Sunday 25 February 2024

1,315 WINGS OF DESIRE, Hunny Buzz, Bristol Rough Trade Records, Wednesday 21st February 2024

 


Inheaven were one of my favourite bands of the mid-2010’s; bursting into my consciousness with a fully-formed debut album, incorporating elements of post-punk, shoegaze and wall-of-noise sleazoid rock into a fascinating, leather-clad and rose petal-strewn melting pot, they were also a fiercely ambitious lot, clearly going places in a hurry. I saw them 3 times in barely 8 months (gigs 1,043, 1,057 and 1,070) and was bolted in for the longhaul with them. That is, until a blood-splattered bouquet posted on Facebook with the epithet “RIP 2015-2018” heralded their demise… dammit! OK, fast forward 5 years or so, when I picked up on a deliriously metronomic track “Runnin’” by new name Wings Of Desire, downloaded that and their subsequent excellent synth-washed post-punk anthology album “Life Is Infinite”, and then looked up who they actually were, only to find WoD were effectively the 2-headed creative force behind Inheaven, namely vocalist James Taylor and his partner-in-crime, Swindon’s own Chloe Little! This duo having happily been restored to my listening habit, all I needed was a show to follow this up… 

Happily, a debut headlining tour was in the offing, and I brainwashed Tim into taking me along to the Bristol Rough Trade show, still being a few weeks away from being cleared to drive myself. I’d also organised some seats, and on arrival found they were right down the front of this splendid little back room, house left. Result! Chilled awhile as the hardy early comers trickled in out of the drizzly Tuesday evening, until openers Hunny Buzz took the stage at 8. Fronted by a vivacious female vocalist with a lilting, beguiling voice, they immediately impressed with a varied set of buoyant indie pop, incorporating a lot of familiar elements but never descending into obvious plagiarism. Opener “Chess Game”’s seductive backbeat built into a rousing choral hook, “Love Me Like You Used To” was a much more upbeat, careering Popguns-like old school indie banger with a “woah-oh” hook, and “Not Your Place” featured an almost Skids-like dark and robust opening riff, building into a C86 jangle-fest with a snarky, Coach Party-like chorus. A few little bumps in the road here and there (particularly from the drummer, who dropped his stick a couple of times, laudably resorting to playing with his hands!), but to be expected from this very young band, and a very promising set overall was concluded by their best number “Now I Can Get Over You”, a stream-of-consciousness verse vocal kicking into a big powerpop/Blondie hook. Nice work!

Wings Of Desire themselves took the stage dead on 9 after a short interval in front of a slightly disappointing but understandable turnout on this dank midweek evening, James centre stage, resplendent in olive and tweed, and Chloe, sporting outsized David Byrne jacket, sited behind a synth desk. Opener “Runnin’”, eased into life, the post-punk haunting swirl and synth-augmented mood immediately setting the tone for the set overall; where their forbears Inheaven were all about strident guitar licks and leather-clad rock, WoD evoke a dreamier, more ephemeral mood, keyboard-embellished but never dominated, and still notably post-punk tinged. In a nutshell, they’ve thrown away the first 2 Jesus And Mary Chain albums and replaced them with New Order’s opening double salvo…! 

“Be Here Now” was an early highlight, featuring a deadpan verse delivery from James almost recalling The Passage (!), the subsequent “Chance Of A Lifetime” was a slower burn with intertwining vocals from James and Chloe, and “A Million Other Suns” featured Interpol-like laconic atmospherics. “This is the longest set we’ve ever done!” announced the hitherto taciturn vocalist before “Perfect World”, their most Inheaven-esque number, the JAMC backbeat leading to a soaring surf punk hook with a droney, Velvets-like outro, then a later “Angels” was full-on Cocteaus dreampop, stately and elegiac, with a disaffected lead vocal from Chloe. A rather splendid actually set concluded with thanks from the band, and the pulsing intro to “001”, which built to a New Order “Ceremony”-esque final guitar crescendo to end (if I’m honest, not the first WoD number to do so tonight), at which point I leapt (hah!) up to grab James’ list.

