Wednesday, 23 February 2011

807 THE WHIGS, The Dead Confederate, Blacklight Pioneer, Oxford Jericho Tavern, Tuesday 22 February 2011

A good old fashioned short notice gig, this; I’d come across a classified ad for this dual-headlining tour by a couple of young bands from REM’s old stamping grounds of Athens, Georgia, whilst tidying away some old “Uncut” magazines on Sunday. Given that The Dead Confederate had also contributed an intriguing, proto shoegazey number to a recent "Uncut" compilation CD, I then checked out the respective bands' MySpace pages; The Dead Confed’s MySpace stuff veered from good, through indifferent to not so good really, but I enjoyed the driving hard rock of The Whigs (as in “Afghan”, but seemingly no relation to Greg Dulli’s post-grunge lot), a band previously totally unknown to me.

Thus it was that I made a frustrating lorry-hindered journey to Oxford, nevertheless parking up easily and hitting the venue at 8.30, for an intriguing double-header, which immediately became triple with openers Blacklight Pioneer, who took the stage as I arrived. A 6-piece young British band joining the Yank rockers for the UK leg of their tour, they mined a zeitgeisty dark, brooding pseudo 80’s sound with some good numbers, notably fast-faced final number “Lucille”, but sounded at the moment cluttered and untogether, as if they were having a “who can play their instruments the loudest” competition. Still, I remember writing something similar about a Reading Fez support slot from The Killers one time, and 18 months later they were selling out Brixton Academy, so what the fuck do I know??!

Took in the ambience of this venerable old upstairs room, with the ghosts of old 80’s gigs seeping through the walls (if I closed my eyes, I could almost hear The Parachute Men, 4 times my hosts here!), before taking a wander down the front for The Whigs, on at 9.15 and given a fulsome welcome by a now-full Jericho audience. A snappily impressive, driving with the top down opener “Like A Vibration”, was followed by an enthusiastically played and well paced set from this young 3-piece. “Black Lotus”, a similarly raw and garage rock-like number with a roaring groove, was followed by “Dying”, a slow-burn to a lengthy and cacophonous squall, which recalled Seafood or Bob Mould. By contrast, “Written Invitation”, next up, was almost pretty and cleared the air perfectly. “We’re The Whigs from Athens; who here’s from Georgia?”, the angular, Thurston Moore lookalike vocalist Parker Gispert shouted out mid-set, to be met with a roar from the crowd. Responding in kind, the high-kicking Parker rounded off a splendid rock set with “Need You Need You”, which featured a sleazy groove reminiscent of the Doors “LA Woman”. I quickly grabbed a set-list and got it signed, enjoying some baseball banter with drummer Julian Dorio in the process!

The Dead Confederate, headliners tonight, were however a great disappointment, playing a plodding, one dimensional post-grunge noise for which the sound, often muddy and at best average tonight, did no favours. Bleak, black and indistinct, I nevertheless gave them half a dozen numbers, but with their songs merging into each other, I took a wander back, pitching up next to the articulate Whigs vocalist Parker for an enjoyable conversation about the importance of variation and “light and shade” in a band’s repertoire. I then hit the road while The Dead Confederate continued to revisit the ghost of grunge onstage, having already seen tonight’s true headliners – The Whigs!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

806 WHITE LIES, Crocodiles, Active Child, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 9 February 2011

Another Bristol Academy gig – I’m here frequently to kick this gig year off, it seems! This time I’m on my own, and in trouble; I’d sorted myself a ticket for this on the assumption that Rach wouldn’t be interested, as she’s not a fan of White Lies’ 2 closest current reference points, Editors or The Killers. However she then gave their deliciously dark first album, “To Lose My Life” a proper listen, and loved it, by which time this gig had sold out. D’oh!

So, I drove down swiftly in a funny-smelling car, hitting the venue early for this 3 band bill. However, this meant enduring openers Active Child, a LA duo playing dismal and dour “mood music” over a muffled drum machine and a variety of instruments, including a harp (!). The singer had an operatic, high male soprano voice which gave me Jimmy Somerville flashbacks, and their sloppy cover of New Order’s “Ceremony” had me shaking my head.

Crocodiles, however, were a considerably more palatable proposition; bursting onstage in a whirl of Breton striped shirts and floppy fringes, they played a splendid scuzzy garage surf rock set which channelled the ghosts of C86; pounding metronomic drums and catchy songs about surfing and girls, overladen with swathes of dirty feedback. However the real star was vocalist Brandon Welchez, the Ray-Ban clad mutant offspring of Stan Ridgeway and Lou Reed with the moves of a young Iggy or 80’s Julian Cope, all crushed into a pipe-cleaner thin kinetic frame. Back-lit by blood red spotlights throughout, his was a riveting performance, and the Mary Chain-isms of opener “Sleep Forever” and the faster, absorbing “Mirrors” were standout tracks. No set-list (boo!); the drummer informed me, “it’s all in our heads”; however a longer post-gig chat with the 2 guitarists on my way back to the car revealed they’re back for more dates in the Summer. I reckon they’d put on a corking show in a small venue…

The place was crammed by now and anticipation palpable, so I stayed in my support-band viewing spot down the front, stage left, for White Lies’ entrance at 9.30. A very impressive and powerful opening salvo, featuring “A Place To Hide”, an early “To Lose My Life” and a stunning, strident “Strangers”, an excellent new number off slightly inferior new album “Ritual”, whipped the crowd into a frenzied moshpit. The set wavered for me a little thereafter, with the newer material less consistent than the first album. Like Editors, White Lies have suffused their dark, pseudo Goth early 80’s rockist material with synth and keyboard overlays on the new record, also augmenting their 3-piece line up “live” with 2 keyboard players. However, unlike their peers, they’ve taken a poppier, more user-friendly approach, rendering them like Midge Ure’s Ultravox to Editors’ “Empires And Dance” era Simple Minds. The very Killers-like “Streetlights” testified to this; a little safe, perhaps?

Set closer “Death” was totally audience powered, the crowd raising the roof and providing the power and oomph which this titanic song deserves, and which this rendition slightly lacked; however final encore “Bigger Than Us” saw them roaring back, the strident soaring chorus bristling with power and youthful verve, ending the night on their best number. Still painfully young (vocalist Harry McVeigh, despite his dark, mature baritone, coming across nervous on occasions), they’re more than worth persevering with, and tonight provided a slightly uneven yet overall very enjoyable 1 ¼ hour’s show. More power to White Lies!

Monday, 7 February 2011

805 THE HOLD STEADY, Wintersleep, Bristol O2 Academy, Saturday 5 February 2011

The 2011 gig year finally gets under way with The Hold Steady, consistently my favourite band of the late “noughties”, and a bit of payback; following my accompanying Rachel to see her current band crush Biffy Clyro at the arse end of ‘10, I’m dragging her along kicking and screaming to see a band she’s not “got” yet. Maybe tonight... Anyway, after a torrid drive down a stormy windswept M4, we parked up early and arrived at the half-full venue (Bristol ! What is wrong with you people?!) in time for support, Canada’s Wintersleep, who played a reasonable set of US alt-guitar rock, veering from reasonable to quite good, and featuring some diverting nasal Ad Frank sound-alike vocals.

The place filled respectably as we took a good viewing spot, extreme stage left; then the lights were killed and the booming intro of The Psychedelic Furs’ classic “Heaven” rang out, as The Hold Steady sauntered onstage, looking for all the world like 5 University lecturers taking a wrong turn on their way back to the common room. “We’re The Hold Steady, it’s Saturday night, we’re going to have a great time,” announced mainman Craig Finn, a bundle of nervous energy in spectacles, as they kicked into the strident blues riff of “Sequestered In Memphis”, a startlingly brilliant sing-along opener about a bar-room pick-up, Craig mockingly adding air-commas to the line, “I went there on business...”

Thence followed a set of rampant, life-affirming, effervescent, joyful, ragged and jagged rock’n’roll of the highest order, played with style, swish and swagger, with titanic, beer-soaked riffery aplenty from guitarist Tad Kubler, and garbling, stream-of-consciousness, semi-spoken tales of killer drug parties, teen adventures by the Mississippi River, and more parties, tumbling headlong from the jerky, kinetic Craig’s brain and mouth. Such is the depth of their material now, it wasn’t until, in response to a request for “a romantic song”, they trotted out “You Can Make Him Like You”, that I noted to Rach, “this is the first number from my favourite album, “Boys And Girls In America”!”. Another sing-along ensued to the hook of, “there’s always other boys, there’s always other boyfriends”. Romantic, pfah!

A roaring, venomous “Constructive Summer”, the best song Husker Du never wrote, saw fists aloft to the line, “raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer”; “Chips Ahoy” raised the roof with its’ terrace chant “whoa-ho”s; but the subsequent “Stuck Between Stations” was mighty, the now all-guitar attack rejigging the mid-section to make light of keyboard player Franz Nicolai’s recent departure. “Hoodrat Friend” featured a slightly overlong middle eight guitar interplay break, but roared back with a strident vengeance, and the soaring sing-along during “Massive Nights” closed out a brilliant set. A four song encore featured another rousing “woah-ho” sing-along for the agenda-setting “Stay Positive”, before the exuberant Craig thanked us profusely for being a part of a brilliant night. A corking show from a band clearly in love with what they do; I know it’s only February, but I‘ll be hard pushed to see a more enjoyable, life-affirming set this year. Wow. Just… Wow.

Oh, and Rach finally pinpointed why she doesn’t “get” this band; “musically they’re fine, it’s just him (Craig)! He’s annoying and uses far too many words!” Hmmm, well, there’s always been an excessive verbiage element to my music…!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

804 THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS, 'Allo Darlin', London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Thursday 9 December 2010

The final gig of an entirely satisfying 2010 Gigging Year – 28 in total, including the landmark gig 800 – and it’s kind of a new band on me; The New Pornographers, whom Tim introduced me to earlier this year when I was looking for some challenging new music, and whose current, 5th, album ,“Together”, I’d picked up as a result. Initially dismissing it as pretty but lightweight, it’s since grown on me considerably, displaying as it does those overlooked virtues of quality, intelligent songcraft and excellent musicianship. A loose collective built around 2 Vancouver singer-songwriters, Neko Case and Carl “AC” Newman, they’ve a terrible name but an intriguing one, and this became a gig I increasingly looked forward to, as it loomed closer.

