reviews - sep-dec 08
Emperor Machine + The Week That Was
19.12.08 - Camden Koko
The Emperor Machine are three polite gentlemen from Staffordshire.
One of them has a guitar, and looks an awful lot like James
Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. The other two have drums and keyboards
and little black plastic things that go “plink” and “bong”.
They’ve borrowed some bits from Daft Punk, other bits from Justice
and maybe even some bits from Kraftwerk. They’ve been remixed
by Simian Mobile Disco, but despite such illustrious company,
there’s something missing. Oh, I remember – tunes. It’s all
very well being an instrumental band, but in that case you’d
better have a blistering set of songs. That’s not to say that
they don’t have potential – the guitar work is neat, the keyboards
suitably fat and dirty and the drumming precise. But these emperors
desperately need some new clothes.
Field Music were one of those bands who never quite got the
recognition they deserved. They were a truly brilliant proposition,
but they are – to all intents and purposes – no more. However
that hasn’t stopped their members from going on to produce equally
exciting music with other people. One of David Brewis’ current
projects is writing and playing with prog-popsters The Week
You can always tell something special is going to happen when
you see a roadie wheeling a xylophone on stage. Brewis spends
at least ten minutes intently adjusting the tuning knobs on
his guitar. Then suddenly they’re off – it’s all angular beats,
unexpected twists and turns; choruses that start and stop, then
start again. On record, there’s about ten musicians involved,
but in a live environment TWTW are stripped back to a four piece
(albeit four people who swap instruments like it’s an Olympic
The Good Life hits the spot midway between Mr Hudson and The
Library and the Futureheads. And it’s a rather nice spot, thank
you very much. Scratch The Surface sounds a little bare compared
to its complexity on their self-titled album, but the quality
of the performance is so good that this is quickly forgotten.
It’s rare to notice just how good a band sounds on a live stage.
The normal process of “plug in, turn up to 11, play, storm off
looking miserable” isn’t at play here. Koko must be a dream
venue to play, not just for its stunning decor but also its
brilliant acoustics. The drums sound fresh and are compressed
to breaking point. Every note of every guitar riff cuts through,
while keyboards provide a lush backing. Bass is pushed right
to the front of the sound, and is all the better for it.
There are often so many ideas crammed into each track it’s
tough to keep up (Emperor Machine – take note). Melodies sprout
up in unexpected places, then suddenly career off in new directions
– it’s like we’re listening to the inside of Brewin’s head,
a stream-of-consciousness via fretless bass. But like all the
best bands, patience and repeated listening reap rich rewards.
You’re unlikely to hear more genuinely innovative pop this year.
They’re challenging, thrilling and intoxicating in equal measure.
Highly recommended for fans of The Cure, At The Drive In and
other XTC-esque brain fodder.
Place to Bury Strangers + Ten Kens
5.12.08 - Leeds Cockpit
Tonight’s Torontonian support band, Tens Kens, begin by announcing
that this is their first tour outside of Canada. The band seem
to be enthusiastic about the novelty of playing in a new country,
and this is also apparent from their performance. The overall
sound is not as impressive as it could have been; the vocals
are lost slightly among the sound of the guitars. ‘Spanish Fly’
and debut single ‘Bearfight’ are heard amongst the set, with
the intensely rhythmic ‘Refined’ and its incredible organ introduction
being saved for the last part of the performance. An engaging,
distinctive and simply enjoyable show, Ten Kens can’t return
A Place to Bury Strangers begin by playing their first couple
of songs in the dark. This could be artistic prerogative, or
it could just be that the projector isn’t working. It transpires
that it is the latter, and eventually the band are being accompanied
by swirling projections. The start of the set is just a noisy
sluggish barrier of sound, with the guitars and bass again consuming
any vocals or higher parts. Mid-way through the set things become
clearer: melodies and fascinatingly precise rhythms can be heard,
and it no longer feels as though the audience is drowning in
noise. A Place to Bury Strangers have reportedly been named
the loudest band in New York, and the end of tonight’s performance
seems intent on proving this. While bright white lights are
flashed in the direction of the audience, the instruments gradually
become louder and louder, adding more and more layers until
they reach an unbearable and cacophonous wall of noise. It is
a thunderously forceful set and feels like a visual and aural
assault. Watching the band is undoubtedly an experience and
they give an unforgettable performance, but it is possibly not
memorable for the right reasons.
By A Broken Heart
5.12.08 - ULU, London
A cold wet night in central London was about to be filled with
electric energy because Blessed By A Broken Heart had rolled
into town. With the queue stretching round the corner of ULU
it was set to be a great night.
The first band to grace the stage was the UK’s own Fei Comodo
and with great enthusiasm they launched into their frantic set.
Front man Marc Halls was full of life from the start using every
inch of the stage including the PA speakers. With a whole hearted
performance Fei Comodo clearly won over some new fans tonight,
including Blessed By A Broken Heart who joined them on stage
for a couple of songs.
What happened next was a bit of shock to everyone. The audience
was expecting Devil’s Gift to appear onstage, but instead it
was just vocalist Lennon and a piano. She went on to explain
that her band had abandoned her to go back to the US so she
thought she would continue the tour herself! As she put it ‘I’m
going to be getting drunk and telling stories’. It was hard
for her to keep the crowd’s attention after such an energetic
start and although it was a very courageous effort, once it
was over most people were very thankful.
Then all of a sudden a cloud of smoke covered the stage as
I Am Ghost exploded into action. Playing at a blistering pace,
they seemed to have boundless energy. They clearly knew how
to entertain a crowd, playing up to them at every opportunity.
When I Am Ghost played ‘Don’t wake up’ from their new album,
the crowd really got going for the first time during the night,
singing the chorus back to the band. Front man Steve Juliano
was leading the band in every action and even started a ‘fuck’
chant to really get the crowd on his side, also instructing
them to make chaos in front of him. With catchy vocals, blasting
drums and screaming guitars you can’t help but enjoy the I Am
Ghost live show.
After that here was a sweeping guitar solo and this signalled
the arrival of Blessed By A Broken Heart. Powering straight
into ‘She wolf’ the energy level picked up and the crowd really
started to kick off. With a laser light and platforms for guitarists
you knew from the beginning this was going to be one hell of
a show. With hardly any respite they continued their onslaught
of a set. There was great crowd interaction and front man Tony
Gambino was like a ring-leader telling the crowd exactly what
to do. At one point he even led an on stage work out! The platforms
on stage were aimed to emphasise the talent of their guitarists
- it wasn’t just a performance from Blessed By A Broken Heart,
it was a show of talents. With each beat down bringing more
and more carnage, they closed the set with ‘Move your body’
which did get the bodies flying in the pit and off the stage.
