Sunday, 22 December 2013

900 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Plus 4 Supports, Bristol Fleece, Friday 20 December 2013

Another milestone reached, and another gig year comes to a close, and to mark both occasions, I really couldn’t have picked a better host than prolific, hard-working punk/folk troubadour and recent “live” favourite of mine, Gaz Brookfield, for a new CD release party in his adopted hometown Bristol! Truth to tell, it was only the fact that the excellent Savages November Trinity show (gig 894) clashed with Gaz’ most recent show in the ‘don, which prompted me to get a ticket for this one. However, as this ultimately became a sell-out, plus with the announcement that Gaz was performing with a full band, I was anticipating a partisan “hometown” crowd hopefully feeding off Gaz’ passion, creating a superb, all inclusive atmosphere. So, despite a cold wafting around my head and reports of particularly stormy driving conditions, off I went!

The trip down wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared, however, despite some gusts, and I managed to park up in the first spot around the corner from the venue as well! So I popped in just after ¼ to 8, to see the last knockings of young motormouth opener Clayton Blizzard. One of Gaz’ recent tour companions (as were all of Gaz’ supports tonight; typical of the man that he should want to share his biggest audience with his fellow solo singer-songwriter contemporaries), Blizzard had a Chicago Cubs cap and a Benjamin Zephaniah-like rhythmic delivery, railing and raging against, well, pretty much everything really, but with a wit and humour which held the attention. And some rapier-like lines as well – “if the cod stocks are low, let them eat hake!” being my favourite.

Had a breather outside, bumping into old friend Steve Aldridge and chatting, thus missing most of Ellen Cox’s set, next up. What I heard I liked, though, in a more angsty vein, especially a fine final number “Sink Britain Sink”. Next up, in short order in front of the rapidly filling Fleece crowd, was curly mop-haired singer Joe McCorriston; from Morecambe, he had a Brookfield/ Turner-esque strident punk-folk delivery, with bags of enthusiasm which made up for some haphazard rough edges. After a cover of “Basket Case”, he took a photo of the audience – his biggest ever – for his mum! The place was uncomfortably full by now so I took another breather outside, hanging out with “Olly” and again missing most of Sean McGowan’s set. More provocative and Dashboard Confessional-like than the other supports, he ended his crowd-pleasing set with an acapella political rant. Provocative indeed!

So, 4 fine supports, but we were here for Gaz! I negotiated my way down to the front, stage left, for his entrance, again in short order at 10 to 10 after a short final set-up check. Already feeding off a rapturous reception, he led the band into galloping opener “Limelight”, the irony of this tale of support act hell not lost on the manically grinning Gaz. Newie “Land Pirate’s Life”, the lead-off track from new CD “In The Company Of Thieves”, the release of which we were here to celebrate, followed breathlessly behind, the excellent Ben Wain’s superb violin work adding an extra dimension to this tale of life on the road.

An intended early “SN1” was abandoned as Gaz had some guitar tuning problems, needing to borrow Ellen Cox’s for the remainder of the set. However, this didn’t put him off his stride, as he delivered a magnificent performance of energy, passion and commitment, his superbly observed tales of life’s pitfalls and highlights being enhanced by his fine band. Another newie, “Black Dog Day”, was brilliant, a dark and venomous number about facing one’s demons, then a raucously sung-along “Be The Bigger Man” was a mid-set highlight. In fact, most of tonight’s numbers were sung back raucously by this enthusiastic and tuned-in crowd, delivering the all-inclusive vibe I’d hoped for, and eliciting looks of pride and incredulity from Gaz throughout, a big stupid grin never far from his face.

“I can’t explain what’s happened tonight… so I won’t try,” Gaz announced before set closer “The West Country Song” shook the rafters of this venerable old venue with a mass singalong. Before the encores, Gaz remarked, “in a sense, this is my work Christmas do, so it’s only a matter of time before I photocopy my arse…” to introduce a savage, pointed “Diet Of Banality”, then a final subsequent “Thin” really raised the roof and provided the perfect punctuation to this utterly triumphant evening.

