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gig reviews - mar/apr 08


 
 

We Are Scientists
22.4.08 – Southampton Guildhall 

Take eight chicken breasts, 60 eggs, two to four sit-ups, a city full of boats, and a dubious sleeveless garment and what do we have? Only the Southampton leg of We Are Scientists’ Back in Style tour! So as the over-excitable and somewhat fashion-challenged band roll into town with a tour bus big enough to rival the Queen Victoria currently residing at the docks, is it a beautiful creation or a sticky mess? 

W.A.S’s chicken, egg and occasional sit-up routine in preparation for this tour seems to have worked a treat, as has whatever  regime their lighting guy’s been on, as all the colours of the rainbow are paraded for our corneal pleasure this evening, in striking synchronisation. Their sound engineer, however, seems to have missed his eggs, and sleeps through the first few songs, resulting in a rather unpalatable tinny background noise.  

Luckily though someone gives him a swift kick and early problems are rectified allowing W.A.S. to produce a colossal sound complete with raving synths, thunderstorm-esque drums, and those unique W.A.S. vocal harmonies, all packaged up into a collection of juggernauting tracks. 

Whilst new album Brain Thrust Mastery is little more than an extension of their first outing, it’s been a dramatic time for the band during their hiatus, with many consigning W.A.S to the one album scrapheap. After losing a third of the band when their drummer left, they’ve still yet to name a permanent replacement, but the four men on stage certainly look and act like a complete band, even if only two of them are original scientists.  

Wheeling out hit after hit, the band blast through their set, occasionally indulging in a little band member to band member obscure banter that provokes a collective ‘huh’ from the audience.

Faster, louder, stronger, W.A.S. are most definitely a band better heard live than tweaked in the studio. ‘Nobody Move’, ‘After Hours’ and ‘Callback’ are highlights, as is lead singer Keith Murray’s foray into the audience, resulting in severe ravaging from some over enthusiastic female fans. The man’s got grey hair and was wearing a sleeveless shirt... surely he’s more of an embarrassing dad figure than a heart throb? 

Despite coming on at 9:15pm and claiming to be playing ‘til 11, the band slink off at 10:30 having exhausted themselves and the audience, with the sound of a triumphant comeback ringing in their ears.

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Clinic + Threatmantics + Two Minute Noodles
11.4.08 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 

For a band that just consist of drums and an organ, Leeds' Two Minute Noodles make a pretty hefty sound, coming across like Satan's own lift music. They've certainly got one of the most unique sounds I've heard in ages: like a church organist who only plays covers of the themes to Commadore 64 games. Their hardcore-lounge stylings are surprisingly catchy, and while their one trick wears a bit thin after 5 or 6 songs, its still a very satisfying one.

Now I'm ashamed and humbled to say, I missed the beginning of Threatmatic's set, which was a shame as what I did catch was quite tasty. Songs clatter and stomp with menace, and show that just because you're folksy, it doesn't mean you can't rock out. If Gorky's had listened to more Led Zeppelin whilst growing up then they might have sounded like this.

And so to Clinic. Liverpool's finest are on their 6th album now, and have a surprisingly rabid following for such an underground band, some of whom have even decided to mimic their surgical get-up (its Hawaiian-surgeons for this tour incidentally, in case you were interested). I guess the devotion isn't that hard to understand really, because you see, behind all the wigged-out weirdness, Clinic are secretly one of the UKs best pop bands. Which is why hearts audibly sink when they announce they're going to be playing 'Do it!', their latest album, in its entirety. Its not that its a bad album or anything ('Memories' for example, is a belter: glam stomp one minute, sad lament the next) its just not an especially engaging album, compared to some of its predecessors. Its a Clinic album basically, and I've already got five of those. Live, a few of the new songs take on a bit more vim and vigour, but most simply drift by. Thankfully though, the band have chosen to play a second set of old stuff afterwards. Its not exactly, 'all the hits', but its a few well-chosen tunes, from their past which remind you what an awesome and varied band Clinic can be. 'Second Line' (still the funkiest slow song, or slowest funky song ever written) is greeted like 'My Sharona' at a Knack gig. 'Family' still sounds grim and nasty. Those Clinic boys; they don't make it easy to love them, but if you put the hours in they'll make it worth your while.