Once again a cloud of smoke covered the stage before Blessed
By A Broken Heart re-emerged to perform ‘Mic Skillz 2’ which
ended with utter chaos and almost half the crowd up on stage
with the band.
It may have been a cold damp night out side but inside ULU
those who experienced Blessed By A Broken Heart had just experienced
one of the most entertaining live bands and no matter what the
weather, people couldn’t help but leave the venue with a smile
on their faces.
Kills + XX Teens
19.11.08 - The Junction, Cambridge
Some bands have songs to rely on and unfortunately others simply
have gimmicks. Freezing on stage for a good five minutes and
acting as statues at least saved the audience another five minutes
of listening to XX Teens’ sub-standard Fall inspired tunes.
Things improve slightly but surely a band with little substance
to show for their self perceived coolness.
Opening with a pulsating ‘URA Fever’, The Kills appear to have
lost none the electrifying chemistry that first gripped music
lovers’ attention over five years ago. Never feeling as if they
are only a duo due to their stage presence and first-rate rock
star poses, songs from all three albums are evenly distributed
throughout their action-packed set. Despite their recent changes
in sound the songs sit well together with a consistent fevered
intensity. ‘Fried My Little Brains’ and ‘Superstition’ sound
as fresh as they did when ‘Keep on Your Mean Side’ first appeared.
An explosive ‘Cheap and Cheerful’ leaves the audience fearing
for anything slightly flammable near the stage as The Kills
roll on at a relentless pace, while still affording time to
regularly acknowledge the crowd. Encoring with a stunning cover
of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes,’ The Kills have
lost none of their magic and there is still so much substance
to their cool.
21.11.08 - Shepherds Bush Empire
In these difficult financial times I’ve decided to help as
best I can by providing two reviews for the price of one. Bargain!
The glass half full review
The Shepherds Bush Empire is a grand venue, and no mistake.
Large and imposing, it could easily be intimidating for a four
piece support act, but Asobi Seksu took to the stage and owned
it for the duration of their set. All their songs were re-tooled
for the live performance, whilst and tracks such as Strawberries
and Me and Mary were belted out, accompanied by a dazzling light
show; the usual strobes and coloured light projections, but
also an enchanting blue and orange fairy light display, the
orange lights creeping up the singers mike stand, creating a
simple, yet magical effect. The percussion was upped to the
max, and Yuki even abandoned her mike for the apocalyptic finale
to freak out on the drums.
The glass half empty review
Aside from odd moments, such as the (immensely tall) bass player
‘sawing’ with his guitar, or Yuki going crazy with her bells
and head-banging, the band were very static. This in itself
may not have been a problem, but combined with the terrible
sound mix, which served to bury Yuki’s ethereal vocals under
the avalanche of percussion, it was difficult to get into the
performance. The bands lyrics are in both English and Japanese
but you’d have been hard-pressed to work out which was which
as you could barely hear the singer. As a consequence, even
though the venue was nearly full, there wasn’t any atmosphere
created, and most people were sitting/standing still, even though
the band had obviously restructured their songs to get everyone
going. Even the finale, where they pulled out all the stops,
failed to inspire excitement in the crowd. Maybe it was too
little too late. A real pity, as they are a great band who’d
obviously put a lot of thought into their music, but their lack
of dynamism on stage and the technical issues (which, to be
fair, weren’t their fault) meant that this performance was a
16.11.08 - The Portland Arms,
A cold and damp Cambridge on a subdued Sunday night leaves
little clue as to how the night will end.
Nestled around a roaring fire, a small crowd of gig goers eagerly
await the music room doors opening and while away time watching
Top Gear. As is sometimes the way, the support band have had
to cancel at very short notice, leaving little time to find
a replacement. Into the void have stepped Canaveral, Cambridge’s
open (super) group. Despite tonight operating in slimmed down
duo form, they as ever seem determined to never allow two of
their sets to be even vaguely similar. Spoken word records are
spun accompanied by all sorts of distortion, noises and beats
entrancing a small but appreciative audience.
Volcano! don’t mess around and are soon on stage raring to
play. Dashings of falsetto and fun are mixed in equal portion
throughout their set. Stories are shared between songs but the
band remains tight and focused, mixing soulful vocals with plenty
of ever changing rhythms. ‘Africa Just Wants to Have Fun’ gets
the hips in the room shaking and the heads nodding rhythmically.
Closing their set with a stunning Otis Redding cover seems the
perfect end to a fantastic show. Let’s hope they don’t leave
it so long before touring again next time.
Sue and The Pirates +Alessi's Ark +Daniel Meins
17.11.08 - Bristol The Cooler
'The Poet Daniel Meins' says the gig poster. I've seen it done
before, performing writers opening for live bands, and apparently
Derek Meins did start off in a more performance-oriented setting.
Things are moving on a bit though, and poetry takes a back seat
to some proper rockabilly, which Meins rattles out on his held-together-with-masking-tape
semi-acoustic. He asks Rosa from Peggy Sue to join him onstage
for a song (a recurring theme throughout this evening), and
this provides both a fulsome introduction to the Peggy Sue experience
and gives Meins own mateial a bit of a boost, transforming him
from Soho beat poet into mockney music hall adventurist, reminding
me that when I most memorably saw performing writers opening
a gig, the headliners were a dimly-remembered London quartet
called the Libertines.
See Derek Meins and some of his friends in action here:
Alessi's Ark are Alessi Laurent-Marke and a keyboardist. Alessi
herself is an engaging sight, draped in hippyesque robes and
with gallons of hair which Alessi gives the impression of only
recently having learned not to hide behind. She strikes a chord
on her guitar and is instantly transformed into an accomplished
singer-songwriter, whose struggles with her instrument - asking
the audience at one point if her guitar is too loud - are doubtlessly
ending as both the quality of her songwriting and the strength
of her voice carry her over what seems like something of a trial
for an equally precocious and fragile talent. Peggy Sue's percussionist
Olly joins Alessi onstage for one song, and she loudly thanks
her friend Fran for turning up while appearing to forget the
lyrics to the second from last song of her set and while she
is still ironing out the glitches in her performing style, Alessi
appears to posess a wisdom beyond her years and is a definite
one to watch in 2009. 0r 2010.
