gig reviews - march 07
Opening act The Dykeenies are fairly pleasant to listen to but nothing
outstanding. They sound like they should be playing in the background of The
OC or some other cheesy American programme. I'm sure they'll go down a treat
with anyone who likes The Killers but I found their performance static and
the songs easily forgettable amid the joy that followed.
Pull Tiger Tail take to the stage opening with the jagged angular rock of
'Mr 100%'. Comparisons to Bloc Party and We Are Scientists are inevitable
although probably justified, but you'd have to throw at least a dozen other
bands in there to cover the whole "sounds like ..." list. I can see how it
would be easy to dismiss these guys as another "by numbers" band on hearing
one or two songs, but this set is one of the most wonderfully diverse sets
I've seen a band play for quite a while. Sometimes the songs are led by
spiky delay-drenched guitars, sometimes electro-synth keyboards, sometimes
the thumping drumbeat drives the song. There are wonderful vocal melodies,
well-crafted musical hooks and singalong lyrics, it's the musical equivalent
of a schoolyard pile-on! While songs like the almost shoegaze-esque
'Hurricane' and the electro-pop 'Even Good Kids Make Bad Sports' show this
pony has a decent repertoire of tricks to show off, the real genius lies in
the catchy pop songs. 'Animator' is a perfect summer anthem that would make
even Victor Meldrew smile, but it's the beautiful soaring melodies of
current single Lets Lightning that provide a wonderful finale
One by one the members of the Get Cape family take the stage and despite
some early issues with the sound run through a series of tracks from their
recent album with well-rehearsed ease. The performance is a more
professional one than when I saw them live about 6 months ago. My main gripe
with GCWCF is the same one I had then; the music is brilliant and i respect
the guy for trying to promote a message, but there always seems to be a
point (or three) during a Get Cape gig where the message becomes more
important than the music and he spends a little too much time trying to get
his point across. Anyway, with the Billy Bragg-wannabe stuff out the window
Sam's free to carry on with what he does best, and it's a heaven for anyone
who loves to singalong at gigs, never more so than the final song of the
encore 'War Of The Worlds' where Sam challenges the crowd to see how far
through the song they can get without his help. He joins in halfway through
but I'm pretty sure they could manage the whole song!
On first impressions I’m not sure I
like The Scala that much as a venue. The performance area is a pit
surrounded by raised platforms, railings, and a sound cage at the rear,
all-in-all very much the kind of place more suited to an illegal
bare-knuckle boxing match than live music. Then again, it might just be
because this was a very packed and, therefore, cramped gig.
Support act Tucker is a man who
likes his loops. As one never-ending drone segues into another, he layers
further guitar and vocals over the top and tries to ignore the rising tide
of audience chatter that threatens to drown out his efforts. Fair enough,
his stuff is rather repetitive and not necessarily in a good way, but there
was no need for one wag to shout “You’re shit” at his retreating form.
The ABO keep us waiting a little
while, during which time more people come flooding in and things start to
get a little uncomfortable. For a start, I’m a few inches over 6 feet, so
how is it that I always get someone of equal or greater height stood
directly in front of me? It’s as though they do it on purpose, the bastards.
My friend and I promptly relocate to the rear-centre of the room, only for
two girls behind us to start complaining to each other about their view
being obscured. At least I think that’s what they were doing. Either way,
the best place for munchkins is down the front.
The Archies stride onstage, four
hairy oiks, and I look forward to seeing whether they can live up to their
reputation as a live act to be reckoned with. In truth, it takes until the
third song of their set, “Kink”, for them to warm up, but by that time
drummer Mark Cleveland is already dripping with sweat. Indeed, he is
probably the most visually interesting member, flailing away at his kit
whilst keeping perfect, heavy time. It’s a shame I can’t see him properly
without standing on tip-toe, what with having the back of someone’s head
mere inches from my left eye. Bassist/guitarist Dorian Hobday, meanwhile,
looks at times as though he’s in the grip of some religious fervour.
Singer Sam Windett is comparatively
restrained, although he can still produce some impressively emotive wailing
with what looks like the minimum of effort. It appears that he’s not a happy
bunny this evening, thanks to some sound issues. Twice he travels across the
stage between songs to reason with the engineer, and later even goes so far
as to suggest, half-jokingly, that any disgruntled punters should “rough him
up a bit”. As a first-timer, it sounds fine to me, but for the band the
frustration is obvious.
