Thursday, 30 March 2017

1,030 DESPERATE JOURNALIST, Fossette, Towers, Bristol Louisiana, Wednesday 29th March 2017

Another late addition to my Spring Dance Card, and another one courtesy of my old gig buddy “Beef”, who last Friday casually mentioned I should check this lot out, whilst texting about our Mercury Rev tix. So I did, via a couple of YouTube videos (how on earth did I ever find new bands before YouTube?? Oh, the (now non-existent) music press, that’s right…), and he was right again; here was another band right in my musical wheelhouse, with some intriguingly haunting post-punk rockist guitar-led sonics, overlaid by some strident and purposeful female vocals. Picked up the new album (released that day!) and grabbed tix for this one before it sold out, and another journey of discovery was on the cards…

Beef picked us up early, to compensate for the painstaking circumnavigation of the building site that central Bristol has suddenly morphed into, and we parked in the Thekla car park, walking over the temporary bridge and hitting the venue just before doors. The rope came down and we wandered upstairs for the first act of a packed evening, introduced by the impossibly long legged vocalist as, “we’re Towers and this is our last gig!” Such was the case, the guitarist apparently going off travelling, so the 3 girl, one hefty drummer bloke combo were onstage for the final time. Their songs were intriguing, challenging and very proficiently delivered, invariably easing in, all pretty and pastoral, before gaining teeth, diverting into more angular and strident math-rock or heavy funkier interludes, topped with some impressive choral harmonies from the girls. And vocalist Jay Parker was quite the star – relaxed and charismatic onstage with no little humour (referring to her top’s ridiculously plunging neckline with, “really sorry if a tit pops out, I didn’t think this outfit through…” and later commenting, “this is the part where we usually plug, but we’ve got nothing… so how was your day?”), she also possessed an excellent voice, covering strident/powerful and coquettishly demure equally proficiently. Penultimate number “Restart” had a harsh, melancholy edge, whilst closer “Follow” was their most conventional indie-pop number. I’ve seen much worse vocalists in much bigger venues, so it would be a shame if Jay were lost to music, but if this is it, they certainly went out in style.

Fossette, next up in short order as the front filled up, were a very Welsh and very confident, almost flippant 4-piece with high buttoned-up shirts and a decent line in initially fast paced indie jangle with Summery choruses, overlaid later with some knockabout and jaunty Britpop. Massive Kurt Cobain fans, apparently, although I heard no trace of the Nirvana frontman’s influence in their music, and clearly their own biggest fans at this stage, they were entertaining but flimsy, and much less original than the openers, with Arctic Monkeys/ Miles Kane influences blaring out like belisha beacons. Ironic too, that a comment about Donald Trump (vocalist: “can we get a middle finger for Donald Trump?”; wag in the audience: “at least he’s bringing people together to hate somebody!”) got the best reaction in their set…

Proper rammed and uncomfortably hot by now, but we secured our spots near the front and chatted to fellow punters – oddly enough mainly older chaps like Beef and myself! – while Desperate Journalist set up, vocalist and apprentice ice queen Jo Bevan passing time by lying on the stage floor... All done, then just a quick, “hi,” from Jo and they were off, straight into opener “I Try Not To”, a powerful, potent rocker with Jo’s strident, dynamic yet reined-in vocals to the fore, driving the song to its climax. Great opener, and “Happening” kept apace whilst subtly changing mood into more eerie, gloomy proto Goth territory, and a haunting “Hollow” continued this, with some excellent guitar work underpinning a massive chorus.

Riding on the coattails of similar post-punk, black-clad female fronted bands this lot may be (Savages and Wolf Alice spring to mind here), but there’s a lot more layers to the Desperate Journalist sound. A haunting and shimmering Belltower-like riff here, some Chameleons or Bunnymen atmosphere there, some X-Mal Deutschland strident Goth elsewhere… even some Smiths-esque song construction (particularly in “Why Are You So Boring?”). And Jo herself is a riveting “live” presence; slightly built, cropped of hair and top, and with at least 50% of her face taken up by her eyes, she resembles Deena Pilgrim from the “Powers” comic books, but projects herself like a young Morrissey, doubling over her mic-stand, balancing a powerful, passionate and yearning delivery with the right amount of detached insouciance. Very impressive.

