Saturday, 4 February 2023

1,261 EDITORS, KVB, Bristol Marble Factory, Thursday 2nd February 2023


I really didn’t see this one coming…

 I’d somewhat given up on Editors of late… after proclaiming them the Best Band in Britain for a chunk of years around the early 2010s, with their initial dark, gloomy goth-tinged staccato post-punk subsequently given extra dimension with increasing layers of intriguing synth noise (a similar journey to the utterly stellar first 3 or 4 Simple Minds albums), they’d then blotted their copybook with me, with 3 albums in a row which went from average to dull to pretty crap actually, loaded with swathes of suffocatingly turgid stadium pomp. I’d actually stated, after their entertaining but uneven set on the Cure Hyde Park undercard in 2018 (gig 1,095), that “in all honesty they’re sadly a couple of albums past their recorded best”, so approached last year’s “EBM” effort with understandable trepidation. However, this was a revelation – a collaborative effort with Blanck Mass (apparently a former member of drone outfit Fuck Buttons), this not only saw Editors go full-on electro, but rediscover their mojo big-time with some rampant, rollicking jet-propelled tuneage, as if they were (fairly successfully, actually!) trying to write an album full of “I Travel”’s! The phrase “Return To Form” was insufficient to do it justice, as it and Suede’s similarly unlikely contender “Autofiction” duked it out for my Album Of The Year honours, “EBM” finally prevailing by a short head. With Mr. Mass (!) now confirmed as a full-time member of Editors, I was excited to hear this material “live”, even if it meant a trip to the difficult to find, difficult to park at and bloody c-c-cold Marble Factory…

 Stuart was scheduled to join me, but unfortunately didn’t grab a ticket before it sold out! So, an early departure for a solo jaunt pitched me up half an hour before doors, parking next to a wall art of WWE star Paul Bearer (!) and queueing up in the dank drizzle. Grabbed a second-row spot house right, behind a tall and enthusiastic Czech bloke (more on him later) and next to a friendly goth/emo mum and daughter, so some rock chat passed the time until support KVB joined us at 8. A boy/girl guitar and synth duo, they were all over the place, kicking off with some drum machine propelled mumblecore shoegaze (the guy’s vocals being very down in a muffled mix; more on that later too…), but then diverting through groovier 80’s OMD-like synthpop, “Floodland”-era Sisters goth, detached, Numan/Nine Inch Nails proto-emo (“Urbanised”), and poor droney dirges (closer “Dazed”). All atmosphere, though, with no real tunes to rub together to make fire, so a bit frustrating really, as there were some nice Cure/Bunny/McGeoch-like guitar licks amongst the murk.

 Opted for a quick loo break just before the witching hour (sometimes you gotta go when you can, not when you want to), which nearly proved a major mistake, as this old warehouse room was by now utterly rammed. Anyway, I luckily made my way back before Editors took the stage to swathes of dry ice, blood red backlit spotlights and anticipatory bubbling synth… They then launched into opener “Heart Attack”, but it immediately felt as if half the sound was left on the launchpad, the growling bass and tumbling drum clatter being the prominent sounds in this “live” mix, with the synth – the major feature on record – almost a muffled afterthought, remaining disappointingly so throughout this initial clutch of primarily new numbers. The band themselves were on fine form; vocalist Tom Smith was his kinetic, angular self from the off, throwing shapes with reckless abandon and delivering his deep, sonorous vocals with gravitas and authority (notably on “Pictureseque”, his quickfire choral rap totally carrying this number), and bassist Russell Leitch (immediately in front of me onstage) was in fantasy band camp, making eye contact with the crowd and grinning knowingly, particularly at my Czech fellow punter who was going utterly mental. However, I was just frustrated that all the interesting synth squalls, bleeps and bloops were barely audible!


However “Sugar” was a major early highlight, the stately sweep and dramatic, Middle Eastern-tinged (“Cutter”-esque?) “whoa-oh” middle 8 break heralding a sea change in the set. The backbeat drums and circular hook of a subsequent “Bullets” and the itchy, insistent “Fingers In The Factories” were both utterly tremendous, as the set really took flight either side of a brief solo acoustic interlude from the frontman. “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors”, their high watermark, was its’ usual widescreen build to a huge crescendo, then the hurtling pace and anthemic singalong hook of a brilliant “Racing Rats” was ultimately my set highlight. A couple of numbers from the more recent albums were fine “live” if a little overlong, but “Strange Intimacy” was an excellent finish to a sprawling, 1 hour 40 minute set, the hectic pitter patter synth pattern finally a bit louder in the mix.