A slight car-mare to start off, however; Tim was working in Oxford so we agreed to meet up at Chieveley, but it took ages to clear Swindon due to an accident on the M4 slipway, and I then had to pay £10 to park! Ouch! However, it was plain sailing thereafter and we parked at ¼ to 8 at the Bush, hitting the oddly deserted venue 45 minutes before the first band were on! Said band, the equally poorly named ‘Allo Darlin’, featured a gawky yet oddly attractive Australian female vocalist, playing a ukulele over some slightly dated sounding but charming fey whimsical pop, as if C86 had never left us. Said vocalist and the impressively gay-moustached bassist bounced up and down over songs such as “Darren”, the Darren in question being the lead singer of Hefner, which kind of nailed their influences to the mast somewhat. Nevertheless, a diverting way to spend half an hour.

The venue filled up, but was by no means full, as we leant by the barriers, stage left, awaiting The New Pornographers, who joined just before 9.30. A 7-piece band, they kicked off with “Moves”, “Together”'s opening track, the strident riff leading into a buoyant,upbeat march of a song. They fairly whipped through their set, for the most part only stopping for brief pauses to swap tambourines around between numbers, and chalked up an impressive 22 numbers (including the 2 encores) in their 1½ hour performance. Good going! Difficult to pigeonhole, their sound is based on some very cleverly built rhythm changes, nagging pseudo choral hooks scattered liberally throughout their intelligently structured numbers, and some striking male-female vocal interplay from twin figureheads Carl, and Neko, who with an unkempt pile of ginger hair resembled a more striking Carol Decker! A real intelligence, without descending into clever-cleverness, at work to make their songs sound deceptively simple yet have the ability to grow on you like a rash. During one of their lengthier between-song breaks, Carl, in response to a comment from the drummer referencing Motorhead’s “No Sleep Till Hammersmith” album, cutely asked, “what element of my songs suggest that I own anything by Motorhead?” which was a fair point. More telling, perhaps, was his comment about looking forward to see Julian Cope (“who you may know from his earlier work as… Julian Cope”) at ATP this weekend. Good taste!

I’ve evidently got some homework to do on this band, as I enjoyed most of the unfamiliar (to me) material as much as their “Together” stuff, surprisingly rockier as some of it was, although my highlights of a sparkling, upbeat and deliciously poppy sing-along set were the early-set “Crash Years” and “Up In The Dark”. Overall, a lovely way to conclude the gig year!

803 ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, Kelly Stoltz, Oxford O2 Academy, Monday 6 December 2010

NB - set list was for the encores

“A Masterclass In Rock’n’Roll” was the strap-line for this one. Echo And The Bunnymen, my “home team” during my musical formative years, playing both their first 2 albums in one night; “Crocodiles”, their plangent, chiming, surprisingly mature debut, then their masterpiece “Heaven Up Here”, a magnificently moody, brooding thing of grand, majestic sweeping range and vision, which still sounds other-worldly after 29 years, remaining firmly one of my all-time favourite albums and undisputedly my most-played album ever. I eagerly booked tix for Saturday’s Birmingham gig, only for them to announce this one, a damn sight closer, and for Rachel to fall in love with Biffy Clyro, whose Wembley gig clashed with B’rum. Thus was that ticket sacrificed, so I could again return to the town I first saw the Bunnymen, 29 years and 2 days ago!

After a foggy drive down the A421, Oxford was broached surprisingly easily (green lights all the way!) and I parked up in good time for support Kelly Stoltz, who played at 8 to a surprisingly sparse crowd. He and his 6-piece band played a nice line in Velvets-like garage psychedelia, with some chunky drums and meaty melody. A cover of a number dating from 1965 didn’t sound out of place, and Stoltz, clearly psyched to be supporting the Bunnymen, also told a nice anecdote of his mother sorting him a Bunnymen cake for his 13th birthday!

I met up with Peej and the crew, then wormed my way to the front, stage right, as the place filled up, dry ice choked the stage and the Bunnymen kept us waiting ¼ hour past their allotted time, before the Gregorian chanting heralded their entrance. Mac, an indistinct figure through the lingering fog, seemed distracted from the outset, perhaps by Liverpool’s clashing footy game, and almost reluctantly kicked the gig into gear.

Frankly, “Crocodiles” was a bit of a mess, the band playing these numbers too loudly and rockily, burying the touching, quiet resonance of the slower, more introverted bedsit material with layers of riffery. Mac’s voice, a strident heavenly proclamation even as recently as last year here, seemed ragged and off key at times, particularly when required to raise an octave and really drive a number along, and some numbers notwithstanding (a splendid “All That Jazz” and "Villier’s Terrace”, again chiming and resonant) the whole thing seemed rushed and ham-fisted. “Happy Death Men” was an utter car-crash, Mac’s voice hopelessly out of tune, and I feared for the soaring melody of “A Promise” in particular.

Happily, “Show Of Strength” marked a sea change in the set, with Mac’s voice in finer fettle, the light and shade of “Heaven Up Here"’s doomy opener actually handled with more reverence, rather than the trampling “Crocodiles” generally received. “Over The Wall”, introduced by Mac as, “the song which set ourselves apart from… ourselves,” was magnificent; building like steam then riding headlong into a rollercoaster of crashing and tumbling guitar and rhythm, then crashing into crescendo after crescendo. Wonderful stuff, and easily the best number on show tonight.

Thankfully my fears for “A Promise” were allayed, with Mac alternating between octaves and generally hitting the notes; “Heaven Up Here”, the jagged whirlwind title track, was also splendid, strident and thrilling, and overall “Heaven Up Here” received better treatment than its’ predecessor, although again some later tracks seemed rushed, as if Mac needed to get off and check the Liverpool score.

A very uneven set was capped with fine encore renditions of “Lips Like Sugar”, and a fine, anthemic closing “Cutter”, before Mac, who’d spouted inanties throughout the set, mumbled something about paedophiles and went off. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed after this game of two halves, as I hit the foggy drive back, getting home just after midnight. “A Masterclass In Rock’n’Roll”? Partly. A masterclass in singing, and the Art of the Frontman? Nope. Sorry Mac.

802 BIFFY CLYRO, The Futureheads, London Wembley Arena, Saturday 4 December 2010

Rachel got Biffy Clyro in a “band swap” with a new similarly music-minded work colleague, and suddenly they became her new favourite band! To be honest, they’d been skirting around the extremities of our musical radar for some time, but I’d personally found them at best formulaic jagged hard rock, in a Seafood meets Foo Fighters vein, and at worst post Nu-metal grunting rock pigs. However recent CD “Only Revolutions” revealed a more melodic, anthemic edge, so we took an opportunity to get tix. The first surprise was; Wembley Arena? If they are that popular, whatever happened to Seafood’s Wembley Arena gig??

Weather-affected tube closures necessitated our booking an expensive parking slot directly at Wembley, so we set off at 5.15 in trepidation of a crap journey; however it was pretty plain sailing and we parked under the shadow of Wembley Stadium just after 7! Result! We settled in to our seats, in the gods, stage right in this cavernous c. 10,000 capacity aircraft hanger, and awaited with no great relish the support.

Second surprise, The Futureheads were actually quite good! I was kindly disposed to them anyway, as they took the stage to Cheap Trick’s “Good Evening Ladies And Gentlemen”, but they delivered a good, energetic performance. Musically, they’re still stuck in the jerky new wave, 1st album XTC rut, but unlike a few years back, these days not every band sounds like that, so their sound almost felt like a quaint, anachronistic curio. The call and response in their best number, their cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds Of Love” capped a surprisingly enjoyable set. As Rachel put it; “I’ve seen worse support bands – The Futureheads, for one!”

A roadie hoovered the stage between bands (!), as I noted that my knowledge of the headliners and the size of the venue were inversely proportional to each other! Finally, the Biff took the stage at 9, stripped to the waist and revealing apparently “unpleasant” tattoos, to the anthemic “Captain”. They were here to rock, with second number in, “Booooom Blast And Ruin”, a lean and mean amphetamine rush, and my favourite, the Seafood-esque “Bubbles”, following in short order. Making few concessions for the size of the venue, the Biff played a straight-ahead rock gig with few frills, occasionally anthemic and sing-along (particularly the early set, which relied heavily on their recent, best CD), occasionally just plain noisy, but generally much better than I’d feared. I also found it telling when the 3-piece Biff gathered around the drum riser for their older numbers, as if trying to shrink the stage.

There were moments of light and shade amongst the rock; “God And Satan” was delivered by vocalist Simon Neal in an almost 50’s ballad style, and an acoustic interlude was surprisingly tender and Idlewild-like. One number featured the lyric, “take the pieces and build them skyward,” which almost seemed a metaphor for this band. Ultimately, they’re a good honest rock band, who’ve paid their dues, and got where they are now through sweat and hard work, rather than hype, so fair play to them!

And a quick exit too – we left halfway through the penultimate number, and zoomed out of the car park, arriving home 1 hour 15 minutes after leaving our seats!

801 THE NATIONAL, Phosphorescent, Bristol O2 Academy, Wednesday 24 November 2010

I booked this some time ago, as The National, increasingly becoming one of my favourite bands with their blend of atmospheric late night mood music, euphoric crashing crescendo alt rock and moody Americana, had produced another splendid CD this year in “High Violet”. Again very slow-burn and understated, it’s a real grower, but Rachel decided it didn’t grow on her enough, so passed her ticket onto Tim, who was keen to see the support.

Unfortunately, the journey down was a total nightmare; Rach got in late from work in Reading so Tim picked her up from the station, and we passed each other in the lobby on my way out! Hitting Bristol at 7.30, Tim and I waited in an interminable queue for the usual Trenchard Street car park, only to discover it was “one in, one out”, and, after a panicked drive up the hill, eventually parked over by @ Bristol, which turned out to be closer than we thought! However, this meant we got into the packed venue at 8.10, ten minutes after support Phosphorescent took the stage. A US alt-country lot (hence Tim’s enthusiasm for them, I guess!), they were okay background music, occasionally too trad Country hokum for my tastes, and I only really took note during their more discordant moments towards the end of their set.

