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gig reviews - april - june 09



Scott Matthews
31.5.09 – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

The Sahara desert, a blast furnace, the Brudenell Social Club, the planet Mercury, Death Valley, an oven. Can you spot the odd one out? Its the planet Mercury, as that is the only one that is not on Earth. A warm day here in Yorkshire, on Earth, translated into the hottest ever gig venue that I have encountered.

It isn’t really anyone’s fault, the problem is that the Brudenell is slap bang in a residential area, and there have been lots of complaints about noise. Eventually the venue was threatened with immediate closure unless remedial soundproofing works took place. Thankfully a lot of fundraising, and free labour ensured that the soundproofing was completed. The venue could stay open. The doors couldn’t. No air circulates through the venue now, and for a sold out gig in June, that’s a very bad thing.

Braving the heat and humidity I ventured in for the start of Scott Matthews’ set. He ambled on stage and in fake American tones announced that he might well collapse on stage right infront of us. He reverted to his native Midlands voice to introduce himself, picked up one of the myriad of guitars on stage and we were up and running.

Scott’s unique delivery, reminiscent of Thom Yorke when he ekes out high tones and many Detroit troubadours from the early 1990s when he growls a guttural moan, is delivered through clenched teeth and with barely any movement of the mouth. It’s a slightly unsettling experience to watch, but great to listen to.

Singer songwriters are always hamstrung when it comes to putting on a visually exciting performance and Scott Matthews is no exception. He alternates between sitting and standing, between electric and acoustic guitar and tries to interact with the audience between songs, mostly to complain about the heat and interestingly, to attempt to get a pint of Fosters. Fosters?

Most of the songs are from new album Elsewhere which I don’t own (yet), so I can’t really recall many track names. What I can reveal is that most of the material is brooding, and atmospheric and the lyrics are leaden and fractured. Matthews voice cracks and strains with emotion on Speeding Slowly, as he mesmerisingly builds the dark tension with intricate chords and sweat drips from his lank hair onto the stage.

Songs from his first album Passing Stranger light up the venue with their simpler arrangements and expansive structures and they also get the most positive response from the crowd. Side by side, his life’s work offers a breadth and underlying quality which is becoming impressive. Indeed, the gig would be captivating if it wasn’t so bloody hot.

As the final chords melt away, the rush for the patio drains the last of my energy. I turn round to see Matthews’, soaked in sweat, heading through the exit door. He looks absolutely shattered, and so is everyone else. I order a beer, (not a Fosters) and head for the sun.

Ian Anderson

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart + Shrag + The Pony Collaboration
12.6.09 - The Soul Tree, Cambridge

Tonight’s gig takes place in what can only be described as Cambridge’s most controversial of venues. Deprived of a suitable venue around the 250 capacity mark, the city’s promoters have again been forced to turn to a nightclub in order to stage those shows that can draw a decent crowd but are far from ready to fill the Junction’s capacity of 1000. Early shows are often rushed affairs – the nightclubs desperate to clear one lot of punters out before the next arrive, but the thought of arriving home before 11 or grabbing last orders certainly appeals to some gig goers. Unfortunately despite the opportunity to fill their venue for an extra three hours the Soul Tree appear uninterested in catering for their customers’ basic needs and toilets are neglected and the drinks limited in choice and overpriced. It takes a special band to make gigs in these venues an experience to remember for the right reasons.

Opening tonight are Cambridge’s The Pony Collaboration who struggle with the worst sound I’ve heard at a gig for a long time. The vocals are buried beneath a murky, distorted mess of sound and are mostly therefore indistinguishable. Despite their frustrations the band persevere and by the final song things improve slightly. Hopefully next time I catch this band I will be able to enjoy their thoughtful folky offerings rather than constantly being overcome by a feeling of unease and embarrassment for them.

Brighton’s Shrag are the main support for this tour and their sound and boundless energy are reminders of the days of Riot Grrrl and also of bands such as Kenickie and Bis who often find themselves lumped under the tag of Brit Pop. Working hard to overcome the continuing, but improving, sound situation they produce an inspired performance with their twin female vocal attack and their jerky post punk style bass lines.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart certainly live up to their recent hype. What was earlier a sound that was so foggy is now strangely far clearer. Often labelled as shoe gaze in recent press pieces they are far tighter and more focused than other bands often branded with the same tag. Songs are short and blissfully fuzzy at times. Comparisons can certainly be made to The Dandy Warhols’ and Ride’s ability to write excellent, contagious pop tunes. Unfortunately tonight’s set passes in a blur – one big happy, fuzzy blur. After what can only be just over twenty five minutes on stage the band disappear before reappearing in a matter of seconds to play their pre-planned encore. For thirty five minutes a soulless nightclub setting is transported to the heat of a scorching summer, the sound of a school bell signalling the end of school and a smile from that pretty hippy chick in your class. This is definitely a band whose music can perfectly soundtrack those lazy days of summer. Any hype is much deserved and the playlist of daytime radio can’t be too far away.