The anthemic “Lacking In Your Love” ceded to an epic, widescreen “Be Kind”, before a balls-out, pedal to the metal rocker “Cristina”, then the lengthy denouement of closer “All Over” rounded out a breathless and breathtaking set as good as I’ve seen from a new band in… ooh, ages! They squeezed offstage through the impressed throng, returning for a more plaintive “Radiating”, delivered by Jo and guitarist Rob; then Jo announced, “if you can tolerate more, we have more…” before a joyful, looped-riff powered “Resolution”, probably my highlight of the night, and finale “Organ”, featuring some startling primal screaming from Jo, closed an astounding and outstanding set. Much more powerful and overtly dynamic than on record (where they’re pretty hot socks there too!), this set was a clear and serious statement of intent from a powerful and important new voice and band.

Caught our breath, then went around grabbing signatures for my list and spraying compliments around to all and sundry. Mentioned my thoughts on the Morrissey comparison to Jo, who replied, “now you’re going to make me cry a bit… I’m a little bit obsessed with The Smiths…” Good spot there then! Hit the road for some not-as-painful-as-feared M32 roadworks diversions and a midnight arrival home, eulogising about Desperate Journalist with Beef. One thing’s for sure, we won’t see them in a venue that small again… I can’t see anything holding them back!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

1,028 BOSTON STANDS WITH THE ACLU, featuring NADA SURF, JULIANA HATFIELD, BELLY, EVAN DANDO, THE SHEILA DIVINE, THE GRAVEL PIT, BILL JANOVITZ, The Paradise Rock Club, Boston MA, USA, Saturday 18th March 2017; 1029 THE GRAVEL PIT, Kevin Stephenson, Atwood’s Tavern, Cambridge MA, USA, Sunday 19th March 2017

Yup, that’s Boston…!

Damn, it’s been a long time since I’ve ventured over to “The Hub”, almost a second home to myself and Rachel in the early 2000’s, with 9 trips over 9 years, before a 9 year absence… Even with the kids a little older now, and with time and a little bit of redundancy money on my hands, it would still have taken Something Very Special Indeed to justify such a jaunt. And such proved to be the case, in part “thanks” to Donald Trump…

I don’t profess to be an expert in politics, yet alone the convoluted machinations of the US political machine, yet I hope I’m a decent enough human being to recognise when fundamental human rights are being breached. Number 45 has taken office and launched swathes of attacks on the civil liberties of minority groups, in the process putting a national focus on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-profit body set up with the express purpose of defending those rights. Many right-minded people seem to be looking to the ACLU as a rallying banner to oppose Trump’s policies and defend their rights, and it was within this climate that folks within the Boston music scene, most notably my good friends in The Gravel Pit, initiated the concept of “Boston Stands With The ACLU”, an intended series of events to raise money for this eminently worthwhile and currently much-needed cause. And, not wishing to ease themselves in, the line-up for their first event was an utter corker, a jaw-droppingly awesome collection of Boston Rock Royalty from the 90’s and early 00’s, topped with NYC’s Nada Surf, not only a band with a huge affinity for “The Hub” but, along with The Hold Steady, my consistently favourite music makers of the past 10 years or so. Not a surprise then, that this event sold out within 2 days, but luckily enough, following “permission to fly” being given by my dear wife, a quick message to TGP’s bassist and old friend Ed Valauskas resulted in my securing a ticket on the door. A similar facebook shout out to my Boston friends resulted in my good friend Corin Ashley (formerly of The Pills, the band who provided the soundtrack to my proposal to Rachel, back in gig 634) offering his studio futon for my short stay, and it was all systems go!

