Tuesday, 28 May 2019

1,140 EX HEX, Rattle, Bristol Exchange, Monday 27th May 2019

There seems to be quite a lot of all-female, or female fronted, bands or acts popping up on my Spring Dance Card this year… maybe I’m turning into my occasional gigging buddy “Beef” on the quiet! Anyway, here’s another distaff ensemble, namely Washington DC’s punky power trio ex Hex, who burst into my sightline with their splendid 2015 debut “Rips”, a collection of proto-punky riffery and New Wave harmonies that sounded as if it stepped out of Max’s Kansas City circa 1977. A couple of fine upbeat gigs around that time cemented Mary Timony’s latest project as a “live” staple for me, so I picked up a ticket for this Bank Holiday Monday gig when announced, following it up with new album “It’s Real”, which honestly lacks the immediacy of its’ predecessor, the tracks in general slower-burn, longer, and veering a little uncomfortably towards a more 80’s hair metal and occasionally AOR vibe. Not yet great then, so I was hoping that some of the effervescent buoyancy and fun of the live Ex Hex experience might elevate these numbers somewhat. Here’s hoping…

So I set off at 7.15 for a swift blast down a quiet Bank Holiday M4 (I wouldn’t say “reluctantly”, but certainly I felt less of the stomach-knotting excitement and anticipation that normally accompanies me along to gigs), parking up usual spot and hitting the very quiet-early-doors venue just after 8. Whiled away some time on my phone, in FB correspondence with my brother – earlier today I’d unearthed a copy on Flickr of a letter I wrote to “Smash Hits” as an indignant 15-year old, vehemently defending my then favourite band The Skids against accusations of poseurism! Said banter was certainly more fun than the support Rattle, a female drum duo – yup, that’s right… drum duo… They pounded out 3 numbers over their ½ hour slot, caterwauling over the 15-minute first, ooh-oohing over the thankfully shorter second, but when they announced their third number as, “one last one, but it’s long, so brace yourselves…” I got the hell out of dodge, continuing my FB chat from the safety of the bar, away from the efforts of Rattle… And Drum! (Groan…)

Hopefully from the ridiculous to the sublime – or at least musical… I grabbed a second row spot, house right, as the place filled up to a respectable level and the girls, in matching New Wave chic and spray-on jeans, set up. They took the stage at 9.15 to little fuss or fanfare, Mary Timony announcing, “what’s up? We’re Ex Hex from Washington DC!” and leading her charges into oldie opener “You Fell Apart”, all snappy, sassy, snazzy and singalong.

Sonically, the set unfolded as I expected; the girls interspersed new material in with old, the older proving generally more melodic, shorter, snappier, faster, punkier, more immediate and singalong than the newer stuff. “How You Got That Girl” oozed with Mink DeVille late 70’s insouciant NYC cool, “Beast” was superbly energetic, guitarist Betsy joyfully high-kicking her way through its’ denouement, and “Don’t Wanna Lose” was probably my set highlight, all slashing riffery and groovy, flippant chorus. By contrast, some of the newer numbers felt overlong and a little drab in comparison, “Another Dimension” in particular skirting uncomfortably close to that 80’s hair metal sound with some over-fussy middle-8 licks. However, the girls’ energetic and kinetic performance made up for the lesser quality of the new songs, Betsy and Mary swapping rock poses and often interlocking legs whilst riffing off each other, the addition of a “live” bassist freeing Betsy up to throw rock riff shapes and revisit “the leg”, our favourite Betsy pose from their last “live” go-around. They were clearly enjoying themselves, and honestly, so was I!

A swift 45 minute set was topped by the groovy “Radio On” and a splendid, Velvet Underground-esque “Hot And Cold”, the latter also borrowing elements of that classic Knack “My Sharona” middle-8 riff. At a shade under an hour, this was short but sweet, the band overall rising above their not-so-great recent material to deliver a fine showing overall. No list for me tonight though, as the devoted front rows beat me to it. Nonetheless, a quick chat with the sound guy – none other than Tim from The Woahnows! – on the way out was a nice way to end a fun night with the Ex Hex girls. I was looking for effervescence and energy – girls, you delivered!

Sunday, 26 May 2019

1,139 CHAMELEONSVOX, Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre, Thursday 23rd May 2019

The second of two in two nights for me, and whilst last night’s Juliana Hatfield gig may have been full of doubts (both before and after!), tonight’s hosts were pretty much the nearest you can get to a nailed-on Sure Thing “live” these days; the one and only Chameleons Vox! Barely 3 years since my post-redundancy voyage of 80’s musical discovery unearthed for me this ruffian band of epic goth-tinged post-punker Mancunians, but this would be my 5th time seeing them “live” since then; making up for lost time indeed! An added bonus this time however was that this Gloucester gig would be a run-through of their third album “Strange Times”; their third and arguably most epic, sweeping and-anthemic sounding collection. Released in 1986 to a divided UK, with the South bathing in yuppie affluence yet the North still reeling from the after-effects of the bitter Miner’s Strike (strange times, indeed), it reflected the fear and doubt of those times, all moody melody and bleak intensity, yet also managed to sound joyful and euphoric at the same time. A great, great body of work, and (again) one that I should have held dear for 33 years, rather than just 3!

