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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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….
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.
Parker, I urge you to stop, you are quite possibly the worst band I have
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
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….
did I mention I did the tour posters….I’m not biased though.