Sunday, 26 February 2017

1,024 WHITE LIES, Alex Cameron, Oxford O2 Academy, Saturday 25th February 2017

White Lies again, so soon after last time out (1st December in Bristol, gig 1,013)? Well, following that December UK tour (gig 1,013 again!) in support of their 4th and best-since-first album, the excellent “Friends”, the London doomy post-punk turned increasingly 80’s ear-friendly and synth-fuelled hookily anthemic trio announced a slew of further dates for this month, targeting previously overlooked towns, and I saw this Oxford Saturday gig as a perfect chance to not only enjoy them “live” again for myself, but to also further the introduction to gigs of my 9 year old son Logan. I played him some stuff which he enjoyed, so he was up for this, laudably doing his homework, with repeated listens to a White Lies comp CD I made him!

An early one, this, so we headed off promptly in dampening drizzle, finding the usual Tescos carpark utterly rammed, with cars waiting, but lucking into a spot on Cowley Road just as another car was pulling out! Hit the venue for 7 and wandered down the front, asking the small assemblage whether there was a chance for Logan to squeeze through. Got some attitude, sadly, from a middle-aged blonde woman, who haughtily clipped back, “you should have gotten here earlier!” as if she, of course, owned the place. So you’d be prepared to block the view of a 9 year old – way to set an example to your own teenage son, you selfish bitch! Happily, a group of young punters manufactured a Logan-sized spot on the barriers stage left, sufficiently far away from “little miss entitled” to enjoy the gig! Chatted with them before and after support Alex Cameron, a fey, angular gent backed up with a saxophonist and electronic drummer (the kit being electronic, not the man!), who played some understated pop which at best recalled the smooth US rock radio friendly anthemic nature of The Killers (Cameron’s vocals also bearing some similarities to Brandon Flowers), and otherwise resembled 80’s AOR – Hall and Oates, maybe?! Before finishing with their best number, “Marlon Brando”, the loose-limbed Cameron asked for accommodation recommendations, citing poverty and his saxophonist’s bad back and ankles! T’uh, that’s life on the road for you…!

Chatted with another, friendlier blonde lady who gushed about Logan (“he’s 9? My kids are 11 and 12 and sing along to all the White Lies songs – and I’ve left them at home… Oh, I’m such a terrible mum…!”), before the lights dimmed prompt at 8.30, and White Lies emerged in short order onto a smoke-swirled stage. No messing about tonight, as the staccato synth pulse of “Take It Out On Me” kicked into strident gear, followed with an immense “There Goes Our Love Again”, the crowd – including Logan and myself – singing along to the infectiously catchy repetitive hook and soaring chorus. Therein lies White Lies appeal – even their doomier, more introspective and morose numbers (viz. the subsequent “To Lose My Life”, Logan’s favourite number) feature often multiple brain-hugging, skyscraping hooks which just beg to be sung back, wide-eyed and open-armed, by an enthusiastic audience. And such was the case tonight!

Again, the set drew largely from that pseudo-gothy post-punk debut and the more Tears For Fears synth-driven pop material of “Friends”; “The Price Of Love” eased in, all blood-red backlit and doomy gothic drama, before bursting into a soaring denouement, with vocalist Harry McVeigh straining to give it his all; “Farewell To The Fairground” was excellent, despite bassist Charles accusing Harry of, “the worst bum note I’ve ever heard!”; the Kraftwerkian sheet synth of “Is My Love Enough” was startling; and an excellent “Unfinished Business” was mournful and elegiac, before again kicking into soaring life, Harry again working hard to reach the high notes. As per Bristol, Harry again thanked the crowd for their loyalty over the 3 year gap before “Friends”, before “Death” provided a perfect set climax, the band again reining in the hook to a slow, sinister death march, before unleashing the hook for the crowd to go crazy to. Logan included – he’d been “energy efficient”, sitting down and chilling during some slower numbers, but saved some in the tank for both this one and final encore “Bigger Than Us”, the skyscraping chorus resonating off the low ceiling and proving a perfect punctuation to a huge, clear sounding and perfectly delivered set.

Set list as well for Logan, and we then gathered our thoughts and headed off home, Logan tired but buzzing all the way home for a reasonable 11 pm arrival. He loved it and was immaculate all night, so hopefully this will be another important step on his gig introduction, thanks to this immense White Lies performance!

