Sunday, 17 June 2018

1,092 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Joey Costello, Stroud Marsall Rooms, Friday 15th June 2018

My first time back in Stroud, amazingly, since my first ever gig (the mighty Killing Joke, nearly 37 years ago!), but the 20th time for one of my most enduring “live” favourites of late, folk/punk travelling troubadour and confessional poet-ruffian Gaz Brookfield. Only the 2nd artiste to hit the 20s in my “times seen” chart after late 90’s faves Seafood; my last few Gaz live experiences have been with his excellent Company Of Thieves band as back-up, but this early Summer run of shows sees him doing his Solo Acoustic Guy thing. This one not only was close by, but all-ages too, so Logan was able to join me for a boys night out!

Hammered through the leafy Gloucestershire backroads, finding the adjacent car park easily but getting a little turned around trying to find the venue itself! Doors were still officially “shut” as we queued up a shade before 8, but they let a grateful Logan in for a quick loo-trip, then we headed in, first in at doors to be greeted by Gaz. Logan filled the impressed singer in with his recent Swim22 exploits, then we got drinks as locals filed in before opener Joey Costello, on at 20 to 9. A couple of numbers in, we’d had 2 quite contrasting tunes; a slow-burning, wistful and melancholic wallow about being absent from loved ones, followed with an eerie yet more upbeat number in the subsequent “Undertow”. Turned out “Undertow” was the outlier, the set returning to a hushed, sparsely embellished body of songs, occasionally Drake-like pastoral, occasionally touching on parched Americana and balladry reminiscent of a Janovitz, but always underpinned by Costello’s impressive Buckley-esque multi-octave vocals. The boy can sing, no doubt... Charmingly self-effacing too (“this is a song I wrote about nobody really liking me...”), this was a lovely little set, bookended by a suitably quiet singalong for the old standard “(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You”; shame so few of the crowd availed themselves of it, Costello sometimes fighting to be heard over the hubbub from the bar...

No such problems for Gaz, however; following a quick car dash to dump a mini-poster Gaz signed for Logan, we took a spot right down the front as Gaz urged the crowd to, “come on, come on,” and gather closer to fill “the semi-circle of doubt” down the front. “Solo Acoustic Guy” kicked things off, before Gaz challenged the Stroud crowd (!) with, “you guys up for a singalong?”, the audience responding in the affirmative for “Diabetes Blues”.

Thence followed an object lesson in the art of the solo performance, a masterclass in winning an initially reticent crowd over. Gaz, relaxed and urbane, trotted out his repertoire of stories illustrating his songs; the full explanation behind a superb “Tale Of Gunner Haines”, a barbed, “this song is about how boring I am!” comment before “All So Very Rock And Roll”, a comment about Ozzy the van being so named, “because it's always fucked!” before a touching “Ode To Ozzy”, and introducing an acerbic, confrontational “I've Paid My Money” with, “I'm not directing this at anyone in particular...!” As ever, the man worked up an impressive sweat delivering his usual full-on in your face acoustic fayre, robust, rabble-rousing and rambunctious.

I enjoyed the expanded lyric during “A Buskers Song”, “if you ask he'’ ll play your favourite song... unless it's “Wonderwall” in which case fuck off!” and the story of being threatened by Simon Cowell’s lawyer (bastard!) before a pointed “Diet Of Banality”; then, as the set rocked sweatily and noisily along, Gaz noted that he had a backstage at this venue... “and I'm fucking using it; it makes me feel cool!” So, after the usual singalong set-closing “Thin” Gaz took a bow and left the stage...

to return moments later, to the clamour of a by now fully engaged crowd. And a lovely moment during the encore; finale “The West Country Song” saw the crowd form a “hokey cokey” circle which morphed into an impromptu and well-natured dance pit, Logan and myself included, prompting Gaz to unplug his guitar and join us in the middle of the melee! Great stuff, a lovely way to end a great and inclusive performance.

After catching our breath, we bade farewells to the artistes, stopping off at a kebab van on the outskirts of Stroud for sustenance before a midnight return home. So glad I got to take Logan to see Gaz in this form; and proud that this talented yet unsung hero is now up to the twenties for me. Seafood, you have worthy company!


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

1,091 BELLY, Bristol SWX, Sunday 10th June 2018

Set 2 list only, above...

