Sat 1 July 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Astounding art-punk meets metal.
The guitar seems to be everywhere in Abraxus, this man is an orchestra of technique. He starts with a rhythm of irregular chops, rasps and revs, adds angry clang and grind chords, breaks for fast fizzing cycles, layers-on scooting squalls and squealing solos, then concludes with a whooshing spaceshuttle take-off. Not to be out-done, the drum pumps stop and start, reverberating roundly from every corner of the kit, the sound of mountains collapsing, the ricochets of a wild indoor-firework display. Somewhere in the midst, the female singer finds space for strong melodies, angry and accusing, warbles and curls that are perfectly pitched, sustained notes held firmly. A voice that encompasses nuances of Bjork, the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser, and Echobelly's Sonia Aurora. Where does she find the interstices in this mayhem? "You find a way", the lyrics respond.
At the end of a night of unreconstructed heavy metal, the Abraxus drummer and guitarman proved by far the most dynamic musicians to take the stage. The guitar playing is wild, but always under control. No self-indulgence for Abraxus in this set of sharp songs, each one assembled from a handful of coherent and fast-moving episodes. You can easily imagine the guitar producing a mean Star Spangled Banner interpretation, but without any respect for the current holders of the flag. This is an improbable hybrid of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Sugercubes. Santana had a mad axeman, but they never sounded like this.
Sat 24 September 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Jerky punk with soaring anthemic melodies.
Don't be fooled by the British Sea Power feel of the fatigues, Action Plan are a class act. The high vocal SCREAMS with the torture of Robert Smith and Tom Verlaine, but strikes directly at the tune-spot. Vocal also chops out rhythm guitar, but the lead guitar demands extra attention. Awesome pedally squalls, plucked rock'n'roll cycles, soaring solos from the Edge, Bauhaus spook flourishes. The two guitars spar to spark off massive orchestral harmonics. The force behind is a speeding power-bass thump and a firmly twisted drum beat.
The material involves neatly concluded 3-minute songs, each accelerating to a fitful crescendo. Too absorbed to note lyrics, I jotted "You've lost the wonder in your eyes" and "Love knows no rules: I don't know where love comes from". Action Plan capture the harsh intensity of New Order's Movement and the wayward grooves of Television and Sonic Youth.
OppositionT exists because bands like Action Plan exist. In 2004 it doesn't get much more exciting than an out-of-the-box punk act happy to draw on 25 years' of creating gnarly pop songs by subverting the rock'n'roll genre. Action Plan have a captivating otherness. As sweet and sinewy as sugar cane.
Wed 2 November 2005 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Poptastic bubblegum rock 'n' roll.
A-M music is about close three-part harmonies - two parts male and one part female. What are their harmonic pronouncements? 'Skeleton designs' and 'I just want a face that fits' feature. Two guitars generate chiming and feathering chords, and simple repeating jangle hooks. Add pogoing bass tunes, catchy psychedelic grooves, clean high school rock 'n' roll beats, and you're at the prom.
Active-M form a bridge between Ash, The Verve, The Las and Teenage Fanclub. A few bands have been vibrating local souls with these sounds for a while, notably Samurai Seven. Sooner rather than later, melodic guitar pop is going to be the sound of now, and Active -M will be ready. Are they infectious? They're catchier than the plague.
Fri 30 April 2004 @ Hope and Anchor
Punk grind that is amateur, thrilling and loveable.
The sound of Joy Division fronted by Richard Hell. This feels like real punk rock, the way it used to be. It's not about knowing how to play, it's about knowing how to INVENT. If anything is by the book, they've been following an obscure Ian Curtis manual "how to play rock music really badly and become legendary just the same". And this band actually does have "buzzsawing" guitar, an expression Time Out applies constantly to a whole host of bands who'd never make the timberyard. Initially, there are measured guitar cycles of 3 or 4 notes, but this progresses into fantastic staccato disconcordance. The bass is a low melodic depth-plumbing driver. Drums are part metronomic ticker and part deadened bass limp. The vocal is marvellously dry and flat, and I could throw choice lyrics into the review for pages. A beautiful mix of cold angst and trashy rock 'n' roll. Here goes. "I pray you're gonna stay around… 'cos I got nothing for you". "You can take your chances… and feel the loneliness". You're taking me down to the wire". "I won't be projected on you". "I've been smashed and burned". "A crime betrays me". Do you need any more? This has all the fantastical creativity of people playing in a front room or a basement FOR THEMSELVES. Simple line up of vocals, guitar, bass, drums.
Awesome DIY music virtually non-existent since 1977. It's technically crap, and therein lies its charm - at the start so were Sex Pistols, Damned and Joy Division themselves. Agent Flux state flatly "I don't know what it is, but it's here". It's dirty, and you WANT it.
Mon 25 August 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Monikered after the classic Japanese animation, and with a grandeur fit for the name. Post-rock 3-piece with a feeling of restrained anger and power.
Tracks built on the relentless wall-of-sound stylings trademarked by Bob Mould's Sugar, or framed as angsty emo soundscapes. Bass-driven melodies to rival New Order's Ceremony and instrumentals in a Mogwai vein with oodles of guitar and bass feedback. All done by your personnel of lead vocal/ bass; guitar/ backing vocal; and drums.
Mighty fine mix of the awkward and the accessible. Could take post-rock to the masses.
Wed 10 August 2005 Akira/ Smalltown America Records presents @ Catch 22
An anxiety attack over grudgingly catchy tunes.
Akira are a three-piece with both frontmen pitching in vocals. Desperation contorts the tunes at times, but the response is deftly soaring croons and falsetto that squeaks with concern. "Do you see what it means?", they demand. Guitar lines buzz, curl and zap, floating off into liberated freeform solos. Bass output is a gently stroked series of sonic nudges, so low down they're almost subliminal. Drums are stilted to the max, toppy waltzers, strangely reverby and disembodied. As with manga animation, Akira are about leading not following, and the only comparable act I can offer is US post-rockers Ten Grand.
Akira bludgeon and spike their sounds, but there's an oblique and thinly veiled tunesmithery to be found. The reluctance to quite accept the joy of the melody makes me think of Belle and Sebastian. A measured aural painting where the colours bleed over the edges, its attractive because it doesn't ignore the boundaries, and fresh because it doesn't adhere to them. Pop-art never stretched it this far. Ignore it, and you've not got what I got. You're rotting. You're rotting.
The Alaskan Pipeline
Thu 19 January 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Busy rock-lite, pompous and atmospheric.
No surprises to be had here. Voice is light melodic and moany. From a semi-acoustic guitar and 2 electric guitars you get jangling twangs, needlework tunes awash with sustain, interwoven curls, lines of needling and shimmering. Bass is a creature of throbbing simplicity while drums tumble gently through slightly stilited beats. The bleak lyricism reminds me of Morrissey at times: "You wore me out, you broke me down" and "Hibernation comes too soon". You know what The Alaskan Pipe think of themselves and their audience when they're coming to the end of their set: "this is the penultimate song - there's one more after this".
The Alaskan Pipeline play music that sounds like jingle bells, its soft-focus personal observations. The world doesn't need another imitation of Athlete, Coldplay, Talk Talk and U2. These guys think so much of themselves they bring their own sound engineer, who proceeds to flood out the PA and turn the layering into indistinct mud. When they pretentiously suggest "All I ask is that you start to live", I can't help but think <right back at you kids>. There's a special place for the Alaskan Pipe - where the hate has no name.
Wed 21 April 2004 Club Fandango @ Archway Tavern
Quirky pop-edged new wave rock 'n' roll from the Birmingham Four (not to be confused with the Six).
This is headed up by a white-soul wail of a voice to rival Joe Jackson or Graham Parker. In this acoustically challenged environment, lyrics are indiscernable, which is sad, because there seems to be a welter of wry lovelorn lines. The lead guitar picks around warmly like Nick Lowe, and the bass bounds around to produce neat one- or two-bar melodies. Pre-programmed synth delivers understated Hammond sounds. And the snare-obsessed drumming pretty much drowns out the lot. Set up is lead vocals/ rhythm guitar, bass/ backing vocals, lead guitar/ backing vocals, drums.
There are fine tunes and impressive musicianship on show here, but they desperately need greater sophistication in the drum souind and to make sure the drawled faux American vocal doesn't subvert the lyrical content. We'll have to wait is see how they turn up next. Don't you know that it's different for Brummies?
All Dark Mornings
Thu 5 October 2006 @ Bull and Gate
A one-man one-song show of angsty vocal, guitar layering and electronic noise.
ADM sings in Cobain despair, heartbroken sighs, dripping in reverb. The words get steadily more clever and miserable: "There's nothing here, she said, but you'll always remember me"; and "Drawn like a faceless scream". ADM lives in the world of forever The Cure of 1981.
Initially, this is entirely guitar-based. Deep chimes, thrumming, bright twangs. The sounds are set up in loops and layers, an undercurrent of seething backwards-chews and a steady build-up of additional blues curls: ADM can leave it all to play while he moves to production of synth-generated noise. Chirrups and bleeps join melancholy repeats in a keyboard-oboe voice. Subterranean organ booms give way to virtual choral sighs, whispering maidens, and lapping oceans. Atmospheric church organ ba[c]chanalia is blown away by a rave explosion. The rave in turn breaks as a harsh ambience of static, chews, and whooshes closes the set.
From All Dark Mornings, you get a one-man display of emo, blues and rave that's intriguing and entertaining for the full thirty minutes. It's almost impossible to stuff this one into a genre-box, there's such an array of spliffertronics and instrumental pneumatics. It's equally difficult to know what he'll do next, presumably he can't repeat the same one-song set more than a handful of times. Wait for the new set with hope and trepidation.
Angels Fight The City
Fri 14 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Magical punk'n'roll'n'rockabilly teensurf vamp everything.
I love this band. The male-female front partnership, it's a marriage of Biafra and Grogan, vocals chanted, sneered and schoolgirled. Gorgeous guitar, scratch noise and feedback, spiralling chord sequences, slides and fiddles with a plastic bottle. Groove is paramount, wholly encompassed by the bass forcefield. Gallows humour in every line, and the drummer's stilted beats command that you strain and jerk as you fall. There's gold in them daft lyrics: "Don't fuck around with love, you know"; "Baby you're a psycho"; and "It's what you always wanted anyway". There are sounds together here that could come from the Rezillos, The Pixies and Sonic Youth.
Angels Fight The City are blessed with the ability to craft indie-pop perfectly. They can take the vibe and subdued hooks of "Love Will Tear Us Apart", and turn it into the bright wryness of "I'm glad that I feel good inside". They can even craft their own brand of psycho-poppabilly. How could you not adore a band that inspires the heckle "I don't believe in God but I believe in Angels"? This played between last night's John Peel posters, smiling slightly as if appreciating the band. Calling all avenging angels, kick-ass angels. This punter's gone to heaven.
Angels Fight The City
Fri 20 February 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Engaging garage-punk sophisticates.
Although the opening is worryingly sub-White Stripes, these guys quickly produce a pronounced end-of-the-70s stamp. The bass plugs away at serious serious melodies. Guitar does scratchy flash-reggae chords and the spiky punk-lines of iconic rebels like Patrick Fitzgerald. Plus hard squalling that jigsaws into the bass groove in the style of the Stranglers, or more recently Corrigan. Keyboards add more of a feel than an active component, complementing a charming and flatly diffident female vocal. Lyrically, we are in the company of those with Higher Education. "The same sensation with different faces" is the reductionist account of sex, and "Jerusalem" gets a rock makeover (whether based on Blake or the Israel-Palestine conflict is not clear). Potential roots behind this are endless - Police, Spear of Destiny, Department S? Set-up is male lead vocal/ guitar, female vocal/ keyboards/ tambourine, bass/ male backing vocal, drums.
Angels Fight The City are hard to define, lo-fi for sure, complex for sure, clever-clever for sure, 70s punk attitude for sure. Neat, neat, neat.
Wed 8 December 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Bright and energetic guitar-fuelled pop music.
The guitarists share vocal duties, diligently weaving sweet boy-next-door tunes and harmonies. The twin guitars are nothing short of lavish, a layer of anthemic strumming, drizzling and plaintive picking, bursts of crunch collision chords, complex waterfalls, busy wagon wheels, chortling jangles and syrupy solos. Bass is the master of the wild roving melody. Drums batter their way through a rollicking cymbal and snare race. And the lyrics are madder than the average hatter: "Today's the day she feels but never shows"; "And there is no sky", plus "I swapped my DNA with a pair of reptiles". The Archers close with a slightly shambolic encore of the Beatles' "Hey Bulldog". The stuff of honest fun-infused story-telling, Lloyd Cole meets the Bluebells and the Bluetones.
The Archers sound is both catchy and intricate, fun and thoughtful, pop-drenched and musically articulate. Not a radio broadcaster's mike or a manure heap anywhere in sight. Happiness is a warm bow, mama.
Archie Bronson Outfit
Thu 30 October 2003 Club Fandango @ Bull and Gate
Ace 3-piece garage blues band.
Spartan simplicity at the start soon gives way to a heavy blues-rock onslaught. Three people have no right to create such a full sound, but the meaty first vocal, the awesome guitar swagger, energetic bass, and beat-tastic use of a tiny drumkit could blow your average 5-piece off-stage. Lyrically, some of the lines seems basic - "you can do what you want" - but the game is raised with bluesier references like "blood-hate". Set-up is first vocal/ guitar, bass/ second vocal, drums, plastic illuminated goose (Swan Light).
You don't need to be a big garage fan to be gripped by the true greatness of Archie Bronson Outfit - photogenic they ain't, but even in these fickle times, they must be destined for greatness. Archie Bronson Outfit are hi-intensity lo-fi - your new favourite harmonic generator.
Fri 3 March 2006 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage
An industrial bag of grind, groove and jazz, fresh from the factories of the West Midlands.
Drums come tumbling, bass tunes throb and pulse. These beats are fallen mountain-climbers, they scramble from foothills to scree, grapple almost to the peak, then just one slip: collisions, intense high-speed rumbles, unstoppable descent, unavoidable chasm. Synth splurges, a laptop Mac, Punch and Judy samples, spaceage probing and whistles, clanger whooping conversation, Dalek extermination rays. Guitar and bass jam a groove like they're in Hawkwind, but guitar breaks out for cat-scratching, wolf-whistling, horseplay of the crazy kind, winding machines of the coiled-wire grind. This is nuts. And bolts.
If this is your bag, you will know instantly. The Arm set out on an instrumental helter-skelter, spiralling to a plie-up of bodies, then a sudden halt. Abrupt. The Arm set clangs and splinters like a wordless alliance of Beefheart and Public Image Limited, the Flowers of Romance. In the post-rock world, it’s the music of Cat on Form jazzed-up by Kyote. But the set is so short, it leaves you desperate for more. This is not an arm, it's an army.
Mon 10 November 2003 @ Hope and Anchor
Fine indie musicians play pop-rock.
A vocalist of warmth and clarity to match Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook, although without Squeeze's kitchen-sink lyrical drama. Many songs are balladic introspection and musing on relationships with the hallmark of the Bluetones, although they haven't quite mastered the two-and-a-half minute pop classic of Bluetonic. There is a wonderfully wide-eyed self and world interrogation about this. The interplay of acoustic and electric guitar is engaging, with brief blues and country solos occasionally bringing Lynard Skynard to mind. The keyboard piano is impressive too, spanning many octaves [no large organ jokes please - ed]. Lyrical themes include fallibility ("I Fall Down" and "Circle") and joy ("Cloud 79"). Some of it does almost inhabit the world of cheese - "I won't walk away unless your demon's in my way; I won't walk away, so let your demons fly away". But some of it's a bit more self-aware - "If you grew up in the same way you wouldn't have to teach us" (loadsa possible meanings there). Whatever, it's all delivered with infectious delight. The set-up is: vocal/ semi-acoustic guitar/ keyboard; lead guitar; bass; drums.
Armchair Multitude represents the very best and most articulate pop music you will find being played in a pub. Label with love.
Tue 27 April 2004 Glasswerk @ Upstairs at The Garage
Joyous 5-piece garage punks.
Time Out has "Art Punks" - did they say the Sex Pistols were art? This is unashamed rock 'n' roll. That'll be why "rock 'n' roll" is mentioned in almost every song. Like "My little brother's just discovered rock 'n' roll" (not jazz then?). The vocal rant is part poetry, part anthem: a little bit Mark E Smith, a little bit Johnny Rotten, a little bit Beastie Boys. Backing vocals are marginally off-key sneers in the "oooh, oooh" and "the girl can't help it" vein. Guitars mix the wonderful raunch of the Stooges with the easy progression of Ramones 3-chord pop. Speed thumping simple bass lines and stand-up frenetic orange box drums complete the picture. OK, lyrically, they do go a bit art-house - talking about "Popular culture, no longer a blasphemy", and a song ostensibly about entertaining terrorists (did they have Gaddafi round for tea then, or just Blair?). But moments could be the soundtrack from 'Grease' - "Girls don't like him, boys wanna fight him". Primarily, this sounds like the Sex Pistols and The Damned, with maybe a touch of Sonic Youth savvy. Set up is lead vocal, first guitar/ backing vocal, second guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums.
Demented not-quite-top-of-the-pops entertainment as pioneered by the Rezillos. Popular punk as it was 70s/ 80s, before it got into teenagers cacking themselves on aeroplanes whilst chatting-up hostesses. But is it funny twice? Like the Damned song "Another case of hit or miss". Could be pink grease. Could be wink, sneeze.
Attack Switch Attack
Mon 4 October 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Twisted and dark lyrical indie guitarmeisters.
A wayward vocal cry veers around a melody to deliver dense Manics lyricism - "The hyperbole, you see right through it"; "You mustn't follow me so blindly"; and (sarcastically?) "He knows too much and he's well read - and wanted by the MI5". The singer's guitar draws on wildly varied indie classics - the wonderfully mismatched chopping time of ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell (on "Oh! Rats" of all possible titles), the ringing of high-noon in a Theatre of Hate west-world ghost-suburb, flippy-floppy jangle chords, stroked-up thrumming like the gentle grunt of an overfed bear. Big bass-bellows drive a sound-system float around a bent-up hooky tune. Drums New Order themselves into a cycle that trickles and lurches with compulsion. The sound of Attack Switch Attack straddles the legacy of ancient New Order (Movement), REM (Life's Rich Pageant), Husker Du (Candy Apple Gray) and Manics (The Holy Bible).
Attack Switch Attack are art-shockers perched on the cusp of indie-pop and agit-punk. The ground that the Manics and Husker Du have left fallow has now been invaded with aplomb. A PC pyrrhic victory. An Attack Switch Attack long-term gain.
Sat 26 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
The thinking person's rock n roll.
Unassumming melodic vocal. Fantastic guitar, focussed on dirty minor keys, produces fresh-picked Postcard Records bouquets, staccato strumming, soft acoustic chords, and taut Stranglers axe-chopping. Bass slaps and bubbles. Drum can be a punchy cymbal and snare or trickling jazzy beat. Lyrics are nothing if not thoughtful - "Information's running riot"; "We know what that means - we know something different"; "Staring at my reflection - staring at the Sun". Some neat oppositions too - "Ice: Fire" and "Your stock's in your share: your share in your stocks". Layout is: vocal/ electric guitar/ 12-string semi-acoustic; electric guitar/ 6-string semi-acoustic/ 5-string bass; drums.
Audible Thought combine brainwaves with Stiff Records new wave. Moments of Pulp picture-painting and Del Amitri balladry. Sounds broadly like Elvis Costello fronting REM (pre- Losing My Religion, naturally). Compelling.
Thu 11 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Consummate layered indie-rock with genuine gravitas.
Musicianship hand-in-hand with edginess and originality. Lead vocal is the strained melody of mild torture - think New Order's Bernard Sumner. The flightiness is countered by a weightier wailing back-up harmony, interjected at intervals. Bass is a pounding trailblazer of lollops and meanders. Drums are neatly syncopated, firing on all cylinders and thrashing none. Three guitars are the key to the layering. Semi-acoustic is the master of the ultra-fast steel chord. Electrics produce jangle and sustain musing, classical perorations, atmospheric cycling and crunching, sustained flights of dragonfly and seagull, plus minor key lines of scouring, scribbling and screaming. Lyrics that I managed to jot down were nicely dour: "You never asked me why, and I never said"; and, apparently "Just nail me to the background, you know nothing changes in the end". The stratigraphy reminds me of the Waterboys and Radiohead, but the songs are angsty, direct and pretension free.
The Audioreader sound is intelligent indie, a refreshed prog-rock that sticks to the point and embellishes it, makes a statement that we feel we should know about. Bass and drum drive with a light touch, vocal ponders quietly and earnestly, and the guitars create an ocean of swells, wavelets and surfers. Immerse yourself. Smile, it may take a while, but it's better than being nailed to the landscape.
Sat 12 August 2006 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
Adrian R Teenbeat's exercise in the dark and grotesque.
Teenbeat now sports a rough-beard to accompany his rambling monologue of drones, moans, growls and rants. He delivers his sermon in darkness as attention is drawn to film and slideshow images, strange adventures in a Yorkshire landscape with unlikely captions and placards - 'Dracula lands at Whitby'. A mature fatherly gentleman appears with the label 'FUCK'. An elderly woman carries the sign 'Everyone enjoys sexual intercourse'.
Music is driven by synth beats, harsh and rattling, with mini-keyboard's bleeps, slices and squiggles. Guitar rasps along with bass hooks that sprint, pulse and grunt. This experience is not intended to be easy on the ear but it has a compelling intensity.
The Beale are reliably disconcerting. It's almost as if you were watching an early Fall show with guest vocals by a creature built from Shane McGowan, Frank Sidebottom and The Rebel (Country Teasers). Remember the meths-drinking tramp that used to collect pennies behind Marks & Spencer's for his grunts and squealing mouth-organ? Now he's in a rock band.
Sat 16 August 2003 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
Adrian R Teenbeat's vehicle for psychotic ranting surrounded by some of the best off-the-wall musicians around.
A bizarre videoclip accompanies, in which Barbie-doll Stormtroopers oversee a ritual Barbie sacrifice, and are in turn overseen by a baby Buddha. The Fall-like sound of churning bass, rumbling guitar and persussive casiotone keyboards (remember Mark Riley?) create a punky dance sound that is the perfect backdrop for Teenbeat. The lyrics are stoically downbeat complaints: "Some people call me a fucking cunt". OT shares that burden.
Forget looking for art in a gallery. This is catchy anti-pop art strictly for a bar.
Sat 18 September 2004 @ Dublin Castle
Mod-punk colliding with blues-rock to produce bittersweet anthems.
The three most memorable things about Bifteck are the singer's smooth but tortured melodies, the angry disappointment of the lyrics, and the massive overarching rock riffology. Frenetic guitar strumming is combined with the lead vocalist's declarations of faith and lack of faith. His foil a lead guitar man producing swooping wails, superspeed Thin Lizzy licks, deftly choked-off disco-riffs and choppy flavours of reggae and flamenco - not to forget fine vocal harmonies and responses. All this is backed by ferocious bass and drum explosions.
The material here is mostly familiar from earlier sets, but there seems to be an extra injection of fuel with each performance. A new song, Parody, starts like a slow Lynard Skynard anthem and accelerates into a sizzling stomp. There's the classic "Good Bloke Seamus", with its fresh-from-the-gutter opener "I recognise that smell because I know it well"; this comes complete with its twin bongo-based instrumental, infused with a guitar funk to match The Jam's "Precious". Other set highlights are the pacey anthem "We'll find our way, never give in to this" (Any Other Business), tortured blues building from "To love is to lie, stop wasting my time" (Succeed to Deceive) and choppy emo "I'm an aetheist who yearns for eternal life" (Lack of Faith). Add it up, and Bifteck have a blistering take on the blues-funk-punk combination espoused by Paul Weller at the end of the 1970s.
There's no shortage of powerful blues-rock around (apparently there's a European Union stockpile). Bifteck hold the 3 trump cards of honest intelligent songwriting, nuclear energy, and instantly catchy hooks. Bifteck are master craftsmen of punky blues. You can keep watching the telly and thinking 'bout your holidays; this amateur band plays in a nearby bar, and that's real entertainment.
Sat 12 March 2005 Fresh Rock Showcase @ Mean Fiddler
An encapsulation of mod cheek and punk anger into consummate blues rock passion.
The singer is almost painfully earnest in his adherence to the melody, but there are plenty of endlessly stretched notes for you rockers, and some cleverly placed high harmonies and responses sung by the lead guitar man. As guitarists, these two mesh brilliantly, around a core of chords that crunch rocks and riffs that spiral. Add on classic Gary Moore high chortles and wails, broken chugs, solos of sustained pirouetting, bluesy mastications, cod reggae staccato strums and funky squeaks and cackles. The bass thumps out a weaving 38 tonne juggernaut of a tune. Drums are showy, steady cymbal blasting set against rockadelic tumbles and rolls. For Bifteck, every single line tells a story, and the audience joins in the narrative: "You can see all the colours of my world, if I changed the way I looked at yours"; "No more tears, and no more turning back"; "Life's a parody"; "As I stood there alone in a crowded church" (eh?); "I'm an atheist who yearns for eternal life, not God, or figurehead, just continual life"; "I see through those eyes into that filthy mind"; and "I recognise that face, it's uglier than mine". Bifteck open like the Rolling Stones, but the Stones haven't been this personal and intimate for many years. It's a course charted between the opulent rock recreationism of Oasis and the openness and musicianship of the Bluetones.
