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gig reviews - dec 08-mar 09



24.3.09 - The Luminaire, London

Taking to the stage before 9pm, the members of Lau promptly sit down and disappear out of sight for the entire audience apart from the front row, thanks to the 2 inch high stage of the Luminaire.

Luckily the band let us know the important details –that Martin is wearing a brown suit, and that Kris is looking particularly dapper this evening.

Opening with Frank and Flo’s the band give a whistle-stop tour through both of their albums, Lightweights and Gentlemen and Arc Light, which is just about to be released. From three and a half minute radio friendly numbers like Winter Moon, to nine minute instrumental, experimental epics like Stephen’s.

An incredibly proficient band, all three members are flawless on their instruments, and know exactly what’s coming next, but still manage to maintain an air of spontaneity and feed off each other.

With a set lasting two hours, the audience are whipped into a toe-tapping, woo-hoo-ing frenzy as the band seem to be playing their instruments faster than the speed of light and barely stopping for breath between tracks.

Their particular brand of Scottish folk music is unlike anything else around – their combination of sounds, tempos and different ideas fuse together to make an age-old genre sound new and exciting.

Catriona Boyle

The Tupolev Ghost + Crazy Arm +Break The Habit + Bangers + United Snakes
22.3.09 - The Portland Arms, Cambridge

Sunday night in the back room of a small pub in Cambridge seems an unusual setting for the Guitar Wrestling Olympics, however rarely do I spot a guitar behaving as if it’s not possessed and seeking to escape its abuser.

United Snakes open proceedings with their lo-fi garage-style riffing. Heavily influenced by The Stooges, they show great promise.

Bangers, playing the last show on their current tour, follow. Like a false-starting 100m sprinter they shoot out of the starting blocks seemingly determined to break the land speed record. Reminiscent of an early Husker Du, melodies are however never sacrificed. This is a band clearly relishing every minute on stage.

Break The Habit have somehow found themselves added to tonight’s bill at the last minute due to a cancellation elsewhere. They waste no time, simply plugging straight in and playing. Frenzied melodic punk is again the order of the day with a heavy injection of passionate vocals.

Crazy Arm rose from the ashes of No Comply and The Once Over Twice a few years back. Momentum seems to be picking up and they put on an energetic show with their bassist a runaway victor in the previously mentioned Olympic discipline. Brimming with confidence and showmanship the band play a well received set full of aggressive but tuneful punk. Although very different in musical style and sound I’m for some reason reminded of Josh Homme in the vocal delivery. Forthcoming single ‘Broken By The Wheel’ promises much as does the release of their debut album by Xtra Mile Recordings, which will hopefully see the band gain the glowing reviews they deserve.

The second date of their tour sees The Tupolev Ghost on home territory. Another enforced line up change for this tour sees the inclusion of a new bassist. It is to their credit that The Tupolev Ghost are progressing so rapidly despite these recent changes in personnel. Promoting their soon to be released EP on Big Scary Monsters they produce a ferocious sounding noise, allowing songs room to breathe, grow and then conquer like a huge roaming post hardcore dinosaur.

Mark Whiffin

Howling Bells
4.3.09 - Porstmouth Wedgewood Rooms

There’s a surprisingly large turn out for Howling Bells tonight – clearly most of them haven’t heard the rather disappointing new album ‘Radio Wars’. Probably just as well, and fingers crossed they play more from their first rather good self-titled album.

The Joy Formidable put on a cracking support set – intense, fast-paced, and arresting. There’s a rare lull in the usual during support band chatter that goes on, perhaps because it’s almost impossible to shout over the noise these guys make, or because they’re definitely worth listening to. Ritzy is every bit the cool, sexy, but ultimately unattainable front woman, and her incredible vocals round the whole thing off nicely, leaving every girl the audience wanting to be her, and every guy wishing he was in a band with her.

In fact Juanita, lead lady from Howling Bells, could take a few lessons from Ritzy, as she comes across as simply trying too hard, putting her in the red when it comes to cool points. Her attempts to whip up the audience into a frenzy succeed for about 30 seconds, but as Howling Bells plough into their set list the audience becomes more and more subdued.