Ok, enough of the self-flagellation; another benefit of this Gloucester gig was that I finally get to hang out with a kindred spirit and likely my blog’s biggest fan; I’d been receiving favourable comments from a certain Cerebus660 pretty much since I set up my gig blog, finally getting to meet him at the Skids Guildhall gig earlier this year (gig 1,124)!. Simon (his real non-comic aardvark-related name) and I arranged to meet up for this one; he, like me, had allowed The Chameleons to pass him by somewhat back in the day, but some revisiting on my recommendation was enough to sway the man into joining me tonight! A quick drive up and parking in my usual free spot saw me hit the venue at 7.30; Simon joined me shortly after and we enjoyed a lengthy chat, discovering much common ground – comics as well as music, and even a difficult illness in our medical pasts; almost lives lived in parallel, 40 miles apart…! Kate and neighbour George joined us briefly as well, before we headed into this old school hall venue. Another fairly quiet one tonight, with the hall probably only 2/3rds full of the devoted church of the Chameleons, but hey, I’d go for knowledge over numbers any day of the week…!

With very little fanfare, the trenchcoated and monolithic Mark Burgess led his charges onstage dead on 9, announcing the run-through of “Strange Times” then remarking that in “honour” of the idiot incumbent in the White House, the opener would be re-christened “Mad Trump”! Of course, this found favour with this crowd, as did the rendition; as ever with this band the version was faithful yet epic, again a little slower than the breathless gallop on record, setting the tone for the performance. “Caution”, next up, was eerie, undulating and superbly widescreen, with guitarist Neil Dwerryhouse’s virtuoso picking a feature, the band already weaving the kind of taut, moody atmospherics that gained them such a devoted following (and, conversely, catapulted U2 to stadium status at the same time…!). The slow-burn “Tears” featured Korg synth embellishments from a mystery 5th member, replacing the shimmering acoustic strum-along base of the recorded version, but an elongated “Soul In Isolation” was the first real skyscraping highlight from a set full of them; the complex drum pattern lurching the song into staggering life, before the clouds broke and the song really took flight, Burgess using its’ rhythmic middle 8 section to deliver some serious messages (“60% of the species on this planet have become extinct in the last 20 years!”) as well as throwing in the likes of “The End” (“all our leaders are insane!”), Bowie’s “Be My Wife” and various Beatles numbers for added emphasis. Utterly magnificent.

Photo courtesy of Cerebus660. Nice one Simon!

Burgess was again in rare form, the voice authoritative and commanding, and his band backed him up with another display of haunting, shimmering and plangent brilliance. “Time” and “In Answer” were both serious rockers, surprisingly hard-edged, yet the intervening “Seriocity” was simply gorgeous, proving this band have a lightness and deftness of touch when required. All too soon the almost angelic instrumental coda of “I’ll Remember” ended the “Strange Times” run-through, Burgess leading the band off after a quite magnificent hour. After a short interval, Burgess returned, canvassing the crowd for requests before a galloping “Paradiso” and an elongated “Second Skin”, which almost matched “Soul” for its epic scope, the crowd lustily providing “woah-oh” backing vocals from the off; then “Nostalgia” closed out another superb Chameleons set.

I thought I’d lucked out on a set-list when the roadie collected them all up during the brief interval; however, we stopped for merch on the way out and I was happily offered the one just lying there on the merch table! Had a quick drink with Simon to compare notes on the gig before taking my leave and blasting home down a pitch-black A419. Great company and one hell of a gig from as good a band as there is “live” right now. I’m still making up for lost time, but on this form I won’t ever miss a chance to see ChameleonsVox!

1,138 THE JULIANA HATFIELD THREE, SHE MAKES WAR, Bristol Thekla, Wednesday 22nd May 2019

Well, this girl had well and truly put me in my place last time out; Juliana Hatfield was pretty much the one outlier in a stacked Boston Rock wet dream line-up at the ACLU Benefit Show at the Paradise 2 years ago (gig 1,028), the one act I’d not been keeping up with and the one I wasn’t relishing. However, backed by The Gravel Pit rhythm section of Valauskas and Caldes, she’d put on a tough and acerbic set of upbeat college rock, prompting me (also at EdV’s insistence, he having been involved heavily in it) to pick up her 2016 album “Pussycat”. A similarly tough and acerbic listen, a certain incumbent of a certain White House particularly looming large in Jools’ lyrical crosshairs, it certainly did enough to put la Hatfield back onto my radar. I did actually think twice about this Thekla show when it was announced, an early stop-off on a rare jaunt around the UK, but the early addition of Bristol fave She Makes War swayed me into booking a ticket for this one. An added attraction was that this was the original Three – a quick message to EdV confirmed that it would be the same line-up who scribbled over my set-list back at the Windsor Old Trout in December 1992 (gig 227)!