No toying with fashion for Bifteck, they've nailed their colours to the bues-rock mast, and they play it with more passion than anyone else. Fantastic lead guitar playfulness, and incredibly honest and direct lyrical contemplation. This is the acme of contemporary rock music. Bifteck are a band with a wealth of talent and a taste for stardom.
Sat 24 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Forceful 4 piece producing emotionally-charged punk and blues with mod hues.
Vocals are a clear melodic Sarf London blues. Guitar produces rocktastic AC/DC solos, wedges of Gary Moore soul cheese, flashy disco swatches and even swanky reggae skank. The passionate drummer gives every drum in the kit a good pasting (groan). And the bass is in for a severely funky pounding. Lyrically, there's a bit of social observation and some painfully earnest lessons in love. The seemingly cutting "I recognise that smell because I know him well" turns around to describe "Good bloke Seamus". There's extreme loneliness in "I'm feeling it now, silence so loud", and "Obsession with fiction is bringing me down… and I'm tired of waiting for you to come around". And there's uncontrolled bitterness in "You take all my pride… don't help me to confide… to love is to lie… stop wasting my time". A fantastic mix of Britpoppiness and psychy MC5 blues. Set-up is lead vocal/ rhythm guitar/ tom-tom, lead guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums/ backing vocal.
Song-writing genius, and an impressive mix of the anthemic and the soulful. The only time we feel this alright is by your side.
The Big Fibbers
Sat 6 May 2006 UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club
Singalong fun for the whole family, with barely concealed innuendo - is Crackerjack still going?
Two blokes sing, guitar, toot on the birdcall whistle, and generally jape a merry jest. This is challenge-free good natured busking, nothing new about it. "She's got wonderful big boots!", they compliment - oh yeah, guffaw. The tradition of including a little jocularity in the set spans may years and acts - Lonnie Donegan, Roy Harper, Deep Purple, Chuck Berry, Stranglers, Pulp - but the Big Fibbers are out to break it down to the lowest common denominator, ha'penny music hall.
There was Mungo Jerry. There was the Scaffold. There were the Monks (Nice Legs, Shame about the Face). We have amnesia about the next 25 years, but now we have the Big Fibbers, so it's ok - evidently nothing important happened. By now it's midnight, so the acts don't need to stand up to critical scrutiny. "You only say you love me when you're drunk - so drink! drink! drink!", cry the Big Fibbers. So we gave Mr Fibber's wife some medicinal compound, most efficacious in every case.
Sun 13 November 2005 VF Loud Alldayer with Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records @ Bull and Gate
Feel: mechanical, with shearing bolts.
Vocal: wild cries, gargling with soup, singing against the tide.
Guitar: Jack White and the strangled cat.
Bass: a fur-covered mallet.
Drums: steel fists, derailed train trips, pudding basins.
Extras: I'm sure there's a Casio VL1 lost in there somewhere.
Lyrics: traded slogans and asides.
Popstar factor: 99%, I'd do 'em all at the same time.
Familiarity factor: 50%, I've seen 'em before, don't really remember the songs, but I get the drift.
Song count: normal (about 16 per hour).
Longevity: timeless, like jazz.
IT factor: 10%, no beards, limited head-banging potential.
Antecedents: Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ten Grand, TEAM, Wire.
Quotable quotes: "You make me feel I've got my head screwed on", "Throw my things away".
Remark: ridiculously over-amplified Voodoo Children.
Fri 3 December 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage
Jerky power blues and jazz twisters.
The Bilge of the moniker may be the bizarrely esoteric lyrics: "Don't forget my vested interest"; "I want to end this struggle"; "These are my future wives waiting in the wings"; "What you may want… what you may not… what's your name?". The singer manages to be simultaneously angry and breezily melodic, poetry veering between speech and song.
Or possibly the maverick guitar styles qualify as Bilge. Lines that bark and guffaw wildly. Blues wails, perambulating screeches, high squealing birdsong and short chiming hooks.
Then there are the two contenders for the role of Pump. The singer's bass guitar belts through short sludgy tunes. The drummer addresses the whole kit in creating crazy jazz atmospherics and Creatures-grade tribal passages.
There are moments of prog-rock indulgence, but most of the set is gnarly blues pop caught in a high-speed car crash. At its worst, shades of ELP, at the best echoes of Captain Beefheart.
Bilge Pump are a wonderful dappled cross-breed of catchy blues simplicity and wild jazz-powered mayhem. The subsequent performers rename them Bulge Pimp; but the sounds on offer are loud rather than fat, and stripped down rather than forced into skimpy clothes. Each song has a lot of noises crammed into it, but all cover the whole mile in four minutes. Fundamentally, Bilge Pump play post-rock, but the brevity, the blues and the melody lend a refreshing directness. Why, here's the boys with the chainsaw.
Fri 16 December 2005 Silver Rocket - Noisestar @ Buffalo Bar
Black Black exist just on the right side of the line between uplifting brightness and miserable grime. Beats are light, trippy rug-cutters. Bass generates romping tunes and Spiritualized throbbing. Two guitars mix-up jangly tootling, reverby frilling, and hooky needle-picking, all of it awkward. Two male singers contrast the smooth and the warbled, the grounded against the dreamy, Bryan Ferry against the Belle and Sebastian. Words mean everything to them, but little to anyone else: "Getting faster and faster", "What the hell are you gonna do?" and "Yeah, a possibility grows". A curious proposition.
Black Black is the shade of unexpected pleasures. Churning Velvet Underground, spiky Josef K, Joy Division in thrumming Transmission and wistful Ceremony. Gently drifting, but drawing ever closer to the jaws an oil-terminal, Black Black are darkly irresistible.
Fri 19 September 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Heavy alterno-rock 5-piece dicatating their own review: "We're Creed meets Bon Jovi".
The feel is quite punky, but the posture and riffology is classic heavy metal. Titles like "Kerosene" ignite the idea of a punk-metal crossover. Sub-Jagger vocals vie with AC/DC guitars, wide-boy bass, and a drum-ethos of "hit EVERYTHING maniacally fast". The singer sports perfectly ruffled blond highlights, and complains about The Guardian calling him Mark Owen. Wonder why?
Although the pomposity is almost turned up to Spinal Tap 11, in the context the clichés are good fun. The final impression is that the Black Kube sound is situated between the Stooges and the Foo Fighters. See it for pure entertainment value. Don't try to take it too seriously.
Sat 13 December 2003 Guided Missile @ Bull and Gate
Storming psych-garage rock.
Evil stooges bass delivers wide-ranging melodies, guitar produces squalls and strangled-cat sounds. All is backed by insistent native Indian drumming and fronted by seriously bluesy Zep vocals. Lyrically, this is heading directly up your alley - the fear of a lover's husband gives us "Let's get this clear, I'm gonna get the fuck out of here - he knows my name". To be followed by an unbelievably cool cover of "Ain't nothing going on but the rent". The feel of this is somewhere between the White Stripes and the Stone Roses, but at the close of the set it's stretching into a neat krautrock workout. Still, I can't quite get my head around a frontman with a ginger moustache. Set-up is: subdued first vocal/ guitar, out-there blues second vocal/ star guitar, bass, drums.
High quality low fidelity. Black Madonnas can take you to the promised land.
Sat 31 July 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Supreme punk metal.
The Blacklines' singer is an earnest Dave Grohl, a master of resilience under torture. Guitar-core involves questing chords and niggling solos, but - with the fuzz and reverb of a thousand pedals - there's also glam spangle, grunge intensity and space-rock wailing. Occasional keyboards soar spookily into the stratosphere. Bass is a big big beautiful throb. Drum is a skilfully controlled explosion.
The Blacklines invest real passion in their songs. "When everything's misplaced, serving the human race"; "I know you're fucking dreaming, dreaming is for fools"; and "We hear another story of someone else's glory we know we'll never find" (these last two from their small-town blues "Evacuate Now"). Shades of Sugar, The Pixies, The Cure, Foo Fighters, even Tears for Fears. Players are bass; vocal/ guitar; guitar/ keyboards; drums.
Just as OT discovers them, The Blacklines are on the verge of 6 months' hibernation. Typical luck. The Blacklines are the fantastic conclusion of 28 years of punk, new wave, indie, alt-rock, grunge, nu-metal. Thinking inside the box, but the very best thought in the box. The Blacklines burn like a fire in Cairo.
Wed 25 April 2007 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Steve's multi-faceted band turns everyday occurences and instant pop songs into lavishly arranged musical productions.
At its simplest, the show involves Steve's jerky semi-acoustic strumming carried aloft on a gently bubbling bass groove. At its most lavish, jazz, cabaret and country-waltzes are driven by clackety beats and creeping bass hooks, then embellished by everything from ragtime piano to squeeky accordian and sax chorus lines.
As varied as the styles and instrumentation are, Steve's show is constantly upbeat. Tempo never drops below a trot or a skiffle, and wordplay is gently reflective, silly, or downright jolly. Chorus lines 'Keep your hands dry for high fives' and 'I love my iPod' are typical, but moments of worry do sneak through - 'I'm yearning, but you're leaving - I'm not learning, but you're not teasing'.
Steve plays a set that's big on arrangements, but the feel remains intimate and personal. The multiplicity of instruments serve to reinforce the established hooks and underline the catchy pop sensibility. But the songs are bigger than hooks, they're tales from the life and times of a young entertainer. All around are whispers of Ben Folds Five, but there are also echoes of songwriting talents from Neil Hannon to Paul Heaton and Elvis Costello. And Steve makes all this look easy.
If you thought you didn't like consciously decorous pop music, think again for Steve Bland's outfit. They close the set (prior to a brief 2-man encore) with contorted jazz mayhem, and there's nothing contrived about it, they're just having a blast. Great music, witty banter, entertaining songs, and it all comes naturally. Top quality.
Fri 25 June 2004 @ Water Rats
Warm atmospheric miserablism.
Vocal is diffident, accurate, unassuming, and boring. Guitar produce edge-free glowing jangle and sub-flamenco chord flourishes. Bass is a simple romp, but played-out double-time. Keyboards are bright even painting, but with ever-present sustain fx and the threat of minor chords. The drums just chatter away. Sound mixing and balancing in the venue is not good, but vocally, I think I picked out "Everyone seems to know that" and (inevitably) "Under a grey sky". It all sounds worryingly like Talk Talk. Players are lead vocal/ guitar, bass, key-synth/ guitar, drums.
Bluestate play songs that seem to dwell on lost love and the advance of the desert. Soporific. Gloomy.
Tues 17 August 2004 @ Upstairs at The Garage
Bright punky pop with a heavy dose of melody, a slice of irony, and an elemental trace of danger.
Singer and guitarist Stuart is as chirpy as the boy next door, innocently singing too loud with the headphones on. Colin on drums effortlessly throws in 70s harmonies that reanimate memories of dozens of Chinn-Chapman songs (Sweet, Suzi Quatro and… erm Smokie). The guitaring covers a hell of a lot of ground, chords that rattle, scream and surf, proclaiming and chiming solos, a massive storm in a honey pot. John is the nuttiest Cuba, he weaves his bass into a funk, then throws in a bounding and controlling Cure melody and some uncharacteristically serious groove. Colin drums on, a rolling affair, a steadying touch, the whip-hand keeping that wagon train a-circlin'. But above all, Bob Cuba have SNAP! CRACKLE! And POP!
A brace of familiar love-songs from their Bounce 6-tracker. "Never let you go" (with a gorgeously silly vocal take on the syn-drum - "Boan") gives us the line "There are things that take a while to build up - things that are built to last". And "Prodigal" sweetly proclaims "You have touched me". Also from Bounce, there's light-hearted fist-waving at boy bands that reminds me of That Petrol Emotion in dance mode - "Karaoke Tribe". Then we get spacehopper-free material. "I'll be anything you want me to be" recalls the folksy joy of 80s popsters the Bluebells, whilst the deftly catchy "Remember your soap in the shower" unaccountably has me thinking of a Virgin phone advert featuring Wyclef. Perhaps the finest offering is the 60's Animals threat of "Million Eyes" with the hook "You didn't think of that".
That's another fine set they've got me into. "Are we having fun?" demands one of the Cuba's rhetorical hooks; they surely are, it's infectious, and there's no vaccine. Defiantly edgy and catchy guitar pop that enjoys its heritage and looks to its future. You HAVE to feel the beat.
Wed 25 February 2004 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Punchy Scotpop from this trio.
BC deliver an A to Z of indie guitar music from 1978 to the present day, covering ground from The Associates to The Sundays and The Undertones (probably not Vibrators or Xray Spex). Frantic drums, bouncing bass, brightly anthemic vocals with a little semi-sweet harmony, plus guitar that squalls, blisters, jangles and reverbs with the feel of the moment. Lyrically, this is endearingly singalong. "I'll never leave you alone" (so sweet), "Shine a light" (sounds like Shang-a-Lang), and "Remember your soap in the shower" (bathroom-sink drama). The best sounds of the Buzzcocks, the Damned, Josef K, Orange Juice and the Smiths. Simply guitar/ vocal, bass/ backing vocal, drums/ backing vocal.
This is a wee bit off-beat, but nevertheless, perky enough melodies to get you pogoing in the shower. The time for BC is surely now. Franz Ferdinand should watch out, Bob Cuba could produce some fierce competition.
Sat 6 May 2006 UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club
Tonight, the McGees set-up is three-clown skiffle.
As greasepaint victims with bright costumes, they treat you to banjos, double-bass and melodica. The joys of romps and eyebrow-plucking, playground tales, washboard beats. The McGees most loveable feature is the male-female vocal combination, quizzical Scots sandpaper versus innocent baby doll, with twee lyrical exchanges and echoes: "I've got no frineds, not one". But it's not only childlike subject matter, Star Wars, light sabres, and Jedi knights. There's childlike directness too: "Why don't you just fuck off and die". He really means "mine's a pint of heavy".
The McGees are always a joy to see, with their fistful of twisted lullabies. It's a bonus to see them step away from their schoolyard operetta: boy meets girl, falls in love, falls out, maybe makes up. All they need now is a lion tamer.
Sun 13 February 2005 UK Antifolk 3 @ Buffalo Bar
A genuinely funny duo telling the story of a stop-start stop-start relationship with the aid of ukulele, banjo, guitar, xylophone, melodica and flute.
The Bobbies come from Glasgae via Brighton it would seem: he with the chewy sub-melodic musings, she with the beautiful baby doll romanticising. Ukulele and banjo are picked-at like the redneck instruments they purport to be, electric guitar rocks'n'rolls, the flute butterflies like the eponymous theme tune, xylophone tinkles, and melodica wheezes.
And so, to the opera. The nervousness before the meeting: "I've got no friends, not one". The head over heals phase: "Our love is indestructable, totally watertight, uncorruptable". Trying to recapture the good times: "Tomorrow could be like yesterday and tie us up in knots again". The dreamy lullaby credited to Presley: "Forever and a day". Uncertainty over a partner's continued dedication (proclaimed also to have an undercurrent of Czechoslovakian politics): "I'm still getting butterflies, I'm sure she's not getting butterflies". Desperation phase: staccato repeats of "Please don't dump me" paired with threats of vengeance: "I'll slit your throat and gouge out your eyes". The development of pure hatred: "You used to be a wanker and you're still the same, so kill yourself" - followed by a catalogue of favoured death rituals. And finally, the glimmer of hope from a weekend in Paris: "We'll pretend it was chic, just for a laugh, I'll be Sacha and you be Piaf… we'll be friends for a little while, happy again". The concept of the antifolk opera surely owes something to Attila and Otway's "Cheryl"; but this is less cheap and far more engaging.
I love the Bobby McGees. They are coy and extrovert at the same time; you similtaneously believe they are not quite sure about themselves or each other, but that they completely understand and trust each other (ergo, they are not having a relationship). They encore with a knockabout of VU and Nico's "Femme Fatale", which they claim as an Elton John cover. The Bobby McGees are the antifolk Sonny and Cher. And they're way more twee than the Picklemen. There must be fifty ways to kill your lover.
Sat 30 August 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Go in a sceptic and you will come out a convert.
Bolan and his hard-edged R&B band prove that the black man KNOWS how to sing the blues. It's difficult to believe the man is playing to such a modest crowd, but - despite a style that suggests a 21st century Presley - the man is engagingly humble himself. We're not talking trademark R&B. Yes, the sloppy funk bass is there, and the light touch up-and-down the fretboard guitar. But there's so much more. Reggae and rock n roll themes, amazing rhythmic twists from the drummer, and Bolan drawing on (but not labouring) Bolan senior's beautifully tremulous vocal. All the tick-list blues-rock components are present, but all provided by consummate musicians and without a single descent into cliché. Bolan also prevents the social and personal from seeming hackneyed - when he sings "Opportunities are changing in my lifetime", you believe he means it. The Rolan Bolan band make playing beautiful music look easier than a stroll to the corner shop. Spot on, and certainly more Robert Cray than T-Rex. Set-up is: Bolan on vocal/ guitar; guitar; bass; drums.
A must for any R&B fan, as it was understood in the seventies or as it's understood now. Rolan is just a lovely guy who enjoys playing his heart out for an intimate crowd. What a star!
Tue 24 January 2006 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Tune-packed and folk-infused rock cabaret.
Everything about Boog-music seems jolly and likeable. The singer delivers a breezy story with ease and warmth. Guitars mix up tricksy frills and spirals with sweet bluesy licks and with slashes and kicks that could be gypsy or cossack. The funky bass pumps, nudges and creeps like a hunting cat. The drummer seem subtle and calm, running through tickles, shuffles and snaps - but there's nothing calm about the twisted stop-start tempos. You need to keep on your toes.
You wouldn't really expect serious soul-searching or geo-political analysis to accompany such music, and they don't. Lines like "you're a pothead", "I just gotta get out" and "you're my angel - my angel in black, you're my angel, and I want you back" put me off digging much further. They're only words.
I like music that surprises me, and Boog certainly succeed at that. Time is slowed, suspended, then reversed. For a big part of the set, you feel like a crusty traveller dodging some shotgun-wielding farmer, as the angered custodian stomps territorially around the bounds. I struggled to find any obvious contemporary reference points. Some of the the folksy cabaret pops up in the Mules and perhaps Zutons, but most of the styling belongs to the seventies, to Genesis, to 10cc, and the lighter side of Hawkwind. Boog are appealingly odd without being too challenging, but quite possibly far sillier than they realise. As Peter Gabriel was once heard to observe "Me, I'm just a lawn-mower, you can tell me by the way I walk".
Brains and Virgin
Sun 13 February 2005 UK Antifolk 3 @ Buffalo Bar
Mad electric take on Dames Hinge and Bracket.
One partner performs primarily home-counties accented poetry, half music hall compere, half fairground barker. Add on kerchunk kerchunk synthesised rhumboid beats, embellished with mad dance squiggles, squishy scratching, plink-plonk tunes and sampled strings. Also sampled are the sounds of US Hawkishness: "outlaw Russia forever", air-raid sirens, cries of "ceasefire". Extraterrestrial conquest gets a look in too: "We are the superiors of the human race… We'll kidnap Jamie Oliver and atomise his brains" (someone beat you to it). Just to prove they're serious, there's an episode of supposedly jungle-drumming accompanied by madcap dancing around the audience to shouts of "Mumbo jumbo", the claim "I am a tower of attraction to women", and the chant "Get yer tits out, get 'em out" (the home counties has slipped into mockney by now). This sounds like the Flying Lizards perform Gilbert and Sullivan.
Brains and Virgin are twenty-first century vaudeville. Clever it may not be, but entertaining it is. Not every idea is original (or even inoffensive) - the sample of "You can't touch this" as a backdrop to the story of a street-drinking whiskey-sodden MC Hammer is pretty obvious. All the same, Brains and Virgin are crazy showmen, and you can't touch that.
Tue 16 November 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Cool as fuck swampy blues rock.
The singer is oddly static, but has a voice like sand and gravel, and oozes understated blues directly from his pores. He's also the master of a fine chewy mouth organ wobble. Guitars mix up hard-edged chords with riffs that meander and shimmer. Insistent 2-bar tunes are the bass line-of-communication; punching with the rolls is the job of the drums. Lyrics are classic blues too: "It's not me"; "Your money doesn't mean a thing"; "You never look me straight in the eyes… you'll never make a fool out of me"; then finally "And when the Sun goes down you feel my pain". The Brakes sound is a remarkable mix of ZZ Top and Sonic Youth.
The power of the Brakes comes from the contrast between the bemused and effortless charcoal grill of the vocal and the wild rock'n'roll on-hot-coals of the music. It's almost as if the late Robert Palmer had performed with the Bad Seeds. Refreshingly, the songs deal with the hurt felt by a man instead of boasting about the pain casually inflicted by a man. The blues had a baby and they named it rock'n'roll. This is the sound of rock'n'roll making a break for the big city, with the whole blues of creation snapping at its heels.
Sun 5 November 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Bystander-friendly post-rock powered by blues drama and electro urgency.
Brenda open with nail-biting suspense that builds quickly into storming violence, a fair match for PJ Harvey's 'Mansize'. From there until the end of the set, it's a roller-coaster ride of anxiety and thundering acceleration, with a maelstrom of emotion in each of the five songs.
The vocal proceeds in cries and wails, Thom Yorke styling, lofty and perfectly tuned. The words are reverbed and looped into layers. He screams in sustained anguish - "Naturally we're trapped". The loop repeats "Alone, alone"; a layer echoes "Own, own". A distant voice sighs "Aaah".
The guitars are the busiest functions in the equation. Gentle frills, breathy loops, bridge-tickling, jangle-hooks, curls and chimes lose the fight against scratchy chords, revs, blustering rock-outs, squealing and strafing.
There's no relaxation in the rhythm section either, thwacking electro-beats work with tripping cracks, pings, throbs and ocean-sparkles from the drumkit. A 5-string bass adds deep but edgy nudges and string-stretching booms. Brenda's not offering a moment's peace.
Nothing is straightforward with Brenda. When you think you've got the measure, you're surprised by an ocean of juddering beats, an antsy blues introduction, and a jerky jazz number with vocal scatting. To describe the band as dynamic would be a gross understatement, these guys groove with everything they do, they just can't stop moving. The show closes with a mad whirl of guitar fx and a layered chorus of "oohs". When Brenda goes bump in the night, you want to be there.
Fri 28 January 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Inescapably infectious skate-metal with complexity and brainpower.
Two-boy vocal exchanges are melodic and joshingly angry. Magnificent guitars involve niggling hooky intros, bright ringing chords, spangly and scribbly solos, and some grinding dual onslaughts resembling an out-of-control concrete mixer. Speedy grunt-bass melodies climax in pure thunder. Deeply bassy percussion delivers explosive crunch-ups. And their signature seems to be accelerating to a rock-out at the end of each song. Lyrics appear reflective: "What does it feel like?"; "Taking apart all of the things that I know"; "I will not ask for answers, I will not tell a single soul"; and "You could take this all away". This is what Green Day would have sounded like ten years ago, with added Sugar to thicken the guitar grind, and a Placebo to up the angst level.
Brigade are a superb punk-metal outfit. After about 3 songs I just plain loved them. Punchy, urgent, playful and perfectly performed - but more important, a massive guitar mosh around. If Brigade don't become massive, it can only be down to seriously bad management or a seriously bum record deal. They're on their way.
Broken Summer Soundtrack
Wed 24 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Dreamily pretty post-rock soundscapes.
One 15-minute progressive piece and a handful of vignettes from these sonic sculptors. The longer piece is a pair of growing and fading storms, each a brief squall rather than a hurricane. Guitars chime and nibbles, finally producing a jangling solo in the second crescendo. Insistent bass defines a fresh key every two bars. Percussion comprises deftly controlled drumming brought to a military climax, with intervals of xylophone tinkling in the introduction and the lull. In the shorter pieces, there are guitar juxtapositions between high capo jangling and gentle low melodies, plus reverby birdsong, passages of e-bow infinite sustain, bass rumbles, galloping drums, and clever percussive combinations like xylophone and sleighbells. There are no vocals.
The overall feel is of an extended Steve Hackett composition, or better, a proggy Cocteau Twins without Liz Fraser.
Broken Summer Soundtrack play music for musicians. It's evocative rather than direct and contemplative rather than exciting. The progressions are slow, but they hold your attention, and the combination of sounds - particularly guitars - is quite beautiful. Gods of Magog. Inspired.
Wed 18 June 2003 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Furious female led post-punk in the manner of the Breeders without any of the balladry or calm.
The male drummer hides behind 3 guitarist girrrrls, who between them jump manically from tuneful purrs to raucous screams and dreamy sustain and pedal effects to wildfire finger-picking guitars. Scarily, the lead guitar crosses the Skids bagpipe sounds with the jangle pop of Josef K.
Female might is right.
Wed 19 November 2003 Up All Night @ Buffalo Bar
Urgent femme fronted punks.
The obvious comparison is Hole, but English-as-foreign language and the deep sultry singing are reminiscent of Drugstore, and the occasional quirky judder-timing is pure PJ Harvey. There is a wonderfully coarse and open texture about the sound which allows the guitar's skittish strumming and sustain solos to shine through. Lyrically, this is personal and social observation, catchy enough for the song "Sign of my life" to stick with my from an earlier gig. There's a hint of sister-power here on the joy of male company: "You just bring me down".
Bugfly have healthy dose of the atmospheric blues-punk of Harvey and Nick Cave - Bad Seeds, but with the speed and curious everyday observational style of The Kinks. Melodic, but way off the beaten track.
Thu 12 August 2004 @ Hope and Anchor
Remarkably twenty-first century sleaze in a Stonesy rock 'n' roll 'n' blues work-out.