The set list is heavily borrowed from Radio Wars, and having only been released on Monday, the tracks are either completely new or fairly unfamiliar to the audience. The lack lustre nature of the album still remains lack lustre live, and the slow, dragging style of some of the tracks creates almost a rhythmic hypnotic stupor… are Howling Bells trying to brainwash us into liking their new album?

The older stuff gets a far better reaction, waking everyone up, but there’s not enough of it to really bring this gig to life, as hard as the band might try.

Catriona Boyle

School Of Seven Bells
27.2.09 - Manchester, Night and Day

I really can’t remember the last show I went to that featured three bands well worth taking notice of, and this evening was certainly a rare exception. First up Apache Beat, coming across all surly and Brooklyn. As the name suggests, a primal and solid back-beat that conjures the Contortions and LCD all at once. Wrapping herself in the mic lead, singer Ilirjana makes like a darker Debbie Harry for the Twitter generation.

Former single Tropics cooks up an intensive storm with a Banshees-a-like edge, and a hook that wraps itself murkily around the room.

I’d heard of Kyte and an affiliation to the Nu-Gaze scene (Bad title) but, as a live experience they are far more complex.Mentioned usually in the same breath as Maps, Kyte set the scene for themselves with the glorious Boundaries. Pushing the envelope out intelligently for the rest of the evening, Kyte scrape some dizzy heights. Textured and lovely soundscapes with intense vocals from Nick Moon throughout, sometimes coming on like an East Midlands Postal Service. Occasionally Kyte veer towards the proggier end of the scale, the cover of Solsbury Hil is lovely, the crowd in the sold-put venue are pulled in and hotting up. Treat yourself to the new EP, it really is very good indeed. Playing very much bigger venues soon, if there is any justice.

School of Seven Bells reach some digital dream -spaces on record, their sometimes Cocteau-twins-ish tones leaving a lingering sense of having been there before. First I knew of them was the track created with Prefuse 73, iamundernodisguise, here reprised as a stand-out number in a late-starting set. Claudia and Alejandra conjur some extraordinary vocal harmonies that resonate within long after the evening ends. Ex Secret-Machines man Ben Curtis throws some rock shapes, and the recent Alpinisms album is aired almost in full. Reminicent at times of both spectral nineties shoegazers Moonshake and early Cluster, this music cuts a cool linear swathe like the rainbow rays on their album cover. Chain dips into the dancefloor, whilst Half Asleep is sublime, and when those vocals kick-in, divine. Unfazed by some early sound problems, the twins are loving the moment. Even Claudia losing her voice doesn’t prevent an encore after noisy demands for more. SOSB are taking the dreampop imprint and moving it speedily and efficiently forward.

John Kertland

20.2.2009 - O2 Academy Shepherds Bush Empire

The audience seem subdued and the venue would feel sterile if it wasn’t tainted by overt corporate sponsorship; a barrage of NME clips and Shockwave ads repeated ad nauseam on the screen. I had been looking forward to this gig but now all seemed like a false promise until... the adverts stop. The screen is manually hauled offstage, and with it the feeling that we are part of a global marketing synergy experience. The stage now becomes bare, with only basic lighting. I expect this is just a practical development of the show, but it is also the beginning of an evening of duality.

In his songs and as a performer, Tricky is a series of contradictions. His music is easily identified, so strong is his authorial stamp, but he is also an elusive character. The cheer that goes up as the stage begins to fill turns out to be premature - it is the band members, and co-singer Veronika Coassolo, who are treading the boards. Tricky himself seems to slink on, so you aren’t sure if he was always there or not. This is a man who strips to the waist, wearing bright orange trousers and sporting baby dreads and often a Christ-like pose, his thin muscular body highlighted by the blue lights that illuminate the stage, and yet still he manages to disappear. And not just visually; on many tracks his low, growling vocals seem lost in the mix when combined with Veronika’s incredible voice. During the first few minutes I start to wonder if Tricky’s mike is not working as he seems to be singing into it but nothing can be heard of his voice. It’s only when his voice takes prominence that you realise how he is a background character in a song that is completely infused with his personality.

There were many times where he turned his back to the audience and seemed to disappear into his band, and yet he was still totally present in the sound being produced such as on ‘Past Mistake’. Then there are tracks such as ‘Puppy Toy’ where his vocals don’t just underlie, they complement.