Andy Glynn

 
 

Elbow
5.4.08 – Carling Academy, Newcastle 

From the moment Elbow take the stage it is clear that this is going to be a polished performance by a band at the peak of its powers. As many bands do they start the show with the opener from the new album ‘Starlings’, complete with one note trumpet blasts and flashes of white light. 

The other songs from ‘Seldom Seen Kid’ are performed with Elbow’s characteristic mix of high emotion and down to earth realism. The particular stand out track from the new album is ‘Grounds For Divorce’ with its airy prelude to the dirty, grinding guitar riff. Tonight the song is brought to life by Garvey who, when not singing, adds percussion by hammering repeatedly on a long thin piece of metal suspended from his left hand toward the floor.

Garvey is not your average frontman. Tonight he is dressed smartly in a black shirt but still looks somewhat dishevelled. He exudes a calm composure that is infectious and is not above casting himself as the fool or the butt of the joke in his lyrics. He has a real presence on stage and, unlike many, does not overphysicalise the music. In many ways he reminds me of Morrissey, he has that kind of distinguished statesman air about him. He enquires after every song “Is everyone still OK?” and sounds as though he is genuinely interested. 

Other highlights of the evening include the storming ‘Newborn’ whose epiphany threatens to take the roof clean off the place. Elsewhere ‘Leaders Of The Free World’ swaggers along impressively and is warmly received, especially during the cathartic chanting of the end refrain “Passing the gun from father to feckless son”. As they move through their back catologue I am reminded how many truly great songs they have to their name.  

The only slight disappointment from a personal point of view was that they didn’t play more from ‘Cast Of Thousands’ but there is more than enough quality throughout the night to make this largely insignificant. And when you have ‘Grace Under Pressure’ as a closer it’s a pretty cast-iron guarantee that everyone is leaving on a high. The repetition of the line “We still believe in love so fuck you” is a fitting end to a consummate performance.  

Richard Ash

 
 

The Long Blondes + XX Teens
8th April 2008 - Manchester Academy 2

Prior to a legal showdown with their namesake photocopying corporation, the artists formerly known as Xerox Teens were making quite a name for themselves. So although tonight's show sees their avant garde sounds strangely juxtaposed alongside the radio friendly retro repertoire of the headliners, it's nevertheless an ideal opportunity to discover if the hype has any basis in reality. Live, they are regimented and symmetrical, but to paraphrase, the joy of repetition really isn't in them. Arrogantly omitting their latest and greatest single release, the paranoid prototype hip-hop of 'How To Reduce The Chances Of Being A Terror Victim', their set climaxes with the tambourines, kettle drums and speed metal guitars of 'Darlin'', as the transient experimentalism of XX Teens is lost in translation on stage.

And in a flourish of fanfares, the coolest band to come out of Sheffield so far this decade take to the stage. Feel free to disagree, Alex Turner, but remember that arrogance is no guarantee of talent, so who's to say that you're not writing cheques that your skinny jean clad arse can't cash, eh, EH!?! Led by Kate Jackson, an iconic post punk Madonna, the five non Long Blondes launch into their latest single 'Century', featuring the postmodern production of indie disco overlord Erol Alkan. It's lyrics (“once futuristic change / now nostalgic knockdown / out of sync / out of fashion”) belie everything that the band believe in. Because in no way have they kissed goodbye to the yesteryear fantasies of their breakthrough singles. The Sheffield quintet's new material is all bone shaking bass and tribal Siouxsie rhythms. But as ever, the most rapturous reception is reserved for tracks from their debut album 'Someone To Drive You Home': The cautionary teenage tale of 'Once And Never Again' (“another drama by the kitchen sink tonight / you said you'd cut yourself whilst washing up the knives”). the intercity transportation anthem 'Separated By Motorways' (“wipe your eyes darling, it’s OK / meet me on the dual carriageway ”), and of course Giddy Stratospheres (“there's a train at the station / it's leaving this morning / it'll take you away from / this girl that's so boring ”). Moving swiftly on to the inevitable encore, 'Lust In The Movies' showcases the style over substance of their sassy sixties pop and sexy seventies disco sounds.

