Sunday, 30 March 2014

909 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, The Godfathers, Bristol O2 Academy, Saturday 29 March 2014

A slight variation this year on my annual “Mad March To Bristol” with The Big Man, the regular pilgrimage to see original punk rock legends Stiff Little Fingers; instead of the pair of us stomping Lauda-esque down the M4 together, this year I spent the day oop North visiting Evan and taking him to see the excellent “Captain America; The Winter Soldier” film! Thus I stomped down the M5 on my own after dropping Evan off, leaving Rich and Ady, joining us this year for some drinkies and noise, to catch the train!
Hit the venue at 8.30 after a swift run down the M5, a little concerned that Saturday gigs at the O2 sometimes run early. I needn’t have worried, however; after parking up suspiciously easily, I actually walked in just after support The Godfathers had kicked off their set! Met up with the boys and endured the support from the confines of the bar; despite being lauded by a few people whose musical opinions I respect, I never liked this lot first time around, finding them dour, po-faced and snarlingly aggressive sludgy post-punk rock, and time has done nothing to alter my view, I’m afraid. A surly “I Want Everything” was the only number which rose above the morass for me, and I lamented the absence of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, who complemented SLF so perfectly as support last year.
Took a wander down onto the floor, stage left as usual, before the band were due on, noticing the balcony was shut tonight. Pitched up therefore in a less populous but still enthusiastic crowd, behind a group of young (comparatively speaking, in this crowd of old punk rockers) and surprisingly well-dressed girls who, equally surprisingly, subsequently knew all the words to the SLF numbers! Anyway, I’m leaping ahead… SLF took the stage after a rabble-rousing intro from the finest introduction music in rock, their “Go For It” theme, and, as if sensing the buoyant mood tonight, fairly ripped into a savage opening triple salvo of “Straw Dogs”, “Wasted Life” and “Just Fade Away”. Go for it, indeed!
“Saturday night in Bristol!” vocalist Jake Burns announced to cheers, before a lengthy introduction for new number “My Dark Places”, which documented his recent battle with depression. This set the tone for the set’s mid-section; a smattering of new numbers culled from current Kickstarter-funded album “No Going Back” were interspersed with the familiar, first-time round, political yet accessible, sing-/ sway-along and hooky punk rock. Another newie, “When We Were Young”, concerning an 80’s drunken conversation between Burns and Phil Lynott, was followed by the resonant terrace roar of “Listen To Your Heart”, and a later “Barbed Wire Love” was introduced by Burns as, “now for “The Voice” auditions!”, referring to rakish bassist Ali McMordie’s “doo-wop” mid-song backing vocals. Burn’s subsequent comment of, “Pavarotti’s spinning in his grave!” underlined his mood tonight; the political sloganeering was toned down slightly, and the old boy actually seemed to be having fun up there tonight!
A sincere “Strummerville”, introduced by Burns with a tale of how The Clash changed his life, pre-empted a set conclusion as savage and dramatic as the opening salvo; “Fly the Flag”, an excellent “Tin Soldiers”, and a roaring, venomous “Suspect Device”, preceded by Burns introducing, “the gentlemen in the orchestra.” They weren’t finished, however, as after the libidinous groove of first encore “Johnny Was”, the boys returned a second time, Burns fulsomely  praising the Bristol crowd, always a favourite of the band, “ever since we supported The Tom Robinson Band at the Colston Hall in 1978!” “At The Edge” was then segued in nicely by Burns moving the closing riff up the fret to the opening note of the inevitable “Alternative Ulster”, to close another vintage evening of good company and great rock.
So, the 9th time in 10 years and my 14th overall for Stiff Little Fingers, a band who are still burning fiercely and for me are as relevant as ever. We’ll be back for more, no doubt next March!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

908 HOWLER, Broken Hands, Cursor Major, Bristol Louisiana, Monday 24 March 2014

Two gigs in 3 nights, both checking out young bands with a lot of raw edges but a lot of promise. This time, it’s down to the Louisiana for Minnesota’s Howler; after my initial sighting (gig 838, over 2 years ago now!), I‘d remarked that they were “a potentially great band for 2012 and beyond, I’m glad I got to see them in a small venue”. For some reason the Vaccines-like career trajectory I’d anticipated hasn’t quite yet happened for them, despite continuing favourable press, so I’ve got another chance to see them in a small venue, promoting a new album which, rather annoyingly, came out today but my copy hasn’t arrived yet. Bah!

