gig reviews - april/may 06
Akron / Family
23.4.06 - The Faversham, Leeds
As I have mentioned on more than one occasion in my
moribund ramblings on this site I just don’t like Sunday gigs. I tend to be
hung-over and dreading the onslaught of another Monday and so it takes a lot
to get my fires stoked enough to get me out the door and to a gig. So much
so in fact that by the time I managed to drag my weary bones to the venue
I’d missed the support act, though I was assured that wasn’t too much of an
The Faversham on a Sunday is currently running an
afternoon / evening called ‘In The Pines’, a showcase for acoustic, folk,
Americana, lo-fi etc which is what I find ourselves in the midst of this
evening. Now what this means is if you are an individual looking for some
Sunday relaxation outside of your home you can now do so whilst listening to
excellent tunes and the occasional band. Hoorah!
So with water in hand (hangover and money deficit) I
prepare for the Akron / Family, a band whom since hearing their
split/collaborative release with Gira’s Angels of Light project on Young god
Records I have been rather intrigued to witness in a live arena. As with
much of the Young God records output it is at once accessible yet with
enough avant leanings to satisfy a more experimental palette and to see this
mix of folk, post-rock, choral joy translated to the stage is frankly
nothing short of breathtaking. Seeming to divide their set into acts rather
than merely playing songs Akron / Family using shifting rhythms, tempos and
states to gel songs together and blend them from one to the next. It’s a
sort of prog-folk but minus the pretension and boredom this might infer.
They are a band who can play complex and beautiful folk music and yet go
into a balls out freakout in the drop of a hat without it sounding like an
absolute fucking mess. By the finale featuring an extended and even more
rapturous version of album highlight ‘Raising the Sparks’ I feel like a man
who’s had his hung-over Sunday mind sloused out with sweet honey and the
bees who made it are stinging love straight into my Medulla Oblongata.
Akron / Family are a band refusing to be pigeon-holed
by any particular genre and simply committed to producing absolutely
beautiful music whether that is on CD or in their, perhaps superior, live
Twisted Folk presents:
Howe Gelb & Voices of Praise + Courtney
19.5.06 - Academy 3, Manchester
Those who haven’t heard Howe Gelb’s latest musical
offering ‘Sno Angel Like You’ maybe unaware that this current tour is
somewhat different from Mr. Gelb’s usual proceedings. Yes within the set you
will get to hear a couple of Giant Sand favourites but there will be a
difference, a 9 piece gospel Choir to be precise. In support of the album we
are being treated to the rare occasion of being able to witness Gelb with
the full backing of the same choir from the record, Voices of Praise
First though Courtney Tidwell takes to the stage in
front of a growing and eager crowd. Tidwell starts off somewhat timidly, her
sweet Nashville twang slowly beginning to shine through as she begins to
relax a little. Tidwell’s brand of gently picked guitar led folk is all
rather nice but does little to lift the senses. That is until she changes
tack somewhat and perches herself behind the drums onstage and using some
sort of electronic gizmo creates a few moments of intriguing and gripping
stripped down folk. If only more of her set had been like that.
As the main attraction for the evening takes to the
stage one choral member at a time there is a definite buzz through the
crowd, you already know its going to be that little bit special. And sure
enough from the moment the be-hatted Mr. Gelb takes to the stage and begins
to strike his guitar my suspicions are correct. The thing with witnessing
Gelb live is the atmosphere and stage presence he exudes. Sharply dressed
with string tie and immaculate satanic beard its hard not to be slightly in
awe of his relaxed charm. Gelb’s own musicianship and distinctive baritone
vocal is complemented perfectly by the choir’s rich and soaring tones. New
songs from Sno Angel ‘But I Did Not’ and ‘Paradise Here Abouts’ shine out
whilst old favourites given the gospel reworking like ‘The Farm’ and ‘Chore
of Enchantment’ have never sounded better. The whole event has the
atmosphere of joy and rapture that is impossible not to get swept away in. I
can’t remember the last time I smiled so hard or clapped so loudly at a
concert. Another wonderful gig from those good folks at Twisted Folk and
probably what will turn out to be my gig of the year.