Mark Whiffin

We Were Promised Jetpacks
June - Head of Steam, Newcastle

Anyone who has read my album review of Jetpacks debut offering 'These Four Walls', will probably have deduced that I am a bit of a fan. However after seeing them play in Newcastle twice before and spinning the album to melting point, I was wondering what these four Scottish scamps had left to impress me with.

I needn't have worried, they produced a blistering and frenetic fifty odd minutes that nearly made the very low ceilings in this venue collapse. WWPJ started with their now customary set opener 'Keeping warm', which builds from a single guitar playing a chiming melody to a full on wall of sound that would have Phil Spector attempting an ill advised jail break. Then the vocal kicks in 'The chances of being born, are so slim, so keep warm' Singer Adam croons and a hundred peoples hairs on the back of their knecks collectively stand on end.

From that opening salvo the cramped and sweaty crowd were onside and We Were Promised Jetpacks proceeded to drop bomb after bomb from their debut album. The mid set highlight being first single 'Quiet Little Voices' which the band jokingly referred to as their only good song, and stressed their mock amazement the single failed to chart. Jokes aside, it deserved to.

Set closer 'Short bursts' with it's tribal drums and desperate chants managed to sum up the whole evening in four minutes. It even managed to prompt a singalong from the throng of Geordies who I'm sure are now as utterly convinced of how good this band are as I am. I hope all of Jetpacks tour crowds are as good as tonight's as they are a band that deserves the adulation more than any other currently plying their trade, in my opinion.

Shaun Goldsworthy

Autokratz + Chew Lips
06.17.09 – Manchester Deaf Institute

French imprint Kitsuné, the hipsters' record label du jour, is celebrating the release of its seventh and latest compilation by touring the world with their new favourite bands. And tonight it's Manchester's turn to witness performances from two of the featured artists.

At 10pm, the first act take to the stage of a half empty venue, and with the last of the midsummer light still shining through the Deaf Institute's glass ceiling it's not quite the atmosphere you'd expect at an electro rock 'n' roll showcase. Coincidentally, at precisely the same moment, Britney Spears is miming a decade of pop hits to an adolescent audience of thousands at the somewhat more vast Evening News Arena on the other side of town. Thankfully, Chew Lips' vocalist Tigs provides enough in the way of show(wo)manship to chase the princess of pop to the city limits and beyond, as she prowls along the marble topped bar like it's her very own catwalk.

Her feline screeching, backed by serrated synthpop courtesy of bandmates Will and James, sounds like a cutting-edge combination. Recent single “Solo” proves why this band are the name on the, erm, lips of those in the know. Yet elsewhere, their self proclaimed “8-bit Casiotone drone-disco” is too lacking in dynamism for the dancefloor, and too lacking in lustre to lay any claim to crossover potential. As their performance draws to a close they struggle to be heard above the chatter of a crowd which is seemingly more keen to chew the fat.

Anyone with the slightest degree of computer literacy knows laptops were invented for two purposes only: Accessing vast libraries of free porn, and illicit peer-to-peer filesharing. Autokratz, however, have other ideas.

More robotic than Daft Punk, they are determined to prove that the Apple Mac has superseded the traditional instrument in all its forms. What they are performing isn't music, it's an intricate physics experiment, in which they expertly manipulate rhythms and frequencies. With notable exceptions (such as “Pardon Garçon”, previously featured in the “Kitsuné Maison 5” mix) their precise digital sound fails to syncronise with the fans, who are human after all. So it remains to be seen if their forthcoming album “Animal” will resonate across the sonic spectrum.

Benjamin Thomas

Dinosaur Jr + Clinic + Hush Arbors
6.9.09 – HMV Forum, London

If it’s more than slightly dismaying to see another London rock dive ingested by the giant corporate amoeba (anyone remember when The Forum used to be called Town & Country Club?), at least there are no banners inside and the place is still as dank and grotty as ever. It’s the perfect sort of cave for dinosaurs and their fans to congregate.

First thing I notice is the abundance of balding men in their 30’s and upwards, a phenomenon about which I have a couple of theories; either their hair has been blasted clean out of its roots by repeated exposure to J Mascis’s notorious love of Marshall stacks turned up to 11, or they are paying mass homage to the shiny-headed glory of drummer Murph. It brings to mind an interview from years ago in which Mascis bemoaned the ugliness of his audience…never one to mince words, that man, even if it does sometimes take him ten minutes to find them…but there is also a sizeable quotient of youngsters in attendance. I still can’t get quite get over witnessing two young girls dancing to “Kracked” but more of that later.

I manage to miss Hush Arbors set due to late arrival, although I am informed by my more punctual friend that they were “like Yo La Tengo with all the good bits taken out” (this judgement was based on only one song, mind you) so perhaps it’s no big loss. Clinic are reduced to a three-piece for this performance as their singer Ade Blackburn is apparently ill, and their performance does suffer somewhat without his piercing vocals. Still they soldier on and get much respect regardless.

