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gig reviews - june-dec 2010


 

Constellations Festival
14/11/2010 - Leeds University Students’ Union

I assume you all can agree that it is not a good idea to go to an indoor festival with a slight hangover. When I entered the Leeds Uni Students’ Union building - still a little woozy on my feet – all the choices and settings of Constellations festival on 14th November felt like an unbearably luxurious challenge for me. You can compare it to going to a supermarket when you’re hungry – which is not a very good idea, almost feeling dizzy as your blood sugar is getting low. You don’t know what exactly you are looking for and where you can find it, but you want to stuff yourself with all those delicious offers.

The offers at Constellations were just the same. An unmanageable variety of bands you want to stuff yourself with, three stages at the underground maze of Leeds Uni Students’ Union and legions of snoopy and ardent music lovers.
The first item on the packed schedule led me to the smallest of the stages, the underground venue The Mine, where I decided to cool off while watching the Leeds-three-piece Wingman. However, not a good time for resting, Wingman performed in a scuffling pre-grunge sound and made clear that it is time and space for some rawer rock and roll sounds. Though appreciating this effort from a safe distance the shambled sound didn’t reveal any memorable songs.

Another local band showed why they deservedly enjoy high reputation around Leeds and further afield. Sky Larkin filled The Refectory, the largest of the stages, to a striking amount and put on a show you only can describe as glorious. Their traditionally alternative but well-thought-out indie-pop tunes perfectly worked out also on such a big stage and the audience gratefully showed their approval for these local heroes.

One band that fitted to my actual condition were Polarsets. Not many visitors found their way to the Mine, so I risked going to the forward rows. However there weren’t many people, the few took their chance and followed Polarsets’ invitation to dance. All were pleased with Polarsets’ chilled out though very danceable vibes; it was not only me who enjoyed the decent performance and chilled atmosphere of the electro supported tracks, but also the revelers who were looking for some enjoyable dance grooves.

The first of my highlights featured the American Cloud Nothings at the Mine. Although I was looking forward to this new hype, they could not meet my expectations and were the first disappointment on the line-up. The band could not reveal its fresh lo-fi underground college rock style as they preferred creating a wild and noisy wall of sound, pushing the effort of lo-fi too hard. Unfortunately that special something in their vintage sound went down due to their trashy sound. Both the drummer and the guitar sections could not handle presenting their songs in a mature attitude, exaggerating the play by just trashing the drums and just opening the overdrive. (One more negative aspect besides, is the singer really that out of it, acting as a nerdy slacker, or is it just an attitude?) However, playing the hyped hit “Cool Kid” as their last song, Cloud Nothings showed how their performance could have met my expectations.

The band that really deserved the brand “highlight” were UK’s new hype The Vaccines. After cooling my slight hang-over with coke only during the day, I found my relief with a fresh pint, and it was just the perfect time for it! The Vaccines put on a blue-print of how rock and roll show should be: fast, furious, and a punch in your face. Singer Justin Young showed how a front-man has to act when he shouts sub-two-minutes punk songs, and knows how to set the tone for the show with his exalted performance. A good example for the band’s drive and self-conception gave the interplay between Young and guitarist Freddie Cowan, escalating into an jostle during excessive dancing/playing at one of Cowan’s echoing solos. But it is not only these two guys who deserve the credits for this accomplished four-piece. Bassist Anri Hjorvar gave the antithesis to the leading duo Young/Cowan mauling his bass very prudent and precise, while drummer Pete Robertson presented an impressive variety of expressions: some time threshing his drums aggressively, some time highly concentrated, passionate beating and staring into space lost in thought. One really could see these four guys all felt like a duck in the water. Also the front row of 150-200 people in the Mine absorbed the pace and dynamics of the show, pint-waving and dancing along to the Ramones-a-like hymns “Wreckin’ Bar” and “Blow It Up”. (Though what was a puzzling, why were there only old lads in the front row dancing…? It seemed all the nerdy music followers were quite skeptical about the new hype.) However, punchy two-minute-songs don’t necessarily make up a hype, though with putting on a cool show like that, The Vaccines proved to me that they deserve the fun they have on stage, making me enthusiastic about what else might come along with their album and their next tour.