Another band scratching that reunion itch, 90’s Boston dreampop/ college rock combo Belly reunited after a near 20-year absence in 2016, delivering a fine if technically-beset Bristol gig (gig 997) and a tough, road-tested slot at Boston’s Paradise Club for the ACLU show last March (gig 1,028). Laudably, and like recent hosts The Skids, they decided not to stop there, avoiding becoming another “nostalgia circuit” cliché (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you’re into the music!) by recording a PledgeMusic-backed new album, “Dove”. I pledged, of course, and my signed copy duly arrive in the post a couple of months back; it’s fine, I guess, a bit Belly-by-numbers and, well, drippy, more akin to the more ephemeral and insubstantial pop of main Belly-person Tanya Donelly’s sophomore solo album “Beautysleep” than the more strident and hooky college pop of her solo debut “Lovesongs For Underdogs” or indeed Belly’s own early 90’s canon. Still, remembering how fulsome newie “Shiny One” sounded at the Paradise last March, I was hoping that the new material would stand pat “live”, along with the older stuff, so I was happy to book for another Belly experience!

Booked 2 tickets, but Rach bowed out late due to babysitting issues; Ady was happy to take up the offer of a free ticket, and “Beef”, Si and his friend Mel were going anyway, so a full carload drove down a sunny M4 early doors. Belly were threatening to be on straight away and play 2 hours+ with an interval, hence the haste! In reality, we were there for doors at 7, then got drinks in and took a spot down the front, house right, chatting with the boys and a passing Jeff to while away the time until Belly’s actual scheduled 8.15 start.

At the appointed hour, a cutesy little film of dogs on skateboards (!) projected onto the digital backdrop; then Belly took the stage, bassist Gail already happily filming the audience, before kicking into the distinctive bass growl of a dark, dramatic “Dusted”. Good start, but unfortunately not maintained, the subsequent “Seal My Fate” sounding distorted and disjointed, guitarist Tom Gorman sounding as if he were playing a different tune to the rest of the band.

Such was the way of things tonight; despite their best efforts (particularly from Gail, the snake hipped, Ramones-like low-slung self-confessed “old lady” of the crew, who with her urgent bass prompting and kinetic rock poses was nonetheless clearly the band’s MVP tonight), and a whole lot of band and audience interaction (particularly - again - from Gail, who regularly urged us to, “party like it's 1992! Or 3...” and never missed an opportunity to take pics or videos of the crowd), this wasn’t Belly at their best. Maybe a little unfamiliarity with the dynamics of the new material “live”, maybe just too early in the tour, but either way they rarely hit the heights of that Boston set last year. “Now They'll Sleep” exemplified this, sounding problematic and messy. Also, Tanya seemed to struggle with the higher-octave numbers, often not even bothering to push her voice that high. Newies “Army Of Clay” and a groovy, bouncy “Stars Align” emerged most unscathed and were highlights of the early set, before the nonetheless ebullient bassist “Gail-splained” to us about the mid-set break.

Happily, things picked up a little better for set 2; “Low Red Moon” was a strange and sinister funeral March, and “Shiny One” dreamy and strident in equal measure. “Slow Dog” galloped along with its trademark angular verse riff, but again Tanya’s vocals for the chorus were in a different key and sounded a little jarring. After another messy “Feed The Tree”, we however had an excellent “SuperConnected”, a dynamically delivered growling behemoth, and by some considerable distance the best number in the set tonight.

A couple of quieter encores, featuring our MVP’s only real slip tonight, praising, “the lovely people of Portsmouth!” (that was last night, love!), ended a veritable see-saw of a set - some splendid moments, plenty of effort and chat from the band, but a set littered with flaws. Our carload were all pretty much in consensus with this view, so reflected on this on a swift dash home (which got me back in in time to flick through tonight’s Canadian Grand Prix before hitting the hay). Don’t get me wrong; this was by no means a Brian Fallon-level utter car crash of a gig (gig 1,074, back in Feb this year), I had a good time, I was largely entertained by the band and by my mad-as-a-balloon MVP Gail. I’ve just seen them way better, way tougher, way more together... and all that quite recently too. Hopefully tonight was a one-off; I’ll certainly be back for more, hoping again for the Paradise version of Belly from last year!