A visit from Winter Storm Stella earlier in the week, dumping a foot of snow on the Greater Boston area, briefly threatened to throw my visit into chaos, but the USA know how to handle such things, rather than in the UK, where a single snowflake shuts schools and cancels train journeys. So I had a bumpy flight in on a chilly Thursday evening, arriving to piles of snow on the sidewalks, but a very navigable city, so easily made it over to Corin’s place. Friday was shopping at Harvard and Davis, a quick trip to Q Division for catch-ups with Jon Lupfer and EdV, and the Boston Red Sox Fenway Tour! Saturday saw more shopping and lunch with Boston-domiciled old school friend Richard Wood, before I headed over to the Paradise, killing time in nearby “In Your Ear” before a quick chat with Nada Surf’s Ira Elliott outside the venue.

Michael Creamer turned up at 5 and ushered me in for the soundcheck, and I took a watching brief and tried to stay out of the way whilst saying “hey” to various folks as they arrived. EdV had suggested that soundchecks might be done by 5, but they were still in full swing, and I watched Belly, The Gravel Pit, Juliana Hatfield (along with Matt Caws of Nada Surf, on a Minor Alps song - Juliana and Matt’s excellent 2013 collaboration – which sounded verrry promising…) and Bill Janovitz all soundcheck. Wandered out to the Paradise Lounge as door-time approached, being greeted with a fulsome bearhug by an arriving Pete “The Peach” Stone and being introduced to his lovely fiancĂ©e Meghan. We wandered around trying to sort out wristband passes, eventually hanging in the upstairs “backstage” area with tonight’s performers as the venue filled up (luckily the lady manning the backstage entrance took my “VIP list” status at face value, and let me come and go throughout the night with impunity) and ultimately running into Creamer again, who advised he’d sort me one later – “got to see to the artists first”. Fair enough, totally understandable, I felt, whilst hoping this wouldn’t come back to bite me on the bum – which it subsequently almost did…

Met up with Corin before the witching hour became due, and I took to the already well-attended floor for Buffalo Tom frontman BILL JANOVITZ, kicking off with a solo acoustic set at 7.30. Sounds like a nice, understated way to ease into the evening, right? Hell’s teeth, no! Bill was absolutely on fire from note one, sparing us none of his passion, ire and bleeding raw intensity with a frankly awesome reading of the Tom’s finest moment “Larry”, followed in quick succession with “I’m Allowed”, both so strident and stunning that even Peach (who got, “to see Bill play guitar every week for the last 20 years…!”) was impressed. Bill commented, “[tonight] is like a post-college reunion for me!” and gave props to the ACLU and their work, before “Summer” featured a modified “where’ve my heroes gone today...” lyric reference to Chuck Berry, news of whose death earlier that day at 90 had been filtering through backstage. Typically, Bill turned this into a celebration of one of his personal icons and one of rock’s root metaphors, with an upbeat, inclusive and audience singalong run-through of “30 Days” which earned the comment, “that was wicked good, Boston!” and would have had the great man smiling down from up high.

A stellar “Taillights Fade” brought us back to the Tom’s usual brooding oeuvre, before the final number, a cover of New Order’s classic “Age Of Consent” was slowed to a hushed yet no less potent ballad, ending a stunning opening set. Wow Bill, you totally killed it… and this was only for starters!