We kept our good positions, stage right, as the floor got increasingly stuffed with both older muso types and indie girlies (a broad church, the National’s audience) and anticipation grew. The National took the stage at 9.15 against a violet backdrop, easing into their set with “Runaway” and “Anyone’s Ghost”, a slow, moody double from “High Violet”. An early “Mistaken For Strangers” then should have really ignited both the crowd and their performance, but somehow it didn’t…

The sound was perfect, a little too perfect perhaps, the band played their material reverently and understatedly, but somehow it all seemed to lack depth, an extra dimension of dynamism, particularly early doors. Having seen The National really soar “live”, and add that extra power and punch to their effortlessly cool yet deliciously sombre music, it seemed a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong; they were still great, with the denouement to “Slow Show” affecting, and “Sorrow” hauntingly wallowing. I was just expecting more, and didn’t really get it until a brash, jagged “Abel”, which finally saw Matt Berenger howl with real venom.

“Play something depressing!” shouted a wag in the crowd (not me, for once!) as The National augmented their performance with some nervous between song banter, and Matt’s barrel rolls (!), before “Fake Empire” closed out the set. The subsequent encores, however, were magnificent and much more the ticket; “Mr November”, full-on, venomous and rocking; “Terrible Love”, surprisingly savage and punk rock, and the best number they played tonight; and a final, unplugged “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, brilliantly delivered with acoustic guitar and trumpet embellishment, and an all-inclusive mic-free singalong, to end an uneven but overall splendid performance on a high note.

Still increasingly one of my favourite bands, this was still a great gig, despite a slight disappointment that it didn’t really scale the heights of previous National gigs. They’re on their way up, and have the potential to be an REM for the new millennium. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, but whatever, I’ll still be watching closely!

800 TITUS ANDRONICUS, Bravo Brave Bats, Bristol Cooler, Friday 19 November 2010

Another landmark gig reached; gig 800, and the hosts are Titus Andronicus, a New Jersey rabble who have whipped me up into a right old state this year with their wonderful album "The Monitor". A delicious and viciously barbed and skewed blend of bar-room blues rock, savage yet melodic terrace-chant punk and widescreen anthemic guitar soundscapes, with an literary lyricism reflecting the venom of the music, yet articulate and fascinating, referencing amongst other subjects the American Civil War and general class struggles through subsequent times, it's easily 2010's best. Seriously, I've not been this enthused and excited about a new band since discovering The Hold Steady 4 years back, so hopes were high, perhaps unfairly so, for this one. How could they live up to it "live"? How, indeed...

Hit the Cooler, a new and splendid scuzzy little venue halfway up the Park Street hill, at 8.30, after driving down late to Bristol and dumping the car in Trenchard's Level 10 (!). Titus Andronicus' bassist Ian Graetzer was manning the merch stand, so I had a brief chat and bought a t-shirt before local support Bravo Brave Bats came on at 8.45. An odd-looking 3-piece featuring a drummer/singer with a horrible red vest and a Movember 'tache, they nevertheless played a fast, furious and jagged set of powerful punky rock, recalling the likes of Mission Of Burma and Glitterbox, and kicked up a real storm in the process, the guitarist in particular abandoning the stage on more than one occasion to hurl himself through the crowd. Quite possibly the best new support I've seen this year, Bravo Brave Bats were the perfect hors d'oeuvres for Titus Andronicus, a point I made to the Alexei Sayle lookalike bassist afterwards.

I stayed down the front, stage right, for Titus Andronicus, on at 10 to 10 after a fiddly soundcheck. Heavily bearded and helium-voiced vocalist Patrick Stickles immediately kicked into the booming, bass-driven intro to "A More Perfect Union", and the packed moshpit went mental. Jacket quickly discarded, I joined in as their savage, jagged guitar overload attack ignited the crowd into a frenzy, and their anthemic material took on a soaring, euphoric and (oh yes) joyful quality "live". "Union"s intricate tempo changes flowed effortlessly, and the mosh joined in with the sing-along, Irish tinged hook of, "rally round the flag," the first uplifting and all-inclusive battle-cry of the night.

This, in fact, was the essence of their strident, powerful and kinetic performance tonight; an all-inclusive gang mentality, a real rapport and connection with their audience. A mid-set double of "No Future Part 3" with the hook of, "you will always be a loser!" and the subsequent "Titus Andronicus", introduced by Patrick as, "another one with a repeating refrain," this time the hook being, "your life is over!" resonated around this packed venue. My favourite, "The Battle Of Hampton Roads", a 14-minute epic with tempo changes and crescendos aplenty and a bilious, vengeful lyric ("when I smoke I will smoke gaping holes in my chest, when I scream I will scream till I'm gasping for breath") was brilliant, and a frenzied, amphetamine fast Misfits cover revealed the band's punk roots. A final "Four Score And Seven" rounded off an awesome, magnificent performance, with band and audience having poured all of themselves into it, leaving us all sweat-drenched and elated.

As good was to come afterwards when, acting on a promise from bass player Ian beforehand, drummer Eric Harm wrote out a set-list especially for me! It appears they don't normally use one, underlining the "working without a safety net" aspect of their live shows, so hey, that's a collector's item! Effusive congrats afterwards with the band before I reluctantly drew this one to a close and poured my sweaty self (full Cleo! Result!) into the chill Bristol night. Call off the dogs, the search is over, the Mighty Titus Andronicus tonight delivered the 2010 Gig Of The Year. What a way to celebrate No. 800!

799 JIMMY EAT WORLD, Minus The Bear, Bristol Academy, Sunday 14 November 2010

The second gig of a hectic weekend saw Rachel and I heading down the M4 to Bristol, after Rachel's mum turned up to babysit, for the return of live favourites Jimmy Eat World, touring their current album "Invented", another prime slab of emotive, heartfelt and occasionally euphoric rock to add to an increasingly quality canon of work. Hit the venue just before 8 after a clear run, and got the drinks in and found a good viewing spot before openers Minus The Bear. A beardy 5-piece from Seattle, they ploughed a furrow of polite, innocuous but inoffensive soft rock, with one surprising rocker which had tinges of The Foo Fighters' "Everlong", to throw the rest of their ho-hum material into sharp relief. "I thought they were about to play "Abracadabra"," said Rach midway through their first number, and she was spot on.

Luckily, for dynamism, power and sheer emotional overload, we had Jimmy Eat World to come crashing in, with their full-on, hard-rocking yet no less tuneful guitar onslaught. Wandering on at the appointed hour of 9 to little fanfare yet to a rapturous welcome from this young crowd, their were straight "on it" with the powerful, dramatic opening salvo of "Bleed American", the forceful, driving middle-eight a real feature and nice guy vocalist Jim Adkins already pouring heart and soul into his performance. My two pre-gig "wants" were dispensed with 2nd and 4th number in; firstly oldie "A Praise Chorus", bringing the first sing-along of the night for the hook, "crimson and clover, over and over", then newie "Coffee And Cigarettes", the most accessible number from their new CD, and almost Gigolo Aunts-like in its' driving melody and crashing tide of harmony. The enthusiastic crowd really went nuts, surprisingly so, for the jagged "Futures", forming a furious moshpit, however for me, the set really took flight for "Big Casino", the soaring hook delivered powerfully and brilliantly. The vicious "Pain" kept this increased momentum going, as Jim, now really getting a sweat on, delivered a passionate vocal display of the kind of bleeding raw emotion usually reserved for a Perrino or a Janovitz. "Work" was another highlight, before Jim, as if looking to turn a release valve on the intensity, complimented a punter's "Space Invaders" shirt with the comment, "my 8 year old would think that's totally rad!" before slowing the mood with a couple of more acoustic numbers, before picking up the heat again to finish the set with a couple of oldies, the sing-along "Blister" and the lengthy slow-burn to crescendo "Goodbye Sky Harbor".

The encores culminated in another sing-along for the poppy "The Middle", which merged into final number, the "Velvet Roof" like slashing guitar dynamics of "Sweetness", the hookline "whoa-oh"s resonating around the packed venue. Brilliant, inclusive stuff to cap a stunning 1 1/2 hours of prime rock, delivered by a band in top form. They're supporting Foo Fighters at MK Bowl next year, and on this form, might just upstage them...!

798 CHEAP TRICK, Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 12 November 2010

Gig-vember continues apace with 2 shows in 3 days with Rachel, from a couple of perennial live favourites. First Cheap Trick, although prior to setting off, this had become more of an obligatory than anticipated show; booked ages ago, we'd seen this gig month get increasingly busier and had to forego other, potentially more interesting gigs (including Ash and The Crimea at this venue tomorrow, which annoyed Rach somewhat) as we'd already got tix for this! Still, we kept faith with our old faves da Trick, and set off at 6 on a drizzly Friday night, hitting the Uxbridge Road just after 8 and eventually finding a parking spot.

Had to queue to get in! Clearly the last-minute announcement of no support and an early start (8.15) had caught people on the hop, but we nevertheless had enough time to get in and get drinks in, then squirm away from the heaving bar to an only slightly less squashed floor location, before da Trick's 8.30 arrival to a packed crowd.

Recent "Classic Rock" honourees Cheap Trick (hence the reason for this tour) came on to entrance music of a collage of various Japanese radio intros and other odd bits, including Homer Simpson saying, "I'd rather listen to Cheap Trick," and fellow Simpsons character Apoo singing "Dream Police"! It's been 6 years since we'd last seen these grizzled rock veterans, and indeed da Trick's 36th year of touring and making music, and they were wearing their experience in their faces, blond vocalist Robin Zander in particular having aged noticeably of late. However, that didn't stop them easing into their blend of riff-heavy 70's rock, bar-room blues, strident power balladry and muscular punchy powerpop with easy confidence. Purveyors of at least half a dozen all-time classic songs deserving of a place at rock's top table, we had to sit through some unfamiliar though no-less enjoyable material (particularly the fast-rocking "Lookout"), until the first of these arrived, the huge stately ballad of "Tonight It's You". "I Want You To Want Me" rollicked in straight after, a romper-stomper with THE definitive descending bassline, and was my set highlight. At least, it was, right up until set closer, the all-time powerpop classic, "Surrender", which was delivered perfectly tonight and brought the house down. A sinuous, lengthy encore of "Ain't That A Shame" led into final number "Dream Police", another classic, helium powered powerpop tune, and a perfect way to end a splendid, good time rock'n'roll show.