Saturday, 9 June 2018

1,090 THE SKIDS, TV Smith, Charlie Harper, Reading Sub 89, Thursday 7th June 2018

After seminal 70’s anthemic punks (the self-styled “first punk band in Scotland”, at least according to lead singer Richard Jobson last year!) and my first real band crush from age 13, namely The Skids, performed the greatest musical comeback since Adam Ant with a couple of frankly magnificent gigs last June, hopes were high that there’d be more to come. And I wasn’t to be disappointed; determined to not just be part of “that nostalgia circuit” (again, according to Jobbo), they released a PledgeMusic-backed new album “Burning Cities” earlier this year, announcing a slew of 2018 dates to support it. Aptly titled, this, as it burns with the fire of righteous fury and indignation, the band rightly appalled at the fact that “the world couldn’t get any worse [than the 70’s]… and it has!” and making their anger known with pointed lyricism and venomous yet toweringly hooky punk rock electric guitar. It’s a worthy addition to The Skids’ canon, so a gig or two was definitely on the cards. This one, in fact, was thanks to my old friend Stuart “Langers”, who booked a ticket then booked a coinciding holiday. Whoops! So I was happy for a free ticket for this one to fall into my lap – cheers Stu!

Drove down the M4 to Reading, a place where (Festival apart) I’ve been to comparatively few gigs despite its’ proximity to the ‘don. No street parking available, so parked up in the local Garrard Street NCP, having a bit of a shock when I realised I’d be on the hook for £12 parking charges for the evening! Bloody hell! Still, into the venue for 10 to 8, opener Charlie Harper taking the stage as I arrived. Old (and I mean old - he’s 74 (!)) punk Charlie bumbled his way through some acoustic versions of his band UK Subs’ numbers, sounding surprisingly bluesy given this acoustic treatment. Sadly, Charlie came across like a Sarf London punk rock Uncle Albert (from “Only Fools And Horses”), making a bit of a mess of quite a few and remarking, “drunk? I’m not drunk… it’s my guitar [that’s] been drinking…” Despite a bit of a singalong to closer “Warhead”, this was somewhat of a carcrash of a set, the only positive being that at 20 minutes, it was mercifully short.

TV Smith was next up in short order, the former Adverts frontman looking positively youthful in comparison, swaggering on, lean and mean, in 70’s punk chic and remarking, “Charlie Harper, me and The Skids on the same night – don’t tell me music is bland!” From the off, his set was way more coherent and passionately delivered, an early “No Time To Be 21” frantic and urgent. Smith then delved into his post-Adverts material, much of this stuff surprisingly possessing a tinge of the shimmering Americana of Grant Lee Buffalo to it, particularly “Generation Why”, a poignant and disaffected protest ballad. Smith was then joined by Ruts guitarist Leigh Heggarty to flesh out the likes of an excellent “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, “Bored Teenagers” and “One Chord Wonders”, closing out an impressive set with some old punk classics.

Talking of which… I wandered down the front, taking an easy spot, house left, amongst the old lags – a real punk rock sausage-fest, this (as The Dickies’ Leonard Graves-Phillips might say…)! Coming on to the urgent, insistent intro to newie, “This Is Our World”, The Skids burst onstage with a towering, palpably loud riff and a swagger, despatching this opener with fire and fury. “The Skids are still alive and kicking!” announced Jobson before “Charade” – hell yeah, you better believe it!

Once again, tonight was an all-inclusive celebration of one of rock’s iconic, most anthemic and enduring bands, Jobson and his charges giving it their all and leaving it all onstage, maximum energy and effort, the band in full-on fantasy band camp and a broad smile never far from the singer’s lips. “What a great venue – reminds me of the sweaty old days!”, he remarked before inviting us to dance as joyously as he intended to tonight. “Melancholy Soldiers” was preceded by a discussion of the band’s various fashion disasters through the years (!), before Jobbo deadpanned, “at least after 35 years the band’s now looking cool!” A wag on the front barrier shouted for “Albert Tatlock”, Jobson icily retorting, “if he calls for it again, I’m going to punch him in the puss!” “Working For The Yankee Dollar” featured some brilliantly kinetic guitar interplay from Watsons Senior and Junior, and “The Saints Are Coming” was a tub-thumping and fist-pumping clarion call to arms. A proper – and surprising – set highlight, however, was newie “Desert Dust”; preceded by a diatribe from Jobson about kids growing up with no hope of jobs or careers, then making the mistake of joining the Army, this was a melancholy and affecting slow-burn protest number, brilliantly poignant and articulately delivered, but the kind of song I really wish The Skids – or any band – didn’t have to write.

