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gig reviews - jan-mar 06

Isobel Campbell + Jenniferever
21.2.06 – Bush Hall, London 

Bush Hall suddenly seems to be the London venue of the moment; I’d certainly never heard of it until recently but it’s a bizarre set-up all the same, pitched somewhere between a village hall and a school assembly room. There are tables and chairs laid out down the front for the early-comers, and overall it smacks more of somewhere you might go to watch the earnest toil of the local amateur dramatics society. Just the right setting for some twee indie-folk, you might say. 

Sweden’s Jenniferever (dig the name!) don’t do folk. They come onstage, two pixie-sized guitarists flanked by three other brooding chaps, and launch into the first of several shoegazing-meets-post-rock soundscapes. There are vocals but they’re mostly unintelligible and, to my mind, unnecessary. In such austere surroundings, this kind of music doesn’t quite fit and after a while it all sounds the same, anyway. Their set ends with a whimper rather than a bang. 

Isobel Campbell has recently released an album of duets with Mark Lanegan (ex-Screaming Trees). Unfortunately, he can’t be here tonight and so is replaced by Scots legend Eugene Kelly, formerly of The Vaselines (Kurt Cobain’s-favourite-band-in-the-world-ever! ™). Having not heard the album yet I can’t draw any comparisons but Kelly seems more than up to the task; his gravelly voice, while not in the same league as Lanegan’s cigarette drawl, mixes well with Isobel’s frail whisper on “(Do You Wanna) Come Walk With Me?” and “The False Husband”. 

The slap-headed backing band, meanwhile, may not have many lookers among them but they sure know how to play, so if anyone’s in danger of letting the side down, it’s Campbell herself. When she’s not fiddling about with her cello (no pun intended), she’s more than likely slumped down in her chair with a distracted expression on her face. Not that I was expecting any foot-on-the-monitor action from Scotland’s most mousy chanteuse, but to leave it until three-quarters through the gig before even addressing the audience seems almost…rude. Kelly, perhaps uncertain of his role in proceedings, isn’t his usual effusive self either. 

Progress being this uncertain, the performance often comes across more like a rehearsal than a proper show. However, when they get it right, the songs are lovely and a fantastically evocative rendition of “Willow Song” from The Wicker Man tips the scales back in their favour. Overall, it was good enough to get me to shell out for Ballad of the Broken Seas last week, and to hear Kelly perform his own classic “Son of a Gun” was almost worth the price of admission alone.

Will Columbine

Sandra & the Memory Machine + Chop Chop Bear Touch
9.2.06 – Pleasure Unit Bar, London 

I’ve not heard of Sandra and the Memory Machine before but a blend of ukulele, bass and drums sounds intriguing, plus my chum Dan is playing with them soooo…anything to support a friend. They turn out to be great, and well worth tracking down if you’re looking for something just that bit different. Kooky chanteuse Sandra coos and sighs in a Goldfrapp style also reminiscent of Swedish pop weirdos The Knife, and there’s instrument-swapping in abundance. The drummer even provides beats and synth simultaneously. Well done that man!  

An altogether different proposition, Chop Chop Bear Touch look like the result of some bizarre band-splicing incident but happily turn out to be as bizarrely entertaining as their name. An unwieldy five-piece comprised of two metal-heads content to get lost in their own hair and two other randoms, the glue holding the whole car-crash together comes in the form of one Dave Salisbury, who not only resembles a bear but who’s random forays into the crowd remind me of an autistic child let loose in a supermarket. Or something like that. 

Indeed, their brand of hoary old 80s rock-metal fusion could quite easily be awful was it not for the distinctly haphazard nature of their performance. Sailisbury chooses to bellow the choruses rather than attempt any kind of singing, and his genial rapport with the audience means you can’t help but like him. Imagine Faith No More without some lunatic drinking piss out a shoe and that’s a good starting point. 

I figure the following acts can’t keep up this level of entertainment so I leave at this point, only to witness a very brazen act of shoplifting in the local Tesco and then arrive home to find that two of my flatmates have almost come to blows over the relative merits of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey. Brilliant!

Will Columbine

Maximo Park + Arctic Monkeys + We Are Scientists + The Mystery Jets
1.2.06 - The Refectory, Leeds

Whoever managed to book the Arctic Monkeys all that time ago must have made a few quid out this series of NME gigs. The timing of the Monkeys suddenly having the fastest selling album since Johnny Mathis (or whatever that fact is) has worked out rather well for NME hasn't it? Suspicious? Moi?

But to the gig which featured at least three other worthy bands also. I say at least - I did get a text message from a friend at the front saying ' The Mystery Jets - they're a bit pants aren't they?' but as I missed their ludicrously early set I can vouch neither for or against this statement.

What I can vouch for is that the venue could certainly do with a bit of thought being applied before putting on gigs which are this busy. If I'd bought one of the £100 tickets from Ebay I would not be happy that the multitude of sound desks and accompanying guard rails managed to take up at least a third of the available floorspace that had an unobstructed view. Everyone else  just had to stand right at the back and be grateful they were there. Shoddy.