 A brilliant, cascading “An End Has A Start” and the jump-along, sheet metal synth terrace chant of an extended “Papillon” bookended the encore, Tom and Co. taking a deserved bow after a committed showing, the band at least leaving it all onstage. And actually, despite the poor mix, uneven sound and occasionally variable song selection, I’d been “giving it loads” myself throughout, regularly bumping into the back of my equally energetic Czech fellow dancer. Got handed a list (Tom’s own, from the top of his piano; yay!) and bade farewell to my goth/emo friends, then ran into fellow Nada Surf fan Julian on the way out for a quick chat, before a stiff-and-sore limp back to the car, and a dank drizzly drive back to the ‘don via an annoying diversion off the M4 at J17, home just after midnight. A shame then that the new material suffered with poor sound at this less than stellar venue (bet it would’ve sounded brilliant at O2 Academy!), but I couldn’t fault the band’s effort and performance tonight. So after that, and if “EBM” is the shape of things to come, they can count themselves well and truly back on my gig radar!


Thursday, 2 February 2023

1,260 COACH PARTY, Girl Scout, Fiona Lee, Southampton Joiner's Arms, Tuesday 31st January 2023

January’s normally a bit of a slow month for gigs, the “Dance Card” habitually stuttering to a start like an old jalopy, before becoming its’ usual turbocharged beast from February onwards; such purports to be the case for 2023, with this the only January gig before a 6-gig salvo in February, followed by another 5 in March! Nonetheless, this promised to kick off the gigging year with a bang, in the company of Coach Party, the impressively spritely, snarky Isle Of Wight indie-popsters and recent “live” favourites of both myself and my gig buddy Logan, playing what for them must be as close to a hometown gig as possible on the mainland, at Southampton’s excellent Joiner’s Arms. Sold out too, this one, so if we expected – and got – fireworks at their Louisiana last May (gig 1,225), Coach Party may well take the roof off a packed-out Joiners…!


Beef joined us for this one; with Logan now in his GCSE year, his gig attendance is restricted to weekends! So, the usual M4/ A34 beat route got us down to the South Coast in fairly short order, whence I grabbed a parking spot practically outside, and we joined the queue for doors at 7.30. The Coach Party folks were manning the merch stand and greeting fans, so I said hey to this affable bunch, the “Isle Of Wight’s Ass” story getting another airing…! Into this dark and scuzzy back room for opener Fiona Lee at 8 sharp; a young singer with a pile of cascading blonde curls and a nice line in octave straddling, sometimes almost operatic vocal gymnastics, she played some intelligent and tuneful pieces with a distinct post-grunge/ US alt-college pop 90’s feel, Alanis meets “Shame About Ray”-era Lemonheads, maybe? An early track was inspired by Leonard Cohen, no less, suggesting she either had a good or bad upbringing, her parents either introducing her to Cohen’s deliciously dour and morose canon, or driving her to it! An angry post-breakup number also saw her hit her guitar pick-up and accidentally kill the sound during a impassioned shouty rant moment, but it was actually the better for it! Either way, this was an impressive opening set from a distinctive young talent.

 Up next were Stockholm’s Girl Scout, on at 8.30 in front of a full crowd – Beef had checked them out beforehand and compared them to recent live faves Alvvays, and as alvvays (!) he was pretty spot-on, vocalist Emma Jansson embellishing their breezy summery C86 pop opener with similarly lilting and undulating vocal inflections to Molly Rankin! Girl Scout’s oeuvre veered from Beths-like deadpan Blondie-influenced pop (“Mothers”) through Pixies-ish harder edged stompers (“Monster” – “about being a little shit when you’re 16 years old!” joked Emma – yeah, got a couple of them at home!) to amphetamine hurtling post-punk with eminently singalong hooks (“Fell In Love With An Asshole” and excellent closer “Do You Remember Sally Moore?”), all played with verve, enthusiasm and no little deadpan humour. A perfect accompaniment for the main course tonight, then, and a band I’d like to seek out in their own right again…

 A quick loo trip and a squeeze back down to our front spots, house right, before the lights smashed to black at 9.20 and Coach Party joined us onstage to a girly pop/Rage Against The Machine mashup backing track. Clearly in no mood to fuck about tonight, this lot, and after some squalling feedback they were straight in with the brilliant “Can’t Talk, Won’t”, sounding powerful, hard-edged and tough, and delivering a frankly incendiary, elemental version of this, IMHO their best number, to an enthusiastic reception. Follow that!


