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gig reviews - july-december 09



December 2009, Wembley Arena

On a freezing cold winters night in London, while most people were admiring the snow and wondering how they were going to battle the weather to get home. There was a collective of a few thousand people who were heading to Wembley Arena as Paramore had rolled into London for their last show of 2009.

As fans pilled into this huge arena the opening bands went about their business of warming up the crowd and getting them in the mood for was to follow. Considering no one in this audience had come to see either of the two opening bands it is no surprise that their sets weren’t really appreciated by everyone. There were still some people outside the venue waiting to get in by the time the second band had finished.

As the main support You Me At Six took to the stage, they were greeted by the loudest wave of screams from teenage girls I have ever heard, it was deafening. The guys from Surrey play their up tempo music full of energy, and tonight was no exception. The band went full throttle into one of their new songs, which are set to be on new album Hold Me Down. As each song finished and the next one began it was met with another wave of screams. Despite having great stage presence and an overall good live performance, there were times when front man Josh sounded off key. The five local lads finished with crowd favourite Finders Keepers. Overall they had a very good set but the old songs went down a lot better than the new material.

As Paramore finally took to the stage the whole of Wembley arena erupted as they kicked straight into Ignorance. Many people wondered would Paramore be able to handle being on a big stage, but with the theatrical backdrop and impressive light show as well as a high tempo live performance. This answered any doubters. There was hardly any let up in between songs as Paramore took a full scale assault approach to their set. There was a very sentimental moment when the band invited two fans on stage only for the male of the pair to propose to his girlfriend in front of thousands of Paramore fans. Even Hayley Williams was touched by this romantic gesture before leading into The Only Exception. Williams played her part as ring leader and had the crowd obeying her every demand. Before playing Decode Williams took time out to thank the crowd and stated that ‘This has been the best day of my life’ as Paramore were very humble to their fans for helping them get this far in a short space of time. One the set was over the band returned for their encore of Misery Business and new single Brick By Boring Brick. As the show reached its climax confetti rained down from the roof of the arena and Paramore were joined on stage by everyone that had been part of the tour.

As the snow came down outside the venue, Paramore warmed everyone up with what can only be described as a perfect pop punk performance.

Tim Birkbeck

Piney Gir + Race Horses + Barefoot Dance Of The Sea
2.12.09 - Bath Chapel Arts

7.30 it says on my ticket, so I wander into a barely populated Chapel Arts, often a cosy music cafe but a chilly old church space when it's empty, and with soundchecking finished only around two minutes ago. The PA starts up with Television's 'See No Evil' and a Syd Barrett song I don't recognise. Where's the crowd then? Even on a grimily damp Wednesday evening a performance of this calibre ought to gather a throng to James St West.

Which it hasn't quite as Barefoot Dance take the stage, a youthful female trio whose array of instruments includes a cello, a clarinet, a big keyboard, several guitars and some drums. Which Bec, Beth and Soph could manage without, such is the quality of their singing voices. I thought their most affecting number an acapella madrigal performed near the end of their set, although a cover of Elvis's 'Blue Christmas' scores well on actual entertainment value. They are slightly hampered by constant instrument changing and swapping (to which there is, as we shall see later, a knack) but are sufficiently talented, and charming with it, to put such concerns over stagecraft properly in their place. Still early days for these three.

The sound of softly choral voices fills the chapel rafters. Have Hermann's Hermits reformed again? Two seconds later and the now swelling audience are blasted into mute oblivion by the garage punk assault of Race Horses, who are on cracking form tonight and speeding like a quartet of paralellograms as they howl and grind their way through a set of velocity and ferocity with such fervour that it wasn't until the tempo inadvertently slowed, with a ballad about a ghost sung in Welsh, that I remembered that they weren't actually the headline act.

Tonight's headliner is of course Piney Gir, a bit of a cult performer most readily associated with the scene around Highbury's Buffalo Bar, and someone I was very keen to witness in a live setting, after enjoying her recent album 'The Yearling' so much. And I only recently discovered that her surname is pronounced as 'gear', instead of the way continental eurovision presenters pronounce the first syllable of Ireland. Accordion strapped to her neck, Piney takes to the stage with the unashamed glee of a girl who just got a pony for christmas, and a red and white polka outfit adds to the verging on festive atmosphere. Part mainstream country singer, part comedienne, Piney Gir is a true original and influential with it, and if you, the reader, have the opportunity to catch any of her shows this month then I suggest you take it. Piney sways and flirts with her audience while producing a series of gadgets form a multicoloured satchel, while an accomplished trio of musicians adds depth to her sometimes whimsical imaginings and a laptop adds backline to some of the more complicated songs from The Yearling, such as 'Bumblebee' and recent single 'Of All The Wonderful Things'. Pineys most noticeable asset is her voice, which is quite stunning, and her songs are (mostly) only one step removed from the mainstream country charts, but choosing to pursue her artistic visions at the expense of big time success means that we are, in a very real sense this evening, blessed with a quite remarkable show from an equally remarkable performer, and my only actual criticism is that Piney and her band only played ten songs. Actually, make that two criticisms; there aren't quite enough of her about nowadays. It's Piney's party and she'll cry if she wants to, but only then, and not before.


Malcolm Middleton
26.11.09 – Norwich Arts Centre

In the former church that is the Norwich Arts Centre, Malcolm Middleton gives a sermon to those dateless, depressed, and deprived that sit on pews before him. Malcolm plays alone, apparently the drummer’s selling the merchandise.

