Thursday 31 December 2009

Favourite Gigs Of 2009

Second part of my review of the year, my favourite ten gigs of the past year.

It was so difficult this year to pick just ten!

So honourable mentions to the following who didn't make it:- In particularly Doves at Coventry Kasbah, it was good to have them back; The Joy Formidable at Derby Royal, always excellent and getting better all the time; That Petrol Emotion back after 15 years away and still sounding good at the Rescue Rooms and even to Marilyn Manson who impressed me recently at the Nottingham Arena.

Also regrettably no place in my ten for Bloc Party, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, Brakes, Art Brut, The Hours, The Rakes, Official Secrets Act and everyone we saw at the Leeds Festival or on the Shockwaves NME Tour.


10. The Editors, Sheffield Academy, Thursday 22nd October

Finally after years of trying I get to see Editors and they're oddly flat or was it the crowd... I'll soon find out at Lincoln in March.

Read My Review

9. The Gaslight Anthem, Rock City, Tuesday 3rd March

A high energy performance from a band who show that they're a lot more than just Springteen wannabes.

Read My Review

8. The Horrors, Rescue Rooms, Thursday 3rd December

Yes believe the hype, reinvention of the year.

Read My Review

7. Gary Numan, Rock City, Wednesday 2nd December

The Pleasure Principal in its entirety is a pure pleasure and old man Gary gatecrashes my top ten.

Read My Review

6. Red Light Company, Bodega Social, Monday 16th March

Pulsating drums, meaty riffs and plenty of terrific songs, full of irresistible hooks, one of the best new bands of the year.

Read My Review

5. Handsome Furs, Brainwash Festival, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, Saturday 31st October

We trekked all the way up to Leeds for a late night performance by these guys, in front of a rapidly thinning crowd, a closed bar and the venue's cleaning staff but it was well worth the effort.

Read My Review

4. The View, Rescue Rooms, Saturday 24th January

Astedwae ittlae ejaysdae, the View manage to complete their set and show that when they're not wasted that there are very few better live bands.

Read My Review

3. Maximo Park, Rock City, Wednesday 20th May

The albums are probably getting duller but live they just seem to get better and better.

Read My Review

2. Frank Turner, Rock City, Sunday 18th October

Who'd have thought that one of the most mental gigs at Rock City this year would belong to Frank Turner but it did. Vive La Frank.

Read My Review

1. Frightened Rabbit, The Musician, Leicester, Sunday 29th March

Frightened Rabbit are ace anyway but acoustically unplugged, as they were in Leicester, just took everything to an even higher level. So gig of the year.

Read My Review

Thursday 17 December 2009

Marilyn Manson, Nottingham Arena

We’re off down the Arena to see Brian tonight. Somehow I always end up at the bloody Arena just before Christmas. I can’t say that I’ve ever really been a fan of our Bry, better known as Marilyn Manson, so when I was talked into seeing him, I had to do a bit of research to get me up to speed because I only really knew a few of his tracks.

Then on the eve of the gig, there were rumours going around that it may not happen and suggestions (by me) that they might consider switching it to the Rescue Rooms because the ticket sales had been so poor. Suppose he is over forty now and his bubble did seem to burst a few years ago. The Arena was bizarre choice anyway, particularly as the rest of his tour consists of Academys, with 2500-3000 capacities. Consequently the 8000 capacity Arena is not even half full tonight.

Support is from a band called esOterica, which sounds like a sports drink. They are from Croydon and have a lead singer who has quite a big opinion of himself. Correction, a very big opinion of himself. His over confident stage presence, to be fair, goes down well with crowd. If somebody had just walked in off the street and had no idea who was playing, they’d think this lot were headlining. Their set is good though, full of energy and enthusiasm. Their sound a touch industrial and a bit heavier than I expect even Marilyn to be. Reasonably impressed.

Once the support band have finished the stage is hidden behind a large black curtain which is a bit annoying as I like to see all the kit being setup and helps pass the time between bands. The curtain stays up when the lights go out. Then strange noises and a lot of smoke start to emanate from behind it. If this was to keep you in suspense they needn’t have bothered because once the curtain has dropped and the band are well into the swing of ‘Cruci-Fiction in Space’ you still can’t see anything because of the denseness of the smoke. It must be several minutes before someone emerges from of the gloom wearing a pair of red laser gloves which he fires at the crowd. It may or may not be the man himself.

As the song ends and the mist subsides, yep it’s him. The man clearly still has presence stage although it does seem to be accompanied by a bit of a beer belly these days.

One thing I’ve learnt by researching his music is that he certainly has some good songs and his second one tonight ‘Disposable Teens’, shows how surprisingly catchy some of them are. That said, he’s not known as a crowd pleaser for his song selection, often preferring the obscure album track to the big hit and he’s no exception tonight. They are many notable exceptions from the set but I for one, being a big fan of the obscure oldie, shouldn’t complain.

Visually though, he keep us busy, employing a number of costume changes, well mainly hats and jackets, all of which seemed to be quickly discarded into the crowd at the front. There are fewer costumes and certainly less razzmatazz than I was expecting but he did still possess an interesting selection of gadgets and lights to supplement his act.

Earlier this year a lot of people walked out of the Legends of Motown concert because the sound at the Arena was so awful, but I doubt that would ever happen at a ‘proper’ gig and Mazza may just have found the solution to the Arena’s awful acoustics. If you scream 'f*** you' at the roof, often enough and loud enough, as he does on 'The Love Song' eventually the sound reverberates back. Sorted. Works a treat too with the multiple cries of 'F*** It' on the following 'Irresponsible Hate Anthem'. As you can tell, so far it's a nice family show.