The double of “Hurry On Boys” and “A Woman In Winter” both received rousing singalongs, reverberating around the venue, leading up to the inevitable set closer “Into The Valley”, towering and titanic as ever. Jobson – who’d belied his 57 years by dancing energetically throughout and was by now soaked in sweat – leading the crowd in, “Ahoy! Ahoy!” singalongs long after the rest of the band had departed.

“We thought we’d do a couple of dates then people would be glad to see the back of us!” declared an elated Jobson before encore “Into The Void”. This, amazingly, saw both Bruce and Jamie Watson’s guitars fail simultaneously, the band ploughing on nonetheless and Jobson wisecracking at its’ end, “we’re having so much fun even when things go wrong! Can you imagine what Snow Patrol would do [if that happened to them]… they’d have a meltdown… Fuck off!!” In fact, we were having so much fun that we didn’t really notice!

Another brilliant set, another re-affirmation of The Skids’ music and legacy. I’d been on the barriers since “Albert Tatlock” guy fucked off into the mosh early doors, so was in prime spot for Jamie to hand me his set-list. Bought Jobson’s autobiography from the merch stand guy, who remembered me and Logan from last year and who promptly gave me another set-list! One for Logan then…! Paid my £12 then headed off home; now looking forward to taking Logan to Shepherd’s Bush Empire for more of this in a couple of weeks!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

1,089 CHAMELEONSVOX, Inferiority Complex, Southampton Joiner's Arms, Friday 1st June 2018

“I’m a full-on Chameleons convert now!” was how I finished my gig report of gig 1,038, after finally dispelling a 35-year ignorance of this seminal band of Mancunian post-punks with last May’s stellar Fleece gig… truer words were ne’er spoken, as I’ve pretty much been playing their 3 80’s albums (1983’s debut “Script Of The Bridge”, 1985’s “What Does Anything Mean? Basically” and 1986’s “Strange Times”) obsessively at work, coming to the realisation that had I latched on to this lot at the time, they would have seriously challenged Echo And The Bunnymen for the title of my favourite band back then and I would likely have seen them 20+ times by now, and resolving to take every opportunity to see them in future. They’d drip-fed notifications of 2018 UK gigs onto their Facebook page, and, lacking anywhere closer, I’d sorted tix for their London show. When, eventually, they announced a gig at Southampton’s excellent Joiner’s Arms, I booked for that as a likely alternative, given that London gig would be 2nd of 3 in 4 days…

So, Friday evening saw a false start off to Southampton (forgot my phone – d’oh!), driving through a bit of M4 drizzle into warm sun on the A34, hitting the South Coast just after 8 and parking up around the corner, literally a stone’s throw from the door. One of the many things I love about this place… Already busy and full of older chaps in black jeans and a variety of punk- and post-punk t-shirts (Cramps, Theatre Of Hate and New Model Army were on display tonight, along with my bright pink REM “Reckoning” one!), ready to greet openers Inferiority Complex at 8.25. A trio of similar vintage to the headliners and audience, they played some short and snappy keyboard and bass-led numbers, all claustrophobic and dense post-punk reminiscent of Comsat Angels and early New Order, with echoey, barked vocals and Hooky-like bass riffs. Stronger on mood and menace than on tunes, they were a decent and apposite start, but the set eventually felt workmanlike and repetitive, so I chilled outside awhile before the main event.

Back in to find a spot down the busy and expectant front, along with the knowledgeable and devoted crowd – the epitome of a cult band, this lot, with most of tonight’s crowd doubtless convinced for some time that Chameleons are the Greatest Band In The History of Rock, and utterly baffled at anyone who might consider otherwise. It was therefore a lengthy and reverential reception which greeted sole original Chameleon Mark Burgess and his charges (no Yves this time – boo!) onstage at 9.30, the monolithic Burgess remarking, tongue firmly in cheek, “we’re Chameleons, we’re going to perform our brand new album “Script Of The Bridge”!”

