Thursday 27 June 2024

1,334 ALVVAYS, Girl Scout, Bristol SWX, Saturday 22nd June 2024

 

Every time, somewhere just a bit bigger…! Excellent Canadian dreampop combo Alvvays continue their ascent through Bristol’s gig venues; sell-outs at the Thekla (gig. 936) and the Fleece (gig 958) in 2015, then the Trinity in 2018 (gig. 1,071), so the next step up is this one, the bigger but awkwardly shaped SWX… I’d actually paused on tix for this, the opening night of a brief 5 date precursor to a lengthier European jaunt, as it fell on Logan’s 17th birthday; after I’d played him some stuff I finally jumped before it too, predictably, sold out… However, earlier today he passed his CBT and, understandably, preferred to go out on his new motorbike, over joining his old man for a band which was just outside his usual folky punky wheelhouse… 

A late replacement attempt proved fruitless, so I flew solo down a sweltering, sun-kissed M4, hitting the venue 20 minutes after doors and finding the front already rammed. Bah! Took a watching brief halfway back, house left, as the place quickly filled up. A pleasant surprise for tonight was the support; only Stockholm’s finest, Girl Scout! They’d entertained mightily on a couple of Coach Party supports last year (gigs 1,260 and 1,296), and evidently seemed determined to do the same tonight. On prompt at 8, vocalist Emma Janssen energetically led her charges through an upbeat, dynamic set of melodic, resonant pure pop, opening with the pastoral tones of the laconic “Run Me Over” with its’ melodic, high register “can I just be good?” choral hook, then ramping up a gear with the more robust thumper “All The Time And Everywhere” and the Pixies-ish, quiet-loud menacing strut of “Monster”. Emma gushed about supporting Alvvays (“[they’re] one of our biggest inspirations, so this is insane!”) before the Coach Party-esque undulating build of next single “Honey”; then a couple of galloping indie bangers in the metronomic Stereolab rhythm and impressively held single note choral climax of “I Just Need You To Know” and the inevitable, careering closer “Do You Remember Sally Moore?” rounded off a rather splendid support slot. Honoured or not to be supporting Alvvays, they weren’t overawed by the occasion; if anything, they upped their game tonight, and persuaded me to book for their early 2025 Louisiana gig (announced by Emma late on), toot sweet!

A quick break to book that gig and pick up a Girl Scout CD from the merch stand (at last!), then back in place for Alvvays’ arrival at 9, to the usual piped intro music and a wild reception from this sold out and mainly quite young and female crowd. “Molly Mayhem” (aka vocalist Molly Rankin) took the stage last, easing into widescreen, melancholy and dreamily stately opener “Easy On Your Own” and the more upbeat, C86 optimistic jangle-along “After The Earthquake”, highlighting both elements of their musical oeuvre and setting the tone for tonight’s set. The epic, rousing singalong of “In Undertow” followed, Molly announcing at its’ conclusion, “we’re going to play some songs; they’re all short but there are many of them!” 

In stark contrast to the jangly, ramshackle haphazard-ness of their C86 “Indie DIY” spiritual forbears, Alvvays are becoming quite the slick, practiced and professional (if that’s not a dirty word) band “live”, delivering a set which switched through both material from their 3 albums, and stylistically between the slow-burn, melancholy and atmospheric dreampop and ebullient and upbeat pacey Smiths/ Razorcuts-esque undulating Rickenbacker jangle, with seamless and effortless ease. An early “Adult Diversion” raced along rambunctiously powered by Molly’s strident choral squeal; “Not My Baby” was a deliciously dismissive heartbreak wallow; and “Atop A Cake” with its timeless melody (could have been Dusty Springfield, could have been The Smiths), infectious hook and mellifluous riffery, was a shining mid-set highlight.