Although it’s a tour to promote his seventh studio album, ‘High End Of Low’, the majority of the set is pulled from his most famous albums, 1998’s ‘Mechanical Animals’ and 2000’s ‘Holywood: In the Shadow of the Valley of Death’. There are just three songs from the new album tonight. One of which is a nice little romantic ditty called 'Pretty As A Swastika', Mazza showing all his usual charm. Another is the wonderful ‘Devour’, which could almost be described as mellow.

The album is said to be a step back in the right direction after his previous one ‘Eat Me Drink Me’ bombed and nothing is played from that tonight. A lot of this is credited to the return of long time guitarist and co-songwriter Twiggy Ramirez who didn’t work on that particular record. Don’t know if they fell out or not but they appear to be best buddies again tonight.

Going through his back catalogue has enabled me to unearth the absolute gems that are the moody ‘Coma’ songs, ‘Coma White’ and ‘Coma Black’. I couldn’t tell you for certain whether it was just ‘Coma White’ tonight or whether he wove a bit of ‘Black’ in there as well, but it was the highlight of the evening for me.

There were also several heavier, more growling numbers, notably the stuff from his ‘Antichrist Superstar’ album, although he gives it a longer more expletive filled title but tracks such as ‘Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World’ and ‘Little Horn’ leave me largely unmoved.

A few expletives apart, I thought Manson was rather well-behaved tonight, there was actually less swearing that that provided by the support band, there were of course plenty of drugs references but this also included a lecture against their use, maybe serious, maybe not, as he launched in to popular ‘The Dope Show’.

He obviously adapts his props to where he is, draping himself in the Union flag at one stage and even bringing on Robin Hood at one point. ‘Robbing from the bitch and giving to the whore’ he explains. Ok so perhaps there was more bad language than I thought.

With the excellent ‘Rock is Dead’ we’re clearly heading towards the conclusion and he closes with a couple of covers, not ‘Personal Jesus’ or ‘Tainted Love’, we get ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ and Patti Smith’s ‘Rock n Roll Nigger’. As we were saying afterwards, no one really admits to liking Patti Smith but everybody seems to cover her songs.

After which it wasn’t so much an exit as a disappearance, with the smoke and the darkness it was actually hard to tell whether the band had gone or were just lurking in the shadows. They reappeared just as mysteriously to play us out with 'The Beautiful People' accompanied by streams of ticker tape pumped out from the stage. Leaving someone a lot of clearing up to do before the next Ice Hockey match.

Marilyn Manson’s star may have faded a touch but he and his band can still put on a good show. Whilst mixing in some nicely dark humour and a decent light show, although along with the smoke, the lights make it a bit naff for photography. The smoke also often makes it hard to see, was he ceremoniously burning the bible at one point? At under an hour and a half, it was also short and punchy, and all delivered with bundles of energy. Nice one Brian.

Thursday 3 December 2009

The Horrors, Rescue Rooms

So to the reinvention of the year. When The Horrors unveiled 'Sea Within a Sea' back in March I think it came as a bit of a shock to everyone. They then went on to deal with that difficult second album problem by ripping up the blueprint for the first one and starting over again. Two years on from 'Strange House', out goes the gothic dress sense, the haircuts and most of their garage rock sound. I wasn’t over stuck on their goth parody or whatever it was and that's from a someone who grew up with that genre and thoroughly enjoyed it. Instead, in comes moody shoegaze style indie with added random bits. They’ve got Portishead's Geoff Barrow twiddling the knobs and he’s clearly having an impact but they’ve also taken on board a whole basket of other influences from other bands.

Talking of Geoff Barrow I wonder if he had any influence over tonight’s choice of support band because HTRK seem to be Portishead wannabes, although they don’t list them in their own list of influences. Formerly known as hTRKRTIO they now prefer to be known by the shortened version which I think is pronounced ‘Hate Rock’. It’s all very doom laden and their singer Jonnine Davis is probably the most miserable female I’ve seen in, well hours. She bangs the drum, as they say, just the one drum, repeatedly. Not bad though, although a bit repetitive.

We got practically nothing out of Gary Numan last night, chat wise, less than nothing out of HTRK and I imagine we’ll get little out of Faris Badwan of The Horrors either. I am not wrong. First though we have to put up with the worst backing track I have ever heard a band come on to, or not come on to in the Horrors case. It goes on and on, for a full seven minutes, yes I was timing it. You can recreate the noise yourself, it’s that sound when you leave something on your computer keyboard and you get that repetitive keyboard squeal, only they’ve amplified it by about 4000% percent. I’m surprise it didn’t clear the room, it was akin to someone scratching their nails down a blackboard for seven minutes. This too I feel must be a Geoff Barrow-ism and a quick check on his current band Beak afterwards, reveals similar masterpieces, so I think that’s where it came from.

Finally they take the stage, putting a stop to the annoying squeal and kick off into the sultry ‘Mirror’s Image’. All wonderful swirling guitars and hypnotic drumming but at first we can’t hear Faris’s vocals. Gradually they get it sorted and soon we can actually hear the man sing. We can almost see him as well, a dark figure among the smoke and the coloured lights, all of which means my photos are going to be even worse than usual.