The expectation, with his new album, Waxing Gibbons, is that Malcky is moving away from his love forlorn, beer in a plastic bag, self. Fortunately, that’s not the case. And let’s be clear – Malcolm Middleton is not depressing. Possibly the most irritating reaction known to man is the one that goes ‘oh, it’s not in a major key, and it’s below 140 beats per minute, and it’s about something other than being dead happy... that’s depressing’. It’s not. It’s wonderful. When will you people realise this? Listen to the lyrics. Self deprecating, wonderful, one liners are followed starkly honest revelations. Yes, Devastation, Break My Heart, and Death Love Depression Love Death, are all concerned with the darker side of human relationships, and thank god for it. Rather intelligent, funny, and honest, than moronic, humourless, and false.

The most heart-warming part of Malcolm’s show (and hearts need warming – they’re selling mulled wine at the bar) is his interaction with the audience. There’s a strange sense that he knows all these people, he just happens to be the bloke who brought the guitar. Not in his playing, of course, but in Malcolm’s general demeanour (which one reviewer described as him ‘stage persona’ – it’s not). He asks for requests and then proceeds to argue with those who ask for songs he doesn’t fancy doing, and some of the requests seem to genuinely surprise him. ‘You like that one?’, yes, Malcolm, that’s why she’s here. The surprise was how much he played off debut album 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine, and how little was played off the new album Waxing Gibbons. Also, no room for anything of the latest Girl Band EP (apparently, he can’t play them).

With songs such as Autumn, Best in Me, and Cold Winter, Malcolm should be mentioned in the same sentence as Bert Jansch and Roy Harper, possibly even Leonard Cohen. Total Belief is clearly one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and that’s not opinion. And Devil and the Angel is worthy enough to end anyone’s set.

How long until we see Malcolm on the road with a full band, I wonder?

Sean Gregson

Artic Monkeys
16.11.09 - Newcastle Arena

I was lucky enough to be granted access to see what is probably Britain's most important band of the last decade, thanks to our very own Tasty fanzine. Am I glad to have gotten this opportunity? I most certainly am.

Despite having to contend with trying to entertain me and the many other hordes of people, in a venue that amounts to nothing more than a glorified airport hangar. The four Sheffield lads coped admirably in the adverse circumstance, and managed to make tonight's gig the only enjoyable experience I've ever had in the Newcastle Arena.

The fact that a band who's average age is twenty three, can call on a back catalogue of three albums having never made a duff one yet, is nothing short of outstanding. They unleashed the arsenal of hits from all their previous efforts, including Brianstorm, The View From The Afternoon, Teddy picker and first single of new album Humbug, the weirdly wonderful Crying Lightning with it's provocative and evocative lyrical content at the fore.

This was just the tip of the iceberg though as a furious ' I bet that you look good on the dancefloor' pounded out around the cavernous room, and prompted a mass abandonment of all inhibitions within the whole room. They followed this up with When the Sun goes down, only for a singalong so strong to ensue that Alex Turner needn't have bothered to take to the mic at all. This band unite every demographic in Britain, as I witnessed with my own eyes as a 'Charver' dressed head to toe in a Lacoste tracksuit shared an illegal cigarette with a tall 'horrors' lookalike with the biggest hair this side of the seventies. As the two embraced and jumped around to the first encore song 'Fluorescent Adolescent' which was spliced with first album classic 'Mardy Bum' I realised we were witnessing a truly unique and wonderful band.

When they finished with my personal highlight '505', I realised that truly special bands like this only come along once every decade if you're lucky and we should really treasure the fact that they are ours.

Shaun Goldsworthy

Alphabeat + Kinch
1.11.09 - Leeds Cockpit

Pop seems to have gone a bit weird lately. With bland, blokey, piss-weak-Carling, indie-drivel dominating the charts, being in a pop band is probably a more difficult option than being in a guitar-based one. If artists like Annie can barely get arrested in the UK and Alphabeat are playing the Cockpit, then we're truly living in some kind of bizarro-world.

The Alphabeat church is certainly a pretty broad one: You've got 15 year old girls and their dads rubbing shoulders with indie-chinstrokers like your correspondent. Theres also the odd smattering of that rarest of creatures: the People-who-don't-go-to-gigs-very-often (most of whom have an extremely sulky partner in tow). Dumb pop thrills know no boundaries.

So, Kinch then... Four preppy, smartly-dressed young men who are probably lovely to their mums. They bound onstage and launch into their first song with such gusto that its hard not to warm to them, with their choppy Vampire-Weekendisms and 'bouncing on the spot' dancing. Its only after the second or third tune that the nagging doubts start to creep in. Its the songs, they're a bit bland you see. The sheer amount of energy the band put in does a lot to paper over some of the cracks and is definitely worth a few brownie points, but underneath it all they're basically a more energetic version of the Feeling or the Hoosiers. That shouldn't necessarily stand in their way mind; songs like Big Enough Now are the equal of anything else that passes for radio-friendly 'indie' these days and they're more than likely to be soundtracking a wacky dream sequence on Hollyoaks this time next year. In the end its their slickness that lets them down. The harmonies are spot on,
the jumps are Busted-synchronised and even the final bashed out chords and drums fill, sounded rehearsed. Who knows, maybe if they miss a note they don't get to eat that night? The N'dubs cover was an interesting idea at least.

