Sunday, 11 December 2011

836 TIN SPIRITS, Swindon Arts Centre, Friday 9 December 2011

A local one to finish the year with, in two ways; not only a quick jaunt up the Old Town, but a return of locals Tin Spirits, who feature in their ranks former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory! Since my last encounter almost a couple of years ago, they’d recorded an album of original material and played with Marillion, underlining their “prog” status on their website header (uh oh...). However, they still promise XTC covers, and that, rather than their occasionally admirable but largely emotion-free prog-based covers or promised original stuff, prompted me to book a ticket and get the hell out of the house while Rach hosted a girly night in!

So, bearing in mind the Roddy Woomble gig timings (and in the total absence of any other info from ticket or venue website), I left just after 8 for a quick drive up the hill, but then suffered a total parking mare. Squeezed into the last, over-parked, space in the 3rd car park I tried (!), then hit the venue at 8.30, only to find the band had started at 8! Heated words with the duty manager (whom I had to wait for to usher me into the back of the auditorium, delaying me further) didn’t help, so I was in a pissy mood when I took a seat as Tin Spirits finished up their “Paranoid Android” cover, and launched into a Led Zep number which I recognised, but didn’t much enjoy. Indeed, the first high spot for me came with a cover of The Doors splendidly creepy, sinuous “Riders On The Storm”, before a couple of XTC numbers concluded part one of the set and cheered me up considerably. Firstly, a pulsing, undulating “Jason And The Argonauts”, introduced by Dave Gregory as a highlight of the last XTC “live” set (way back in 1982!) and with all herky-jerky rhythm, like a film loop played backwards, then the lush and impossibly melodic “Towers Of London”, Gregory’s wonderful guitar work to the fore as the rest of the band, awed, watched him, line astern. Now this was what I was here for!

A couple of nice chats at the intermission, first with Martine, wife of guitarist Dan Steinhardt and a colleague on my creative writing course (over 2 years ago now!), then another with an old punk buddy, who likewise doesn’t like the prog and was there for the XTC numbers, and who remarked, “for the first 25 minutes I thought, what am I doing here?” So it seems my parking-mare didn’t cause me to miss much!

Set part two eased in with a haunting, slow-burn “Dream Brother”, before it was back to the prog with Rush and Zappa stuff, and their own, much better but still occasionally unnecessarily complex, meandering and over-elaborate numbers. I admired the skilled, almost virtuoso guitar interplay of both Gregory and Steinhardt, excellent axemen both, but the material itself, despite being faithfully and authentically reproduced, was often anodyne and sterile, leaving me cold. A chugging “Reeling In The Years” however concluded the set, but they weren’t going to get away that easily, and returned for a final XTC double. A stripped back and plaintive “Dear God” was splendidly delivered, and the evening was capped by a rousing singalong of “Senses Working Overtime”. Dan Steinhardt took lead vocal chores for both, injecting some real emotion and fire into his vocal performance (hooray!), particularly during “Dear God” which was my set highlight.

So, once again the XTC “covers” (does it really count as a “cover” when one of the original band is playing it?), plus a couple of others, made the evening entirely worthwhile for me. I appreciate that in order to progress as a band and take this beyond “hobby” stage, Tin Spirits will need to concentrate increasingly on their own material rather than the XTC stuff, and at that point they’ll probably lose me, so I’d best enjoy them while I can. So overall, thanks again boys, for allowing me to hear at least a taster of XTC “live”!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

835 THE VACCINES, Frankie And The Heartstrings, Bristol O2 Academy, Friday 2 December 2011

In the almost complete absence of any promising new band discoveries this year (Okkervil River and Male Bonding notwithstanding, but OR have been around for donkey’s years, and MB bassist Kevin Hendricks had previous with Seafood, so I’m not sure how “new” they actually count as…), NME press darlings and this week’s “Best Band In The World” (according to said venerable rag) The Vaccines are probably the best “brand new” band I’ve come across in 2011. And yes, I know I’m damning them with faint praise… Nevertheless, their spunky, surf guitar overload take on jangly C86 ramshackle upbeat pop has had Rach tapping her toes, and me warmly reaching for early Soup Dragons/ Razorcuts comparisons. We sorted tix for this one, which sold out in double quick hype-propelled time, and I for one approached it with curious trepidation; do we have a band here, or is this yet another young group suddenly hyped to the eyeballs, and, unable to sustain it, destined to fall from grace almost as quick?

Bristol Friday night Christmas shopping, plus an early curfew, necessitated an early departure at 6.20, but the Cabot Circus traffic didn’t delay us as much as feared. So we parked up and hit the venue, already rammed to the gills with teenage indie kids, but also an odd smattering of greying old lags such as myself, at 7.30, as support Frankie And The Heartstrings came on. Led by a charismatic young singer (presumably Frankie), they played some nice innocent strumalong pop with an 80’s ramshackle bent a la early Orange Juice, had one good atmospheric newie recalling British Sea Power, then spoilt a good impression with a clumsy ska number to finish. Hmmm.

Took our usual spot on the stuffed floor, stage left, and enjoyed some good pre-gig music (Neutral Milk Hotel! “Born To Run”! “Teenage Kicks”!) before The Vaccines came on to The Ramones “Rock And Roll Radio” which made me kindly disposed to them from the start, and after an oddly dour opener, they hit the “amphetamine fast surf guitar rush” button with “Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)”, and the crowd – including Rachel! - went utterly batshit crazy.

Now, if I was a 16 year old indie kid and had never heard of the likes of The Ramones, Buzzcocks, Velvet Underground, Birdland or even Buddy Holly (!), then I’d likely think The Vaccines were the greatest thing I’d ever heard. Luckily for them, that description probably accounts for the vast majority of their demographic, and certainly of the crowd tonight. However I have, so at times their material comes across like 4 kids gleefully rummaging through their parents’ record collection. “Wetsuit” was very 50’s, Buddy Holly-esque, and newie “Teenage Icon” recalled SLF’s “Nobody’s Hero”, at least in subject matter. Overall it’s all simple, almost primitive stuff, and so far, for me they’re not adding much of their own to the mix. Nevertheless, this matters very little to this audience, who greeted every note with frenzied devotion verging on mania, and contributed massively to a thrilling and exciting atmosphere. What The Vaccines do do extremely well is fuel this atmosphere with an equally thrilling, dynamic and exhiliarating performance, led by chief rabble rouser Justin Young, possessor of a voice I’m not sure I like “live”, a cross between a Lou Reed street sneer and a slurring bellow, but who channelled the energy well, lapping up the crowd adulation. A short, snappy 45 minute set plus encores was highlighted by a Ramones-like and rather splendid actually “If You Wanna”, before which Justin challenged us to, “show us how you do it in Bristol,” and the crowd responded in kind.

So, overall a by no means original, but a thrilling and totally enjoyable gig. Long term, the jury’s out for me, but they’re walking the walk right now and bringing simple, classic and fun rock to a new generation. And who should be in the scrum for the car park tickets in Trenchard outside afterwards; none other than England football legend and “old punk rocker” Stuart Pearce! I couldn’t resist patting him on the shoulder and asking, “did you enjoy that then, Sir?” to which I got the instant riposte, “whadda you fink?” Fantastic – who am I to argue with Psycho?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

834 THE LEMONHEADS, Meredith Sheldon, Netherlands, Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Wednesday 30 November 2011

It’s been a long 4 ½ years since I’ve last crossed paths with Evan Dando, a man who still remains one of my all-time musical icons. My oldest son, Evan, will attest to that for all his life... However, an indifferent showing in Bristol in October 2006, followed by the awful Cardiff car-crash that was gig 730, last time out in May 2007, persuaded me pretty much not to allow Evan an opportunity to disappoint me once again. However, this tour intrigued me enough to shell out on tix, given that the set’s centrepiece would be a full rendition of “It’s A Shame About Ray”, The Lemonheads’ 1992 career-defining post-grunge/alt-country/slacker collision masterpiece. Evan couldn’t really get that far wrong, particularly when this time, he was also reported to be backed up by old Boston friend Josh Lattanzi on bass, and by American Hi-Fi drummer (and, lest we forget, former Sky Heroes sticksman) Brian Nolan, rather than the less competent back rows of The Pieces, to exponentially increase the level of musicianship on show. Could he?

So, Tim and Tracey picked me up at 20 to 7, then we had a wild and windy drive down the well trodden (albeit not recently) route to Pompey, unfortunately getting a little lost around Fratton, but eventually squeezing into a tight parking space just behind the venue for 20 past 8. Tix sorted, we scooted into the venue, sold out but quiet early doors, in time for painfully young first support Netherlands. Unfortunately some occasionally chiming guitar and booming bass drum couldn’t lift their material above Coldplay-esque plodding dull mulch.

Saw a familiar face poke out of the backstage entrance; not Josh as expected, but American Hi-Fi bassist Drew Parsons! Popped over and exchanged warm greetings, then spent 10 minutes or so chatting and catching up with the affable Mr. Parsons, apparently a late replacement for Josh, also hearing about the Hi-Fi’s tentative plans to return to the UK next year. Wow! It was a real pleasure to catch up with Drew again, all the more so for being unexpected, and suddenly I was ridiculously excited at the prospect of the show. American Hi-Fi, on their day, are one of the most incendiary “live” bands I’ve seen, so the thought of the Hi-Fi rhythm section backing Evan was mouthwatering, particularly as Drew promised he and Brian were going to, “rock it tonight!”

But first, we had main support Meredith Sheldon. Recommended by Drew, she played a solo set of Juliana Hatfield-lite strumalong alt-college pop angst which was diverting but oddly dated, probably a whole bunch better on record, but drifted a little and was also overlong, bumping us up to 10 to 10, by which time the place was rammed and anticipatory.

In pretty short order thereafter, Evan Dando took the stage alone, picking up a guitar and powering through a messy solo “Being Around”. The Hi-Fi boys then joined him, for the “Shame About Ray” run-through in order, which although being cheered to the rafters, took some time to really soar. An odd crowd, this, enthusiastic yet static, and initially Evan seemed to be dialling it in, seemingly a little fried and droney, admittedly suffering with some poor muffled vocal sound, but also swathing some of the “Ray” material in unnecessary riffery when a delicate touch was better called for. Drew and Brian nevertheless pulled a stalwart shift behind him, their chemistry undeniable, their dynamism and power exemplary, and “Rudderless” was an early and buoyant highlight. At this point Evan was clearly being carried by his band and the strength of this classic material, but “Alison’s Starting To Happen” finally saw some rocking, as I piled down the front, pitching up stage right two rows back. An unexpectedly fine “Kitchen” made way for an inclusive, singalong “Frank Mills”, and suddenly we saw a totally different Evan.

