Thursday 13 December 2007

Hard-Fi, Nottingham Arena

It's the Ice Arena, so expectations are low. We arrive to catch the last few songs of Tavistock quintet, The Rumble Strips. L describes them as having a touch of Dexys about them, which is a good analogy. They are good and quite inventive which may reflect badly on tonight's main act.

Then the Surrey boys take the stage and launch into 'Middle Eastern Holiday' or rather three quarters of the band do because the bass guitar isn't working. Now, is it the professional thing to carry on regardless or stop, get the bass sorted and start all over again? They carry on, I think to the slight annoyance of Kai, the bass player. So we get a rather subdued version of one of their punchier tracks. I don't remember anyone sound checking the equipment before they came on, tut tut, shoot the road crew. I can't quite believe it when they opt to play a second track still without any bass guitar. Are they on a deadline or something? Kai is now miming, as technicians run around madly, swapping guitars, changing cables, prodding buttons, twiddling knobs, flicking switches, anything they can think of short of kicking the amplifier. Kai though, I think, is seriously considering it.

Then 20 seconds before the end of the track I think someone realises that they forgot to plug the amp in and the bass guitar bursts into life. Just in time for 'Tied Up Too Tight' their debut single from 2005 which sounds good and gets the crowd going. They follow this with one of their better new tracks 'Can't Get Along', and by now the place is really rocking. They maintain this momentum for a while by playing a mix of old and new but then they lose it when they play a sequence of mediocre tracks from their slightly lightweight new album.

It's at this point that I start looking around at tonight's audience. The first thing that is obvious is that the Arena is probably only half full, which begs the question why are they playing here. My mate the other night reckoned it was because vocalist Richard Archer is a 'bit of a knob' with too big an opinion of himself. On tonight's evidence that's a bit harsh, he's hardly any match for Matt the Mouth from the Pigeon Detectives.

The audience is a real mix of ages and not the predominately younger crowd that I had expected. The youngsters do entertain us though, during the dull moments. A lad in a stripy jumper has to repeatedly try to fight off the ardent attention of his embarrassing drunk girlfriend. He indulges her just enough, so as not to compromise his chances of getting his leg over later, before peeling her off him and pushing her away. Every time he does this she runs off to put her arm around someone else or in one case climb on to their shoulders. She's evidently trying to make him jealous but he doesn’t look bothered, in any case she keeps boomeranging back.

Back on stage, 'Cash Machine' sounds disappointingly flat and is also upstaged by the big screen at the back of the stage. Archer could have been stood there singing naked and no one would have noticed because everyone is too busy being entertained by the screen.

Drunk girl is back again, swinging her arms around Stripy, we all duck as arcs of lager fly from the glass in her hand. Thankfully it'll soon be empty. Although I find myself wishing she'd drink it rather than spill it then she might fall over and we'll all get some peace.

The band play a B-side 'You And Me' and Archer plays a burst of The Special's 'Ghost Town' on a Melodica, proving his talents, he also plays guitar and his voice tonight is faultless.

They all have to do it don't they? On 'We Need Love' they change the words to say 'Nottingham', luckily it is easily transposed with 'Birmingham'. It would have been interesting to see how they got on in Margate the other night.

Some silly sod has fetched Drunk girl a fresh pint of lager and we all get ready to duck again. Stripy's had enough, he slopes off, and when he doesn't return after a couple of songs she goes off to find him. We all relax.

They finish with the oddly popular 'Suburban Knights' and 'Hard To Beat' which also sounds below par. I shall give them the benefit of the doubt and blame the Arena. Luckily we are close to the front and probably get the best of the sound because again there are insufficient speakers for those at the back to get much clarity.

As Archer is singing 'Stand up, knock me right off my feet, hard to beat' a well timed bottle comes sailing towards his head and tries to do just that. Archer pulls off a ducking manoeuvre that he ought to share with Ricky Hatton. The lyrics are so appropriate 'Goodness, no, I've never known a night like this' but I wonder if he's tempted to change the next line and sing 'Can't believe it, I'm so hard to hit'.

Drunk girl has found Stripy and they are back in front of us for the encores. Archer returns alone with an acoustic guitar and plays the first verse of 'The King' alone. The rest of the band gradually drift back and join in as the song goes along. It is one of the best moments of the night. Then they close with two oldies, first the title track from 'Stars of CCTV, then Archer asks 'What goes down in Nottingham on a Thursday night?' That's a bit personal; perhaps he's read Stripy's thoughts. I think 'who falls down' might be more appropriate in Nottingham. Archer is trying to get a lead in to 'Living For The Weekend' but it's a bit convoluted. The track itself does come over well.

In the end I am pleasantly surprised. They're an entertaining band; they just need more decent material. For a band who were once labelled as the modern day Clash they've lost their way a touch. ‘Stars Of CCTV’ was half a good album with some excellent moments, most of which were played tonight, unfortunately it had an equal number of less inspired ones. Their new album ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ is more of the same, or rather less, because they've built on the uninspired half, which hints at a dearth of new ideas. Next time, they 'Better Do Better'.

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Icicle Works, Rescue Rooms

We head to the Rescue Rooms because tonight it's the Icicle Works. Our ticket numbers are 41 and 42, so we're expecting a nice cosy gig and we're not disappointed. L has said all along that she's aiming for the front row and she gets it. I warn her about crowd surfing, for a start she’ll make Daughter jealous but also there aren’t really enough people to surf along, it could be painful.

The support band are called Amsterdam but we only catch their last song, so it's difficult to comment but word has it they could be the next big thing. Although they would say that wouldn't they.

After being solo for something like 15 years, last year Ian McNabb surprised everybody by resurrecting the 'The Icicle Works' for a series of gigs. They obviously enjoyed it because they are back again this year. As it turns out though this isn't the original band, only Ian McNabb survives of the original line-up, although bass player Roy Corkill joined around 1990. Tonight he is joined by former Dodgy drummer Matthew Priest and keyboard player Richard Naiff, who apparently is fresh from touring with the Waterboys. He's quite a character is Richard, I can honestly say I've never seen anyone enjoy playing keyboards as much as he seemed to.

The first time I saw the Icicle Works back in the eighties, a friend had to talk me into going but I was impressed because they were a great live band and I subsequently went to see them several more times until they split up in the early nineties.

They start tonight with the 'When It All Comes Down', released when the band were at the height of their fame and it still sounds great. I think L immediately regrets being on the front row. You can't fault the view but they have the sound turned up very loud for such a small venue and every time Matthew Priest hits his bass drum the resulting throb and whoosh of air from the speaker parts the hair of the front three rows.

McNabb plays pretty much a 'favourites' set with the notable exception of 'Birds Fly' which is not played tonight but 'Evangeline', 'What She Did To My Mind', 'Seven Horses', 'Up Here In The North Of England' etc all are, along with some of the more sickly later stuff. McNabb also throws in one of this own solo tracks, which shows that he remains a very talented musician, although he still seems irked that people don't buy his solo albums but I think he's past caring now.

As we reach the end of the main set, I become aware of a chap with a Mohican dancing manically next to me. So if you ever wondered what happens to punks when they get too old to pogo to 'Pretty Vacant', well they go see Ian McNabb and freak out to 'Understanding Jane' instead. As for what happens to groupies when they get old, well I'm afraid they all get fat, hog the front row and step on my toes. Ouch.