The Horrors reinvention means that they now sound like any number of dark ‘n’ moody bands and often all at the same time. It is though, all wonderful. After all, it's not really about who your influences are and The Horrors certainly don't try to hide theirs, it’s what you do with them that count and this is where The Horrors excel, producing, in my mind, probably the best album of the year and who'd have thought out of Southend too.

Last night we got the ‘Pleasure Principle’ in order, tonight I wonder if we're going to get ‘Primary Colours’ in order too as a grunged up version of 'Three Decades', that I’m not sure was actually necessary, follows. It blurs the line between new Horrors and old Horrors, so now you can see how the band metamorphosed between their two albums. Then though the title track of ‘Primary Colours’ is thrown in early to break the sequence. All the same it's pretty much that album that we get in the main set with only 'Do You Remember' omitted.

'New Ice Age' is also beefed up, turning itself into quite a monster with Faris doing a passable 'John Lydon' impression as he barks the vocals at us. Then it’s back to the more dramatic, complex sound that makes the album so good with the simply wonderful ‘Scarlet Fields’. In my opinion there are early OMD keyboards all over this track, whilst the following track, the more plodding 'I Only Think Of You', is so like OMD’s 'Romance of the Telescope' it's untrue. Faris howls at us in anguish and you instantly see where the Ian Curtis comparisons come from.

The only none ‘Primary Colours’ track to get aired in the main set is ‘Whole New Way’ and even that was one of the bonus tracks on the Japanese only version of the album. The song has now been reworked and is out as a single. It’s almost disco.

Then cue the intro of the year, that thumping bass, those drums and then wait for it... 15 seconds in those OMD keyboards again. The sublime 'Who Can Say', it rocks and we all rock ‘n’ sob along with it. The anti-love song of the year by a mile and believe me I study these things. Go on mate you know it's over, twist that knife.

'And when I told her I didn't love her anymore, She cried.' Ah.
'And when I told her, her kisses were not like before, She cried.' Oooh.
'And when I told her another girl had caught my eye, She cried.' Oh dear.
'And I kissed her, with a kiss that could only mean goodbye.' Merciless bastard, I love it.

Go on girl, you've been told, now 'Get away, Get away, Get away'

I almost suggested a spot down the front tonight as I thought perhaps it would be quite restrained down there but no it’s a seething mass. So I’m glad we arrived early and grabbed a terrific spot right above the band on the balcony. Despite that it's quite a mixed crowd tonight and not just the youngsters I had expected.

Faris is now teetering on the edge of stage and a one point seems to fall in to the crowd but quickly and with great athleticism manages to bounce himself back up off the crowd barrier before anyone in the crowd or security can grab him.

Finally the eight minute epic 'Sea Within A Sea', closes the set in majestic style before with as few a words as possible Faris exits stage left and the rest of the band follow him.

They return to encore with a cover of Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ before playing a trio of old singles which provides some serious limb hurling opportunities down the front. ‘Count In Fives’ actually blends really well with a lot of the Primary Colours stuff, ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ not quite so. The total gothness of ‘Gloves’ falls somewhere in between and brings proceedings to a slightly chaotic close.

Can they take it on from here? Who can say?

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Gary Numan, Rock City

Gary Numan, now 51 years young, was once thought to be a bit of recluse; he even retired from touring way back in the early eighties but it was a brief hiatus. These days he seems to come on tour practically every year. My partner always asks 'shall we?' Well we haven't so far. He was never really my thing, although other synthesizer dominated stuff from the same period was. Anyhow this year, curiosity got the better of even me as announced a tour to commemorate 30 years since his classic album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was released.

It’s also the first over 18’s gig we’ve been to for ages, as they all seem to let in kids these days. Numan probably knows he hasn’t got any fans under 18 or under 40 for that matter; in fact I may be the youngest one here tonight. We make our way down to the front; somebody wants a good view of her former (and perhaps still a current) heartthrob.

On the original tour for this album in 1979, the support band for the UK leg were no other than ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’ but tonight it’s ‘Dirty Harry’. Who were formed by singer Victoria Harrison (known as Harry) and former Towers Of London and The Prodigy guitarist, The Rev.

Harry is Ida Maria with attitude, better songs and blonder. She wavers from Courtney Love moments to Cerys Matthews. Meanwhile her band turn out an edgy rock sound which is all buzzing guitars providing the background to Harry’s strong vocals, which have an American tilt. Although English she has spent a lot of time living across the pond. They impress and had the tickets not mistakenly told us doors at 7.30 we might have seen more of them.

Rock City is by now about three quarters full and chants of ‘Numan, Numan’ are abound, honestly it’s like being at the football. Then Numan and his band take to the stage. Four guys at synthesizers, a bass guitar and drums. Nothing with six strings in sight. ‘The Pleasure Principle’ was the first album to be credited to Numan as a solo artist and unlike its predecessor Tubeway Army's 'Replicas' which incidentally Numan toured last year, it contained no guitars at all.

They kick things off with the instrumentals 'Random' (merely a b-side) and 'Airlane', the opening track to the album. They then proceed to play ‘The Pleasure Principle’ album in its entirety and in order. Numan, dressed appropriately in a dark suit and tie, finally takes to the microphone to sing ‘Metal’, a song about an android who wants to be human. Just one of many songs about alienated robots, no wonder they all thought him weird at the time and began to think of him as un-human as his songs.

The whole album sounds just like it would have done back in the day, this is no hyped up 2009 remix, and instead he transports us back to 1979. Not that I bought ‘The Pleasure Principle’ first time around, I didn't really even like 'Cars' that much. In fact I first listened to the album in its entirety only two weeks ago but pretty constantly ever since and there are some real gems on it.

