gig reviews - jan-mar 06
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.
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
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!
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
29.1.06 - The Sage
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.