For a gig that had such poor beginnings, I came away feeling I had witnessed something entirely different. An artist who removes himself from the performance, yet still delivers a show that could not have been carried out by anyone else. And just in case this sounds like I was more impressed by the concept rather than the show, Tricky’s cover of the ‘Ace of Spades’ during the encore out-rocked even Motorhead.

Matthew Latham

Amadou & Mariam
25.2.2009 – Koko, London

Forget about Fleet Foxes…the most highly rated LP of 2008, according to the aggregate website Metacritic, was Amadou & Mariam’s “Welcome to Mali”. Try telling the audience of tonight’s sold-out show otherwise. It’s this album as well as the patronage and co-production skills of Damon Albarn that is bringing them new levels of recognition, although the pair have been musically active for over 30 years and previously worked with Manu Chao.

Positioned side-by-side and centre-stage, the “blind couple from Mali” might not move about much but still make for an arresting sight in their robes and sunglasses, as do the two backing singers throwing impressive shapes to their right. From the opening “Welcome to Mali” there’s a party atmosphere in the air which just keeps on growing, and as the set progresses both the songs and the musicians playing them become more audacious and free-spirited. Each gets a moment in the spotlight to show off their impressive skills as Amadou introduces them, not least the man himself when Mariam leaves the stage midway through so he can let rip on his gold-plated guitar.

Meanwhile, happy vibes and smiles abound throughout the audience. People dance alone or in pairs, enraptured by a sound that owes as much to French disco music as anything from the couple’s homeland. Amadou’s repeated question of “Do you feel alriiiiiiiiight?” never comes across as forced or insincere…he just wants to make sure that everybody is having a good time. Whether the couple will ever transcend venues like this to become the next world music coffee table phenomenon is no certainty but, on tonight’s evidence, their upcoming residency at the Jazz Café will be the hottest ticket in town.

Will Columbine

Drever, McCusker, Woomble + Heidi Talbot and Boo Hewardine
10.2.09 - The Junction, Cambridge

Rescheduled from the previous September, this gig now goes ahead in a venue four times the size of the original due to the disappearance of the Barfly and any vaguely similar-sized venues. However, alarm bells need not ring: there is a healthy audience present tonight. Recent critical praise and glowing live reviews have left an expectant buzz around the busy trio and hopes are high for tonight’s show.

Heidi Talbot opens proceedings accompanied by Cambridgeshire egend Boo Hewardine on guitar. She is a natural and soon a hush descends over the audience as they linger on her every word. She is soon joined by Kris Drever and John McCusker and the sound is immediately that of a well rehearsed, tight and passionate group. At times reminding of Cara Dillon and Beth Orton, she treats the crowd to selections from her latest album ‘Love and Light,’ alongside traditional covers and a couple of songs by Boo Hewardine.

Kris Drever and John McCusker return to the stage with Roddy Woomble to play a headlining set focusing heavily on last year’s ‘Before the Ruin’ album. Woomble’s seated performance is in stark contrast to his earlier years fronting Idlewild where he regularly seemed to spend large proportions of the time rolling around the stage floor. However, this more controlled appearance features no less passion and a stunning ‘My Secret is My Silence’ appears early in the set. Drever and McCusker are soon in on the act playing their own compositions and McCusker’s foot-stomping fiddling goes down a treat.

Despite the huge and varied talents on show, no egos are present and the feeling of respect and friendship amongst the group bodes well for future projects.

Mark Whiffin

Max Tundra + Ben Butler & Mousepad
3.2.2009 - The Soul Tree, Cambridge

Trust between a promoter and a punter is an essential part of gig going for me and I’ve regularly attended gigs because I fully trust the promoter to have booked something interesting and exciting and not purely the latest indie by numbers act in the hope of making a quick profit. Over a number of years, Bad Timing have brought to Cambridge an amazing selection of “lo-fi, noise, weird pop, electronics, randomness.” Tonight is certainly no exception.

Ben Butler and Mousepad are a (side) project of Joe Howe of Gay Against You. The sound feels heavily 70s and 80s influenced and features contagious keyboard riffs played over a funky backing beat. At times these riffs remind me of anything ranging from Dallas to Henry’s Cat, from 1970’s style detective shows to the theme tune of Lemmings. The audience watch in appreciation, and although not dancing, all nod along.