The set list, which we can see from where we are, only lists one song as an encore, that being 'Hollow Horse' but after an enormously long time off stage they return to play three slightly more obscure album tracks instead. Presumably they needed the long break to discuss what they were going to play.

The crowd cheer them back for a second encore, quickly this time, to play the previously planned 'Hollow Horse'. One criticism of McNabb, and he is well know for this, is that there were too many karaoke moments tonight. On several songs McNabb stepped back from his mic during the chorus and cupped his ear encouraging the crowd to take over. Which they do but as it isn't a huge audience this isn't terribly effective. As he does this on 'Hollow Horse' I realise that this song isn't terribly easy to sing along to anyway, particularly when unaided by the vocalist. I hate it when bands do this sort of thing. It's one thing the audience joining in with the songs but it's another thing entirely if the singer takes a break and leaves them to it. We have, after all, paid our money to hear him sing.

They return for a third time to close with 'Love Is A Wonderful Colour', their one and only big hit. This is all very eighties, these days the trend is for no encores or grudgingly just the one. No one plays two these days, let alone three. I wondered if they might keep coming back on stage even if we all went home because it is clear that McNabb and his band are clearly having fun.

Top gig.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Human League, Royal Concert Hall

Tonight the soulless Concert Hall. We are off to the 30th anniversary of the Human League and the 25th ish anniversary of their classic album Dare.

Support is by a band called OneTwo who I had never heard of, which is surprising as its basically Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Claudia Bruecken of Propaganda. Their competent if a little dull set consists of mostly tracks from their album 'Instead', but they also play Orchestral Manoeuvres classic 'Messages', although not as well as the band themselves did it earlier this year and they finish with Propaganda's 'Duel'. They are very well received by the crowd, despite Claudia's appalling dancing.

Another track they played was a cover of 'Club Country' by the Associates. This was done as a tribute to Billy MacKenzie who would have been 50 this year had he not committed suicide in 1997. MacKenzie who was already suffering with depression, overdosed on prescription drugs in his father's garden shed, after the death of his mother.

So to the main event and a huge backdrop of half the original Dare cover, of the three surviving members, covers the stage. Phil Oakey comes on stage, looking more and more like Christopher Walken in manner and dress, each time I see him. They launch straight into Dare, in its entity and in order. The problem is, it's immediately an anticlimax because the first three tracks of the album are well known live favourites anyway so the occasion doesn't really happen until 'Darkness' is played. Now had they thrown in a few pre-Dare rarities first then that would have whipped up the expectation straight away. How about opening with something like 'Girls And Boys' which was the first League Mark 2 single anyway.

'Do or Die' is my favourite track off Dare and I haven't heard them play this since the Hysteria tour in err.. 1985 was it? but tonight it falls a little flat. It doesn't help that they seem to prolong the instrumental bit in the middle and Phil and the girls disappear off stage for no apparent reason.

It’s side two of the vinyl that makes the night. The three tracks that merge together on record, the brief 'Get Carter' (that Phil milks for all its worth), the fantastically haunting 'I Am The Law' and a sensational 'Seconds', with great graphics. For the first time they crank the bass up and you can feel the walls of the auditorium throb. You want them to stop right there, rewind and do all three of them again. Brilliant.

Throughout the crowd are very static (standing but barely dancing) and very quiet, none of which is helped by the staid venue. The bands last three visits to Nottingham have all been to Rock City, so it seems an odd decision to downgrade to the Concert Hall this time. I only saw the last of the Rock City gigs in December 2005 but the atmosphere was fantasic. People's attitudes are different at places like Rock City, tonight you get the impression that people have nipped out to grab a concert in the gap between Coronation Street and their evening cocoa and they'll be really pissed off if they're not back in time for the Ten O'clock News.

'Love Action' and 'Don't You Want Me' round off Dare and then we get a totally instrumental Hard Times, purely so the gang can do a clothing change. Then we have a run through of some of the hits starting with the Lebanon and finishing with 'Fascination' and 'Mirror Man'. Regrettably there are no surprises.

The encore starts with a storming 'Being Boiled' and concludes with the immensely annoying 'Together in Electric Dreams'. Which is not even a Human League track but they always play it.

Oakey's voice was excellent throughout and the band weren't bad but still an awful lot was on tape but the three best tracks of the night were by miles 'I Am The Law', 'Seconds' and 'Being Boiled', unfortuantely non of them feature the girls. Who were their usual dancing, singing slightly off-key, selves with numerous costume changes. Perhaps too late for a career move but time to go solo Phil?

The problem with playing your classic album first, as I discovered with Orchestral Manoeuvres this year, is that whatever you play next is going to be an anti-climax. Also, although I thought it would, playing the album in order doesn't work either because there's no surprise, everyone knows what's coming next. What both bands should have done for a retro-tour like this is play it as if it really was the Dare tour (or the Architecture & Morality Tour) e.g. play what you would have played in 1982 on that original tour. Which in the Leagues case would have meant drawing on stuff from 'Travelogue' and 'Reproduction'. They could possibly get away with a few tracks that were close to that period e.g. 'Fascination', 'Mirror Man' and why do they never play the wonderful 'Love You Too Much'? It just doesn't seem right when you mix in stuff from twenty years later. Just my opinion.

In 2005 they did a greatest hits set, is there any point in doing the same thing every year? Go on surprise us. Just because 'Dare' sold millions doesn't make it a classic album, it's a classic album simply because it is! If you see what I mean. 'Travelogue' is a classic too, now there's a thought...

Go on Phil do it, 'Dare' To Be different, I can see it now...

'A crow and a baby had an affair...'

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Pigeon Detectives, Rock City

I've been stood up by my mate (again) who's decided to drive over to Birmingham to see the Foo Fighters for 2414th time rather than join me at the Pigeon Detectives. Since we got tickets they've suddenly become popular, which is a shame and the gig is now sold out, whereas a few months ago they couldn't give the tickets away. Daughter is keen to go and because my mate isn't now going I've manage to buy his ticket off him for her. So it's Daughter and me tonight, no L. She says she's not keen on them Pigeon Fanciers; she liked what she heard of them in the Ropewalk one night but not when she'd sobered up afterwards.

I ride home and then run to meet L from pilates. I persuade Doggo into doing a loop around Wollaton before heaving up to the Tennis Centre. Unfortunately we lose one of his flashing lights off his running jacket; well he loses it, too much pushing through bushes. We retrace our steps to look for it. This upsets Doggo who doesn't like it when we repeat a route, lazy creature.

L whips up some excellent sausage, mash, and onions and then we're off to the gig at Rock City. Daughter seems to have her pulling gear on or perhaps she just wants to look good in the mosh pit; although she's not shown any inclination to crowd surf before but she probably just didn’t want to in front of her mother. Hope she behaves herself or else I could be in trouble with L.