I then took a loo trip in the downstairs gents (which I didn’t realise was shared between the club and the front lounge), then had my bum-bite, as the steward stationed by the bar wouldn’t let me back into the club as I didn’t have a pass – despite the fact he’d seen me walk past him to go to the loo in the first place! This just before THE GRAVEL PIT were due on, too… he was having none of my stammered and increasingly angry arguments, yet fortuitously Creamer popped up as if by divine providence, with a, “he’s alright” comment and a precious blue wristband. Thus freed of the nimby steward, I was able to squirm down the front for the Pit’s arrival, being introduced onstage by co-host Angie C Shaw. My first time seeing The Pit since 2003, when for me they were the most overtly dynamic, visceral and immersive “live” rock’n’roll act on Planet Earth (a position likely currently occupied by the mighty Titus Andronicus), and also likely the first time they’d played together for a number of years themselves, it was inevitable that their raw power and seething fire would be diminished with the passing years. Nonetheless, this merely gave their virtuoso musicianship, band chemistry and Jed’s songwriting prowess space to shine instead; opener “Where The Flying Things Go” and the bouncy, modish “Baby Gap” sounded excellent, crystal clear, before ceding to newie and more showtune-esque “Mr. Baby”, before “Why”, darker and more brooding.

A plug for tomorrow’s Pit matinee show at Atwood’s Tavern followed (“that show’s a benefit for The Gravel Pit!” announced a playful Jed) before a couple of other newies followed, the galloping “Wreck Of The Triple One” a highlight. A timecheck for the already late-running schedule (Jed, “what’s the time?”; EdV, “don’t care!”) preceded a jaunty “Bucket” with EdV’s bass solo and Jed’s cod-reggae guitar licks a duelling feature, then closer and set highlight “Something’s Growing Inside”, grungy and growling, left us with a taste of the “old” Pit, a vignette to finish a superbly judged, low-key yet wonderfully sounding set.

I popped up backstage to offer congrats to the Pit boys just as Evan Dando arrived, so took a quick opportunity for a pic but didn’t hold him up as he was due onstage next. Just as I’d thanked him and was making my way out, however, I heard the slash of a familiar “live” guitar riff and an unmistakable strident voice from downstairs… fuck me, that’s Aaron Perrino’s voice!! And sure enough; Angie C Shaw had announced to the crowd, “it wouldn’t be a 90’s celebration without THE SHEILA DIVINE!” and there they were… well, two thirds, anyway… turned out that Creamer had gotten wind that Evan might be a late arrival or even a no-show, and primed Aaron and TSD bassist Jim Gilbert that they might be needed as short notice stand-ins, then apparently told Gravel Pit drummer Pete Caldes (who’d drummed one tour for the Sheilas back in 2000, between drummers Shawn Sears and Ryan Dolan) to stay put after the Pit set! A powerful, screamingly emotive run-through TSD classics “Like A Criminal” and “Hum” in front of a frantic and incredulous audience ensued, Jim as usual owning it, looking 10 feet tall on the Paradise stage, and Aaron cheekily slipping in a “Rudderless” lyrical reference (Angie told me at Atwoods that Evan, preparing backstage, had noticed this, prompting him to get a hurry-on!). Following “Hum”, Aaron announced, “here’s Evan!” and EVAN DANDO took the stage, bearded and dishevelled and with Bill Janovitz’ guitar on hasty loan, opening with a sweet “Being Around”. As this finished, I briefly popped backstage to greet Jim and Aaron, chatting for a couple of minutes only, before decamping to catch the rest of Evan’s set… which comprised a further 1 ½ numbers; a half of “Down About It” which was then abandoned in favour of a cover of country act Florida Georgia Line’s “Round Here,” which he’d introduced as, “a JA Happ number” – hang about, isn’t he a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays? Anyway, that was that… very short and a little frustrating, but hey, it’s Evan… what else do we expect?!