They should give themselves a break
though; their blend of ultra-heavy blues/jazz is toe-tappingly infectious.
“Darts for My Sweetheart”, for which they bring on a female vocalist, comes
alive in a way it never did on record, and pockets of devotees are moved to
leap around like they’ve got snakes in their boots. That lost momentum is
never quite recaptured, but that’s still no reason to categorise tonight’s
performance as a failure, especially as they’ve earned themselves at least
one new fan during the course of it.
A wise man once said "that joke isn't funny anymore" and that certainly
applies tonight, although some are unsure whether the GLC gimmick was ever
that funny in the first place. I felt a distinct sense Louis Theroux-esque
perplexedness as I watched the hundreds gathered guffaw and cheer at the
prospect of Maggot having "taken three shits before he came onstage", and
practically spitting their lager on each other over a raps about "grandma
sex", the menopause and failed attempts at football stardom.
Harmless but tedious.
If you thought you’d seen a performance like opener
Malcolm Middleton’s, ‘one-man and his guitar’, a hundred times before, then
you’d be wrong. Despite a slow, and slightly dull start, it became clear
that beneath the monotone and deadpan façade lay the heart of a true
comedian. Half way through the second song, the audience had cottoned onto
the dry humour lacing the otherwise melancholy and valium-inducing songs,
such as “We’re all going to die…”, and started to appreciate the act for
what it was. It’s really refreshing to hear a broad Scottish accent proudly
breaking its way out through a song, without being disguised behind a pseudo
yank drawl. What would have otherwise been categorised as fairly ordinary
commercial soft rock songs, were elevated above the rest by great guitar
interludes, clever tongue in cheek humour, and a Scottish lilt, making this
one act I’d recommend to go and see.
As for the main event, well, Badly Drawn Boy always
does exactly what he says on the tin. His image is as it always has been,
the hair and beard still firm fixtures beneath the woolly hat, and he’s
still writing and performing songs that can whip a crowd up into a
toe-tapping frenzy. The show was a finely tuned mixture of older hits,
instrumentals from About A Boy and a fair scattering of his newer releases,
including his single, ‘Born in the UK’ from his latest album. The audience
was quickly drawn into his catchy tunes, powerful instrumentals and the
intimate atmosphere created by the theatrical venue. Although I’m very
positive about the City Varieties as a venue (a feeling that I do not,
apparently, share with BDB; a point I shall return to in a moment) there is
a part of me that would have wanted to see him play at one of the chip shop
gigs he’d lined up for his tour. The choice of a chip shop as a gig venue
just seems to reflect his apparent down-to earth nature that comes across in
his shows. So why does BDB not like the City Varieties? Unfortunately, the
old theatre managed to deceive Mr. Gough from his vantage point on the
stage, into thinking that the sound quality was less than desired, which led
to several colourful outbursts and a flying guitar stand. It took a while
for me to figure out what he was bitching about; from the audience’s
perspective, we were just sitting back and enjoying the show. For the
onlookers though, the misunderstanding with the acoustics led to a pleasing
impromptu venture by BDB into the crowd. All I can say is that, if flying
guitar stands are the norm for bad acoustics in a theatre, I’m sorry that I
missed out on the potential food fight in the chip shop!
There is no doubt that BDB puts on a very good show
and, despite what he may have thought, the whole ‘sound problem’ episode
just added to the gig’s enjoyment as we, the audience, were made to feel
that we had been made a part of a performance that would stand apart from
the rest. The man’s a great songwriter, and although some of his new songs
may not be as catchy as his earlier work, his epic instrumentals have a
vibrancy to them that resonates right to your very core, and for me,
demonstrates where his true talent lies… All in all, a very enjoyable show.
I really don't think I need to tell anyone reading this about Malcolm
Middleton. It is likely that many amongst you will still be mourning the
demise of Arab Strap. He has grudgingly described his music, especially that
on his second album, as "a pop album for people who hate pop music’. Or
maybe ‘love songs for depressed people who worry too much about dying and
the consequences of their daily actions and thoughts to be able to enjoy
At the City Varieties, supporting Badly Drawn Boy, Malcolm Middleton was
very very good. His songs, mostly taken from his new solo album A Brighter
Beat are wonderful. All reflect Malcolm's awareness and experiences of the
darker parts of human relationships. They address depression, pain and
loneliness - especially well on most recent single A Brighter Beat. "It
takes a lot of desperation to make a move...but I'd rather sit and stare".