We miss the first support band, the much hyped One Night Only, who I'd like to have seen but we catch most of the set by The Wallbirds. The place is packed and we're in the Maximo Park position, stage right, so the view isn't brilliant. The Wallbirds are kind of country-rock that reminds me of Fratellis but with potential. One of their songs seemed to consist of just a guitar, a hi-hat cymbal and a pair of sticks, assisted by a lot of clapping from the crowd. They're certainly energetic and it rubs off on the crowd. Possibly one to watch out for.

In between bands we move to a better position on the steps, where Daughter has to battle the drunks and some over enthusiastic fans but we have a good view. The beer throwing isn't too bad tonight which is a good job as Daughter has opted to keep her white sweat-top on rather than wow a pigeon fancier with her décolletage.

"Hello Nottinum"

Winning no prizes for pronunciation here come tonight headliners. All dressed in leather jackets the Pigeons energetically take flight into their breakthrough single 'I Found Out' which grazed the lower reaches of the charts earlier this year and is now set for a re-release.

The band, lead by their lunatic of a front man, Matt Bowman, then proceed to work their way through their debut album 'Wait For Me' and assorted b-sides. Hammering out their high octane, pop songs as the crowd jump, surge and crowd surf in front of them. I had expected it to be an almost exclusively under 18's crowd but it isn't, it's mainly students and twenty something's with a few oldies like me thrown in. Because the band have only recently become popular the youngsters must have been out manoeuvred on the tickets.

Music aside all the entertainment comes from Mental Matt. He swings his microphone above his head on its cable; I hope they've got plenty of spares. For some reason his performance reminds me of Alvin Stardust. Two songs in he takes off his leather jacket, to reveal a black t-shirt and launches himself into the crowd. He emerges with the t-shirt in shreds, pre-arranged me thinks, pre-ripped. Some ego. Already I've discarded the Alvin comparisons and now I'm wondering whether he's taken lessons on stage presence from Justin of the Darkness but then suddenly he goes a bit bashful on us. He resists the temptation to go bare-chested, as Justin would have done, and puts his jacket back on. Thank God for that. Then for the next song he swaps it for another t-shirt. We're four songs in and there have already been more costumes changes than at a Madonna gig.

Matt The Mouth continues to leap around the stage and the crowd sing-along-a-Matt. His and the band's energy is reflected and magnified by the crowd, which in turn spurs him on even more. He has the crowd eating out of his hand and he loves it; oh how much does he love it. Then he surfs into the crowd and is tossed around by a sea of hands. When he returns to the stage he has lost his microphone. Some feat when it's on a bloody long cable.

For his next trick, he catches a beer can that is thrown from the back of hall, he looks stunned he's caught it but he remains cool and casually drinks from it, then spits it out over the crowd before hurling the can back from where it came. The man's a one-man cabaret act. He spends the rest of the gig trying to catch another one, plenty are thrown, but he cannot repeat the feat. He regularly encores the spitting though, he's frequently drinking beer, or water and regurgitating it straight back out, either up in the air or over the audience. Not very endearing. If this is how he drinks I'd hate to see him eat.

A shoe makes it one stage and as Bowman makes a joke about it, it becomes the cue for lots of other shoes and article of clothing are thrown on stage. This isn't a f****** jumble sale he protests but he likes the belt and says he'll keep it.

The band who hail from Rothwell, near Leeds, and have a certain edgy Northern charm about them, nearly cause a riot at one stage when they threatened to play 'Marching On Together', Leeds United's anthem, while the guitarist's effects pedal is fixed. Luckily for them not enough people are clued up or else they'd probably have got bottled off.

They close with 'I'm Always Right' followed by 'I'm Not Sorry', their first release, which only emerged in March this year. Which goes to show how far they've come in a mere eight months.

There's no encore, I think after an hour they simply ran out of material and energy. Their problem is that their simple formula can wear a little thin. You can get the feeling that you've heard some of the tracks before even when you haven't. Three chord riffs, a bass player who only plays one string and caveman lyrics about drink, girls, and rowdiness, there isn't anything particularly original about them but they do do it rather well. I heard someone describe them as McFly with balls, quite.

Three songs from the end they played a track called 'Emergency'. I thought this was a cover but it turns out to be a new track of theirs. It's one of the best tracks of the night and could be a sign of the diversity they'll need to develop in their repertoire if they are to kick on from here. We don't get anything profound or enduring from them tonight but you do get fun, plenty of fun. Pure trash. Excellent. The best place to be tonight was probably down the front with the pogoing students and had I not been restraining Daughter I might just have joined them. Now where's me shoes.

Show over, the appreciative crowd, and Daughter, go home happy and singing. How many lads will be smooth talking their girlfriends tonight with Matt's sweet nothings, 'You know I love you, take off your clothes, its alright'. Daughter is humming along too but she has mangled together a Killers/Pigeons remix in her head, for some reason.

Sunday 14 October 2007

Seth Lakeman, University of Lincoln

Tonight I find myself at Lincoln University to see the folk maestro, Seth Lakeman, in action.

Firstly the university confuses us because we head for The Shed and the gig is in The Engine Shed, to which we have to ask directions. It's very confusing them having places with such similar names. Secondly, and this a first, the gig seems to be running ahead of itself. We arrive in time to see the start of the second support band but end up catching only the end of them. Seth himself comes on twenty minutes early.

The place is also packed, obviously folk is in vogue at the moment. The audience is a mix of oldies and youngsters who have got old before their time, and us of course. This makes me feel very young. There's no proper beer available, which would have sold well given the clientèle, and I have to make do with Kronenbourg 1664, that famous French lager brewed in very Gallic Reading.

Now, as I've said before, I'm not really a great fan but I have done my research by listening to both 'Freedom Fields', and 'Kitty Jay'. It starts well because Seth opens with a string of tracks that I know and I am very impressed because for the first few tracks he plays the fiddle. Very good he is with it too. He is accompanied by quite a vivid stage show, plenty of flashing lights etc but this leaves the back of the stage a little too dark to see what the two percussionists are doing which is a shame. The band also consist of a double bass and I'm told his brother on guitar.

Seth himself doesn't stay on the fiddle for long and plays an assortment of bass guitars and the material isn't stuff I recall, consequently he loses me a bit after that. Personally, I think he is at his best on the fiddle.

My legs are knackered and I consider moving a little further back and leaning against the wall until someone steals my intended spot. Seth grabs my attention again towards the end when he plays the title track of 'Kitty Jay', which is clearly popular and possibly the stand track of the evening.

He returns for an encore of two tracks, one of which is an instrument, then he's gone and that's it. It's still very early, these folk people don't like to be out too late.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Brakes, University Of Warwick

In March I saw the Brakes live at the Rescue Rooms and L regretted not going with me. So I said the next time they played locally, I would take her. In fact they played Derby last Friday but we were up on the coast in our cottage. The next best option was tonight at Warwick University, which is confusingly near Coventry. So that is where we go off to tonight.

We drive the sixty odd miles to Coventry but we are too late to see anything of the support band, mainly due to problems finding the car park. A few signs would have been nice. As you can tell this is a venue I haven't been to before. It's a pretty good one too. A tight venue with a high stage and lots of vantage points. It reminds me of a smaller version of Leicester Poly, De Montfort Uni as it now is. The show is part of their Fresher's week. So I'm expecting lots of drongos and possibly a few babes but we don’t really get much of either.