Benjamin Thomas

 
 

Efterklang + Phil McMinn + Mewgatz
4.4.08 - The Bullingdon, Oxford 

Picture the scene – one night you’re playing at the majestic Queen Elizabeth Hall dreaming of all that lies ahead whilst wiping the sweat from your brows with fragrant, freshly washed towels. Two nights later you find yourselves in the back room of a rough and ready Oxford boozer wiping yourself down with hastily provided toilet paper having changed in your tour van due to the lack of any type of dressing room – that’s the world of touring I guess. 

An eleventh hour line up change sees Mewgatz and Phil McMinn added as support in place of the recently deported Peter Broderick. 

Mewgatz open proceedings with what has been described as “delicate but damaging” electronica. Sounding as ramshackle as you’d expect from one man attempting to play a cheap Yamaha keyboard at the same time as a range of child-like instruments, there is however an air of beauty present in the sounds emerging and the crowd soon become absorbed in the restrained and tender vocals.  

Phil McMinn has certainly experienced the harsher side of the music business in recent years but rising like a phoenix from the ashes of Fell City Girl, his current band The Winchell Riots look set to tread a very successful route into the hearts of the nation’s music lovers. Playing solo and acoustically tonight allows the audience to experience his incredible voice in all its stripped down glory. Climaxing with the extraordinary ‘Red Square’ the lyric “I’ve never seen a light this bright for years” seems aptly appropriate.  

Efterklang, reduced in numbers due to the afore-mentioned deportation, are certainly here to enjoy themselves, and their beaming smiles alone light the dimly lit room. Oozing charm from every pore the audience are soon swept along on an incredible musical journey, admiring a range of beautifully constructed melodies and harmonies. Missing violin players are replaced by whistling whilst the required sound effects of the wind are expertly recreated by an ever participating audience. The applause is rapturous as the British leg of the tour is completed in spectacular style.

Mark Whiffin

 
 

City & Colour
4.4.2008 - Wedgwood Rooms Portsmouth 

As it neared 8pm the queue outside the Wedgwood Rooms stretched back as far as the eye could see. The lucky man who was right at the front had been standing there since 3.30pm, just to make sure he was the first in. The reason for this was Dallas Green - a man with a voice that could make a grown man cry. As people poured into the chair filled venue, all trying to get the best seat in the place, the anticipation was unbearable, waiting for the man of the moment to grace the stage.

Support act Attack In Black set the tone for the gig; their alternative rock sound, very similar to that of bands like Modest Mouse, being well received by the crowd. Attack In Black even pointed out the fact that it was very odd to see the whole crowd seated, which the audience agreed with. The biggest reception the band got, however, was when Dallas Green joined them on stage for their closing two songs, the excitement level then reaching fever pitch as everyone knew what they had been waiting for was drawing ever closer.  

Finally the man of the hour appeared on stage, acoustic guitar in hand, and launched straight into his set. At first he appeared very nervous and shy, only stopping to tune his guitars, but once Dallas was into the swing of things the crowd interaction began. Taking time out to have a dig at British boy bands like Take That and Boyzone, he even dealt with the problem of people shouting out from the crowd by telling stories of previous shows. This had the two-fold effect of amusing as well as humiliating the person who was bold enough to shout out. Dallas Green treated the crowd to songs from both ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Bring me your love’ which was to everyone’s delight. He even threw in a treat for all the die hard Alexisonfire fans by playing an acoustic version of ‘Boiled Frogs’ which inspired the crowd to start singing the chorus back to the singer/song writer. This was enough to send shivers running down your spine. 

Once the set had finished Dallas left the stage to a rapturous applause, only to return to play the perfect show closer in his classic ‘Comin’ Home’. It was the moment which produced the biggest smiles on everyone’s face. For the fans in the Wedgwood Rooms it was the night they had witnessed a beautiful voice coming from simply a magnificent man. By the time the show closed, every man in the audience wanted to be Dallas Green and every woman wanted to be with him. As the happy crowd left the venue, you could tell that each and every one was in awe of what they had just witnessed and were very, very satisfied to have been a part of it.