 Quick reminisces with James and Chloe afterwards, recalling those Inheaven days and discussing their forthcoming Editors European support dates. Hit the road with Tim reflecting on a fine first showing. Like their forbears, Wings Of Desire’s influences are easy to spot, but once again they’re infusing them into an intriguing and haunting mix very much their own. Great to have James and Chloe back making meaningful music; perhaps Wings Of Desire will finally see them soar to the heights they deserve…!

Monday 19 February 2024

1,314 B SYDES, Heartwork, Ed Poole, Swindon The Tuppenny, Thursday 15th February 2024

 

Continuing with my gig February, despite still needing crutches to get around out and about; this one promised to be an interesting night, an emo-leaning triple header of acoustic guitar acts for this week’s Tuppenny Thursday Music Club, headed by recent “live” favourite and now-Swindon local Ben Sydes! This was the second of a brief 3-date tour from this 3-headed emo hydra, ironically named the “we are laughing and we are very good friends tour (!)”, and I’d been corresponding with Ben recently on the subject of Spanish Love Songs (Ben going to their Bristol gig on the day of my knee op), promising him that if I was up on my feet, I’d get to this gig, even if that meant getting a taxi!

And so it proved; with my dear lady wife out in London, Logan and I booked a cab up the hill for my first such gig transport since I don’t even know, I’m guessing The Popguns at The Link back in 1992 (gig 212)! Arrived at 8 and bagsied a seat down the front, also catching up with Tupp luminaries Ed and Linda, Grant and Lisa, Nick and a visiting Mr. Gaz Brookfield! Chatted briefly with the star of the show as well, before settling in for opener, Scouser Ed Poole just after 8.30. After a couple of entertaining and frenetic openers, featuring some neat off-mic undulating vocals, Ed unfortunately hit some technical issues, requiring the help of Heartwork’s Dan O’Dell to sort out, which immediately jogged my memory as to when I’d seen Heartwork before; he’d been “Mr. Fixit” at Gaz’ 2022 Fleece Chrimbo do (gig 1,257), sorting out busted guitar strings during Ben’s opening set! Anyway, back to Ed; tech issues (mostly) sorted, the subsequent “Collapse” was a fast-paced, almost Woodentopsy acoustic rattler with a passionately delivered, dark chorus and descending hook; “Punchline” was by contrast stripped back and bleak; and finale “Knives” was my favourite of a well-delivered set, another galloper with a big yearning emo hook. Good start!

 The affable young Mr. O’Dell, AKA Heartwork, was next up… opener “Achilles Friend” was an intricately-picked paean to lost love, Dan quipping at the denouement, “we got through a whole song without something going wrong!” apparently not only in reference to Ed’s set, but also his own most recent appearance here, when he didn’t quite manage to complete 3 numbers! The angsty, octave straddling “Right Thing” featured a quick appearance from Ben, “Wreckage” (introduced with, “to pick things up, a song about divorce!”) was a duet with Mr. Poole, and strident closer “Party” a purging exorcism and essay on mental health, all being delivered with a witty, affable bonhomie often at odds with the dour, darker lyrical subject matter. Again, a fine set from Mr. Heartwork…

 

Old Ben Sydes (!) then took the stage for the headlining set just about 10, his unique soaring nasal quaver dovetailing in nicely with the droney riff of opener “5 Minutes”. An excellent, passionately delivered version of his best number, the soaring and lengthy pregnant pause-punctuated “Crutches” was next up, happily dedicated to my good self, so I gave my crutches a little wave to emphasise the point! “Good Times” was a fine singalong from the packed and engaged room, and before a discordant, off-kilter “All At Sea” Ben emphasised the “we are very good friends…” angle by mentioning, “we’ve been sat on my sofa all afternoon watching “Dolphin Bonk” on YouTube!” A work-in-progress newie, the lockdown hymn “Screaming Infidelities” (nicking a Dashboard Confessional title!) skipped a verse, but as I whispered to Ben at the end, “it’s a new number, we [the audience] don’t know any different!” “The Desperate Dance” (which also saw his 2 tour mates desperate dancing by the door!) was a final singalong, before Ben thanked us, “for coming out on a rainy Thursday to what is now my home town show!”, a frantic “Still In Saigon” with the usual dramatic riffery and lengthy final vocal note rounding off another entertaining showing.