The “Ray” album now dispensed with in short order, Evan then delivered a solo vignette commencing with a gentle “Outdoor Type”, which culminated in almost a jig-along finish, and finally we saw the best of his talent and delicious dark baritone. A touching solo “All My Life” and “Why Do You Do This To Yourself?” preceded a short break, after which Evan and the boys came out all guns blazing with a superb “Down About It”. Indeed, this second set section seemed more relaxed, the set-list reworked on the fly as Evan, again seeming to play for an audience of one, nevertheless put more commitment into his performance. A titanic and incendiary “Stove” was easily the set highlight, fairly bristling with power and dynamism, before ”If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” rounded the set off on an upbeat note. By this time I was hoping to catch Drew’s eye to blag a set-list, but there was no need, as, whilst Evan lengthened the final riff, Drew unmoored his list from the floor and handed it over to me! Result!

We hit the road promptly then, enduring a difficult journey back in nasty conditions and getting home at 1 (yikes!). This was a late, but ultimately worthwhile one; the usual variable performance from Evan, lacking the passion of old but at his best personally during his solo numbers. However overall this was a mighty improvement over the last couple of “Lemonheads” shows, lifted by a superb rhythm section as good and powerful as any Lemonheads line-up. Great to see Drew again. And now I can’t wait for the Hi-Fi to come over next year…!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

833 OKKERVIL RIVER, A Classic Education, Bristol Trinity, Monday 21 November 2011

A recent discovery for me, this lot, albeit one which, like US alt-rock/ Americana crossover contemporaries The Decemberists, had been skirting around the periphery of my musical vision awhile before I took the plunge with this year’s release “I Am Very Far”. Finding it an absorbing collection of diverse musical vignettes, by turns stripped back and bare, then overlaid with strident and epic crescendos, and featuring a captivatingly intelligent lyrical perspective similar to both Colin Meloy’s lot and The Hold Steady, I invested in their previous 2 CDs and enjoyed them too! Thus intrigued, I sorted myself a ticket for their brief Autumn tour.

Unable to persuade Tim to join me, I took a drive down the M4 on my own after Grandma arrived to help me put the kids to bed (Rach on Governor training), and, having taken local advice, parked in the cavernous Cabot Circus car park about 5 minutes from the venue. Not the most pleasant of walks, but arrived at this dilapidated old church venue in the murky Autumn dark – very haunting and evocative! After a slight ticket-mare, got into this elegantly run-down large pillar-fringed hall, just as support A Classic Education were taking the stage at 8.15. They played a tough and resonant brand of laconic US surf pop, with some nice hooks and occasional noisy guitar wig-out middle eights, and some 60’s “ooh-aah” melody to flesh out their muscular jangle. They’d sound good on a Summer Saturday drive with the top down...

I took a superb viewing spot stage left, two rows back, and watched a very fiddly stage set-up, particularly on the guitar pedals, before the 6-piece Okkervil River came onstage prompt at 9.15, vocalist and inspiration Will Sheff bounding onstage last, looking like a geography teacher in glasses, beard and tweed, but enthusiastically launching into opener “Wake And Be Fine” a baroque chuntering Tom Waits like procession of a song. And they were off, like a firecracker…

This performance was a real stunner. On record, Okkervil River are a slowly congealing mixture of quiet, backwoods landscapes and swirling, sweeping epics of cinemascopic range; the missing link between “Deserters Songs”-era Mercury Rev and The Arcade Fire, if you will. However, I certainly wasn’t expecting the strident, powerful and dynamic “live” agenda they were setting! Sheff was certainly the main focus, a bundle of nervous energy giving an impassioned yet open and personable performance throughout, but this was also thanks in no small part to guitarist Lauren Gurgiolo. Frail looking in a scruffy pink dress, she nevertheless played her chops like a demon. “Rider” was magnificent, thundering and strident (particularly the “Rock, Rockaway Beach!” line), before a touching and indolent “Piratess” introduced some light and shade.

A brilliant “We Need A Myth”, starting off all Scott Walker-esque lush and sweeping, then building to an epic crescendo, followed some inter-band banter about the lack of personal hygiene on the road (!), then a slew of mid-set technical problems saw Sheff off on a Steely Dan covers band tangent, killing some time prior to the creepy, Violent Femmes wheezing march of “The Valley”. But really, every one was a winner, the “live” performance really adding an unexpected extra dimension to the material, none more so than the penultimate “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe”. For me the high watermark of their canon, this was greeted with rapture by this reverential crowd, and delivered as stridently, passionately and dynamically as possible.

The pedal steel of encore “A Girl In Port” cleared the air before the final, crashing “Unless It’s Kicks” rounded off a, “crikey, never saw THAT coming!” performance. Adding power and passion to their intelligence and craft, this was WAY better than I’d expected or hoped, and ultimately – and unexpectedly – one of the gigs of the year, from a real find. Magnificent!

Monday, 14 November 2011

832 ADAM ANT AND THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE LOVELY POSSE, Bristol O2 Academy, Friday 11 November 2011

The undisputed comeback king of 2011, off on another jaunt and playing appreciably closer to us than Birmingham this time; given he’d delivered Gig Of The Year thus far in B’rum at the start of June, how could I resist? This time I was joined by fellow early Ant fans Big Man and Prov, plus I managed to persuade Rachel, who was weaned on the “Prince Charming”-era glam pop Adam, to join us for another nostalgia trip. Mindful of an early “club night” finish at the Academy Fridays, we decided on an early departure to pick the boys up at 6.15, and t’was good that we did too; an horrendous journey involving monsoon-like double-wiper storms on the M4 slowing us to 30 mph, plus a 20 minute traffic jam to clear Cabot Circus on the entrance to Bristol, saw us park on the roof of Trenchard Car Park a full 2 hours after departure, and 5 minutes before Adam’s anticipated arrival onstage! Yikes! We sprinted helter skelter downstairs and into the venue, already packed to the gills with Ant devotees – Bristol , let it not be said you didn’t make an effort for this one! We passed a dandy highwayman in full regalia plus duelling pistols in the lobby (how’d he get those in?), and I then stood by a bloke in full Native American feather headdress at the urinals! Hope I’m not stood behind him on the dancefloor!

Managed to shoe-horn ourselves onto the dry-ice choked floor, stage left as usual, before the lights were killed and the Posse took the stage at 8.30, once again easing into the sleazy, grunge-lite opening riffery of “Plastic Surgery” before Adam, again in full Hussar regalia, took the stage and the mic as the song pace picked up, taking a reverb-heavy lead vocal with the hookline, “take you down to Harley Street…”, already in command, already the centre of attention.

In 2011's cynical cold light of day, we kind of forget just how big a star Adam Ant actually was. In 1980-1983 he was literally ubiquitous, turning up on Royal Variety Performances and prime time Saturday shows, drawing 17 million viewers. You couldn’t move in the charts for bumping into one of his hits; this quite literally over Christmas 1980, as his 2 previous record labels attempted to cash in on his sudden success, flooding the charts with Adam And The Ants records! Lady Gaga times Bono times Hugh Jackman, with an irresistible star quality and sex appeal, allied with an undeniable punk rock street cred, gave him almost universal appeal.

As before, however, I was in it for the early Ants material, once again in happy abundance. I knew what was coming, so after “Dog Eat Dog”’s double drums abated, I handed my jacket to Rach, regressed back to my 15 year old punk rock self, and piled in the increasing mosh for the ringing guitar intro to a thrilling “Beat My Guest”. The same incredible vintage Ants sequence as at Birmingham followed, no less amazing for being anticipated; a strident chanting “Kick”, a languid sinewy “Cartrouble” with a delicious descending verse bassline, and the highlight as ever, “Zerox”, a staccato art-punk classic which built and fleshed out into an all-too short (again!) crescendo and featured a passionate vocal from Adam, clearly on top form throughout.

I took a breather as Adam brought on his dancing girls, including “Sachsgate” girl Georgina “Georgie Girl” Baillie, for the military march of “Deutscher Girls”. Then, an unannounced “Stand And Deliver” heralded a clutch of more “commercial” numbers to placate the masses puzzled with the proliferation of older songs, and also brought a tear of nostalgia to Rachel’s eye! The Burundi drums and Native American chants of Adam’s “Manifesto” number, “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, dovetailed into this section and brought the most rapturous reception tonight, Adam pausing to take in a lengthy and reverential ovation.

“I’ve been lying awake at night thinking, what will I play? What do people want to hear? Then I think, "fuck it!" I’ll play what I want to!” announced Adam before a suitably perverse “Whip In My Valise”, again sent the set into pre-fame era mode. “Antmusic” was announced with the comment, “never play this in a Chinese restaurant!” as Adam, a yelping, yodelling, chanting, energetic, kinetic and riveting stage presence throughout, belying his 57 years, fooled and teased the audience. I piled back into the mosh for the set denouement; a brilliant “Lady” (“this should have been the ‘A’ side of my first single,” said Adam; too right!) segueing into a punky, amphetamine-fast “Fall In” to round off a brilliant set.

The encores saw the dancing girls down to their undergarments, much to the boys’ delight, making even the sadly inevitable “Prince Charming” palatable! A hasty run through “Get It On” and “Physical”, given that the gig was bumping right up to 10 pm curfew time (resulting in the omission of “Red Scab”, amongst others, from an intended longer encore – boo!) finished off another stellar performance from a born performer now purged of all his demons and doing what he does best. The man is a star, pure and simple, and it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to see him perform this year. Another set-list and a swift run home put the exclamation point on a wonderful night in the company of good friends and Adam Ant, my Live Act of 2011. In a great 2011 gig year, there’s still no contest!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

831 THROWING MUSES, The Spectrals, Special Benny, London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Wednesday 2 November 2011

Yup, they’re back too… in one of the considerably more welcome reunions of recent times, Throwing Muses, the barbed Boston lot who rendered me, “as excited as a kid at an airport,” on my first sighting, some 22½ years ago (yipe!), have joined the reunion gravy train. This burst of activity coincides with the 25th Anniversary (double yipe!) of their debut album, a real game-changing and worthily “Classic” record which saw vocalist/ inspiration Kristen Hersh and her band arrive, teenaged yet fully formed, without any recognisable antecedents, sounding other-worldly in their melange of melody and malevolence. It takes a special band to drag me up to London on a wild Autumn Wednesday night, a band exactly like Throwing Muses!