"Can we have the lights up please, I want to say hello to some friends... hello everyone, you're all our friends!" said guitarist Rick Neilsen midway through, and Cheap Trick again reinforced their rapport with their audience, defying the years to put on another great show. Don't leave it 6 years next time, boys!

797 JASON LYTLE, Supp. Midlake, John Grant, Oxford O2 Academy, Friday 5 November 2010

An intriguing triple bill on a Bonfire night saw Tim and myself driving through filthy conditions (rain precluding the setting off of many fireworks tonight, I’d warrant) to Oxford for this early one, parking up just before 7 and getting into this rapidly-filling venue for a sell-out show, in good time for the first act.

Good thing too, as this was my main attraction; Jason Lytle, former main inspiration behind quirky California dreamy psychedelic alt-rockers Grandaddy, one of the most languidly inspirational and consistent acts of the late 90’s/ early noughties, and the only band to get my Top Act award from 2 different Reading Festivals! Jason, armed only with a fat acoustic, a sparsely-operated drum machine which, on the one occasion he did use it, he then accused of trying to upstage him (!) and his high-pitched, plaintive voice, treated us to a clutch of Grandaddy classics in his set, the highlights being an early “Now It’s On”, and the closer “Miner At The Dial A View”. “I’m having a good time, I get to watch John and Midlake every night,” he said, to which I shouted in response, “and they get to watch you!” Lovely stuff, which made me miss Grandaddy all the more.

Next up, John Grant, Tim’s tip, was a large, imposing bearded American with a real crooner’s voice; deep, resonant and lushly expressive. His cracked, late night singer-songwriter material was occasionally Scott Walker-esque, moody and slow-burn, yet he displayed a quirky lyrical bent at odds and yet somehow complementing this; “I only wanted you for sex and for someone who looks smashing in athletic wear,” being a personal favourite. However, his final number was as heart-wrenching as any Dashboard Confessional number, and overall he left a very favourable impression.

By contrast, however, Midlake were dreadful. For a moment when they took the stage at 9, I thought they’d taken a wrong turn from the Fillmore, circa 1969, as they now sported full-on beards and hippy checks. The music underlined this; new songs about “creatures of the earth” and suchlike (I was waiting for one about trolls), set to dreary, plodding pastoral sludge of the worst order. Their older, more thoughtful and varied material (even the likes of “Rosscoe”) was dragged down to the same level; to think I’d tagged them as potentially the new Grandaddy! Rachel was right in the first place when she dismissed this lot as, “hippyshit”! Halfway through their interminably long (the thick end of 2 hours) set I gave serious consideration to getting a ticket for upstairs, where Edwyn Collins was playing! The only saving grace from this desperate set was the encore, when they dragged Grant on for a run-through a song by his former band The Tsars, then did likewise with Lytle, delivering a splendid, moving “AM180” which only served to threw Midlake’s set into sharp relief.

So, a disappointing finish, but 2 fine supports, and Jason Lytle reinforcing why I loved Grandaddy so much, with a super little set. I wish they’d come back…

796 THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS, Frome Cheese And Grain, Sunday 24 October 2010

The second gig in consecutive nights saw me solo driving through the wilds of Wiltshire and Somerset, to Frome, thence to see 80's favourites The Psychedelic Furs, who'd revived memories of those rockist days wonderfully with a colossal set at Shepherd's Bush Empire 5 years ago. They'd originally announced plans to play "Talk Talk Talk", their seminal 1981 album, in its' entirety at the back end of 2009, but cancelled those shows after I'd gotten tix! D'oh! After that false start, though, we were on again, although I was without potential gig companions Rich and "Mad" Doug. Their loss!

I arrived at the car park fronting the Cheese And Grain at 8, only to be confronted with a huge queue, as they'd not opened yet! Somehow the Furs' intended 8.30 start seemed unlikely... finally got in at 20 past, and headed down the front at this large and run-down market hall venue, and waited, and waited... finally a compere came out and gave us the "heads up" on the running order, then The Furs took the stage, one by one, to the opening bars of the angular "Dumb Waiters". In a predictable but nice touch of rock theatre, Richard Butler took the stage last, with a flourish and arrogant swagger, rakish and waistcoated, the effortless cool of 70's Bowie and the energy and verve of a man less than half his age. As the first part of the set was a run-through of "Talk Talk Talk" in order, "Pretty In Pink", the quintessential 80's pop song, was next, superbly embellished by Mars Williams' mighty sax work. The sax, indeed, was the primary colour of most of the set; the Furs, never a guitar-heavy band, tonight relied heavily on Williams to give their material the essential element of late night sleaze, and he delivered to a "T". The headlong rollercoaster ride of "Mr. Jones" was another notable highlight of this first set, although an aching "She Is Mine", during which I leant forward and shook the angular, energetic Butler's hand, ran it close.

A break followed, during which I chatted to a fellow Furs devotee, lamenting the seeming lack of interest down the front from this nevertheless full crowd. T'uh, yokels... Anyway, the Furs returned with a dark, brooding "Sister Europe", then reprised some classics; the frenetic 80's late-night dance of "Heartbeat" (prompting me to shout, "fuck me, Butler, that was good!"), the soaring, anthemic "Heaven", and my highlight, the encore "President Gas", seething with sleaze, glamour and sinister power, with supreme frontman Butler's stretched nasal vocal delivery as prominent as his elastic and kinetic stage moves, and brother Tim, a Mickey Rourke-alike towering monolith on bass, a constant and imposing presence alongside. Final number "India", another rollercoaster ride through the deliciously seamy and elemental side of rock'n'roll, finally saw a mosh break out, the hitherto static Frome crowd finally giving the Furs the kudos they'd deserved all along, for another colossal performance.

Collected my thoughts before heading home through the inky countryside, reflecting on this band; The Psychedelic Furs, growing old magnificently, and still able to deliver after 30 years. Colossal, yet again!

795 TRACY BONHAM, BLEU, Jim Boggia, London WC2 Borderline, Saturday 23 October 2010

A consecutive night gig double, representing the 2 key building blocks of my musical taste; tomorrow it's the 80's post-punk rockism of The Psychedelic Furs, but firstly some Boston Rock! Tracy Bonham, who I followed around slavishly in 1996 due both to a splendidly angry, agitated, angular and angsty post-grunge album "The Burdens Of Being Upright", and to the presence of Phil Hurley in her backing band, but had since lost touch with somewhat; touring with Bleu, a fine and varied tunesmith whom we'd seen in Boston in 2001 in all his riff-heavy, stomping post-Rumble glory, but since then had tempered this with an easy melodic feel that was mellower, almost McCartneyesque on record. Research suggested 2 stripped back, either solo or acoustic sets at the intimate old Tex Mex bar, so an intriguing prospect...

I hit the road solo at 5, whipping through Saturday M4 traffic and parking up early, then navigating my way around the hole in the ground that used to be the Astoria (!) and hitting the venue at 8, wandering in midway through opener Jim Boggia. A Philly native and James Horrigan lookalike, he played some quiet yet quality Dylanesque folky stuff, with a fine voice and self-deprecatory attitude, which was really well received from the quite full early doors Borderline. A good start!

I cornered Tracy, jogging her memory with a pic Phil took of the 2 of us back in the day, and we had a nice if brief chat. As I was stage front at this point, I stayed there for Bleu, next up. Whilst he set up, I couldn't resist dropping a copy of that 2001 set-list over tonight's, prompting a, "holy shit! That's an old one!" from him! As for the set, Bleu displayed both supreme melodic songcraft with a splendidly chosen set of heartfelt, memorable tunes from his more recent albums (including new release "Four" which I picked up tonight), and an extraordinary voice and range, holding notes impressively. A lovely "Come And Go", embellished (as was his whole set) with some nice but not overpowering loops and pedal effects, was followed by, "one I wasn't going to do tonight, but I've had so many requests for"; my favourite, the strident, soaring "I Won't Go Hollywood", which held up well minus the riffery on record! The finale saw Bleu operating a "Carry A Tune" musical mic, and wandering through the captivated crowd. Showmanship and entertainment of the highest quality, and he went down a storm!

I hung back and spoke to Bleu a couple of times, telling him about Logan's "poppy day day" song (based on his own "Workaday Day") and we chatted about the Pills and swapped Boston rock stories. Popped back down for Tracy's set, which inevitably suffered in comparison with Bleu but was fine, darker and more thoughtful, with Tracy's rich, low voice a perfect embellishment. Not as angry and confrontational as her older material, the new stuff nevertheless was varied and intriguing, with the highlight of her set a lovely "Something Beautiful". This however was preceded by Bleu and Jim Boggia joining her onstage (a theme throughout all 3 performances) for a new number, and a fine bit of banter between the two boys about a missing guitar lead!

So Bleu won the day for me, and I whipped home in double quick time following chats and thanks with all 3 performers. No time for too much ligging, as I've got another one tomorrow!

794 EX SIMPLE MINDS, Oxford Academy 2, Monday 6 September 2010

I'm used to receiving looks of bafflement when I say Simple Minds, latterly the epitome of bloated stadium rock boredom and the template for the similarly turgid likes of Coldplay, were, over the span of their first 4 albums, the most innovative band on the planet. Constantly evolving their sound from their early glam Roxy pop, through monotone yet experimental and intriguing industrial rock, synth-led krautrock to glossy and expansive European dancey rock, they were chameleonic, challenging and immensely talented, and a band and period I constantly return to, particularly with the likes of Editors following a similar template in adding European synth layers to their 80's guitar rockisms. So I was really looking forward to this one; Ex Simple Minds, namely Derek Forbes and Brian McGhee, 2 of the architects of that sound, promising to exclusively hark back to those halcyon days? Thanks, I do!