 Hobbled around the venue bidding farewells to everyone while Logan predictably nipped to the kebab house next door (!), then Rach came to pick us up for a sodden trundle down the hill and home. A fine triple-header indeed!

Sunday 11 February 2024

1,313 BIG COUNTRY, Icicle Works (acoustic), Bristol O2 Academy, Friday 9th February 2024

 

Two weeks and two days after my long-awaited knee operation, and I’m already back on the gig trail! A bit mad, maybe, but I am, after all, me… In all honesty, however, this one was totally thanks to old friend and tonight’s gig buddy Rich; we’d booked this one, a 40th (!) Anniversary Celebration of old “live” favourites and 80’s Celtic post-punk icons Big Country’s sophomore album, the imposing “Steeltown”, when tix went on sale last year, however the rescheduling of my knee op from late December to late January put my attendance in jeopardy. Rich, however, was having none of it; if I can get on my feet even with crutches, he said, he’d get me there; and he was as good as his word. Good man! 

So, I’d phoned the venue to arrange seating and early entry, and Rich, along with friend Nikki, picked me up in ample time to hit the venue at 6.20, even given Friday night Bristol traffic! He dropped me off outside the venue and went off to park the car, then we had a swift drink in the Hatchet before queueing up, thence grabbing three of the dozen or so bar stools located in the main bar area, immediately behind the mixing desk and affording an excellent view. Not the comfiest of seats, in all honesty, but at least I’m up off my feet! Old Brunel/ Level 3 mates Steffen and Adam unexpectedly walked in, so we had a nice chat and catch up before openers The Icicle Works at 8. An acoustic version tonight, comprising a duo of former IW main man and barking mad maverick Ian McNabb, resplendent in rocker double denim and steampunk hat, and old IW sidekick Chris Lay, they ploughed through a selection of “nostalgia” from the Scouse rockers’ impressive post-punk/ pseudo prog 80’s back catalogue, revealing extra levels of songwriting prowess in this stripped back format. Opener “Hollow Horse” was a melancholy wallow before the soaring chorus, McNabb encouraging singalongs throughout, “Little Girl Lost” was a plaintive tale reminiscent of The Doors’ quieter moments, and “Evangeline” a drawling Southern road movie vignette. Throughout McNabb was his usual effusive, sardonic self, introducing one number with, “here’s a track from 1985; it wasn’t a hit so fits in well with the rest of the set!”, and encouraging us early comers to meet up at the merch stand; “you don’t have to buy anything, but fucking do!” A very Country and Western-inflected “Understanding Jane” (“UJ” – the Yellowstone years?) was far removed from the soaring full band belter but my set highlight nonetheless, and after the intricate campfire picking of set closer “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” I took the man’s advice and hobble out to the foyer for a pic and a brief chat! 

Back in as I overheard the dark, pulsing “Steeltown” intro music, and I was back on my stool for the band’s arrival dead on 9. The snaking guitar riffery of “Flame Of The West”, delivered in fine homage to his sadly lamented former bandleader Stuart Adamson by beaming guitarist Bruce Watson, already in fantasy band camp and caring not a jot that the place was probably only 2/3rds full, opened proceedings, with “new” (I say “new”, he’s been in the band 2 years now…) vocalist Simon Hough delivering the lead line with his low, nasal and surprisingly Adamson-like voice. Good start!