The chap immediately behind me obviously did buy it first time around. He knows every sodding word to every song on it and sings them heartily into my ear, practically drowning out the great man himself. When there’s nothing to sing he chucks in a few ‘Numan, Numan’ chants or simply yodels the instrumental bits. I try and move slightly further forward, out of ear shot.

One thing I've realised from listening to the album is what an absolute wonder 'Complex' is, with its haunting sound and the paranoia of the lyrics. This was the follow-up single to ‘Cars’ and the only other track to be released as a single from the album. Numan says little all night but he takes a moment to talk fondly of his friend and former band member Paul Gardiner, who died of a heroin overdose in 1984. Numan dedicates the song to him.

‘M.E.’ about the last machine on Earth and ‘Tracks’ are other highlights but they’re all highlights really. Then of course there’s the number one single 'Cars', his biggest hit, although tonight it was raced through, faster than I remembered, cast aside quickly as if he didn’t want it to be the focus tonight.

It’s been said that Numan doesn't much care for playing too much old stuff and it’s hard to tell whether he’s enjoying himself or not tonight. He says little and is generally expressionless throughout save for a smile when a wrong note is delivered or the occasional nod at the end of a song which I think means that that one went well.

They close the first part of the evening with another instrumental b-side ‘Asylum’ before a couple of the synths are removed and Numan decides to quickly fast forward 30 years and treat us to his new single ‘The Fall’. Not that he tells anyone this, so not good P.R. if he’s hoping for sales.

I’d been slightly amused by the tattooed rocker on keyboards to Numan’s right as he looked so out of place, particularly when he was forced centre stage briefly at the start of the set. Now with the keyboard gone, his eyes light up and he dives for the sanctuary of his guitar. Once it’s in his grasp he seems instantly more at home.

Numan has over the years reinvented himself and now dabbles heavily in industrial rock, as he now shows us. Much to the delight of the hardcore, like my new friend behind me, who again knows every word as Numan plays the rather excellent ‘Pure’ from 2000 album of the same name. Numan himself also now seems unleashed as he starts to prowl the stage and even dabbles with a guitar.

Then suddenly we’re back in 1979 again and to probably the best moment of the night, ‘Down In The Park’ from ‘Replicas’. A track covered by almost every man and his dog, from a techno version in French by DJ Hell (which admittedly I haven’t heard) to Marilyn Manson via the Foo Fighters and others. I’ve even seen a live version of it on the internet by Christian Death. Numan tonight tops the lot, it’s fantastic.

Then it’s back to the new stuff and to the delight of the hardcore three songs from his most recent album 2006’s ‘Jagged’, which may have confused a few people who didn’t know what Numan had been up to recently but judging by the number of ‘Jagged’ t-shirts in the crowd, which is by far the most popular attire tonight, they were in the minority.

That said, all the new stuff did come together in a clump at the end and perhaps another oldie to break things up a bit might not have been a bad idea but no one can say he didn’t play enough old stuff. He played an entire album worth.

Then to close we get a wonderful piano led intro in to, of all things, ‘Are 'Friends' Electric?’, which is just ‘wow’ and possibly trumps ‘Down In The Park’ but only just. The way it’s been redone with the piano in it is just amazing, love it.

The band return for an encore and having played the A-side they flip ‘Are 'Friends' Electric?’ over and play its b-side, the excellent ‘We Are So Fragile’. Then to close it’s a song that’s very personal to Numan, ‘A Prayer For The Unborn’. A song inspired by the numerous problems, miscarriages and unsuccessful IVF attempts that Numan and his wife, a former member of his own fan club, had conceiving. Finally successful, they now have three kids.

Afterwards Numan is on the internet before I am. Isn’t he supposed to be in the bar? He updates his website and offers an apology for being ‘a little bit distracted’ this evening and for not being as committed as usual. Apparently earlier that day they found out that their dog, who has been suffering from a canine version of Multiple Sclerosis for over 18 months, had taken a very serious downturn and the vet had recommended that it would be kinder to put him to sleep.

He’s clearly and understandably gutted and they have a day at home with their dog before their next show. So clearly he’s very human after all. See you next year Gary.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Frightened Rabbit, Bodega Social

Galchen are an unsigned instrumental band from Glasgow, who have been going, on and off, for about eight years. In which time they have only spawned the one record, an EP called 'The Red Dot'. Which as it contains 12 tracks and is 35 minutes long is surely an LP by anyone’s standards. They're also not big on titles, in a way not seen since Forward Russia used to number all their compositions. Perhaps this isn’t surprising considering they don’t have any lyrics.

Tonight though everything has been given a name but I only know because I nabbed the set list, because they’re not big on banter or introducing songs either. In fact they haven’t even been given a microphone to thank the crowd for the applause and have to shout instead.

They open with something called ‘Audio Orgasm’ which is excellent and perhaps appropriately named. What follows is an energetic set and five more tracks, during which their drummer nearly dies at the end of each one.

The band’s name is derived from the names of bass player Gal and guitarist Chenzo. This was apparently all decided before Peter, their energetic drummer, joined them. It’s a shame because he deserves recognition as he puts his all into everything tonight, despite having a symbol that has a sizeable chunk missing out of it. Looks like a rabbit has taken a nibble out of it.

