Monday, 21 April 2014

912 RECORD STORE DAY WITH ADAM ANT AND EDWYN COLLINS, Rough Trade West, London; 913 ADAM ANT, Hammersmith Odeon, London, Saturday 19 April 2014

The Rose Boys’ Big Day Out in Ye Olde London Town! Punk rock icon Adam Ant, surely the comeback king of this decade and one of the finest, most flamboyant, most iconic rock stars we’ve ever produced in this island nation, announced a special one-off performance of his art school punk classic debut album “Dirk Wears White Sox”, so the Budlet and I were all over that. The fact that it fell on Record Store Day opened up all sorts of possibilities for in-store appearance fun and frolics, so I kept my ear to the ground, and when Adam announced a couple of in-stores to promote the RSD special re-release of the very album he’d be playing in its’ entirety that very evening, that pretty much nailed down our plans for the day!
My dear lady wife was happy with said plans, so Budlet picked me up just after 10 for a swift drive up to the Smoke, parking up in a sunny Hammersmith and taking an easy tube over to the busy and very pungent – from the various street food vendors – Portobello Market. We arrived midday at Rough Trade’s tiny West store, noting with dismay the huge queue to get in, also noting a couple of speakers set up on the pavement outside. We’d surmised it was to play the in-store performance to the outside crowd, but no – a chat with the store techie confirmed the acts would be playing on the pavement! So there we were and there we stayed!
So, we stood behind an Ant fan extended family, including a young girl sat on the pavement in front of us, and 12.30 saw the first act in SLOW CLUB. A two-piece featuring bearded guitarist and blonde vocalist, they played some wispy and pleasant alt-country, recalling Cowboy Junkies. Their best number, “Tears Of Joy” was a bluesy chugalong with nice choral harmonies: the girl can sing, no doubt. She introduced the climax of their short set with, “We’ve got 2 numbers left, then Adam Ant will be here. I never thought I’d say that!”
Sure enough, about 1 pm, ADAM ANT arrived, disappearing into the bowels of the shop (“I’ll just have a coffee then I’ll be up!”), then emerging, resplendent in black leather and flat cap, along with a similarly attired cohort. He opened his set with “Cartrouble”, the by now large crowd blocking the road and singing along to this original Ants classic, then into a sleazy acoustic blues run-though of “No Fun”, announcing it with, “without Iggy there’d be no Ants, without Jonathan Richman there’d be no Ants…”. Fulsome and chatty throughout, bantering with the crowd with easy confidence, this was nevertheless a restrained performance, the voice understated, saving some in the tank for tonight. As befitted the subject of the day, “Dirk” songs dominated this set; a cheeky “Cleopatra” (introduced with, “I got into trouble for this one!” and suffixed with a comment to the family in front of us, “I hope you covered [the young girl’s] ears!”), a haunting “Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)”, which benefitted most from the stripped back rendition, then after a rockabilly and T Rex cover interlude, a singalong “Physical”, to round off an exemplary if understated performance, the magic of it simply being that here was Adam Ant, playing guitar on a pavement, barely six feet in front of us!
Then he was gone – ushered away by a beefy security man who’d eyed the crowd up throughout, into a waiting black van and off. Fair enough really. We grabbed some lunch in a nearby public garden, then took a walk around the overpriced trinket-fest that is Portobello Market, returning in time for EDWYN COLLINS. Before his arrival, however, I had the pleasure of a quick and entertaining chat with 70’s London punk rock legend Don Letts! A lovely bloke; having noticed him shopping and approached him for a photo, his reply was, “of course mate, I’m surprised anyone still gives a shit!”

We then took a spot on the less crowded pavement for Edwyn, who, aided by a stick, walked slowly out of the shop and took a seat between 2 young guitarists to perform. Victim of a horrendous series of critical illnesses; a couple of brain haemorrhages, bouts of aphasia and MRSA, it’s remarkable the man is still here, let alone feeling the urge to perform. Still bearing the ravages of his illnesses, his speech was slow, halting and deliberate, but amazingly his singing voice was as deep, rich and resonant as ever, with astonishingly precise enunciation. “Falling And Laughing” was a beautiful joy, a playful “Rip it Up” was introduced with, “it’s a single! Back in the day…”, but the newer “Forsooth” (“a new song – like the Velvet Underground… so sorry about Lou Reed…”) was the highlight, a lush “Sunday Morning” lazy wake-up vibe, with the simple but affecting chorus of, “I’m so happy to be alive…”
A similarly affecting “Low Expectations” brought another lump to the old throatie, then “Bridge”, the inevitable “A Girl Like You” and an unplanned, bright “Don’t Shilly Shally” rounded off another understated yet amazing performance from a veteran rock icon. This time I managed to sneak a few words with the great man, briefly comparing survivor stories and being simply thrilled, honey, that he’s still here.