Max Tundra’s latest album ‘Parallax Error Beheads You’ appeared in a number of top album lists last year including a highly coveted top ten placing in The Silent Ballet’s top ten electronic records of the year. Eclectic would be the word to describe tonight’s performance. The vocal delivery, over the funky keyboards, can’t help but remind me of Craig David. Performance is obviously a key word for Max Tundra and we are treated to some real showmanship and unusual dance moves. Entertainment is never in short supply and the new material is complimented by covers from KLF and ‘So Long, Farewell’ from ‘The Sound Of Music’. Never has a gig left me so confused as to whether I enjoyed it or not.

Mark Whiffin

Televised Crimewave + Popular Workshop + Section K
22.1.09 - Bath Moles

Section K are wearing (variously) a lab coat, a karate outfit (red belt) and a dress or something. Two of the trio are wearing dust masks. On goes a tape loop of indecipherable speech. On also goes a cacophonous medley of synth, bass and guitar, plus an equally indecipherable vocal. The synth player is on the dancefloor with his back to the audience. Section K play four songs, amidst instrument swapping and walls of screeching feedback, while the synth player wanders off to talk to his mates. All that was missing was a video backdrop of some equally obscure images.

Popular Workshop are from London, and it all looks quite promising, with some inventive guitar tunes and plenty of onstage dancing some of which I recognise from the Cribs handbook of guitar aerobatics. The continuing feedback threatens to put a damper on this though, until around third number 'HaHaHaHa', at which point the sound suddenly clears up, although the mixing desk wasn't actually in use, I noticed. Workshop frontman Gypsy's tightly structured guitar playing is now properly audible, and bassist Luke can apply more in the way of intricacy to his playing rather than just thumping his instrument and hoping he's still in key. Gypsy jumps into the crowd and the guitars are left onstage to hum audibly, minus their owners.

Televised Crimewave posess all the qualities of a proper headline act. Vocalist Daniel Wilson writhes and kicks while glaring blankly into the audience, but the mood is of enthusiasm rather than mere aggression. Rhythmically, the four piece turn the hi-hat angularities of the past decade to their own use in as many ways as the limitations of a 25 minute set will allow, and I don't envisage Foals ever picking them as a tour support. It's bassist Tom's birthday and would we all please clap, but Televised Crimewave didn't need to ask for applause tonight. I walked home with my ears ringing. They haven't done that for a while.

Jon Gordon

Levellers + Divokej Bill + Frank Turner
12.12.08 – Leeds Academy

Leaning up against the taxi rank sign outside the Walkabout bar, freezing my backside off, shivering in the pissing rain, chain-smoking after four hours of enforced nicotine deprivation, and waiting for our cab to turn up, I began to wonder, why, all in all, I’d had such a good time tonight...

Not being a fan, this was only the second time I’ve seen the Levellers play live, the first being a couple of years ago, and both times more to keep my woman happy than any real familiarity with their work or desire to see them on stage. The last time I’d been left unmoved, tired after a long day at work and more preoccupied with seeing my lady’s face light up as she re-lived some of the glory moments of her youth, dancing to the music of a band that meant a great deal to her, than losing myself to a collective experience.

Midway through a tour to celebrate both their 20 year career, and promote their new album, “Letters From The Underground”, which has been hailed by fans, and critics, as a return to form, tonight’s gig turned out to be a real treat for all sorts of reasons. “Well, that’s the weekend off to a great start!” said some sweaty guy near me as the house lights came up at the end and we began to amble slowly towards the cloakroom queue.

But to begin at the beginning - being a conscientious reviewer and contacting the tour manager in advance to get an idea of running times, we got there early - mainly because I was anxious to get an opportunity to re-appraise Frank Turner, since my only previous exposure had been to his recent charity single, “Long Live The Queen”, which, despite it being to raise money and awareness for Breast cancer charities and to celebrate the life of a friend lost to Breast cancer, I’d largely given the thumbs down to in my Tasty review. So it seemed like some sort of divine justice that I find out he’s supporting the Levellers and to be seeing him so soon after giving what I considered a ‘bad ’review.

