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Rainer Maria

             Fri 2 December 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage

Female-fronted new wave anthems.

When all the parts the jigsaw fit perfectly, and carry equally important sections of the big picture, where do you start? Sweet female vocal melodies, but direct and determined, never cloying. Bass tunes with a gentle urgency, hooks penetrating deep into your psyche. Guitar as hard to get your head around as a 4-D dodecahedron, jangling and scratching chords, picky deconstructions, warm frills and inticate nibbles - in other words, Technique. Drums deliver racing slaps, subtle kicks, cascading cymbals. Male vocal cries, mostly a backing part, but also duetting, the two singers scream along together for the finale and encore. Lyrics are packed in tighter than travel scrabble; mostly, they're about love, joy and regret: "I can't tell any more what's yours and what's mine"; "You were strong and clever, and I didn't know any better"; "I'm gonna fight you at the end of the world", and "I could have set you free, but I watched you burn". Straightforward lines, but not clicheed.

If you didn't enjoy Rainer Maria, it would surely mean that your ears or your heart had withered and died. This is intelligent guitar-pop in the style of Belly or early-years Blondie. And, if you need your indie to swagger and pout, there's groovy throbbing resembling Roxy Music without keyboards, and the sombre rumble and twang of New Order in their Ceremony/ Procession phase. Very little here in the way of tempo change or mood switches - there's only one flavour on sale. But it's a great flavour, a sundried groove. Rachel Silver Rocket was singing along for all she was worth, bless. Rainer Maria bring you galloping rhythms, gorgeous singing, articulate lyrics, and cleverly stretched guitar-playing. Never simple, sometimes edgy, but always catchy and bright.

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Tue 25 May 2004               @ Bull and Gate

Kings of speed teen rock 'n' roll that seem way too clever to be teenagers.

A mix of staccato guitar and fast blues honeyed treats. Incredible breakneck-squall guitar duelling. Thumped-up bass. Full-metal drums. Urgent boy-next-door vocals. A little bit of "I Am The Fly" trickery, but honestly, this is top of the pop-rock tree. Every lyric is a corker. Try "Don't go back to Dalston, don't go up the junction, don't go round the houses, just come back to me". Or "I just can't get there no more, so tell me which way is out". Arranged on stage are: lead vocal/ guitar, guitar/ backing vocal, bass/ backing vocal, drums.

The energy of Ash and the ckeekiness of Supergrass. Entertainingly witty rather than patronising. Razorlight produce perfect punchy powerpop songs.

                                                                                 Author: OT


            Wed 18 February 2004 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar

Top fun from purveyors of an electro-clash/ psychedelic/ glammy punk rock melange.

Keyboard delivers piano, bleeping noises, and swirly organs. Guitar has lots of man-machine choppiness and shooting star noodles. Bass and drums can be driving, groovy, even heavy. What you would expect of Hawkwind with the added influence of the Damned, Radiohead and The Prodigy. Lyrically, this contains thick wedges of sarcasm and cycnicism - an insincerity in "You can rest assured, I'm gonna miss you now you're gone", and the bitterness of "You never were afraid, but now you're not so brave… Your halo is slipping, so far it's missing… Oh no, you know you know who you are". I'm not so interested in a song pronounced to be about - erm - onanism. Blink 182 did that to it's climax already. Formation is lead vocal/ synth-keyboards, left-handed guitar/ backing vocal, guitar/ occasional synth-keyboards, bass, drums.

Probably the most enjoyable and original live act on the North London circuit.

                                                                                 Author: OT



              Tue 8 March 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Perfect combo of classic heavy rock and blues grunge.

It grows from a throaty mix of scream and bellow, passionate vocal timbres, part Lemmy, part Cobain. Guitars can emulate a clanging axe, a soaring pterodactyl, a teary-eyed spidering. As a duo, they deliver mournful intermeshed chord deconstructions and roped-together scaling. Bass contributes deep sonorous groove tunes. Drum is a crisp-crunch splashdown with Zeppy cymbal trickling. Words are traditional rockuledge, but crafty thefts rather than worn retreads: "One thing you like is blaming me" (oh, yeah!); "Feel so low"; "You wanna leave it all behind" (oh yeah again); "Time to put me in my place"; "Say you do and say you don't, say you would and say you won't" (Zuton me); "We, we are the people" (Tooting Popular Front); "Lonely on the last link of your chain" (triple yeah); and a putative ZZ Top foray into rock'n'roll "What you don't understand". The absolute grunge of Nirvana meets the calculating rock of Foreigner - like the Foo Fighters you might think, but without the towering Grohl irony.

Reculver are the perfect embodiment of grunge-inflected and seventies-flavoured emo-rock. The first act on the bill describes them as "tight", and in the sense of "accomplished", it's a true assessment, Reculver tick the Tommy Vance rock box. In the hands of lesser mortals, these monsters of rock stylings might sound jaded, but Reculver hatch a plot so fresh it sounds like they created it this morning. Without breaking a sweat. Cool as ice.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Red Deadhead (aka Future of the Left)

             Sat 12 August 2006 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar

Dark and passionate punk, brief songs with stark repetitive structures.

The lead singer deals in curly screams with shouted backing ripostes. It's like James Dean Bradfield in a bizarre tangle with Jello Biafra. Words express careworn desperation: "Why put the body where the body won't go?"; "The only way to get those fuckers home"; and "Don't believe in, don't believe in myself" (with unexpected country cries of "Roll-on, roll-on, roll-on").

The Red Deadhead bass deals in thumping sludge-hooks. Guitar lines are clangs, squiggles and scratchy frills. Or you may encounter a glammy guitar-and-bass ensemble, driven by chopped-up beat slices. Drums are freakily paced, slaps, cracks, staccato bursts. No space for boredom here.

Red Deadhead's sound is all about the short-sharp melody, the quickly repeated theme. Never mind the McClusky and Jarcrew personnel, the sound is more like the Projections take an axe to Spiritualized. They explain their song 'Welcome to the body shop' with the statement: "This is not about the home of officially sanctioned creams". No, Red Deadhead is the home of sectioned screams. Yikes! This really should be dedicated to Neil Kinnock.

                                                                                  Author: RF

The Red in Sophie Loren

               Mon 18 Aug 2003               @ Bull and Gate

Thrashy post-punk flailings from 5 guys creating mayhem on and off the stage.

Amazing guitar sounds, the highest-slung bass OT has seen, and a drummer who barely sits down. This is nothing short of an onslaught, with shouted rants for lyrics and an impregnable song construction. Even titles are wilfully clever-clever in-jokes: "The sound of a marching band finally finding its bloody feet".

Impressive, but add this all up, and what does it mean? Certainly worth seeing for the entertainment-value of the band slamming each other around on stage and an audience trying to crowd-surf with a total of just 15 observers at any time left to carry them. Brilliance and lunacy may well be opposite sides of the same coin. (PS: OT keeps checking these guys out, and is still impressed and confused in equal measure).

                                                                                 Author: OT


              Wed 21 April 2004 Club Fandango @ Archway Tavern

Grunged-up metallic punk from these redfive.

On a brief showing (your reviewer was having "fun" on the Northern Line), this is about anthemic vocal melodies with heavy metal harmonies, rollockin' bass, warm but off-beat guitar lines with seriously scuzzy speed chords, and clattering drums. Lyrically angsty sentiments like "We are broken". Set up is lead vocal, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums/ backing vocals.

The promoter suggests that these guys compare with Muse. I thought maybe also a touch of Feeder, Idlewild, Smashing Pumpkins. Instantly likeable. When I argue, I see red.

                                                                                 Author: OT



           Sat 18 September 2004           @ Bull and Gate

Polished power-ballads and punky rock anthems.

Lead vocal delivers an angry melodic shout for the anthems and a grungy croon for the ballads. He's a part-time rhythm guitarist, trading and layering chords with his lead guitarist, and a part-time keyboard player mastering tinkling piano sounds. Lead guitar moves from chord-layering to classic blues-rock rambles and solos, also contributing occasional vocal harmonies. Bass is in charge of slow determined tunes, with firm and energetic drums at the core. Lyrics: on angst we have "I talk to God, but the sky is empty"; on affairs, we have ""You're in way too deep"; and on frustration, the closing number (FCUK) "It's not funny anymore". Reemer spend half the set sounding like Stiff Little Fingers, and half sounding like Embrace. An odd combination, but a good one to build on given what's popular in 2004.

Reemer are mighty purveyors of twenty-first century pop rock. Melodic, thoughtful, and - by turns - angry and romantic. Perhaps a little like Travis before they got wet, wet, wet. Reemer are standing at the edge of something big, and they won't be shot down.

                                                                                 Author: WT



             Fri 4 February 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage

Guitar- and keyboard-based dreaminess.

Two man outfit with two guitars, keyboard, programmed percussion and occasional bass. Guitars produce shimmers and intermeshed jangle picking. Keyboard is primarily piano voiced, anxious repeated strikes, deep boomy synth vibrations, wild chimes and fairlight whistles. Deep throbbing bass guitar melody is set against spiralling and circling organ chews. Percussion takes the form of metronomic clicks, ticks and kerchunks. Disembodied (but alive) vocals are ethereal mantras, lines that sound like "Again, again, she'll die for him". Overall a sound of gentle progressions leading to chiming crescendos. The calmer moments of Bill Nelson, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi.

Reigns play complex drifting pieces that allow your imagination to wander and return, your thoughts to roam and come back safely. Sounds from a varied palette, applied with no urgency, a sly form of hypnosis. To borrow a Bill Nelson sample: a worse thing than blindness or deafness would be sleeplessness.

                                                                               Author: RMC


              Mon 7 August 2006              @ Bull and Gate

A crash-barrier in the highway between punk and Britpop.

It's all about getting your punches in fast. Drums drive at white-knuckle pace, crashing and rolling, a relentless rocketing bullet-train. Bass piles on with short thumping hooks and showy slides. Guitar scratches, rasps and slashes at chords, or rips into clanging solos - brief, wild and desperate. Vocal melodies are clear but skewed and loopy, twisted drones, long warbling cries.

Lyrics suffer a little from schlock-rock syndrome, but that's youth: the lovelorn "You're in control of me"; "I can't sleep tonight" and the ultra-cheesy "So nice to treat you, so nice to sleep with you baby". Accelerated remakes of "I just wanna be your dog" - and why not?

Retrobiff have learnt the defining spirit of punk rock perfectly - get through the songs as quickly as possible then leave. Despite that, the act doesn't feel especially retro. More than the racing sneers of the Dead Kennedys, Retrobiff remind me of of the first three Manic Street Preachers albums. Mixing the staccato and the thunderous, the band burn through 8 songs in 20 minutes. Retrobiff are urgent, critical and insistent, and they make me want more.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Ricky Spontane

            Sat 13 December 2003 Guided Missile @ Bull and Gate

Four halo heaven from the indie janglers.

Vocal croon like Vic Reeves with the bonus of discernment, bass chainsmokes and pumps away on the full length of the stick, guitar teases in finest punksville style (with fine phasor moments when it matters). A show too - guitars and vocal perambulate wildly. This set was the 7th band OT witnessed on the day, and the first male vocal to be passionately and perfectly in tune: what a relief! Songs are about the banal, the everyday, the lives of me and you. Some personal "Who will play my girlfriend in the story of my life?", some metro-universal "Did you see the girl with the blonde peroxide? Couldn't see her 'cos there's too much carbon monoxide". Set up is lead vocal/ keyboard/ guitar, lead guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums.

At moments, the simple savvy poppiness reminds me of the first few Police singles. But no, RS spend a song describing "The Perfect Sound", and in their gentle irony, they have found it. And all of this would be ko on every single day.

                                                                                 Author: OT


Ricky Spontane

               Sat 8 May 2004 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar

Joyous punk 'n' roll extravaganza.

Imagine an English beach. The lead vocal is the yodelling barker selling donkey rides (his favourite donkey is Domino). Drums evoke the waves crashing on the shore. The guitar is the spray where the surf hits the breakwater and the crackle of the sand as the sea recedes (though there are also some punky 3 note off-key solos and great fifties rocker riffs - maybe someone brought a ghetto blaster). Keyboards draw in the sound of a distant organ at the fair on the pier. And bass is the throb of the motor in the ice cream van (ok, way more melodic, maybe Mr Whippee sells lots of flakes). Lyrical goodies abound for Ricky Spontane. "Where the old and the new somehow get together, like you know they could do". "There's a man with a clipboard in my road, I wanna go… I gotta run". And "I'd like to get to know you, before the Summer". It's the warm teen sounds of the Undertones with a crooning Neil Hannon up front (Divine Comedy). Set up: lead vocal/ second guitar, first guitar/ backing vocal, keyboard/ backing vocal, bass/ cigarettes, drums.

Gorgeous songwriting genius in the vein of Squeeze's "Pulling mussels from a shell". Here comes the Summer. Here comes the time of Ricky Spontane.

                                                                                 Author: OT


               Thu 6 July 2006           B*sides @ Enterprise

An engaging blend of indie, rock'n'roll, skiffle and garage sounds.

There are two Rosemary singers, the guitarman and the bassman, delivering lines that interchange and lock together like jigsaw pieces. The vocals have a distinctly folksy feel, but in a tradition of drinking songs rather than crop failures or mining disasters. Rosemary sing in blusters and echoes, chants and rounds. Delivery is fast and frantic, pace set by a furious rattle of express train and gunshot drumbeats. Guitar scribbles and twangs in a country style, teasing an unflusterable rockabilly bass.

Rosemary are suffused with the secret joys of the sweet life and how to live it. New single Suburban Kings is typically catchy and upbeat, a longstanding showpiece of the set: "We will always, we will always, we will always go. They will never, they will never, they will never know". Such musical fun and games.

This compact Rosemary audience are determined to shake their stuff whatever. And that's surely what these sharp 2 1/2 minute routs are made for, each somewhere between a reel and a sea shanty. The shortcomings of the venue (like apparently having no sound engineer) don't seem to bother anyone at all. Rosemary jump deftly from the playground to the dance hall with flair and panache. Ah, the exuberance of youth.

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Wed 9 March 2005 Rhythm not Reason @ Nambucca Bar

Countrified rock'n'folk anthems.

Blistering beats blast from harshly rattled and pummelled drums. Bass bounds away from trouble, shocked, but trying out complex dodges, striking off into pony trekking blues and mysteriously insistent hooks. When the guitarist is adjusting, there's a strangely dubby bass and drum jam. When guitar is in action, the two sets of strings combine for pacey bubblegum rock'n'roll slammers. But guitar also gives you more. More subverted twangy solos. More jangle and chime pickings. More urgent chops on the tilted merry-ground. More revola and curiously deconstructed chords.

Two singers swap, interchange and trade twisted melodies. It's a folksy chortle-a-wail accompanied by a harmonised "baa-de-baa-de-baa" and falsettoed "la-la-la". Words address thoughtful genies and coralled herds: "You are all mine"; (apparently) "We feed our hate"; and "We will always, we will always, we will always go; they will never, they will never, they will never know". Amongst other precedents, the Rosemary sound hybridises Seahorses, Zutons and Bluetones.

If you seek the drama and camaraderie of a gang evading the law on the high chaparral, look no further than Rosemary. They're in a modern country-psych idiom, but with plenty of classic moments, like their closing number "Your love is sweeter than wine". These are rousing sounds of a drunken hop, a twenty-first century response to The Pogues. A herb that grows wild, piquant and addictive. An escape from the last chance saloon with all guns blazing.

                                                                               Author: RMC


             Mon 3 October 2005 twentysixfeet and akira present Wreck @ The Marquee

Famed for having two bass guitars, but what's more important is that they create thrills from subtle progressions through sonic swatch-books.

No vocals here. Stilted percussion, a telegraph-machine drum sound, jangling wind chimes, atmospherics that trickle and boom. Synth generates drifting whitewash, rasping echoes of subterranean streams, contemplative pipe organ tendrils.

The two basses operate almost as if they were lead and rhythm, but they're open to role reversals. Rhythm is mostly about hooks and rumbles, whilst lead is shimmering sustain and (perversely) roving chord sequences. Readily, this transforms into the lead developing and repeating a short theme in the higher bass pitches, to be echoed and varied below by the rhythm man.

Rothko daub a mix of rough shadows and polished white, the dappling of the Dirty Three or Eyeless in Gaza. Each piece develops incrementally, but the pace of the development is perfectly measured. Six songs in half an hour, they capture a piece of your soul with each one in turn, then withdraw to regroup. It’s mostly a melancholy business, with titles as uplifting as "Definition of Loss", but, with the kiss of a beat, Rothko will rise to a (post) rock-out. The difference between art and engineering is just texture.

                                                                                  Author: RF

The Rum Circus

            Fri 15 September 2006           @ Bull and Gate

Magnificent glam-rock epics performed as a 1970's costume drama.

They're filming the show for an internet podcast, and the band put on a worthy performance. They're dressed for a ball (formal psychedelic), with waistcoats and drapecoats, flowers in hair and in garlands.

The white spotlight is on lead singer Chesca. She opens with feisty gypsy vocals and metallic strumming on semi-acoustic guitar. Bassman and drummer provide a male vocal underscore. B's electric guitar screams and thrills as Gavin's bass romps along busily. Velibor's drum sounds tumble, tap and crump showily. This is theatre, bright and flamboyant.

The set contains many different elements, but the strong lyrical narrative is a constant throughout. Longing and loss are at the heart: "Love is my fever"; "God made the natural world, then He filled it up with pain… He won't notice you when you call His name to praise Him"; and "All the loves I've lost and left behind me, and hoped would find me, and love me again". That's one serious fever.

Of course, it wouldn't be a show without changes to pace, to moods, and to roles. Shortly into the set, Chesca moves to piano theatrics for the Babooshka-flavoured "Gabrielle": is this tragedy, or is it melodrama? More plot development, and a scmaltzy musical-box waltz shifts up several gears for a thundering rock chorus, with twin electric guitar twangs and soars. They close with a powerful warbling female voice set against the full band's backing "aah-aah, aah-aah" - "Why are you so cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel, why so cruel?" Is the female of the species deadlier?

The Rum Circus name captures the flavour of the b(r)and perfectly. This is a concerted effort in skill, daring, variety, and exuberant showmanship. Bowie, Cher, Procul Harum, John Miles, Elton, Jefferson Airplane and Siouxsie and the Banshees would all be envious. In terms of presence, togetherness and sound quality, this was the finest Rum Circus outing I've seen, and captured as a movie too. The spirit, the sound, the greasepaint and the lights are in their blood.

                                                                                  Author: RF

The Rum Circus

             Thu 26 January 2006                  @ G Lounge

A rock opera in eight episodes.

The circus opens with a moody and glowering Nick Cave build-up. Bass flickers, cymbals shimmer, guitars conjure steadily intensifying atmospherics. Suddenly the show is in motion. The electric guitar is at the core, rasping revs and wildly curled solos, chopping chords and calliope steam pipelines. Bass guitar directs the tunes busily, subtle nudging and string-bending assembled into wild-west ambience. Drums are anxious, focussing on the flutter and ping of cymbals and hats.

Frontwoman Chesca draws you in with some frill-and-slash semi-acoustic guitar. But she devotes herself to keyboard, serious baby-grand piano sounds that worry and sparkle. Chesca is also the chanteuse, taking a few cues from Cher's Tramps and Thieves (but fortunately not hairstyles, costumes or partners). The opera's cohesion is in style and direction rather than subject-matter. Songs deal with yellow bellies (figuratively), murder and the afterlife. The climactic final anthem warns "Don't let me down", and ends with an abruptness that contrasts starkly with the opening build-up. No more stories, entire repertoire exposed.

