Thursday, 7 September 2017

1,052, 1,053 THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS, Lene Lovich, Birmingham O2 Institute, Bristol O2 Academy, Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th September 2017

An impromptu and last-minute double-header for arty 80’s post-punk Bowie referencers turned latter-day US FM Radio favourites and “Bratpack” movie soundtrackers The Psychedelic Furs, this; as soon as a UK tour showcasing their extensive singles output was announced, I’d immediately booked tix for the Bristol show. Happily I also persuaded (this time!) fellow Furs devotees “Mad” Doug and The Big Man to join me for the Bristol show (and later, Beef, who sorted his own ticket), for an evening of prime 80’s “colossal” live rock, thereby also re-enacting a journey to see this same band with those same 2 gentlemen, at The Colston Hall, just round the corner from the O2, over 30 years ago! And I’d have been happy with just that, but a text from Stuart the day before the Birmingham gig, inviting me to take advantage of one of the 2 free tickets that had fallen into his lap thanks to a disorganised colleague (!), suddenly turned this into a 2-night double-header. Free tix? That’s my favourite ticket price, and free tix for The Furs? You bet!

So, Birmingham first, and Stuart picked me up early at 6 for a swift drive into B’rum city centre, but then an utterly farcical parking situation; we tried to park in 2 open-air car parks and not having sufficient coinage between us, tried in vain to use credit card (which didn’t process properly in one, and was unavailable in the other), then the automated phone paying system (said system refusing both car parks’ location numbers!). Exasperated, we eventually dumped Stu’s motor in a poorly-lit, dodgy-looking and rubbish-strewn trading estate road not far from the venue, an ornate old theatre hall which reminded me of a smaller Shepherd’s Bush Empire! The parking delay meant we missed half of support Lene Lovich’s set, which turned out to be no bad thing as she was utterly dire. Black/ red clad and much wider than in her 70’s pomp, she caterwauled like one of Macbeth’s witches over some horribly clich├ęd doomy pantomime pseudo goth; clearly trying to channel her inner Siouxsie, she instead ended up giving the impression of Meg from “Meg And Mog”, and it all felt quite embarrassing for all concerned. Give it up, dear!

Still, from the ridiculous to the sublime, and in no uncertain terms! We squeezed into a spot near the front, stage right, then the lights plunged at 9.15 and the bleak, eerie synth refrain from Bowie’s “Warszawa” washed over the expectant audience. The band took the stage one by one, the velvet great-coated bass monolith Tim Butler cupping his hand to his ear to elicit a cheer; then, as the angular rhythm and backwards backbeat of “Dumb Waiters” kicked off, vocalist Richard Butler took the stage last – blessed touch of theatre! – bowing low with a flourish, before the sleazy nasal tones of his halting, London-Bowie-esque voice heralded the start of his evening’s work.

A chugging “We Love You” next up saw Butler prowl the stage, haughty and imperious of demeanour, fulsome and expansive of gesture. A tremendous, hard rocking thrill-ride “Mr. Jones” led into the quintessential Furs number (hell, probably the quintessential 80’s rock song!) “Pretty In Pink”, the vocalist by now having divested himself of his own coat to reveal a black spotted pyjama top (!). Great stuff, although there were some bumps in the road; the mix was a little poor, seemingly not accounting for diminutive Kevin Millar-lookalike Mars Williams’ decadent late-night glam-sleaze virtuoso saxophone being the lead instrument for much of the Furs material, and with Rich Goode’s more textural guitar work higher in the mix than necessary, it occasionally sounded cluttered and busy, particularly during a messy “Danger” or the later “Until She Comes”. Nonetheless, the familiarity and quality of their material shone like a beacon through the mix fog; “Run And Run” was great, the brilliant line of “I’ve been waiting all night for someone like you… but you’ll have to do” being delivered by Butler with playful dismissiveness, and “Heartbeat” finally saw Williams’ sax really to the fore, for this pulsating, funky classic.