But We Are Scientists picked up the baton and ran with it for their allotted 40 minutes, still cranking out the tracks from 'With Love and Squalor'. This was the fourth time I've seen the band in 6 months and each has been more assured. But I wouldn't mind seeing a few new songs now.

And so to the night's big draw - Arctic Monkeys. And as if to announce their arrival they belted out their three hit singles in a row at the start of the set. How unconventional. Star of the show did seem to be some tech guy who was on stage almost as much as the band - collecting tambourines, tying shoelaces, gaffering socks - that sort of thing. As for the band - I was surprised by how serious they all seemed - not the happy go lucky lads I had been expecting to see. It almost seemed as if all the hype and expectancy around them has caught up and they were scared stiff - desperate not to mess up and to put out a proficient if not captivating performance.

But highlight of the evening for me was Maximo Park (unlike 90% of the crowd who couldn't work out why Arctic monkeys weren't headlining.) I'd missed them the last two times I was supposed to see them play but was really glad I caught them tonight. They don't have the songs or the success of the Artic Monkeys but they do have bags of energy and charisma. Groovy dance routines and not afraid to use a few props in an operatic way, singer Paul Smith is a great frontman and justified their billing as headliners on his own.


John Cale
29.1.06 - The Sage Gateshead

It would be completely forgivable for someone of Cale’s stature and general musical godlikeness to rest on their laurels, delve into their extensive back catalogue and knock out the usual greatest hits collection.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that, at 63 Cale is capable of making music that is just as cutting edge and vital as anything he has done previously, in what would be by anybody’s standards an incredible career.

Age it seems has not mellowed Cale, and on the basis of this performance, on top of being officially the worlds coolest Welshman, Cale can probably also claim to be the loudest. A number of songs, such as the encore, a cover of the Modern Lovers’ Pablo Picasso, strayed deep into Sister Ray territory with squalling feedback and driving bass, the Velvets’ Femme Fatalle was given a particularly savage reworking.

Cale himself was in fine form, his rich Welsh baritone backed by a band tighter than Tom Jones’ Y-fronts, getting down and funky on Outta the Bag, sadly without Cale’s falsetto, and the hip-hop influenced Hush (which ought to be awfull, but

Anyone (myself included) whose sole previous experience of Cale live came from 1992’s piano and acoustic solo set Fragments Of A Rainy Season, would be surprised by the ferocity of the performance in places. The majority of the set is culled from Last year’s black Acetate and its predecessor Hobosapiens. The choice of older songs meshed nicely with black Acetate’s mainly guitar driven sound, the slightly disturbing Guts and, appropriately, Dirty Ass Rock and Roll, being standouts.  

However, the emphasis on the rockier guitar led tracks meant a lot of the variety of Cale’s recent recordings was rather muted. The highlight for me was when Cale put down his guitar and took to keyboards and sequencers for two of Hobosapien’s standout tracks, Lost Horizon and Magritte, showcasing more of the diversity of his recent albums.

The gig was marred by a rather moribund audience (except for a handful of hardcore oldies going ape down the front), with polite applause after some songs being followed by a rather embarrassing silence before the next. Either the audience were in awe of the fact that they were in the presence of a legend, or they came to the Sage expecting to hear a nice bit of Bach, or perhaps John Cage. Either way, there was a steady trickle of people heading to the exits. The ambience of the Sage’s Hall 1 doesn’t help matters, very pleasant in a polite, woody kind of way, and fantastic for classical performances, is rather crap for rock concerts,  lacking the sort of sweaty intimacy that is more convivial for having your eardrums perforated (Nick Cave’s performance last year felt similarly flat).

Obviously not to everybody’s taste then, Cale is still doggedly sticking to his more avant-garde leanings to be a mainstream success, and this performance is not without a few flaws. However, seemingly not content with being a mere living legend, Cale continues to be an inspirational contemporary musician, as capable of creating groundbreaking music as he was 40 years ago.

Leighton Cooksey

Test Icicles + Help! She Can’t Swim + Damn Arms
16.1.06 - The Cluny, Newcastle

First off were Damn Arms, a four-piece band from Melbourne. For me, these guys were the ones who shone at this gig. I really enjoyed their music – imagine all the best bits of your favourite indie and electro tunes mashed up into something that’s fast and makes you dance. This is definitely a band to look out for and I’d recommend seeing them live if you ever get the opportunity. A nice touch to their set was when Dev Testes joined them on stage for a tune. Damn Arms are a very striking band and seem to be genuinely passionate about their music. They were the most talented band of the evening by far and it’s a shame they weren’t the headlining band. I would have loved to have heard more of their stuff.

The second support band were Help! She Can’t Swim and they didn’t impress me at all. Quite a lot of the kids in the audience liked them but I couldn’t get into their set even a tiny bit and I really did try. Me and my mates breathed a sigh of relief when they were finished. The singers didn’t really seem to work together – they even looked like they were in two separate bands, and when they did offer a bit of chat to the audience they sounded like pretentious teenagers who need to grow up.