Thankfully quality control was maintained, as tonight Coach Party were superb, sounding notably harder-edged than previous viewings, yet retaining their ear for splendid snarky melody and undulating guitar riffery. An early, “shoutout to my dad!” from vocalist Jess preceded a debate about dads (!) and a slow-burn “Bleach”; the soaring, almost doo-wop melody of “Three Kisses” followed a tale about a Sunday Times reviewer declaring it their best number; and a brilliantly chunky “Nothing Is Real” was delivered, “in the key of nasal!” by Jess, recovering from a bad cold. Steph then treated us to some line dancing moves (!) prior to an irresistibly groovy newie “Hi Baby” and an acerbic, snarling “Shit TV”, the guitarist then channelling her inner Bob Mould with some squalling feedback and primal screaming during an impressive punk rock “Breakdown”. “FLAG” rounded off another breathless and breath-taking Coach Party set, encore “Parasite” providing a punctuation point on proceedings, before Steph kindly sorted me with drummer Greg’s list. Nice!

 The least I could do then was to buy some merch afterwards, before saying hearty farewells to the band and hurtling Northwards to the ‘don, home for midnight. A fantastic start to Gigging Year 2023; the roof did stay on The Joiners for Coach Party, but only just... and with the band on this type of form, the sky’s the limit…!

Monday, 19 December 2022

1,259 IDLEWILD, Voka Gentle, London Kentish Town Forum, Saturday 17th December 2022

My 55th and final gig of an utterly stellar 2022 gigging year (maybe even one of the best ever!), and we’re ending with quite the adventure…!

 Mine hosts were our old “live” favourites, wild, woolly and windswept Scots indie-poets and R.E.M. acolytes Idlewild, for the 15th time of asking overall (including 3 times in a week in California in 2005, when they effectively formed the soundtrack to my and Rachel’s honeymoon!) but the first since their excellent “Shiiine On” showing in 2019 (gig 1,161). This one however sees them venturing South of the Border to deliver a start-to-finish rendition of their defining 2002 album “The Remote Part”; not only the album that moved them forward from their early fast-and-frantic “flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs” sound into a more coherent, widescreen and literate oeuvre, but the one that (mainly thanks to the utterly brilliant leadoff single “You Held The World In Your Arms”) really put them firmly onto our gig radar. Lots to thank this album for, then, and high hopes for a performance tonight to do it justice…

 An Idlewild gig had been on Logan’s wish list for some time, so I was happy to fulfil his wish by taking him along to this one. Also joining us today for the ride was Pete “Monkey” Butler, so I picked the man up mid-afternoon, and we hit the road for an easy and chatty drive up to Osterley tube car park, just underneath the Heathrow flight path. Rammed on arrival (first time ever!), we however lucked into a parking spot after a short wait, then tubed over to Camden for the now traditional (and delicious!) Chinese street food pre-gig tea at Camden Lock. A short wander up to Kentish Town Forum saw us hit the venue 20 minutes before doors, then in early on the O2 priority (hooray!) with Logan and I bagsying a barrier spot, house left, Pete initially joining us then preferring a viewing spot further back for the bands. First up at 8 were support Voka Gentle, a 2 girl/ 2 bloke synth-based, white-suited combo, coaxing some very odd spaced-out sounds from their equipment. A weird melange of noises, this lot; experimental bleeps and bloops, echoey vocals, weird backwards off-kilter time signature drums and some occasional very lovely actually 3 part harmonies, but not really making much sense as a coherent whole. Bits of Webb Brothers psych-pop and Scissor Sisters disco falsetto as well; Logan very accurately likened one track to The Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive”, then commented, “they sound like what you think drugs are going to be like!” Hmmm, note to self; play Love’s “Forever Changes” for Logan at some point… Anyway, back to Voka Gentle; verdict? Not sure…

 Luckily, next up was as close to a sure thing as you’re likely to get; keeping a full (sold out on the night?) and expectant crowd waiting until just after 9, the 7-piece Idlewild (the 5 core members being augmented by an extra keyboardist and violinist tonight) sauntered casually on to a 50’s crooner backing track, then burst into “You Held The World In Your Arms”, sounding sparklingly pure, polished and spot-on from the outset. “We’re playing “The Remote Part”, it came out 20 years ago…” murmured affable vocalist Roddy Woomble, close-cropped, perennially youthful and stylish in black sweater and white chinos, before an amphetamine-fast and frankly incendiary “Modern Way Of Letting Go” then ceded to an astonishing, spine-tingling “American English”, possibly the best I’ve ever heard this hallowed track, the sky-scraping hook sung back lustily by the devoted. What. A. Start!