They still retain warmth and humour. They still suggest that whatever is
happening, there'll be no giving up. The songs displayed an awareness of
those topics that comes from experience and a will to carry on in spite of
It's nothing new to conceal these darker thoughts behind catchy pop music.
It still works and especially well when done with the panache and honesty of
Middleton. The songs are far from pish. They do suggest that he still has
his own battle with light and dark. I can't comment on which side is
winning, I don't think that's the point. The songs are very good. There's no
need to try and use any other angle to make things more interesting."
Heads We Dance
12.3.2007 - The Cockpit, Leeds
There's a lot of surly young folk about these days aren't there? If
they're not loitering inside parks behind their hoodies they're sneering
from the other side of the speaker in some rap record or just plain sulking
in their bedrooms. Not so tonight's protagonists Heads We Dance who are
pretty much the happiest-looking band I've ever come across.
Having seen HWD sporting all their assembled finery on their Myspace page
and giving a pretty good impression of a school staff room scene, minds were
racing as to what tonight would have in store. But from the opening of 'So
You Want To Stay at the Ritz' it was clear it was going to be Fun, with a
capital F. HWD are unapologetic in their love of the kitsch 80's pop sounds
of The Human League, Pet Shop Boys and Heaven 17 and it is this surety of
what they want to do that sees them succeed so well. The band are a well
drilled unit - the drums knock out unremitting patterns unerring in
accuracy, the bass bounces along in a wonderfully fluid yet retro way and
the only thing sharper than the starched creases on the front-man's shirt
collar are the synthy stabs coming from the keyboards.
This wonderfully flamboyant attitude spreads across the whole band who
all seem to be enjoying things suspiciously too much, especially the bass
player. There is the brief darker moment in the more jagged 'Let's Work It
Out' which certainly tips a nod to Siouxie & the Banshees but al the while
maintaining the indisputable glamorous qualities of the heads We Dance
Style. This track certainly sees a large number of the crowd dancing like
highly oiled robots - can there be any higher recommendation of the track?
The parpy 'Love in a Digital Age' is also well received but set closer 'The
Heads We Dance Theme' is a revelation - like a Rocky soundtrack or
motivational music from a Green Goddess fitness video. There a few low
points of the set which flies by (there was a short period where some of the
vocal harmonies sounded more like wails of pain from the drummer but I'm
pretty sure this lack of pitch was due to monitor problems, not a bad
Heads We Dance have achieved a slightly cheesey yet unfathomably
glamorous and energetic take on disco pop. They've blatantly stolen original
synth sounds from the likes of Human League and parts of 'So You Want to
Stay...' made me feel like I was watching a episode of The Tube from 1982,
but damn, it's great to watch.
3.3.07 - Sheffield University
Well I have to admit I wasn't too sure what to expect from this, I mean I
loved Ash "back in the day" (who didn't!) but I'd seen them live a couple of
times before and never really taken to them. So we arrived at Sheffield with
mild scepticism, and due to some horrendous traffic en route a little too
tardy for the support band. Still we quickly grabbed a drink and weaved our
way through the heaving mass of limbs as close to the front as we could
manage. It's not too long before the lights go down and a wall of noise
coalesces into the frantic opening of "Lose Control" as the crowd do
precisely that, giving in to sheer joy that only increases with "Burn Baby
Burn". At some point during this opening salvo I remember to check my
scepticism only to find it jumping up and down and singing out loud
There's a considerable back catalogue to run through so it's not a surprise
that some old (“Angel Interceptor”) and not quite so old (“Shining Light”)
favourites get left behind, but it's worth noting that the older stuff
sounds as good as ever. During "Goldfinger" and "Oh Yeah" you can close your
eyes and feel like it's the summer of 1996 again; playing footy in the park,
eating ice cream and watching England stuff Holland, great days! By rights
the later tracks should sound, well, a bit odd without Charlotte there but
in truth they don’t, if anything the sound is more energetic, more
streamlined, back to the basics that made 1977 such a classic album.