Live, alone with just a guitar, Frank comes across as a sincere, funny, earnest, self-depreciating and likable sort of bloke, with, to quote a line from his song, Nashville Tennessee, “...a punk rock sense of honesty.” Tonight, he tells us, he’s playing support on the tour because he’s been a Levellers fan since his schooldays. Appreciative of those of us that have turned up early, he treats us to a short set of eight songs; rousing, confessional, cynical, celebratory, and raw, augmenting bare voice and acoustic guitar with occasional percussive accompaniment on the ‘stomp box’. Towards the end of his set, at the moment when he managed to unplug his guitar just as he started one of the closing numbers, I’d grown to like the guy so much I could have cuddled him.

While Frank’s continuation of the ‘lone troubadour’ tradition may be better suited to venues slightly more cosy than the cavernous barn that is Leeds Academy, still filling up as more and more Levellers fans arrived in advance of the main act, his songs and his personality were strong enough to gain and maintain the attention of the audience, and perhaps, like me, left them looking forward to seeing him headline in a smaller venue, with a longer set and more opportunity to share a real rapport and intimacy with people.

Named after Wild Bill Hickock, the legendary gunfighter of the American Old West, Divokej Bill, were for me, the real surprise and treat of the evening. Previously, I’d glimpsed them only on late night Czech TV, in concert in the studio, through bleary, beery eyes, slumped on the sofa after hours in a Prague, ‘Non-Stop’ bar and a nodding journey on the night tram home. Anyone visiting the Czech Republic doesn’t have to look far to see their name on billboards and concert posters. Voted best band of 2006 in the ‘Czech Nightingale’ music awards, they have grown over the last few years to be one of the country’s biggest bands. The current line up came together around 1998, gigging and touring regularly in their home country in the last 10 years, touring Eastern Europe with the Levellers, playing the Levellers, Beautiful Days festival, and returning the favour, with the Levellers as guests at their own, Rock for People festival - now touring as support on their first comprehensive set of UK appearances.

They hit the stage with all the clout of a Hussite wagon-train, with a set of infectious, thumping songs about pigs, bumblebees, fairy godmothers, and teenage suicides from self-immolation; songs as equally about life in the ubiquitous ‘panalaky’, the soviet social-housing complexes that still proliferate all over eastern Europe, as the idyllic, pine forests of the Šumava mountains.

With a line up comprising of violin, bass, banjo, lead guitar, acoustic guitar, accordion and drums they pumped out a riotous blend of punk, metal, Czechoslovak and Celtic folk traditions, Czech bluegrass, rock, rap and ska, pogo-ing around on stage in unison, in time to the ridiculously contagious beats of their numbers.

Despite singing almost exclusively in Czech and denied the opportunity for the banter between numbers that characterises live sets on their home turf, they play with so much energy and joy of playing that their rapport with the audience was such that they sang along enthusiastically with the chorus of the closing number, its subject matter being a lingua franca that unites both band and audience – ‘Alkohol’. “See you at the bar!” shouted Vašek Bláha, their front man, as they left the stage, with visible reluctance, to sustained and enthusiastic applause.

Looking a little older and more tired than the last time we’d seen them, The Levellers played a long set of about 20 songs in all, showcasing most of the numbers from the new album, as well as an equal slice from their past anthems, drawing heavily, and to everyone’s delight, on songs from the LP that many regard as their best - Levelling the Land, giving the audience ample opportunity to sing and dance along to personal favourites; songs that for many, have provided a soundtrack to their lives... Belarus, One Way, the Road, Sell Out, Riverflow to name a few

They were joined on stage for several numbers by their long time Didgeridoo player, Stephen Boakes, resplendent in a kilt and wearing a makeup that left him looking like Keith from Prodigy’s evil, little brother. What do you do - when you are not blowing a honking mono-drone from a giant, hollow tree-branch, miked up, fed through a long delay, and supplying a rasping undertow to the numbers? Stephen’s solution was to play, a somewhat unwieldy and vaguely absurdist, air-guitar with it. Fair enough.

