Tuesday, 20 February 2018

1,072 INDOOR PETS, Gaffa Tape Sandy, Socket, Bristol Louisiana, Monday 19th February 2018

An odd situation, this; a debut gig for a band I’ve seen five times already! Let me explain… current “live” faves and one of my “pet bands”, according to my dear lady wife, spiky power-popsters Get Inuit, were contacted by an Inuit throat singer expressing concern about the band appropriating the “Inuit” word in their band name in a derogatory manner. Things escalated and suddenly the band were in the middle of a twitter shitstorm, wrongly accused of racism, when it was only meant as a throwaway pun…”get into it”… “get inuit”,,, get it? The only sensible recourse was to change the damn thing, to something equally throwaway, hence it was now Indoor Pets I was preparing to see for the 6th time! Or is it the first…?

Confused? You will be…! Anyway, to try to regain some momentum potentially lost by this furore, and maintain their “live” edge honed on recent tour support slots with Ash and The Big Moon, the Kent boys decided to hit the road for an early 2018 tour. Thus it was that I hit the M4 to Bristol, circumnavigating the underbelly of the city to avoid the stupid new road layout, and pitched up about 8 directly outside. Drummer Rob was manning the merch stand, so we caught up on recent events before I took a wander upstairs to check out local openers Socket. A young trio, mining a similar C86 jangly powerpop groove to the headliners (and sporting their own floppy fringed, bespectacled Jamie lookalike in the bassist!), their strumalong stuff recalled a toughened-up Chesterfields, with a couple of later exceptions which were a bit Foo Fighters-lite rockier. Plenty of work required here, but a brisk and breezy set for openers, Mr. Specs announcing about this support slot, “we were coming to the show anyway – so we got in for free!”

More practised by far, though, were main support Gaffa Tape Sandy. Another trio, they laid down a couple of early strident bluesy rockers recalling The Subways, then went all Pixies on us, “Pink Neck/ Trainwreck” featuring some “Wave Of Mutilation”-alike loud/ quiet/loud dynamics, creepy bass from the female redhead bassist, and some nice atonal vocal interplay between her and the gregarious, confident guitarist/ main vocalist. Regretting the choice of woolly socks on a hot stage, he remarked, “it’s a different season in my shoes…” and similarly made light of some sweat-induced guitar tuning issues. I do appreciate a singer who sweats for his art, me…! “L’Appel Du Vide”, my set highlight, came across like a sleazy Tex Mex bar-room rocker, and generally this was an impressive, hard-rocking support slot, prompting me to pick up their CDs, to (as the bassist mentioned onstage) help wean them off their exclusively bread tour diet!

A break back at the car and a quick chat with the ubiquitous Jeff bumped us towards showtime, as the Indoor Pets boys set-up to the sound of children’s TV theme tunes over the PA (!), vocalist Jamie spotting me for a quick greeting before they were ready to go. Back on in short order in front of a 2/3rds full but appreciative Louisiana crowd, they burst into a ragged “Mean Heart”, thereafter segueing into the thrashy grunge “Electrify”, prompting a couple of guys to form a violent and manic slamming pit which, from my stage right spot down the front, I managed to steer clear of. Appreciate your enthusiasm, boys, not sure this tiny upstairs room is the right place for it…! “We’re a band called Indoor Pets and we’re brand new!” deadpanned a tongue-in-cheek Jamie before a slightly understated “Coping” ceded to a Wannadies-like newie, “Tread The Water”, bursting with big hooks and crunchy, heavy guitars.

Thankfully very little else has changed from their previous incarnation, as this performance displayed the usual Get Inuit hallmarks; ragged, youthful enthusiasm, kinetic energy, splendid helium vocals and harmonies, and even a curveball or two, in this case a thunderous demolition of Aretha Franklin’s soul classic “Say A Little Prayer”. “Teriyaki” was an off-kilter, hurtling delight, before Jamie reflected that, “it’s been a tricky few months for us,” the subsequent newie “So Soon” impressing with a Silver Sun harmonic opening leading to a seriously earworm hook, a Summer smash in the waiting, if there’s any justice…!