Daughter is with us, complete with a headache, which isn't good news for going to a gig. Probably something to do with going to school this morning in the pouring rain in just a jumper. So she'll be next with the flu symptoms.

The band open with, as I assume they always do, 'Hi How Are You'. Daughter looks at me as the first of many F words are flung from the stage. Every so often she says something to me, which I can't hear properly because of the noise and I'm tempted to quote the band's line 'Won't you shut the f*** up, I'm just trying to watch the band' but I don't.

Apparently Daughter's been listening up on The Rakes by mistake. Easy mistake, Brakes/Rakes. I think L has made the same mis-association in the past. It's all probably a bit of a shock for Daughter, I mean, I can't really imagine the deadly serious Rakes imploring the audience to 'Do The Spring Chicken'.

Some of the audience take this offer literally. One particular audience member, who seems to have come as a member of the Hair Bear Bunch, does the Spring Chicken throughout.

The Brakes are one of my favourite bands. They are a refreshing alternative to most of what is around at the moment. Their songs are pleasantly random, an intriguing mixture of moods and styles. A bit like women but with lower maintenance. Between tracks it's often difficult to remember you’re listening to the same band.

They also have something to say and are not afraid to say it with their quirky lyrics. 'Here's a song about the death of God' cue 'Cease and Desist'.

You get the feeling that the band revel in being unconventional, their songs never seem to follow any set structure. They often stop without warning and often err on the well... brief side, stopping before they've even really started. 'Cheney' is a nine-second rant about the Vice President of the USA. The almost as short 'Pick Up The Phone' is about foreign policy.

The obligatory pineapple is brought out for the 60 odd seconds of the punky 'Porcupine or Pineapple', their anti-war song. Hair Bear is by now desperately trying to upstage the band but even one of the speakers almost falling on the drummer a few songs in can't upstage them. Admirably the drummer barely seems to notice, as he carries on playing. He could so easily have not been so lucky.

The support band the XCerts, who we missed, slow the crescendo of songs by bringing a cake on stage for the bass player's birthday.

Again the epic, lovelorn 'No Return' tugs at the heartstrings and steals the show, a song seemingly personal to vocalist Eamon Hamilton about love lost but painfully remembered. It complements the short, frenetic bursts of their other songs extremely well.

The set is over in around fifty minutes, having played most of their two albums. A chap near us has continually called for their seven second song about punctuation 'Comma Comma Comma Full Stop'. I keep expecting them to either finish or encore with it but it remains unplayed. Eamon returns alone to play a single solo encore, a song about European integration he calls it. Maybe be that should be disintegration, as he whinges about metrification among other things.

All bands are influenced by somebody who has gone before them but the great bands earn our respect by taking those influences, turning them on their head and then coming up with something distinctive and then crucially, ending up sounding like no one but themselves. That's the Brakes.

As the lights go up, it looks as if L's pulled, she's talking to Hair Bear. Thankfully I don't think frizzy afros do it for her.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Air Traffic, Rescue Rooms

I'm at the Rescue Rooms again tonight exercising my 'open mind theory'. That is, do not dismiss something you know little about. Even so, I have to keep reminding myself that it's not the dreaded Keane that I'm about to see but a band from Bournemouth called Air Traffic. My friend thinks that they're rather good. Based on the few tracks I've heard, I'm not totally convinced but of course they may be a totally different animal live.

I miss the first support band, who were on at a ridiculously early 7.15 but I catch the second half of the set by the second support band. They are from Dundee and are called The Law. Now I recall that in the early nineties Paul Rodgers of Free/Bad Company and Kenney Jones of Small Faces/The Who formed a super group called the Law and had loads of 'famous' guest musicians playing with them. I'm not sure the Scottish Law know this but their logo is stunningly similar.

New Law

Old Law

They sound like they want to sound like the View or perhaps they just want to sound more drunk than the View. Either way we'll move swiftly on.

My friend introduces me to a couple of his mates and one of them even buys me a Newcastle Brown. The conversation turns perversely from music to marathons, one of them did the Robin Hood Half at the weekend. Just as we're getting round to triathlons and I'm recommending bikes to him, the band come on and spoil it.

Hang on a second, this isn't Keane, this is an indie band, two guitars, bass and drums. Standard indie fodder but still not bad. Mrs Keane has obviously run off with the Gamekeeper and their affair has spawned a love child that is called Air Traffic (I really must stop these Lady Chatterley references).

Then after just one track front man Chris Wall spoils it by putting down his guitar and instead sitting at a side-facing keyboard. Oh my God, it's Coldplay.

After one keyboard driven anthem we get another and another and another, all with soaring choruses. Although at times the rest of the band seem to be playing a different tune. It's like Chris Martin backed by the Fratellis.

To be fair, Wall's vocals are strong and when the keyboard / indie guitar combo works, it works well, such as on 'Just Abuse Me' but after a while, the songs start to sound rather similar or like Travis or Snow Patrol or... well you get the gist. The other problem is that with him sitting down you can't see him. It might look good on Jools Holland but it doesn't work in a nightclub. You need to stand up mate. That is if you want to be a proper front man. Play your keyboard eighties tea tray style or get someone else to do the tinkly bits.

I start looking round at the crowd, a mix of couples who are probably my age but look a lot older, all nodding along in time, with a few twenty something's, drinking at the bar, thrown in to bring the average age down.

Thankfully every so often, Wall does stand up and when he does he picks up his guitar and lifts the pace with a indie dance floor filler such as the lurid and catchy 'Charlotte'. It shows a more daring side that seems to drag the attention of the twenty something's away from the bar, but just as the crowd gets going it's time for more keyboard. He is good with his keyboard and he's determined to make sure we know it but there really is far too much of it. Especially because a lot of the tracks really don't need it. They're simply trying to do too much, be too complex. There's a good tune in there fighting to get out but they're smothering it. At one stage the rest of the band start beating out the rhythm on three separate drums, that works, but it's a fleeting moment.

The crowd is also very quiet, the Rescue Rooms is about half full, and when he announces that they are recording a live version of their new single 'No More Running Away' at every tour date, he also has to appeal to the audience to make some noise. Which sums it up really.

It was a good evening because Air Traffic are pleasant, if a little annoying, a band looking for an identity but looking in the wrong place. Chris Wall will probably be huge when he goes solo and records an album of power ballads. Then his backing band can really get down to some serious Chelsea Daggering.

Friday 31 August 2007

The Hold Steady, Rescue Rooms

For the last few weeks I've been grooving to the new The Hold Steady CD, which L has lent me. I don't know how I managed to let this band slip through my fingers; their new album is terrific. L's getting quite good with her music; they're just one of a few bands she's introduced me to recently.

We head off to the Rescue Rooms. It's packed. Which is a surprise; we didn’t expect this sort of turn out. The view isn’t brilliant and I’m not at all sure whether L can see anything. So far it's hardly her ideal gig. We have already missed the support band, which is a shame because I would like to have seen a bit of them, if only to see what a band called 'Cat The Dog' looked like.

At 9pm the band come on and launch into 'Hot Soft Light' from the new album. Like all their songs, it is full of power chords and fist-pumping choruses mangled together with lead singer Craig Finn's downbeat lyrics about drink, drugs, and girls.

