Wednesday 20 May 2009

Maximo Park, Rock City

We’re at Rock City nice and early to catch the support bands but we’re still not there quite early enough to get a good enough spot for decent photos. Sorry.

Stricken City desperately want to be Florence & The Machine, which is no bad thing of course, they just need a bit more practice. They describe themselves as ‘mistakist’ and produce a slightly clumsy set with barely audible vocals by singer Rebekah Raa who also tinkles away on her Korg keyboard. That said, they do have a certain charm about them.

Raa slinks across the stage as the boys behind her dish out some decent tunes. She is a nice enough front person, attractive, dishevelled, an indie pin-up girl in the making, although she needs to acquire a more confident stage presence.

We were expecting stage presence in spades from Shingai Shoniwa of tonight’s advertised main support, the Noisettes, but the band have, to coin a Maximo Park phrase 'gone missing'. Illness in the band has prompted the Bombay Bicycle Club to step in as replacements for a few dates, which is to our good fortune. I'm not convinced about the reinvented Noisettes, who if their current hit is anything to go by have forsaken their noisy Siouxsie Sioux type sound for disco but I can’t comment because they’re not here.

The Bombay Bicycle Club on the other hand are here and are much more my thing. They are a very likeable indie band who started out when they were all just fifteen. Now at the grand old age of... well they must be pushing nineteen, they have a few EP’s and singles under their belt. They finally have an album due for release in July.

If Rebekah Raa was indie girl personified then Jack Steadman plays the indie boy role to a T. Although at first I think his band are better than he is. I was impressed by them, they could play but their excellent tunes were at first let down by his vocals but once he decided to look up from the floor a bit more often things seem to improve. They started out sounding a bit gloomy but their tunes got more upbeat and jangly as they went along. I might just get that album.

So to the Park and a touch of deja vu, as they open with 'Grafitti', just as they did two years ago. Then its sirens a whir, riffs a surge and Paul Smith, looking as dapper as ever, complete with the obligatory hat, with a megaphone in hand as he goes all Wayne Coyne in the middle of ‘Wraithlike’. God knows what he's singing at that point. Another new track, 'A Cloud Of Mystery' from their new album ‘Quicken The Heart’ follows, an album on which they further fine tune that winning Park formula.

When a band gets to the three album point you wonder what they're going to leave out and there are inevitable casualties in the set but it’s good to hear that 'I Want You To Stay', up next, is still there. To be fair to the band they’re not a band who traipse out the same set every night and whilst we may have missed out on some stuff played elsewhere on this tour nobody else has yet been treated to the excellent 'Your Urge' off 'Our Earthly Pleasures'. A welcome surprise.

Smith, as usual, leaps around the stage like a man possessed, pointing and gesturing at... well just about anyone and everything. He has his audience in the palm of his hand from the off. There’s something about his magnetic presence that pulls you in and demands you have as good as time as he is. So we do. The atmosphere at Rock City tonight is simply electric.

He’s relentlessly energetic, even during the slower songs. Lukas Wooller tries, at times, to match his energetic leader, tipping his keyboard up, down and sideways, playing it at various angles, particularly during a fast and furious ‘Now I'm All Over The Shop’. Perhaps he’s a frustrated guitarist. The rest of the band just leave them to it, preferring instead to simply dish out that Maximo sound to perfection.

One criticism of many gigs that I go to is that the vocals are not always as audible as they could be. Tonight, you can hear every word of Smith’s poetic lyrics and at no detriment to the power of the music. So full marks to the sound technicians.

'Books From Boxes' goes down a storm but 'Going Missing' was, of course, again, simply terrific with Smith perched on the front of the stage for most of it.

He then introduces what, according to him, is possibly their 'funkiest' song yet, that being ‘Lets Get Clinical’ but he then slaps an over-16 certificate on it before admittedly they’d know what he means anyway as he urges us to ‘wash ourselves in sin’.

My partner leans across to ask what the next great song is, as they play ‘Tanned’ from the new LP. Smith disappears briefly towards the end of it, perhaps for a brief lie down, and when he returns the band are already into ‘Calm’.

They seemed to lose momentum with those more thoughtful songs but then they have a good go at getting it back with 'Our Velocity', which lifts the pace back to breakneck. Smith once again looking so hyped up you are worried he might explode.

Then to huge delight down the front, Smith counts them in ‘One in a million, Two is a crowd...’, another old favourite ‘The Night I Lost My Head’.

'The Kids Are Sick Again' is an odd record and an even odder choice as a lead single and tonight they try to turn it into an anthem with the megaphone making another appearance but it never quite works out. Well not for me, unlike the closing 'Girls That Play Guitars' which clearly does work.