“Anyone see us at do “The Remote Part” at Brixton Academy in 2002? [If so] thanks for the returning custom!” deadpanned an effusive Roddy, before the delicious violin embellishments of a tender “Live In A Hiding Place” saw them hit the album mid-point in remarkably short order, Roddy commenting, “we’re racing through this album! Luckily, we’re going to play lots of other songs…” An off kilter “Century After Century” was discordant yet delicious, “Stay The Same” (“one of our pop-punk numbers!”) was an unheralded and unexpected delight, then album closer “The Remote Part” eased in like a touching folky elegy, before breaking into a squalling noise-fest, the unstoppably kinetic guitarist Rod Jones channelling his inner Bob Mould to perfection. A brilliant rendition of a classic album, well deserving of the lengthy ovation.


That wasn’t it though; the glam stomp of newie “Dream Variations” led into a brilliantly savage yet singalong “Roseability”, then the angular, off kilter riff of “These Wooden Ideas” and a sweeping “El Capitan” with its haunting repetitive circular hook outro, again sung back by the masses, were highlights of set part 2, before the soaring “whoa-oh” harmonies and understated contemplation of “Love Steals Us From Loneliness” rounded off the set. A 4 song encore, “dialling it back to the 90’s,” as Roddy put it, kicked off with the repetitive terrace-chant hook of “Little Discourage”, a brilliantly taut and wiry “When I Argue I See Shapes” and the fire alarm blare of “Film For The Future” ultimately closing out a triumphant and quite majestic performance, Roddy leading the band off after profusely thanking the crowd for their support down the years, and the all-action, monitor-straddling jumping bean Rod unmooring his set-list for me, before heading off for a well-earned rest. Result!

 Again, that wasn’t it, though; the cross-town tube trek saw us back at Osterley just before midnight, however on arrival we discovered a fellow parker had crashed into the high kerbs at the top of the ramp and was blocking the only – and very narrow – access route whilst trying to replace a damaged and flat front wheel! D’oh! After scraping ice off our car and noting the lack of progress, we went back up to offer assistance (everybody else seemingly just stewing in their cars at this point!) and soon realised the guy was struggling with a continually slipping jack, so I solicited aid from fellow waiting motorists and ultimately ended up practically project managing the situation (yeah, “more ornament than use” little old me!), our team of (un?) willing helpers eventually clearing the blockage by ¼ to 1. Woah! So, we then hit the road, dropping Pete off and eventually hitting home at a bleary-eyed 20 past 2. Yikes! This was one for the books, though; a brilliant Idlewild performance, doing full justice to that classic “The Remote Part” album and then some, with a proper adventure thrown in at the end. What a way to end the gigging year! 

Tuesday, 13 December 2022

1,258 THE CHAMELEONS, The Membranes, Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre, Sunday 11th December 2022


The penultimate gig of 2022 saw me once again seeking out Manchester’s finest 80’s dark goth-tinged widescreen post-punkers The Chameleons, for the second time this calendar year. Like February’s stellar performance at The Fleece (gig 1,207), this one was billed as a “35th Anniversary” celebration performance of their sophomore 1985 album, “What Does Anything Mean, Basically?”, although an element of confusion was latterly added to proceedings, with main-man Mark Burgess’ proclamation on Facebook only yesterday that, “for the time being at least, I’m not going to take part in any more “album performances”…” Straight from the Lion’s Mouth, as it were… so what to expect from tonight’s gig?

 Well, a dodgy journey, for starters; with the UK in the grip of a prolonged cold snap, I hit the road in minus temperatures, pussy-footing it along the oft-treacherous A419 to Gloucester and parking up in a rather slushy car park around the corner from the Leisure Centre. Quiet early doors, this one; this might be the province of the select (and hardy!) few tonight! Gig buddy and Gloucester resident Simon turned up just before support band The Membranes were due on, so we wandered in together to grab a barrier spot, house right, and catch John Robb’s lot deliver a fine and apposite support slot of dark, dramatic post-punk noise. Opening with a funereal death march with a regimented drumbeat, then powering through a growling bass-led “What Nature Gives” and the upbeat, gothy chant of “Black Is The Colour”, they were snarling and ferocious tonight. And Robb was everywhere; ably supported by his band (featuring a goth keyboardist female in a Tim Burton style black rose-adorned veil, who also contributed Middle Eastern-inspired backing vocal wails), he, gravel-voiced (deadpanning, “has anyone else got this cold?”) and wild-eyed, was a riveting stage presence, really putting in a proper shift. Chatty too; the jagged, angular “Snow Monkey” saw him again deliver that societal allegory speech, then refer to me directly as, “the kind of guy who know about snow monkeys!” The racey “Myths And Legends” again rounded out another creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky Membranes set, and another reminder that I really need to check out their recorded output…