And I wasn’t alone; long-time fellow fans Beef and Ady (Ady taking a very late call on this one, with me booking his ticket this afternoon!) joined me for this one. Picked the boys up smartly at 5.15, then had a nasty traffic, breakdown (not me!) and weather-delayed journey to the Smoke, parking up opposite Bush Hall at ¼ to 8 and wandering in just as first act Special Benny rounded off their set. Chatted at the back bar and bought merch (signed copies of Kristen’s book! Result!) during main support The Spectrals’ inauspicious tom-tom drum dominated 60’s set, and then took a good viewing spot stage right on a rapidly-filling and anticipatory floor for the entrance of the Muses at the witching hour, 9.20.

This Muses trio of Kristin, still tiny and waif-like, libidinous and dextrous bassist Bernard Georges, and long-time drummer David Narcizo, dynamic as ever, wandered casually onstage and eased into opener “Soul Soldier” to devotional applause. A splendid opening salvo included a rollercoaster ride of snarling menace through “Garoux Des Larmes” and the undulating caterpillar crawl bassline of 2003’s “Speed And Sleep”, Kristen challenging a punter’s cheer during the intro with, “you do NOT own that record!” Then “Bright Yellow Gun” saw Kristen, static yet mesmerizingly intense throughout, head bobbing in her usual infinity pattern, roar, lioness-like, through a surprisingly strident and savage version of what I’d previously considered a light, almost throwaway “pop” Muses song. Wrong, boy…

A bit of banter with a punter shouting for “Fish” saw Kristen reply, “If I had a fish I’d give it to you! Someone gave me some homemade sushi though – how do you do that? I can barely make toast!” She then snarled the lyric of a subsequent titanic “Hate My Way” as if thoroughly disgusted by what she was being forced to sing. For me, thereafter, the set lost a little momentum, as the sound wavered and too many mid-paced little monsters seemed to be subsumed in the Empire’s echoing expanse, the sound suffering accordingly. However the set roared back with a vengeance, with a fabulously strident and seething “Vicky’s Box”, by which point I was down the front in a mini moshpit, screaming along for all I was worth. “Bea” completed a stunning recovery for the set, leaving us hungry for more.

And the "Fish” guy got his reward, as Kristen delivered a shimmering acoustic solo “Fish”, before a magnificent “Mania”, preceded by a lengthy and quirky tale of Marie, a blind college contemporary of Kristen’s. “Mania” itself was stunning in its’ beautiful ferocity, and prompted a second encore (“it’s totally not fucking Wednesday anymore!” being Kristen’s response to this!) of “Devil’s Roof”, climaxing another remarkable 2011 resurrection. I got my reward as well, grabbing “official” set-list No. 500 (!) after a brilliant evening in the company of one of the most unique, pioneering talents in rock, now thankfully fully restored. Kristen Hersh, thank you.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

830 CHAPEL CLUB, Clock Opera, Oxford O2 Academy 2, Monday 17 October 2011

The hectic gigging Autumn continues apace, with me hauling my tired and cold-ridden ass down to the old Zodiac upstairs room to see Chapel Club. A new band on me in 2011, this lot, albeit with a familiar sound, taking as they do the early 80’s post punk pseudo-Goth dark rockist guitar template that I was weaned on as their inspiration. A crowded marketplace, sure, with the likes of Editors, White Lies, even Boston’s excellent Taxpayer, all competing for space, but it’s right in my wheelhouse so I’m always up for another one!

So, a blustery solo run along to Oxford and a lengthy circumnavigation of the city centre, due to an annoying abundance of buses, nevertheless still saw me parking up and hitting the venue just after 8. A very poorly attended one early doors, this, with the venue back room closed off as well! I took a watching brief stage right for support Clock Opera, on at 8.30. From the outset their sound wasn’t sorted, coming across shrill, harsh and abrasive, and their cluttered and pounding 80’s synth pop was hard on the ears and really didn’t help their cause. Not sure why so many bands want to channel this stuff – it really wasn’t that great first time around! Their closing 2 numbers however were much better, more purposeful crescendo-filled affairs, throwing the rest of their output into sharp relief. Write some more like these two, please, boys…

The place filled up a little more but was comfortably attended, no more. Also, I was surprised by the proliferation of older, grey haired chaps at this one – yeah, yeah, I’m a fine one to talk, I know! A very fiddly soundcheck finally saw Chapel Club take the stage at 9.40, by which time I’d wandered down the front and was on the barriers, stage centre, in front of a very blasĂ©, standoffish crowd! Nevertheless, the band took to their task with gusto, opening with an unfamiliar, synth-blanketed new number then informing us that the format of their performance would be a split-set affair; a clutch of newies for starters, then the more familiar material from current, debut album “Palace” to conclude. Said newies were predominantly keyboard-driven, gloomy affairs, shrouded and mysteriously morose, with electronic drumbeats giving them a feel more akin to Talk Talk than to their album stuff, and featuring suitably doomy vocals from singer Lewis Bowman, who with his more severe crew-cut looked slightly out of place amidst his floppy fringed bandmates.

Half a dozen unfamiliar numbers in, Lewis announced, “this is the second set,” by way of intro to LP opener “Surfacing”, the band’s trademark growling bass underpinning this moody vignette of dark brooding bedsit melancholy, featuring a chorus steal from the old standard “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”. The set predictably picked up considerably thereafter, as the drummer took to a conventional kit, and the band concentrated on their more familiar guitar-driven material. “Five Trees” was a dynamic turbocharged highlight, “O Maybe I” all seething angst and menace, and set closer “Shore” a pulsating crescendo of guitar noise, to close out an oddly shaped but ultimately worthwhile hour long set. Shame there weren’t more to see it, but Lewis thanked those of us that had bothered, “for coming out to see us on a Monday night… it is Monday, right?”

Grabbed the set-list afterwards – also a two parter! – and had a quick chat with the helpful roadie before tiredness took over and I headed home, after a good one from this promising young band unafraid to take chances with their sound. More power to them!

829 RODDY WOOMBLE, Duotone, Swindon Arts Centre, Friday 14 October 2011

I had cause to be grateful that our Chinese food order wasn’t ready for collection when the shop said so, whilst visiting my parents for the obligatory family meal a few weeks back! Waiting impatiently for my prawn curry to cook, I absent-mindedly flicked through a Swindon Arts Centre brochure, to discover Roddy Woomble, main man with our enduring “live” favourites and purveyors of windswept, slightly frantic indie guitar epics, Idlewild, was bringing his folkier, rootsier side vehicle to Swindon ! Result! So Rach booked a couple of tickets and we were set for another “live” Rod experience; my 14th, all told!

So we left before the kids went to bed – just to hammer the point home that we’ve gone out and they’re being babysat! – and had a drink in the Vic, before trundling around to the Arts Centre just before performance time at 8. It’s been gutted and renovated since my only previous visit (Dead Men Walking) and is now a smart little seated theatre room. Took our allotted seats, dead centre, half a dozen rows back, for support Duotone. They were a bowler-hatted and waist-coated duo playing an eclectic array of instruments (including a percussion floor box, similar to one I “played” at Stone Honey’s Hollywood Hills party on our honeymoon!) through computer loops, producing a layered, occasionally morose but often quaint and homely pastoral Olde Worlde folkish sound. Some nice harmony overlays, particularly on their best number “You Don’t Need Church”, which recalled Hobotalk.

We chatted with fellow gig-goers Peej and Mandy in the downstairs cafĂ© whilst browsing the Arts Centre library (!) during the intermission, before another handy “five minute call” prompted us back to our seats for the arrival of the raffishly hirsute Roddy and his 5-piece band, dead on 9. His set showcased current solo album “The Impossible Song And Other Songs”, along with previous solo effort “My Secret Is My Silence”, a fine canon of slow-burn folky introspection, and if it occasionally veered towards trad folky fiddly-diddly, there was always an Idlewild-like cascading and tumbling chorus (e.g. “Into The Atlantic”, or “Leaving Without Gold”) around the corner, and Roddy’s nasal but warm vocals to capture the heart.

A lot of the material also featured remote Scottish references, including a song about the A87, “the road that goes through Skye!” and another, the excellent devotional “Take Me To The Island”, referencing a Western Isles ferry company that had apparently been awarded “World’s Best Ferry Company” by “The Guardian”! “So if there are any employees of [said company] holidaying in Swindon , you should feel very proud of yourselves,” announced Rod, to which I couldn’t resist adding the rejoinder, “thank you – I am!” Rod, a fine and relaxed raconteur throughout, was also complimentary towards Swindon, saying he and the band had spent a nice afternoon at Lydiard Park, which prompted Rach to whisper, “I wish I’d taken the kids there this afternoon!” The haunting elegy of “Waverly Steps” was an enchanting highlight, and set closer “My Secret Is My Silence” got Rach beaming, whilst their only foray into Idlewild’s songsheet, a stripped back “You Held The World In Your Arms” for voice, acoustic guitar and violin only, was predictably another highlight as first encore. Rod and Co. then delivered a final, jaunty “Roll Along”, to, “send you out into the Swindon night,” and close out a charming little set giving another dimension to one of our indie faves.

That wasn’t it though, as I blagged a set-list afterwards from the band manning the merch stand, and we chatted to a personable Roddy and co awhile, reminiscing about following Idlewild around California on our honeymoon, 6 years ago this month! Result - again!

Monday, 3 October 2011

828 MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA, The Xcerts, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 2 October 2011

A gig to celebrate Rachel’s and my Wedding Anniversary, this; we celebrated 6 years together the previous day and had intended to go see Dave Gorman at the Wyvern on this date. However when intriguing new US alt rock band Manchester Orchestra, who’d caught our attention with a deliciously noisy and savage blast of an album a couple of years ago in “Mean Everything To Nothing”, announced a tour promoting new “concept” album “Simple Math” which passed through Bristol on the same day, we quickly divested ourselves of the Gorman tix and arranged this one! Part of the attraction, I confess, was that this gig was originally scheduled for the Thekla, increasingly becoming a favourite venue of ours, but “overwhelming demand” saw it relocated to the much larger yet more anodyne O2 Academy. Bah!