Fellow post-grunge US rock acolyte and Level 3 casualty Rich Carter was up for this, so I picked the man up for a swift drive down, cutting across town to avoid Bristol’s one-way silliness and parking up at 7.15, shortly after doors. We ran into Laura, AKA She Makes War, striding purposefully down the corridor and asked her when she was on – “now!” came the hasty reply, and, sure enough, Laura and her 2-piece backing band were ready for the off at 7.20. Quipping, “is there anyone out there?” to the sparse early crowd, she kicked off with the splendidly menacing growl of “Drown Me Out”, thence apologising for doing that song on a boat! Sipping from a mug of tea and making quips about the early start (“thanks for coming out at teatime!”), she was in relaxed fooling, delivering a fine set of US alt-rock-tinged tuneage. The undulating “Cold Shoulder”, a vocal-looped acapella “Delete Myself” (I’m not usually a fan of the dreaded loops, but she used them here with some style) and a quieter, almost pastoral dreampop “Slow Puncture” were highlights, before the brash, Pixies-ish hobnail boot-stomp of “Devastate Me” and the excellent, post-grunge change-of-pace of “Love This Body” completed a splendid 40 minutes. In between, Laura gushed fulsomely about tonight’s headliner (“I wouldn’t be the musician I am if not for [Juliana]”), but in doing so, set a very high performance bar for her mentor.

Had a nice chat with Laura during the interval as the place filled up. However it was probably still only half full at showtime, and I grabbed an easy spot against the stage, house right, while Mr. Carter hung back – not a front row boy! Spot on 9.30, Juliana and her 4-piece Three (augmented by an extra touring guitarist) took the stage, Juliana inquiring whether it was her first time ever in Bristol (2nd, replied a punter), then leading the refrain into her best-known number, “Everybody Loves Me But You”, a still corking little tune. A good start…

I need to say this from the off; I enjoyed this gig. I really did. Even given a Pit-augmented strong showing last time out, I had reservations about tonight, but overall this was better than anticipated. The original rhythm section rolled back the years with a superb, strong and forceful performance, drummer Todd Fisher holding his sticks aloft Neil Peart-like throughout the set, and bassist Dean Fisher (more on him later) belying his Bob Mould-like white cropped beard and general geography teacher look with an energetic performance. The set itself was a well-chosen career-spanning retrospective, with lots of delving back into that 90’s era when Juliana was the post-grunge College Pop Ice Queen pin-up, although I doubt whether many of the audience would have been familiar with the many “Pussycat” cuts, but anyway… Juliana, however, seemed again a little distracted at times (I’m going to be kind and say, actually, that’s probably just her…), and on occasions her fragile, little girl lost voice turned into “little girl lost in the mix”, and also sounded strained, particularly through the higher octaves. Her stage persona was a little odd as well, Juliana on one occasion urging the disappointingly static half-full Thekla crowd to, “stop staring at me!”, then later rambling confusingly about their hushed attentiveness. All a bit bizarre at times then, and it felt to me like that 2011 Portsmouth Lemonheads gig (gig 834), when her male counterpart Evan Dando (cliché to say so, I know, but hey, when you hear clip clops, you’ve gotta say “horse”, right?) put in a similarly uneven performance and was similarly often carried by their rhythm section (The Hi-Fi boys in Evan’s case).

Lots of good bits, though, so let’s focus on those; “Wonder Why” was a lovely slow-burn grungy number with gorgeous yearning vocals, probably Juliana’s best vocal of the night; “Going Blonde”’s racy galloping college pop featured some excellent stickwork from Todd; the glam stomp of “Rhinoceros” was a full-bore anti-Trump blast with a great, upbeat hooky chorus, and the 80’s cheesy hit “(Let’s Get) Physical” from her recent Olivia Newton John covers album sounded rough, tough and… well, physical…! During this one, bassist Dean Fisher caught my eye and complimented my Gravel Pit tee-shirt, so I flashed him the TGP tattoo to his general hilarity. Nice to see that’s still getting attention! The tense and taut “Nirvana” closed out an uneven but overall entertaining rhythm-powered set, with the excellent punky “What A Life” the highlight of the 2 encores.

