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.

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