Monday, 20 February 2017

1,023 SUNDARA KARMA, Will Joseph Cook, Palm Honey, Reading University 3 Sixty, Sunday 19th February 2017

Another sighting of this very promising new indie rock band Sundara Karma tonight then, this time in the more natural surroundings of a sold-out hometown Uni gig! After releasing their debut album “Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect”, things have ballooned for these young Reading boys, the subsequent tour completely selling out, demonstrating a bit of the dreaded “hype” might actually be a good thing... Good thing too that I’d acted quickly, having secured tix for this one before even having seen them do their in-store show last month at Marlborough’s Sound Knowledge. In on the ground floor, me!

So I took an early drive down a slow (and apparently animal-infested!) Sunday night M4 to Reading, following my directions to the University and getting a little lost on campus, eventually parking up around the back of the venue. Openers Palm Honey were already onstage when I arrived at 20 past 7, playing some knockabout indie/ Britpop with a nasally slurring vocalist doing his best Lou Reed impressions. Generic and unremarkable overall, but a damn sight better than main support Will Joseph Cook; a bleached blond and Hawaiian shirted chap fronting a band churning out some insipid and diluted white boy 80’s funk, which oddly went down a storm with the very young Sundara Karma massive (which also consisted of a number of first year Uni canoodling couples – Sundara Karma is for lovers, it seems!). Was there a Hipsway revival and did I sleep through it or something?

With little in the way of substantial supports to distract me, I surveyed the scene; I’d initially thought this a new venue, all shiny white décor and all, but further inspection revealed that this was indeed the same Reading University hall of yore. If I concentrated hard, I could just visualise Johnny Marr on that stage, contemptuously flicking the “V”s at the crowd, as The Smiths stalked offstage following some nasty spitting from the audience. Was that really 33 years ago this month? Wow.

I followed a couple of determined looking girls into the milling throng, pitching up a couple of rows from the front, stage right for a decent view. Some pre-gig party music got the kids in the mood, and the onstage décor underlined this too; a silver glittery backdrop looked onto a stage set-up littered with huge balloons. Party time! The lights eventually dimmed and the band coolly sauntered onstage at 9 to a girly rap number, kicking into the strident guitar burst and lugubrious, drawled opening verse of “A Young Understanding”, and the place went utterly batshit!

As I’d mentioned, I’m a little concerned that Sundara Karma are the latest recipients of the dreaded “hype”, as for me they have more to offer than the Catfish 1975 Blossoms and their homogenised leather-jacketed ilk. Killer hooks, for one… “Olympia” seethed with droney indie urgency before dovetailing into a strident “Young Hearts” chorus, recalling War On Drugs, and after blond, pretty-boy vocalist Oscar Pollock noted the crowd’s enthusiasm with “Reading – that’s pretty fucking mad!”, “Freshbloom” featured a short pregnant pause which morphed into a soaring and shimmering shoegaze outro. Pollock himself was the focal point of the Sundara Karma attack, abandoning his guitar during “Hustle” and diving into the mosh, and generally recalling Suede’s excellent Brett Anderson with his teasing, coquettish stage persona. While the mid-set section sagged a little for me – the perils of stretching one album into an hour-long set, perhaps – it roared back with a stellar “She Said”, the irrepressibly bouncy hook of the first great pop song of 2017 even getting this old boy bouncing along in the mosh. The most Arcade Fire-like number of their oeuvre, “Happy Family” finished the set, entering like a backwoods campfire singalong then melting into a creepy death march with the requisite huge chorus, ending an overall whip-smart 50 mins set. Final encore “Loveblood”, an urgent, Marion-like high-octane rocker, finished proceedings, before I grabbed a list and headed out.

Not home immediately, however; before doing so, I enjoyed a quick visit with my part-time Reading-domiciled old friend Michael Scott, who’d facebooked me an invite over while I was at the gig. Good to see you again, good sir! A nice punctuation point on a fine night out in the company of Sundara Karma; don’t (just) believe the hype – this lot have great potential and hopefully staying power!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

1,022 MODERN BASEBALL, Superweaks, Thin Lips, Bristol Bierkeller, Monday 13th February 2017

Slightly different circumstances than intended for this one; I’d booked tix for this, a quick return to these shores for Philly Emo/ punk pop funsters Modern Baseball, looking forward to some more rousing modern punk delivered in a laconic, conversational and slightly geeky fashion by Mobo’s co-songwriters and co-vocalists Jake and Brendan. However a few weeks before the gig, the band announced that Brendan, unfortunately, was staying behind to deal with some mental health issues. Absolutely the right thing to do, no arguments there, but still this undeniably left a void which required filling; how the band would fill it, though, would be an, erm, interesting solution…!