The encore begins with a new song, not even on the new album, ‘That Beating Heart’ and then it’s a slow build through ‘Questing, Not Coasting’ to the expected finale of 'Apply Some Pressure'.

Whether 'Apply Some Pressure' is a good one to finish with I'm not sure. Last time they played it mid-set and it brought the house down, this time it's the mid-set show stopper 'Going Missing' that I’ll go home with inside my head.

Maximo Park are an excellent band to see live and tonight they were on top form. All three of their albums but particularly the last two really take on a new life on stage. They could have done as a lot of bands who emerged at the same time have done and gone Arena on us but you get the impression Paul Smith and the band like it cosy like this. Full marks to them for that.

So almost as good as it gets, well, apart from, just as at their gig here two years, there’s still no 'Just, A Glimpse' on this tour but perhaps I’m just being picky.

‘We're Maximo Park and this is what we do’ so says Smith as they leave us and tells us how much he loves the Nottingham crowd, well don't leave it two years then next time mate. Awesome.

Maximo Park - Let's Get Clinical.mp3

Maximo Park - Our Velocity.mp3

Saturday 9 May 2009

The Hours, Sheffield Leadmill

Things were a bit bleak in Sheffield in 1980. The steel industry was in steep decline and there wasn’t much future for the youth of Sheffield. Amongst this background, in a derelict flour mill in a rundown part of the city a mix of volunteers consisting of students, artists and the unemployed came together to set up a venue for people like themselves who had nowhere to go. The Leadmill was born.

Tonight, we are stood in that old flour mill sipping half pint bottles of Newcastle Brown and listening to London’s The Glasslights, who are very good. As seems to be the case with almost all support bands these days.

By the way, if you thought that pint bottles of Newcastle Brown were overpriced in clubs, wait until you get acquainted with these new measures. Frighteningly expensive. Anyhow back to the Glasslights. On first listen they appear to have some quality songs and I’m sure someone somewhere is touting them, along with all the other bands that are being touted, as the next big thing. It’ll be interesting to see what develops. The band release their first single this summer, entitled ‘Someone Like Me’ or as Andrew the lead singer kept telling us, you can get it now for £2 from one of their gigs.

So to local boy Anthony Genn, who together with pianist Martin Slattery are the nuclei of The Hours. Although the band have now been extended to a six piece live unit. Genn is a former member of Pulp but he gained notoriety when he streaked on stage with Elastica at Glastonbury in 1995. The band have just finished a support slot with Kasabian, now there’s an odd mix.

Genn makes for a confident and cocky front man who banters freely with the crowd, many of whom seem to know him personally. If you were not a Sheffield-ite or a football fan, you would have been well lost when the discussion turned to a certain Sheffield United striker who missed a sitter in the previous evening's play-off game.

They open with 'These Days' off the new album but the band are soon dipping into their ‘Narcissus Road’ album. ‘Narcissus Road’ was a hell of a good album and not just for its Damien Hirst artwork. The title track, third track up tonight, sounds particularly fantastic.

The new album also has artwork, as well as funding from Hirst. Can it be as good? Well, probably not. New numbers like ‘Come On’ are fairly predictable and inoffensive. Probably having too many soft-rock Coldplay or even Keane moments.

‘Car Crash’ is better. An ode to an ex-girlfriend, where Genn describes their relationship as a car crash and appears to regret starting it. He claims that he still thinks of her ‘sometimes but not that often’. Yeah right mate. You’ve been thinking about her so little you’ve written a song about it! Get over her, move on.

Slattery comes out from behind his keyboards to blow on one of those pocket organ type things for their new single ‘Big Black Hole’. A song about alcoholism. In fact there aren’t many uplifting songs in the Hours armoury; Genn seems to have had a somewhat colourful past.

So to ‘Ali In The Jungle’ which is simply brutal. Still one hell of a good record.

The place is almost jumping by now, although ‘Think Again’ slows the tone a little followed by ‘People Say’ which has been used in the opening scenes of Hollyoaks but we won’t use that against it. Then again what band hasn’t been featured in Hollyoaks.

By the time they close the set with ‘Murder Or Suicide’ there’s even dancing going on. Weird.

They encore with ‘Back When You Were Good’ and then close a near note-perfect set with last year’s single and title track of the new album ‘See The Light’.

For once it’s me, who doesn’t get their favourite played, no 'Love You More' tonight. Odd, considering it was a single.

Genn tells everyone to go home and spread the word, even if it’s only to the family pet. Well I’ll compromise. I’ll whisper it; if they got big we’d lose these intimate moments in the back room of that flour mill.