See the video for 'The Horse' here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_qoqmzvaSAI
Tonight's headliners though. Practically the entire audience
is comfortably seated onthe floor of the Cooler as Peggy Sue
and the Somethings( the Pirate part of the band name is apparently
under discussion) make their way onto the stage and we are in
for a bit of a treat, really. Rosa Rex taps out rhythms on a
succession of toy instruments (that was an old tin cash register
wasn't it?) while Katy Klaw's guitar feeds back and Olly's washboard
glistens in the darkened surrounds of the Cooler. They may have
begun life as a folk act but time has worked its spell upon
these feckless waifs and they are now doing it solely for their
own amusement, regardless of whether there's an audience present.
Rosa thumps a tambourine, Katy picks at her strings, Olly taps
a pair of drumsticks as the songs get ever more personalised
but really, the combination of enthusiasm and mildly bonkers
subject matter - depressed superheroes, cannibals, a Missy Elliot
cover that collapses in a fit of giggles - combined with the
seemingly endless collection of band instruments make for a
shambolic and gloriously inspired 25 or so minutes of amateur
skiffle dramatics. Alessi joins them onstage for one number,
kneeling on the stage to provide backing vocals, it being her
last night as part of the tour, and everyone goes home friends.
See Peggy SUE http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=7bIQYqpA6d4&feature=related
and the Machine
30.10.08 - Bush Hall, London
Sit down, open the pad, can't find the pen, get up, scramble
around the kitchen drawers for any kind of writing implement.
The pen may be mightier than the sword but you don't tend to
forget where you left a sword.
Find a pencil. Feeling like i've achieved something go back
to sitting down, pencil doesn't work, spot the aforementioned
pen right in front of me. Now we're away.
Get out my notes.
Florence and The Machine - Bush Hall.
I have underlined the words Bush and Hall. Maybe I should write
in my review something about how nice the venue is.
Look at my bullet points.
Great voice (sounds Italian/Croatian at times - find out
where she's from)
The guitarist looks familiar.
Girl With One Eye.
So, lets start from the top. Florence and the Machine is the
musical project of Florence Welch. I don't know where she's
from but with a surname like that she's not going to be from
Italy or Croatia like I thought she was. Welch. Maybe she's
welsh; the Welsh are always going on about what good singers
they are, aren't they. And they can back it up with exhibits
A, B and C, Tom Jones and his lovechildren Aled & Kelly.
Florence's guitarist also plays with Lightspeed Champion who
I saw at a few of the festivals this year so that solves that
one nicely, because I was starting to think that he might have
been my second-cousin. Domestic Violence is something you shouldn't
do because as the the government ads tell us, "it's wrong".
It's also the subject of Florence's most well known song Kiss
With A Fist. When she was playing that song I started to think
that maybe I fancied her a bit, but then I realised she would
kick seven shades of the proverbial out of me for leaving the
toilet seat up and it would never work out. Shame.
On the subject of Show(wo)manship, I think i was pretty drunk
by this point and trying to amuse my companion who was more
interested in the shoes in her magazine, but lets just say that
Florence has got the moves and would be a much better replacement
singer for Queen than Paul Rodgers and that I'd love to hear
her cover one of Fred's tunes a tribute album when she becomes
a famous star. My last bulletpoint was Girl With One Eye which
was the first of the Machine's tunes I heard when I was working
in PR. It's been on my stereo regularly ever since. It's a lazy
jazzy/folk/indie tune about blinding a love rival by poking
her in the eye (can you spot a theme here?), and has the refrain
"now she sleeps with one eye open". It's brilliant
and you should go and see Florence and The Machine at the next
possible chance. And I'm not just saying that because i'm scared
Now where's my pen gone?
12.11.2008 - Birmingham Carling
First of all, since moving to Birmingham this is one of the
first gigs I’ve been to in quite a while, although looking forward
to the supporting acts – I wasn’t sure quite what to expect
from a band with such a typically “rock” look, a nice change
from the look of the younger bands that are flying around left
right and centre. Let’s not be too shallow, it’s not all about
the image, right? Overall, it wasn’t a disappointing sound either,
the slightly alarming presence of the band didn’t quite match
the sound they produced, a kind of fast-paced metal with actual
melodic lyrics, rather than the “one flip of my huge fringe
and lets all scream about our ex-girlfriends” style. So as a
bunch of “pissed off teenagers”, they seem pretty good at what
they do, without any pretence of who they are, and they are
able to combine the Guns ‘N’ Roses style of metal with the angst
of modern fucked off teenagers. As the “band to watch out for”
claimed by Revolver in August 2008, they manage to pull off
a decent sound easily, fit in good riffs and all this with a
no-shit approach to making good music. As for the venue, the
academy itself is fairly large – some bands would struggle to
pull off a good enough sound to fill the stage, yet they were
used to this and actually produced a really good atmosphere
– with swift and interesting (a nice change) drum solo’s and
the switch from heavier riffs to the melodic. All in all, pretty
The Research + Betty and the Werewolves + The Puncture Repair
5.11.2008 - The Portland Arms,
The Puncture Repair Kit open proceedings tonight with their
ramshackle but highly lovable tunes, reminiscent of Belle and
Sebastian with a better sense of humour. Newer tunes sit well
amongst songs Cambridge audiences have taken to their hearts
over the previous twelve months.
Betty and the Werewolves follow with their catchy tunes soaked
in layers of fantastic surf guitar style riffs. The audience
are quickly captivated and between song banter seems to consist
of primarily werewolf howls.
The Research, tonight’s headlines, are touring to promote their
new album, their first after their well reported EMI troubles.
A packed audience respond enthusiastically to their well crafted
songs which tend to lean towards a Grandaddy style vibe. A spate
of dancing soon breaks out amongst the front few rows and the
audience are soon joining in with choruses. If tonight is anything
to go by the future should soon see The Research filling far
30.10.08 - Leeds Cockpit
Its 8:25 and I’m wasting time, ordering a coffee and having
a bit of a chat with the waiter at Efes grill, opposite the
Cockpit. Something’s not quite right; the usual anticipation
is missing. Maybe because I saw Metronomy at Glastonbury and
was disappointed, I’m not sure, but I’m not up for tonight.
We get inside the venue, order a drink and then, we stay in
the bar. I read Vice, a story about a woman who had her face
bitten off by a dog. Jesus, what’s wrong with me? Maybe there’s
too many cool kids for me to feel comfortable.
I try to stoke some enthusiasm by wandering inside. It’s rammed.
The support band is on and they’re awful. Way too loud, the
guitars are fizzing, the bass reverberating and when the singer
opens his mouth it’s too painful to listen. They really need
to sort their levels out, back to Vice, an interview with Chris
Cunningham, oh for fucks sake man.