‘It started recreational, it ended kind of medical’

They seem to be very keen on their drink, their drugs, and their girls in Minnesota.

The audience is quickly divided into those who know what the Hold Steady are about and those that don't. It seems that a lot of people have come along just because it's Friday night and it's only a tenner to get in. Quite quickly space appears as a lot of people nip out for a cigarette. Instantly the gig is more comfortable, perhaps even L can see. Why leave? Ok, so the Hold Steady may not exactly sound or look fashionable. For a start Craig Finn is 35 (still on life's up slope) and looks more like a schoolteacher than a rock star but the most important thing is the great sound that they make. Their songs may be almost pub songs but they are well-written, very catchy, and great fun.

Most of the set is culled from their latest album which is presumably what the audience came to hear but surprisingly the best-known tracks come early. Finn shows us what a well-read chap he is. ‘Stuck Between Stations’ is about the poet John Berryman. The line 'Boys and Girls in America have such a sad time together' is from Jack Kerouac's, 'On the Road'.

'This is another song about a boy and a girl, and a horse.' Finn says as he introduces the excellent ‘Chips Ahoy’, which is the other side of the creative coin. The song takes place at a horse race, about a couple who despite winning just can’t find the happiness they desire. Finn swings his arms around a lot as he sings, as if trying to expand on the words.

'This is a drinking song' he tells us but then he corrects himself, 'well they’re all drinking songs'.

Finn sings stories about characters to care about. I wonder if his own youth was misspent (or well spent) in the manner he describes, that is getting high or getting drunk or probably both.

Some older tracks come later. ‘Your Little Hoodrat Friend’ from their second album goes down well and for the encore after a couple of slowies in 'Citrus', for which out comes the accordion and the xylophone and 'First Night', they play 'Everyone's A Critic But Most People Are DJs' and 'Killer Parties' both from their debut. I think at one point the lead guitarist fell off the stage but I’m not sure.

Overall the band put in a gritty yet professional performance to a crowd of mixed ages. Some young, some as old as Finn, some even older than ancient old me. In the end the venue is about right, the band's sound is probably best suited to the smaller venues but I think their increasing fame may see them round the corner at Rock City next time.

He thanks the crowd and says what a joy it is to be here. He's clearly stoked to be up on stage, enjoying himself and enjoying the fact that the audience were loving it too. It's great to see a band that has as good a time on stage as the crowd are having off it. You can’t help being buoyed by the band's boundless enthusiasm and infectious personality but it's not the performances that make the band so good, it's the songs.

'We had a massive night, every song was right'

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Voxtrot, The Social

I head to the Social to see a band called Voxtrot, who are a very British sounding Indie Band from Austin, Texas.

When I arrive just after 8pm, I appear to be the only one there. I have to double check that I'm in the right place. I check my ticket. It seems I am in the right place. More worrying my ticket is number 2. So at least one other person should be arriving. Then I notice, in the gloom, that there are other people here. There are three chaps sat drinking right at the back of the room. I suspect, though, that they might be the band. Oh well if no one else turns, at least I'll get a good view.

I check out the merchandising stall, unmanned at present. The CDs are cheap so I'll buy some later because they're very expensive normally as they're all US imports. Daughter wants me to get her a badge but there aren't any. Posters are free though, I'll get one later for her. It doesn't look as they'll run out. She'll be upset though when she sees I haven't been to see Foxtrot after all.

I feel compelled to get a drink, for something to do. I buy a Newcastle Brown, which is just the right temperature and I thoroughly enjoy it. It's been a long time since I last had one. I go downstairs to the other bar, where there are other people, to drink it.

Eventually I see some other people go upstairs, so I follow them. Soon some more people do start arriving. A group of five students go to the bar and share a pint of lager between them.

It's filling up now. In addition to me, the three 'band' members and the five students. There are a couple of couples, all older than me. Another chap who's even older and looks vaguely familiar. I'm sure he travels on the Red Arrow and reads the Daily Telegraph every day. I had him down as Rachmaninoff man, not into obscure US Indie Bands. There are two girls chatting away in American accents, so presumably jet-setting groupies. So in all, not counting the chap who is now on the merchandising stall and the barmaid there's 15 of us.

Action at last. A very strange support band takes the stage. They are called Sleeping States and are a bit like Lovers Electric, that odd couple who supported OMD, but without the girl. They are two guys with guitars and another of those weird synthesizers that they blow into. Very weird but not bad.

After they're finished, a few more people arrive and the crowd swells to around thirty people. Then Voxtrot take the stage and the 'audience' respond enthusiastically. The band are over here to promote their first album. They've been around for around four years, so they've taken their time releasing one, opting instead to release a string of singles and EPs. A bit like bands used to do in the good old early eighties. These singles though, a mix of catchy pop gems and disarming ballads, have made quite a name for them in the blogosphere, without probably selling anything. They offer a lot of their tracks as free downloads.

Fittingly enough, they open with 'Introduction', which is also the first track on the album. The band have tons of energy and show it. The opener is full of their bouncy sound and jangly guitars, the band bounce along with it. The drumming is impressive too, Matt Simon's pounding drums carrying the songs along.

The guitarist breaks a guitar string during the second song but they don't have any spare guitars and they have to borrow one off the support band. They ask if anyone in the audience could change the string for them. Life at the bottom, eh. Very Rock n roll. Someone takes it off him but I think it's the chap from the merchandising stall.

Three tracks in and they play their 'big' internet 'hit' - 'Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives'. Everyone in the audience knows it, cue a lot of singing and foot-tapping. A group of five are bouncing around at the back. The band say 'hi' to them and thank them for travelling four hours to be here. Is everybody here with the band? This troupe of groupies are four parts male, one part female. The girl keeps a safe distance from the lads, seemingly not wishing to be seen as if she's with any of them. I wonder which of the band members she's shagging.

Then they shift gear, lead vocalist Ramesh Srivastava putting aside his guitar, to take a turn at the keyboard for two piano-driven numbers.

In all, it's a short set and the band stick to their allotted 45 minutes. Earlier, on the track 'Kid Gloves', Srivastava asked us to 'Cheer me up, cheer me up, I'm a miserable fuck.' So obviously we failed because after playing another of their early 'hits' - 'The Start of Something', which has the groupies at the back jumping with excitement, they leave the stage.

'If I die clutching your photograph, don't call me boring' Srivastava sings.

Hmmmm. They don't encore, despite the histrionic cries of Daily Telegraph man. No, not boring, not miserable either, in fact a very good gig, just a bit too brief mate.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Rock City

One of the most striking things about Rock City tonight is the lack of smoke. I never thought they'd get the smoking ban to stick in places like this but there are no dissenters tonight.

Black Rebel are a no-frills three-piece rock band, and a bit of an acquired taste. As Daughter isn't really familiar with their music, I wouldn't say this was a good choice for her first time but then again do we ever get to really choose our first time? It is though a typical Rock City gig. Take the support band for instance - The Black Angels. Also from the US they claim to be inspired by The Velvet Underground which I can see but to me they remind me of some of the darker bands of the 1980's Goth era. They're quite good in a dark and brooding sort of way, jolly they're certainly not. There slogan is 'The Black Angels are marching forward into battle for your souls'. Quite.