 We’ve made this room so hot, our guitars won’t stay in tune!” lamented Molly, tongue firmly in cheek, before the beautiful snowdrift melancholy of “Dreams Tonite”; then “Archie, Marry Me”, stylishly inserted near the end (not at the end) of the set was again a brilliant, widescreen singalong, the whole crowd joining in the, “Hey! Hey!” hook and raising the roof to this iconic millennial indie track. A breathless sprint through “Pomeranian Spinster” rounded off a polished and expertly delivered set perfectly, with the delicate 60’s “B” movie feel of “Next Of Kin” the highlight of a brief encore. Missed out on a stage setlist, then bumped into recent Coach Party fan friend Simon for a chat by the mixing desk, noting an upturned bit of paper under the soundman’s laptop. T’was the last list, which he was happy to pass on. Result! A quick chat with the Girl Scout folks at the merch table before a similar baking drive home. Looking forward to seeing Girl Scout at the Louie in January; that should be incendiary! As for Alvvays… next stop The Academy? Must be!

Saturday 15 June 2024

1,333 THE MYSTERINES, Bristol Rough Trade Records, Wednesday 12th June 2024

 

It sometimes pays to put your name on a waiting list…! I’d seen the Mysterines at Rough Trade records doing an acoustic CD release show for their debut effort “Reeling”, just over 2 years and exactly 120 gigs ago (gig 1,213!), but our paths hadn’t crossed since, their subsequent tours usually clashing with holidays or other pre-booked stuff for me. In fact, I didn’t immediately book this one, another low-key acoustic Rough Trade instore to celebrate their forthcoming sophomore album, “Afraid Of Tomorrows”, as it clashed with a possible work thing, but when that was cleared up, it was already sold out! Bah! Still, I chanced my arm with the waiting list, and my patience was rewarded with a ticket a couple of days beforehand. Result! So, a chance to see if this promising young Liverpool band’s new material matched up to the debut album’s guitar-heavy, post-punk/gothy/emo-esque dark and anthemic tuneage, overlaid by the unique low-register, world weary voice of Lia Metalfe, a young woman who clearly sold her soul to the devil at the crossroads for her Waits/ Cohen/ Patti Smith-like tones…

 Drove down for 6.30 arrival, joining the queue outside the shop (and choosing not to jump in with occasional gig buddy Alfie near the front, because I hate folks who do that) and getting in shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, no CD to collect today; the release was delayed (something to do with Taylor Swift, Lia mentioned at the end of the set, not entirely seriously…) so the band were signing art prints afterwards instead. I mooched around the shop then grabbed a spot near the front, house right, next to a gaggle of chattering and excitable girls, and waited… and waited… for the band’s entrance…

Lia and the boys eventually took the stage at a weary ¼ to 8, Lia taking a stool centre stage before informing us (in her thick Scouse speaking voice, completely at odds with her dark, mahogany singing tones) that the set would consist of new material only, thence easing into the creepy, haunting mid-paced opener “Stray”. This sounded promising, with an ascending choral hook testing the vocalist, and “The Last Dance”, next up, was another eerie, stripped back and parched paean with a backwoods murder ballad atmosphere, featuring an unrequited yearning chorus from Lia. However, after Lia praised Bristol for being one of their favourite places to play (“we always think it’s the North of the South!”), subsequent early numbers ploughed a similar furrow and felt all much of a muchness, and I was praying in vain for a more upbeat track (such as the debut album’s “Life’s A Bitch…” or the quite brilliant “All Those Things”) just to break up the mid-paced and actually a bit plodding really flow… 

“Inside The Matchbox”, despite being another slower number, was however a step above the previous material on display in songwriting terms, a mournful and plaintive Hersh-like creep-fest with some baroque Love-like fretwork from guitarist Callum Thompson; then they finally delivered a more upbeat dramatic number in the jagged bluesy rocker “Junkyard Angel”, apparently a semi-autobiographical piece from Lia. At last! Things continued to improve thereafter, as Lia announced, “we’re all going to cheer up now”, the subsequent “Sink Ya Teeth” being a flippant glam psych rocker and the best so far by some distance. “So Long”, a widescreen haunting, elegiac and rather lovely ballad, almost matched it, however, and after profuse thanks from Lia, the album title track and closing number “Afraid Of Tomorrows” was a bouncy number with an almost rockabilly feel (or more skiffle actually, when rendered acoustically as tonight), reminding me of The Shudders (!), and closing out a lengthy 1 hour set. A proper set of two halves, this, with the later material for me possessing much higher quality than the opening clutch of numbers. Again, though, I should – and will – reserve judgement, until I hear it all fully “amped up”…