Altogether a different vibe here
tonight than the last time I saw a gig here. The tables and chairs have been
packed away, the lights are down and the sparkly lights are up. Brett
Anderson rubs shoulders with the great unwashed in the bar area which is
tightly packed due to the no-smoking policy in the main hall. Well, we
wouldn’t want to set the carpet on fire now, would we? Best leave that to
Due to their ridiculously early
start time, I only arrive in time to catch the last two-and-a-half songs of
Sunny Day Sets Fire’s set. This is annoying because I’d really liked what
I’d heard on their Myspace profile and, if the energy of their performance
in those closing numbers, their slot could well have been my favourite. With
their four members hailing from Italy, Hong Kong and the UK, their sound is
as eclectic as their line-up is multicultural. Certainly, no obvious
reference points spring to mind. The highlight has to be when drummer Onyee
pries herself away from the kit to give it some Damo Suzuki lead vocal
action. In short, they’re a lot of fun.
“The only way to Shepherd’s Bush…is
up the shepherd’s leg!” says Baxter Dury to little or no response. To be
fair, he doesn’t let that deter him from telling more (and worse) jokes, but
also doesn’t do himself any favours by playing songs that sound like a
crap(per) version of “Don’t Look Back In Anger” or by getting in such a
“tired and emotional” state before the show. Moreover, and just like his
famous father, he can’t sing for toffee but hasn’t the same degree of
personality make up for it. Hence, we strain to hear his weak vocals over
the music. “Oscar Brown” must be his big hit, judging by the cheer it gets
before and after, and the slight diversion into the Velvet’s “Oh Sweet
Nuthin’” is a bit cheeky. Brett seemed to enjoy it anyway..
In a much better mood than the last
time I saw them (having an album out cheered them up, no doubt) Absentee
also seem strangely grateful to be in this position and so rapturously
received to boot. Singer Dan Michaelson’s 1000 fags-a-day growl is still a
thing of wonder and their music evocative - Smog and Pavement engaging in a
spot of grubby and ultimately disappointing sex in a worn-out sleeping
bag…ooh, yeah! – but they don’t rock quite as hard as before . There is also
a surfeit of slow to mid-paced numbers in their repertoire which lead my
thoughts (and those of certain other chatty audience members) to wander off.
Better are the rocking “Weasel”, where the low and high harmonies of Dan and
keyboardist/co-vocalist Melinda Bronstein combine to delicious effect, and
closer “Something to Bang” which ends in a Spiritualized-esque cacophony of
brass and noise.
If you ever needed an opening example when
launching into a diatribe about what’s wrong with the music scene today,
then look no further than the comparison of two gigs held less than 500
yards apart. One featured a headline act fronted by a crackhead’s sidekick
who played three riffs over an hour to a sold out crowd at the cities
largest venue, whilst the other, the subject of this review, featured three
exciting, boundary pushing acts and struggled to draw 100 people. Such are
the woes of being a forward thinking band with several top draw singles over
what is essentially The Libertines mkII.
Woes which locals Exploits Of Elaine feel
moreso. In a gig meant to be a last hurrah to their earlier post-rock
meanderings in favour for more eclectic directions technical difficulties
mean that the setlist has to be changed on the spot to incorporate tracks
that can be ran through without the use of their misfiring keyboard/synth
set-up. Luckily they are able to do so, and the tracks in their four-song
set don’t sound as rushed and haphazard as they so easily could, with close
‘Laputa’ being a highlight of the night, giving the traditional post-rock
crescendo template a fresh leash of life.
Micah T Pearson has no worries of technical
difficulties, his solo set consists only of softly strummed mandolin,
lap-steel and acoustic guitar. Taking in traditional Appalachian-style
picking and mixing it with songs in the vein of Nick Drake at times his
music seems too relaxed and ‘twee’ to captivate, but it never becomes
boring, and in hindsight Pearson is the perfect compeer for the headliners.
Who, as always, are nothing short of
incredible. iLiKETRAiNS seem to find the very rarely inhabited area between
‘progressive’ and ‘anthemic’ easily, with tracks like ‘Rook House For Bobby’
and ‘Terra Nova’ combining the lucid waves of distortion that My Bloody
Valentine perfected of Loveless with memorable, even catchy, song
structures, at times reminding of Hope Of The States or a more adventurous
Yet they are still at their strongest when
clawing out of the radio-friendly four-minute format. ‘Stainless Steel’
lasts over eight minutes, and builds up over five of those minutes, and yet
it is still breathtaking, with vocalist David’s dulcet lulling weaving
around the crystalline guitar runs. It has been a long time since post-rock
sounded this vital and exciting. It’s just a shame that most people tonight
chose banality over (fractured) beauty.
