Saturday, 29 April 2017

1,035 RAZE*REBUILD, The Pigeons, Canute’s Plastic Army, Swindon The Castle, Friday 28th April 2017

Continuing a furious pace of gigs this year – No. 19 on the year and we’re not out of April yet! – is this one, barely 2 days after the last… at least this gig’s free and local! Not that that would have mattered anyway, because I’ve said before that if Swindon’s finest, Raze*Rebuild, were from anywhere other than the ‘don and were playing much further afield, I’d pound the miles to see them without hesitation. So this one was a no-brainer – a trip up the hill for some dynamic, blue-collar US-tinged alt-rock in a sweaty pub back-room… that just screams “essence of rock’n’roll” to me!

A trundle up the hill then, nipping into a parking spot in the otherwise-full Vic car park just as someone was leaving, then hitting the venue for 8 to meet up with fellow RR aficionado Paul Carter (the 2 of us being RR superfans, judging by RR bassist “Paj” later asking when we were starting the Raze*Rebuild fan club!) for some pre-gig rock chat, as tonight’s acts soundchecked and set up. Canute’s Plastic Army were first on – an army of two, this time, the previous one-man incarnation being joined by a vivacious female vocalist with a big, soulful and expressive delivery, fully befitting this set of originals and well-chosen covers. I enjoyed the more haunting, dusky alt-folk tinged original numbers such as the eponymous “Canute’s Plastic Army”, more than when they diverted towards a more trad-country approach (viz. “You Can Kiss My Ass”, written by the vocalist about a row with her boyfriend), but a couple of covers proved set highlights; a stark, stripped back reading of Pulp’s “Razamatazz” was great, almost topped by a desolate yet impassioned cover of Bowie’s “Five Years”. Good start overall!

The Pigeons, next up in pretty short order, didn’t have as much to offer for me, I’m afraid… seemingly beset with equipment issues, they looked like a group ready to play covers or showtunes, instead delivering an oddly dated 80’s sounding set of mainstream, slightly countrified low-key pop. Shades of The Fat Lady Sings at their best, although I have to say that wasn’t often, they were pleasant enough but nothing really stuck, so I took a seat and girded my loins for the main event…

It didn’t take long before the boys were ready; I’d wandered down to the front of the stage before frontman Si Hall requested, “come forward… not you Dave!”, then the boys were good to go. As usual, they went 0 to 60-rock in seemingly milliseconds, powering into brilliant opener “Back To The Fall” with vim, venom and neck-bulging passion. Also, as usual I simply couldn’t help myself – despite a slightly sore back, tweaked earlier whilst tidying my errant daughter’s bedroom, I went for it from note one. And it was nice to have some company down the front, for a change – a pretty blonde rocked out beside me, and despite the fact that I had to politely rebut her attentions as she accosted me between numbers, and the fact that she seemed oblivious as to the concept of a “live” band playing original music (asking Si, “can you play some Madness or Specials,” then, when told, “ no, we play our own stuff,” replying with, “OK, how about some Blink 182 then?!”), she remained pretty much in situ throughout.

Following “Fall”’s triple false ending, Si announced playfully, “We’ve been Raze*Rebuild, goodnight!”, before ploughing into the herky-jerky “Jaded Heart”, and the bleeding-raw breakup ballad of “Kat, I’m Sorry”. An incendiary “New Leaf” was amazing, but by “All The Gear” I needed to stop for a breather – someone stole all the oxygen in the room! Luckily we had a newie tonight, the appropriately named “Poison Air”, sneaking quietly in then powering into an insistent China Drum/ Leatherface post-popcore groove, before melting into an almost hair-metal lighters-aloft denouement. An epic for the new EP!

All too soon the strident, swayalong “Sand In The Petrol” brought another raw, ragged, elemental yet utterly triumphant Raze*Rebuild set to a close. Tremendous stuff as ever! Congrats and compliments all round, a chat with Si about the new EP, then, before I sweatily headed off, gifts of drumsticks from Jamie in tow, I rounded up the troops for a breathless post-gig photo. I’d worn my Raze*Rebuild t-shirt to the ACLU Benefit show in Boston in March for photos with the artistes, so it seemed only fair after all to grab a pic in my by-now sweat soaked (full Cleo!) ACLU Benefit shirt, with the Raze*Rebuild boys!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

1,034 HONEYBLOOD, Doe, Tear, Reading Sub 89, Wednesday 26th April 2017

I finally get a chance to catch up with Honeyblood…! This lot, part of a whole slew of female-fronted, guitar-oriented and somewhat garage-rock/ CBGBs-tinged bands that I picked up on in 2014 (along with the likes of Ex Hex, September Girls and Alvvays), had impressed with their debut album that year, and more so with last year’s sparkling “Babes Never Die” follow-up. For some reason, however, their nearby gigs had always fallen on dates where I was otherwise occupied – normally on holiday! It felt as if this spunky and spiky Scottish duo were deliberately avoiding me or something… However, a few Easter dates included a Reading show, so that’s close enough. Off I go!