Grabbed an unpacking Mr. Fisher at the end; I’d originally swiped Dean’s set-list at set-end, only to be asked by the bassist to put it back! However, he then kicked it over to me midway through “What A Life”, so I thought it only fair that he sign it afterwards (and get the rest of the band to do so!)! The affable bassist admitted he didn’t know how to react upon seeing my TGP tattoo (!) and we shared a brief chat about Boston rock, Dean sharing my incredulity that The Sheila Divine aren’t massive, and also enjoying (then showing his bandmates!) my phone pic of that Old Trout set-list, before I was unceremoniously moved along by an overzealous security guard. Lovely to chat with him, and also lovely – albeit equally brief – to chat with Stacee, who I met at that ACLU show 2 years ago, and who was on this tour in a photographer capacity.

The chat with Rich on the drive home revealed he felt similarly about the set, commenting that this would be a really difficult review to write (it was!). So overall another Curate’s Egg of a set – I’m getting a bit tired of using that phrase for my veteran Boston chanteuses, but I’ve got to call it like I see it. Fun but flawed (or flawed but fun…!), but hey, I’m still keeping faith with Juliana!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

1,137 HONEYBLOOD, Feet, Southampton Joiner.s Arms, Saturday 11th May 2019

The last of 3 gigs in 3 different towns over 4 nights was a Saturday evening jaunt down the South Coast to likely my favourite venue, the splendidly scuzzy Joiner’s Arms, to catch up again with Scots indie combo Honeyblood. Just over 2 years since my only previous experience, and it had been an eventful time for them; the previous 2-piece had reduced to a 1-piece (!) consisting of just vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Stina Tweeddale, yet she’d soldiered on with her now-solo project, recording a new album “In Plain Sight” for 2019. A slight disappointment was that the scheduled release date was for the end of May, after most of the tour had concluded, but I was happy to trust in Stina’s effervescent song-writing talent and go for this gig anyway!

Fellow Honeyblood fan Rich Carter actually booked a ticket this time, but had to blow out as it was his wedding anniversary. T’uh, excuses, excuses…! Stuart was at a loose end (whilst waiting to pick his wife up from Heathrow in the small hours!) so happily took up the offer of a free ticket, and a sunny drive down the A34. We made such good time that we parked up almost directly outside the venue before the 8pm “free” parking started, so lurked by the motor until the legal hour before hitting the dark and dry ice-enveloped classic old “L”-shaped back room, already busy early doors with a high amount of female gig-goers. Good! Not so good, however, were support Feet, on at 8.30; a 5-piece sporting an entertaining selection of hats, but not so much in the way of memorable tuneage. Their opener sounded like 3 songs (a quietly pastoral start, a Spacehog-like mid-paced alt-rocker and a faster cinematic bit recalling My Life Story) clumsily gorilla-glued together, and subsequent numbers felt a bit Britpop-era Blur-like, quirkily English and 60’s referencing, but all in all a bit dull. Stuart was of a similar mind, so we repaired to the bar to chat, popping back into the venue after Feet finished to get a good spot, house left, for this sell-out gig, ironically behind the same chap who totally lost his shit (!) dancing sweatily next to me at the Martha gig here back in July 2017 (gig 1,045)!

Had a quick loo trip then spotted a familiar face behind the bar; none other than Sean McGowan, star of February’s Level 3 gig (no. 1,123)! Enjoyed a quick chat with this most affable of gents (Sean intoning in his Ian Dury cockernee, “awright mate, ‘ow are ya! Course I remember you, how could I forget that accent!” Look who’s talking mate!) before leaving him to his “day job” and wandering back in for Stina and her girls’ entrance onstage at 9.30. Stina, strikingly feline of features and sporting a flowing black/red patterned dress, kicked into the undulating bouncy pop of “Sea Hearts”, and our friend immediately demonstrated Martha aren’t the only band he loses his shit to, pogoing up and down like Zebedee on acid from note one. Clearly Southampton’s Jeff, albeit about 3 feet shorter, happily for the likes of us standing behind him! Clearly buoyed by the reaction, Stina announced, “Southampton! It’s been too long! How are you!”, deftly dealt with a couple of idiot remarks from some knuckleheads behind us, then kicked up a gear with newie “The Third Degree”, an impressive NYC New Wavey scuzz-rocker with an insistent, “drama drama baby” hook, boding well for the new album (which Stina plugged on numerous occasions tonight – and why not!).