What with this being a Mojo Honours List show Dinosaur choose to deliver a greatest hits set rather than pimp their upcoming album, “Farm”, a decision that sits perfectly well with me as the tracks the band have chosen to upload onto their Myspace sound rather business-like. That said, “I Don’t Wanna Go There” gets as good a response as “Been There All the Time”, both tracks being treated by the audience like old friends. However, it’s the golden period (’87 – ’93) that dominates: “Tarpit” opens proceedings and is followed by a rendition of “Budge” that threatens to crack the stage in two. For the first time in a long time, perhaps first time PERIOD, I realise how loud Dinosaur actually are. The guitar and bass is one huge slab of noise and I notice several people strategically deploying fingers or earphones.

The stops are well and truly pulled out, though, for an impassioned “Out There” which gets the biggest cheer of the evening. Much kudos should go to Lou Barlow for putting so much energy into a song that was a milestone of his 16 year sabbatical. Then there’s “Feel the Pain”…”Freak Scene”…”The Wagon”…songs that any self-respecting band would kill to have in their roster, and an extended “Forget the Swan” before the band shamble off. At some point during all of this, Barlow plugs the new album and promises that they’ll be back later in the year, Mascis says “Thanks a lot” a couple of times, and Murph fills the awkward bits between songs with random drum patterns. You know…the usual.

They come back, do “Kracked” (cue random girl dancing action), “Sludgefeast” (during which J suffers some pedal problems) and “Chunks” and that’s it. Ok, so it wasn’t as vital a performance as their 2005 comeback but they still delivered the goods. Having personally seen them play live five times perhaps the rot has started to set in, but with Mascis recently casting aspersions on his relationship with Barlow and the band’s longevity I may just find myself in the mosh pit once again in the near future. Let’s face it…we’ll miss them when they’re extinct.

Will Columbine

Slamdunk Festival
24.5.09 - Leeds University Union

I had mixed feelings about the Slamdunk Festival mostly because I really hate the Refectory as a venue and couldn't see how they were going to fit an entire festival in there. My fears were quickly assuaged though as, once we had finally queued with what felt like half of the population of West Yorkshire, it turned out that there were plenty of stages, plenty of signs, plenty of communal areas and a well-stocked merchandise area.

While queuing we heard/sort of saw reggae band The Skints and I really recommend them. They've just been on tour with The Slackers and they're really talented and play gorgeous soulful reggae. Their drummer Jamie is the lead singer and co-vocalist & melodica player/saxophonist Marcia has also been touring with the King Blues.

After laughing at the misspelling of We The Kings on the Glamour Kills stage posters as We The Kids, we went to watch Hey Monday. They're a fun, pop punk band from Florida and they've toured with the likes of Fall Out Boy and The Academy Is... You can say what you like about the new wave of American pop punk but they're fun, have catchy melodies and they really get a crowd bouncing. Fortunately, if you like this kind of thing, the Glamour Kills stage was full of bands like this.

The bar had DJ sets on and we went to watch two of Cobra Starship do theirs. In fact, the whole day ended up with us seeing various members of Cobra every which way we turned. They played MGMT first, which was a nice choice. We stayed about fifteen minutes before the heat of the bar forced us outside and we bought a Calippo each (which is one of my main gripes about the Union; the lack of ventilation).

We The Kings played first at the festival last year, probably to all of about six people, so it was nice for them that they got a later time this year and a packed Refectory that was very receptive to them. They played a cover of The Middle by Jimmy Eat World and if you like covers I’d recommend their cover of Gorillaz’ Feel Good Inc., on the Secret Valentine EP. I was standing about three-quarters of the way down the Refectory, just in front of the sound desk, but the entire place was bouncing and singing along. We the Kings were joined by Cassadee Pope from Hey Monday, too.

Next we went to see The Slackers play their second Leeds gig of the day, having opened for The Specials in Millennium Square a couple of hours earlier. They were up for a later time but swapped with the King Blues in order to go and watch The Specials – cute! The Slackers are a proper New York reggae band who play a mixture of soul, reggae, ska and rocksteady. They’ve been on tour in Britain recently and are excellent and very talented. They played the fun sing-along song Married Girl and finished off with a great cover of Sam Cooke’s Cupid, but they were criminally underappreciated by the crowd.

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see Cobra Starship or the King Blues, so I split my time. My friend and I watched Cobra’s first three songs, which were definitely well-liked by the crowd and we could feel the floor vibrate under us as everyone bounced up and down. Then we went to watch the end of the King Blues’ set.

The King Blues are only going to get bigger, if the reception is anything to go by. At one point they had stopped letting people into the Vans’ Stage but we did manage to get in and watch the last five or so songs. There was a real party atmosphere in the room, despite it looking and feeling like a school assembly hall, and once more (I’ve seen them four times in recent weeks) lead singer Johnny ‘Itch’ Fox seemed genuinely bemused by the fact that the crowd sang his words right back at him. I really think this band is going to be one of the biggest punk bands Britain’s seen in a while. Seeing them feels like organising a revolution.

Finally we headed downstairs into a packed Fishing For Eskimos stage to watch the Blackout. There was barely space to breathe and the roar as they came on to was deafening. The Blackout are a post-hardcore band who I always think are American but they’re not; they’re Welsh. They’re definitely capable of headlining – they’re very tight, very loud and know how to work a crowd. I like the power of having two vocalists. They were joined by Josh Franceschi from You Me At Six (who were headlining the Glamour Kills stage barely twenty minutes later) for This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. They were very good and have very dedicated fans.