This Rum Circus evokes childhood memories. Expansive and catchy song-based music, dogs jumping through burning hoops, death-defying stuntmen putting their heads between the lion's jaws. These cleverly structured and rolling melodies recreate the era of the young Kate Bush and Toyah Willcox. But when the show is over, it's over until the circus next comes to town. Chesca explains: "It’s the end of the night for the music, but just the start for the drinking and amorous adventures!". Amorous adventures? Bring on the lions.

                                                                                  Author: RF

The Sailplanes

                Wed 2 November 2005                             Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar

The BBC website for John Peel quotes the man at the masthead: "I just wanna hear something I've never heard before." Well, listen-up.

Only The Sailplanes make music like The Sailplanes. At the end of the 1970s, this was known as 'no-wave'. Two guitarists alternate on lyrics, but male voice predominates (in tonight's set anyway). A hysterical bark that is almost John Otway versus a latter-day 'Holly', the Red Dwarf's female on-board computer. To say the words are nihilistic is an understatement: 'I got no one, got no time', 'I never knew anyone', 'Feeling without meaning', 'You can have my life', and the uncharacteristically cheery 'I see the world in your eyes'.

There are only three Sailplanes, so the guitar duo creates twin strafing, wild and wide-ranging picking, string frillers and clangers, scratchy white noise. Strangely beautiful chords terminate a violin bow sawmill treatment. Drums race, a pattering hailstorm of beats, with an unusual wrist flicking action. A common structure is applied to most songs - strong rock 'n' roll intros that accelerate into violent strummery. But there are variations - one blistering instrumental that ends in an excerpt from Nick Cave's ' John Finn's Wife' and a strange episode of kneeling at the guitar pedals, wild fx, chirruping and motorbiking.

The Sailplanes are unique, but like Marmite, you either love 'em or hate 'em. I'm in the first camp. The promoter suggests they're like Sonic Youth. Possibly, in parts, but no sludge, no bubblegum, this is way more single minded. By the time they sang 'I see you walk' most of the audience had walked. To borrow from The Adverts 'We must be no-wave. They'll like us next year.'

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Wed 21 April 2004 Club Fandango @ Archway Tavern

Stadium-bound post-rock anthems from this Leeds trio.

Expertly stilted drumming complete with crashing cymbal crescendos. Booming bass melodies running for upto 8 bars, worthy of The Who are The Jam. A warm guitar squall that switches occasionally to soaring Cocteaus sustain lines. The trademark stamp of guitar style on this recalls the early days of U2's The Edge. All of this plus unsurpassable vocals, tortured and melodic, with hints of the folksiness of David Gray, the gothic off-key wail of Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), the intensity and falsetto of Thom Yorke, and the matched-at-birth harmonies of Macca and Lennon, or The Byrds. The feel is pure angst - lyrical titbits include "I won't let you down again… you won't let me down again" and "My eyes caught fire". The overall sound ranks with Radiohead of the My Iron Lung era. Set-up is lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ backing vocals, drums/ backing vocals.

Quite simply, and out-of-the-box rock performance of sheer brilliance.  If you walk away, walk away… I walk away, walk away… I will follow.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Sand 700

           Wed 22 December 2004           @ Bull and Gate

Perfect guitar pop.

Sand 700 are almost too good for this world, but thankfully, they're here. The lead singer is a white man, but he's also a chewy soul melodian in the territory of Roland Gift (Fine Young Cannibals). He's half of a pairing that delivers a matchless array of guitar sounds: chords of chopping, reverb and steely strummery; tinkering Johnny Marr solos, countrified metalling and speed scribbles of spook, sustain and showiness. Bass generates swift tuneful pummellings, whilst improbably balanced drums deftly trip the beats and chug like a smoothly tuned engine. And, as a parting shot, there are hookily squidgy mouth organ bursts from the singer. Add to that high density lyrics, every one thoughtful, esoteric, and highly quotable. "Light has never been my friend, but it pays my wages"; "The landing's longer than the fall" (so is the winter); "Until it happens again and the start is the end" (a bit Stephen Hawking); "I can't help but stutter these words that I mutter - and carry on singing this song of my substitute life"; "Well I drink 'til I love you 'cos memory just gets in the way"; "High on a ledge a push will turn to a fall"; and "A smile and a fist is like a fuck and a friend". Sand 700 reproduce the exhillerating guitar harmonics of Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain", and meld together the shimmering spikes of Kitchens of Distinction, Josef K and the Bluetones.

Sand 700 trade in catchy and lyrical indie genius. True originals, there's not a trace of brit-pop, blues rock, garage or rock-lite to be found. Sand 700 amount to 700% hooky quirks. Incomparable wonders. The only fun in town.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Satellite Inspectors

               Thu 4 May 2006               @ Bull and Gate

Intriguingly "out there" guitar pop.

The Satellite Inspectors are not quite de rigueur, and this sets them apart from the pack. They've got a whole cavern system of reverb on the guitar, fizzing and swirling strokes, with hoots, squeals and catchy curls teased out. Tempos are straightforward, but firm spacious hooks from the bass contrast with the density of the drum patterns. The bass-player doubles as the singer, a chap who knows how to sing and knows how to mess with the tune, sliding down the wall, calculated to be catchy but marginally flat. I like the sense of disdain, as if mortals couldn't possibly understand: "I feel fine… we come from above it" and "I'll be the same without you". Looking down on London, baby.

I'm dubious about bands with work-related monikers, but the Satellite Inspectors can call themselves anything they like. This is accessible pop music, but you have to work to get into it. Nothing is obvious or instant, but the SI have enough charisma to pull an enthusiastic crowd, and get the venue two-thirds full for an early set. I would guess they grew up with the music of the 1990s, with sounds of Suede, Cast and the Verve making an impression. The mark of Anderson and Butler is indelible. The SIs also make room for a blast of bluesy jazz in the style of The Cure's Love Cats, and a harsh choppy finale that thrashes like a tropical storm hitting the coast. Guitar pop that's hooky but not predictable, clever but not pompous. The radar is picking up strange signals from the sky. Satellite Inspectors are go.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Savage Henry

             Fri 14 January 2005  Tsunami Appeal Benefit @ Montague Arms

Genre: guitar and electronic experiments on the cosmic psyche.

Members: 2
Vocals: 2, manic screams, whinnies, processed ethereal sirens, rant-rap, eastern mantras.
Guitar: crazy horses, shimmers, scribbles, dew-drops.
Synth: space station, parabolic bells, clangers, martian crickets, white noise, wild horses.
Backing: trippy dance beats, Doctor Avalanche, Cocteau metronome crunch, machine gun.
Rough quotes: "Comfort me by sound"; "How will I defend you?".
Precedents: Eno, Bowie, Fripp, Bill Nelson.

Savage Henry straddle a line between spacescapes and spacecakes.
Weirdness to pop ratio: 95% - there are structured developments, but no prospect of a chart-bothering single.
Familiarity factor: 15% - the sounds and the themes stick in your mind, but I've seen them play 4 times, and they could have played 4 different sets - or not. Well, you can't say it seems like you've heard it all before.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Savage Henry

           Tue 28 September 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Industrial experimentalism with corporeal form and ethereal structure.

This dark duo eke out unlikely noises from voice, synth and guitar. The poisonous percussion of a night deep in the jungle. Frantic chunks of chord. Foundry clanks. A violin cat strangled with its own gut. A vocal cry of colonic irrigation, a sob of broken dreams. Percussive freak-fests with throaty chortles. Accidental and deliberate feedback. Synth trailing the wild perambulations of guitar melody like the distorted shadow of a winter morning.

The ether raises the hackles and shivers the spine. The body crumbles the blues and woes the torture. Savage Henry marry the vile nihilism of Test Department to the dreamy sorrow of Eyeless in Gaza and the gallows whimsy of Laibach.

Savage Henry complete their set with the sound of a thousand souls descending into eternal damnation. The sound of intermeshed cries of agony, hordes of enslavers cracking the pneumatic whip, the buzz of stinging insects deep inside cranial cavities. Staggering originality with substance and detachment. Time has a slot booked for Savage Henry across the Styx on the subterranean Resonance FM. A convincing dirty protest against bland sounds.

                                                                                 Author: WT

Jack Savoretti

              Wed 2 April 2008 Café Nero private event @ The Bedford

Last night I attended a private gig of the artist Jack Savoretti at The Bedford, Balham in London - many of you will know the venue well. The performance coincided with the release of 'Between The Minds' Deluxe double CD version of the album and a reward to the 'Cafe Nero' staff who had helped Jack on his Tour through February and March visiting fans at various Cafe Nero's across the UK.

Last night's gig has to go down as one of the best I have ever been to, the acoustics of the Globe Theatre itself are amazing but Savoretti had the audience in awe with his husky singing voice, Orlando Bloom looks and poetic story telling songs. The thing that amazed me most was the way Jack Savoretti is able to make his guitar sing like a bird while at the same time tell the story of each song in such a way.

The tracks covered included personal favourites of the crowd as Jack asked what most folks would like to be played - 'Dr.Frankenstein', 'No One's Aware', 'Dreamers', 'One Man Band' to name a few, and new tracks such as 'Lucy', 'Russian Roulette' and a hauntingly amazing Johnny Cash cover of 'Ring Of Fire'. An hour and 10 minutes set simply flew by and I found myself along with the crowd wanting more Savoretti.

I know Jack Savoretti is a big favourite of Janice Long the Radio 2 presenter/DJ but it seems as though the word is still not quite yet out there, Jack Savoretti looks to be the new kid on the block! If you do get a chance to see him for yourself, don't miss the opportunity, you won't regret it. As a music lover and musician myself I cannot shout loud enough that Jack Savoretti is going to be huge.

I can't give 11 out of 10 for Jack's performance so it has to be 10 out of 10 but with BIG BRIGHT STARS ON!

                                                                             Author: Jason

Scaramanga 6

               Fri 1 April 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage

Supercool purveyors of wild-west drama in the rock'n'roll idiom.

Well, in that tradition of japing with monikers, there seem to be 5 Scaramangas. Vocals are impressively varied, starting as a 3-way cacophony of male and female screams, adding in episodes of Bowie croon and psychobilly yammers, then graduating to finely harmonised "whoas". Two guitars parry twin-speed chord chops, discrete lines of niggling twang, hooky circling, terrifying minor chord-crunch lines, and mistuned crooked cycling. Bass is the warm beating heart, an irresistible nudge tune. The drum lathers up to a rollicking snare-cored smash out. Mr Keyboard is the real multi-tasker. He juggles organ sounds that siren and growl, friendly masticating harmonics, and stylings of Steve Nieve complexity. He also moonlights on a trumpet that mixes derisive snorts with freely jazzing solos. And his own mini drumkit which accelerates the percussive ante like a joyridden runaway train.

The Scaramanga's titles were easily heard, the lyrics more deeply buried. So I can tell you they sang about: "The throning room"; "Sunken eyes"; "Baggage"; and a "Towering inferno". I can also report some negativity in the words: "You, you're a walking accident"; "Where did you get that terrible face?"; and "There are certain people responsible for touching my steeple".

Elements of Dave Graney, Corrigan, and the accessible side of the Bad Seeds.

The Scaramanga 6 are an act of inescapable ghost-town gothic, a skeletal waltz of the undead. The twenty-first century response to Hotel California, and far more threatening. Pass the whisky ma, I'm 6, I got teeth, and I'm a-courtin'…

                                                                               Author: RMC

The Schla La La's

            Sat 13 December 2003 Guided Missile @ Bull and Gate

Six wonder-women play smirky wry surf pop.

The opening theme sets the target for the show - "We'll show you what the girls can do" - and, boy, do they show us. They bring gorgeous melodies and harmonies (every performer has a vocal part), but without being twee or sweet; there is a strong hint of dirty knowingness reflected in some scary minor chords. Think of Dorothy from Men Bahaving Badly. Then think of 6 Dorothies. And to up the art-factor, we have Dorothy 6, known as Kirsten, singing from a German menu, to the reponse "She's going back to Germany to stuff her face". I shouldn't mention - but will - the black and red matching outfits - tres chic - with a diagonal red stripe on the black skirt that reminds me strangely of my mother's 1960s curtain fabric. The players, roughly, are: guitar/ vocal, guitar/ vocal, guest vocal, bass/ vocal, bass/ vocal, drums/ vocal. Spookily, they end the set with the Violent Femmes' song "Add it up". (Great song, it's spooky because I used it to close a review 2 hours earlier).

Fantastic sixties-sisters pop. We want the same thing!

                                                                                 Author: OT

Scrappy Hood

               Sat 6 May 2006    UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club

The shorter part of the Milk Kan partnership brings you common wisdom from the semi-acoustic mosh-pit.

Everyday anthems in a sarf London accent, samples from TV shows and easy-listening standards, lo-fi backing with chatterbox beats, surfy rock'n'roll with guitar twangs - this is the new DIY music. Mr Hood alternates his assembled scraps with thrusts of straightforward folk guitar, or blasts of hip-hop with unlikely punk guitar solos. The songs deal with life as a piss-head, life as a small wheel in the music industry, and life as a big fish in a small pond - the kind of person who ends up asleep in wheelie bins and train depots: "I'm a nobody, and I'm happy as can be". Scrappy follows the crowd and the crowd follows Scrappy - "Wherever you're going, I'm going with you".

Scrappy Hood makes his space in a triangle between Carter USM, Billy Bragg and Chas'n'Dave. It's not an idea I would normally find engaging, but I'm surprised to say I really enjoyed the set - and that's bonhomie rather than beer talking. I don't think you can knock a performer that closes with a song based on a huge slice from Dolly Parton's hit "Here you come again". Especially when he adds a hugely silly parody of the US-FM rock station guitar solo. This does not mean that the continued existence of Chris Moyles is forgiven.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Screaming Tea Party

            Mon 12 January 2006 Bull and Gate @ Bull and Gate

Off beat rock'n'roll buffeted by a rough sea of squealing and fuzz.

The name ought to come from Alice in Wonderland, but the only connection is that the book and the band are both bonkers.

The pure rockabilly bass strikes you first, hooky tunes that sometimes nudge you along, sometimes accelerate to a gallop. But it's soon the sheer breadth of the guitar's messy playfulness demanding more of your attention: a complete suite of rasps, bluebottles, scribbles, squalls and feedback. The drummer focuses on rumbling toms and a wash of cymbals, but she has other important roles - the female part of a vocal duo with the bassman, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson by wearing big big shades. The vocal style is primarily the twin shout, the reverbed wail, the male exclamation and the female retort.

Just when you think you understand the mashed up rock'n'roll on stage, Screaming Tea Party throw in stark contrasts. A waltzing cabaret number featuring doll-like voice and beautiful guitar simplicity; then a hit-an-miss nursery rhyme, Jonathan Richman style, with cute donkey-ride bass and twee toytown guitar lines. Each diversion is followed swiftly by more up-tempo antics - Teenage Kicks riffs, or scraping at the guitar strings with the lip of the stage - but the varied texture adds immeasurably to the flavour.

Words are wonderful and mysterious, no attempt to go for the open, direct or easily understood. "Your voice is breaking down" they seem to warn. "Smoking cigarettes and hiding figaro", we are accused. Then a request: "Show me the picture you've done: wake me up, crack me up". Cracked it is.

Screaming Tea Party switch continually between scribbling punkabilly and utterly stripped-down lo-fi, with magical results. You could almost imagine them creating this sound after overdosing on the Violent Femmes, Throwing Muses, Pixies, Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground - then deciding to ditch the complicated bits. Screaming Tea Party are the most exciting new act I've heard since Fuck Off Machete. Tea dances will never be the same again.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Scrotum Clamp

             Sat 8 October 2005             @ Bull and Gate

Cabaret idiocy with traces of glam, punk and ska.

A happily stroppy singer, a versatile bunch of musicians, and a stack of props and costumes. The core of the Clamp is an ambling blues-funk bass with disco-scratch and tickles from guitar - and no shortage of groovy improvisation. Lyrics are sing-along sarcasm, commentary on social trivia: "Newspaper, newspaper lies > Newspaper, bums, tits and thighs"; "You wanna be a Mysteron? Captain Scarlet was my lover" (or brother, I don't think it matters); and "The times have changed and things are better". Facepaint, wigs, feather boas, loon pants, party hats, and a raffle for three rubber-chickens. Scrotum Clamp give you Reasons to be Mildly Amused Parts 1, 2, 3.

I guess Scrotum Clamping must be performance art. OK, that rings alarm bells, but it's not always bad news. There's no keyboard or sax on stage, but there's an impressive Blockheads vibe. The singer can be witty too - especially the observation that this audience will never be together again, and so the show is their farewell gig. But it's hard to see beyond the rhetoric to the substance, this seems like protest music without a cause. To use my favourite quote from the Beat: "I think quite a lot of my own point of view". Never mind, the Scrotum Clamp brings you playschool politics, chickens and sex-toys: so get your camera…

                                                                                  Author: RF

The Seasons

              Mon 23 June 2003          @ Hope and Anchor

Sixties imbued jangly psychedelia from these boys.

We have a standard 4 piece line-up with lead and rhythm guitar, drums, and the ubiquitous left-handed bass. The aim seems to be for gentle Byrds-esque melodies with joyful harmonies. The main sixties impression really comes from a Hank Marvin/ Shadows feel to the lead guitar; sadly, most of the harmonies fall flat. Lyrically, this is clichéd too; themes like “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” inspire nausea at best.

They have an ardent following of groupettes, but this must be justified by something other than the music. A mere 8 inches high.

                                                                                 Author: OT


             Fri 13 January 2006             @ Bull and Gate

Rocktastic professional grunge.

The frontman sports an impressive blond beard and bellows with scarred Benson-and-Hedges passion. He's also responsible for bass, hooky sludgeheavy tunes in the form of sustained growls and grizzly thrumming. Two guitars take on harsh biker revs, co-ordinated coils, squealing lines, reverberating carbonated curls and spiralling solos. Beats are thumping drums and wave-crashing cymbals. Words are gloomy of course: "You let me down"; "Break through the lies". Come on guys, things could be so much worse.

Sedulus work with bluesy structures that continually reverse and invert. This sound is full of string-scratching and nervous ticks. To some extent, they're tongue-in-cheek, with that finale lurching like a Doctor Who bog-monster. But the set also contains traces of Rage Against the Machine, Metallica and Queens of the Stone Age. People who bring darkness to the brightest and glitziest of places. You can't fault that.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Sell the Lexus

             Tue 18 October 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Rap metal that breaks all the rules, cerebral and gothic, with a 4th dimension in blues.

There are two Lexus vocalists, one a moaner with a bit of the trademark Ian Brown flatness, the other a salesman of industrial bellows. Two guitars deliver way more styles than you have any right to expect, a metalled road of solos that curl, needle and spiral, ice-skating twirls, awkwardly gothy drizzle chords, gruff revola, Jimmy Page frilling and Sabbath demonic possession. Bass takes on Stone Roses pulsing and wide extra-terrestrial zooms. Drums are eerily measured and clever, a Budgie tribal urgency, with beautifully pinged cymbals. What happened to thrashing snare and deafening kick-drums? What they're talking about I have no idea, the only line I grasped was "You should know". But I don't.

Sell the Lexus play music from a different universe. They casually insert Iron Maiden portions into rap-metal, and somehow retain a matter-of-fact stance. No posturing, no attitude. If you had been trapped for a week in a hire-car with CDs by Sell the Lexus and Jefferson Airplane, you would understand why I regard this band as personal saviours. Music to shrink heads by.

                                                                                  Author: RF

The Seen

             Sat 1 January 2005                      @ Barfly

An excellent fusion of acid jazz, mod and late baggy.