Finally, I stash my jacket somewhere to avoid paying a quid
I’m inside. The girl next to me keeps knocking into me, spilling
sticky rum and coke all over my hands. This isn’t going very
Metronomy come on and blow me away.
I’m hugely impressed by their multi-instrumental approach.
One minute the bass player’s playing his bass, the next, a sax,
then a harmonium, then keyboards. All the while the sound shifts
subtly, from the Human League, to K-Klass, to Hot Chip.
I turn round and all the cool kids are behind me, they don’t
look to be having a great time. Ah well, fuck em.
The action is happening down at the front anyway, the band
have taken over the lights and smoke machine. Smoke fills the
venue, the band disappear into the fog, but the music keeps
coming. I notice the sound levels, so badly abused are now perfect.
Every element is audible, it sounds great.
They play ‘One the Motorway’ a song that sounds like a broken
sea shanty fed through a Roland 808 and I tilt my head back
and drink it in. A sea of people jerking and pushing to the
front, bumping into each other, I spill more rum, but now I
don’t care, it’s appropriate, this is a sea shanty. More rum,
more sea shanties, give the people what they want!
The last couple of songs are somewhere between early Was (Not
Was) and Kenny Dope Gonzales as the Hot Chip style, with the
emphasis on the high-tone vocal harmonies is dropped in favour
of a more repetitive electronic house-disco-electro sound.
An encore is demanded and provided. A driving, stabbing, keyboard
riff, evil in its sound, fills the venue, even the cool kids
29.11.08 - Scala, London
Lets set the scene - it’s a freezing cold
October evening in London and there are at least a thousand
people queuing outside Scala in King’s Cross. The reason being
is simple, one man, Frank Turner. You couldn’t walk past a single
person without hearing the name Frank Turner. Once finally inside
the venue- having missed the first support act due to terrible
London transport- the sound which greeted everyone was one of
calm and relaxation. What people were hearing was the folk sound
of Emily Barker. Unfortunately, the clearly talented Emily Barker
didn’t get the respect she deserved as you could hear people
talking throughout her set. I think it wouldn’t have mattered
who the support was - this night was just about Frank Turner.
Emily Barker even admitted the whole experience was a bit daunting
for her as she was used to playing very small folk clubs.
Following Emily Barker was Chris TT. With
his jokey, whole- hearted attitude to things he clearly won
some fans tonight as he participated in crowd banter. Even having
members of the crowd shouting ‘Jack Black’ at him clearly didn’t
phase him and he completed a good set and can be proud of himself
for holding such a huge crowd.
As the moment everyone had been waiting for
neared you could feel the anticipation in the air. Once the
lights went out there was an enormous cheer as the man of the
moment set foot onto the Scala stage. From the first word that
came out of Frank Turner’s mouth, the crowd were chanting every
word back at him. Frank Turner was clearly singing every song
from the heart, with a passion for his lyrics and obviously
enjoying every second of this gig just as much as the crowd.
His strong stage presence is more than a match for his powerful
voice, so Frank clearly has a winning formula on his hands.
The manner in which he plays and puts himself about on stage
shows that it wouldn’t matter to Frank if he was playing in
front of one thousand people or ten - he would still give the
same performance. Frank has come a long way from the days when
it was just him and his guitar. Now playing with a travelling
band to back up his great talent, but still some of the best
moments of this performance were when Frank went back to his
roots and played by himself. The first song he performed on
his own ‘Worse things happen at sea’ probably brought out one
of the biggest sing- alongs of the night. Frank even treated
the fans to a brand new song, ‘Live fast, die old’ which he
claimed he’d only performed once before. It was very well received
by the fans and it is obvious that Frank Turner has not lost
his appetite for writing great songs.
As the set gathered pace, Frank took a moment
out from playing to toast the crowd as he happily admitted that
this was his biggest ever sell out show. As he set into his
single ‘Long live the queen’ he played with a cheeky grin
on his face in realisation of what he has accomplished in such
a short time. By the end of the show, the crowd knew that Frank
Turner had enjoyed this just as much as they had. As Frank left
the stage chants of ‘encore!’ filled Scala and Frank obliged
by reappearing on stage to finish with three more songs, rounding
off a fantastic performance with ‘Jet lag’ and ‘St. Christopher
is coming home’. The show closed with a stage full of people
singing every word of ‘Photosynthesis’ which saw Frank
ending up in the crowd. For a night that started off with a
bitter frost in the air, everyone who witnessed what happened
in Scala tonight left with a warm feeling thanks to one man
- Frank Turner.
28.10.08 – Railway Inn, Winchester
James Yuill is a tall, skinny sort of bloke
with glasses that won’t stay up and a guitar slung over his
back. So far, so average. But he’s also got a box of tricks
up his sleeve. Several boxes in fact, and instead of keeping
them up his sleeve he’s got them set up like a little fortress
around him onstage. Once he starts twiddling those knobs (not
the mashed one busting out the moves at the front) we’re let
into the definitely not average world of James Yuill – a humble
singer/songwriter on the surface, and an experimental dance/electronic
fiend on the inside.
His set consists of highlights from his debut
album Turning Down Water For Air, including This Sweet Love,
which is currently getting some pretty substantial airtime on
6Music. In fact, This Sweet Love is such a hit, he even plays
it twice, halfway through the set and acoustically (exactly
the same but without any blips and bleeps) for the encore.
A lot of people attempt to wear the electronica/acoustic
look, but James Yuill has the confident without the cockiness
to pull it off. His sound manages to make the audience wiggle,
but at the same time there’s an air of melancholy and seriousness
about it – from his stopped over demeanour and furrowed, concentration
face you can tell he’s putting his heart and soul into every
strum and button push.
For those who claim there’s no emotion in
music made by machines then guess again – James creates many
a different atmosphere in the room with this music – you can
delight at identifying his samples, and be uplifted by his simple,
A lot of the audience sloped off for an early
bed before James took to the stage at 11pm, but those who stayed
were unanimously enchanted with this laptop troubadour.
Back at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, and back seeing
the mighty Turner. What a joyous combination.
The first group on were The Dawn Chorus, a group of six lads
who squeezed on stage wielding guitars, trumpets, and one held
what I believe was a mandolin? In all honesty, I wasn't overly
impressed when they started, but by the time their set finished,
I was captivated. The final handful of songs were really something
quite special – one of which in particular was very “spaghetti
western,” with brass melodies and something strangely Muse-y.