The vocalist has an exquisitely grimy blues bellow, and adds a classic mouth-organ burn for good measure. Together with two fellow axemen, he gives us the true sound of guitars colliding - chords from the gutter, swanky pedal effects, and complex cowboy stand-offs/ shoot-outs. Bass is ousted from the mini stage to deliver direct rock 'n' roll deliberations from the floor. Drums are a steadying snare-whacking affair that stutter and skiffle as required, with the bonus of a guest tambourine player. The titles are as rock 'n' roll as you'd expect, well tried ideas like "Disease" and "Come and get it". Bullet Train represent stiff competition for Canvey Island's Doctor Feelgood or Australia's Beasts of Bourbon, with the addition of a good few years of twenty-first century dirt.
London's pubs have blues-rock spilling from every stage and oozing from every cellar, but Bullet Train are the genuine article. No need for debates about the relative merits of Stones or Beatles either, they draw happily from both reference points. Their last song could almost be "Tomorrow Never Knows". Songs maybe laidback or breakneck, but they're always gutsy. Bullet Train may not be highbrow, but they are amongst the highest quality blues rockers you will encounter.
Sat 22 November 2003 @ Hope and Anchor
Melodic art-punk of the highest quality.
Initial impressions are of a driving bass, clever wheedling guitar, and light vocal harmonies over staccato drums and crashing cymbals - sounds of Television, XTC, The Cure's year of "3 Imaginary Boys". Extra quirkiness quickly feeds in with the Fall-styled "Case History" (pronounced almost Kay-sir Hiss Toree-ah). And the Pilots then move on to modern post-punk comic verse in the idiom of Montana Pete and Joeyfat. As a finishing touch, keyboard backing appears for the final songs to raise us towards the off-kilter dreaminess of Air. Core set up is: guitar/ lead vocal; bass; drums/ backing vocal.
The Burning Pilots produce modern pop-art. Andy Warhol - radar screen - can't tell 'em apart at all.
Sun 1 August 2004 UK Antifolk Festival @ Buffalo Bar
Dylanic balladry focussed on relationships.
Buzfuz (sometimes Sergeant Buzfuz, sometimes Joe Murphy) plays solo, one man strumming determinedly on a semi-acoustic guitar. Tales of drugged up holiday romances: "The DJ was playing Phil Collins, Depeche Mode and the Farm. He looked like Noel Edmonds, he was waving his arms". Stories of happily lost loves: "Your dress is creased; the monkey with you's greased; he walks like a man, but he talks like a beast". Songs on unhappily lost love: "I didn't even know my name, but you were inside my brain". Dirty women: "If you want someone to borrow your pants and return them unwashed". Social conscience: "The wheels of industry crack-deal ths skies; the television will not be revolutionised" And the first cover I've ever heard of Robyn Hitchcock's "1974". Excellent.
Sergeant Buzfuz is the executioner's Billy Bragg. The dark wit and acute obserevation of Aussie folksters Mick Thomas and Robert Jackson. A big daddy of UK antifolk.
Thu 31 July 2003 @ Spitz
Patrick Byrne playing in a haunting and passionate piano-guitar four piece.
Consummate indie rock, a pretension-reduced take on Radiohead. Or, if you prefer, a sophisticated take on the Coldplay/ Travis genre. Byrne rock out and chill out in equal measure. At the core of this is an enormous cigarette-blasted, whiskey-sodden, lost-love sadness. Piano breezes through majestically, whilst guitars add huge washes and intricate wires. Byrne fronts with vocal, electric piano, and regular switches to guitar. Accompanied by guitar, bass/ synth/ backing tracks, drums.
Byrne dumps on the mainstream stadium rockers from a great height. He has apparently been taken to the (no 1 chart) hearts of Eastern Europe and Australia. So why not Fool Britannia? Miss out on Byrne, and you’re a donkey.
Fri 18 June 2004 The Queen is Dead @ Borderline
Glorious glam inspired by seventies rock heroes.
C33X are fronted by a chillingly cool and understated female blues vocal. Glammy guitar chords are married to oozing solos that glow with (Mick) Ronsonesque white heat. Keyboard can be a soft organ or an Aladdin Sane toy piano. Decisively funky bass provides deep underlying melodies climbing up and down the scales. Drums are neatly damped and full of prog-rock tempo changes. Backing vocals pick up the spirit(s) with lots of honky-tonk "Nah, nah, nah" responses.
The songs are the mix of dryness and surrealism you might expect from a seventies glam-rock tribute. "Fortune teller told me I was wasting my time"; "I know I've made mistakes but I know that I've made them… Well"; and "From a cut glass figurine". A fine homage to Moonage Daydream is dedicated to the Hampstead Bowie wannabe (not BG surely?) - it's called Alligator of course. But this isn't a Bowie cover-band by any stretch of the imagination. Surely there never was a song so indebted to Lynard Skynard's "Sweet Home Alabama" as C33X's "Never Mind". And the whole set-up echoes the cabaret style of Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
That set-up is: female lead vocal/ semi-acoustic guitar/ keyboards; guitar/ keyboards/ male backing vocal; guitar/ female backing vocal; bass/ male backing vocal; drums/ male backing vocal.
C33X do not simply make the mid-seventies come alive, they bring the sound of the seventies into the 21st century. Their coup-de-grace is the closing "There's only so much we can do for you"; they surely do as much as you could wish for. Making love to your ego never felt so good.
Wed 17 March 2004 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Epic female-fronted glamrockers.
Lead vocals are good natured raunch, between Debbie Harry, Hazel O'Connor, and the metaphorical rock chick who works in the Virgin Megastore. Drums are understated drivers, with melodic bass bounding along on top, and a pure seventies swell of syrupy drugged-up guitar. Keyboard parts, when added, are gloriously pompous baby-grand. Lyrically, it seems pretty space-cadet - themes like "Free love", "We're obscure objects of desire", and "We can only do so much for you". Bowie, Roxy Music and early Ultravox all spring to mind as precursors. Set up is female lead vocal/ keyboards, guitar/ keyboards/ male vocal, guitar/ female backing vocal, bass/ male backing vocal, drums.
An affectionate take on the seventies which reads as a joyous tribute rather than a silly parody. Lady Stardust and the Memories of a Free Festival.
Captains of the Citadel
Sun 4 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Primal folk-funk blues-punk from the four prodigies.
The Captains' focus is the amazing bluesy David Gray singing. The voice is complemented by frighteningly squally guitar, funked-up bass and jazzed high-intensity drumming. Lyrically, there are moments of pure poetry: searching titles - "Whatever it is"; towering lines - "The rooftops of your burning house of passion". The Captains' sound is almost a hybrid of The Ramones and Nirvana fronted by Robert Plant. Set-up here is: lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ backing vocal; guitar; drums.
A&R men! Get your cheques out for the Captains of the Citadel. These guys are very very special. Young, accessible, tuneful, good-looking punk-poetry. Shits on Busted.
The Carbon Plan
Thu 18 November 2004 @ The Garage
Supercharged punky-pop tunesmiths.
The set opens with a searing synth wail and explodes into a manic melodic attack. The pace is set by rollicking drums and thundering bass tunes, whilst twin guitars add an air of brightness: spangly chords, punky chops, bluesy squidges, ambulance chasing lines that shimmer and sparkle. Vocals are a joyous mass of melodies and harmonies, with forays into minor keys to add to the sense of urgency. Lyrics spread the joie de vivre; aside from "I can't decide what you want from me", messages include: "Hello, hello, you are the one I wanted"; and "Life is for the living, I want a little bit extra. I want and I want, and I want and I want, and I want and I want, and I want and I want… I wanna get stoned". It sounds a bit like Terrorvision versus Teenage Fanclub.
Carbon Plan write grand guitar pop with a sense of fun, energy and humour. Nothing especially unusual or challenging to the ear. Just a manic pop thrill.
Sun 27 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Grungey punk mix of attitude and joy.
Deft vocal melodies in Dave Grohl style and spirited backing harmonies plus false falsetto responses. Complementary guitars, hitting the chorus with the same chord sequence at a diiferent pace, and leaving the verse for the lead to deliver dirty spangles, measured fx, and occasional rock heroics. Bass produces disturbingly deep melodies. Stand-in drummer is an imprssive all-rounder [apparently, due to an accident unloading the gear, their regular drummer is injured]. Songs can be cuddly or gnarly. "She's got a picture of you". "We all die in the end". And the curiously old-man blues (I think) of Teenage Scum: "I want what I want, what I want, what I want, what I want, when I want, when I want, when I want, when I want" etc. The sound falls somewhere between Green Day and Queens of the Stone Age. Line-up is first vocal/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar/ second vocal, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
Carbon Plan play fine punky sounds with passion, wit, and half-an-eye on a big stage. Their classic anthem "God bless America, God help the rest of us" would be a fine MTV-friendly sound to stir the minds of the Busted generation. Quality. Wye aye, man.
Sat 24 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
4 piece Aussie fronted psych-rock drenched in 60s retro.
Some excellent guitaring with chords recalling the mystical east, wah-wah effects to die for, glammy Mott the Hoople chords and kinky disco riffs. We have a pair of vocalists that could almost be Glen Tilbrook and a whispering Chris Difford (both of Squeeze). Some of the lyrics seem a bit throwaway, and some thoughtful. "I don't feel happy because I'm starting all over again", "I get a feeling inside.. This is my time", and "Sometimes you know you've gotto agitate your mind… Sometimes you know you've got to satisfy your mind". Set up is first vocal/ second guitar, first guitar/ second vocal, bass, drums.
The nearest comparison OT can come to a sound like these guys would be The Animals of "Don't let me be misunderstood" era. But The Animals were in a league of their own. Cassalis niggle by re-inventing close to the point of plagiarism. Their "Something about you I just can't explain" is a very close approximation to 70s song Driver's Seat (Sniff 'n' the Tears). But they are forgiven for also inventing Gaytonbury Festival (Gayton Road is a street in NW3) for those of us too technologically or financially challenged to get Glastonbury tickets. It's all a bit old-hat, but they're dry, witty and fun.
Mon 3 May 2004 @ Barfly
Sonic terrorism from these Brighton punks.
A 20-minute set, but they pack in a couple of numbers that aren't from their CD, including a bit of glammy stomp-rock. And this remains mostly trademark Castro territory. A droning sub-vibrato wail of a vocal that manages against the odds to be expressive and musical. Rapidfire guitar side-swipes. A pummelled spped-bass. Cymbal-crash, snare-crack and bass-thunder drumming. Lyrically, Castro are as dour and threatening as ever: "Oh my God, is there something wrong?", "I'm the reason why you came here on your own" and "Oh my sugar, why do you look so sad". Line-up is lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ backing vocal/ tambourine, drums.
The only point of playing rock 'n' roll in the twenty-first century is to take noise somewhere it's never been before. Castro take noise somewhere it's never been before. The unmissable unforgiven.
Wed 13 August 2003 @ Dublin Castle
A post-rockin' wall-of-sound, blending Bob Mould on speed with the low density musing of a pensive Sonic Youth.
Staccato stream-of-consciousness vocals, crammed-in Dead Kennedys style. Bass playing must rank as some of the fastest ever seen, assisted by audacious use of a mike stand (I can't explain, go look for yourself). Typically, this is a short set, but just feel the quality. Economical line-up too: guitar/ vocal, bass, drums. Nothing wasted, nothing spare.
The motown of the post-punk world, with an undercurrent of barely suppressed anger. I know, I fuckin' know, you must see them now.
Fri 8 July 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Understated vocals and shoegaze guitar antics wrap around chopping and shuffling rhythms.
This is an unusual indie agenda, not comfortably within the ambits of shoegaze or campus rabble-rousing. Drums rustle and trickle, judder and crack - no stomping anthems anywhere. The bass sound is big but gentle, nudging and thrumming hooks that steer without dominating. Even the voice is cheerfully subdued, low-key asides, a subtle melody half spoken and half purred.
The spacious texture is provided so the guitar can weave its magic freely. Sustain that rears up and soars, pinging strings bathed in reverb, scrabbling strings that mellow to a shimmer, solo jangling that bubbles exuberantly or weaves intricate twists. So much activity and delay, you seem to be listening to three guitars rather than one. You never get the drifting and impregnable fog that's typical of shoegaze. There are always discrete guitar lines to follow, that goad you unresisting into the torrents, falls, swirls and pools of the rapids.
Ceiling defy simple explanation. The heat-haze of guitar invites you to the era of Ride, the subtle groove is from the Spiritualized bible, the shy playfulness is Finlay: but (vocal aside) they remind me of the Blue Aeroplanes more than anyone else. Despite the focus and complexity of the music, you can't help but feel they spend a lot of rehearsal time monkeying around - even the name Ceiling seems to be an ironic reference to the shoegaze tag. All the same, the performance is more wistful than whimsical: a self-effacing band playing music that is unforced and calmly persuasive. A dreamy mirage of merry melancholia.
Mon 20 February 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Nineties electro-baggy with hefty post-punk roots. Either they're on something, or my drink's been spiked.
The sound of the Cells mutates and divides so quickly it's near impossible to encapsulate. There are a couple of constants though. Constant #1 is the Pete Hook bass-style, stamping its command on the tunes. Brick-tonning drum density seems like it's set in, but slims to a light trippy beat. Guitar travels from harsh clangs to fuzzed-up needling, to fx chews and the strange world of violin-voiced slides. Then it disappears. Vocals throw you around to Kelly Jones bluesers, fly-off into Bryan Ferry warbles, and then jettison into helium falsetto. Keyboard and synth are almost ungraspable, a Telstar treacle-dragon soars, a kraftwerk modem-link beeps and squiggles, a prehistoric pigeon chirps squidgily, piano-bells peal, staccato organ strikes jangle, droning pipes didg and doppler. So that leaves constant #2 - entertainingly clever lyrics. Ok, one song is introduced as an account of extreme paranoia, and you just know a lot of the words emerge from being stoned, but they work: "You're killing me from within"; "Why won't you step into my world?"; "Have you ever had a conversation in your head - but the words are not yours?"; "If I can't have you, no-one else will… you're just like me, we see in black and white… you're fuckin' with my head and I can't stay still"; and "I can't hold back the tears, though I've been doing that for years". Somehow, it feels like 1994.
The Cells have gathered up genetic material from all over the scene: Joy Division, New Order, The Beloved, Super Furry Animals, Nirvana, Leftfield, British Sea Power - put that in your pipe and smoke it, fly one minute, plummet the next. Angsty balladry that makes Coldplay look like petulant toddlers is suddenly bounced for 2 minutes of instrumental electro-groove. I was blown away by The Cells show, and not in the Cobain sense. But you can't help thinking that there is, in fact, more black than white. Do you hate what you are?
Thu 10 March 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Palatable and unpretentious countrification.
Vocal is open and direct, almost falsetto at times, gently drawling a sweet tune, with close harmonies and ooh-aah by-lines from the backing. Guitar gives out circulating semi-acoustic lines and catchy chord sequences, traded briefly for Formbyesque ukulele strumming. Bass digs you slow gentle nudges. Drums are artfully brushed, dabbed, trickled and smacked. Lines tackle relationships with vehicles and relationships with women: "The twenty-four wheels turn and drive to the south, one too many truck-stop meals leaves a bad taste in my mouth"; "You're the one who makes her smile, and makes her cry and laugh a lot"; and "Treat me badly, so I wouldn't mind, cos I love you madly, so I wouldn't mind". Then the ukulele song, about the extra pulling power that lead singers and guitarists have: "What you need's a good old-fashioned man". To compare these guys to Neil Diamond seems cruel, and musically Bread would be nearer the mark: on the other hand, Bread were joyless, and Central Reservation are genuinely (if gently) amusing.
Central Reservation aren't coat-tailing in the Scouse Psych scene, they're a pub-friendly country band with sights apparently set on Radio 2. To me, Central Reservation are too laid back to be exciting, but they occupy the middle of the road perfectly. Because the world is a roundabout, it turns me on.
Thu 20 May 2004 @ Bull and Gate
New Lad rock - The Changes should be called Travasis.
I feel I should point out the clear melodies of the emotional vocal, the autumnal lead guitar swirls, the warm chords, the tunefully angsty bass and the dramatic drums. And these things do glimmer through the aggressive treble frequencies. Now, swallow down a handful of the words. "My light shines on now you're gone… sunshine on my body's all I need". And "I'm gonna be with you one day, if I have it my own way". There's a wonderful title "11:11 Wigan - St Helens", which I desperately wanted to be about - or even an allusion to - a rugby match. But it seemed to be Healyish squish about separated lovers. The villains of the piece are: lead vocal/ guitar, guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drum/ backing vocal.
The Changes must be New Lads, they're even sporting blond highlights. The brilliance of the Changes lies in their perfect merger of Travis's "Writing to Reach You" and Oasis's "Wonderwall". The awfulness of the Changes lies in their perfect merger of [etc etc]. It's a taste thing. And what's a wonderwall anyway.
Thu 4 Dec 2003 @ Buffalo Bar
Wonderful experimental 4 piece mixing electronics, repetitive beats, staccato vocals, weird intervals, cool jazz guitar and feedback-laden violin.
The Chap feel like Wire - gentle percussive openings build up to a sonic crescendo via a set of progressive tweaks to the initial theme. But there are almost constant vocal echoes and harmonics in the build-up, based on simple poetry rather than the impenetrable Wire lyrics, stylistically closer to Laurie Anderson: "Everyday I will go jogging in Clissold Park… Every day I will bake a cake… Everyday, when my boyfriend comes home, I will ask 'How was your day at work?', and 'Why don't you hit me back - And why don't you hit me - Back and why don't you hit - Me back and why don't you - Hit me back and why don't - You hit me back and why don't - You hit me back and why - Don't you hit me back and - Why don't you hit me back?'". Musicians are: vox/ guitar; vox/ bass/ guitar/ violin; female vox/ keyboard/ synth; drums/ keyboard/ vox.
The Chap's combination of simplicity, clever clever overlaps and whimsical delivery is utterly addictive. Ra Ra Ra Ra rather than Da Da Da.
Tue 17 June 2003 @ Metro
Articulate rock and rollers.
A short but intelligent set. The core of this is a female vocalist with the combination of superior sneers and little girl lost you’d associate with Nancy Sinatra, Courtney Love and Tanya Donnelly. There are some off-kilter sounds and beats, and lyrics of social critique, dealing, for example, with the ‘me me me’ generation.
Way way more than zero (apologies to Brett Easton Ellis and Costello).
Sat 17 January 2004 RoTa @ Notting Hill Arts Club
Stilted beats, fulsome motor boom bass (Stranglers' Burnel grade), guitar minor chords both rounded and jarring, soaring lead guitar reveries. All overlain by a blues-rock scream worthy of Captain Beefheart. Lyrically, either surreal or impossibly existential: "It didn't happen" rants the twenty-first century Don Van Vliet. The beautiful sound of an impending LA inferno, with 50 emergency trucks dopplering around the one way streets and freeway ramps as they try to home in on the blaze. Set-up is vocal/ guitar; guitar; bass; drums.
Charlottefield are urgent and compelling. Essential ingredients of the post-modern noisescape.
Sat 12 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Accelerated ska punk madness.
Lovely stuff. A staccato vocal onslaught with shouty melodies, plus backing coos of "aah-aah" or barking responses. Tight jangle-strum guitar. Bouncy bass tunes. A controlled drum explosion. Stream of slogan lyrics: "It's all the wrong way round here", "Such a loser" and "You know it gets right up my nose". I'll bet it does.
Cheenah play like a hyperactive version of The Beat. Quality stuff. I'd like to get them on a bill with The Starts. Sound as a pound.
Fri 22 September 2006 If You Don't Mind? Pure Groove Records night
@ Archway Tavern
Awkwardly catchy and anthemic indie perfection - with free food.
The voice cries out in anguish or wails and chews with passion, pure Tom Verlaine. Drums open with harsh racing cracks and move into wildly over-powered Joy Division metronomics. Irresistible bass hooks thrum, rumble and pump.
Visits to the beer-crate mounted synths and keyboards fronting the stage produce squeals and squiggles, high speed corn-popping, chiming beats, whooshing squirts and spacecopter swirls (yes physicists, I know you couldn't actually create a spacecopter). Guitar skitters, slices and strikes ever faster at chords, solos siren and chime, layers of jangling and twanging reverb generate beating harmonics. At the climax, the frontman and the drummer trade lines in rap and a splurging synth slews across pitches.
I have no idea what the Chow Chow message is (apart from 'eat these pizza wedges'), but the musical peak combines the glee of The Pixies 'Debaser' and the lurking malice of Bauhaus' 'In The Flat Field'. Throughout, there's strange competition between the urgency of an Ash, the synth drift of a Spiritualized and the choppy anthemics of a team of Kaiser Chiefs.
Just as we prepare to escape, synth takes over completely from guitar, and shoots them to a world of Pop Will Eat Itself and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. All we need now are the Soupdragons and a Beach Boys cover. Grub's up. Most excellent.
Tue 6 April 2004 Club Fandango @ Dublin Castle
Garage punk 'n' roll.
Guitar and bass take traditional rock n roll stylings at an unbelievable pace. Drums are over-enthusiastic on bass and high-hat, but how else to play it, eh? The vocal mix between melody and wailing-drawl is pure Bowie-Ronson Queen Bitch. Superficially, this is an emulation of Strokes material like "Last Night", but it's in a tradition that goes back at least to The Damned's "Neat, Neat, Neat". There's a curious version of Adam and the Ants' "Deutsche Girls" in there, and lyrics seem to tumble into self-abasement and abuse of others: "Can't say I'm a big lover, but what the fuck?" and "Hey baby, I want you… yeah, baby, I could give a shit". Set up here is: lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ backing vocal, drums/ backing vocal.
OK, I know that sounding like the Strokes in 2004 seems a bit like plugging an Oasis-sound in 1999. A well-ploughed furrow becoming rather barren. But C-Jags are wide-ranging, leftfield and lyrical. Music for pleasure.
Wed 2 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Awesome 12 piece combine blues rock, big band and trad jazz sounds.
This is so far off the OT mental map it's hard to know where to start a description. Seb conducts affairs, looking (and sounding) a little bit John Otway, barking out occasional blues lyrics of the "oh yeah" and "all right" variety, and wielding a semi-acoustic guitar from which he wrings punk flamenco and and Ry Cooder blues. Bass rocks 'n ' rolls, drums are light touch rhythm makers. True to tradition, this is a genuine ensemble effort, focussed on the massive output of a 6-strong brass section alongside electric guitar and a pair of keyboards. Also in tradition is a series of showcase solos, although Bull and Gate sets are not long enough to showcase them all. Moments include fairground organ, mellotronic underwater keyboard seething, and the biggest, biggest and most beautiful saxophone you've ever seen (the sax player wasn't bad either). Think of every bit of blues with horns you've heard. Say Blues Brothers, The Commitments, Dexy's Midningt Runners. Multiply fourfold, and add the little jazz knowledge us philistines have - say Ronnie Scott [ed - "we philistines"]. You might be getting close. But "Minnie the Moocher", "Oh, Geno" and "Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" is kid's stuff compared to this. Personnel - as you'd have figured, comprise Seb on semi-acoustic guitar/ mouth organ/ vocal/ conducting, electric guitar, bass, 2 keyboards and the 6-strong brassmen.
The most magical event OT has witnessed at the Bull and Gate. Seb has nothing if not brassneck. "Somehow I just couldn't make it home".
The Cleo Whip
Wed 18 February 2004 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Haunting lo-fi groove.
Subtle sub-jazz drums, evil pumping JJ Burnel bass-lines (Stranglers), scratchy guitar, one-note-wonder keyboards and beautifully sung waif-like melody and harmony. The lightness of Belle and Sebastian with the groove of new-era Julian Cope. Lyrically, it seems like a bit of an existential nightmare. "I have an extra head" (apparently) and "What you don't believe in can't hurt you". Formation is female lead vocal/ keyboards, guitar/ keyboards/ female backing vocals, bass, drums.
The Cleo Whip bring you dance grooves, sinister noises and a fey attitude - all together. Shake your bootee!
The Cleo Whip
Sat 6 September 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Spacious bass-driven surf rock from this 2 boy/ 2 girl combo.
Reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian, The Breeders and (gulp) New Order - all at the same time. Beautifully sung, and accompanied by frantic guitar strumming, wild scale-climbing bass, choppy drums plus occasional simple keyboard patterns. What it means is beyond me… "My destination is a vacation". Uh-huh. Formation is: female lead vocal/ keyboards; guitar/ female backing vocals; bass; drums.
High powered pop really doesn't get much better than The Cleo Whip. Wonder-fuel.
Thu 8 April 2004 Club Fandango @ Bull and Gate
Cool vaudeville punk.
The waily vocal lies somewhere between a younger Robert Smith and the Violent Femmes. Drum rhythms and insitent driving basslines capture the intensity of Joy Division. Guitar beautifully mixes sound-squalls, two note solos and punky flourishes. Lyrically, its full of enjoyably sneery poetry, which OT failed to write down except for "Suck. A lone stranger". Unembellished set-up is lead vocal, guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums.
The Colony modernise the arty punk of Magazine by adding an almost metal Placebo rant. Crisp clear rock n roll angst. No fluffiness. A wondrous band. In The Colony's words "You're lethal". They are.
Sun 13 November 2005 VF Loud Alldayer with Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records @ Bull and Gate
Feel: sex on the beach.
Vocal: come to bed and expect to die a tiny death.
Guitar: vicious scratch and twang.
Drums: concrete in a food blender.
Lyrics: a murderous Poly Styrene.
