Friday 19 February 2010

Los Campesinos!, The Musician, Leicester

First on stage were a band called Islet but band is perhaps the wrong word. They’re a three piece which included Emma from Victorian English Gentleman's Club, who were always a bit weird but not this weird. Islet are more of an experience than a band. They leap around the stage, swapping instruments and spewing forth (there is perhaps no better way to describe it) their unique sound. It’s chaotic, it’s noisy, it’s different, it’s drama. Their instruments are not so much played, as chucked in to a blender to see what comes out the other end. They utilise them in ways you just wouldn’t think of. There are drums, guitars, keyboards but there’s also stuff like maracas and tambourines, sometimes played, sometimes flung into the crowd. In fact most of the band disappear off into the crowd on a regular basis and for all we know they’re buying a pint at the bar as they emit their vocal screams, yelps, etc.

They use two drum kits at one point, one borrowed it seems from the next band up, Swanton Bombs. When one of them decides to stand on one of the drum kits before hurling himself off the top of it, it’s good to see that it's their own and not the one they’ve borrowed.

If like I, you think all this sounds intriguing then you might want to look them up on the internet. Good luck. They’re not into websites ‘n’ stuff or so it seems, for that matter, releasing records. Even the info they hand out at the gig tells you nothing. Unique indeed. You may not find them anywhere other than live, so go see for yourself.

Much more conventional are Swanton Bombs. So conventional in fact that the stage seems bare once all Islet’s stuff has been removed and we are left with just a drum kit and a guitar. So it’s the White Stripes approach then but although they try hard and come smartly dressed in their prom suits, it simply doesn’t do anything for me.

They seem confused about how to follow Islet and also not sure whether they should make fun of them or compliment them. Sandwiched between two bands from Cardiff and two fairly unique ones at that, they are sunk really before they start but to be honest they don’t rise to the task much either.

Their simple manifesto is... Guitar, play it loud. Drums, play them loud. Vocals... well loud but perhaps the vocals are the problem. The drummer is good and the guitar riffs have their moments but vocalist Dominic just can’t hit the notes. He’s so out of tune, that sometimes it’s painful. He might have got away with this if the tunes had been more memorable but mostly they're not. I’m sure there’s something there, well there’s energy and commitment, but as for satisfaction, tonight I’m not getting any.

So to our headliners. The first question is how the hell they are going to fit all seven of them onto the tiny stage. It is seven at the moment isn't it? No tonight it’s eight. This venue is far too small for them. Both for the band and for the crowd who need much more room to seeth around. As is demonstrated when long standing favourite ‘Death To Los Campesinos!’ kicks in early, after two new tracks open the set. The so brief, you’ll almost miss it, ‘Heart Swells/100-1’ and the delightful ‘I Sighed. I Just Sighed. Just So You know’. Yes we like long titles here, get used to it, they get longer.

Once it gets hectic, and after the minor riot caused by 'Death', lead singer Gareth pleads for the safety of the little people at the front. We’re quite thankful for the amplifier that Islet dumped in the middle of the floor because it acts as a buffer from the mosh. There appears to be no back stage area at the Musician, only a side stage area and it isn’t anywhere near big enough for three bands, certainly not when your headliners have enough members to almost fill a football team. Several times pieces of Islet’s gear got stacked on my foot. I’m even asked to assist them packing up at one stage. Well... I hold a box open for them. Yep, I too could be a roadie.

Each of Los Campesinos! songs are as exhausting to listen to as they are for the crowd to dance to but I expected a lively performance and we certainly got one. Each song of theirs is packed full of contrasting musical ideas, conventional Swanton Bombs stuff like drums and guitar but with added glockenspiel, flute and the lovely Harriet stood right in front of me playing violin. Then of course it’s all topped off with Gareth's wonderful way with words. Sometimes it all seems to descend into chaos and it’s actually exhausting simply watching it all happening.

‘Miserabilia’ is an unreasonably short title for a Los Campesinos! song. It’s also strange that the band with the longest song names in history are working from the most abbreviated set list in history. Perhaps they can’t remember what they’re songs are called either.

Next up, Gareth tells us, is ‘Letters To Charlotte’. Well no it isn’t mate, it’s called ‘A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State; or, Letters from Me to Charlotte’ and it’s not ‘Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #2’, it’s ‘We've Got Your Back (Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #2)’ and don’t forget the brackets but I’m being pedantic.

An energetic rendition of last year’s single ‘There are Listed Buildings’ is followed by the new single and title track of the new album, ‘Romance Is Boring’. Another corker of an album, although perhaps slower paced than their previous efforts. Tonight there is a very high ratio of material from that new album which is to be expected and perfectly understandable but for someone like me, seeing them for the first time after years of failing to get to one of their gigs is disappointing, as there are many notable omissions.

The perfect pop of ‘My Year In Lists’ doesn’t need any introduction, and the audience bounce off the walls of the Musician and scream along with every word. Whilst the rest of the band try to make their own voices heard over the crowds as they too attempt to sing Gareth’s lyrics back at him.