A sweaty, sultry night in the famous back room of the Well with more than
a polite smattering of punters but still room to lean against a wall or to
fall through the holes in the bar floor if you so desired.
Amusement Parks on Fire are indeed a strange phenomenon. At their worst
they sound a bit like Doves (not a bad thing some might say) with chords and
rhythms pounded out and repeated ad nauseum. But more often than not they
ascend to a much higher level - a synthesis of guitar parts. mesmerisingly
pummelled bass and huge slabs of glorious feedback. The vocals used
sparingly merely punctuate this overwhelmingly rampant noise rather than
compete with it. Compelling stuff.
By contrast, Scarling have a certain fan base. What's this I see?
National health glasses, much eye make up, wrist bands a plenty. We're
talking emo-ahoy in the audience but to be honest Scarling probably have
more in common with The Cure than most emo bands. But look around the room
at all the mini-personal tragedies being acted out - the guy with his head
in his hands sat on the floor at the back; the couple having a stand-up row
stood on the speaker boxes. I can't blame them - if I'd been forced to
listen to the whole set I would probably have turned on someone too.
Armoured with some dubious looking matching tank tops (which could
feasibly have been knitted from mohair) Little Man Tate follow fast in the
footsteps of city brethren Milburn and a little known banned called The
Arctic Monkeys. What the hell are they putting in the water in South
Yorkshire that makes the public abandon their dress sense in favour of
writing killer indie guitar tunes?
While definitely sharing more than a smattering of Rickenbacker riffs
with the equally mighty Milburn, Little Man Tate bring an infectious
enthusiasm and sheer joy to the stage that is all their own. Had they just
been having an awful tour until they got to Leeds or were they genuinely
staggered by the reception they got tonight? It seemed the latter as the
band regularly swapped disbelieving looks between each other, not least when
the stage was mounted by a large overweight middle aged man wearing what
appeared to be a leather thong. Seems this activity is not even normal in
Tasty favourite 'The Agent' was hammered out with thong-drenching
precision and the trademark clean guitars and finger picked bass were in
full crowd pleasing action. At an hour long there was a couple of songs
which could have been harmlessly weeded out but this wouldn't have stopped
the stream of hapless stage divers who seemed to either always end up on
stage at the end of a song else plummet earthwards without so much as a
finger of support from their audience colleagues. I thought we were going to
need to charter a mini-bus to Stoke Mandeville seeing as so many people were
seeming to hit the strangely black-tar clad clad surface of the Cockpit
None of which could have prepared us for an all out stage invasion for
the final song which must have seen about 60 people mount the not
inconsiderably high stage and jiggle rather uncomfortably while the band
battled with broken strings and restricted strum-room to crank out the final
few choruses. Great fun.
It wasn't a hard decision. Magic 8's demo EP had stood out like a
matterhorn in the malverns amidst my share of last months singles. Here,
here was something to make me sweat out a review - it's great having a
secret, it's even better to tell the world about it, it's a tightrope trying
to do this without sounding like a schoolgirl. I might have failed that bit.
And what's this? Playing next week you say?
An apology. I can't pass fair comment on support Seine and The Slow as I
missed much of their sets through a combination of bad tubes and good
company (hi Anna). Response from other punters was positive and I didn't
dislike what I heard, but I had ventured to the sweaty hobbit hole known as
the Trotwood for one band only.
Another apology. I had compared Polly's voice to Sophie Ellis-Bextor's.
It's miles better - stronger, richer, sexier. It wasn't best served by early
numbers such as '2 of one' 'Midnight to morning' or 'Frozen by the sun' -
indie pop played with vim but lyrically too fey and indistinct. 'Wonderful
smile' was better: 'Is this really the life' was witchcraft.
Time slowed, the voice grew, the basement shrank. I had loved the
recording, but that's just a postcard of this place. From there the band
played with lap of honour grins, knowing we were theirs. Save 90 seconds of
'Don't you forget about me' none of the following songs made an individual
impact -maybe they will on another hearing- until closer 'Battleships' ,
slightly underwhelming on record, here a thrilling climax, rattling sabres
and spite and joy. Dammit -here comes the schoolgirl - these guys were
utterly great. 19th June at the Pleasure Unit Bethnal Green, I just hope the
stage is higher than eight inches, I need to see more.