All too soon, a brilliant soaring “Heaven”, the best sounding song of the night with the mix finally spot-on for its’ soaring chorus and descending hook, closed out a thoroughly entertaining set. Sure, I’d have taken out a couple of the later singles in favour of a “President Gas”, “Forever Now” or “Into You Like A Train”, but this was a Singles tour, right? I knew that when I bought the ticket, so was totally prepared for it…

And for the encore, where drummer Phil Calvert took the stage first, pounding out the unmistakeable drumbeat to the sprawling classic “Sister Europe”, Tim Butler’s bass then adding the brooding menace, before the song stretched moodily and languidly into life. Excellent, but topped with a lengthy, all-action “India”, the energetic yet taciturn Butler blowing kisses to the crowd as he departed after a mix-affected yet stellar performance.

Home for 12.30 after an easy egress from B’rum with Stu, all in the knowledge that I was to do it all again the following evening! So, for Bristol, Beef wandered over and we then collected The Big Man and Doug from their opposite sides of Swindon for an entertaining drive down and an easy park on a quiet Trenchard Level 8 for 8pm. The O2 however was already busy, much more so than the Institute, and this time Lene Lovich had only just started her set, I noted with due dread and concern. The initial part of her set was however an eye-opener in comparison to the previous night; still not great, but some more palatable poppier, herky-jerky new wavey rhythm and toy organ-fuelled stuff being a definite improvement. However, after a messy “Say When” and a bouncy version of The Hit, “Lucky Number” (both of which we missed last night), it was back to the dirge-like panto goth nonsense to end a ropey – and at 45 minutes, overlong – support set.

We wandered down onto a busy dancefloor, Doug (as is his wont) striking up conversations with all and sundry as we went, and found a small space near our usual stage left slot. A late running Lisa, who with admirable dedication had driven from London for this one (!), turned up too, deciding on a watching brief outside of the squeeze. Again “Warszawa” struck up, heralding The Furs’ entrance at 9.15. Same set as before, in the same order; however familiarity certainly didn’t breed contempt for me! “Mr. Jones” was again a potent, powerful early highlight, “Love My Way” a delicious exercise in blissful melancholy, and “Angels Don’t Cry”, never a favourite of mine, was tender and touching, sounding clear as a bell, the mix considerably better in Bristol than Birmingham.

Vocalist Richard Butler was again The Star; same spotted pyjama top, same extravagant gestures, same occasionally slightly laboured but entirely appropriate sleazy nasal hazy vocals. And initially, same taciturn manner, each song once again going unannounced, with the occasional, “thank you!” being the only non-lyrical communication from the vocalist. However, unlike last night, Butler took it upon himself to introduce the band midway through, introducing brother Tim last as, “the guy who got this whole fucking thing started!” before remarking, “and then there’s you lot! Thank you!”

“Heartbeat” was again a thing of tantalising pulsating menace; “House” was widescreen and expansive, a real mid-80’s anthemic flag-waver, but once again “Heaven” stole the show, soaring and resplendent, Tim Butler striding the stage like a colossus while his brother spun, arms outstretched, behind him. Great stuff, and another moody, menacing and magnificent “India” saw the evening to a close.

No set-lists either night, however, despite my exhortations (and Doug bringing his best powers of persuasion to bear on my behalf in Bristol!); the official line was that they were keeping and re-using them! I call double-bullshit, me…! Nonetheless, we caught our breath then walked Lisa back to the car park before bidding our farewells and hitting the road for an equally chatty and swift ride home.

Reflections on this double header? Well, I was bloody knackered Thursday at work, so I wouldn’t want to do it too often (!) but glad I did it for the Furs. Like The Skids earlier this year, here’s a band of similar vintage still showing the young ‘uns the way, and growing older disgracefully in the process. And long may that continue!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

1,051 NICK PARKER, Swindon “House Show”, Saturday 2nd September 2017

File this one under “It never hurts to ask…!” Splendid Street singer-songwriter and star of Swindon Shuffle Saturday, Nick Parker, announced an early Autumn tour, both solo headline shows and in support of his mate Gaz Brookfield’s solo shenanigans. The nearest Nick/Gaz dates seemed to clash with other things, however, but there was an intriguing “Swindon House Show” on the itinerary. Finding out it was being hosted by my recent gig acquaintance Grant, I put in a tentative request to come along, which was thankfully accepted. As I said, never hurts to ask…!

My initial request was actually threefold, for mate Rich Carter and for Logan as well. Unfortunately Rich’s shift pattern changed and Logan was feeling a little under the weather, so my invite ended up being just for me! I therefore arrived solo at 7.30 to handshakes from Grant and bearhugs from Nick, and enjoyed some convivial historical gig and indie rock chat (James and Carter USM particularly cropping up frequently in conversation!) with Grant’s other guests as they arrived.