I’d made my way to the back towards the end of the set, so was early to meet the band and get my art print signed. This time, however, I was happy to inform a buoyant Lia and the boys that I will soon hear the new material given the full band treatment, as they’re playing 2000 Trees in July, and I’ll be there! Home for just after 10 after an uneven but overall worthwhile performance from this young band; definitely worth putting my name on the waiting list for, so now let’s see how the new stuff sounds when they “bring the noise” at Trees!

Thursday 6 June 2024

1,332 COACH PARTY, Brass Bambees, Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach, Tuesday 4th June 2024

 

Isle Of Wight’s finest export Coach Party, the little band that could, a band with a seemingly voracious appetite for touring at present, and rapidly becoming one of the best of the current British bunch to tread the boards, along with loose contemporaries October Drift, Desperate Journalist and Indoor Pets… Having barely completed their touring cycle last Autumn in support of debut album “Killjoy”, a vicious burst of dynamism that added a ferocious edge to their previously established smart and snarky indie pop, they then announced a one-off gig in Guildford for August, so naturally (and having established that Guildford’s not that far really for a gig thanks to The Stayawakes, gig 1,281) I pounced on Seetickets to book up. However, on doing so, I came across this date at Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach which had previously passed by my gig radar, having been tacked on at the end of a European CP jaunt. One’s about an hour and a half to the west from the ‘don, one about an hour and a half to the east; fuck it, I’ll do both!

So it was that I did the M4 trundle again, over the bridge this time, dumping the motor in a car park near the castle and wandering around its’ perimeter to the venue. Chatted with We Are Scientists fan Louise in the brief drizzle outside, plus a couple of gents who’d seen Coach Party 20 and 80 times respectively! Puts my 7th tonight to shame…! Up the annoying 4 flights to the venue on doors, grabbing a front row spot house left and waiting out until openers Brass Bambees, on at 8.30. They were a shouty, unfocussed and haphazard mess of what seemingly and sadly passes for post-punk these days, i.e. rummaging through old Fall and Stooges records for monotone and primitive rhythms while a guy in a Fontaines DC shirt shouts the odds. Often a few different time signatures in the same song as well, but with no real flow and coming across like a Frankenstein’s monster of ideas, stitched together for no reason. Nope, not for me.

Took a much-needed break towards the end of their set, then regained my spot and found I was now standing next to Madison from the recent Been Stellar gig (gig 1,329)! Turns out he’s a massive Coach Party fan too, but tonight was only (only!) his 53rd time… Much rock chat ensued while the place filled up, then Jess and Stef led Coach Party on at 9.30, the effusive singer greeting the crowd (“nice to see some familiar faces!”) and kicking into a buoyant and ace-sounding “Micro Aggression”, Stef already rabble rousing in the middle 8 break. The potent pop fizz and ridiculously singalong hook of “What’s The Point In Life” followed, before Stef announced, “I’m so tired! Those stairs! Me and Jess were going to quit!” 

Tired or not (and tagged onto the end of a European tour this may have been), but Coach Party were again in fine, ebullient and effervescent form tonight, once again underlining why they’re (along with the other 3 bands I’d mentioned earlier) in the vanguard of the Best Of British right now. And they sounded just great; the in-your-face punk rock noise and ferocious dynamism of the last October’s Thekla gig (gig 1,296) might have been largely reined in tonight, but that was replaced by a precision of delivery and beautiful clarity of sound, giving the Blondie-esque melodies of their eminently tuneful, upbeat and hooky canon an opportunity to really shine. The contemplative melancholy and undulating vocal line of “Born Leader” was a brilliant early highlight, and after Stef teased Jess for not wanting to dance with her (Jess retorting; “I’ll twerk at the merch stand [afterwards]!”) a mid-set “Always Been You” was delicate and quite lovely. The careering thrash of “Can’t Talk, Won’t” was the rockiest in the set so far, proving they could still crank up the volume when required, then after Jess complained about her top popping open (“I’ve had a burger every day [this tour]!”), the dreamy, Alvvays-like “Be That Girl” was probably my set highlight tonight. 