"Orpheus" and "Walking Barefoot" have the same sing-along quality as "Girl
From Mars". The most noticeable aspect of the sound tonight is Tim Wheeler's
much-maligned voice. I've often heard people remark about what an average
singer he is, but there's no evidence of that tonight, with some strong
singing clear and loud in the mix. Of course having a few hundred people
singing along word for word can only help! Without a doubt the highlight of
the set is a belt-busting "Life Less Ordinary", it's a perfect rendition of
a perfect song! Kudos as well to the skinny homeboy in the XXL baseball
shirt doing gangsta rap hand gestures to “Girl From Mars”, you made me
It would be easy to get lost in the enthusiasm surrounding the return to the
old line-up (indeed a quick glance at the merch stand indicates a statement
of intent with the majority of t-shirts, etc carrying the 1977 label), but
I'm here in another capacity and this gig is in essence part of a "hey,
remember us" tour preceding a new album, of which there's a selection of
tracks on show tonight. "You Can't Have It All" is to be the first single
off the forthcoming long-player, which is somewhat of a surprise to me as
it's easily the weakest of the new songs and probably the weakest in the
whole set. With it's Police-esque guitar riff "Roulette" is catchy in all
the right ways though and goes back to the big sing-along chorus formula
that's served the boys so well thus far; give people a few more listens of
this and I'm sure it'll be a crowd favourite. "Polaris" has a darker mood
and a Jimmy Eat World air about it and demonstrates a song writing maturity
that sits well alongside the more familiar poppy-rock songs and complements
them nicely with a touch of variety. The set comes crashing to an end with
the new album closer "In Hell" which is just fucking immense!
The now customary encore begins with a fantastic rendition of "Petrol",
possibly the most fun song in the world, and finishes with an extended bout
of "Kung Fu" action that ensures everyone leaves with that warm glowy
feeling that you get when you made the mad dash to the ice cream van and got
the last screwball ... oh wait, I’m back in 96 again.
Burn Baby Burn
You Can’t Have It All
A Life Less Ordinary
Girl From Mars
I Started A Fire
First impressive feat of the night is all six band
members managing to squeeze themselves onto the modest sized stage, and
still having room for their beanie clad lead singer to throw a few shapes.
Second impressive feat is a violin on stage. Not often you see that
nowadays, and it’s definitely not often that it’s used as the main
instrument in several songs. Hats off indeed.
At first glance, Tarka Groove Experiment are the kind
of people you see sitting around at festivals playing bongos and getting
deep and meaningful. Give them some proper instruments and put them on stage
though, and a beautiful thing unfolds. They’re actually rather talented, and
produce some glorious jazz/funk/pop songs. Musically, the band are faultless
and their multi-layered harmonies would be far better suited to an open
space than this tiny music room. They even manage to loosen up the so tight
it hurts indie audience with a cheeky sing a long. Subtly complex, this band
definitely requires a second glance.
Snowfight At The City Centre take the stage with a somewhat restrained
air about them, but their opening track immediately grabs my attention with
its pounding drums and soaring vocals and it is genuine disappointment I
feel when a generator failure takes out the PA halfway through the first
song. There's a few minutes of awkwardness as the sound engineers try to fix
the generator and the band appear rather embarrassed by the whole affair.
Thankfully, we're back underway a few minutes later and its easy to forget
myself in the music once more. The guitar and keyboard lines mingle with a
number of vocal harmonies in a wonderfully orchestrated manner somewhat
reminiscent of Doves, and yet there's a hint of something more poppy in
there too, one name that springs to mind is Rock Kills Kid. To me this
band's set falls somewhere between the two and it's wonderful stuff, almost
post-rock pop, definitely ones to keep an eye on!
To tell the truth this is the busiest I've seen The Social for some time now
and most people are here to see these up and coming kids from Bournemouth
known as Air Traffic. Confident starter "I Like That" has an enthusiastic
air about it that you can't help but open yourself up to, and previous
single "Never Even Told Me Her Name" grabs you by the ears with a catchy
(albeit quo-esque) guitar riff. Any fears that this band are just another
bunch of <insert piano-led indie band here>-wannabes are allayed by "This
Old Town", with its tribal drums and spectacular outro, and an almost grungy
"Get In Line". There's more to keep you entertained, each song is catchy in
its own right ("New Guitar" being a particular favourite of mine). Yes, this
is a young band who seem to have the knack of writing catchy hooks and
Despite having really strong vocals, between songs singer Chris Wall
comes across as humble and genuinely pleased/surprised that people are
interested! Its an endearing trait that I for one hope stays with the band
during the success they will undoubtedly experience over the coming months.