The Seen's singer is a lightly wayward melodian with the charisma of Jim Morrison. Guitar is nothing short of amazing, dance grooves, disco licks, complex spangle-jangle riffs, reverby lines with scratchy interruptions, fast splashy solos and phaser drifts. Bass drive is about simple high-speed tunes, funkathons, and thumpy assertions in the style of Bruce Foxton (The Jam). Drums are competing with Heinz to notch-up the varieties, wild pushes of snare and bass, jazz jumping, plus edgy cymbal smashing. And, aside from an inevitable stretch on the maracas, the vocalist digs an interestingly black hole: "I need someone to hold me, someone to love me… but all I've got is you"; Don't believe in tomorrow"; "I'd rather be lonely than be with you"; "The devil comes in many forms, the worst of them a woman"; and "I know all the best clubs in the city, I know all the best lines, wonder why I'm lonely all the time". The Seen combine some of the best traits of the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays and Flowered Up.

The Seen have adopted and updated a jazzily baggy funk sound that nobody else is creating right now. This is stylish, danceable, and irresistibly individual. The Seen seem to be kookily out of fashion and to think they're pop-stars. Well, they are and they are. The resurrection of the wild life.

                                                                               Author: RMC


             Wed 5 October 2005 karmadownload @ Hoxton Bar and Grill

Electro-clash dance music.

The singer's relaxed melodies float skywards. Synth plocks, zaps, and blows underwater bubbles. Two guitars have many points to make, reverby flows in the style of Mr The Edge c/o U2, ringing sustain, delicate jingling, tightly curled licks and scratchy disco chords. Rhythm sets thrumming bass against handclap and patter beats, with an interesting foray into bossa nova. These cheery souls have the following words of advice "Everyone's waiting for the world to end" and "Can't wait to be on my own again". Echoes of Eighties outfit Blamanche, Orange Juice, erm Spandau Ballet ("To cut a long story short") and - with lyrics like those - New Order.

If you liked the indie-dance crossover that started brewing in the 1980's, Seretone have honed it to perfection. The set grows to a 10 minute "Weekender" of a conclusion, a crunchy rave epic. This song could be Nottingham's answer to the Super Furry Animals' wild finale. Seretone are a musical packet of chocolate chip cookies. Just the thing for the munchies.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Sergeant Buzfuz

               Sat 6 May 2006    UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club

A dour look at power, hypocrisy, depravity and death, in an idyllic folk-country setting.

Joe Buzfuz Murphy is a man with a dark sense of humour and a righteous sense of anger. In honour of the lateness and debauchery of the hour, an opening tale of the Vatican's divinity down the ages: "Hide your wife, bury your dope, here come the popes". There are so many murderers, buggers, rapists, torturers and thieves in the annals, you'd imagine that God sanctions almost anything: Joe has to speed to hyper-poetry and 15-second verses to cram them all in.

With the addition of a female singer, the set lightens to a country-duet - but the subject matter is no more cheerful than arsenic poisoning. The Sheffield roots appear to be on show with the (presumably) Pulp-inspired "Do you remember the first time" (about a dying romance, of course) - "As we stubbed out the butts of our Silk Cuts, we knew it was the last time". Folk guitar strafed with angry regrets meets the uncanny vocal chemistry of a David Gedge and a Kirsty McColl.

Forget Donovan, Buzfuz is Northern England's twenty-first century incarnation of Bob Dylan, complete with his own Joan Baez. Oddly situated in a night of slapstick, Buzfuz plays to the gallows. Slowly unfolding tales in the tradition of the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll alternate with the bleak wit of high-bodycount psycho drama. I can hear the sharpening of the knives…

                                                                                  Author: RF


           Thu 29 September 2005 Club Fandango @ Bull and Gate

Part grunge-punk, part electro-clash, part alt-country and part rock, but consistently special.

Female and male lead vocals alternate, with another male vocal backing. His is the grand screamed up and chewed up melody. Hers cheeky, passionate, sultry. Hell, if they want they can duet like Springsteen and Parton. There's a sprinkle of chattering synth, guitar that is hooky and haunting by turns, a romping bass that drives the tunes, and tribal drum compulsion that encapsulates every weather event on record. I can't tell you where their lyrics are coming from: "When I can't reach you, your light is always on" is hardly earth-shattering, but "Sister, take me out, don't leave me breathing, lying here staring at the ceiling" is a song you don't hear every day. Imagine a collision between Pixies, dark-era Depeche Mode, Pavement, and Rumours grade Fleetwood Mac, and you're imagining Sexmachina.

Sexmachina made my spine chill and my beard bristle, the same feeling I had when I first heard Monkey Gone to Heaven. They can play it crunchier than mint cracknel, or they can calm it to alt-country, with the suspense of knowing they'll crank it up any second. Their coup-de-grace is "Inuit", supremely catchy, and heart-stoppingly truncated half-way through the second chorus: the opening "You were the worst damned counterfeit I ever met", and the hook "Your little eskimo heart". One of those songs you need to hear over and over and over. The whole Sexmachina set is brilliant, wildly varying but utterly coherent. In the words Mr Black borrowed from the Jesus and Mary Chain, makes you wanna feel, makes you wanna try, makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky.

                                                                                  Author: RF

She Shimmy Rivers And And Canal

           Sun 25 September 2005 Stolen Nights @ The Spitz

Chopped up junkyard blues.

This music is not just from the garage, it's from the inspection pit. The singer screams, a Zappa hysteria, reading poems from a pad. Guitar is an awesome blues plucking, atop bass boings and the patterns of the stand-up drummer, part car-crash mania, part tribal essences. There are sax contributions too, wavering hoots, unnerving squiggles. Songs arrive and end in two-minute bursts, and words aren't easy to get a grip on. Ensemble shouts of "Determination". Repeated Mark E rants "Work it out". She Shimmy play like an extra frenetic Bad Seeds.

She Shimmy are talented musicians choosing to play intense and fractured lo-fi. The themes are cut so fine, the messiness sometimes leaves you desperate for a conventional song, or even a complete hook. So it's not catchy, but it's crunchy, screamy and poetic. That's enough in my book. And She Shimmy are certainly the only band in the world with the word "And" repeated immediately in their moniker. Now that's what I call swimming against the shopping trolleys.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Shigo Roch

             Fri 22 October 2004             @ Bull and Gate

Egocentric grunge-punk blues.

The frontman has a massive attitude and an old-fashioned blues bellow. He has this ripped-up dress shirt that's part Incredible Hulk and part school-disco, adorned with biro slogans like "sick" and "fuck'd". Can't decide if he's more Michael Hutchence or Henry Rollins.

Backing involves two scuzzy guitars in collision, fuzzed-up, squalling and siren-wailing, a slow bass that pumps and funks, and perfectly measured drums.

There are moments where the songs report the speed-rap of street conversation, but mostly the material is a profane prayer to the God of the atheist. "Let Jesus come, let Jesus love you, Let Jesus change you", "Why do I carry the blame, why do I feel such a shame","When I was a young boy I was taught not to lie. When I was a young girl I was taught to cry". At it's best, the energy and stilted tearjerks of the Ruts' Babylon's Burning, but mostly straddling Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Shigo Roch are a psychologists dream. The hyper-grunge backing is good but unexciting; the frontman, on the other hand is a torture garden of inexplicable pain who looks like he belongs in a Rugby scrum. Full of porky badness.

                                                                                 Author: WT

Short Term Diary

              Thu 22 April 2004              @ Bull and Gate

Folksy acoustica from this miserable duo.

Vocal is warm, clear, emotional and almost engaging. Piano-keyboard is simple, downbeat and almost haunting. Guitar is straightforward rhythm with very little dynamism, but an honesty that is almost mellow. Light female backing vocal is dreamy, airy, almost audible. But how did someone so young spend so much time fucking-up their life? No visible scars there, no needle tracks. "I can see my own ghost… in the shadows of this house… I just can't carry on" and "I've been listening to the same song all week… it's no-one you know… it broke my heart". Perhaps they would like to be Richard and Linda Thompson, but they never will be. Set up is male lead vocal/ acoustic guitar, keyboard-piano/ female backing vocal.

This attempt at fey gentle acoustic pop is so slight it's almost nothing at all. The only significance it has is that every word is dismal. The first track starts "I always sleep with the light on… cos I'm not feeling right". The second starts "Now I lay awake at night… and think about the bad things I've done". Well mate, it's not the bad things keeping you awake, IT'S THAT SODDING LIGHT. Get a life.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Frank Sidebottom

              Thu 15 June 2006          World Cup Extravaganza @ Bull and Gate

Sidebottom is a chap with a plastic head looking like a 1970s lego man, singing in a nasal easy-listening croon, with backing that sounds like an electric organ that your nan won in the bingo at a Working Men's Club. And it's filled the venue with cheery beery blokes that see essentially the same thing when they take their kids to the panto at Christmas. Except all the jokes are Lancashire and Cheshire based. Like his reworking of Anarchy in the UK - who'd have guessed it, Anarchy in Timperley?

Frank starts the set in trademark suit and tie, but he's soon peeled off the layers to reveal the football strip. The props are out - Little Frank, the ventriloquist's dummy that's a duplicate of Sidebottom ("he's only cardboard, don't let yourself get swept away") - and Mr Moulinex the Puppet Iron, passed off as a marionette with a single cord. Then the football songs are out, "The Red Red Robins ain't bob-bob-bobbins says me" - the joy of Altincham FC and Moss Lane. "Because football is fantastic, it's fantastic, oh yes it really is". This is how Frank works, an audience that knows all the lines, and loves to hear the old favourites repeated, oh yes, we really do. Regularly, Frank reminds us that he's been on match of the day because he's got Very Big Shorts.

Another prop, the Freddie Mercury moustache, and the ultimate routine is a digression-rich cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, "Mother, I just killed a houseplant". A side-excursion takes in more celebrations of the north-west - "Timperley Sunset", "There isn't a cure for the Timperley Blues". How to stage your own eBay bidding battles - you don't need a computer, just photos of things you might be selling and a group of friends who'll stay at your house for 10 days. And an indie medley to complete the show, featuring the Smiths' "Little Frank strikes again", and closing with "Take the skinheads bowling, you know you should - you really should, specially when the wind blows". And nothing really does seem to matter very much.

Frank Sidebottom works the finest traditions of music hall and stand-up, the endlessly revisited catchphrase, the gag that runs on through the diversions and returns when you least expect it. This is like Punch and Judy with Frank and Little Frank - oh yes it really is. Don't expect political correctness to get in the way either - he wants his mother to buy him a computer so he can visit www(dot)rogertheboynextdoor(dot)com. But the crowd loves every second - each prop is returned to the suitcase in turn as the set ends, and every one gets its own cheer. Frank Sidebottom plays cheesy easy-listening from the worlds of The Two Ronnies and Morecombe and Wise. And he's good. Oh yes, he really is.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Silver Tongues

             Sat 30 October 2004             @ Bull and Gate

Female-fronted bluesy rock 'n' roll.

The silver tongue belongs to the lead singer, who digs out an excellent seam of throaty power vocals. OK, maybe it's shared with the male backing harmonies and responses. Backing singer also plays a warm and high scuzz guitar. Bass funks at warpspeed. Drum drive is fast, loose and simple. Lyrics seem to touch on the obvious: "I don't know what's the score, but I ain't no fool" and "Don't you know you really got me going" (thanks Ray). There's too much going on here to pick an evident precursor, but vocally there's a bit of Rickie Lee Jones and attitude-wise there's a bit of Rezillos.

The Silver Tongues take blues-rock and make it a little bit wry, a little bit jazz, and a little bit high school bop. A combination of schmooze and fun. Probably destined for Radio 2, and why not?

                                                                                 Author: WT


               Fri 30 July 2004               @ Bull and Gate

Coherent but dissonant art-punk.

For unfathomable motives, Silvery have modelled themselves on a Victorian Gentlemen's Club. It mattereth not what reason there may be. And I can't bring myself to write a whole review in bad nineteenth century English. The lead vocal is pitched towards lots of strange notes vaguely resembling a melody in the manner of Wire, or a shier version of John Lydon. Guitars incant a Banshees' Lord's Prayer, urgent chord brainstorms with a solo agenda of manic tightrope walks. Bass pomps along whimsically. The drummer is a twister, a dervish, a mantra, an escalator. Material includes out-takes from an apparently self-penned opera. Concerns about "All that I want to hold to me", "A carnival", and "The sounds evolving underground". Oddly like an XTC production of an Adam and the Ants set. Players are: lead vocal/ rhythm guitar; lead guitar; bass/ backing vocal; drums.

Silvery are simultaneously bizarre and catchy. The Victoriana may seem silly, but it feels like style. And boy, do Silvery live up to the cliché of "leaving the audience wanting more". Towers of London, when they had built you, did you watch over the men who fell?

                                                                                 Author: WT


           Wed 25 September 2006          @ Bull and Gate

Gently beating waves of harmony-infused psychedelic rock.

These are wonderfully understated sounds. Rhythms patter the gravel lightly, a tambourine and a shaker take turns to create a rustling of leaves, drums scud like fluffy clouds. The bass-player's simple hooks are insistent, but this is a gentle thrum rather than a high-powered pump.

Keyboard sounds are sparkles and gentle tapping, a piano note struck repeatedly. Guitars pile on rather more weight, hooky twin riffs that chop and stomp, steely slides and spangles, electric scribbles, squeals and strummery, semi-acoustic frills and twangs. Taken together, it's a decorous stomp, brightly embellished by the guitars, but leaving a polite space for the audience to focus on the voices.

The singing is very special indeed, a man-damaged melodic intensity with folk-country roots, underlined by breezy harmonies. Dolly Parton wonders, Joni Mitchell warbles and declares, the male vocalist can only humbly agree. "I look to St Christopher when my back's against the wall"; "I got nothing, well they tell me that's something"; "The city's raging, too many people on the streets, and it was black, black, black, black as fate"; "Don't listen, I don't need that much"; and "I wanna feel it in the back of my brain". Sister songs will haunt you forever.

Sister are destined for stardom. They're as unlikely as the Magic Numbers, and I feel as certain about them as I felt about the Magic Numbers. Sister share the shy assurance of the Magic Numbers, but Sister are a more exciting proposition. It's as though Phil Spector had produced Velvet Underground in a Motown style, and reignited the candle of the Mamas and Papas. Four red table lamps light the stage, they're building a Personal Services 'don't mess with my mellow boudoir' vibe. I sense a building velvet-crush of clients. Sister sell it: "In my darkest hour, you can show me the light". I've seen this light, and it's a dazzler bathed in drapes.

                                                                                  Author: RF


Six 50 Whisky

            Tue 16 November 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Dark and dirty blues metal.

The vocal is a sand-papered throaty roar with odd conversational interludes. Twinned guitars are the linctus to the sore vocal, solos of rose-petal syrup together with huge dangerous licks, dark brooding over intermeshed chords, and waves of sparring choppier than the Irish Sea. Bass is a pacey juggernaut of a tunesmith, drum a heavyweight thumper. Lyrics travel the wearily trodden journey of use and abuse: "Give me a reason"; "Can anyone help me?"; and "Riding on the highway… riding on my baby". Moments veer towards eighties-nineties metal (Faith No More), but more of the set is reminiscent of 60's psychedelic blues (a dis-organised Spencer Davis Group).

Six 50 Whisky are bachelors of the blues art and masters of the metalcraft. The supply of blues-rock in the world is almost endless, but these guys have discovered a rare nugget of kryptonite. I'm a man, yes I am, but a can't help but love Six 50 Whisky.

                                                                                Author: RML

Six 50 Whisky

              Tue 15 June 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Superb speed-metal blues.

Seriously troubled blues vocals that could challenge Kurt Cobain. Twin guitars mixing Quo riffology with unbelievably fast Jimmy Page hooks. Bass backs-up with simple mission statements. Drums are a well-rounded controlling chug. Subject matter is as you'd imagine: "Don't break my heart" and "Do you love me, do you want me?". The players are, straightforwardly vocal, guitar, guitar, bass, drums. Soundwise, Whisky sit between ZZTop and Motorhead, between Stone Roses and Primal Scream. An ace place to be.

Six 50 Whisky take a well-used genre and make it their own. Passion. Directness. Swagger. Livin', lovin', I'm on the run…

                                                                               Author: OT

The Slides

             Wed 5 October 2005 karmadownload @ Hoxton Bar and Grill

Hammond driven Britpop with a hint of folk-country influence.

Hammond swirls are right at the front, bless 'em. They weave around Oasis certainties, catchy vocal melodies, guitar that scratches strings and slams chords. The rhythmic sub-structure is the strong bass hook and the drumbeat drama, building, building, building, to a sequence of storms. I didn't dissect the lyrics but I caught some cool lines "Two way traffic down a one way street": "Just don't take 'em on"; "The show bullet that kills you" and "Watch your road disappear". If the sum of these parts is like anyone in the major league, it's The Charlatans, complete with in-built Bob Dylan love affair.

The Slides play punchy organ and guitar pop. No simplistic anthems for these guys though, the sounds can be gentle or climactic, exposure to light or shadow. Quirky too, with rhythms scratching with skiffle and hoedowns and the singer having a crunchy bash at a pair of freestanding drums. Plus these unexpected slots of threatening bluesy rock 'n' roll compare with The Faces. When I get to the bottom I'd go back to the top for The Slides. No, really.

                                                                                  Author: RF


             Thu 12 January 2006            @ Bull and Gate

Where twee meets grunge and sparkles meet grooves.

Slowgun want it all their own way. One minute the singer gives us pure understated melodies hiding beneath guitar noise. The next she's singing strange melodies a semi-tone flat.

Two guitars bounce from frilly chords and jangles to off-beat solos and scribbles. The rhythm section matches groovy bass guitar with simple chop and patter beats.

Words are simply cute: "Superman is not around, I think he's had a breakdown"; "Cheer up Charlie, don't be sad, it's not as bad as it could be"; and "Little fly on the wall, why are you staring at me?". Sweet, then swatted.

Slowgun are a great two-girl two-boy combo with roots as broad and diverse as Velvet Underground and Josef K, Sonic Youth and Fiery Furnaces. This set is a breakneck collection of 2-3 minute songs, awkwardly instant. Even their squally finale is wild rather than angry, with the reassuring lyric "I don't hate you". Slowgun have flown onto a superbly eccentric orbit all of their own. Keep that comet coming!

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Thu 14 July 2005               @ Bull and Gate

Curiously engaging indie pop, simultaneously sharp and hazy.

The singer wails and croons in the middle-distance, slightly flattened off-key Bowie, pacified Tom Verlaine. Guitar builds from gentle intricacy through catchy nibbles, high and reverberating, into harsh and frantic strummery. Throughout the set, bass guitar is slowly measured out, dollops of thick honey. Drums combine a light pattering with tripping and tumbling snare and bass. Slowline keep their words close to their chests, although the line "Now your chance is gone" floats out. These sounds seem to have elements of the Stone Roses and Ride, although there's a moment that takes me back to New Order's classic "Ceremony".

I can't think of another band that harnesses the economy of the 3-piece in such a successful amalgam of the haunting and the crunchy. The thing that draws me most to this outfit are the way that the guitars and the drummer progress from one sound to the next rather than chucking it all in together. At the beginning, the tunes were way too ethereal for any to stick in your mind on one hearing, but by the end, Slowline were playing pithy and instant guitar pop songs. Slowline are the kings of understatement. Words and meanings remain impregnable while styles twist and turn, as much a textural event as a show. Soaring, drifting and diving excellence. When you come alive it’s a low jive, take the Slowline.