Tim Birkbeck

 
 

The Maybes
28.3.2008 - Cardiff, Barfly 

It’s perhaps wrong of me to assume that all bands from Liverpool will be good (we’ll ignore Sonia’s contributions to 80’s pop). After all, they’ve breathed the same - or very similar air - to The Beatles. Therefore, they must be pop-royalty before they even leave the city. The Maybes? confronted Cardiff with a wall of guitars. Quite literally, four guitarists stood in line in front of the drummer. They looked ordinary enough, without a pair of skinny jeans in sight on stage. These boys don’t need indie fashion, they have talent as we were about to find out.  

Their confidence and enthusiasm exuded from the stage. As The Maybes? played their set, track ‘Talk About you’ certainly got people moving: tarted up Friday-night-party girls began side-stepping around their handbags, whilst indie boys nodded in appreciative unison to these Liverpool likely-lads: everyone was paying attention. Lead singer, Nick Ellis belted out his well-written and killer-hooked indie-pop with his huge gob. The bassist stomped, the drummer battered and there was even a glimpse of a lap-steel!  

The finale, ‘Promise’, was hypnotic, epic even, with its dance-influenced riff. The Maybes? had the audience in the sweaty palms of their musical hands. As the instrumental track climaxed, The Maybes? paused slightly before kicking into a striding finish: the audience even collectively gasped, followed by prolonged applause and cheering. Brillaint!  

As they finished and began to pack up, there was a stir. People were reaching into their pockets and parting with their money to buy CDs at the end. Yes, people were paying. Nick Ellis schmoozed with the Welsh girls and shook people’s hands whilst chatting about how great Cardiff was and promising to head out into the city’s nightlife. 

These Liverpudlian lads were charming, staying true to everything great about British music and doing Liverpool proud. There is no ‘maybe’ about it: these boys are onto something.  

Jenny Williams

 
 

Sky Larkin + Land of Talk + Menomena
27.2.08 - KCLSU 

If you were to judge them purely by the contents of their Myspace page, the trio that comprise Sky Larkin are no mere veterans of touring but battle-scarred warriors of the road. They’ve supported such esteemed acts as Broken Social Scene, The Gossip, and Architecture in Helsinki as well as touring Sweden…not bad for a trio from Leeds. Still, their stage-presence (or lack of) belies their experience…singer/guitarist Katie’s vocals struggle to assert themselves over their indie-rock lite when she’s not offering up awkward thanks or titles, whilst Douglas on the bass grimly keeps his head down. Thank God then for drummer Nestor who approaches the job in hand much like an angry terrier might hurl itself at an exposed trouser leg. Of course, that’s not necessarily reason enough to recommend them but a tune called “Matador” vaguely lingers in my memory even now. 

Land of Talk kicks things up a notch. Quite simply, they’re the T-1000 to Sky Larkin’s clunkier prototype. They might not have a mental drummer but Elizabeth Powell does have a penchant for sticking her tongue out when things get particularly rockin’ and her voice cuts through the guitar noise with ease. It’s a great voice too…like Juliana Hatfield or Gemma Hayes with added angst. Perhaps the only thing they’re missing is that one killer tune, although all the songs are decent and you can’t help but be slightly mesmerised by the intensity of the performance. This is what happened when a female singer-songwriter decides to throw down her acoustic and go all math-rock, and I can’t help but approve. For the moment Land of Talk are your definitive 7/10 type of band…let’s wait and see what happens. 

Well, what actually does happen next is that a voice starts to calmly and repeatedly ask us to evacuate the building. Menomena is in the middle of setting up and I initially think this is part of their act. Judging by all the other confused expressions on display I’m not the only one, but eventually we’re all herded outside into the chilly night air where bands and crowd mingle whilst the problem is investigated. It’s late, it’s cold and I’m tempted to leave but my friend convinces me to stick it out the wait, and in the end it’s worth it. I’m not sure how to describe Menomena’s music or who to liken them to, but they’re a funny, talented bunch of guys who like to swap instruments mid-song and manage to do so without looking as though they’re merely showing off. Guitars, sax, keyboards and drums, all played in symphonic style by just three people. My advice would be to catch them live next time they’re in town – you won’t regret it.