Hung out for brief congrats from an elated and predictably besieged Gaz, getting some stuff signed after a sweaty bearhug, before hitting the road for a stormy but safe journey home. If Gaz couldn’t explain what happened tonight, let me try; tonight, a marvellously talented but thus-far overlooked performer might, just might, have started to get the recognition due to him. And no-one deserves it more.

Monday, 16 December 2013

899 THE 12 BANDS OF CHRISTMAS! Swindon The Victoria, Friday 13 December 2013

A regular event on the local music calendar, apparently, this one, although it’s my first time of attending... Basically, the format is simple; 12 local bands each get 2 songs, both cover versions, either to evoke the Christmas spirit, try out something new, or play a favourite or even unfamiliar number in their own style. All well and good, but what attracted me up to it was Tim's band The Shudders being present on tonight’s bill and promising a couple of intriguing covers…

So I was up for that, heading off up The Vic after Rich got back from swimming, and hitting the venue at 9, thereby unfortunately missing Shudders vocalist Danny’s girlfriend Ellen’s band The Rumour Shed, on first at 8.30 tonight. I’d been meaning to catch them “live” for a while - maybe in 2014? Bumped into Tim and Trace in the bar for a chat, thereby missing young band THE DEBUTS, on in the already very busy back room. I could make out their second number - a rambunctious “Three Lions”, but missed their opener, which was apparently a good reading of The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again”! D’oh! I eventually wandered in at the end of DEAD ROYALTIES’ noisy finale, but was in place for THE BLOWBACKS, on at 10. Featuring Tim’s former 101 colleague Matt on drums, they turned their opener, Taylor Swift’s girl pop agenda-setter and one of Kasey’s favourite songs “We Are Never Never Never Getting Back Together” into a drawn-out alt.slacker laze-fest a la Promise Ring, then followed with an immense, stomping version of “Addicted To Love” which was more akin to Ciccone Youth than Robert Palmer. Impressive.

THE SHUDDERS were next up; by now I’d bumped into Stuart Gould, Ben Warr and entourage, and was happy to fill Ben in on what was next up, although Stuart didn’t want to know! Sure enough, Tim and crew opened with a beefy, grunge-tastic version of Smashing Pumpkins’ finest hour, “Cherub Rock”, apparently a rehearsal favourite of theirs and featuring some uncharacteristic strident vocals from Danny, which they totally nailed. Tremendous stuff. Follow-up, Phil Oakey And Georgio Moroder's 80’s synth-pop anthem “Together In Electric Dreams” was less rehearsed, a little haphazard and understated, yet ironically more akin to The Shudders’ own more thoughtful, introverted material. I suggested to Tim afterwards that they should crank up the noise more often, given how well they delivered “Cherub Rock”; he promised their new material is more upfront. I’ll hold you to that, Tim!

Next up were BRITISH HARLEM, another young band who evidently had been rifling through their grandparents’ record collections, let alone their parents’ stuff, as they delivered crowd-pleasing, modish, push’n’shove versions of “Suspicious Minds” and “Can't Take My Eyes Off You” which went down very well, the young vocalist igniting the crowd with a performance full of nervous tension and energy. However I was much more impressed with the subsequent NUDY BRONQUE; a young trio featuring a vocalist who reminded both Stuart and myself (at the same time!) of a young Brett Anderson, their covers of Cornershop’s “Brimful Of Asha” and an excellent reading of Gomez’ “Whipping Piccadilly” (for me the best thing on the menu tonight) were thrilling, glammy, riff-tastic noisefests, and made me want to check out their original material. Which I suppose is the whole point of this, really!

Took a wander to the back end of the venue as I wasn’t really impressed with SUPER SQUARECLOUD and their sparse, saucepan-bashing r’n’b numbers; then closers THE COSTELLOS took an absolute age to tune up (which was totally not the point: with the backline set up beforehand, bands literally were supposed to just bring their guitars, plug in and play...) then started up some unimpressive reggae ska stuff, which made me realise it was 1/4 to 12 and waaaay past this old chap’s bedtime. So off I went, giving Tim and Trace, plus fellow Shudder Liam, a lift home first. A very fine night, showcasing some impressive local bands, and hopefully not the last time I check out this annual local event. As for Band Of The Day; sorry Tim, but much as I loved “Cherub Rock”, I'm going to give that to Nudy Bronque!

