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  gig reviews - june 04

TV on the Radio + Retisonic
6.6.05 - The Cockpit, Leeds

I struggle at the best of times on a Sunday. It is a day meant primarily for doing nothing and secondly dreading the beginning of another vacuous week. So baring that in mind, as much as I love music, even I don’t really enjoy going to gigs on a Sunday. It just seems, well, wrong somehow. However this practice does take place so I find myself in the railway arches of Leeds that call themselves the Cockpit. I will be honest and say from the off that I was familiar with neither bands playing tonight before the gig so there’s no point pretending I had. I had however heard quite a bit about them both before seeing them and tonight had a lot to live up to especially from the hotly tipped TV on the Radio.

Retisonic turned out to be precisely what I needed on a bleary Sunday evening. Bursting into a sort of chugging rock and roll with an overwhelming punk aesthetic, they’re a live prospect that you can’t help but nod along to. John Farrell, on vocals and guitar, offers on his own more than most bands give you live. An exhaustive individual to watch he bandies round the stage like a new born calf whilst wielding a guitar that ends up seeming more like an extra appendage that a musical instrument. It is to Jim Kimball’s complete credit that he manages to continually avoid Farrell’s many lurches towards him on stage. This is fiery stuff and with tracks like equally wonderful ‘Saturday’ and ‘K-16’, these are a band to make sure you go and see next time they’re around.

TV on the Radio is the band of the moment or at least that’s what you’d be led to believe from all the press currently circulating around them. Buzz words a plenty they’re receiving the usual ‘not to be missed’ kind of fanfare that usually makes me nervous about seeing a band. Can you ever live up to that sort of constant praise? The answer in the case of TV on the Radio’s live performance tonight is simple, hell yeah. There is just something about watching them take the stage that is instantly charming.

They appear worryingly cool without meaning to, the kind of people who just look like they should be on stage. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting as the press I’d read never really gave anything away about the music and now I understand why. As a live sound this is verging on genre defying. Gentle lulling guitars lead us in as we get to hear Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals for the first time through small looped musings. It started out evoking a sort post-rock air ala Papa M circa ‘Shark Cage’ but this categorisation is quickly shattered and what we actually end up with is a sound that is Soulful, with hints of Blues, Country, and Post-Rock and underpinned by a kind of groove laden backing that seems repetitive and yet never tiresome. Doubled vocal turns make all this into strong, engaging songs that are hard to ignore. The stark version of ‘Ambulance’ where the crowd join in with shaken car keys (a bizarre but beautiful sound) and the sheer passion these guys perform with proves immediately why the praise for this band is so high. Energising and exhausting in equal measure TV on the Radio have proved that they can form great songs and energise a crowd, and on a Sunday no less. A truly talented band.

Luke Drozd

Sufjan Stevens + Rosie Thomas
12.5.04
The Polish Club - Sheffield

It’s always an enjoyable experience to have to both travel to a gig and go to new venues. There’s something about this that makes it feel, well, that little bit special, and for tonight’s gig I had to do both. However the Polish club in Sheffield is, shall we say, a tad strange. It’s a venue that feels slightly too much like a small Methodist church for my liking, but it is intimate and I suppose that is what tonight’s music called for tonight. The evening was one to display the talents of Rosie Thomas and the much talked about Sufjan Stevens, and it is Sufjan (pronounced Soof-yan or Soofy to Miss Thomas) who begins the show this evening.

Sufjan Stevens is now on his fourth album and this tour is promoting his latest, ‘Seven Swans’, and the official English release of his wonderful concept album about his home state, ‘Greetings from Michigan’. Throughout his recordings he can achieve a variety of always interesting sounds often utilising a wide array of different instruments and accompaniment, but tonight we are graced with merely the man and his guitar and banjo alternately. And it is all the more remarkable for this. Stevens’ songs are charming and diverse in their subject matters and sound. We are guided through his eccentric upbringing in ‘He Woke Me Up Again’, a song about important family decisions being made in the middle of the night (and a song that I can’t listen without that spine tingling sensation pulsing up my back), the touching love song ‘That Dress Looks Nice On You’, and some of the diverse gems about what is to be a ‘Michigan-er’ like the extraordinarily sad ‘Upper Peninsula’, a tale of the more baron, less prosperous North.