Other songs featured all six members calling out aloud as the
music died down; an entire section of vocal and nothing else,
before building back to the main song. The Dawn Chorus have
talent, both in performance and song writing- although the vocals
occasionally waver out of tune. Their repertoire or songs spans
many moods and feelings, and altogether, floats my boat.
Next up, Emily Barker, who I swear I've seen before somewhere
or other. Solo acoustic, with a beautiful voice. Marling-esque
with a harmonica, Barker struggled to get her stunning songs
out over a room of rude individuals, who apparently came to
this gig to talk amongst themselves. But through the crowd's
mutterings, it was evident that Barker knew what she was doing,
playing eloquent melodic tales. For one song, Mr Turner came
out and the couple played a duet. To be quite honest, Frank
wasn't at his best, in fact I'd go as far as to say that for
that song with Emily Barker, his voice was the worst I've ever
heard it. But, alas, he had his own set to make up for it. After
Chris T-T of course.
My first experience of Chris T-T goes back to April 2007 where
I caught him supporting Electric Soft Parade in Southampton.
There aren't many times I'll catch a support act and buy two
of their albums after the show, but for some reason, Chris T-T
compelled me to do so. I think it may have had quite a lot to
do with “When The Huntsman Comes A Marchin,” a witty number
about the hunting ban and such. However, this time around, no
such song was featured. A song I certainly did recall from the
first time around, is somehow, only just about to be his next
single. “We Are The King Of England,” is a dark story of power
and corruption, or at least, that's what I take from it. Accompanying
this latest single, will I imagine be, an album. The set consisted
mainly of new material that all in all sounded very promising,
including “Box To Hide In,” which I particularly enjoyed, and
one about domestic violence and breaking ankles. If you don't
know Chris T-T, he's a witty English singer/songwriter with
fantastic lyrical abilities, who often likes to touch on serious
issues, as well as the not-so-serious, with reference to “Giraffes
#1,” about the number of giraffes on the British mainland. He
plays the acoustic undertones of his music while a full band
play the rest. I'd advise everyone to get a copy of his “9 Red
Songs” album, and keep your eyes peeled for new material hopefully
heading our way soon.
And then, finally, for the main spectacle. Mr Frank Turner.
pleasure it is to be here. Whether you knew him from A Million
Dead or not, Turners sound has changed dramatically from an
angry blur or screams and shouts, to a sophisticated, melodic
outlet for what are often still quite politically based songs.
But the thing about Frank is, everyone loves him. And as far
as gigs go, he's just fantastic. Everyone knows the words, and
there's a real sense of communal atmosphere at you all sing
along at the top of your voice, without having to worry about
some louts jumping around and clouting you in the side of the
head. A Turner show, is all about listening, singing, and cheering.
Opening with “The Ballad of Me and My Friends,” which could
be considered an odd choice as it closes the brilliant Sleep
Is For The Week album, Frank instantly captured the audience,
as everyone sung “we are definitely going to hell.” As this
ran into “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot,” the rest of the band
came on. Playing a selection from all albums, but mainly focussing
on the latest, Love Ire & Song, Turner played a gapless
set, and played it very well at that. But, in fairness, you
know what you're getting with Frank. He's just bloody good,
isn't he. Unfortunately, the greats “Heartless Bastard Motherfucker”
and “Thatcher Fucked The Kids” weren't included in the set,
but I've never seen the first one performed and only caught
the latter once. And of course there were songs which you just
know are going to be included in a set- “Long Live The Queen,”
“The Real Damage,” “Nashville Tennessee,” and “Photosynthesis.”
One song (and apologies, I can't remember which,) featured a
fair amount of keyboards, and the outro ran effortlessly into
a “Father's Day” gentle piano intro. It had barely made it through
the first bar before everyone had cottoned on and the Wedgewood
Rooms were full of melodic cheer.
Hopefully, Turner has realised that his home is in smaller gigs
like this. The day he ventures to a massive venue, will be a
sad one. The charm of a Frank Turner gig relies heavily on the
intimate sense of togetherness you get from singing along with
everyone – that warm fuzzy feeling inside. But once again, Frank
has ticked my boxes.
It must be hard to sustain wide-eyed optimism
if you’re in a band, or doing anything for an extended period..;
One of the most endearing things about Tilly & the wall,
when I saw them ages ago was just how damn perky and excited
they seemed. It’d be impossible to maintain this I think…It
must become contrived. This didn’t stop it being a little bit
of a shock to see a Tilly & the Wall show were there weren’t
like this, maybe some of their youthful exuberance and excitement
to be touring has gone – probably because of all the touring
they do. Thankfully, they still seem to be having fun and like
always that was infectious. It’s still great to have a tap dancer
as percussionist, the synchronised dancing is still effective
and it still looks like they’re having the time of their lives.
So really they should be applauded for allowing themselves to
grow up (ugh!) a bit.
I like the new stuff as much as the old,
but for different reasons – it’s much rockier without losing
much of the twee. New single “let the Beat Control you” is ace,
if perhaps a little too now to be a classic.
If there is a criticism it’s that they’ve
cut back on the vocals of the guitar player. A waste. A big
waste. Despite me thinking that it was a shame to not see them
all shiny and new, they have replaced that with a tighter feel.
Tilly and the Wall played like a band primed for huge things
and played songs new and old that could get them there.
It’s an early(ish) show on a Friday evening at Camden’s KOKO.
In a few hours the skinny Indie-bopper army will start queuing
outside for their weekly fix of Club NME and we wouldn’t want
to keep them waiting. All this clearly means little to North
Carolina’s Benji Hughes however, who looks like he started drinking
around midday in preparation for his regular support slot opening
for Jenny Lewis. After all this is a man who, or so his website
claim, possesses a love of beer only outmatched by his love
of women. It’s hard to disagree with the latter either: although
his face is mostly hidden behind his golden locks, his mane
of a beard and a pair of tinted aviators, the sizeable Benji
Hughes is rightly a man unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve,
a walrus of love for the folk rock crowd.
It’s a four-piece backing band that kick things off with Love
Is A Razor which, with it’s opening Wish You Were Here-era Pink
Floyd guitar and keyboard strains, gives Benji plenty of time
to make his entrance. He staggers up to the microphone and gives
us a few slurred verses. Cue the guitar solo reprise, and he’s
gone again. Was that the shortest support set of the- oh no
wait, he’s back. He only went to get a beer.