                                                                               Author: RMC


             Fri 14 January 2005  Tsunami Appeal Benefit @ Montague Arms

Genres: redneck punk and blues, with tongue in at least one cheek.

Members: man, woman, boy.
Guitar: rumbling riffs, Mysteron and Motorhead solos.
Bass: not just tunes, but sonic earthquakes - they justify the moniker.
Drums: lo-fi, snare-bashing.
Vocals: his (majority) - grunts and bellows; hers - strident Suzi Q.
Shades: narrow.
Average song length: under 90 seconds.
Timing: almost Swiss.
IQs: allegedly drums 150, guitar 6, bass "not telling".
Rough qoutes: in song > "Hey baby, let's take a ride somewhere I ain't been"; "Can you hear me, I've got shit to say"; "Baby I've got nothing to say, cos' I'm too fucken fast"; "I'm no. 1, I'm fucken' no. 1"; and I need to change, to rearrange": in conversation > "I can tell by the look of the audience there's not a lot of ballerinas here"; "I've drunk a lot of beer, I'm talking absolute shit"; and (my favourite) "Eat what you want, drink more than you possibly can, and you'll lose weight".
Motherfucker count: 69.5
Precedents: Motorhead, Natural Born Killers, Bonnie and Clyde.

Sludgefeast is blistering lo-fi rock. It is what it says on the tin.
Trailer park: Torquay (Farty Towels).
Weirdness to pop ratio: 10% - irresistibly catchy riffs and charisma.
Familiarity factor: 90% - like listening to the White Stripes play mother fucken Status Quo.
Inspired thought: the future's so bright I gotta wear shades.

                                                                               Author: RMC


             Tue 26 October 2004 Club Spleen @ Bull and Gate

Diesel-fuelled blues-punk.

Sludgefeast are a front partnership of male vocal/ guitar with female vocal/ bass. Male vocal is a convincing southern state drawl and bawl, female vocal a dry wail and distant harmony. Guitar is a blues-zoom solo, a gristly grind, a huge spiralling scuzz. Bass is pure grunge, a variation on the tuneful ho-ho-ho of the jolly giant. The fledgling drummer is happily tormented by his mentors, and strikes his own rhythmic twist of crashing bass and cymbal plus rattling-sleeper snare-snaps.

The lyrics are ridiculous, and don't Sludgefeast know it. From the female side "C'mon baby, let's take a ride, somewhere I ain't been": from the male side "I'm in manual, ain't got no brakes"; "I'm gonna fuck you up, c'mon"; "You've been giving me what I want, not giving me what I need - oh honey, you're so fucked up". It's all showpersonship really: bickering between the front pair, arbitrary invention of the new word "shippee", a new song ostensibly about how stupid songs are - "I don't sing no song 'cos I ain't got nothing to say". But the result is creditable just the same - The Damned taking on Black Sabbath and ZZ Top.

Sludgefeast are not a garage band, they're a gas station band. The guitarist could not be contained in a ten-gallon hat, only a ten-barrel hat would be enough. To acknowledge the departure of John Peel, they crack out a respectful if wayward extract of Teenage Kicks. But for the most part, Sludgefeast blaze a trail of 2-minute scuzzball hooky blues. One-trick ponies perhaps, but it's a phenomenal trick. Move over Rover, let Jimi take over.

                                                                               Author: RMC


             Tue 7 October 2003             @ Bull and Gate

Dynamic punky rock 'n' roll combining the stage antics of early Damned, the sneering of Johnny Rotten, the sexual obsession of Iggy Pop, the riffy groove of the Stooges and the Pistols, and something that's indefinably them.

Smilex deserve a big up-for-it crowd, but taunting a small Tuesday night knot of the hopelessly undevoted for a reaction ain't gonna work. All the same, the guitar is excellent, and juxtaposition of the singer's screams, yowls and whelping (plus lots of reverb) against the guitarist's melodic backing vocal is a treat. Overall, Smilex are more anarchic and exciting than anything in this vein. The sexual obsession is kinda laughable, but lyrically not bad - "everyone wants a piece of your ass" (well, he means arse). Players are: lead snarl; guitar/ backing vocal; female bass; drums.

Smilex depart saying "Fuck you, good night". Say what you mean kids… Smilex are The Darkness of punk rock. They should be headlining. You should be in their audience.

                                                                                 Author: OT

TV Smith

             Thu 10 August 2006             @ Bull and Gate

Smith remains the angriest, hardest-working, and most incisive social critic in the punk cannon - and doesn't he just grin and relish it?

Smith opens with a swift solo romp across 4 decades, from 1978 hit 'No time to be 21' to anti-war stomp 'Not in my name', pausing for highlights from 'Crossing the red sea with The Adverts' and mellower nineties folk song 'Runaway train driver'.

Next up is the full-band set featuring Bavarian glam-punks Garden Gang. Smith decides to welcome them with an impromptu impersonation of Condoleezza Rice (looks like an elephant, sounds like a foghorn, apparently). The opening shot is the 'Cheap' song, 'Waiting for the axe to drop' ('Cheap' were the last band Smith fronted live at the Bull & Gate).

What follows is an impressive collaboration that accentuates the dark and brooding aspects of the music. Smith's semi-acoustic rasps harshly, matching the fizzing anger of the vocal. Garden Gang electric guitar works to new parameters, continuous wild flourishes, unfamiliar solos for 29 year-old songs, wheedling licks that pierce the flesh, and big spangly riffage. Garden Gang frontman PamP adds excited chants and tambourine to the crowd-surge pummelling of the drums and the hooky racing-pulse bass. I'm not convinced the bass player deserves the 'Jack Osbourne lookalike' heckles.

Material continues to range freely over the years, but there always lines that strike you as newly significant and TV merrily sews the songs into contempory events as he introduces them. From the seventies, we remember: "What about the new wave - do you think it will change things? No way!"; "Thank God I never close my eyes, thank God I never compromise"; and "The eye receives the messages and sends them to my brain, no guarantee the stimuli must be perceived the same".

But you only have to go to a few TV Smith shows to realise how many catchy punk anthems he's continued to write over the past 15 years. Established ones are 'Only one flavour' ("I woke up when I was writing, there was blood on my hand... there's only one position, only one view to hold") and the ironic "Any day now, we'll find a pitch, and join the immortal rich" (any decade now). Newer ones are introduced too. "There's no safety in joining the majority, they're following the establishment" is the marker for 'What if they led the way and no one followed?', whilst "Soap opera's created a situation where you're scared, and then comes along to save you" heralds 'You saved my life then ruined it' (I think I know what you mean, Tim).

There are more old favourites than you can count by the time the set is closing, with 'Bored Teenagers' and a jubilant take on the first Adverts single 'One Chord Wonders'. Swiftly into the encore, Smith is genuinely content to recite 'My punk rock poem' - imortally rich words "We did have one hit single and supported Iggy Pop". Finally, a blistering finale with a new favourite 'Perhaps the good times are back'. As ever, a stream of social consciousness - "Maybe they're just a distraction from what's actually happening" - the warning and the response - "Come on, get into the action - stand up now - catch up now". Everybody wants a piece of the action.

This is just the third London gig for TV Smith and full band this century, and it's a night to remember.The first with the Midnight Creeps was great, I'd only heard solo versions of most of the songs before. But there was a vague sense that perhaps the 2004 set was TV Smith with an Adverts tribute band.

Not so with Garden Gang. The set is peppered with Adverts songs, but not dominated by them. Garden Gang add a huge party-spirited energy and inventiveness to everything they touch. They are in charge of most of the guitarwork, leaving TV unencumbered for solo moshing and leg kicks. And this party is in my favourite small venue. Smith sums it up with an unexpected moment of Adverts proto-jazz - "Never let me forget - I'm staying here in my place. My place".

                                                                                  Author: RF

TV Smith

              Wed 14 July 2004              Blow Up @ Metro

One of the founders of punk rock as a form of social commentary and protest.

TV plays tonight with members of The Midnight Creeps, pronouncing them to be his Weapons of Mass Destruction (the only ones around that actually exist). The set is focussed on Adverts songs (TV's late seventies band), which stand the test of time and are meted out by WMD with Solomonic justice. All the tub-thumping drums and searing guitar and you could possibly expect, plus some unexpectedly Stray Cats punkabilly twang. Bass doesn't boom quite the way an Adverts fan knows and loves, but asserts its complex melodies nonetheless. TV is on remarkable form, transforming himself back from the recent folk agitator into the punk snarler of yore.

TV doesn't care (so he says) if the nostalgia makes you feel young or old - he will always be a teenager. I believe him. He gleefully observes that you can get fined $3,000 each time you say fuck on stage in the States, and lets out a string of expletives.

The songs that troubled the top 30 at the end of the seventies would be smashes if they sold as many today. Themes are sometimes obvious, like "No time to be 21" or "Safety in numbers", but there's always a twist in the content. "Strip down to the bare facts of it.  Into the cold heart, no hope and all that shit... We'll be your untouchables. We'll be your outcasts". "What about the new wave? Did you think it would change things? It's just safety in numbers".

And after the Adverts-based intro, TV grabs the semi-acoustic guitar that is the real WMD of the evening. Thrashed to within an inch of its life, folksy acoustica is transformed without a glitch into the protest punk it was perhaps always intended to be. Direct at times, we get: "Give us the power; give us the wealth; or else we'll have to help ourselves". More oblique reminders include the song of a suicide in charge of transporting nuclear waste "Runaway train driver". Still, TV is proud of his punk heritage, and the real eruption is for "Bombsite Boys", followed by more Adverts favourites. "Gary Gilmore's eyes" ("No guarantee the stimuli must be perceived the same when looking through Gary Gilmore's eyes") and "Bored teenagers" ("Talk about the frailty of facts is really meaningful; when we're sitting watching the planes burn up through the night like meteorites").

The closer "One chord wonders" bizarrely predicted TV's whole experience with the music industry - "We must be New Wave, they'll like us next year". And they encore with "The Immortal Rich" while the youths and the thirty-somethings have a go at crowd-surfing. As TV observes - three-and-a-half hours of genuine punk rock on stage is worth more than over 3,000 hours of MTV posturing.

Players are: TV - lead vocal/ semi-acoustic guitar; MC1 - guitar/ backing vocal; MC2 - bass/ backing vocal; MC3 - drums/ backing vocal.

TV Smith is one of the most expressive malcontents ever to get a platform in music. This set with the Midnight Creeps shows that all the performers love playing and have the mutual respect that makes for a brilliant show. Grey haired men on- and off- stage are pogoing and spitting with venom. Almost as much as the less mature fans of the support acts. A triumphant return to the days when punks responded to the knee-jerk by engaging brainpower. We're middle-class, we're middle-aged and we're revolting. This machine kills fascists.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Smoking Kills

              Mon 24 May 2004               @ Bull and Gate

Edgy blues-inflected stoner rock.

This starts off - literally - flat, and turns into something excellent. The first vocal is tortured (initially to the point of a fair portrayal of cat strangulation), the second is a smooth blues man, and they make sweet neat harmony. Guitars manage a mix of bluesy romp and scuzzy grunge. Bass is fuzzy funk. Drums are astonishingly well-rounded for guys that really don't come over as regular stage-hands (as it were). Lyrics mix existential angst, bollox, and stuff that really should be said often but is said rarely. Bollox - "I don't want to leave the house… but I got to do some shopping". Angst - "I won't compromise"; "Draw a line in the sand, I only have one demand"; "There's nothing I'm looking forward to more than doing to you what you've done to me"; the oddly staccato "If I knew how I could be you". Should be said - "Lunch with American fascists follows at the Palace" and (on the war) "Not in my name… I don't want any part of this". Personnel here are 1st vocal/ rhythm guitar, 2nd vocal/ lead guitar, bass/ backing vocal, drums.

Despite opening hiccups, S-K are rather fine, and at their very best when more bluesy than stoner. Close parallels are not obvious, but there are shades of Queens of the Stone Age and Apes, Pigs and Spacemen. When it's good, it's inspired, and when it's bad it's Dreadful. (Yup, poor reference to haircuts). Smoking Kills kill me.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Somebody's Mind

              Mon 1 August 2005              @ Bull and Gate

A celebration of 40 years of slow-train rock'n'roll'n'blues.

The singer's whingey scream turns me right off, a Neil Young wail that hardly touches the melody, and to my ears a handicap that the rest of the band need to overcome. The guitar contribution is a series of revving chords, sobbing tunes, and lines of reverb that reel or noodle. Bass guitarist is the core melodian, a firm drover, but at a dreamily gentle pace. The drummer is responsible for corporal punishment of the kit, but it's a humane beating, not a drop of blood spilt. Lyrics generally follow the blues formula, but with their own odd inversion of "Ain't going to Goa" syndrome: "Hey baby, don't you know that I love you, hey baby, don't you know that I need you?"; "Broken heart, with a smile on my face"; then - bizarrely "The UK is such a bore - from my life, I wanted so much more - don't do it, don't go to Thailand - cos when you come back home, I think you might regret it". That's what I call an equivocal warning. SM may be caught between a rock and a hard place, but in this case, the rock is Led Zeppelin and the hard place is Pink Floyd.

If you had encountered a Somebody's Mind in 1970, the sound could have inspired a sense of shock and awe. The show-off guitar, the posing in front of a strobelight with feedback squealing, these might have seemed fresh and new. But the only element of the SM set that stands my test of time is a spell of Hawkwind-flavoured groove. To borrow the proverbial Floyd reference, "Oh, how I wish you were here (instead of me)". Somebody's Mind? Anybody mind? Nobody cares.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Space Bee

               Fri 30 July 2004               @ Bull and Gate

Talented prog-rock weirdos from Peru.

Vocal is an incantation (and I promise this was written before they said they were Peruvian). Guitar has a complex line in Hawkwind noodles and Rush-like honey drips. Violin sounds can be freakishly Indian or as controlled as chamber music. Keyboard is similarly schizoid, a babbling mountain stream of a piano, or a majestic orchestral ocean of organ sounds. Bass melodies throb, drum threatens an evil future. As for lyrics, I got lost after what seemed to be "I can't decide what, and I abuse myself". Line up is vocal, guitar, bass/ backing vox , keyboard, violin, drums.

Space Bee remind me of the wonderful but defunct 1990s Australian hippies 'The Ergot Derivative'. You have to admire a band for travelling from South America to play music in England. Playing without any obvious signs of turtle shells. Playing flamboyant, but controlled prog rock that’s like The Sensational Alex Harvey Band without the glam, or like Hawkwind without the drugs. These guys stepped in at last minute to play a set of enormous musicianship and enthusiasm, never mind the modest audience. Space Bee are latecomers of the star-struck hippy parade, but they do it darned well. They are your friends.

                                                                                 Author: WT

Sparks 2006

            Sat 18 February 2006               @ The Forum

The entire twentieth album performed in disc running order as a rock opera.

Russell is the singer, he of the big hair, looking much tamer these days. It's hard to believe they're from LA, the singer's style is a playful croon, almost Cowardesque at times. Yet the trademark furious falsetto still gets an occasional outing.

Ron no longer sports the Hitler moustache, he remains the manic keyboard player but also has a spell as the hard rock axeman and spends alot of time interacting with the huge projected graphics on a screen behind the duo. He shadow boxes his own image as Batman-style words appear in jagged bubbles 'ZAP', 'POW'. He appears to play a projection of the organ from Notre Dame Cathedral which stretches and mutates with the music.

At each side of the projected images a quasi transparent curtain seperates the duo from their fantastic four-piece show band, adding guitar, bass, drums and four-part vocal harmonies. You could almost be watching a lavishly styled West End musical.

The song-writing is as brilliant as ever, more surprising is the way the visual imagery is tied in, as if they'd invested enough money in the project for a video of the entire album. The point of the single "Perfume" is that the messages scents send are not subtle at all, and it's married to a sequence of on-screen subliminal messages. "Look the tiger in the eye" is accompanied by animation of four Motown backing singers with cats heads. "No such aliens" features digitised images of the Sparks brothers morphed into space creatures. My favourite is their ironic and folksy comment on US foreign policy, which is accompanied by an army of cloned Ron and Russell cartoon soldiers. "Baby, can I invade your country?"

After more than 35 years in the business you would imagine The Sparks would have earned the same elder-statemen reputation as Kraftwerk. They're not cited often but the songwriting style of many quirky artists, successful and obscure, clearly derives from the popularity of Sparks in the 70's and 80's: to name a few - Talking Heads, Human League, Cardiacs, Pet Shop Boys, David Devant, Simon Warner.

I saw London outfit 'Econoline' on Friday and LA outfit 'Sparks' on Saturday and two songs from these sets neatly sum up the difference between attitudes to 'cool' in metropolitan England and West-Coast America. So for Econoline "Chicks Dig Scars" and for Sparks "Chicks Dig Metaphors".

Well, so do I.

The album set concludes with their own mad exploding organ "Hallelujah" chorus. Amen.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Sparks 1974-2005

            Sat 18 February 2006               @ The Forum

Their second set of the evening, Russell and Ron Mael take to the stage as part of a 6 piece rock cabaret band.

I first bought a Sparks record in about 1974 but I could only name 6 of their songs (with prompting  I got a 7th). They only played 4 of those in their era-hopping set, but I remained riveted throughout. Their musicians are stars in their own rights, plucked from such unlikely sources as Faith No More, including a female drummer who has been inducted into Sparks club for 10 years. Unsurprisingly the songs don't necessarily sound quite how you'd expect. "Mother Earth" becomes an exercise in space-age starkness to match Yazoo's "Only you". "No 1 Song in Heaven" becomes a post-punk anthem stuffed with trademark 80's synth shimmering and chewing.

This is a show and no mistake. Costume changes from black, and black and red to all white. Screen images float by or rain down an esoteric drizzle, black and white squares that look like waffles, a hailstorm of stars and horseshoes - or are they zeroes? (this is No 1 Song, so probably horseshoes for luck).

The warmth between The Sparks and their audience probably exceeds any that I've seen before. The ovations are coming thick and fast, "This Town Aint Big Enough" is followed by heartfelt introductions and thanks, none more than Russell's credit to the keyboard-playing and song-writing brother Ron. This audience will have an encore from its heroes and clearly one has been well rehearsed, opening with "Something for the girl with everything" (the first one I bought). Into the Lloyd Webber opera section "Auf wiedersehen to the beat - oh where did the groove go - you'll never get it back." The groove is certainly still in the building.

Finally they slim down to the duo for the Bowie/Aladdin Sane conclusion "Every dog is gonna have his day - Every loser's gonna have his way!" Losers win, losers win.

The Sparks are the timelords of rock. They always grasp the zeitgeist but remain controllably themselves. If they had ever shared a genre with anyone, it would have been the sadly missed Alex Harvey Band but they also share the chameleon-like behaviour of David Bowie. If any band beats the clock, it's The Sparks.

                                                                                  Author: RF


                Tue 29 November 2005          State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Sophisticated blend of grunge, metal and punk.

Spikestrip are an unusual bunch from the fenland town of March. It's most famous feature is probably vegetables (they grow them). Handy for the McCain's factory. Which may explain why the most entertaining thing you can do in the evening is form a band.

The singer delivers most of his tunes in grunts, but he can conjure up a catchy rock'n'roll melody if he likes. The songs seem to be mostly about rural Cambridgeshire and skating - fair enough. Two guitars get to work on everything: twin revs, gentle but catchy chord deconstructions, mystical twang-chords, lines of wild solos, off-key curls and pipes, scratchy frilling and desperately-paced needle picking. Five string bass gallops through wonderfully hooky tunes. Rhythms are set by racing kick-bass and cymbals, with railway tunnel snare crunch. These are the combined sounds of Zep, Judas Priest and Metallica.