The Chameleons didn’t keep us waiting long after that, ambling nonchalantly onstage at 9 and straight into haunting opener “A Person Isn’t Safe Here Anywhere” from their debut album. Not doing the 2nd album thing tonight, then, a point underlined by Burgess himself; “we thought, sack that off and play a mixed bag!” Honestly, play what you like, Mark, it’s going to be stellar either way! And, once again, The Chameleons were utterly superb, their material, as evidenced by the eerie, undulating “Pleasure And Pain” often sweeping and swooping between tempo and mood changes within the same song, yet somehow sounding flowing and coherent, and underpinned by some quite startling, complex and atmospheric textural guitar patterns, woven seamlessly by twin axemen Reg Smithies and Neil Dwerryhouse. Burgess himself was also on top form and in quite voluble mood, augmenting his material with lines from the likes of The Clash, The Fall, David Bowie, The Doors, The Smiths and (mainly) The Beatles, but also providing us with the benefit of his wisdom and worldview with a few lengthy and acerbic between-song diatribes (“old people are scared to turn on their heating in the middle of the coldest snap for years,” being one particularly barbed comment).

 And the music wasn’t bad either! An ironic “Rule Britannia” was savage and vitriolic, a careering “Mad Jack” (“speaking of mad bastard despots…”) namechecked both Trump and Putin in its’ bilious tirade, and the tumbling drums of the sinuous, Doors-like “Soul In Isolation” were brilliant, Burgess’ delivering the appropriated line “all our leaders are insane” in his sonorous, stentorian vocals, leaving us in no doubt as to his opinions. But “Swamp Thing” topped even that, the circular, coruscating riff mellifluous and enchanting, the choral hook huge, widescreen and soaring. Wonderful stuff. An unplanned, requested “Nostalgia” and the expansive euphoria of “Second Skin” rounded off a superb set – the stuff dreams are made of, indeed!


A 3 song encore including “PS Goodbye” for a couple of enthusiastic girls just behind us, and a tense, taut “Don’t Fall”, which saw Burgess, all of 62 years young, leap from the stage and onto a photog plinth behind the barrier to deliver the vocal (!), rounded off another brilliant Chameleons gig, Burgess leaving us with another speech urging us to support “live” music and treasure these communal experiences. We do, Mark, oh we do! Cognisant of the conditions, I grabbed a quick list and bade farewell to Simon - great to see him again, once I’d survived his vice-like handshake, that is! – then hit the road for an easier than feared journey home with Mark’s final words ringing in my ears. This was again one to be treasured, from The Chameleons!

Tuesday, 6 December 2022

1,257 GAZ BROOKFIELD AND THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, Heartwork, B Sydes, Bristol The Fleece, Saturday 3rd December 2022


Completing my recent Fleece “residency” tonight is this one, which also happens to be my 30th time of asking for Gaz! After a couple of solo gigs earlier this year by Bristol’s finest confessional punk-folk singer songwriter and ruffian troubadour (have beaten-up guitar and harmonica, will travel…!), our paths have largely remained uncrossed, his more recent Marlborough and Swindon Hop gigs coinciding with other Dance Card appointments on my part. This one, however, had been on the itinerary awhile now: Gaz’ annual full band “Christmas Do” at his spiritual home The Fleece! Previous such outings have been real highlights, and proper celebrations of Gaz’ uplifting and singalong oeuvre, particularly when fleshed out by his splendid band. So here’s for a hopefully entertaining Big Three-Oh!


After an afternoon supporting one of my children (Jami) at her piano group recital in town, I packed the other one (Logan) up in the motor, also collecting recent gig friend Joanna for a swift early evening drive down the M4. I’d sported my Darth Vader Chrimbo jumper to Jami’s “do” so figured, tonight is Gaz’ Chrimbo bash, so let’s keep it on! Hit the venue just before 7, greeting the recently Covid-ed but happily now-recovered Ben Sydes outside, then grabbing barrier front and centre on opening, Matt joining us shortly before Ben took the stage at 7.30. The place was already amply full, and Ben did his usual admirable job of getting the crowd fully warmed up and their collective larynx loosened with a few rousing and rowdy singalongs. The urgent “Crutches” was great, Logan and I chanting “knees! Knees! Knees!” at the hook, then Ben needed to call Heartwork’s Dan onto the stage to replace a busted string, the first of two such tonight! In fact, after the second mishap, which followed a singalong “Good Times”, Ben received a drinks shot from the crowd, commenting, “the best way to get over Covid is to get absolutely fucking shitfaced!” A plaintive yet singalong “This Was My City Once” was my set highlight, although the hurtling emo of “Still In Saigon”, coupled with Ben’s lengthy outro note, ran it close in another fine B Sydes set.