 For me, there’s little to choose in terms of songwriting quality between “Steeltown” and its predecessor, Big Country’s debut “The Crossing”; however “Steeltown”, reflective of the turbulent industrial times of the mid-80s, is a more politically-charged and social commentary-led beast, often bleak of mood and atmosphere. That said, the title track and subsequent “Where The Rose Is Sown” was an early double highlight, the respective choral hooks soaring and singalong despite the subject matter, both powered along by drummer Mark Brzezicki’s economical yet commanding style. “Winter Sky” was an unexpected galloping highlight, and album closer “Just A Shadow” a fine, plaintive lament, yet the mood changed markedly with the subsequent and considerably more upbeat “Look Away”, the crowd suddenly in full anthemic voice, continuing the singalong into the subsequent “Chance” and set highlight, the euphoric “In A Big Country”. A thunderous “Fields Of Fire”, including a vignette of “Whisky In The Jar”, capped an imperfect (a few bum notes, but no surprise for the opening night of the tour) yet fine 1 hour 20 minutes, with “Lost Patrol” an unexpected choice for the sole encore. 

Grabbed a list and a chat outside with Big Country guitarist Jamie Watson as Rich got the car, slow egress from the city centre nonetheless getting us home for ¼ to 12. Not as singalong as previous Big Country gigs, maybe, but a fine night out and an apt celebration of a notable album. Thanks Rich!

Monday 15 January 2024

1,312 SPANISH LOVE SONGS, Heart Attack Man, Suds, Southampton Engine Rooms, Saturday 13th January 2024

 


Another late call, this… after a couple of thrillingly visceral performances from LA emo rabble Spanish Love Songs immediately pre-Covid, both in support of kindred spirits The Menzingers (gig 1,173) and in their own right (gig 1,136), I was always up for more, so happily (and quickly, before it sold out!) booked tix for the Bristol Fleece leg of this January UK jaunt, in support of their 4th album, last year’s “No Joy”. Whilst continuing the lyrical themes of introverted self-examination and trying to make sense of adult life in this fucked-up world, they’ve toned down the guitar onslaught a few (hundred?) notches on this release, revealing some excellent, almost acoustic-powered, galloping melody. One of my faves of the year, and I was looking forward to seeing how this more muted approach would reconcile with their bludgeoning behemoth “live” alter-ego, so I was gutted that my impending knee op was rescheduled for that very Bristol date! Bah! Luckily, the Southampton date fell prior to this (indeed, it’s the opening date on the tour…), a few late tix were released, so I booked late on. And, after playing a bit of “No Joy” in the car, my son and Menzingers fan Logan decided he was up for some Saturday night South Coast rock as well!

 So we Hit the road about 5.30, being held up by stationary traffic on the M4 but eventually clearing it and parking up in the massive – and cheap at £2! – nearby multi storey at 20 past 7. Just enough time to wander round to this weird industrial estate-located tin shed venue and grab a centre spot a couple of rows back for openers Suds, prompt at 7.30. I’d heard good reports about this new Norfolk band and was not to be disappointed; opener “A Terrible Thing” sashayed in with a pastoral Americana mood and some wistful tones from vocalist Maisie Carter, which was then overlaid by some heavy grungy guitar work, giving me immediate Madder Rose “Car Song” vibes. “Paint My Body” was more upbeat with some groovy 2-part harmonies, again recalling Mary Lorson’s charges in their more frantic moments, and a later “Hard For Me”, apparently about Great Yarmouth pleasure beach (!), delved into lilting Alvvays territory. A couple more upbeat numbers, including the rapid, rampant and eminently hooky closer “Freckle”, rounded off a fine opening set from a very promising young band – who, rather predictably when I challenged them about it at the merch stand, had never heard of Madder Rose!

 Grabbed the Suds list from their affable bassist, to happily find it was scribbled on the back of Spanish Love Songs’ list! A two’fer; nice! Main support Heart Attack Man were up in short order, the black-clad band bounding enthusiastically onstage and ripping into a set of energetic if formulaic So Cal pop-punk which would have been more apt for a Bowling For Soup support slot. Some chunky Weezer soundalike numbers as well, and one mid-set number, Old Enough To Die”, which was a dead ringer for Jimmy Eat World’s “Authority Song”, but otherwise not really much for me. Still, there was a frenzied young moshpit behind us throughout, especially going nuts during the shouty “Like A Kennedy”, so what do I know, eh?

