Wednesday, 30 August 2017

1,050 ALVVAYS, Alaskalaska, Southampton Talking Heads, Tuesday 29th August 2017

I was always going to catch Alvvays on this tour (pardon the pun) – the first time this band of Nova Scotia dreamers, with innocent wide-eyed guitars and dark, unspoken melancholy in their hearts in equal measure, had graced our shores for 2 years, this time back to push a new album in the forthcoming “Antisocialites” – but the question turned out to be, where? A September date at “The Dirty Boat”, Bristol’s Thekla, seemed favourite, and I duly sourced a ticket for that one, only for Rach to arrange her first sea swim for that weekend, prompting a potential family weekend away. Oxford’s date clashed with a previously arranged gig elsewhere (Psychedelic Furs, next week!), so it was down to Southampton, to a new venue for me in The Talking Heads, which was apparently my friend Rich Carter’s Uni boozer of choice!

A solo jaunt for me too, this, so I motored purposefully down the A34, finding the venue easily and a street parking spot eventually, after a couple of tours of the locale. Into a small, compact and bijou, and wider than long venue, already well attended, and greeted by Devo’s “Freedom Of Choice” over the PA. Had worse welcomes! I soon came to wish they’d left that on, as support Alaskalaska, on prompt at 8.15, really weren’t much cop; a cumbersome 6 piece, featuring at least 2 totally superfluous members in their keyboardist and saxophonist, their songs generally eased in on a smooth, pastoral (and occasionally darker, more morose) Sundays-like vibe, before unfortunately developing into more cluttered and over-fussy beasts, recalling poor 80’s wine bar funk at times, but generally overcomplicated by rude, blaring sax or dissonant sheet synth. If their songs were 30 seconds long each (!) I might have actually liked them; instead they just irritated and bored me. Sorry, but Alaskalaska just left me coldcold…

Alvvays then set up onstage and I wandered down the crowded front, stage right, in anticipation of a quick turnaround, whilst the PA then played the Razorcuts’ totally appropriate C86 classic “Sorry To Embarrass You” (31 years old! Older than most of tonight’s crowd, I’d wager…). Someone’s evidently been doing their homework…! 10 minutes late, however, bagpipe music and an “Alvvays” flag projected onto the backdrop heralded the band’s entrance at 9.25, straight into hard-edged new opener “Saved By Waif”, before Molly remarked, “how’s it going?” and, “shit! Is that French?” to some clever-dick heckler, before “Adult Diversion”’s joyous Rickenbacker jangle got the sell-out young crowd bouncing.

A shame that this tour preceded the release of “Antisocialites”, rather than the other way around, as the set was replete with new numbers, and it really felt that each new number was definitely going to be my new favourite new Alvvays number… until the next one! Whether it be the herky-jerky new waveisms of “Plimsoul Punks”, the brash, brittle Buzzcocks-like “Your Type” or the equally snappy, punky bounce of “Lollipop”, or Kerry’s cinematic keyboards embellishing the plaintive yet really rather lovely harmonies of “Not My Baby” (which in all honesty will likely be my actual new favourite new Alvvays number!), every new song was a winner, a subtle yet distinct addition and extension to the Alvvays sonic template.

The oldies weren’t bad either! And, true to form, Alvvays did them justice with an upbeat, blissful and inclusive performance. Vivacious vocalist Molly was in good quipping form, announcing, “we enjoy being in the UK; you’ve got great rest-stop food… and lots of sheep!” and telling a story about splitting her “pants” at Glasgow airport while backfilling a keyboard-prompted technical break. The breezy “Atop A Cake” got me bopping furiously down the front, and the undulating riff of “Next Of Kin” was a set highlight, although topped by a brilliant “Marry Me Archie”, a rousing and lusty singalong bouncing off the venue’s low ceiling. The pleading melancholy of “Party Police” ended a splendid set, before a rapid-fire encore run-through of The Motorcycle Boy’s obscure 80’s pop number “Trying To Be Kind” (which I mistook for The Darling Buds!) and their own, poignant “The Agency Group” closed proceedings.

I got my Kerry-provided set-list signed by new drummer Sheridan during a chat about The Motorcycle Boy and The Shop Assistants, before hitting the road for a midnight home-time. In fine form and with some excellent new material, this lot, so I was always going to catch Alvvays… and always will!

Friday, 25 August 2017

1,049 ASH, Get Inuit, Frome Cheese And Grain, Thursday 24th August 2017

Now there’s a double-bill that just makes perfect sense, I thought to myself as I picked up a flyer for this one at May’s excellent “All Roads Lead To Frome” festival at this very venue (gig. 1,036)… former spritely young punky powerpop bucks turned enduring, and almost veteran these days, punky powerpop stags (to keep the deer analogy going!) Ash, supported by, well, current spritely young punky powerpop bucks Get Inuit? Sensing a theme here, or am I just hitting the “copy and paste” too much? Either way, this was an irresistible proposition, with recent viewings of both bands showing them to be in top “live” form, so I swiftly booked tickets for myself, Matt (who, like me, had been blown away by their “Shiiine On” set in November), Rach (who’d been missing Ash gig chances of late so wanted to make up for lost time), and, after checking it was a 10+ gig, Logan too (who’d latched onto Ash thanks to repeated airings of their impressive singles collection “Intergalactic Sonic Sevens” in the car)!