Will Columbine

 
 

Bricolage + Strange Idols + The Mare
14.3.08 - Twee As Fuck @ The Buffalo Bar London

Twee As Fuck has very fast become London’s very best proper old school Indie night. By using the original indie blueprint of doing it their own way, hand picking the bands they love and working hard to promote it. Spurred on by the only real reason; “being bored at other nights” and deciding they could do better. They can and they do. I will travel up from Brighton every month for this night simply because it’s the best; I will get home at 7am after blowing half my wages because I missed my train (again!) But Twee As Fuck is always worth it. Tonight is a perfect example: 3 great bands, including one from Sweden and one from Glasgow, it’s like the glory days all over again.

The Mare (www.myspace.com/themarethemare) have came all the way from Stockholm just to play Twee As Fuck. They were a stand out band for me at Emmaboda two years ago and they stand out again tonight. There’s something sweetly genuine about their music and the cute, slightly affected way they phrase their English over Belle and Sebastian chord changes and trumpet that makes me love them.

Strange Idols (www.myspace.com/strangeidols)  musically and  aesthetically remind me of the vastly underrated, now sadly defunct Vermont. They look good, all stay-press slacks and fringes with singer dressed as a Barnum & Baileys era trapeze artiste. It’s lovely not to have to sit through any NME wannabe nonsense, but it would have been nicer still if they had given me more passion, a tempo change perhaps or just a bit more balls (the music that is, not the singer!) I can remember how they looked, I just can’t remember a damn thing about the music (and it’s not the 1st time I’ve seen them!) this may be OK for NME, but it’s not good enough for a music fan.

Bricolage had the balls, they also had Franz Ferdinand's 2nd album. www.myspace.com/bricolagetheband I thought I was the only person who still listened to it, apparently not. Bricolage are obviously a Glasgow band. Scratch the sheen of any Glasgow band and you’ll discover a love of rock n roll, it’s most obviously apparent at the moment in Glasvegas, but has been a constant, forever. Anyone remember Hipsway?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPQwCrJ7LmE or Love & Money? I find it quite sweet that this band doesn’t.

Jimmy Jazz

 
 

Das Wunderlust + Rob The Rich
12.3.08 - Brighton Barfly

Does anyone like BARFLY? Taking our music, packaging it up into easy to manage little blocks and selling it back. Barfly is the IKEA of the music world complete with its own little catalogue. I don’t know the story behind BARFLY, who owns it or where they came from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was as suspect a story behind it as there is with IKEA. If I discover they are owned by CLEARCHANEL I may have to blow something up.

Tonight is weirdly quiet, apparently the support acts were chosen (by BAFLY) the night before. I get there early and have already missed the first band. All I could say about the 2nd, Rob The Rich (www.myspace.com/robtherichtheband), is that they make me wonder which one of them is Rob, but apart from being a bad joke, that would also be a lie, they simply made me wonder what rubbish I would have had to sit through if the Strokes had never existed. I used to get annoyed by British bands singing in faux American, Kurt Cobain accents (and I’m sure it was a problem long before Nirvana) but every Mockney Pete Doherty inspired  frontman I have had to sit through in the past few years has pushed me one step closer to owning a shotgun.

Das Wanderlust cheer me up (www.myspace.com/daswanderlust), they cheer me up a lot with their bouncy, fun, slightly drunken shambling. The soundman is doing a great job and tonight I can hear the lovely twee words that they usually try to hide behind a racket of noise. They have to be the loudest band in indiepop and tonight they are having fun.

Introducing each song by letting us know which key it’s in and challenging their (fantastic) new drummer to keep up. The fun is  infectious, everybody is smiling. We demand an encore, then demand their “Hit”, “Orange shop” and for half an hour it feels like a proper indie gig in a proper club, with a proper indie band…weeeeeeh!

Jimmy Jazz

 
 

Eels
1.3.08 – The Sage, Gateshead 

It is just after nine when the lights dim and a shadowy figure in a baseball cap shuffles across the stage. As the lights go up the figure is revealed to be Mark Oliver Everett (E for short) and a ripple of applause spills around the pristine Hall One of the Gateshead Sage. As the applause reaches its zenith the perfect acoustics are amply demonstrated - not quite what you would expect from the exterior of a venue which has variously been described as a ‘fat armadillo’ and a ‘used condom’. The Sage, not unlike the Eels, is an acquired taste whose curious beauty invigorates its admirers and confounds others who simply do not see the point of it.  