The lack of any other instruments or backing at tonight’s performance turns Stevens’ music into the sparsest beauty. As good as any of his songs are they are only escalated in their sound by Steven’s remarkable voice, a soft, and at times almost hypnotic, semi-whisper. This is a performer of the highest order, whose on stage persona is so shy and warm you want to be his friend. Wonderful music played with such truth and conviction it can’t help but touch your soul.

If I were a musician I would have hated having to follow on from Stevens’ after tonight’s performance but alas that was Rosie Thomas’ task. Now, hands up, I admit I wasn’t really familiar with much of Thomas’ work before this show. I had however heard her voice accompanying many others on albums, including most recently Damien Jurado on his latest offering ‘Where Shall You Take Me’, and always found her voice really striking. With this in mind I was looking forward to her set. I was however rather disappointed. I am not going to tell you that her songs are bad because that just isn’t the case. Live her voice is even more compelling then on record but I don’t think her song writing matches the strength inherent in her vocal performance. I found the music tended to meander a little and lacked any real edge and so never engaged me. That said though she went down well with most the crowd and her somewhat whimsical banter between songs was funny and enjoyable.

The evening was drawn to a close with a duet between Stevens and Thomas, demonstrating once again who the stronger performer of the night was, and leaving me feeling moved and thoughtful. Why don’t more gigs leave you feeling this way?

Luke Drozd


Noxagt + Yakuza + Monster Killed by Laser + Dungeon Dungeon
19.5.04
The Fenton - Leeds

It’s an intimate venue The Fenton. One of the many small rooms above pubs around the country where obscure and passionate bands slave away for our enjoyment. Tonight is such an evening with a host of bands headlined by Norway’s noise merchants Noxagt.

Dungeon Dungeon is a band building up a good solid fan base at the moment and rightly so. Two drummers, two guitarists, a large banner and a host of excellent songs. One of the most exciting bands coming out of Leeds at the moment and I implore you to go see them (for a more in-depth review see Trans Am review).

Monster Killed by Laser were next to grace us with their presence. They’ve got a hard sound to really pinpoint. It’s a blend of Stoner Rock mixed with a bit of Math and general helpings of noise. These guys can change time sequence in a second and have a habit of letting it seem like a song is breaking down before suddenly clicking back into a hook in the blink of an eye. They end up with what can often be a rather hypnotic sound that for me has moments of great music that sadly sits along side some elements that just don’t work.

The Irish boys Yakuza followed MKBL and I had a similar reaction to them, great potential but it just sometimes doesn't quite work. Yakuza have moments that remind me of some of the best bits of Trail of Dead and even elements of Shellac. The last song they played tonight even had an Explosions in the Sky feel about it and for me stood out from the rest of their material. There was just a feeling of more depth to the track and a generally more complex sound. Yakuza are also a pleasure to watch as they exude energy and passion with every jerking riff and scream. A good but not great set.

I’d been really looking forward to seeing the headliners for good couple of weeks and initial problems with the sound seemed like it might balls up the Norwegians' composure and the gig. However this was (sort of) remedied and we were allowed to witness one of the most brutal sets I have seen in a long time. For those unfamiliar with these gentlemen they possess amongst their ranks a drummer, bassist and violist and have a sound very much there own.

At times it may be reminiscent of giving the Dirty Three a sound beating before slipping into a wall dirge but somehow retaining the song. The viola adds an element to tracks which could become monotonous without it (though it remained far to quiet for most the set), causing a repetitive, throbbing aural assault. It shouldn’t be enjoyable. People should leave their gigs complaining about the offensive noise they’ve been subjected to. They don’t. They leave looking content and perhaps somewhat scared.

Luke Drozd


   

Graham Coxon
19.5.04
The Cockpit - Leeds 

It was a mixed bunch that filed slowly in to Graham Coxon at the Cockpit on Wednesday night. With hardly a Leeds trendy in sight, Coxon’s appeal obviously reaches a section of society that is less concerned with such frivolities as fashion, and were quite at home in the Cockpit’s gloomy interior. 

The enthusiasm from the crowd is infectious and endearing. Coxon has a rapport with the big hair boys up at the front and chides them for being quiet as he tries to re-tune his guitar. The crowd lights up in to a frenzy of cheers and appreciation. They scream for every song off the new album, making me speculate that they have been locked in their rooms for the last two days with it on repeat. 

Coxon’s legs keep flying in the air and his glasses slipping off in the sweat that he is building up as he hammers out ‘When I reach for my Revolver’, flinging us around between genres with a flagrant disregard for convention and not even a mention of Britpop. 