One more absolute highlight to come, Broken Social Scene filling the Refectory to its last row. Starting with the fabulously blooming “World Sick” you saw from the very first moment why Leeds loved BSS. The songs of the Canadian collective simply flourished and created a jolly feel-good atmosphere. Swapping around all their different kinds of instruments it was obvious that the band as well as the audience enjoyed every special moment of the show. BSS could have done a standard show or just what they wanted to do, and still it would have been good. However, they did more than the standard, they really did what they wanted: they fulfilled a long standing wish, and to the audience’s surprise Johnny Marr entered the stage, accompanying BSS for one song. Not only for this unexpected guest, but for the whole show, Leeds loved Broken Social Scene. What a successful night, the next hang-over may come!

Wolfgang Günther


Laura Marling and The Pins
20.11.10 - Leadmill, Sheffield

It was into a sold out and already sweaty Leadmill that we stepped at 8 o’clock on Saturday, ready to see the lovely Laura Marling at her first show in the Steel City. We angled ourselves to the right, but the Leadmill is such an awkward shape that it’s always nearly impossible to actually see the band, especially when it’s sold out, and especially when the very tall people in front of us had to move back because 12 girls in ridiculous coats put themselves in front of them. Who comes to a gig in a tweed coat anyway??? It’s not 1945 and you’re not your Nana.

First up, at about 8.20, which is so far after doors opened at 7pm that it’s not really funny, came The Pins. Three girls, a guitar, a melodica and more clothes from Grandma’s dressing-up box make probably the worst support band I’ve ever seen. While not technically bad, they were just bland to the point of offensive.

Laura finally took to the stage about 9.25 and by 10.25 we were back in the car. That’s my first complaint. I know that the Leadmill turns into a club after gigs on the weekends, but playing for just an hour when the ticket price was £15 excluding fees just isn’t on. My second complaint is that Laura didn’t seem her usual sparkling self – she seemed lacklustre and frankly like she just didn’t care. I know she can do better, which is what really annoys me.

One song bled into another and I can’t say the new ones stuck out very much, but given that I love both of Laura’s albums, I will still be giving her a chance, despite this very dismal gig.

Rebecca McCormick


Foals + Pulled Apart By Horses + Crystal Fighters
11.11.10 - Lincoln Engine Shed

It’s a bitterly cold Thursday night in Lincoln and just about five hundred pink nosed punters are waiting patiently to be let into the cozy warmth of the Engine Shed. Tickets at the ready, admittance begins and the rush to the barrier (and the bar) begins. Soon enough, twenty minutes later everyone is lined up and ready to go as Pulled Apart By Horses grace the stage. Mixing hardcore punk with old school rock and roll, they rip up the room, sending bodies flying and starting a circle pit by the fourth song. As an extra special finale, the lead singer decided to crowd surf, wiping his sweaty stomach and denim laden crotch across my face in a frenzy to reach the baying crowd behind.

Crystal Fighters set up seemed a somewhat mixed array of tribal prints and animal bones, it was almost expected that they would launch into a psychedelic MGMT tribute. Alas, first impressions may not always be the best as we twist into a frenzy of trash trance and Amazing Baby style vocals. Highlight was definitely the wonderful ‘At Home’ with a reoccurring chorus of, ‘No no no no no no no no no no no no no. Yeah! Yeah!’ keeping the crowd interaction high with some fantastic one syllable shout fests. Leaving on a well deserved high, not that they weren’t anyway, Crystal Fighters are a band to watch for 2011.

On to tonight’s main act: Foals. Hailing from Oxford, these five made math core cool. Emerging one by one from the stage staircase, every time to a huge cheer, they slowly build up a frantic introduction to ‘Blue Blood’. It becomes so clear why Yannis and company are the top of their game; the attention to detail and their pure dexterity as musicians puts them head and shoulders above other bands, sounding somehow more perfect live than they do on studio recording.