Unfortunately no-one else did, so I travelled down on my own in filthy weather and bad traffic, with excitement tinged by some trepidation. This could be a triumph, with the sonic template faithfully recreated by the original Minds. Alternatively it could be a disaster, as, shorn of vocalist Jim Kerr's sweeping and expansive stage presence (let's face it, when I danced at Level 3 back in those days, I just wanted to be Jim Kerr) and with McGhee's brother, 80's popster Owen "My Favourite Waste Of Time" Paul a poor substitute, they could just be a bad tribute band...

The truth, happily, turned out most emphatically to be the former. I caught half of support Dead Jerichos' young Jam/ Enemy-like push'n'shove speedy rock (nice energy and attitude lads, now write some tunes to go with it), then meandered down the front for the entrance of Ex Simple Minds at 9.15, not needing to barge anyone out of the way as this was very poorly attended; about 40 people in total! Nevertheless, the band arrived, easing into the expansive European soundscape of instrumental opener "Themes From Great Cities", then vocalist Owen Paul's (ah yes, more of him shortly) arrival coincided with the unmistakable synth pulse intro of "Love Song", and we were away. The delicious strident robotic dance of "Changeling" followed (disappointingly the only track off "Real To Real Cacophony" all night), all seething power and conviction, as did the itchy, insistent "I Travel", initially disappointingly thin, but strident and powerful by the conclusion.

In fact, power and conviction were the order of the day for this performance; despite the poor turnout the band "gave it loads" old style, relishing the chance to play these classic Minds songs to a small but enthusiastic crowd. None more so than vocalist Owen Paul; despite my concerns he was an effervescent and committed frontman, his slightly higher and rougher vocal style adding more weight to the live performance. A brilliant double-header of "The American" and a gorgeous, sparkling "Someone Somewhere In Summertime" was the highlight of the set, before a deviation into the latterday stadium anthems of "Waterfront" and set closer, "Don't You Forget About Me", a song I liked at the time but which in retrospect marks the point at which Simple Minds started losing their inspiration.

An acoustic encore of "Speed Your Love To Me", a throwaway "Celebrate" and an almost jolly reading of the Velvet's "White Light/ White Heat" preceded a reworked and decidedly spooky "Pleasantly Disturbed" before a sadly inevitable "Alive And Kicking" rounded things off. Overall, I'd have chosen more earlier numbers at the expense of the stadium rock, but I couldn't fault them for passion and commitment. They played them like they owned them - good for you boys! And I got the set-list signed afterwards, by a band willing to chat and listen to suggestions for the set ("Factory"!), so a superb night overall!

793 JONSI, Mountain Man, Bristol Colston Hall, Wednesday 1 September 2010

Following last Autumn's splendid Sigur Ros gig at this venue, plus their venture towards more conventional songwriting aligned with their majestic and ethereal grasp of melody, I'd been paying more attention to them; thus it was no surprise that I'd leapt on, and loved, vocalist Jonsi's solo debut. This continued the Sigur Ros journey towards more accessible structure (singing in English, even!), whilst having a real "woodlands" feel to it; part bunnies romping in the dappled sunshine, part dark and mysterious shrouded depths. Made a change from the shagging whalesong, anyway! So I'd similarly leapt on tix for this gig. Unfortunately a combination of a sick babysitter, Rach's work deadlines and not being able to recruit a travelling companion at short notice saw me driving down on my own, hitting the venue at 1/4 to 8 with a ticket to shift! Turned out I wasn't the only one; unlike last year's Sigur Ros sell-out, tickets were still plentiful, as were punters with spares, so I was unable to even give it away! Bah!

Support Mountain Man were anything but; 3 delicate ladies plus one acoustic guitar (a family heirloom, apparently), singing gossamer-thin songs of backwoods heartbreak with nice harmonies, but making the likes of Pedro The Lion seem like Motorhead in the process!

Decamped for a drink, heading back into the busy but by no means full venue for 9, for the entrance of Jonsi. Again betassled but not glittered-up, Jonsi eased slowly into a set which was initially bleak, monochrome and frankly a little dull and dour, with the dark backdrop of tall trees accentuating this claustrophobic feel. Some of the material was also unfamiliar and poor, relying too much on Jonsi's otherworldly cooing and keening voice (which "The Guardian" described better than I could as, "one part Cocteau Twins' Liz Frazer, one part owl"!) to sustain it. However, "Kolnidur", with a welcome upbeat (both in mood and tempo) crescendo, offered hope, and following a break in which Jonsi complimented Bristol's, "lovely city," a soaring and euphoric "Go Do" finally got the gig into full gear. "Boy Lilikoi", almost catchy and hooky, continued the momentum, and "Animal Arithmetic", the best number on the album, was terrific, Jonsi prowling the stage like a wounded fox, growling in righteous fury. This however was topped by the encore, an unfamiliar newie "Sticks And Stones", which was a thrilling and pounding adrenalized wardance, Jonsi donning a native American headdress and whirling dervishly, and a final "Grow Till Tall", all slow-burn seething intensity, Jonsi again performing a dark cloud dance which reflected the angry cumulus backdrop, while the song built to a cacophonous and lengthy white noise crescendo. However, as if wishing to dispel this mood, Jonsi subsequently brought the band back on for a curtain call and bow, relishing the enthusiastic acclaim.

Grabbed a welcome if confusing set-list on the way out after the 1 hour 20 minute overall performance, driving back in double-quick time. Overall, a slightly disappointing black cloud-enveloped landscape for starters, but when the sun breaks through into Jonsi's world, boy does it shine.

792 THE SWINDON BIG ARTS DAY, Lydiard Park, Swindon, Saturday 10 July 2010

A day-long outdoor free Festival of local Music and Arts in Swindon - the first of its' kind on this scale in my memory - and I nearly missed it! Thankfully Evan had a party of his own to go to, so cried off a scheduled day visit. Thus I was able to accompany Kasey to her first ever "gig"! It appeared Radio 1's "Big Weekend", held at Lydiard last year, gave impetus for a celebration of the local Music and Arts Scene to be organised, so we drove over in baking sunshine and some welcome cooler cloud cover at 1, wandering into the far field where a smattering of performance tents, stalls and suchlike greeted us. Logan dragged Rachel to the "Dance Tent" (strange boy) and the Circus Skills tent, while I took Kasey over to the "Sugarhill Stage" (a small marquee facing the open field) to check out SLEEPING WITH GIANTS, along with a few dozen other early arrivals. A young lot, they played some pretty 80's style pop/rock, occasionally also Killers-esque when more upbeat, and created a favourable impression.

Ran into Tim who was expecting to perform next up, but ZOIDBERG took the stage instead! It appeared the stage was already running 45 minutes late, which irked Tim and crew somewhat. But hey, teething problems are to be expected, I guess, at the first attempt at this type of event. Zoidberg were Reef-like in their rawk posturing, with a clumsy Beatles "Come Together" cover; not my cup of tea, so we took a wander, running into Asa for a nice chat, and also Andy and Sam!

Back over for THE SHUDDERS at 3. They played a jolly set of their "Pirate Folk"; a combination of easy, laid-back melody, some very familiar sing-along tunes in the jaunty "River Song" and "Dog You Can Kick", plus a couple of very good newies in "Express Man", an alt-country strumalong which saw Tim don a ukulele, and "Shame On You", which had a slow-burn US Alt-Rock feel to it, more reminiscent of Tim's former charges You Are Here! A shame the set was technically beset - Danny's acoustic sounded glaring and dreadful during one early number, and "Shame On You" took 2 goes to do - as this was a fitting set for a lazy Summer vibe. Kasey and Logan both loved it, both dancing down the front for a few numbers. Chips off the old block!

Chatted with the boys afterwards whilst INTERLIGHT kicked off a competent covers set with the Arctic Monkeys "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor", then wandered around looking for Andy and Sam again, eventually finding them plus friends in the very busy main field in front of Lydiard House, via of course the Beatbullyz bouncy castle, next to the main stage, for Logan! Chilled and had impromptu hot dog tea in the late afternoon sun, while former Brunel DJ Sandy Martin (a man I'd hassled to play Adam And The Antz in the Brunel main hall some 30 years previously!) buzzed around getting vox pops on the day for BBC Wiltshire from me, Andy and Sam. It's been welcome, hope they repeat it! This sentiment was repeated by Sean of BUSWELL ("this should be an annual event, would you not agree?"), as they kicked off the evening's proceedings with their string based mood music. However languid and mellow this vibe was, however, our kids were getting tired and fractious so we had to leave. Had to go via the balloon stand, as the dog balloon Andy bought for Logan earlier had slipped off his wrist, teaching me a) a new definition of heartbreak as Logan howled as it evaded his grasp, and b) that a shoelace knot won't keep a helium balloon attached to a child! Still, Logan got a dinosaur replacement which comforted him, so the day ended a success for us - and hopefully for everyone. A few teething troubles, as one would expect, but a fun and very well attended Big Arts Day for Kasey's first gig - hopefully the first of many!

791 THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM, Talking Atlantic, Oxford Academy, Tuesday 29 June 2010

Rach and I had a problematic journey for this one; a slowish drive along the A421 due to traffic and roadside crowds waiting for a military cortege, then a long queue to get into Oxford city centre, and finally a totally rammed Tesco car park requiring us to park down a dodgy looking side street. But hey, at least it was better than my last attempt to get to a Gaslight Anthem gig; on that occasion, last February, I didn't even get to set off to Bristol thanks to heavy snow and impassable roads!

So we hit the venue over an hour after setting off, getting into the impossibly crammed venue as the main support were exhuming the ghost of clumsy shouty Emo. I copped some flak from Rach by complaining they were loud; "you're at a gig, what d'you expect?" But hey, I know what I meant; loud as in clumsily riffy and shouty, and not sounding good at all. Whiled away their interminable set watching World Cup footy on the TVs behind the bar, and trying to establish a small bit of space near the back by the mixing desk.