In all, the Slam Dunk Festival has the potential to become THE punk/emo/ska/hardcore festival in the country. It’s cheap, it’s well-organised and it has a vast range of bands. I straddle a few different genres of music and this festival was one place where I felt this didn’t matter – I could, and did, go and see both Cobra Starship and the King Blues and thoroughly enjoyed both. Next year, I definitely want to go again.

Rebecca McCormick

19.5.09 - Electric Ballroom, Camden

Unfortunately, due to late notice, travelling, and differing stage times, I had missed the support act(s), but I wasn't ready to let that piss on my strawberries. Oh good God no; Metric had recently released an album that was near impossible not to love, and I just had to catch it live.

(Typical that the next week they announce Glastonbury and Reading? Yeah, I thought so.)

Alas, my first visit to the Electric Ballroom; and what an awesome venue it is. A nice big room, bars galore, a gallery, yes, this is what all venues should aspire to. And the sound proved to be a bit tasty too, what a dream.

The set opening with a lengthy introduction consisting primarily of ominous noises and tones, from various instruments including a theremin, played by guitarist James Shaw. Leading straight into Twilight Galaxy, with its distinct intro (well, in comparison to their other songs,) it was clear that these guys were at the top of their game. Not only had they just released a gem of an album, they were ready to perform, better than ever. Emily Haines had us all, guys and girls alike, sucked in and mesmorised with her beautiful voice, and well, beautiful everything. Don't even try and tell me you wouldn't, because we all know you definitely would.

Although a slow opening, it rolled into Help I'm Alive, the opening track from the new album, a more upbeat number with Metric's fantastic rocky edge shining through. The stage was now filled with light, and Emily had become nothing more than a sillhouette head-banging and thrashing about wildly. And then straight into Satellite Mind, another new one, and a personal favourite. Haines decided to deviate and sing the verses a little differently, which is a shame for personal-favourite-based-reasons, but in all honesty didn't affect the set in the slightest.

So far so good, these guys were tighter than Jeremy Clarkson's jeans, and just incredible. I knew this set was going to be pushing the new album, but it hadn't occurred to me that they might play virtually every song. They did. But I didn't mind. I guess it's lucky they're sicker than the black plague isn't it?

Older tracks in the main set came in the form of Empty, Handshakes, and Dead Disco; and every song from Fantasies was included with the exception of Blindness. Monster Hospital and Live It Out finished off the set during the encore.

Start to finish; epic. Perfect. Mind-blowing. Even when she stopped and started some speech about becoming a Beatles/Rolling Stones hybrid, I was having a great time. Just, amazing. If you like their albums, you'll like their sound, because it's fairly hard to distinguish the two. And that's when you know you're onto a winner.

Basically, bring on the Summer. Although I love the new album, I'm hoping the festival appearances will tease some old favourites (Combat Baby, Grow Up And Blow Away) out of Metric, for me to absorb in a drunken orgasmic mess. See you in the fields.

Thom Curtis

Twilight Sad
19.5.09 - Joiners, Southampton

Joiners would be a perfect venue if they only every sold 20 tickets for a gig. I mean apart from the fact that they wouldn’t make any money and couldn’t afford to run the place anymore. Because after capacity hits more than 20, it turns into an absolute sweatbox, where temperatures exceed 40 degrees.

It seems tonight they have in fact heeded my advice though, as there are only around 20 who’ve managed to drag themselves out this particularly Tuesday evening. The temperature is still on the warm side, but despite hailing from Scotland, it seems Twilight Sad can just about withstand this tropical climate.

Unphased by the low turn, the band deliver a set that would just as easily filled a room of 200. Lead singer James Graham is perhaps most recognisable from his recent stints with friends and label mates Frightened Rabbit, but with his band behind him he’s every bit the front man, commanding the stage with his auto-biographical lyrics. – his voice is only instrument, which seems to becoming somewhat of a rarer sight these days.

Twilight Sad’s epic, multi-layered sound almost seems too big for a space like Joiners, but at the same time it’s the subtleties that bring this gig back into a truly imitate and spine-tingling experience. As with Frightened Rabbit, it won’t be long before Twilight Sad are well on their way up and playing to those 200 capacity venues, and their next album, Forget the Night Ahead, will no doubt be highly anticipated. But for now, catching them in a teeny tiny venue guarantees and unmissable and unlikely to be repeated experience.

Catriona Boyle

16.5.09 - Leeds Cockpit

Hjaltalin are an Icelandic nine piece folk band, they are fronted by a wonderfully imposing bearded frontman named Hogni, his hair tumbling and cascading down over his broad shoulders, his oddly shaped guitar and heavy frame belying his delicate, lilting voice, the curious Icelandic accent permeating each vowel and softening his tones, he is accompanied by a diminutive female vocalist with a crystalline and perfect pitch, and a dizzying array of instruments. The band are packed onto the tiny stage, the drummer over to the left, double bass, violin, bassoon, bass and keys are spread across the back wall. The band probably fill half of the venue tonight, the Cockpit’s “Room 3” is really just a mezzanine above the bar, and it is sparsely attended, maybe word about Hjaltalin hasn’t spread from Iceland to West Yorkshire despite some good reviews for their album Sleepdrunk Melodies in the music and broadsheet press.