‘Cassius’ and ‘Balloons’ show that the oldies are the best, setting the room alight with heart-stopping vigour, although neither seem as magnificent as the math-core punk start mechanisms of ‘Red Sock Pugie’, complete with red lights glowing like flames through the smoke as the words, ‘we set it on fire’ chime right the way through the Engine Shed. It is this kind of attention to minute little details that make the band so wonderful, albeit pedantic. ‘After Glow’ is another splendid affair of lights and drama as the escalating intensity rises before crashing down into a jaw dropping ending, brought alive by the energy given to it by the hysterical crowd. Somehow, every note of every chord seems to strike up some sort of lost emotion as we tumble through scales and shocks, rising and falling to the beat of the bass drum and moving to the tunes that graciously fill our ears.

Tentatively awaited ‘Spanish Sahara’ is a beautiful masterpiece tonight in the shadows of the wash of subtle pink, Yannis’ solemn vocals ringing throughout the venue. It even battled the gloriously sombre ‘2 Trees’ for the most beautiful Curtis-esque silhouetted lead singer.

The encore tonight carries yet more vigour as ‘The French Open’ is unleashed to the audience, ensuing in madness. Tearing apart the room, screaming ‘racquets and gadgets’, the crowd seem more alive now than ever. Flowing seamlessly into much loved ‘Hummer’, a wave of ecstasy washes over everyone, resulting in circle pits and a chest crushing for all. Ending on ‘Two Steps, Twice’ the room elevates to a new level of euphoria; hands in the air, bodies dancing furiously and maybe a little too close for comfort.

Tonight has made it perfectly clear that Foals know the true essence of live music; joy, sweat, blood and some big, big love.

Eloise Quince


Blank Dogs + The Twilight Sad + Errors
6.10.10 - The Deaf Institute, Manchester

If I were the sort of person to judge a band by their appearance I would hate openers Errors. However I'm not and you can dress as hipster as you want if you're as good as they are. Wonderful instrumental dance fuelled music. The songs are wonderful and played with great skill. Particular praise must go to the drummer whose solid, muscular beats hold everything together.

The last train from Manchester to Bolton is at 22:53. This means that anyone not living in the city has to be out of the Deaf Institute by 22:30. This is normally fine and whoever is the second band on will normally have finished or at least played most of their set. Tonight things are so spectacularly late that I only get to see Errors. As a result the rest of this review is made up of the comments my city-dwelling friends made to me.
I like Twilight Sad, and I thought before this gig that the venue would be perfect for their epic close layered folk rock, and it is. However I am reliably informed that the Twilight Sad did not overwhelm. Songs which sound majestic and swell on record, fell flat and disappointed live. I don't think they were bad, but I get the impression they fell far short of what their recorded work suggests they are capable of. That their time was significantly eaten into by Errors (who as openers played for nearly an hour) meant that they were unable to provide a co-headline show. This may have been the fault of Errors or maybe Twilight Sad knew they weren't on their game. Either way it's just a case of who to blame for a disappointment.

It is to the credit of Twilight Sad's recorded output that I am withholding overall judgement.

Christopher Carney


Bombay Bicycle Club
20.7.10 - Norwich Arts Centre

After just two years from officially finishing Secondary School, the young and refreshing Bombay Bicycle Club have hit the road running. Just a year on from their first and acclaimed album I Had The Blues Bit I Shook Them Loose; an album which supplied the indie scene with a swift, pulsating and invigorating kick up its proverbial, they now provide an acoustic tour to accompany their second album, Flaws.

The tour took place in churches, to complement their new sound, and it has to be said that Norwich Arts Centre, a converted church, did their music justice. The seated gig was thoughtfully presented. The audience were given Orders of Service, detailing each support act and providing lyrics of a few of their songs. After the two engaging performances from Lucy Rose and Melodica, Melody and Me, the audience was more than ready for an encapsulating presentation from the band that they had all come to see. But unfortunately, most were left slightly underwhelmed.