I don’t know if it was because we moved position, finding ourselves to the left of the stage, or if it was simply my ears packing up, but the sound became increasingly muddy, so that as the set progressed I found it hard to distinguish between instruments, clearly seeing Simon Friend playing electric banjo, but hardly able to pick it out of the overall mix. For everyone else, without a banjo fetish, the event become more and more celebratory, girlfriends suddenly hoisted onto shoulders and doing that ‘wave your arms up and down in the air like Wayne Hussey’ dance, that tends to break out at festivals, like an unpleasant rash, and thankfully, tonight, was isolated to a few, rare cases.
Clearly, this was an evening for fans of the band, and while I may not have entirely shared the rapture, feeling a little voyeuristic as the ‘participant observer’, I could appreciate the shared excitement, the sheer energy the Levellers still put into their live shows and the easy rapport they established with their audience from the outset. Ok, I confess that for some time, half-way through their set, I was distracted by some idiot persistently dancing on my feet, who kept turning around and drunkenly apologising, and then doing it again. Still, I fought off my instinctive urge to give him a good kicking, recognising that he was trying to impress a woman dancing equally clumsily next to him, carried away by the euphoria of the moment, and probably under the influence of more ale than he was used to. Still, towards the close of the set, when they returned to the stage to play Far from Home, Another Man’s Cause, Dirty Davey and their final encore, Liberty, whatever cynicism I’d nursed for years about the Levellers was finally blown away.

So, back at the taxi rank after the gig, thinking about why this evening had been such a grand night out, it struck me that what’s important about all these acts is that they touch people’s lives by singing about their own, and, in the Levellers case, from their choice of name, the politics of many of their songs, and the causes they’ve supported and brought to their fans attention over two decades; reminders of the Poll Tax riots, the Criminal Justice Bill, the long Shadow of Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands war, Green Anarchism, Travellers, and Road protesters; they represent not only a continuity of the English folk tradition, but also of an interlinked radical tradition, a tradition of dissent, protest and opposition, for which their music provides an entry point, a portal, an introduction. At a time when music seems, on the surface at least, to be increasingly manufactured, ephemeral, consumerist and insubstantial, and the majority of people I meet seem apathetic, complacent, and acquiescent, perhaps we all need bands like the Levellers to remind us that, indeed... “There’s only one way to live, and that’s your own”.

Bill Howe


Jesse Malin
12.12.08 – Water Rats, London

Water Rats has seen some busy nights in the past, but this is a sold out Jesse Malin show on a Friday night, and taking into account the fact that most Jesse Malin fans are older, balder and wider around the waistline than your average gig-goer and you’ve got a serious sardines in a can situation. Surprisingly though, no one seems that bothered, with most if anything seeming to appreciate the more intimate setting, all be it an intimate setting jam-packed with 200 plus jostling beer bellies.

Jesse is in solo acoustic mode tonight, backed only by Christine Smith of Marah on keyboard and occasional backing vocals, borrowed from support act David Bielanko (also of Marah). At times he dispenses with the guitar altogether, such as on opening number Cigarettes & Violets, and at other times he attacks the strings with such ferocity that you wonder whether he needs a rhythm section at all. In the case of Prisoners of Paradise off last years Glitter in the Gutter, the rendition is more in tune with the folk-punk of Hamell On Trial than the produced glam rock of the album version.

Jesse’s set is a healthy cross-section of his solo career to date, pulling a good 6 songs from both his most recent, Glitter in the Gutter, and his 2002 debut The Fine Art of Self Destruction (still his most popular given the reception from the crowd), the most memorable being the roaring ballad Solitaire, with Jesse, and his devotees up front, in fine voice. Inevitably there are the covers too, most of which are pulled from Jesse’s recent covers album On Your Sleeve, plus his version of Bastards of Young from Glitter in the Gutter. As dubious as his lighters-in-the-air piano-ballad take on the 80s American underground classic is, it’s still probably the only place outside of a Paul Westerberg gig you’ll get an audience singing along to a Replacements song.

Jesse intersperses his set with amusing monologues that are sometimes as long and at times as entertaining as the songs themselves. Although initially they seem like rambling digressions they emerge as wonderfully structured pieces of mini-storytelling that always tie into the next number, drawing on encountering The Police on Costello’s new US chat show (“I hate the Police, but they hate each other. Stewart Copeland walks in and he’s like David Lee Roth from Van Halen”), misinterpreted lyrics, hanging out with Joe Strummer (which leads into a rousing cover of Death or Glory), growing up in Brooklyn, and even jokes about Woolworths.