Another apology. No, that one had better wait...
I met a man on a railway station the other day. He
offered to sell me some mysterious plants, and as he did, he laid down a
strange fable of a band called
The Bee Stings: “they have”, he said, “a huge shared erogenous zone that
peaks a few metres above street level.” It seems that if you walk through
it your serotonin level jumps up a couple of ppm. I had to get me a piece
of that action, so I hastily handed over a quantity of English pounds for
his pharmaceutical flora (which, incidentally, turned out to be fava beans –
high in levodopamine, low in flavour) and went my merry way towards The
Water Rats, King’s Cross.
The Bee Stings, it transpires, combine this fabled air
of erogeny with irresistibly tasty songs and Samurai training. There’s also
a little nin-jitsu in the mix, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I got there too late to hear
Videofan, the first band, but apparently they were good. They seem,
from their website, to be pretty standard commercial fare, and moreover
there is some talk of a Virgin advert, so they clearly need no help from
It therefore pleases me to move on with all dispatch to
Quinn, a Glasgow outfit whom I liked really rather a lot. They have a
keyboardist who also plays a mean trumpet (which you don’t see that often)
who reminded me of Howard Moon, but in a very good way. Their rhythm
section is solid and stomps around comfortably, while their singer can croon
up a velvety storm. She also looks sweet in a mini-dress, but that is all
by the bye.
Following on swiftly was a four-piece from Manchester
going by the name of
Omerta. They were very assured and pumped out a goodish slice of indie
rock in a Mancunian style, but somehow I didn’t find them as interesting as
Quinn. Mind you, their single is one of four currently up for the vote on
XFM, so again, they really don’t need my help.
Finally, the Bee Stings themselves went onstage in a
palpable hiss of neurotransmitters. I stood back and admired their
equipment for a brief moment. Truly, it was mighty.
The band are a blizzard of tamed chaos: Their singer,
Valkyrie, contains a power supply designed for a person four times her size;
Attila the drummer (his real name) is like an anti-tank battery with
cymbals, and both guitarist and bassist are equally happy on some phat
keyboards. They also feature a fairly spectacular video setup along with
the sound. They screeched into action with Pressure Tank, which starts
deceptively pretty and then blows your hair around. This is a
characteristic shared by many of their songs – lovely intricate
constructions which explode and take your eyebrows off at the moment you
High points included Show Me Happy, which involved the
more mobile band members having a bit of a mosh (without missing a beat),
Ninjas vs. Aliens, which did exactly what it said on the tin and featured an
additional operatic diva doing theremin impersonations for added tension,
and U Got My Number?, a charming ditty about the problems with love in the
All in all it was an awesome spectacle, and I am not
telling you who won out of the ninjas and the aliens, so you will have to
check it out for yourself. Go. Go now.
Brand B took one for the team here, having the job of warming up the folk
at this less than heaving south London pub. Lead singer Marcus's good
humour was strained by an audience indifferent to thrash ska punk and
primal screams. Undeservedly so, they were tight, witty, and should really
be playing to crowds less interested in pool and fruit machines. Cleared
out the droopy faced locals a treat, mind.
Things het up, slowly, for Miss Black America. Opener 'My Big 'L''
couldn't do the job by itself, but a relentless pace of frenzied metal
emerged through 'Freefall', 'Drowning By Numbers' and the night's standout
song, signature 'Miss Black America'. By now enthusiasm was abundant and
the band were reciprocating...until the bass amp gave up the fight.
Seymour Glass, MBA's winsome frontman, (re)covered with a worryingly
perfect rendition of Take That's 'Back For Good', but some of the momentum
was lost. With new single 'Emotional Junkmail' a casualty of the delay the
final songs - 'Automatic', 'Talk Hard', 'DotDotDot' - showed MBA at their
best, spiky punk meteorites with all the best qualities of Ash. Not quite
a triumph, but on the back of a successful tour, with a newly stable line
up, Miss Black America are riding high.
