Sunday 29 March 2009

Frightened Rabbit, The Musician, Leicester

Tucked away in a small side street around the back of the impressive new 'Curve' theatre in Leicester there is a venue called The Musician. With a capacity of 220 it's certainly cosy but it's well laid out and it looks like a great place to see a band. It even serves three real ales at the bar and in real glasses too, so I assume they're not expecting a riot this evening.

We, true to form, blag a spot stage front in time to catch tonight's support act, Ross Clark and his band The Scarfs Go Missing. I had to google that, such was the depth of Ross's Glaswegian accent I never manage to decode the name of his band at the time.

The bespectacled Ross, looking and acting a bit like a cross between Black Francis and the Hold Steady's Craig Finn, and his band entertain us with his Scottish take on what you'd probably call blues/country. They are very good and clearly enjoying being down here in England. They tells us what a great time they had in Blackpool last night and if we buy a few of their CDs they might be able to have a great time in Leicester too and perhaps even get to eat.

By the time Ross and his boys have finished the place has got really busy and it looks like the Musician could be full for tonight's main event.

The first thing to say about Scott Hutchison is that he can hardly be described as a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights of fame, far from it. It's obvious from song one, the terrific 'Backwards Walk' that this rabbit has great stage presence but then as he's someone who bares his soul so much in his songs, I suppose he can't afford to be shy.

Scott has been playing under the stage name of 'Frightened Rabbit' for the last five years and what started out as a solo project has gradually turned itself into a full-fledged band. His brother Grant soon joined him to play drums and then a couple of years ago Billy Kennedy came in on guitar. Andy Monaghan joined them more recently to help them perform last year's 'Midnight Organ Fight' album live.

Tonight it's an 'unplugged' acoustic show, in aid of their recently released live album 'Liver! Lung! FR!', although I'm not totally sure of the precise definition of this. Scott does have a proper acoustic guitar with a taped on microphone but we still have electric bass and guitar, as well as a keyboards, although the use of electronics does seem to have been toned down. This means that his vocals come through more clearly than on record and you can get to grips with every word of his emotive songs.

Frightened Rabbit are just one of many critically hyped bands that we've seen recently but at a lot of these gigs the punters that have turned up to see what the 'buzz' was all about have simply stood, watched and quietly appreciated (presumably) the music. Tonight no one can accuse the crowd of being here simply because of the hype. Most were fervent devotees and sung along to practically every word of the songs from both of their studio albums. It also seems the norm to shout out your requests at Frightened Rabbit shows. The band came with no prepared set list but seemed to know what their first half a dozen or so tracks would be. 'Good Arms Vs Bad Arms' lead us into a succession of most of the 'big' moments from 'Midnight Organ Fight' and included the country blues of 'Old Old Fashioned' when rather appropriately Ross Clark joined them on stage. Returning the favour from when Andy Monaghan played keyboards on one of their tracks.

They then proceeded to adlib the rest of the set according to what the audience wanted to hear, which was mainly stuff from their debut album 'Sing the Greys'. Tonight we get 'Go-Go Girls', 'Square 9' and a cover of N-Trance's 'Set You Free'.

Throughout, the band put just about everything they have into their performance especially Scott, who literally sweated buckets for the cause, although it was very hot in the Musician.

All too soon they're finishing off with 'Modern Leper' and retreating behind the curtain at the back of the stage for a well earned towel down. After a vociferous shout for more, Scott returns to stand right at the edge of the stage and play a truly unplugged 'Poke', pure acoustic guitar and not even a microphone to carry his voice.

Then I wonder if there might be a fight after all as people try and get their favourites played. Another popular request follows with 'Be Less Rude'. Then Scott finally relents to crowd pressure and plays another of his 'heart on the sleeve' classics 'Snake' which he explains does not refer to any part of his anatomy but to a draft excluder that he took to American to woo a girl he knew there. He didn't tell her that he was coming because she'd have told him not to bother if he had. The tactic didn't work, as he suspected it wouldn't, but at least he got a song out of it. It's clear he's had a harder time than most of us with women. I wonder how many more heart wrenching tales he's got up his sleeve.

One song that you didn't think people would be so keen to sing along to is the superlative 'Keep Yourself Warm' but everyone seems pleased when he closed the night with it and of course the whole room joins in, as they have done all night, passionately bellowing all the F words back at Scott in unified fashion. A classic moment.

The whole set was pure quality from start to finish.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Official Secrets Act, Bodega Social

Tonight we're back at the Bodega Social because my partner was so impressed when we saw the Rakes in Derby earlier this year that she requested a repeat viewing. Not of the Rakes though, of the support band, the Official Secrets Act. As they're currently still a little known band, we're not expecting a large crowd and the Bodega is perhaps a little over half full.