The headliners are an entirely different prospect. Alphabeat may be just as slick as Kinch but they're a darn site more fun. Singers Stine and Anders certainly know how to work a crowd and seem to have a genuine on-stage chemistry. Him: lanky, Bez-like master of ceremonies, her: excitable, puckish diva with a voice that could cut glass.

But Alphabeat in 2009 are a slightly different beast. The Abba-meets-northern-soul of the first album's been replaced with a more clubby sound. Most of the new songs could fit snugly onto a copy of Dance Anthems 1992 - all 808s and big, lush synths. Always up with you is a proper excuse to break out the glowsticks and their cover of Chaka Khan's Ain't Nobody proves that Stine has one hell of a voice on her. That shouldn't suggest that they've lost their pop edge though. Alphabeat excel at making earworms, songs that burrow into your brain and stay there all week. It might sound like gibberish by the first chorus but by the last you realise you totally get it and you've been singing along for the past minute. Touch me touching you still sounds like the sort of demented high-camp eurodisco that Antoine de Caunes would introduce on Eurotrash in the mid 90s and Boyfriend sounds so freakin' effortless you want to kick yourself for not writing it first.

As for Fascination; I can't think of any way it could be any better as a pop song, short of giving away a cake with every listen (although the 5 minute intro might be classed as 'milking it a bit'). By the end though, even the PWDGTGVO's boyfriends are dancing.

Andy Glynn

30.10.09 – O2 Academy, Leeds

It’s something like 22 years ago when I first became aware of The Proclaimers – me and several mates were watching “The Tube” and were amazed as this pair came on singing in their own accents – this was a real eye opener, the song was “Throw the R away” and so began the start of a very long relationship with the brothers Reid. Tonight then, in a packed O2 with ages from 11 to about 70-ish, at 8:30pm precisely, the twins and their band take to the stage, with the sounds of “Geno” coming from the PA. This heralds a much more soulful and souped up sounding Proclaimers, which Craig and Charlie use to their advantage to give their lungs a good work out throughout the show. “What Makes You Cry?” makes an early appearance, quickly followed by a full band version of “Letter from America”, with the stage and venue bathed in communist red, the scamps. The latter song is a dedication to 11 year old Freya, who’s at her first gig – parenting of the highest order I would suggest. Based on the switch of allegiance from the SNP to the Scottish Socialists and the current economic issues, “Cap in Hand” seems as relevant as ever. “Let’s get married” is a bit subdued, but has certain sections of the crowd in swaying mode. There’s new stuff on the way too, “Three More Days” and “Love Can Move Mountains” are keyboard drenched soul stompers. “The Light” is dedicated to someone who’s come over for the gig from California, dedication indeed, and is the first lump-in-throat moment of the night as Craig and Charlie really let rip with the harmonies. “Sweet little girls” sounds sweet enough, but also manages to sneak in some sexual and almost certainly divorce issues. Having popped to the bar for refreshment, I become involved in a 3 way singalong with 2 blokes very much old enough to be my dad. They decide I’m most in tune so let me get served first “I’m on my way” I think, oh yes, and is testament to how this band brings many generations together. There’s no let up, oh no, as “Sean” and the throat-gulpingly ace “Sunshine on Leith” come close behind. Pure beauty. This night is turning out to be a cracker. “Then I Met You” and “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)” are the closing chapters, with the 02 not quite going as mental as I’d expected to the latter, although reports come through of punters making their own moshpit near the bar and expulsions after this from the venue, presumably for having too much fun in Gord’s Brave Nu Britain. Encore did I hear you day? Certainly. After a welcome anti-EDL rant by Craig, we are treated to the triplet of “My Old Friend The Blues”, “Wages of Sin” and a fun-packed, ecstacy-laced “The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues”. It’s not too late for you to join in, JOIN US!

Dave Procter

The Wave Pictures
30.10.09 - Relentless Garage, London

The Wave Pictures are the backing band for the 'sweet tones' of Freschard (she said she was German but my friends were all sure she was French). Maybe the bar at the Relentless isn't the best place to judge her from. Maybe Stanley Brinks, who used to call himself 'André Herman Düne' but does so no longer, is not the perfect saxophonist to accompany her, either. But Maybe it's just the sound, or the relatively small size of the crowd thus far, or something. She could be really, really good.

The way Stanley Brinks commences is solo set gives you this, 'It's going to be really, really good' feel. He asks, "Do you watch television?", to no response. He tells us all, some of us a little bemused, that he does, sometimes, because he likes it. Then he plays his songs. My friends laugh. His songs are simple, and you might call them songs or ditties; he plays sans sax, and adopts a cigarette along with his guitar for a song which sees The Wave Pictures completing his little group, until it gets bigger, as Security are making a Big Deal out of his indoor cigarette-smoking. He finishes the song, gets told-off onstage by some woman and some Security man, declares that they've talked to him in the wrong way, says "Fuck you" to a sizable cheer and puts the cigarette out through the method of throwing it to the ground and stomping on it. His set ends with a sing-along to 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be', replete with the new refrain of "That's not how you talk to / Stanley Brinks / not how you talk to / Stanley Brinks". The band ends up with no Security man or woman (she walked off looking Angry), although Freschard is more than welcome in joining them.