The place was proper old school rammed by this point, and I was also re-acquainted with the Boston gig-goer habit of simply not moving an inch when someone wants to squeeze through (usually offering a pithy or irate comment in the process), so I abandoned my attempts of getting towards the stage and instead pitched up in the VIP viewing area on the balcony next to the mixing desk (where I overheard a passing Creamer comment, “so Evan did 4 numbers and now we’re back on schedule!”). This actually afforded me an excellent view of BELLY’s superb and clearly recent road-tested set; from the off their patented dreampop/ college rock collision sounded tough, tight and together, their reunion tour clearly re-igniting the spark of band chemistry between Tanya, Gail and the Gorman brothers. A plangent “Gepetto”, a frantic “Dusted” and a creepy “Super-Connected” (preceded by Gail initiating an, “A-C-L-U!” chant and announcing, “[The ACLU is] the only thing that’s standing between this administration and the end of civilisation as we know it!”) rocketed by, Gail all leant-back Ramones rock poses, Tanya stomping the stage in her stilettoed boots, totally owning it. It wouldn’t be Belly of late without some technical issues, though, and sure enough, Gail’s onstage monitor threatened to give up the ghost before “Feed The Tree”, the roadie’s remedial work perhaps affecting the sound slightly during this and the subsequent “Now They’ll Sleep”, the latter particularly sounding ragged. Nonetheless, Belly powered through, and a feisty, frantic and effervescent “Slow Dog”, my set highlight, preceded the band introducing Tanya’s husband Dean Fisher onstage, to provide subtle bongo accompaniment for an excellent newie “Shiny One”, a woozy sway-along with an anthemic chorus. Nice! Techy hiccups notwithstanding, Belly smashed it tonight!

A bit more backstage hanging out, joining Corin who was happily handing out cards advertising his “protest song!” (a ditty called “Vulgar Stain” which still retains his trademark Beatle-esque love of melody), meeting facebook friend and fellow Sky Heroes aficionado Steve Latham, and grabbing selfies with the artistes (who all seemed to take my pestering in good humour, thankfully…) before hitting the VIP balcony again for JULIANA HATFIELD. The sole performer tonight whom I didn’t grab for a selfie and the one whom I’d lost touch with about 5 or 6 albums ago, I confess I wasn’t anticipating her set with as much relish as the rest of this stacked bill. However, backed up with the Pit’s rhythm section of EdV and Pete Caldes, you’re not going to go too far wrong, and I’m pleased to report she put me in my place with a damn fine performance of material which was largely unfamiliar to me, but which still retained an easy, laconic and melodic college pop sensibility. EdV had been bigging up her forthcoming album “Pussycat”, and newies “Wonder Why”, a slow burner with a big soaring chorus, and “Touch You Again”, a balls-out rocker, were standout tracks, boding well for the new release, and were, along with the older chugger “Candy Wrapper”, delivered with urgency and potency. We then had the promised Minor Alps interlude; Juliana introduced Matt Caws onstage, and the subsequent “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands” was superb, brilliantly smooth yet eerie, followed by a more relaxed cover of the old standard “Bad Moon Rising”. A few more of Juliana’s own numbers convinced me at least to hunt down the new CD, as overall this set was a pleasant surprise.

A lawyer from the ACLU then took the stage and gave a fire-breathing rallying cry for her organisation, shouting out the benefits they’ve provided and emphasising the work left to do, whilst also announcing tonight had raised $22K! Yikes! A fantastic effort (which would ultimately rise to close to $25K), which I was proud of my ticket/ merch contribution of $100 or so… This bumped us up to 11 and the floor thinned out slightly, so I risked the dancefloor, squirming forward for a vantage point stage left for NADA SURF. A racy “Cold To See Clear” opened, gorgeous and bouncy as a whole field of Spring lambs, then the plaintive yet pointed “Whose Authority” followed, Matt Caws’ yearning vocals already a feature. By the growling, galloping “High Speed Soul”, I’d pitched up at the front, in perfect view of the kinetic Daniel Lorca’s splendid menacing bass work and low-slung rock star poses, rocking out for all I was worth.

