Tuesday, 18 October 2011
So, a blustery solo run along to Oxford and a lengthy circumnavigation of the city centre, due to an annoying abundance of buses, nevertheless still saw me parking up and hitting the venue just after 8. A very poorly attended one early doors, this, with the venue back room closed off as well! I took a watching brief stage right for support Clock Opera, on at 8.30. From the outset their sound wasn’t sorted, coming across shrill, harsh and abrasive, and their cluttered and pounding 80’s synth pop was hard on the ears and really didn’t help their cause. Not sure why so many bands want to channel this stuff – it really wasn’t that great first time around! Their closing 2 numbers however were much better, more purposeful crescendo-filled affairs, throwing the rest of their output into sharp relief. Write some more like these two, please, boys…
The place filled up a little more but was comfortably attended, no more. Also, I was surprised by the proliferation of older, grey haired chaps at this one – yeah, yeah, I’m a fine one to talk, I know! A very fiddly soundcheck finally saw Chapel Club take the stage at 9.40, by which time I’d wandered down the front and was on the barriers, stage centre, in front of a very blasé, standoffish crowd! Nevertheless, the band took to their task with gusto, opening with an unfamiliar, synth-blanketed new number then informing us that the format of their performance would be a split-set affair; a clutch of newies for starters, then the more familiar material from current, debut album “Palace” to conclude. Said newies were predominantly keyboard-driven, gloomy affairs, shrouded and mysteriously morose, with electronic drumbeats giving them a feel more akin to Talk Talk than to their album stuff, and featuring suitably doomy vocals from singer Lewis Bowman, who with his more severe crew-cut looked slightly out of place amidst his floppy fringed bandmates.
Half a dozen unfamiliar numbers in, Lewis announced, “this is the second set,” by way of intro to LP opener “Surfacing”, the band’s trademark growling bass underpinning this moody vignette of dark brooding bedsit melancholy, featuring a chorus steal from the old standard “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”. The set predictably picked up considerably thereafter, as the drummer took to a conventional kit, and the band concentrated on their more familiar guitar-driven material. “Five Trees” was a dynamic turbocharged highlight, “O Maybe I” all seething angst and menace, and set closer “Shore” a pulsating crescendo of guitar noise, to close out an oddly shaped but ultimately worthwhile hour long set. Shame there weren’t more to see it, but Lewis thanked those of us that had bothered, “for coming out to see us on a Monday night… it is Monday, right?”
Grabbed the set-list afterwards – also a two parter! – and had a quick chat with the helpful roadie before tiredness took over and I headed home, after a good one from this promising young band unafraid to take chances with their sound. More power to them!
So we left before the kids went to bed – just to hammer the point home that we’ve gone out and they’re being babysat! – and had a drink in the Vic, before trundling around to the Arts Centre just before performance time at 8. It’s been gutted and renovated since my only previous visit (Dead Men Walking) and is now a smart little seated theatre room. Took our allotted seats, dead centre, half a dozen rows back, for support Duotone. They were a bowler-hatted and waist-coated duo playing an eclectic array of instruments (including a percussion floor box, similar to one I “played” at Stone Honey’s Hollywood Hills party on our honeymoon!) through computer loops, producing a layered, occasionally morose but often quaint and homely pastoral Olde Worlde folkish sound. Some nice harmony overlays, particularly on their best number “You Don’t Need Church”, which recalled Hobotalk.
We chatted with fellow gig-goers Peej and Mandy in the downstairs café whilst browsing the Arts Centre library (!) during the intermission, before another handy “five minute call” prompted us back to our seats for the arrival of the raffishly hirsute Roddy and his 5-piece band, dead on 9. His set showcased current solo album “The Impossible Song And Other Songs”, along with previous solo effort “My Secret Is My Silence”, a fine canon of slow-burn folky introspection, and if it occasionally veered towards trad folky fiddly-diddly, there was always an Idlewild-like cascading and tumbling chorus (e.g. “Into The Atlantic”, or “Leaving Without Gold”) around the corner, and Roddy’s nasal but warm vocals to capture the heart.