To call them a folk band isn’t entirely accurate. There are folk influences and harmonies, but there are clever electronics at play, keyboards, and a joy in arranging musical patchworks which go way beyond the remit of the genre. The sound they make is immediately reminiscent of the Arcade Fire, but warmer, more accessible and more interesting for it. Witnessing the band play is a vibrant visual and sonic experience and for the majority of the set I stand mesmerised, observing the interplay between the violinist and the bassoon, the fleeting glances and nods, both instruments intertwining with the keys and the gentle guitar. The effect is beautiful, every instrument including female vocalist are given space and time to breathe on each track. Her voice is so distinctive, I wish it was used more, but then I realise that I am waiting, hoping she will open up her lungs, and when she does, it is better for it.

Hjaltalin songs almost invariably start quietly and draw you in, there are some shoegazing moments and power-pop pace adjustments, but the pedal effects and atmospherics are kept in the background and the changes of pace aren’t dizzying.

The first song I recognise is The Trees Don’t like the smoke, with its melancholy chorus and chiming climax. The second one is Goodbye July and both are delivered with a verve and poise that does not befit the humble surroundings, they would sound better in a larger, more eccentric venue, like a grand old theatre.

The set is cleverly arranged, it ebbs and flows, some songs are eccentric and instantly warm, some are intricate and obscure and sung in Icelandic, but it hardly matters. I watch the bassoon player chugging away and observe the drummer’s neat controlled style, then the girl starts singing and all of the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and a shiver runs down my spine.

Another thing I notice is that they seem to enjoy playing their music more than most bands. A look of joy spreads across the violinist as he is given a short solo and then the tempo changes and kicks up a gear for the closing part of Traffic Music with its rousing chorus and curious stabs of bassoon. Everyone is having a lot of fun, including the crowd.

Only the penultimate song disappointed, it sounded old and one dimensional, the clever interplay and layering of sounds were absent and it came across as asthmatically one paced. Putting that one iffy tune aside, the gig was a roaring success. Hopefully Hjaltalin will ignite a following that enables them to play their gratifying and idiosyncratic music in bigger venues, with better acoustics, to larger audiences, because, simply, they deserve to.

Ian Anderson

16.5.09 – Cluny 2, Newcastle

Despite not really knowing a lot about worriedaboutsatan and hardly having heard any of their stuff, that which I had heard was sufficiently interesting to make me take on an infrequent away day and catch them live in Newcastle. But you know how it is with some electro bands – you can find yourself in a semi-darkened room watching a couple of guys gazing studiously into their laptops, occasionally turn a knob here, pressing a button there. In short, you might as well stay at home and listen to the CD.

So in order to prepare for this eventuality, Saturday afternoon was spent numbing my senses in preparedness that even the slightest stimulus would assume interesting status. So following a whistle stop lap of the Tyne & Wear Metro taking in such inspiring sites as Monkseaton station and Kingston Park shopping centre in the rain, I was ready for the big night out.

Or so I thought. I’d heard about Cluny 2 – ‘just next door to The Cluny’ I was told. That’s good - I know where the Cluny is – nice little boozy with a good venue attached. ‘Can’t miss it’ was the advice...finally after about 10 minutes of wandering around and asking people we descended into the Stygian gloom of the minus 3rd floor (even lower than the toilets!) and sure enough found a guy with a laptop and a guy with a guitar peddling their wares.

Once my eyes became accustomed to the gloom I realised what an odd little venue this was. Evidently conceived as a theatre in the round, there was a large bank of stepped seating to one side of the stage, two balconies and even a staircase descending from behind the stage. It must be quite an unsettling place to play with activity going on all around you and only a little 6 inch high riser to separate you from the masses. Well, the two dozen or so people gently nodding away to the music.

But having acclimatised to the setting it became obvious I need not have worried about the show being dull. You see, worriedaboutsatan are most definitely a band who look like they mean it. They play electronic music ‘with heart and soul’ as their MySpace page describes and you cannot help getting carried along with it. There are no big gestures or throwaway gimmicks, just two guys completely engrossed in their music which, although generated mainly by clicks and blips on a Mac and a load of bowed reverb on guitar, takes on an extra richness that is often missing in electronic music. The single minded enthusiasm on display is infectious, not to say that the music itself isn’t worthy of praise. There’s occasional points where it reaches a euphoric style of intelligent techno, not too far removed from Orbital and these clearly please live. The songs don’t exactly merge into one another but the set is seamless with clever little links between pieces. So clever in fact that we only know the set is over when breathless and holding an aching back from his 45 minutes of involved writhing to the music, the guy on the laptop utters a quiet, self conscious ‘thanks’, prompting a spontaneous and heartfelt applause far greater than you would have thought this modest audience could muster. Definitely worthy of another lap of the Metro.