 Heartwork, AKA charming young bloke Dan O’Dell, was next up; his material was more angst-ridden and both determinedly and passionately delivered, demonstrated by “No Angles”, a pointed diatribe “about motherfuckers on the internet,” and “Fire”, a rawer heartbreak ballad. Between numbers he also showed some biting wit (“let’s get a cheer for the manufacturer of B Sydes’ strings!”) and a caring attitude, with a positive mental health message preceding his final, best number, “Just What I’ve Become”. Nice stuff, Sir!

 Only a 15 minute turnaround, before the lights dimmed and Gaz led the 6-piece Thieves on (no Nick Parker tonight) dead on 9, welcoming a full house with, “how’s everyone doing? Merry Christmas!”, easing into a slightly understated “March Of Progress”. “Gunner Haines”, next up, however raised the tempo and “Diabetes Blues” got the full crowd raucously singing along and raising their cans of Thatchers, Gaz reciprocating with his bottle of water before complaining, “I’m standing here drinking fucking rain!” Nonetheless, this didn’t detract from his and the band’s performance, which was as full-bodied and energetic as hoped, a perspiring and hard-breathing Gaz commenting, “I’m definitely not match fit!” but nonetheless leaving everything on the stage. “Getting Drunk For Christmas” was poignantly dedicated to, “absent friends,”; a rollicking “I Know My Place”, despite a 2nd verse lyric ricket, was a tough best-of-set so far; but that was immediately surpassed by a blistering and rarely-played “Black Dog Day”, propelled in no small part by an octopus-limbed virtuoso performance by excellent (new? Stand-in?) drummer Lee Moulding. Another rarely played oldie, “Man Of Means” featured a splendid middle-8 break from violinist Ben Wain, and “I’ve Paid My Money” was another rousing singalong, “Gaz remarking at its’ conclusion, “you have no idea how satisfying it is to hear 400 people shout the word Dick!”


“Be The Bigger Man” was its usual superb and barbed self, Gaz then asking of us, “got a little left?” before the echoed chant of “East Winds Blow” and “Thin” closed out another, “AGM of lovely people!” as Gaz aptly put it, and another great, fun and inclusive singalong set. Quick chats with Lee (who learned the whole set in a couple of months on his work commute! Impressive!) and esteemed keyboardist Jon Buckett, before we briefly shook hands with the besieged merch-stand bound Gaz and headed off, home just before 11.30. So, the big Three-Oh up with Gaz, and a real celebration to mark it. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

1,256 NADA SURF, Kevin Devine, Bristol The Fleece, Tuesday 29th November 2022


Third night out in Bristol in 5 days, and two in a row on consecutive nights at The Fleece, but this one, as ever with ‘da Surf, was a no-brainer! My 16th time of asking for my favourite band currently making music on this planet, NYC’s indulgently melodic and supremely talented alt-rockers Nada Surf. I’d last caught up with them immediately before the first Covid lockdown, their March 2020 Electric Ballroom gig in support of most recent release “Never Not Together” earning them top “live” honours for that admittedly shortened year. This one, seemingly a continuation of their truncated 2020 tour, was originally scheduled for February 2022 but postponed until November, as Covid concerns made life difficult for US touring bands at that time. Been awhile a’coming, then, but it’s finally time to Surf again!