Coach Party did however save some in the tank for a rocking finale; “Breakdown” featured the squalling noise-fest and Stef’s primal screams; “All I Wanna Do Is Hate” was full-on dismissive snark; then the double-whammy of Pixies-ish rocker “Feel Like A Girl” and the adrenaline hurtle of “Parasite” rounded off another superb Coach Party set, full of great tuneage and a whole lot of fun (the girls in particular giggling and grinning throughout). A set-list and a nice chat with guitarist Joe, commenting particularly on how great it sounded tonight, then a visit to that merch stand – no twerking from the Isle of Wight’s ass, but Jess remarked, “nice to see you!” as she signed my list – before a slow walk back to the car and home for about 12.30. So glad I decided to do both gigs, and Coach Party have again set a high bar for themselves for the Guildford August date. Should be another great one there, from this increasingly special band…

Saturday 1 June 2024

1,331 BLANCMANGE, The Remainder, Bristol Trinity, Friday 31st May 2024

 

A hectic 7-gig month of May concludes with another Brizzle trip, this time to the Trinity for some synth-pop, courtesy of Blancmange! The bouncy 80’s synth duo, whom I’d come across in my very early Level 3 days (actually, probably Solitaire days…) thanks to the immense 12” remix (when such things existed) of their jagged rhythmic “Feel Me”, were then responsible for one of the best debut albums of said genre in 1982’s “Happy Families”, popping out positively bursting with catchy hooks and a bona fide smash in the ubiquitous and Eastern-flavoured “Living On The Ceiling”. As a regular chart bothering act, it probably wasn’t that cool to admit to liking them back then, but who gives a shit now? I certainly don’t, and despite the duo now being a one-o of singer Neil Arthur, one of many excellent baritones back then (rubbing metaphorical tonsils with the likes of Gregory and Oakey), I was still up to catch them on this tour, in support of a new “Best Of” career retrospective in “Everything Is Connected”.

After the time-honoured M4 run, I tried street parking near the Exchange rather than the usual Cabot Circus car park for the Trinity; equidistant, and free! Ran into IDestroy frontperson Bec on my way for a brief chat, hitting the quiet early doors venue at 7.30. After some gig history chat with a couple of punters, 8.00 soon rolled around as Neil Arthur led support The Remainder onstage… wait, what?? It became evident that Blancmange were supporting themselves, albeit in this fairly new guise (“it’s only the 8th performance we’ve ever done [as The Remainder] – I’m shitting myself!” admitted Arthur), clearly an outlet for a slightly different set of numbers to Blancmange’s usual bright, poppy and upbeat canon. Good way to ensure a receptive crowd, though, supporting yourselves…! Opener “Broken Manhole Cover” set the tone, lyrically dour and bleak, and delving into the moody, understated realms of Young Marble Giants-esque minimalist bedsit avant pop. As if The National were an 80’s synth band, a point underlined by Arthur’s strident baritone and vaguely befuddled professorial look. “Evensong”, their 2023 album title track, almost felt like a companion piece to Ohio’s finest’s “Graceless”, albeit with a Kraftwerkian synth refrain, and after Arthur deadpanned, “this is our last one; we’ll nip off and try to find Blancmange!” closer “Dead Farmer’s Field” was a suitably morose, if slightly faster, number to round off an intriguing opening set.