True to his word too – tonight was billed as a 35th (!) anniversary of said debut, so they set about playing it start to finish. In my (admittedly limited to the last 18 months) experience, “Script” is a beautifully judged mix of expansive and soaring post-punk, and bleak and claustrophobic proto-goth, reflecting the troubled times of its’ creation, and for me, already standing tall with the likes of “Heaven Up Here”, “Degenerates” and “Author! Author!” as an utter classic of its’ type. And Mark and the boys did it total justice, straight from the opener “Don’t Fall” playing it big, beefy, dark and dramatic, occasionally slightly slower than on record, allowing the tracks to breathe and expand. Mark’s stentorian vocals were a feature throughout, particularly “Don’t Fall” and “Monkeyland”’s roaring choral hooks, and Chris Oliver and Neil Dwerryhouse’s plangent, intertwining guitars weaved an intoxicating and eerie spell. Mark led the crowd in the huge “woah-oh”s of the triumphant “Second Skin”, remarking, “oh, you’re good!” and throwing in a line from “Please Please Me” in the denouement; then a stunning, anthemic “Up The Down Escalator” got this venerable crowd really moving.

“That was side one of our new record; now we’re going to play side 2!” deadpanned Mark before the itchy, twitchy “Pleasure And Pain”. Given that probably 4 of my favourite half-dozen Chameleons tracks appear on side one of “Script”, I would have expected a slight drop-off, but none really occurred, particularly for “A Person Isn’t Safe Anymore These Days”; poignantly dedicated, “to the memory of Sophie Lancaster, who was murdered for being a goth,” it’s strident, “man of steel” hook and yearning, enquiring line, “what kind of times are these?”, delivered with conviction by Mark, made it a set highlight. The elegiac opening to “View From A Hill” saw “Script” to a close, at which point the crowd gave the boys a lengthy and deserved ovation, and a chuffed Mark remarked, “I’ve got a good feeling about this album – I think it’s got legs!”

A couple of bookended tracks; an urgent “In Shreds”, an undulating and rhythmically absorbing “Swamp Thing” (featuring a couplet from “Rain”, the second Beatles song referenced tonight) and a jagged, amped-up “Nostalgia” (which satisfied the boke next to me, who’d been shouting for it) rounded off another supreme showing from this seminal but overlooked (and not just by me!) band. Grabbed a list and my breath, before a prompt journey home in inky blackness saw me home just after midnight, elated after another brilliant Chameleons Vox experience!

Thursday, 31 May 2018

1,088 SUPERCHUNK, Oblivians, London University Of London Student Union (ULU), Tuesday 29th May 2018

Of all the bands likely to take a stand against the idiocies and abominations of the current Trump administration in the US, I never expected one of them to be Superchunk! The ‘Chunk, Chapel Hill, NC’s enduring pre-grunge US alt-rock noiseniks, had never struck me as being overly political in their music or outlook, but one listen to their firmly tongue-in-cheek titled current album, “What A Time To Be Alive” put me in my place – a vitriolic attack on “the scum, the shame, the fucking lies” of the orange buffoon currently residing in the White House, coupled with the ‘Chunk’s trademark strident, frantic indie rock howl, and vocalist Mac’s entreating, one-octave-too-high-for-comfort vocals. A damn fine album, for sure, so when a London date was announced in support of said album, I was up for that too!

A quick albeit slightly damp run into London saw me park up at the Bush at 6.20, on the lookout for traffic wardens until I was legal (!), then tubing it over to ULU, one of my regular 80’s gig haunts. It’s changed a lot since then, evidenced by the fact I couldn’t find the right entrance door, eventually being pointed in the right direction by a good-natured security bod, then hanging outside said door with only one other couple for company, as no-one else was around! Eventually a small queue formed behind me, so I was first in when doors eventually opened at 7.40. Milled around as the place filled slowly with earnest looking blokes in black jeans; I overheard a snatch of conversation between 2 guys at the bar about walking football – yup, this is definitely my demographic! Took a place on the barriers, house right, for support Oblivians, on at 8.20 to a very small smattering of folk, and I immediately figured the latecomers had the right idea! A veteran Memphis trio, they were terrible, playing clumsy, hairy-arsed heavy bluesy rock’n’roll straight out of The Replacements’ dustbin. An incoherent early drum-heavy number could’ve been a Meteors B side back in the day, and quickly this hour-long (!) support set became a test of endurance, particularly after they announced they only had a couple more to play, swapped instruments around, played 6 (!) more numbers, announced they only had a couple to play – again! – then played 4 more! Much more entertaining was the scene unfolding to my right; a group of Italian rockers were trying to record the Oblivians’ set, much to the objections of the same security bod who’d helped me out earlier, then kicking off when told to stop. Why even bother!