This rescheduled date however clashed with England’s key World Cup game with Wales which The Fleece were showing “live” and ticketed, so doors were rearranged for 9! Yikes! So, I picked Stuart up at half time in the footy and hit the road, England going 2-0 up before we’d reached the motorway! We were first in the queue as The Fleece cleared out the occasionally lairy footy massive, but I was getting anxious about the bouncers advising folks with white wristbands, signifying entry to both events, to go down the front! It’s ‘da Surf, that’s MY spot! Luckily there was an opening front centre when we were allowed in at about 10 past, so I gleefully grabbed it. On in short order was solo support Kevin Devine, a welcome addition to the bill for me, as I’d thoroughly enjoyed his strident US college powerpop “live” when our paths crossed about 5 years ago (January 2017, gig 1,020) but had rather shamefully overlooked him since. My mistake. A deadpan introduction dispensed with (“I hope you’re happy with the [footy] results… Nope? Well, it’s only going to get worse from here!”), the intricate picking and tumbling wordage of a light, melancholy “It’s A Trap” immediately impressed, followed up by a more robust and upbeat “Override” and the darker religious critique of “Albatross”. Keeping things necessarily brief due to the late running of the gig (pointedly commenting, “I wish I could spend more time [onstage] to impress upon you my wit and personality – I’m a great guy to know!”) and sensibly choosing songs from his oeuvre that suited the acoustic treatment (though it would have been nice to hear my favourite, the swaggering “Daydrunk”), Kevin delivered a shining vignette of a set, quickly wrapping matters up with a dramatic “Brother’s Blood”, a dark Violent Femmes-like backwoods murder ballad during which he delivered an impassioned off-mic middle-8 rant from the corner of the stage. Impressive stuff – shame he didn’t bring any CDs to buy!

Matt (who’d finally succumbed to the charms of Nada Surf due to the plethora of tracks I’d been putting on my “Best Of” annual compo CDs down the years) had joined us down the front by then, but I only had time for a quick catch up and an equally swift loo trip (during which I bumped into Big Jeff, recently discharged from hospital after his terrible fire ordeal and happily now back gigging) before Matthew Caws led his charges onstage dead on 9.45 (giving me a nod as he noticed me front and centre – oh yes he did!). Straight into the moody opening riff and post-grunge cheerleader sneer of arguably their “millstone” number, 1996’s “Popular”, Matthew dismissively firing off the spoken verse lyric leading into the huge choral hook. “We’re starting with a few old songs; that was 96, this one was 94,” he then announced before the urgent Buzzcocks’ “Boredom”-like punky blast of little-played B-side “Telescope”. A fulsome, bass heavy and brilliantly bouncy “High Speed Soul” followed, before the A-side, the hurtling, change of pace thrill-ride of their 1994 debut single “The Plan”, breathless and brilliant and getting me bouncing along, still uncomfortable stomach be damned. Whoa, what a start!


At the risk of repeating myself, Nada Surf were quite magnificent tonight, a joyous, feelgood celebration of all that is wonderfully right about rock’n’roll, the set touching on all aspects and ages of their formidable widescreen canon of work. And as ever played beautifully by this inspiring band: Matthew, the definition of sunshine onstage, shrinking the room as if he’s playing just for you; Daniel, the monolith, coaxing undulating patterns from his bass while languidly swishing his dreads; and Ira, perma-grin playfully etched across his features, all octopus arms and overt gestures, worth the price of admission alone for his entertainment value. A funny exchange between vocalist and drummer about Ira’s tambourine preceded a heartbreaking “Inside Of Love”, the revolving disco ball lights evoking an onstage snowglobe effect and earning a comment of thanks from Matthew to, “Andy on the lights!”; “Matilda” (“from our pandemic-new album!” joked Matthew) was a haunting, angular change of pace; and compliments from the vocalist about Bristol (“I love your record shops… I’d be very poor if I lived here!”) followed a frankly mind-blowingly incendiary “Hyperspace”, for which Ira, as ever, was the hyperspace engine propelling the band into the interstellar void. But for me the absolute zenith amongst a set replete with highlights was “See These Bones”, the opening eerie meander ceding to a circular ascending crescendo, overlaid with the repetitive hook, which was absorbing, evocative and quite outstanding. The driving post-punk effervescence of “Something I Should Do”, during which Matthew understandably resorted to his music stand to read the extensive spoken word denouement, rounded off a breath-taking 1 hour set. The boys then took a break before a emotive encore of “So Much Love”, which put me in mind of my Boston friend and fellow Nada Surf devotee David Mirabella, sadly lost to us earlier this year. But we ended on an uplifting note; their “party” song “Blankest Year”, which featured 2 false finishes – one a huge glam stomp, the other an effects-driven psych-out – was followed by the band abandoning instruments and taking to the front of the stage, Matthew donning an acoustic guitar and leading his cohorts and the crowd in an all-inclusive singalong to “Blizzard Of 77” before departing, work done, Best Gig of 2022 signed, sealed and delivered!