I kept my spot 2 or 3 rows back, house left, in this convivial and knowledgeable, if a little sparse (probably only ½ to 2/3rds full tonight) crowd, for Blancmange’s entrance, just after 9. Same 3-piece then, Arthur taking the stage last, smart in dark grey suit and gesturing for the front rows to put their phones down and watch with their eyes. Nice! “World Out Of Time” was a smooth opener, Arthur wryly announcing at its’ conclusion, “fancy seeing you here!”, then prowling the stage to take in his surroundings during the funky “High Voltage”, which featured some pointed political comment in “we need a brand new model – this one won’t do”. Damn right we do! Oldie “I’ve Seen The Word” was a lovely and timeless wallow, eliciting a lengthy ovation and moving Arthur to comment, “I need some of what you’re taking!” before the excellent staccato rhythm of “Feel Me” got me throwing some shapes, Arthur then commenting, “nice vogueing!” 

After that, I’m afraid for me the set was notably uneven, the newer numbers (drawn from the, “120 albums since [the reunion in] 2011”) of markedly less quality than the oldies (even more so than last time out in 2022, gig 1,252), often seeming like rewrites of “Feel Me” and “Ceiling”, and at worse throwaway (“Purge Yourself” being particularly grating and hard work). Don’t get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself, and kind of expected an uneven set going in; also, throughout it all Arthur was on splendid form, his excellent strident baritone a feature, and he also came across as a really genuine bloke, often taken aback by some lengthy ovations, and bowing low after most numbers. I just came to the conclusion that, again for me, The Remainder’s more dour and moody output was more interesting than Blancmange’s recent stuff…

Hooray for the oldies, then! “Waves” was brilliant, sweeping and widescreen; “Living On The Ceiling” was inevitably party central, Arthur conducting the crowd in the singalong, and, after he’d thanked all and sundry, set closer “Blind Vision” was descending, dark and devilishly dense. After a couple of encores of the angular “Gods Kitchen” (“first time this tour!”) and the jolly fairground call and response of “Don’t Tell Me”, he left us with his earlier message of being kind to ourselves and each other ringing in our ears. A quick run home saw me back for 11.30 after a variable (as expected) yet still worthwhile evening!

Thursday 30 May 2024

1,330 INDOOR PETS, Cherym, Bristol Louisiana, Wednesday 29th May 2024

 


I genuinely thought we’d lost Indoor Pets… This Kent rabble initially swaggered onto my gig dance card as Get Inuit, as long ago as November 2015 (gig 965) with some infectious helium-voiced Silver Sun-like Summery powerpop, then suffering a necessary if momentum-stalling name change before finally delivering their debut album “Be Content” in early 2019 (namechecking yours truly on the cover in the process!). We’d last crossed paths later that year on my birthday (gig 1,144) as a warm-up for their biggest gig to date, supporting emo juggernauts Weezer at Brixton Academy of all places. Hopes were high for this providing a serious launchpad to future success. Then, of bloody course, Covid hit…

Covid restrictions were eventually lifted and gig-life happily returned to normal, but little was heard from Indoor Pets, leading me to sadly suspect they’d jacked it in. However, earlier this year came the happy FB pronouncement; “2019 called – they want their shittest band back!” Yup, Indoor Pets were back, and with a new album in the can as well; “Pathetic Apathetic”, their sophomore effort, was full of their trademark jagged and spritely powerpop, albeit with the noise, attitude and dynamism cranked up a few notches, even. A powerful statement of intent; we’re back, and we’re not in the mood to fuck around this time! Needless to say, I booked a CD+tour ticket bundle immediately for a return to the Louie for them – and me! 

