Monday, 30 January 2012

839 THE BOOMTOWN RATS, Swindon Musical Entertainment and Cultural Arena (MECA), Saturday 28 January 2012

From a very new band last time out (Howler) to a really old one; The Boomtown Rats, 70’s Irish pub rock imports turned skinny-tie New Wave chart botherers and No. 1 hit-makers with “Rat Trap” and their signature classic “I Don’t Like Mondays”. In my formative musical years I’d been a mini Rat-fan (I still remember hearing the drum-powered adrenaline rush of their debut “Looking After Number One” on the radio for the first time; one of my favourite photos of myself is as a 15 year old on holiday in Jersey, sporting a huge metallic “Rats” badge; and I still own their fine sophomore effort, “Tonic For The Troops” on vinyl), but in my post-punk rockist early 80’s discovery period I’d lost interest with the Rats long before their charismatic original vocalist Bob Geldof did the same, Bob instead concentrating on saving the world with "Live Aid". This reformed Rats line-up therefore was more an “Ex Simple Minds” formation, featuring two original band members, guitarist Garry Roberts and drummer Simon Crowe, but shorn of “Sir” Bob’s towering presence. But recent similar gigs (Thin Lizzy, Big Country, even the aforementioned Ex-Minds) had worked out well, plus it’s just up the MECA, and if nothing else, it’d be fun to hear those songs “live”, so why not?

However, when I arrived at the venue at 7 (½ hour before their advertised onstage time of 7.30 as support to a T Rex line-up) it felt I was the only one who thought that! Around 50 or so punters – mainly older couples – huddled around the back bar, and the main hall was still cordoned off! Yipe! Organiser Steve Causer’s going to take a bath on this one, I thought… The ropes came off about 7.30 and I wandered down the front as the place slowly filled up to a respectable level, for an early Swindon crowd…

The 4-piece Rats hit the dry-ice shrouded stage at 7.45, the thick-set monolith guitarist Roberts and beefy drummer Crowe augmented by a ratty-looking (appropriately enough) vertical-haired vocalist/bassist of similar vintage, ironically also called Bob (“we call him Little Bob,” Crowe informed us at one point) plus a young gun on extra guitar. Opener “Mary Of The Fourth Form” chuntered along well, but sounded a little like muddy old lag pub rock, and I thought at this point this gig might have gone down better at the Furnace! It took until 4th number, a sing-along-tastic “Someone’s Looking At You”, to really get this thus-far turgid set going for me, this being a tremendous version of one of their more overlooked numbers. “Most of our songs are about death, and this is no exception…” said Roberts before the tango beat of “Diamond Smiles”, followed by a fine mid-set double of “Number One” (which required drummer Crowe to catch his breath afterwards!) and the jerky, Wire-like “Like Clockwork”. A Dr. Feelgood homage revealed their pub rock roots, but was a murky bluesy rant, featuring a raspy lead vocal from Crowe, and I lamented the omission of the epic “(I Never Loved) Eva Braun” from the set at the expense of this. However they finished strongly, with a real crowd-pleasing final salvo of their angry, sprawling working class manifesto “Rat Trap”, their “Common People” of the late 70’s; the terrace chant punk pogo of “She’s So Modern”; and finally a “rock” version of “I Don’t Like Mondays”, which still stood up well shorn of the distinctive piano treatment, and finally got Swindon singing along, the resounding and elongated final hook echoing around the venue.

So, overall an uneven (as I expected) but worthwhile show, and yes, it was fun to hear those songs “live”! I grabbed a set-list, then hung out briefly afterwards, catching drummer Crowe as he briefly poked his head out from backstage to greet some friends, and getting him to sign said list. Then, with utterly no interest in “headliners” T Rex whatsoever, I headed home for one of the earliest home arrivals from an evening gig ever – 9.30!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

838 HOWLER, Man Made, The Gentry Underground, Six Minutes To Sunrise, Southampton Joiner's Arms, Wednesday 25 January 2012

I need to thank the NME for this lot. Struggling for a reliable outlet to discover new bands (a recent Dara O’Braian TV stand-up performance made reference to new parents having to give up “New Music,” and I empathise with that!), I jumped all over their recent “100 New Bands For 2012” issue, figuring at least one potentially exciting new band might be worth the price. I’m always looking for the next new band to blow my socks off, me! Howler were in fact the lead band, 19 year old vocalist Jordan Gatesmith sporting a cut-off New York Mets t-shirt, which, along with a good write-up, their home town being Minneapolis (home of Husker Du and The Hold Steady) and a snatched YouTube song, “Back Of Your Neck”, persuaded me to book tix for this gig. On lesser things, however, are dynasties built…

A hasty acquisition of their debut, “America Give Up”, reinforced this positive and promising view, but where I heard potentially thrilling crunchy guitar and swaggering new wave melody in a Replacements meets Modern Lovers vein, Rachel heard, “same old, same old.” So I headed down to the Joiners on my own, again glorying in how close Southampton is, and parking up in a handy (and free!) car park behind the easy-to-find venue. Only caught the last 2 numbers of openers Six Minutes To Sunrise, which was unfortunate as one was a fragile post-recovery number about the stylishly black shirted and red-tied vocalist’s recent serious illness, and the other a chunkier and more robust indie rocker. Certainly better than The Gentry Underground, next up; another smartly dressed bunch, but purveyors of an interminable and primitive blues jam howl, with the floppy fringed Ben Kweller lookalike vocalist screaming unintelligibly throughout. They no doubt believe they’re “psychedelic”, but they were just a godawful racket. Julian Cope would probably love them. Dumped merch back in the car just to escape the noise awhile, and compared survivors’ notes with SMTS’ affable vocalist outside instead.