Popstar factor: 100% - they're already stars, and the bloke's got a better jumper than me.
Familiarity factor: 80% - I know exactly what they're about, but wonderful chaos reigns.
Song count: hundreds.
Longevity: this decade.
IT factor: 100% hair coverage.
Antecedents: White Stripes, Winnebago Deal, PJ Harvey.
Quotable quotes: "I wanna be naked"; "You lay down… No, No, No".
Remark: this band have already put their own name in lights, and they are So Right.
Sun 17 June 2007 Big Note @ Hope and Anchor
Personal tales from the big city, rendered as steely twentyfirst century folk.
There are has no stories here about the former elysian joys of Albion, Liam writes almost entirely about life in London and… well, life with Liam. But it's a set that accurately reflects the edginess of inner London and young adulthood.
The venue has an early evening intimacy going on, an audience of fewer than 20, senses fixed on one man with a guitar and a voice. The soft strumming of the guitar grows agitated, to be displaced by vigorous jangling or hooky chord sequences that glide swiftly along the fretboard. The singing is similarly gentle to start, although expressive. Liam rapidly works up to anger and insistence, peaking with agonised cries.
Liam Cottrell stands apart from the wave of semi-acoustic toting singer-songerwriters. In his mix of cheeky social observation and infectious riffs you could find parallels with Damon Albarn, Nick Harper (although not the Roy of later years), and the turn-of-the-seventies incarnation of David Bowie. Even when he's singing about the trials of recovering from adolescence, he can still demand empathy from those of us who barely remember reaching 21. And when he's got over the introspection, he finds himself in a Hunky Dory mood, spray-canning the world in the colours of Andy Warhol. Get through the blues with Liam C, then go out together and paint London Town red.
Mon 27 October 2003 Noisestar @ 12 Bar Club
Mad changes of speed and direction combined with evil sounds, excitement and catchy melodies. Most of the material is instrumental, with sparse use of shouts that are occasionally recognisable as words. Cove lurch from tempo to tempo mixing demonic guitars and airy progressions. Energy levels recall early Manic Street Preachers. Formation is guitar/ vocal, bass (briefly)/ guitar (mostly), drums.
Rockfalls, avalanches and snowdrifts. So damned easy to Cove in, man kills everything (apologies!).
Sun 13 November 2005 VF Loud Alldayer with Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records @ Bull and Gate
Feel: a ton of bricks - Flettons to be precise.
Vocals: rare, bawled.
Guitar: It growls. It pounces. It kills. It thrills.
Bass: thrumming, grooving.
Drums: the extra special ingredient in a complex stew of chopped up jazz.
Lyrics: just about.
Popstar factor: absolutely none, and that's great.
Familiarity factor: 10%, it's always an adventure.
Song count: normal.
Longevity: again, jazz remains timeless.
IT factor: modest, not more than 20% facial coverage.
Antecedents: traces of Hendrix, Beefheart, Rock of Travolta, Princess Headbutt (ho ho), but primarily themselves.
Quotable quotes: "People disappear, Disappear, DISAPPEAR".
Remark #1: I am a pioneer, they call me perverted.
Remark #2: Cove wrote one of the ultimate post-rock pieces, but they're not playing it tonight - Abstemious Monks.
Michael J Coxx as Oh No Not Him!
Sat 12 August 2006 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
A spoof DJ set.
It seems that the Coxx trademarks are visor shades, tight tracksuit bottoms and obsessive hand movements (imaginary decks and rap gestures). His theme tune: "You're just a dick > you are, and you know it".
The lines are silly and they're supposed to be: "Check - check - check > mike check" and "Clean your act up and rinse your mouth out". Drum and bass backing comes from a lap top, seemingly hundreds of samples of eighties synth bands. Beats skitter, bass splurges and foghorns, there are chirrups, meteor-showers and twinkles, sliding pitch-shifts and arcade soundtracks.
For the finish, a female rapper provides back up. Coxx wows her with his oddball dance moves.
Michael J Coxx is entertaining to watch but you wouldn't want to listen to this at home. He sounds like a third rate Pitman or a one-trick Milk Kan. His own analysis - "Very avant garde, that". It's a belly-laugh joke, as is the rest of the set.
Sat 6 May 2006 UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club
Folk poetry for the big city.
The power of Crash is the simplicity and the lack of pretension. The voice a bemused enquiry, the mouth-organ in bluesy bursts, relaxed semi-acoustic guitar strumming rendered gritty by fx that chew, squeal and reverb. The current whacked-out observational anthems: "There ain't no superheroes no more"; "They're digging up the road, but they'll never find oil in my back yard"; and the homage to Wetherspoons "Work is the curse of the drinking classes". Can't help thinking Wilde might have been there first.
JJ Crash has generated an unlikely mosh-pit led by Milk Kan, and it would be fair to say his approach is more everyman than intellectual - I'd go further, and risk more populist than punk. I've compared him to Patrik Fitzgerald before, but this is more teasing than sneering, a diffidence borrowed from Jake Thackeray. Not so much grubby stories as cautionary tales.
Sun 1 August 2004 UK Antifolk Festival @ Buffalo Bar
Amiable singer-songwriter strummin' away on a semi-acoustic geetaw. Picking gets intricate, but vocal style is so much throwaway drawl. Lyrics range from the direct to the twisted, but focus on the Bush war: "I ain't with you and I ain't with them" and "If I had somewhere to go, I'd build a road".
JJ Crash falls somewhere between the punk poetry of Patrik Fitzgerald and the wordy folk buffoonery of Jake Thackeray. Righteous sentiments and belly-laughs. Where's that bleedin' Esther Rantzen woman?
Creep Cult Murderers
Mon 28 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
An intelligent pastiche of death metal, grunge and emo.
The Creep Culters play that classic game of assemble-everyone's-favourite-rock-cliché that Mr Grohl does with his Foo Fighters. Everyone's cleverest and most-loved metal moments assembled as a showcase. But mostly rather less exuberant and joyful than the Foos.
Vocal is a bark so harsh you'd imagine the bloke's voicebox has been sliced up with a chainsaw. Bass runs wild, hounded by the forces of darkness, tunes bolting around like a cornered spider. Drums are an acrobatic explosion, the intensity and reverberation of a high speed underground train. Guitar is all techniques to all people. Chords rev and slash, strangely catchy subpopsongs constructed from demonically awkward chord sequences. Scurrying solos, lines of chewy sustain, and showy slides. At times, the singer grabs a guitar too, then guitars and bass fire up together, chugging that speeds up to a chicken run. Classic riffs are borrowed from Alice Cooper and Judas Priest. What the songs are about I have no idea, that chap might as well be speaking-in-tongues. Still, action speaks louder than words, and Creep Cult Murderers play louder than bombs.
Creep Cult Murderers are serious musicians but a fair proportion of their sounds are gloomy and inaccessible. They're at their best with two guitars, Sabbath war-pigs citadel-storming that moves into a thunder of clangs, squeals and thuds with a firework beat conclusion. All these classic sounds are shifted into minor keys, the technique used by Laibach for their awesome reworking of the Beatles' Yer Blues. Most of the set is too bleak even for my dark tastes, but they're brilliant at Neil-Innes-style affectionate parody. If you fancy evil interpretations of School's Out, Breaking The Law and Giselle - then Cult Creep Murderers are your band.
Tue 29 June 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Funky white hip-hop rock.
Vocal is an anthemic rock with a backing mix of melodic interjection and question-response arrangements. Funky guitars deliver spangly chords, solo repeat jingles and Cocteaus grade whale calls. Slapped bass gives complex bubbling and delicious dub. Keyboard can be a tinkling piano, a soaring organ, or a slippery synth splurge. Drums are a metallic beat generator.
The songs seem to focus on social- and self-critique. Simple soundbites - "Don't understand"; "Stand back, people get the message"; "I think I'm gonna make it". And some great conversations - "What? > Let me tell you the score > What? > You don't wanna know more?" and "Don't you wanna know? > Why? > Won't you let me know? > Why?". The sound is kinda Flowered Up (remember "Weekender"?) under the inluence of Eminem.
Players are: lead vocal; guitar/ backing vocal; guitar; bass; keyboards; drums.
Cthru27 are tapping into an excellent vibe of edgy cycnicism and dance. Groove with intelligence. Makes you question yourself… don't you just hate what you are?
Thu 19 June 2003 @ The Garage
Proggy post-rock 5 piece that brings grandeur to kitchen sink (or should that be kitsch and shrink?) drama.
Time Out refer to this as emo (whatever!) and featuring “visceral guitar” (erm, only cat gut here is on the violin). Vocals warble and keen like the youthful Kevin Rowland atop a sea of seething Cocteaus guitar, fantastic stilted beats, and a host of synth bleeps and squishes. Set-up here is that 1st and 2nd boy vocals share guitar and keyboard/ synth duties, there’s female viola, male bass and drums, and a 6th guest performer doing male vocals and undressing the 1st singer. In a venue notorious for its curfew, these guys also line themselves up for an impressive 3-song encore, and depart to a spooky loop of vocals, synth and viola.
This truly is 21st century rock. OT is awestruck.
Fri 30 September 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Thrashy goth metallers playing brilliantly written songs.
When d.monic go on stage, they must spend a good hour in the dressing room getting prepared. Four different black and white outfits, skeleton gloves, joker top hat, facepaint, black lipstick, you get the idea. But the music is neither zombie-themed nor silly. The frontman sings rather than grunting or screaming, sometimes an angry sneer, sometimes an anguished cry, sometimes leading an anthem. Guitars rev and scribble, steely needling solos. Bass throbs with evil as the drums race through a great sequence of broken times. Vibes of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Placebo, but without the ludicrously exaggerated bad-boy image.
The lyrics are bitter, twisted and spot-on: "Anything is what you need, anything as long as it's mine"; "God must be deaf, 'cos he never heard me talk"; "We tried so hard to become what we are, but became something else"; "Made all the mistakes over again, I need to burn my bridges" and "If you want it, I'd give it all, I'd take it all for you".
d.monic put on a great show, dynamic on the stage, whipping up a moshpit and a chantalong squad down below. Daft imagery and dark music, d.monic have plenty of tricks in the box, from thrashing complaints to stomping rockers to bleak lovesongs. Their merchandise even includes d.monic ties. Metal fans have more fun.
Daddy Long Legs
Sat 13 November 2004 @ The Garage
Quintessentially quirky English music-literate pop.
Vocals come courtesy of guitar and bass, who constantly swap lead and backing roles. In each case, lead acts the straight man of earnest tunes, backed by bogus falsetto and high whoops, until the two fall into well-rehearsed harmonies. Guitar is a melange of minor-key chord chops, manic scrawls, dark riffs, punky off-key solos, disco shafted licks, honeyed high solo-nibbles and pedalled Voodoo Chile blues. Bass mixes bouncy insistent tunes with meandering splodginess; this man takes affirmative action to the extreme - even his T-shirt screams "Mercy Fuck". The bass-guitar collaboration is impressive, they even lob in a little dub-reggae to give the ball some spin. Drums are assertively different, trippy and light or pummelling and heavy, a wonderful jerky sequence of accelerate: brake: reverse.
Lyrically, I spy an obsession with food: beginning with Soup of the Day (about the banality and joy of student life we surmise, their equivalent to That's Entertainment); moving on to "Today I got a tummy ache, it wasn't very nice… it's time to take some medicine, I lost my appetite"; and in the evening "I would have been alright if it wasn't for my appetite - bean supper". There are also classic non-culinary lines: "Giving up gracefully is something that I'm proud to be" Ever mutating and off the wall, Daddy Long Legs cover the ground from 10cc to XTC to Weezer, then plough it turf-side in.
Daddy Long Legs play eccentric pop songs with crankiness and playfulness, rock and blues flourishes, and lots of twists. Lo-fi, high quality, maximum joy. This is pop.
Daddy Long Legs
Tues 17 August 2004 @ Upstairs at The Garage
Engagingly clever mix of math rock, quirky blues and post-punk.
The two frontmen share lead and backing vocals, with extra backing from the drummer. Singing style is the slightly wayward but warm and jokey melody of campus rock. Backing can be wild - even falsetto - harmonies, or bizarre responses. The guitar is alarmingly versatile, groovy reggae, country twanging, funky licks, high speed blues solos, post-rock scribbles, and Brian May syrup. Bass is at the core of the tunes, the king of the bouncy castle. Drum beats are superbly mannered but utterly twisted. The songs appear to be about the spooky joy of everyday life. "It's not the lottery". "This is where the washing is". "All my friends sit around and drink all night". "Today I got a tummy ache, it wasn't very nice". There are philosophical moments - "I've gotta get away from here doesn't mean I don't want you near". But their highly popular closing song sums up the lyrical content - "I'm out of shower gel > STUFF > I've been using someone else's > STUFF". Daddy Long Legs write songs about stuff. Each of these musings is contained in around 3 minutes, but there's a sprawling range of prog-rockers, kooksters and grungers that seem to have pressed the Daddys' buttons. 10cc and Supertramp at the prog end, They Might Be Giants and Ween in the campus middle, Husker Du and Foo Fighters in the grunge gutter. Daddy Long Legs seem capable of culling a football chant from a Captain Beefheart song.
Daddy Long Legs are musically kaleidoscopic, very inventive, and very silly. They show off their skills, but the combination of variety and fun is enjoyable rather than pompous or esoteric. If the Daddy Long Legs were a foodstuff, they would indeed be a Minestrone served up with Parmesan cheese. Homemade, unpredictable, and highly flavoursome.
Wed 26 November 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Five-piece gothic rock with a glance at dance.
Vocals are part obscure warbles and part barking-raps - reminiscent of Hazel O'Connor. Lead guitar is in the Siouxsie and the Banshees idiom (John McGeogh if you like, but they had more guitarists than you could shake a stick at, including Robert Smith). Synth is programmed, but without the incisive electronic edge of Curve. Lyrics are largely lost in the weight of the cares, although the final chorus seemed to be "She's alright, she is all right". Um yeah, and she moves in mysterious ways too. Set-up is: female vocal; female guitar; lead guitar; bass; drums.
D'arcspire have a dark full-on sound, but seem to meander without ever finding a hook. Some girls wander by mistake, but these two seem to have done it deliberately. The sound of nail-varnish drying.
Mon 12 January 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Bouncing bass powers Darkphase along, with a guitar that mixes spooky chords and lonely plaintive solos. A bank of keyboards, synths and pre-programmed gizmos provide samples of speech as well as percussion and depth. The vocal is adequately melodic if a little wayward and characteristically flavourless. Lyrically, we're slightly into pompous existentialism here, but what else would you demand? "You'll never tame eternity", they warn. Darkphase take on the mantle of the early Cure or Sisters of Mercy, but subtract some of the brittle edge. Set-up is vocal/ guitar, bass, plus a pair on keyboards, synth and programmables.
Darkphase are promising heralds of the goth revival. There's a fire in the reptile incubator.
The Darling Reds
Wed 8 March 2006 @ Bull and Gate
The Darling Reds seemed to forget that their gear needed to be onstage and ready before the start time of their set, but their four-song set certainly leaves you wanting more. A little bit mod, a little bit ska, a little bit reggae. A voice full of Albarn-boy next door cheek, duelling guitars trade music slashes, Keith Moon drum energy. Anthems that are thoughtful and fun in a Members and Madness tradition, the sound of the suburbs suits me and it suits them.
Fri 15 September 2006 @ Bull and Gate
A bewildering rush of atmospheric and dance electro, with a backdrop of bizarre and apparently random visuals.
Alex and Steve are the busy duo on-stage, while an invisible third man operates projections from the back. You get an instant impression of something Devo-like from their orange jump-suits and stiff-limbed dancing.
The set opens with the plinking of a tiny ukulele-like instrument, soon switched for a sparsely scratched and strummed electric guitar. Later, a semi-acoustic is substituted, niggly twanging then a bizarre e-bow sound, punctuated sustain, short episodic dreams of flying.
The synth and keyboard generate a scary kaleidoscope of noises, trip and trickle beats, organ booms and squelches, popping and clunking white noise, the sound of a compressed air spanner unbolting stubborn nuts. Vocal is resolutely off-key, strange mutters just a semi-tone from a catchy tune.
The imagery is suitably jumbled, plastic sandcastle windcatchers, stuffed toys, scribbles of colour, a rural idyll, slow-motion action - the skittles tumble in a fifties bowling-alley, synchronised athletes are caught in groundhog. Title captions add to the confusion: 'Getting dismantled' and 'Two lovers at once'.
Suddenly, the Puddle builds from live atmospherics into a curious mix of ambient noises and rave. Special guest-star McDeath appears, and walks on imaginary water for their signature tune 'Do the jiggy jiggy'. Oddly hypnotic.
Data Puddle exist in a virtual world of their own. There is no conventional genre for this jerkily haunting sound, although odd artists spring to mind as holding a key to this or that moment, Bill Nelson (Be Bop Deluxe), Matt Johnson (The The), Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers), but mostly the Cherry Red noiseniks Eyeless in Gaza. [It didn't occur to me in September, but as I type this I'm listening to Hot Chip, and they're not a hundred miles from the Puddle]. Data Puddle are utterly unlikely pop musicians, yet intriguingly oddball to watch, and mesmerising to listen to.
David Cronenberg's Wife
Sat 6 May 2006 UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club
This is psycho-delic country with lyrics of top quality cheek.
The four wives (mostly males) bring along guitars, bass, drums, and occasional drifts of keyboard. The male vocal drawls and gabbles astride sweet female harmonies, the accompaniment twangs, slides, scribbles and bubbles - and an honourable mention is also due for a rash of punkabilly drumming. The songs are long drones of good-humoured misery, an odd hybrid of Velvet Underground and the Country Teasers. Words about a loveless relationship - "I bent to pick up a pencil, you stood on my hand". Words about a best mate going out with the woman you've been chatting up - "Something came between us, his big fat cock". Words about the jealous girlfriend as jailer - "Her truncheoning left me stiff".
David Cronenberg's Wife ought to be unlistenable, but they're not. The curmudgeonly growl of the music is beguiling, and the writing creates almost as many cringes as a scene from The Office. Cheesy it may be, but seasoned with herb and spices. David Cronenberg's Wife goes down well with Kronenbourg.
David Cronenberg's Wife
Sun 1 August 2004 UK Antifolk Festival @ Buffalo Bar
Rebellious country jukebox.
Electric guitars. Mini-keyboards on the floor. Sweet organ sounds. Bossa nova beats. Frantic strumming. Country twangery. Fake rebel drawl. And - yep - songs about sex. Introduced with statements like "If it weren't for pickpockets, I'd have no sex-life". On dating: "I'm gonna talk about F Scott Fitzgerald - but I'm gonna get his name wrong - and call him Scott F Fitzgerald - so I don't look too intelligent". On masculinity: "If you talk, I will name names. I love this sense of shame. I'm a man, I'm a man, I'm a man, I'm a man. With a cock in my hand". On forgiveness: "What would you say if I married you to get close to your teenage daughter? Would you say <that's just his way> and not shout at me like you oughta? Because I know you love me". Players are: lead vocal/ guitar; backing vocal/ guitar/ keyboard.
David Cronenberg's Wife play morally outrageous backwoods folk. Good. Gnarled up country-fried sounds. Could equally be called David Lynch's Wife.
Adam de Gruchy
Wed 5 April 2006 Peafish @ Purple Turtle
Adam and his two sidekicks may dress-down the old form, drag it into the desert and tie it to a clattering beat-up cart – but it’s still the blues.
Adam's vocal melodies are built from growls and drawls, the classical hurt contrasting with a backing duo that is harmonised halfway to barbershop. Starters are stripped down semi-acoustica, building to a Velvet Underground drift with purring bass lines and an organ-voiced melodica; the lyrical humour sure beats Lou Reed “I must have a rare sexy arse – because people always love me when I'm past".
When the electronics come to life the music is woven into a skiffling blues. Laptop generates chattering beats and reverb snaps, bass nudges, keyboard chews at a corkscrew hook, and Adam's guitar adds complex lines of twang: "But its had to keep holding on" they warn, as they make laid-back shuffling look as easy as join the dots.
Adam de Gruchy is and affable and confident performer, with a smile always forming. He's dubbed his band the Von Trapp family singers, and he claims that his outfit is so un-rock-n-roll that they eat chocolate rolls and use lipbalm before every show. For special effects, they have an exploding maraca which sends grit and sand smoking into the beam of the stagelight. And for a hefty close in honour of their place on a bill powered directly from the national grid, they bluster into some more country-hardtimes, with a harsh clattering beat. De Gruchy may not rock, but he certainly rolls.
Thu 22 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Serious musicianship from melodic indie rock 4 piece.
Occasional keyboards sound like classical piano. Lead guitar produces tiny spangling circlets and staccato disco chords. Bass is a gorgeous slap and tickle show off. Drumes are a multilayered portrayal of the elements of crashing thunder, pattering rain, rattling wind and padding snow. Vocal are a streteched David Gray wail with acres of false falsetto. Lyrcis were beyond OT - when each word is a few basr long, you don't wait for a whole sentence. Overall, though, this is an impressive array of Coldplay, Headswim and Radiohead sounds. Set-up is vocal/ semi-acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass/ keyboard, drums.
A successful combination of mellowness and rocking-out, without the cheesy boredom of Travis. The vocal style is over-the-top though, affected to the point of being annoying. What the hell is he doing here? He don't belong here.
The Dead Sea Sounds
Mon 27 March 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Sophisticated indie pop.
The substructure is a relentless drum bashing, almost mechanical, lots of standing for extra weight. At the next level, a bass line thrums, deep, simple, haunting. Keyboards provide rambling but hooky piano play, house repeats, organ that drifts, synth that chimes and stirs at the swirling dust. Guitar slashes upscale downscale, flickers glisten. There are two singers, both melodic, both with urgent thoughts to express. Some of the thoughts are original, some are well-worn: "I will actually be… thinking of me - And then I can be exactly who I wanna be"; "I never knew anyone, I never knew you, I never knew me… I never knew you'd do this to me… I wanna die twice, so kill me again"; "Did you ever listen to the words? Did you understand them, and did they hurt?", then ultimately "Could this ever be so futile?". The DSS mean what they say.
There's something end of the 70s - start of the 80s about Dead Sea Sounds. With all that punk attitude about, pop music had to flaunt grey cells or be consigned to teenyland. Dead Sea Sounds go with grey cells, the songwriting of Split Enz and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. I guess they must be students, they claim their audience from York, Bedford and Grinstead (?). I don't think the source of their inspirational current is crucial, mainstream music with a brain is something to cherish wherever it arises. Wake up and smell the salt.
Wed 7 June 2006 Peafish @ Purple Turtle
Bright guitar pop, witty, intelligent and bemused.
These are complex and busy sounds made to feel simple and breezy. Rhythms are direct, a strong hooky bass and pummelling drums. The play between the guitar sounds is de riguer, but also inventive - quality contests of chop vs jangle and fizz vs disco twangs, then utterly inspired moments of twin lead intricacy, tendrils of ivy creep up the rock face as rivulets of water trickle down. Singers alternate, but both are as smooth and cloud-headed as the Teardrop Explodes, wandering melodies and cheeky choirboy backing.
The lyricism is as busy as the music. Smiths-style tales of growing pains and alienation, strings of words running smoothly over turbulent thoughts: "Show me that I broke your tender spirit"; "If you don't stop now, I'll seal your lips together"; "The guys so cute, the boys so brute - I want too"; and "The world has died a selfish death, words can't help you now". There'll be blood on the cleaver tonight.
The Dead Spies are people you think you'd like to know. The student you chatted to on that train journey, the lad who found you the right batteries in the camera shop. You know they're clever, they know they're clever, but no-one's showing off. On stage, Dead Spies are comfortable without being arrogant, musically adept but still working hard for it.
Dead Spies songs draw on 90s sophisticates Divine Comedy, Pulp and James, without ever emulating or plagiarising. For comparisons on the pub-indie scene, I'd pick the summery diffidence of Ricky Spontane and the noir storytelling of Luxembourg. The choppy catchy music of now injected with real humour. The recruitment fair for the secret services is now officially open, come on down and join.
Sat 10 February 2007 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
Feisty 21st century blues'n'punk'n'roll.
Deadbeat Descendant make an impression the second they appear on stage. Dressed in black, clean cut and smart, this is a mean sixties look with a hint of villainy. The singer is all swagger and poise, he's got grooves, gestures and handclaps from the Jagger school for frontmen.
In love with melodies and snappy lines, Jagger-man wrestles great songs from barks, rants and megaphone diplomacy: "You ain't nothing but a haircut"; "The problem is we cannot breed - because our mortgages are far too high… please give generously to save the middle classes"; "I've got my East European lighter"; and "The rate at which everything decays". Watch out, it's getting faster.
These wry observations are rushed along by a bluster of choppy rock'n'roll. Drums rattle and stomp, and the bass bounds through compelling hooks. The guitar is the wildest card, with twangs and clangs, awkward string-frilling and frantic rearing strummery.
Given the origin of the name, I was expecting Deadbeat Descendant to be steeped thoroughly in the wonderful and frightening world of The Fall. Some of the sentiments and titles are straight out of Mark E Smith's scrapbook, but the delivery is far more instant and tuneful than the father of codger-punk. The sound and style reach back towards the dawn of the seventies, the Stones, the Who, even The Stooges. There are goth and punk pawprints too, The Damned's retro covers and cult heroes Department S. Most of all, the irony and the look are a blackened reinvention of the Kinks' early years. Whichever source you prefer, Deadbeat Descendant are intense and vital - urgent sounds, constant stage dynamism and midnight humour. Deadpan Ascendant.