Black Rebel themselves are late taking the stage which means it could be a short show, as Saturday is a club night and they're supposed to be off stage for 10.15.

Rock experience wise, it starts well, Robert Turner is in the crowd before the first song 'Took Out A Loan' is even half way through. When he isn't strutting around the stage or jumping into the crowd he often puts his hood up, like a sulky teenager. Before he goes down on his knees with his guitar and tries to stoke up the feedback, with seemingly little success. I think the sound engineer won that particular battle. Little did I know at the time but the gig nearly didn’t happen. Last nights show in Bristol was cancelled because Turner had a throat infection. So I suppose he deserves extra credit for the tracks he took vocals on.

A lot of the set is taken from their new album 'Baby 81', although the band regularly dip back into their earlier albums and even pull songs from their country detour 'Howl'.

As they mix their old and new, it occurs to me that they are even a bit like Daughter, or perhaps like any woman, in that they have a penchant for dramatic mood swings. E.g. here's a song to jump around to (e.g. 'What Ever Happened'), here's a folk song to make you cry (anything from 'Howl'), here's a moody one to have sex to (e.g. the long brooding 'American X').

Towards the end most of the band go off stage leaving lead guitarist and singer Peter Hayes on his own. With his guitar and his harmonica he delivers a couple more songs from 'Howl'. The rest of the band return to play two requests. The crowd shout, predictably, for 'Spread Your Love' and 'Six Barrel Shotgun'. Although not necessarily my choices, they go down well, particularly with the crowd surfers who seem to have turned up late. My favourite 'Stop' goes unplayed.

They play one more, 'All You Do Is Talk' from the current album. Then they are gone, although I think they would have happily played on if there hadn't been the club night induced curfew.

A good performance, although not as good as when I've seen them before. I thought it was all a bit disjointed, perhaps trying to hard to knit their differing material together.

Thursday 21 June 2007

OMD, Nottingham Royal Centre

As we arrive for the OMD gig, I am struggling to remember when I last saw them. It was around 1984 and I'm sure it was on the 'Junk Culture' tour but the internet seems to disagree with me on this point. If it was on the 'Crush' tour then that's slightly embarrassing.

I look round at the audience, almost all look older than me, many a lot older but I guess that quite a few are probably younger than me, it's just that they don't look it. I wonder how many of the women here tonight were also here in 1984 and how many of them my teenage self lusted after that night. They are certainly nothing worth lusting over now and they've all ended up with some seriously overweight blokes. Ha. Serves them right they should have taken notice of me. Certainly wouldn't swap my slot tonight for any of theirs.

The support band are from Australia and are called Lovers Electric. They are rather charming, a kind of a Dresden Dolls crossed with Arcade Fire but without the instruments or the people for that matter, there are only two of them, a guitar and an occasionally used Casio keyboard. They are quite good in a minimalised minimalist sort of way and they go down well with the crowd. Although, lets be honest, the crowd probably don't get out much, so anything is going to sound fresh and interesting. The band, to their credit go straight to the foyer post-performance to sign copies of their album, which appears to be selling well.

The audience may have aged and expanded horrifyingly but the venue hasn't. The sound system is still akin to listening to your own hi-fi system. E.g. it gives a good reproduction of the sound but is never likely to bowl you over but then the venue doesn't have the acoustics to hold a really good gig. With almost the entire top balcony empty they could have fit the audience into Rock City and blown us all away, except that most of the audience wouldn't have been able to stand up for the duration. As it is when they rise to their feet tonight it is often for brief periods before they slump back to their seats for a rest. It's a good job really, as the balcony may not be strong enough to support all the flab jiggling around.

The band come fresh from a short series of dates where they gave a complete performance of the "Architecture and Morality" album. This second part of the tour had been billed as a 'Best Of' and the worry was that they we would get more of their latter 'disposable' pop and less of the early era classics. I needn't have worried as at dead on 9pm the lights went down and the ethereal instrumental title track of 'Architecture and Morality' silenced the crowd. At its conclusion three of the band took the stage and the drummer, Malcolm Holmes began the heavy drumbeat of 'Sealand'. Finally Andy McCluskey took to the stage to great acclamation to sing the few mournful words that appear towards the end of the track. The band then proceeded to play the entire album with great assurance. The whole show is accompanied by a stunning range of visuals from a video screen at the back of the stage. The early material is accompanied by images of the cold war:- nuclear missiles, images of Cuba and the Soviet Union etc, highlighting the political edge that the band had to their early output.

Half the audience are loving it, the other half, who presumably jumped aboard around the time of 'Locomotion', are looking confused. McCluskey reassures them, promising them the hits will come later. He's says they're having too much fun playing the A&M stuff. So am I. Don't stop. They don't. 'Georgia' is predictably excellent, so too is 'She's Leaving'. McCluskey showing us that his voice is still in great form. Humphreys too does a good job when he takes vocals on 'Souvenir' before handing back to McCluskey to sing the two songs devoted to Joan of Arc.

They finish the mini A&M set with 'The Beginning and the End'.

McCluskey then announces that they will now go on to play twelve hit singles in a row. I hesitate to be critical but this is where things start to go downhill a touch. 'Messages' was of course excellent and I've always had a soft spot for the 'Junk Culture' stuff but do we really need to hear forgotten singles like 'Pandora Box' again. This hails from the post 1989 split era when OMD were solely a vehicle for McCluskey with the other band members having long departed. Equally 1991's 'Sailing on the Seven Seas' although a huge hit at the time, isn't really an OMD record.

They close in style with 'Enola Gay' but return very quickly for an encore. They launch into a track I'd thankfully forgotten about, the 1996 hit single 'Walking on the Milky Way' (another post-split song). In my opinion better it remained forgotten. It's certainly wouldn't have been my choice as an encore. They follow this with an outstanding 'Electricity' and then close with the haunting 'Romance of The Telescope' from 1983's 'Dazzle Ships' album, although it originally appeared as a B-side to Maid Of Orleans. It is a fitting closure. How good would that have sounded bouncing off the walls of a smaller venue?

It is the only track to be played from 'Dazzle Ships' tonight. No 'Genetic Engineering' and no 'Telegraph'. I could be wrong but doesn't it gall the other members of the band to play three McCluskey solo hits while omitting classics like these and others such as 'Red Frame/White Light'. Well, at least they didn't play the 'Universal'.

The first OMD album I bought was 'Architecture & Morality' and the last was 'Junk Culture'. So I only bought the two, although I delved backwards in to their earlier stuff. I soon got disillusioned with their lighter pop sound, preferring the spikier early stuff. This is the problem with OMD. They graduated from being an art-house electronic band to a pop band and did so very quickly. In the process they 'ditched' most of their early material, tonight they try and combine the two genres. It didn't quite work but it was a good attempt and still a very good gig. Now if they played a smaller venue and played stuff culled purely from their first four albums now that would be something really worth seeing, although the flabby folks may disagree with me.

Monday 28 May 2007

Modest Mouse, Rock City

Modest Mouse are a new band to me, although they've been around for quite a few years.