Comic shop buddy Troy was up for this, so I’d booked him a ticket; then Troy mentioned it to his colleague Keefer who sorted himself out with one! Thus a happy trio hit the road for a swift drive down, parking in the cheaper NCP a couple of streets away, then joining a long, young and predominantly black-clad queue for entry at 7.30. Back in to my rickety old 80’s Bristol “local” again; it still looks as if it’s not seen a lick of paint since the halcyon days of those Birdland and Ride gigs! Kept a watching brief at the bar for the supports, meeting up with Troy’s mate Shaun, and his “almost” sister in law and her mate; openers Thin Lips, fellow Philly natives (as were all 3 bands tonight!) featured a hefty female vocalist and initially leant towards the darker, gothier side of Emo/ punk, thereby recalling Swindon’s own All Ears Avow! They latterly reverted to a more user-friendly but generic college pop-punk, pleasant enough but unmemorable. Main support Superweaks were however a more palatable proposition, a 6-piece ploughing a more chunky 90’s powerpop furrow, so much so that their second number kicked in with a distinctly Weezer “Buddy Holly” drumbeat! Some unexpectedly nice 60’s style harmonies from the bearded lumberjack lookalikes either end of the 5-strong frontline too. They also called for a lighters-aloft display from the crowd before a slower, grungier number which frankly was better than the song itself, before reverting to their more powerpoppy oeuvre. Not original, but they went down well and left a favourable impression on my ears.

Popped down the front, stage right, as the Mobo boys set up onstage, the Brendan-less trio of Jake, bassist Ian and drummer Sean being augmented by guitar tech Nick. Thumbs up to the mixing desk, then Jake announced, “Bristol! Here we go, we’re doing it,” and the band eased into whip-fast, ringing opener “Wedding Singer”. Initially, the band seemed a little subdued, muted even, as they eased into the gig, although the same couldn’t be said for the frenzied young sold-out crowd, moshing and singing along to every number from note one, prompting Jake to regularly step off the mic for the crowd to fill in. However, by the manic rush of “Apartment” and the excellent, Irish-tinged and almost Dropkick Murphys-like frantic reel of “Tears Over Beers” the boys were in their stride, and the subsequent mouthful of “Alpha Kappa Fall Of Troy The Movie Part Deux” was a solid, titanic riffathon. Great stuff!

Jake then introduced a 3-song mid-set solo interlude with an explanation of Brendan’s absence, initiating a, “Brendan! Brendan!” chant from the crowd and prompting Jake to respond with, “we’ll tell him you said hi – that’s what that means, right?” The subsequent acoustic trio was pretty much accompanied word for word by the devoted crowd, almost Dashboard Confessional-like, causing a proud smile to spread across the laconic Jake’s features. We then had a clutch of Brendan’s numbers, and here’s where it all got a little interesting; firstly, a nervous looking kid was brought onstage to front an excellent “Weekend”, doing a fine job in the process; then a couple of Thin Lips members took vocal chores for a couple more of Brendan’s numbers, a superb, widescreen and anthemic “Just Another Face” sung by TL vocalist Chrissy being the highlight; then, a chaotic cover of The Killers’ “When You Were Young” (introduced by Ian as, “the only other song we all know!”) was preceded and punctuated by the tall, young Joey Ramone lookalike bassist giving shout outs to all and sundry, the whole thing collapsing into joyous disarray to end a totally fun gig.

Caught our collective breaths before we, chivalrously, saw the girls off to their lift home, then we hit the road ourselves, ruminating on a slightly unorthodox but nonetheless entertaining evening out. Get well soon Brendan, but don’t worry, your Modern Baseball colleagues are doing you proud in your absence!

Friday, 3 February 2017

1,021 GAZ BROOKFIELD AND THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, RAZE*REBUILD, Nick Parker, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 2nd February 2017

Well, in the words of “Songs Of Praise” impresario and all round good egg Mr. Dave Franklin, “well, that escalated quickly…” I’d already sorted myself a ticket for this one, expecting an enticing acoustic solo throwdown between probably the 2 finest songwriters produced by the ‘don since, well, Partridge and Moulding, namely Bristol domiciled but always-Swindonian Gaz Brookfield, kicking off a lengthy tour promoting recent, game-changing album “I Know My Place” with a return to his old stamping grounds, and Si Hall, mainman and inspiration for the Mighty Raze*Rebuild but an impassioned solo performer in his own right. Then Gaz decided to gather the troops and make this a rare full band outing – the first since the triumphant Fleece show, gig 1,016 and more pertinently the only such gig on the tour – so Si followed suit, confirming a full Raze*Rebuild outing. Hoo boy, this one’s going to raise the Vic roof, no messin’…!