A frenzied mosh greeted closer “Pro Procrastinator” to close out a raw and deliriously thrashy performance. Chatted with the boys on the merch stand afterwards, all buoyed by the enthusiastic reception and gratified that thus far, the name change doesn’t appear to have stalled their momentum. Made my sweaty way home reflecting on this; Get Inuit may be dead, but long live Indoor Pets! An impressive debut!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

1,071 ALVVAYS, Spinning Coin, Bristol Trinity, Friday 16th February 2018

Rapidly becoming one of my favourite bands and certainly a “live” staple, this lot; Alvvays, Nova Scotia’s finest purveyors of C86 inflected spunky powerpop and wistful dreampop, with a dark, intangible hint of menace always lurking nearby. Their sophomore effort, “Antisocialites” saw that sound refined further over a set of instantly memorable tunes, and was a comfortable Top 5 album for me last year, so I pounced on the opportunity to see them “live”, more familiar with that material as I am now. And it seemed that I was not the only one thus motivated; not only were they playing appreciably bigger venues this time around, stepping up to Bristol’s bigger Trinity hall, having sold out the Fleece and Thekla in the past, but then the Trinity itself sold out in short order!

The day didn’t start too well for me though, with a spill on some black ice on my cycle ride into work. Yikes! Thus it was a slightly bruised David that Stuart (who’d sorted his ticket early too) picked up prompt at 6.30 for a swift drive down chatting about comics, oddly enough… a short parking-mare (!) saw us eventually pitch up to the venue about ¼ to 8, Stuart grabbing a drink before we wandered near the front, slightly stage left, for openers Spinning Coin at 8. Alternating lead vocals between the 2 guitarists (seemingly a case of, you wrote it, you sing it!), their opener was a droney alt-rock workout recalling the Velvet Underground, which built up a nice head of steam and was sung by the taller, deeper voiced guitarist, then his partner-in-crime took over for a more lilting C86 jangle workout, singing voice being an octave higher than seemingly comfortable! His vocals were subsequently less strained and his material tending toward a more low-key, pastoral strumalong (Girls, Real Estate and The Shins came to mind here), but I enjoyed the more overt material of his partner, the likes of “Someone To Remind Me” and “Why” harder-edged and pacier, recalling The Wedding Present or even (at their absolute best) Seafood. Not too bad overall; file under “Schizophrenic but Interesting…”

Ran into Sammy, the singer of Martyrials, and remarked upon his batshit crazy “12 Bands” set, before re-taking our spot down a busy front for this sell-out and anticipated show. Alvvays were on prompt at 9, Minnie Mouse-voiced vocalist Molly Rankin leading her charges through the briskly-delivered mutant pop of “Hey” for openers, Molly Mayhem at your doorstep already, before announcing, “Bristol! How’s it popping! We’re not on the boat! The boat is nice, but there’s no Wi-Fi in that Green Room!”

Alvvays were again superb tonight, utterly smashing it “live” from the get-go. One of those bands that offer an extra edge, an increased urgency and dynamism “live”, their set, initially based around that splendid “Antisocialites” album, swooped and coruscated, alternating between hectic C86 jangle-alongs (“Plimsoul Punks” and a breathless “Lollipop”), stately melancholy (a brilliant “In Undertow”, also showcasing some hard-hitting drums from new-ish drummer Shannon) and moments of stark, eerie beauty (the opening section of “Forget About Life”, which saw Molly picked out by a single spotlight as she delivered her haunting vocal, backed only by low synth colourwash and reminding these veteran ears of The Human League’s similarly stripped back rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”). Clearly having a ball up there on the first night of their tour, they showed no first-night nerves or ring-rustiness, sounding full, in-sync and dynamic throughout. In good fooling too, Molly relating the story of how they ordered a projection screen from Belgium for this tour, only for it to arrive in moth-eaten bits, then indicating her white shirt with the comment, “so this is the projection screen tonight!”

The latter stages of the set drew more from their debut album; thus we had a heartfelt “Ones Who Love You” followed by a racy, pacy “Atop A Cake”, then the soaring singalong to the huge, already-a-classic “Archie, Marry Me”. “Party Police” and profuse thanks from a beaming Molly for being, “a great crowd” rounded off the set, a couple of encores culminating in “Next Of Kin” bumping us up to 1 hour 10 and closing out another exceptional performance. Grabbed a list after a short wait, then headed off for an early return, home by 11! Superb stuff from Alvvays, as always… if that was the opening date, imagine how they sound fully warmed up… And given their ascendancy in Bristol, they’d better book the O2 Academy next time around, as on this form they’d sell that out too!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

1,070 INHEAVEN, Thyla, Ocean Ruins, Reading Face Bar, Tuesday 6th February 2018

A frantic five-gig February is getting off to a frosty start with tonight’s Inheaven gig; threats of snow showers might have seen this one struck off my Spring (ha!) Dance Card, but luckily they were only threats, so I once again had the opportunity to catch up with the “live” shenanigans of a Very Promising Indeed young troupe, who produced last year’s best debut album with their eponymous effort, proving Desperate Journalist’s nearest rivals for best overall CD and most significant musical discovery of 2017 in the process. A crush collision of sleazy amped-up, punked-up rock’n’roll, elements of shoegaze and dreampop, subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle!) nods to the post-punk 80’s sonic landscape, plus great rosebush-festooned stage sets and flowery shirts. What’s not to like?