Throughout the evening, band members would come and go, occasionally leaving the lead singer Jack Steadman to perform solo. All the songs performed, that were not covers, are all written by Steadman, and as such there is a subtle feeling that he wants songs done in his way. When members returned from backstage they seemed barely connected to the audience perhaps because of the lack of ownership they felt towards their music. Although all very talented, some members, notably Ed Nash (bass and keys) seemed despondent, if a little bored. The energy and enthusiasm that their fans expected, and indeed saw just a year ago, was lacking. Of course the dynamic was never going to be the same but, even so, there was a distinct lack of rapport all round.

There were indeed some positives. Musically, the sound was quite striking. The acoustic versions of Evening/Morning, Dust On The Ground, Always Like This and, encore, You Already Know are different enough to rouse new emotions and interpretations from the listeners. A cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s Motel Blues (father of Martha and Rufus) was also unique enough to be intriguing. Rinse Me Down, the opener to the gig and also to their new album Flaws, was an exquisitely performed introduction, and it was particularly pleasant when support act Lucy Rose joined the band halfway through to provide some delicate harmonies.

In all though, this was a gig for listeners of music -listeners with quite a lot of patience. Visually, there was little that was charming and there was even less humour or interaction once BBC came on stage. You would get as much from this tour, if not more, by lying down with your eyes closed. They do write and record wonderful acoustic songs but let us just hope that, before their next tour, they rediscover electric again.

Sean Gregson


The Method +Johnny Alchemist
7.7.10 - Bristol The Promenade

It's a bit quiet on Gloucester Road this evening, put this down to the Germany/Spain match which, while it's showing on all four of the Promenade's screens, doesn't appear to have gathered the crowds quite so well as it might've: all half dozen or so of the venues early evening punters are sat on the outdoors veranda while the bar seems eerily silent aside from the commentary, begging the question - 'is this a good or bad night for The Method to bring their psyched out pop art grooves to technicolour life on the Promenade's adequate yet possibly underappreciated stage' ?

It's Johnny Alchemist's task to haul an audience in off the street, or at least alert passers -by to the fact that there is indeed a gig going on, and things are sufficiently slow this evening to allow Mr Alchemist a 40 minute set, during which time he is able to expound at quite some length his theories of transmuting base punkfolk guitar and hyped up vocalising into something that fully resembles an entertaining collection of busking chants. No-one should remain in any doubt that there is indeed live music at the Promenade this evening, and at the end of the set there are twice as many drinkers sat on the outdoors veranda as there were 40 minutes previously.

So what with one thing and another, The Method are a little late this evening, although there is something like a proper audience present by 10.30, as a lengthy drum intro breaks into first number 'Gurner's Day', as The Method's own brand of danceable art-pop ignites the stage, referencing as it does soul, mod, 2-tone, jazz, psychedelia and artrock simultaneously. Vocals and instruments are swathed in reverb, keyboard and trumpet vie for position over some erratic funk based rhythms, and with four decades of inspirations to draw upon the references are fast and cleverly demonstrated : 'Whip Around' has a chorus the Beatles might yet sue for, 'Dissidents And Dancers' is Floyd's 'Interstellar Overdrive' played forwards, 'The Fool' is Arctic Monkeys and Foals causing a food fight in a radioactive seafood restaurant. The Method's dance crazed enthusiasm and refusal to treat their influences with overt reverence gives them the air of true originals, and they're an actual pop group into the bargain. You'll hear of them again, and probably their audience will turn up on time then.

JG


Keane
26.6.10 – Cannock Chase Forest, Staffordshire

It’s an exquisite summers evening, and I’m standing amidst Cannock Chase Forest. The vast crowd are singing and dancing: the landscape is breathtaking: hell, there’s not even a queue for the bar. In theory it’s wonderful. And yet...