Monday, 9 December 2013

898 WHITE LIES, Frankie Rose, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 8 December 2013

Down to Brizzle on an appropriately evocative dark and clear Sunday night, to see young London band White Lies, the young London trio whose debut “To Lose My Life” had really captured my imagination with some strident, dark and gothy post-punk rock which landed squarely in my Bunnymen-sound wheelhouse, but whom since then had released a couple of follow-ups including this year’s “Big TV”, becoming shinier, synthier and more commercial sounding with each release whilst still retaining an 80’s feel and throwing in the odd devastating tune in the process. Moving away from a Joy Division sound to a darker (dare I say it) Tears For Fears, perhaps? Still, they were good value “live” last time out, albeit a little hesitatingly, so let’s go!

I managed to persuade Rach to join me this time, having gotten into trouble for booking a ticket on my own last time out, only this time to discover she, like myself, wasn’t as keen on their newer material... Still, off we went, parking up in an oddly deserted Trenchard Street car park and hitting the relatively quiet venue at 7.30 (no sell-out, this, unlike last time out), waiting half an hour for support, NYC’s Frankie Rose, on at 8. Backed up by a 4-piece band including a female guitarist who looked like her daughter (!), Frankie played some edgy, fast-paced and occasionally jangly pop, with smooth female harmonies recalling Fuzzy or early Lush, and a taut beat evoking early Cure (exemplified by Frankies Robert Smith t-shirt). A few good tracks there, although one of the less good numbers sounded uncomfortably like an 80’s John Hughes film soundtrack number! Unoriginal, but a diverting start.

So with half an hour between sets, the roadies decided to choke us with quite the largest outpouring of dry ice I’d been subjected to for ages, excessive even by Bunnymen standards! We took a good viewing spot on the lip of the floor, stage left, but were concerned we might not see anything through the fog! Finally White Lies took the stage promptly at 9, kicking into sombre gloom-fest opener “To Lose My Life”, and the place, which had filled up rapidly between sets, went utterly nuts. “There Goes Our Love”, the excellent galloping best number from their current CD, followed in short order, a huge and brilliant lighting rig throwing a blood red pall across the stage, contrasting with the green backlit laser show. Stunning, yet complementary to the sound. The Bunnyesque open space of “A Place To Hide” followed, young bearded vocalist Harry McVeigh’s pleading vocals propelling the immense chorus around the venue, the startlingly engaged and devoted crowd echoing back every word. This was seriously good, atmospheric stuff for openers!

Inevitably, things sagged a little  for me mid-set, although the Ultravox-lite “Street Lights” and a potent, seething  “EST” were mid-set highlights. Harry then introduced a, “special song, the first song we wrote as White Lies and the reason we’re here today,” the melancholy, brooding “Unfinished Business”, which built to a soaring, yearning chorus line. I could have done without the cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”, Prince never one of my favourite artistes, but the set then finished strongly with a lovely, melodic “First Time Caller”, then a perfectly judged rendition of their best number, “Death”. I was concerned last time out that this one was carried by the audience – not so tonight, as the hook line “this fear’s got a hold of me” was deliberately slowed for added mood and menace, before being released like a cork from a bottle, sending the whole floor into a dervish frenzy.

The Visage-like synth refrain of “Big TV” kicked off the encore, with Harry praising this unusually enthusiastic Bristol crowd (“so good so see a crowd move as much as you!”) before closer “Bigger Than Us”, the robotic beat plunging into the immense, soaring and roaring chorus. This was a perfect end to a set which, despite some mid-set quality drops, was easily the best I’ve seen this nicely maturing young band play. The rose above their occasionally patchy material tonight and delivered a splendid evening of dark, anthemic rock. Well done boys!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

897 THE NATIONAL, This Is the Kit, London Alexandra Palace, Thursday 14 November 2013

The final gig of 4 in 8 days is the biggest one; The National, the band who've become de facto leaders and elder statesmen of the US alternative rock scene following REM's retirement, playing a huge double-header at Ally Pally! After pausing awhile to see if they'd announce nearer/ smaller dates (they didn't) I finally acquiesced and booked a ticket for this one, the 2nd of their 2 dates, for my first London gig in almost exactly a year! It's a long ways to go these days...