Benji’s set, promoting songs from his debut album A Love Extreme,
runs the gamut from tender piano ballads to dirty disco rock
and back again. While his gentle croon on the softer numbers
sounds more restrained on the studio versions the alcohol has
evidently taken its toll here and he sounds more akin to a drunken
Magnetic Fields. Remember the old Tom Waits number The Piano
Has Been Drinking (Not Me)? Well I don’t think you can blame
the piano here Benji. Much less whimsical are the up-tempo numbers
such as Tight Tee Shirt and the irresistible You Stood Me Up
where Benji breaks from his inebriated growl into a disciplined
falsetto, working his own taut brand of what can only be described
as ‘sex music for overweight hairy men’.
Maybe it’s the beer, but Benji clearly has a lot of love for
the crowd, at one point teasingly, and uninvited it must be
said, giving us a flash of belly and nipple during the aforementioned
You Stood Me Up, and later dedicating his best Mick Jagger tail-feather
dance especially to tonight‘s audience. Following penultimate
ballad AllYou’veGotToDoIsFall InLove he regrettably informs
us all that he would “love to talk to [us] more but…” and then
it all crumbles into an indistinguishable mumble and a few curious
grunts, so maybe it’s just the simple fact that he’s not actually
capable of conversing at this point.
Benji leaves KOKO on a warm note, but later makes an additional
two appearances during Jenny Lewis’ set. The first during opening
number Jack Killed Mom, reprising his guest spot from new album
Acid Tongue, the second much later during The Next Messiah,
where he staggers on, sings backup on a verse, takes one step
back, falls over, rolls around for a bit before picking himself
up and stumbling from the stage. It’s the last we see of him
Moles is not a large place. I've seen gigs in lounge-type settings
on numerous occasions but considering the range of bands whose
names appear on the roll of past performers that greets the
Moles visitor at the venues entrance - ranging from the Eurythmics
to the Libertines - Moles is tiny. I can't really envisage a
feisty twenty something Annie Lennox really letting it rip on
a stage the size of a large elevator but it did, we are assured,
Perfect for the Transpersonals though. The Bristol three piece
are unashamed sixties stylists, taking their cues from Barret
era Floyd and Jefferson Airplane type guitar ragas, via excursions
into delay pedal drive space rock and the garage beats of the
Seeds and Standells. Did I actually hear a cover of 'Pushin'
Too Hard'? Tim Hurford is an inventive and highly listenable
guitarist and the Transpersonals, lacking the reverential attitude
towards their material which I've seen from similar bands produce
riffs as frantic and immediate as they must've sounded on the
night the Yardbirds played at whatever was Moles predecessor.
Add a second guitar and keyboard to give Tim Hurfords talents
their full rein and The Transpersonals might really be onto
The Transpersonals leave the stage and take around two thirds
of the Moles audience with them, providing Computer Club with
the necessary room they need to set up their own gear, and the
venue fills up again to witness a strident performance from
what is the result of a head on collision between The Cure and
The Automatic. All twenty minutes of it. Computer Club are an
excellent loud screeching guitar noise with plenty of the kind
of referential touches - the aforementioned Cure and Automatic,
plus some of the still-obligatory Divisionesque hi-hatting and
some proper mainstream sounds - the didactic rhythms of Keane
and Scouting For Girls make appearances at proper intervals
- but they definitely aren't the first band with designs on
the main stage at next years Reading festival to wonder if they're
actually going to damage anything while playing in such a confined
space, and their set only seemed to consist of around six songs.
Of course, this might ensure that everyone witnessing their
performance on this evening will make a point of seeing them
again, even if it's only to hear the other half of their set.
They will turn up on my radar again, I'm quite certain.
The Cockpit is half full tonight as Hot Club
saunter on stage and straight into opening number Call Me Mr
Demolition Ball. The crowd are nonplussed as the pitch perfect
harmonies and jerking guitars reverberate off the low ceiling.
Sensing the audience haven’t really got into this gig yet, the
band launch straight through into songs two and three, but the
crowd remain motionless, as do the band. This could be a difficult
Singer / bassist Matthew Smith, becoming
riled, quips that the applause is like being at a cricket match.
They play another song which sounds a lot like the last one
and gets a similar response.
Back Down is delivered in a furious, overwrought
fashion and immediately the crowd are into it. Matthew quips
about being at university himself once, a reference to the preponderance
of freshers in their checked shirts and crap stubble and the
band play an impromptu version of the Fresh Prince themetune,
which predictably goes down well with the aforementioned.
Boy Awaits Return of the Runaway Girl sounds
fantastic, but inexplicably the myriad of crescendos are greeted
with another cricket match ripple of polite applause. Matthew
is vitriolic again. This time about the alleged theft of a games
console by the band. It makes for a disjointed performance and
eventually the continual ranting draws a sting from the drummer
who tells Matthew to ‘get on with it’.
The band announce that they are retiring
the seminal Sometimesitsbetter... The crowd seem generally disinterested
in this revelation, but the song is executed precisely and forcefully
and the band keep the tempo up through Hey! Housebrick which
is punctiliously delivered. Time has run out for the promised
two more songs, probably because of the various rants but maybe
because of the lamentable crowd so we’re left with a song which
I don’t recognise, which is dispatched with a creditable amount
Unsurprisingly there is no encore, just a
parting shot about how the students can enjoy the club night
now the bands are finished.
There’s no doubt that Hot Club showed some
flashes brilliance and can be captivating when they are in full
flow. But they completely failed to win over the audience tonight.
Some more variation in their setlist would probably help. A
less passive audience would do wonders for them too.
A night for dedicated space cadets everywhere,
featuring two bands with shared roots in the late 1960’s Underground
scene that centred around London’s Portobello Road, Ladbrooke
Grove and Notting Hill Gate; the same scene that spawned, along
with Hawkwind, the likes of the Pink Fairies, Mighty baby and
Tyrannosaurus Rex, and provided a home to most of the capitals
self-styled ‘freaks’ and movers and shakers of the vibrant,
psychedelic ‘counterculture’ of the time.
In their heyday Quintessence had a following
large enough to be able to sell out the Albert Hall on two occasions,
played the last of the legendary Hyde Park free concerts, appeared
at the first couple of Glastonbury Fayre festivals, toured extensively
all over the UK and Europe, playing a largely improvised hybrid
of jazz, rock, Indian music and devotional chants, and released
five albums and a handful of singles before breaking up and
going their separate ways in 1972.