Thankfully, they moved on after Oblivians finally finished, and Lisa joined me briefly down the front before Superchunk came on, dead on 9.45 to Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging”. “Last night at Leeds was like staring at a corpse!” announced guitarist Jim to a by-now respectably full ULU, the crowd taking that as a challenge with a warm reception for opener “What A Time To Be Alive”, delivered with the venom and strident intensity of old, Mac wide-eyed with righteous bile and fury. Time certainly hasn’t dimmed the fire…! “Reagan Youth” and “Lost My Brain”, both amphetamine-fast and no less pissed-off newies, followed, Mac announcing the latter as, “trying to stay sane in the face of neo-fascism,” then an early highlight with 2010’s excellent “Crossed Wires”, a gloriously infectious popcore number standing tall with Superchunk’s finest.

“Thanks for remembering us!” complimented a buoyed Mac, a punter replying, “it’s hard to forget you!” before oldie “Skip Steps 1 and 3” provided another frantic and strident highlight. The pulsating and palpable rock noise dished out tonight by the ‘Chunk was worthy of their 90’s pomp, and on a par with recent Bob Mould outings – no surprise really, as Chunk’s rhythm section tonight was Bob’s own, bassist Jason Narducy subbing for the absent Laura and complimenting regular Chunk/ Bob drummer Jon Wurster perfectly. “Break The Glass” was, “about trying not to look at your phone at 4am to see what fucked-up thing just happened in the world” – hey, I know the feeling… then melodic oldie “Driveway To Driveway” showed there was still a light touch to be had amongst the sonic assault. However, the boys were bumping up to time now, Mac announcing, “we’re just going to keep playing,” then delivering an astonishing final salvo of “Slack Motherfucker” and “Hyper Enough”, 2 of their finest, most towering terrace chant popcore moments. That’s the way to end a gig!

Caught a scrunched-up list thrown by Mac, then bade farewell to Lisa, untangling said list on the tube back to the car before a surprisingly easy drive home, back for 1am. Excellent stuff from the Chunk, harking back to their Mighty “live” pomp, but laudably, clearly with something to say about the fucked-up state of the world today. Well, someone’s got to say it, and it may as well be The Mighty Superchunk!

Monday, 28 May 2018

1,087 RAZE*REBUILD, Supp. Local Mad Men, Dark Days, Second In Line, Southampton Shooting Star, Saturday 26th May 2018

A bit of a Punk Rock Adventure, this; Swindon’s finest, Raze*Rebuild, were invited onto a “Punk At The Shooting Star” 4-band bill down in Southampton, alongside some local and out-of-town skate punk and hardcore ruffians. Probably a bit more akin to Si and Matt’s former skate-punk band Buzztone, this, but, relishing an out-of- town gig for a change, the Raze boys gleefully accepted the offer. As did I; circumstances had meant that I’d missed their last 2 Swindon Castle gigs – one, in fact, the previous night, Rach being out with Kasey at a show – so I was well up for this, going so far as to offer my services as chauffeur!

So, as “Raze Car 1”, I picked up Raze*Rebuild vocalist Si and his kit, along with fellow R*R uber-fan Paul, and Pete “Monkey” Butler, the “badger-haired gobshite” from Swindon hardcore mainstays 2 Sick Monkeys, from Si’s house on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon. A swift and entertaining punk rock chat-filled hurtle down to the South Coast pitched us up at the venue for 6, parking around the corner and unloading. Immediately Pete recognised a few local faces from his 2SM travels, the rock chat continuing in the beer garden as “Raze Car 2”, comprising guitarist Matt, bassist “Paj” and drummer Jamie, arrived shortly after. A few spots of rain didn’t deter the chat and drink, and I stayed out as the first band Dark Days kicked up a grungy fuss in the pub. I did venture in for the next band, Second In Line; hairy local boys in skate shorts and Motorhead t-shirts, they sounded as they looked, 100 mph ramalama punk soundbites shouted out over a brutal and primitive delivery. The sound wasn’t great, but I could actually discern some melody beneath all the sonic assault, and a cover of the “Only Fools And Horses” theme was fun. Still, I felt Raze*Rebuild, next up, would sound positively cultured in comparison!