Then, The Wave Pictures, finishing up some pan-European tour or other, headlining. Clearly having fun. Subdued behind Freschard, they start with 'Now you are Pregnant', sung by David Tattersall, singer and guitarist. And improvisational lyricist. The Wave Pictures tend to have this trick where Jonny 'Huddersfield' Helm sings this song, but he does not this time. Because sometimes indie rock bands will kind of have to say a gentle 'Fuck you' to the way they normally do things. The Wave Pictures have released a second album on Moshi Moshi and are doing singles from it and are about to tour with Daniel Johnston, and though a lot of the set tonight comprises of material from 'Instant Coffee Baby' (because you can shout along, and people do, to 'Strange Fruit for David''s "A sculpture is a sculpture, marmalade is marmalade - and a sculpture of marmalade is a sculpture, but it isn't marmalade", because this, and these songs, are brilliant), there's no 'Long Island' or anything.

There's 'Tiny Craters in the Sand', upon request. Perhaps telling of people's appreciation of 'the new stuff'? "I hope you like new songs", David does warn us. Or offer us. Or prime us. Or all of these. Jonny Helm, drummer, percussionist, etc., sings instead a song from David Tattersall's new solo record, although maybe it would've been better if David had sung his own song. Although maybe it wouldn't have.

New single 'Strawberry Cables' has been around for a while. A couple of years or so ago I first heard David Tattersall pine for "This is mine, it isn't anybody else's". But now the Wave Pictures are 'big' enough to go to see with friends, jazz friends, photography friends, whoever, and can be relied upon, and 'rock', and substitute into the song 'Kiss Me', in place of "John Lennon" in the line "I read your letter; it said 'I love John Lennon forever'", the phrase "Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'", and they get laughs for it, and they are consistent, later on changing " much you love 'Sgt. Pepper'" for "how much you love (contemplative pause)... 'Thriller'!", and they make jokes work, have a 'presence', are cohesive, and are pretty much perfect tonight.

Phil Coales

The Xcerts
29.10.09 - UEA Norwich

'We got booed by 800 people in Cambridge, yesterday', so begins the Xcerts support of Funeral for a Friend (tantamount to supporting child labour or the poll tax). Why did they get booed? Because the Xcerts seem to think coming on halfway through Bohemian Rhapsody is a good idea. It's not. What is a good idea, however, is the Xcerts shunning their tendency to sell themselves way too short. This next sentence is the truth: NO-ONE WILL CARE ABOUT A LATE TO THE PARTY EMO BAND IN A YEAR'S TIME.

And that's the heart breaking thing about the Xcerts. Murray MacLeod has a fantastic set of lungs on him, and I mean a Jeff Buckley-like set of lungs. But then he sings about American girls and all that 'ohh, remember school and how like, totally lonely you felt because no-one understood you and that' crap. Now, maybe I'm being overly critical, possibly even incorrect, but I want the Xcerts to be brilliant. I want them to stop being an emo band and start being their own band. They can do it, I swear they can. There's moments when they shine so much brighter than the punk-pop that they seem so determined to vend. Maybe it's just me, maybe the Xcerts don't want to be anything other than a listenable, uninspiring conveyor belt band. But they have to realise, for all their youthful exuberance, for all their spinning and leaping and cavorting, they're supporting Funeral for a Friend, as well as recently supported Idlewild, who've both been around for years. These bands are on the slide (well, Funeral for a Friend never even climbed the ladder to slide down in the first place). Their audience is going elsewhere and they're left treading the same small patch of musical ground they've been on for years, aimlessly hoping the fans will return. So why would you want to join them? And I don't mean 'join them' on tour, I mean merely add to the plethera of British acts desperately attempting to recreate an American music form everyone's fairly sick of by now. It's the musical version of getting in a life boat and rowing out to climb aboard a sinking ship. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for Idlewild. Ten years ago they were superb. But come on the Xcerts, you can dream a bigger dream than this. The choice has to be made, either dig out a living supporting bands who should by rights have knocked it on the head years ago, or do what Radiohead did, do what Flaming Lips did, do what the bloody Beatles did, do what any band who'll be forever enjoyed rather than endured did. Do it better.

And Funeral for a Friend... do it in private.

Sean Gregson

Frank Turner
25.10.09, Exeter Lemon Grove

Despite the fact that tonight s gig has long been sold out, a excitable ambience appears to be distinctly lacking as hundreds gather outside Exeter s Lemon Grove, with what appears to be very little anticipation for tonight s performance. Whether it is the icy wind or the dread of the evening s horrendous support acts, the atmosphere this evening is uncharacteristically bleak for such a long-awaited show.

It is such long-awaited performances that have propelled Turner to the spotlight as a solo artist, with only a handful of dates on his extensive UK tour - promoting his latest release Poetry of the Deed - not sold out. Gaining notoriety for intense and engaging live shows, it seems as though Frank Turner has shot from zero to hero rapidly in the past twelve months, packing out Reading and Leeds NME/Radio 1 tent along the way. However, it seems as though tonight is almost excluded from the success of Frank Turner, and the lack of crowd excitement gives the impression that an unknown artist is to headline tonight s stage, rather than arguably the most hyped folk-punk singers in Britain.

The first support act comes in the form of soloist Beans on Toast.