They have some great tunes but for all their brilliance tonight, and call me old (old) fashioned if you like, but I like a vocalist. They need someone like Scott Hutchison to write some words for them. It’s not going to happen though; they are a dedicated instrumental band and committed to the cause. All the members are also in other bands as well, presumably with vocals, so perhaps they don’t feel the need. All the same, good luck to them.

Frightened Rabbit have the best lyrics on the planet. We could discuss this but it's almost certainly beyond debate. There's only one thing better than wallowing in the wordiness of a Frightened Rabbit CD and that's by having Scott Hutchison stood two feet in front of you singing them to you live. This is by sheer coincidence the approximate distance I am from him tonight at the cosy and sold out Bodega Social. So close I can watch his sweat fall into my beer. There’s always a downside isn’t there.

If you've never seen Frightened Rabbit live I strongly recommend that you do unless, of course, you've just split up with someone whom you were rather fond of. In which case avoid like the plague, you'll be sobbing into your pint within seconds before probably glassing yourself with it during the encore when they usually play ‘Keep Yourself Warm’, but more about that later.

Happy stuff then? Nope. So it’s a perfect night out for an old misery like me. Their album ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ (great title, think about it for a minute) was probably the best album I never heard in 2008 because it was early 2009 before it got on my radar. It’s a record almost exclusively devoted to the bitter breakdown of a relationship. Which is not a new idea for sure but it is written with such feeling and rawness that it cuts deep, twists the knife, and then pours salt in the open wound. It’s pretty affecting stuff.

When we last saw them they were unplugged, totally acoustic, and, with apologies to the rest of the band, they were all about Scott Hutchison, whose singing reached even more powerful and yes, sadder levels in that format. Tonight, plugged in, and with a new member Gordon, they’re a different animal yet again. They quite simply rock. At one stage they had four guitars going at the same time, tonight they’re rabbits on steroids.

‘Modern Leper’ kicks things off and it sounds great. Obviously more powerful than acoustic but also more potent than on CD. Depression really can sound this good.

This is a pattern that repeats as we get pretty much a rundown of the pain and despair of their last album. A run though of an obviously emotional phase in Scott Hutchinson’s life.

‘Fast Blood’ with its direct lyrics about intimacy, seems well, faster. ‘Good Arms vs. Bad Arms’ is as poignant as ever. A song about his girl not needing his bad arms now that that she's found a better pair. Is he bitter about that? Oh yes, armed with the past, and the will, and a brick.

Then there’s the ultimate sadness of 'My Backwards Walk', great to listen to, great to sing along to but impossible to read the lyric sheet to without feeling for Scott and reaching for the bottle. All ending with the revelation that 'you're the shit and I'm knee deep in it'

They include two new songs and the new single ‘Swim Until You Can't See Land’ sounded particularly good and dare I say it, a little more cheerful.

Good though they are tonight, I have to say I kind of prefer the unplugged style. The band and particularly the drums drown out Hutchinson’s wonderful Scottish accent, which came over as so vulnerable and had such impact acoustically. It also doesn't encourage crowd participation, who would have willingly sung along with every word but perhaps that’s a good thing. Listening to the audience sing when you’ve come to hear a singer can get tiresome after a while.

The slower and quieter start to ‘The Twist’ is an exception and allows Hutchinson’s vocals and his wonderful use of words to shine through on a song that is as gorgeous a cry for love as you’ll ever hear.

Then there’s ‘Poke’, so good acoustic but it actually seems even better with the full band behind it and a souped up ‘Square 9’ is a great one to finish with.

Then they find themselves up against curfew time, you should have come on earlier boys, and have to cut a song from the encore. It’s frustrating because I could see their set list but couldn't quite work out what it should have been because someone has bad hand writing. Another new song perhaps.

This leaves us with a rather rushed but still wonderfully biting ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ with everyone if not singing, mouthing, the words and joining Scott in telling his ex-girlfriend to well, F-Off, or perhaps everyone has got their own ex they wanted to pass the same message to but had never had Hutchinson’s capacity for words to do it in such style.

Wherever his ex is these days, her ears must have been well and truly ringing since he started touring this record back in 2008. Don’t be too hard on her though, without her there would never have been ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ but it does make you wonder how anyone could get close to him again. If you fall out with him, you're going be immortalised in song.

Well I never thought I'd come back partially deaf from a FR gig. Tonight the band showed that not only can they make us cry but that they can make us rock too.

Saturday 31 October 2009

Handsome Furs, Brudenell Social Club

Tonight I go to my first ever gig in Leeds, festivals apart. I wouldn’t normally travel this far for a band but tonight’s entertainment are Canadian and may not be over here again for a long time, if ever, and the options were London, Bristol, Manchester or Leeds... so here we are at the snappily named Brainwash Festival.

The Brainwash Festival is in its fourth year and is a bit like Nottingham’s Dot-to-Dot, numerous live bands staged in various venues and in this case over three days. It is also in aid of good causes, this year being Unicef, Leeds St. Gemma’s Hospice and Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

To be honest there’s nobody else we’ve come all this way for but still I’m intrigued to see what two bands I am at least aware of, namely Hot Club De Paris and Pulled Apart By Horses, are like.

We arrive at the venue, which is near Leeds University, in the middle of the set by South Wales’s Taint. Who are it has to be said a little hard on my hearing but appear to be to the liking of a fair portion of the assembled crowd tonight. Their ‘interesting’ not-quite-hardcore, aggressive, punk-ish rock but edging towards prog rock (I was just counting the riffs) rattles off the walls. They certainly generate quite a fervour and have the most sweat drenched drummer I've ever seen but I’m afraid I find my bottle of Hobgoblin much better company. Their penultimate track is so long and so riff filled, having about five false finishes that it almost finishes us off. Then they announce one more. A short one thankfully and one of their better numbers, not just because of its brevity.