‘Can we please all just calm the f*** down’ shout the entire band. Ok ok. Oh hang on that’s just the opening line to ‘This Is A Flag. There Is No Wind.’

The biggest riot is saved for ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ which announces itself with the teasing foreplay of its long intro before all hell breaks loose, as the guitar riff finally gets going, leaps from the speakers and slaps you in the face.

It’s a hyperactive performance from start to finish, by both band and crowd, right up to when they close with another well received old favourite ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’, delivered with just the right amount of indie tweeness.

Their approach to encores is remiss to say the least and when they play one it tends to include some of the missing classics I alluded to earlier. No encore tonight though. Damn.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Mika, Sheffield Academy

The support band tonight at the Sheffield Academy is a ginger Swede called Erik Hassle, who’s electro-pop-rock seems to have a bit of a 1980’s edge to it. All very pleasant in a ‘The Script’ sort of way, so nothing to get excited about either. Power pop but without much power, although he was fairly well received. He can sing I guess but his stuff was largely unmemorable. So he could be huge. Nice hair by the way Erik.

So... to Michael Holbrook Penniman. As they bring a table and chair out to the front of the stage, the rather large female behind me screams in my ear before quickly apologising and introducing herself to me, I think I’ve pulled, before she gets back to her screaming.

The atmosphere appears to be cross between what I would expect at a boy band gig and a hen party; I spot a feather boa and several sets of bunny ears. The predominately female crowd is supplemented with a few husbands and boyfriends, who have been dragged along, some seemingly willingly. The average age is worryingly high and makes me feel as if I’m one of the youngest here. Although I'm not because there are several children here, some even of primary school age. I have no idea how they got past the 14+ restriction and most of them haven't a hope of seeing anything.

Then as the lights go down, someone comes and sits at the table and starts drawing or sketching or something. Cue more screaming, mostly in my ear. Excuse me people. It’s is NOT Mika and I’m sure you know it’s not. It turns out to be the keyboard player. Not sure what all that was about but then the man himself wonders on stage with a suitcase (?) and launches into one of his better numbers ‘Rain’. We’re off and running on a multi-coloured trip through the strange kitsch world of Mika.

The second track, ‘Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)’ is dedicated to all the larger women and men in the audience of which there are more than a few. This is not, as you can tell, my usual night out at a gig. I’ve asked my partner several times what the attraction of Mika is and all she’ll says is ‘he's such a nice boy’. She never really mentions his music and as for being a nice boy... is she sure? Because tonight folks, I’m sorry to tell you, Mr Nice Boy swears and utters the F-word, not once but twice.

So Michael 'treats' us to a selection of tracks from his two albums, plays keyboards on a few, but generally just dances and sings his way around the stage, rarely standing still long enough for me to get a photo of him. When he does stand still he is obscured by two women waving lollipops above their heads, right in camera shot. I’m tempted to go over to them and tell them where to shove said lollipops.

Mika’s music may not be my cup of tea, in fact the relentless high pitched-ness of it all starts to grate quite quickly but at least he’s entertaining. I guess this is also why people go see the likes of Robbie Williams. Some of the songs though... whether Sheffield or anywhere for that matter, is quite ready for such nuggets as 'Stuck in the Middle', I'm not sure, I'm certainly not but the crowd show I’m in the minority tonight.

Then suddenly and unexpectedly, a moment of brilliance, a slowie called 'Any Other World'. Tonight it’s a more stripped down version to the one on the album and has been sawn of its orchestral effects. It sounds classy tonight, almost a Kleenex moment amongst too many bucket ones. I applaud but hold back from trying to out-scream my new friend behind me. Then normality is quickly restored with 'Blue Eyes'.

One of his crew, who for reasons known only to him, is dressed in something that resembles a convict’s uniform crossed with a romper suit chucks a bundle onto the stage. Mika unwraps it and it appears to be Hessian sacking with a few feathers attached to it. He puts it on and I wonder if he’s supposed to be a chicken as he performs 'Love Today'.

I’m glad to say we’re getting through it now, I’m ticking them off one by one and when ‘We Are Golden’ appears I know there is light at the end of this particular tunnel. This closes the set on a hallucinogenic ‘high’ accompanied by a shower of golden ticker tape from a couple of stage side cannons.

Our golden boy returns for an encore to sit at his piano with a puppet of himself and perform ‘Toy Boy’ before its number one hit time, ‘Grace Kelly’. I’d forgotten about that one.

Then the entire band come to the front of the stage and start belting the hell out of a load of steel dustbins which evolves into the song ‘Lollipop’ which in turn builds to a crescendo that is accompanied by more ticker tape from the cannons and huge inflatable balloons bobbing through the crowd, that brings back horrific memories of a night with the Hoosiers.

Then the day-glow partying comes to a close, it’s finally over and I’ve survived.

Friday 12 February 2010

The Sunshine Underground, The Venue, Derby

We’re at a new venue for us tonight, the catchily named 'The Venue', a place owned and run, or so it seems, by the same people who revived the now once more defunct Rockhouse. Maybe they just decided that this was a better proposition than the Rockhouse and I think they’d be right. No idea what the place was before, it still looks like an old warehouse and it’s perfect for gigs, much more so than the Rockhouse. A better prospect to front up in battle against the also excellent Royal.