Surfing the wave of bonhomie, Seven Seals -'Five pretentious tossers from
the Lake District singing about the French revolution' kept the party hard
without totally convincing musically, though some fuckers blowing their
bass amp no doubt played a part. 'Loose Ends' is deservedly the new
single, '7th Wave' 'Snotty Guitar' and closer '3ft Hi' revealed amply
quirky charms, and if the rest of the set were carried by manic energy and
a Billy Childish moustache, well, other bands have hidden more with less.
Leeds Met Uni and Fear Factory, well, I never thought
I’d put those two in the same sentence. Standing at the Leeds Met bar,
about to walk into the venue to have my eardrums burst by the thrash metal
legends, Fear Factory. Awesome. (and I mean that in the truly English sense
of the word, rather than the US pillaged version)…
The gig kicked off to a cracking start with some good
old traditional, “Is he speaking in tongues?”, thrash metal from Maryland’s
Misery Index, who pelted out some impressively fast paced, downtuned guitar
riffs and drum rhythms, teamed with dirty, 40-a-day vocals that vibrated the
soul and warmed the cockles.
Green to the talents of the main support act, Breed
77, I was surprised to hear their melodic vocals and general lack of
nonsensical, guttural mumblings at a FF gig. Bongos are not the first things
that spring to mind when you think of hard rock, however, I was slowly drawn
into their extraordinary mix of metal, Spanish and Moroccan music. I take my
hat off to Breed 77, the bongos, for some completely bizarre reason, work,
and I have to say, after listening to more extracts from the albums on their
website, these Gibraltan boys have talent. Thrash metal it aint, but
refreshingly good it is. Their significant fan base at the gig seemed to
agree, so it’s a thumbs up from me for Breed 77.
It’s been 16 years since the birth of Fear Factory and
the metal demons are still showing the rock scene who’s boss. Their
unquestionable stage presence and gut-punchingly powerful rhythms, combined
with Burton C. Bell’s ability to produce aggressive vocals and sing clean
when it matters, gives them their unique sound. The band have, undeniably,
changed over the years, but it’s an evolution that we’re happily reaping the
rewards from now. The release of 'Digimortal' at the peak of their
experimentation with industrial electronics, may have had a few of the
traditional metallers reaching for the mute button, but it has added an edge
to their music that has enabled them to pick out the best bits and squeeze
them all together into a familiar, but altogether tighter, sound. Thrashing
out a few gems from 'Demanufacture' and 'Obsolete', and throwing in a couple
of newer tracks from their latest album, 'Transgression', FF put on a truly
impressive and crowd pleasing show. To be honest with you, I would expect
nothing less from these lads. I liked it. I liked it a lot.
The oh-so non-salubrious surroundings of The Vine on a warm summer Monday
evening was the venue for tonight's gig jaunt. A small and slightly
lacklustre crowd filtered furtively round the pub, which inexplicably was
not serving any pints other than some slightly dubious-looking flat bitter.
Perhaps all the pints had got necked during the afternoon 'sing-along
3pm-7pm' advertised on the signs in the pub. There even appeared to be a
straggler from the aforementioned singalong stumbling around at the front
during the support acts closing numbers. All in all not the kind of
atmosphere you would expect for self confessed agoraphobic electro-metal
merchants Immune or north east musical nihilists par excellence Peace Burial
Immune's recorded sound is a complex beast, mixing quiet lulls, complex
samples and loops and furious guitar riffs, all held together with some
pretty impressive vocals. By comparison, their live performance is
wholeheartedly full throttle - there are no quiet bits and it sounds like
all the amps are turned up to 11. It's an equally impressive spectacle right
from 'Monkey' at the beginning of the set onwards. But I can't help feel
they have gone a little bit over the top with this sonic assault. I know
Immune have had trouble pitching their music to some crowds and maybe this
is a sign of over compensation. At times the PA just seemed to give up the
ghost and distort everything and the trademark pauses and lulls were
conspicuous in their absence. Seeing Immune again in a bigger venue with a
slightly more conservative sound man would be interesting.