Oldie “Walking At Midnight” was a creepy noir movie soundtrack and a mid-set highlight, as was the flippant “Super Rat” (for which Stina invited singalongs from the enthusiastic crowd) and newie “Gibberish”, a Veruca Salt-esque post-grunge glam stomp and possibly my favourite of the new numbers. However, following a surprisingly rocky yet lilting “Fall Forever”, things really kicked on with a roaring finish to the set; a big, bouncy “Babes Never Die”, a terrific, swaggering “Killer Bangs” featuring a lengthy, tongue-in-cheek pregnant pause, and a superb set closer, the soaring infectious hook of “Ready For The Magic”. By now, our bouncy friend had been sucked into a happy moshpit, and I was up against the stage, throwing a few hand-jive shapes and eliciting an approving nod from drummer Debbie! Fulsome praise to the crowd from an elated Stina at the end of this fine set, and I grabbed her set-list, having checked with the couple leaning on the stage next to me that their daughter didn’t want it! Hmmm, that’s not like me, must be going a bit soft in my old age…!

Great stuff, and a quick pic and signed list with the merch stand-bound and predictably besieged band preceded a swift drive home, dropping Stuart off for his drive to Heathrow. Home just after midnight after a splendid Honeyblood gig; in all honesty better than expected, particularly the last third. New album sounds tasty! A damn fine way to end a hectic 3-gig extended weekend – now hopefully I can get some sleep!

Saturday, 11 May 2019

1,136 SPANISH LOVE SONGS, PKEW PKEW PKEW, Toodles And The Hectic Pity, Goodbye Blue Monday, Bristol Exchange, Friday 10th May 2019

Pkew Pkew Pkew… how can you not love a band with a name like that?! Particularly if said band comes endorsed by The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band On The Planet, The Mighty Hold Steady… a facebook namecheck by THS was sufficient to pique my curiosity about this Toronto band of punk rock ragamuffins, so I checked out and enjoyed their new “65 Nickels” track on Youtube, then promptly bought their old debut CD as the new one wasn’t out yet! Said debut was brilliant; similar to fellow THS acolytes The So So Glos, this was raucous, rampant punk rock of the first water, big, dumb and euphoric, sounding virtually on the edge of tumbling into glorious chaos yet just… just!... about staying afloat, so I was itching to immerse myself into this hectic mania “live”. I’d missed their recent THS Electric Ballroom support slot, having already booked for the Friday gig when they were subsequently added to the Saturday, but quickly acted on their dual-headliner tour with LA emo-punk combo Spanish Love Songs, booking a ticket for this Exchange gig.

Spanish Love Songs themselves came highly recommended by Raze*Rebuild frontman Si Hall, their fine (if, on my early listens, a little over the top on the self-loathing angsty stuff for my liking) 2018 “Schmaltz” album being his fave of the year, so I was joined not only by Si and Paul Carter but Si’s friends Ben and John, John contacting us at the last possible moment to take up poorly Matt’s ticket, requiring a double-back from M4 J16 to Gorse Hill to pick him up! Some entertainingly scatological chat about cat poos and other bodily substances then enlivened a quick jaunt down to Brizzle and a dive into the last spot in my new Exchange parking lay-by. A four band (!) bill subsequently started shortly after arrival with Scots ruffians Goodbye Blue Monday at 7.45. Like the headliners, they seemed lyrically all about the self-loathing, if the big unit of a vocalist’s intros were anything to go by (“this song’s about existential crises at 2 in the morning,” being their opening intro, then it all going more maudlin from there), but after the opening shouty angsty number, their songs took a turn down Gaslight Anthem avenue with some anthemic, flag-waving tuneage, and even into Clash City, with a decided old school feel to their upbeat, fun and – dare I say – even life-affirming punk rock. A real juxtaposition, then, but somehow it worked, a rousing terrace chant chorus of “why must I be so miserable” typical of their oeuvre. They dealt with an annoying buzz (a grounding issue, according to the soundman, leading the vocalist to admit he didn’t even know what that meant!) well, and left us on their most positive lyrical note with a hook of “there must be more to life than this!”, leaving an overall very positive impression. Good start!

Took a breather outside and chatted with the GBM guitarist, who complimented my Superchunk t-shirt, before popping in for Toodles And The Hectic Pity. A 3-piece led by an acoustic guitar-toting young Gaz Brookfield lookalike, they played a galloping, yearning set of angsty emo-punk embellished by the young vocalists yearning, high-pitched passionate vocals. Very Dashboard Confessional then, and although I enjoyed them, they didn’t leave as indelible a mark as the openers.