This music is not somewhere Blur could have gone, there are tones which echo back to Leisure but Coxon’s music is about more than someone who was in that famous band. It comes from deep within and it is quite clear that the collection of musicians on stage are putting their energies in to his internal manifestations. 

‘Bitter Tears’ grabs the audience by the throat as the evening draws to a close. Challenged by his intensity, the lyrics drive through and leave a lasting impression of the world as seen by Graham Coxon. Complex, quirky and intriguing.  

Lucy Gibson
lucy@itchyfingers.org


   

Constellation Roadshow: Elizabeth Anka Vajagic + Polmo Polpo + Hanged Up
8.4.04
Bier Keller - Manchester

Form the boozy snaps pinned to the notice board in the entrance its plain to see that the Bier Keller in Manchester is more used to being the host of alcohol fuelled stag nights where big men with sick down there tops punch each other than to a roadshow featuring some of the world's most interesting Avant-garde music. Hey there’s a first time for everything. I'll be brutally honest, I find a  lot of the work produced on Constellation a bit too challenging at times and don't own a huge amount of the music they've released but I do have a huge place in my heart for those kinetic noiseniks Hanged Up and that is really what brought me here tonight. That said I took my stein of bier and took my seat and readied myself.

Opening tonight's proceedings was the darkly off kilter folk of Elizabeth Anka Vajagic. A new addition to the Constellation label, Vajagic is a slight, unassuming looking figure on stage but when she begins to play her gothic blues and unleashes her remarkable voice, you can' t help but be completely captivated. This is spine tingling work that is raised far above a lot of other alt. Folk currently being released. I found myself on more than one occasion drifting into a trance like state of contentment before I’d be slapped out of it by a sudden explosion of noise. Brilliant and uncomfortable in equal measure this is a Patti Smith for a new generation.

Next we had Polmo Polpo whom I’d heard great things about and was looking forward to hearing. I have to say after the wonderful performance from Vajagic this fell short of blowing me away. Theirs is a blend of swelling and building sound and percussion set off with some complementary slide guitar. Although Polmo Polpo produced an interesting set and there were elements of their sound I really enjoyed, there seemed to be a lack of any real cohesion here and they failed to engage with the crowd (as a post script to this evening though I will say two things. Firstly a friend of mine who attended this gig with me did go and see them again in Birmingham and their set was apparently far superior and, secondly, I have since heard their album which is one of the most beautiful records I’ve heard this year).

Finally the moment I’d been waiting for, the mighty Hanged Up took their rightful place on stage. For those of you not familiar with their music, Hanged Up is a two piece comprising of drums and viola. They make what I like to think of as beautiful noise. Tonight was no exception. From the moment they began they had the crowd mesmerised as they pounded chugged through one of the most engaging live sets I’ve ever been witness to. Their songs can be delicate and fragile pop and the suddenly metamorphosize into thumping kinetic march. I found throughout the set I kept becoming transfixed by Eric's drumming. I could have happily sat and watched this man flail around for hours. This is minimalist without ever sounding empty. This was a night of unusual and wonderful music. Go and see them if you can and, failing that, get on the Constellation website and put in your orders.

This is challenging stuff but please drop your guard and open your hearts to the world of Constellation Records.

Luke Drozd


    The Shins + The Stills
18.4.04
The Cockpit - Leeds

A Sunday night and I arrived at the Cockpit with a stinking hangover. Why must we have gigs on Sundays? I don’t like it, it doesn’t seem right, but tonight I need to get past that because I am hear to witness one of the best bands currently producing music on this tiny earth, the Shins.

Now I work part time fly posting and I’d been putting up posters for the Stills for weeks. I’d also read a couple of reviews and words like ‘dark’ and ‘electric’ were being bandied around so I thought maybe the first band tonight might be alright. They weren’t. They were Shit.

Anyone who has listened to a band a lot on record and then goes to see them live knows that the experience can change your view of that band forever. This can be for the better or worse. Tonight was to be one of those nights and it was the former that applied. Mainly concentrating their efforts on playing the songs from their latest offering ‘Chutes Too Narrow’, the Shins concocted a pop-rock sound tonight far heavier on the ear than the often hushed sounds on either of their two albums, and, I think, they were all the better for it. They were instantly engaging to watch and I defy anyone with a soul not to instantly warm to the boys live sound. James Mercers vocals hold such power and resonance live that I was completely blown away. New tracks like ‘Kissing the Lipless’ and ‘Young Pilgrim’ sounded so fresh and alive I couldn’t help but grin throughout the night’s performance. The only downside was the soundman fluffing the sound part way through ‘New Slang’. Of all the songs to fuck it up on you fat dick. Oh well, it was nicely retrieved by Mercer and the boys regardless and a minor glitch in great show.