I didn’t like the journey to this one, though; no weather hold-ups, true, but red lights all the way out of Swindon and horrible roadworks stretching for miles on the M4 before Reading, saw me pitching up at the handily-placed but expensive car park around the corner from the venue, at 10 past 8 after a 1 hour 10 journey! To Reading! Yikes! So I arrived at this new venue, a scuzzy black-painted WMC-style room in an industrial unit (?!), halfway through the opening band’s set. Local lot Ocean Ruins (for t’was they) were shuffling through a set of passable grungy slacker rock, including one number entitled “Love Drunk” which prompted the willowy female vocalist’s dad, stood behind me, to comment, “not dad drunk… sorry Kate!” to his onstage offspring. Their final number, “Slow Drive” was their best by far; a slower, more layered dreampop/ shoegaze vibe which hinted at greater potential, albeit with much more practice needed, if only to iron out the vocalist’s occasional flat notes. Good luck to ‘em, anyway. Up in short order afterwards at 9 were tour support Thyla, a 4-piece led by a full-of-beans petite blonde bombshell in an iridescent short dress and Docs (nice!), and who seemed to have two distinct styles; loud-quiet-loud grungy thrash, or a pacier, more dynamic 90’s indie-pop driving groove with spooky pseudo-goth inflections, recalling Marion or Annie Christian. Unfortunately, the mix did the vocalist’s voice no favours, regularly submerging it under the growling guitar thrash, which was a shame as there was definitely some decent stuff under there. Their penultimate number, “Tell Each Other Lies” was their best for me, a groovy and more insistent number with a yelpalong chorus which I enjoyed from the back of the hall, searching for the sonic sweet spot!

I took a spot down the front, stage right, and at the appointed hour of 10, Inheaven came on to juddering feedback from the backing track. Despite their obvious enthusiasm, the gig took a couple of numbers to bed in, from both a sound perspective (soaring, tubthumping opener “Bitter Town” and the subsequent “Stupid Things” both sounding a little thin) and general atmosphere. However, by the incendiary direct driving drama of “Vultures”, the sound was fuller and more balanced, and the kids responded to vocalist James Taylor’s request for a circle pit during the Stooges proto-punk strut of “World On Fire”, a mosh continuing thereafter. It wasn’t all thrash and bash, however; a slower “Dream Of Me” saw a sway-along pit, “Drift” overlaid its’ bluesy scuzz with a haunting dreampop choral hook, and “Velvet” featured a dreamy melody with the dual male/female vocals from James and bassist, Swindon’s own Chloe Little, drifting hazily over like an eerie sea mist.

A riff-tastic “Treats” roared the mosh back into pulsating life, with Chloe’s combative verse rap leading to a roaring, American Hi-Fi-like chorus, and all too soon set finale “Regeneration” arrived, a terrace-chant flag waver looking for a stadium to fill, which saw James plus guitar launch into the frantic mosh, almost taking a couple of panels out of the low ceiling in the process! A fitting end to another splendid set, Inheaven continuing to walk the walk “live” with another powerful, committed and often incendiary performance.

A quick hug and chat with Chloe afterwards, who remembered me from previous gigs, as we continued our Bristol conversation about this very promising but clearly ambitious band looking to take the step up to bigger venues soon. “This time next year,” she promised, my departing remark being, “put me on the guest list then!” to her affirmative response. I’ll hold you to that, girl! Quick greetings with James on the way out, before I hit the chilly road to get home before it got too treacherous underfoot (or under wheel, as it were). No matter, it might have been chilly outside, but tonight Inheaven certainly brought the heat!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

1,069 THE MENZINGERS, Pup, Cayetana, Bristol SWX, Wednesday 31st January 2018

Okay, enough of the acoustic shenanigans which have kicked off my 2018 gig year so far…. It’s time for some big pounding drums and full-on, amped-up, cranked-up, neighbour annoying punk rock electric guitars! So, tonight was perfect for the part – an intriguing 3 band US punk rock package tour fronted by The Menzingers, a Scranton, PA. rabble whom I’d been aware of for some time, but had only checked out seriously last year thanks to a recommendation from Si and Matt Hall, co-conspirators of Swindon’s finest, the Mighty Raze*Rebuild. Their 2016 “After The Party” CD became a firm favourite of mine; shades of Jimmy Eat World and the early 2000’s emo sound, a little Gaslight Anthem subject matter and song structure, and strong repetitive hooks aplenty, wrapped up in a shiny guitar-chiming package.