Duke Special
28.4.09 - Scala, London

This tour sees Duke Special (Belfast’s Peter Wilson) employ a full band in support of the (re) release of his second full length album I Never Thought This Day Would Come, and the songs sound all the better for it.

After touring the album last year with a series of somewhat lack-lustre, self-indulgent solo shows, this re-release sees these songs getting a whole new lease of life with the help of a double bass, drums, guitar. The band are also augmented by samples, not triggered by some kind of fancy machine, but from a wind-up gramophone, which surprisingly only goes slightly awry once throughout the entire set.

Hinted at on his first record, I Never Thought This Day Would Come sees Wilson fully indulge in his obsession for music hall and silent film star Hector Mann, and the sweeping, grandiose songs capture the era perfectly.

An excellently chosen set-list has the perfect balance of both of his albums, featuring a rare outing for some of the older tracks, including Salvation Tambourine, which is given a right royal introduction as Wilson rushes round the Scala ringing a bell.

Finishing with a sea shanty (what else?) Duke Special has the entire venue crooning like a pirate, and brings the whole band to the floor to finish the show, from the double bass to a ukulele, and another two encores of the chorus before they finally slip off backstage and are told to stay there by the Scala curfew enforcer.

An excellent return to form for Peter Wilson, proving he needs a few more people behind him to make Duke Special truly special.

Catriona Boyle

31.4.09 - Hamptons, Southampton

Back at Hamptons, and good to see the window behind the stage that looks out onto the road and pavement, has been painted over.

The small room was already fairly busy, as a quiet Matt Reynolds took to the stage. A local musician, he seemed to have a small fan base with him, and I was excited for the night to begin.

Telling tales of teenage romance, skateboarding, and other predictable subjects, Reynolds' voice softly calls out over his acoustic backing – but not in an airy fairy Dallas Green Way, nor an exciting Jason Mraz tone, but in a very English, delicate way. Although the songs were of a fairly high standard, the set seemed to lack energy – and his casual approach would have reflected badly on him, had he not been supporting the most relaxed performer of all, Jonah Matranga. But no, he played well, seemed to be a fantastically nice chap, and not a bad start to the evening at all.

Next up was Anton Barbeau, choosing the electric over acoustic, but solo never the less. Looking like Garth from Wayne's World, Barbeau began to blast out choon after choon. Rare to hear a dirty grungey tone, set against a backdrop of silence. No drums, no bass, just Anton Barbeau's whingey gritty tone and a thick, raw guitar sound. All of this coupled with insane songs about bananas and many other topics, and altogether extremely comical. It lifted the atmosphere that one notch further than the previous act, and the room was really beginning to buzz.

Soon it was time for Matranga himself – I'd managed to catch him two years previously at a tiny show in Bournemouth, where he encouraged everyone to gather round on their comfy seats and just chill out with some music. Here, there was no encouragement, but it seemed everyone knew the drill. Everyone was sat around, enjoying the atmosphere.

Matranga, a fantastic performer and a real gent, addressed the crowd in his quiet modest tone. He brilliantly manages to include comments and personal thoughts between songs, without them becoming irritating. Like when a band starts ranting about George Bush and you feel embarrassed that they'd ever opened their mouth. Here, Matranga's wise words were appreciated by all present, even when touching briefly on Obama, and built upon the intimate vibes swilling in the venue already. Playing songs from all his material, from the One Line Drawing recordings right through to his own material up to the most recent release 'And,' Matranga had us enchanted. Stunned into silence by the incredible talent, and how little effort he seemingly has to make. Yeah he's been around for years but, well, he just makes it look so easy. Some of my favourite tracks were played, from the old “14-41” to the newer “Every Mistake,” and beyond.

And so, to conclude... Matt Reynolds. Talented but still a fair distance to go. Not the deepest of lyrics, but still enjoyable.

Anton Barbeau. Highly entertaining. Just, yes.

Jonah Matranga. Captivating. He's everything a musician should be. Go and see him. Now.