A lot of the material also featured remote Scottish references, including a song about the A87, “the road that goes through Skye!” and another, the excellent devotional “Take Me To The Island”, referencing a Western Isles ferry company that had apparently been awarded “World’s Best Ferry Company” by “The Guardian”! “So if there are any employees of [said company] holidaying in Swindon , you should feel very proud of yourselves,” announced Rod, to which I couldn’t resist adding the rejoinder, “thank you – I am!” Rod, a fine and relaxed raconteur throughout, was also complimentary towards Swindon, saying he and the band had spent a nice afternoon at Lydiard Park, which prompted Rach to whisper, “I wish I’d taken the kids there this afternoon!” The haunting elegy of “Waverly Steps” was an enchanting highlight, and set closer “My Secret Is My Silence” got Rach beaming, whilst their only foray into Idlewild’s songsheet, a stripped back “You Held The World In Your Arms” for voice, acoustic guitar and violin only, was predictably another highlight as first encore. Rod and Co. then delivered a final, jaunty “Roll Along”, to, “send you out into the Swindon night,” and close out a charming little set giving another dimension to one of our indie faves.
That wasn’t it though, as I blagged a set-list afterwards from the band manning the merch stand, and we chatted to a personable Roddy and co awhile, reminiscing about following Idlewild around California on our honeymoon, 6 years ago this month! Result - again!
Monday, 3 October 2011
Nevertheless, off we blasted into the thankfully quickly setting sun, on a scorching Indian Summer Sunday evening, hitting a puzzlingly deserted venue (“overwhelming demand”? Where?) before openers The Xcerts. A young Scottish three piece, they blasted through a set of reasonable ragged hormonal Emo angst, with some distorted vocals providing a relief from the vocalist’s occasionally trying screaming. They finished with their best 2 numbers, including a final one which, with a determined driving pace and swirling guitar overlay, reminded me a little of My Vitriol!
The place filled up as we took good viewing spots on the dancefloor, stage left as usual, and I could understand the venue change – I had to concede this would have been a tight squeeze on the “dirty boat”! Following a fiddly sound set-up, the lights eventually dropped and Manchester Orchestra took the smoky stage just after 9, led on by vocalist Andy Hull, a huge bearded and hulking great bear of a man, albeit the possessor of an eerily high pitched and plaintive voice recalling Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle. In fact, the band’s beards and utilitarian garb overall suggested a junior Grandaddy, and whilst there are traces of the Modesto maestro’s dusty yet quirky alt-Country psych fuzz in their music, for example stripped back and slow-burn opener “Deer”, this band know how to Rock, big time. The subsequent “Pride” brought the noise, and by the 3rd number, the excellent “April Fool”, they were powering through some strident and towering rock riffs and really working up a sweat. “I’ve Got Friends” reminded me of the Foo Fighters classic “My Hero”, but the set highlight was easily the subsequent “Shake It Out”, a thrilling, seething, visceral and dynamic rock noise, the end of which saw me remarking to Rachel, “NOW I see why Biffy Clyro wanted them as tour support!”
"6 years and we still don’t know how to talk to the crowd – welcome to awkward band camp, we’re Manchester Orchestra,” announced a nevertheless charming and gregarious Andy before album title track “Simple Math”. Then, their best number “The Only One” was unveiled, albeit in vocal and guitar form only, which rendered it bereft of it’s Neutral Milk Hotel-alike chugalong fuzz, and provided, for me at least, the only slightly disappointing note of the night. Another parched and plaintive paean in “The River” bookended the set proper, before encores included a funny strumalong number in which Andy declared his admiration of 50 Cent (!), and a superb “Pensacola”, another Grandaddy-esque US alt-psych romp, albeit with another huge guitar powered chorus chant. Overall, this was great, wonderfully noisy and powerful stuff from a highly promising band already delivering the goods, and a lengthy wait for a set-list afterwards paid dividends as well. A fine way to mark our anniversary!