Occasional Tuppenny gig friend Joanna gave me a last-minute shout to tag along, so we hit the road when Rach returned from Bristol herself (a matinee of “Hamilton” with Jami), parking up and meeting Jo’s friend Jamie for a drink. October Drift frontman Kiron surprisingly rocked up, so I had a chat with the man, plus arriving IP bassist Olly, before nipping upstairs to catch openers Cherym. I’d actually caught and enjoyed a couple of their numbers in support of The Beths in Bristol on a 2-gig night in 2022 (gig 1,223), but hadn’t followed that sighting up. My mistake. Bounding onstage in a riot (grrl) of colour, vigour and attitude, vocalist, main rabble-rouser and ball of fire Hannah Richardson led their 3-piece through a sparkling set of scruffy indie-punk rock, with hints of psych, grunge and 70’s NYC new wave cool thrown in the melting pot for good measure. Opener “Alpha Beta Sigma” was a 4-alarm indie blast, “Colourblind” a Runaways-esque slice of proto punk swagger with a delicious contrasting vocal harmony line, and “Abigail” a positively Blondie-esque pop hook under all the grungy noise, all delivered vocally with gabbling enthusiasm by Hannah. Drummer Alannagh Doherty took to the front to lead the crowd in a therapeutic “fuck you” to various exes before taking lead vocals on the yelping savage hookery of “Aggressive Therapy”, with the Damone-esque hobnail boot-stomping blare and soaring “whoa-oh” choral hook of “It’s Not Me It’s You” rounding off a bolshy, breathless and bright set. Great stuff! 

Follow that, Indoor Pets! In all honesty, I had little doubt that they’d do so, so I took the front centre spot as the boys set up, vocalist Jamie greeting me as he finished his pedal set-up. They returned onstage prompt at 9.15, and despite my having warned Jamie to go easy on me due to my recently surgically repaired knee, the little tinker decided to lead his charges through a “let’s fuck the old guy’s knees up good and proper” set, opening with a fast, frantic and absolutely tremendous sounding “Mean Heart”, before the laconic verse and soaring choral hook of “Hi”. “It’s so nice to be back!” the man exclaimed prior to the herky-jerky XTC-plus-heavy-reverb of the aptly named newie “Fidget Panic Restless Static”, before subsequently deadpanning, “sod that, let’s just play the old ones!”, thence launching into the snarky gabble of “All My Friends” with nary a pause for breath. So I could do little else other than go for it myself, forming the vanguard of an increasing and enthusiastic (and generally young and female!) moshpit. 

The five years fell away, as Indoor Pets were “on it” tonight, delivering a brilliant and brilliantly chosen set, interspersing the heavier newies in with old faves, all being played with kinetic energy and barely hidden glee. “Recklessly”, my favourite of the new album, was an early highlight, a classic pop number with a tumbling, plaintive hook; the funky grunge of “Stink Eye” saw Jamie abandon the stage for the mosh behind me; and the mid-set triumvirate of a hurtling “Teriyaki”, the in-your-face terrace chant roar of “Barbiturates” and the dynamic helium gabble of “Pro Procrastinator” was a breathless gut-punch. All too soon, a sweaty, swaggering and singalong 16-number strong (!) set was rounded off with an anthemic “London”, the boys departing to cheers and compliments from this young crowd, plus this sweaty old guy! 

Chatted with Kiron plus OD drummer Chris before popping down for more chat and mutual compliments from the band, particularly drummer Rob, who’d given me a shout out onstage and remarked on my front-row shape-throwing, and a lengthier catch up with Olly. Pix and signed lists with both bands before heading into the chill Bristol night, then scooting along the M4 for 11.30 arrival home after dropping Jo off. Another in a splendid run of stellar gigs in the books then, a real new find in the excellent Cherym for me, but overall a joyous, heart-warming and welcome return (and in great form too!) for the wonderful Indoor Pets!

Tuesday 21 May 2024

1,329 BEEN STELLAR, Theo Bleak, Bristol Louisiana, Monday 20th May 2024

 

Despite my advancing years I’ve always retained a passion for finding “new” bands, looking for that next musical discovery that will blow my socks off and have me screaming their name from the rooftops. However, it’s recently become increasingly difficult to find a reliable source for said discoveries, so when I saw an ad for “So Young” new music magazine on my Facebook feed, I hazarded a subscription in the hope that this might be a suitable pipeline for me. Cover stars of my first issue were young NYC combo Been Stellar; on checking out a few YouTube clips, I not only heard some grungy/ shoegazey/ post-punk noise to dovetail nicely in with current faves October Drift and Teenage Wrist, but also a shimmering swagger recalling early 2000’s NYC bands such as early Strokes, Stellastarr* and particularly The Stills. A real sense of history for their hometown’s musical DNA running through their sound, then, so I picked up some early EPs (debut album not due out until June, unfortunately) and a ticket for another Louie gig!