Admitting himself that his voice is fucked , and following his bizarre introduction with many mistakes, it is a wonder how the scraggly 28-year old even landed his slot on the bill. Followed by American hipster types Fake Problems, it is a wonder how one could possibly choose a blander warm-up for tonight s headliner. With Bon Jovi-esque vocals and by-the-book riffs, the mixed crowd reaction proves the set to be somewhat of a disappointment.

It s not long before the clock strikes 9:30pm and the bearded virtuoso takes to the stage to a ripple of cheers and applause.

Breaking into Live Fast and Die Old , the singer is on top form, and his band is just as good. Tight and note perfect, the musicians rip through a selection of new and old tracks, inspiring sing-along s from the packed out room. Half way in and it is clear that Turner is touched by the previously uninterested crowds response, and banter is rife with Exeter; you re fucking amazing! inspiring a rousing cheer from the mixed audience.

It s not until the encore however, until the crowd gives it there all. A cover of Turner s former group Million Dead later, and it s time for Photosynthesis , inspiring mass dancing and singing, and leaps and bounces from the singer himself. It may have seemed a non-event at the start of the evening, but as Frank Turner casually leaves the stage, it s clear that all frowns have been roundhouse-kicked upside down. Mission accomplished.

Olivia Jaremi

21.10.09, Shepherds Bush Empire

Folk is here to stay. It might be deemed nu-folk, folktronica, electro-folk or some other bizarre moniker, but one way or another you can guarantee that violins, accordions and beards will always find their way onto a stage.

Deep in the bowels of the Shepherd's Bush Empire, first support act Belshazzar's Feast seem to have judged the mood of the semi-disinterested crowd correctly. Knowing that nobody in the room is here to see them, they humourously shamble their way through a mix of traditional and original tunes, only using the minimum energy required to play their instruments. Mistakes are laughed off and forgiven by the friendly crowd. There's no bells and whistles here, just two blokes with an extraordinary quantity of facial hair playing some decent tunes, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Second support Lau are a different proposition altogether. Three serious-looking gentlemen armed with a violin, guitar and accordion take up their places at the centre of the stage. At some undefinable point in their performance I notice the previously chatty crowd are suddenly in rapt attention.

Standout track “Horizontigo”, apparently named after one of the band members' fear of flat spaces, is proto-trance played on wooden instruments. The insistent bass thud overlaid with a gently developing melodic line wouldn't be totally out of place in a Paul Oakenfold set, were it not for the casually thrown in dischords and three-beat bars.

Occasionally they lose the crowd by wandering up paths of musical self-indulgence, but as a whole Lau tread the right line. “The Burrian” gets the biggest cheer of the night so far – haunting lead vocals, the violin playing in a low register and the accordion sounding gloriously fresh and being played with the power of four musicians.

Looking back at my scrawled notes on Bellowhead, one word is repeated more than any other - irritating. Granted, I've also written extrovert, brilliant and endearing, but it's an enduring theme.

The songs are varied and generate the kind of fervour you'd expect at a rock gig. The band show a real mastery of their instruments, and don't fall into the trap of so many of their big band peers – they each know when to hold back. Shadows emphasise the light.

Crowd favourite “Fakenham Fair” has fans dancing in pairs round the bar, and it's surreal to hear a song called “Cholera Camp” getting a big cheer. The songs are well constructed with plenty of breaks and clap-along sections to get the audience involved.

By the time new song “Northern Frisk” kicks off, the sources of irritation are clear. Firstly, out of tune violins never sound good. If there is more than one playing at the same time, I'd rather listen to a Tory politician scratching his fingernails down a blackboard with one hand and squeezing polystyrene with the other.

But the key irritant is lead singer Jon Boden; an arrogant, look-at-me, attention seeking rogue Brussels sprout in the Christmas dinner of Bellowhead. He preens, poses, stands arms aloft like some messianic Mr Tumnus. His use of affected language - “wond'ring”, “drown'd” - is neither appealing nor authentic. Interrupting fellow band members on stage, both vocally and musically, you get the feeling he'd always need to have the last word in an argument. And when he pulls out a kazoo, a little part of me dies.

Most frustrating of all is the realisation that Bellowhead would probably not work without him. A band this big in size and sound need a strong personality to hold them together. If you love Blur, you've got to grin and bear the fact that Damon can be a bit of an idiot sometimes. Take That fans accepted the inclusion of Fat Gary in their pubescent fantasy because, well, he wrote the tunes. So if you're going to see Bellowhead play (and you really should), just accept the fly in the ointment and let the music take hold.

Chris Moffatt

21.10.09 – Coronet, Elephant & Castle, London

Awesome! If one word reviews were the order of the day that would be it. But i suspect the powers that be would demand a little more for their money so I should probably elaborate on what has occurred this evening.

From the moment Wolfmother took to the stage, immediately launching into the opening bars of ‘Dimension’, it is difficult to understand how these antipodean rockers have not yet been bestowed with the official title of ‘rock gods’. They certainly have all that’s required for such status.

I first saw them some 3 years ago at a festival in Ireland. They’d been given a nothing slot, mid afternoon on the Saturday, and the few hundred people milling about the stage were simply making the most of the sun and waiting for any band whose name they may recognise to play. Wolfmother entered and blew the assembled away. I was a convert.

Perhaps the reason Rock God status continues to allude them is too long a delay between 1st and 2nd albums and too few visits to these shores in the interim. Although a break up of the band following the first album is probably the major culprit to this.