Nevertheless, off we blasted into the thankfully quickly setting sun, on a scorching Indian Summer Sunday evening, hitting a puzzlingly deserted venue (“overwhelming demand”? Where?) before openers The Xcerts. A young Scottish three piece, they blasted through a set of reasonable ragged hormonal Emo angst, with some distorted vocals providing a relief from the vocalist’s occasionally trying screaming. They finished with their best 2 numbers, including a final one which, with a determined driving pace and swirling guitar overlay, reminded me a little of My Vitriol!

The place filled up as we took good viewing spots on the dancefloor, stage left as usual, and I could understand the venue change – I had to concede this would have been a tight squeeze on the “dirty boat”! Following a fiddly sound set-up, the lights eventually dropped and Manchester Orchestra took the smoky stage just after 9, led on by vocalist Andy Hull, a huge bearded and hulking great bear of a man, albeit the possessor of an eerily high pitched and plaintive voice recalling Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle. In fact, the band’s beards and utilitarian garb overall suggested a junior Grandaddy, and whilst there are traces of the Modesto maestro’s dusty yet quirky alt-Country psych fuzz in their music, for example stripped back and slow-burn opener “Deer”, this band know how to Rock, big time. The subsequent “Pride” brought the noise, and by the 3rd number, the excellent “April Fool”, they were powering through some strident and towering rock riffs and really working up a sweat. “I’ve Got Friends” reminded me of the Foo Fighters classic “My Hero”, but the set highlight was easily the subsequent “Shake It Out”, a thrilling, seething, visceral and dynamic rock noise, the end of which saw me remarking to Rachel, “NOW I see why Biffy Clyro wanted them as tour support!”

"6 years and we still don’t know how to talk to the crowd – welcome to awkward band camp, we’re Manchester Orchestra,” announced a nevertheless charming and gregarious Andy before album title track “Simple Math”. Then, their best number “The Only One” was unveiled, albeit in vocal and guitar form only, which rendered it bereft of it’s Neutral Milk Hotel-alike chugalong fuzz, and provided, for me at least, the only slightly disappointing note of the night. Another parched and plaintive paean in “The River” bookended the set proper, before encores included a funny strumalong number in which Andy declared his admiration of 50 Cent (!), and a superb “Pensacola”, another Grandaddy-esque US alt-psych romp, albeit with another huge guitar powered chorus chant. Overall, this was great, wonderfully noisy and powerful stuff from a highly promising band already delivering the goods, and a lengthy wait for a set-list afterwards paid dividends as well. A fine way to mark our anniversary!

Monday, 26 September 2011

827 MALE BONDING, The History Of Apple Pie, Kutosis, Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach (downstairs), Sunday 25 September 2011

After a 7 week gig hiatus which seemed a whole lot longer, I finally kick-start a hectic gigging Autumn with a trip over the bridge to Cardiff, and it’s another welcome return to my gig schedule; no, not to the Clwb Ifor Bach, but to a certain Mr. Kevin Hendrick! I’d heard a breathless rush of a track by Male Bonding on the radio at the gym, no less, and further investigation revealed said band featured Kev, Seafood’s former flaxen-haired bassist supreme! It’s been a long 7 years since last seeing him in action, so I was well up for a Male Bonding gig, however Cardiff on an unfriendly Sunday night was the nearest their current tour passed to Swindon! OK then...

Thus it was that I blasted down on my own in increasing inky darkness, parking up in an NCP in the shadow of the Millennium Stadium for the £2 night rate, and hitting the venue - the small, Swindon Vic-style downstairs room tonight - in time for openers Kutosis, on at 8. I’d been in touch with Cardiff-domiciled friend Craig Gurney, who couldn’t join me tonight but recommended I check out this young local 3-piece. After a difficult, shouty opener, they settled down to some choppy, angular rhythms and dynamic, discordant guitar work, overlaid with some yelping vocals. Exuding an air of claustrophobic tension and some occasional militaristic drumbeats similar to Comsat Angels, they had a couple of very good numbers (albeit not the ones Craig suggested I look out for – both omitted from the set!) in “Island”, with some in your face call and response vocals, and a more conventional rocker “Shadows”. An impressive start. Tour support The History Of Apple Pie followed on swiftly; an eclectic looking bunch, they opened with some mangled, jagged guitar and Pixies-ish mood, then settled into a more textured, harmonic, almost shoe-gazey approach which was eminently listenable if not particularly memorable. With smooth nasal vocals courtesy of their Asian female vocalist, Lush were an obvious if not entirely inaccurate comparison. Not bad actually…

Ran into Kev in the foyer afterwards for a surprise greeting and a brief chat, before he and the band set up, and I took my viewing spot stage (well, floor) left, down the front, for Male Bonding’s 9.45 start. From the outset they were “on it”, with opener “Nitemare” scooted through in an amphetamine-fast whirl of cacophonic melody and harmony, setting the tone for the set. Like Kev’s former charges Seafood, this lot also channels late 80’s US rock, but eschew any notion of light and shade, instead going for an all-out 100mph speed assault, thereby recalling the likes of very early Teenage Fanclub, albeit on helium and at 78 rpm! Their relentless guitar attack was nevertheless exciting and rambunctious, with the (deliberately?) submerged and detached vocals throwing more emphasis on their clearly overworked drummer. Joyously raggedy-arsed at times, this was a set of speedy jagged pop thrills from easily the most exciting new band I’ve come across this year (and yes, I wish that statement held more gravitas than it does). A mid-set “Tame The Sun” got me really grooving down the front, their token slow number “Franklin” was nevertheless a deliciously haunting delight, and as far as I was concerned, the metronomic groove of set closer “Bones”, which concluded an impossibly fast 45 minute set, could have lasted another half hour at least!

Tremendous stuff, and nice to catch up afterwards with Kev, one of the most affable and friendly blokes I’ve come across in rock, for another brief chat before I hit the road for a midnight return. Great to have him back in another thrilling “live” band in Male Bonding!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

826 THE DICKIES, Mike TV, 2 Sick Monkeys, Bristol Fleece, Friday 5 August 2011

No better way to start 2 weeks off work than with a gig, particularly when the hosts are original 70’s California cartoon punk rockers The Dickies, originators of the “punk rock cover version” with their gleeful 100mph destructions of the likes of “Nights In White Satin”, “Paranoid”, and their best-known moment, the “Banana Splits” kid’s TV theme song! A band to whom Green Day, for inastance, own a sure debt of gratitude, and a band who’ve delivered a couple of manic but magical gigs in the past, but have been off my gig radar for about 12 years!

So after a late call, I took a Friday night jaunt to the Fleece, hitting this venerable old venue early doors and enjoying some vintage Antmusic before first band, 2 Sick Monkeys, at 8.45. A Swindon (!) two-piece of indeterminate vintage, they blasted through a set of late Dead Kennedys style hardcore onslaught with an admirable enthusiasm of a band twice their number and half their age. The badger-haired gobshite bassist/ vocalist was as funny as fuck (introducing a song called “Happy Days” with, “this is about my suicide note, that was so crap I couldn’t die!”), their prog rock pastiche (“Spontaneous Aboebic Dysentry”!) was ironic and well-observed, and props for ending their set with a song called “Fuck Off”. Hard on the ears early doors, but a riot overall; more power to them! Mike TV, next up, were led by a straw haired Jonathan Papelbon look-alike, and played a more melodic punky noise owing an obvious debt to Mega City Four, with some nice nasal 3 part harmonies a la Silver Sun. Clumsy and off key in parts, but another band with a quick wit (responding to a fat heckler with, “he got me! I’d get him back but I’d have to climb the cunt first”), and one memorable number, set closer “Push Comes To Shove”.

The Dickies came on to an expectant crowd of old punk rockers at 10.30. Now down to 2 original members, vocalist Leonard Graves Phillips (who with his lanky frame and hastily discarded specs, initially resembled a punk rock Arsene Wenger!) and guitarist Stan Lee (a chunky, curly haired monolith with forearms like hams), and backed up by 3 proficient rent-a-punks, their opener “Killer Klowns” unfortunately sounded overloud and technically beset. However, “Fan Mail” kicked it up a few dozen speeds, and the subsequent “Nights” really got the mosh going and the gig into top gear. Phillips, energetic throughout (“not bad for 60”, he commented early on, to a huge cheer), introduced “Give It Back” with, “this song is old”, to which the mosh replied “HOW OLD?????” “Paranoid” followed, as mental, amphetamine-fast and furiously riffing as ever, Stan throwing heroic rock poses, then Phillips donned mask and snorkel and brought on a blow-up doll for a magnificent, set highlight “Waterslide”.

This precipitated a procession of props; a dog hand puppet for “Doggie Do”, a quickly-discarded gorilla mask for “You Drive Me Ape”, and the brilliant penis arm puppet, replete with pendulous bollocks, for the excellent “If Stuart Could Talk”. Then set closer “Gigantor” saw Phillips zoom around the stage with an impromptu towel cape, like the space age robot of the song’s subject.

The inevitable “Banana Splits” ended the planned encore, after which we got an unplanned “(I’m Stuck In A Pagoda With) Tricia Toyota” (which had been my earworm all day leading up to the gig!) and an almost straight “Rocking In The Free World” to end a frantic, frenetic 1¼ hours of vintage cartoon punk tomfoolery. “You’re a great looking bunch of kids, I’d like to have sex with each and every one of you!” declared Phillips, and the admiration was mutual. Another band growing old disgracefully, and another superb retro gig for 2011, thanks to The Dickies!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

825 THE 2011 SWINDON “BIG ARTS DAY”, Lydiard Park, Swindon, Saturday 9 July 2011

A welcome repeat of last year’s successful inaugural “Big Arts Day”, a one-day open air festival showcasing the performing and creative arts talent residing within Swindon, and another opportunity to take the kids to see Tim’s band The Shudders! This time we had 3 in tow; Evan was up for it, so we re-jigged his weekend visit schedule to coincide with this. So we set off about 12.30, hitting traffic which surprisingly cleared just the other side of the Link Centre, and parking up in the far field, a short hike from the Events Field and main park, about 1ish. It immediately seemed more professionally run; having apparently catered for 5,000 attendees last year and been overwhelmed with 20,000, the event organiser Steve Causer had advised us that this year they needed to bring in a better infrastructure to cope with the numbers, and this was immediately evident. It just felt better run straight away on arrival.