Matt Caws is one of those rare performers with the talent of making you feel as if you’re the only person in the room, that he’s addressing you directly, making the surrounding large hall melt away and giving the performance a personal, almost intimate feel. Tonight he let the music and lyrics primarily do the talking, so this gift was most effective on the likes of the touching, lovelorn “Rushing” and the penultimate “Always Love”. In between, a double of the incendiary, almost punk rock “Way You Wear Your Head” and the slow build to massive crashing crescendo of a stunning “See These Bones” ensured I’d be waking up tomorrow with sore knees. Then, all too soon, set finale “Blankest Year” saw a shout out from Matt to organiser EdV, and the modified hook of, “fuck it, we’re going to have a benefit!” featured 2 false finishes before the final denouement, each more raggedly cacophonous than the last, stretched and elongated, as if they never wanted this party to end. Further proof of that, if needed, was the encore; I’d caught a glimpse of Da Surf rehearsing “I Fought The Law” backstage, and the work proved fruitful, Tanya Donelly and Jed Parish joining the boys on backing vocals for a rambunctious rendition of which The Clash would have been proud. An utterly appropriate and all-inclusive way to end a quite epic night!

Headed off with Corin for my last night in Boston; then the following morning saw a splendid late breakfast in a Greek restaurant, my treat as a “thank you” to my gracious hosts, and a trip to Staples for a packing tube for my signed ACLU Benefit poster, before I bade farewell and headed over to Atwood’s Tavern, scene of the last act of my Boston weekend!

Hit the quiet early doors venue at 2.15, a small long bar with a stage set up at the far end, so I took a table nearest to the stage to the left, watching the place fill up and spotting and greeting familiar faces Jim Haggarty of The Gravy, and Matt Burwell, who’d been the Pills drummer during their UK jaunt (gig 634, again!). I also introduced myself to The Rationales’ mainman David Mirabella, a facebook friend since my pledging on their very fine “The Distance In Between” CD a few years back. The Pit turned up, as did last night’s co-host Angie C Shaw, who joined me at my front table, with her partner Dave and friends Dennis and Michelle, for some buoyant and entertaining rock chat. Kevin Stephenson played a short set to the assemblage at 4pm, a couple of blues standards interspersed with his own, vintage rock’n’roll influenced compositions, which dovetailed well together and provided good background music to the rock chat.

The Pit took the cramped stage at 4.30, Jed welcoming with a, “good afternoon!” and easing into “Bolt Of Light”, Pete Caldes’ rocksteady drums and Jed’s intricate farfisa organ tampering a feature. By a groovy “Favorite”, they were in their stride, yet, as last night, this was not the growling rock behemoth Pit of old, probably a good thing too given the size of the venue and the proliferation of children of all ages at this matinee performance. An easy, relaxed performance, picking and choosing as the mood took it, rendering the set-list pretty much useless, chatting and interacting with the crowd of mainly friends and family.

A galloping “Triple One” saw Jed move off the keys; “I get to play the guitar [this time], it’s an exciting instrument especially when electrified!”, and, following some teasing from Jed (“Ezra Messenger”! Remember that one? Well, keep remembering it…”), an unexpected “Rise Of Abimelech DuMont” (“part 4 of the fear trilogy!” quipped Jed) was as overtly “rock” as it got this afternoon, Jed nonetheless still reining in the big smoky voice during the strident denouement. “Mosquito” featured a lengthy stripped back middle 8, “Favorite Scar” was muted and slower than usual but still fun and “Tangled” was surprisingly rocking; then Ted Taylor’s 60’s standard “Love Is Like A Rambling Rose” ended this entertaining, relaxed and, dare I even say it, “mature” 1 ½ hour performance. A celebration of The Gravel Pit!

(The list ended up as: Bolt Of Light, Mr. Baby, Favorite, Bucket, Triple One, Stingray, Crybaby Vampire, Flying Things, Baby Gap, Don’t Do What You’re Dying To Do, I See Red, Abimelech DuMont, Mosquito, Favorite Scar, Why, Tangled, Something’s Growing Inside, Rambling Rose)

Fond farewells all round, then David Mirabella very kindly dropped me off at the airport, enjoying a chat about his band, Nada Surf and REM in the process; then an on-time and much smoother red-eye flight home got me back to Blighty at 7 a.m. UK time. National Express wouldn’t let me board an earlier coach home without a transfer charge, though, so waited for my scheduled 9.50 bus, home at 11.15 to be greeted by my lovely wife at the bus station. Thus ended my return to Boston; that was indeed Something Very Special!