My bottle of Hobgoblin turns out to be 5.2% and not the draft equivalent which is 4.5%. I hate it when they do that. As I’m driving this is bad news. If that’s my first concern, my second is that we are underdressed for the gig or perhaps we’re overdressed. There are some seriously bad/wild outfits but I’m guessing it's all in aid of Halloween and this lot don’t normally dress like this. Perhaps.

There’s a bit of a sea change next with Liverpudlians Hot Club de Paris. The hardcore audience seems to have departed and a new lot have been ‘bused’ in. Hot Club de Paris come on stage and promptly kit themselves out in Halloween masks and capes.

Then they treat us to a satisfying dose of slightly shambolic experimental indie. ‘Math Rock’ I believe it’s called. Brothers Matt and Alasdair Smith also have a good line in witty banter, at least I think it was witty banter as some of it needed an interpreter. ‘Scouse wit’ I believe it’s called. They also have some infectious tunes when they get around to playing them. Their set was shorter than it needed to be mainly due to the excess of banter; they could really have played a few more had they got on with it but I guess that’s all part of their charm.

The crowd were polite and appreciate which is a bit different to what we get next. The crowd seem to have handed over the baton again and the floor suddenly becomes packed. From heads nodding admiringly to Hot Club’s jangly guitars we get full heads of excitable hair being thrashed frantically around in all directions, as a bunch of sailor boys take the stage. Well sailor boys with a gristly blood speckled Halloween twist.

Pulled Apart By Horses are local boys and boy does it show. The crowd leap into life and explode into the aforementioned mass of hair. The band think they're headlining this festival, the crowd think they’re headlining and in most probability they are. They clearly have a large fan base and a very passionate one.

They are apparently well known for their frenzied live performances and tonight I can see why. Total disorder ensues. Folklore has it that band members have been known to get injured and on one notorious occasion even got hospitalised. Watching them and their faithful perform, one can see why and see the appropriateness of their name.

Their music is a combination of heavy guitars, pounding drum rhythms and vocalist Tom Hudson yelping over the top and is not at all to my liking. They bulldoze the crowd into submission with their heavy ear drum punishment and snappy titles such as 'Meat Balloon', 'E = MC Hammer' and 'High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive' which is accompanied by High Fives all round. Somewhere in there is a tune fighting to get out.

Their final song ends with their guitarist handing over his instrument to someone who I think came out of the crowd. He takes over guitar duties before climbing up on to one of the speakers. The crowd then storm the stage and the lead singer along with the now ex-guitarist go the other way, diving into the crowd. Lively gig indeed. Follow that Handsome Furs.

Actually I’m not sure who booked this gig for the Handsome Furs but I guess the band just wanted to play a few gigs over here and took whatever they could get. They’re not so much part of Brainwash as tacked on the end. They’re due on at the late hour of midnight, by which time the bar is closing. So they seem like an afterthought and as a consequence, post Pulled Apart By Horses, and with drink no longer available, the place is already emptying fast.

Handsome Furs don’t look bothered. I think they’re on holiday. I mean what do you do when you fancy a break from your day job (in Dan Boeckner’s case his band Wolf Parade). I suppose you and the wife could redecorate the spare room or you could team up, knock out at couple of albums and then take a vacation touring it around several countries.

They also don’t aid the issue of crowd retention by not getting on with it. The wife, Alexei Perry, is unhappy with the table she’s been given for her synth and electronic gadgets. Then just as we think they’re about to start, singer Dan Boeckner announces the need for a ‘slash’ and a long one at that. Consequently a few more people head for the door. That’s a shame because when they finally come on stage at 12.20 and faced with a 1am curfew they are a treat for the small crowd who have stayed.

After a brief explanation that they’re from Montreal, Canada and are really glad to be here, Alexei kicks off her shoes and the husband and wife team start with ‘Legal Tender’, the opening track on their new album, ‘Face Control’. It’s one of the best albums of this year, it deserves a good live performance, and we get one.

The infectious ‘Talking Hotel Arbat Blues’ is next and seamlessly followed by ‘All We Want Baby Is Everything’. Their sound is simple but effective, heavy guitar over an electronic backing track with Boeckner’s distinct vocals to top it off.

They’re also setting a furious pace, perhaps because they know they’re now on a deadline. They’re also putting everything they have into it. Boeckner strums his guitar like a man possessed and pours out his vocals. He does though need to get the hang of microphone stands, whilst draping the microphone around your neck may look cool, it must make performing a tad more difficult.

In some ways it's a solo performance from Boeckner with his missus there to hit the right buttons for the effects, the samples and the correct drum programme whilst adding a few synth lines here and there. That would be a little unfair though, because she does so with such panache and acrobatics. Her performance is in some ways more engrossing than that of her husband’s. Constantly pogoing with her bare feet on the wooden stage, sometimes on two feet, more often on one and surely she’s smacking herself in the face with all that silverware around her neck. The pair go great together, clearly enjoying themselves and seemingly pleased to be there to entertain us. Exhausted with her effort, Perry theatrically collapses to the floor after each track.

‘Evangeline’ is a little slower and should have offered them a bit of a respite but they don’t let up and soon up the pace again with the cracking single 'I’m Confused'.