 Logan had grabbed a barrier spot by now, so we chatted with our front row colleagues before the imposing monolith that is Spanish Love Songs mainman Dylan Slocum led his charges on at 9.30, easing into the slow burn build of opener “I’m Gonna Miss Everything”, the hook lustily sung back by the devoted. As I’d expected (and hoped), the heavy guitars were indeed pared back, exposing both the melody and intricate confessional lyricism of the new material in particular, and bringing Slocum’s yearning and passionate yet commanding vocals to the fore. “Lifers” was earnest and anthemic, and “Losers” a proper 4 to the floor stomper, kicking the gig into proper life.

 

“Holy Moly Southampton! We played this room back in 2020 – nothing bad happened after that!” deadpanned Slocum before the first-pumping roof raiser “Clean Up Crew”, the band then delving back to tumbling, angular oldie “Bellyache” and the frantic, punk rock verse and stadium roar chorus of “The Boy Considers His Haircut”, to the delight of the faithful. Returning to the new album material, Slocum informed us, “a lot of [“No Joy”] was written in the depths of depression when I couldn’t see my friends, so this [being able to play “live” again] is wonderful!”, and this really shone through, the band determined to make up for that lost time and revel in the “live” environment. So much so, unfortunately, that Slocum’s earnest and doubtless very sincere proclamations about how grateful he was/is to the fans here tonight became a little cloying when repeated too often. Mate, we know you love us, please don’t turn into Bono!

 That aside, this was a fine and inclusive performance, capped by a quite brilliant double-whammy of the new albums’ 2 best numbers, “Marvel” and tonight’s highlight, the wonderful, soaring “Haunted”, both expertly delivered despite guitarist/ keyboardist Meredith Van Voert having contrived to put a hole in her acoustic guitar a couple of numbers earlier! This actually worked out for the best, as Van Voert then concentrated on the undulating keyboard melody underpinning these 2 numbers instead.

 We took a wander to the back, then, as my knee was barking at me, grabbing a bar bench spot as Slocum led the band through the 2 “encores” (“just pretend we walked off”), the “California Uber Alles” drumbeat and final skyscraping communal singalong of “Brave Faces Everyone” (also pretty much the only time SLS really hit the heavy riffery tonight) concluding a 1 hour 20 set replete with singalongs and highlights. A quick exit at 11 and inky black drive back up the A34, avoiding the M4 traffic this time and hitting home at 12.30 via Jimmy’s kebabs for a late supper. Despite my concerns about Slocombe’s over-earnestness, this was an excellent Spanish Love Songs “opening night” gig; glad I made sure I caught them on this tour!

Friday 12 January 2024

1,311 SPRINTS, Bristol Rough Trade Records, Tuesday 10th January 2024

 


Not my list, this one courtesy of occasional gig buddy Alfie...

Another gigging year gets underway… and typical of what’s likely to be a fragmented start to the 2024 “Dance Card”, given my impending knee operation (postponed from December and now rescheduled to the end of January), this one was a Larry-Last-Minute late call! I’d been impressed by new Dublin lot Sprints on the Suede undercard last March (gig 1,271); despite the obvious disadvantage of not being Desperate Journalist (Suede’s support on other dates), they’d impressed with some urgent, insistent indie/ post punk tuneage with a dark, almost gothy undercurrent and hint of surreptitious menace. They’d clearly resonated with the gig-booking public as well, as uncertainty over my knee op date caused me to hesitate on both this “in-store” debut album release show and signing session, and their forthcoming Thekla date, both of which sold out in short order! Yikes! So, big thanks to the Dice waiting list for this one; I put my name down and was duly rewarded with a text around lunchtime today offering a short-notice ticket. Thanks, I do!