I’ve spent the last week trying to work out why I came away from this concert dissatisfied. All the elements were there – a stunning outdoor venue, perfect weather, a responsive crowd. The performances were good. Everything Everything opened and immediately hooked the crowd. Epic sounding tracks, utilising synths, heavy drum beats and Jonathan’s falsetto vocals, took the opening slot by the scruff of the neck. Admittedly the next act, The Helio Sequence proved to be underwhelming but then we were onto the main event and when Keane took to the stage the whole crowd were up and dancing, singing along to all the songs. They blasted through all the hits such as Spiralling, Is It Any Wonder, Everybody’s Changing and Crystal Ball.

So what was wrong? At first I wondered if it was the audience. Made up mainly of picnicking families I wondered if that had caused a lack of atmosphere but to be honest they were more responsive a crowd than I’ve seen in a long time. Was it the outdoor venue? But then festivals never have that problem. Thinking back over the ingredients, it feels like the concert was merely a simulacrum of the real thing. As if someone had read what a gig should contain and then sought to recreate it but in doing so forgot to include the spark that makes a live event special.

This was definitely the best gig I’ve come away from not sure if I’ve enjoyed it. It will forever puzzle me and so in that sense it’s memorable, but if I had the chance to relive parts of my life I don’t think this would make the cut.

Matt Latham


Jamie T and the Pacemakers
24.6.10 - Lincoln Engine Shed

On a sizzling Thursday night, what seems like a million people all pile into the tiny Engine Shed in Lincoln. The room is so hot it could cause any unwitting audience member to spontaneously combust, but nevertheless, everyone is buzzing. First on are a strange looking bunch of young men who gingerly approach their instruments. Obviously they are beginning to realise that warming up for Jamie T is going to be a huge challenge. Nevertheless, we plough on through a mass of distortion and unbearable screaming, not to mention a frontman who looks so vacant he could have been mistaken as a paralysed zombie. Finally it ends and a tiny dull voice utters, “Thanks, we’re Eagles.” Really? How lovely. One teeny piece of advice if I may? Don’t give up the day jobs, lads.

As the crowd get hotter and crush together more tightly, all in search of that coveted barrier view, the atmosphere only increases. The build up of anticipation and cheers finally crashes into a craze of clapping and screaming as, bursting through a door and running down the stairs to the stage is the punk we’ve all been waiting for. Launching across the stage, no time is wasted in picking up the nearest instrument and bouncing straight into ‘Man’s Machine’. The ska vibes echo through the venue before the unforgettable refrain ‘soul, guts, concrete and gravel’ nearly cracks the very concrete holding up the ceiling. Last note strung out, Jamie lights up. ‘368’ is next on this evening’s agenda and it is phenomenal – kitchen sink percussion perfect with unparalleled audience participation right through to the last line.

The first notes of ‘St. Christopher’ ring throughout the Engine Shed. The confidence of Jamie T is supreme as he glides effortlessly through this beautiful b-side, hitting every note with a genuine and heart-felt passion. This melodiously mild dream of a number can only be followed by ‘Emily’s Heart’ which flows almost seamlessly from the last chord of ‘St. Christopher’. I say almost because after the first line the London troubadour halts and announces, “Ladies and Gentlemen. We’ll have to start that one again because I fucked up.” But of course, we do not continue until a stray glow stick has been rightfully returned and all are reminded cheekily that “this is not a Klaxons gig”. Second time round, a with a renewed sense of calm, ‘Emily’s Heart’ strikes up, the crowd making every syllable resonate around the room, cascading stunningly like musical raindrops. It soon becomes perfectly clear that dear Mr Treays is a master of his art – he knows exactly how to charm a crowd, whether it is through a soft ballad, a vivacious stomper or just by returning lost property.

Still feeling bit rusty, but not put out, Jamie T ventures into ‘Back in the Game’, played perfectly again showing that this young man has nothing to worry about. The bluesy bass guitar solo and dynamic vocals emerge as a match made in heaven as we glide carelessly through the song.