Jesse is a born crowd pleaser and like his hero Springsteen, or friend Ryan Adams, he’s a sucker for long sets. Tonight’s show clocks in at just over two hours, which may seem excessive given the basic acoustic set-up, and at times it feels like it, but Jesse never looks like tiring, and to be fair, neither do the audience. Unsurprisingly he finishes on Xmas from The Fine Art…, which he announces as “the last song”, but after breaks straight into another cover – long time live favourite Everybody’s Talkin’. And then when you’re certain it’s all over he’s off again, teasing the crowd with what sounds like another intro. It’s like he doesn’t want to end it, but he relents, realising his time is up, and at 11.45 he finally leaves the stage, much to the relief of the worried looking staff.

Stephen Jessep


James Yorkston
11.12.08 – St. Giles Church, London

There are a number of noticeable differences when attending a gig in a church. One, there’s no bar (for obvious reasons), two, the audience are frighteningly reverential (though that could be something to do with point one), and three, everyone gets to leave by 10pm (presumably while there’s still time to find a bar). Shearwater performed at St Giles Church in Soho in November, and although you can imagine the venues Palladian architecture would have visually complimented their brand of tight medieval-rock the haunting acoustics here are really much better suited to, er, haunting acoustic music, such as that of Scottish folkie James Yorkston.

James is tonight mostly performing numbers from his recent acclaimed album When The Haar Rolls In, amongst older favourites such as Steady As She Goes and the song that launched his career Rolling Up Country, Roaring The Gospel. Bar the first two solo numbers, James is joined on this performance by his backing band The Athletes (not to be confused with Christian soft-rockers Athlete – this is a church after all), an all-acoustic ensemble consisting of accordion, violin, clarinet and double bass.

Not being tied down to a drummer James re-arranges his songs into exercises in volume and tempo from intense peaks to sparse respites. At times it works wonderfully, but for the most part it feels like James lacks discipline in this freeform approach, drawing some of the songs out to lengths beyond which they remain pleasurable. B’s Jig and Midnight Feast, 6 and 6½ minutes long on the album versions respectively are stretched to prog-length proportions (though James jokes that B’s Jig could use an extra few verses) via additional instrumental sections where James builds the music to a crescendo of noise, thrashing at his guitar with increased intensity, before breaking everything down to a soft rhythm and an accompanying lone violin or clarinet, handing over perhaps unnecessary individual showcases to the admittedly impressive collective of musicians James has assembled. It’s either widely indulgent or captivatingly hypnotic depending on your tolerance for mantra-esque folk and/or the typically uncomfortable wooden pews.

On latest single Tortoise Regrets Hare, for which the band take a one-song break and James is joined by an additional two backing vocalists, he experiences such admiration for the tight three-part harmonies during the middle eight that he stops the song to compliment the endeavour, only to struggle to resume the next verse through his own laughter, but it’s not the first or last time. James’ attitude towards his grand surroundings treads an uncomfortable line between genuinely humbled and befuddled amusement. He jokingly prohibits swearing for the evening, and on a couple of moments he breaks out in nervous laughter. One of the few songs from the new album he omits is the sin-drenched Temptation, appropriately finishing instead on the tender Sweet Jesus, which James describes as a “Christmas song”. It’s at this point when just a little alcohol to get into the Christmas spirit wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Stephen Jessep


27.11.2008 - Manchester Academy

If you’re a fan of cross referencing you may want to look up the review I wrote about Jonah Matranga’s gig in Leeds. It should tell you that this will in no way attempt to provide an objective overview of the gig.

I love Far. I got into them after they split up and it galled a little that, at the time, I thought I’d never get to see them live. Then they reformed AND Jonah Matranga invited me to the show to review them. I was just a little happy. They were amazing, drawing heavily on material from stunning 4th album Water & Solution and having pretty much every word sung back at them from the tops of voices. As a unit they’re tight and enthusiastic and Jonah is a really very good front man. Not so much a nostalgia fest as a happy return of old friends. People were spoken to, hugged like it was a basement show for you friends, after they’ve been away on tour. Most of all I saw a band I love play a gig I didn’t think I’d get to see and found it live up to my expectations.

I hope to heaven they come back with new stuff and more gigs. There should be more bands this good at song writing and connecting with people.

Christopher Carney