 So, I set off down a chilly and inky black M4, hitting some nasty traffic straight off the junction and inching along the M32 to Nelson Street, dumping the motor and hitting a busy Rough Trade at ¼ to 7, bumping into occasional gig buddy Alfie in the queue! Caught up, then nosed around the racks, grabbing a couple of books (inc. a signed copy of Pulp’s Nick Banks’ memoir!) and dumping them back in the motor before grabbing a central spot a few rows back in the venue, inveigling my way forward as some older chaps decided not to risk a potential mosh! Sprints took the stage promptly at 7.30, and laudably treated this in-store performance as just any old regular gig, plugging in and playing hard. Nice! The pulsed drumbeat intro of “Ticking” underpinned a detached, impassive verse vocal from frontperson Karla Chubb, before both she – and the song – roared into strident venomous life, setting the tone for the set. The descending, “Dark Entries”-like riffery of “Heavy”, next up, was again a feature, as this number built into a squalling feedback fest, before bassist Sam McCann greeted the crowd with a cheery, “Bristol! How are you!”, replying to my, “how are you?” rejoinder with, “it’s been a long week – but happy to be here!”

 Sprints oeuvre fits nicely into my rock wheelhouse; moody and resonant post-punk guitar verse builds into roaring, amphetamine-fast choruses with often pseudo choral round repetitive hooks, delivered by Chubb’s impressively strident tones. That said, after a more immediate “Adore”, the vocalist passed on her apologies as, “my voice is incredibly hoarse as I shout too much; my mother warned me about it and look what happened… I became a rockstar!” “Shaking My Hands” sneaked in like a thief in the night, before again building to a strident climax, before, “the sad song on the album,” according to Chubb, namely “Shadow Of Doubt”, a comparatively stark, almost mumbling and morose wallow before building into an undulating repetitive hook, demonstrating there may be more to this band than the shouty stuff!

 The frantic “Up And Comer” was preceded by a fun exchange between vocalist and punter (Chubb asking, “[happy to hear] another album track?”, being met with a “No!” response from some wag, then offering them outside!), before Chubb then addressed the crowd, thanking them for their/ our support; “this week has been very surreal; we’ve gone from being bedroom dreamers to stage sell-out-ers!”, also delivering a story about meeting the love of her life, and an inclusive speech about self-empowerment. The subsequent final number, “Literary Mind”, encapsulated this mood; easily the set highlight, a euphoric, almost early U2-like soaring choral hook leading into a call-and-response circular lyrical passage between Chubb and bassist McCann, rounding off an impressive, passionately delivered and good value 45 minutes set. 

By now I’d moved towards the back, so I grabbed a spot near the front of the queue for the signing sesh with the band, grabbing a pic as well thanks to a fellow punter (with whom I’d been passing time in the queue chatting about bicycles!). Alfie, front and centre, had grabbed the list, so I took a pic then bade farewell, home for 9.45. Shame I might not get to the Thekla to catch this evidently fast-rising lot, but glad I managed to sprint along the M4 tonight to catch Sprints up close and personal. Something makes me think those opportunities will be getting increasingly scarce, real soon…

Tuesday 19 December 2023

1,310 TEENAGE WRIST, Paerish, Mouth Culture, Bristol Louisiana, Monday 18th December 2023

My last-minute knee op postponement from last Friday also means that I can get to this gig… I’d picked up on Californian shoegaze/ grunge rockers Teenage Wrist back in 2018, falling hard for their superb debut effort “Chrome Neon Jesus”, which was only beaten out by Basement Revolver for my Album Of The Year that year. Their sophomore effort, “Earth Is A Black Hole”, went one better in 2021, pipping the Stayawakes and Inhaler for Top Album honours, although I missed their brief 2018 UK tour (which passed through tonight’s venue) due to a clashing family holiday, Covid then conspiring to keep them from returning to these shores. Until now, and a tour in support of difficult, murkier and heavier new album “Still Love” … I booked tix immediately, but it then looked as if I was going to miss out – or at least try to hobble up the winding staircase on crutches to the venue for this one. Glad I don’t have to do that! 

