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gig reviews - 2014


 

Woman’s Hour
26.9.14 – Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

It’s good to come away from every gig having learned or experienced something new. In this case, despite the early signs that eating about a kilogram of Ikea’s meatballs is definitely not suitable pre-gig preparation; it quickly becomes apparent that other pearls are on offer. Indeed, even during the week before the show, the slick and all pervading marketing drive which saw every website I visited endorsed with a Woman’s Hour advert courtesy of some cheeky cookie only served to illustrate that this band is highly thought of. So with meatball-quenching drink in hand and eager ears at the ready what would Fiona Burgess and her cohort deliver?

First up, the stage set sees several carefully placed yet insubstantial looking pyramids dotted on the stage. However far from turning into a Spinal Tap moment (what is it with ancient monuments and musicians?), when the stage lights are turned on the effect is actually really convincing and in mimicking the album artwork, provides a deft touch of consistency. Still, don’t bump into those cardboard pyramids guys.

Musically, the heavily ethereal soul-pop vibe is beefed up on this show by the presence of new drummer James playing his first gig with the band and the gently appreciative crowd is bathed in swooshing synths and Fiona’s breathy tones through opener ‘Unbroken Sequence’ and follow up singles ‘Conversations’ and ‘Darkest Place’ – my own personal favourite of the evening. The PA is sounding sweet as a nut, the synths are awash across the warm evening air and even Fiona’s beguilingly awkward looking dancing can’t spoil the atmosphere. Then something happens.

I think it was part way through ‘To the End’, another of my favourite tracks that it occurs to me that there is an elephant in the room. Gorgeous though the tone of her voice is, it strikes me that a lot of Fiona’s notes are not getting hit, particularly the longer held ones. Unfortunately ‘To the End’ is full of long drawn out notes which on record are pretty much whispered and form part of the charm. Live, they seem to get belted out and so when they aren’t bang-on pitch wise, there are a few awkward ear splitting moment.

All of this could easily be overlooked – everyone hits a few bum notes from time to time - but within such pristinely minimalist compositions, they jar. They also highlight the fact that the second half of the performance seems to string out a couple of very samey sounding songs and the whole thing gets a bit one paced. Even I am thinking about trying out for the part of bassist for Woman’s Hour as it must be the easiest job in British music. Trotting out a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ is a low point for me – I don’t much like the original, I don’t like their recorded version and their live version prompts a much delayed trip to the bar.

But I don’t want to sound like some kind of muso-fascist - these are minor gripes overall. Odd errant vocals aside, Woman’s Hour put on a very slick show and aside from their cool, professional stage demeanour, post gig they seemed a pretty charming and cheery bunch, genuinely reflecting the huge amount of love for them in the room tonight.

SB


The Last Big Weekend
30.8.14 - Richmond Park, Glasgow

The Chemikal Underground-curated East End Social’s Last Big Weekend was the full stop to a series of social, cultural and musical events surrounding the Commonwealth Games and Culture 2014, as well as forming part of the government-led Homecoming Scotland 2014 initiative.

Held over two days (the second day curated by local club night Optimo), today’s bill was mainly a mix of old and new noiserock, culminating in a set from Mogwai. The location was interesting – Glasgow’s outdoor events are usually held at Glasgow Green on the City Centre’s fringe. Richmond Park, situated betwixt Green and The Gorbals, is something of a poor forgotten cousin, but provides a natural arena for a show and was possibly chosen to include an area largely ignored while the rest of the town partied hard during the Games fortnight.

On-site facilities were of a boutique festival standard and it was an easy-going, relaxed crowd, ranging from hipsters with massive beards, to middle-aged spreads sporting tattered Teenage Fanclub T-Shirts. Attendance was hard to gauge – it was busy and could have been a lot busier, but this turned out to be a bit of a blessing as early on it became apparent that the bar facilities were hugely inadequate, and 20 minute changeovers between acts soon fell behind half hour queue times for the bar.

As regards the music, opening grunge-pop duo Honeyblood didn’t really impress, but Holy Mountain turn things on their head with what could only be described as a tops-off sonic onslaught. Pleasingly, where a lot of post-rock can be quite po-faced in delivery, the mountain boys were disarmingly anarchic, with some serious grinnage being exchanged between the protagonists.

