Sunday, 28 October 2012

860 BOWLING FOR SOUP, The Dollyrots, Bristol O2 Academy, Friday 26 October 2012

A relatively late addition to my gig itinerary, this one, and it was thanks to my kids! Rachel was always going to go to see Texan pop-punk clown princes Bowling For Soup with her fellow Soup uber-fans Debbie and Steven, but I initially wasn’t up for it enough to justify sorting a babysitter out. However our kids then announced they wanted to go for a sleepover at Grandma’s during half term, so I persuaded Rach that this should be the night, rather than Gaz’ Wednesday date, so I could enjoy some big dumb punk rock fun, then get a lie-in the next morning!

So we set off at 6, picked up our friends then had a queue-punctuated journey down, parking up about 7.30 and consequently completely missing first support Patent Pending, who were on at the unfeasibly early time of 6.15! Main support The Dollyrots sounded clumsy and formulaic, so we stayed in the bar instead, popping into the hall and down onto our usual stage left spot about 8, just before the entrance of the Soup, to their own composed opening track.

Kicking off with the hooky “High School Never Ends”, the gig initially promised to venture seamlessly into the usual BFS formula for fun, particularly when vocalist Jaret took a phone from an audience member who was using it during the first song break, then handed it to Chris to chat up the caller! However things took a turn for the worse, as Jaret was clocked good and proper by a phone thrown by some dickhead audience member, and his reaction briefly threatened to turn the atmosphere a little nasty, as he called the guy out to either leave or come onstage and let his guitar tech kick his ass. Thankfully, he gave the guy one number to think about it – the highly appropriately titled “I Don’t Need This” – which seemed to calm him down as well. Normality restored!

An excellent early “Almost” was preceded by Jaret calling for the audience to form, “one big happy Bowling For Soup chorus,” then an incredible toughened up version of Fountains Of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” (“if you’ve come here to hear our big hit “Stacy’s Mom”, that was Fountains Of Wayne, but seeing as we get the credit for it anyway, we might as well play it!”). By now the Soup were well in their stride, with the between song banter and antics as spontaneous, scatological and entertaining as their infectiously tuneful, if a little one-dimensional, harmonic US poppy punk rock. Introducing “Ohio”, Jaret announced, “this is about the great state of Texas, and I’m looking forward to returning for the Mexican food and my wife’s vagina!” “Punk Rock 101” saw a mid-song break for the band and their support acts (who’d been gathering in the corner of the stage during the set in an impromptu “bar”) to pose for photos onstage, whilst the PA played Van Halen’s “Jump”, and the line-up jumped at the appropriate points. Jaret then labelled his band, “Bowling For Soup; the band you can wave to!” before introducing, “the best song ever,” a splendid “Girl All The Bad Guys Want”, which got a frenzied reaction from this as-usual very young but knowledgeable crowd, who’d been singing along to pretty much everything. And, despite myself, I was pretty much joining in as well!

Set closer “1985” brought a thoroughly entertaining hour and 45 minutes set to a close, before “My Weiner” and a superb “The Bitch Song” saw the band once again bringing on the support acts to join in (Jaret and The Dollyrots' female vocalist banging heads while harmonising!) for an all-inclusive finale. They’re never going to pull and trees up in the creativity stakes, but they know what they do and do it very bloody well indeed. I’ve been to better gigs this year, but if you want sheer dumb fun and punk rock frolics, you know you’re going to get that from Bowling For Soup. And that’s no bad thing!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

859 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Andy Oliveri, Swindon The Running Horse, Wednesday 24 October 2012

Back to the Running Horse for another “Acoustic Wednesday” bash, and another chance to catch undoubtedly the hardest working man in rock/folk/whatever, just playing music, these days, namely Mr. Gaz “have guitar, will travel” Brookfield! This represented the 5th time in just short of 4 months that I’d seen the man “live”, although as it was the first since the Miles Hunt support slot, a massive 41 (!) days ago, I might have been getting Gaz withdrawal symptoms…!

I was also suffering from a gyppy tummy so nearly re-thought this one, but went along anyway, hoping that it would be quiet so I could grab a seat. Luckily it was, early doors, so I hopped onto the sofa just left of the performance space in the bar area, then stayed pat for the night! Andy Oliveri, a small bearded chap who later claimed his dad looked just like Danny De Vito (entirely plausible really!), came on just after my arrival at 20 to 9, and played some dour, downbeat acoustic stuff with a slightly nasal, occasionally yodelly vocal lilt which reminded me of someone, probably a US Alt-Country singer, couldn’t quite place it… He was more upbeat in between numbers than his occasionally pastoral, wistful (“I’m going for “heartbreaking”,” he announced at one point) material suggested; still, a diverting ½ hour.