Kasey was the odd one out in the fam, but Laura babysat, and we hit the road at 6.45, a twisty and turny run via Bradford On Avon pitching us up at 7.45, just as Matt arrived! Collected tix and eschewed the solo acoustic guy on the bar for a catch-up outside, mainly about my new job! Doors at 8, and we wandered in, finding a sparse early doors crowd, so an easy front row place for Logan’s viewing spot. Ran into Get Inuit’s James during a quick loo trip, advising they were on in, “7 minutes…” True enough, they emerged prompt at 8.30, gearing up and bursting into a crisp, bright “Mean Heart”. From the off, unfortunately, the sound did them no favours, being tinny and a bit echoey from our front row spot (better a few feet back, though, according to Rach), but that seemed to bother them not a whit, as they set to it with unrestrained and joyful ebullience, particularly pliable vocalist Jamie… I’m sure backs aren’t meant to fold back as far as his does! Jamie echoed my sentiments, commenting, “what better way to warm up for Ash than playing some songs that sound like Ash?” before leading into the gabbling, Silver Sun-esque “All My Friends”. “Cutie Pie” reminded Rach of The Figgs’ classic “Favorite Shirt” (good spot!), and “Hot Air” sounded soaring and anthemic, as I shook a leg down the front. The boys were all in good fooling, Rob commenting on the bunting in the hall (!), James playing some guitar riffs lying down (to Logan’s delight!) and still hitting the correct pedal (!), and the gyrating Jamie pleading, “please buy our merch!” during the pregnant pause midway through a sinewy, riffaholic “Barbiturates”. Searing closer “Pro-Procastinator” was preceded by Jamie lauding Ash for the tour; “they’re lovely people inside and out, I know you’re thinking of being hostile to them… so don’t!” No worries there, and Get Inuit totally nailed this set. Nice one boys!

After a chat with Rob and a catch-up with Jamie on the merch stand (Logan getting a signed CD), Logan whiled away the interval chatting to a friendly roadie (who advised him to get some earplugs in!) as he set up onstage. Ash were wasting no time tonight either; said roadie (more from him later) bolted the Flying “V” onto Tim Wheeler as he led his charges onstage, immediately powering into a savage, wah-wah-tastic “Lose Control”, all white light, strobes and drama. “A Life Less Ordinary”, next up, saw a kneeling Tim play the opening riff inches from a delighted – and singing along! – Logan, and by “Goldfinger”, they were in their stride, firing hit after hit straight into their devoted hard-core following. “Nice of the Foo Fighters to leave their bunting behind!” Tim quipped before an excellent “Machinery”, with the subsequent “Kung Fu” seeing some lengthy, stadium-style  call and response tomfoolery between singer and audience.

And here’s where I bitch and moan a bit (not about the band or their excellent performance, though…); with their remarkable back catalogue and almost flawless run of singles, this lot should be playing places waaay bigger than this. Yes, still! Tim commented that this gig warmed them up nicely for Reading, where they’re playing the third (third!) stage, second on the bill to (who the fuck are) The Hunna. They should be headlining the whole damn show! What the fuck is wrong with this picture!!!??

Still, I suppose it means we can get up front and close with the band, and Tim can do things such as praise Get Inuit, then notice my “I’m Wasting My Life” t-shirt and announce, “glad to see someone bought their merch!” Back to the rock; “Walking Barefoot” was a surf-tastic taste of the Summer we didn’t get (again), “Shining Light” an epic, roof-raising sincere singalong, and after a glowering, hard and heavy “Orpheus”, “Girl From Mars” got the mosh really going, possibly the best sounding number on show tonight. A bouncy “White Rabbit” saw another splendid, fun Ash set to a close, the band then easing into the encore with an initially discordant yet building, widescreen “Twilight Of The Innocents”, before a contrasting, frantic “Jack Names The Planets”. Tim then invited Logan to sit on the stage for “Burn Baby Burn”, Logan happily singing along as the place went appropriately batshit crazy for Ash’s signature tune, ending a great night.

Actually, not quite ending it… I’d grabbed Tim’s list, but our friendly roadie emerged with the sound-desk’s list for Logan, which he then took backstage to get signed for him! Result! Hung with the Get Inuit boys on the merch stand before tiredness took hold of a rocked-out boy, and we bade farewells, luckily bumping into Ash bassist, the very tall Mark Hamilton, for a pic in the lobby. Double result! Home for 12.15, full of Ash (and also pleased I'd made Get Inuit converts of my wife and son!), and with a new album in the early stages, more to come from them. Still breathing, heart still beating!