Russian influences appear everywhere. No more so than on 'Nyet Spasiba', which translates as 'no thank you'. The title of their album ‘Face Control’ also refers to the fact that if your face doesn’t fit over there, even when it comes to merely getting into a nightclub, no amount of cash will buy you entry.

I incorrectly assume that the album closer, the wonderful 'Radio Kaliningrad', will be the set closer too but no, they have one more for us. A new song ‘Agony’, which also sounds great. When this will be released with Wolf Parade now starting up again I’m not sure.

No chance of an encore with the curfew hour now upon us but a cracking show none the less.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Bloc Party, Rock City

When we last caught Grammatics supporting Red Light Company we were quite enamoured with their slightly oddball sound. Tonight though they seem to play very few of the tracks that they played that night, either that or they’ve heavily rearranged them. If it’s all new material they play then I’m not terribly impressed because the result is actually rather dull. It appears it’s not only me who quickly gets bored with them, as the increasing level of chattering voices and the queues at the bars show a lot of the audience has found something better to do.

Even their Swedish connection, the lovely Emilia, again with her black stocking clad thighs wrapped around her cello, doesn’t intrigue me tonight and her cello, so prominent before, seems slightly irrelevant tonight.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd, the assembled throng do occasionally take a break from updating Facebook to applaud at the end of each song and even participate in a bit of a brief hand clap at one point.

Mind you I wouldn’t wish the task of opening for Bloc Party on anyone. Warming up is one thing a Bloc Party crowd certainly don’t need, perhaps Grammatics were given the brief to calm everyone down.

Once they’ve departed the crowd get down to their own warm ups, pogoing to the background music whilst lobbing in the odd random chant of ‘Bloc Party’ for good measure. Then eventually to the accompaniment of a communal shriek, and a salvo of badly aimed glow sticks, the band arrive. Strobe lights drench the stage and we’re off, running and jumping to ‘One Month Off’.

When Bloc Party originally announced their tour dates to promote last year's 'Intimacy' album I was appalled at their decision to play two nights a piece in just three cities outside London during January; namely Glasgow, Manchester, Wolverhampton. Were they now too big to remember their fan base? Thankfully not, the band has toured tirelessly for the last few years and are now back in the UK where they are in the middle of a sizeable UK tour throughout October, known as Bloctober. This tour visits, well, just about everywhere. I apologise. True professionals. Albeit probably knackered ones.

Kele Okereke, shockingly sawn now of his dreadlocks, appears as relaxed and chatty with the fanatical crowd as ever. Seemingly still enjoying being up there before his public, giving no fuel to the rumours, mainly started by the band themselves, that this mega tour may be their last. If not for good, at least for some time. So potentially this is could be a farewell tour.

Next up the classic ‘Like Eating Glass’ before they descend into a run of four tracks off their most recent album. Which is fine if that album rocks your boat, as it clearly does for all those down the front. Personally I find it a rather messy and unnecessarily noisy record where they are perhaps trying too hard to be different but then I’m just old. Tonight a lot of the ‘Intimacy’ stuff just blends into a bit of an amorphous but hugely popular mass.

It’s already become a pretty chaotic and sweat filled night down on the floor, so after the jarring seizures of ‘Mercury’ and the slightly more tempered ‘Talons’, Kele slows things down to give everyone a rest with the rather beautiful ‘Signs’.

At one point the stage is besieged with a barrage of ‘Asda products’, I think they were crisps. I’ve no idea why. I heard someone once lobbed some tulips on stage to get that particular old favourite played but crisps?

The complex electronics of ‘Trojan Horse’ restores the chaos and continues the mythology theme. A couple of cuts from 'A Weekend in the City' follow, namely the rockier numbers ‘Hunting For Witches’ and ‘Song For Clay (Disappear Here)’. Excellent numbers both of them.

Bloc Party are always an engaging band to watch. Russell, on guitar, keeps his head down throughout putting in his usual workmanlike performance whilst Gordon alternates between his bass guitar and his synthesizer for the newer stuff. Oh and the occasional glockenspiel. Then there’s the near naked Matt Tong putting in a shift above and beyond the call of duty on drums.

Despite the electronic shift in style, the band remain at their best when playing their guitar driven stuff and old favourite ‘Banquet’ raises the tempo ever higher, if that’s possible, and the staircase we are stood on develops an unsettling sideways movement.

The highlight though is probably ‘Kreuzberg’, a rarity live according to Kele, although reworked a little tonight, it still sounds awesome and suggests that perhaps more should have been played from ‘A Weekend In The City’, their much maligned second album.

Instead we get ‘Luno’ from ‘Silent Alarm’ which is good but wouldn’t have been top of my choices. One thing you get with Bloc Party is variety because they appear to rip up their set list after every show and start a new one. So if you see them tomorrow 50% of the set would be different and they have the back catalogue to get away with this.

Their newest release ‘One More Chance’ sounds good tonight as does an old favourite ‘This Modern Love’ and the closing ‘The Prayer’.

They return with Kele announcing that we are only half way through the night and asks whether the crowd are up for the second half. They assure him they are. Golden oldie ‘So Here We Are’ is followed by the oddly popular Chemical Brothers-esk (God of) war anthem ‘Ares’. A song which is chaos on stage and chaos on the floor.

Their impromptu November 2007 bit of electro-pop, the single ‘Flux’ follows before naturally ‘Helicopter’ tops things off.