Gaz popped over to say hi just before his set, then recoiled when I told him about my ropey tum. Too many gigs lined up, can’t get ill, can’t blame him… Gaz opened his set at 9.30 with “SN1”, his jolly jig extolling the virtues of our home town, and featuring some excellent percussion on the guitar! A lovely, melodic “Frank And Sam” followed, and he then introduced a chugging “Limelight” with, “this is a half-hearted moan [about supporting other bands]; it’s a pretty decent life really, I get to play and get pissed!”

Gaz was, as ever, on top form tonight, commanding the attention of the chatty tables at the back with a few wry looks and his inescapable talent. “Be The Bigger Man” was as dynamic, impassioned and in-your-face as ever (“I’m available for children’s parties,” he announced at the end of this profanity-strewn rendition), then the subsequent “Tell It To The Beer” was a touching Pogues-like lament, “about being in a band that never got anywhere,” before “Thin” saw the whole pub singing along – as requested – to the soaring hook.

“Nearly forgot this one,” he commented toward the end of the set, to which I insightfully (!) replied, “you can’t, it’s your Christmas single!” Oh yes, a Gaz Brookfield Christmas single, a re-recorded “Diet Of Banality”, going up against the annual chart invasion of the “X Factor” wannabees with this wonderfully pointed diatribe against manufactured music. A “win-win” situation for Gaz, this; as he puts it, if it’s a total flop, it kind of proves his point, right? This, however, was the set highlight tonight; a galloping, tub-thumping rendition recalling The Wonderstuff’s “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”, and featuring a highly appropriate middle eight steal from Ronan Keating’s “When You Say Nothing At All” (“this bit isn’t on the record… come on, they’d sue my ass off!”). A rousing, singalong “Under The Table” finished off a full hour set, by which time Gaz, as usual, totally owned the place. Great stuff.

I’d been joined on the sofa during the set by Liam and Stef, so we had a brief chat afterwards, then I congratulated Gaz and headed off home through the murk. Not too long until the next gig from this inevitable future superstar, I hope!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

858 THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM, Blood Red Shoes, Dave Hause, Birmingham O2 Academy, Saturday 20 October 2012

Another trip up to the now easy-to-find relocated Birmingham Academy, this time to see New Jersey guitar heroes The Gaslight Anthem, who have delivered yet another superb album this year in “Handwritten”. No great departure for them, this; as ever, it falls midway between the bleeding-raw emotional yet shiny post-Millennial punk rock of Jimmy Eat World, and the blue collar working man’s anthemic rock of Bruce Springsteen. However, powered by their most obvious single yet, the titanic “45”, this album is a real top-down rocker with some corking tuneage, so hearing these songs “live” should be a hot, sweaty and all-inclusive full-on “rock” experience in the large but swiftly-sold out Academy.

So I drove up under brilliant red skies, then picked through Birmingham traffic to park up at 7.20 in the Mailbox car park just up the road. Hit the already rammed full venue midway through first support Dave Hause, evidently a Noo Joisey buddy of The Gaslights, who had his own backdrop (!) and a Dashboard Confessional style angst-ridden and impassioned delivery, whether on acoustic or electric guitar. I liked his comment about the previous night’s gig (“We were in Scotland last night and I totally called it England!”) as well as his penultimate number “100K”, an in-your-face Billy Bragg “Spy Vs. Spy”-era clone song, with a Hold Steady “Constructive Summer” lyrical steal, which was the best of a fine warm-up set which got the crowd fired up and clapping. Good for you Dave!

Main support Blood Red Shoes followed in short order, a 2-piece featuring a willowy raven-haired female guitarist and a hard-hitting and wildly flailing (like Animal from the Muppets!) drummer bloke who alternated on call and response vocals, and who made a powerful noise for a 2-piece. Fourth number “This Is Not For You” featured a Nada Surf “Stalemate” strumalong opening riff, which descended into thrilling and visceral noise, typical of their set. In parts Emo/ Placebo-esque, also featuring some Pixies/Muses jagged noise and Banshees atonal vocals, this was a dramatic, edgy, noisy and cacophonous set. Set closer “I Wish I Was Someone” was a fitting and representative thrill-ride finale. Great stuff!