Thom Curtis

The Wave Pictures
15.4.09 - Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

"Planet Earth were really good," says Wave Pictures drummer Jonny 'Huddersfield' Helm. "They were really... good." Planet Earth were meant to be joined in support by An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump, to form a Moshi Moshi showcase at the ICA. Unfortunately, uh, the three girls of 'AEOABITAP' (it'll catch on) pulled out, and so the set timings are moved forward - that, and my enthusiastic best friend falling quite ill at the last minute (she's okay now), mean I just catch The Wave Pictures. The Pictures have a way with love songs, and so, yeah, going with yr beloved is advised, especially in a crowd of couples. But they play for fun, too, as you can tell by the guitar solos of first album 'Instant Coffee Baby', which make up a lot of the setlist. I don't miss bassist Franic Rozycki singing - for the first time on stage, according to lead vocalist / guitarist David Tattersall - as encouraged by a few swigs of something and banter regarding the contents of his underpants. His deep voice, the two drum solos woven into 'I Love You Like A Madman', David's string break whilst "rocking out" on 'Leave The Scene Behind' - fun. Jonny actually has to reaffirm, in his now standard (check Youtube) introduction to 'Now You Are Pregnant', that "It's actually a really sad song." Mixed in are some less identifiable new songs, including the new album's lead single and title track, 'If You Leave It Alone' - a snippet of what looks like a sadder and longer type of Wave Pictures love song. Franic and Jonny also amalgamate their voices to try and atone for the lack of the "beautiful woman" that David had written 'In Your Own Sweet Time' to duet with. Credit to the cohesive unit the Pictures are - they may not currently be able to afford to tour with a 'beautiful woman', yet it still stands out as, well, a lovely pop song. Jonny forgets some words on a new song, David whispers them to him; David seems to start off playing the wrong chord during 'Stawberry Cables' (re-recorded for the 'second album', that is actually less a 'second album' and more like the second to be released on Moshi Moshi, and the most recent recorded output from a band that has been fairly prolific since around 2005); he laughs, and counters that "It was jazzy". They end the set with the favourite 'Long Island' as requested, before coming back out to end the night proper with a new song which they all sing. And so it was throughout the set - on 'Strange Fruit For David', all three of them stand stock still to declare, "A sculpture is a sculpture, marmalade is marmalade - and a sculpture of marmalade is a sculpture, but it isn't marmalade." "Ladies and gentlemen," then - at times, acapella; at all times, fun; The Wave Pictures always!

Phil Coales

Frightened Rabbit
15.4.09 – Scala, London

Manchester’s Airship open proceedings this evening, and it seems they’ve taken the recent grunge revival to heart, as they’re fully embracing it from their lumberjack shirts to long hair to those ubiquitous one four five chord progressions.

Luckily though there’s also the odd nice melody chucked in and some well written songs mean they’ve probably snagged themselves a few new fans tonight.

Next are the hotly tipped and excellently named We Were Promised Jetpacks, delivering a high-energy set that confirms the hype – this band are definitely one to watch. With songs that constantly surprise as they progress, super-charged guitars, juxtaposed with a cheeky bit of glockenspiel, and a wall of sound that will knock you backwards, their set goes down a treat, and the band are visibly humbled by the audience’s reaction.

But of course, these guys didn’t sell out the Scala tonight – that accolade goes to Frightened Rabbit. Some of the audience have clearly only shown up because they’ve heard Frabbit is the name to drop right now, but the majority are here because they own The Midnight Organ Fight, released almost exactly a year ago, an incredible piece of work that has enough emotion in it to stun a herd of elephants, and then serenade them back to consciousness with mandolins and organs.

Opening with I Feel Better and rattling all the way through to Sing the Greys and Square 9, the only two nods to their first, and somewhat inferior album, Sing the Greys, the set list features almost every track from The Midnight Organ Fight. Playing with a fully plugged in band, as opposed to their recent acoustic shows, Frabbit have an immense, epic sound that soars right up to the heaving balconies and back down again.

Scott Hutchinson’s raw, brutally honest, and broken-hearted lyrics almost go to make uncomfortable listening, but ultimately can’t fail to stir something in everyone – even those happily loved up. Particularly poignant is Poke, which Scott performs completely acoustically – unplugged and unmiced – and despite the graphic lyrics it brings the room into a stunned, reverent and emotionally charged silence as Scott seems to choke up.

Finishing up with Keep Yourself Warm with a line that sums up the noughties generation – It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm – the gig is rounded off in glorious, life affirming, triumphant fashion, as Frightened Rabbit depart from the stage at their biggest ever gig, and from here on in it seems the gigs are only going to get bigger.

Catriona Boyle

13.4.09 - Oporto’s Quidrophenia Festival, Leeds

I’m glad that, for whatever reason, people go on much less about attempts to meld dance beats with Rock. I don’t think it’s because people have got tired of the idea, but like comparing bands with the Beatles, getting all het-up about it never did anyone any good. At the moment I think music is open to have you use whatever you want to make your particular racket. Just don’t be emo-crunk. It isn’t that Killaflaw do a very good job of sounding absolutely huge while only being 2 guys, some equipment for making various beats and noises, a trumpet and a guitar that makes them stand out either. It’s that they do a very good job of sounding very good. I’m trying to not write sentences like “rock music you can dance to” in this review but cleverly I’ve already inferred just that while showing that I refuse to be trite. Tonight, the first time I’ve seen them, they took a little while to get into it, but shook off noticeable nerves quite quickly. I very much enjoyed their set. Their singer has a great powerful howl of a voice, and that sometimes he goes to the same big, brilliantly scratchy roar is understandable when you have it at your command, but it does turn up noticeably often. The thing I thought most of all during the set was that they should be bolder. Push things. Take out the familiar hooks and put in more of their own because they’re clearly capable of writing them. On the other hand, should a band this new have it all sorted? I’d hope not because that would be boring for everyone. At the gig, people pushed past me to watch them after the first song finished, people danced and the crowd stayed. That’s a pretty good sign. They just need to be bolder!

I’m very interested to see what happens next with them. Look out for Killaflaw, go and see them, listen to their stuff, and if you want to play on my hunch, keep listening to them because they look like they could become incredibly exciting.