Swervedriver are a band that you always puzzle over why they were never bigger than they were. After four albums and chequered fortunes on Creation and Geffen, they split in 1998 and, since reconvening around a decade later, have had a steady gig diary with 2014 seeing them in the latter stages of recording a new album that’s slated for release next year. They unfussily kick off with the spaghetti-westernisms of "Last Train to Satansville” and follow with a shimmering and majestic “Sunset” from 1991’s “Raise”. With the exception of one new song, the set is pulled entirely from their first three LP’s on Creation and bypasses unsettled final release “99th Dream”. Never massively talkative onstage, they finish with their most successful single, “Duel”, and disappear into the backstage ether as quickly as they appeared.

I last saw Twilight Sad around 2007/8 and the most striking thing about them is how much they have aged in the intervening time. The upside to this is that they have managed to lose the arrogance I found a complete turn-off first time around and replaced it with a refreshing humility and honesty, with James Graham charmingly sharing with the audience his incredulity and delight at finding himself on the same bill as Mogwai, Swervedriver and The Wedding Present. They are a complete triumph with a career spanning, but all too brief set. And when is coming to a close, the finality is reinforced by Graham’s gesture before “Three Seconds of Dead Air” that “they would probably never play this song again, at least not for a very long time”.

Edinburgh’s Young Fathers were a scary bunch of people, with some effective tunes. Visually, they were the unique spectacle of the day, and my eyes continually wandered up to the drummer, standing throughout, menacingly perched on his riser, acting as sentinel over band and audience. The Wedding Present were pleasing, partially because I’m glad they are still on the go after all this time, but mainly because they were so fucking good. Dave Gedge, a man who inspired thousands of bands in the 80’s and early 90’s, still has it in spades.

Alas, I can’t tell you anything about James Holden or most of Fuck Buttons as, by this stage, the bar queues were now vast and along what appeared to be the rest of the crowd, I managed to wait one hour and twenty minutes for a beer. The food stalls were no better. To be fair, East End Social got an absolute roasting for this on Facebook, and they did apologise, stating that they would address the situation on the Sunday (and presumably they did). However, with the wealth of festival experience available to draw upon in Scotland from the folk that put on Wickerman/TITP/Belladrum etc, for East End Social to get something like this so wrong, and have punters missing bands because of poor logistics, was embarrassing.

Mogwai appear sometime after nine. Stuart Braithwaite, rather improbably feeling the coming autumn chill, takes to the stage in a woolly hat which is sensibly lost as the set progresses. They launch into “White Noise” from 2011’s “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will”, and the songs tonight are drawn mainly from the last three studio albums. “Wizard Motor” from the “Les Revenants” EP thrills and there are scattered remnants of older material, but nothing at all from “Come On Die Young”. There is, however, a tip of the hat to their roots near the end of the night when they encore with a dazzling “Mogwai Fear Satan” from “Young Team”.

East End Social billed this event as “One Big Top, Two Great Parties” and they brought some fantastic music, but forgot to bring anything like enough beer or pizza – what sort of party is that?

Rory Mac


Beacons Festival
A field in Skipton

Friday

Beacons festival is deliberate in its intentions it seems. Better food, better beer and not just music
Nothing new, but copy the good things.

I was deliberate in my intentions too. Aware that I had not been able to listen to as much music as I would want this year, I saw Beacons as an opportunity to try and make the most for the sadness that went along with not being as up to date with music as I want to be. My plan, my intention, was to go and see as many bands that I didn't know about as possible. I found the idea of wandering to and fro and choosing bands based on recommendation and intrigue rather wherever possible a joy.

And, in between bouts of diving into music, I took in as much of the Impossible Lecture Tent as I could because it was magic and everything about it should make those involved proud. The ideas of testimony and show and money and worry and the impact of experience we all have were some of the wonderful things on display. Along with humour and warmth and tea.
It was odd, as I watched that I was able to link everything mentioned to something in popular culture. Not odd. Not really.

But, I was here to hear music.

It is sometimes bad to have aims. Unfulfilled aims may taunt you when you want peace and I should know because the first band I saw was a band I'd seen before.

