Saturday 23 February 2008

Von Bondies, Bodega Social Club

We go nice and early because it’s supposed to have a 10pm curfew but this turns out to be incorrect information. So we’re in plenty of time to catch all three bands. They are a three piece called The Sugars. To me, they look and sound like a harder version of the Raveonettes. They also have quite an American sound, although they are actually from Leeds. As their set runs out of time they enquire as to whether they’ve got time for one more. In the end they cheekily slot in two back to back. Not bad.

Before the second band come on we grab a drink from the bar. I have a Newcastle Brown but L risks an Asahi, which doesn’t taste of much at all but what it does taste of, isn’t pleasant. We then reserve ourselves a good spot quite close to the front. I was a bit concerned that in such a small venue things could get a bit manic down the front but on the front row is an old chap with beard, a woolly hat, and walking stick. Perhaps it’s not going to get that manic after all.

Next up are Fight Like Apes from Dublin. They take so long setting up their kit that they only get to play twenty minutes. They’re a bit like another band I like, the SemiFinalists, that is if you crossed them with the Goodies. This is because the keyboard player reminds me of a young Bill Oddie. Oddie or ‘Pockets’ as he wishes to be known rushes around the stage in true Goodies style. He also had a head torch strapped to his forehead, performing a one-man light show.

The singer is girl known as McKay, who for reasons unknown brings a thermos flask on stage with her. She’s a bit of a screamer, rather frightening but also rather good at it. There’s also a drummer and a bass player, who shares a pair of rather un-fetching novelty sunglasses, equipped with flashing lights, with McKay.

Musically they’re actually rather good but the appreciative crowd doesn’t really know when to applaud because they don’t appear to be taking any breaks between songs. Either that or it’s all one long song. Eventually they do take a breather, cue applause. Our friend with the beard is totally loving it and getting on rather well with the lead singer. Can't see her inviting him back stage though.

Whatever happened to Detroit’s Von Bondies? They seemed about to hit it big but then they just disappeared into obscurity. Tonight, after a three-year break they’re most certainly back, or at least some of them are. Of the original four-piece only front man Jason Stollsteimer and drummer Don Blum remain. Both female members have departed to be replaced like for like. There's a new girlie on guitar and occasional keyboards, although she needn’t have bothered with that because it’s barely audible over the constant fuzz of the guitars. There's also a new female bass player, the fourth in an ever-changing stream of girls to have picked up the bass guitar. How does Jason get through so many female bassists? Both show they can play. There’s also the addition of a third guitarist. Quite why they need three is anyone’s guess.

They take the stage and promise to play some good old-fashioned rock n roll and they don’t disappoint. With little conversation but plenty of head shaking, by band and crowd alike, they get on with their set of no frills guitar rock. Our bearded friend is well into it, showing that it's the body that grows old, not the man.

Overall it’s quite an old crowd tonight. I’m obviously not the only one still harking after that unfashionable Ramones sound. The bands songs are almost all high powered two-minute guitar romps, simple but effective. Musically, it’s hardly ground breaking but I’m suitable impressed. Stollsteimer snarls at us, the guitars whine and the thundering bass and clockwork drumming pound at your skull. Excellent. They’re a lot rawer than on record. After about a dozen songs in I glance at my watch and see they’ve only been on stage for 25 minutes.

They give us a mix of tracks from the two albums they’re produced in seven years. Yep not exactly prolific. They tell us a third is finally on the way. It will be called 'Love, Hate and Then There's You' which is a great title.

The favourites are all played, although predictably ‘C'mon C'mon’ goes down the best. The girls take the vocals on ‘Not That Social’, a song about the anti-social non-drinking habits of the bass player but not this bass player, one of Jason's ex's. Perhaps Stollsteimer should use bass player Leann Banks’s vocals more often, she does an excellent duet with him on the bluesy ‘No Sugar Mama’.

They don’t say much but they do introduce a softer track ‘21st Birthday’ from their new ‘We Are Kamikazes’ EP and drummer Don Blum’s gets to sing for us on 'Rock n Roll Nurse'.

They close with a storming ‘Broken Man’ and go off stage after about 55 minutes. A short set just like the Hoosiers but in that time playing probably three times as many tracks. They’re close to curfew time but would have had time to come back for one more but nothing can pull them back to the stage. No encore tonight.

The old man is putting his hat and coat back on, picking up his walking stick and winding his scarf around his neck. With the set list in one hand and a poster in the other he wanders off into the night. I wonder if he’s off home to the wife or perhaps he’s off up to catch alternative night at Rock City. Youngsters eh?

Saturday 16 February 2008

Hoosiers, Keele University SU

Tonight we are at Keele University Students’ Union to see the much-hyped Hoosiers.
It’s a very young audience tonight which doesn’t bode well musically.

The band have encouraged their fans to come in fancy dress and quite a few have. There’s a motley array of fairies, nuns, even a Star Wars stormtrooper, along with the predictable 'Cops and Robbers'. Daughter catches a dummy that I assume someone has thrown out of their pram. L and I have come as ‘old people’, Daughter says she’s come as someone ‘who isn’t with us’.