Current single "Charlotte" is a classic pop song in every sense of the
word, its beauty lies in its simplicity and it makes you want to singalong
and dance. It's a good time in musical form! Closing with the frantic (and
possibly Jools Holland-inspired) piano solo of "Just Abuse Me" leaves
everyone wanting more, but that’s all for now and I can't help but feel that
the next time these guys tour they'll be playing bigger venues than this!
Forget about whether it's treading new ground or not, and forget the
Keane-related lazy comparisons, this is a band enjoying themselves, playing
to a crowd enjoying themselves. Isn't that what music should be about?
Shouldn't music just be allowed to make us smile sometimes? Air Traffic
certainly seem to think so, and on this performance I can't argue with them,
I’m too busy having fun!
Air Traffic Setlist
I Like That
Never Even Told Me Her Name
This Old Town
Get In Line
Time Goes By
Just Abuse Me
4.3.07 -Norwich Arts Centre
Generally I ignore the support bands in a gig review unless they really
are worth of note. And this time both really were worth a few words. First
up was Bobby Cook. He and his band delivered songs full of warm summer
melodies and smooth grooves, each song was bouncy and enjoyable, harking
back to all that is great about British indie guitar music, Bobby Cook is
well worth checking out. Next up were Absentee, whose lead singer sounded as
I would imagine a wise old grisly bear would. His luxurious deep rough tones
accompanied country tinged tunes each with the charming character to boot.
Now then…Brakes, the true meaning of a super group! Each member of the
band brings their own style and attitude from their original bands to the
Brakes, making for a refreshing blast of brilliant music, a genre in its own
right. The set comprised of the majority of their debut album Give Blood,
interspersed with their new album The Beatific Visions. Their songs are as
long as they need to be; long enough to pick the audience up shake them up a
bit and put them back down. Packed full with Eamon’s aggressive; grab you by
the balls lyrics set comfortably around the bands brilliant riffs, led by
Tom White on guitar, who managed to get through a total of four guitars. The
Brakes really get in the blood, their lyrics are easy to pick up, bounce and
sing along to, each song delivers a message, plain, simple and raw. Their
music is certainly experienced best live. Eamon, smaller in stature than I
imagined but hardly short of heart, has a frank stage presence, identifying
and engaging with the audience, he was dripping by the end of the set
leaving a satisfying puddle of sweat on stage and still after a good 20 plus
songs I couldn’t get enough of their short, sharp rasps of anger ‘All Night
Disco Party’ and ‘Comma Comma Full Stop’ are delivered in a way so totally
brilliant it physically makes my shake thinking about them as I write this
review listening to their music, each song gets under the skin, engrained in
the brain. I urge you to lock yourself in a small room, crank up the volume
and go nuts to their original sound. It was certainly the best gig of 2007
and standing right at the front of the stage still wasn’t quite close
enough. The Arts Centre proved the perfect venue for this brilliant gig.
It’s going to take something special to beat it! Fan-bloody-tastic!
(read my fanzine FUNKY AS FUDGE!)
There are some shows that you just
can’t pass up the opportunity to write about and this is one of them.
Eccentric balladeer Jim’ll has decided to go to the effort of dressing up
like a giant Smurf this evening, blue body paint and everything. It is, he
informs us, still wet. The second most memorable thing about Jim’ll is the
subject matter of his songs rather than the songs themselves - one of them
is about sharing photo-space with Damon Albarn in the NME, for instance,
although “Take Some Drugs”, with its kiss-off line “…and don’t drink”, still
The Argonauts not only have as many
songwriters as they do members (3) but also their very own Bez in the shape
of Mick Badger, Jagger impersonator extraordinaire (well, how else do you
top a Smurf?), who comes on to strut his not entirely sober stuff for one
number. Curious parties would do well to check out You Tube, but let’s not
allow the music to be sidelined.
Having recently lost a keyboard
player, The Argonauts sound doesn’t seem to have suffered much because of
it. It’s still summery pop all the way, be it in the form of the amiable
“We’ve Got a Fire” or the more swinging “What Happened To You?” Drummer
Terry’s contributions, whilst favouring drive over melody, give the set yet
more range…I get the impression he’d like to rock out a bit more often.
Perhaps if The Argonauts can combine all these elements, they might turn
even more heads.
The Enter Shikari experience is a cross between a day
in playschool, (albeit a slightly twisted playschool that would probably get
shut down), and Braveheart.