Still, me and old boys Beef and driver Dean set off to Brizzle in the drizzle, parking outside the venue at 8 and taking the stairs to this small room (which I swear gets tinier every time I go there!) to check out openers Cursor Major. Led by an impressively curly-haired vocalist (who in backlit silhouette could have been mistaken for Phil Lynott!) who insisted on setting up on the floor (making the venue even tinier!), they had some decent chunky pop tunes and shimmering guitar, albeit overly loud and a little unrehearsed, which reminded me on my only time of seeing The Killers, as support at Reading Fez a few years back! They put some effort into their performance, though, and toes were duly tapped. Promising, but better was to come after a break and chat downstairs, thanks to main support Broken Hands. A young black-clad 4-piece, they played an intriguing swirling psychedelia/ Krautrock melange, with languid workouts juxtaposed with some proto blues rock riffery. The vocalist (who could certainly carry a tune very well), dug out a glowing orb for a “concept” double-header of numbers about a meteor landing in Russia when he was visiting (!), the second of which, “Meteor”, was a metronomic and dramatic Krautrock groove and their best number. Music to get drugged and blissed out to, not that I do that anyway, but still very enjoyable and a band to watch.

Chatted with Broken Hands’ vocalist while Howler set up and the place emptied (!) then filled up again at their onstage time of 10.00. A slightly revised line-up, featuring a new drummer, their relaxed confidence was evident from the outset; after the guitarist remarked; “give us 5 minutes, no just joking, we’re ready now,” they burst into set opener, their best track “Back Of My Hand”. Already ensconced down the front, I gave it loads from the outset to this euphoric ramshackle garage rock delight, all the while recognising I’d probably pay for my efforts tomorrow morning…! Mainman Jordan Gatesmith, tall and angular with a green shirt featuring an antler design (!), was a howling focal point throughout this set of raw, raucous, semi-formed yet thrilling melodic US new wave. “Drip” was an old-school thrash punk speed-through with a trademark soaring, euphoric chorus, and a couple of new, frustratingly unfamiliar numbers from the new album, followed, the eerie mutant surf punk riff of “Yacht Boys” galloping into a rampant, 100 mph chorus. This was however capped by the subsequent “In The Red”, the descending bassline (I like those!) tumbling into a manic chorus, the best new song on show tonight. Great stuff.

The drummer insisted on getting the crowd to call back the phrase, “In a wee slooper” (!) midway through the set, then after a doo-wop-tastic newie “Here’s That Itch Baby Girl”, Jordan and the boys abandoned the set-list for a request from my fellow front-row dancer, the plangent shimmer of “Beach Sluts”. A swift 40 minutes set was rounded off with an unplanned encore which recalled the home-made surf punk C86-isms of early Soup Dragons, as raucous and chaotic yet controlled and fun as the set before it.

Breathless stuff. A brief entertaining chat with Jordan afterwards capped the evening well, after a set full of verve, life, colour and enthusiasm. Raw, ramshackle, elemental, garagey; bands like Howler are the lifeblood and essence of rock’n’roll, distilled to its most basic, fun, tuneful components. More power to them! And next time, it WILL be in a bigger venue!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

907 NUDY BRONQUE, The Intercepteurs, The Get-Outs, Faye Rogers, Swindon Greatfield Riffs Bar, Saturday 22 March 2014

A promise kept, this one, to check out a very promising young Swindon Band in Nudy Bronque. I’d seen this lot deliver the highlight of the night in their perfect reading of Gomez’ “Whipping Piccadilly” at the “12 Bands Of Christmas” up the Vic in December, and promised myself I’d check out their own material the first chance I got. So this was it, a local stop on a short jaunt around the South West to promote their current “Moondog” EP, incredibly though only the second time I’ve ever been to Riffs!