Christopher Carney

Tunng with Tinariwen (Trio)
23.3.09 - Leeds Irish Centre

The story of Tinariwen is a long and convoluted one stretching all the way back to 1979, when co-founders, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and Hassan Ag Touhami, and friends, exiled from their homeland in Mali, developed a deep passion for the sound of the guitar and began writing songs about their lives as teenage refugees in southern Algeria, drawing upon influences, both Arabic and African, like the late, great guitarist, Ali Farka Touré, ‘the African John Lee Hooker’ and equally, the blues of the Mississippi delta and the music of a host of western rock and metal bands. In the 1980’s they became soldiers, drifting into the Libyan army camps and then fighting as rebels against the government of Mali until 1991, when a settlement with the Malian authorities allowed the exiled Toureg tribesmen to return to their homeland, and the members of Tinariwen were able to become full-time musicians. While still resident in Kidal, north-eastern Mali, and with three studio albums to their credit, the band are now veterans of several European and world tours and numerous festival appearances.

Formed in 2003, by Mike Lindsay and Sam Geddes, in the basement of a Soho clothes shop, and over the course of three albums, of ‘folk- pop- rock- electronica’, joined by Ashley Bates, Phil Winter, Becky Jacobs and Martin Smith - Tung’s history is somewhat more recent, except that, as well as contemporary beats and electronia, they also draw upon centuries old English folk-traditions, though through a process of re-invention and experimentation rather than homage or re-interpretation.

The two bands having first come together briefly last year to record a session for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’, this visit to Leeds is at the midpoint of a ten date tour, undertaken, Tunng’s Mike Lindsay tells us later, after only four days rehearsal and without the benefit of a shared spoken language. Still, Tung, accompanied and augmented by a trio of members from Tinariwen, promise to conjure a magical evening of ambient, folk-electronica fused with South Saharan desert blues, for an expectant audience packed into the Irish Centre on a chilly Monday night.

The evening started with possibly the most low-key support I’ve ever seen, in fact I had to scour Tunng’s website afterwards just to convince myself that there had been a support at all. I’m sure that most of the audience will have assumed that the beats, samples, drifting shortwave radio signals, echo-melodica and assorted electonica, provided by Soundpot was just various roadies and band members, checking their levels, finally setting everything up and getting into a little bit of a groove in the process. This is exactly what I suspect it was, an ambient Tunng side project for several of the band and friends, creating a nice, lazy, chilled, pre-gig mood, before wandering off with a wave.

Looking magnificently enigmatic, and as cool as fuck, in traditional Toureg dress, the trio of members from Tinariwen: Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, (lead vocals and acoustic guitar), Eyadou Ag Leche, (lead guitar, bass, and backing vocals), and Said Ag Ayad, (calabash and djembe percussion and vocals) took to the stage and began the set with a couple of hypnotic, guitar led pieces of traditional north African music blended with blues and rock influences, including a stirring, pared down version of ‘Mano Dayak’ from their ‘Aman Iman’ (Water Is Life) album, a song written by Abdallah as a tribute to the great Toureg freedom fighter and author killed in a helicopter crash in 1995.

With Tinariwen’s collective English vocabulary apparently consisting of a quizzical and amused “OK?” voiced by Addallah at the end of virtually every number, it fell largely to Mike Lindsay from Tunng to be the evening’s compere and front man, introducing and explaining both band’s songs, aided occasionally by Becky Jacobs, who shared lead vocals throughout the evening.

Tunng live have more in common with the Incredible String band than Aphex Twin, a multi-instrumental, experimental, eclecticism, underpinned as much by strummed acoustic guitar chords as loops and beats, and in essence, this is why this particular evening of experiments, with what at first might seem incongruous musical juxtapositions, works so well; a shared foundation of guitar and percussive rhythms that seems to me to be entirely complementary to both bands. So, numbers like, ‘Take’, ‘Bullets’ and ‘Jenny again’ are given added texture and presence by Tinariwen’s fluid guitars and calabash or djembe percussion, without losing the fragility and vulnerability of their studio versions; while the Tinariwen songs, like the superb ‘Adounia’, are perfectly complimented by Becky’s and Mike’s distinctly English vocals, and all manner of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, from banjo to mechanical bird.

Introducing one of the closing numbers, Mike Lindsay admits, on Tinariwen’s behalf, to their professed fondness for what he labels “1980’s Heavy Metal”, (Bad Company, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Motorhead), before they all break into heavy, ‘Saharan-Metal’ number; complete with Mike riffing away on acoustic guitar fed through a distortion pedal, - more Eddie Van Halen than Martin Carthy and much to the audience’s and the band’s mutual delight.

Those of you that weren’t there to witness a quite magical evening of interweaving musical textures, languages, and rhythms can find a flavour of the experience on two tracks the bands recorded together, currently free to download from the site, or via the Tunng MySpace site. For me, I’m left with the feeling of having had the privilege of witnessing a special and successful experiment in musical alchemy, an event than can perhaps be replicated, but never repeated.

Bill Howe