I overheard an excellent snippet of conversation (girl; “who writes their (TGU’s) lyrics?”: boyfriend; “what lyrics?”) whilst wandering back through for main support Man Made at 9.30, following a fiddly soundcheck. He underlined the favourable impression forged by his Buffalo Tom support last year; rocking a spangly gold jacket this time, instead of the green and black jumper of my youth, his earnest set of haunting, slightly US alt-rock influenced angst was effects-pedal propelled and mighty fine, and featured plaintive keening vocals reminiscent of Placebo’s Brian Molko. A cynical and wilful attitude too (“I’m going to play a couple more songs then you can go back to enjoying your evening”!), but another good set.

I stayed down the front against the monitors, stage left – a pocket of space in this crammed little venue! – for Howler’s entrance at 10.30. Led by Gatesmith, an angular black leather clad spider-plant of a man-child, like a stretched “Saint Julian”-era Cope with a floppier fringe and a more laconic, Stan Ridgeway meets Julian Casablancas delivery, they rocked into opener “America” with enthusiasm and gusto. The upbeat, ramshackle 50’s milk bar doo-wop of “Beach Sluts” was an early highlight, their performance bordering on wild chaos but being held in check largely by drummer Brent Mayes, a solid and tough presence and likely the best drummer out of Minneapolis since Grant Hart!

“We don’t have a set-list, we just kind of go,” announced Gatesmith following an onstage band consultation on the subject of, “what are we playing now?” which resulted in a deliciously raucous “This One’s Different”, and the subsequent C86/Strokes collision of “Told You Once”. And all too quickly, their ½ hour set culminated in a moshpit-tastic “Back Of Your Neck”, their best number and the highlight tonight, the glorious soaring rush of the descending “whoo-hoo”s already instantly memorable. And memorable too was a chat with drummer-man Mayes afterwards, who offered to write me a set-list! Great stuff. Like The Vaccines, Howler’s lineage is obvious and easy to trace, but the bands that last the distance always have great tunes. And Howler have great tunes. A potentially great band for 2012 and beyond, I’m glad I got to see them in a small venue…

Friday, 20 January 2012

837 THE HORRORS, Toy, Oxford O2 Academy 2 , Thursday 19 January 2012

The Horrors, for me, are proof that a leopard can indeed change its spots, or at least colour them a slightly different shade of black! I’d first encountered this lot 5 years ago, on the NME Brats Bus Tour (gig 723), when they’d played sub Alien Sex Fiend doomy electronic Goth, generally come across like a somewhat comic Munsters (black balloons!), and been well and truly blown off by the Mighty Automatic. I’d therefore dismissed them as one trick ponies (bats?) and ignored the critical acclaim heaped upon their sophomore effort, “Primary Colours”, a couple of years back. Silly me. After deciding to investigate, following similar acclaim for current CD “Skying”, I’d found “Primary Colours” as much a deliciously intriguing blend of JAMC wall of noise guitar rock and expansive and evocative Bunnymen-like 80’s rockism, as I’d found their current release a head-on collision of absorbing Krautrock synth and slightly baggy rhythm swagger. Good stuff, either way, and definitely a reinvented band worthy of seeing “live” – without the black balloons this time, I hope!

So t’was that I headed down to Oxford on a blustery Thursday evening for this, the first gig of 2012 and the first with our new Skoda! Paranoid about parking it, I had to wait 10 minutes, then fight over a spot in the usual Tescos Car Park, before hitting the venue for this sold-out show via a double queue, which meant I missed all but the last half number of support act Toy. Apparently half of indie no-marks Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong, they’re now monotonous gloomy robotic rhythm types, going for The Horrors Mark 2 sound, but ending up like Secret Machines instead. Still, a bit of a snap judgement, this, on the strength of one half-number...

This was a rescheduled show, following October’s postponement after vocalist Faris Badwan had voice problems, and one could feel the pent-up anticipation in this diverse sell-out crowd (rock dads as well as the youthful Horrors massive!), as The Velvet Underground and some other noisy tosh (probably also The Velvet Underground!) was played over the PA. Finally the lights dimmed, and The Horrors embarked onto the dry-ice choked stage just after 9, led by leather-jacketed Goblin King Faris, who perversely wished us, “Happy New Year,” before easing into the loose-limbed, libidinous dark groove of opener “Changing The Rain” (which “live” reminded me a bit of Chapterhouse’s shoegaze epic “Pearl”!). A strident and powerful “Mirror’s Image” followed, Faris a tall and commanding stage presence already grabbing the attention, and, despite being momentary halted by synth trouble, they kept the momentum with a superb “I Can See Through You”, “Skying”'s best number and a highlight tonight.

“You’re a smashing crowd,” declared the Goblin King politely, as the normally reticent Oxford audience went nuts, with a baying moshpit throughout. The kids love The Horrors, what can I say? The set mid-section answered my long-held query as to what a Goth-dance Bunnymen would sound like, before a strident, gear-changing “Endless Blue” recalled The Close Lobsters’ roaring “Mother Of God”, no less. Some drawn-out feedback preceded a stately “Still Life”, epic and robust, to round off a short, 50 minutes set. However they weren’t done, the layered Mary Chain-isms of their best number “Who Can Say” kicking off a resounding encore, which was rounded off by a lengthy, brooding and menacing Krautrock epic “Moving Further Away”, itself culminating in a crescendo of feedback and dramatic white strobe.

Fine stuff. Another band in thrall to the 80’s, sure, but this lot are engorging a wide array of 80’s rock styles and regurgitating them in a chameleonic, primordial soup, proving themselves the unlikeliest of contenders in the process. Colour me wrong; The Horrors are no joke band, but a very promising and inventive force to be reckoned with. And no black balloons this time!