Although I wouldn’t call myself a big fan I do own most of the Eels albums. I have always had a soft spot for them and have long been intrigued by E’s take on the world and where it might stem from. Luckily for me there is a documentary shown before the main performance which follows E on a journey across America tracing the legacy of his deceased father. It details a theory of parallel universes developed by Everett Senior as a young man which was dismissed for many decades before achieving widespread acclaim among the scientific community in his later years. In one passage of the documentary a scientist asks E “Do you know how it feels to unveil a masterpiece and have nobody notice?” “Yeah…happens every time I put out an album” is the sardonic riposte. 

In the period between rejection and recognition Everett Senior worked as a Military Scientist and cut a disenfranchised figure, clearly wounded by the scorn of his peers. At home he was described by E as a monolithic patriarch who barely spoke and offered little in the way of affection or guidance. When his theory was finally accepted E described his father as energised and happy, speaking at conferences and gleefully accepting the recognition he always felt he deserved. Tragically, just months after this he died of a heart attack. Soon after his father’s death E’s sister committed suicide, then his mother died, and he was alone in the world. The discovery of these tragic events brought E’s lyrics into sharp focus for me, particularly during the moving ‘Bus Stop Boxer’: “I don’t miss where I came from, but each night I dream about being back home. When I wake up in the morning I’m too tired, and tired of being alone. So I get up and go downtown, and pick me out a little piece of ground. Where I can prove something to the world. I can prove something to the world. Don’t look at me, I’m the bus stop boxer”.  

After sitting down and plucking a guitar from nearby E addresses the audience and makes it abundantly clear that we are not to speak to him…at all. This is done in a slightly tongue-in-cheek manner but when it is repeated another couple of times you get the feeling he probably means it. With the ground rules established E moves through some perfectly observed solo versions of classics including the piano-led ‘It’s a Motherfucker’. This is the epitome of the Eels, an outrageously simple song delivered with such delicacy and poise that it transcends the sum of its parts. The lyrics are these: ‘It’s a motherfucker. Being here without you. Thinking ‘bout the good times. Thinking ‘bout the bad. And I won’t ever be the same.’ The delivery of this song demonstrates E’s capacity to express universal emotions in a deeply personal and intimate manner. 

But Eels are not merely about shoegazing melancholy, and just on cue ‘the Chet’ is introduced to add another element to the evening. There is light hearted banter between the two as E reads out actual newspaper reviews and is horrified to discover that they all refer to ‘the Chet’ as much as he. “How am I supposed to feel better about myself now?” he asks with a wry smile. ‘The Chet’ gets his own back though when dryly recreating a conversation from E’s autobiography while rapidly donning different pairs of glasses to switch between E and a budding actress. ‘The Chet’ proves himself to be the equal of E in terms of musicianship too as they both take turns on the various instruments. During the excellent ‘Flyswatter’ E stops playing the piano and sits down on a stool leaving ‘the Chet’ hammering on the drums. E then walks casually over to the drum kit and carefully relieves ‘the Chet’ of his drumsticks without missing a beat. ‘The Chet’ then wanders nonchalantly over to take E’s place at the piano and the song continues apace.  

Other highlights of the evening include a barnstorming rendition of ‘Novocaine for the Soul’ with E on drums, and an equally lively version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times Bad Times’. To complement this vigour there is the unalloyed whimsy of ‘My Beloved Monster’ and the disquieting ‘Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor’: ‘My name’s Elizabeth. My life is shit and piss’. The set list is well sequenced from quiet to loud and back again, and there is enough comedy relief to avoid becoming mired in the melancholy.   

In the final analysis E’s music is catalysed by catastrophe, perforated with pain and drenched in despair. Despite this the experience of watching Eels is one of warmth and intimacy, a feeling that you are in on a joke nobody else gets. Immediately after the gig I have the feeling that I have been in the presence of one of the great humanists of our time, and very few people even know his name.      