I kept my spot, stage left on the outskirts of the dancefloor, already cramped and sweaty, as the roadies – who with black t-shirts, tattoo sleeves and flat caps seemed interchangeable with the band! – set up. The Gaslight Anthem strode on shortly after the lights went black at the appointed hour of 9.15, easing into a low-key yet moody and atmospheric opener “Mae” which built to a crescendo, the climax of which saw their backdrop unfurl, in a pure touch of drama, as they shifted gear seamlessly upwards into “The 59 Sound”, and the place exploded. Gaslight vocalist Brian Fallon, a Jimmy Darmody lookalike if he’d found guitars instead of guns, then led the band through a raw-boned and ragged (the occasional bum note actually adding to the vibe), yet very well-paced “light and shade” set, with sozzled bar-room singalongs interspersed with the balls-out rockers. A debate about out of key songs (“Street Fighting Man” apparently being Fallon’s favourite), culminated in him shouting, “gimme a bass, I don't know how to play that [either]!” for “Cowgirls”, before the rip-roaring anthemic “45”, casually thrown in early doors, raised the roof with its’ soaring chorus.

Fallon painted pictures with his lyrics throughout, of vignettes of Jersey life, bleak, industrial and mundane yet with an underlying “common people” hope and dignity, and this knowledgeable crowd lapped it up, singing most words to most numbers. He also proved a nice guy, handing water out to the sweaty mosh crush, although “American Slang”, for me the soaring set highlight, saw him challenging us; “best crowd in England? We’ll see!” He introduced a ferocious “Sliver”, the old Nirvana number, with, “This was big for us,” then a Costello-like “Queen Of Lower Chelsea” shifted gears again and diffused the frenzied mood.

“How many times do I say “radio” in this set? I think I’m going to exchange it for “nonplussed” instead”, Fallon announced before set closer “Great Expectations” which was a jagged punk thrill, bookending a startlingly swift 1 hour 30 set. Then a U2-like moment as the crowd spontaneously sang the hook to “Here Comes Your Man” before the band returned for the encore, and, wide-eyed with wonder, gave the crowd their wish, deferring to the still-raucously singing crowd for the hook. “Backseat” ended a breathless and breathtaking set of pure elemental rock’n’roll from a band destined for bigger stages before too long. Hit the road for a tired journey home after grabbing a set-list and getting tour guitarist Ian Perkins to scribble his “John Hancock” on it. However, no doubt about it - The Gaslight Anthem delivered tonight, big time!

Friday, 19 October 2012

857 THE SHUDDERS, The Cadbury Sisters, Swindon The Running Horse, Wednesday 17 October 2012

Nine becomes ten as I squeeze another gig into an already crowded Autumn schedule; a chance visit to Tim over the weekend (to give Tracey a story Logan wrote for and about her!) revealed his band The Shudders were due to emerge from their recent hiatus and return to gigging action for this show, one of a series of Acoustic Wednesdays currently being run by Swindon pub The Running Horse. Given their output to date is more to Rachel’s taste than mine, I expected her to go; however, she preferred a night in, so off I went instead!

So I drove along for 9 pm, wandering in and greeting Tim at the bar just as support The Cadbury Sisters (t’uh, what is it with girls and chocolate anyway?) were approaching the end of their set. A young all-girl trio, led by a tousled lead vocalist with an Irish lilt, they displayed some nice smooth intertwining harmonies, but for me were a little twee and thin in their hushed, Sundays-like material (hmm, there I go again, snap judgements after just hearing 2 numbers!). Still, seen far worse…

Tim then gathered the troops to set up, as we interested souls and assorted hangers-on sat gathered around, giving the bar performance space a living room ambiance. The Shudders eased into their set at 9.30 sharp with folky oldie “No Man’s Land”, Tim, Liam and vocalist Danny all perched atop unfeasibly tall barstools bashing away at acoustic guitars, and new drummer Jim seated and tapping away on a percussive box, similar to the one I accompanied Phil Hurley on, on our version of “Larry”, on our LA honeymoon! Tonight’s set ranged from a plaintive “Sunflower Blues”, which nevertheless saw Danny busting out a strident harmonica solo, the quiet Americana of new number “Sunrise”, via a jolly “Words Of A Fool” through to an almost Posies-like newie, “Sorry”, which featured a big chorus I’d now like to hear fully amped up, please!