We eventually gathered on and around the sofas lining the living room, as Nick took a seat in the window for his first set at 8.30, in front of this small but attentive audience (Nick commenting frequently at how quiet we all were; just paying attention, mate!). First set was a run-through of the highlights from his splendid current album “Besta Venya”, which is rapidly becoming a Rose favourite in the car. The low-key renditions in this intimate setting suited Nick’s material perfectly, as it seemed to shine more emphasis onto his clever and wry wordplay and incisive observational lyrical style. Opener “Departures” was a perfect example, holding up a mirror to the minutiae of humanity at an airport departure lounge, and “Simple Song”, a duet with his German friend Emily, was a sweet and touching ballad. We also were treated to some more extensive between-song chat and trivia regarding the material, with “Make Yourself At Home” being a story of his worst ever gig, and “Down With The Youth” apparently featuring on a forthcoming American TV show! “Es Tut Mir Leid” closed out the opening set, Emily doing a good job of handling all 4 cue cards herself!

Pizza and more rock chat during the interval, including catching up with Nick and passing along Logan’s “entschuldigung” for his non-attendance. We’ll see Nick in February in Southampton, all being well! 10 pm ticked around, and a now more relaxed and “well-refreshed” Nick placed his large glass of red wine on the open window-sill (having opened the window during the first set with a warning comment of, “what about the neighbours?” and receiving the general reply of, “fuck ‘em! There’s more of us than them!”) for the second set, a request-driven selection of his older material, which was largely unfamiliar to me, but generally really easy listening, them apples not falling that far from the tree, after all…! A familiar one to kick off, however, in “Terry And June”, being face-timed by a fellow attendee for his daughter’s birthday, to Nick’s feigning awkwardness and her general embarrassment (particularly the preceding rendition of “Happy Birthday”!). After a Weakerthans cover featuring Emily on lead vocals, it was back to the oldie requests, with a very Dando-esque “The Conjurer”, a folksy, Waterboys-referencing “Never Been To Dublin” and an excellent “Could We At Least Try” (this number being party to my favourite song trivia of the night, the subject being about a guy finding out his girlfriend is a prostitute!) highlights. “Oceanographer” was a lovely, plaintive lament, then “Another Journey Home”, a traditional hum-along set closer, collapsed into a giggle-fest, so “Come On! Jump Over Your Shadow”, which saw those present ring each other for strange echoey sound effects to augment the song, actually rounded off the night.

Chatting, merch and fond farewells before I headed off home, getting lost around unfamiliar territory… D’oh! Nonetheless, this was a fun evening in convivial company, and a performance of 2 halves from Nick Parker; the low-key master craftsman in one, and the red-wine fuelled jovial raconteur and entertainer in the other. Nice work – thanks again to Grant. Glad I asked!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

1,050 ALVVAYS, Alaskalaska, Southampton Talking Heads, Tuesday 29th August 2017

I was always going to catch Alvvays on this tour (pardon the pun) – the first time this band of Nova Scotia dreamers, with innocent wide-eyed guitars and dark, unspoken melancholy in their hearts in equal measure, had graced our shores for 2 years, this time back to push a new album in the forthcoming “Antisocialites” – but the question turned out to be, where? A September date at “The Dirty Boat”, Bristol’s Thekla, seemed favourite, and I duly sourced a ticket for that one, only for Rach to arrange her first sea swim for that weekend, prompting a potential family weekend away. Oxford’s date clashed with a previously arranged gig elsewhere (Psychedelic Furs, next week!), so it was down to Southampton, to a new venue for me in The Talking Heads, which was apparently my friend Rich Carter’s Uni boozer of choice!