15 minutes for changeover, so Si got busy with the cables and I steeled myself for their ½ hour slot. Knowing that, as usual, I was likely to completely lose my shit when R*R kicked into gear, I’d prepared, with ¾ length shorts, kneestraps, contact lenses and some Anadin Extra to cushion the joints. And I’d need it, too, as given the nature of this event, R*R had opted for their most “punk” set possible, leaving out the slowies in favour of their fastest, most hard-edged popcore moments. Raze*Rebuild kicked off their set at 8.45 prompt, Si immediately giving it maximum intensity, noise and neck-vein-bulging effort, opener “Burden Of Youth” getting me rocking out, throwing my 52-year old body into shapes it really didn’t appreciate being thrown into, and bashing the overhead chandelier a time or two as well!

Raze were “on it” tonight, all agreeing afterwards that tonight’s performance was vastly superior to the previous night. “Never Saved My Soul” was a rollicking thrill-ride through Si’s dubious speed-dating past, “New Leaf” was careering, sweeping and swoopingly brilliant as ever, and “All The Gear” a strident Husker Du-lite anthem for workaday punk bands everywhere. I needed to power down during “Poison Air” as the oxygen was rapidly disappearing from the room, but I’d saved enough to do final number “Back To the Fall” justice; this was my highlight tonight, the soaring (Gaslight) anthemic hook towering over the poor sound, and Si’s high-kicking antics, lionesque roar and the band’s tight, dynamic power-play propelling the song – and the set – to a thrilling climax. Intense, raw, ragged and utterly superb!

After a breather and chat with a gregarious local (hi, “Cov John”!), I went back to the beer garden for some fresh air, and to avoid headliners Local Mad Men. If Second In Line were primitive, LMM were even more extreme – 10,000 mph unlistenable wall-of-white-noise, a real throwback to the type of noise (I hesitate before using the term “music” to describe them) that put me off punk in the first place. Honestly, I totally get the anger and fury, but this had all the sonic value of standing next to a pneumatic drill. Luckily it was short-lived, over before 10, and even luckier, the barman fired up the pizza oven in the beer garden, so I gratefully ordered a couple of pepperonis as accompaniment to more rock chat with the boys. Nature’s own fireworks display was kicking off in the distance, as we could see some of the reported 17,000 lightning flashes over the South Coast this evening, so we headed off at 11, luckily avoiding any deluge on the A34/ M4 way home. Dropped the boys off and achily arrived home at 12.30 after a real Punk rock Adventure, thanks to Raze*Rebuild!

1,086 SPARKS, Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer, London Kentish Town Forum, Thursday 24th May 2018

A gig report that I never in a million years thought I would ever write, but one I'm so glad I'm doing...

When my brother mentioned last year that he was listening to an album that was blowing him away, I was surprised to hear it was by Sparks! Sparks, the 70s glam mavericks turned Giorgio Moroder-inspired disco divas, led by the madcap Mael brothers, Russell (he of the mass of curly hair, nervous energy and operatic helium falsetto) and Ron (he of the manic stare, non-communicative persona and Chaplin moustache)? Surely not! But Sparks it was, and said album “Hippopotamus” was a completely fun glory box of vaudevillian tunes, keyboard-propelled glam and convoluted lyrical silliness, apparently continuing a recent creative renaissance for the band, which had also seen them collaborate with Franz Ferdinand under the catchy handle of FFS! We’d just missed the Bristol leg of their 2017 tour, but when they announced a small 2018 reprise, we gleefully sorted tickets for the (eventually sell-out) London gig.