That wasn’t it, though – it rarely is with ‘da Surf! Matthew repaired immediately to the merch stand, and after a lengthy wait I got to renew acquaintances with the great man, introduce my 2 favourite Matts to each other, and talk briefly about David Mirabella (a friend of our mutual friend Ed Valauskas). Got the setlist Matthew had handed to me earlier signed by all the band too, waiting for Ira to painstakingly unpack his drumkit (“a roadie’s dream!” he referred to himself as, before showing us his “I’m In Nada Surf” badge, which he wears as he’s often being mistaken for a roadie!), before reluctantly tore ourselves away for a late drive home, back at 20 to 1 (from Bristol? Yikes!). Headachey and knackered the following day but well worth it. A no-brainer, and one for the ages, this, Nada Surf on top form. As I said, quite magnificent!

1,255 CAVETOWN, Bristol The Fleece, Monday 28th November 2022


A rare gig outing with the daughter of the house, this one, and, rather than this being an act I’ve introduced one of my offspring to (as is often the case with gigs with Logan, f’rinstance), this is an act Jami has arrived at all on their own! Lo-fi indie singer songwriter Cavetown, the pseudonym of Robin Skinner, fits right into Jami’s wheelhouse; a transgender artist peddling melancholy lo-fi bedroom pop, with the lyrical subject matter of trying to make sense of growing up different in the fucked-up world we live in, therefore entirely relatable to my gender-fluid youngest offspring. We’d already booked tix for the main Cavetown tour in February 2023 promoting recent album release “Worm Food”, when this opportunity to see him perform at closer quarters came along; a HMV-arranged low-key and intimate performance at Bristol Fleece, with copies of the new CD thrown in with the ticket price. It’s on a school night, but hey, carpe diem and all that…

 Not feeling my best today, with an uncomfortable stomach pain, but sometimes you’ve just gotta suck it up, buttercup! So we changed into our fabulous fineries, as required by Jami (my ensemble of pink Bigfatbig tshirt, light blue jeans and white creepers apparently matching the trans flag colours – what a coinkydink!), then headed off down the well-trodden route to The Fleece, Jami producing an excellent Manga style pencil sketch of Robin on the journey! Parked up and joined the already large queue half an hour before the 7.30 doors – this was a proper anticipated one, no doubt! Despite our lowly queue position, we still snagged a barrier spot, extreme house right, wherein Jami quickly made some like-minded friends. I explained to J the significance of this particular spot, and my explanation came to pass, as Robin (accompanied by a couple of minders) walked from the backstage area (down the back at The Fleece, of course!), through the bar and directly behind Jami and their delighted friends, to take the stage to cheers from the devoted.

 Solo acoustic guy tonight, Robin strapped on his faithful road-worn guitar, welcomed the crowd with, “I’m sorry there are poles in the way!” (that’s the Fleece for ya, mate…!) and eased into the introspective opener “Fall In Love With A Girl”. A quirkier yet still plaintive “Frog” was next up, Robin commenting on the line of cuddly frog toys arranged by fans at the front of the stage, and putting on a frog hat with, “I’ve been requested to wear this [for this song]!” “Juliet” saw the otherwise very quiet and attentive crowd fill the, “shit, he’s so pretty!” hookline, “Talk To Me” (J’s favourite!) had a more whimsical 70’s folky feel, and the subsequent “Lemon Boy”, probably his most immediate composition and my favourite Cavetown song, was jauntier with an almost slacker, Lemonheads feel.

 Some subsequent numbers drifted by for me in a soporific, melancholy gossamer haze, but I was left in no doubt as to the connection between Robin and his like-minded, very young audience, the man regularly asking, “how everyone doing?” and “hope you’re all looking after each other,” in his very softly spoken way. “Wasabi” was stripped back and almost elegiac, detailing a fractured relationship (Robin commenting, “I’ve written so many songs about the same person… it was a bit cringe!”), the low, wallowing “Worm Food” (wherein the audience held up multitude of fuzzy wiggly worms!) for me recalled 90’s indie heartbreakers Wheat or Junior Corduroy, and the penultimate number, crowd favourite “This Is Home”, saw Robin gently and deftly challenging the audience for a singalong, deadpanning, “this is an old one, I don’t think any of you will know the words!” Then Robin picked up a ukulele for a hushed final “Hug All Yr Friends”, an apt message to leave his crowd with, before folding his sole setlist into a paper airplane and launching it into his massive.

A pleasant if slightly uneven set for me, but nevertheless with a lot to like in it, and Jami loved it which was the important thing. As Robin passed by to head off backstage, Jami also got to hand their sketch to him, which made my daughter even happier, and we headed off promptly (school night after all) for a 10.20 arrival home. As I said, we’ve got the full band Cavetown experience already booked for next year, but tonight was an eminently worthwhile solo taster!