And so to Peace Burial at Sea. They seem to constantly sneak under the
music radar and avoid any publicity, or in this case, any audience. Actually
this is not true - there was a small gaggle of talkers yakking away
constantly throughout the the set, discussing important facts such as their
boyfriend's new haircut. But they seemed mainly connected with Immune. But
for a 30 minute set, beset with technical problems/broken laptops, PBAS were
stunning. With a lovely ringing guitar sound akin to iLiKETRAiNS and
seriously hardcore drumkit, PBAS bring a new found layer of complexity to
the evening - haunting silences and pauses, atmospheric samples (when they
work) and vocalist Johnny's seemingly threatening delivery. They are a band
who bounce and feed off each other, rather than just blasting out at full
tilt for 3 minutes per song. A fittingly pristine ending to a fine evening.
I’m not sure if it was the setting (a barely disguised
student union hall) or another sign of the apathy of today’s youth that you
keep reading about in the press, but the atmosphere at this gig was severely
lacking. If Russ Abbot had shown up he would have been mightily
disappointed. Which is a shame, as the music and performances on offer
The opening band, We Show Up On Radar, played a set
that seemed beamed from the mind of a very disturbed but engaging toddler,
with samples and lyrics combining to create a fairytale effect. Fairytales
with undercurrents of menace, however, like the Brothers Grimm, rather than
the neutered Disney versions. They were followed by B.C. Camplight.
Basically this is Brian Christinzio on vocals and piano and it was a very
accomplished performance. Unfortunately the sound quality meant I couldn’t
make out the lyrics which actually seemed to be saying something. One to
check out on CD for a proper listen methinks.
Then, to the main event; The Boy Least Likely To bound
onto the stage to the sound of ‘Puppet On A String’ by Sandie Shaw and
launched into a lively set with jaunty dancing, playful chat and bouncy
tunes. We were cheekily treated to the intro from ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, which
morphed into ‘My Tiger My Heart’, self-deprecating tales of their tour of
the States and a rousing finish with their new single ‘Be Gentle With Me’.
They even saved our palms by announcing they were not going to do the whole
‘pretending to leave’ encore thing – a blessed relief. All this did not seem
enough for the crowd though. TBLLT gave it their all but the audience just
stood and stared, clapping politely. It was a shame, as a more lively
audience would have turned a good night into a great one.
7.4.06 - The Plug, Sheffield
There were rumours from fellow tasty correspondents who
attended the Mogwai gig at the ICA recently that Scotland's single most
important contribution to noise pollution since Jimmy Krankie had toned down
their act a bit and got more 'muso'. But judging by the way my ears are
still ringing now, the volume was still well and truly up.
The Plug is a bit of a weird venue for Mogwai to be
playing - a converted 90's warehouse down some backstreet which is more used
to have club nights than live bands (Jon Carter was on after Mogwai in the
main bar - pity my train back was so early). And perhaps that is the reason
a lot of the crowd response was a little bit more muted than I'd seen at
other Mogwai gigs. But it certainly couldn't be put down to the performance.
Resplendent in matching Adidas tracksuits (and later in matching black
t-shirts), Scotland's finest torched their way through a good selection of
their back catalogue and the best of Mr Beast including 'Glasgow Mega
Snake', 'Auto Rock' and the spine tingling 'Friend of the Night'. But by far
the greatest thrill of the night was the ear splitting outro of 'Mogwai Fear
Satan' as an encore that made the hairs on the back of necks prickle in both
volume and supreme, controlled power. Another majestic performance from the
undoubted kings of instrumental post rock.
An unreasonable early start and a lack of public
transportation meant that The echo sadly failed to mither our ears on this
occasion, though I am informed by some fellow and more organised early
arrivals that they were really rather good. Which is a good thing because
The Humour were absolutely terrible and I will not waste another word even
contemplating the depths of their awfulness. Truly.
But the reason the masses had sold out the Cockpit
again (yes, sold out - amazing) was the Xenith Sound. Now let it not be said
that The Xenith Sound write the most original or tricksy numbers ever to
cross the laser of a CD player. A heavy slant on production and a
staggeringly impressive array of effects pedals add an additional layer of
interest to their sound. But it is this lack of complexity that may be the
reason behind their success and popularity. I mean, Oasis hardly know more
than 4 chords do they?
Another typically impressive performance culminated in
an airing of new single 'The Warning' which was OK but still fell a bit
short of moshtastic 'Boy Racer'. No-one knows how The Xenith Sound keep
selling out the Cockpit. No-one knows how so many people get so drunk so
early at their gigs. But sometimes it is just best to wonder.