Performance and energy wise the band again don’t disappoint. It’s clear they still has the passion to perform for their fans and Kele announces ‘see you next time’. So perhaps not farewell after all.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Editors, Sheffield Academy

It’s my first trip to the former Roxy nightclub that re-opened eighteen months ago as the Sheffield Academy. It has a capacity of 2,350 with a smaller room holding 500, just like in the other Academised venues that are springing up like a plague around the country. The places are no longer sponsored by that lager but now by a telephone network but as it's only a five year contract, so it’s not worth mentioning their name as presumably it all be soon passed over to someone else.

As we don’t know the layout of the place, we try to get there early to blag a good spot. We park right next door in a handy but eye wateringly expensive car park, we thought this was Sheffield not London, have they not heard of evening rates? At least we get in early enough to get a very good spot, right at the front and slightly to one side.

Two support bands are on the roster tonight and first up are Manchester’s Airship. Their particular brand of indie pop reminds me a little of Ride or at least how an updated Ride may sound. I’m quite impressed and it’s a shame when their short set is over.

In contrast I don’t really buy into second support band and find Wintersleep a little dull. They start well and finish well but the bulk of their set disappoints. They’re from Halifax's but they aren’t Yorkshire boys from just down the road, that is unless your road is in Nova Scotia.

Editors are from all over, although they are now based in Birmingham. The foursome met at Staffordshire University where they decided that studying Music Technology wasn't the thing for them and being in a band was much more fun. Perhaps the Music Technology studies are now coming in useful, as their new album ‘In This Light And On This Evening’ definitely shows a shift to their electronic side.

Opening with the epic title track, Tom Smith sits at his piano and swears to God, thereby uttering the first of many holy references this evening. Perhaps this is why there’s a ‘Jesus bus’ parked outside, perchance they’ve come to take him away ha ha. The song builds slowly as Smith paints his vision of London but tonight he twists the words to Sheffield, as I’m sure he does for every city he visits. Then the song breaks loose into an explosion of the guitars and the stage becomes a sea of coloured light. Not bad for starters.

The guitars stay out for the excellence of 'Bullets' and 'An End Has A Start' which gets the crowd going before we are slowed back down for the grim and evocative, ‘You Don't Know Love’ off the new album. This loses some vital momentum and that’s my only problem with the evening from here onwards.

The new songs paint quite a bit of gloom about the place and that combined with their unfamiliarity and complexity, means they don’t galvanise the audience like the older stuff does and the Academy cools off quite quickly. It’s a little disappointing and I for one thought the new material would take off better live than it did. Perhaps it's too soon to tour this album in its entirety, only ‘The Boxer’ is omitted tonight, an odd omission in itself as it’s probably more accessible than some of the others. The album only came out last week and people just aren't familiar enough with it yet.

Interspersed with the new stuff are a fair selection from both their Mercury Prize nominated debut ‘The Back Room’ and its follow-up the Brit Awards nominated ‘An End Has A Start’. The band were recently voted the second biggest British band of the decade by the Daily Mail???? Not that they’d know anything about it.

The older numbers never quite lift the crowd out of their stupor though, until near the end that is, as some the liveliest stuff has already been played or is being saved for later. In fact it simply highlighted the differences between the old and new; which are like chalk and cheese.

None of this would probably have mattered if Tom had spoken to us a bit more, perhaps even talked about the new songs but he says little from the off and gets quieter, apart from a muttered 'thank you' at the end of each song. Chatty he most definitely isn't. His ‘Sheffield’ reference in the first song was almost the last of the onstage banter. Lack of banter aside, he’s a busy chap performance wise, giving it everything he's got, as he moves from piano to synthesiser to guitar to microphone.

You get the impression that guitarist Chris and bass player Russell would like to converse with the audience, they’re all smiles and grins but perhaps they're not allowed to.

Poor Chris Urbanowicz, a Nottinghamshire lad from Aslockton, who impressively alternated between lead guitar and synthesizer all night, isn’t even allowed a microphone.

A lot of the older stuff is being played on rotation on this tour and although we do get a real rarity with a brilliant 'When Anger Shows', played for the first time on this tour, personally I’m gutted to not get 'Escape the Nest' or 'Fall', played elsewhere but not tonight, but I always want too much.

After the mid-set ‘dip’ we do get a great finale and the closest we’re going to get to a song introduction, with a 'this is an old one' as they play the fantastic ‘You Are Fading’, the ‘b’ side of their debut single ‘Bullets’ and featured on the ‘Cuttings’ CD. The song may be a bit of an unknown to the casual fan but it’s a live favourite and does sound stunning live.

This sets off a rather good run of songs. ‘Camera’ too sounds much better live than on record and then the crowd are energised as the pace is picked up again with 'Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors'.

Then they close the set with the rather wonderful, and my fave of the new album, ‘Bricks and Mortar’. Six very short minutes of brilliance. Tom bidding farewell and singing about how he hoped 'life was good for you'. Yeah not bad mate since you ask. Encore please.

They return with another moody newbie, the haunting ‘Walk The Fleet Road’, another song that builds slowly and it makes the hairs on the back of your neck quiver tonight. Utterly wonderful. Then finally there’s mayhem down the front as a 'Munich'/'Papillon' double bill tumbles forth from the stage. Now belatedly the crowd are really getting into it and a lively encore is brought to a close with ‘Fingers In The Factories', another song that sounds epic live rather than just plain good on record.

All in all a good gig but not a great one.