British sea Power, with their back to the audience, played all of their album From the Sea to The Land Beyond. I thought it was lovely. A gentle way into a weekend of listening, but a good start. I was surprised to find how happy they made me, because I have often been bored by BSE, not least the first time I saw them. When music seemed to have run on for long enough, a song started. I hope it is no disservice to say that I found the whole thing relaxing. Which is often the last thing I look for in music.

I was then able to kick off my hunt for the new and, for me the untried. I found Post War Glamour Girls, whom I heard of but never heard, to be an excellent beginning. I enjoyed their stage presence and that their lead singer seemed to be unintentionally taking being dour to new heights, at one point pointing out that he was actually psyched to be there but could not help the way it appeared. He didn't say psyched though.

If I were not in the midst of this wild-eyed, lolled-tongue hunt for the new, I would have gone to see Serious Sam Barret and probably Paul Thomas Saunders too, but instead not seeing them reminded me that the worst kind of rule is an absolute rule and so I decided to change my game plan to include seeing stuff I wanted to.

This meant I got to see Vessels and that was an excellent decision. Vessels are great. So is Joan as Policewoman, whom I have also seen before and would probably have seen here even if I had stuck by my guns. I enjoyed her competing with the dance tent, which at times heavily detracted from her fragile music but was easily beaten by her.

If you get the impression that I am hurrying through these bands it is because I am Eager to write about Action Bronson! ACTION. Bronson! ACTION! BRONSON! What I needed, what I regularly want, is good Hip-Hop. Good Hip-Hop that I haven't heard is admittedly more plentiful than pennies, but that detracts not one jot from the party and the fun I had.

Friday was finished off not, as I expected, with Daughter but with the Into The Woods Stage. If I'm going to look for new things, I'm going to look for new things generally.

Saturday

Saturday found me faced with myriad bands I had neither seen nor heard of and subsequently I found myself overawed. I dipped in and out of stages and caught songs by some and excerpts by others, which is hugely satisfying if you're a gadfly, eagerly dashing from new things to new thing, but leaves you pretty bereft of things to say. Unless you realise that that is wonderful. It is a great testament to a festival. While I am finding it hard to say much about anyone I saw (and doing an excellent job of saying nothing so far). I am able to say that I hugely enjoyed my time doing it which suggests that the festival itself has me as an eager attende.

BUT. That was only part of my day. I took some time out from flitting in order to talk to Jed Skinner, shortly to be known to all of you as one half of wonder band:

GALXIANS
Galaxians are fantastic and there's no way I would miss them. Party bands don't need guitars (or any constraint other than to be a really good party band). Galaxians were, as I riccochet wildly between various tenses, the highlight of my festival. A pleasure to watch a band in full stride show that they're super great. A pleasure to be able to see that they are enjoying it as much (more?) as the crowd.

Drums n Synths duos aren't the new anything nor do they replace anything or make other things un–cool. Galaxians are dead good and there's always room for things that are that. I urge you in strong terms to check them out. I think that there is a Badly Drawn Boy shaped hole nowhere in what they do.

Dam Funk : MORE Hip Hop? I believe that I danced more at this festival than I have in a long time. Grooves are great. Dam Funk was on fire and that's all you need to know.

I have never listened to Hookworms on record. This is on oversite on my part. I have, however actively sought out seeing them live on several occasions and continue to be awed by the kind of noise they make and how fantastic they are and it is.

Sunday

Tall ships were beautiful and I'm not sure who of four bands that I saw were Metz, but they were all good. Just kidding, loud, great band of girls.

It is astonishing how much of a demarcation there is with 65 days of static. The old stuff is fantastic. The new stuff is dull. Would you like to listen to some 65 days? When's it from? This year. No.

Nope – YES

I've always wanted to write a review like that and I'm not missing this chance now it presents itself. You're not the boss of me.

The Fall – ARRRRRRRRRRGH disappointed I haven't been asked to be in the fall. I'm from Manchester and everything. I can even play instruments, sort of.

I can finally see what people like about Mark E Smith. He was cantankerous. That is what is good about him. But he is very good at being cantankerous and being like that in the face of people trying to make him leave the stage because of danger is only going to endear. It is, truly, on stage where you can be forgiven all your faults. That story about Jools Holland is amazing though.