A solo jaunt for me too, this, so I motored purposefully down the A34, finding the venue easily and a street parking spot eventually, after a couple of tours of the locale. Into a small, compact and bijou, and wider than long venue, already well attended, and greeted by Devo’s “Freedom Of Choice” over the PA. Had worse welcomes! I soon came to wish they’d left that on, as support Alaskalaska, on prompt at 8.15, really weren’t much cop; a cumbersome 6 piece, featuring at least 2 totally superfluous members in their keyboardist and saxophonist, their songs generally eased in on a smooth, pastoral (and occasionally darker, more morose) Sundays-like vibe, before unfortunately developing into more cluttered and over-fussy beasts, recalling poor 80’s wine bar funk at times, but generally overcomplicated by rude, blaring sax or dissonant sheet synth. If their songs were 30 seconds long each (!) I might have actually liked them; instead they just irritated and bored me. Sorry, but Alaskalaska just left me coldcold…

Alvvays then set up onstage and I wandered down the crowded front, stage right, in anticipation of a quick turnaround, whilst the PA then played the Razorcuts’ totally appropriate C86 classic “Sorry To Embarrass You” (31 years old! Older than most of tonight’s crowd, I’d wager…). Someone’s evidently been doing their homework…! 10 minutes late, however, bagpipe music and an “Alvvays” flag projected onto the backdrop heralded the band’s entrance at 9.25, straight into hard-edged new opener “Saved By Waif”, before Molly remarked, “how’s it going?” and, “shit! Is that French?” to some clever-dick heckler, before “Adult Diversion”’s joyous Rickenbacker jangle got the sell-out young crowd bouncing.

A shame that this tour preceded the release of “Antisocialites”, rather than the other way around, as the set was replete with new numbers, and it really felt that each new number was definitely going to be my new favourite new Alvvays number… until the next one! Whether it be the herky-jerky new waveisms of “Plimsoul Punks”, the brash, brittle Buzzcocks-like “Your Type” or the equally snappy, punky bounce of “Lollipop”, or Kerry’s cinematic keyboards embellishing the plaintive yet really rather lovely harmonies of “Not My Baby” (which in all honesty will likely be my actual new favourite new Alvvays number!), every new song was a winner, a subtle yet distinct addition and extension to the Alvvays sonic template.

The oldies weren’t bad either! And, true to form, Alvvays did them justice with an upbeat, blissful and inclusive performance. Vivacious vocalist Molly was in good quipping form, announcing, “we enjoy being in the UK; you’ve got great rest-stop food… and lots of sheep!” and telling a story about splitting her “pants” at Glasgow airport while backfilling a keyboard-prompted technical break. The breezy “Atop A Cake” got me bopping furiously down the front, and the undulating riff of “Next Of Kin” was a set highlight, although topped by a brilliant “Marry Me Archie”, a rousing and lusty singalong bouncing off the venue’s low ceiling. The pleading melancholy of “Party Police” ended a splendid set, before a rapid-fire encore run-through of The Motorcycle Boy’s obscure 80’s pop number “Trying To Be Kind” (which I mistook for The Darling Buds!) and their own, poignant “The Agency Group” closed proceedings.

I got my Kerry-provided set-list signed by new drummer Sheridan during a chat about The Motorcycle Boy and The Shop Assistants, before hitting the road for a midnight home-time. In fine form and with some excellent new material, this lot, so I was always going to catch Alvvays… and always will!

Friday, 25 August 2017

1,049 ASH, Get Inuit, Frome Cheese And Grain, Thursday 24th August 2017

Now there’s a double-bill that just makes perfect sense, I thought to myself as I picked up a flyer for this one at May’s excellent “All Roads Lead To Frome” festival at this very venue (gig. 1,036)… former spritely young punky powerpop bucks turned enduring, and almost veteran these days, punky powerpop stags (to keep the deer analogy going!) Ash, supported by, well, current spritely young punky powerpop bucks Get Inuit? Sensing a theme here, or am I just hitting the “copy and paste” too much? Either way, this was an irresistible proposition, with recent viewings of both bands showing them to be in top “live” form, so I swiftly booked tickets for myself, Matt (who, like me, had been blown away by their “Shiiine On” set in November), Rach (who’d been missing Ash gig chances of late so wanted to make up for lost time), and, after checking it was a 10+ gig, Logan too (who’d latched onto Ash thanks to repeated airings of their impressive singles collection “Intergalactic Sonic Sevens” in the car)!

