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  gig reviews -june 05

The Olivia Tremor Control
21.4.05 - The Garage, Islington

Having not collectively released a note of music since 2000's "Singles & Beyond" collection, and with various solo releases from both Will Cullen Hart's Circulatory System and Bill Doss's The Sunshine Fix, I was under the impression that the Olivia Tremor Control were no more. But with their classic "...Dusk at Cubist Castle" (it's THE modern-day White Album, folks!) lodged firmly in my Top 20, I've never been so ecstatic to have been proved wrong.

Tonight is a warm-up show before their stint at All Tomorrow's Parties, and I'm expecting weirdness in abundance. Nay, I demand it! So it's a promising hint of things to come when the band make their entrance by walking through the crowd, banging percussive instruments of all description before heading stage-ward and blasting off with "A New Day". For the next hour and a half, it's a frenetic scramble through the technicolour landscape of their back catalogue. Two minute blasts of fuzzed-up psychedelic pop are intermingled with cascading sheets of bleeping, chattering, random noise. Flutes, violins, xylophones and even a susaphone are deployed throughout the evening - at one point we are even treated to the sight of a band member abusing a banjo with an oven grill! Set this to some of the best visuals I've seen at a gig (and that includes The Flaming Lips and Cornelius) and it's like all my Christmas's have come at once.

Cullen Hart (the one with the greasy comb-over who looks like he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown) chatters inaudibly into the mic and sings the more abrasive material, while Doss serves up slice after slice of wishful dream-pop. I've enjoyed their respective solo offerings but surely no-one could argue that the OTC is far more than the sum of its parts. When they leave the stage I'm still hungry for more (a rare feeling these days) - let's hope their reunion extends as far as the studio.

Will Columbine

Mono + Red Stars Parade + A Day Left
16.05.05, Josephs Well, Leeds

Having recently discovered Mono's recorded output I was filled with glee at the prospect of a live performance. But before Mono we were treated to the 'pleasure' of a set by A Day Left. Now admittedly my enthusiasm may have been slightly dampened by the fact I was grappling with a particularly vicious hangover, but A Day Left completely failed to excite any response beyond tedium. I only managed one song before retiring to the bar. Started promisingly enough with some Karate - esque noodlings, but rapidly developed into emo by numbers, and at points sounded alarmingly like Nickleback. Music for bedwetters. 

Thankfully Red Stars Parade managed to re-kindle my earlier enthusiasm. For those not in the know Red Stars Parade play heavy rock that the term 'monolithic' could very well be applied to. Similar vein to Isis, Neurosis and Pelican. Thatís about all can be said about them, if you like the aforementioned bands you will like them, if not then you won't. Not dazzlingly original, but very enjoyable. One criticism of the performance though; crowd surfing is neither big nor clever. Rock and roll! 

On now to Mono. For those who haven't had the pleasure of listening to their records Mono are a Japanese band who played dynamic post-rock. Their website describes them as a "melodic instrumental noise unit", which although a lovely turn of phrase does not really clarify the situation. I suppose the closest reference point would be 'Young Team'-era Mogwai, but with a slightly more metallic edge in places. Either way Mono's set was superb. Not the most energetic or charismatic performers, but this was more than made up for by the quality of the music. Even when the set descended into white noise, it was still wonderfully controlled. One possible criticism would be that like Mogwai's earlier releases, pretty much every song that Mono played followed a quiet then loud dynamic, or some sort of variant on that theme. The phrase 'one trick pony' could be bandied around. But fuck it; at least it's a good trick.

Michael Pearson.

Dinosaur Jnr
8.6.05 - The forum, Kentish Town

If karma exists then J Mascis is the living proof. Having driven his bandmates to the edge of a nervous breakdown with his aloofness and non-communicative ways, it's somehow fitting that, despite being a year shy of 40, he looks a helluva lot older. Wearing a foul lime-green shirt (fashion was never Mascis's strong point) and with nose poking through a curtain of long, silvery hair, he resembles some kind of rock and roll grandmother. If this is the by-product of playing at ridiculous volume for 20 years then excuse me whilst I turn my amp down. Bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph, meanwhile, look pretty buff for a pair of guys both approaching middle-age. Like I said, karma.

Considering this was a band that ended up with its respective members either trying to hit each other with their instruments (Mascis), playing badly on purpose just to get a reaction (Barlow), or just rolling their eyes at the whole sorry spectacle (Murph), and that the 16 years of bad feeling that followed made a reunion of the Jimi Hendrix Experience a more likely prospect, the level of awesomeness Dino Jr achieve tonight is nothing short of revelatory.

With Mascis having plodded on with a stream of hired hands (Barlow was kicked out in '89, Murph left in a huff in the mid-nineties) before calling it a day in '97 (the first and last time I saw them play), tonight is the first time I can truly appreciate Dino Jr as a band of individuals playing off each other (and creating some serious sparks in the process) rather than as a mere vehicle for J's fretboard indulgences. Tonight he attacks his guitar with renewed vigour while Lou and Murph lock on and keep any excesses in check. And the great thing is how much they all seem to be enjoying themselves.

Naturally, this being the original line-up, the set-list is comprised of tracks taken from the first three albums (shout-outs for later material which are unsurprisingly ignored). Most of the classic "You're Living All Over Me" gets an airing, although "Bug" is somewhat unrepresented with only "No Bones", "Budge" and "Freakscene" making an appearance. The latter naturally causes the mosh-pit to erupt, with Mascis making his guitar shriek like a banshee. Lou only gets to sing three or four songs and none of them include "Lose", one of only two songs he penned while in the band, and admits prior to "Little Fury Things" that this is the first time he's ever played the song live. It's credit to the man's hard-working ethic that he pulls it off without a hitch. We also get "Keep the Glove" and their superior cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven".

Ok, so there are minor niggles. No "Let It Ride" or "The Post" (apparently they played it the following night). "Don't" would have been a far superior closer to "Mountain Man", but then perhaps having Lou scream "Why don't you like me?" till his lungs bled might have been a tad inappropriate given the circumstances. Never ones to outstay their welcome, and in almost typical fashion, the band attempt to leave the stage a song too early! 80 minutes, one encore and they're gone.

So, all in all, I feel privileged to have seen one my all-time favourite groups perform, and against all odds. They did indeed rock. I certainly won't forget it in a hurry and neither will my ear-drums!

Will Columbine

The Xenith Sound
16.6.05 - The Cockpit, Leeds

Having seen TXS twice before in front of just a slack handful of an audience tonight is staggering in that the main room at the Cockpit is packed out with an audience of various ages and states of inebriation. The one constant is that everyone is hot - it's absolutely boiling in there. But this packed house is surely testament to The Xenith Sounds increasing stock on the Leeds music scene.

The band don't disappoint, and blast out their own take on bluesey rock at maximum volume over the Cockpit's prodigious PA. The bass player bounces and gurns his way through the whole set leaving the moustachioed singer to hold things together with a broodingly menacing performance. This is definitely the sort of stage to catch these lads playing on so look out for their next show.

Shane Blanchard