If anything, the already-heaving venue became fuller still for the entrance of the Gaslight Anthem, a little late at 9.25. Four black-clad tattooed New Jersey oiks who are riding high on a wave of Springsteen-endorsed press approval and a strident new CD "American Slang", which encapsulates their vision and ambition. On record, they're the missing link between the Hold Steady's vignettes of angst-ridden American Teenhood set to joyous bar room blues rock, and Jimmy Eat World's shiny and heart-tuggingly memorable Emo pop. However they really come alive onstage, with a cracking, strident and kinetic performance filled with commitment and passion. Opener "American Slang" set the tone for this set, which was packed with big, expansive, driving with the top down on a wide open highway radio rock, and emotive, arms and lighters/ mobile phones aloft, stadium anthems in waiting. "Old White Lincoln" featured a pregnant pause (one of many such excellent devices scattered throughout), and the opening section, drawn heavily from the new CD, also featured devotional sing-alongs from the frenzied crowd reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional's all-inclusive events. A brilliant "59 Sound" was followed by a preamble from vocalist Brian Fallon about an "Onion" article detailing the "other side" of the blues, "blues-man's ex wife claims, "I am not a mean-hearted woman and I did not do him wrong!"" A blistering "Boxer" followed, all power and passion, but that was topped by a superb sing-along "Great Expectations", catchy as flu and amphetamine-fast, and for me the highlight of the set, which was closed out perfectly by another communal sing-along, this time to the slow-burn-to-crescendo "When We Were Young", a U2 "With Or Without You" sound-alike and surely a Wembley show closer of the future. Brilliant stuff.

Then, to prove it is possible to have too much of a good thing, The Gaslight Anthem stretched their encore to about 8 or 9 more numbers, throwing in stripped back acoustic stuff as well as a smattering from their punkier early "Sink Or Swim" material, punctuated by Fallon, achingly sincere and clearly in his element, underlining their DIY ethic ("we stuck our own labels on our records; those are the bands you connect with because we're just like you!") and offering Russell Brand out for a fight! Good stuff but a little unnecessary, and paling in comparison to the preceding set. So, a 1 hour 40 minute total performance which was great, but would have been untouchable at 1 hour 15, saw us leaving after 11, sweaty but nevertheless enthused. Here's a band that matter, and are hopefully going places in a hurry!

790 THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS "Here Comes Science" Family Show, London Royal Festival Hall, Saturday 26 June 2010

So, US indie pop masters of all that is quirky, geeky (in a clever rather than nerdish sense) and unorthodox, They Might Be Giants, hit the UK again after a 5 year hiatus with 2 shows on the same day, the evening gig a "normal" one (insofar as how close TMBG ever get to being normal!), and a matinee "family" performance showcasing their recent kid-orientated output, particularly current CD "Here Comes Science". TMBG had always had a jokey, abstract humour to their offbeat and instantly memorable US-alt indie pop tunes, so output targeted at a younger audience was a logical extension. This then was a great opportunity to take my 12 year old son Evan to his first ever gig; we'd been playing "No!" to him in the car since he was 5, and he'd enjoyed it so much he'd since "graduated" to TMBG's "adult" releases, but was nevertheless well up for this!

So, I picked him up from North Wales Friday, and we caught the train to London on a baking hot Saturday morning. Over to Embankment via Notting Hill Record Exchange to flog some old vinyl, hitting the South Bank in good time for packed lunch by the banks of the Thames, and a wander around a couple of exhibitions; in keeping with the "Science" theme, The Festival Hall was hosting a Science Fayre with lots of interactive stands, and also a "Flying Dinosaurs" exhibit with models of various Pterodactyls! This killed time enjoyably until we were called into the auditorium at 10 to 2. Took our seats about 2/3 back in the stalls, stage left, with a great view not only of the stage, but of a fantastic radio-controlled helium filled flying penguin circling the hall! Lots of families and kids in the crowd; Evan may actually have been one of the older kids present, as a 6 year old girl bounced in her seat behind me, excitedly exclaiming, "I love this band!"

The 5-piece They Might Be Giants took the stage at 1/4 past 2, easing into "Fibber Island" from their first "kids" CD, 2002's "No!" The sound was understandably more muted than for a "normal" gig, the house lights were dimmed but on pretty much throughout, and the set concentrated on the kid-orientated material, particularly "Here Comes Science". Nevertheless, TMBG didn't make too many concessions in their performance; an intermittent confetti cannon (particularly during a surprising "Older") and a lot of audience participation stuff is normal practice for them, and the offbeat humour was evident throughout. A splendid "813 Mile Road Trip" segueing into "Dr. Worm" was an early highlight, although the subsequent "Polka" lost a lot of it's normal oomph. "Why Does The Sun Shine?" was a silly "Pirate cabaret" version, with the 2 Johns adopting comedy "aaarrrr" accents and changing lyrics around to suit the pirate theme. "The Avatars Of They", a couple of sock puppets projected onto a big screen, were a funny interlude, particularly during encore "Stalk Of Wheat", and a final "Alphabet Of Nations", with a few alternative nations thrown in(!) was my highlight of a thoroughly entertaining set.

"We know what a long term commitment getting a child into a car can be," said enthusiastic frontman John Flansburgh at the end of the set, as a final confetti shower drew the 1 hour 20 performance to a close. We trotted down the front, picking our way through kids grabbing handfuls of confetti, and grabbed a set-list, before kicking around the Science stands one more time then heading back on the train. Not the usual TMBG gig, but enjoyable nevertheless from my perspective; and more importantly first-time gigger Evan thought it was, "brilliant!"

789 JULIAN COPE, Bristol Thekla, Monday 7 June 2010

Julian Cope on a boat! A random look on brought this one to my attention, thus blowing any debate about which gig to go to in early June (Teenage Fanclub, Band Of Horses, even The Damned were playing relatively locally and under consideration) out of the water, as it were. So, with babysitter in situ, Rachel and I headed down a showery M4 to renew acquaintances, after a 5 year gap, with a true musical genius, visionary and total acid-fried barmcake.

Arrived just before 8 after a slight diversion in drizzle, but that didn't dampen our spirits as we went on board and explored the boat properly. I'd only been here the once before and didn't take the opportunity then, but for Rach this was a first, so we got a drink and enjoyed the view from the upper deck bar, overhearing stories from the barmaid about inflatable Santas on adjacent boats being used as bottle target practice by Thekla locals!

Down into the dirty black bowels of the ship and to a good spot stage left for the announced entrance of, "from Wessex, England, Julian H Cope!" at 8.30 prompt. Clad in military black leather, bare-armed, straggly of hair and topped with a Gestapo officers peaked cap and the obligatory sunglasses, he cut a hugely imposing figure as he strode onstage extolling his new pet project, "Lives Of The Prophets; A New Perspective!" Donning a garish green acoustic and alternating between this and a bank of keyboards to perform, he was his old bullish, extrovert and articulate self, as driven, captivating and downright entertaining as any performer I've seen, evidenced by the deathly hush in between songs as he monologued about subjects such as Jesus, the paranoia of success, and whether or not to accept a Mojo Inspiration Award for The Teardrop Explodes from the apparently hated Jools Holland ("I think it's because we've not gotten back together - if I'd have known it was that easy I would have under-achieved some more!") with the confident yet riveting patter of a top-drawer stand-up comedian. Only funnier!

And as for the music, well this was a marvellously chosen set selected from his poppier, more accessible canon of work, ranging from the plaintive, touching balladry of "I'm Your Daddy", to a raucous, sing-along "Sunspots", via a heart-wrenching, keyboard led "Head Hang Low", a startlingly bouncy "Read It In Books" and the supreme pure pop of, "the obligatory Julian Cope ba ba ba song," namely "Greatness And Perfection". But each one was a bulls-eye tonight, a masterful collection of Cope's neo-psychedelic yet extraordinarily accessible, memorable and catchy pure pop, revealed in this "naked artist" environment as the stunning gems they all are.

A gig-etiquette debate with the audience as to whether to go off for the encore, or simply plough on given the Thekla's strict curfew, saw Cope stay on and deliver a startlingly rocky, effects-pedal smothered "Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed" before the denouement, a menacing "Sleeping Gas" accompanied by "Big Nige", a leather-clad San Francisco gay biker lookalike banging a huge bass drum bearing the legend "your brain is the best form of entertainment" and roadie "Acoustika" waving a red and black flag. After this song, climaxing a breathtakingly short hour and a half, he strode offstage as he had arrived, with "Lives Of The Prophets" on his lips and an ovation from the faithful ringing in his ears.

Wonderful stuff. A nasty drive back in spray after this early finish didn't detract from what was a superb night out, and another demonstration of the supreme performer's craft, from Julian Cope - on a boat!

I've brainstormed last night and tried to remember the set, in the absence of a set-list (the only one was taped to the back of Cope's green acoustic, and he kept revising it, saying at one point that, "this is the point at which I realise all these songs are shit!") I might have got a couple of songs the wrong way around, but this is what I recall the set being;

I'm Living In The Bunker They Found Saddam In
The Bloody Assizes
Like Leila Khaled Said
I'm Your Daddy
Head Hang Low
Autogeddon Blues
O King Of Chaos
Promised Land
Soul Desert
Screaming Secrets
Read It In Books
Double Vegetation
Greatness And Perfection
Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed
Las Vegas Basement
Sleeping Gas

788 MIDWAY STILL, Hotel 75, Band Of Burt, Swindon Victoria, Friday 14 May 2010

The welcome return to Swindon for 90's live favourites Midway Still, a band who after a "slight return" a few years back with a sprinkling of gigs and a single, "Fuck You", now seem to be upping the ante a little more seriously, with a new CD "Note To Self" out on Boss Tuneage and a return to town organised by uber-fan Tim, who roped me into writing the blurb for the Vic website! So I took a drive up the hill after the kids went to bed, hitting the bar early doors and hanging out with Tim and the Still boys before they shot off to watch the footy. I'd brought along copies of a few of their set-lists from back in the day, which amazed and amused - luckily they couldn't recall the drunken oik who crashed backstage at the Link in 1993 with a "Grunge Is Dead" t-shirt and stars'n'stripes shorts on!

Hung out with Tim on the door of the back-room venue as people meandered in and out during the 2 local supports, Band Of Burt who weren't my cup of Zappa-esque challenging bluesy tea but did their stuff well, and Hotel 75, who were punkish and clumsy and didn't. Honestly though, I didn't pay too much attention really, as I was chatting to Tim, Penny and crew!