They have a sound that I reckon is a cross between Talking Heads and the Pixies but with a host of other influences thrown in as well. Apparently their name is derived from a passage in a Virginia Woolf story "...and very frequent even in the minds of modest mouse-coloured people..." modest mouse-coloured people? What does that mean?

The bands main claim to fame of late has been the addition of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and some people are obviously there just to see Marr because many appear to drift away when the music turns out to be light years away from what they were expecting. It's their loss because tonight Marr is good, his head nodding along to the beat, which belted out by the band’s two drummers.

The band also uses several bass guitars, including a double bass, as well throwing trumpets and accordions into the mix as well. At one stage with everyone else occupied on an instrument a roadie picks up the bass for one song. On another the bass player disappears all together.

There's an awful lot going on onstage but nothing though can upstage lead vocalist Isaac Brock. You can tell he really wants to be Black Francis by his mannerisms and the way he barks half his lines. In truth he is more Black Francis than the real McCoy is these days. There's an awful lot of banter from Brock between songs that I can't hear much of it despite the fact that L has reserved us a really good spot.

The polished finish of much of the stuff on the new album is stripped off tonight and songs such as the single Dashboard sound better for it. The biggest cheer is for the bands 'hit' of a few years ago Float On, which proves that the audience are not there just because of Marr's presence. Towards the end a fan (male) storms the stage to kiss Marr on the cheek; nobody dare attempt to kiss Brock.

It's a good gig, although I can't help feeling that if they laid off on the drum and bass a bit the songs might have shone though a bit more.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Maximo Park, Rock City

It’s Maximo Park tonight but I don’t want to be too late for the gig because I want to see some of the support band. It’s Art Brut.

Art Brut are a very odd band on record and seemingly even odder live. They make songs poking fun at people who form bands just to be cool or to get famous or simply take rock n roll too seriously. For some reason they particularly dislike the Velvet Underground. Art Brut, of course, claim they are only in it to enjoy themselves and make music.

On their album ‘Bang Bang Rock n Roll’ their front-man, a chap called Eddie Argos, sings but usually rants about other things as well, mainly his lack of success with women and when he finally does have some success, his impotence problems.

They are a band where you really need to hear what the lead singer is singing and tonight because of our position, to one side of the stage; we could only make out portions of the lyrics. It was a good spot to watch from but not so good for listening.

Tonight he seems to dispense with the singing completely and instead berates his audience like a man stoned on something. Most of the songs ended in a lot of chanting and adlibbing. Is he on something or is that just him? Argos was constantly at play with the crowd and with the songs, constantly messing with the lyrics. Which is fine if you know the songs but not so good if you don't. On "Emily Kane" he even offered an update on a meeting with Ms. Kane. Then he appended "Leaving on a Jet Plane" to "Moving to L.A."

An interesting performance but slightly disappointing too. One of their best songs was wasted when he merged "We Formed a Band" into "Bad Weekend" at the end. Then he tells the audience that they must go home and form a band. He threatens to check that they all do, he says he will come back to Nottingham and track them all down to check.

The crowd love it all. Argos has everybody in the room chanting "Art Brut, Top of the Pops", which eventually becomes "Maximo Park, Top of the Pops".

And so to Maximo Park and the all action figure that is Paul Smith.

Tonight he somersaults his way around the stage dressed as Alex from Clockwork Orange while the rest of the band seem happy to leave him to it. His actions contrast with the rock solid stance of the bass player, who looks decidedly lost. The Keyboard player is the most animated of the rest; he staggers around, seemingly having shared the shame spliff as the Mr Argos.

The guitarist turns out to be from Derby, which causes a chorus of boos.

I must admit that I have been a little disappointed with the new album. The record seems to be essentially more of the same but perhaps with a little less of the punch of their debut. It’s an album that’s perhaps more notable for its lyrical content (and possibly the oddness of them) than its tunes. So really I should love it. As Paul would say “When it comes to girls I'm mostly hypothetical, When it comes to girls I'm truly theoretical”. Whatever that means. Tonight however the new stuff really wins me over.

Opener Graffiti gets somehow lost in the commotion and the sound system but the next three tracks ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’, 'All Over The Shop' and 'Our Velocity' all sound great.

The band kick out each song the same with urgency and exuberance. Most of which are sung back with gusto by the packed and equally exuberant crowd. Every track is preceded by a long heavily accented introduction, which I rarely manage to catch much of.

‘Apply Some Pressure’ goes down an absolute storm, although it’s a bit muffled from where we are. They get a five minute long ovation for it and the band applaud the crowd back. The music seems to matter to the band and they seem surprised and extremely grateful for the way they are adored by their public.

'Gone Missing' closes an excellent set in storming style. They return to play 'Kiss You Better', 'Unshockable' and something that may have been ‘Limassol’.

No 'Acrobat', although I wasn't sure how effective that would have been live and no 'Just A Glimpse' which is a great shame.

Top band. Top gig. Even L says it was her favourite gig.

Thursday 1 March 2007

Brakes, Rescue Rooms

I arrive at the Rescue Rooms to catch the end of the first of two support bands. Somebody called Cook, he has a first name too but I can't remember it. He also appears to be a band not a soloist. He/they are ok but nothing special. Wonder if he/they are local?

Next up is a bit of a treat because tonight the Brakes are being supported by Chris Rea and his band Absentee. I've never liked Chris Rea and have never forgiven him for 'The Lady In Red'. Which is a bit harsh because that was by Chris De Burgh. So tonight it's time to make up.

Absentee appeal to me because I'm in a bit of a 'lyric' phase at the moment and they have wonderfully maudlin lyrics about failure and the sheer hopelessness of life. Which is really uplifting. They have songs with titles like ‘More Troubles’ and lines like “Use your heart, and other body parts”. One he announces as a song about being drunk and having a girlfriend because the two are inseparable.

Chris or shall we can him Dan, as that apparently is his name and his hefty baritone voice are on form tonight. To only compare him with Chris Rea is a bit unfair, he's also part Lou Reed and part Tom Waits too and as a band they sound a bit like another great lyrical favourite of mine 'The National'. What a concoction.

The female keyboard and glochenspiel player and backing vocalist (Melinda) also blows into some wierd gadget which she then play with her fingers, no it's not a set of bagpipes, it's just a box with a tub coming from it. The sound comes out sounding like a mouth organ would. I'm told its call a Melodica.

They finish with the brilliance of ‘Something To Bang’.

Some lad, who is obviously with one of the bands and is rather oddly wearing a tea cosy on his head, is chatting up this girl next to me. She appears to be at University here. At one point he takes her back stage. A little later she returns alone looking very distressed. Oh dear I wonder what went on there. Then ten minutes later I see her leading one of her friends back stage with her. They don't return. Hmmm. One girl not enough?

And so to the Brakes, who are both weird and wonderful in equal measures. They immediately strike up a great rapour with the crowd and Eamon (formerly of British Sea Power) is a great front man. I know it's my age but this has to be the 'nicest' gig I've ever been too. There's a good mix of old and young folks here, although I feel like one of the youngest. Not a single glass of anything is thrown in the air. No one pushes me in the back or stamps on my foot yet it's a great crowd and people dance, sing and have fun with no hassles. I watch all three bands leaning against the same pillar close to the front. I even go to the toilet and come back and somebody has saved my spot for me.