I returned home after and sat down to listen to ‘Chutes to Narrow’ again. It had become a different album. It was fuller and more striking than when I left the house that evening. I don’t know how or why this happens but sometimes it just does and I’m very thankful for it.

Luke Drozd


    Trans Am + Bilge Pump + Dungeon Dungeon
1.5.04
Brudenell Social Club - Leeds

Oh how I love the Brudenell Social. It’s a weird little place where often difficult and avant-garde music gets an airing whilst merely feet away in the other room locals drink and ply pool and ask the bar staff, ‘What’s that shitty noise in there?’. AceDungeon Dungeon hail form Leeds and comprise of two guitarists and two drummers although the roles within the band often swap about throughout a set. They play what can only be described as good solid post-rock. The doubling of the instruments offers a layering to their sound that is at times quite remarkable. Tunes ebb and build to shattering crescendos as guitars and drums loop and chug. I was completely held throughout their set and look forward to seeing them again.

Bilge Pump are a staple band on the Leeds live music scene. This is not the first time I’ve seen them live but they never fail to amaze. This is tight angular rock that’s like a musical kick in the teeth. If you’ve yet to witness them live then you’re a fucking fool.

It was left to the keyboard driven mastery of Trans Am to finish up the evening. Playing a range of songs from much of their back catalogue as well as new ones of the new release ‘Liberation’ they seemed to be on top form. I’m not familiar with a heck of a lot of their stuff but really enjoyed their set at ATP and so tonight really allowed me to hear them in a far more intermit environment and they sounded so much the better for it. Swapping between keyboard and guitar work, this three piece has a sound akin to post rock being channelled through a 48k Spectrum (trust me a lot better than it sounds). What can I say? I’m sucker for anyone who anyone who uses vocal effects to make them sound like a robot.

A night that left me content but really over stimulated…if you get what I mean.

Luke Drozd


   

Jesse Malin + White Light Motorcade
23.5.04
Manchester Academy 3

It makes such a change to go to gigs in Manchester, the main difference being that they actually have purpose built venues in which to see bands. In fact they have more venues than they know what to do with (hence the appearance of Gomez next door at the academy1), while Leeds has a predominance of hot back rooms and low quality establishments with poor sound…talk about feeling like a poor relation. Still the odd jaunt out of Leeds always fends off the boredom and usual nauseous feelings of a Sunday night.

But speaking of nauseous feelings White Light Motorcade were first up. They had been invited out on this tour with Jesse Malin, which makes me slightly suspicious of the man's (otherwise sound) frame of mind. The whole thing just fucking puzzles me, why are some bands latched upon to by (lesser) music publications and lauded as the saviors of rock n’ roll? Rock and roll was never really in any sort of danger of from where I was standing. I’m not saying this has happened with White Light Motorcade, but I fear there time may come. They sound exactly like Jet, The Vines, a touch of The Strokes, Razorlight…. The boring, derivative, charity shop clothe wearing list is endless, and not very interesting. And thus I shall sum up their set; seemingly endless and not very interesting. The rest of the crowd seemed to enjoy it.      I thought they were shite though.

It doesn’t seem long ago since I last saw Jesse Malin and was very impressed, and this time I was even more so. It’s not so often you get to see someone who is so cool, likable, a great stage presence and is a fantastic songwriter, all of which Mr. Malin has in spades. The poe faced world of indie rock is short on audience interaction, and storytelling which is another refreshing aspect of this live show, the man is just a natural on stage, and is not quite so fueled by cocktail of narcotics and booze as some of his contemporaries I could mention.

The set was balanced well with a vast proportion of his first album (The Fine Art of Self Destruction – which is pretty damn good), and a fairly sizable amount of new material from his forthcoming album (The Heat – which also sounds pretty good). The inclusion of his cover of ‘Hungry Heart’ and closing the show with a blinding version of ‘Oliver’s Army’ was inspired; and when songs as good as those can fit into a set without highlighting the inadequacies of any of the other material, you know something is going right. Bloody great!

Drew Millward