Ultimately, I've just hit all the clichés for when writing about the Fall, which I blame them for as much as I blame myself. They're easy to write and they get in the way of things. Actually, I was completely won over by them. It was a shame when they finally had to stop and we headed off to watch some Fat White Family who look like how anyone would draw a Band From Liverpool and sound like it too. I felt awful about how I'd searched out new, exciting music and found that it was not in any way that.

Neneh Cherry was surprising and not something I was ever planning on either. Her new band breathe new life into something that was already vital. Now I know. Always try and head somewhere different. Ruts aren't good for you.


John Wizards were much better. Sunday seems to be weird day. It never got weird enough for me. But maybe I did stay up and watch Fear and Loathing and that ruined everything. John Wizards brought a late uplift in party mood. I wanted more.

Eventually we had to leave, but we were forced out. Blown away from the field. The final thing was that once we were off site the cancelled Cate Le bon was put back on. I hope there were people there. Get there early, stay til the end.

Ultimately a festival review has a far more passing relationship to music that normal reviews. The sense, the feel and the look of a festival and how you spend your time are all important. A festival which allows you to take a break from music and which encourages walking from place to place while, better yet, allowing that to happen easily is one to be cherished. For a festival I set out to do as much new music finding as possible at, I also spent more time than I've spent at any Glastonbury doing things that were very definitely part of the festival but that were not music.
I had a blast and this festival needs to be preserved.

I had a great Beacons and will, I hope, again.

Christopher Carney


Cass McCombs
19.1.2014 - Salon Teatro, Santiago de Compostela

The 19 songs on Cass McComb's Big Wheel And Others are a bit of a sprawl, but its dusty rambling charms over 70 or so minutes have an enduring appeal. The enigmatic US singer-songwriter has always embraced something of an open-ended approach to his music, allowing songs to form freely with a certain poetic lyricism. His label Domino listed the featured genres of the artist's latest work as “ Road songs, rock songs, folk songs, blues songs, country songs, rhythm and blues songs, skronk non-songs, cinema songs, cult songs, poem songs, jams, and ballads”, so any attempts to pin him down would seem rather futile.

He kicks off tonight's performance at Salon Teatro, Santiago de Compostela, with the 3 Americana-infused road songs that open his Big Wheel album. The title track grinds along nicely, followed by gentler 'Angel Blood' accompanied with some beautiful pedal steel, and then to round off the triumvirate, the dark and lightly-strummed 'Morning Star'. It sets the tone for the evening, a more stripped-down approach of playing compared with the chamber pop of his last album in 2011 Wit's End.

What you notice immediately is how functional everything is. The band come on pretty much without any sort of fanfare or announcement. Few words are exchanged during the whole evening, McCombs is well known for not engaging much with his audience, but the understanding he has with the band also seems very intuitive rather than verbal. Daniel Allaire drives the music along on a very spartan and low-strung drum kit. McCombs stands almost motionless throughout the evening, occasionally turning his back to tune his guitar. The Clapton-like quiff suits him as he trades licks with his co-guitarist Daniel Iead and shares vocals with bassist Jon Shaw on one or two songs.

It seems to work with the audience in this moderately-sized all-seater who'd probably rather banter in Spanish or local language 'Gallego' than in English anyway. The energy is concentrated through the music.

Predictably, the evening features many songs from Big Wheel, including the current single 'Brighter' (the recorded version features the late Karen Black on vocals, like on the cuttingly sardonic 'Dreams Come True Girl' on McCombs' 2009 Catacombs album. Tonight the singer plays both of them straight!). The highlights of the band's set are 'Robin Egg Blue' and 'The Same Thing', rare treats from 2011 under-appreciated 2011 release Humor Risk, and the melancholy classic 'County Line' with its falsetto vocals. The playing throughout was exemplary, as was McCombs' voice, and you had to marvel at the way they occasionally rocked out Neil Young-style in this tiny and rather sedate venue, like 'Bobby King Of Boys Town', from his 2004 debut A.

Cass McCombs 'Robin Egg Blue'

Quite a musical spectacle then, the audience lapping up this no frills approach. Oddly enough, Big Wheel may be some sort of play by McCombs for the mainstream. When asked once what he most liked about rock'n'roll, Lou Reed answered bass, drums and electric guitar, especially going from E to A, “if it's done right”. Cass McComb's solid riffing and country-tinged blues is certainly “done right” and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Matthew Hadrill