A concession this year was a smattering of fun-fair activities around the site; a bigger, better run event inevitably costs more to stage, so compromises need to be made to help bolster what is basically a non-profit and, more laudably, free event. Thus it was that we needed to drag Logan away from the “Hook-A-Duck” stand whilst wandering through the plethora of stalls to the Riffs/Holmes Music Stage, an inflatable raised stage which was a marked improvement over last year’s “Gazebo” affair, to catch some of THE FIXED. I’m used to seeing bands younger than myself, but this lot of indie tykes looked barely into their teens! Nevertheless, they seemed bright, enthusiastic and competent despite their age, and I’d liked to have stuck around to catch more of their set. However, I had an appointment in the belly of a whale…

An inflatable sperm whale sat in the middle of the field, with a Fish Wife beckoning the kids in; Logan wanted to go, so we entered the belly, enjoying some fishy pirate tales from a “shipwrecked” Pirate Queen, until it got too hot for Logan and we left. Rach, Evan and Kasey had met up with Sarah and Kate, and they were watching a “Time Trouble” theatre show which was apparently utterly bonkers, so we joined them, then wandered over to the Riffs stage where NOT JUST BUSINESS were rounding off their energetic, No Doubt-influenced pop set. THE SHUDDERS were next up at 2.20, only running 20 minutes late, a vast improvement from last year, so we took our places as the mid-afternoon sun emerged to welcome them. Introduced onstage as a “metal folk” band, which Liam quickly corrected to “thrash folk”, they played ostensibly the same set as their show last Saturday, albeit sounding better, more practiced and assured, and with a considerably improved sound in the inflatable stage (although Tim had suggested it would be like playing in a bouncy castle, and hoped the moorings held as he didn’t fancy playing a set floating 200 feet above the field!). Again, “Mary’s Grace” was a nice slow-burn vibe soundtrack to a sunny afternoon, and the singalong “Better Off Dead” was a well-played mid-set highlight. Logan and Kasey popped down the front for some dancing (including some incongruous breakdancing from Logan!) for the final 2 numbers “Words Of A Fool” and “Lost And Broke”, again Irish folk-tinged and fiddly-diddly fun.

Hung out awhile before we took a wander to the helter skelter for Logan, then poked around the stalls (including Nina’s beads stall, manned by the entire Prothero family!) while SLAGERIJ played a noisy, bolshy ska-punk set which drew a big crowd. Had a wander into the Lawn for ice cream afterwards, while SWINDON SAMBA plied their drumbeat dance on the Main Stage, then decided to call it a day about 4.30, as Logan and Kasey were getting a little hyper and tired respectively, and Evan and I had a Cinema appointment. I’d have liked to gotten more out of the day, but parenthood decided otherwise. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed our sampling of what seemed another fun and successful event!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

824 FOO FIGHTERS, Biffy Clyro, Jimmy Eat World, Hot Rats, Milton Keynes National Bowl, Sunday 3 July 2011

A real first, this one; the first time Rachel and I have dumped the kids with the Grandparents overnight, and pissed off to an all-day show! Honestly, we couldn’t resist this bill; I was interested in seeing the genre-defining Foo Fighters, the epitome of a modern “rock” band, again, after an absence from my gig schedule of 8 1/2 years, and having missed out on their intriguing “in the round” Wembley Stadium shows 3 years ago. However when Rachel’s current band crush Biffy Clyro and our enduring post-emo “live” faves Jimmy Eat World were added to the Sunday undercard of their 2 day MK Bowl mini-residency, I snapped up tix pronto, for what promised to be a good and proper grunting rock pig day!

Considering our experiences for the Green Day MK gig a few years back (easy in, easy out of MK, but then stuck in the middle of the countryside at midnight, home for 2.30am. Yikes!) we tried a different tack. So we dropped the kids off at midday, and drove in from the A5 North, encountering a bit of queuing traffic in but parking up in the splendidly named Teardrops Car Park, about 15 minutes North of the Bowl, hitting the already-heaving bowl at 2.30. The first thing to note was that the stage-front “Golden Circle” was not only massive, swallowing most of the bowl floor, but also already full and with huge immovable queues waiting, likely in vain, for entry wristbands! Sod that, we thought…

So we sat on the hill, chilled and chatted, then had a walk to get Rach’s traditional first band beer. BOB MOULD, yes even he, was DJ-ing, set up on one side of the stage and on the big screens, bopping along to some Hi-Nrg dance. Bob playing dance? That… makes no sense at all! Nevertheless, we got Rach’s beer and a better viewing position, on the slope left of stage (in front of a bloke who thought that putting a couple of empty bottles down guaranteed he had sole right to a goodly chunk of the slope!), for HOT RATS, first band at 4.30. An interesting concept, this; 2/3rds of Supergrass, including mainman Gaz Coombes, playing covers of their favourite material and influential oldies. When the stuff was intrinsically rocking (as in Bowie’s swaggering “Queen Bitch”) this worked, but other songs, like the Doors’ sublime “The Crystal Ship”, were handled too roughly. Even the Cure’s “Lovecats”, a song I don’t really like, was stomped all over with big Britpop Doc Martens, and I got the feeling this was overall a surprising waste of their time and talent. At barely 20 minutes, the set was short, too…

We wandered onto the bowl floor, with Bob back on the decks – as he was between all sets – and playing better and more representative disks, including Magnapop’s excellent “Lay It Down”, although he sadly resisted playing air guitar during Dinosaur Jr’s “Freak Scene”! However, we turfed up 3 or 4 rows back from the “Golden Circle” barriers, which still seemed hundreds of yards away from the stage! JIMMY EAT WORLD wandered on, unheralded, 5 minutes early at 5.25, and with the minimum of fuss burst into “Bleed American”, seething and dynamic, raggedly played and by no means note perfect, but thrilling as ever. Even better was to follow, as they were immediately into “A Praise Chorus”, my favourite number, fulsome and epic in its’ sweeping drama, and, with the sun breaking through the soft cloud cover for the first time this afternoon right on cue for the “crimson and clover” hook, as emotive and brilliant as ever. “God damn!” remarked Jim at the song’s conclusion, and I knew how he felt.

This evening, Jimmy Eat World were on fire. A band in a hurry, nary pausing for breath between each number, delivering a performance of sweaty, raw, slightly ragged but brilliantly thrilling rock of the first water. An unexpected but incendiary “Blister” was all seething power, followed by a strident singalong “Work” for a mid-set double-header highlight. “This is a dance number, so feel free to, y’know, partner up,” suggested Jim before the irresistibly catchy powerpop of “The Middle”. Then, all too soon, the “whoa-oh” of “Sweetness” heralded the end of a lightning-fast but utterly superb rock set.

Time for a breather then? Wrong! We took a walk to the back for a loo break, only to find the walkway even more crowded than down the “front” for Jimmy Eat World! Mental! We could only surmise that the huge “Golden Circle”, combined with two massive beer tents on the bowl floor, one each side of the stage, had significantly reduced the floor space whilst retaining the same capacity. Bah! We ended up snaking back through the woods fringing the back of the bowl, finding a good viewing spot on the hill, stage right, for BIFFY CLYRO, on at 6.45. A riot of noise and colour, they were also “on it” from the outset, mobile and kinetic, the sound much better on the hill than on the floor, blasting through a strident early “Golden Rule”, all drumbeat and drama, purposeful and pounding. A slow-burn singalong “God And Satan” built to a huge choral climax, whilst “Who’s Got A Match” showed a decided Seafood/Sonic Youth vicious guitar attack, jagged riffs strafing the crowd, and overall their confident display gave the impression it won’t be too long before they’re headlining here in their own right. Their best number, “Bubbles” echoed from all sides of this huge amphitheatre, before the lighters-aloft “Many Of Horror” precipitated a jagged and crushing closing “Mountains”, closing out a damn fine set from a band I’m really warming to. Mon the Biff!

So, there we stayed as dusk fell and DJ Bob Mould succumbed to temptation, playing Sugar’s “A Good Idea”. The witching hour nevertheless came quickly, and promptly at 8.15, with no entrance music or introduction, Dave Grohl raced onstage and down the runway joining the stage to the mixing desk set-up, about a hundred yards into the mosh, like some demented dog finally set loose. The rest of THE FOO FIGHTERS followed onstage, kicking in to savage opener “Bridges Burning”, the opening track to their current “Wasting Light” album, easily their best and most consistent since 1996’s classic “The Colour And The Shape”. And we were away…

Similar to their obvious antecedents Husker Du, Foo Fighters music primarily comes in 2 different digestible packages; the balls-out, amphetamine fast straight-ahead rocker with strident, yell-along chorus and a nevertheless melodic edge; and the thicker, mid-paced yet more anthemic moshpit sing-along. Both were fully in evidence tonight early doors; an immense “Pretender” saw 67,000 arms aloft pointing “who are you??” towards the stage, and the subsequent “My Hero” was off-kilter, strident and if anything even huger, a crescendo of noise and strobe.

“There sure are a whole fucking lot of you out there,” said Grohl, before a comedy monologue (including calling Foo Fighters gig virgins “nerds”, but then saying, “that’s ok, we used to suck but now we’re rad!”) which essentially told us he was going to skip the comedy monologues and concentrate on the rock! This was an occasionally odd performance from the widely acknowledged “nicest man in rock”; without the natural swagger or stage charisma of, say, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Grohl seemed to feel the need to augment his usual open and enthusiastic persona with some Denis Leary-esque dialogue and antics. This was nevertheless entertaining, as was the rock: “this one’s for the crazy motherfucker in the boat,” he shouted to a crowdsurfer in a rubber dinghy (!) by way of intro for “White Limo”; a huge cheer followed him downing a beer in one during an elongated note at the start of the excellent “Arlandria”; and another scamper down the runway saw him appear on a little stage behind the mixing desk during “Stacked Actors” for a riffery shoot-out with his onstage guitarist, via the big screen.