Spikestrip are youngsters with a fairly limited experience of live gigs. You have to smile when they claim to have written the tune to the Crazy Frog theme, it's 20 years old (it first charted as Axel F/ theme from 'Beverly Hills Cop'). Who cares, this is meaty rock music with variety, technique and humour. All the styles come together by the song before last, a catchy Foo-Fighters-grade alloy of half-a-dozen types of metal. Earth churning.

                                                                                 Author: RF


               Fri 4 July 2003 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage

4 boys, 3 guitars, 1 bass, 1 drumkit and 1 fuckin' ginormous wall of sound.

Mournful ballads to swanky blues to frenetic rock 'n' roll to thrash. The shift between singers and styles is carried out with Difford-Tilbrook ease [ex-Squeeze]. Material is drawn from recent "Walking Songs" LP and also much older. Every piece under 3 minutes and every piece fantastic. This is announced by the band as the penultimate gig: "after 7 years I've had enough of this shit"; here's hoping they're back soon with another very inventive venture.

Stanton have been the OT top selection for many months and will be sorely missed. Legendary.

                                                                                 Author: OT


              Sat 2 August 2003 Jonson Family Records' Twominutemen Launch @ Arts Café

Consummate post-punk from probably the best band in the world.

Guitars are the stars, alternating real gutsy blues with antsy self-doubt. Stanton produce the ultimate mix of thrash and drive with melody, songcraft and musicianship. They come, they say it once, they turn it on its head, they go.

Perfection. But you can't go see 'em - they've split. OT nearly cried, some folks did. Stanton were the only musical place that seemed to make sense.

                                                                                 Author: OT


            Mon 21 November 2005           @ Bull and Gate

Lo-fi surf-punk.

The cognoscenti are out for Starfighter-X.  They are interesting enough to justify it. Twin vocals drawling and barking. Guitar scribbling and slashing, a Kung Fu of staccato chops. The bass tune has so much bubble and bounce in it, it's almost a Zebedee sequence of boings. Drum components are impressively simple, a four piece kit bowling away like a 10lb ball, but galloping into gorgeously awkward rhythms. Lyrics take the form of cleverly rehearsed sloganeering, "I just can’t be alone tonight", "You tell your friends she's so beautiful - you know she'll never look at you"; stories about the experience of trawling round grungy venues "Just waiting for something to happen" and the unchallengeable truth "Attitude is everything".

Starfighter-X have an engagingly inventive but bedroom rehearsed feel about them. Clever, but not too knowing. High-school, a twisted up Ramones, almost the Violent Femmes. And strangely aloof - "I'd like to see you but I just can’t find the time". MAKE time, goddamit.

                                                                                  Author: RF

The Starlets

           Wed 27 September 2006      @ Betsey Trotwood

Beautifully mellow semi-acoustic popsicles.

There seem to be an implausibly large number of Starlets falling out of a non-existent stage area. The bass is electric but all else is acoustic or semi-acoustic, direct to the mixing desk or miked. The engineer makes this arrangement sound perfect.

The Starlets' singing is dreamy and intimate. The higher Starlet comes close to a lightly-pitched falsetto at times but he's supported when necessary by deep flowing harmony. Guitar lines are intricately woven together, or the two may trade in gentle twin-speed strummery or twist into jolly Hispanic jazziness. Bass thrummery is mannered and polite, but when he switches to keyboard for a toy-piano sound, it's nothing short of cute. The Starlets' special feature is a violin player, sometimes wistfully lonesome, sometimes an orchestral wash, sometimes melodrama, sometimes partying into a jig. But the drummer is as impressive as the whole ensemble, bright trickles and jazz cabaret.

This set is undeniably downbeat but the music is too airy and delicate ever to feel morose. The stream of badinage between pieces adds to the sense that sad songs can make a happy occasion. Did you know that in Glasgow smoking is banned in pubs and pissheads are known as 'Jakeys'? Have you ever had an overdressed experience when signing on? Did you realise that French-sounding songs could have been inspired by the magazine Marie Claire? Did it cross your mind that Partick Thistle were the Scots equivalent of West Ham? When they joke that they are going to play a song as cheery as any they play, they launch into another heart-rending ballad.

Lyrically this is not so much about unhappiness as about finding some comfort in the jaws of despair. "Oh to make you feel brand new", "I know a place we can go, until the circus comes to town", "By the way I'm running out of Saturdays", and "There'll be others on the way down, however broken".

The Starlets are a fascination of low key erudition and beauty. I think they are the most unassuming act I've ever seen. They are distinctively themselves whilst absorbing elements of Everything But The Girl, Lloyd Cole, Kitchens of Distinction and The Bluebells (you really have to be a 40 year old indie kid to remember The Bluebells). How could you not love an act that remarks "All our famous fans are dead: John Peel, Sacha Distel and Edwyn Collins, well actually Edwyn Collins recovered"?

Picking the Go Betweens for your encore cover is also a vote winner. And ending a sad set with an uplifting moment is shrewd too: determined "I'd rather beg than work for a living… it's time for something strange and something new"; then consoling "Climb in, we'll go driving". Brief moments of pleasure that dazzle as they burn out. The Starlets deserve to be massive stars.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Stars in Battledress with William D Drake 

              Fri 25 March 2005 Glass Shrimp/ Resonance FM @ Spitz

Stars in Battledress produce cleverly contorted underwater sea shanties, William focuses on whimsical off-kilter piano anthems.

The Stars kick off with a couple of their own pieces, taking melody where it's never been before. The vocals seem to be perfectly in key and closely harmonised, but without using anything you would recognise as rock'n'roll scales. Keys take the form of squirreling organ underscored by a sequence of extended one note repeats, or a chewing harmonium. Guitar takes on swerving electric licks, skying sustainy solos, and odd rock flourishes.

William's pieces are more accessible, but engagingly leftfield and inventive. The voice is deep and gentle, accurately tracing dense perambulating melodies. The Stars successfully pitch backing vocals simultaneously higher and lower and lower than WD. The WD piano can be punchy or subtle, assembly hall or concert hall. Bizarre chopsticking paired with childlike bucolic harmonium ("Watch Morris Dancing with Mother"), rousing anthemic hymns, classic Rachmaninoff rolls, and perilous finials. Additional accompaniment comes from the Stars' gentle guitar strumming and piping keyboards. The words entail a complex and ancient lyricism: "You made sure everything was just right, left right"; "What life is there outside my headroom, bedroom?", "What wondrous life is this that I lead where apples drop about my head?" and "None can die by your side". Most impressive is perhaps Drake's examination of being caught in a life of paradoxes,"amidst a fire" as he would have it: an exhaustive series of couplets from "When first I ended, then I first began" to "Ravished in joy, amidst a hell of woe".

Finally, William encores solo, with a spooky nursery rhyme and grandly twinkling lullaby: "How I love you ghostly ghost, you are my mosty mosty most" and "There's a time to act, there's a time to wait: there's a time to leave, there's a time to stay". Drake produces a quirkily pastoral folk balladry with roots as diverse as Benjamin Britten, Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and Peter Gabriel.

WD Drake and Stars in Battledress are almost mediaeval in their uncanny twisting of melodies. Your genetic codes remember this as minstrel song, repeated in kingly court and humble field, but nothing in your experience of pop music could quite have prepared you. Baroque and berserk.

                                                                               Author: RMC

The Starts

           Mon 19 September 2005           @ Dublin Castle

Distinctly English choppy guitar pop with an echo of the sixties mods.

The frontman marches onstage with the words "EAT ME" etched onto his cheeks, and the unlikely becomes likely. Lead vocals are shared, but EAT ME hogs the limelight with his strange cross of the young Mssrs Bowie and Jagger with Sir Ian Dury of Upminster. His bass drives the tunes, built on a manic tribal drum foundation and topped with guitar chops and spiralling reverbed solos. Most of the material is pretty egocentric, but there are moments of quintessentially Ealing political comedy: "For five minutes, you're my peace of sanity"; "Going up, or going down, you turn your face against the sound"; "You wanna be me"; "I don't wanna move away, and I don't want to live with Mum and Dad until I'm old and grey: I can't afford to live in the South East". A tradition of storytelling in London and the 'burbs from Kinks to Squeeze to Blur.

I love The Starts for having plenty of character, for throwing a dart towards the house-price bubble, and for putting a different slant on the contemporary deluge of quirky guitar choppers. It's a bit of a relentless circus-clown routine, and could surely benefit from some tempo changes, maybe a high-wire walk and some magic tricks. But that's a quibble. I accept The Starts assessment "This could be something fundamental".

                                                                                  Author: RF

Stay Puff

              Thu 17 May 2007          @ Hope and Anchor

Accurately promoted as slacker-pop, Stay Puff blast out punked-up rock'n'roll anthems.

Anthemic though they are, the two guitarmen ensure there's nothing basic about Stay Puff. Bursts of chop and rasp riffology in Franz Ferdinand style are only a tiny part of the armoury. The much larger part is an untamed bare-knuckle brawl. Chords are slashed and teased, rearing up to take flight and soar away. The strafing makes space for jagged hooks, contagious 3-note repeats, screaming discord solos and closing squeals of feedback.

The rhythm section keeps knocking the guitarists back into line. Briefly jerking stop-start beats are chased away by a stampede of cracks and tumbles, bluster and cymbal damage. The bassman is caught in the rush, throttle down, and the throbbing intensifies to a gallop.

And it's also the bassman who barracks you with barks, bawls, entreats and drawls. This is a one-sided shoutalong argument, you're left to imagine the responses: "I'm trying hard to make amends"; "Something that you just don't get"; "Just don't be so fucking normal" and "Don't ever lecture me" (he lectures). Ideal for playing at full whack in your room after a dispute with your partner or parents.

Stay Puff's set is a scorcher. Half an hour burning with kinetic energy, jostling and jockeying for position on stage, good natured moshing in the audience. This is a London riposte to Green Day and Wheatus without the fluffy hair and fake attitude of the twenty-first century designer punks. There's a lot more going on too, sounds to remind you of acts ranging from the Wedding Present to Dinosaur Jnr. Stay Puff come across like college dropouts with an unhealthy interest in drugs. Maybe they are, but goddammit, they know how have fun and spread the joy. Take stuff. Fake muff. Stay Puff.

                                                                                  Author: RF

States in Flames

               Fri 14 July 2006               @ Bull and Gate

Indie grunge of quality and humour.

The general pattern of States in Flames songs is of a headlong rush punctuated by moments of slow sad introspection. Guitars focus on scratch and slash chords, harsh scribbles and contrasting solos in pipework and needlepoint. Busily thumping bass augments drums that rattle and crack. The singer gabbles his way through the tunes - hardly surprising given the pace of the delivery. The best moment is possibly the closing ballad, guitar veering a little out of tune by this stage but it still builds to the proverbial thundering climax. "One by one the numbers fall, the simple chemistry... that powers it all". Powerful chemistry indeed.

States In Flames combine the texture and ferocity of Foo Fighters with the instant intensity of Green Day. They mark the passing of Syd Barrett with dedication of a song, the only act I saw do that, and it seems to demonstrate that their musical empathy is in the right place. But they're not jumping on the bandwagon of fashion, they're happy to perform wearing blue jeans and black or green t-shirts, and eclectic enough to include a take on Girls Aloud's "What will the neighbours say?" - which sounds like Ned's Atomic Dustbin play The Monkees. Great band, fun show, smart name.

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Tue 27 April 2004 Glasswerk @ Upstairs at The Garage

Poppy mix of art-punk and post-rock from this Reading foursome.

The vocal is a winsome home counties drawl, part Patrick Fitzgerald (70s punk-folk poet) and part Robyn Hitchcock. Bass is the melodic driver, thumping along lines that span several bars. Guitar, in contrast, is short nagging jangles, almost flicked elastic bands, but at moments also shimmering accompaniment to a gently fussy rhythm guitar. The drum is extra-staccato, an unusually treble oriented kit. Lyrics seem to be a kind of urban surrealism - besides songs about hospitals and car keys, we have lines like "Scrape me off the floor", "Don't let the future overtake yer" and "Tell me where on earth to go from here, pigman (?)… trouble coststhe earth to move, no matter what you say". It's a little bit Cure, a little bit Soft Boys, a little bit Blur… and then the whole thing closes with a space-age rock-out. Set up is lead vocal/ rhythm guitar, bass/ backing vocal, lead guitar, drums.

Superb mix of the catchy and the experimental in a tradition linking back to Magazine. Pop songs full of cheeky in-jokes, choppy rhythms, high pitched guitar and lolloping bass. The light pours out of you.

                                                                                 Author: OT


Strange Idols

             Wed 9 August 2006 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar

Wistfully happy off-kilter pop.

These are deceptively simple sounds. Drums are snare driven with an overlay of tickling trickles. An upfront bass sound curls in bouncing rockabilly hooks. Two guitars trade choppy strumming and lazy jangles, subtly pinging trip-lines and twangy reverb frills, all of this impregnated with scratch'n'sniff chords. The female guitarist takes time out for a stroll to keyboard-synth, sweet sky-bound dreaming and milkman whistles. Vocals alternate and exchange, bright female questioning, drawling male indifference. 'La-la, la-la' meets 'Ba-ba-ba, ba-ba-ba' (humbug). It's the femme fatale that dominates, looking slim and chic with perfect blonde coiffure and baggy short-shorts. "What's the point in running around?" she asks. "Listen to me > she's gonna let you down again > she's gonna, she's gonna" they warn. "It's very funny" they muse, unconvinced. I'm convinced.

Strange Idols drift through an odd world, curious, upbeat, but always worried. Their music straddles the edginess of Joseph K and the assurance of theaudience, almost a jolly Belle and Sebastian. The songs are self-contained and instant, 3 minute sachets of pop-balm. If I must worship, why not Strange Idols? I could be happy.

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Sat 4 March 2006 Last Rockers Club @ Clockwork

Metamatic art-punk.

Striplight believe in putting on a show. Band clad in black. Frontwoman in white, blonde coils of Helga-hair gripped tight to the scalp. Android dancing with pinprick pupils. The voice may be a staccato bark, but this woman can sing, and can hold the last note like a Wagnerian decree. Guitar style is sharp-needling notes, harsh twangs and discordant chord frilling. The short decay thwacks of the drums add to impression of frantic stings, but the bass is a smooth and constant pump, zooming around the scales, pure groove. A combination of belts, cogs and pistons, a machine that's well-oiled in parts and juddering in others.

A band couldn't have an electro-vibe to match Striplight without banks of synths and an ocean of programmed beats. The influence of the punk, goth and post-punk diva is here, Siouxsie Sioux, Hazel O'Conner, Transvision Vamp. These spiky sounds almost demand synthesiser balm, think of Devo, Curve, but most of all the Robert Smith - Steven Severin project The Glove. Striplight grab your attention and hold it, a set that's both fashionably retro and disconnected from the scene zeitgeist. Electricity fluxes and wavers brightly.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Subt Lemon

            Wed 11 February 2004             @ The Garage

Blues rockers with a twist of folk, country, psychedelia, almost anything that "ran" briefly in the 1980's.

SL look a bit like the Slade, and initially sound a bit like the Stereophonics covering the Wonderstuff. A combination with large entertainment potential. The lyrics fall somewhere between stupidity and genius [and what doesn't - ed] - for example: "One plus one doesn't make three… I don't know why you count on me" and "It's cosmic and it's crucial… the white comet". Probably all drug-related. A bit Iggy Pop, but more snakey- than doggy-style. A touch Alice Cooper, but less School's Out than skills out. Slightly Seahorses, but more seamonkeys. A bit Flowered Up, but more cowered down.

Beat is set firmly to Rock, bass to Funky, guitar gearing is Country Twangery, and vocal sails perilously close to Neil Diamond. And in case there was any doubt about their earnest madness, they waffle on about how innocence can set you free. Set-up is lead-vocal/ guitar, guitar/ harmonies, bass/ harmonies/ drums.

Subt Lemon have truly earned a place in the OT gallery of Badness. You're poison running through my veins. But, hey, the Darkness are ginormous… Subtle Man? Nope.

                                                                                 Author: OT


             Tue 23 August 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Cheeky female fronted blues-rock with one eye the sixties roots and one eye on lighter-waving balladry.

The frontwoman has a rare combination of skills for a pub rock singer - towering charisma, a truly beautiful voice, and a gentle self-effacing personality. That voice - she can do the Joan Jett rock-out and scream at the melody, but it’s the effortless songbird warble that stands out, Dolly Parton turned rock-chick. Backing is driven by infectious guitar hooks, subtly woven lines and grunting chords. Bass jumps deftly from blues-funk to doomy menace. The drummer is the wild man of taut crunchiness and cymbals that flash and ring. I don't think another band has claimed this part of the underground at their own, but one of the precursors of the sound is Led Zep.

For Subterranea, blues is everything to with Hendrix, Page and Plant, and nothing to do with Iron Maiden, Kula Shaker or Ocean Colour Scene. Similarly, the singer is more Joan Baez than Suzi Quattro. All the same, Subterranea give a nod to the Chilli Peppers with the balladry and a wink to Sabbath in the metal devilry. A set of gems, vulcanicity in every one.

                                                                               Author: RMC

The Subways

              Wed 31 Mar 2004  Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar

Garage meets country boy 'n' girl cowpoke blues.

Howdy. Welcome to a set featuring the most amazing twin drawl. Robert Plant vocal that is way too young to lay on all that world-weary nonsense. Sweet innocent girl vocal with an underlying raunch that Suzi Quattro would have died to match. High speed guitar growls and jangles. Bass pumps out a simple no-nonsense bop. Drum launches a frenzied rearguard action. Lyrics are on classic rockin' blues themes, but with the wink of the tongue-in-cheek: "He loves me like no other, my heart will never recover" and "I think rock 'n' roll's gonna save us". The trio comprises male vocal/ guitar, female vocal/ bass, male drums.

The Subways play with shades of the White Stripes, but less studied, simpler, less intense, more elegant. Jack and Meg went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. No-one knows what happened next because they'd started watching The Subways instead.

                                                                                 Author: OT


              Mon 19 April 2004              @ Bull and Gate

Epic and beautiful rock melancholia from this stadium-grade 4 piece.

The vocals soar and switch up and down the octaves with the emotion of a young Roy Harper. Lead guitar uses pedals and skill to produce all the jangle, reverb, fuzz and sustain you could need to summon windswept deserts, thundering skies and tropical heat in true Ry Cooder style. Drums are suberbly measured, along with gently pumping bass, scouring rhythm guitar, and a mix of lovelorn piano and spacey synth atmospherics. Lyrics - like vocals - are tormented and slightly surreal. Take "It's strange, this drive… never seems to end. This strange desire never seems to end". Or take "We will walk through the fire… we will walk through the snow… oh, I'm dying to be in your arms". The closest siblings of this sound would be Haedswim and Byrne. Better known cousins might include Radiohead and Australia's The Church. Set up is vocal/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass/ piano/ synth, drums.

This is a mighty fine sound, evoking peace, gentleness, calm, dread and drama. It rocks and it shimmers like an unforgettable fire. Would it that all bands were so well made. Wake up and smell the ether.

                                                                                 Author: OT



            Sat 6 September 2003            @ Bull and Gate

Clever pop-rock with an acid-jazz infusion from this female-fronted five.

Gorgeous singing in the genre of Rickie Lee Jones along with a truly funkin' bass, jangly guitars, and a Roland keyboard with more voices than a church organ. In some ways, this smacks of adult-oriented rock, and the only near cousin that springs to mind is Fleetwood Mac. But the wonder of these guys is that they display quality musicianship without pomposity. Set-up is: female lead vox, plus 4 fellas - guitar/ backing vox, bass, guitar/ keyboard, drums.

