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  gig reviews - jan 05

M Ward + Cass McCombs
27.11.04, Bush Hall, London

We are assured that the arts and music scene in Leeds is a healthy, growing affair and yet it feels that more and more bands are missing it out on a tour, usually bypassing us via Manchester (if they have bothered to head North at all). This means more increasingly long visits to far off climbs in order to get my audio jollies.

The latest of these excursions was to see a man play whom, since the release of his last album, Transfiguration of Vincent, I have been itching to see perform live. His recorded efforts are restrained and unleashed in equal measure, demonstrating a love of folk, blues, country and rock. I was intrigued to find out how the intimacy often displayed on his record would be brought to the stage. The answer turned out to be with phenomenal ease. First however we had the opening act Cass McCombs to whet our appetites.

Cass McCombs album ‘A’ is one that has yet to really grab me. I think its pretty good but there always seems to be something holding it back from actually being, well, good. Tonight they bring well what we know from the albums sound to the stage. As on record they tend to stand in between the Smiths and Joy Division but without ever exercising the same quality of songs. There is a certain compulsion they offer as a live act and they definitely display a passion for what they do but there constantly seems to a little something lacking. This coupled with what sounded like a soundman in training meant an only slightly above average performance.

After a short break and the room considerably filling up a man approaches the mic and thanks us all for being there. He subsequently begins to wander across the stage playing his guitar as if it were a large snake that he was trying to tame. The sound produced from this was nothing short of stunning. This man is Matt Ward. What I didn’t expect from M Ward was the sheer level of skill and passion in his live performance. I was fully aware how capable a musician he was on record but this doesn’t always translate to the stage. He has a sort of humble swagger and an American drawl that draws you close every time. It is the sign of a strong on stage personality when they can perform with no backing for M Ward managed to captivate the audience without a single member of backing to help. Looped vocals and guitar were utilised to build sound but this robotic helper is as close as he got to a friend on stage to lend a hand. His bluegrass tinged rock and roll blues wasn’t merely executed on guitar though, for, in what turned out to be some of the best music of the evening, he headed for the piano. The sound this man can get from the instrument always conjures up images of smoky bars in a distant place a long time ago.

Save for some slightly disappointing sound again (bring me the head of the sound man before he can reek his havoc again!) this was a truly absorbing evening with M Ward proving himself to be one of the finest American exports on stage as well as on record.

Luke Drozd

The Pogues
18.12.04 MEN Arena, Manchester

It was a packed evening; the stage was full of musicians, with the original line up of The Pogues present and, the arena was brimming with merry hopefuls in search of a party to end all parties. Yet, one person stood out, quite why he stood out; well you had to be there. The larger than life Shane McGowan stumbled onto the stage and more or less fell into opener ' Streams of Whiskey ', but straight away all that had gathered jumped into their dancing shoes and the merriment had begun.

"It's good to be back in Liverpool'

These were the first audible utterances from the main man McGowan, who was his usual inimitable self all night, with one of his memorable moments being when he found time to have a go at the Manchester United football team; calling them all "Puffs". For all his drunken exuberance and cockiness Shane McGowan didn't miss a line all night, this was by no means whatsoever  a freak show that some cynics would argue that a gig involving the eponymous Irishman is reduced to these days. Cait O'Riordan provided some glamour to the evening by joining the gang for a crisp version of 'I'm A Man You Don't Meet Everyday' and of course, she returned later for a stirring and breathtaking version of the classic 'Fairytale Of New York'. Highlight track on a vibrant, entertaining and enigmatic set was the anthemic Gaelic pub number; 'Irish Rover' that was sung with passion and spirit by the showstopper Mr. Shane McGowan. Let's hear it for Shane Mcgowan and the guys!

Dave Adair

Swearing At Motorists + Cardboard Radio + Mr. Parker
19.12.04 - Fibbers, York

Tip of the Day: When attending a gig in York, arrive late. This ensures that you will avoid the pain and suffering caused by local support acts….

Weather it is just Fibbers non-existent quality control policy, or that fact that all bands from York are ‘a bit shit’ (Shed 7 should be a warning to us all), but this is not the first time that I have been bombarded with such nonsense from a significantly below average support act (check the review of the Broken Social Scene), in fairness it wasn’t both the support bands, Cardboard Radio were actually quite good, good clean rocking fun with a great stage presence…. They were pretty bluesy and noisy; I imagine if they were to lock themselves away with numerous bottles of Jack Daniels and the Credence Clearwater Revival back catalogue, they could in fact be a great band. They have charisma, talent and the knack for a good tune, certainly ones to watch (fuck, I sound like fucking Tony bastard Blackburn…’ones to watch’??!?! what a tosser). Mr. Parker on the other hand had neither talent, charisma nor the knack for a good tune, what the do have is a collection of songs that all sound like stuff the Christians would have shunned for being too ‘MOR’, in fact when they stared playing I thought their first song was ‘Harvest for the World’. Words cannot describe how painful the following half an hour was, but I once had eight teeth removed during a single procedure…… that was more enjoyable. What’s more is the fact that none of the band seemed to be deriving any sort of pleasure from it.

Mr. Parker, I urge you to stop, you are quite possibly the worst band I have ever seen….

Still it seemed that the memories of Mr. Parker were just a dim and distant experience the minute Dave Doughman took to the stage, beginning the set in a shambling half start, the songs began to flow forth, and from then on the twenty eight people in the room (not only are the support bands bad, but the promotion is even worse), connected with what was going on, and to be honest the rest of the set, even for me, was somewhat of a blur. After a while Joseph took to the stage on drums and the rocking out could begin. It is difficult to imagine how just two people can create so much sound, and sound so fucking good. I suppose it helps that the songs are of such a high quality, but the passion and finesse with which they are delivered is s huge help.

The whole set was fantastic, and went in a blur of jumps, staggers and broken strings; I suppose it is what rock and roll is all about. It’s a late comer, but is definitely in the running for gig of the year….

Oh yeah, did I mention I did the tour posters….I’m not biased though.

Drew Millward