First up are a young looking guitar band from Nottingham called Frontiers. So young in fact that they seem to have brought their proud parents along to swell the crowd.
The band are far from original and call on a whole range of influences but they definitely have potential. They have some really great intros, although a few of the songs fell away a little thereafter. At first I'm not over impressed with lead singer Alex Noble, as it seemed at times that he had trouble coping with playing guitar and singing vocals at the same time but he seemed to grow more confident as the set went on.

It’s clear that Joy Division are in his record collection. Frontiers became the latest band to cover ‘Shadowplay’. Well isn’t everybody doing it. I hate having to keep mentioning good old Brandon but Frontiers version was definitely better than his.

Certainly a band I'll be looking to see again, if only to see how they develop.

Another band with too many influences to mention are Official Secrets Act. Although I thought they were good when we saw them earlier this year, I wasn't totally enamoured with them but on second listen they're certainly getting there. Tonight they are in Nottingham promoting their début album 'Understanding Electricity'.

They play a confident and energetic set to the small crowd with Tom Burke not looking quite so spaced out this time. In fact he's looking Mr Cool and professional tonight as he purposefully dishes out his vocals. The bass player too had cleaned up his act and ditched the war paint but the keyboard player lets the side down a touch by having, what looks like, glitter in his chest hairs!

It's easy to play spot the influence. Tonight I think Razorlight or the Strokes perhaps but don't hold that against them, it's still a good performance where the singles 'So Tomorrow' and 'Victoria' stand out. They can certainly play and they are one of a growing number of bands whose members can interchange with each other instruments.

I feel they are already at a crossroads, where they go from here will be interesting. They could be the next indie success story of the ilk of say Franz Ferdinand or Arctic Monkeys but if a major label gets hold of them they could be the next 'Scouting For Girls'. Worrying.

Afterwards we're at the mechanising stall but no one is there, then Tom Burke rushes across and serves us himself. Rock n roll. We even get a pound off for having the display item.

'Understanding Electricity' is out on Monday.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Doves, Coventry Kasbah

Many suspected that the Doves may have flown the nest for good but no, they have taken flight once more and tonight come home to roost in Coventry on St Patricks Day as part of a six date mini tour. Enough of the bird jokes.

Of course once we had tickets for Coventry they announced a bigger tour and come to Nottingham. No matter, this is the place to see them. A new venue for me, pre-new single, pre-new album, we get to hear everything first.

I'd never heard of the Kasbah and this turns out because it is the former Colosseum which was well known and affectionately known as the ‘Colly’, now there’s an unfortunate nickname. It was somewhere I always wanted to visit for a gig. The place underwent a £1 million refit in 2007 and now has a Moroccan theme, lanterns, ornate mirrors, velvet drapes.... Hmmm and you though theme bars died in the 90's. Luckily it still has the Colosseum name emblazoned across its roof which will be handy when it reverts, as these places usually do, to its better known moniker sometime in the future.

The problem with going somewhere new and arriving late, as we do tonight, due to the 50 mile journey to get there, is knowing where the good viewing spots are. We head up to the already crowded balcony just at the support band, the Invisible are finishing up. The first support band we've missed in some time. Amazingly someone in front of us chooses this moment to vacate their vantage point and we slip in. Perfect timing.

They make us wait forty-five minutes before Jimi Goodwin and twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams make their entrance. I suppose after going missing for four years, what’s another forty-five minutes.

A shout goes up 'f***in legend' from a voice in the crowd before they even start. No pressure then. The place is packed, allaying any fears that time and perhaps their public may have moved on or that perhaps Elbow had nipped in to steal their thunder. Jimi Goodwin admits 'It’s been a long time but we're back now'.

Then 'Jetstream' fizzes out from the stage, a free download sampler from the new album, which features guitarist Jez Williams on lead vocals. The Doves have landed. Sorry I said no more bird jokes.

Judging by the reception it gets, a fair number of folks have obtained the track. Then it's time for the awesome 'Snowden'.

Something I’ve noticed recently is that guitarists seem to be trying to outdo each other, to see who can have the most foot pedals, well they can call the contest off right now because Jez has clearly won.

They alternate tracks from the new album: - 'Winter Hill', 'The Greatest Denier', '10:03' with classic oldies such as 'Rise' from Lost Souls, a terrific 'Words' from Last Broadcast and then there's 'Pounding' from the same record, which... well... pounds.

It's all good stuff, though there's a slight lack of momentum with them mixing in the newer less known material and also perhaps less emotion as the band choose to say very little to the crowd throughout. It's a workman like performance, although Jimi does claim to be a bit under the weather. Introducing the new songs to us would have been nice, songs which are unfamiliar to most.