Monday, 13 March 2017

1,027 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, Theatre Of Hate, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 12th March 2017

Round up the Big Man, bolt on the old punk rock t-shirt, get ready for the usual “Lauda”-esque sprint down the M4… yup, it’s time for the annual “Mad March To Bristol” to see Stiff Little Fingers!

This time it was for a more auspicious occasion – not only the 12th time in 13 years that we’d made this March pilgrimage (and my 17th time overall of catching them – thereby putting them once again into a clear 2nd place in my “Most Times Seen” list, behind the mighty Seafood), but also this tour celebrated the venerable original politico-punk agitators’ 40th Anniversary! Yup, SLF are 40 years young, and still, for me, thanks to recent worrying UK and global political shifts to the right, as relevant as ever. Trump, Brexit, terrorism… one would wonder what Fingers mainman Jake Burns, not often short of an opinion or two, might have to say about all that malarkey…

I was in the driving seat this year, so I picked up Ady, joining us this time around, then the Big Man, and we hared it down the M4, our only delay being to get into Trenchard car park due to an event at The Colston Hall as well! Parked on the roof then (!), but made it in time to join a very busy early doors crowd for the support. Said support, Kirk Brandon’s Theatre Of Hate, were on at 7.45 as we arrived, the strains of “Original Sin” accompanying our entrance. To be honest, I’d always preferred Brandon’s subsequent, more 80’s rockist-orientated Spear Of Destiny, to his angrier, punkier and heavy drum/ wailing saxophone dominated ToH material, so some of this set was a bit heavy going for me. However, the pacy, urgent “Propaganda”, a growling “Legion” and the inevitable galloping “Westworld” ended the set strongly, and Brandon’s soaring, almost operatically sinister voice was as usual an impressive feature throughout.

I’d made my way to the loo at the end of ToH’s set, but found it difficult to get back – this one was utterly heaving tonight! I’d noted that recent SLF March Bristol gigs had seen falling attendances, but it seemed every old punker in the South West had crawled out of the woodwork for the 40th Anniversary tour! Made it back in time, nevertheless, for the “Go For It” entrance music (the best, most all-inclusive buoyant, mood-setting intro music in rock, bar NONE!), and Jake and the boys took the stage with the usual, “Bristol! Y’alright?” shout-out, then, unexpectedly, into the rarely-played oldie “Breakout” and an equally infrequent but deliciously snarling “Straw Dogs”! Yipe, we might be in for some surprises tonight!

Such was the case, as Jake remarked, “Fuck me, 40 years… you get less time for murder!”, then announced that to mark the 40th, there’d be a few surprises amongst the usual faves. So we had the sinuous reggae-based “Safe As Houses” (one of Jake’s faves’ apparently) and the waltz-like intro to “Roaring Boys” which then took flight into a rambunctious punk-fest, amongst the usual likes of the empowering “Nobody’s Hero” and the excellent “Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae”, a breathless mid-set highlight.

And what did Jake have to say about the current political turmoil? Oddly, nothing… he continued to eschew the social and political commentary as per recent tours, saving the more severe invective for the likes of church hypocrisy and breaches of child trust (“Guilty As Sin”) and ignorant IRA support (“Each Dollar A Bullet”). All well and good, but I’d have liked to hear the Chicago-domiciled Burns’ take on the current idiot incumbent of The White House… Never mind, the music did the talking, and very eloquently; a final salvo of a savage “Wasted Life”, an epic “Tin Soldiers” and the raw, ragged “Suspect Device” ended the set superbly. Then after a libidinous, militaristic drumbeat-led first encore “Johnny Was”, Jake thanked us all for 40 years of support and for, “giving us a career,” before rounding off the night with another rare and highlight of the night “Gotta Getaway” and the inevitable if slightly messy “Alternative Ulster”. A great evening’s vintage punk rock again, and this time an SLF performance worthy of this major anniversary.