Monday 4 May 2009

Art Brut, Rescue Rooms

It's very quiet at the Rescue Rooms when I arrive and most of tonight’s two bands appear to be at the bar swelling the numbers. Eddie Argos is there in a Columbo style mac shaking a few hands but basically trying to keep his fan base bonding to a minimum. As some of his fans are scarier than even he is, he’s probably wise to keep his distance.

Support is from the peculiarly named Robocop Kraus and they look stereotypically German, so it’s a relief to find at that is where they hail from. Although they sing exclusively in English.

At times their music borders on eighties disco but at other times they sound like a decent post-punk indie band. Their well dressed lead singer thinks he looks and dances like Bryan Ferry. He hasn’t got the look right but yes the dancing is bad. At one point he's waving his arms around like he's trying to fly as they play a souped up version of what sounds like one of those bad euro disco numbers you hear in ski resorts. After a couple of songs he wades in to the audience. Is he trying to upstage Eddie, I’m sure that’s what he plans to do.

They’re a very accomplished outfit, not surprising since they’re certainly not youngsters and the band was formed in 1998. Musically they are actually pretty good and they go down well.

During their last song the lead singer takes the drum kit apart until just one drum is left and he carries that into the crowd with the drummer still attached to it. A rather unique finale.

Afterwards there’s a bit of a rush to the merchandising stall. This may be to buy their new CD or perhaps it because they’ve been pleading on their website for places to sleep and have urged anyone who could put them up for a night to come forward. They’ve even offered to do the vacuum cleaning and the dishes.

Half an hour later, Art Brut shuffle on stage and Eddie, looking more Stephen Fry than rock n roll, opens with the words 'Slept on my face, and woke up confused'. Yep it’s one of their many songs about drinking. New single ‘Alcoholics Unanimous’ tumbles forth with Argos trying to remember the night before and sending out apologetic text messages to everyone just in case.

Suddenly it’s all gone a bit mental, I’m not sure where the crowd have come from but they’re here now, and when ‘My Little Brother’ follows, the scary fan base are down the front whirring arms and legs in all directions. I get very good at ducking as I try and take photos, I must look like a member of Robocop Krauss dancing like that.

We get a set comprising much of the faster stuff but not necessarily the best bits from the new album ‘Art Brut vs Satan’, along with all the classics from their début album ‘Bang Bang Rock & Roll’ but only a few off their underrated second album. If you’re a fan of Art Brut already you’ll know what to expect, if you’re not, I’d skip to the end if I was you.

The band's split with EMI last year, so it's not hard to work out who the ‘Satan’ portrayed on the new record is. After their second, dare I say it slightly commercial album, sorry Eddie, they're back to doing what they do best, taking on sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and EMI around a few meaty rifts. This time they’ve worked with Frank Black and he seems to have totally bought into the Art Brut spirit.

Eddie Argos, the band’s lead voice, singer wouldn’t be quite the right word, is there to steal the spotlight and duly does so, with his observations on life and his personal manifesto about, well anything he feels like. Such as his love for public transport on ‘The Passenger’.

As expected it only takes a few tracks before he climbs into the crowd and delivers a monologue during ‘Modern Art’ from the centre of the floor before returning to the stage, where most of his ripostes seem to be at the expense of guitarist Jeff aka Jasper Future, particularly before they launch in to ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’, his ode to his right hand.

The only down point is perhaps that the brilliant ‘Emily Kane’ was mainly inaudible as they cranked up the sound which suited rock outs such as ‘Nag Nag Nag’ much better. Then ‘Bad Weekend’ stirs the mosh pit and delivers more bad news for decent photography.

Then there’s a new song about Eddie’s love of comic books and drinking... err... milkshake, ‘even though I'm 28’ obviously entitled ‘DC Comics And Chocolate Milkshake’.

Eddie becomes the first band member I’ve seen at the Rescue Rooms go to the bar for a pint during a set, taking the microphone with him and continuing the song as he goes. On the way back he chats up the crowd as well as slagging off bands who court the mainstream by imitating bands like U2 on ‘Slap Dash For No Cash’. They’re even selling 'Who wants to sound like U2?' t shirts at the merchandising stall. No risk of Art Brut ever becoming mainstream, not matter what EMI may have hoped.

'Formed a Band' is shouted for and eventually delivered as the first song of the encore despite not being set listed. The brilliant first single that they never got to play on ‘Top of the Pops’. They finish with ‘Good Weekend’ with the crowd singing along and sharing Eddie’s glee at having seen his new girlfriend naked, twice.

All great fun but of course, in the end Satan will win and U2 will always be more popular but who cares.