Took a wander down the front when The Still were due onstage at 10.30, in front of a poor turnout (Swindon punters, bah!) of nevertheless enthusiastic folks. The Still, thankfully, didn't let that dampen their spirits as they set to their task with commendable conviction, drummer Dec in particular flailing furiously and propelling this rock behemoth along like a high-octane jet engine. I'd previously talked with Dec about Taang! Records and Boston pre-grunge rock, and in a sense Midway Still are kindred spirits to the likes of Dinosaur Jr., early Buffalo Tom and Lemonheads etc., aligning their amphetamine-fast, supercharged guitar overload with ridiculously easy and catchy melodies - a "bat's ear for a tune amongst all the guitar fuzz", indeed! "Counting Days" was a groovy early highlight, and the set, punctuated by their self-deprecating banter and some piss-poor jokes from Dec, was laid back yet noisy, thrilling and a whole barrel of fun, and sounding as good as I've ever heard The Still. New numbers from "Note To Self" were prime chunks of catchy guitar rock, showing that even after all this time, the apples still don't fall too far from the tree; yet oldies like the Husker Du-esque "What You Said", the groovy "Disappear" and the phenomenal "Better Than Before", as uplifting and sing-along as ever, won the day and got me rocking as best I could down the front, given my seriously buggered knee. Great to see The Still with their appetite for the simple joy of playing rock'n'roll well and truly restored!

Hung out a bit afterwards, grabbing congratulatory words with the boys and an elated Tim, and getting my second signed set-list in as many nights, before the time caught up with this veteran. Nevertheless, a real welcome return, and hopefully not the last time The Still come back to town!

787 MISSION OF BURMA, Endless Boogie, London Camden Dingwalls, Thursday 13 May 2010

The noisy May continues with an ear-splitting double-header. Tomorrow it's The Still, but tonight a rare visit from Boston agit-noise pioneers Mission Of Burma, whose recent "The Sound The Speed The Light" CD Boston buddy EdV had a hand in producing. Hit the road at 6, sheepishly driving up due to my dodgy knee, nevertheless getting to Camden at 8 but then having a parking-mare and eventually dumping the motor behind Camden Gardens, so not hitting the venue till 8.30. I immediately wished I hadn't, as the singularly appropriately named support Endless Boogie, a bunch of hoary old acid casualties, were playing an interminably long and dreadful blues number called "Mama" which took over 20 minutes! At the end of their set, the band started packing up but the vocalist was still talking to the crowd and introducing the next number! Get off, old man, you're really not on this planet...

I took a wander down this tiered venue to the front, pitching up stage right behind a couple who'd driven down from Newcastle for the gig! Man, I thought my journey sucked... this however set the tone for this gig, as Mission Of Burma were received onstage with an almost frenzied level of devotion from the crowd of bookish indie types mostly sporting Sonic Youth t-shirts, as they ripped into opener "1-2-3 Partyyy", the anthemic, most accessible track from their new CD.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this legendary bunch of grizzled Boston rock veterans; Mission Of Burma were originally an early 80's post-punk art noise group strongly reminiscent of Wire, sharing their unorthodoxy, staccato military drumbeats and clipped, almost barked guitar and voice, yet producing 2 utterly classic new wave anthems in "Academy Fight Song" and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver". Reforming in 2002, they've since produced 3 albums of challenging, confrontational noise, and this set exemplified their uncompromising, intense approach. Swapping vocals between rakish bassist Clint Conley, monolith and bandleader Roger Miller and ex-Volcano Sun (and bandmate of Big Dipper's Gary Waleik!) drummer Peter Prescott, their set was kinetic and thrilling, played with a fury that belied the band's age. "This Is Hi-Fi" was a stridently chanted mid-set highlight, before the distinctive sinister growl and intense release of "Revolver", late set, greeted with frenzied acclaim. Encores of "The Ballad Of Johnny Burma" and a brilliantly anthemic "Academy Fight Song" however topped that, closing out a triumphant set perfectly. MOB's Wikipedia entry quotes Boston critic Tristram Lozaw referring to their legendary live inconsistency as, "you never knew whether you were going to get one of the most spectacular experiences of your life or if it was going to be a ball of incomprehensible noise." Tonight definitely veered to the former!

Afterwards, I got soundman and 4th member Bob Weston's set-list signed by the band, who all made complimentary remarks about my Big Dipper t-shirt and agreed to send my regards to Boston and Q Division. Also got to hang, albeit briefly, with London friend Lisa, before setting off at 11. A long journey home, and more rock tomorrow...

786 DINOSAUR JR. Built To Spill, Oxford Carling Academy, Saturday 8 May 2010

This one - a late call due to Evan deciding not to come down for the weekend - was also an unfortunate first; after my dodgy knee collapsed this morning, this became the first gig I attended with a walking stick! Crikey!

Tim picked me up at 6 and we hit the venue very early, grabbing a drink and catching up as the venue filled. First band on for this joint-headliner gig was US alt-indie veterans Built To Spill, a band featuring on a long list of bands I really should like but don't, along with the likes of Pavement, Guided By Voices, The Beatles (!) etc. etc. Their set started off unobtrusively, with some Death Cab For Cutie-lite melody, which neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed, but just "whelmed". Thereafter, their hour long set became dull, clumsy and interminable, and Tim and I were glad to have bumped into Mark and Andy, to provide some respite by chatting!

We stayed in our good viewing position at the back of the venue, behind the mixing desk, for Dinosaur Jr., on at 9.15 prompt. Last heard (or endured) by these ears 5 years ago, when time and a flippin' great wodge of cash had healed all wounds, bringing back together the original line-up of mainman and gnarled noisenik J Mascis, Sebadoh frontman and sensitive indie boy Lou Barlow, and meaty and metronomic drummer Murph, they'd since soldiered on as a functioning unit, dragging out a couple of new CDs. Tonight, however, these were largely ignored in favour of a retro set of their relentlessly noisy, viscerally exciting yet laid-back and laconic slacker laze-rock, delivered by an immobile yet furiously riffing J and the pounding rhythm section, with Lou the main visual focal point, flinging his mop of curly hair around with abandon. An early "Lung" was an unexpectedly groovy pleasure, and "Feel The Pain" brought back Level 3 mid-90's memories with its' pace changes and wig-out strident chorus. The best was saved for last, though, with a final oldie triumvirate of "Little Fury Things"; a brilliantly delivered and seriously groovy "Raisans", the highlight of the night for me in the sad absence of my favourite Dinosaur number "The Wagon"; and the inevitable "Freak Scene", a little sloppy but well received by the mosh, J leaving the final hook open for the Dinosaur massive to sing along.

Overall a fine set, worth the pain and hassle of the walking stick. Dinosaur Jr. on cruise and collect mode maybe, but still prime purveyors of "ear bleeding country"!

785 ASH, Bristol Academy, Friday 30 April 2010

An early trip to Bristol tonight to see perennially youthful Irish powerpoppers Ash, a couple of years after their last go-round proper. Since then, with the "mature" new direction of disappointing album "Twilight Of The Innocents" yielding no results, Ash had retreated from the normal recording and touring process, preferring instead to issue a series of singles under an "A-Z" banner via fortnightly internet download only, accompanied by a similar A-Z tour of tiny venues at the end of last year, which predictably not only sold out but also, even more predictably, came nowhere near Swindon! So this, along with a compilation CD of the first 13 "A-Z" singles, heralded a return to the "normal" rock'n'roll grind.

Rach and I popped down at 1/4 to 7, arriving at the venue an hour later following slow traffic into Bristol, to find that we'd missed both supports! A shame, as I was wanting to check out "South Africa's finest rock band" The Parlotones, but an upside was that we only had 1/4 hour to wait for Ash, due onstage at 8pm! We took a spot stage left on the 3/4 full floor for their prompt arrival, the usual trio, augmented by guest multi-instrumentalist Russell Lissack of Bloc Party, bursting into spritely opener "Lose Control". From the off the band were showing much more hunger and desire than a frustratingly moribund Bristol crowd, with Mark Hamilton in particular throwing dynamic Johnny Ramone shapes with his low-slung bass, so when a breathless Tim Wheeler introduction for second number, my favourite Ash song "A Life Less Ordinary", was met with similar apathy, I grabbed Rach and we piled down the front, creating a mini-mosh of our own!

Thus followed a set of two halves for us; the first was a joyous 3/4 hour of jumping up and down like loons down the front, with a splendid view of the onstage shenanigans. An early "Goldfinger" was a jumpabout sing-along anthem, "Petrol" was breathless as ever, the underrated, almost soulful "Shining Light" was as good as I've ever seen them play it, and jagged newie "Joy Kicks Darkness" came across superbly live, the soaring chorus taking flight and really resonating around the venue. The second was less enjoyable, as with the harder-edged pounding intro of "Orpheus", the place suddenly and unexpectedly went nuts, so we got out of the suddenly lad-flooded mosh to a vantage point stage right, behind some huge big-haired bloke! Bah!

The band could hardly be blamed for that though; they were on top form throughout with a splendid performance of their fresh, sing-along, flippant and spunky punky powerpop, with their new, more 80's influenced and occasionally keyboard embellished numbers (notably "True Love 1980" which came across like an OMD track!) sprinkled throughout the set, and really holding their own quality- and chorus-wise with punky oldies like "Kung Fu" and the Ramones-like "Walking Barefoot". Set closer "Return Of White Rabbit" ("we debuted this one at the Thekla," said Tim) saw a great set to a close, the only downside of which was an overlong cover of Weezer's "Only In Dreams".

Encores included a frantic "Jack Names The Planets", an unexpected and startlingly epic "Twilight Of The Innocents" (the only song played all night off their last album proper) and unmistakable final number, the signature chime of "Burn Baby Burn", after which the boys took a deserved bow and I grabbed a surprisingly easy set-list, my first for Ash after 13 attempts! A fine end to a splendid night, confirming Ash are back to their flippant, poppy best. Great stuff!

784 JAMES, Unkle Bob, Bristol Colston Hall, Thursday 15 April 2010

This one represented a birthday excursion for Rachel to see one of her favourite bands, and a chance for me to revisit an old live staple; James, 80's quirky yet introverted student indie pop elves turned post-baggy early 90's stadium bores, who nevertheless partly resurrected themselves last time out, back in 1995, with a vintage Reading Festival mainstage set. Since split and reformed, how would 2010 find Tim Booth, the little chap who wandered onstage 26 years ago and started to sing plaintively, "an earwig crawled into my ear..."?