Now re-incarnated around original rhythm-guitarist,
Dave Codling, better known as Maha Dev, (re-christened back
in the day when the band had their own Hindu guru, Swami Ambikananda),
they played their first gig in over thirty five years, at the
New Roscoe, Leeds, last May Bank holiday Monday, supporting
Gong founder Daevid Allen and his occasional band, the University
I was lucky enough to be there to witness
them play a phenomenal set, which afterwards inspired me to
track down some of the bands original back catalogue, and make
me wonder how come I’d somehow missed these treasures of psychedelic
history the first time around, when I was in my early teens,
wandering around in a brand new Afghan coat that smelled of
one third patchouli oil and two thirds the scabby, old, dead
goat it was made out of.
Tonight, they played a truncated but still
inspiring handful of numbers, credible re-interpretations of
the originals, shrouded in dry-ice and lasers and clearly enjoying
every minute of their all too brief time on stage in front of
an appreciative audience, delighted at the largely unpublicised
appearance by such a legendary outfit. Featuring great swathes
of echo-flute and sax. from new lead vocalist, Pete Cheetham,
with space lead guitar by Lol Howarth, over synth. washes and
noodlings by Dr.Hasbeen,(Martyn Needham), anchored by the rhythm
guitar of Maha Dev himself and Leeds lads, John Bootle on bass
and Pete Brenchley on drums, they treated us to versions of
‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Giants’ ‘Cosmic Surfer’ and ‘Dance for the
One’ before they had to give up the stage for the headliners.
Space Ritual, named after the Hawkwind double
live album from 1973, is made up of founding fathers and
former members of Hawkwind, so, unsurprisingly, as it says on
the bands MySpace site, “...No one else could possibly sound
more like Hawkwind, except possibly... Hawkwind.” Indeed, the
band have previously appeared under the clumsy title of ‘Ex-Hawkwind’
before they were prevented from continuing to use the name by
a court case instigated by fellow founder member, Dave Brock,
who still owns the Hawkwind copyright. Not that any of this
seemed to matter much to the audience of, mostly, balding blokes
in their early fifties, (myself included), many resplendent
in ‘Hawkfest 2008’ t-shirts, who had crawled out of the woodwork
on an Autumnal Thursday night for an evening of space-rock.
The last time I’d seen Nik Turner in the
flesh was supporting Randy California’s Spirit, at Manchester
Free Trade Hall around 1980, when he was fronting Inner City
Unit, a sort of satirical, punk, political, cabaret, and then
the band had been rolled on stage by roadies inside giant cardboard
boxes, in which they played the first couple of numbers, before
using their instruments to break out of their metaphorical prisons.
Nik is still one of rock’s genuine eccentric’s,
a psychedelic survivor, counterculture veteran and stalwart
of the free festival scene of the 1970’s and 80’s, and a founder
member, of Hawkwind, contributing his trademark saxophone and
flute to the original sound, along with Terry Ollis, (drums),
and Mick Slattery, (lead guitar), who are supported tonight
by other former members, Thomas Crimble, (keyboards) Jerry Richards,
(bass), and with Chris Purdon (audio generators and synths),
adding the essential spacey effects and wibbly wobbly noises.
Last, but not least, the band are periodically joined onstage
by dancer, ‘Miss Angel’, who, over the course of the 90 minute
set, went through more costume changes than, (I imagine), Kylie
Minogue playing Wembley arena.
The band gave us to an excellent mix of both
re-worked old Hawkwind classics, like ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Master
of the Universe’ as well as new numbers like ‘Sonic Savages’,
‘Bubbles’ and ‘Walking Backwards’ all firmly rooted in the ‘space-rock
genre, interspersed with snippets of poetry by the late Bob
Calvert, (lead singer, poet in residence and front man for Hawkwind
between 1972-1979), and versions of Michael Moorcock’s ‘Sonic
Attack’ and ‘Warriors on the Edge of Time’.
As the dry ice finally cleared and the band
hung around to chat to fans, we space cadets wandered home happy;
having witnessed a little piece of psychedelic history - and
with incontrovertible evidence that it’s perfectly possible
to grow old disgracefully.
Having already lived with the Vessels debut
album, “White Fields and Open Devices” , for a few weeks and
not having seen them play live before, I was looking forward
to this launch party like a kid at Christmas. I knew that Her
Name is Calla were also on the line-up, so I suppose I was expecting
a night of, (mostly), guitar based noises, and the opening act,
7 Hertz, therefore came as a complete surprise, like an unexpected
and very special present.
An acoustic quartet, two violins, double
bass, and clarinet/bass clarinet, 7 Hertz improvised an unclassifiable
mix of folk, jazz, classical chamber and Eastern European music
to engage the imagination; mesmerising, melancholic, disturbing,
delicately beautiful, sometimes atonal, sometimes achingly sweet,
melodies coming out of nowhere and disappearing again, surfacing
and diving, like the soundtrack to a dream. Sadly, it didn’t
seem the right place or the right time for the music of reverie,
struggling against the tide of noise of people arriving, greeting
friends, settling down, buying a drink, getting their bearings.
At times I had to strain to hear the music over the hubbub,
wishing that there had been an MC to call for hush, or tell
people to shut the fuck up, remind them that magic is something
that can happen unexpectedly, and sometimes even before you’ve
got your coat off. So, at least for me, 7 Hertz were a real
discovery and I’ve already spent time lingering on their MySpace
page, tracked down one of their albums and am looking forward
to seeing them play live again, with a more attentive and appreciative
Brontide seemed to be more of what people
were expecting, the classic ‘power trio’ line up of bass, drums
and lead guitar, producing an accomplished, furious, melodic
racket of guitar loops, finger tapping and fiddling about with
guitar pedals, loud enough to get people’s attention and drown
out the chatter, but somehow I just didn’t engage with what
they were doing, hung up perhaps, on all the flash and fireworks,
and failing to find enough soul and substance. Nevertheless,
I heard many mutters of approval around the room and they ended
their set to generous and enthusiastic applause.
I saw Her Name is Calla for the first time
live in July, at the beginning of a short tour to promote the
release of ‘The Heritage’ mini-album, so I was really looking
forward to hearing how their epics of anguish and longing had
been honed by being out on the road. However, it was precisely
at the moment they took to the stage that an old friend spotted
me lurking in a corner and chose to come over and say hello,
and spend the remainder of their set updating me about big changes
in her personal circumstances. So, too polite not to listen
to someone pour out a little of their heart, I had to let the
majority of Her Name is Calla’s set wash over me without paying
it the attention they deserve, content to notice from the audience’s
reaction that I’d missed something phenomenal.