Nevertheless, I drove out after an evening at my ‘rents stuffing myself with Chinese food, hitting the venue at 8.30 and thus wandering in midway through opener Faye Rogers’ set. The daughter of old friend Stella, she weaved some pastoral, wistful and eminently listenable tuneage over the general hubbub, delivering them with a pure, innocent sounding voice which recalled Harriet from The Sundays, or Tanya from Belly. Good stuff for starters, although I confess I only half paid attention as I ran into Rich Craven, in town from Oxford, and caught up with a similar anal retentive music fan!

Carried on with the chat with Rich and his mate Rich May during the other 2 supports – inside for The Get-Outs, a noisy and formulaic but quite tuneful actually post-grunge nu-punk trio who at their best recalled “Copper Blue”-era Sugar; and outside during The Interpreteurs’ ska stylings. I don’t like ska. Simple as that, really.

Good company and music chat (plus Mr. Craven’s huge pizza!) had hastened the time along, so it was 10 to 11 when we re-entered the by-now crammed venue, and I popped down the busy front for Nudy Bronque’s arrival onstage at 11. The young trio burst into the yelping mutant garage rock of opener “Bottled Blonde”, vocalist Aidan already an angular, swaggering presence with a deep, resonant vocal style recalling Jarvis Cocker (not the only Pulp comparison in evidence, for me at least…), and the confidence of a natural frontman (which made it all more surprising when Dave Franklin later revealed Aidan wasn’t their original vocalist!).

Nudy Bronque’s sound is a melting pot of influences – dashes of the quirky, “His’n’Hers”-era Pulp, the ramshackly jangle of early Orange Juice or the dissonant cacophony of Fire Engines, even some of the Vaccines 50’s Buddy Holly-isms – but distilled into a unique, original and quintessentially English sound. “Crazy But I Love Him” was a reverb-soaked jangle-fest with a doo-wop rhythmic base, which melted impressively into a strident chorus noise-fest, then a touching rendition of the Velvet Underground’s comedown ballad “Sunday Morning” diffused the frantic mood very well. The set highlight came a couple of numbers later, with the tremendous, galloping “Peachy Keen”, the chorus collapsing into some deliciously discordant guitar noise. By this time the trio was augmented by an impromptu appearance from their EP producer, embellishing the sound with some keyboard colour, then picking up the bass while the normal bassist played some squeezebox. The final number “Space Travel 2013 By Phone” was a slow-burn into a squalling crescendo, allowing Aidan to indulge in some primal screaming. A great end to a swift half-hour, but the band were persuaded on for an unplanned encore of “What’s It Gonna Be?”, the terrace chant chorus seemingly acting as a metaphor for this young and very promising band.

Calls for further encores went unrequited (“we’ve not rehearsed any more songs!” the band offered as an excuse) as I said my farewells, taxi-ing Mr. May home and getting home myself about ¼ to 1, reflecting on Nudy Bronque’s performance. What’s it gonna be? I don’t honestly know, but at the moment all things are possible, with the right breaks. Either way it’ll be a strange and entertaining ride, and one I’m firmly planning to be on!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

906 MATTHEW CAWS, Monument Valley, Kafka Tamura, London Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, Wednesday 5 March 2014

Travelling to London on a school night these days is a daunting prospect at the best of times. Having to cross the City to Old Street, and doing it on an evening when England are playing at Wembley, is even more horrendous. There’s a select list of about 2 or 3 acts I’d do that for, and Nada Surf’s vocalist Matthew Caws, author of some of the warmest, most heartfelt and meaningful music of the past 10 years or so, music that speaks volumes to me, is right on top of that list. A couple of years had passed since I’d last caught ‘da Surf “live” (gig 840), the band subsequently taking a sabbatical, so I was well up for this one, having failed to secure tix for a previous Matthew solo show in St. Pancras last year.