So it is rather inappropriate that they open with "Hi How Are You". Which is a song about the annoyance of inane conversation at gigs as there is no such distractions tonight. The song includes the great line "Won't you shut the fuck up, I'm just trying to watch the band". The entire lyric to this song is on one of their t-shirts. I text L to see whether she wants one or if it's appropriate to get one for Daughter. Oddly I manage to text out but now I've got no reception at all. So I buy one for myself. Both the girls will probably end up scrapping over it.

The Brakes are hard to describe they play a mix of quirky, highly original indie and quaint country songs. Tonight they also do some odd cover versions. For instance I know little about 'Camper Van Beethoven' but tonight they cover a track called 'We Saw Jerry's Daughter' and yes it's rather good. Then they lob banana hand grenades at the crowd during Porcupine or Pineapple.

A Brakes gig was always going to be short; their debut album 'Give Blood' had sixteen tracks but lasted less than half an hour. Some of their tracks last only a matter of seconds. They are allocated 75 minutes yet don't fill it, yet it still seems a long gig because they play so many tracks.

They play out with my fave 'Ring A Ding Ding' but then promise one more 'Comma Comma Comma Full Stop' all 6.9 seconds of it. Although I'm sure they cut it short tonight. The words are easy to learn, they are all in the title. They return to play three more tracks including their cover of 'Jackson' however regrettably without the vocals of the The Duke Spirit's Leila Moss.

Excellent gig.

Friday 16 February 2007

The Fratellis, Rock City

The first thing to say is that as the Fratellis walked on stage they were accompanied by the biggest rainstorm of lager that I've every seen as everyone's plastic glasses went up in the air. This lager chucking phase it something new, that the gig going youth of today have invented, that was pretty much absent when I first started going to gigs. It's not pleasant and it's certainly not clever. The only thing that was worse was the punk era and it's even more repulsive spitting.

As usual they opened with Henrietta and they were good, they can certainly play. Although it was all very formulistic, even the set list seemed identical to what I'd heard they were playing six months ago. Most of it was pretty much flawless but it all seemed very predictable and I hadn't even seen them live before. Chelsea Dagger though, despite being the lager boys' clear favourite, was a huge disappointment, having less energy live than it does on record. It was a proper professional job but that's not really what you want from a gig, you just might as well buy the record. They'll need to come up with something more varied if they don't want to fade away very quickly.

The best track was the last one of the encore and it wasn't even one of theirs, they finished with a rocking version of Goldfrapps 'Ohh La La'. I don't like Goldfrapp but I liked this version.

Sunday 11 February 2007

Bloc Party, Rock City

It's a rare treat to get to see a band in the week after their new album is released, whilst their new material still feels fresh, rather than waiting months for them to perform.

They open the set as they do the new album with 'Song For Clay'. A lot of thought seems to have been given to the sequence of the songs on A Weekend In The City and it works well on the CD. As if the album is a story told chronologically. It works equally well live as tonight the tracks are played in the same order, albeit with songs from Silent Alarm, interspersed but even those tracks seemed to be picked specifically to blend in.

Like the album, the first half of the show is spiky. New songs such as ‘Hunting For Witches’ and the single ‘The Prayer’ are very much full of energy. Pulling no punches, telling a depressing tale of Britain today.

The end of Banquet is 'ruined' when Kele breaks a guitar string. No one seemed to mind, if anything it adds to the roughness of the sound.

A lively and surprisingly young crowd lap it all up even when Kele digs at youth culture. The song 'Uniform' questions their willingness to conform to a stereotype whilst thinking its rebellion. Tonight the masses hold up their camera phones and conform.

Again following the path of the album the gloom of the first half gives way to a calmer, steadier second half where (on the album) Kele goes on about his childhood and his loves. Not all of the new record is played and I particularly would have liked to have heard the superb 'I still remember'. Was it omitted because it may be a gay love song?

It’s an energetic if slightly dishevelled performance but as a gig going experience it's pretty damn near perfect. I haven't seen Bloc Party live before so I have no comparison but tonight they are quite stunning.

As for the record, the band have produced a wonderful, thought provoking, although slightly paranoid, album. Just as The Killers grew up with Sam's Town, so too now have Bloc Party.

Friday 12 January 2007

Forward Russia, Junktion 7

I don't really do 'new years resolutions' but I do make mental lists of things I would like to do. One of these things is a list of bands that I must see. Less than two weeks into 2007 and I have the possibility of chalking the first one off this list. Leeds' band Forward Russia are unexpectedly coming to Nottingham to play a one off gig at Junktion 7. The gig is tonight.

I have been undecided about going since I found out about it earlier in the week. Friday night isn't an ideal night for a gig, as I prefer to spend Friday nights snuggled up in a pub with L in one hand and something strong and dark in the other (a drink). Oh and a collie curled up at my feet.

L isn't really into gigs and certainly not ones in small, hot, and sweaty venues like this one is likely to be. However, the trooper she is, she agrees to come anyway. After all she does at least like the band. I just have to ply her with a lot of Leffe both before and after the gig. Not a problem. So I go on the internet and order the tickets.

When we get home the first things we do is a run, for Doggo's sake, although I would have rather swam. I'm very enthused about swimming at the moment although this won’t last. We postpone the swim until tomorrow, when we will attempt to schedule an early morning swim around some quality time in bed.

After the run we go to a bar, where I fortify L with three Leffes, before we then head off down the junktion for the gig. It's the first time I've been to this venue and it is even smaller than I anticipated. We can barely get in the door. The only space is down the side of the stage where the band's entire entourage seem to be. We avail ourselves of the free Jack Daniels and anchor ourselves to the bar, trying to keep out of the crush.

It seems to take an age but eventually the band takes to the tiny stage in their matching t-shirts. I want one.

They are soon hurtling out their frenzied songs, opening with 'Thirteen' and playing all the good stuff from the album. They also do two new songs which don't have numbers for names, yet. They are loud but it's not deafening like I thought it might be.

The guitarist, who I learn from the entourage, is know only as Whiskas, is equipped with the most effects pedals I've ever seen. He makes a pretty nice racket with them and his guitar. His sound is complimented by, and half obliterated by, the pounding rhythm of drums and bass guitar. The talented female drummer, Katie, is his sister.
Then there's Tom, the front man, whose yelped vocals are drowning in the noise. The synth he normally plays seems to be underused and pre-programmed most of the time, which is a shame but this leaves him free to jump about relentlessly, wailing and knotting himself up in his mic chord. He is far from the best vocalist in the world but I think this is part of his charm and the bands.

When they come back for an encore, it's a case of a pick a number as the crowd shout out random numbers between one and nineteen, irrespective of whether they played it in the set. In the end the band chose 'Four' an early track not on the album but that surfaced as the b-side to 'Twelve'. You see I know these things. It's available as a free download from

I think it is an excellent gig. They are an engaging band to watch. Energetic and fun. I like their sound, musically they are adventurous and they don't write commercial songs, but their tunes still stick in your brain.

L is less impressed and is less forgiving of Tom's performance. She tells me that I owe her a nice meal out. Not a problem. Look forward to it.

I get my t-shirt, although not in the colours I wanted.