So, another economy drive down the M4 to stretch out the petrol, parking up at 7.30 and grabbing a drink and a brief chat with Bristol’s legendary Jeff, happily back on the gig trail after some health issues recently. Popped upstairs for openers Theo Bleak, on at 8. They were a Dundee 4-piece led, apparently, by Theo, a striking young woman with a distinctive high register, breathy yearning voice, augmenting her and her charges’ mid-paced, relaxing and occasionally dreamy Alvvays/ Belle And Sebastian-esque indie pop. The early comers channelled that vibe as well, given Theo’s mid-set comment of, “you’re so polite and quiet! It’s so relaxing in here – like ASMR…” The swayalong melancholy of “Raining All The Time” and closer, the high-pitched hook of “Homer”, were about the best of a pleasant if innocuous opening set.

I hovered down the front enjoying some Bunnymen chat with Madison and Yaz, a couple of gig goers of similar vintage to myself, down from Halesowen. Fair play to them! I kept my front row spot as the place filled up for the entrance of the 5-piece Been Stellar, dead on 9. Opener “Honesty” crept in on a taut and regimented Smashing Pumpkins/ Interpol vibe, vocalist Sam Slocum (any relation to Spanish Love Songs’ monolithic Dylan?) initially mumbling the chorus in a Cobain-esque drawl before switching to a more strident and yearning vocal style for the huge and startling choral hook, then “Passing Judgment” was all octopus-limbed off kilter drums courtesy of the excellent Laila Wayans and tense, agitated vocals from Sam, before the guitars joined the party in a cacophonous wall of sound. Yup, this rocks! 

All about the NYC vibe they might be on record, but “live”, Been Stellar, like the aforementioned October Drift and Teenage Wrist, really crank up the volume with some positively 90’s Seattle grunge-like thundering riffery. No surprise them that Sam was rocking Alice In Chains’ vocalist, the late Layne Staley, on his tee tonight… The ridiculously catchy terrace chant of an almost funky “Manhattan Youth” got me throwing shapes from my front row spot; “Ohm” was a more haunting and contemplative number with a “Where Is My Mind” vibe, albeit overlaid with those heavy crunchy guitar riffs; and “All In One” was a careering, hurtling rollercoaster of a number, its’ stripped back and speedy drum backbeat ceding to some layered Sloan “I Am The Cancer”-like ascending harmonies before a breakneck hurtle of an outro. However, “Kids 1995” was the highlight of the night for me; an almost delicate Nada Surf-esque intro dropping into a haphazard tumble of drums and slashing guitar shards, before the absorbing Stills-like shimmering and soaring widescreen chorus really kicks you to the floor. Such a great song! 

The elegiac yet towering closer “I Have The Answer” built to a powerful, dramatic climax, fittingly rounding off a strident and stunning hour’s set played with kinetic force and energy, leaving me a bit of a sweaty mess at the end; well, the band left it all onstage tonight, I could hardly do any less…! Grabbed my breath and a list, then popped downstairs to get it signed by the band; chatted with all the lads (drummer Laila being swamped by female fans) and found them an open and gregarious bunch, underlining their reverence for the rock history of their adopted home town, particularly guitarist and self-appointed rock historian Skylar, who totally got my Stills comparison. Eventually bade farewell to them and my front row companions before hitting the road for a similar economy drive home. I definitely owe “So Young” one for this, hopefully the first of many recommendations. So scream this one from the rooftops; Been Stellar were definitely stellar tonight!