Fri 26 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Delightfully Kraftwerk- and 1980s-influenced electronica.
Up to three keyboards and a cool Apple Mac laptop power the synthesised parts. Light percussive tickles, programmed bleeps, deafening organ, budum budum keyboards, space squeals and shimmering dynamic harmonics. Live drums, when present, focus on single cymbal and snare tapping. Vocals switch from bright female melodic twisting, almost Clare Grogan (Altered Images) and dark male poetry that is almost Teutonic. Lyrics seem cleverly inventive - "Are we ever together, are we ever close?" - and from a poem "Euro lorry drivers driving through the night… Spend two hours tuning into the static… Falling asleep at the wheel". A fine balance between early Human League and John Foxx, with a nod to 90's techno obscurities, remember Slab?
Deliberate are making electronica as it has not been made for some time, no guitars, no samples of guitars, and no ecstasy. Refreshing. Thoughtful. Waywardly melodic. Metamatic.
The Della Roccas
Wed 22 December 2004 @ Bull and Gate
A band cleverly poised between emotional floatiness and brash melodic punk.
The striking sound of the Dellas is the keyboard, part the bubbling tears of a gentle brook, part frenzied blues belter. Guitars are artfully broken scribbles (actually, the crackling sound is partly due to a broken lead, but it sounds good anyway), sharp chords and punky emergency-vehicle solos. The 6 string bass is powerful, and so big the poor chap looks like he can hardly hold it, but he breezes through the set on some groovily fret clambering jazz-funk tunes. Drums pack a bright crisp punch. Vocal switches from anthemic punky barks to sweet melodic sighs, with light "aaah-aaah" harmonies. Lyrics also cross styles from sixties psych to 70s/ 80s punk. Apparently "So many reasons why you should try to hold the night outside", "She's an animal", and "Viva Della Rocca, we'll show you something that'll shock ya". Impressive cut-ups of the Spencer Davies Group, The Cure and Aqualung.
The Della Roccas play a refreshingly varied set of quirky energy and calm contemplation. The piano blusters and boogies its way through the transformations without ever sounding twee. A Spanish stroll with a Quality Rioja.
Tue 22 June 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Intensely dark bad-ecstasy trance.
Delusionary are a duo sounding like a bad-ass electronic orchestra. Guitar produces metallic fuzz and declamatory sneer-solos. AppleMac directs proceedings, with prodigious dancey beats, Eastern European oppression marches, noodly Orb atmospherics, and grounded Inspiral organ melodies. Delusionary are a Test Department dirty-protest, a Hawkwind instrumental work-out, a Slab cornucopia of dance narcotics, a twat-reduced Prodigy compulsion.
Delusionary can be contacted c/o Mr Extremely Pissed-Off @ Megadog Dance Tent. And they enjoy being pissed-off so much, you just move with the groove. No verbal baggage. Just high-speed evil dancescapes. Cataclysmic.
David Devant and his Spirit Wife
Tue 20 April 2004 @ Lock 17 (Dingwalls)
Spectacular and whimsical glam cabaret from this 4 piece.
The tone is set by when long balloons are distibuted to the audience, followed by a film explaining how to twist a balloon into a sausage dog. Devant then appears behind a paper screen in silhouette, enacting the scenario of the opening piece, "How you saw me coming". The set continues with movies, placards and "body art", but this is secondary to the music. The guitars are a Ronsonesque mix of hippy strumming and spangle-rock lines. Bass and drums nudge away with a gentle Byrds-like insistence. Keyboards combine Hawkwind Space Ritual with fairground haunted house. And Devant's vocals (complete with "ooh-ooh" backing) sits in a line from Adam Faith through Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Pete Murphy (Bauhaus), and possibly Damon Albarn (in a non-pretentious Albarn moment).
The lyrics involve some of the best dry wit to be heard in pop. Outrageous deliberate silliness, like the Cluedo inspired "There's a body in the library, it's all tattered and bloody" and the wide-boy "I've got a boat, it's a yacht… it's not much, but it's what I've got". Music and lyrics can be unashamedly backwards-looking and derivative. "We've all been to Pimlico… you won't believe the things they sell there" appears to be both homage to Ealing Comedy and to Bowie's "All the young dudes". "Real world" could almost be a take on The Who's "I can't explain". This really is the cutting edge of retro showmanship.
Set up is lead vocals/ electric guitar/ semi-acoustic guitar/ keyboards (that'll be David Devant then), bass/ backing vocals, electric guitar, drums/ shoulder-strap keyboards. The drummer's bodypaint announces him to be Jono.
What can you say about a band that asks "Are you ready for the real world" by combining the diverse styles of songcraft from Burt Bacharach and Stephen Morrissey? And then move towards the close with a lullaby "Goodnight… sleep tight… don't let the bugs bite… oh baby, sleep tight". And then a finale of "We ain't never gonna prosper… and we're not even going to try".
The material is wry, beautifully literate in 60s and 70s pop, and pure tongue-in-cheek fun. At the core of the influences must lie Bowie's LP "Man who sold the world". This is sheer brilliance. I'd rather play here with all the madmen, for I'm quite convinced they're all as sane as me.
Sat 11 December 2004 @ Bull and Gate
An edgy post-rock foil to John Plant's essential South East London poetry.
Musically, this is a matter of spooky atmospherics beset by minor chords. Drums are dramatically stilted and firm, but gracefully understated. Bass thunders with equal aplomb through simple and complex tunes. Twin guitars generate bright chord splashes, twangy picking, circulating intricacies. And, from somewhere, there's a roving, whistling fairlight sound.
It's hard to snag meaningful samples of poetry from their context, but here are a few moments and images that appealed: "Is this how it begins - a young man runs down the street and won't stop until he destroys something"; "Eyeless and gasping"; "The fabric of desires"; "Recently she made me feel like a refugee, a very uneconomic migrant"; "Since I have leave to remain, all that remains is to leave"; "All flesh is glass"; "On the morning train, in the hangover of her dreams, none of the men will meet her eyes"; "I remember just before I stumbled, I was thinking about cluster bombs"; and "If you want some, I've got some". And there's more: slides showing the abuse of Islamic prisoners accompanied by an ironic and angry rendering of "We'll show you how to walk the dog", and a surprisingly effective version of Kraftwerk's "Through the looking glass".
At times, youth seems so self-absorbed, the only social commentary available is from those of us branded angry old men. Step forward, John Plant. The combination of gruff imagery and swirling rock is simply inspired. Many good bands tread these boards, but a show this essential is a rarity and a gem. This Diary is not just a record of the past, it’s a critique of contemporary society and contemporary music, and a warning about the future. The older shout of the arts.
Tue 3 August 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Self-indulgent industrial prog-rock.
Diastole comprise two guitarists, one of whom "sings", a bass-player, and a drummer. The vocal is largely processed into a blend of quiet menace and anger, obsessing about dreams and death. Guitars produce a bizarre sonic soup, laden with fx, grungy chords and Steve Hackett sustain, essentially a juxtaposition of roses and thorns. Bass captures dark complex melodies. Drums are a damped staccato affair awash with twisted tempos. Diastole are a band of 10 minute songs, passages of gentle portentousness, swirling vortices and towering crescendos. At its best in the realms of classics such as Holst's "Mars: the bringer of war". At its worst, like an under-edited Pink Floyd.
Industrial vocal aside, Diastole are a throwback to the 1970s. There are some excellent sounds, but the pieces stretch on to the point of biliousness. They are fine musicians, but probably more at home in an orchestra than a rock band. Quality prog-rock, but a taste I haven't acquired. On the dark side of the moon, no-one can hear you commit an axe murder.
Sun 13 November 2005 VF Loud Alldayer with Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records @ Bull and Gate
Feel: Jackson Pollock.
Vocal: hysterical wailing.
Drums: Ivor the Engine, a ferociously friendly train.
Keyboard: chewy Kraftwerk throbs.
Lyrics: fart, fart, fart, it's an Autofart.
Popstar factor: 10% - I really can't see it.
Familiarity factor: 90% - it's elemental.
Song count: 3.5.
Longevity: it fades in and out.
IT factor: 90%, one has almost complete hair coverage.
Antecedents: Jon Lord, Cozy Powell, TOTP1972.
Quotable quotes: breaking off mid-song with the cry "We've already played this song"; "I'm so clean when I feel so dirty - I'm so dirty when I feel so clean".
Remark: I'm quite sure they're not really Germans or fans of motorways.
Wed 6 April 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Shimmering lite-rock desperados.
Clever clever one-word titles: "Control"; "Landslide" and "Get out". A voice that snorts at the melody with an adenoidal drawl - that Richard Ashcroft (Verve) and John Power (Cast) style. Elements of semi-acoustic guitar slap'n'tickle, but it's mostly an electric duo, flourishes and super-sustain jangles. Bass adventure holiday is a plump action-packed pony-trekking tune. Drums are a solid and accurate plasterer, neatly shaped architraves and stippling wherever required. The sound is part Coldplay, part U2 (Un)forgettable Fire.
The Distance play effortlessly competent adult-oriented rock. What scares me is that the big audience of Bland FM is now the undergraduate age group, people from whom you would expect radical idealism and a desire to shift the axis of the planet. I have no idea what propositions were being expounded in this weak colourwash; I had slipped into a coma.
Fri 2 July 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Joyous cascading wall of rock.
Vocals are melodic bellows and occasional screams alternated between the two guitarmen within and between songs. Guitars are into high speed sparring chords, supersonic squiggle lines, slow melodic hooks, big jangles, and scaling the fretboard to heaven. Relatively speaking, bass deliberates lugubriously. Drum is a gigantic high speed crash, but following fairly traditional patterns. Add in some keyboard bursts and you have a sugar coated barrier with the timbre of a thousand church bells.
Who knows what the songs are about? I picked up a lots of cries of "Robert Redford" (?) and the line "And tonight we will dine in style". Line-out is first vocal/ guitar, second vocal/ guitar/ drums, bass, drums.
Distophia are effectively a post-rock Husker Du. Lots of noise, but essentially cuddly. They enjoy themselves on stage, especially when one guitarist pinches half the drum kit for the final piece. Like liquorice, sweet with a bit of bite. Keep 'em in a box along with all your other favourite things.
Sat 19 November 2005 @ Half Moon, Putney
Canvey Island's classic rock'n'roll outfit, brilliant ten years after Brilleaux.
I bought a few Dr Feelgood records back in the 1970s, then kinda forgot about them. No personnel left now from before the mid 80s, but three were Feelgoods with Brilleaux, and they rock like it's 1958. Guitarist Steve Walwyn is close to genius, guitar playing is in his veins. Those strings bend, stretch and sing. The man uses a wild metal slider technique that's almost more Purple than blues. Solos thrill like Johnny B Goode. The singer is a northeast lad, nothing Canvey Island here, but he does the business: drape coat and shades, cutting and scornful melodies, almost a ginger Graham Parker. Handy with a mouth organ too, used sparingly to trill, chew and warble. Bass is a classic cycle of cat-creeps, drums are a marshalling yard of beats that whisper, patter and crack.
It takes them just a handful of songs before they launch into their biggest hit, 'Milk and Alcohol', but much else is familiar too, including 'Ninety nine and a half just won’t do' ("got to have the whole thing"), 'Down at the Doctors' ("I just wanna shoot some rock'n'roll in your arm") and "I’m going down by the jetty before I leave this world behind". They don’t have a point to make, this is rock'n'roll for its own sake.
Dr Feelgood play real R&B as it was in the 1970s, a very English take on the sounds that inspired the Blues Brothers movie. The Feelgoods don't sound like other people, other people sound like Dr Feelgood. Sure, they’re part of a tradition encompassing Eddie and the Hot Rods, Graham Parker and the Rumour, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, but there are few youngsters who can produce blues-rock with half the panache. There are things about the set that weren’t my cup of tea - to me, a medley of the standards Bonie Maronie and Tequila is just cheesy - but they've apparently been doing it since 1975, so what do I know? The sound of another era or not, Dr Feelgood create bad man blues with an injection of promised land rock'n'roll. The Feelgoods are still cool as fuck.
William D Drake and Stars in Battledress
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". Drake produces a quirkily pastoral folk balladry with roots as diverse as Benjamin Britten, Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and Peter Gabriel.
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".
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.
Mon 10 May 2004 @ Bull and Gate
An inspired mix of grunge-rock and postcard pop-jangle.
Vocal with a Thom Yorke passion and a pop sensibility is backed by almost Byrds-like harmony. Guitars mix warm strummery with huge glittering bouquets of solos, and blues-lines with the pretentiousness ripped-out by being played at quadruple speed. There's a beautifully measured back-seat bass-punch moving this along, whilst keyboard mixes sunny Hammond sounds with assertive piano strokes and seething organ atmospherics. Drums are a crashing milk-float: just imagine those bottles falling down a mile-long cliff; and you don't get many kits with a 7" cymbal (or so… it's very crisp, dontcha know). Full of neat, dry, lyrical shrugs: "So guess again"; "And there you go"; "You wanted confrontation". High quality edgy pop. Set-up here is: first vocal/ guitar, guitar/ second vocal, bass, keyboard, drums.
One of the most wonderful gently cerebral pop-rock acts out of Scotland since Teenage Fanclub. This really is the age of Scotpop. Draw reckon "You don't wanna waste your time on us… 'cos you're the chosen one". Wrong. The meek shall inherit the Earth, and Draw shall be amongst them.
Drums Over Heaven
Sun 27 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Synthetic folksy guitar pop.
As they point out for the visually challenged, they have no drums. But they have have a drum machine that even pisses them off. The vocal is a Neil Young whine. The two guitars throw in gentle strumming and manana Spanish flamenquette. The most reliable element is a bass burbling away warmly. Lyrically, it's a dose of misery and unconvincing optimism. "This is how it's really supposed to be" (let's hope not)."Bad days will pass" (let's hope so). "I know that's how it's always been" (bizarrely, despite references to body-bags, this is the one that gets them up and dancing). At its best, it sounds like REM on a bad day, and at its worst, it makes the post-Stranglers solo work of Hugh Cornwell sound good. Line out is vocal/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar/ commentary, bass.
Drums Over Heaven are painful to listen to. Lord only knows where their audience come from. The songs are whingeing, the drum machine is all over the place, and the guitar is thrown out. The John Inman running commentary really doesn't help. When they sing "I know what you're thinking of", I'm sincerely glad they don't. Drums Over Heaven are plumbing the depths of awfulness.
Seth Faergolzia (of Dufus)
Sat 6 May 2006 UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club
Two Dufus players deliver cowboy-cowgirl wisdom and campfire singalongs.
The set opens bizarrely, Papa Lazarou with female accomplice, the sound of a tune-up, a strum and vocal scatting. "Have you figured out that this is the show yet?", he prickles. "I could just sit here and play this G-chord all night". Fortunately, he twists into mean semi-acoustic guitaring, and pours forth a skinny preacher's sermonising, whilst his partner lightly adds simple bass impulses and higher pitched harmonies. Advice if you're seeking a lover: "If you need someone, make sure they help you, not hinder you". Advice if you think you're losing a lover: "Why would she want you to be not you, if that's who she likes?". By now, we're turning into hippies (or woodcraft children), so there has to be a round of audience parts: "Water > drips down > we'll spread it > we'll burn fire". Don't encourage them, they'll start juggling.
Seth Faergolzia claims that the entire 12 Bar audience has now been inaugurated into Dufus, and I'd have to admit the audience participation works surprisingly well. More than that, a set that started like a curious culture clash between the White Stripes and Violent Femmes ultimately transforms into a stripped-down Fairport Convention duet, simple and soothing, male and female voices in harmony with guitar and bass. For this festival, Soho is the English Woodstock.
Thu 19 January 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Female fronted Japanese colourwash rock.
The singer is a tortured baby doll, she wails and warbles to the stars but it's perfectly pitched and thoroughly captivating. Semi-acoustic and electric guitars are picked with wonderful intricacy, you can hear the strings ping. Electric guitar flickers, semi-acoustic is awkwardly jangular with frilling almost finding a gypsy reel. Bass is upfront but dreamy, a gently rushing sequence of thrums and prods. Live drums set damped pumping beats against crisp and anxious patter with added weight from programmed sighs and crumps. For the encore all is stripped down to voice and guitars only. Simple beauty.
Echoville's name perfectly describes their sound. An archetypal 4AD styling, elements of Dead Can Dance, Tanya Donnelly, Cranberries and the Sundays. This is the musical expression of sunlight sparkling on a frozen lake as it slowly melts. Energy from the land of a dying sun.
Sat 5 July 2003 RoTa @ Notting Hill Arts Club
Shouty grunge and melodic post-rock balladry.
Self-styled purveyors of "rock-style music", Econoline deliver tonnes of barely contained anger, minor chords and spiky drums. Musical references are Husker Du and moments of Idlewild. Lyrical observational sentimentality takes you to films like Trainspotting and Talking Heads' True Stories. Not much sentimality about the working title for their LP though, "we hate cnuts". Personnel are male vocal/ guitar, lead guitar, bass, female drums.
Off-the-wall heavyweight rock. All people can be cnuts.
Fri 4 June 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Time Out says Econoline are a "London emo crew". OT has never understood the concept of "emo". It's Econoline's last gig. Suddenly, we get the message.
So, what were Econoline. We could get very South Banker here. But no. They were a four piece, 3 blokes doing vocal/ guitar, guitar and bass, plus a blokess on drums. Econoline were nothing if not thoroughly self-conscious. About their demise, they comment "This band isn't funny anymore", giving away their true character - Econoline had an excellent sense of humour, twisted almost to breaking point.
So, you're at the gig, what does it sound like? The drum is quite beautifully measured, it doesn't go "THWACK", it goes "PLOCK"; it seems to belong almost in a Tom Waits jazz accompaniment. There are moments here of atmospheric dub from drums and bass, but that's not the bass theme. The bass man hides out stage-left and nibbles at your spinal chord, politely melodising while the guitars sword-fight it out. And, oh, those guitars. Almost good cop/ bad cop. Mad jangles, Robert Smith curious strummery, psychedelic soaring, diabolic minor chords, metal squall. The vocal is distinctive for its wrongness, and we will miss it until we encounter it elsewhere (Hey Colossus for starters). It's a blues scream that's not quite there, almost Kevin Rowland [suggest more ciggies? - Ed].
The songs seem to be about deep-seated twisted bitterness - I guess that's the point. A collection of OT's randomly jotting down of their lyrics: "Finding your reason to lie"; "This is not what you wanted… This is not what I wanted… Some say you've got what you wanted"; "Now it's over, and you are fine"; "I can't see where to turn".
There are moments when Econoline almost get into a Chilli Peppers groove thang. But mostly, we conclude that "emo" means a kind of Smashing Pumpkins extended adolescence. Two years ago, Econoline gigs could be almost unlistenable. As they say "But that was a long long time ago". On the verge of the break-up, they can sound like James covering the Smiths in the style of Motorhead, or an off-beat take on Green Day's grunge punk. At will.
Smashing Pumpkins did their UK farewell gig at Wembley Arena, and it was considerably less intense than Econoline's farewell. Econoline seem to have been genuinely angry - even if they found a wry way to express it. Ostensibly about Tiananman Square, they state "Can't tell what you want, can't get what you want". Being the self-conscious dudes they are, the last song they play live is the first they ever played. Bizarrely, they're closing on lines like "Have we got violent stealth" and "Sex, sex, sex, sex". I'm gonna close with another Econoline line: "I know what goes on now".
Wed 12 May 2004 @ Bull and Gate
First outing for this newly stripped-down post-rock outfit.
Guitar switches between dark slabs of evil chord-mongery, wistful minor-key frownlines, and melancholic antique chimes. At the snap of a finger, bass flicks from time twisting speed assault to a one-note power-mongering punctuation. And then drum can be a gentle jazz trickle only to turn into a dam-busting rhythm-changing torrent without prior notice. That's all you get. No vocal. No embellishment. A sound like a lyric-free Bauhaus zone. A true ensemble effort, where the whole is undeniably greater than the sum of the parts, and there is flawless temporal interaction even on a closing piece they confess to having composed the previous night.
The pure calm centre of the post-rock storm. The desperate race to catch a partner before s/he leaves on a plane. The blend of calm and nagging paranoia as you smoke a thrid perfectly formed roll-up alone. Following the silent hedges. Following the silent hedges. Going to hell again. Going to hell again.
Tue 22 November 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
100% female, a cleverly understated goth outfit.
Drums are a playful tribalism with firework pops and whooshing cymbals - think Banshees and Creatures. Bass offers sparing nudges, tunes assembled from low grunts. Guitar lines speak of heart-rending melancholy. The vocals are alarmingly sweet and the melodies surprisingly gentle. Ember have created their own personal niche and it's impressively comfortable.
Ember take the eerie awkwardness of Siouxsie's Join Hands/ Kaleidoscope era, soothe it with the balm of the Cocteau Twins "Treasure" and oddpop it with the Sugarcubes. Astute move, you don't hear anyone else like that. Subtly gorgeous.
Fri 17 September 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Quirky punk-pop dramatics.
The singer is part closet croon, part wayward wail and part relentless rap - resorting often to la-la-la and na-na-na. Lyrics are just darned curious. "I'm gonna be your monkey" comes with convincing chimp sounds. "It's no guilty pleasure" comes with a list of guilty-sounding situations and a potentially classic reference to "plastic surgery marks" (I think). And the line "How to reach escape velocity" is frankly esoteric, just for mathematicians and rocket scientists.
The guitar brings in squally chords, Bauhaus pedals, and rambling disconnected lines. Bass is a relatively static pump, but drums crack-up a nicely rickety trickery.
Empty Vessels are enjoyably off-beat and off-message. This sounds like Howard Devoto (Magazine) joining Ricky Spontane for a set of Fall covers. It's almost pop, but not quite catchy and not quite content. The Vessels claim to play songs about how most of us spend our lives "reaching out" and being arrogant twots. They don't seem especially arrogant, just happily bonkers.
End of the New
Tue 4 January 2005 @ Dublin Castle
Hyper-angry end-of-the-70s punk.
The set opens with programmed synth chirrups that squiggle through most of the songs. Forceful bass introduces the themes and pilots the tunes. Two guitars produce astounding speed chords (with some great harmonics from the split strike-rate), wild punk power-solos, delicately picked chimes, and classical showiness. A brand new drummer recreates the trademark cymbal crash, damped snares and pumping bass of yore. Lead vocal is a supremely menacing bark, with melody added by backing weights, coos, and bubblegum naah-naahs.
Material is drawn from their Swedish Press EP, with addition of a new track and a couple of covers that they make their own. Lyrics deal with global and personal breakdown: screams of "Fucking up the sky"; sneers at "The fallen wreckage of your unjust plan"; melancholy anger at young death "22, taken away"; rude awakenings of "Go outside, it's cold outside, it'll make you feel alive"; and angsty rants of "I take everything I need - the shattered tears, the wasted years, the faded memories". Covers hit on unfamiliar territory by the Faint (Worked Up So Sexual) and Bob Stinson of the Replacements. Sounds reminiscent of Tom Verlaine, The Adverts and seminal Cure songs "Jumping Someone Else's Train" and "Play For Today".
End of the New have inherited the bile and adrenalin that originally inspired punk. Loud, exciting and very gnarly. In a decade when punk songs seem to be about masturbation, cacking your pants and Iron Maiden, it's a relief to hear a bit of emo passion. It's not a case of telling the truth, it's just the way you feel that matters (paraphrase of Robert Smith).
End of the New
Wed 16 June 2004 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Fast and furious gothic punk.
Vocal mixes tortured melodies and angry screams to sound like Tom Verlaine. Guitars and an array of pedals produce evil Killing-an-Arabesque hooks, blazing speed-fuzz, and Robert Smith swirls. The bass is a simple urgent pulse, effecting some spooky harmonics in consort with the guitars. Drum is a beautifully damped breakneck throb. Lyrics could be about anything, but whatever it is, IT MAKES THEM MAD. Screamed snippets include "I'm never awake", "She made me hate you and my fellow man", and "Fucking up the sky". This set has the intensity of New Order's "Movement" and the power of The Clash's "Give 'Em Enough Rope". Lined up are: lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ female backing vocal, left-hand guitar/ male backing vocal, drums.
End of the New play punk with attitude, atmosphere and musicianship. Think Adverts, Cure, Joy Division, Theatre of Hate. EOTN care passionately about what they're doing. OT cares passionately about what EOTN are doing. Fuckin' excellent.
Tue 9 November 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Hilariously charismatic military metal.
Enemy Unknown take you on a journey from disbelief of the bomb to flour-bomb to love of the bomb. The singer confirms the endemic post-traumatic stress syndrome with his mad raging eyes of Nicholson fuelled jokery. This man is a master of the sergeant-major vocal bark. And he barks out some ludicrously obvious titles - "Cut my throat" and "Where angels fear to tread". But this is a regimen of fantastic irony. Get the comments between the tracks: "You can buy a CD for £2 - or you can nick one"; and the timeless "You've no idea how good getting the clap feels".
The music is best summarised as Iron Priest. Every classic riff ever written is here. The twin guitars are strafing layers of fire, with solos of post-attack soul-searching. Bass delivers the news to the family, sad but tuneful variations on the funeral march, as subtle as a pair of uniforms at the door. Drums are the artillery of the field, the snare and bass instruction of the parade ground.
Humorous it is, a joke it ain't. Lyrical themes include the eyebrow-raising and the utterly inspired. A song "Legion" deals with arming the police, and could almost be a mosh between The Ruts and The Clash. An odd variation on the do-what-you-wanna-do idea is "Try being what you wanna be". There is starkness like: "There's no wrong for me, there's no right for me: human wasteland"; and "You've wasted a thousand years of evolution now". Finally, the coup de grace "His name is a lie". Classic rock music leaping the bounds of irony.