I rearranged my work day as well, setting off at 4 then hitting bad traffic in Ealing, and complete fucking idiots around Crouch End, nevertheless parking up in the leafy and well-attended venue car park at the bottom of the hill at my expected 7pm arrival time. I'd really forgotten how huge this place was until I entered the ornate and opulent entrance hall; the large walk-through to the main hall, bar-lined and smelling of burgers, is bigger than most venues I normally go to - hell, the toilets are bigger than most venues I normally go to! The merch stand was as big as a festival one, with spicy prices to match (£25 per t-shirt? Ouch!), and a drummer played in the middle of the walk-through hall. Popped into the vast auditorium to catch support This Is The kit. They featured a female vocalist with similar vocal inflections to Madder Rose's Mary Lorson, but nowhere near as good material, pitching up somewhere between windswept alt-folk and low key late night bar-room music. When good - which wasn't often - they recalled a poor man's Cowboy Junkies.

Had a Mike Mills moment as National guitarist Aaron Dessner wandered to the stage-side from backstage, so I popped over and got my ticket signed. Aaron remarked the previous night’s show was, “nice, sounded good,” despite the cavernous venue. This was later borne out during the show; I kept my place stage-left as the blue static projected onto the backdrop coalesced into the band name, the lights dimmed and a Kurt Vile track heralded the band’s entrance at 8.45, easing into the sonorous monotone rhythm of “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, the sound already great, pindrop perfect.

Great though it sounded, it was a little incongruous to see a band as sombre and introspective as The National in such a vast arena, cheered on by a 7,500 strong audience. Vocalist Matt Berninger seemed a little awed initially, wandering listlessly around the stage looking slightly befuddled and increasingly paranoid, like Walter White from “Breaking Bad”, whilst delivering his often incomprehensible and slightly daft lyrics in his low, melancholy baritone. It took a superb “Bloodbuzz Ohio” to kick things off for me, the Joy Division “Disorder”-esque pounding drumbeat leading to a noisefest crescendo. Thereafter the band settled, always fine, dark and moody and occasionally grasping at the hem of greatness. “Sea Of Love” saw Matt cut loose for the first time with some primal screaming; a moving “I Need My Girl” was introduced by the taciturn frontman with, “it’s my wife’s birthday; she’s somewhere in America so this is for her – someone tell her I said that, she’s pissed [at me]!” and an almost punk rock “Abel” was startlingly rocking with another screamed hook. The subsequent double of “Slow Show” and “Sorrow” for me stole the show; the former haunting and eerie, with Aaron’s piano riff complimenting the heart-breaking refrain, “I dreamed about you for 29 years before I saw you” perfectly, the latter a superbly Scott Walker-esque deep, wallowing ballad.

At times the strident riffery, no doubt intended to flesh out the songs in this cavernous space, seemed gauche and unnecessary (viz. a noisy “Humiliation”), other times it worked, with a superb, galloping “Graceless” ending with Matt in the photographer’s pit. However he capped that during thrillingly noisy encores “Mr November” and “Terrible Love”, surfing the front rows and delivering his by now hoarse, ragged vocals with vim and venom from within the mosh (yup, a National mosh!). A final “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was dedicated with, “thanks to the guys who protected my testicles [in the mosh] the last 15 minutes!”, bringing a low-key end to an uneven but oft-times stunning 2 hour set.

So overall well worthwhile, as The National always are, and thanks to I set off during the final number, getting some good advice from the car park attendants for a clear run out onto the North Circular, home for 12.30. Great to see The National so popular now, they’re a quality band and certainly deserve it, but I’d much rather have seen this set in a smaller venue…