A footnote to tonight was that, midway through the gig, a guy in front of me was hauled out by the paramedics worryingly clutching his chest; however, before I grabbed a list and we hit the road for a clear run home, I bumped into his mate who confirmed he was OK, recovering at home. That’s a relief!

Monday, 6 March 2017

1,026 IDESTROY, Swindon The Rolleston, Sunday 5th March 2017

And now, as promised, for the gang of Bristolian punk girlies…!

A likely low-key Sunday gig, this, but hey, if there’s a band playing quality original music, a Sunday night Rolly is just as valid as a sell-out Wembley in my view. And after checking out good old fashioned power trio IDestroy at the Swindon Shuffle last year and greatly enjoying their swaggering, riff-tastic guitar Vic set in a Runaways meets Veruca Salt vein, I was up for some more when the opportunity arose. So, a Sunday night freebie? Thanks I do!

A drive up and street parking just down the hill from the venue got me there just before 8, just as the girls were taking the stage (the raised area of the pub, in the corner window to the right as you go in!) for a short snappy soundcheck – a double run-through of the chorus of their eponymous track “IDestroy”! All sounded good, so they settled down with drinkies and I took a seat in the sparsely-attended Sunday evening hostelry to await their set proper, and hopefully some other punters arriving!

Sadly none were forthcoming – in fact a few people left, leaving less than a dozen people present and, in all honesty, about 4 of us lined up against the bar actually ready to pay attention! A sorry state of affairs even for Sunday night, but fair play to ‘em, the girls set to their task gamely with a strident cacophonous riff leading into aforementioned set opener “IDestroy”, a punkish blast with a suitably bratty yet no less hooky chorus, blowing the cobwebs away.

The IDestroy sound is essentially a basic, primal guitar groove drawing on 2 disparate but overlapping elements, namely a 70’s embryonic punk sound reminiscent of Joan Jett’s all-girl charges, and a more post-grunge/ 90’s heavy indie sound. So we had “Pins And Needles”, all scuzzy riffery and back to back rock poses between small, intense vocalist Bec Jevons and her taller and more pliable rock-chick bassist colleague Becky Baldwin, followed up with “Bitter Love”, which almost appropriated the creepy underlying bass riff from Adorable’s “Homeboy”, before kicking into grungy gear, both numbers featuring trademark “whoa-oh” harmonies and double vocal interplay. “Vanity Loves Me” was a snappy Veruca Salt groove with a suitably dismissive vocal, the “brand new single!” “98%” featured a soaring, insistent hook which for me recalled Cactus World News’ excellent “Years After” (obscure muso that I am…!), and “Claustrophobic” was a slower, almost stoner rock sludgy groove which might not have been out of place of a “Sons Of Anarchy” episode soundtrack!

“Technically, this is still the weekend,” announced Bec, “so this is a song about getting drunk and talking shit at the weekend!” Said number, “Talking Shit” was my set highlight, an Ex Hex-alike strident stomping rocker with a Damn Personals swagger. “State Of The Art” rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes set played with kinetic energy and admirable conviction, despite the poor turnout. Kudos to the girls for playing for the guys that were there, rather than bemoaning those that weren’t!

A quick chat with vocalist Bec afterwards; they’d played at a packed out Hope And Anchor (one of the birthplaces of 70’s UK punk rock) the previous night, so this was a bit of a comedown. Nonetheless, she and her band seemed to enjoy it, and were looking forward to their set on Monday, at the “A Shot At Discovery” heat at Bristol O2, again in front of a bigger crowd. I hope that works out, as IDestroy are a feisty little band who deserve to be heard by more than the 4 of us present tonight. Good luck girls!