Flying solo as friend Rich Carter, who fancied a piece of this one, was on shift, so I dropped my daughter and her mate off at Brownies then hit the road! Found some street parking just around the corner, thereby avoiding paying the £14 that the nearest NCP was asking for (yipe!), and joined a small queue at 7.30 for doors shortly afterwards. Checked out the merch stand at this neat and compact upstairs room, and was therefore privy to a fellow punter, named Charlie Brown, bringing the girls a tray of freshly cooked and still-warm brownies. Charlie Brown brings the brownies – you couldn’t make that up! Found a comfy corner sofa to the right of the stage, and plonked myself there whilst enduring a couple of mediocre supports; Tear, first on, were a howly and growly 2-speed sub-grunge mess, immensely and intensely derivative of Hole or Babes In Toyland but nowhere near as good, and Doe were better if still overly riff-heavy, plodding and ham-fisted, recalling the chunky one-note guitar licks of early Weezer and the more angular, laconic style of “Last Splash”-era Breeders, but again, nowhere near that level. Whiled away the time playing the facebook “which band haven’t I seen” quiz with my brother instead!

A poor turnout for this one; barely 1/3 full, so I was easily able to find a good viewing spot down the front, stage left, for Honeyblood’s arrival at 9.30, to a “never die” backing track chant. I confess I was a little concerned that the guitar/drums only line-up might leave the sound a little thin “live”. No need, as they kicked up a full-sounding, strident and punky fuss straight from the off; opener “Justine, Misery Queen” was a groovy delight, featuring some fuzzy psych-pop guitar and nice doo-wop harmonies from the girls, followed up in short order by the more upbeat, NYC swagger of the ubiquitous and infectiously hooky “Ready For The Magic”. Off to a good start!

Unlike the more one-dimensional NYC proto-punk swagger of, say, the otherwise splendid Ex Hex, Honeyblood bring in different elements to their sound, overlaying their often bittersweet tales of lost love and lovers with occasionally shoegazey fuzz-pop and 90’s post-grunge US alt-indie, both right in my wheelhouse. And the tunes. Immensely catchy and hooky tunes. Never forget them! So “Love Is A Disease” had a more wry, mid-paced feel redolent of Throwing Muses or even Blake Babies, “Walking At Midnight” built lazily up to a haunting chorus via a shimmering shoegaze verse, and “Gangs” was as bleak and tough as the Glasgow streets it depicts, with an excellent crescendo outro. Additionally, vivacious, porcelain-perfect and feline featured vocalist/ guitarist Stina Tweeddale and her close-cropped, athletic drummer partner Cat Myers had undeniable in-band chemistry and an entertaining line in patter; Cat remarking that a whistling front-row punter sounded like, “a bird protecting his young!” which then led to a whole discussion as to what kind of bird he was (!), then referring to her singer as, “whisky chops”, and finally announcing that she’d burned, “2,206 calories!” drumming tonight!

Oldie “All Dragged Up” and “Sea Hearts” (“about tequila!”) were a racy, tub-thumping late-set double, then the girls refused to leave the stage before their encore, ploughing on with a slow-burn, hazily acerbic and dismissive “Super Rat”, with its’ great hook of “I will hate you forever!” and the excellent, breathless closer “Killer Bangs”, which featured a super mid-song pregnant pause so the girls could take a swig! A fun way to end a beguiling and charming 1 hour 10 minute set overall. A quickly signed poster from the predictably-besieged girls at the merch stand and a quicker than anticipated drive home too, to round off a fine evening. Glad I caught up with Honeyblood at last!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

1,033 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Nick Harper, Swindon Holmes Music, “Record Store Day”!, Saturday 22nd April 2017

A Record Store Day that Logan’s not likely to forget in a hurry…!