The second of two support acts, we miss the first one, are a very polished trio from Dublin called ‘The Script’. Rather too polished if you ask me. I’ve not seen many bands dim the lights and do a triumphant entrance to their own backing track when you’re only playing six songs as the warm up act. In fact I haven't seen any. The reason for their polish becomes clearer when I look them up later and find out that all three band members are established producers who have spent many years producing for other artists in Los Angeles. They have all the gimmicks:- text us for a free download etc etc, they have an iTunes only release out now but their debut single ‘We Cry’ isn't out until March. I think they’re terribly dull. I’m sure they’ll be huge.

I like the venue, it's big and airy with lots of side rooms. A typical Uni setup. They also have a nice high stage which is good for the vertically challenged. The stage itself is adorned with a threesome of huge lampshades and there's some fetching 70’s wallpaper as a backdrop.

From the moment the Hoosiers arrive on the bedecked stage waving huge letters spelling out their name, you know that this gig isn't just going to be about the music. The three band members are accompanied by two skeletons, who turn out to be their backing band and the whole lot arrive on stage straight of the closet or is it a giant wardrobe. There's a superhero straight out of 'Mr A' on keyboards.

The band are fronted by the not so shy and aptly named, Irwin Sparkes. Whom I've heard described as Ben Stiller meets Frodo Baggins, which is spot on. He certainly seems to appeal to the folks down the front who appear to be mainly young girls whipping themselves into a frenzy.

Irwin doesn't have a monopoly on great names, the drummer is called Alfonso Sharland and the bobble hated Swedish bassist is called Martin Skarendahl.

Having opened with a lively 'Worst Case Scenario', things tail off a little as Irwin turns into Mika on ‘Run Rabbit Run’. With only the one album, ‘The Trick of Life’, to pull tracks from, the band treat us to all of it but when they play the slower songs the young crowd soon seem to get bored and our man Irwin is drowned out by the chatter of the crowd. He has a strong almost falsetto voice and he likes to show it off but it starts to grate after a while. They do play one new song which hints at their inner indie fighting to get out.

The band rely on their enthusiasm, of which they have plenty and a few gimmicks, cowbells and other odd musical asides, to make up for their lack of material. The band, and in particularly Irwin, are clearly having a ball, and this carries the gig but it has to because only occasionally when things start to flag can they lift the crowd with their music. Such as when they throw in their infectious ode to ELO and Supertramp 'Goodbye Mr A'.

Other times they rely on props, such as when three large balloons are thrown into the crowd. The highlight of the night is when one wipes out a crowdsurfer and fetches down a security guard at the same time. The balls play havoc with the equipment, regularly knocking down the microphone stands.

After only 50 minutes the band leave the stage after closing with the forthcoming single, the aforementioned, 'Cops and Robbers'. They return with Skarendahl dressed as if auditioning for a part in ‘Finding Nemo’ although Daughter assures me it's something to do with Torchwood.

After a solo number from Irwin the band play a highly ambitious cover of one of Billy Joel’s finer moments 'We Didn’t Start the Fire' because, they tell us, they have run out of their own songs. Err, well apart from a certain debut single, the name of which escapes me right now... Oh yes that’s the one. They break the golden rule of playing live and save their biggest song ‘Worried About Ray’ till last.

For a band with a lot of hype to live up to, they turn out to be rather ordinary. Energetic, jaunty and fun but ordinary. I can’t help thinking Fratellis syndrome. Where do they go from here? With not so jolly lyrics buried within their happy sound there might be hidden depths. They need to discover them.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Eamon Hamilton, Bodega Social

We head into town to the Social, sorry the Bodega Social as it's now known, to catch Brakes front man Eamon Hamilton play am acoustic solo set. We're not expecting a large crowd, for a start our tickets are number 1 and 2. We grab a drink and mingle with the dozen or so others.

First up is a chap called Rob from Stourbridge, who calls himself The Voluntary Butler Scheme and is very much a one-man band. Apparently he's used to be the drummer in a band called 'The School', who I haven't heard of, and also 'The Boy Least Likely To', who I fleetingly have. The main man, Eamon, is in the 'crowd' too.

First thing L says when he comes on stage is that he's a ringer for Son, same hair, same downward gaze, same mumbling articulations. Main difference is that he's a brilliant singer and talented multi-instrumentalist. Of course Son could be too and we just don't know it.

Rob plays some very catchy pop songs using a variety of instruments and all accompanied with some great lyrics. He's not so eloquent between songs, at one stage he appears to start to explain why he's called himself the Voluntary Butler Scheme but then appears to give up mid-sentence.

So impressed are we that afterwards we try and find the man himself to buy his CD but he's already legged it. We find out later that he does have an EP available for free, it's called 'The Vol-Au-Vent EP' and you can download it from his myspace page. It's very short, in total all four tracks last a little over three minutes. He describes it as a lunch break worth of ideas.

So to Eamon and the crowd has swelled to about 25 people, if you count the bar staff. Eamon doesn't look bothered about the small crowd; he just seems to love playing. Complete with his set list jotted down on back of his guitar he works his way through some of the Brakes lighter moments, along with a smattering of new tracks. He also plays a few of the quicker numbers such as ‘Porcupine or Pineapple’ and ‘Ring A Ding Ding’, which still come over well. It's a very friendly affair in front of us hardcore fans.

Near the end he announces he's going to do two more songs but then starts to take requests from the crowd, playing 'No Return' and 'Heard About Your Band' before returning to his set list. He closes the set with another request 'Comma Comma Comma Full Stop' and asks the requester to count him in.

He comes back to encore with 'Jackson' and a very brief new number before we all headed home to our collies.