Yourcodenameis: Milo, apart from plugging their
upcoming headline show to death, deliver an energised set. They showcase a
rather impressive trick whereby instead of the tempo being controlled by
their drummer, the band speed up and slow down according to the speed of
their upward body movement. They also must have telepathic communication
down pat, as they do it without even looking at each other. It’s the first
of many entertaining dance moves.
After struggling for few years, YCNI:M finally seem to
have found their niche, and new songs suggest the band are heading for a
more melodic feel, but their heavier material is also out in force.
New-rave seems to have found Enter Shikari, grabbed
them by the neck, and is refusing to let go. As the lights go down the
flashing lights and glowsticks are on, with the place looking more like a
rave than a gig. After an intro of a club classic that is probably lost on
most of the audience, the band take to the stage, with flashing glasses and
a master class in throwing shapes.
Lead singer Rou seems physically incapable of keeping
still, and stands in one place for approximately three seconds at a time,
before leaping about the stage again. Clearly he’s had his hands in the
sweet jar when mum wasn’t looking.
Enter Shikari are certainly a good influence on their
young impressionable audience, telling us that they’re “off their tits on
life” and that “it’s all about respect”. They even perform a public service
duty by chucking condoms into the crowd, while explaining “Johnny Sniper”.
As the show progresses in the ridiculously hot venue,
only the fittest survive. “Endurance” was the message from the band, but
little guys everywhere were getting tuckered out and dropping to the floor
at the back for a nap. I also suspect there were more than a few trips to A
and E the next day.
Enter Shikari have a basic blueprint for their songs-
a minute or so of trance or dance, and then into a rip roaring screamer of a
song with sludgy bass lines and a large dollop of vocal chord tearing
screaming. Their one acoustic number sees some complex vocal harmonies that
work well, but it’s clear it’s a novelty, with the guitarist claiming he’d
never played an acoustic before.
As far as entertainment goes, the band ticks all the
boxes for putting on a successful show. Although their fusion of dance and
hardcore is interesting, there is often an obvious segue between the two in
their songs, and they rarely blend them together successfully. There are
brief displays of quirky brilliance in some of their songs, such as a
handclap or a tempo change. More often than not though these are lost in the
general noise the band generate.
Whether or not they have the potential to do more is
debatable, but for now there is many a satisfied face emerging from the pit.
And mum’s outside waiting to pick them up.
It turns a bit wet and wild during
the Linda’s Nephew set as the lead singer strips shirtless to reveal his
willowy youngster frame, making everyone in the room over eighteen years of
age sweat to the thought of arrest for attending a public viewing of some
swanky brand of musical kiddy-porn. We remain in a dim corner of the room to
save our eyesight from the blinding display. The common teenage angst is
conquered by computer game-esque keyboards and every song sounds like the
last one; maybe it’s because Linda’s Nephew work hard at looking like they
work hard or they’re only working hard with one type of song. Personally, I
cannot tell. I’m sightless due to the surprise teenage nudity. Rest assured,
there are no surprises, and it sounds exactly like what you might think
today’s youngsters might sound like, if that means pop punk mixed with
keyboard infused space-age landings and futuristic folk rain dances in the
land of Zelda. The sonic meltdown of crashing instruments and wiggling
bodies spread about the stage signal their close, which was clearly the most
satisfying musical aspect of their set, poor little ones.
I should have done my homework. As
soon as I Was a Cub Scout begin to assemble on stage I realize that I have
no idea what I Was a Cub Scout sounds like and neither does anyone around
me. So we’re all a bunch of lazy bastards. I’m a bit taken away by the
contour of Toddy’s picka-boo curls that ever so slightly form that
archetypal Appalachian mullet; his patterned shirt costume him charmingly
comedic, and he looks like he has just bounced out of an American Midwestern
barn house bust with a minor case of cabin fever; but it’s not that
distracting. He tampers a bit with some keyboards and fades in and out with
the microphone to squeak in some heartache here and there. I search about
the stage for a third member, who must be in charge of the keyboards, but
no, it’s just the two. The magnificent musical jubilation that erupts from
these two is nothing less than marvelous. The accessible thumping of William
at the drums keeps the wandering, explosive keyboard outbursts grounded
without taking any of the magic away. It remains dance-friendly without the
aggressive amount of insubstantial repetition; it twinkles with subtle
changes but occasionally exposes sudden, climactic cloudbursts. Highlights
include “Pink Squares” and soon to be released, “I Hate Nightclubs.” It’s
modest without sounding weak, and it’s whimsical without sounding out of
step, and it’s simply fondly redeeming.