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

896 EDITORS, British Sea Power, Bristol O2 Academy, Monday 11 November 2013

To think I nearly didn’t bother with this one… Editors, one of my favourite UK bands of recent times, a consistently excellent act with an impressive body of work firmly rooted sonically in the 80’s dark, pseudo gothic (rather than Goth), brooding rockist style of my youth, but unafraid to push the envelope a bit on said sound, playing in Bristol! However, having a busy time of it in mid-November, gigwise (Frightened Rabbit in Southampton the day before, The National in London this Thursday) plus having seen an inconsistent but fine overall set from them at Reading Festival in support of their slightly more muted new album, “The Weight Of Your Love”, I was prepared to give this one a miss. That is, until they added similarly enduring live faves British Sea Power as support! Two great 80’s-influenced indie rock bands for the price of one? Oh, go on then…

Determined therefore not to miss a minute of this, I hit the road early and parked up at quarter past seven, hitting the rapidly filling and eerily purple UV-bathed venue and heading straight for the front. The usual plethora of foliage and branches covering the onstage frontline set-up greeted me, with interspersed twinkling lights giving a festive feel. British Sea Power took the stage to an eerie instrumental (no Gregorian chanting this time!), powering into the breathless tumbling drumbeat and intricate guitar line of opener “Remember Me”, building increment by increment to the descending choral hook. “Waving Flags” was up next, the female violinist’s soaring harmony lines adding to the anthemic feel, and Yan now a more confident if still idiosyncratic vocalist. They were great, with riffery and dramatic driving drumbeats evoking windswept open beaches and thunder-cracked skies. Oh, and then there was the bear…! Before the sweeping groove of “Spirit Of St. Louis” a bloke in a giant polar bear suit appeared in front of us in the photographer’s pit! Said bear then proceeded to wander into the crowd to dance, while the band, nonplussed, played on, Yan interjecting bits of “Louie Louie” and “The Clapping Song” into this elongated version. Closing track, “Carrion” was another lengthy epic, sealing a splendid set which swooped and soared like a swallow’s flight path, changing rhythm and mood effortlessly in mid-air. Forget the old Bunny comparison, they’ve moved beyond that; nowadays they just sound like British Sea Power.

A great start; hopefully the main act could maintain this quality! I kept my front, stage left spot, as Editors entered at 9 onto a dry-ice choked stage backlit by small icy blue circular lights, to a symphonic version of “The Weight” from their new album, all drama and gravitas. The libidinous bassline of haunting newie “Sugar” opened matters, with vocalist Tom Smith, already all angles, dark dramatic silhouettes and kinetic energy, grabbing the mic and singing, nay, proclaiming, in his imperious dark baritone. “Thanks for choosing to spend your Monday evening with us,” he politely announced before the unexpectedly early but brilliantly soaring wall of noise “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors”.

Editors tonight were a band in a hurry, ripping through the set with pace and power. Editors tonight were also bloody magnificent, the new 5-piece line-up working perfectly and giving both the new numbers, often a little thin-sounding on the new record, and the more established material extra layers and dimensions. The lights burned red for “Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool”, with even this slightly throwaway number gaining extra impetus with their performance tonight. “Would you mind if we played a song from our first album?” Smith enquired to introduce a stomping “All Sparks”, before the massively shuddering Middle-Eastern “Cutter”-like intro heralded a soaring, magnificent “A Ton Of Love”, a brilliant set highlight with a strident, powerful chorus.

“Bullets” was brilliant, darkly dramatic, and the stately and hypnotic Gothic synth pulse of “In This Light And On This Evening” built to a visceral and thrilling crescendo of cascading noise. The boys were on fire tonight, and they knew it; “Are you still with us? We’ve only just got started!” Smith announced before the staccato riff of “Munich”, the energetic Smith climbing atop his piano to deliver an impassioned vocal. The lower-key but still yearning closer “Honesty” rounded off a startlingly magnificent set, before the band returned to deliver a smoothly chugging, synth-driven “Bricks And Mortar”.  The intense robotic dance of “Papillon”, which again, as per at Reading Festival, led to a lengthy and riveting crescendo, finished off a quite brilliant 1 ½ hour performance, easily the best I’ve seen this band deliver.

Every one a winner tonight! I needed the day off after to recover and recharge before the National jaunt, but this one was well worth it. Boy, was it ever… Savages might be the most promising new English band to come along in many a moon, but to deserve the epithet of “The Best English Band”, well, they’ll need to prise that title from Editors’ vice-like grip. And on tonight’s splendid evidence, that’ll take some doing…