I’m fairly ambivalent about the concept of Record Store Day; anything that shines a light on the need to keep local Record shops trading must be a positive, I guess, but I have concerns about the nature of releasing “rarities” which are bought by the early birds and then find their way onto E-Bay for twice the price. Being an “accumulator” rather than a collector, myself, never interested in buying things for their intrinsic “value” or “scarcity”, I’m also not likely to part with cash for the sake of it today. However, as with RSD 2014, when I enjoyed some stellar in-store performances from Adam Ant and Edwyn Collins (gig 912), I’d always be interested in some “live” daytime RSD shenanigans, so was up for a lunchtime performance in the ‘don by none other than our very own West Country folk/ punk troubadour and “live” staple, Mr. Gaz Brookfield!

The fact that it fell on a sunny Saturday lunchtime, enabling us to take the kids along, was a plus in itself, so Rach drove us into town and dropped me, Logan and Kasey outside the venue/ shop while she parked up. Had a nose around some vintage vinyl singles boxes, which brought back some memories, chatted briefly with the arriving Gaz and re-introduced him to the kids, then took a couple of stools to the side of the stage, which was set up in the shop window, to catch a midday set from Nick Harper. Lauded by Gaz and a bloke whose “live” set I’ve been meaning to catch for some time, his solo guitar set was drawn exclusively from his current double album “Riven”, and consisted of a few numbers featuring very complex virtuoso arrangements overlaying a proggy, 60’s post-psychedelic feel, often baroque and sometimes a bit menacing, viz. a creepy “Juicy Fruit Girl” about a rummage through his attic evoking memories of an old girlfriend. “Holiday On Earth”, a pretty ballad about the Avebury stones, which followed an aggressive bluesy number, was my set favourite, although the Buckley-esque closer about his mother ran it close. Chatty and voluble throughout, he interacted with the audience and spoke entertainingly on a number of subjects, although I have to confess his material largely fell outside my usual tastes and made this a set, much like Tin Spirits, which I appreciated and admired, rather than actually enjoyed.

Nonetheless, Gaz was up in short order, so we decamped as a family to the bottom of the stairs, stage left, for a closer view, Logan choosing to sit on a stool dead centre, right in front of one of his favourite performers. Appropriately, Gaz opened with a wry “Solo Acoustic Guy”, throwing in some puns for general levity, then remarking that, thanks to a late gig in Stourbridge the night before, playing at 1 pm felt for him like, “my equivalent of breakfast!” “March Of Progress” and a sway-along “All So Rock And Roll” were dispensed with; then it was time for “The Tale Of Gunner Haines”…

Logan had previously asked Gaz whether this, his favourite number from last year’s excellent “I Know My Place” album, would be in the set, and was delighted with an affirmative reply. So from note one, he sung along stridently and raucously, to the point that after the first chorus, Gaz remarked, “I think we should give this lad a microphone!” Then, after being pointed out that a spare mic was actually set up onstage, Gaz invited Logan up onstage with him to sing along! So it transpired that my 9-year old son joined Gaz in an impromptu duet for the remainder of the “Gunner Haines”, remembering all the words, and eliciting a comment of, “how awesome was that!” from Gaz at the song’s conclusion! Amazing!

There were other numbers afterwards; “Cursed” featured some additional detail about his wretched yellowy gold Fiat Punto (apparently it tipped passengers out of one side, and spilled water on the crotches of the people on the other side!), “The Ferry Song” was beautiful and plaintive, “I Know My Place” a thrilling punky blast, and, following the inevitable props for Holmes Music (Gaz remarking, “I bought my first amp in here! And my first guitar – that was a “Waynes World” moment – “I must have it…!!””), a rousing “West Country Song” was a fine send-off to another splendid Gaz performance. But inevitably, this was all about the Gaz/ Logan duet on “Gunner Haines” for me. Another proud dad moment, another amazing memory for Logan’s early gig-going days. Thanks Gaz! Roll on “All Roads Lead To Frome” and the full-band Gaz Brookfield experience!

Friday, 7 April 2017

1,032 BRITISH SEA POWER, Menace Beach, Bristol Trinity, Thursday 6th April 2017

The return of British Sea Power…always happy for this lot to be part of my gig “Dance Card”, especially when they’re promoting a new album! Virtually 3 years since they last inveigled their way onto my schedule, with a storming set at Sub 89 (gig 911), they announced a tour in support of new album “Let The Dancers Inherit The Party”, which on early listens is a fine addition to their body of work, a very consistent and tuneful listen which almost harks back to their initial, early 80’s New Order/ Bunnymen influenced work, whilst retaining their offbeat and unorthodox, quintessentially English sounding indie rock, and love of sweeping, soaring and anthemic pseudo choral hooks. So, despite Bristol being such a pain to get out of these days, another trip West down the M4 beckoned…