Richard Ash

 
 

Wild Beasts
11.1.08 - Granadaland at the Love Apple, Bradford 

Every time I listen to Sheffield aces Champion Kickboxer I think of Wild Beasts. There is a reason. It’s because they sang the line “Wild Beasts have stolen half our food” in the song Clouds taken from their brilliant Candlepower EP. And every time I hear it, I wonder “is it a reference to actual wild beasts or the band?” So it was a slight reversal for me to have that song lodged in my head as Wild Beasts took to the stage in this packed-out Love Apple. Anyway, none of that is of any use, unless of course it is to illustrate the point that Champion Kickboxer are one of the few bands that can hold a candle – no pun intended – to Wild Beasts in terms of both musical eccentricity and quality. And tonight’s set is fluent, fun and proof that this Kendal four-piece are on the way to bigger things. The singles all made an appearance; Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants, Through Dark Night and the forthcoming piano-led Assembly. And though tonight is a more extended set than I’ve seen by them previously, there isn’t a dull moment. The delivery is as individual as always and the increased vocal presence of bass player Tom Fleming is a masterstroke as it allows Hayden Thorpe’s exceptional voice to be complimented with a slightly more conventional one and gives the chance for this band’s individuality to shine through without becoming monotonous.  

The obvious vocal reference points for me are Scott Walker and Russell Mael from Sparks, and the music they play has a sort of fifties pop feel, but still fits in with some of the more interesting modern indie bands currently doing the rounds. If that sounds like an odd mixture, it is. But it works so well that as you watch Wild Beasts it feels like the music they’re making is completely normal and natural and that this band – who are complimented tonight by an exceptional performance from the sound engineer – are here to stay. These Wild Beasts are making their way to the top of the food chain.

Patrick Dowson

 
 

Concrete Moniker – Launch Night
The Splice Girls + Alexis + Findlay_Hunter_Rennie + The Red Box + Tullis Rennie + The Will Chadwick Disaster
5.3.08 - Common, Manchester 

Concrete Moniker are a brand spanking new recording label. They wish to offer us new ‘digital sounds’. Question is do we need them?

There’s no doubt that digital is the way it’s going here in Manchester. Thrown a coin in the air in our lovely Northern Quarter and you’re bound to hit someone carrying an i-something-or-other. I’ve never really got the whole laptop rock thing so I thought I’d head down to the imac fest that is Concrete Moniker.

First up are The Splice Girls (Get it? Get it?). Two femmes sat behind two, one black and one white, ibooks (is that right?). I can’t help but feel they’re not having a whale of a time behind their little screens. In fact, there’s a sci-fi staple of people being enslaved by computers. We’ve all seen it, once intelligent people sit behind keyboards all glassy eyed, dribbling slightly, controlled by a higher man-made power. This is, almost, the Splice Girls look. Their music is all bleeps and bloops that never quite seem to go anywhere, which may be the point. But, this is my opinion and that’s all you’ll get here, I want music to go somewhere. The longer they bleep the more people talk, the more people talk the more their bleeps seem insignificant. If only they’d present themselves in a more interesting, less we’ve got homework to finish, fashion. Humans are curious creatures and, as such, we want to know how things work. That’s why bands don’t perform behind a curtain, that’s why it’s hard to be moved by the Splice Girls and their hidden laptop screens.

Alexis sits much in the Splice Girls do, behind his laptop. Alexis, however, looks like a crazed professor which gives him a bit more of a visual advantage. What he and his laptop create is something close to a twenty minute round up of Apocalypse Now. Huge helicopter chopping noises spray forth with synthesized undercurrents. The intensity rises and then it’s all over, Alexis seeming none the wiser. In fact, the more intense the sound gets the more at home Alexis seems... much like Martin Sheen then...

Next up on to the floor is findlay_hunter_rennie. Not content with laptops alone, they’ve brought instruments with strings on them. The blend of guitar, cello, and laptop is stunning. While listening to them I worked out what was wrong with The Splice Girls and Alexis... bare with me if you will...