The new single and title track of the new album 'Kingdom Of Rust' is actually introduced and sounds good. Twice Mercury Music Prize nominated for their first two albums, could it be third time lucky. It is followed by a funked up 'Black And White Town', a song inspired by their home town of Wilmslow.

‘The Outsiders’ turns out to be the best of the new stuff and really rocks, then after an excellent ‘Caught By The River’ they are gone.

I don't much like gigs where if you jot down a band's most famous sixteen or so tracks before you go, you will effectively have the set list for the evening. Surprises and disappointments are very much a part of everyday life and I like my gigs to be the same.

So this is my sort of gig because Doves are a band that are prepared to pluck stuff off obscure albums and singles to please the hardcore fans, not just play what everyone expects them to. Not that I'm Doves hardcore or anything but it’s good to have a challenge when trying to assemble the set list afterwards.

Cue the acoustic b-side ‘Northenden’ to kick off the encore. They also dish out the disappointment with no 'Cedar Room'. Instead we get their debut single from 1999 ‘The Here it Comes’ with Andy on vocals and Jimi behind the drum kit. ‘Last Broadcast’ follows and then they finish up with a corking ‘There Goes The Fear’. Top night.

The band's fourth album, Kingdom of Rust, is released on April 6, 2009. The title track "Kingdom of Rust" will be the album's first single on March 30th.

Monday 16 March 2009

Red Light Company, Bodega Social

There’s a rare queue outside the Bodega although most of them are checking into the gig and then going into the bar for a drink. This seems to be the younger element, which allows us oldies, of which there are quite a few tonight, all obviously watching their units and drying out after the weekend, to grab the best spots stage front.

I’d spent the afternoon checking out the Grammatics’ odd-ball sound as reviews have suggested that the Grammatics along with headliners the Red Light Company have produced the two most impressive debut albums of the year so far. The few downloads that I can get hold of though, leave me a little underwhelmed. So it’s somewhat of a surprise to discover how phenomenal the four-piece from Leeds are live and that’s before you take into account that they come equipped with a Swedish lass in black tights with a cello between her thighs. Apparently Emilia, fresh from the Stockholm Youth Symphony Orchestra, answered an advert they posted up at Leeds University.

Emilia is actually a bit underused. When she does get involved though it’s to impressive effect, with her playing her cello just like she would a guitar.

The star of the show isn’t Emilia though but lead singer, guitarist and all round skinny bloke Owen Brinley with his clever lyrics, intense vocals and his guitar which dominates most of their sound.

The band seems genuinely grateful to people for turning outing to see them. I’m glad we took the trouble. A very pleasant surprise.

Talking of skinny folk, there’s not much meat on any of the bands tonight, as an equally undernourished Red Light Company take the stage and open with ‘Words Of Spectacular’.

Red Light Company are a cosmopolitan bunch, vocalist Richard Frenneaux is English but grew up down under. Bass player, Shawn Day was born in Osaka. Whilst James Griffiths (drums) is Welsh and Paul Mellon (guitar) Scottish. Chris Edmonds (keyboards) spoils it a touch by coming from Maidenhead.

The wonderful and criminally overlooked single ‘Scheme Eugene’ is next, with its sing-along chorus to which a fair number of the crowd oblige. You can imagine that had someone like the Killers recorded it, it would have topped the charts for eons. In fact, Brandon is probably spitting feathers that he didn’t pen it. Unfortunately the sound isn’t quite right for it and it doesn't quite hit the mark tonight but the dodgy mix is just right for the brooding ‘With Lights Out’ and so too for ‘Bahnhof Zoo’. A favourite of mine, which has a touch of the Editors about it. Aside from ‘Bahnhof Zoo’ which was a b-side, they stick to stuff from the ‘Fine Fascination’ album.

Red Light Company have been accused of being a bit emotionless but tonight Frenneaux is the perfect front man, eyes on the crowd, a bit of banter, plenty of gratitude and even a smile. Plus by the time ‘The Architect’ appears the sound is spot on and they've really into their stride.

The band have some ‘huge’ records, pulsating drums and meaty riffs. ‘Meccano’ is simply terrific, full of hooks, although the attempt to let the crowd do the vocal work doesn't quite work out. No matter how appropriate “crying out loud, the weekend is over” is for a Monday, the songs are not quite that well known, yet.

‘Arts & Crafts’ follows and is equally excellent. Then it’s all over far too soon with the grunge of ‘When Everyone Is Everybody Else’ and the band depart amid a fuzz of feedback.

They have planned an encore and hope to be shouted back for it but again they're not quite that big yet and the Bodega isn't really big enough to create that sort of atmosphere but they come back anyway to finish us off with 'The Alamo'.