Enemy Unknown turn tired metal clichés into a joyous riot of tongue-in-cheek classic rock. You start out overwhelmed by its silliness, and end being drawn into the spoofery and earnest intelligence. The military feel just adds extra imagirony - the night of the long bayonets, perhaps. Or the war-pigs are so long. The Enemy Unknown combine high jinx and tortured brow to phantasmic effect. Fuck The Darkness, welcome to The Blackness.
England and the April
Thu 26 October 2006 Peafish @ The Orange
A unique interpolation of psychedelic folk and scuzzy indie.
England and the April could almost have set out to be difficult to describe. The core of the project seems to be to bridge the space between folksy psychedelic harmonising and awkward indie guitar grinds. But they're gonna have fun at the same time as being serious about creating a clever musical niche.
The lead vocal is a sad minstrel's tale, wailing laments for a long-lost pastoral life. Male and female backing vocals add intensely harmonised runs of aah-aah-aahs, delayed responses, and roundabout cycles of coordinated repeats. Synth adds another psychedelic element, a mix that's part spookily haunting piano with sparkles and shimmers, and part dreaming organ, the sounds of a siren subdued by fog, the breathy wheezing of the bellows and the pipes.
Rhythms quicken, relax and fool-about as the set progresses. From hard-cracked rock compulsion to jazzy romps and trickles, from breeziness to thunderstorms, from country and western playfulness to light tumbles with ringing high-hats. The bass wanders through the calm moments with warm purring sounds, and pumps big hooks through the rock and grunge episodes.
It's the guitar that's most closely focused on the clash between harsh scuzz and gentle folkcraft. Grunting Sonic Youth chords give way to a waterfall of jangling, awkwardly busy twangs convert to a wobbling flight of stretched-string blues, delicate picking fades into drifting sighs.
Nothing here is quite what it seems. The cheekily curly country parody might seem to be a joke, but it's a tribute to Johnny Cash: "I miss the time he spent alive", they mourn. A seemingly thoughtful comment about escaping the perpetual movement of the city drifts by - "I'm in a different place now". Then you realise it's part of a series of comments about the demand for freedom within relationships: "Lived every day from here - now must I live my life for something you tell me?"
England and the April have been working for well over a year to perfect their cerebral sounding mix of campfire spirit-worship and messed-up guitar angst. For about 25 minutes, they stick to their self-built niche, a continuous rush of textured psychedelic breezes, but there's a joyous punk'n'roll outfit itching to break free. The signs are there in the barely concealed references to mainstream pop (Axel F theme/ Crazy Frog, I ask you?) and the bizarre cover of the Pet Shop Boys "Suburbia" (complete with squealing Brian May guitar solo).
Eventually they can resist no more, it's a free-for-all, constant instrument swapping, impromptu guest appearances, shambolic bursts of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Whole Lotta Love", then a Poguesy finale of Seal's "A kiss from a rose". No-one expected that.
England and the April are a wondrously bizarre proposition. 75% of the set is closely-disciplined but reluctant psychedelia, with vocal harmonies, shimmering keys and belligerent guitar - flashes of Fairport Convention, Sonic Youth, Belle and Sebastian, pre-1975 Genesis, Stereolab, acoustic Stone Roses. 25% of the set is an eruption of spontaneous and mad punk covers. This section doesn't feel like a serious performance, just musical children of the 1990s having fun in the rehearsal studio.
'England and the April' could describe a stoic nation living through a month of erratic weather. Bracing.
Sat 24 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Punked-up mod songs from this 3 piece.
A bluesy bark for a vocal, high speed metallic chords and punk solos, driving bass melodies and crazed cymbal-crash drums. Lyrics seem to deal with teen angst, parents, and failed relationships. "They said you were wasted all along", "The feeling's inside… and I wouldn't want it any other way", and "It seems like everydody's after me… It seems like everybody's out to hurt me". Really, these guys sound like The Jam without the social posturing. Set-up is lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
Impressively spikey youthful exuberance. This really is the spirit of '78. Sup up your beer and collect your fags, there's a row going on down near Slough.
Everything on Black
Mon 27 February 2006 90 Free Mondays @ 93 Feet East
If they weren't pop noir, it'd be a stupid name, wouldn't it? They are, with untamed guitar.
The singer wails and chews in the usual noir expression of passion, put the portfolio is stuffed with catchy tunes and occasional backing harmonies. Guitar sound is busy, chops and slashes at the core, sustained squalls as solos, high staccato picking, hooks that curl and chime. Bass pumps rapid-fire, at this speed it's flickering like an old B-movie. Drums are ultra-crisp, you hear rifles crack, frozen leaves crunch, and sometimes the door opens into the anthemic beat-land of U2. The lyrics do not bear tidings of a happy future: "One last chance, then you die"; "Everyone waits for love they never had, everyone's waiting for what they never found"; and "I wish I was someone else". Lighten-up boys… on second thoughts, don't.
Everything on Black mix bleak prospects and bright shimmers, they draw you in, they bounce you up and down, they free-up your assets. Their first single is given a plug here, and it's so airily hooky it's nudging towards the trademark Coldplay sleigh-ride sound. "It could happen to anyone", they warn - but getting the audience dancing on a Monday night does NOT just happen to anyone, it's happening to Everything on Black. This music bridges the space between Suede glamour, New Order groovehook, The Church's proto-punk atmospherics and Franz Ferdinand's choppiness. Nothing there to regret.
Tue 1 June 2004 Club Fandango @ Dublin Castle
Garage glam punk 'n' roll desert blues everything.
You'd think the range of styles feeding into this would produce incoherence, but it produces snappy pop-rock songs. A vocal straddling T Rex, Supergrass and Placebo. Edgy guitar chords and The Edgey squiggles. Moments of heartbreaking solo inensity. Duelling twin guitars that are never unwelcome despite their association with the Wedding Present. Simple belting bass-lines. Staccato snare-oriented drum that perfectly fits the urgent mood. Songs include a little Zeppy blues - "Now I know that she is gone and not coming back". Emo-spookiness - "Last night I killed my love". Lost in love - "Would you be the one who makes me sleep at night". And a gloriously Telegram Sam glam cover of Space Oddity. Layout on stage: vocal/ lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums.
Eyeliner is apparently in vogue in Eye. But the band deliver a fusion of 70's Bowie-Bolan glammery, 80's U2 passion punkery, 90's/00's White Stripes bluesery. Eye's music is so good you want to hug it.
Mon 21 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
A man is walking through the forest and a twig pokes him in the eye. He rants and he raves and goes to get his chainsaw.
Dark, dark, dark, everything in minor keys. Programming generates beats that skitter and throb, artillery rounds of eardrum burst and some simply bleeped hook lines. Scary guitar action grunts and moans, motoring revs, squeals and fuzz-chords. The vocal style is a grating bellow, Krusty the Klown versus The Rebel - Country Teasers. Forget the noise, just feel the psychosis: "Human extinction you wonder why"; "I want to sit in the ocean and wash away all the tears"; "I wanna fuck with your life"; and "Some days we sigh in our graves".
Eye Scream provides an oddly infectious glimpse of the sounds that would emerge if Lemmy was in the Sisters of Mercy. Black sheets of rain is not even halfway there, these are Basalt blocks of hail. Eye Scream out-Bob-Moulds Bob Mould. McDeath reckons this is the realm of Soundgarden. Eye Scream warns: "I want you to feel all that I feel". Oh, but we do. An Eye Scream nearly Eiffel Tower high.
Fri 12 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Timeless folk rock with an impressive blues twist.
Fables seem to hop recklessly from name to name - previously The Proles, then Red Lee. The set remains almost the same, but the sound has undoubtedly moved forwards. Lead vocal continues on the path of perfectly pitched earnest hooks, with neat backing harmonies. Bass leaps and bounds through power tunes. Guitarists attempt to emulate Keith Richards and Jimmy Page, with incisive soaring solos that spar and lament, and low grazing chords. Keyboards add a great throttly blues flavour that digs Fables out of the beanfield.
The new song here pulsebeats like a dripping tap, flows like running sand: "Everybody's stoned and everybody's high; but I can feel a cold hand holding me down; never gonna fly; taking me before my time". The main set closes with a surprising take on The Beatles' snippet "Why don't we do it in the road", turned into a full-blown blues work-out complete with ragtime piano.
The regular songs are all out on show: "I feel my temperature rising every hour of the day" (at least twice tonight, anyway, with this as encore); fear of the marching Russian army "Let me be and let me live again"; and oceans of self-doubt "I've got faith and I've got learning, but in my heart there is a yearning". All thoughtful and well-intentioned, if a little contrived. I used to think of the Proles as a depoliticised Levellers, but this set puts me in mind of 70s white soul-searching gurus, Graham Parker and the Rumour. Keys are the key.
Fables are steadily developing into a well-rounded and solid 70s inflected pop-rock band. In their different guises, live sets have blown hot and cold, but tonight they were scorching. Rejuvenated and sozzled. Tearing the playhouse down. Room by room by room.
Thu 22 July 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Magical alterno-punk sounds of tumbleweed, deserts, chicken-sheds and chicken-runs.
Clearly, the University's Music Faculty. Shimmering guitar swirls, telegraph-wire whistling in the wind, chiming chords with ringing harmonics, hot-tar pedal pitch-bending. Irresistably simple upfront bass melodies. Drums of rolling thunder, a steady rumble between the lightning bursts. Songs about the descent into the underworld (not to be confused with The World's End of course). The Faculty remind me of David McComb's champion Aussie punks The Triffids. The players are: lead vocal/ guitar; guitar/ backing vocal; bass; female drums.
The Faculty bring an unusual Outback sweatiness to London, and collapse exhausted at the close. They take this white trash back to the excitement of early 1980's Peel sessions. It defies a two-word category, but The Faculty combine a commanding groove with disturbing dramatics. Mighty, mighty, mighty.
Fans of Kate
Thu 7 October 2004 Blow Up @ Metro
Jerky-quirk jump-along indie romp.
Tunesmiths they are, with vocals that warble and wail through the scales (not unlike the style of Headswim). Guitars are the stuff of rivet-gun hits, toffee-crunching solos, and spiky two-note gestures. The singer's keyboard can be an autumnal piano or a flowing synth-stream. Bass is set to power-throb, drums a damped steady hailstorm. There's a definite lurch towards the mainstream - the strutting of The Strokes and the jingle-jangle of Travis, but these sit with Virginia Plain wheeze-guitar, fairground organ and pogo-grade groove of Hawkwind-Motorhead. Even moments of the Reagan set are still in evidence. Lyrics show the same dichotomy: "She lights the flame" versus "You can make - that's what I'm here for; you can take - that's what I'm here for" and "No-one can hear".
Fans of Kate may have watered down the extremes of their anti-fashion Reagan stance. But by-and-large, Fans of Kate remain gleefully groovy, meatily guitared, dancy and unconventional. Rokkin' it to the moon.
Mon 30 June 2003 @ Hope and Anchor
West Coast sounds with female lead vocals.
Belly-styled indie pop with an anthemic Tourists twist. Wonderfully surfy lead guitar. Set up is vocal/ guitar, guitar, bass, drums.
Pleasantly powerful and unassuming. Now that's what I call quite good.
Thu 19 June 2003 @ The Garage
Glammy Noo York rock ‘n’ roll from this 5 piece.
Showy guys, with some swirling Doorsish keyboards, but otherwise unengaging. Wailing vocals. Not a hook, melody or lick to impress the casual observer.
Hey, dude, where's my music? I think The Fever have already moved to the other side…
The Fever Kicks
Sat 27 September 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Lumbering alterno-rock like a languid Primal Scream or sedated Ocean Colour Scene.
Anthemic stuff with melodic lead vocals and cleverly harmonised backing vocals, but otherwise this is musically pedestrian and lyrically cliched. Lines like "Come and give me love tonight" and "I need you again" really shouldn't be given a public airing. And producing a song that sounds like a rip-off of the Oasis rip-off "Don't look back in anger" must surely be an embarrassment. Set-up is lead vocal/ electric guitar/ 12-string acoustic, electric guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums.
The only plus-point about The Fever Kicks is that they make Oasis and the Stereophonics sound quite good. As far as OT is concerned, they can plod off.
Fri 25 June 2004 @ Upstairs at The Garage
Post-rock with a healthy input of punk, blues and glam.
Feverdream pan out as male lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ female backing vocal and male drummer. Bass is the powerhouse, purring and throbbing like a powerful Kawasaki to form the rhythmic and melodic core. Guitar produces squidge and itch garage blues lines, Arab-killing solos (despite the peacenik preoccupations of the Dutch), and truly evil chord juxtapositions. Drum is sharp as a rifle retort, but with some fine time-crunching and tempo changes to impart. Male vocal is a Smith/ Cure wail, which works well for the most part, although there are moments in the blues passages when the vocal slows down and you find yourself desperately trying not to think of… gulp… Sting. Female vocal is more strident, firm, and maybe a semi-tone higher. Lyrics are sometimes odd, sometimes obvious. Rude: "Do you need someone to wake you up? Do you need someone to make you stand up?". Simple: "Do you need someone to make you stand up?". Controlling: "We'll tell you what is good enough". Of the wall: "Give me the gun, Julie". And the pre-encore closer is called "Kitchen Erections". The overall effect is like a stripped-down and fuel-injected take on The Pixies.
Feverdream are a curious melange of quirky pop and heavily twisted rock. Melodic, but never easy. Bouncy, but never nice. With Feverdream, this IS the Planet of Sound.
Fri 27 August 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Remarkably intense and varied light-touch proggy rock.
Fiction Plane don't play a set: they perform a show full of drama, crescendos, and classical musicianship. The Fiction Plane sound is centred around the multifaceted guitars and keyboards. Guitar can be a lesson in solo flight, pedal sustain, string bending, soft jangling, or a trading of fantastic hooks between the pair. Keyboards can be a tinkling 1980s piano, an evil grunting synth, a weaving Fairlight, a classic Rachmaninoff. In contrast, bass is a simpler off-beat jumpy affair. Drums are full of dampened snare and bass snaps, syncopated brushwork, gentle padding. Lead vocal is melodic, although the straining reads a little like overemphasised emotion (and too much false falsetto). Light harmonic backing does not suffer so. In any event, the content is excellent, with the Fiction Plane writing short action-packed novellas. "These children's lives are all disturbed by cars". "There's gotta be a winner, and it's not you". "You're not my friend, you're not my real friend". "It's all here in my mind".
I quickly wiped the Embrace/ Keane thoughts from my mind to go back to Bruce Hornsby… U2 (Unforgettable Fire era)… Midnight Oil… Headswim. All that, with the bonus of an astounding honky-tonk rock-out. The fluid 4-piece handle lots of jobs: lead vocal is also bass/ part-time guitar/ part-time keyboard; keyboard is also part-time bass; lead electric guitar also deals in semi-acoustic guitar and backing vocals; drum does occasional backing vocals.
Fiction Plane are fantastic performers, taking the showiness and musicianship of Genesis and John Miles, bringing in the pop-punch of 80's - 90's indie, and delivering complex developmental ballads. Way superior to chart rock-lite. I can honestly say I was moved by Fiction Plane. In my head, they're already signed to my imaginary record label.
The Fiery Furnaces
Thu 6 May 2004 @ The Scala
Country-fried fairground Addams Family ghost train.
A light, knowing female vocal that is part Chrissie Hynde and part Lene Lovich. A mix of choppy guitar chords and edgy snarls like a barely contained puma defending it's young. Hollyoaks' Max lookalike on drums plays to a pair of stuffed birds mixing up thunder and lightning conductor. Much is dominated by duelling Hammond sounds. When bass is present, it heaves disco licks in, to accompany warnings like "I don't dance with cowboys". Along with an explosion of other lyrical one-liners. Try these for size. "My dog was lost, but now he's found"; "I broke my mind"; "I went down on the world"; "The pain in Spain falls mainly on me"; and "Tropicool… icy, icy". The schmaltz of Chicory Tip and the raised-eyebrow child-prodigy of Bjork. Impossibly flexible set-up is roughly: female vocal/ semi-acoustic guitar, male vocal/ guitar/ keyboard, bass/ keyboard, drums.
An enormous trashy lakeside fun-fair of a show. Is that all there is to a fire? It's more than you could ever dream of. OT's favourite big-gig of the twenty-first century so far.
Sat 26 June 2004 Flag Promotions/ Club Noir @ Upstairs at The Garage
Cockney goth-rap teasers.
Musically, this is based on backing tracks. Heavy tumultuous synth beats with campy samples and spooky disco electronica. There is some live metallic guitar thrash that lends a little menace. But the big foaming head on the drink is a Larndon rant-rap with twin glamour-girl harmonies and rejoinders. Words spout out apace, but audible lines, there were none. The poor fella's trying to get response lines from a bewildered audience where no-one knows what he's on about. Shame, because the feel is thrillingly silly. Think Captain Sensible (Damned) and Shakespeare's Sister teaming-up to cover the songs of Carter USM.
The Fighting Cocks may seem to have put the "thick" in Gothic, but they're good tongue-in-cheek fun. Go wild in the city, where rats up a drainpipe are absolutely free. Pop will disappear up its own fundament.
Mon 13 February 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Punky guitar pop with a finale guitar solo so good I'd forgive them anything.
Melodies are the greatest strength of Filtered. A clear and passionate vocal. Guitar that's both catchy and busy – fizzes, revs, squeals and syrupy lines, but all attractively off-the-wall. Bass is more than busy, it's hyperactive, generous leaps around the scales. Drums stomp and patter, a native groove of tomahawk dance beats. Lyrics are thoughtful, even the jaded elements suggest veiled threats: "I never asked for much, but demanded such a lot"; "I know who I am, I'm a broken man"; "Everything that you've ever done is leading up to now"; and "I wanna be the only one on your mind". Or you'll do what exactly?
Filtered are pretty much what you want a contemporary rock and pop act to be like. Nods to some of the best indie acts of the last 20 years – Husker Du, REM, the first two Manic Street Preachers albums, plus a slice of OTT showmanship – AC/DC brutalism, guitar played behind the head. All of this from just 3 people. I demanded a lot from Filtered, and they delivered.
Sat 6 May 2006 UK Antifolk @ 12 Bar Club
Outrageous and drunken folksy irreverence.
With a bottle, you're never alone, but for this set Pedro's bottle and semi-acoustic guitar are augmented by kazoo, bass, a Cronenberg's Wife drummer, and some unlikely electronic backing tracks. Astonishingly, this man can sing and play when he's 80% of the way to the land of MacGowan. I'm not altogether convinced by the writing, get these supposed achievements of an immortal life: "12,000 years, I'm the real deal, discovered fire and invented the wheel" and "I fucked Caesar in AD44, when I stabbed him in the back, the blood did really pour" (roughly, to the tunes of My Old Man's a Dustman, and Messin About on the River"). I've got more time for the small island misanthropy blues: "They kicked me out of Anglesey - although I'm half-Welsh they couldn't see". But it's hard to be persuaded by musicians who try to make a virtue out of being shambolic.
Somewhere in the Filthy Pedro persona there's a serious musician, which becomes apparent when he's at his most perverse. Donning a horned gimp mask wasn't favoured by Nick Drake or Beck, but Pedro uses this guise to embark on his curious mix of rant and rap, complete with drum'n'bass backing - "I'm Gilgamesh". Unfortunately, the novelty act remains the dominant characteristic, as Pedro closes with "Scoring rock'n'roll points", a catalogue of proud moments in the history of booze-sodden mayhem. To illustrate, a thoroughly greased 6 foot monkey swings from the beams and demolishes a table-load of glasses. Don't try this without anaesthetic alcohol.
Thu 2 December 2004 State of Decay 2 @ Purple Turtle
Prog-rock with punky interludes.
Vocal comes mainly from the front guitarist, warbling, wailing and yelping around the melody, and later with extra angst and accuracy from the drummer. Guitar duo is all electric or half semi-acoustic. Semi-acoustic parts are quasi-classical and sub-flamenco, electrics produce lengthy scribble lines, hard-edged and intricately dissected chords, the light strumming of the Cure's "Jumping someone else's train", solos that soar and tug at the heart strings. Bass mixes galloping rumbles, fellside yomping, donkey plodding, doomy melodies, and complexly tuneful tours of the fretboard. Drums are the racy element, punky thrashes, jazzy cabaret flourishes, and avalanches of bass thumping.
The lyrics are mystifying: an anti anything-not-PC rant that ends "Fuck the UK" (why not fuck FCUK?); a side of youth that passed me by "The she took away the things she wanted, and she's seventeen"; a utopian anthem "Trying to live another day, trying to start another way"; a does of sickbag twee "Let's stay together forever, let's lie together forever"; ego mania "I want everyone to be just like me"; and the drummer's waggish finale "And the curtains fall". No band I can think of produces a mix of rambling angst and syrup to match Final Autumn.
Final Autumn are attempting prog-rock, but what they deliver is disjointed passages stitched together and set to random repeat. The singing is close to painful and the lyrics trite. I can't find anything to like about this. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a dead leaf.
Tue 17 June 2003 @ Metro
Rousing ‘outside the box’ 4 piece pick up where previous incarnation “Venis” left off.
For want of a better description, this is punky jazz rock with a strong hint of Ms PJ Harvey. The sound hinges around vocalist Mo, who knows exactly how to go from a sustained tones of sweet perfection to ear-drum shattering screams. Lyrically, this occupies the vast dysfunctional territory of the predatory male and the rebelling female. All this laid over the off-centre guitar strangling and frantically stilted drums of the backing boys.
Quality musicianship and way more innovative than the current spate of female thrash and garage viragoes. Five-hundred foot Queenie.
Five Goal Thriller
Thu 18 August 2005 @ Bull and Gate
The sadly missed nineties sound of fast-rising guitar snowdrifts.
Two singers here, primarily the front guitar man, but also from the drummer. For the most part tunes are warbly but lightly floated and accurate - almost Bowie style. The drummer’s singing is more in the Steve Harley mode, zany melody-stretching chews.
Two guitars are primed for two-speed chord stretching, niggly 4-note hooks, jangle-chords, scribbly slides and intricately curly high solos. Bass lines are simple but pushily effective. Drums limit the extent of the drift by insisting on scampers and gallops.
Five Goal words are fairly interesting but not earth shatteringly original: "And in my hour of darkness you were my fairest friend"; "You say I'm never coming back"; and their superhero code-of-conduct single "No matter how you feel I can't reveal my true identity - I can save the world, but I can't save you". I thought: shades of Bluetones and The Wedding Present. Claire at the bar thought she smelt Cud.
Five Goal Thriller aren't about to change anybody's world, but if you can swallow the winsome side, this is engagingly reluctant and awkward guitar-based pop. It wins through on the density of the lyrics and guitar swirls rather than the insistence of the tunes, which may well be a flaw if you're making pop music.
The superhero theme has surely been exhausted - in the words of Robyn Hitchcock "Superman, crunchy little superman, found you in a cornflake box". And that's the problem; we have dreamy indie with an odd crunch of rock'n'roll, but you get that for free every day with your breakfast cereals. As the Kelloggs kids say 'We'd rather have a bowl of Cocopops'.
Tue 14 March 2006 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
The Hendrix Experience of punk rock.
The unforced guitar mania grabs at your soul, if you are an electric string junkie, then you know you will love Flashbox the second the guitar starts. This machine flies blind, it screams as it bounces off the walls, it sparkles, it sobs. Bass scampers through the blues into an uneasy Bauhaus rumble. Drums ping and smack as the beats are tripped, smashed and splattered. The singing is connected to melodies, but only tangentially - the frontman rants, moans and cries. Wryly "Seven more steps till I become overjoyed"; darkly "He said that he's coming, he's coming for you"; and comfortingly "It's all right, don't cry". But guitars do cry.
The Flashbox sound is as jumpy as fuck. I don't know if these guys have spent a few months in Brighton, but they start with a Castro grind - enhanced by wilder chord sequences - and progress into the uncontrolled anxiety patented by Projections. After a breath of calm tenderness, the Flashbox fighter-plane accelerates to grumbling engine, spirals into death-defying jazz loops, and judders into a Beefheart cabaret - rasping, revving, grating. A thirty-minute crucible of such brilliant intensity, it's blinding.
Mon 23 June 2003 @ Hope and Anchor
High quality sophisticated rock from this 3 piece.
These guys move seamlessly between ballads and thrash, fronted up by a bass player who sings like Thom Yorke, and backed by highly versatile guitar and drums. Promoter suggests this is “post-punk”, but I don’t think the label suits. The nearest musical comparison I can think of is the legendary Cream. These guys have a tiny audience tonight and deserve a stadium full of you guys.
Strange brew indeed.
46,000 Fibres with John Plant
Sat 8 November 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Jazz-funk improv collective backing East London poetry.
Less a set than a show, and the show is dedicated to recently deceased Bull and Gate potman Tommy Kelly (already part of the antique furniture when I first visited in 1996). The poetry is challenging and thoughtful, the link between the street and society. There's a whiff of Ian Dury, but it's less whimsical than psychological. Tales of bottles in the gutter and living on the balcony of a Council flat. Classic lines: "She told her last drink 'You're another one I won't remember'. She told the caretaker she was waiting for the moon to come inside". The musicians are no less inventive. Wailing saxophone, frantic kit-raking drums, squealing synth, and funky guitar/ bass pairing.