A rotten journey in prospect required some foresight, so I drove to work, then headed off via the comic shop at 4, stopping for tea at Heston, then, after some nose to tail inching along the A4 around Chiswick, still made it to my favoured parking place at 6.30! Crossed town on the tube and found the venue in an unfamiliar (to me) and obviously recently gentrified part of the City at 7.30, half an hour before doors! Located around a leafy square and next to a Bill’s Bar (!), the venue was a small side-hall inside a more sprawling bar/ diner; I honestly felt like I was back in Boston! The main doors, adorned by a painting of a giant evil clown face (!) opened at 8 and I wandered in, taking a pew stage right then having a quick chat with Matthew, on his way out to phone his son. Nice that he remembered my face after so long! 

I stayed put on my barstool for the supports, whilst the place filled up. Openers Kafka Tamura were a 3 piece fronted by an evidently nervous slightly gothy girl, intoning some slightly gothy atonal Sioux-alike vocals over a slightly gothy stripped back synth background, evoking The XX or (for the older readers out there) Young Marble Giants. A surprisingly upbeat closer (which reminded me of Our Daughter’s Wedding!) was an odd juxtaposition to a generally slightly gothy set. Verdict? Slightly gothy! Monument Valley were a different proposition, however; a 2 piece featuring a main-man with a slightly bare, Frank Turner-esque delivery (particularly excellent opener “We Made Plans”), a flippant attitude (“so yeah, we’re Monument Valley and I’m a grumpy guy…”) and a nice line overall in witty, kitchen sink drama vignettes. A touching, erudite and articulate set of introspective, quintessentially English melancholy. Nice, and clearly warranting further investigation, although I bet he sits at home and listens to The Smiths…!

I lost my seat after a loo break, but found a good viewing spot stage right in the by-now uncomfortably full room. Matthew arrived onstage just before 9.45, an engaging and open presence from the outset, genuinely surprised and humbled by the turnout. Armed only with a large 6-string acoustic lead, he proceeded to weave his magic over the audience, the genuine warmth and affection from the crowd reciprocated with the beauty, simplicity and warmth of the material. The set featured a couple of covers revealing his music roots (“what you like when you’re 16 kind of stays with you,” he correctly declared); a rollocking reading of Simple Minds’ “Speed Your Love To Me” was ironically introduced with, “before “Pretty In Pink” (!) this band did some great stuff,” and he totally made Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence” his own with a heartfelt rendition. A sprinkling of songs by Minor Alps, his 2013 side-project with Juliana Hatfield, shone in a more 60’s-influenced, swirling psychedelic way, especially the Byrds-ian “Buried Plans”.

But it was the Nada Surf material which we were really here to hear, which really formed the core of this set. It was great to see how well these songs stood up, shorn of the band dynamics, revealing themselves as the sparkling, warm nuggets of beauty and melody which we, well, pretty much knew they were all along. An early “Whose Authority” featured some beautiful solo harmonies, “Happy Kid” was rambunctious and plaintive in equal measure, and “Waiting For Something”, despite a tricky opening riff, was an inclusive singalong. News that he’d recently been practising with ‘da Surf was met with acclaim (“thank you for not forgetting [about us]; it’s amazing what taking a year off can do!”), before the set highlight, a touching, delicate reading of “See These Bones”, which nonetheless built to a marvellously absorbing crescendo. 

An unplanned “Fruit Fly” was a fun audience participation moment, Matthew calling on the crowd to harmonise during the fadeout, and “Inside Of Love” was as good as you’d hear it, this plangent, plaintive number really benefiting from the solo version. Matthew called for the mirrorball to be set in motion for set closer “Always Love”, before dashing off and on again for a curfew-busting encore, featuring an also-unplanned but predictably brilliant highlight “80 Windows”, and a singalong “Blankest Year”, Matt (who’d been open and chatty throughout, despite promising to cut down on the chat to get through his planned set!) encouraging the crowd in the, “fuck it!” hook. A jolly end to a set which veered from melancholy to upbeat, often in the space of one song, and which was never less than superb, a true master of his craft on display.

Matthew kindly gave me the sole set-list when he re-emerged, stopping for a brief chat before I needed to clear off, catching 2 tube trains by the skin of my teeth and getting back to the car at ¼ to 12. Drove home reflecting on this minor triumph; no doubt about it, this was worth every bit of hassle, every mile of the journey and every minute of the very late (1.15 am!) arrival home. Excellent job tonight, Matthew!