But it was Pkew Pkew Pkew, next up at 9.15, who were my short-odds potential highlights; I’d come prepared, donning shorts, kneestraps and contact lenses, and took a spot down the front during their slightly fiddly (well, for a punk rock gig, anyway!) set-up. They wandered back on shortly after, kicking straight into “Prime Minister Of Defense”, making an immediate impression not for the expected shambolic chaos, but for a lean, mean, tight and coherent opening. Tough, committed and kinetic as all get-out (especially guitarist Emmett, who threw angular, back-bending shapes from note one and nodded in appreciation at my rocking out, front row), they almost seemed a more grown-up version of the beer-swilling, terract chant-howling frat boy gang I had anticipated, reflecting the journey into a more “mature” approach for their new “Optimal Lifestyles” record. Well, comparatively, anyway… after all, this was still reckless, rampant, rousing punk rock, recalling the Replacements, the Hold Steady and even the Mighty Titus Andronicus in its’ all-inclusive, fist-pumping, roof-raising singalong glory. “Drinking Days” featured some excellent snaking Thin Lizzy-style riffery, “Mid 20’s Skateboarder” was a huge floor-shaking punk rock anthem, and newie “I Wanna See A Wolf” immense, before they brought on Spanish Love Songs’ guitarist Kyle (or, “the slow cheetah!” as they nicknamed him) for a rousing “65 Nickels” and a run through the Chilli Peppers’ “By The Way” which even got me singing along.

No “Let’s Order A Pizza” in the set (my kids’ favourite Pkew song, but one which they’re “over”, according to drummer David Laino), but “Asshole Pandemic”’s woah-oh’s closed out a quite brilliant set, slightly different than anticipated but no less euphoric, singalong and inclusive for it. Great, great stuff!

I’d degenerated into sweaty oik David by this point, but grabbed a list and went about hunting down various Pkew folks to sign it, also hitting the merch and taking my purchases back to the car before headliners Spanish Love Songs, on at 10.15 in front of a packed room, a walk-up sell-out on the night. From the off, they were great too, the loud angst-ridden brooding melancholy of their CD being replaced by a more buoyant, upbeat “live” approach, and I was instantly struck not only by their complete lack of ego, monolithic mainman Dylan Slocum approaching his task as if playing to a small room of friends rather than a horde of baying strangers, but also by that mythical, THS-like connection between band and crowd, as if you couldn’t see the join. Instead of the introverted self-loathing, we got rousing singalongs and a feeling of, you know, we’re all in this together, let’s damn well make the most of it. So I did too, eventually joining the mosh for my second battering of the night. An excellent “Losers” was dedicated to tour manager Gregory, who promptly left his stage-front position (!), “Remainder” was my set highlight, a balls-out sweeping epic rocker recalling The Foo Fighters’ classic “Everlong” (despite Dylan claiming, “we’ve just learned it tonight!”) and “Beer And Nyquil (Hold It Together)” felt like a manifesto for this band, a proper roaring finale. Dylan seemed genuinely taken aback by the frenzied and enthusiastic response, remarking, “you guys are the best! We really, truly appreciate it!”, and after a confusing moment, dragged the band back on for encore “Buffalo” to end a pretty fucking intense yet thoroughly enjoyable set, during which any doubts I had about Spanish Love Songs were well and truly dispelled.

So once again, sweaty oik David (by this time a little dazed and finding it hard to articulate myself!) again grabbed list and hunted down signatures, before a swift drive home and scattered drop-offs saw me back home just before 12.30. Great openers in Goodbye Blue Monday, Spanish Love Songs stepped up considerably, but for me Pkew Pkew Pkew’s euphoric delights won the night. How can you not love this band? Great night out!

Thursday, 9 May 2019

1,135 THE BETHS, Hans Pucket, Junk Whale, Oxford The Bullingdon, Wednesday 8th May 2019

Funny how gigs are like buses… sometimes they all come in a little clutch, and such is the case with this, the first of 3 in 4 days over a hectic weekend, and a swift return to my Spring Dance Card for The Beths! This New Zealand 4-piece had cropped up as support for Death Cab For Cutie in January, and I’d been sufficiently impressed to pick up a copy of their (sadly 2018, a year too late for my “Best Of” CD compo) debut CD “Future Me Hates Me”. Apparently Ben Gibbard’s fave of the year, it quickly became a staple in-car choice, with some buoyant girly-vocalled indie pop tunes, in turns jangly and fuzz-guitar sugar-coated, occasionally galloping along like a latter-day Popguns or even (dare I say it) Blondie (!), and overlaid with some lovely multi-part harmonies. Either way, I was up for seeing them in their own right, so gladly pounced on their swift headlining return to these shores, picking up a ticket for their Oxford date, originally scheduled for The Hobgoblin but quickly upgraded to The Bully due to demand. This seemed to be the case elsewhere too; their original Bristol Exchange gig sold out so was upgraded to The Fleece, which promptly sold out too!

