gig reviews - june/july 06
Despite an arduous journey which
sees me cross the Thames twice in search of the place, it’s more than worth
it. Somerset House is simply the best venue to hold an outdoor gig during
the summer months. Essentially a large courtyard with a stage erected in its
centre, the mixture of modern music within historical surroundings works
surprisingly well, as long as you’re not bothered that one of the nearby
buildings is HQ to the Inland Revenue (boo!).
The Sleepy Jackson wander on and
starts setting up their gear before anyone’s really noticed. Having somewhat
enjoyed their debut album “Lovers”, I’m also aware of the slagging their
recent Leeds gig received at the hands of Tasty’s very own web primate SB.
Their new album’s a bit on the dull side too, so those wacky-haired
Antipodeans have everything to play for. The bad news is that Luke Steele
makes no attempt to engage the audience whatsoever, and his constant
fiddling with/swapping of guitars between each song foils any sense of
momentum. The sound is fairly muddy, and all the harmonies and
window-dressing in the world can’t disguise the ordinary nature of the songs
or bolster Steele’s razor-sharp yowl. Compared to their multi-layered studio
counterparts, “Good Dancers” and “God Lead Your Soul” just sound flat.
As if to test our patience still
further, the band embarks on a self-indulgent noise jam which, no doubt,
they regard as some supreme act of defiance in the face of adversity, and
our lack of interest and adoration. In reality, they just sound like a poor
man’s Sonic Youth. Best get back to the set-list, Luke. They do a muted
rendition of “Vampire Racecourse” and shuffle off to a smattering of light
applause. I almost feel sorry for them. And the final insult? My friend’s
verdict: “They’re totally GAY!” He’s from Canada, by the way.
Only the goofy charm of Evan Dando
can save the day now, possibly the only man alive who could look cool in a
striped top with flared sleeves. Apparently unconcerned with promoting the
imminent Lemonheads album, and with yet another fresh pair of faces on bass
and drums (where do the old ones go to die, I wonder?), we're treated to all
the classics tonight - "Confetti", "Shame About Ray", "Into Your Arms",
"Great Big No"...songs that occupy their own unique slot in musical history
and make me feel like I'm 14 again. Judging by the number of middle-aged
bods in attendance tonight, there are plenty of others fishing for some of
that nostalgia. The two new songs we do get to hear are no great departure
but are fun all the same, in a Neil Young/Dinosaur Jr kind of way, and Dando
seems just as at ease knocking out a solo rendition of "The Outdoor Type" as
he does rocking out with the band...maybe more so. Take note, Luke Steele,
for that is what they call "charisma".
Dingwalls is not the easiest place to find, tucked away
as it is from the main street in the bosom of Camden Lock. Still, if you can
make it past the drug dealers then you’re in for a right old treat as the
place has a really nice atmosphere, kind of like Koko but on a
smaller-scale. They also hold a famous comedy night there called “Jongleurs”
although I’ve never checked it out, preferring as I do the screams of
terrified children and pensioners over the patter of laughter. No, not
I’m on a solo mission this evening, with one friend
after another crying off wingman duties for some pathetic reason or other. I
start to wonder how the offer of free beer and free entry to a gig could be
misconstrued as me having contracted some contagious and disgusting disease
and not to come within five miles of my being if they know what’s good for
them. It doesn’t seem likely. Anyway…I don’t need ‘em…bunch of L-O-S-E-R-S!
I arrive on my lonesome to find the venue already pretty packed, with many
punters sitting cross-legged around the stage area as though taking part in
some hippy gathering. Let the tree-hugging commence!
If there were an acceptable meeting point between Keane
and Coldplay then Air Traffic would be it; pounding and occasionally jaunty
indie-lite played by nice young men with carefully styled hairdos. It’s not
the songs that stick in my memory rather than the individual tics of each
player: the drummer looks almost constipated with concentration and keeps
himself in time by doing that chewy John Bonham thing, the bassist’s hair
and t-shirt suggest he’d rather be in McFly, the guitarist sports a white
leather jacket and is almost a dead-ringer for the brother of a girl I used
to go out with, while the singer hammers away at his keyboard in earnest
fashion and cracks the odd joke with good-natured gusto. Nothing that would
get a band signed, you’d think, but the fact that they’re on EMI’s roster
proves that I know nothing about what record companies are really looking
In my opinion, if a band must have more then four
members then why not go hog wild? The Spinto Band have six which is a good
start, and when they take the stage and start jerking and leaping around in
that way it’s almost as though The Muppets have invaded, what with all those
wacky facial expressions and all that hair flying about. With three guitars,
keyboards, bass and drums competing for space, sending each song off in a
squillion different directions, it’s a wonder how they manage to organise
themselves to get anything written, never mind come up with such a startling
end product. They put me in mind of Pavement by way of The Beatles,
especially with those harmonies and that two-on-one mic action…the US
version of The Coral, perhaps?
Never mind that few of their tunes are quite as catchy
or emotionally engaging as “Oh Mandy”, or that at least one of the
shape-throwers plays to the gallery just a little too much for their good
(yes, I’m talking about YOU, Thomas Hughes!); just the sheer energy these
young bucks can pump out at will is enough to stop the attention-levels
flagging, and the fact that they can keep this up for a good hour is
impressive in itself.