This took us to 4 pm, so we took a wander to the tube, bumping past Paloma Faith on the crowded thoroughfare, then tubed it over to Tottenham Court Road so Paul could nose around Tin Pan Alley and I could hit Forbidden Planet. We’d talked about captivating performers on the way, and I’d mentioned the riveting performance I’d witnessed from Savages’ Jehnny Beth recently, so imagine my surprise when I ran into the lovely Ms. Beth in the Planet! Another pic and chat, another highlight of the day.

Grabbed a tube back over to Hammersmith for samosa tea, then joined the queue at the Odeon, getting into the large, sloping floored, standing hall early doors. Amazing that this was my first time at the Odeon since the 80’s and my first time downstairs at all! We took a spot on the barriers, extreme stage right, for the supports. Openers Vuvuvultures featured a crop-haired, kinetic and angular female vocalist in suit and red tie, and a nice line in angst-ridden 80’s gloomy post-punk rock which wouldn’t have been out of place on an Editors or White Lies support. Shades also of Flesh For Lulu in some stomping gothy rock moments, and with some nice hooky choral droning, I liked them and I’d check them out again. Definitely a better proposition than main support New Killer Shoes; they showed signs of dirty rock’n’roll promise, but were all too often spoiled by unnecessary rawk posturing, unfounded arrogance and an unwelcome tendency to lapse into ska. After a clumsy cover of The Police’s “So Lonely” which showed their own material into sharp relief, their revealed their best number, a less overt and more considered song which blew the rest of their stuff away. A message to the boys and their cap throwing, hat hair, Robert Carlysle in “Trainspotting” lookalike vocalist; don’t try so hard!
By this time the place was heaving (surely a sell-out on the night!) and anticipatory; a false “lights out” start 10 minutes before stage-time simply adding to the anticipation. Sure enough, the place plunged into darkness at 9, and the band took the stage to no fanfare, with Adam still in his Dirk-era leathers, a quickly discarded tricorne hat the only concession at this point to his later “pop” image. Straight into the stripped staccato art school rhythm of “Cartrouble Part 1”, Adam’s yelping vocal style driving this along. As it segued effortlessly into “Cartrouble Part 2”, the place ignited, the band totally nailing it, Adam already the focal point, energetic beyond his years, a real performer at work.
The embryonic, confrontational Antmusic of “Dirk” was largely superbly rendered; Adam transposed verses in some of the lesser played numbers, but no biggie. Adam was again fulsome and very chatty advising how the excellent “Day I Met God”, with its’ heady rush towards a soaring, terrace chant chorus, got him, “banned from WH Smiths,” and the giggly smut of “Cleopatra” got him banned from everywhere else! Not that he cared of course; “if you find [“Cleopatra”] prurient or sexist… I don’t care!”
“I don’t care” seemed a spoken and unspoken mantra for Adam tonight, he was doing what he liked and damn anyone who doesn’t like it. A rambunctious “Catholic Day” saw him acting out the assassination, with a subsequent comment of, “some people thought that was a sick song, personally I thought the assassination was sick!” The backwards tape loop rhythm of “Animals And Men” was a challenge (“I’m acting cool but I’m thinking – do I have to play this again?”) met with gusto, and a final ”The Idea” was messy but totally potty, the sniggering fun element of the song propelling it above any missed chords.
“Dirk” over, Adam bizarrely brought a modesty screen onstage, and changed into his dandy highwayman garb behind it whilst singing “Whip In My Valise”. The second part of the set was subsequently variable for me, a tremendous “Antmusic”, prefixed by another rant in, “I’d rather make the news than take the news!”, and a wonderfully savage “Beat My Guest”  contrasted with throwaway versions of “Wonderful” and a frankly banal “Strip”. However a cacophonous “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” (“every time I sing this, it’s like the first time”), the Burundi drumbeats propelling the song along, was amazing, possibly the best single number tonight, and I piled into the mosh for the subsequent “Zerox”, always my favourite Ants number.
Running late, Adam and the band – featuring sterling turns from the first-incarnation Ants rhythm section Leigh Gorman and Dave Barbarossa – ploughed on through the planned encore, finishing a perverse yet overall thrilling and stunning 2+ hour set with “Physical”, then returning simply to take a well-deserved bow. I limped out of the mosh (I paid for that later!) as my brother got me a set-list from the lighting rig and we drove home after a great Rose Boy’s Day Out. Today we’d witnessed excellent performances from a couple of icons again proving age – and illness, in Edwyn Collins’ case – is no barrier to class. Just a perfect day!