A very easy band to enjoy and enjoy we did.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

The Gaslight Anthem, Rock City

Tonight's gig was advertised as being in the basement at Rock City but the Gaslight Anthem's rapid rise to fame seems to have put paid to that. When we arrive people are queuing down the street to pay on the door. Turns out we're not in the basement at all but in the main hall and it's just about full.

The Gaslight Anthem's take on Americana is eighties-ish and unashamedly Springsteen. They are perhaps what the E Street band would have sounded like had they not had a few hits and crossed over to the dark side of the mainstream.

Once inside, we get a good vantage point for fellow New Yorkers, the Polar Bear club. Whose sound is most definitely veering towards punk and they even have an appropriately hyperactive front man. They possibly remind me of Enter Shikari but without the electronics. I think that's a bit flattering to Enter Shikari. I'm afraid I'm not much of a fan of theirs. Like Enter Shikari though, you get the impression that if the Polar Bear Club tidied up their sound they'd be onto something.

Somebody who clearly is on to something is Frank Turner. He's incredibly popular tonight, in fact a lot of the crowd seem to have come mainly to see him and justifiably so. His set is a massive contrast in style to the punk of the Polar Bear club. Although perhaps not that dissimilar as Frank was in the hardcore band Million Dead before he pursued a solo career in what is basically folk music.

Tonight Frank, with just his voice, an acoustic guitar, and some impressively simple melodies is excellent. He's also very funny and entertaining as he banters with the crowd before launching into one heartfelt lament after another. His lyrics are personal, about lost loves, betrayals and killing his ex-girlfriend. Frank seems pretty miffed about the hand life has dealt him. He plays a mixture of old songs to which the crowd eagerly sing along to and also throws in a few from his forthcoming but as yet unrecorded new album. ‘Long live the Queen’, ‘Worse things happen at sea’ and ‘Photosynthesis’, among others, are all impressive.

He says he's back and headlining in October, I could well be there. Whether his usual full band can live up to this acoustic performance remains to be seen.

It's the Polar Bear Club's last night on the tour and they keep bring drinks out to Frank, who appears to be sipping a cultured glass of white wine, whereas they bring him what looks like a huge shot of Jack Daniels, followed by the bottle. Still, it's good again to see three bands on tour together that bond so well.

It's not just Springsteen, whom they will support at Hyde Park in the summer, who influences the Gaslight Anthem and as if to emphasises the point they take the stage to the accompaniment of Tom Waits' gravelly vocals before starting things off with 'Great Expectations', the opening track of last year's 'The 59 Sound'.

They go for it at a quite a pace, tearing through the first five songs, the first four all upbeat numbers from the latest album with additional guitar work from the Polar Bear Club on 'High Lonesome' and the crowd sing along to every word.

Finally the band call a temporary halt to proceedings, after an oldie, 'We Came To Dance' from 2007's 'Sink or Swim'. As he pauses for breath, the heavily tattooed Brian Fallon beams at the crowd and expresses his gratitude simply for being here. Then they burst into the '59 Sound's lively title track.

True, some of their stuff is all a bit samey. The ‘59 Sound’ is more or less several versions of the same song and all pretty much in the same key but I thought the live experience was a step up, rawer and faster than on the record. They play every song as if it is their last. They also mixed it up well with the older stuff, which is markedly different, and who a surprisingly large number of people also knew.

In fact, the diehards down the front seemed to be influencing things and getting requests. We get the first appearance on the tour of 'Navesink Banks' and I also feel this is the first time they've played '1930' because they seemed to have a big debate among themselves, presumably rewriting the set list before agreeing to play it.

Along the way they slip in tributes to some other influences, dropping in short bursts of Ben E King's 'Stand by Me' and James Brown's 'It's a Man's Man's Man's World'. Miles Davis is clearly another influence, as is Joe Strummer, who is the ‘Joe’ of ‘I'da Called You Woody, Joe’.

I also liked the way they loaded most of their best known stuff at the start of the set, leaving people wondering what was to come later and in the encore. No saving the ‘big hit’ to the end here. They even play three tracks from their slightly obscure ‘Señor and the Queen’ EP, which pre-dates the '59 Sound’ but hasn’t even been released over here yet.

After ending the set with a rousing 'The Backseat', they return for a three song encore but regrettably no cover of ‘New England’ with Frank Turner tonight (Norwich got it last night though) but I think they simply ran out of time and perhaps energy. Instead we get Turner and the Polar Club all joining them on the stage in their underwear!

The Gaslight Anthem are hardly a life-changing experience but it's a good gig and they're definitely a fun band to see.

Set List was something like this...