The sublime “Walk”, possibly their best number since “Everlong”, followed, then the debt to Husker Du was acknowledged by a warm introduction of today’s DJ, “the genius that is Bob Mould”, onstage for “Dear Rosemary”, Grohl also admitting, “we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for this man”. Mould, humble as ever, nevertheless prowled the stage like he owned it, battering his Fender and growling his lines with his usual startling conviction during this brilliant rendition. A pregnant pause halted the subsequent “Monkey Wrench” as Grohl announced, “this is the part of the song where I scream until I see stars and feel like I’m gonna fall over,” before doing just that. Then, after a quick loo break for us, the lengthy “whoa-oh”s at the end of “Best Of You” saw Grohl cracking a huge grin, before a powerful “All My Life” rounded the set off.

Grohl once again took the small mixing desk stage for the encore, delivering a solo “Wheels” as night fell, before taking the stage again during “Times Like These”. Unlike the previous night, we didn’t get Alice Cooper as a guest, making do with Seasick Steve for a nondescript blues jam (hey, I’m psyched for his success, but his primitive blues doesn’t float my boat). We did, however, get a savage “This Is A Call” before Grohl, now back to his Mr. Nice Guy self, gushingly complimented us all prior to a final “Everlong”. We’d known this was the final number, and debated missing it to get a flyer and avoid the traffic, but that would have been, as Rach put it, “like going to Egypt and not seeing the Pyramids”. So we stayed, and she was right; my word, it was mighty! A lighters-aloft, robust and powerful as all hell run-through of their finest moment, with a delicious mid-song pregnant pause and a massive climax, the perfect way to end a great set, with fireworks accompanying our sprint back to the car.

So, 3 fine rock bands all delivered on the big day, with hardly a scrap of paper between them for top act. I’m still undecided about that! However the different tack worked a treat, as we left the arena on “Everlong”'s last note, on the stroke of 11, and blasted back largely unencumbered, getting home for 12.30! A perfect result, to end a great day out!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

823 THE SHUDDERS, Swindon Town Centre, outside Debenhams, Saturday 2 July 2011

A sampler for next week’s Swindon “Big Arts Day”, this; billed as “Mini Arts Day” in the town centre, this event featured various music and dance performances throughout the afternoon on a small temporary stage and performance area, one of which was Tim’s band The Shudders! We actually hadn’t intended to go along for this, but we saw the stage during a morning trip into town, and this enthused our 4 year old Logan into wanting to, “see Uncle Tim play guitar,” rather than go to Wroughton Carnival, which was the plan!

So we popped back into town at 2.30, parking and wandering around to hang out with Tim, the Shudders, friends, girlfriends and offspring! The band took the stage at 2.45 to the friendly and curious, a full band for the first time in ages following drummer Alan’s return to the fold after becoming a dad (congrats, big guy!). Unfortunately, the sound was dreadfully tinny and thin, plaguing them throughout; indeed, after 1 song I turned to Rach and said, “they sound like they’re playing in a tin can,” to which her reply, referring to the temporary open-sided van-style stage was, “well they are, kinda!” Hmmm, not wrong…

Nevertheless, the boys soldiered on, with their usual self-deprecating humour and improving stage presence ultimately winning out over the poor but improving sound. A lovely, slow burn “Mary’s Grace” was given an extra dimension with the drums, fuelling the songs mood changes splendidly, and the equally understated “Sunflower” cut a beautifully hazy mid afternoon vibe. A couple of their more upbeat, jig-along numbers rounded off a fine set, and saw me dancing down the front first with Logan and then Kasey, in between loo breaks for the kids; “Words Of A Fool” a breathless C86 strumalong, and “Lost And Broke” a fine rootsy folk romp, the distillation of their “Pirate Folk” trademark sound.

So, a nice way to spend the afternoon with good friends and good music, a useful warm up for The Shudders’ “Big Arts Day” set next weekend, and a nice lead-in to this weekend’s big outdoor gig for Rach and myself. That one comes tomorrow…

Saturday, 18 June 2011

822 SIMPLE MINDS, James Walsh, Westonbirt Arboretum, Friday 17 June 2011

Seeing Ex-Simple Minds last year, whilst being a thrilling nostalgia jaunt through the innovative, cutting edge early material of one of my favourite post-punk bands, also whetted my appetite for seeing the “real thing”, as it were, potential stadium rock excess and all. So when a Simple Minds date was announced as part of nearby Westonbirt Arboretum’s run of open-air Summer shows, I snapped up a ticket pretty much immediately, ultimately persuading a couple of work colleagues into coming along too.

So it was that I drove down with my former boss Bob, who could count the gigs he’d been to on the fingers of one hand, but one of which, impressively, had been The Beatles and Tyrannosaurus Rex! I’d also done my research; firstly, I’d checked out recent set-lists from the Minds’ forest jaunt thus far, and whilst lightning hadn’t struck twice, Adam Ant-wise, there was a small smattering of pre-hit material to really pique my interest, along with a Glittering Prize of a “New Gold Dream”-centric set climax to look forward to. Also, I’d checked the weather for this open-air affair, and the only disagreement between weather websites was when the heavy rain was going to hit, not if! So, fully prepared, we arrived easily at 7 after a quick cross country run, finding a nice compact venue site skirted by trees, and thankfully only drizzly rather than persistent, as we hit the beer tent!

Took a wander forward for support James Walsh, whom I’m convinced is a Rain God, given that the only time I’d seen his previous charges Starsailor, at Fleadh 2001, it had pissed down too! He took the stage to increasing drizzle, having an invidious task in warming up the slightly sodden early arrivals. However he set to it with gusto, with pumping beatbox, chiming acoustic guitar and occasional keyboard colour, and a plaintive, keening voice. “Follow the man possessed by a storm,” was a prophetic early lyric, as Walsh alternated between more morose but recognisable Starsailor oldies entirely appropriate for the slate grey conditions, and more chipper newies. “Four To The Floor” and an almost jolly “Good Souls” were highlights of a quietly impressive support set.

Ran into one of my brother’s bandmates for a chat, then colleague Mairi and hubby by the beer tent, before the Minds early entrance music wrong-footed us and saw us striding purposefully to the front for their early arrival, just before 9, with a bombastic “Moscow Underground”, which segued into a fist-pumping, anthemic “Waterfront”. The early set took the expected route, mainly drawing on material from their mid-80’s “Stadium Rock” albums, “Sparkle In The Rain” and “Once Upon A Time”, when they moved away from their dazzling, synth driven cutting edge groove, and into more expansive, radio friendly material. However the Krautrock-influenced “Sons And Fascination” got me moving, and I gleefully anticipated the clattering industrial robotic dance of “Celebrate”, next up. Unfortunately, this was disappointingly thin-sounding in the open air, and I feared for my interest level, thinking this was as good as it was going to get.

However the unmistakable synth pulse of a totally unexpected “Love Song” started up, and I was utterly sold. This was brilliant, easily the set highlight, and they had me after that. “You’re not too cold, not too wet, we’re not too old, are we?” asked Jim Kerr before a fine “Hunter And The Hunted”, and true enough, he gave an energetic performance of his expansive dance style which belied his years. Despite the false start, the slow-burn “Someone Somewhere In Summertime” was as sparkling as ever, heralding a “New Gold Dream”-heavy denouement, taking in a heavy but sharply short shower during “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – “rain keeps falling down”, indeed! - and climaxing in the title track of that breakthrough album.

A final encore “Ghostdancing”, which I’d forgotten appropriated the first line of the sadly absent “I Travel”, segued into a singalong cover medley of “Gloria” and Talking Heads’ “Take Me To The River”, capping an entirely worthwhile actually near-2 hour set (a frankly dull “Mandela Day” notwithstanding!). “We’ll be back again,” announced an achingly sincere Jim Kerr at the end. And, d’you know what, I might be as well!

Monday, 13 June 2011

821 CHEAP TRICK, Plead The Fifth, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 12 June 2011

The retro June continues, with yet another band of old codgers (!); this time veteran powerpop boys Cheap Trick, exactly 7 months after their last UK outing, which itself followed an absence of 6 years! Nevertheless, da Trick are always great value and entertainment “live”, and even more so given this gig would be the first time (in 7) that I’d seen these grizzled US rock long-stayers outside of London! I’d booked this one some time ago for Rach and myself, but then The Wild Swans gig was added to the Rose itinerary, and Rach decided she couldn’t really do both. Luckily similar old rocker Beef stepped in at short notice, so he and I bopped down to Brizzle in the drizzle.

Hit the venue just after 8; a disappointingly low early turnout of the usual ranks of hoary old rock casualties and medieval roadie types for da Trick. Nevertheless, we early comers were treated to a support slot from ridiculously young ruffians Plead The Fifth. Whilst quite enjoying their spunky powerpop thrills, which I found similar to The Click Five whilst also skirting around Orange County nu-punk/emo territory , Beef and I also noted that the bouffant-haired bassist and the bespectacled drummer looked like quite like me and him, 30 years ago!

We got a drink in, then resumed our good viewing spot, stage right for once (!), for the entrance of da Trick at 9 pm. Again, the cut-up intro tape featured Homer Simpson and Apoo extolling the virtues of this classic band, before a young female voice announced, “please welcome to the stage the greatest fucking rock’n’roll band you’ll ever see… Cheap Trick!” By this time the venue had filled up, although was by no means full, but da Trick received a rapturous welcome as they burst full-on into the chugging badass boogie of “Just Got Back”. Vocalist Robin Zander, resplendent in embroidered military jacket which was soon discarded to reveal a black wet-look shirt, and a black general’s peaked cap which remained in situ throughout, was on top form from the outset, stretching his elastic larynx through an excellent early “California Man”, then the outstanding, definitive descending-bassline driven, “I Want You To Want Me”, which was an early set highlight.

“We’ve written this set-list especially for…you!” announced the supreme showman and band leader, guitarist Rick Nielsen, showering guitar picks as usual into the appreciative audience, as they strode through soaring new power ballad “These Days”. Similar lighters-held-aloft classic “Tonight It’s You” was superb, the hook as big as the venue, and subsequent “On Top Of The World” was an unexpected slab of mutant surf rock, rounding off an opening half hour of old-school rock and powerpop as good as they’ve ever delivered.

The band then introduced their European Fan-club Chairman onstage, who took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend – sorry mate, we did that 7 years ago! For me, the set wavered thereafter, whilst still maintaining its' muscular power and pace and trademark grand, if slightly overblown and preposterous, rock riffs and huge choruses. However set closer and all-time powerpop classic “Surrender”, with its’ helium hookline and strident singalong outro, saw them roaring back with a vengeance, and encores “Dream Police” (always a favourite of mine to shout along to), a rocking “Clock Strikes Ten” and “Goodnight Ladies And Gentlemen” put the exclamation point on a 1½ hour set of fine pure old school rock.