Friday, 18 April 2014

911 BRITISH SEA POWER, Michael A Grammar, Reading Sub 89, Thursday 17 April 2014

Following British Sea Power’s triumphant return to my gigging dance card back in November last year, supporting Editors, I was certainly up for any future BSP headlining tomfoolery. So catching this early 2014 tour was a no-doubter, particularly when recent facebook friend Andy Fenton (with whom I’d started chatting thanks to his BSP t-shirt!) decided to organise a gathering for the gig. Tag along? Thanks, I do! 

So I met up with Andy, his wife and a cast of thousands (including old 80’s mate Simon Legge!) for a swift and jolly buffet-ensconced train ride to Reading for this early gig. Spent a lot of time in deep musical conversation with Andy’s friend Stuart, definitely a kindred spirit; 59 and still gigging, with a gig record stretching back to 1972 all fully documented, just like this gig book! Much of our conversation, which carried on into the venue at 7, consisted of one of us replying to the other; “yeah, I was there too!” 

So we were in place in this cool new upstairs venue, which reminded me of the old Alleycat “Live” (do all Reading venues look the same then?), for openers Michael A Grammar at an unfeasibly early 7.30. A 4-piece named after their main vocalist, they played an attractive blend of generic but tuneful indie rock, with smatterings of glam guitar and drifty 60’s psych, with a bit of polite discordant riffery and vocal interplay. Recalling for me a raft of post-Britpop bands, they made a favourable impression on these cynical ears. 

Our crowd joined us down the front, stage left, in front of the stage as ever liberally festooned with foliage and twinkling fairy lights. British Sea Power joined us at the again startlingly early 8.30, heralded by a melange of foreign radio transmissions merging into the expected Gregorian monk chanting. An evocative start, continued by their instrumental opener “Heavenly”, a moody, windswept and slow-burn epic building to a huge, widescreen crescendo, setting the tone for tonight’s proceedings. Then the stomping beat and slashing, strafing brass of “Monsters Of Sunderland”, and we were away, for some serious rock… 

Much more overtly rocking and dynamic “live” than on record, British Sea Power tonight were on top form, playing to a devoted audience and feeding off their enthusiastic response. “It Ended On An Oily Stage” was an early highlight, a powerfully swooping, sweeping epic with some extra power riffery embellishing an unexpected “big rock” ending, giving way to another tempo- and mood-changing delight in “We Are Sound”, the anthemic chorus huge and fulsome; “let’s go on into the night…” indeed! 

One fellow front row punter attracted guitarist Martin Noble’s attention, soliciting the odd response, “you had humous all over you the last time I saw you!” Then main vocalist Yan handed vocal reins over to bassist brother Neil for a lower-key set mid-section, the shimmering finale of “Loving Animals” notable here. The inscrutable Yan, his expression a mixture of quizzical pride and satisfaction, took the reins again for a meandering yet naggingly insistent and hooky “Machineries Of Joy”, giving way to a sprawling, epic “Zeus” and the chopping, tumbling chorus line of the tremendous oldie “Remember Me”. By this time we were skirting around the edges of an enthusiastic moshpit, skilfully avoiding one idiot crowdsurfing punter who was thankfully removed. The soaring, anthemic “Waving Flags” was a potent, mighty highlight, then the lengthy terrace chant anthem “All In It” ended a superb set. “Spirit Of St. Louis”, the first encore, recalled Echo And The Bunnymen, with a stretched, sinister libidinous rhythmic base providing the backdrop for an almost sinister segment of “The Clapping Song” from Yan, before the, “easy, easy,” chants for set closer “Lucifer” closed a 1 ½ hour set perfectly. Quite likely the best I’ve seen this idiosyncratic, enduring and quite unique band. Great stuff. 