We’re here to see the Sunshine Underground, a band who seem to have disappeared, well underground, for the last few years. Their new album 'Nobody's Coming to Save You' can hardly be described as hot on the heels of their debut album, 'Raise the Alarm', which was one of the best albums of 2006. Yes guys, almost four years between albums, that’s bordering on Portishead territory but anyway welcome back. First though we have two support bands to enjoy.

I immediately like Birmingham’s ‘51 Breaks’, although on the surface there’s nothing inherently different about them. They’re just another indie band that’s following the fashion to plonk a keyboard stage centre. In their case a rather large specimen as well and one that lead singer Michael Turner barely touches. Most of their keyboard stuff seems to be pre-programmed anyway, so it’s a bit of a waste of stage space to be honest. All the same they’re still a decent outfit who put in an energetic half hour shift and play some dangerously catchy tunes. They even have a touch of Sunshine Underground about them, which endears them to most of the audience, so appropriately arranged support I guess.

We wander off to get a drink from the bar which at £4.50 for two drinks was not bad at all. It’s that for one drink at most of the places we go to see gigs. I’m starting to like this place more and more. We return stage front and watch ‘Cosmo Jarvis’ take the stage.

I wasn’t sure if ‘Cosmo’ was going to be a band or a person and in fact he’s/they’re a bit of both. My partner immediately likes him/them, I’m not so sure. I’ve always been a little unnerved by people who name a band after themselves and he does appear to be a ‘band’. I’m equally mistrusting of anybody called something like ‘Cosmo’ but that’s just me being silly I’m sure. His album is also called, as you may have guessed already, ‘Cosmo Jarvis’.

Putting any ego issues aside he’s undoubtedly got talent. If you check out his website he’s also an actor and a film maker, who has made dozens of videos and short movies, as well as recording a stunning amount of music, which is all available there. No idea if they're any good, haven't got that much time to check. He appears a nice chap though, desperate to be liked, and clearly wants the crowd tonight to appreciate his talent but it’s not always that straightforward mate. A lot of his lyrics are very clever but unfortunately most of the crowd don’t notice and their attention span isn’t helped by the long and complicated instrument changes that disrupt the flow of his set.

He starts off in my kind of territory with a song called ‘Clean My Room’, in which he starts off promising to ‘clean my room and dump my girlfriend’. This is my kind of angst and it gets darker. By the time the song reaches its finale this line has metamorphosed into ‘burn my room and kill my girlfriend’. Nice.

His songs continue in that sort of vain, a track called ‘Crazy Screwed Up Lady’ sticks in my mind, if only because I knew her or was that her sister? Originally from New Jersey but having grown up in Devon, I’d describe him as a cross between Billy Bragg and good old Granddad Rob the Voluntary Butler with his home made mawkish I'm-a-loser-but-not-really songs. Then as a complete contrast he closes the set with a song about gay pirates...

So from Cosmo, busy chap, he of a thousand songs, to the unbusy ones, those we haven’t seen for nigh on four years.

I do love a good rave, not. So The Sunshine Underground shouldn't really be my thing, nu-rave or whatever it was termed four years ago. The lads from Leeds though, always seemed better than the genre they ended up pigeon-holed with.

They open with last year’s 'Coming to Save You' single with not a keyboard in sight, although certainly more than a hint of a backing track, and set about disposing of that pigeon-hole. Their sound seems bolder and brasher than before but still predominately revolves around the strong voice of front man Craig Wellington and the crunching riffs of his and Stuart Jones' guitar.

Gems from ‘Raise The Alarm’ are interspersed amongst the new stuff, a lively ’Wake Up’ and a predictably well received 'Commercial Breakdown' sandwich their forthcoming new single 'We've Always Been Your Friends'.

The new album is in many ways a continuation of the first but perhaps a little heavier and more expansive. As for the old stuff, that seems slightly reworked tonight, beefed up if you like, to fit in. Still though they are as anthemic as ever, we're right down the front, dodging the fists punched towards the ceiling and just out of reach of the crowd surfer’s boots, as the diehards dance and jump around, singing along to every word, old or new.

Mid set, they slip in an obscure one, the b-side/album bonus track ‘You Never Party’, probably the raviest track they’ve done before a wonderful reworking of their finest moment, ‘Borders’ steals the night.

Of the new stuff, I prefer the slower numbers like ‘Any Minute Now’, simply ace tonight, an affecting song that builds to a soaring climax, but the best track is the penultimate one ‘Here It Comes’, a bouncy track, with a great intro that reminds me of Doves’ ‘There Goes The Fear’.

They are a band in a hurry tonight. Probably having cut too much slack with their supports they are now pushed for time. The original set list appears cut down from what they had been playing on this tour, although in the end they do add to it and helped by rolling the encore into the main set, they get in all but two of the tracks on the new album.

They close with a rushed and slightly messy ‘Put You In Your Place’ but I think it’s only me that notices.