Monday, 28 March 2011

811 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, Los Comos, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 27 March 2011

Death, Taxes, Rip-Off Petrol Prices… and me and the Big Man heading down to Bristol in March to see SLF at the Academy. Some things in life are pretty much nailed-on certainties… This, the 6th time in 7 years we’ve seen the Fingers at the Academy during this month (a run only interrupted in 2009 due to my knee op), was almost curtailed due to my being diagnosed with tonsillitis and being laid up in bed all day Friday. However, I recovered disconcertingly quickly, and was in reasonable fettle for this now-traditional jaunt down to Brizzle. Good times, good company, and vintage punk rock… what more could a body ask for? This time Ady joined us as well, as we hammered down the M4 (Lauda-esque as usual by the Big Man), arriving in good time to get the beers in and chat before the anticipated arrival of support Spear Of Destiny. However, we were instead assailed by Los Comos, a masked band of noiseniks, SOD presumably having pulled at short notice. They were dreadful; ham-fisted lumpen garage rock. A hedgehog-haired old punk lag, tottering precariously on the bar next to us, shouted, “fuck off!” and you had to admire the sentiment. We scuttled off to the safety of the back bar to save our ears until the noise died down.

We then headed onto the dancefloor, deserted early doors but now packed and anticipatory, for a hoped-for early start. However, SLF kept us waiting an unprecedented 45 minutes for their eventual arrival at 9.15 to the usual rabble-rousing “guitar and drum” entrance music, surely the best intro music of any band ever! Opener “Roots” was a little thin on guitar sound but nevertheless precipitated a frenzied and growing moshpit, as the old punks piled in and I kept a watching but jostled brief. SLF mainman Jake Burns, cowboy-shirted and increasingly corpulent (appearing to have gained all the weight Rich and I have lost since last March!) seemed in a hurry early doors, rushing through a quickfire “At The Edge”, before introducing a new number, lyrically slating bankers; good to know the social commentary is still evident!

SLF’s performance was however still running in cruise control at this stage, however manic the moshpit was, and it took a totally unexpected and incendiary “Straw Dogs” to give it a really biting snarl. Thereafter, the set really took an extra “edge”, with strident, frantic versions of “Barbed Wire Love” (Ali McMordie’s mid-song doo-wops initiating a huge sing-along and bringing a huge collective smile, as ever), a venomous “Don’t Call Me Harp”, an action-packed “Nobody’s Hero”, and a dramatic “Tin Soldiers”, Jake strafing the balconies with his guitar neck at the finale. “Suspect Device”, gravelly and growling as ever, brought the set to a crashing conclusion; “we’re gonna blow up in your face,” indeed!

First encore “Johnny Was” was as sinuous and absorbing as ever, this over 30 year old number standing the test of time well, as does most of SLF’s early material. The band then took a deserved bow from the partisan crowd, as “up for it” tonight as I’ve ever seen a Bristol SLF audience, before nevertheless returning for Encore part 2! “Every band in the world’s had a go at this song… now it’s our turn to foul it up,” announced Jake before a thrashy “I Fought The Law”, nevertheless unsurprisingly faithful to the Clash’s version, then an inevitable, anthemic “Alternative Ulster” brought the evening to a close. They’d taken time to warm to it tonight, but ultimately delivered a set as good as I’ve seen them, full of their trademark vintage political yet anthemic punk rock. See you next March for Part 7!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

810 GLASVEGAS, Bristol Thekla, Tuesday 22 March 2011

Glasvegas… on a boat! This is going to be fun…

Since arriving at the arse end of 2008, fully formed, as a complete distillation of everything cool throughout rock’n’roll history, Glasvegas have been off preparing for the next step towards their inevitable global domination, returning with an imminent new CD, “Euphoric///Heartbreak\\\” and a mini-tour in advance of an impending larger venue jaunt. So we jumped on the chance of seeing one of the most promising new bands of the last few years at this intimate, wonderfully run-down and ramshackle venue. Glasvegas… on a boat!

