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gig reviews - oct 05

Gemma Hayes
6.10.05 – King’s College Student Union
One cool aspect of reviewing gigs for Tasty is getting to check out all the venues that I’ve never been to before. King’s College is pretty snug, with a lovely view of the Thames and decent beer prices. Two pints for a fiver…nice! 

As it happens, I’m too engaged in catching up with my companion on this venture (who I’ve not see for a while) to fully appreciate the support group. Their folk-y plucking, though pleasant enough, is nothing special and puts me in mind of Turin Brakes who I’m none to keen on. The singer does have a strong, androgynous voice, not a million miles away from the late Jeff Buckley, so if that’s yer thing then check ‘em out…whoever they were. 

Gemma Hayes also has a strong voice. Actually, make that AMAZING voice. How her diminutive frame houses such a powerful force is a wonder to behold, but as she takes the stage and performs the first song with just her acoustic guitar, everyone shuts up. I could happily have listened to more of that for a good 45 minutes. Unfortunately, she’s bought her backing band along. 

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that this by any means a bad show. But it was pretty average, and for a number of reasons. Firstly, the band, which consists of a bunch of session hacks from LA and which redefines the notion of what we call “going through the motions”. Honestly, they look as though they’d rather be doing their laundry. Ok, so the guy hunched over the synth gives it a bit of the old head-shaking business, but I think he was just getting off on twiddling his knobs.  

This has a knock-on effect in that it puts even more pressure on Miss Hayes to play the dynamic front-woman, a role she has yet to successfully master. Bashfully she introduces each song, stares down at her guitar while playing, and then thanks us when it’s finished. All very sweet and endearing but you just end up wishing she’d rock out. The best moment comes when the band leaves the stage and she performs a couple more songs alone. It’s a far more passionate performance…and what a voice! 

As far as the new material goes, it’s like the old stuff only more mellow; a sign of a maturing artist or simply tailored to be more mainstream? Hayes’s songs have generally been solid if not exactly world-class, but at least older songs like “Hanging Around” or “Let A Good Thing Go” had a bit of distortion to get the adrenalin pumping; now they just kind of flat-line from beginning to end. Single “Happy/Sad” is a good example, although admittedly it’s very pretty and one of the stronger of the new tunes. 

Anyway, Gemma Hayes will be touring again at the end of the month when she will have the dubious privilege of supporting Athlete, so perhaps she’ll have learned her chops by then. Let’s just hope she leaves the band at home.

Will Columbine

King Biscuit Time
26.9.05 - Cargo, London
Cargo is shaping up to be my favourite small London venue. As I’ve mentioned before, I have fond memories of seeing The Soundtrack Of Our Lives play a storming show there back in 2002, and although tonight’s gig doesn’t quite top that, it has a vibe all of its own. As a devoted follower of the Beta Band throughout their oft-troubled career, it’s only natural to wonder whether the new songs will possess the same magic of yore. Having only heard the single “C I Am 15” (released that same day) and found it to be good if not as immediate as previous Beta singles, I’m keen to see what Mr Mason has in store for us. 

Having been generously granted a brief interview with Steve earlier that evening, my buddy and I kick back on the comfy sofas with a bowl of chips and wait for the music to start. People begin to slowly drift in, many of them quite young and wearing Beta Band t-shirts. Good to see that, despite said group being no more, they continue to be discovered and enjoyed by new fans.  

At around 8pm, we shamble through to the music area to check out the sounds of support act Pip Dylan, who turns out to be a country music-obsessed Scotsman by the name of Ian Anderson. I wonder if he’s any relation to Beta affiliate Gordon Anderson, the one they call Lone Pigeon (a little investigation via that wondrous thing known as the Internet later reveals that they are, in fact, twins!). Alone on the stage, PD softens us up with a little slide-guitar before moving on to do some nifty finger-pickin’ on his acoustic, slowly winning over the more chatty contingent of the audience. He sure can play guitar, that man, and does a pleasant line in rambling folk ditties.  

Half an hour later, King Biscuit + chums take to the stage and are accorded a hero’s welcome. With an even more stripped-down set-up than the Beta’s farewell tour (no visuals, no drums!), the burden falls on Mason to really push the new material across. No need to worry though. By the second track, it’s clear that he’s lost none of his ability to fashion a good groove. “Hot Shots II” producer C-Swing provides the beats from his keyboard and bongos at the back, while Pete Rankin of Old Jock Radio switches between bass and guitar. Meanwhile, Mason stalks the stage with mic in hand, giving it some of that Ian Brown-style charisma. People nod their heads approvingly and inhale the skunk fumes permeating the air. 