A bit of a “buzz band”, therefore, so no surprise I had company for my trip, in Andy, Beef and his mate Dean. A festival-chat punctuated drive along the sinuous A420 ensued, and we arrived in time to dive into a well-spotted street parking space next to the as-ever overcrowded Cowley Road Tesco Car Park. Got in at 7.45 doors, hit the front and watched the place swiftly fill up before openers Junk Whale took the stage at 8.10. A young local 4-piece with female guitar and bass, and in vocalist Joe Turner, a striking, stylish and unique figure, diminutive, shaven headed and wearing black velvet hot pants and black check tights. Not too sure what to expect from them, but I was quickly impressed by opener “Purple”, which featured some pacey Dinosaur Jr.-style insistent and groovy laze-rock, with urgent backing vocals courtesy of the guitarist/bassist combo and a catchy “be with me” looped hook. A subsequent slower second number chuntered on in that slightly sleazy Pixies style, but the pace was picked up again, further numbers also impressing with some duelling vocals on the chorus line, reminiscent of Seafood… ah yes, ‘da mighty ‘food almost seemed a touchstone for this band, operating as they did in that similar pre-grunge US alt-rock slacker headspace, and I saw echoes of David Line in the way Joe stomped around the stage, head down, sawing furiously at a hapless rhythm guitar. A little lacking in cohesion at this early stage, understandably, but this was bright, brisk alt-rock played at a furious gallop, with some snappy endings and in closer “I Tried” an anthemic track with a yearning chorus and some seriously shredding feedback to close it out. Impressive stuff… I’d certainly see this band again!

A quick chat with Joe on the merch stand, and also some words with The Beths, all merch-stand bound, getting my event poster (which I’d hastily grabbed on the way in) signed and exchanging some words about mutual friend Dianne Swann, late of my wonderful 90’s faves The Julie Dolphin, took us up to main support Hans Pucket’s stage time. A NZ 3-piece – 2 guitar-toting brothers and their hefty drummer bandmate – they played an almost classic take on New Wavey rhythmic pop, considerably more laid back than the openers yet with emphasis on hooks and intelligent songcraft. I caught shades of The Police in their choral hookiness, early Cars in their stripped-back rhythm and even (when they turned on the Summery funk) Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. A pretty decent blend and an enjoyable set, although for me I preferred the urgent openers…

Took a loo break midway through their set and found the place rammed all the way to the back! Likely sold-out on the night then… The Beths themselves took the stage at 9.30 prompt, seemingly taken aback by the keen reception and interest. Get used to it, guys… shy glances between the band members before they eased into their set with CD title track “Future Me Hates Me”, which almost felt understated in comparison to the coruscating fuzz-pop rhythm of the CD version. Sadly, “Not Running”, a breathless gallop, also felt a little low-key, as the sound and the band took time to settle to their task, but by the happy-clappy doo-wop and rousing schoolhouse cheer of “You Wouldn’t Like Me”, they finally hit their stride. Shame the audience didn’t…

I was bopping away next to a similarly dancing “Beef” and another chap, but us aside, tonight’s audience were disappointingly static, and it felt as if many were really only here to check out the latest “Buzz” band rather than actually enjoy The Beths. A really odd atmosphere, then, but The Beths soldiered on regardless. “Less Than Thou” was a pastoral slow-build to an insistent road-trip groove, “Happy Unhappy” a Summery jangle-fest with some delicately high, almost Mary Lorson-like vocals from singer Elizabeth Stokes, and “Great No One” a fast-paced gallop with some stream-of-consciousness vocals. In between, Elizabeth kept nervously repeating the band’s name, demonstrating the between-song banter needs work, but no matter, the music was more than enough. “Whatever” showed all the makings of a Summer smash, with some gorgeous 3-part harmonies and a sly nod to Blondie’s “Sunday Girl” in a mid-song break, and closer “Uptown Girl” was a frantic, urgent finale. To cap things off, they tried an understated but charming run-through of recent tour-mates Death Cab For Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body” (which, oddly, very few of this audience seemed to know) before “Little Death” roared the proceedings to a conclusion. Slow start maybe, but a sprint finish and a fine set!

Grabbed a list and got it fully signed too by the band, once again manning the merch stand afterwards. Good on ‘em! A soggy drive home and drop-offs saw me home just before midnight, hoping that The Beths will continued to be frequent visitors to these shores. Overall, a damn fine start to my busy gig weekend!

Thursday, 2 May 2019

1,134 SUEDE, BC Camplight, Southampton Guildhall, Saturday 27th April 2019

Oh, "Endgame", "Endgame"... I guess I've partly got you to blame for how I felt about this gig...   