click thumbnail to open full size photo in new window
As an avowed British pop fanatic, I
feel as if I haven’t given Tullycraft the proper attention over the years
that they deserve. When a Tullycraft fanatic friend snarkily replied, “I
don’t expect you to!” to me when I said I didn’t listen to them much, I
wanted to thwack him, but really, I should have thought why haven’t I
properly fallen for this group from my own country. It’s probably because my
eye is always on the great UK that I don’t appreciate as much American indie
I still felt a great sense of
excitement at seeing Tullycraft this Friday night. After all, it was only
one of two shows they were playing this weekend in the Midwest after getting
an offer to play a music festival at Beloit College in Wisconsin. The show
I attended saw them tacked on to the bill of the Apples in Stereo and Casper
and the Cookies at the last minute, and they proved to be the stars of the
The band were charming, vivacious,
fun as hell, and embodied the DIY indie pop spirit in spades. It was all
hyper jangle guitar and girl-boy vocals and melodica and tambourine. The
singer, Sean, was on stage just how he sounds on record - kind of bashful,
cute, witty, and with loads of stories and records up his sleeve.
It was ace to see a bunch of people
dancing – how could you not dance to all this rambunctious fun? The kids
went nuts to “Twee,” of course, and “Wild Bikini” as well. And ever since
the show, I’ve had “Miss Douglas County” in my head.
And what fabulous news! They’ve
nearly finished recording a new album, from which they played a few new
songs. One had audience participation requested, in which much of the
audience sang, “and if you take away their makeup, then the vampires, they
will die.” And damn if the new songs don’t all sound like totally classic
Tullycraft. They’re not sitting down with an acoustic guitar and singing
about the settled life.
Amazingly, they were the first band
on the bill. They were followed by the atrocious Casper and the Cookies,
who desperately want to be a psych-pop E6 band, but come off as embarrassing
Then Apples in Stereo came on.
Well, when I say “came on” I mean well after Robert futzed around with
setting up guitar pedals for about 15 minutes after the band had finished
setting up. This was followed by an extended wait period in which he and
the band went upstairs. Their return couldn’t have been more
anticlimactic. When they finally got playing, Robert kept whinging to the
soundwoman that his vocals weren’t as audible as the other band members,
could she fix it, could he switch microphones with this bandmate or the
other, etc. After the plug ‘n’ play super fabulous energy of Tullycraft,
the Apples in Stereo were just coming off as sad old plods.
But it was ace to see Dressy Bessy
John on guitar, who never fails to put a smile on my face with his snappy
dress sense. Plus, Bill of Olivia Tremor Control graced us with his sweet
vocals on keyboards and tambourine. I didn’t need to see the end of their
set to have had my night made by the pop goodness of Tullycraft.
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When I say that Chicago is a bit
butch and in love with all that is abstract, difficult, and rock, and thus
not a haven for indie pop, please believe me when I try to express my utter
thrill after learning that Saturday Looks Good to Me were playing a show the
night after Tullycraft. Not even a winter storm could keep me away from the
hidden, difficult-to-get-to Hideout.
The Hideout has a wonderfully
intimate atmosphere that reminds me a lot of a British pub’s back room – the
scene of many of the best gigs and clubs I’ve been to and read about in the
When SLGTM came onstage around 11pm,
clad all in white, the room was full of people ready to clap their hands. I
was also glad to see SLGTM’s best female singer, Betty Marie Barnes, with
them. A beautiful girl with a soulful voice, she’s a total diva who worked
the stage in a vintage mod dress, pulling some sharp 60s moves.
Surprisingly, she didn’t sing “Meet Me By the Water” – Fred did!
I really enjoy SLGTM live much more
than I do on record. Fred’s voice just sounds stronger, and they are much
fuller sounding, achieving that soulful wall of sound that doesn’t quite
make it for me on record. There’s not so much tinkling around with
different effects and almost getting there. Live, they just do.
They played a few new songs as the
new record is finished and will be coming out on K records later this year!
They also did a cover of Belle & Sebastian’s “Dylan in the Movies” which was
unexpected, but really quite ace. My highlight was “Edison Girls,” a
standout on the How Does it Feel to be Loved compilation from last year; a
song which sent me into whirls around the room.