“Sheila goes out with her mate Stella...” is a line that is accompanied by a cheer so great, London definitely heard it coming. Spiralling through the rhythmic prose, the relentless energy of the crowd just makes Jamie T jump higher and run faster like a wind-up toy as he collects the adrenaline that is dripping from every surface and twists it into his own euphoric frenzy. ‘Operation’ is alike in its crazed jubilation, but it is deserved as every single pair of lungs in the vicinity screams, ‘take your problem to United Nations’.

“Thank you, it’s been a wonderful night” is always followed by a sound only ever heard by children that have been told firmly that they are not nearly there yet, but tonight, said noise is deafening. As Jamie T and the Pacemakers vacate, the crowd are only more insistent in wanting them back. A last ditch attempt initiates – the whole audience singing ‘If You Got the Money’ with gusto, never once stepping out of time. It appears to have won over the wayward performers who arrive once more, pumped up and ready to go, gliding straight into ‘Spider’s Web’. The hustle and the bustle intensify, arms and legs flying everywhere, the pit widening to the periphery of the room. Oh, a ukulele has never sounded so damn good. As a special treat for the earlier efforts, ‘If You Got the Money’ animates one and all into another of the joyous dance pit frenzies, with the inclusion of an impromptu a cappella vocal choir provided, most courtesy, by the crowd.

The curtain is calling. “When there’s no-one left to fight...” is almost a war cry tonight that earns the response, “...boys like him don’t shine so bright”. Spinning headily into a nostalgic tale of drinking, fighting and generally having a good time, the room could shine gold with the collective astronomical high felt through the bones of every person in that tiny, sweaty room. Swaying, shouting and dancing as if the world is about to end, ‘Sticks and Stones’ is a truly beautiful ending to what can only be described as a truly beautiful night.

Eloise Quince


The Miserable Rich
19.06.10 – West Hill Hall, Brighton

What sort of crowd would turn up to a Miserable Rich gig? I had no idea what to expect when arriving at West Hill Hall, a small community hall situated on the edge of Brighton City Centre. I struggled to get through the door as the venue was packed to bursting, but as I pushed my way in I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see families sat around tables, on the floor, and leaning against the walls, all there to enjoy the music together. It’s something you would never be able to have at any other venue in Brighton, most of which are pubs and clubs. It seemed like the perfect venue for the bands ‘homecoming’ gig (I say homecoming, however I’m unsure as to whether it actually counts or not as after a couple of songs they announced that none of them were actually from Brighton).

I was fortunate enough to turn up late, meaning I missed most of the support act. This was a good thing as far as I was concerned seeing as all her songs seemed to bleed into one another: She sounded like she was dying tunefully, to put it nicely. She could sing, but the songs were dull, miserable and exceedingly average. The only thing that stopped it all sounding the same was the change in backing instruments; one song there would be a guitar accompaniment, the next a horrible sounding piano, the next synths and so it went on. I didn’t catch her name… I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

So, onto the main show – The Miserable Rich suit the room perfectly, having set the stage up with lots of fairy lights, lamps and visuals being projected on a screen behind them. It gave the venue a very warm and welcoming atmosphere and added to the intimacy of the show. They opened with ‘Pegasus,’ – the first song on their new album ‘Of Flight and Fury.’ Immediately it became obvious that what we were about to see wasn’t your average gig on a Saturday night in Brighton; the cellist and violinist created warm drones, while the double bass and acoustic guitar kept the songs moving. As a backing band it seemed unconventional but so perfect. Add to that the front man who was able to change his singing style from song to song, one minute singing with a smooth beauty, the next growling down the microphone aggressively. There is no drummer, but then again who needs one when your front man adds percussive notes to every song with bells, maracas and a snare drum played with everything from his hands, to sticks and the aforementioned maracas?