OK, before anyone gets confused that they've inadvertently stumbled on a comics or movie blog rather than a Suede gig report, I promise all will become clearer later. First, my usual scene-setting blurb; Bowie/Pistols acolytes, Britpop dabblers and sleazy underworld narraters Suede have been regulars on my Dance Card since those heady days of "The Drowners" and a notable Windsor old Trout gig waaay back in 1992 (no. 211!), despite a 5-year absence after a couple of fine performances in support of an excellent reunion CD in "Bloodsports". Following that one, I'd honestly paid less attention to their subsequent releases; in fact, a week or so before this gig I'd unearthed my copy of their 2018 release "The Blue Hour" to re-familiarise myself with it, only to find it still with the cellophane wrapper on! Oops! Still, they've always been good value treading the boards, with svelte frontman Brett Anderson an increasingly riveting performer, so Rach and I were still happy to shell out the steep (£44+ each!) ticket price for a night out on the South Coast with this veteran and enduring quintessentially British band.

So Rach and I rocked down the M4/A34, breaking one of my cardinal gig rules on the way by listening to "The Blue Hour"! D'oh! After a grub stop at Sutton Scotney, we parked up in my now-usual Guildhall spot, having a spot of bother with the parking meter until Rach told me how to work it properly. D'oh! Again! In on the O2 priority lane, unfortunately in time to be subjected to some ham-fisted and juddering noise from support BC Camplight. The floor literally shook, sending rather unpleasant tremors up my legs, and although their next couple of numbers were less oppressive, we repaired to the bar to ignore them. Had our ears talked off by a ridiculously drunk bloke from Bournemouth in the bar, which at least passed the interval quickly, before we took a spot about 2/3rds back in this large and packed ornate old room.

No "Bodies" this time; the lights faded to black as a suitable operatic piece swelled in the background, then turned to silence as the band took the stage, Brett Anderson barely visible through the dry ice, his haunting voice weaving an eerie atmosphere to newie "As One". Then an opening salvo of "Together" and "Outsiders" kicked the gig into a higher gear, with Anderson hopping onto his monitors at the front of the stage, the better to conduct and encourage the communal singalong.

Anderson was totally on point tonight, again giving a fine frontman performance, constantly urging and challenging the crowd to respond in greater volume (Rach at times finding this a bit jarring and arrogant, but I have to say I was fine with it) and the band backed him up with a tight, competent and professional, if slightly anonymous performance. Highlights were scattered liberally throughout at least the opening hour; "We Are The Pigs" was sleazy and soaring, "Metal Mickey" glam-tastic guitar grunge, harking back to those Old Trout/ Bierkeller gigs of 27 years ago (yowsers!), "It Starts And Ends With You" was gigantic and rampant, likely my overall set highlight, and manifesto number "Trash" an emotive and inclusive singalong. And yet...

And here's my "Endgame" issue; inasmuch as I'm a huge music fan and passionate blogger, I'm equally - and occasionally more so! - a lifelong massive comics geek, and aficionado of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'd seen "Endgame" this afternoon and found it a brilliantly executed and utterly perfect conclusion to the Avengers movie saga; I laughed, I whooped, I punched the air, I cried like a baby at least twice. In short, I left all my emotions in Swindon's IMAX, so had very little left to give to this Suede performance. And then there was The World's Biggest Suede Fan...

Halfway through "Pigs", TWBSF, an old Lou Reed lookalike geezer, rocked up near us, proceeding to bellow all the words to all the songs at annoying volume and in a key nowhere near the actual intended one. Fair enough mate, I've no problem with that in principle, but as we were 2/3rds back, I'd suggest you were 150 feet too far back to the doing that... We could only endure a couple of numbers of his bellowing blare before we moved, unfortunately pitching up next to The World's Leading Authority On Suede, some young brunette who, upon hearing Brett introducing an acoustic "Obsessions" as being from their "lost" 2002 album, proceeded to give her mate (and, by virtue of her loud voice and the low volume of Brett's rendition, everybody within a stone's throw of her...) the benefit of all her wisdom about said album. Thankfully, a number or two later (and, oddly enough, immediately after she'd pronounced, "I'm obsessed by this band!") she fucked off to the bar, but by now my mind wasn't really in this gig, and all Brett's efforts weren't enough to bring me back.

A further shame was that, after a splendid "Trash" and swayalong "Animal Nitrate", the last third of the set properly dropped off a cliff, a couple of new numbers typical of the new album, slow burn and moody yet unobtrusive and unremarkable. After a fine "Beautiful ones" encore, Brett indeed introduced closer "Life Is Golden" with the comment, "it's important for us to make new music... you're only as good as your last album," which made me think Suede are now likely entering their "past their best" phase, sadly...

So, quite an odd one for me; Rach too, as we mulled over our views on a swift homeward blast up the A34. Some highlights as ever from Brett and Suede, but we both felt it was uneven at best. And as for TWBSF and TWLAOS, well... if I've ever been that annoying at a gig, I'm profusely sorry (!), and maybe in future I also need to keep my gigging and MCU cinema-going days separate!