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.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Frank Turner, Rock City

Here's a bandwagon that I’m unashamedly going to jump on to... Frank Turner. How has the man stayed under my radar from so long? He’s spent a considerable amount of time working his way up, the hard way, since the demise of his hardcore punk band Million Dead. I was surprised to see what a serial offender he is, as regards trips to the various stages around Nottingham since he went solo in 2005. There were two trips to Junktion 7 then once at the Old Angel followed by four gigs at the Bodega Social before graduating to The Rescue Rooms last year where he ended up ill and retching into a bucket backstage rather than finishing the show. Then came a support slot with the Gaslight Anthem at Rock City in March this year, where we finally caught him for the first time. At which point he was already planning his own headlining show at Rock City. So here we are.

The striking thing that night, supporting the Gaslight’s, was just how popular he was and how much of a good sing-along it was for everybody there; only we hadn’t been invited to the party because we didn’t know the script, that is apart from a few tracks I recognized and realised... so that’s Frank Turner. This time I made sure I turned up well rehearsed.

First though, there’s disappointment on the Beans on Toast front. Firstly that we catch nothing but the last few notes of his final song and secondly that the Beans on Toast T-shirts, that my partner so desperately wanted one of, don’t actually have a slice of that delicacy upon them.

Beans on Toast (known to his mates as Jay) is one man with a guitar, who comes highly recommended and is mentioned in the lyrics to Frank’s 'I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous', of which I feel we'll hear more later. So I guess that’s how he got the gig. He even offers his songs for free download on his website. So apologies to Mr Beanz, we did really want to see you, but it was not to be.

We do catch Fake Problems, who are from Naples that’s Naples, Florida not Italy. I like their first track having listened to it on their website but they lose me a little after that. That said they apply themselves to every song with an admirable enthusiasm and consequently get the crowd on board with them. To me they sound like Modest Mouse on some of their less incoherent stuff or perhaps an undercooked Gaslight Anthem, they’re another band with half an eye on Springsteen. The only thing missing is a song about the American Dream and that duly arrives a few tracks from the end.

It’s a bit of a wait for Mr Turner, more to set up this time I suppose as he has a full band with him rather than just his guitar but eventually he’s with us and it’s bedlam from track one.

Frank is promoting his new album ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ and seven tracks from it are interwoven into a set chock-full of Frank classics. Not that the new stuff puts any of the crowd out of their stride, they know all the words to these as well. Album opener ‘Live Fast Die Old’ gives way to the recent single ‘The Road’ before a reworked and up-tempo ‘Long Live The Queen’ raises the bar phenomenally high. No matter, he has plenty more where that came from and the wonderfully observant ‘Substitute’ rises to the challenge. One of his great appeals is that he writes such wonderful lyrics, ones that you can relate to and about everyday things that we care about, making it difficult not to enjoy one of his shows.

‘The Real Damage’ is another song that puts a smile on your face and is another stand out moment. The addition of the band enables him to slot in the wonderfully rocky ‘Imperfect Tense’. Frank impressing throughout the night, by the sheer amount of energy, emotion and commitment that he puts into every song.

He seems genuinely choked by the reaction tonight and the sheer weight of numbers at Rock City. I’d been watching the ‘sold out’ signs go up on his tour dates but Nottingham remained stubbornly ‘tickets available’ but the venue was decidedly bigger than the others on his tour. When we arrived though they were queuing down the street to pay on the door and apparently the last ticket was sold tonight. As he says he’s come a long way from Junktion 7, well about 300 yards but Frank is clearly moved. He alludes back to the last time he played to a sold out Rock City, when the Million Dead supported Nottingham’s own Pitchshifter on what was supposed to be their farewell tour in 2002. On that occasion a Pitchshifter fan requested he did not return promptly, if ever. There’s no such animosity tonight and he celebrates by playing a very un-punk version of the Million Dead single ‘Smiling At Strangers On Trains’.

Another cover follows later, a request from a friend, Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ and then we’re back in sing-along territory and the crowd punch the air and bellow back every word of the classics ‘Love, Ire & Song’, ‘Father's Day’ and of course the aforementioned ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’. Slowing things down a touch, he closes, as the new album does, with ‘Journey of The Magi’.

We aren’t kept waiting for the encore for long, what’s the point, we know what’s coming. A named checked ‘Rock City’ in ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ and tremendously storming ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ before ‘Photosynthesis’ even gets the floor in a mosh. The stage is awash with people as Fake Problems and Beans On Toast come on stage to join the jam and pretty much everyone, from musicians, to sound crew and technicians gets a name check. I’m sure Frank would have worked his way through the crowd had he had time. Then he closed the encore with a stage dive, old punk habits die hard.

As for the singing, well I’ll be well hoarse in the morning. Top guy, top gig. Vive La Frank.