Imagine you’re on a plane, juddering down the runway, about to take off. You’re stomach all in knots, the scenery flashing by in awkward fashion and then you enter into the clouds. That’s Splice Girls and Alexis. They’re the journey up to that point; you’re stuck, stuck in the greys and whites of the clouds, unable to see out. findlay_hunter_rennie go beyond that. They also offer that moment when the plane rises up through the clouds and into the open sky. Everything begins to make sense, the light opens up, the horizon shows it’s self. Their sound starts off wayward and unbalanced, notes cut in and out of each other, but then they come together and it all starts to make sense. It’s still dark and discordant yet it feels like you’re on a journey, it’s fantastic. Concrete Moniker have a real find on their hands.

The Red Box has my vote for one simple reason... he has made a program which enables him to make music with a wii controller... I shit you not. It’s all whooshes and swoops, like a rollercoaster soundtrack and he stands there, like the thin-controller, creating this sound with his wii joystick flailing around in hand. How far he can take this idea, I have no idea, but then I’m clearly not as clever as this man so I’ll let him be the judge.

Now, the Tullis Rennie, of findlay_hunter_rennie, returns for a solo set. He produces, on laptop alone, what his three-piece created earlier. The sounds come out garbled and skewed until he adds one beat, then another, and another. All of a sudden, what were random clicks and whurrs become instruments in a bizarre orchestra. The fact that his set barely sounded improvised (as all the sets were tonight) made it all the better.

Last up, The Will Chadwick Disaster. Not a disaster at all, Will. Mr Chadwick has some fancy arse i-thing that lets him control the sound he produces by twisting his laptop and placing his hands in certain positions. It may sound gimmicky but, of all the laptop acts tonight, Will Chadwick is the most engaging of all. Moving his instrument about in such a fashion, it seems almost as if he’s trying to exorcise a demon (or really bad trojan virus) from his laptop. His music should be put on every advert attempting to curtail train related accidents, chugging and chugging until it seemed like we were being descended on by 1,000 angered rail workers, a disaster that finished the night off in excellent fashion.

Good luck Concrete Moniker, I hope the answer to my original question is ‘yes’. I think we could do with you around.   
www.concretemoniker.co.uk

Sean Gregson

 
 

Duffy
28.2.08 - Clwb Ifor Bach

Standing outside the club there’s a buzz. People are frantic for tickets to the sold out event and the local radio have even turned up to capture the hype. It seems that Duffy is an over-night sensation across the age groups by the looks of the crowd; everyone wants a piece of pure pop Duffy. She totters on stage after the audience have been standing on their feet for one and a half hours. She’s nervy, petite and a sheer embodiment of 60s class (dimples included). The audience are cheering and there are plenty of them to welcome Duffy. The tiny upstairs room of Clwb Ifor Bach is packed like never before.  

“Shw mae?” She’s talking Welsh, so not many people know what is going on, including the band. Without further ado, “Rockferry” kicks in and the full force of Duffy’s vocal cords is unleashed. Her vocal prowess cannot be knocked: the girl’s got pipes. And so she quickly bumbles through the set list, through a collection of very predictable songs. With her stilted dance moves and unconfident ad-lib in between songs, moping about boys and lost love, Duffy is definitely not a diva (even if she has been on Jools Holland and her single’s number one). She’s pure butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth charm and is sticking to 60s soul like Amy Winehouse is to booze. Her band consisted of ultra-preened musicians that jarred with her acclaimed humble beginnings in Nefyn, Gwynedd, North Wales, but nevertheless, were soulful.  

We were all reminded that Duffy has managed to sell out across the country in the first leg of her tour, before her album has even hit the shops. She announced “Serious” apologising that we wouldn’t know the songs. But that didn’t seem to matter. When the organ of ‘Mercy’ reigned in the audience’s ears; everyone was swaying and clapping in time. It was as if Dusty Springfield had returned in Duffy form. Yet, this is a potential hindrance: Duffy’s music is limited by its location in the 60s-imitation genre. It’s questionable how long Duffy can sustain her blast-from-the-past pleasantries in our modern era.  

For now, Duffy’s management will certainly be rubbing their hands with glee every time Amy Winehouse checks into rehab leaving Duffy with centre stage in the retro-revival. The music matched the hype. Yet, Duffy is, like her music, of a particular moment. I suppose it depends how long the moment lasts before we let bygones by bygones, get bored of purity and go back to Amy’s black.  

Jenny Williams