You know there is a buzz about a band when
an audience leaves its seats and gathers at the front even before
they take the stage and you have to admire the courage and confidence
of a band that opens their set, on an evening devoted to launching
their debut album, by playing a totally new number, a work in
process, just for the sheer hell of it, acknowledging that,
although it may be fresh for much of the audience, for musicians
themselves, by the time an album is recorded and the music debuted
on tour, it may already be old, familiar and as comfortable
as a pair of slippers.
Vessels play like men possessed, possessed
with chaotic energy, skill, precision and sheer enthusiasm for
playing that I haven’t seen in a band for a long time. They
play immense songs, a glorious and awesome noise that threatens
to take the roof off the venue and spill out into the streets
and sky above Leeds 6.
‘This would sound really good at a festival!’
shouted the man in the lion tamers waistcoat sitting next to
me. Indeed it would, and, by virtue of synchronicity, I’d been
told earlier in the evening that the Vessels had played to the
mud-spattered crowds from the BBC ‘Introducing stage’ at the
Bestival only the previous weekend.
The band display an admirable lack of inhibition,
individuals lost in the mesh of sound collectively produced;
there is a fluidity and constant motion, both to the music and
the bands presence on stage. Closing my eyes to get my bearings
in this hurricane, I am reminded of seeing My Bloody Valentine,
and, to a lesser extent, all those bands on the Blast First
label that I made pilgrimages to see at the late Duchess of
York pub, at the back end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, UT,
AC Temple, Band of Susans, in the days when Grunge was new and
Nirvana were still touring in a hired Ford Transit.
Live, the Vessels generate great tidal waves
of up to three guitars, crashing and receding over bass and
drums, samples, keyboards, occasional drum-machine, E-bowed
guitar or cello-bowed drones, scattered, soaring, staccato melodies
that sparkle for an instant and then are gone.
There are some gigs that are capable of changing
your life, or at least the way you think about and experience
music. For me there have been many, the Birthday Party playing
their penultimate gig in the UK before they imploded, or the
Butthole Surfers touring after the release of ‘Locust Abortion
Technician’ being just a couple in a list that stretches back
a long, long way. Looking at the rapt faces of some members
of the audience, as band delivered stunning versions of ‘Altered
Beast’ or ‘An Idle Brain and the Devil’s Workshop’; I’m struck
by the certainty that, if not me, then someone out there on
the dance floor was having just such an epiphany.
This isn't quite the usual gig. When I offered to write up
on this one for all I knew Hauschka was a quartet of black clad
emo types rattling out Husker Du covers, although I wasn't certain
what they were up to on Narrow St. Then it dawned upon my quizzical
brow - I'd seen Mapstation previously, or at least To Roccoco
Rot, of which Mapstation were/are an integral part, and all
was apparent once more. Even Banksy wipes his feet when he walks
in the Arnolfini.
Which is a theatre, with blackout backdrops and spotlights.
And on its stage is a collection of instruments and equipment
arranged in a properly artistic manner, and which I had the
impression much of the audience would have quite politely sat
and looked at for two hours, to a pre-recorded soundtrack over
the tannoy. There's a cello at the front. It belongs to Chipper,
who is a solo performer and has the ability to use her instrument
as both a musical and percussive one, assuming all the electronics
are doing what they're supposed to. Using a combination of digital
delay and the improvisator's knack of utilising any noise that
results from adding a pickup to an orchestral instrument, Chipper
presented us with around 10 minutes of eccentrically captivating
four stringed electronic experimentation until her laptop packed
up, which provided this member of Crippled Black Phoenix the
opportunity to show the Arnolfini audience that she could also
play the cello without resorting to gadgetry. Which Chipper
can, and with considerable skill.
Now, some of you will recognise the name To Roccoco Rot from
a little earlier this decade. Leading lights of the electronic
scene that eventually gave to our mainstream radio Royksopp,
Stefan Schneider, one of To Roccoco Rots' founders, has brought
with him a collection of objects none of which, apart from his
laptop, are keyboard instruments. But the first number of this
part of the evening's performances is an entirely acoustic one.
Schneider is joined onstage by Hauschka, or Volker Bertelmann
as he is more usually known, and the perform a cover of a poem
written in 1979 by the artist Josef Beuys which consists of
two words; 'ja' and 'ne'. This provides an introduction of the
right type of levity for what could under other circumstances
get a bit po-faced, you know, big gallery theatre space, experimental
cellist, complicated German electronics and a piano that looks
like an artwork -
So the vocal performance ends and Mapstation is quite definitely
in the house. And whoever said 'I could do that', listen a little
more closely and a lot less cynically. Stefan Schneider is an
electronic composer: if you automatically laugh when you hear
anyone's work described thus, then stop reading this now. Melding
together combinations of basslines and melodies with occasionally
added beats and the quite real possibility that the entire sonic
edifice could collapse onstage at any moment - such is the overwhelmingly
complex task that Schneider is setting himself, using equipment
which is, some of it, still in the planning stages. The mood
of his sound collages is subdued and questioning, and of course
ambient. Your actual lift Muzak, unless I am very mistaken.
Then halfway through the conflicting elements merge into a more
coherent wholeness and you could stage an absurdist mime to
what's thudding out of the Arnolfini's PA which is somehow what
was missing from this evening. A recording of Josef Beuys reading
'Ja/Ne' ends Mapstations performance, and none of us could do
that. Not really.
Hauschka's piano is designed to do things conventional pianos
don't and has assorted chimes and pieces of metal where there
are normally strings. Add to this an element of performance
as Volker Bertelmann stops/starts/mixes up his collection of
toys and assorted objects, not all of which do exactly what
they're supposed to, and plays his collection of short-ish keyboard
pieces none of which (unlike his contemporary Thomas Lens for
example) stray very far from traditionally accepted notions
of what a piano tune actually ought to sound like. What Hauschka
is showing us is, basically, his own design of acoustic synthesizer,
an instrument which can do everything an ordinary piano can
do and can also provide percussive elements, as well as the
element of chance which showmanship such as this requires if
it is to succeed in real artistic terms and while I suspect
the more adventurous aspect of Hauschka's work is reined in
slightly this evening, the whole performance has the air of
an experiment that actually worked and Hauschka is himself an
engaging personality with considerable skills to show us.
That, I realised as I made my way home, is what really worked
this evening. Perhaps the heady days of seriously avant garde
experimentation really are behind us, at least for the moment,
and musicians who would in previous times have thrown both themselves
and their instruments into paroxysms of atonality verging on
chaotic farce are now quite content to let their laptops do
the crashing instead. Safe. But very far from dull.