Si got tickets for this one, and I signed up as designated driver, picking up Si and fellow R*R uber-fan Paul Carter, then Matt, hitting the road for some rock’n’roll reminiscing en route to arrival at 20 to 8. Back at this shiny new, albeit inconveniently shaped venue, an enthusiastic sell-out crowd already being in attendance for openers Cayetana, prompt at 8. The only band on the bill I was unfamiliar with, and Si had suggested a low-fi offering; didn’t get that though, as straight out of the blocks, this all-girl 3-piece screamed pure-bred 90’s post-grunge college pop to me. Nice! Opener “Dirty Laundry” raced along, powered by some chunky guitars and nuanced, occasionally yodelly vocals from vocalist Augusta Koch, occasionally reminding me of Placebo’s Brian Molko, weirdly enough! “Certain For Miles” was a tub-thumping, pulsating VU-like drone-fest, whilst “Mesa” recalled Magnapop and Fuzzy in its’ upbeat hookiness. “You guys, Bristol’s fucking gorgeous,” gushed Augusta before splendid set closer “Hot Dad”, “but I got shin splints from walking up the hills!”. I hope that doesn’t put them off returning, as I’d love to see this lot headline, say, The Thekla…!

The boys grabbed dsrinks and we took a watching brief on the walkway, stage right, for Pup, on at 9 to a rap backing track. Opener “Doubts” set the tone for their set with some big chunky tuneage and angular, off-kilter drum patterns, almost Weezer meets Primus? “Guilt Trip” came across as a punkier Presidents Of The USA, with some odd rhythms and savage primal screaming vocals from diminutive vocalist Stefan Babcock, and a later “Sleep In The Heat” had shades of Titus Andronicus (!) in its’ widescreen savagery. Overall, I liked them fine, although they were a little too all over the place for me, and I found chunks of the mid-late set wearing, sailing uncomfortably close to screamy nu-metal territory for these ears. However penultimate number, “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” was great, easily their highlight tonight, although by this point I was chatting to Allegra and the gregarious Kelly from Cayetana at the merch stand!

Back to our spot for The Menzingers, on at 10 to a rabid welcome from a totally rammed dancefloor, singing and fist-pumping along to every song throughout, pretty much from the opening note of bouncy set opener “Tellin’ Lies”. Swapping vocal chores between dual guitarists, the livewire, balding ball of enthusiasm Tom May and his more monolithic partner-in-crime Greg Barnett, they nonetheless set to their task with equal gusto. A splendid sounding set of their modern-day emo/ US punk fusion sound ensued, all driving drums, power chords and ringing, chiming guitar work, topped with soaring, towering choruses. Not a great deal of light and shade in the set, but the mosh stayed mad for it throughout, prompting Greg to remark, “holy fuck, this is amazing!” and later blatantly lie about being born in Bristol – “I was conceived in the Bierkeller!”, prompting a sardonic response of, “you’re probably not the only one…!” from Tom.

“Charlies Army” was a Gaslight-esque flag waver worthy of a stadium backdrop; rambunctious oldie “Casey” had me scrambling for my phone to record a segment for my like-named daughter; and the boys announced their plans to watch this weekend’s Superbowl, “after midnight in Kelly’s pub in Antwerp!” before “Your Wild Years”. My favourite, the driving yet melancholy “Lookers” closed out the set, by which time I was shaking a leg down the front, in a perfect spot not only to be showered with streamer confetti during their final, Pixies-ish encore number, but also grab an easy set-list! Then t’was the usual slow egress and a quick chat with Cayetana’s vivacious vocalist Augusta at the merch stand, finally home late at 20 to 1 after dropping the boys off. A nice find in Cayetana, some work to do on The Menzingers’ back catalogue, but overall a great big boy’s big punk rock night out, a corking triple bill in fine company, on and off stage!