This has enormous crossover potential. Closing song is an accomplished take on Micael Jackson's "I Want You Back". Delicious.

                                                                                 Author: OT



              Thu 22 April 2004              @ Bull and Gate

Spooky 80s off-beat pop from this 5 piece.

This is fronted by a massive and deftly delivered female voice with a charm pitch somewhere between Dusty Springfield and Nico. Drums are toppy but understated. Bass jumps insistently up and down the fretboard. Keyboard is mostly about simple lines in a Hammond voice, but there are also some bizarre Hawkwind fx and nutty bossanova beats. The stars are undoubtedly the guitars - one minute sounding like a Darkness solo, then an off-kilter Postcard Records jangle, lashings of hypnotic fuzz, and some squealing punk feedback. The dreamy lyrics are not easy to pick out, but seem to involve slightly chilly and distant observation, such as "You couldn't say what you had to say". A plethora of interesting comparisons suggest themselves - Roxy Music, Belle and Sebastian, Lloyd Cole, New Order, Tubeway Army, Cocteau Twins. Set up is female vox/ keyboard, lead guitar, bass/ keyboards, 2nd guitar/synth/ melodica, drums/ synth.

It's retro, but it's not cheesy, it's electro-guitar clash, it's big, and it's clever. The airy vocal and left-of-centre guitars are a real twist in the sobriety. These guys will hopefully be on the scene for a long long time. Forever she said?

                                                                                 Author: OT

Surgery or the Bomb

             Tue 26 October 2004 Club Spleen @ Bull and Gate

Fantastically crunched-up post-punk music.

The broken-up structures of the Surgery are hardly pieces you'd recognise as songs, but there are big catchy melodic hooks and lyrical repeats like "Her skirt is short but her legs are long". The vocal is a selection of episodically delivered monotone barks and wails. Guitar is an odd Western US sound, a series of circling lines of strangled jangling. Rhythm is a slaloming bass and hard staccato drum-whip. Surgery strike me as a post-rock mix of Television and Josef K, or maybe a sedated mix of New York's Ex Models and London's Montana Pete.

Surgery or the Bomb is a misnomer, this mix of cogitation, incision and explosion surely takes in Surgery AND the Bomb. Three angry maverick cowboys. There's so many arteries that lead to the heart.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Surrender on Demand

            Wed 3 November 2004 State of Decay 2 @ Purple Turtle

Unreconstructed shambolic punks - with suits.

Surrender on Demand are building on the legacy of 999, Slaughter and the Dogs and the Lurkers - or possibly demolishing it. Same initials as State of Decay too. Anthemic sounds with pummelled drums, simple lightning speed bass tunes, plus guitar of strafing chords and wayward solos. Lead vocal snarls and rants, with football chant backing from guitar and bass. The songs are full of classically punk lines; "She knows what she's doing, yes she does"; "What do you wanna do? What do you wanna be? Why the fuck you talking to me"; and "Surrender on Demand, we are, we fuck your mum in the back of a car". Chav charming, but it has end-of-the-70s punk nailed, down to an unbelievably amateur take on the Damned's "Smash it Up".

The name Surrender on Demand adds a delicious taste of irony to a band that genuinely sound like they're fresh from Joe Strummer's garage. Don't look here for technically clever musicianship - or even competence. But you will find a barrel that's brimful of attitude and joy. Forget the Alarm. This is the spirit of '76.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Swimsuit Issue

            Wed 6 September 2006 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar

Spacious and diffidently catchy pop.

A backing track swirls and whistles. Drums smack and patter along happily, but with a lurking sense of Joy Division suspense, and casually stilted twists. Subtle but meaty bass hooks are joined by a drifting guitar fuzz, with a late-Beatles feel jangly drone. The male singer produces barks and hard reverberating drawls. He balances a female singer who grabs your ear with wistfully calm melodies. They warn of impending crises: "I wanna change everything"; "What you don't want, you throw away"; and the wonderful "Words never come out right, or they never come out at all". I understand this well, as a fellow sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease.

Swimsuit Issue are on top form for this show, theirs is the kind of Fortuna Pop styling that I love. Splashings of Talking Heads, Bis and Belle and Sebastian sparkle on the rock. "Pop psychology, uh-oh!", they cry. The cry that launched a thousand magazines.

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Fri 1 October 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage

Sizzling translation of post-rock into a pop format.

The lead singer sounds like a very pissed-off Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) wailing at the melodies, then a moderately pissed-off Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) shouting on the melodies. Backing vocals weigh into the melodies, shout at harmonies, whisper at ghosts, or play Punch and Judy. The guitars are a pair of grunting juggernauts, straining to overtake uphill. In calmer restroom moments, there are slow spooky blues licks, Bauhaus spine-chillers, the listless Robert Smith strummery of Three Imaginary Boys and Seventeen Seconds. Add to that a bass bump that helter-skelters and roller-coasters, plus knee-jerking shin-cracking drum kicks.

Lyrics tumble through at high speed: I thought I grasped "My time is almost done here, my sentence is almost through"; "The whole was greater than the sum of the two parts, and that was fucking hard for anyone to comprehend"; and "You left me to defend you".

TEAM play with simple themes that ebb and flow for 3 minutes then leave. There are some near inevitable Led Zep cymbal-ringing middle-eights. But in sum, TEAM evoke the glory of PJ Harvey's "Rid of Me" with Dave Grohl's grunts substituted for Polly's sighs.

TEAM prove beyond doubt that pop music can be dark and edgy, and that post-rock can be anthemic and accessible. The best pop-rock since The Colour and the Shape. Killing in the name of Warhol.

                                                                                 Author: WT


              Sat 19 June 2004 Cut and Paste @ Buffalo Bar

Off-the-wall mix of proggy and bluesy punk.

Vocal is part roar, part rant, part spoken drawl. Guitars toss out warm glammy chord sequences, disconcerting Cure (Faith era) melancholia, and short, spooky Bauhaus-goth solos. Bass is a sweeping melodic backbone, and drums provide a slow-fast-slow rhythmic steer. Songs are surreal - one about doing errands for the 3 Wise Men is apparently entitled "I Am 18" [with the benefit of a CD and hindsight, you figure these brainiacs have been singing "I Am A TEAM"], and one ostensibly about the desert proclaims "It's my turn to win tonight, I won't take second place". A sound like Sonic Youth, and an attitude like the Stranglers in the Rattus/ Black & White years. Personnel are vocal/ guitar, guitar, bass, drums.

TEAM produce a magnificent conglomerate of heavy blues, thrash and grind. Nice 'n' sleazy does it.

                                                                                 Author: OT


              Sat 20 March 2004 Cut and Paste @ Buffalo Bar

Angry angsty post-rock poetry.

Tumultuous drumming and breakneck bass melodies with surprisingly warm guitar-duelling - in a Wedding-Present-meets-Cocteaus-and-they-all-swim-with-dolphins kinda way. The vocal is a traditional punk poetic rant but with an oddly gentle lilt to the phrasing. The lyrical onslaught is relentless and baffling: for example, "Thousands crying on the sofa" - are they crying for a dead princess, for themselves, for victims of war? In terms of poetry and mood, tempertwig are a reminder of the Blue Aeroplanes and a cousin of Joeyfat. Set up is: vocal/ guitar, bass, guitar, drums, and occasional guest on theremin (proximity-generated synth sounds loved by Portishead and… erm, Dr Who).

"I've tried too hard" scream tempertwig. The outcome is a fantastic explosion of personal cataclysms and noise avalanches. To twist an expression, one attempt's too many, and a hundred's never enough. Pour me another show.

                                                                                 Author: OT


           Sun 25 September 2005 Stolen Nights @ The Spitz

Unbelievably stark blues.

Calculated unhappiness, but it doesn't stop them falling about laughing when things stuff up. The drumming is an intense procession of rattling and sharp cracks. Twin guitar sounds develop slowly, glowing reverb, chopping chords that generate their own harmonic beats, string bending warbles: a combination of fuzz and grind. A drawling vocal of gritty gloom: "Down by the river, you saved me from drowning"; "Your life seems empty when nothing is plenty"; "We cannot go on, we have destroyed ourselves" and "I'm leaving me, I'm leaving you". The deathly narratives of a Leonard Cohen, the magical guitar desolation of a John Parish.

Tenebrous play blues deeper than the ocean. Their name could just as suitably be Languorous or Lugubrious: in their own words "It's going on for a long time" and "Asleep, asleep, asleep, you've been asleep". Evan Dando would make music like this after his 40th joint of the day. But Tenebrous produce a hypnotic evocation of desert landscapes, human isolation, and the transience of life. And they serve it with a pinch of salt. You can feel the heat, you can smell the rotting carcass, you can hear the wind whipping up the sand, you can see the blasted skulls. Nevada, here we come.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Texas Fences

              Wed 18 June 2003 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar

Classic 4-piece rock and roll with an infusion of punk speed.

Bass driven sounds bounce along happily as a kitchen sink melodrama unfolds – poorer cousins to the Undertones and Buzzcocks. Fair enough.

“Why, he’s the boy with the Texas Chainsaw” (apologies to Steve Diggle).

                                                                                 Author: OT

These Hands

               Fri 4 June 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage

Groovy post-punk pop-noir fusion.

Guitar moves seamlessly between evil speed chords and Van-der-Graaf lightning flicker intricacies. Bass defines "insistent simple melodies". Drums are full of tricky quirks, but strictly within a 4:4 groove parameter. Vocal is a cross between a Mark E Smith bark and a Frank Black whine, intoning playfully surreal social observations. "I can see you coming for miles". "You've got 2 black eyes, and 1 black heart". And "Yes sir, you're the boss, and I'll never forget". The overall effect is as if you had Frank on vocals, Hugh Cornwell on guitar, Lemmy on bass, and Dave Grohl on drums - covering James Brown's Get On Up Like a Sex Machine. Actual players do guitar/vocal, bass, drums.

Seriously, These Hands manage to combine Fall, Pixies, Sonic Youth and Foo Fighters into a superb moshy post-punk pop. They have songs. They have beats. They have enormous rock gravitas. Most excellent.

                                                                                 Author: OT

This Sudden Life

              Sat 27 March 2004              @ Bull and Gate

Medieval kitchen sink drama from this consummate Pulp-style pop foursome.

Focus is the wild lyricism of the camply velvet falsetto vocal. And the vocalist is surrounded by wonderful musicians - the whole sound is song oriented: the staccato drum beats stretch time, but never to breaking-point; bass is a bubbly melody-maker, and guitar is a beautiful jangle. Lyrically, you can't decide whether it's clichéd or nuts, and you don't care. "You make me want to die; you make me want to fly"; "Got a reason to drink to treasons"; and "Animals, your time to breed". Layout is: lead vocal; left-hand guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums.

This Sudden Life are an act of extreme showpersonship, the new queens of the age. There may be a bit of relaxed muscle about the act, but with perfectly taut songcraft. This Sudden Life are a magnificent blend of pop, vaudeville and art.

                                                                                 Author: OT


              Sat 19 March 2005 Cut and Paste @ Buffalo Bar

Contorted and anxious Beefheart edged rock'n'roll.

Opening guitar scrapes are unlike any sound you've heard before. Then preciously catchy nibble lines compete with evil feedback screams. An urgent insistence of flickering clangs is set against staccato rock riffs. Edgy nibble cycles build to rock'n'roll slaminal crescendos. Add bounding splodge bass lines. Underline with crisp juddering drums. Overlay northern poetic drones, throaty screams, false falsetto queries and responses. Words are way on the wild side - "I was walking through the streets of Islington the other week…" (me too); "He said - no, you will stay here until you have looked at every last one of these pictures"; "I can make my balls bigger" and "Cain was my lover". The 3hos sound makes me think of a supercharged Nick Lowe, a post-rocked Clash, and Leicester icons TEAM.

You have to love 3hos. All of them together. This is lo-fi big-bawled blues right off its trolley. Complete with Beefheart freakouts. Stellar gurus.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Through Silence

               Wed 2 July 2003                   @ Borderline

Warp-drive melodic grunge.

Slowly developing tunes that gently engage through the singer's lyricism and humour. The feel is like Killing Joke's "Love Like Blood" - a languorous and simple tag, but once you're hooked you love it forever. Line-up is forb(u)oys giving guitar/ vocal, guitar, bass, drums.

Patent grungy rock in a speeded-up Feeder vein. It's not brain-surgery, but it's darned good. And as a bonus, there's the singer's infeasibly low-slung jeans - loadsa visible underpant…

                                                                                 Author: OT

Tiger Force

               Fri 25 June 2004   @ Upstairs at The Garage

Cacophonous guitar and vocal squall with drum and bass backing tracks.

Tiger Force are a burst of contrasts. Guitars can duel chords frantically, trade gentle jangles, question/ reply in simple 4-note proclamations, and pitch musical boxes at bedtime. Vocal jumps from rant-rap to screaming match to sweet harmonies. The drum backing track is at breakneck speed, cranking in the energy as fast as they can use it. The effect is like "We've Got a Fuzzbox" play the back catalogue of "Jesus and Mary Chain". The only audible lyric is "We're gonna break it up". Make of that what you will. Players are simply female vocal/ guitar, male vocal/ guitar, dummy drummer.

Tiger Force generate a feeling of constant peril, the spooky Scooby panic to escape the haunted house. Off the wall malice that is somehow not to be taken seriously. Well-intentioned nastiness.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Trad Arr

              Tue 11 July 2006   Peafish @ Lark in the Park

As the name implies, folk music marinaded in blues-country and rock n roll.

The defining charactersitics of Trad Arr are their multi-layered vocal harmonies and their embarrassment of strings to strum. As well as semi-acoustic guitar they seem to have ukelele and mandolin. Tambourine is an obligitory part of the style, and the sparing use of pining lonesome mouth organ is a definite bonus. The lyrics mark them as Grumpy Old Men: "I wanna bury the hatchet in your head"; "Ba-ba build them up, na-na-na-knock 'em down"; and "The blame is the one thing you can't pin on me... We are the individuals and we will never be like you". Invective doesn't get much more singalong than this.

Trad Arr are honest in who they are and what they do - "Welcome to fat Dad night" is their introduction. The sounds can be hypnotic, near spiritual, but the songs feel like retreads: the trundling roll of "Wheels on Fire", the orchestrated anger of "I'm not your stepping stone". The peak of their set features a guest vocalist, a compact Irishman with a long beard nicknamed The Rabbi (claim to fame - legendary appearances with The Libertines), who joins the band for wonderfully random arrangements of "Have a drink on me" and "Hang down your head Tom Dooley". A great bunch to be locked-in with at your local speakeasy, with a ready supply of booze on hand. Not the next Fairport Convention.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Tramp Attack

               Sat 3 July 2004 Club Useless @ Bull and Gate

Extraordinary country-fried blues rock.

Guitars are into the twangy and the folksy and the bluesy Mexicana. Bass is a slow determined pony trek. Drums are awash with dampening and brushes courtesy of Jazz County. Then double bass and banjo show up and are… well, double bass and banjo. The result is Merseyside bluegrass - or maybe blackgrass.

First vocal is decidedly crooked urban folk, sometimes Richard Thompson, sometimes Tom Waits. The singing is an ensemble undertaking, with the drummer also taking on lead vocal and amazing harmonic yowls. Lyrics are just as mad as you'd expect, but suitably Johnny Cash: "When the doctor calls to say the end is near, I won't cry and I won't shed no tears"; "I've got holes in my clothes… and I still haven't found a home"; "Call in sick, it'll do you good". And on closer '1471', "It will upset my summer if the caller has withheld the number". Sometimes, they deliberately pile on the clichés - so, on 'I wanna see those paddles fly', there's a string of western inevitables like "Don't let your sister wear that dress".

It's country, it's blues, it's rock'n'roll, it's skiffle, and no-one else sounds like this. Fans of the sick acerbity of the Country Teasers would do well to chill out with Tramp Attack. Organisation is: first vocal/ semi-acoustic guitar; electric guitar/ banjo/ backing vocal; bass/ double bass/ backing vocal; drums/ second vocal.

Tramp Attack are urban cowboys with hearses instead of horses. Way leftfield, but also 100% melodic - check the harmonies on 'And when the sun goes down'. Merseyside seems to be the home of genre bending. Tramp Attack mix up swamp blues, desert twanging, backwoods harmonising, folksy bar room jams and mountainside 4-string jiggery. Brownlow Hillbillies. Sheer quality.

                                                                                 Author: OT


              Sun 19 June 2005              @ Bull and Gate

Primal rock'n'roll iron ore fed into a Bessemer converter to give hard-edged hatchet metal.

The Trench direction is set by the bassplayer's unique buzz-boom drive. Every classic rock guitar feature is cranked to the max, Hell's Angels chord-revving, Maiden speed-skitters, Hendrix-grade reverb and fuzz. The drummer constantly twists and turns the beats, but without diverting the stream of zingy snare and showy rolls. The vocal rant of screams and bellows is passionate, but indecipherable in a live show.

Trench are serious metal musicians that would do well on the North London post-rock/ noisecore circuit. A Northern quickfire Hey Colossus. Part Chimp without the front chump. Trench kick-off with an uncontrollable fog of feedback, wild rock-guitar flurries, and teasing drum half-trips. They are irresistible from that moment on. And they're pureblood showmen. Viking warrior vocalist. Classic mock scowls from the bassman. Hairless headbanging from bass and guitar men, eyeballing each other forehead-to-forehead and trading curly string tickling. Floppy haired intellectual rhythm-play from the drummer.

On the metal scene, there are flashes of brilliant musicianship and reels of entertaining posturing, but Trench are that rare beast with both heads. On the eighth day, God dug Trench.

                                                                               Author: RMC


            Sun 13 November 2005      VF Loud Alldayer with Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records @ Bull and Gate

Feel: Scooby Doo catches rabies.

Vocals: industrial screams.
Guitar: no.
Bass: particularly attractive limb of the fiend - it bruises.
Keyboard: ice cream with raspberry, a flake, and hundreds and thousands - all laced with arsenic.
Drums: WWI artillery, helmets, bestial, fretful, he hates skins, but he hates teachers more.
Lyrics: perhaps.
Popstar factor: remote.
Familiarity factor: could you get familiar with a Monitor Lizard?
Song count: millions.
Longevity: never.
IT factor: 30% - fair bit of headbang and facefuzz action.

Antecedents: Rage Against the Machine, police helicopters, Herr Hitler, pneumatic drills, Trio.
Quotable quotes: "What's the use?"
Remarks: Something Wicked This Way Comes.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Triple Monkey

            Mon 17 October 2005            @ Bull and Gate

Rawk 'n' lighter-waving.

Shortly after these monkeys started, I turned to the nearest person and asked "Isn't this Nickleback"? Musically, they're not that bad. Drums have a heroic Dave Grohl feel with tricksy time signatures. Bass is a 6-stringer,a deep growling purr. Guitar frills or strikes the chords with spartan harshness, interjecting with niggly solos of pedalled-up reverb. It's the singing I find disturbing. A croon that starts out flat and ends up sounding like Gordon Sumner (yes, that's Sting). Sickbag lines: "My heart's on the rocks"; "I lust for your senses and I lust for your soul"; "Now that's what you've been waiting for"; and, bizarrely, "We're living a metaphor".

The triumph of technique over substance, it's a question of monkey-see pompous rawk, monkey-do pompous rawk. They may be living in a metaphor, but most contemporary rock 'n' rollers prefer a more stripped-down existence.

                                                                                  Author: RF


             Wed 5 October 2005 karmadownload @ Hoxton Bar and Grill

Hanging out with the post-rock crowd is wearing off on these boys, they're getting heavier and heavier.

