great hair and look cool in a leather jacket (although these boys actually all have great hair, tumbling shoulder-length tresses to a man, recalling early Wonder Stuff!) if the tunes don’t stack up to much, or worse are horribly average landfill indie, all over the airwaves one minute and totally forgotten the next. No worries on that score, as on early evidence Sundara Karma know how to put a tune together, no messin’… “Olympia”, next up, was a groovier vibe with a more epic, almost War On Drugs-like metronome groove, and “Flame” a darker, more angular and rhythmic base, yet no less immediate and hooky for it. Following “Watching From Great Heights” (introduced by blond vocalist Oscar Pollock as “one of our favourites from the album”), the spritely, singalong “She Said” engendered an enthusiastic girly moshpit behind us, with the subsequent, slower burn and more widescreen, early Arcade Fire-like “Happy Family” (particularly due to Pollock’s deep, Win Butler-esque vocal inflections) then producing a twinkling display of mobile phone lights from da yoof, as it all threatened to go a bit U2 on us…! Following compliments from Pollock and “much love to all of you!”, my personal favourite, the itchy, pacy guitar groove of “Loveblood”, closed out a dynamic and exciting half hour, much more than an appetite whetter for next month’s Reading gig. Nice work!

A bit of a queue to extricate ourselves from the venue then ensued, and we then eventually grabbed some face time and signatures from the band, signing downstairs. A personable bunch of lads, looking barely out of their teens but hopefully robust enough to cope with the hype surrounding the band, and the inevitable pressures such attention might bring. Good luck to them anyway – a very promising band for 2017!