Leaving work early and driving to my brother’s, we then hit the road promptly, a good run seeing us decide to drive all the way, then slightly regretting that decision as A40 traffic delayed our arrival. Still, there and parked up before doors, and thanks to my O2 mobile contract, we joined the priority queue, snagging an excellent viewing spot down the front, house right. Chatted away the time before opener Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer, on at 8. Somewhat of a niche act, this guy; a beatbox-backed, banjo playing mustachio'd toff straight out of “Jeeves And Wooster”, with song titles such as “They Don't Allow Rappers In The Bullingdon Club”, he was actually quite an apposite support choice, warming up the crowd nicely with some quickfire erudite lyricism, light-hearted and entertaining banter (“anyone fancy hearing a punk rock song about the National Trust? [Yes?] I’ve got my audience spot-on here…!”) and a Bavarian oompah version of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” (!). I mostly missed his subsequent cover of Bowie's “Starman” due to a loo trip, but overall this was a fun and diverting opener.

Kept our front spots and I did my best to ignore the annoying woman practically jumping into my back pocket, as the roadies laid out quite the biggest set-list this side of that blind Bunny McCulloch, next to Ron Mael's keyboard. Honestly, any bigger and they may as well have embroidered the set onto a blanket...! Heroic fanfare backing music and back lit cluster lights then heralded Sparks’ arrival just after 9; first the back rows, decked out in matching pastel pink denim jackets, then Ron, resplendent in white shirt, pink tie and enormous pantaloons, and finally Russell, bounding onstage in black, topped with a pink bombardier jacket. Opener “What The Hell Is It This Time” chugged along with sinuous purpose, much fuller and tougher-sounding than on record, setting tonight’s tone perfectly; the backing band were impressively in sync throughout, providing the perfect base for Ron’s staccato one-note keyboard refrains and Russell’s impressively energetic performance and ball-strangling yet tuneful vocals. Damn, Russell looked good for 69, putting a shift in that a man half his age would've been proud of!

An early “Tryouts For The Human Race” was tremendous, featuring that bubbling Moroder synth and a soaring yet eerie hook; “Missionary Position”, my favourite from the new album was epic and widescreen, yet played with “Carry On”-esque tongue-in-cheek humour, and an unexpected “I Wish You Were Fun” was a jaunty fairground singalong ditty, with Russell skipping about the stage energetically leading the audience in the “la la la la la’s”. A snatch of the old standard “My Way” led into an excellent “When Do I Get To Sing “My Way”?”, all huge, pulsating drama. But the 2 real highlights were to come; the coruscating, hi NRG synth pattern to a soaring “Number One Song In Heaven”, which saw Ron Mael abandon his keyboards during the break, perform a goony dance to the general astonishment of all, then return, gently dabbing his brow; and a brilliant version of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”, Sparks’ debut single (!) which fully deserves a place alongside the likes of “Roadrunner” and Surrender” as a bona fide all time rock classic.

Not perfect by any means (“Rhythm Thief” was somewhat wearing, and I’d have liked to see the set end after “Town”, rather than the subsequent throwaway “My Baby’s Taking Me Home”), but a tremendous set, with the emphasis on fun and entertainment. A 3 song encore showcasing splendidly undulating oldie “Amateur Hour” capped the performance, after which the Mael brothers took their bows, offered fulsome thanks (Ron even reluctantly taking the mic to praise the crowd for their support through the years), and took selfies with the crowd before departing, the deserved ovation still ringing around the hall.

Set-lists for both the Rose boys too (!), then, after a quick catch-up with old Lev mate Colin outside, plus a signature from Sparks’ guitarist Eli Pearl (who complimented my XTC t-shirt!), we headed off, into a truly nightmarish journey home; 2 banks of immovable traffic on the A40M leading into 3-into-1 roadworks, an M4 Junction 2 closure necessitating a diversion via Heathrow, thereby taking us 1 ½ hours to do the 16 miles from venue to motorway (!), then 2 further lots of slow roadworks on the M4 and a threat of J10-J11 closure which eventually proved not to be the case (but which briefly saw my by-then apoplectic brother threaten to abandon the journey and get a Travelodge!). Total fucking carnage. Nevertheless, despite all these setbacks (which saw me hitting home at a red-eyed 2 am), we agreed on one thing… if we’d known the journey was going to be this horrendous, we’d have still done it anyway. Hell yeah. I’m just sorry it took so long for me to see Sparks, and I hope it won’t be the last time!