Vocal is pure melodic drift loaded with falsetto. Programming gives you seething bleeps and popping dance corn. Guitars are a crushing wall of grunts, a sea of slashing, a spook of Eastern guitar pick. Bass is 30% maching gun force and 70% wandering magnetic hooks. Beats are stilted, stilled, gunning. A short set tonight but great to hear them with a quality soundman and half decent acoustics.

twentysixfeet are in constant development, and their trump card is now the contrast between the lofty vocal and the awkward crunching music. There are few bands that visibly enjoy themselves on stage the way that twentysixfeet do, and it draws even the most remote audience some way into their world. It remains guitar-dance music, nagging, insistent, crunchy. For guaranteed groove don't leave home without twentysix on your i-Pod.

                                                                                  Author: RF


             Wed 10 August 2005 Akira/ Smalltown America Records presents @ Catch 22

Assertive and essential electro-guitar grooves.

tsf don't play a gig, they perform it. The opening builds from a skittering synth. Then a grinding guitar, awkwardly urgent. Irresistible bass groove and crisply demanding beats follow. The final element a perfectly pitched and brilliantly contorted Yorke-style vocal. As the set progresses, synth introduces more layers of chattering teeth, electronic chews, chirrups and wheezes, and crackling radiowave fireworks, the sound of volcanoes erupting on distant planets. A second fledgling guitarist is introduced, augmenting the flurry of gritty chord chops, anxious and wild solo attacks, accelerating McGeogh jangles, and intricately traced circlets. Bass continues its relentless dance pressure. Vocal cries are as dry and esoteric as ever: "Yesterday, I learnt to crack a smile" and "What's you answer, what's your answer, boy?". Diverse elements here to remind you of Headswim and Minuteman.

Possibly the finest twentysixfeet outing of the year so far, hair and fur flies into a swirling oceanscape crescendo. A superb mix of danceforce compulsion, guitar trick persuasion and anxious plea. No sarcasm, but plenty of darkness, and a determined attack on any remaining electro-guitar divide. Break down the walls.

                                                                               Author: RMC


               Tue 1 June 2004 Club Fandango @ Dublin Castle

Hippy post-rock with stadium-punk tendencies. How common is that?

Guitar mixes off-the-wall guitar squiggles and swirls with grungey minor chords. Bulldozer bass does melodies. Synth delivers squidgey Dr Who bleeps, spacey atmospherics and Telstar airline food. Drums manufacture soundscapes with jazz trickery, twisted times and broken structures. The vocals mix poetic declarations with passionate Thom Yorke wails. Words are largely buried in the Dublin Castle black casket, but its apparently the stuff of emotional doubt - "I can't make it last, I can't make it last". Think Hawkwind (Levitation era), Radiohead and Blue Aeroplanes/ Joeyfat, and you'll have some clue about the enormous array of sounds on show. Lined-up on stage are vocal/ synth, guitar/ synth, bass, drums.

Twentysixfeet are amongst the finest performers on the North London circuit. They are as proggy as Peter Gabriel and as rock-out as Smashing Pumpkins. Their audience seems to be growing exponentially. [sum of] twentysixfeet > [sum of] complete satisfaction.

                                                                                 Author: OT


             Fri 16 January 2004             @ Bull and Gate

Supreme nerd-rock reaching into rave.

Spacey but melodic vocal verging on the goth sits astride twisted musicianship from all involved. OT can't really say what this is all about, titles include "Whiter Than White", lines include "You are what you think". Most certainly not like other bands, and as an extra bonus it gets people dancing. Students at the school of Radiohead perhaps, but they make the Oxford miserablists sound about as exciting as a new washing powder brand. Formation is vocal/synth-keyboard, guitar/synth-keyboard, bass, drum.

Very special music for special people. Should be a compulsory part of the rockulidge syllabus.

                                                                                 Author: OT



            Wed 26 January 2005            @ Bull and Gate

Complex keyboard-drenched guitar pop.

Vocal is a passionate croon, melodies perfect, backing harmonies perfect. Two guitarists pluck up crunchy and scratchy chords, romantic semi-acoustic strummery, speed vibrato and gentle melancholic picking. Talking of melancholy, there's a track featuring the cello of doom-laden mourning. Keyboards raid the archive of every sound used in the New Romantic 80s, spooky piano, repeat strikes, twinkling keys, synth strings, a cornucopia of extra-terra-spiritualisation. Bass tunes burble softly but firmly. Drums trickle lightness and dark, anticipation and drama. The density of lyrics is almost baffling: "Can we talk in the way we did when I was 24 - in the same old place down on the bedroom floor"; "You're moving, you're shaking, I think you're faking, distracting your soul"; "I don't want to have my mind changed and feng shuied"; "Rescue me from my madness"; and "Tonight, tonight I lost myself, but tonight I managed to keep my head". Sounds from the eras of Split Enz, Ultravox and Pulp. Sli(c)k.

Underdown are a wonderfully accomplished pop act, full of joy, full of electro-guitar wizardry, blessed with plenty of thoughtfulness and just a trace of angst. Underdown do mine the jingle-bell-lite-rock seam, but aw heck, it's cute. Shock horror: Opposition T lauds radio-friendly music. Underdown play catchy songs with savvy sounds and intelligent lyrics. Such guilty pleasures.

                                                                               Author: RMC


              Tue 20 April 2004        @ Lock 17 (Dingwalls)

60's tinged spooky melodrama from this 4 piece.

A crooned vocal reminiscent of Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy). A guitar with jangly sustain, flaying swirls and false flamenco a la Hugh Cornwell (Stranglers). A throbbing bass and a deep atmospheric viola fill out the sound, along backing tracks producing underwater synth sonar, funeral organ, and timebomb percussion. Lyrics are slef-consciously mysterious "If you're on the subway, make sure that you're alone… meet me on the subway, make sure you come alone", and "When she walks beside me… I love the silence, the words she never lets go".  Odd movie footage is screened in the background, but seems irrelevant as much as it's esoteric.The overall effect is slightly hypnotic and whimsical, a cross between Space and Air.  Set up is lead vocals, viola/ backing vocals, guitar, bass.

This sounds like the soundtrack of a would-be exotic 60's movie. The dreaminess, the warmth of the viola and the edginess of the guitar are quite engaging. Unfortunately, they seem to be about to launch into the theme from The Persauders, and the singer might just morph into Vic Reeves. Veldt try too hard to be cool. Je suis descendant de Charlemagne? No, we're descendants of Smith.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Venus Bogardus

              Tue 23 May 2006   Peafish @ Lark in the Park

Catchily fuzzy, lo-fi, this is guitar pop surfin' on no wave.

Directness is the friend of the mixed-up romancer. The chap singing is not content, he wails, but he still believes in The Tune. The woman playing bass sings classic backing parts, straight, disinterested. The rhythm section is wholly female, smacking and pumping with straightforward and inescapable logic. Ah, but the zooming slides that come from the bass. Still, the music primarily showcases the guitarman, chords straddling grind and effervescence, riffs that strafe and squeal, frazzled punk-alarm solos, extra tense scratch-power from the screwdriver inserted as a second bridge. Words are more cynical than subversive, with a note of acceptance: "So this is the modern world, thank you very much"; "Oh, when you say that nothing ends, shut up"; and "Hold on to what you know". We don't need no-one to tell us what's right or wrong.

Venus Bogardus successfully combine noise, professionalism and intimacy. Handy aphorisms link the tracks: "Forgive us our day jobs as we forgive those who day job against us". Music that bridges punk, goth and psychedelic rock'n'roll, elements borrowed from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Talking Heads, Bis, Sonic Youth and the Pixies. An overwhelming impression of pounding rhythms, swirling guitar and diffident expressions. Venus Bogardus prove that electricity comes from other planets.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Venus Fly Trap

              Sat 30 April 2005 @ The Soundhaus, Northampton

Black magic goth in the style of the Sisters of Mercy, but with a streak of danceability.

Full points for style are due here - heralded by screeching feedback, swathed in dry ice, dressed in black tie - black shirt - black suit, and set before a flickering slide show. Vocal switches between the urgent wail of Lydon/Open Up, the distorted croon of Bowie/Cat People, and the wired rants of Age of Chance. The other live element is an endlessly flexible guitar, scratchy chords and strangled grunts, insistent niggles and squiggly yodels, surfy sludge-grind and sustainy nibbles, plus lovely lovely phaser. Backing takes the form of kerchukka beats and synthesiser chews.

In the Sisters' tradition, the lyrics are superficially enigmatic - but at a deeper level, silly. Hooky and meaningless lines: "Sister light shine"; "Right between the eyes of sabotage"; "I'm on my way to you" (with a threat of mass murder) and "Can't stop this pressure drop". They've chosen suitably odd covers, too - Suicide's 'Rockin' USA' with the (im)mortal "You're gonna fry, I'm gonna die"; and The Cramps 'The Human Fly' with the takeaway "I've got a tasty little morsel behind the garbage can". This is not message music, it's an atmosphere of foggy back alleys.

Venus Fly Trap belong to an earlier goth generation, the hangover of the eighties into the nineties. Once a fourpiece, now they are just two. But the singer grooves around the stage to keep it looking busy and demonstrate their dance credentials, and the guitarist fills the corners with the shrill of twisting strings. The sound of the Sisters when they were gloriously wacky rather than Vision Thing daft. Frost upon my cigarette, lipstick on the window pane.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Venus Fly Trap

              Sat 26 June 2004 Flag Promotions/ Club Noir @ Upstairs at The Garage

Dark electro-guitar-clash pop.

Backing track is built on edgy percussion and swooping synths. Guitar is an impressive metallic mix of declaratory punk riffs (check Stiff Little Fingers' "Alternative Ulster"), Black Sabbath war chords, harsh solo flourishes and psychedelic phasers. Vocal has a menacingly whiney insistence - a cross between Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollyhead) and Andrew Eldritch (Sisters of Mercy). Lyrically, the territory is one of threatening-but-slightly-silly hooks: "Right between the eyes of sabotage"; "I'm on my way to you"; and "Can't stop this pressure drop". Overall, it's the later pop-goth phase of the Sisters, or the industrial-electro of Australia's Snog. Players are simply: vocal; guitar/ backing vocal; Dr Avinalarf on loads of backing stuff.

Venus Fly Trap deliver an injection of low drama, gothic evil and pop sensibility. The better face of the 1980s. Give me my amphetamine logic.

                                                                                 Author: OT

The Vertical Smile )

              Thu 15 July 2004              @ Bull and Gate

Final outing for this prog rock bunch of show-off musicians, so they tell us.

Long slowly building pieces. Minimal vocals in a slightly flat baritone oddly devoid of character. Guitars producing a massive range of squalls, chimes, birdsong and hypno-chords - with the aid of constant equipment changes, a mass of pedals, and live sampling to add to the multi-layering. Occasional bass murmuring undercurrents. Drums delivering drama and jazz in turns. There was a bit of evrything about The Vertical Smile ) - the wistful joy of Belle and Sebastian, the distance of Joy Division, the pretentiousness of Dead Can Dance, the math-rock of Radiohead, the hippy freakdom of Hawkwind. Players have been: electric guitar/ vocal, bass/ electric guitar/ keyboard, electric guitar/ semi-acoustic guitar/ bass, drums.

It's hard to like a show-off, but I liked The Vertical Smile ). In any event, they only existed in a kind of virtual reality - text-space if you like. The blend of prog-rock and post-rock is free of the pompousness and lighter-waving balladry of Yes and Pink Floyd. We await the future actvity of The Vertical Smile ) members with a raised vertical eyebrow ;-]>

                                                                                 Author: OT

The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club

            Fri 26 November 2004            @ Bull and Gate

Superb accidental headliners grind out gnarly garage punk.

Lead vocals are a paired affair from the male guitarist and female bass-player, with female backing vocals from the drummer. They mix up wails, shouts and screams with a strong hint of a tune, and staccato backing ba-ba ba-bas. Bass, on the other hand, is a grand melodic chugging. Guitar offers up a menu of sludgy chords, reverby chops, punky twang solos and wildly veering flourishes. Drums are a tribal, insistent pounding. And, as a bonus, there are moments of programmed laser zaps and squidges. Lyrical content is difficult to grasp in the tumult, but debt and sexuality seem to be themes. Big hooks of the closing song appear to say: "She works in a bank in the middle of the city" and "She's not very tall, but she can knock 'em dead like a cannonball". All in all, an exciting lo-fi cross breed of Fuzzbox, Breeders and Sonic Youth.

The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club are fantastic off-the-planet bubblegum guitar popsters. Their music is simple, gritty, awkward, and completely compelling. Even more exciting and instant than press-darling garage trio The Subways. After a fraught journey from Wales, these guys were bumped from the bottom to the top of the bill, but they were truly the greatest thing on. Simply fucking ace.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Victory at Sea

             Fri 4 February 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage

Iconic Bohemian sea shanties.

Hailing from Boston, Mass., this foursome are a beguiling mix of sounds not quite familiar from Dead Can Dance, Fleetwood Mac (no, really) and our own Princess Headbutt. Female vocal is part gypsy bellow (after Cher, Mary Hopkins) and part passionate indie cry (after Kristin Hersh). Guitar masters in picking out ultra-melodic syrup themes, insistent chimes, sweetly intricate dripping and irresistible hooks. Spells of electric violin provide the romanticism of Les Negresses Vertes and the stratospheric soaring of ELO. Bass, when present, is a pounding ox of a tunesmith. Keyboard is a piano sound of grand epic classicism and ragtime chunkiness. Drums produce the meatiest tripping in the cosmos, tickled cymbals, breezy brushwork and jazzy rolls. Lyrics mix obvious catchlines and cleverly contorted truisms - "I'll be glad when it's over"; "All day, all night"; "Underneath the earth, there's something there"; "It's better trying to fool myself there's no such thing as hearts"; and "This life is what you make of it, and you have made me older" (this last with a perversely jolly sing-along chorus). Almost uncategorisable, but near prefect, Victory at Sea could be described broadly as progressive jazz-pop.

Victory at Sea deliver a magical blend of catchy pop songs, jazz and gypsy stylings, and post-rock progressions. Many very fine bands have played at Silver Rocket, but Victory at Sea really are as good as it gets. Forget the nuclear sub-Joy-Division antics of British Sea Power. We all live in a green submarine.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Vile Bodies

               Fri 28 July 2006               @ Bull and Gate

Cathartic folk and country blues.

VB are a two-man outfit, but there's nothing simple about them. The barefoot drummer eases gently through trickles and tumbles, conjures a pounding and rolling of dark atmospherics, intensifies to a railroad train of desolation, and finally stomps on to a feisty but disciplined close.

The shoeless frontman is does all the rest. Pedals allow him to contribute basslines in the form of sparing throbs, lonesome track-trundling and modulated hums. He provides vocals where needed, folksy melodies, careworn drawls and agonised wails. But the all-powerful voice here is the guitar.

The guitar speaks with intricacy and anger. It speaks about hearts torn apart. It speaks in Claptonesque closely picked hooks, plucking and jangling.  It rasps, squeals and twangs. It speaks in dripping tears and grinding blues.

The explanations of the songs suggest a few reasons to be sad and angry. A celebration of the pure joy of a sunny day is a brief respite from pieces about the everyday misery of existence. Most captivating are the songs where human suffering is at the core of the musical passion. One tale, with a strangely twisted toytown feel, explains the story of teen childbirth and infanticide behind a dead body rotting in a suitcase. Another tells the tale of leaking oil pipelines in Lagos, an unmissable opportunity to collect black gold, but a lottery beset by gas explosions. This inspires the Vile Bodies' own Calvary Cross, a piece replete with a cathedral of guitar chimes worthy of Richard Thompson, and 10 minutes of mesmerising improvisation. Not the kinds of experience you'd forget.

Vile Bodies are an unlikely headline for a goodtime Friday night show, but the audience is awestruck. Everyone is aware that there is genius in the room, but it attaches less to the two unassuming men on stage than to the soul-churning music they create. Their Lagos oil piece takes up a third of the set, yet not a single note is wasted. An encore is demanded, not by a massing of diehard fans, but by new converts who came for the bands playing earlier. And so the dark blues makes a brief return, complete with guitar pyrotechnics and a tormented plea - 'oh Lord, have mercy'.

                                                                                  Author: RF


            Mon 8 November 2004            @ Bull and Gate

Engagingly quirky melodic guitar pop.

Unsurprisingly, there's a something of a military feel to Volunteer - marching time signatures, allusions to war.  Fortunately, no uniforms or bugles. At the front, male vocal mixes Robert Smith vocals with Paul Weller barks. Female backing vocal provides genuine harmonies, shouted where emphasis seems necessary. "His" guitars: sweetly tickled intricacy and scratchy chords. "Her" bass: enormous series of tuneful nudges. Firmly rolled drums bounce, crash and snap. Lyrics could seem esoteric or twee: "I reap what I sow, I sow what I reap"; "Don't we always have the time, even when it's over"; and (apparently): "If you walk dead proud". In the twenty-first century, this could be labelled as off-the-wall lo-fi or garage, to me it sounds like the early glory days of XTC.

Volunteer offer up simple, wry and humorous indie pop - one of maybe a half-dozen quality bands playing in North London and plundering this genre. The Volunteer brand is especially catchy and happily free of band-scene jokes. No big Monday night crowd for their show though - they deliver the line "I said there was someone in the room" to an audience of six. Volunteer deserve a following: a rainy Monday in Kentish Town is a death that's worse than fate.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Vulnerable Things

                               Wed 5 April 2006         Peafish @ Purple Turtle

The blues don't get much more traditional than this, and a mans greatest vulnerability is to liquor.

Beats tickle, tumble and stomp, driven by the snap and crack of well-crisped drums.  Two guitars are busy with reverbed strumming, intricate twangs and curls for the verses, hefty rock chords for the chorus.  We always seem to be on the verge of a wild solo, but there’s nothing more showy than a slide.  The singer grunts and drawls through a melody long on suffering and global in weariness; "Hey bar tender, what you lookin at? My black dressed woman, my pussy cat" and "Ask me where I'm heading - I'll tell you straight, I'm in my grave". They really have listened to the 3 CD Johnny Cash memorial.

The Vulnerable Things don't just chisel out perfectly economic blocks from tumblin' blues rock, but they do it with dry and evil humour.  Dedicated to the only Scouser in the room "Lay another whiskey on me, I've got myself in need"; dedicated to all the fat birds "I'm a tall-short-skinny man"; and with a Latin beat for the authentic durum spaghetti western "Don't you holler none, I got the pistols and you're on the run".  No attempts at posturing or showing-off, the Vulnerable Things are simply the vessels for the devil's own music.  These sounds contain temptation so subtle it catches you unawares.  Warning – the fire that burns with a cool flame is all-consuming.  Your souls are the Vulnerable Things.

                                                                              Author: RF

We Are The Physics

            Sat 9 September 2006 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar

Choppy art-school indie-pop.

W.A.T. Physics know how to look the part - skinny suits, guitarist in 3-D glasses, drummer in Proclaimers-style bottle-ends, all four wearing shocked facial expressions and jerking through meccanik dances.

They know how to sound the part. Guitars with brutal chops and clangs, and catchy licks of twangery. Rhythms with racing bass and drums that stomp and ping. Lead vocal shouted and wailed in a staccato melody, with co-ordinated "uh-ohs" as backing - "Nicky Wire can suck my cock" they cry. They're not shy of wild noise either, scribbly messing is abundant, but it never affects their perfect timing.