A few questions surrounded this one, however; given that they were so fully-formed, their lineage (McCulloch ray-ban cool, Strummer “voice of the people” stance, VU/ Mary Chain/ wall of noise guitar dynamics, Buddy Holly song structures) obvious yet not overwhelming, each piece complimenting each other, where would they go from here? A couple of disturbing press shots of vocalist James Allen wearing white (!) also raised concerns. Nevertheless, we headed down, parking by the river and wrestling with a reluctant pay machine before hitting the venue just after 8. A pleasant surprise was that we’d missed the support (Gillian somebody) and Glasvegas were on at 8.30! This was followed by our descending into the bowels of the ship and finding an excellent viewing nice spot stage left, a couple of rows back; “sold out” at the Thekla doesn’t mean rammed to the rafters…

The lights dimmed at the witching hour, and Glasvegas took the stage to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” (the musical backdrop to their “Stabbed” track), the black-clad band kicking off shimmering new number “The World Is Yours”. Then vocalist James Allen, startling in white, swaggered onstage and burst into the impassioned lead vocal, his heavily accented vocals nevertheless powerful and strident, and all the more so for being sung with the mic at arms length (as was the case throughout most of the set). However he wasn’t the only immediate focal point; new drummer, Swede Jonna Lofgren, standing upright behind her kit as did predecessor Caroline McKay, looked like Rachel’s friend’s 15 year old step-daughter, but fairly pounded the drums like a steam-hammer. “She’s good, isn’t she?” remarked Allen after the opener. Damn right she is; I’ve rarely heard anyone hit so hard, and I was concerned at one point she might sink the ship with the sheer power of her drumming!

The early stages took an “old number, new number” sequence, revealing the new songs have retained the Glasvegas sonic template, but are, if anything, infused with extra dynamism and soaring emotiveness – this is going to be one corking album… A mid set cover of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” revealed a musical debt, and was followed by a stark, stripped-back reading of “Moon River”. “Euphoria”, the slow-burn to crescendo manifesto for their new material, followed, James Allen again delivering an emotive vocal as if his life depended on it. “Does anyone here want to dance?”, Allen then asked before a rampaging “Go Square Go” saw a frantic moshpit break out, and the vocalist abandon the stage and join in! Rubbing shoulders in the mosh with this generation’s first true rock star is something to remember…

First encore, the gut-wrenchingly raw and heart-breaking “Flowers And Football Tops” was given another dimension with a powerfully desolate, voice/ keyboard only rendition. And I’ll honestly be hard pushed to see anything else “live” this year quite as magnificent as final number “Daddy’s Gone”, the powerful pent-up emotion of this number being released in an awe-inspiring communal sing-along, before Allen, chatty, voluble and appreciative of the crowd’s enthusiasm throughout, led the band through one final crashing crescendo to bring a marvellous set to a close. Wow.

I grabbed a set-list as well, thanks to my lovely wife, to cap a superb night which dispelled any concerns about Glasvegas’ return. If anything, they took a step up tonight; they’re the best British band around right now, no messing. And we got to see them… on a boat!

Friday, 11 March 2011

809 BUFFALO TOM, Man Made, London Camden Dingwalls, Thursday 10 March 2011

It honestly doesn't seem like five minutes since I last saw Boston blue-collar alt. rock veterans Buffalo Tom, but it's been nearly 3 years... A couple of UK gigs just after Logan's arrival in 2007, plus an aperitif gig in Boston in April 2008, prior to the Big Dipper reunion show, had coincided with a first CD for 9 years in "Three Easy Pieces". And now, barely 3 years later, here's another one; whilst "Pieces" may have been Tom-by-numbers, new CD "Skins" seems a real return to form, with heartfelt, bleeding-raw balladry and rollicking cascading drum propelled US rock in equal measure. We also get a UK date on a short European jaunt; it's like they're back for real! So here we go; Gig No. 11 for The Tom!

A bit of lunchtime jiggery pokery got things organised so Tim could pick me up from work, so we hit the road at 5, enduring hellish traffic from Windsor onwards, and consequently not parking up until 8, just round the corner from Camden Lock. Hit the quiet early doors venue and got a superb viewing spot against the barriers on the level above the small dancefloor. Support Man Made, on at 8.30, was a solo guitarist sporting a green and black jumper which took me back to my teen post-punk wardrobe, and specialising in some nice pedal effects-led stuff with an early 90's post grunge/ shoegazey feel. I've seen whole lot worse support acts already this year, so not a bad start.

The place filled up rapidly during the support slot, and the dancefloor was packed for some time prior to the Tom's scheduled 9.30 arrival, so we stayed with our watching brief as vocalist/ guitarist Bill Janovitz led the boys on at the appointed hour. Easing in with by-now traditional set opener "Treehouse", the lead guitar sound seemed a little thin and low-level, and the subsequent "Summer" and a couple of new numbers seemed almost subdued by Tom standards. "We need more Bill," I remarked to Tim. We got it - and how!