But tonight, they were back, only lead singer retained from the original line up (I am almost reliably informed), playing a mix of old stuff and new and they were electrifying. The mosh pit was carnage the likes of which you rarely see at a gig these days. Grown men launching themselves into collision with each other as if they themselves had been launched around the Large Hadron Collider, gurning all the while, the chaos it brought impossible to differentiate between 60’s love-in and full scale riot.

They rocked, rocked hard and rocked good. It is monumental, monolithic rock music, we’re talking the size of Ayers Rock here, and is of such passion and fury it would get even Stephen Hawking tapping his feet.

The old stuff is fantastic live, whipping up the crowd into a frenzy. The new stuff is as solid and reassuringly balls out as the old. Encore opener, ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush, was just too random, idiotic and perfect for words. Let me repeat, Wolfmother covered Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. As brilliant a moment as it was ridiculous.

On the strength of this gig the new album is a must. But more importantly, on the strength of tonight, seeing Wolfmother live must be added to your list of things to do before you die. Rock God status surely awaits...

Jim Johnston

I Like Trains
16.10.09- Leeds Cockpit

It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of the Trains’ live show, and so am anxious and anticipatory at the prospect. Is it more of the same anthemic sonic soundscapery, or have things moved on and progressed/reformed? The answer is forthcoming very early on in the set, as the ¾ full main room at the Cockpit thrill in a very polite way to brand new material from the word go. Brand new material that certainly has progressed from the first releases – the emphasis is now on shades of sonicness and less on the post-rock excesses of old, with somewhat predicable endings. Gone are the films and brass and in are lots of smoke, a lot of purple/red light and judicious use of strobing light and an extra guitar hand to throw in on occasion more call and response type ideas. There are very few nods to the past – “Terra Nova” and “Rookhouse for Bobby” are really the only back catalogue recollections, and these are received as old friends by the crowd, with the newer material equally so accepted. Good news then. The closer is a blistering “Spencer Percival”, with a substantial rockout of all senses, with multiple styles of strobes and lighting, and a thick blanket of CO2 across the stage. At the end of the set, there is a thank you, a good bye and no encore, the Trains wisely keeping the punters wanting more. This set of passengers will definitely be returning. A special huge thank you must go to sound man Trevor, who actually makes the sound in the Cockpit, in no way the best acoustic space in Leeds, substantially more than bearable.

David Procter

Lethal Bizzle
12.10.09 - London

All the gig audiences I’ve been a part of recently have been a bunch of third person gig-goers, enjoying themselves by standing stock still, holding up their mobiles to record the moment they’re missing. You could say I’d become somewhat jaded (by the whole experience)... Then along comes Lethal Bizzle. As I enjoyed it so much I’d like to end this review on a high so let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The set itself was on the short side, only lasting an hour, and consisting of hackneyed sing-a-long catchphrases. Mr Bizzle resorted to sampling ‘Jump Around’ and asking the crowd if the guys liked ‘eating pussy’ and the girls their equivalent before throwing condoms into the audience. He even turned ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ into ‘Who Let the Biz Out?’ But do you know what? It didn’t fucking matter. The guy is a master showman and a consummate rapper. Unleashing tracks such as Pow (Forward), Bizzle Bizzle and Go Hard, he hyped up the crowd into a frenzied sweating mass. Despite the fact that he was only on for an hour, the crowd lost it in the party atmosphere, dancing madly and energetically singing along. If you were of a purist mindset you could argue Lethal Bizzle was resorting to more accessible hip-hop to suit the ‘Islington set’ audience but the crowd were left so happy I would argue this was a moot point. Any artist who kicks his audience into action like this obviously knows how to rock it live, and I’d take this over a thousand shoe-gazing indie gigs anytime.

Matt Latham

Mirrorkicks + Rogue States
28.9.09 - 229, Great Portland St, London

I once shared a bill with Mirrorkicks at Mother Bar a couple of years back and I distinctly remember not only liking their sound but also being fascinated by singer Anil Kamalagharan’s weird, zebra-striped guitar. Now here we are on the eve of their debut single launch and it’s good to see that Anil’s choice of axe hasn’t changed even if a lot of other things have. There’s a palpable buzz in the basement bar and it’s obvious that the band have attracted a loyal and decent-sized fan base since I last saw them in action.

We manage to catch the last 3 ½ songs of Rogue States’ set, an outfit with its sights clearly set on achieving big things with a big sound. It might be lazy journalism to describe them as U2 fronted by Bryan Adams were it not for the fact that lead singer Michael Clarke looks just like the aforementioned Canadian soft-rocker and sings like Bono, while “Adam”, “Larry” and “The Edge” back him up with epic guitars and nice hair. The bassist also wears a vest…it looks pretty sweaty up there. Rogue States certainly throw all the right shapes and are no worse than many of the bands they aspire to emulate i.e. somewhat bland but mildly enjoyable if you’re in the right mood and easy to ignore if you’re not. There’s a readymade audience out there so if they can write a few more memorable tunes then a bigger stage surely beckons.

Mirrorkicks have gone to great lengths to bring their look into line with their aural aesthetic. In the case of Anil, he has recast himself as an androgynous, blue eyeliner-wearing creature…a radical departure from the shy youth of two years ago. It certainly helps set them apart from yer average indie band even if it does seem ever so slightly forced. Neither are their songs immediately catchy. It took a few subsequent listens to “Anything” (why this track wasn’t chosen as the single I can’t fathom) for it to begin to take root, whereas “Turning Up” (sung by guitarist Edwin)…umm…still hasn’t. I mention this only because the band is so obviously pop-orientated; why else would they cover “Bleeding Love”?!