Grabbed another set-list to make my evening. Another great retro June night, thanks to Cheap Trick!

820 THE WILD SWANS, Bristol Thekla, Thursday 9 June 2011

The retro June continues, and here’s another welcome reunion resulting in another eagerly anticipated gig. The Wild Swans, who as support act of my second ever gig made an indelible impression on my 16 year old mind with a stunning set of sweeping power, followed it up with easily the best single for the following year in “Revolutionary Spirit” – hell, still one of the best singles EVER – and, following an early 80’s hiatus, established themselves as a mid-80’s “live” favourite with an all-too-brief reprise, during which time I became a familiar face at their shows for vocalist and visionary Paul Simpson, who was nevertheless friendly and open each time I met him. The true “lost” band from that storied and mythical Liverpool Bunnymen/ Teardrops 80’s scene, the band with the vision, scale and talent to have assumed stadium level popularity, who were instead consigned to hushed, dusty half whispered legend. Until…

Scarcely-believable rumours of a Wild Swans reunion show at the back end of 2008 nearly saw me consider hot-footing it up to Liverpool, but t’was not to be. Nevertheless, they followed up these (very) low-key live shows with a couple of single releases, then, this year, a full length CD and a mini tour, choosing the Thekla, increasingly one of my favourite venues given that this “dirty boat” literally oozes the distilled essence of rock’n’roll, as a near-perfect venue for their scattergun vision of a run-down yet heroic England, where giants and mythical beasts still bestride these emerald Elysian fields. I booked tickets immediately and persuaded Rachel to forego Sunday’s gig to join me (Cheap Trick? Seen them before!!).

The best laid plans were however put into absolute panic when we couldn’t find Baa, our little daughter's favourite cuddly toy, to give to her before bedtime. A frantic last-minute turning the house upside down couldn’t reveal her whereabouts, so we set off late, flustered and worried about our daughter settling down with Grandma. Nevertheless, there’s a gig to go to, and we arrived at the “dirty boat” at 8, parking outside and wandering into the sparsely populated hold just as the support were rounding off their innocuous girly set.

Saw a familiar rakish figure snaking through the venue, dressed incredibly dapper in a dark cut suit, but before I wandered over to talk to Paul Simpson (for t’was he), I ran into old friend Craig, over from Cardiff for the show! Caught up thereafter with Simmo, who after a little prompting, apparently remembered me from my 80’s pursuits of The Wild Swans, and gave me a hug which was unexpected but welcome. A quick chat revealed his enthusiasm for the 2011 incarnation of his band, so we took a walk down the front for their early arrival at 8.30.

The Wild Swans took the stage to a still-sparse but loyal crowd, easing into their set with opener “Falling To Bits”, the melodic and evocative opener to their new album “The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years”. The sound seemed a little off from the outset, particularly feeding back through the rhythm guitarist throughout, but this seemed not to rattle their onstage insouciance. Rather they took heart, with an understated, restrained yet supremely melodic show of craftsmanship. Simmo had made reference earlier on to suffering throat problems, sipping honey and lemon from a pint glass onstage, but his deep baritone was nevertheless rich and resonant, albeit also restrained and controlled. A heroic “Archangels” was brilliantly evocative, an early set highlight, and newie “Bluebell Wood” saw Craig bantering with an affable Simmo about a Waitrose token (!). After a lovely “Now And Forever”, the set built to a glittering climax with a wonderfully discordant “God Forbid” (introduced by Simmo as, “a new one”; hah!), Simmo understandably keeping his voice one octave lower than the usual vocal line for protection. “No Bleeding” followed, as heartcrackingly emotive as ever, Simmo finally freeing his vocals to truly soar authoritatively, and the wonderful keyboard outro made this a true highlight of the night.

Then finally “Revolutionary Spirit”, possibly the greatest single of all time, a soaring plangent thing of melodic beauty, the band doing its’ extraordinary widescreen breadth and sweeping expanse full justice, and if Simmo over-egged the final chorus with an extra line, we can excuse him that for being so wrapped up in the moment. Brilliant stuff.

They stayed on then for an “encore” of “Tangerine Temple” before an actual encore of the uncharacteristic baggy dance anthem “Melting Blue Delicious”, Simmo abandoning the stage and joining us on the floor to deservedly applaud his own band after a remarkable resurrection.

Time to chat quickly afterwards, including a few words with bassist and former long-time Bunnyman Les Pattinson, and some words of gratitude with Simmo himself. We parted with his words, “don't leave it so long next time - well, I guess that’s up to me, isn't it?” That’s right, Simmo! A chat with Craig before setting off capped a brilliant night off wonderfully well too.

And after another exhaustive search when we got home, we managed to find Baa, so everything ended perfectly!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

819 THIN LIZZY, The Union, Swindon MECA (Music and Entertainment Cultural Arena), Thursday 2 June 2011

Shall I tell my Phil Lynott story? Okay, here goes… as a skinny little early teen, I whiled away many a balmy Summer evening hanging out on Swindon Railway Station; yes, it’s true, I was a teenage trainspotter! Anyway, one such Summer eve, a train pulled in and the first class compartment slowed to a stop next to my seat. Through the window I could see the occupants, and recognised one; a wiry leather spray-clad man with a candyfloss puff of jet black hair, and a gorgeous and nubile blonde draped provocatively over him. I reached for my notebook and scribbled, “are you Phil Lynott?” on it, pressing it up to the carriage window. This elicited a nod and a thumbs-up, and I then wrote, “thought so,” and held that up, to general hilarity from the great man.

I recalled that, when I’d heard that the next MECA rock booking was Thin Lizzy, Lynott’s classic 70’s rock band, a band which, more so than any other 70’s “rock” group, had an affinity and alignment with the burgeoning punk movement, Lynott hanging out with the Sex Pistols back in the day. As a result, I’d always admired them (even before my meeting with Phil!) without being a huge fan. I took a late shout on this one, however, given my Ant-ics the previous night, and also with trepidation that without Phil, sadly 25 years gone now, it just wouldn’t be the same... nevertheless, I drove up about 8.30, paying on the door and hitting the amply-filled venue while support band The Union were on. A gang of old rockers, they played some formulaic hard rock and occasional power balladry, which nevertheless went down well with the crowd of similar old rockers and middle-aged couples revisiting their wild youth, and which was alright for what it was.

Chatted with an old friend at the bar, filling time usefully as Thin Lizzy kept us waiting for ¾ hour! Yipe! Eventually, they emerged at 9.45, a 6-piece comprising 3 “original” members from their halcyon 70’s days, and 3 younger “guest” performers, bedecked in de rigeur rock hair, sleeveless shirts and full body tattooing. They played it hard and heavy from the outset, with a rocking opening number similar to Cheap Trick’s “Good Evening Ladies And Gentlemen”, not the only similarity in evidence tonight to a Trick gig!

Despite appearances, the “new” guys were nothing if not authentic; Guns & Roses lead guitar man Richard Fortus did a fine job of replicating the late Gary Moore’s snaking power-chord riffery, and dovetailed very well with “original” member Scott Gorham. Vocalist Ricky Warwick, of The Almighty, had the most unenviable task, and whilst not able to replicate Lynott’s smooth, smoky voice, did an admirable job of emulating his laid back and laconic, almost conversational vocal style. He also admirably deflected attention from himself to focus on the Lizzy legend (“I thought I’d gathered some rock’n’roll stories in 24 years – then I had a call to join the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world! It took me half a second to say yes and pick myself up off the floor…”), in a similar vein to Mike Peters’ Big Country appearance. An early, stomping “Do Anything You Wanna Do” was a highlight until a strident, powerful and lengthy “Whisky In The Jar” became a swelling terrace chant which filled the venue. I could have done without the drum solo during “Sha La La La”, but a roaring final “Boys Are Back In Town”, an octane-fuelled tale of male camaraderie, and an indisputable all-time classic deserving of its' place at rock’s top table, more than made up for it.

A couple of encores (including a fine and sinewy “Rosalie” - I was amazed throughout at how many Lizzy numbers I knew, and how well I knew them!) capped a fine performance and a thoroughly enjoyable gig. Despite not being my usual thing, I’ve travelled a whole lot further to go to worse gigs this year! Nice one, chaps.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

818 ADAM ANT AND THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE LOVELY POSSE, Krakatoa, Dressing For Pleasure, Birmingham O2 Academy, Wednesday 1 June 2011

Adam Ant? Adam frickin' Ant???? Oh yes. This was a gig I totally jumped all over as soon as I found out about it, so I could revisit one of my earliest musical icons. As a 15 year old fledgling punk rocker, I whiled away many a lazy hazy drunken Summer evening down the park with a gang of punks, copious bottles of Merrydown cider and Adam And The Ants as a musical backdrop. Really early stuff as well; not just “Dirk Wears White Sox”, their sleazy, sexy pseudo-glam punk first album, but Ant songs predating that, songs celebrating the perverse and different, songs which never saw the light of officially recorded day until a few popped up, also quite perversely, on the “B” sides of the big hits. I was an Ant fan on the ground floor, me! Unluckily, as soon as I was old enough to go to gigs, Adam Ant had “gone popular”; riding on the wave of “Stand And Deliver”, his first number one hit, he’d become a chameleonic new romantic pop idol, definitely not to my tastes. So there we’d parted, but I remembered my love of his old material…

Since those halcyon hit-strewn days, Adam had fallen on harder times, becoming a victim of changing musical/fashion tastes and suffering mental health issues, also sadly being arrested and sectioned on occasion. Thankfully, he’d emerged the other side, exorcised his ghosts in a splendid and frank autobiography, and decided to continue this recovery by getting back to performing “live”. I picked up on this recent burst of Ant activity at the end of last year, very nearly buying a ticket for one of his Xmas “World Tour of London” dates but blanching at the ticket price (£50? For the Electric Ballroom? Fuck that!). However a proper UK tour, apparently his first for 25 years, was just the ticket, and I sorted myself one for this Birmingham gig, the nearest the original slew of dates came to Swindon. Amazingly, I was on my own for this; despite doing some pre-gig research and finding, much to my utter delight, that the set was predominantly formed of the pre “Stand And Deliver” material of my hazy cider-fuelled mid-teens, I couldn’t persuade anyone to join me!