We left at 7 for a quick drive down, discussing the "Sit Down" problem. How would James approach the issue of this, the definitive baggy indie anthem, yet an overplayed, overexposed "millstone" number, this time out? After throwing it in mid-set on Rach's last James gig a couple of years ago, prior to which they'd left it out altogether and apparently rather nastily heckled a punter calling for it, I was all for getting it over with quickly in the set. Let's see... We parked up in good time to pop in for the support Unkle Bob, who were pleasant, inoffensive 80's strum-along indie-lite, with a couple of beefier numbers amidst the innocuous jangle.

We had a drink in the bar, Rach necking a couple of birthday Coors and myself bumping into Barney, an old old buddy, before going back in, getting a good spot stage left, for their anticipated arrival at 9. The lights dimmed at the appointed hour, and all eyes went to the stage, then the unmistakable acoustic introduction of "Sit Down" started up... from behind us! Sure enough, the band emerged through the rear stalls exit to a triumphant welcome, wandering down the stalls aisles and greeting folks like a troupe of travelling troubadours, Tim Booth gaunt and goateed, with a woolly tea cosy atop his bald pate, grinning like a loon and relishing this moment. The journey through the enthusiastic, photo-snapping crowd took virtually the whole song, but by the denouement, Booth was onstage, conducting the first huge sing-along of the night, particularly enjoying the line, "those who find themselves ridiculous...!" A very stylish way to dispense with their millstone number.

"Right, that's the introductions out of the way, now let's have a fun evening!" Booth's words were a totally fitting prophesy, as they then played a fine and fun set of their varied canon of work, ranging from the innocently jaunty and ramshackle (an early and welcome "Hymn From A Village"), through the haunting and anthemic (a huge "Tomorrow", prompting another mass sing-along), to the jagged and moody (a splendid slow-burn "Out To Get You", climaxing in some virtuoso violin work from Saul Davies, and the dark, disturbing oldie "Stutter", generously dedicated to the folks who used to come see James at the Bierkeller in the 80's. Thanks Tim!). Booth was the focal point throughout, staccato dancing with the energy of a man half his age, and yes, playing the stadium showman perfectly. Set closer "Sometimes" was immense, the largest sing-along of the night, with the band downing instruments and letting the crowd take the climactic hook for what seemed like ages, before concluding the song to a triumphant roar.

Encores "Say Something", another anthemic sing-along, and final number "Laid", quirky and ramshackle as ever, put the icing on the cake. Rach loved it, which was only fitting, and as for me? Well, faith well and truly restored, hopefully it won't be 15 years before I see this lot again!

783 EDITORS, Coldcave, Cardiff University, Sunday 21 March 2010

Barely 5 months after my last Editors "live" experience, they're doing the rounds again, this time pitching up in towns omitted from their October 2009 tour itinerary. Thus it was that I headed down to Cardiff on my own on a Sunday evening, this being the nearest this tour passed to Swindon, but still too far away for Rach to join me!

A dodgy journey down, including roadworks virtually the whole length of the M4 in Wales and a weird - pitch black! - motorway exit, nevertheless saw me parking up at 8 in the boulevard behind the Uni, wandering around this labyrinthine venue to the hall, unfortunately just in time to catch all of support Coldcave's set. They were terrible; a depressing synth-based mob whose ideas seemed to stem from a rummage through OMD's dustbins, then swathed in unnecessary white noise. One passable number, which recalled Depeche Mode, was lost in the slew of morose dullness.

Took a good central viewing spot about 3/4 back in this wide venue, behind a couple of amiable young ladies, for Editors entrance, dead on my predicted 9.15. Straight into the pulsing sheet metal synth of "In This Light And On This Evening", the opener and title track to their fascinating recent album, which by introducing the synth dynamic to their dark, brooding little post-punk rockist epics, has augmented and advanced their sound bravely and notably. That said, this rendition was disappointingly thin, lacking the power and strident oomph of the album version, as did the subsequent "Lights". By third number, the itchy, insistent "An End Has A Start", however, the set started taking off, and by the reconstructed Krautrock "Camera" and purposeful, jerky "Blood", they were in full flight, vocalist Tom Smith's deliciously dark baritone issuing forth his occasionally preposterous lyrics and supplementing a kinetic frontman performance. After an anthemic "Racing Rats" which really set the place rocking, a dark, urgent "Munich" set the table for a final "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors", the zenith of their canon of work, which was probably the best number I've seen them play, finally sounding as good as it's always sounded in my head, the whirling maelstrom denouement soaring, epic and glorious, closing the set majestically.

They could have left it there for me, but, after a solo piano number from Tom, a thrilling final triumvirate of the none-more-Europop "Bricks And Mortar", the robotic synth of "Papillion", which sent shards of jagged sound around the hall, and strident closer "Factories", all had me rocking out frantically to the best British band currently making music. I appreciate given the paucity of the opposition, this is damning them with faint praise, but hey, you can only compete with who's around, and for me, in this light and on this evening Editors would be absolute top-liners in any age!

A nightmare journey back too, which involved puzzling and circuitous diversions, traffic queues and 30mph roadworks on the M4 at the dead of night. But thankfully Editors were well worth the (considerable) hassle!

782 THE MEN THEY COULDN'T HANG, Swindon 12 Bar, Wednesday 17 March 2010

Oh yes, they're back... The Men They Couldn't Hang, "80's punk folk long-stayers", according to the Guardian, who following a couple of poor gigs from bands of similar vintage last year, restored my faith in my musical heritage with a fun and rocking set at the 12 Bar. And they're back again, 6 months almost to the day, for a special St. Patrick's Night show to pay homage to their own Irish-tinged musical heritage!

So I wandered down, meeting up with Rich, Ady and an excited Phil, hyper happy that his second favourite band of all time (after The Smiths, of course!) were back for another go round here. Chatted and chilled in the bar while the support, a bunch of fiddly diddly old lags who'd evidently fought the pub rock wars and lost, played to a mostly empty venue.

We took a wander in and down the front for the entrance of The Men, a shade after 9.30, to a ¾ full but enthusiastic crowd. A very early surprise was that co-vocalist Stefan Cush (who Rich had given stick to earlier for being a Portsmouth FC fan!) announced they’d specifically requested to come back for this show, as they had such a great time and were so bowled over by the audience reaction at the last Swindon show! So the feeling was indeed mutual…

Thereafter followed another 2 hours of whole-hearted entertainment, easy and very funny banter and piss-taking, and splendid honest renditions of their Irish-tinged, punk-influenced songs of civil uprising, freedom and rite-of-passage, so familiar and evocative of my early 20’s. Sing-along versions of the likes of “Ghosts Of Cable Street” and a chilling “Shirt Of Blue” were interspersed with tall tales from TMTCH’s 25 years of rock’n’roll, such as the story of co-vocalist Swill jumping onto his drummer brother's back in an NYC bar, singing their then US tour anthem, "I'm a Homo Truck Driving Man", only to discover... it wasn't his brother!

The set took a similar pattern to the last 12 Bar gig, with Swill delivering a stirring acapella “Barratt’s Privateer” midway through, before “Smugglers” got the mosh (which Phil and I had occupied throughout) swaying along and singing lustily again. An unexpected “Rosettes” and a strident, punky “Going Back To Coventry” ignited the crowd again, but the absolute best was saved for last. Having been forced to omit “Ironmasters” (shame!) after they’d seriously run over time, a brilliantly stirring “Green Fields Of France”, a haunting and emotive anti-war anthem, closed out the set gloriously, with the crowd (some of whom had joined the band onstage) linking arms and singing along to every word. A real St. Patrick’s Day sing-along, tears-in-the-beers experience!

And that was two hours! Taking us to 11.30, I quickly grabbed the set-list and exited, with Stefan’s eulogistic words of praise for another great Swindon 12 Bar gig ringing in my ears. Another great night out thanks to The Men They Couldn't Hang; long may they return!

781 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, Bristol Academy, Wednesday 10 March 2010

The return of the Mad March to Bristol, Take 5, after a year's hiatus due to my knee operation; it's March, it's the Academy, it must be Stiff Little Fingers! This time old punks the Big Man and myself were ferried along by Ady in his monster truck; amazingly the first time I'd travelled to a gig with Ady since SLF in Frome on my Stag event, over 4 years ago!

After hitting the road about 20 to 8, we parked up relatively easily and got into the venue at 8.30. We'd just missed the support, which turned out to have been similar vintage punks Penetration, no less. D'oh! It would have been nice to hear their classic "Don't Dictate", but t'was not to be...

Rich got the beers in at the manically crowded bar - 2 for himself, after a tortuous wait and expensive outcome - and we popped down to the half-full dancefloor (everyone's at the bar!), to be assailed by the splendid "Guitar And Drum" entrance music heralding Stiff Little Fingers onto the stage at an unusually early 8.45. Bursting into opener "Wasted Life" to a wild reception from the punks, old and young, down the front, they nevertheless seemed to take time to settle in. Indeed, tonight's set seemed a little lower-key than the usual politicised ramalama old school punk we're used to from da Fingers, as it drew from a wider selection of their canon, rather than mainly from the first 2 albums, and vocalist Jake Burns himself, a little more rotund even than just a couple of years ago, was initially not his normal fulsome and politically motivated self. However, a blistering "Barbed Wire Love" changed all that, blowing the doors off with a totally enjoyable rendition of this old classic, "the only love song we've written," according to Jake! The doo-wop section was particularly memorable for some deep baritone harmonising from bassist Ali McMordie, who was clearly having a ball up there as usual.

After that, SLF ripped through the remainder of the set with renewed vigour, a brilliantly strident double whammy of "Nobody's Hero" ("about one of the least enjoyable aspects of our job," said Jake) and "Tin Soldiers" being the highlight. A sinewy, rapturously received "Johnny Was" encored, before "Alternative Ulster" capped another worthwhile 1 1/2 hour set overall, as the boys then took a bow from this Bristol crowd, who'd at least been up for it all night. So overall patchy, seen them better, but still a good night out with good company and honest old school punk rock. Will we back next March? Of course!