It’s the delicious twin-guitar riff that punctuates the second song of their set (wish I knew the name), the industrial sound of the finale and Anil’s “Sting-meets-Kele Okereke” vocal style that stick in my mind. Could Mirrorkicks finish what Bloc Party started? They’re certainly a group of the cusp of something. The question is what?

Will Columbine

The Orb
10.9.09 – Arch 635, Clapham

The press release’s insistent claim that “this is not a reunion and not a nostalgia gig” might make one suspect that, in true Spinal Tap style, The Orb’s fan-base has become “more selective”, i.e. shrunk considerably. Is this why they’re playing an intimate gig in a 250 capacity club? I was a fan back in the mid-nineties but that was a long time ago and, to be honest, I’ve no idea what they’ve been doing since 2001’s “Cydonia”. On the other hand, I’d love to hear them play some of their early classics. Nope, there’s nowt wrong with a bit of nostalgia in my book.

Well, tonight’s gig is a bit unusual for reasons other than the size of venue. Basically, each punter is issued with a white, hooded overall upon entry with the promise that they will later form part of a human screen upon which The Orb will project their visuals. Initially, as we’re freeloading guest-list types, it doesn’t look as though my +1 and I will be given the necessary garments (they’re reserved for ticket holders) and, seeing as the door to the performance area has a sign on it saying “Only white suits beyond this point”, that’s a bit worrying. However, we check back later and manage to swipe one each. Get in!

So here we all are congregated in a miniature warehouse, looking like members of Altern-8 (and was that a KLF t-shirt I just saw someone wearing?)…yes, there’s a distinctly old-school vibe in the club tonight. Support act She Is Danger momentarily threaten to be some horrendous Chicks On Speed type affair with two trendily dressed girls mucking about with samplers, yet they turn out to be an authentic grime outfit which makes effective use of weird vocal FX (and the main singer has a pretty decent voice). “Yes…No…I just can’t make up my mind” goes one hook which I still can’t detach from my memory gland…aaargh!!!

If The Orb were a rock band then Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann would look like two dads trying to recapture former glories, Crème Brulee style, but the beauty of dance music is that age is irrelevant and, fuck it, they have better tunes anyway. Against a backdrop of ballet dancers, black and white films and cartoon characters doing the twist, the duo treat us to a DJ mix set. I notice the central riffs from “Blue Room” and “Little Fluffy Clouds” drift in and out but only “Towers of Dub” gets anything like a proper airing. The rest, I can only assume, comes from their new album “Baghdad Batteries” which, while it doesn’t sound like any great departure from what they’ve done previously, keeps the crowd bopping. Even though the human screen ultimately fails to materialise, the mood more than makes up for it as The Orb take us back to a more innocent and euphoric moment in time. Suddenly, a more selective audience doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all.

Will Columbine

Roky Erickson
20.8.09 - HMV Forum, London

Roky Erickson Himself, for various possible reasons, isn't saying much tonight. Instead, it's The Guitarist From Weezer (author's own observation) who feels he has to repeatedly remind us of what exactly is going down: "Ladies and gentleman... Roky Erickson!"

Seeing Roky Erickson and not being markedly over 30 is a bit weird. In fact, I'm sure some of the other people here markedly under 30 are mainly here for Jeffrey Lewis. That's not to say it's not actually very pleasant to be surrounded (well - it's not quite capacity) by a bunch of slightly older dudes who all insanely love Roky Erickson.

I have to explain at some point to my friend exactly what is going down. We are witnessing a legend. Who is also somewhat a relic of the pre-punk rock age. To cut a long and not exactly entirely happy story short, Roky was in the 60s psychedelic rock band 13th Floor Elevators, before he became a psychedelic casualty himself, spending quite a bit of time within psychiatric hospitals. He came back with a band called Roky Erickson and the Aliens, releasing songs like tonight's opener, 'Two Headed Dog'. In 2001, his brother was granted legal custody of him, and since about 2007, he's been playing with regularity, driving, voting, and generally returning to his fans as somewhat of a hero figure.

Yet Roky Erickson isn't actually saying much tonight. He grins, he plays guitar, he plays Elevators and Aliens songs (notable set highlights are taken from 1981's 'The Evil One', which itself basically consists of a lot of brilliantly rocking songs about demons and beasts).

That is what his fans want. And they are here tonight. Rocking out with the master.

Whether or not that is exactly what he wants, or is a part of his rehabilitation, or is a suitably stable activity for him, is something that is a constant undercurrent in my thoughts throughout. I try and discern why it is that I am feeling rather uncomfortable about the sheer spectacle of it all from my friend on the tube home. "Dude, we just saw Roky Erickson!" I guess we did. It's rock'n'roll. I guess it didn't really seem to matter all that much tonight.

Roky rocks. He has a fantastic voice. There are only a couple of 13th Floor Elevators songs - 'Splash One' and the "Nice" (as described by my friend) one, 'You're Gonna Miss Me' - but then he is functioning as a solo artist in his own right, and he appears to be working well with his band. He howls, he sings, and the crowd yell straight back at him.