So, I hit the road at 5.30, full of anticipation but aware of previous issues with getting to this venue. However I needn’t have worried as this, a new location for Birmingham’s O2 Academy, was easy to get to and park up for. So I hit the gig, already utterly heaving with old punks, middle aged housewives with white stripes across their noses and the generally curious, at 7.30 in time for openers Dressing For Pleasure. A 3-piece featuring 2 sisters playing at burlesque dress-up and a stand-up bloke drummer, they played a thrashy garage blare, with their cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” poor but easily the best number they inflicted on us in their thankfully short set. From Birmingham, apparently, although still largely ignored! Main support Krakatoa were better; a group of young Cockneys mining a similar garagey vein, but with more Modish, Who leanings, and some occasional bluebeat thrown in. Another cover, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love”, was their best number too. I‘ve seen worse support bands; the first lot, for starters…

The crowd anticipation was palpable as we awaited the entrance of Adam; a huge “Antmusic For Sexpeople” backdrop and the double-drumkit set-up of old filled the stage. The place was old-school packed – not an inch to wiggle as I found a tiny and breathless viewing spot a few rows back, stage left. After a seemingly interminable wait, the band came on at the appointed hour and eased into the grungey, riff-heavy opening bars of “Plastic Surgery”. Then Adam emerged, dressed in a British Hussar’s gold rope embellished jacket and plumed pirate hat, pencil moustache and large glasses, looking for all the world 20 years younger than his actual 56 (!), as the opening number soared into punk-rock full-speed, Adam already yelping in his instantly recognisable vocal style.

The drums hit overload for “Dog Eat Dog” as I eased forward, and by the opening bars of “Beat My Guest”, a brilliant amphetamine-fast punk celebration of Sado-Masochism, I was in the mosh down the front, bashing away furiously and screaming the lyric for all I was worth, a 15 year old punk rocker again. A brilliant sequence followed; “Kick”, a furious manifesto, the jaunty and wonderfully singalong “Cartrouble”, then an awesome “Zerox”, easing in with its’ pin-picked opening riff then building throughout to an all-too short final strident crescendo of noise. Simply stunning stuff.

“This song is when I jumped out of the window and everything changed,” Adam announced as “Stand And Deliver” kicked in, igniting the housewives and still sounding, well, pretty good actually, for his “watershed” pop number. “Catholic Day” followed, Adam mischievously miming both the shooter and victim in this old number about the Kennedy assassination. Then a serious moment as Adam introduced the image-defining “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” as, “I mean every word of this song, I nearly died for this." Full-on Burundi-style double drumbeats and Native American chanting made for an all-encompassing set highlight. “A new Royal Family, a wild nobility…” indeed!

Adam, by now relaxed and in good fooling, with a swish and a swagger to his riveting and energetic performance totally belying his years, casually stated, “another hit single then? Why not? I dunno, guys playing stadiums after 2 hits; you’re having a laugh, right? I worked for this!” before a singalong “Antmusic”. Then after some Johnny Thunders stories, a dedication of “Cleopatra” for Elizabeth Taylor and featuring some more teasing (“you know what it’s about, right?”) and some choice words about Bono and U2 (“you want to see a hundred foot spider? Bollocks!”), a fantastic, Carry-on saucy “Lady” segued into a frantic, powerful “Fall In” to end a pretty damn near perfect set. A couple of encores, sadly omitting “Press Darlings” but featuring a fun, throwaway “A.N.T.S”, his own version of “YMCA”, and a speeded-up “Physical”, performed by a by-now shirtless Adam, rounded off a breathless, fucking lightning-quick 1¾ hours. Where the hell did that time go??!

I collected my thoughts (and a set-list – yay!) before realising I’d taken a total pounding and had been feeling sick for about the last half-hour, nevertheless toughing it out to suck out the max from this one. I’d been eagerly anticipating this gig since discovering Adam’s set, perhaps unfairly so given Adam’s long lay-off and recent history of mental health issues; however he delivered in brilliant style, with a performance which stripped back the years and restored his icon to full radiance. This was fully all I’d hoped it could possibly be. Welcome back, Adam Ant!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

817 THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG, Billy In The Lowground, The Shudders, Swindon 12 Bar, Friday 27 May 2011

So, politically-motivated yet supremely entertaining folk punk pioneers The Men They Couldn’t Hang, one of my 80’s “live” favourites, return for a 3rd time at the 12 Bar in as many years. This is getting as regular as Stiff Little Fingers at Bristol Academy in March – and as welcome! This one was also due to kick off a run of 5 hugely anticipated retro gigs in 4 weeks; this lot, then Adam Ant (!), The Wild Swans (!!), Cheap Trick and finally Simple Minds (!!!). I’m truly partying like it’s the 80’s all over again…

So I hit the deserted 12 Bar at 8ish to hang out with Tim, Liam, Danny and Ellen, and meet Tim’s new girlfriend Tracey! After hearing Tim’s broken hand sob story (Tim being reduced to tambourine duties tonight!), the Shudders trio then went off to soundcheck, leaving me in charge of the girls (hah!), before we joined them in the still-deserted back room for their anticipated 8.30 start. However, a delayed and problematic soundcheck, caused by a late soundman replacement, bumped the set start to 8.45, and the sound problems persisted into their set, with appalling feedback initially through Danny’s mic, and then constantly through The Men’s bass drum set-up, plaguing them throughout. A shame, as this was another nice little stripped-back acoustic set, an approach which, for me, increasingly suits their odd little folky whimsy and hushed, understated harmonies. A couple of duskier, countrified slow burners also continue to hint at a new facet to a band I took time to warm to, but am increasingly enjoying seeing “live”. This of course despite having to kiss Liam before he went onstage so he didn’t feel left out!

The boys showed up at the end of the Shudders set, so we hung out in the back bar in favour of the main support Billy In The Lowground, a gathering of hoary old pub rock choresmen playing nondescript and meandering fiddly diddly stuff, with their mum seemingly on fiddle duties. Chilled and reminisced about the TTP days while BITL played on… and on! Eventually they cleared off so we headed back into the by-now amply attended venue for the Men’s entrance, late on at 10.15. The poor sound was still in evidence, with the Men’s opening few numbers beset with shimmering drum feedback, although the band did their best to plough through and ignite an initially reticent crowd. “Cable Street” got myself and Phil singing along and jigging down the front, although the first half overall seemed somewhat flat in comparison to their recent sets (the usual chilling “Shirt of Blue”, accompanied by some welcome anti-Cameron ranting from Cush, notwithstanding), and it wasn’t until Swill’s rousing acapella sea shanty “Barrett’s Privateer” (which followed a lovely solo “Parted From You”, introduced by Swill as, “one we’ve never played in Swindon before”) that the crowd really joined in the singalongs. Thereafter, it was much more like it, as The Men, feeding off the renewed enthusiasm, cranked up the commitment levels with a swaggering “Smugglers” and an inclusive, sway-along “Bells”. They ran over time again (damn BITL!), but this time got a wonderfully raucous “Ironmasters” in, before totally ignoring the curfew and playing on until 11.45! A final “Night To Remember” rounded off another ultimately worthwhile – if late - TMTCH set. I hope they don’t fall victim to the law of diminishing returns, as, so far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to come back to Swindon as often as they like!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

816 GRANT LEE BUFFALO, London Royal Festival Hall, Wednesday 18 May 2011

After a disappointing alt-Country excursion to London last time out, I was looking for better from this one, a rare show from one of the progenitors of said genre, Grant Lee Buffalo. A band that’d dazzled me at Reading Festival 1993 with a Sunday opening set of shimmering and very loud acoustic angst, plus another set later that day (!), both based on their raw, stripped-back yet eminently listenable debut CD “Fuzzy”, I’d then accumulated their subsequent 3 CDs with admittedly diminishing interest, and managed to remain oblivious to any live outings since then! However, after very nearly joining Tim a couple of years back to see mainman Grant Lee Phillips do his solo thang at Bush Hall, I happily volunteered to join him and pretty much the entire Moody family, for this “reunion” performance.

Tim, Ellen and I set off at 5 pm for an entertaining drive to Hammersmith, parking up at 7, meeting car 2 then tubing to Embankment, crossing the river and hitting this grand venue just in time to miss the support act, which irked Tim a little. The crew then left me as I’d booked my seat after theirs, so I was Billy No-Mates in my seat! Ran into London friend Lisa – oddly enough, whilst leaving her a message on her phone! – and caught up, before taking my Upper Stalls seat (actually fairly near where Evan and I had sat for They Might Be Giants!) in good time for Grant Lee Buffalo’s unfeasibly early entrance at 8.30.

The band – the original trio for this reunion date – were led onstage by Grant Lee Phillips, kicking into opener “The Shining Hour”, from that old “Fuzzy” CD, much more strident, drum-dominated and squally, almost Velvet Underground-like, than the acoustic-led strumalong CD version. A touching “I Wish You Well” followed, before Phillips announced the band were, “like some strange comet that comes around every 15 years, bringing pestilence and turbulence in its wake!” Hmm, no wonder I hadn’t seen them since Reading 1993… A superb reading of the self-labelled, “politically tinged romantic ballad,” namely “Jupiter And Teardrop” was up next, setting the tone for their set. Evoking a similar version of Americana to Sparklehorse, a landscape of wide skies, deserts, canyons, outcrops and buttes, ramshackle truckstops and telegraph poles stretching into the distance, they nevertheless eschew the Hoss’ deathly hush in favour of charming acoustic-powered brain-hugging earworm hooks and thrilling squally cacophony, often in the same song! Tonight was a gift for the aficionados, Phillips and co. playing songs they themselves loved, the opening bars of each number greeted with applause, and Phillips, clearly psyched to be here and an excellent, intelligent and witty between-song orator throughout, embellishing the very fine material perfectly with his stretched nasal tones, which always puts me in mind of Mike Scott, of 80’s stadium folkies The Waterboys.

A final set-closing double of the strident, tumbling, Dylan-esque protest ballad “America Snoring”, introduced with some ironic observations on its’ relevance today by Phillips, and an octave-straddling “Fuzzy” were my set highlights, and an encore showcasing a deliciously slow-burn “The Hook” capped a splendid 1¾ hour performance, as good as they possibly could be and way better than I was hoping. Another chat with Lisa before hitting the road via a kebab shack in Hammersmith (!), to cap a great – if late – night out!