Despite neglecting to inform us of song titles, everything sounds pretty good. The fifth track they play, in particular, has a gorgeous descending guitar and vocal melody which has since lodged itself in the recesses of my brain and refuses to budge. Looking forward to hearing the recorded version of that one. What’s most striking is Mason’s cheery demeanour (following a solo acoustic version of the Beta’s “Simple”, he regales us with an amusing tale concerning a wedding DJ) and new found lyrical optimism. Whereas his former band generally walked a thin line between world-weary defiance and playful melancholia, the new songs are rife with references to love and the joys of being alive. 

Encoring with a reggae version of “Anarchy in the UK” and, bizarrely, a second run-through of “C I Am 15”, Mason ends the gig banging out an infectious rhythm on two snare drums and looking like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. After all he’s been through, I say – good on him!

Will Columbine

Editors + We Are Scientists
3.10.05 - The Cockpit, Leeds

A third Leeds gig in just over a month for We Are Scientists sees them playing in front of a sold out Cockpit full of Editors fans, and what a strange bunch they are. But more of that later. There's no doubt that W.A.S. have considerably increased their stock over the last few weeks on the back of a pretty hardcore touring schedule and today coincides with their new single release too. This fact is not lost on them as Chris Cain ignores the shouts of 'Souness, Souness!' to inform the masses that this new single 'will probably break us' and that it will be the last time that anyone will be able to see them in such a small venue. 'Next time, we'll be playing somewhere in the middle of England and you guys will have to watch from seats somewhere up here in Leeds 'cos we're gonna be so big'. Obviously ironic, but there is still an air of quiet confidence behind the band who have plenty of knowing glances between one another and know their set inside out.

It's not the tightest they'll ever play with the combination of various drum rhythms, scratchy guitars and ambitious basslines more than occasionally in danger of wandering off on their own separate ways. But despite the criminally low sound levels, the trademark three-way vocal harmonies and Keith Murray's impressive stage persona manage to drag everything back together and unleash another impressive outing on Leeds.

So, to Editors. Undoubtedly polished sounding and featuring some very smart lighting effects, is it not lost on everyone that they are the personification of Echo and the Bunnymen? Which may explain the audience demographic - 50% jowly middle aged men (with the exception of the Tasty correspondent and guest, obviously) who were into The Bunnymen first time around and a good scattering of very young looking attractive girls who have been tempted out of Top Shop by the 80's revival. It's a strange day when Tasty is taking tips from free bus rag 'Metro' on music reviews, but they got it dead right with this one when they basically said, ' yeah, it's Echo and the Bunnymen with a bit of pre-pomp Simple Minds, but enjoy it anyway. Hmmm, I'm not convinced but to quote fellow tasty hack Agent Procter, ' I only report the facts, you decide the fate.'

Shane Blanchard

– Carling Islington Academy
Purveyors of a sound that could be described as a prog-rock My Bloody Valentine, Denmark’s Mew have been garnering decent notices for their latest album, “…and the Glass Handed Kites”. Having been very taken with their previous release, “Frengers”, I’m intrigued enough to purchase a ticket for this, their second (sold-out) London show in as many months, and head down to find out what they’ve since come up with. 

This is the first actual gig I’ve attended at the Islington Academy and I have to say both the sound and atmosphere were pretty kickin’. Support band Pure Reason Revolution’s own brand of prog with a hint of goth isn’t lost on an appreciative audience. They hammer out a fine noise on keyboards and guitars, switch between male and female vocalists, and generally do a good job of not letting the side down. 

Mercury Rev are another band that Mew have been likened to in the music press, and it’s obvious that the Danes have cribbed a few ideas about putting on a good show from both Jonathan Donahue’s mob and their contemporaries The Flaming Lips. Crazy visuals are the order of the day as the group take the stage and launch into the opening track from “Frengers”, “Am I Wry? No” (good choice guys!). Suddenly we’re seeing kittens playing violins, universes exploding, dolls with misshapen heads singing along…it’s quite a sight, and the jerky rendering of the animation only serves to enhance the other-worldliness of the music. 

Another thing that’s impressive is Jonas Bjerre’s singing. An ethereal and feminine instrument on record, it’s stunning to hear every vocal recreated tonight pitch perfect. However, the audible digital tinge eventually arouses my suspicions…is there a spot of auto-tuning going on here? Necessary it may be for such ambitious music, but it’s still cheating! 

So, how to describe the new songs? I can’t pretend to actually remember any of them, but then Mew isn’t in the business of hand-crafting three-minute pop songs about girlfriends and sunshine. They sounded good though; not quite as immediate as those from the last album but not too pretentious either. One of them even features the queasy guest vocals of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis (surely his guitar skills are more highly prized?) and we get to see some video of him doing an amazing job of singing without actually moving his lips. 

The band rock with energy and flair throughout, and a special mention must be made of the drummer who, frankly, played a blinder. They finish with “Comforting Sounds” (again, good choice!) and leave us to readjust our minds back to reality. A good show and well worth setting pen to paper for.

Will Columbine