Not sure how apt Jeff Lewis was in support when it came to 'setting the mood', but there seems to be somewhat a shared fascination with what Roky Erickson calls out as 'zombies', 'fire demons', 'the beast' and 'lucifer'. Lewis' band, called The Junkyard at the moment, are sidelined for one of his illustrated stories, told about a detective's identity crisis, which is hilarious. He is on lucid form tonight, but is restricted to 25 minutes, maybe because whilst he is an incredibly fun and funny cartoonist and lyricist, he is not quite on the same page as Rock Legend Roky Erickson. He didn't play anti-drug song 'No LSD Tonight'. He doesn't perform as a subdued man, but when sharing a bill with Roky Erickson, Jeff Lewis is not the premier story-teller. He ends his opening set with 'Creeping Brain', with his band and his projected cartoons accompanying Jeff telling the story of a world and man-eating brain destroying the world before befriending mankind.

The childlike glee and the monster stories are well-received. They would be. A few minutes later, and the crowd are saluting the alive and well spectacle of Roky Erickson, Rock Legend. Roky's voice fills the room on 'Two-Headed Dog'. Jeffrey Lewis may have a ton of good reasons for avoiding LSD, some of which Roky Erickson's own life pays testimony to, but tonight, it would seem even his utterly charming and warmly witty performance cannot stop the Rok.

Tonight, battling as he may be with his personal demons, Roky Erickson hits it hard. He hits it very hard. He might not have everything he had in the 60s, and he might not have the Elevators with him, but he does certainly still have a bloody hammer.

Phil Coales

Mystery Jets + Esser
4.7.09 - Manchesater International Festival Pavillion Theatre

7 o’clock, Saturday night and two hundred people are stuffed like sardines into a tent in Manchester’s Albert Square, all beaming with excitement. The room is hot with anticipation tonight as Eel Pie Island’s Mystery Jets are due to take to the stage with their sparkling ragamuffin indie pop and the intent to put on a bloody good show. Their chosen support act for the night is a cheeky Essex geezer who goes by the name of Esser. Bounding onto the stage he launches straight into a rendition of harmony mad ‘This Time Around’. Nothing on the stage is left unexplored by Esser who jumps on every steel box and monitor, creating hard work for the eyes of the audience. Clearly the stage is his home as he rips through crowd pleaser ‘I Love You’ and ‘Leaving Town’, stopping to give the audience swine flu during a particularly wonderful ‘Work It Out’. He finishes on dance floor hits ’Satisfied’ and ‘Headlock’, superbly setting the scene for the night ahead. Banging a massive tom in the middle of the stage he boldly marches through the songs, hardly pausing for breath. Anyone who had a previously negative view of the rather strikingly coiffured man has now easily been converted into a loyal Esser disciple after a set as thrilling as that.

All attention is placed solidly to tonight’s main act. As sirens of ‘Hideaway’ begin, the crowd roar with appreciation as the stage lights flash red and four dashing figures take to the stage. Each slipping into their stage set-up like as if they would old slippers, this is truly live music at it’s best as they blast-off into ‘Hideaway’, a thrilling rollercoaster of synths, guitars and THAT cymbal work, the chorus sending the crowd into an uncontrollable dance frenzy. Follower ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’, is set alight with dirtier guitars and a rougher sound, giving the song a new lease of life. Pausing only to greet everyone, take jackets off and have a quick drink, the Mystery Jets launch themselves back straight back into the night’s proceedings with Making Dens classic ‘The Boy Who Ran Away’ with tambourines galore and a striking amount of hand clapping coming from the throng of people in front of them.

‘Young Love’ is a beautiful sight this evening, William taking over lead vocals and Blaine filling in Laura Marling’s verse with confidence. New song ‘Lady Grey’ is a sign that the new material will be just as accomplished as the previous with sincere harmonies, fleeting drum beats and gorgeous lyrics. Following with a heartbreakingly stunning performance of ‘Flakes’, the Jets really come alive, pouring every ounce of their souls into the room, creating a tearful sea of hand waving. ‘Hand Me Down’ is expertly executed with the energy it rightfully deserves, sending the room into a magnificent dance party. Two new songs, ‘Girl Is Gone’ and ‘Lorna Doone’ are previewed either side of ‘Veiled In Grey’, and show copious amounts of nerves as well as enthusiasm with delicate, yet insistent melodies and harmonies as they are lapped up by the crowd like a cat at a bowl of warm milk. ‘Veiled In Grey’ has to be one of the night’s highlights as it is delivered with such evocative passion: Blaine nearly falling off his chair as he defiantly busts the long notes; Kai leaping frantically on the drum kit; Kapil hitting drums like his life depended on it and William strumming assertively through the song.

The signature drum beat of ‘Two Doors Down’ starts up and the crowd go utterly wild, screaming the lyrics so loudly the band can hardly hear themselves play, something that clearly surprises and delights the Jets as they glide through the summer smash. Closing on ‘Behind the Bunhouse’, the opening line ‘did I strangle you with my love?’ makes a clear statement of intent to what is honestly a breath-taking performance. Spiralling ardently through the song, one cannot help but be astonished by musical ability of the quartet with the spine tingling, faultless arrangement.

A truly marvelous set showing the musical dexterity of every Mystery Jet, displaying their fervent passion for music and love of playing to meticulously craft the best gig I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Truthful and genuine, heartfelt and emotive, this band are incredible.

Eloise Quince