Kasey was the odd one out in the fam, but Laura babysat, and we hit the road at 6.45, a twisty and turny run via Bradford On Avon pitching us up at 7.45, just as Matt arrived! Collected tix and eschewed the solo acoustic guy on the bar for a catch-up outside, mainly about my new job! Doors at 8, and we wandered in, finding a sparse early doors crowd, so an easy front row place for Logan’s viewing spot. Ran into Get Inuit’s James during a quick loo trip, advising they were on in, “7 minutes…” True enough, they emerged prompt at 8.30, gearing up and bursting into a crisp, bright “Mean Heart”. From the off, unfortunately, the sound did them no favours, being tinny and a bit echoey from our front row spot (better a few feet back, though, according to Rach), but that seemed to bother them not a whit, as they set to it with unrestrained and joyful ebullience, particularly pliable vocalist Jamie… I’m sure backs aren’t meant to fold back as far as his does! Jamie echoed my sentiments, commenting, “what better way to warm up for Ash than playing some songs that sound like Ash?” before leading into the gabbling, Silver Sun-esque “All My Friends”. “Cutie Pie” reminded Rach of The Figgs’ classic “Favorite Shirt” (good spot!), and “Hot Air” sounded soaring and anthemic, as I shook a leg down the front. The boys were all in good fooling, Rob commenting on the bunting in the hall (!), James playing some guitar riffs lying down (to Logan’s delight!) and still hitting the correct pedal (!), and the gyrating Jamie pleading, “please buy our merch!” during the pregnant pause midway through a sinewy, riffaholic “Barbiturates”. Searing closer “Pro-Procastinator” was preceded by Jamie lauding Ash for the tour; “they’re lovely people inside and out, I know you’re thinking of being hostile to them… so don’t!” No worries there, and Get Inuit totally nailed this set. Nice one boys!

After a chat with Rob and a catch-up with Jamie on the merch stand (Logan getting a signed CD), Logan whiled away the interval chatting to a friendly roadie (who advised him to get some earplugs in!) as he set up onstage. Ash were wasting no time tonight either; said roadie (more from him later) bolted the Flying “V” onto Tim Wheeler as he led his charges onstage, immediately powering into a savage, wah-wah-tastic “Lose Control”, all white light, strobes and drama. “A Life Less Ordinary”, next up, saw a kneeling Tim play the opening riff inches from a delighted – and singing along! – Logan, and by “Goldfinger”, they were in their stride, firing hit after hit straight into their devoted hard-core following. “Nice of the Foo Fighters to leave their bunting behind!” Tim quipped before an excellent “Machinery”, with the subsequent “Kung Fu” seeing some lengthy, stadium-style  call and response tomfoolery between singer and audience.

And here’s where I bitch and moan a bit (not about the band or their excellent performance, though…); with their remarkable back catalogue and almost flawless run of singles, this lot should be playing places waaay bigger than this. Yes, still! Tim commented that this gig warmed them up nicely for Reading, where they’re playing the third (third!) stage, second on the bill to (who the fuck are) The Hunna. They should be headlining the whole damn show! What the fuck is wrong with this picture!!!??

Still, I suppose it means we can get up front and close with the band, and Tim can do things such as praise Get Inuit, then notice my “I’m Wasting My Life” t-shirt and announce, “glad to see someone bought their merch!” Back to the rock; “Walking Barefoot” was a surf-tastic taste of the Summer we didn’t get (again), “Shining Light” an epic, roof-raising sincere singalong, and after a glowering, hard and heavy “Orpheus”, “Girl From Mars” got the mosh really going, possibly the best sounding number on show tonight. A bouncy “White Rabbit” saw another splendid, fun Ash set to a close, the band then easing into the encore with an initially discordant yet building, widescreen “Twilight Of The Innocents”, before a contrasting, frantic “Jack Names The Planets”. Tim then invited Logan to sit on the stage for “Burn Baby Burn”, Logan happily singing along as the place went appropriately batshit crazy for Ash’s signature tune, ending a great night.

Actually, not quite ending it… I’d grabbed Tim’s list, but our friendly roadie emerged with the sound-desk’s list for Logan, which he then took backstage to get signed for him! Result! Hung with the Get Inuit boys on the merch stand before tiredness took hold of a rocked-out boy, and we bade farewells, luckily bumping into Ash bassist, the very tall Mark Hamilton, for a pic in the lobby. Double result! Home for 12.15, full of Ash (and also pleased I'd made Get Inuit converts of my wife and son!), and with a new album in the early stages, more to come from them. Still breathing, heart still beating!