So, limbs intact, I picked up Tim (for a change) for a drizzly run down the M4, before some parking confusion (lots of temporary barriers strewn all over the parking lot opposite the Louie) saw us dump the motor by the Thekla and wander around. Got a drink and chilled, also enjoying a few words with friendly Teenage Wrist vocalist Marshall Gallagher, manning the merch stand early doors and also manfully putting up with my tales of postponed operations and suchlike. Took a wander upstairs just before 8 to catch a bit of openers Mouth Culture, who ploughed a pretty decent furrow between resonant reverb-overlaid post-punk and looser, trippier Britpop, and were led by a young preying mantis of a vocalist, Faris Badwan’s delinquent offspring, who actually had both the confident swagger and the voice for the job. “Rage”, their urgent, punkish closer saw the vocalist, stripped to the waist at this point, bellow the hook like a wounded lion. A bit unfocussed stylistically, they could however be a name to watch... I certainly preferred them to main support Paerish; after a decent shoegazey opener, all tumbling drums and echoey guitar, they descended into samey and mid-paced plodding sub-grunge, with their vocalist quite the contrast from the first band, his understated reedy voice adding to the Smashing Pumpkins vibe I was strongly getting from this lot. We gave them 4 or 5 numbers then took a break in the bar.

Back in about 20 past 9 for the main event, though; grabbed a spot a couple of rows back, house right, as Teenage Wrist rounded off a short set up and final check, before Gallagher announced to the sell-out crowd, “Holy fucking Shit Bristol!”, inviting everyone to take a step forward before launching into the thunderous squall and huge choral hook of opener and new album leadoff track “Sunshine”, his voice somehow soaring above the immediately loud and heavy riffery. The boy can sing, no messin’! 

This set the tone for the set; the oft-shimmering, textured and nuanced guitar pedal effects prevalent particularly on the first couple of albums were discarded tonight in favour of pure seething rock’n’roll power, earthquake-inducing grunge guitar riffery and hard-hitting, cascading drums courtesy of Gallagher’s main TW partner in crime Anthony Salazar. And, despite my prior misgivings, this approach made total sense in the “live” environment, giving the material extra primal force and dynamism, and providing a solid launchpad for TW’s trademark huge skyscraping choral hooks. Gallagher himself was a gregarious and laconic onstage presence, commenting, “this is our last date; I’m wearing the last of my clean clothes!” before the slightly outlying resonant, pseudo Goth post-punk of “Dweeb”, then asking if anyone had seen them here in 2018, before quipping at the pack of audience response, “we paid a lot of money [for that tour] and sucked a lot of dick!” “Taste Of Gasoline” was tremendous, a huge soaring hook propelling this early set highlight; “Stoned, Alone”, an introverted shoegaze wallow on record, turned into a tough slacker anthem; and “Silverspoon” again saw Salazar take centre stage with some jet-propelled drumming. 

An almost swayalong “Mary” ceded to a pounding, relentless “Cigarette Two Step”, Gallagher screaming like a young Bob Mould at its denouement before Salazar quipped, “hope you like our ballad!”; then an hour’s potent and dynamic rock ended with profuse thanks from the frontman and the dark dramatic verse and huge strident chorus of set highlight “Earth Is A Black Hole”. Woah. Took a breath, feeling like I’d just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson after that rock onslaught, before a conversation with a chatty Salazar about band dynamics and influences. A drizzly run home then saw us hit the ‘don just before 11.45 with ears ringing. A fine – albeit very very loud! – way to round off gig year 2023, courtesy of Teenage Wrist!