We Are The Physics are in artrocker realm, but they retain an avant garde edge. The fresh-but-preloved off-kilter of Devo and Wire meets the pop-must choppy yelping of Kaiser Chiefs, but is torn from its moorings by the unpredictable bullying of the Ex Models. W.A.T. Physics are set to become the most awkward indie darlings of the decade. Underwater experiences can come in handy.

                                                                                  Author: RF

When Gravity Fails

             Thu 13 October 2005 John Peel Day @ Bull and Gate

Enticing passion, grungy anger, progressive metal.

The guitars slash at chords and sustain piercing squeals. Synth whistles, hoots, howls, then calms to reverby drips and psychedelic organ swirls. Thumping 5-string bass forces the tune along with subsonic grunts. Beats are fit to burst eardrums, rock crushing judders and rolling grooves. Voice combines passionate melodies with megaphone processing and anxious cries. It all sounds terribly serious: "Breaking down the wall"; "Everything you've had has gone to waste"; and "This is the end of the world". But you've got to see the funny side of a band that's got a guitarist playing in kilt and boots only, and claims to have titled a song "Beer, that gets you fucked". An astounding range of styles plundered from Foo Fighters to Spiritualized to Stone Roses.

When Gravity Fails are my favourite metal outfit of 2005. Aside from the inventive use of sources, the consistently entertaining live shows and the cool art-work, When Gravity Fails are irresistibly but cleverly catchy. The closing song is the mighty Debutante, the hooky chorus of just three lines broken in the middle, plugged into 1,000 mega watts of power "I don't want to deny you - all that loving inside you - I never wanted to lie". Imagine splicing the Cure's "A Hundred Years" into the Foo Fighter's "Everlong", and you'd get an idea of the patterning and intensity. Over and over we die one after the other: but some of us get to enjoy more than our fair share of immortal music first.

                                                                                  Author: RF

When Gravity Fails

               Fri 23 July 2004               @ Bull and Gate

Angry super grunge.

Masters of the pedal. The lead guitar brings big rock riffs, wailing solos, metal slides and weeping Gary Moore blues. Artfully complemented by straightforward rhythmic slicing from the singer, who adds deep staccato vocals part processed into a telephone operator. Driven by a complex 5-string bass churn and lolloping drums that conjure up weird beats and thunderflashes. The songs tell angst-driven tales like "You're all out of time", "I'm not the one you know" and "My Fallen Angel" (about hurting the ones you love most). For the most part, the sound is not a million miles from Feeder.

When Gravity Fails is a quality name that suggests a certain quirkiness. What you get is not so much quirkiness as quality guitar-based tortured grunge-metal. And the Feeder plodding is left behind mid-set as the drummer plays with time sequences and the singer pronounces "This is what you want, this is what you need. I'm not what you want, I'm not what you need".

Seeing When Gravity Fails is like seeing the Queens of the Stone Age play at your local for five quid. A grand's worth of entertainment virtually free.

                                                                                 Author: WT

Where The Spoken Play

           Sun 19 September 2004           @ Bull and Gate

Could be angry pub rock, could be emo light.

Where The Spoken Play's front duo certainly offer up fine guitar sounds, from countrified intricacies to ferocious strumming, sweet and sour noodle to metalled slides. These two also share vocal duties, chewed up interlocking wails for the most part, but some tuneful melodic responses and odd asides of Gibb brothers' soprano. I used to blame Tom Verlaine (Television) and Peter Perrett (Only Ones) for the tendency to drawly Dylan vocals, but I guess these days David Gray must carry the can. The whole set is grounded by speed tumbles and hooks from the bass, plus simple drum dramatics.

Titles and themes suggest they've thought hard about the lyrics, but they're still unfathomable. The title 'The Proudest Of The Pride', and their love song to the city (presumably not London) at least caught my interest. Sadly, most songs don’t really hang together like songs - although there are a few clearly structured ballads that start slow and accelerate to a crescendo, more are untidy piles of sounds that leave you with no idea of what the tune of the chorus was, or where the verse started. I can't think of another band creating music like this.

Where The Spoken Play seem to be aiming at a melodramatic, psychedelic punk. They achieve impressive guitar sounds in a dull setting. Needs focus. Needs rehearsal.

                                                                                 Author: WT

White Vinyl / Your Vegas

            Wed 7 December 2005            @ Dublin Castle

A shared review because they are after the same thing - emulating Coldplay in full-blown U2 mode.

White Vinyl's other facets: Talk Talk, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen.

Your Vegas' other facets: Embrace, Travis, Simple Minds (it's the reverb).

White Vinyl musical components: reverbed vocal whine with false intimacy; synth of intricate piano tickles, splurging organ, eigties chatter; guitar with grunts and funkchews, wandering solos, frills around a hooky riff, blues rock flourishes; and gently pumping rhythms.

Your Vegas musical components: reverbed vocal that floats and soars skywards; synth of baby grand piano balladry, gentle and breathy glows and shimmers, oddly broken organ intervals; guitar with Edge trademark niggly chimes and solos that hoot'n'scoot; rhythms of gently tuneful bass-pump and subtle crack and roll drums.

White Vinyl words: "You wanna be born again". Curious.

Your Vegas words: "You lift me higher than the stars" (sickbag); "I want someone to love and someone to hold" (sick-sack); "Fight fire with fire, you make my love burn higher" (sick-tank).

Final White Vinyl remarks: all pomp and crescendo, the triumph of form over content - "But, oh! Those Hollywood Nights".

Final Your Vegas remarks: it's U2's "One" played ten times over, they desperately want to sell records.

                                                                                  Author: RF


            Mon 10 January 2005        @ Hope and Anchor

Wild, tricksy garage-punk played at hysterical tempos.

Vocal flails and wails madly at the tune one moment, and submits passionately to it the next. Drums deliver beautiful shards of shattered icicles, crunched-up gob-stoppers and industrial glass-crushing. Bass and guitar switch roles mid-set, but the punch is intrinsically unaltered. Bass is a machine of compellingly bubbly tunes. Guitar mixes grunt and jangle chords at idiot pace, scuzz progressions, staccato speed-solos as irresistible as jellybeans, plus delicate and intricately picked intros.

In the freneticism, there's time for a moment of quiet reflection that's close to Nick Drake spirituality: the song "Speak up my quiet ones", the line "There's a hole in my love that blocks me from above". But the frantic tunes throw out equally strong lyrics: "Another language might keep me sane"; "Follow me now and I'll show you how"; "Don't pin your hopes on me, I'll let you down literally"; "Looking at some drunk in the mirror who should have been in bed"; and (it seems) "I've got nothing to lose but the dust on my shoes". A swathe of punk and indie history has been honed into William, including sounds of The Cure, Television, Pavement, The Pixies and The White Stripes.

William are a superb amalgam of infectious tunes, wayward punk guitar and irrepressible energy. This is genius way beyond its peers. In two years, the second notional signing to the imaginary Opposition T record label. Three visionary boys, and the moon won't change my mind.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Wonderful Allstars

            Thu 1 September 2005 State of Decay 2 @ Purple Turtle

Quirky campus rock with genuine humour and sparkling energy.

It's official: Allstars can multi-task. So guitar and bass player each take stints at lead vocal and backing response, and three of the four have take time out for keyboards. Vocal trading takes the form of frantic cries, fast-track raps and disbelieving Robert Smith wails - plus backing barks from the drummer. Synths provide direct and simple keyboard hooks, spooky organ or space invader zaps and noodles. Guitar versatility is impressive, from slashing chords to manic scribbles, soaring sustain to spangly teardrops, curly and exotic picking to reverby jazz solos. Bass tunes are busy and bouncing. The drumming is an all-out assault, but coordinated and controlled. Words are youthful observations on the ennui of adulthood, Dickies-speed anthems: "Everybody's asking everybody everything all the time"; "Everybody's got the wrong partner"; "How I wish I could feel something different now"; "I guess we all started to drink too soon, but it didn't seem to matter back then"; and the incomprehensible coup-de-grace "There was good stuff in the ground but there was bad stuff in the air… Good stuff > Bad stuff > Good stuff > Bad stuff". Superficially, we're hopping from Wonderstuff to Terrorvision, and Beastie Boys to Ash, but that really is the tip of the iceberg.

It would be hard not to love the Wonderful Allstars, such a bundle of cheekiness, earnestness and naivety. Beyond the style, and beyond the Beastly Wonderstuff Boys, there are quite bizarre and unlikely musical reference points: one moment, I feel as though I'm listening to an interpretation of New Order's funereal "Ceremony", the next a theme tune from 70s kids TV show "White Horses". This level of openness makes Razorlight seem almost unpleasantly arch. These guys even announce the release of their new album, and then play a song written after they recorded it. Welcome to the cheap seats, and make the most of them - they may well be expensive seats soon.

                                                                               Author: RMC

Wonderful Allstars

            Thu 2 December 2004 State of Decay 2 @ Purple Turtle

Blues rock with punky inventiveness.

All three have a bash at lead or backing vocals, tortured lead growls with contrastingly straight melodic backing. Guitar mixes scratchy chords, scuzz and scribble noises, solo lines that soar and squeal. The guitarist also controls keyboards and pre-programmed synths, space invader zaps and warm 60s organ. Bass plays both simple progressions that pump and nibble, and long meandering solo tunes. Drums roll and trickle blood from the bass punch. Lyrics are disappointingly old-school blues - "You can't have me", for example - but the styling is a bridge between the 60s and the twenty-first century, with slices of the Rolling Stones and the Stone Roses.

Wonderful Allstars got the blues, but they ain't gonna drag you down - its bass that leads the tune, while guitar is about scribbles and scuzz, not licks or syrupy tear-jerkers. The rock resurrection and the blues life.

                                                                               Author: RMC


           Wed 20 September 2006 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar

The hosts of Goonite, still purveyors of great indie jangle-pop but with more fuzz, reverb and pedal-gazing than ever before.

They sing curly catchy melodies, but it's the voice of desperate passion: "You're so different around me" and "You’re all mine, I just can't let you go, no I won't let you go". Bass is pumping, while drums chatter, stomp and twist into awkwardly jumping beats. But first and foremost, Wry are about guitars…

What don't these guitars do? There are slicing solos, chunkily throbbing chords, pealing bells, there's tootling, glistening, hooting and bottle-end phaser squeal - all with a continuous reverb wash. Somewhere buried in this are keyboard sounds, exactly which sounds is anyone's guess.

Wry are in the business of sweetly scuzzed-up love anthems. Their reach stretches to Ash, Buzzcocks, Psychedelic Furs and Roxy Music. The climax is a drifting string-frilling number in 'Tomorrow Never Knows' style. The set grows to a massive crescendo of fx and feedback. A different music in the same basement.

                                                                                  Author: RF


              Wed 18 June 2003 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar

Supposedly psychedelic, but mostly rather classically rock and roll.

The core of this is bright cheesy guitar solos from the left-handed lead, in the manner of Naz Nomad era Damned and their covers of 60s artists like MC5. There are also nods to the Stone Roses and the Dandy Warhols here.

Quality power pop. Just for you, here’s a love song…

                                                                                 Author: OT

Xerox Teens

            Mon 21 November 2005           @ Bull and Gate

Chewed-up, spat out, pissed off surfy punks. Cool.

Beats are both live and programmed, joint command of tribal rhythms. Bass grunts and rumbles blues from the haunted backwoods. Two guitars co-ordinate staccato picks and niggling siren lines. Lead vocal drawls and wails, with backers trading shouts and cackles. There's a bit of everything here - Wire, Fall, Bow Wow Wow, Jesus and Mary Chain and - GULP - Captain Beefheart.

Xerox Teens are a liquorice all-sorts kind of band, every sweet bit is set against dark chewy bits with a harsh taste. Repetition and craziness are core themes, "You look fine, you look fine". One moment they're almost straying into a cat-strut, the next they're juddering into pure percussion and even adding a sampled layer of steel drums. A parting word from The Teens; "I don’t know what you mean, shut the fuck up". You got it.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Xmas Lights

            Tue 1 November 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor

Supremely gnarly and metallic Oxford post-rockers.

There are 6 Xmas Lights, far too many the Hope and Anchor stage, but not nearly enough for a tree. It's a privilege to witness an inexplicable band, but a task to describe them. Paired vocals, barking and grunting, but lurching into surprising episodes of thoughtful melody. Two guitars are the main event, chopping chords, traded whistles, whimsically warbling chimes, beautiful intervals of catchily contorted curls, a Tim Burton musical box, the dada guitar of Beefheart's Magic Band. But sideshows are quality too. Keyboards that shimmer, fog-horn and space drift, manic velocity bluesing bass, drums that crack, flash and spin. Everyone but the drummer and keyboard-player spends their time moshing around the floor. This is exactly what I want to try at home.

Xmas Lights really can't be a long-lasting name for a band, but the ingredients here make for a fine Saturnalia. There are lots of potential sources for the Xmas Lights sound, Muse, Killing Joke, Mogwai. Odd repetition, wild jerks, unexpected grooves. In my world, Xmas Lights are a modulated Hey Colossus with the technique of a Cove. Xmas Lights are assertive, fractured and LOUD. XL is big enough for me, the hardest and edgiest prog-rock to come my way in a long time.

                                                       Image by Claire Brady, Author: RF

Yelp of Sords

             Fri 4 February 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage

Extreme and harrowing acoustic emo.

One man and a semi-acoustic guitar. Guitar is an instrument of high-speed drama, reverby chimes, wild yet melodic strummery. Vocal, where present, is an angry passionate scream, tortured almost out of human form: "So I can see again, so I can breathe again". Just a handful of pieces, but a big impression. Think of David Bowie's rendition of "Amsterdam", then magnify the sense of pain one-hundred-fold.

Yelp of Sords is the solo project from Dan of Cat on Form, so an episode of shock and awe is to be expected. Yelp of Sords shocks with furious howling, adding awe with the contrastingly mannered but pacey guitarwork. If Cat on Form are the twenty-first century answer to the Clash, Yelp of Sords is the Bob Dylan of the new millennium. Elegant sword-work.

                                                                               Author: RMC

The Young Knives

               Sat 1 May 2004                @ Bull and Gate

Gorgeously cheeky and puerile punk whimsy.

The Young Knives devote their time to good causes, like checking the tear in the bass-player's trousers to see if it reveals the arse-crack, and cranking out well-honed 3-minute powerpop anthems. Vocals are melodic but loopy, plenty of freaky falsetto, neither quite Buzzcocks nor Tenpole Tudor. Guitar lines duck and dive slightly off-key, then transform into a jangly maelstrum. Bass delivers short melodies, leaping, bouncing and pumping it up. Drums are frenetic and jazzy in turn. Lyrics deal with topical issues such as having to dance without girls and telephone sex (the guitarist kindly describes the bassist hunched over and sweating like a troll). Some is simply surreal: "I am the Prince of Wales… that decision was mine"; and "Horses in the New Forest… are running in their Sunday best… and though you can't believe your ears… they say the words you love to hear". Formation is guitar/ first vocal; bass/ second vocal; drums.

The Young Knives are barking mad and great fun. The tricksters' sound is a quarter man,a quarter biscuit, a quarter Supergrass and a quarter Darkness. A talent for silliness and melody. Twenty-something dirtbags. Bless their smelly cotton socks.

                                                                                 Author: OT


              Thu 7 August 2003      Club Fandango @ Metro

Dramatic post-rock from 5 Geordie boys.

It's a shouty opening, but melody takes over as the set progresses. Musically, a movement from full-throttle grunge with bass-drive on to subtle atmospherics and away with squealing and soaring seabird guitar solos. Well, Whitley Bay is so close to Newcastle.

The Milo sound is a new one to me. An emo ethos, rock workouts with three guitars, tempo-change madness. Operatic, whimsical or both. The music reminds me of US post-rock experimenters Cursive, but the orchestral elements are replaced by Foo Fighters riffs and They Might Be Giants quirkiness. I don't recognise the smoke signals, but I'm convinced it's worth watching for the message.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Your Vegas / White Vinyl

            Wed 7 December 2005            @ Dublin Castle

A shared review because they are after the same thing - emulating Coldplay in full-blown U2 mode.

White Vinyl's other facets: Talk Talk, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen.

Your Vegas' other facets: Embrace, Travis, Simple Minds (it's the reverb).

White Vinyl musical components: reverbed vocal whine with false intimacy; synth of intricate piano tickles, splurging organ, eigties chatter; guitar with grunts and funkchews, wandering solos, frills around a hooky riff, blues rock flourishes; and gently pumping rhythms.

Your Vegas musical components: reverbed vocal that floats and soars skywards; synth of baby grand piano balladry, gentle and breathy glows and shimmers, oddly broken organ intervals; guitar with Edge trademark niggly chimes and solos that hoot'n'scoot; rhythms of gently tuneful bass-pump and subtle crack and roll drums.

White Vinyl words: "You wanna be born again". Curious.

Your Vegas words: "You lift me higher than the stars" (sickbag); "I want someone to love and someone to hold" (sick-sack); "Fight fire with fire, you make my love burn higher" (sick-tank).

Final White Vinyl remarks: all pomp and crescendo, the triumph of form over content - "But, oh! Those Hollywood Nights".

Final Your Vegas remarks: it's U2's "One" played ten times over, they desperately want to sell records.

                                                                                  Author: RF

Youth Movie Soundtrack Strategies

            Fri 7th November 2003 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage

Classic post-rock.

YMSS feature drums that trip and judder without halting, wacky synth noises and shimmering Cocteau Twins guitar-styling. Vocalist occasionally sings it tunefully and airily, but mostly it’s a mad bark generally indiscernible beneath the barrage. The closer is a bit of a rambling prog-rock affair with alternating moments of gentle calm and rock-out intensity. Worryingly, I almost found myself thinking of a Genesis record called "Cinema Show". Set-up is vocal/ guitar, guitar/ synth, bass, drums.

Listening to YMSS is like listening to - you guessed it - movie soundtracks. Nevertheless, they paint majestic sonic landscapes.

                                                                                 Author: OT

Zombina and the Skeletones

               Sat 3 July 2004 Club Useless @ Bull and Gate

Magical Liverpool happy days, doo-wop and swamp.

Female lead Zombina has a fast melodic vocal bite to challenge a mature Little Nell (and "blood" pouring from her lips too). Male vocals are an Elvisoid croon. Guitars deliver metallic chords and up-down drizzle lines, plus rock'n'roll stylings to wrestle Chris Izaak, and occasional rock keening to slice-up Brian May. Keyboard episodes start with a mix of organ and harpsichord voices, switching to electro-disco, and then transform into ragtime piano. Drums are pure rock'n'roll, with storms of jungle thumping. All of these treats, plus amazing vocal harmonies and even an a cappella number. With the immortal barbershop backing "Scooby Doo go round".

So, the inevitable question: what's it all about? Camp fun, I reckon. "Meteorite, all right, all right"; "Leave my brain alone"; "Everybody's gonna die… cos it's the end of the world"; "Last night the poor drummer died, no-one left alive to cry"; and "I love rock'n'roll more than I love you".

There are no straightforward cues for the Zombina sound, but you'd have half an idea if you mixed up Naz Nomad and the Nightmares (Damned side project) or Jonathan Richman with the B52s. Players are: female vocal; male vocal/ guitar/ bass; bass/ backing vocal/ keyboards; guitar; drumwoman.

Zombina and the Skeletones are strongly twin-themed on the fifties rock'n'roll era and the crude vampire joke; but don't let that distract you. The Skeletones (de)compose superb pop in an incredible range of styles. Zombina sings: "I'm not having fun and I wanna go home". Little liar. We're all having fun, and no-one wants to go home.

                                                                                 Author: OT


Nonsense is better than no sense at all (Stanton)

April 2008