- 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
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
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.
Tupolev Ghost + Crazy Arm +Break The Habit + Bangers + United
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
+ 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
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
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”.
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
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.
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.
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