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.