Test Icicles went down a treat with the emo kids but for me, they weren’t a patch on Damn Arms. I found their set a bit monotonous and the best bit was when the other bands joined them on stage at the end to sing ‘happy birthday’ to Ian from Damn Arms. The highlight of the gig for me was when I nipped outside for a minute during Test Icicles’ second song and I was accosted by an angry mother who had been told that “the gig was supposed to finish at 9pm, and then we were told 10pm!” She had a foul attitude and rolled her eyes at me when I politely told her they were only into their second song. Hopefully, in the future, she’ll keep her hideous-looking-15-year-old-with-the-crap-haircut indoors on a school night.

Catherine Porteous

The ICA – 11/01/06 

It shames me to say that this evening is my initiation into the weird and wonderful world of the ICA. But before you go ahead and call me a typical apathetic Londoner, it’s not the easiest place to find…I was meant to go and see “Godzilla” there last year but got lost! Less apathetic…more just pathetic. 

This is the 2nd night in a sold-out run of five, meaning that if you do the simple math it’s obvious that Mogwai could have packed out a venue five times as big. It’s obviously a ruse to foist as many of their favourite support acts upon us as possible but seriously, I can’t believe how tiny the performance area is. There will be no escape for our ear-drums in such a confined space…thank God I bought my headphones. 

I amble down the gangway just in time for the start of the strangely named Uncle John and Whitelock’s set, and while their unique brand of art-rock and blues initially sounds just as bizarre, it sure is a grower. They’re interesting to look at, too. The bassist holds his instrument as if it were a double bass, the drummer pounds out one intoxicating rhythm after another, and the keyboardist is either incredibly drunk or incredibly ill…I can’t tell exactly which but he looks as though he’s about to fall off his stool! And if singer Jacob Lovatt’s name sounds like that of a gospel preacher, his Ian Curtis-meets-monk-of-doom vocal style does nothing to dispel that image. The microphone stand is repeatedly dashed to the ground by his unabashed flailing and the set climaxes with him spinning off the stage into the crowd. Terrific. 

It seems sensible, given the ‘Gwai’s reputation for extreme volume, to retreat to the back of the room at this point and it is here that I get chatting to a guy called Andy and (briefly) his mate Bob. Andy isn’t all that familiar with the band’s oeuvre but he likes what he’s heard and during the show proffers some interesting thoughts about what their influences might be. Plus he buys me a pint…what a gent! 

As it turns out, the headphones aren’t required. Mogwai are both quieter and chattier than on the two previous occasions I’ve seen them live. Front-man and occasional singer Stuart Braithwaite responds good naturedly to friendly cat-calls from the crowd, and when a guitar lead/socket interface produces some unexpected between-song noise, jokes that we’ve just been given a taste of a typical band rehearsal. 

I soon discover that I am as familiar with the band’s overall body of work as I thought. It’s been years since I heard Come On Die Young and Rock Action pretty much passed me by, although I do recognise “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” from the latter. “Tracy”, “Hunted by a Freak” and “Kids Will Be Skeletons”, all favourites of mine, are indistinguishable from their vinyl counterparts and what new material they do play doesn’t stand out from the back catalogue, which may not be a bad thing depending on your point of view but which doesn’t exactly support Alan McGee’s recent claims about the greatness of the forthcoming Mr Beast. 

Overall the set is too subdued to capture one’s attention throughout and we have to wait for a pre-encore rendition of “...Fear Satan” before the feedback starts to resonate. Much as I value my hearing, I feel disappointed not to be pinned to the back wall by the end of the evening. It seems that in the quest to refine their sound, Mogwai have lost some of their fire in the process and that’s a real shame.

Will Columbine

The Warlocks + Dead Combo
7.11.05 - The Faversham, Leeds 

Kicking off the evening in fine style where a Finnish duo by the name of  Dead Combo: two men two guitars, one Moog and an Apple Mac. Despite a sound check plagued by technical problems and a standing audience that numbered less than a bakers dozen they played a great “Rock and Roll” set (as they pronounced after the more electronic one started to go awry) The set was rough around the edges with most songs having little climax as the band had to stop playing to turn off the backing drums but I would recommend checking them out if they ever venture past your way. 

After a long interlude and a whole load more people appearing, headliners The Warlocks tried to squeeze their seven piece ensemble onto the Faversham stage. They did quite well considering they have two drum kits unfortunately one unlucky guitarist was left strumming to the side of the stage near the emergency exit (which was a shame since he appeared to be playing most of the complicated guitar parts) It’s at this point I should hold my hands up and state that before tonight I had never seen or heard this band play before. When someone suggested going to see a band called The Warlocks that had two drummers my mind immediately made the leap to thinking they must be some sort of  progressive metal band like Capricorns (an assumption backed up somewhat by the Dead Combo set) Sadly metal was not on the menu any more. Their set did little to impress but at least they brought along their own projectionist who provided a rather hypnotic backdrop to their music. 

Andrew Livesey