They put on a great show, mostly playing songs of their latest album that this tour had been to promote. Highlights included ‘Pegasus,’ ‘Let It Fade,’ ‘Chestnut Sunday’ and an unpredictable cover of the Iggy Pop track ‘Shades.’ I don’t know if this is a regular addition to their live shows, but if it wasn’t then I don’t think that anyone would have been expecting it. It wasn’t a straight cover of the song, it was very much their own interpretation, and I have to admit that I preferred it to the original. As they drifted between songs it was near impossible to take your eyes off the band, and more importantly the front man who was theatrical and friendly. He addressed the crowd at every opportunity, telling stories of where the songs came from and seeming very grateful for everyone who was there watching him perform. The only thing that distracted me from watching the band was the visuals being projected on the screen behind them that were, I noticed about fifteen minutes into their set, on a loop. By half way through their set it had become a little irritating, like watching a clock, only prettier.

Overall the show blew me away; I never imagined being so engrossed in a band like this in a live setting. There were a couple of weaker moments in the set when they played some of their older material that I personally found a little boring and predictable. But I must have been the only one that thought this as the rest of the room was singing along with these songs that were obviously familiar to them. I wholeheartedly recommend checking The Miserable Rich out in a live setting, I will be watching for the next time they are in Brighton. I don’t want to rate the night as a whole as the support act tarnished the evening for me, but The Miserable Rich deserve a 9/10

James Borland


The Michael Giles Mad Band
1.6.10 - Bath Chapel Arts

Improvised music is, if not exactly an acquired taste, then definitely something that needs a certain level of insight to really extract the best from it. I've seen and heard several CDs and concerts which took lack of structure as their prime motivation and the results of this approach are, they always are, a bit variable. So is mixing up club anthems on the nearest available software, but at least with working in the electronic field it's possible to guarantee certain outcomes before even turning on the studio lightswitch. Not so in the world of live improvisation, where there's always, even amongst highly skilled and experienced performers, the chance that at some point in the evening the performance will collapse entirely and that the audience are bound to appreciate the musicianship on display as much for their expertise at jamming themselves out of a chaotic mishmash as for their ability to hold down a tune.

There isn't however any doubt that when a group of highly committed and internationally renowned musicians decide that they're sufficiently at ease with their material to share it with the public that the results make for an enervating and occasionaly challenging experience, and such is the present incarnation of the Michael Giles Mad Band, based around the former King Crimson drummer and including Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Geoffery Richardson on guitars and violin and the modern composer Keith Tippett on piano. You could, if you were to extend a metaphor, probably guarantee that the results of this evening would prove at least interesting, as well as marginally less predictable than a studio rejigging of some early 90s Balearic rhythms.

The band perform two half hour sets, the first of these a slow, near torturous exercise in spatiality, with twin percussionists Giles and associate AD Chivers utilising a range of both conventional and kitchen implements to build an amospheric, edgy and rhythmically erratic piece which appeared to take a very long time to start up but quite suddenly and irrevocably did so, as Keith Tippetts keyboard took up the percussive initiative while David Pennie's guitar howled like some unnameable creature of the twilight. Satisfactory, but it had taken the band quite some time to arrive at their conclusion. The second part of the show had, it seemed, a lot more variation and dynamism to offer what was an attentive and appreciative, and near capacity Chapel Arts audience; with the tempos remaining quick and both percussionists making the very most of their eclectic range of instrumentation , while Keith Tippett threw randomised jazz chords over his shoulder, Geoffery Richardson provided a near theatrical central presence in spite of (or perhaps because of) the inaudibility of his ukelele, and David Pennie's use of a bow and other implements (including an egg whisk) to complement his finger tap playing style had the quintet realising and discarding riffs and ideas in a seemingly endless stream of invention.

This was an evening of perhaps the very best improvised work that anyone with an interest in the form can expect to hear nowadays, at least on this side of the channel; alternately melodic, discordant, frenetic, destructive and ultimately cohesive, with the combined talents of some highly regarded if little known musicians providing a spontaneously rewarding listening experience for anyone equipped to appreciate it, which doesn't include everybody, but then not everyone likes Country & Western either. If you've any interest in improvised music you may already know of Michael Giles and if you don't, then the Mad Band are as good an introduction to the form as you can expect to hear.

http://madband.co.uk/MADBAND/home.html

JG