BSP devotees Stuart (for whom tonight would be his 30th BSP gig!) and Andy, plus crew, unfortunately already had a (very) full carload, so this was a solo jaunt down for me, rather annoyingly being held up by 2 inexplicable delays (particularly annoying being the one which advised the M4 was closing down to 1 lane… then didn’t!) but parking in Cabot at 7.45 for the short walk around to this evocative old church venue. A sell-out, this, but plenty of space early doors for support Menace Beach, on at 8 and playing their set line astern, perched precariously on the edge of the stage. The scuzzy, sleazoid riffery and nasally, echoey vocals set the tone for a discordant set of riff-heavy early 90’s US alt-rock influenced noise, mainly slow to mid-paced numbers which, at their best, recalled the likes of Tripping Daisy. I liked newie “Suck It Out”, a creepy bassline-led mutant beast with a big chorus, but the subsequent “Tennis Court” was a poor off-key Nirvana cast-off, and very little else made an impression. I’d bought and enjoyed their 2015 album “Rat World” (especially the racy track “Tastes Like Medicine” – omitted tonight), but blanked so far on the new CD. On tonight’s disappointing evidence, that’s probably the right shout…

I ran into Stuart afterwards, then we retreated back to join the crew just in front of the mixing desk for pre-gig chat. A quick loo run (my tummy’s playing up a little tonight) before British Sea Power took the dry-ice strewn stage shortly after 9 pm, as usual liberally decorated with foliage, and with the omnipresent wooden owl on the speaker stack, overlooking proceedings. A triple salvo off the new CD ensued, with opener “Bad Bohemian” recalling “Ocean Rain” era Bunnymen, and “International Space Station” featuring a typically widescreen, soaring chorus. However, maybe distracted by the lights (remarking to the mixing desk, “I know it’s an essential part of your artistic vision, but it’s fucking blinding me!”), vocalist Yan seemed to take time to settle, and much of the early set seemed an easing-in process, perhaps to be expected on the tour’s opening night. The off-kilter riff and heady rush of oldie “Remember Me” was a dynamic early highlight, showing Menace Beach how to do “discordant” properly, newie “Ivy Lee” was a tuneful melancholy wallow, and an unexpected cover of Galaxie 500’s “Tug Boat” was a moody, brooding delight with a stretched, jagged finale. However, in comparison with the overt dynamism of their last viewing, much of the mid set seemed more low-key than usual, and the set felt a little uneven. More evidence of this was in how the set concluded; a playful “Keep On Trying” with its’ cheeky “Sex Freunde!” chant ceded to the angelic choral opening of an imperious, best-of-set “Waving Flags” with a joyous, raise the roof, terrace chant hook, and the haunting film-score instrumental “The Great Skua”, which would have closed out the set on an epic, triumphal note. However a couple of subsequent low-key newies saw the set out on a more morose, sombre note, ending an overall curate’s egg of a set.

The encores, however, were terrific; the band took the stage again wearing shiny silver tinfoil suits (“we were going to wear them from the start but we weren’t sure…” advised Yan), launching into a stomping “No Lucifer” with its’ “easy, easy” chant echoing around the venue. A frantic, breathless “Spirit Of St. Louis” was great, and by chanted closer “All In It” I was down the front – all in it, indeed! A couple of “bears” wandering through the crowd, guitarist Martin Noble crowd-surfing, and some riff tomfoolery from Yan provided a splendid ending to a 2 hour performance, variable at times but ultimately entertaining and entirely worthwhile.

Missed out on the stage lists but grabbed the one on the mixing desk, then had cause to thank my misbehaving tummy, as I nipped to the loo, then emerged to spot BSP violinist/ keyboardist Abi onstage. She graciously signed my list, then very kindly took it backstage to get the boys to sign it too. Result! A better result than the journey home, which was horrendous – the M32 Northbound was closed right up to Junction 1, so I slowly picked my way through Easton and Fishponds, taking over ½ hour to get to the M32/ M4 Junction, which was longer than it took to get home from there! Yikes!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

1,031 GRANDADDY, Amber Arcades, Bristol Colston Hall, Friday 31st March 2017

“I wish they [Grandaddy] would come back…”

I called this gig, way back on Bonfire Night 2010 (gig 797), when former (and future!) Grandaddy mainman Jason Lytle played a short but sparkling set of his former charges’ numbers, in support of Midlake, one of many bands to briefly and undeservedly claim the title of “the new Grandaddy”… We didn’t want a new Grandaddy, we just wanted the old one back! One of the finest and most consistent bands of the late 90’s/ early 00’s with their blend of parched yet warm alt-Country and lush, woozy psychedelia, and the only band to be my Reading Festival “Band of the Weekend” twice (also being one “New-Order-playing-Joy-Division-songs” set short of winning that honour 3 times!), they’d been much missed since their 2006 split. But now, after a short (relatively speaking for reunion bands these days) hiatus, they’re back, easing in with sporadic US gigs and Festivals, then a new album, this year’s fine and melodic if hardly groundbreaking and very typical “Grandaddy”-sounding “Last Place” and, finally, a tour!