Friday 17 May 2024

1,328 FRANCIS OF DELIRIUM, Eve Appleton Band, Bristol Louisiana, Wednesday 15th May 2024

 

My last time out for Francis of Delirium was a scorching Bristol Exchange gig on the hottest day of 2022 (gig 1,237); the mercury is slowly and finally rising, albeit to more comfortable levels than the 37 degrees on that day (!), but I was still expecting a hot one from this promising Luxembourg combo tonight. Hot on the heels of a string of jagged and ragged EPs channelling the likes of Pixies, Throwing Muses and even old school goth rockers Bauhaus, FoD finally released “Lighthouse”, their debut full-length, earlier this year. My first impression was of a mellower and more understated work than their previous releases, however repeated listens have brought to light a clutch of well-crafted, varied and introspective songs of hope and self-reflection from the pen of precociously talented FoD songwriter, singer and mainstay Jana Bahrich, with an almost effortless easy flow from track to track. A proper cohesive album, then, rather than a collection of songs haphazardly flung together, and likely one to remain a favourite of 2024.

Their subsequent tour passed through Brizzle so I of course booked early, and set off down a sunny M4 on an economy run – well, I’ve got 3 more Bristol gigs before the month’s out, got to make the petrol last! Parked in Wapping Wharf opposite the venue, happily figuring out the workings of this rather confusing car park (good thing too, as 2 more of the above 3 gigs are also here!) and sat outside with a Pepsi before Matt joined me. Had a nice catch up with my good friend before we hazarded a trip upstairs to see openers Eve Appleton Band, on at 8. Oh dear. It immediately felt as if we’d taken a wrong turn and emerged into 15th century Sherwood Forest, with some very dated sounding baroque folk from this young sextet. All violins, painted faces, fairies in the garden and almost madrigal choral refrains. We gave it 3 numbers then repaired to our pavement-front outside bench for more rock and family chat instead!

Back up for about ¼ to 9, this tiny upstairs room already being full of the faithful and curious, so I made do with a spot a couple of rows back, house left by the door. Exactly at 9, Jana led the 3-piece touring iteration of Francis of Delirium onstage (the “studio” version being just her and non-touring producer/ cohort Chris Hewitt) and, after the delirious (!) build of opener “Alone Tonight”, gushed, “we’re Francis of Delirium from Luxembourg; and we unanimously agree Bristol is our favourite city in the UK! It's Wednesday, we’re going to have a good time…” The bouncy upbeat powerpop stomp of “Blue Tuesday”, the best song The Beths never wrote, was up next, in one fell swoop pretty much fulfilling that promise. Great start!

 

Jana herself purports to be quite the grunge fan, evident in her baggy and utilitarian dress sense, but also citing the likes of Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins as FoD influences. Whilst I concede that their sound is very much rooted in that alt-80s/ 90’s sound, I hear the melancholy alt-country of Madder Rose, the off-kilter menace of Throwing Muses and the smoother and more ephemeral college pop of Tanya Muse’s subsequent charges Belly instead, rather than the grunge. “Live”, however, Francis of Delirium do crank it up with big riffs and earth-shaking power chords aplenty, giving extra gravitas and dramatic robustness to even their lighter material, such as the stately power ballad of “Real Love”, rendered beautifully tonight, whilst oldie “Funhouse” took on a seething menace throughout its’ clattering hurtle, powered by that Bauhaus-esque drum roll. Jana herself was in upbeat form too, fangirling about an encounter with actor Emma Watson earlier that day (“my voice is shaking even talking about it!”), introducing her “live” band by discussing their pet peeves, then before set closer “Give It Back To Me”, detailing the required audience participation in the hook outro then rating our performance as, “solid for a children’s choir!”

Before that, however, an earlier “Circles” was a dreamy lilt into a big riff chorus; the chilled and urbane “Who You Are” featured some lovely choral harmonies; then penultimate number “Something Changed” was my set highlight, a plaintive heartbreak build to a huge widescreen choral hook, Jana holding the strident note perfectly before an almost angelic dual harmony outro. The aforementioned, elegiac “GIBTM” was an apposite way to end a melancholy yet powerful set, Francis of Delirium being quite adept “live” in adding the crunchy guitar noise without overpowering the feeling and mood of the music. Grabbed a list and got the band (including a predictably besieged Jana at the merch stand) to sign it, then bade farewell to Matt and headed off home. So, not quite the utter scorcher as last time, but nonetheless a band coming to the boil nicely; Francis of Delirium are hot stuff!