We are promised an evening of entertainment with psych-pop guru Luke
Steele of The Sleepy Jackson like none you have experienced before. A bold
statement and one that ultimately holds true.
Luke is a man whose reputation precedes him. And then some. Renowned for
his rambling interviews where he loves to air his views on life, society and
religion, regardless of the interviewer's question. So a bit of a surprise
to see a rather subdued character sporting a very stolid black shirt and
jacket combo. In fairness this is counterpointed with a startling large
volumed bouffant hair style which wilts as the steaming air of the Cockpit
works its wonders, but I was expecting some kind of wailing banshee.
The venue itself, renowned for being a sweatpot, has now got some immense
fans and air conditioning units sorted. Which is interesting because I am
used to having my ears ringing after a gig, but not normally during it. The
constant hum makes any of the quiet parts of the set a little distracted but
I do manage to emerge at the end of the evening with my t-shirt relatively unscathed by
the ravages of sweat.
The set itself is made up of The Sleepy Jackson's trademark pop. Rather
than gently nodding an acknowledgement to the influence of Brian Wilson,
Steele has fully taken him by the hand, bear hugged him and robbed his loose
change from his trouser pocket. But the three way harmonies performed by the
three guitar players are the thing that manages to drag some otherwise
mediocre songs onto a higher level. As a performance, I thought it was pretty
ragged in places - botched changeovers between songs, lots of unwanted feedback and an
over-reliance on Steele's charisma. But bloody hell,
everyone else there seemed to love it. It was like the whole venue had been
lobotomised and had the void in the heads filled with an industrial measure
of Huxleyan soma. It seems there is still room for unapologetically upbeat
psychedelic pop these days, even in Leeds.
31.5.06 – London
At Cargo you can get a boiled egg
with soldiers for a quid.
They’re not exactly rigid with the
stage times though so it’s much to my surprise that we only arrive in time
to catch the last few numbers by the supporting act that aren’t Tits of
Death. Can’t recall their name unfortunately….all I can say is they seemed a
bit Primal Scream-y. No idea what Tits of Death sound like but they deserve
a mention for that name alone.
I first became aware of Radio 4 when
I saw the video for “Dance to the Underground” some years back. A cracking
tune and it’s much to my detriment that it’s still the only song of theirs
that I know. Tonight reveals that they have several other corkers in their
canon, although their secret weapon has to be percussionist P J O’Connor
who, when he’s not garnishing their grooves with bongos and cowbell, is
jumping around like a sweaty loon. It’s thanks to his exertions that band
and crowd find synergy after a slow start and proceedings really start to
take off. Always good to see someone enjoying their work, although the rest
of the band are certainly no slouches in that department.
Radio 4 has a reputation for being
better live than on record and this they duly demonstrate. A well-oiled
unit, they sound like a more danceable Clash and provide solid evidence as
to why “Rock the Kasbah” might not have been such a bad idea after all. It’s
certainly hard to keep one’s foot still and pockets of the audience are soon
jumping up and down with glee. If there was any real justice in the world,
these guys would be bigger than Franz Ferdinand. I’ll keep my fingers
22.5.06 - Birmingham Academy
Okay. Right. The gig's been moved to the smaller 'academy 2' venue. Did
they sell enough tickets? Who cares man I'm seeing fucking Dinosaur Jr!
"Jesus! This place is packed. Excuse me? Have you sold out tonight? You
have? Man this is going to be a good show!!!!"
And then it isn't.
I'm a big fan of the band and have been for a while. I was well chuffed
when they reformed so I could lay my hands on a reissue of 'Dinosaur'. They
walk onstage amongst half a dozen marshall stacks (did they really need all
those amps?!) to a VERY excited crowd.....And then they bugger about on the
stage for a few minutes sorting out their cables, etc. Not the hard hitting
opening I was hoping for personally.
Fuck it, who cares, they're playing 'Bulbs of Passion', now it's getting
good! But it doesn't. About 4 or 5 songs in it takes a serious nose dive.
There's no interaction with the crowd or energy, this is a bit
disappointing. They're not even going to play some of their best songs
because "Lou doesn't know how to play them". That's really not the kind of
response you want to hear from a band you never thought you'd get to see.
Despite that, they do play solidly, and those guitar solos still go on
forever. I don't think most of the crowd really cares whether they're on
form or not tonight, they're just happy Dinosaur Jr are playing again. But
the band really don't seem to be enjoying it. Lou seems to start thrashing
about every now and then, but that all packs in after one of his bass heads
breaks down. I'm glad that happened otherwise we wouldn't of seen the man
with funny hair who runs out to change the amp head. Heh heh! Funny hair!
The only thing that seems to make sense, is that Dinosaur Jr. aren't
cutting it as a headline act tonight. I would of thought they'd have enough
experience under their belt to carry themselves, but tonight the show just
isn't going anywhere good. The opening 5 songs or so would of been great if
they were supporting someone else. But they just can't seem to carry a 70
minute set, or seem bothered about wanting to carry it.
I pick up a flyer, "Holy shit! It's £16.50 advance for tonight" And I'm
really sad to say, that it just doesn't seem worth it for me (glad I got in
As they skulk off the stage without a word, I sip the last of my can of
extortionately priced carling. I wait five or so minutes while everyone else
chants: "More! More!" Fuck it. I'm off home. They're not coming back on.
They know it was a disappointing show. Saying that, I still listen to 'Bug'
all the way home. What an album!