Sales were brisk for this one, a virtual pre-gig sellout with, impressively, about half the tickets snapped up by out-of-towners! And you could generally tell who they were too – they’re the blokes spending time admiring the “interesting” décor in the Vic’s gents toilets! But I’m a little ahead of myself… a swift drive up the hill got me the closest parking space in the nearest car park (had a feeling I might need it afterwards…!), and I ran into Gaz crossing the road for a brief chat, then Mr. Franklin on the door and finally Stuart (giving this one a late shout), and old punk buddy Olly and his charming wife Caz in the Vic itself. Wandered down for Nick Parker’s opening set at 8.30 – accompanied by violinist Ben Wain throughout and guitarist Chris Webb for most of the set, this felt like a Company Of Thieves warm-up, albeit performing Nick’s own, upbeat and generally more whimsical material. Shades of Costello or Dury here too, particularly in the clever wordplay and observational subject matter, with numbers variously about shopping in thrift stores or playing in the foyer at a John Cooper Clarke gig! Some audience participation too, with 4 punters holding up German phrase flashcards for the singalong “Es Tut Mir Leit” punctuated an entertaining opening set.

I took a break then the place filled up good and proper for Raze*Rebuild; good thing Stu saved my spot down the front! SoP co-promoter Ed introduced them onstage with, “Dave Rose thinks they’re the best band in Swindon and I’m inclined to agree… well, ever since Gaz left…!” Si and the boys then proceeded to underline my belief with an utterly blistering, incendiary set, laying waste to the Vic from note one. Drummer Jamie advised me afterwards that following their recent Level 3 set, where the sound had taken awhile to bed in, he was determined to give it some extra welly early doors, and it certainly showed; the sound was huge, beefy, almost palpable for the rampant “Back To The Fall” and herky-jerky new wave-isms of “Jaded Heart”, and I planted my feet and gave it loads. Some banter with a fellow front-row punter sporting a Carter USM shirt, and (ironically) with long-term fan and thorn-in-the-side (!) Paul Carter, just behind me, preceded Si giving an impassioned reading of the bleeding-raw, Buffalo Tom-like “Kat, I’m Sorry”, and a hushed “You’re The Chalk” was a breath-grabbing slow interlude, before switching up a gear or twelve for a brilliantly clear “All The Gear”, tonight’s set highlight. All too soon, “Sand In The Petrol” closed out a whirlwind ride of a set, Si remarking, “this is such a great night to be a part of.” By my reckoning, Raze*Rebuild were a massive part of tonight; this set probably as good as I’ve seen them, the distilled essence of pure rock’n’roll, powerful, anthemic and passionately delivered. Follow that, Gaz!

Took another breather then wormed my way back to my stage-front spot as Gaz assembled the troops; impressive enough that the 7-strong Company Of Thieves all fitted onstage without tripping over each other! With a flippant shout of, “alright?” to the assembled and enthusiastic masses, Gaz kicked into gear, although initially things seemed a little understated – Gaz’ folkier material suffering after the rampaging noise of Raze*Rebuild, perhaps? Whatever, it was soon sorted, with a toughened-up “Gunner Haines” (preceded by a preamble about Brean – “stuck in the 1970’s,” apparently! – and the premise for the song) excellently and expertly delivered, and the band of expert players thereafter fully hitting their stride, backing up Gaz’ usual enthusiastic and all-inclusive performance perfectly.

“Life Begins”, a ramshackle joy, was dedicated to Gaz’ dad (“I wrote it to embarrass him at his retirement party – as all good sons should!”), an all-action and fiddle-driven “I Know My Place” was, “all about my quitting Facebook because it’s shit!” and an otherwise-excellent, breathless “Land Pirate’s Life” saw Gaz briefly forget the couplet preceding the racy middle 8, turning to the front rows (well, me actually…!) for lyrical prompting! After a roof-raising set finale “West Country Song”, Gaz and the band ploughed on, remarking that the band wouldn’t all fit backstage, so the encore starts here! “Be The Bigger Man” was its usual pointed and impassioned self, “Let The East Winds Blow” a galloping folk-punk road trip, and prior to one last singalong for “Thin”, a breathless Gaz bade farewells with, “Swindon, that was pretty fucking spectacular!” Indeed it was, another splendid performance from a supremely talented frontman.

Gathered breath, setlists and signatures afterwards (lists 700 and 701 respectively!), chatting and complimenting all and sundry after a couple of brilliant performances from Gaz and Raze*Rebuild. Stu and I then hit the road, home for ¼ to midnight, and it then hit me – too much dancing tonight, I’m going to really ache tomorrow… aaah, who cares after a great night out like that? Superb stuff!