15 months inactivity, a slew of new songs, and a brand new band member led, inevitably, to some bum notes as evidence of the lack of onstage practice (Danny also throwing his harmonica away in mock frustration after a trying solo during newie “Harvest Moon”!), but that was to be expected and easily forgiven. The positives were that the new numbers sounded very promising indeed (the aforementioned “Sorry” and a melodic “New Design”, which also featured some nice West Coast harmonies and cool guitar interplay), a mature progression for this fine band, and Jim seems already in sync with his bandmates and the material.

The final, hushed sea epic of “Mary’s Grace” closed things out, Danny’s understated vocals a feature. Chatted awhile with the boys afterwards, before heading off after a fine and entertaining evening.

Monday, 15 October 2012

856 JULIAN COPE, Anton Barbeau, Oxford O2 Academy 2, Saturday 13 October 2012

The gig lull of late Summer and early Autumn now over, this one signals a heady rush of 9 gigs which I currently have scheduled between now and November! Yay! And it’s a welcome return for Julian Cope, the New-Millennial Renaissance man and acid-fried prize fruitcake of rock’n’roll, an undisputed genius who epitomises the cruel truth of those blessed with such visionary gifts, that they also never seem to stray far from the welcoming embrace of madness. Last spotted on “The Dirty Boat”, 2 summers ago, this chance to see the Arch-Drude poke his head out from behind the curtain, as usual, proved too tempting for me.

Rach however decided to save her babysitting tokens for other things, but old Level 3 buddy Jason, plus his mate “Skiddy”, accompanied me for a swift and entertaining drive over, putting the world of rock’n’roll to rights on the way. We hit the venue just as support Anton Barbeau was rounding off his last, dirge-like number, including a Ziggy Stardust reference which should have had the Thin White Duke reaching for his lawyer’s phone number…

The crowd, disrespectfully thin early doors, thankfully filled up for the entrance of the Cope, again introduced by his San Fransisco biker-clad roadie as, “from Wessex, England, Julian H Cope!” Adorned by black military leather but bereft of the trademark straggly hair of recent times, he was off and away (with the fairies?) from the outset, a commanding and riveting stage presence throughout. Initially bolshy and militant, declaring a protest theme for the evening (protest songs of some sort or other proliferated the early set selection), he mellowed into his usual captivating, entertaining and downright hilarious self in short order, again cherry-picking numbers from the totality of his extensive canon. A touching “Soul Desert” was preceded by Cope complaining his 2 daughters had banned him from talking about Chairman Mao at the breakfast table! A Scottish nationalist debate, precipitated by a punter down the front then punctuated by a “fuck Scotland!” shout from a suspiciously Scottish sounding voice at the back, preceded Cope adjourning to the mellotron and calling for a “garish amount of light”, for the old Teardrop Explodes classic “The Great Dominions”, 30 years young and still a comely, coquettish lass of a song. Then he was back on his road-weary acoustic guitar for an angry, absorbing and frankly majestic “Autogeddon Blues”, before a bare, touching “I’m Your Daddy” (“the quietest protest song I’ve ever written”) tugged the heartstrings.

A reintroduced and lasciviously rendered “Conspiracist Blues” got a chuckle, before “Psychedelic Revolution”, the title track of his new album, which was a surprisingly sumptuous and melodic treat, recalling the “World Shut Your Mouth” era “ba ba ba” Cope. A selection from “Droolian” and “Skellington” (“Island didn’t want me to put [these albums] out, but I did in any case!”) then followed, a playful “Jellypop Perky Jean” a highlight.

"Let's see how we’re doing for time, as I’ve only got 70 songs left to play!”, Cope declared as he hit the closing stages of the gig (“you’re a lot sadder about it than I am,” he then quipped). However, he saved the best for last with a superb finale quartet; a lovely mellotron powered “Head Hang Low” (“from my wilderness years,” quoth Cope), “Robert Mitchum” (Cope deciding to omit the whistling solo in protest against Axl Rose, and making quacking noises in the middle eight instead!), a buoyant, rambunctious “Sunspots”, featuring the sing-along Doppler Effect chorus, then the headlong rollercoaster road trip that is “Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed” to finish off.

What a strange and wild ride, what a startlingly swift 1 ¾ hour set. Great stuff as ever from a thoroughly captivating performer, complete one-off, and total entertaining nutcase. Julian Cope, we salute you!