Quirky stuff for the Bull and Gate, as if you'd died and gone to The Barbican. It's not exactly rock 'n' roll, but I like it. "And the lamb lies down on Heathway" (with apologies to Mr Gabriel).
Mon 19 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Guitar-oriented Britpop with a mod feel from this 4 piece.
Tuneful but steely guitar chords, with moments of sweet sliding up and down the neck. Simple bass hooks that occasionally produce glorious harmonic with the guitar chords. Simple choppy drums that fit neatly with the urgent flow of the songs. And a pair of vocals suited beautifully to kitchen sink dramas and tragedies - A Neil Young and a Ray Davies. Lyrically, some seems a little tried, but there are thoughtful moments too. "What do you think of me, do you recollect me?" and "You say you want to die, you say you can't get by". This fits firmly in a tradition that appears every decade - The Kinks and The Who, The Damned and The Buzzcocks, Cast and The Bluetones. And they hold their own. Set up is first guitar/first vocal, second guitar/ second vocal, bass, drums.
A consummate guitar pop band with a snappy sixties feel and some seriously showy songs. Not sure about the Cornish pasty shoes though. They could be onto a winner, or it could be too tired a combination. Got to learn to change our ways... if we want to live and breathe another day.
Sat 3 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Sardonic punk rock foursome.
Brash Wedding Present guitar, bouncing New Order bass, metronomic Joy Division drums, and snowdrifts of guest keyboard in the brooding Stranglers tradition. But all of this is the backdrop for a vocal that sounds like Mark E Smith singing songs that could have been written by Half Man Half Biscuit. The man even introduces the bans as Fractuur-Duh. Curious moments include: "I'm living in a mental block, all my communication's stopped", which produces the line "Where is my mind? I lost it at a Pixies gig in 1989" (thanks Jarvis); and "Armchair Survivalist" featuring the classic "He's a housebound agoraphobic who won't even do aerobics". Set up here is: lead vocal; guitar/ backing vocal; bass; drums; guest keyboards.
Fractured present the sound of Mark E. fronting up the Pixies or latterly Elastica. The closing song is an impressive rendering of John Lydon's "Public Image". But my favourite was the admittedly stolen Larkin Rap: "They fuck you up your Mum and Dad. They may not mean to but they do". This is the Fractured soundtrack of our lives.
Fri 24 October 2003 @ Electorwerkz
Every song an enormous slab of bass-driven punk disco.
References everywhere to The Fall are not so far out, but there are some wailing Spizz/ Dead Kennedys guitar moments and serious Kool and the Gang funky guitar and bass numbers, not to mention the fact that the lead singer is remarkably melodic and there are real harmonies (not Brix Smith brawl drawl). OK, the maybe lyrics don't have Mark E's incisive wit (obvious themes like Goodbye Girl make a lot of appearances), but stuff it, this is for dancing too. Formation is guitar/ lead vocal, lead guitar/ occasional keyboard/ backing vocal, bass, drums.
"Oops, upside your headz-uh". (Note - in October 2003, it was not obvious what would happen to the Archduke).
Wed 4 May 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Purring blues-metal with a hint of rap.
Guitarman throws the rock-school book into this set, and it's a school he graduated from with honours. Grunting chords, the rasp of a dry engine turning over, portentously skittering slashes, stretching and distorting droplets, solos of twisty blues syrup and fast rock squiggles. Bass is on a short-strap, but is a freeform funk bubble and a determined rumble tune. Drums are precisely on target, dramatic and spiky, alive with stop-start tempo shifts.
The singer is a man brimming with charisma. A voice veering happily between blues, soul and rap. A voice that plays with sounds, his own disc scratching and rhythm shaking built in. A wide man with a shaved head, a white shirt, a black tank top, and a big appeal. A rap called "just for fun". Lines that accept more than they challenge: "Don't matter what I do, don't matter what I say, you make me run"; "We are one"; and "Don't you know you satisfy me?".
There's a lot of sounds encompassed here, but I'm gonna pin Freshman up amongst my pantheon of bluesmen in the area of Robert Cray.
The Freshman sound is the sound of quality blues musicianship with a little showiness, a little sharp metal edginess, but no self-conscious attitude, and 100 tonnes of cool. This is part of a blues-rock tradition passed through the hazy play of Hendrix, the once-credible Lenny Kravitz, the honed Skunk Anansie razor, and the Jeff Buckley breeze. The frontman sets himself totally apart from the blues- and rat-packs by being nobody's stereotype. The last blues performance I enjoyed this much was from Rolan Bolan. Freshman lights a crackling fire to stand next to, a midnight lamp to burn magnesium bright.
Friday and the Knights
Wed 7 December 2005 @ Dublin Castle
Class mix of screwy blues-cabaret and acid jazz.
Cool vocal, growling the blues like a young Van Morrison. Episodes of sax clambering, an ascent to a plateau of catchy tootling hooks. Keyboard plays the Billy Preston spangle and the big jazz-piano reverb. Guitar brings in scratchy chords, syrupy lines that are so off-the-key they must be from another planet, and nonchalent Steely Dan solos. Drums are a round-the-kit workout, trippy time signatures with bass-kick definition of bizarre and interrupted time signatures. Bass is the load-bearing part of the structure, a simply pumped circus-clown bounce-a-round, the centre of the musical vortex. Words are about needs: "Don't need it baby"; "It's just too much - all you need, all you want".
Friday and the Knights do not sound like Franz Ferdinand. They don't sound like the Kaiser Chiefs, or The Killers. They may possibly sound a little bit like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I love Friday and the Knights for being the best Friday and the Knights they could possibly be, and Not Being Anyone Else.
Fuck Off Machete
Fri 5 November 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage
Proggy post-rock with catchy songs.
Female fronted combo with a sweetly flat shout at the core plus gently breathy male backing vocal. Miss Sweetness and Light also structures the songs with a bass that pounds out short tunes of spookiness and bounce. Guitar mixes up chord-chops and growls with a trademark line in incisive solos that manage to be simultaneously honeyed and searing. Drums are part firm rolling and part twisted hammerdrill noise attack. The songs - perhaps bizarrely - seem to be lovesongs: "Stop what you're doing and get me under you"; "I won't run away from you"; "I can't be late for you"; "I want you" and "I'll call the shots". The only comparable sound that strikes me is the Throwing Muses.
Fuck Off Machete produce a fine fusion of sweet love songs, developmental prog-rock, disconcertingly jarring noises, and pure honey. There can't be a better recommendation than that. Everything I ever learned was wrong. Fuck Off Machete are soo right.
Tue 29 November 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
The vocalist has Robert Plant hair, and he can really sing - but only in clichés: "Never give up, never give in" and "This is where I come from, this is where I belong - my home". They have some wittily mad titles: "I was out-devoted" and "Back to the sword". Bass dominates the tunes with rapidly cycling lines. Two guitars contrast revs and grinds with short spidery curls. Drums race as if there was an international time shortage - sessions of thrash-attack snare with kick drum and cymbal choruses, sessions of pure cymbal surf-crashing.
Fuckshovel are masters of the heavy metal underworld - a Black Sabbath/Judas Priest amalgam. The line-up has an interesting ethno-social mix, heard the one about the 6-foot Mediterranean lesbian with the bald head? Me neither. Fuckshovel live up to their name, and all the subtlety it entails.
Furr and the Fiction
Sat 25 October 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Nutty boys bring a bit of everything to this world party.
Highly inventive stuff. Remarkable feats include the first singer's incredible blues rock vocal delivery, and the drummer's ability to produce endless rhythm trickery in every style imaginable. The bass-player's Zappa T-shirt is a big clue to where they're coming from, but slavish followers they ain't. This swings across blues-rock, blues-rap and post-rock, all highly danceable yet major league quirky. Anthemic choruses like "Real big geezer" and the meat-market song "Hey, can I buy you a beer, it's not often I get down here" are in a Radio 4 groove. Moments when sax and tom-tom collide could almost be Asian Dub Foundation. But then add lots of staccato guitar lines and Fall-style silly keyboard lines for a punk DIY atmosphere. Lines up roughly as: first vocal/ guitar, 2nd vocal/ bass, guitar/ synth, drums.
Top drawer blues rocking dance fun. Ebenezer goode.
Future of the Left playing as Red Deadhead
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.
Thu 28 August 2003 @ The Garage
Likely lads from the North East play staccato and percussive whimsy in a rift valley between XTC and They Might Be Giants.
Futureheads are caught in a sci-fi fantasy land of 'Robots'. Sadly, there's no room for the acute social observation of Messrs Partridge and Moulding. There are some beautifully jarring sounds and discordance, but the overall effect is like being locked in a bank-vault as it's attacked by robbers with a pneumatic drill. When they finally break through, the robbers are four nerds who keep barking at you in turn.
Futureheads claim that playing their music is like making love to yourself. The sound they make was novel just over 20 years ago. Now, they've given me a headache, and the repetitive jerks are just bad news. I never want to spend another half-hour watching Futureheads wank.
Fri 3 November 2006 Peafish @ The Orange
Grunged-up sixties guitar pop.
The defining characteristics of this show are cleverly written and constructed songs, delivered with rock'n'roll attitude. The lead singer is the guitarman and the writer, so his voice is glued firmly to the tune whether he's screaming or pouring oil. The second guitar often adds a shouty backing vocal, but the pair also sometimes pitch together effective psychedelic harmonies.
The rhythm section grabs your attention instantly. The set opens with an explosion of drums that proceed onwards with frantic cracks and slashes, relenting only for the drift and tumble of the occasional psychedelia. The bass lines are heavily textured, a rush of strumming gives way initially to a hooky up-scale-down-scale shifts, and finally to complex sixties weaving.
The two guitars are busy and intense, attempting to clash and mesh every possible pair of string sounds. The core elements are building revs and frilling jangles, pings and fuzzy curls, strafing and spangly scribbles, calmer strumming and pinging hooklines.
The songs deal with advice for living through the ups and downs of relationships. From the opening of "Don't hold back, here we go", they progress to "Keep on movin', just keep movin', always movin' on" and then "You and me could be on our way out of here". Mid-set, the mood heads into a downwards spiral with "All the things you thought were free never came from you to me"; "Just one more kiss before you leave"; and finally "How did it come to this again, cos I won't ever let it go my friend".
This is pop-writing, direct words, simply structured episodes, lots of prospective hits clocking-in at around 2 minutes. These are familiar patterns that you know from Beatles standards (Taxman, Tomorrow Never Knows) and Foo Fighters songs (Learn to Fly and Everlong). But GPD get into your head to supplant the source ideas with their own words and tunes.
The GPD set was almost brilliant. 90% of the time, they delivered a show that was hard-working, passionate, and catchy as measles. The 'almost' because the guitars were mis-tuned for a couple of songs, with pretty horrendous results given the reliance of their music on close guitar interplay. Still, they corrected quickly and apologetically to grab the best in grunge from Foo Fighters, the best in revivalist sixties-snap from The Jam, and the best in pop-angst from both. GPD seems to mean Guts, Personality, Determination.
Mon 28 August 2006 Peafish Festival @ Lark in the Park
A twenty-first century alloy of grunge, mod, punk and pop.
They open with a wash of hats and guitar-scribbling. Then they race, urgently cracking drums, simple bass groove, phaser-distorted rhythm guitar, lead guitar of swirls, twangs and reverb. Vocal is melodic but passionate, outwardly calm but suppressing grief and disillusion.
So many classic rock-pop elements: the 'bah-bah-bah-bah, bah-bah-bah-bah' lines; the sudden deceleration of the middle eight; the slow, teasing reconstruction of the full weight for the chorus. Some of the lyrics may seem too familiar - "This one goes out to the ones I left behind". With music that references The Beatles, The Jam and the Foo Fighters, why not REM too?
"I'll be somebody new today" warn GPD. Those ever changing moods.
Thu 10 August 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Bouncing sneer-punk with its sights locked on twenty-first century consumerism and its fingers itching at the trigger.
Despite their late 70's feel, Garden Gang burst onto the stage with far more than their fair share of glam-rock pizazz. A male and a female singer front up the Gang. They've got a great dynamic going, he with the lanky body and high hair, launching a Biafra cry to the sky, she the shocked and wide-eyed 50's cheerleader, with babydoll chorus chants from a parallel universe.
Meantime, guitar revs into fast-frilling riffs, wild west twangs with spangly reverb, drizzling chords and wah-wah squiggles. Deep rumbling splurges from an almost hidden keyboard join punchy bass hooks on a highjacked train hurtling to destruction.
Lyrics focus on money, spending and power, yet they're delivered in football-anthem style. Chorus repeats of 'Parcel packer number 1' are more rousing than derisive, whilst 'Shoppers United' and 'All around the market place' seem like celebrations. On the other hand, there's the trademark TV Smith dystopianism of 'Euro-disneyland tomorrow' ("We speak the same language, we wear the same clothes") and the classic John Lydon parting shot "Waiting for your mother's pension".
Garden Gang give 1977 punk the overhaul that it's due, but stay true to the essence. At the trad end of the spectrum, there's plenty of reference to the Sex Pistols and Anti Nowhere League, on the glam side, surprising elements of The Dickies and the early years of Adam and the Ants. Catchy and anthemic music that never loses the sense of danger, chords pitched to resonate your sternum. Eat, eat, eat, eat, eat the rich, tonight.
Tue 29 November 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Darkness, metal and melody.
Not unusually for 21st century metal, the lead vocal bellows, growls, grunts, yowls and barks. But he's true to the tunes, and has backing harmonies too. The set almost entirely occupies horror-movie minor keys. At the core of the guitar sound is a sequence of harsh, revving chords set against continuous noodling. Add twanging reverby intros, Sabbath catchy stormtrooper riffs, strings that slide, bend and stretch, and impossibly fast spiralling lines. Bass is a super-subtle rhythm grind, compensating for the frenzied snare attack of the drums. Words are angry, but for once, not full of Satanism and Motherfuckers: "I am the Kingdom come", "You don't listen to a word I say" and "I will find a way- Nothing will stand in my way - I must find a way - Nothing can get in my way".
The roots of Geared 4 evidently go down to Black Sabbath and Metallica. The anger seems to involve genuine non-diabolic messages though, elements of Rage Against the Machine or Apes, Pigs and Spaceman. And despite the black grind, there's humour, and there are songs. Their demo even contains a wonderfully daft thrash cover of Duran Duran's 'Planet Earth'. Geared 4 are not doing what anyone else told them.
The Genome Project
Wed 21 July 2004 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Spiky cabaret wit.
The focus is lead singer and keyboard player. The style is part ranting moan and part football anthem - Patrick Fitzgerald meets Jim-Bob (Carter USM). Keyboard can be a swirling organ, a kerplunk piano, a French accordion, a jazz xylophone or a string section. The guitarist delivers rasping punky chords and simple solo wails, plus backing vocal. Bass is lit up like an airport landing strip, offering slow complex deliberations and a second backing vocal. There's a modest electronic drum backing track to complete the experiment. The point of the research seems to be to find ways of writing wry and sarcastic observations on London life and making them inaudible. Audible thoughts cover: nightclubs - "I remember sticky carpets and those walls of nicotine"; toil - "I worked so hard I feel faint"; relationships - "she's a real goer if you really get to know her"; and stereotypes - "I've got nothing to say so I'll say it loudly".
The Genome Project are a pale Space, with a touch of Wire in the vocal repetition. London seems to be teeming with bands selling slightly-used Squeeze-style humorous social observation. Which is fair, but it's not rare. It's Saturday night beneath the plastic palm trees all over again. Who plays in a band like this?
Wed 15 March 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Irresistible synth based stomps and grooves.
The band storms in like New Order. Drums skip, shuffle and pound, with cowbell embellishments. Bass is a hefty force for tune and rhythm. Guitars chop and frill at the chords. But power resides with the frontwoman, her seething keyboards, her sweet breathy vocal, chanting and enchanting melodies. In ballad mode: "I'm like that Dr Pepper guy, I'm no good - I'm mischief - I'm misfit - I'm a loner - I'm just so fucking misunderstood"; then "I think we could get lost out there, baby we might drown".
It's not the ballad mode that's most exciting. There's a new angle here; the hostess steps out from behind the synth and into the light, manic expression, trumpet bursts in wildly, a melodica swells in disguise as a pipe-organ, and three chaps insert vocal Glitter Band responses "Whoa! Whoa!". An unlikely dance-rap vibe erupts, repeat after me: "We just know that life isn't fair, it's not fair, it's not fair"; "We're gonna keep rocking on, long after the break of dawn"; and, reverberating beyond comprehension "You're weird > What's weird? > We're not gonna fuck you". Or we are going to funk you? Now that's weird.
Meet the new Storm. Better than the old Storm. Our leader has a charisma built from the trials of Patti Smith, Lene Lovich and Cyndi Lauper. The ensemble groove is in the realms of Tom Tom Club, or contemporary Bull and Gate favourites La Momo. Our engineer reckons they sound like the Go Team. Whichever, Gertrude's Storm bring spine-jerking excellence. Just what are words worth?
Sat 17 July 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Shimmering gothic art-punk.
The Ghosts are about psychedelic guitar starbursts, forceful melodic bass tumbles, and energetic kit-wrecking drums. The Banshees with a touch of Bauhaus. But the vocal sound is not Siouxsie Sioux, rather a deeper version of Bjork's barely restrained hysteria. Lyrics are spikily sinister; "It might not amount to much, but baby I'll set you up"; and "You might think that you're the only one out there". Players are: female singer, two guitarists, bass-player, drummer.
The Ghosts marry a wayward cuckoo birdsong to quality-controlled spooky musical threats. It's a winning combination. Following the footsteps of a rag-doll dance, we are entranced.
Fri 14 January 2005 Tsunami Appeal Benefit @ Montague Arms
Genre: Classic ironic punk grooves.
Vocal: barks, bellows and twists-it like Mark E., with lots of sitting down.
Guitars: 2, chugging Damned riffs, rock'n'roll solos, feedback, snowdrifts, chimes.
Bass: big tunes bounced and pumped.
Drums: tickled, trickled, crashed, crated.
Timing: at least as reliable as London Underground.
Lyrics: yes, but mostly unknown.
Rough quotes: "We're going straight to hell"; "Set wrecker! I didn't come up in the middle of your set and say I can't hear what your singing".
Precedents: Damned, Pistols, Fall, Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain.
The Gimps churn their punky mayhem better than a Kenwood mixer.
Weirdness to pop ratio: 15% - it's rock'n'roll, but too loud and grunty to qualify as pop.
Familiarity factor: 90% - many of these songs feel like covers, and some are (Sex Pistols' Submission for one) - but they're all instant pogo - boogie generators.
Sat 12 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Sludge punks do it the way it was meant to be done.
Yes, a return to perverted form. It's Motorhead play The Stooges, it's a turbo-charged version of The Damned's psychedelic Naz Nomad and The Nightmares project. Gruff blues bawling and Biafran sneers. Twin chord strafing and classic rock'n'roll riffs from guitars. Romping and buzzing bass. Stomping drums. Cries "Nothing's everlasting baby, you know". Not this set, certainly - small, troll-like and cataclysmic.
The Gimps first attempt to finish the set involves a song the drummer's never heard before. "It doesn't make much difference anyway" they observe. It doesn't really, the song's a cool, grinding Velvet Underground affair. Then they restart with The Pistol's "Submission" - the singer mid-way between Lydon and Vincent Price, the contorted pronunciation of "Historiah" irresistibly silly. If the mask fits, wear it.
Sat 6 Dec 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Hard-edged rock 'n' roll with mad rant vocal.
OT only caught a snippet of the set by the time the Northern Line had lurched into gear. But a fine snippet it was. The sound of a turbo-charged Fall. Two guitars chiming like Roxy Music, a rhythm section rocking out like The Stooges, and a vocal delivery that is almost Ed "Tenpole-Tudor" trying to imitate Siouxsie Sioux (in a good way). Formation is: G on vocal, I on drums, M on bass, P on guitar and S on guitar.
The Gimps deliver driving, dark, illicit fun. A wry extra twist on glam, goth and punk rock. "I just wanna be your God".
Fri 12 March 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Complex punky prog 5 piece.
Breakneck drumming, bass that purrs like a puma (or any of the big cats really), guitars that fuzz, squall, wah-wah and glitter, with melodic vocal that veers slightly towards melodrama. Lyrically, it's a little paranoid android (or maybe schizoid android). One song claims "The joke's mine", the next "Why do I amuse you, why do you think it's funny?". Mostly, we're in the classic Radiohead land of Creep, but there are occasional scary forays into Stereophonics territory. Line-out is male lead vocal/ guitar, female guitar, female vocal/ bass, male drums.
Gin Panic are very fine indeed. They do a neat cover of "There ain't no sunshine when she's gone". And it does indeed seem darker when they're gone. It only takes one burner to burn a thousand CDs. Oh, yeah.
Sun 9 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Excited, anxious, tightly coiled and intense indie. With a new album to launch.
The set explodes like Ash's debut "1977": "I wanna be the guy you want!". Guitars squeal, needle-puncture licks, slashed chords. Bass blasts through with demanding hooks, express train drums follow along the tunnel, pummelling and crunching. Female backing vocal is used sparingly, harmonised cries, a rock-chick Shirelles. But the frontman's thing is fierce drawls and wails, processed megaphone rasps. Soundbite poetry: "I take what I want when I need it"; "Only one day at a time"; "Turn on the bright lights before I get old"; plus the post-album bonus "This is not an exit" (and it isn't, it's about mid-set). A great collision of post-punk styles, guitar twist from Siouxsie and the Banshees, bounding bass thrum from the Adverts, urgency and vocal angst courtesy of The Sound or Richard Ashcroft - all filtered through the lens of 1990s adolescence.
Gin Panic are the compelling guitar sound of warp-speed urgency. Baited lines repeat - "I submit" - but they don't sound submissive at all. The two male - two female format is cool, it keeps them well clear of the boys'n'toys or sisters-doing-it niches. To celebrate John Lennon's birthday and their Ringo sense of humour, they coax the audience into singing a chorus of Yellow Submarine. Serious about music, shrugging off the hard life, Gin Panic ask: "Do you want it faster?". Faster? Gin Panic are instant.
Tue 5 September 2006 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Jumparound psychedelic punk with psychobilly tendencies.
In some kind of Spinal Tap competitive zeal, GM appear to have created a 6-string bass and a 7-string guitar. The GM rythms are made for manic dancing: racing drums that tumble and crack, big stomps; sublime and crazy bass that rumbles, boogies and hooks. Guitars are into chew and scratch chords, twangs and squealing fuzz solos, massive psychedelic sprays. Two alternating singers chant and cry or bark and gabble, with falsetto thrown in to accentuate the impression of speed.
They can do it just as well without the Spinal Tap show too, using a single vocalist and conventional 6-string guitar. Either way, the emphasis is on the quirky groove, the repeating anthem: "Come to me > what you need > anytime, anytime"; "Every silver lining has a cloud"; and "What would you do for love?".
The Gingerbread Men are way too busy having big fun to stand still while you pin a genre to them. Funk elements of Radio 4, psychedelic elements of Soft Boys and Damned, manic-swing elements of Woodentops, they borrow from everybody to make themselves unique. Like all the best Gingerbread Men, this sound is sweet, crunchy, and a little bit exotic. Quality home recipe.
Mon 19 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
70s rock with folk leanings from these four.
This features some clever drum crescendos, complex bass movements, bluesy guitar lines and high speed jangle guitar chords. Vocals are tuneful going on anthemic, with the occasional constipated strain. The overall effect is reminiscent of The Seahorses. There's something painfully earnest about the line "When you close your eyes, and count to ten… When you wake up, we'll be home again", "Where do we go from here" is cliched (if direct), and "I still know, I still know… who I wanna be" is frankly implausible (did I hear it right?). Set up is lead vocal/ electric rhythm guitar/ semi-acoustic guitar, lead guitar/ backing vocals, bass, drums
What sticks in your mind are annoyingly anthemic repeats in a "yeah, yeah… yeah, yeah… yeah, yeah" vein, and the pompousness of the blues guitar when it gets into Lynard Skynard/ Led Zep mode. To use a line of their own "Familiar territory". This kind of rock music has been going on in pubs (and for Glass Apple, possibly school halls) for a very long time. It will continue to do so. It ain't going anywhere.
Tue 5 October 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Quirky prog-rock quality.
Baby blues tonic from the vocal - a light touch, but no less emotional for it. Rhythm guitar is a creature of chortling chords. Lead guitar scrapes and squalls uncontrollably, spirals madly, and emotes tricksy circlets that are almost folky in their intricacy. Bass is a thumping rhythmator, dancing a bumble-bee figure of eight. These three are layered over a crunchy-nut drum progression. Even the lyrics are an off-the-wall creation: "Tomorrow, you'll be regretting a choice you never made, but you'll wish you had". Glassfactory deliver a bizarre concoction of sludge and complexity, momentarily a ringing Lynard Skynard anthem, a sludgy Queens of the Stone Age, a West African Paul Simon odyssey.
Glassfactory produce ungraspable post-rock. It's heaped with bluesy melody, but trying to capture a song is like trying to clutch a bundle of fine glass straws. Despite the name, there is no connection with Joy Division here. Just wild inventive music riding a bucking bronco.
Tue 27 April 2004 Glasswerk @ Upstairs at The Garage
Folksy acoustica and impassioned torch vocal from this one-woman band (just voice and semi-acoustic guitar).
The songs are full of longing, but there's always an undercurrent of hope. Sweet "His lips like wine, so intoxicating", sour "So indulge me, tell me you want to know me", and sad "He is not here… so Iwait and wait… and kiss and miss".