An early "Taillights Fade" ignited the crowd into a resonant sing-along, but then Bill donned a battered Trilby for a wholly unexpected and utterly incendiary "Sunflower Suit" which really got us under way as Bill, neck veins bulging with passion, roared the hook like a lion reclaiming his kingdom. Thereafter the set took flight and the hits kept tumbling down. "Larry", plangent, shimmering and soaring; "Rachael", with Chris' softer vocals infusing it with care and tenderness; a jagged and ragged "Velvet Roof", as incendiary as "Suit" had been, Bill again leading the band through a performance with the conviction of a man half his age; and a brilliantly raucous "Your Stripes", introduced by Bill as, "a fast one," for London to, "sway along to". A yearning "I'm Allowed" concluded the "Interlude of Angst" as Bill termed it, before set closer, the amphetamine rush of "Tangerine", blew the doors off good and proper. I commented to Tim that it was a good thing "Sunflower Suit", "Velvet Roof" and "Tangerine" weren't concurrent in the set, otherwise there would have been dead bodies!

A 6-song encore, including a careful, slow paced reading of New Order's "Age Of Consent" and a final, soaring "Sunday Night" (preceded by a lengthy band and roadie intro by the affable Bill) capped a magnificent hour and 40 minutes rock. Never note perfect, often raggedy arsed as all hell, but always brimming with passion, emotion, intensity and conviction, and a brilliantly visceral experience as ever from The Tom. Long may they roar!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

808 THE DECEMBERISTS, Blind Pilot, Bristol O2 Academy, Tuesday 8 March 2011

I'd been warned about The Decemberists. A US alt-rock band that had been skirting around the periphery of my rock vision for awhile, I'd finally picked up current CD "The King Is Dead" and found it a lovely little alt. country-folk-rock collection of heart-warming tunes with a definite, almost devotional nod to the "Reckoning" era of nascent REM. A facebook message from no less a luminary than Geoff Van Duyne, former Army Of Jasons mainman, had however warned that, "they'll put you off rock'n'roll and you'll find yourself saying things like "Four And Twenty" instead of "Twenty Four"," which raised my pretentiousness hackles somewhat. An "Uncut" interview underlined this, suggesting that lead Decemberist, Colin Meloy, had a more cerebral than emotive attitude to playing music, potentially also ringing the "Prog Alert" alarms. Nevertheless, give 'em a chance...

A shit day at work also meant that I was really in need of a good gig, so off I went with a feeling of slight trepidation, zooming down and hitting the already heaving venue at 8.20, navigating my way onto the crowded floor just as support Blind Pilot were rounding up their nice but innocuous backwoods folk/ country set. An odd crowd as well, the Decemberists' massive; lots of granddad jackets, knitwear, glasses and facial hair in evidence. I felt very young indeed, and also as if I'd landed in a History Teacher's convention!

The Decemberists, led by mainman Colin Meloy, came on at 9 to a silly taped introduction from one Sam Adams, apparently Portland's Mayor, and eased into a catchy opener, "July". "Calamity", the REM "Talk About The Passion" clone from the current CD, was next up, and already the gregarious Meloy's erudite, wry and humorous between-song repartee ("this one's about a miner's uprising in 1917; just what you want, a topical number that talks to you about your life...") was winning me over, as was the understated, well-played and extremely well paced set. "Sporting Life", a touching Smiths homage with a Fall "Lie Dream" drumbeat, was embellished by Meloy with a "Charming Man" lyric reference. A gorgeous pedal-steel fuelled ballad was followed by a riff-heavy blues glam stomp with impassioned vocals from guest Sarah Watkins, which then was followed by Meloy slapping on a mandolin for "Crane 3", a gorgeous slow burn to a lengthy descending hook, and a set highlight.

Overall, this is a band that wears their influences firmly on their sleeve, and seems out of time, more at home perhaps in the jangly early 80's underground, along with The Smiths and the early countrified REM. I enjoyed playing "Spot The Steal" (a Stills drum intro here, a Pogues reference there, lots of little REM vignettes, even a drum dominated number recalling the National's more discordant moments) as Meloy, evidently a man with an impressive record collection but also an ear for simple catchy melody, dominated proceedings, and his bandmates sat back and indulged his foibles. The splendid 2-part harmony of the rollicking "This Is Why We Fight" was my set highlight, although a lengthy set-closing "Chimbly Sweep", featuring a blues interlude and lots of quirky audience participation, ran it close.

Two encores, including a preposterous but fun sea shanty "Mariner's Revenge" and a heart-rending parched final "June Hymn" rounded off a 2 hour set touchingly and very well. Fears largely unfounded, The Decemberists tonight delivered a very entertaining - and yes, in parts emotive! - performance. Good gig, just what I needed, and a lot better than the return journey, thanks to a stinky and lengthy diversion around the old Gloucester Road. Bah!