Monday 18 December 2023

1,309 XSLF, Borrowed Time, The Deckchairs, Swindon The Victoria, Friday 15th December 2023

 

They think it’s all over… but it isn’t, well, not just yet…

 Just as I was thinking that my 2023 gigging year had come to a close, thanks to my scheduled knee replacement surgery, fate deals a different hand to me, with the last-minute (as in, I’m standing in my hospital-issue gown ready to go to theatre last-minute!) postponement of said procedure, for totally understandable reasons actually. So instead of a weekend in hospital and up to 8 weeks out of gigging action (I’ll have that to look forward to early next year now…), the weekend opened up to me, and I could join The Big Man for a trip up the hill to see XLSF, the ersatz line-up of veteran Belfast punks fronted by former – and original – Stiff Little Fingers guitarist Henry Cluney. We’d caught them down at the old Level 3 just over 10 years ago (gig 889), in one of their first ever gigs; frankly, it showed a little, with a fun but uneven set which wasn’t a patch on Jake Burns’ current SLF incarnation. But hey, I’ve suddenly got a free night, so I was up for seeing how Henry and co. have come on in the intervening years…

 Drove up and parked up behind the Roaring Donkey, grabbing the last spot on a busy pre-Christmas Friday night out, then met Rich in the Vic, also running into Debby and old Level 3 face Pete Murphy (no, not that one…!). Heard noise emanating from the back room venue, so wandered in at 10 to 9 to see openers The Deckchairs. A veteran bunch from Bracknell, as we soon found out thanks to their love song for their home town, which featured the line, “your girlfriend’s mates are all chavs!”, they were fronted by a chap who I thought was a dead ringer for my old punk mate Ian Leighton, and kicked up a primitive late 70’s punk rock racket reminiscent of a lot of second division bands of that time (Shapes, Drones, Last Words et al). Lots of scatological references (one number called “My Dick’s Bigger Than Yours”, for example, although we missed the one about inflatable girlfriends!), and I liked the jolly “Wanker In An Audi” which concluded with a bit of the old 70’s “Likely Lads” TV programme theme! The singer rounded off this fun mess of a set with a toilet seat around his neck for the closer “We Were Shit”, although they were called back on for an encore of Sham 69’s laddish drinking song “Hurry Up Harry” by the crowd.

 By now we’d been joined by Rich’s friend Nicky, another old Level 3 face, although I bailed out of the venue when main support Borrowed Time launched into their set. Much more proficient sounding than the openers, but I’m not a fan of their more generic leather-and-studs UK82-inspired politico-punk noise, so I took a seat to rest my knee and then phoned my brother, popping back in for their last knockings.

 Quite a busy one, this, so we kept a watching brief by the bar, house left, anticipating a boisterous moshpit which would be a little more than my knee could currently handle. Not far wrong, as it turned out, as Henry Cluney led the now 3-piece XSLF on at 10.30, rampaging straight into the classic “Suspect Device” and immediately projecting his tough Northern Irish brogue much better than beforehand. Thence followed a set of classic SLF first 2 albums only material, enthusiastically if a little haphazardly delivered by Cluney and his mob (the ex-Defects drummer in particular more than a little all over the place, seemingly changing speed on a whim and regularly out of time with his colleagues), but equally enthusiastically received and sung along with by this Friday night Vic crowd. An early “Gotta Getaway” was incendiary; the mid-set “Alternative Ulster” savage and bilious (Cluney deadpanning, “I wrote this one on the way from the hotel tonight!”) and “Nobody’s Hero” was a careering, fist-pumping manifesto and the best – and best sounding – number on show tonight. The band hauled a quartet of backing singers up from the crowd for “Barbed Wire Love”, Rich and myself responding with a mid-song waltz (!), and Borrowed Time’s Rob did a fine job actually as guest vocalist for a venomous “Fly The Flag”. A lengthy, dubby and slightly uneven “Johnny Was” closed out the set, although Cluney, a little breathless by now, commented they couldn’t be bothered to go offstage (a bit of a theme these days at gigs!), so ploughed through a timely if shambolic “White Christmas” and a fine, tight “Tin Soldiers” to round off an hour-ish set, after which I left Rich to it and headed off. So, still some way short of Jake’s mob, but Cluney and co. were overall better than before, and despite a few haphazard moments, gave this fabled material a good old roughhousing and in doing so, delivered a fine and welcome, if unexpected and last-minute, evening’s singalong punk rock. Slainte, chaps!