Although the sounds are warm and engaging, there's an edginess and unease about the minor keys, and the sweet vocal has the deep timbre of loss found in Billie Holliday as well as the jaunty folkishness of Joni Mitchell. A haunting and beautiful folk-blues experience. You don't know what you got 'til it's gone.
Thu 19 February 2004 @ Hope and Anchor
Femme-fronted garage punks.
Patches of lush Bow Wow Wow attempt to find a foothold in a dust-bowl of a style. Clap-along beats, hop-along bass, air-solo-along Mick Ronson guitar, tonsil-along female vocal shouts. The Delinquents have some fantastic moments, with the vocal doing a convincing Nico to the musicians' Velvet Underground. Also, subtle lead-guitar meandering recalls the psychedelic era of the Damned in MC5 "Looking At You" mode. Lyrics sound inventive too: "Synthetiquette" is a cracking title, and I swear I heard the hookline "This is your honey". Set-up is female lead vocal, female bass-player, male guitar times two, male drums.
The Grand Delinquents have some good times and some bad times in this set. I don't think the world is ready for a vocal mix of Hazel O'Connor, Poly Styrene and Toyah Wilcox. And there is no excuse for sounding like you're covering "Gimme Some Lovin". Under the circumstances, lines like "You talk but I'm not listening" are a real temptation to reviewers… But inside the Grand Delinquents there is a beautiful nugget of off-kilter country psychedelia. People: nurture your nuggets; nurture your Grand Delinquents.
Sat 30 September 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Skewed jangle pop.
The singer's an odd chap, yelping his way through a melody that's deliberately not quite right. He delivers a dense barrage of lyricism, with backing vocals for weighty choruses and cabaret-blues harmonies. "When you’re cold think of me" (will it help?); "You can taste but you can't swallow, though you feel it going down"; then, apparently "All this perfidy is a metaphor". I don't know what this means but I guess I'm not supposed to - they introduced one of these as a song about fish - they are our friends! Really?
Meanwhile beats trickle and patter, or burst into jumpy rumbles, always heading to a stamping snare chorus. Bass hooks bubble warmly, but it's the guitar at the focus of the sound. The man wrestles with broken strings and eventually borrows a guitar but it all sounds great: jangles, pings and frilling, harshly struck chords, solos of tootling squeal and frothing fizz.
I loved the Grass Rabbits sound instantly. The way-out-west Richman vocal. The Fortuna Pop guitar. The alternating sense of lightness and great weight. The mix of the awkward and tuneful is like Joy Division messing with The Buzzcocks or Sonic Youth messing with Josef K. All my Easters have come at once.
Sat 23 September 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Operatic in scope, this is groovy prog-rock with ranted lyrics.
The vocals are a repeating stream of consciousness, floated, barked or screamed at the sky: "Where were you all those years ago when I was looking for you?"; "We're all doped on conspiracy, the topsy-turvy, the heresy"; "City's-final-end-atom" and "Don't deny life boy, take it on!" This is a pair of Geordie 'Biafras' in a yelpathon.
Drum cracks drive a jerky but grooving sound, with the slow bass lines that form deliberate hooks or wandering blues explorations. Guitars add drifting lines of softly-reverbed picking, classically Hackettesque pings and twangs and fuzzy phaser fx.
The keyboard-synth whips it up with splurging and piping organ, merry-go-round keyboard cycles, space age squidges and whooshes, swirling daydreams. All these parts are familiar, but the sum is attractively awkward and fissile.
Gravanzia are playing on a sense of the grandiose, but they know that this pompous and theatricality is silly and they just want to have fun grooving with it. This over-the-top doom-with-a-smile contains traces of The Stranglers, Devo, Senser, Spiritualized and Joeyfat. Just to prove that they’re serious up-north about the end of the world, the frontman is wearing a tweedy flat cap with a bright orange beach shirt. We asked them this fundamental question: "Can music save the planet?" They answered with wisdom: "A retarded notion - thus spoke Gravanzia".
The Gresham Flyers
Sat 18 November 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Luxurious and sophisticated pop music, with the jaundiced spirit of 70s and 80s social observation.
There seem to be half-a-dozen Gresham Flyers, but there's enough music going on to occupy a whole lot more. Guitars that shimmer and jangle, solos that squiggle and rasp. Synth-organ with a characteristic Hammond feel, seething, swirling, repeating the house-strike. A romping rhythm section that trickles and rolls.
Words come thick and fast, stories of everyday drama. The frontman's lead vocal reeks of sly-knowingness Pete Shelley/ Buzzcocks-style. He's joined by light and precise backing, or displaced by a commanding northern lass.
He seems to represent the misguided male of the species: "I also know what you want, I can see it, let me show you". She dismisses said male: "He's gonna get wrecked on Saturday, you'll never change him with the things you say". In tandem, they tackle the romance-free side of love: "I feel like we're missing something, something we've never known" versus "I wasn't looking for a mindless conquest, even though I was in love with your chest". They're fans of Corrie of course - 'apparently Audrey Roberts got a snog last night > eeh, it were lovely'.
The Gresham Flyers sound bright and jolly, but there's some sharp grit in the suncream. Like the Beautiful South, the Greshams disguise tales of the mundanely brutal beneath rich bubbling music and generous vocal harmonies. It's a long tradition spanning Pulp, the Divine Comedy, the Red Guitars, Peter Gabriel, Kinks, even Alan Price - but Paul Heaton is surely the man who has most succesfully built a career on casual misanthropy. This is a group of consummate performers, looking and sounding like they grew-up on stage. I'd defy a fan of pop songs with any critical faculties at all to claim a dislike for the Gresham Flyers. I love them, and they're interesting.
Tue 18 May 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Bluesy folk-rock with a thick streak of moralistic youth denial.
Vocal is a Seahorses busky warble. Guitars mix staccato chimes with deftly soaring blues lines. The bass can be an awkward crunch or a slappin' funker. At times, it's almost jazz… but… But it's so very green. Lines like "It's gonna be ok. Tomorrow's another day" are sickbag worthy. And, honestly, a tale of two women (almost suprisingly, not a tale of two Titties) produces "You've seduced every man… this time, you won't seduce me" and climaxes with "Let me be".
At the beginning of the set, comparisons with Smashing Pumpkins and Placebo beckoned, but then the painfully earnest core of the angst became apparent. Either they're chistians, or they're hobbits. We're getting tooth-grittingly close to the world of Stairway to Heaven, and you can't help feeling that they're trapped between the Bluetones and Led Zeppelin - a stampede is bound to squash them soon. On the pop-side "I never said goodbye… now I'm left to think about why" (a Bluetones cover surely). "Why" is because this musicianly showing-off is silly and pretentious, best to beat it silently. On the prog-rock side, to re-use a bad paraphrase: "The lamb lies down on Archway".
The Half Rabbits
Mon 13 October 2003 @ Hope and Anchor
Oxford sonic trickery combining pop-goth, post-rock and slightly fey crooning.
The territory of rhythmic twists and guitars that veer from Postcard Records jangle (Josef K, Orange Juice), across funky riffology, metal cliché and goth wailing (Banshees/ Killing Joke). Loadsa minor keys to complement psychic lyrical trickery. There's an easy diffidence about the melodic vocal delivery that begs a parallel - I think probably David Devant. Nearest contemporaries might be Finlay, but this is way more mixed-up and off the wall. Set up is male lead vocal/ guitar, guitar, female backing vocal/ bass, drums.
A remarkable indie pop melange. Magical. The whole bunny being boiled.
Wed 9 August 2006 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Guitar-electro thrum and beep pop.
Programmed beats ring, kerchink, stomp and crack, urging on the simple hooks of a racing pulse-bass. Guitar sprays jingling bells and beeps out determined storylines. The keyboard pipes and splurges or breaks for a rattlesnake tambourine.
There are two Havana Girl singers, the lead deep and impassioned, a dark and sultry persona, hair swept across one eye. The keyboard player sings too, Motown-style harmonies and echoes. "Just one more time", she teases "I just want you to, want you to, want you to know". Yes, we see.
Havana Girls produce 2 minute sprays of finely ground spice pop, it's catchily dark fun. Their music sounds like improbable amalgams of Nancy Sinatra and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Blondie and New Order. All wrapped up in a tobacco leaf too, now who from outside Cuba would have thought of that? Sally Cinnamon, you're my world.
Sun 17 October 2004 UK Antifolk 2 @ Buffalo Bar
Syrupy songstress whines alone tonight.
Aaah - Jane strokes the strings like a waterfall. Then belligerently rips into Tracey Chapman's anti-oppression chords. A saccharine voice wielding a semi-acoustic axe. Jane's trademark is negativity delivered in run-on sentences. "Can't you see I see right through you > so there's nothing else for me to > do except pray > for the rain > to come down > on you". But often this is simply the lament of the lovelorn: "She knows when she's with him nothing is wrong, it's all innocent"; and "Tonight I smoke alone, waiting for the telephone to ring".
Hazy Jane is a little princess of the sad and dreamy. On a Sunday afternoon when it's pouring with rain, you're smoking a joint, guzzling chocolate, and feeling self-indulgent: then probably this sounds great. But at a gig sprinkled with expectant punters, waiting to be excited, daring you with their low attention span? Dull.
Heat From a Dead Star
Mon 7 November 2005 @ Hope and Anchor
Very special post-rock'n'jazz instrumentals.
Three men with a message: a message that builds. Tribal drumming opens. Subtly piping keyboard grows into a space storm. Bass emerges, a fussin' and a botherin'. Then spooky guitar rears, grunts and reverbs.
Suddenly, the trio break into a classic rock'n'roll intro. They follow on with five wild musical experiments. Grinding guitar, whistling and squealing feedback, mad fx pedalling, a Black Sabbath of diabolic revs and slashes. The bass man's tunes jerk and spider, strings bending, mad slides, frenetic speed and groovy slapping. This chap plays keyboard with his feet - not foot pedals, yer actual keys. Beats are stilted, but graspable, tempos frayed, but nothing broken. Hawkwind, Black Sabbath and Spiritualized thrown together and forced through the grinder.
Heat from a Dead Star made my week. This is music of blackhole darkness and raging intensity. But it's constructed from a pattern of short repeats that's bizarrely catchy. A breakneck progression from the intro, through a sequence of end-to-end tunes, ultimately arriving at a finale that plunges around a groove, a hooky helter-skelter crunchathon, and a white noise conclusion. John Lydon observed that "Anger is an energy". Heat from a Dead Star have travelled from France, where the energy has been emerging as rioting, to prove that their energy can be harnessed in the service of timeless musical beauty. Energy not just from celestial bodies, but the perpetual power of Mr Jimi Hendrix.
Heroes of Switzerland
Wed 2 November 2005 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Rock 'n' roll 'n' shoegazin' surf 'n' punk.
Vocals are ethereal moans. The words you hear are laments: "Walking away from you". Though the words could possibly be about anything, guitar is certainly about everything - hurried picking, shimmering chords, calm chiming, George Harrison sobs, and lines of infinite sustain that soar, squeal and reverb brightly. Bass plays simple bubbling tunes and gentle grooves. Beats race crisply and take tumbles easily.
The Heroes Of Switzerland do the Ride thing, but with a sense of direction. Traces also of Spiritualized, Pixies and Kitchens Of Distinction. You'll believe a lead guitar can fly, because this one does. Neutrality doesn't have to be boring.
Wed 9 August 2006 Blang @ 12 Bar Club
Bright and lyrical folk poetry.
Superficially, one middle-aged man on stage with a semi-acoustic guitar, but the things he says - and the way he says them - are nothing short of beguiling.
The guitar is strummed and frilled, harsh slices, dramatic breaks, chords gently deconstructed, bemused, frustrated, reconciled. The voice floats, melodies that steadily snare you without ever being obvious. These things beautiful in themselves but still just the golden band and sculpted setting for the gem of the poetry.
So much poetry. An attempt to explain it undervalues it, but delivery without punctuation is a hail of silver-tongued bullets. Home truths and philosophy: "I'm seldom cruel, and often kind, but I can't save you this time"; and "Don't turn off what's been turned on… don't wish for something in your life, and when it arrives, wish it were gone". Countryside walks beyond the 'burbs "where the claws of the city can't quite reach". The pain in your own life and the pain around the world: "Time is grey, the pill of silence tastes of nothing" and "In the Lone Star hotel, the lovers lay down. They shoot it out on the saddest brass-beds in town". Anger that's quiet and precise.
In the mid 1980's, Kevin Hewick made a single with The Sound. I bought it, as I bought pretty much all of their output, but I don't even remember the A Side - it's Kevin's solos on the flip I remember, and most particularly a song called 'Amber'.
Life moved on, The Sound disappeared, grunge, emo, post-rock, twenty-first century. Then, quite unexpectedly, I've spotted Hewick's name in Time Out. I can't make the date, but there's some interesting info on My Space. Hewick is from Leicester, my home town. He's got gigs coming up in social clubs in Coalville, two-and-a-half hour sets no less. Daunting.
And, at last, he's in London again at the Joe Buzfuz 'Blang!' night. And here he is, cheerfully overweight, smiling throughout a set of condensed passion and deftly teased guitar. He seems casual and bluff, but every word is a perfectly guided missile. No 'Amber' in the set tonight, but it's still with me: "I've seen insects entombed in anger on prehistoric flights through the density. I've seen time do some cruel things, but none so cruel as freezing wings - into a block of destiny". Hewick is simply the best songwriter I've ever encountered. I'm not planning to wait another 20 months - let alone 20 years - before I hear him play again.
Fri 5 Dec 2003 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Excellent and deeply heavy post-rock.
Hey Colossus bring other luminaries and mix them into the glorious ashes of Stanton. How do they follow Stanton? With something completely "OTHER" and still completely awesome.
The formation is the key to the Colossus sound. Here we have 3 guitarists, each contributing utterly different but complementary vibes, and also each providing both lead and backing vocals with their own particular emphasis. So we have Squelchy Guitar, Strident Guitar and Just-Plain-Weird Guitar. Predominant vocal is an industrial scream, but there is also ranting and anthemic shouting. The rhythm section takes us through prog-rock plod, speed-thrash and post-rock tripping. Don't ask about the lyrics; all either inaudible or too esoteric to interpret. Just more surfers on the noise wave.
Hey Colossus are the superlative in heavy heavy monster post-progressive-rock. See it. Believe it.
Fri 7 May 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Weapons grade uranium from the fake peacenik spies.
Very deeply heavy thrash with spicy little Zep licks, and the odd Fleetwood Mac riff raising its head over the parapet. Drums grind up like graphite rods dropped into the meltdown. Vocals bawl and grunt with the passion of greenpeace activist at Sellafield. The bass directs proceedings with Mossad intelligence. This has a blues heart bigger than Sabbath and tongue-in-cheek cliches cheekier than the Foo Fighters. But no-one from Birmingham or Seattle. Obsessive and pointless line-up info is: guitar/ vocal, guitar/ vocal, guitar/ vocal, bass, drum.
This gigantic sound is built in classical rock proportions, yet magnified by a grunt factor so huge it’s a lifeform bigger than humanity. The fossil remains of earlier pretenders are in the basement of the British Museum.
Sat 17 January 2004 RoTa @ Notting Hill Arts Centre
Post-rock majesty from these 5 Gods of men.
Snarling snare drums and driving bass carry a guitar threesome producing squealing lead lines, a 2-bar circular sub-plot, and thrashing chords. The 3 guitarists each contribute vocals, an angry argument worthy of the average teenagers' parents, but with a bluesy voice of reason chipping in. And, for good measure, there's a synth to fill those moments when only a wet farty noise will do. Multi-layered is an understatement. Guitar-boy masturbation material. Rock formation is guitar/ vocal, guitar/ vocal, guitar/ vocal/ synth, bass, drums.
The heaviest rock in the world… EVER. Makes Motorhead sound lame.
Sun 11 June 2006 UK Antifolk @ Buffalo Bar
A rowdy and oddly instant pop operetta.
Horsebox project a dark jollity that's fun without being cheesy. Even the drums seem cheery, handclap splats and victory gun salutes. Bass guitar bounds around spreading joyful tunes. Two guitars trade spooky nibbles, jazzy chimes, engagingly unlikely chord sequences and twanging musical box solos - all catchy and off-the-wall. These sounds are frosted with high glockenspiel lines that actually sparkle, fairground calliope and hooky mini-organ splurges. Two larger-than-life characters deliver cleverly combined vocal parts, their eyes roll as they sing, tuneful wails and barks: the curled and the staccato, just like Steve Harley.
Every song seems to be themed around food and drink - cherry pie, lemonade, excess alcohol and (so they claim) ice-cream restaurants. This is story-telling about the quirkiness of everyday emotion in the style of Danny Kaye or 1960s David Bowie: "When you're not here, I put my arm around the empty seat beside me"; and "I don't dare to hope or think or feel, what if every kiss was meant for real?". What if every band was as weirdly infectious as Horsebox?
The music of now has almost caught up with Horsebox, expect a media vibe very soon. The sounds are summery and upbeat, but so wild they're almost scary. Every one of the closing handful of songs could be successful singles - the great guitar hook and empathy factor of "I don't remember last night" - plus choppy Futureheads chants "When you turn it around, turn it around > whoa-oh, whoa-oh > feet on the ground, feet on the ground > whoa-oh, whoa-oh > it's somebody's heart, somebody's heart > whoa-oh, whoa-oh". Like most contemporaries, Horsebox seem to have been listening to XTC records, but they've listened to a lot of them, and then delved further into the 1970s, ideas here could have come from Queen, 10cc, and the Sparks for starters. This is the third Horsebox show I've seen, and every one's been a corker. Chances to see them in a small venue can't continue for much longer, get yourself down to the trough now.
Wed 7 July 2004 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Off the wall blues rockin' love songs.
The singer is a soft-voiced chap, quasi-melodic with half-spoken episodes and excitable yelps - like a youthful John Otway or Andy Partridge. Guitars can folk chimes, fuzzy blues and glammy spangles almost to match Richard Thompson. Bass skips around gentle melodic themes. Drums are a tickety rhythm-twister. Songs deal with failure and success in love. "When I walk in the room you run away, just like a Japanese cartoon". "What if everything you think is true?". "The day will lay you down happy as a clown... and the night will hardly ever come around in your little town". "God bless those angels of mischief and everything". "If you come with me, you'll be in a world of your imagination". Unlikely though it would seem, these guys sound like a cross between Captain Beefheart and XTC. Lined-up are lead vocal/ guitar, guitar, bass, drums.
Horsebox deliver quirky catchy songs about how to get and keep the girl. They romp gloriously through rock, blues and folk stylings to surprisingly danceable effect. Oddly marvellous.
Mon 24 October 2005 @ Hope and Anchor
Impressive cabaret silliness.
Regular bass is on leave, but tonight it's a two-girl, two-boy combo. Male vocal fronts up, hysterical chewed-up melodies. Guitar sounds frill and slash, with solos that fizz and needle pick. Bass paces with cat-creep deliberation, rhythms are cool ska and reggae. Lyrically, Hotel Ukraine seem to be concerned with poking sly digs at our humdrum lifestyles: "Different punchline, but the same old joke"; "Wrapped up in our lost days"; "All you do is what they told you to"; and "Late night turning into early morning".
I think that Hotel Ukraine are aiming at a culturally-broad pop-noir, but the outcome is more a cute quirkiness. Their pub-ska cover of Dylan's "It's all over now, baby blue" is quite simply bizarre. A strange blend of Bauhaus and Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, not a million miles from contemporaries The Mules. Hotel Ukraine are an establishment you need to check out.
Ian Hunter and the Rant Band
Sun 16 May 2004 @ Princess Charlotte, Leicester
Classic honky-tonk blues from the erstwhile Mott the Hoople front man.
The set spans over 30 years, picking through old chestnuts and freshly sprouting acorns. But it's a slow starter, and initially hard not to think this kind of blues-rock is just so over-syruped. Gently strummed rhythms, glammy sustain lead lines, nudge-nudge bass and boogie-woogie piano. All very well for blues that has a good-time-remembering-the-bad-times, and for pantomime balladry. But early in the set, OT was desperate for sounds with some space, tension and tristesse. The stomping version of "Once bitten, twice shy" robbed Hunter's massive solo hit of the original's wonderful sneering meanness. And a newish 9.11 influenced song ("Twisted steel… twisted minds…twisted logic") didn't really seem to belong in this musical landscape at all. Those moments were like watchingDire Straits at best, and at worst Jimmy Nail or Chris Rea. Happliy, as the set progressed, it got more rootsy, and the mouth-organ came out - together with the anecdotes. OK, the world may not need another Bob Dylan mouth-organ anecdote [this is one of Bob Dylan's "holders"… he didn't give it to me, I stole it out the van"], but stories about growing up in Shrewsbury are humanising, and there's an enjoyably ridiculous image of Frank Sinatra performing for audience and camera at age 72, with drink in one hand and cigar in the other - proceeding to cough all the way through the second verse. This heralds Hunter's impressively croon-through of "A nightingalke sang in Berkeley Square" before getting down on the keyboards for the biggest crowd-pleasers of the evening: Mott's own "Roll Away The Stone", a snippet of their nostalgic "Do you remember the Saturday gigs" and (naturally) THAT David Bowie song. The array of musicians roughly stack-up as: Hunter - lead vocal/ rhythm guitar/ keyboard/ mouth-organ; guitar/ backing vocal;guitar/ backing vocal; bass; keyboard/ backing vocal; drums.
Old rockers tend to stage shows as if they were scoring a Broadway musical, throwing players and sounds at their songs as if furnishing an entire theatre with good-time atmosphere. Think of Bowie's first live release, "David Live". But for the best material here, musicianship is reined-in, and the spangly "four minutes of fame" numbers shine through. Hunter wrote the killer lines "I got there in the nick of time… before he got his hands across your State-line" and "You look like a star, but you're still on the dole". And with this line - and the final piano closure of "All the way from Memphis" - a set of over an hour is ended. See Hunter, and you don't just see a man in his sixties play rock 'n' roll like a bloke with half those years on the clock. You see one of the fathers of the perfectly crafted 1970s pop song. An art well worth learning from.
Fri 5 August 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Ambient guitar-based instrumentals direct from the wilderness.
The Hunter's Loaf sound rises from substructure to adornments, and is easiest to unravel in the same way. The drummer assembles amazingly jerky patterns, surprising intervals, crisp zing-and-zang beats, a sparing throb of kicked bass, and a sudden sabre rattling. Bass tunes are utterly compelling, deep ocean-trench eruptions with soft timbres but strangely stippled rumbles. An electric and a semi-acoustic guitarman are the kings of reverberation, shimmers and loops. These guys generate a beautiful complementary set of twangy jangles and flickers, steely hooks of groundhog repeat, and crafty slides that pitch into sighs and teardrops. As a moment of special embellishment, the bass-man unleashes a burst of wheezy and off-kilter mouth organ. Herein lies the frontier-country symbolism of John Parish, the mellow enigma of David Sylvian, and the Bill Nelson themes of calm development and patient repetition.
From the moment I heard the Hunter's Loaf album Solomon's Radio, I was hypnotised. The point is minimalism rather than complexity, the sedative effect of whale song. For me, HL evoke desert roads, telegraph lines, thorny succulents, tumbleweed, scorched earth, salt stains, termite mounds, dust storms and heat hazes - that'll be Gospel Oak then. A bittersweet sound of wistfulness, regret and sepia memories. An essential narcotic, it’s the devil in the flesh, it’s the iron in the soul.
Fri 20 January 2006 Silver Rocket - Noisestar @ Upstairs at the Garage
A new kind of heavyweight blues-rock.
Drums tumble and rumble, boom and roll, tease and thunder - deep and distant. Bass is primarily a rhythm generator, pumping and throbbing. Guitar is far more difficult, most of the time he's off his rocker and off the stage. Instrument brandished triumphantly overhead, he twangs - clangs - scribbles - curls, an unnerving selection of chords, warm upscale Hendrix slaps, cool downscale sludge riffs. Vocal is a wail so drunk it almost yodels. I don't know exactly the nature of the threat contained in the lyrics, but tortured cries about testicles certainly feature. This is not an obvious sound, but it's not a chore to listen to either - more an Enjoyable Challenge.
This Hunting Lodge doesn't contain anything that resembles Hunter's Loaf… but it does contain a drum-playing bear. The musical equivalent of Blair Witch, a dash through the woods with a hand-held camera. Jerking, false-endings, inexplicable drum resurgence. It's good to be scared out of complacency. Is Hunting Lodge an amazing outfit? Do bears shit in the woods?
Tue 4 November 2003 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
You'd have to think the Sisters of Mercy were progenitors of this sound, but Hyperfury are far more thrash oriented. The singer seems to have the band in thrall, conducting them with Von Karajan control. Vocals are a speed-rant, but more rock than rap, and fraught with angsty rebellion. A lot of the rants are about the inadequacies of other people - emblematic themes being "Personal parasite" and "Retaliator". Even the relatively soft Roquefort of "Heartbreaker" follows "Don't you want to cry like me… don't you want to lie like me… don't you want to die like me?" with a suggestion that the partner in question needs "a fuck in the arse". Players are male lead vocal, female occasional backing vocal, guitar, bass, drums, plus lots of backing synth and rhythm.
Hyperfury seem to be less an ensemble than an exercise in (oppression or drug-fuelled?) control freakery. The only shared smiles in the set come during this statement: "I am the retaliator. Fuck me up, I'll find you later. I hate to love you, but I do". And, at last, there is mutual grinning between lead and backing singer. Hyperfury? Hypernasty!
Everyone's laughing and living in style, the bill for the denstist as big as the smile (Del Amitri)