Shame the journey back was such a pain in comparison – a slow train ride back took 45 minutes to do the 17 miles from Reading to Didcot, resulting in a midnight return after a 10 o’clock curfew. Bugger! But British Sea Power made it well worth the hassle tonight. Gentlemen (and lady); fine job!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

910 MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA, Gang Of Youths, Bristol Fleece, Monday 7 April 2014

Another occasion, another Manchester Orchestra gig! Last time out for this band of riff-heavy Alabama tunesmiths coincided with our 6th Wedding Anniversary; this time it was Rach’s birthday outing! This was a short small-venue tour to promote brand new album “Cope”, possibly their best and most consistently tuneful effort yet, so I was onto this before it could sell out, which it did – quickly!
The kids were on a sleepover at grandmas, so we had a leisurely departure to Bristol, driving into the setting sun on the M4 and parking up in time to join the queue to get in (!) following an overrunning soundcheck. We therefore had a lengthy wait for openers Gang Of Youths; a schizophrenic lot this both visually and sonically, not youthful but heavy on hair, beards and heft, their sound ranged from chugging Southern rawk, “Joshua Tree”-era U2 parched acoustic landscapes and (more often) Arcade Fire-esque textural rhythm and building crescendos, which suffered from a lack of evident tunes and overall cohesion. The kinetic, Jim Morrison lookalike vocalist was frequently understated and lost in the mix, and overall, though I really liked certain bits of certain of their often overlong songs, nothing stuck. Frustrating, really…
Took a loo break as the place filled to heaving point; with the loos now situated under the dressing rooms, I could clearly hear Manchester Orchestra vocalist Andy Hull going through his vocal scales in preparation for the performance. Professionalism, I like that. After another fiddly final set-up, the band emerged from the darkness at 9.40, powering immediately into the jagged riffery and primal screaming rush of “Shake It Out”, before following it up with their best number of the night, a brilliant “Pensacola”, the libidinous rhythm and stream of consciousness lyrics giving way to a huge terrace chant hook and massive, soaring chorus. “That was superb; have they gone too soon?” I asked Rach. I think our opinions differed on that…
At their best, Manchester Orchestra are a thunderously and thrillingly noisy riff-heavy monster, whilst still evoking the tuneful fuzzy psych-rock of the likes of Grandaddy, and the gregarious Hull is a proper singer with a high-end range which belies his bulk. However the mid-part of this set for me was slightly heavy going, with little variation in this mainly back catalogue material, the bludgeoning riffs following each other in all-too quick succession. However the devotional audience lapped it up, singing along raucously to each towering chorus, softly to the infrequent quieter breaks. Hull and the band were also enjoying themselves too, Hull particularly in fine, entertaining form; he quipped, “we booked up a load of small venues as we weren’t sure if anyone still gave a shit about our band,” then in response to a female fan shouting, “we love you!” he said, “thanks mum!” then, “if you hear a drunk [calling out] that’s my dad!”
The roaring singalong of “I’ve Got Friends” powered onto the comparatively almost delicate opening to “Colly Strings” before Hull celebrated reaching “no. 67!” with the title track of the new album, “Cope”. The set finished with a perfectly delivered a capella “The Party’s Over”, before the band went straight into the encore (“we’re only standing in that corner, what’s the point?”), Hull stating “I’m having fun – sometimes playing this depressing music can take it out of you!”, before kicking into the tumbling drums of “Top Notch”. The subsequent driving staccato-riff rhythm and cascading verse-line of the almost Nada Surf-like “Every Stone” was great, another highlight, before a final “Simple Math” segueing into the final half of “The Only One” (again not played straight! Darn!), rounded off an overall fine, fan-pleasing set which for me could’ve been better with more new numbers, with only 3 or 4 played off the new album tonight.
The evening ended on a couple of jarring notes, however; firstly their ignorant asshole of a roadie shaped up to get the drummers set-list for me following my polite request, then scrunched it up and hurled it into the far side of the crowd. Total self-important supercilious dick. Then, a lengthy and convoluted diversion back into the city (after we’d already left it!) took over 20 minutes to avoid a half-mile closure on the M32, getting us home at a bleary-eyed 12.30. Bah! Still, we’ll be back again for more Manchester Orchestra noise; next big occasion maybe?