Tix were duly snapped up on the first opportunity, so a sunny Spring evening saw Rachel and myself depart early, this time avoiding the annoying and copious Bristol roadworks by heading up the hill to the Level 5 Trenchard entrance! We parked up and hit the venue in good time to meet up with Bristol friends Kiron and Alison, and their friend Mike, for some rock chat, before popping into this large auditorium for openers Amber Arcades, on at 8 as advised by vocalist Annelotte, manning the merch stand earlier! After easing in with a slow-burn opener, they hit their stride with “Right Now”, my favourite on their sweetly low-key, pastoral and strumalong Belle And Sebastian meets Stereolab debut album “Fading Lines”. However this and the subsequent “Come With Me” were much more overt and dynamic “live”, and dare I say it, much more “rocking” than even their Nada Surf support slot last year, before they diverted back into more pastoral territory again, “This Time” featuring some hazy, smooth harmonies. I tried hard not to make the obvious Bettie Serveert comparisons as well (Dutch band, blonde vocalist wearing a baseball cap, quirky indie pop etc.), as the Stereolab-esque metronomic groove of “Turning Light” closed out a fine opening set.

We repaired to the back bar between sets, then the buzzer signified Grandaddy’s imminent entrance, so we headed back into the now-packed venue, unfortunately pitching up in a cramped spot ¾ back with tall blokes in front of us, chatty cathys behind, and a pile of coats on the floor which I kept tripping over. Not great viewing, but luckily there was a large screen backdrop which projected films of nature and industry (plus lots of long ol’ freight trains) throughout, to complement Grandaddy’s musical performance. As for the boys themselves; they wandered on just after 9, again looking like 5 Amish farmhands who’ve taken a wrong turning, and eased into the chugging, melancholy “Hewlett’s Daughter”, the mix clear and precise albeit for Jason’s high-pitched, Neil Young vocals, which were a little echoey. “Hi – OK, now I got the talking out of the way!” quipped Lytle before the languid ballad “Yeah Is What We Had”, and to be fair, apart from fulsomely praising short-notice stand-in guitarist Shaun, thereafter he let the music did the talking!

My 7th time overall “live” experience of these Modesto natives, yet the first since Reading Festival 2003 (13½ years ago!); damn, that’s awhile! The warm and fuzzy “Laughing Stock”, featuring raindrop-like keyboard patterns, was a lovely early highlight, like a hazy, half remembered dream, underpinning a lushly melodic yet low-key set start. However “The Crystal Lake” finally showed some of the power of old, the haunting, plaintive riff building to a strident, dramatic and powerful denouement, , the wolf bearing its’ teeth at last, allaying my fears that this set might be lazily sliding into a “Grandaddy by numbers” performance. The abrasive keyboard riff of newie “Evermore” recalled an eerie 60’s spy film soundtrack; then the unmistakable riff of “AM180” preceded a potent, tough rendition and the set highlight thus far. Great, but ultimately topped by set closer “Now It’s On”, groovy and dynamic, a thing of wonder and plangent beauty.

I tired of stepping on the coat pile, and took a solo push forward for the encore, rather infuriatingly finding plenty of space to at least swing a small rodent about 3 rows from the front, stage left. Bah! If only I’d known… Jason announced, “one new song and one old song,” for the encore, and “The Boat Is In The Barn” preceded a snappy, punkish blast through “Summer Here Kids”, to finish a variable yet overall thoroughly enjoyable set, an entirely valid and worthwhile return for these old favourites.

A surreal moment afterwards; I grabbed the list and a fellow punter asked for a photo of it, he couldn’t get a decent pic so I said, “no worries, I’ll put it on my blog,” to which he replied, “hang on, are you Dave Rose?” Turns out he – Andrew – and I crop up at the same gigs occasionally so he checks out my blog afterwards. So hi Andrew, hope you enjoyed this one, and see you down the front, dude! Farewells and a quick chat with Annelotte, again on the merch stand, then we navigated our way around the worst of the Bristol roadworks for a return before midnight. So overall, it still felt as though Grandaddy were/ are easing themselves back in, but no matter – I wished they’d come back, and I’m glad they have!