Tuesday 9 March 2010

Passion Pit, Rock City, Nottingham

The first band tonight, Little Death, are ok, as noisy, feedback favouring indie bands go. They're nothing special or different but probably better than most and as they are probably feeling a bit out of sync with the other acts on tonight, it’s to their immense credit that they go down pretty well. The female bass player has a nice outfit as well, which L kindly points out to me.

I could say that I’ve been looking forward to seeing Ellie Goulding but I’d be lying. Not so some of the crowd who are squeaking ‘Ellie Ellie’ excitedly at a decibel level that thankfully is out of hearing range for most humans, at every opportunity from the moment Little Death have departed the stage.

Perhaps it's my fault for being signed up to too many email lists from ticket agencies, record labels, music blogs, newsletters, websites and the like but the most used two words in such spam recently has been Ellie Goulding. So not hyped much then. Of course she topped the BBC Sound of 2010 poll and won the Critics Choice Award at this year’s BRIT Awards... if that actually means anything... So I best give her allegedly ‘folksy’ voice and acoustic guitar playing a chance, to see if those awards mean she does have something about her after all....

She can probably sing but somebody seems to have advised her no to and to just go for those high notes instead and warble a lot, but the warble soon grates and as Ellie grates her way through number after number it becomes more of a screech. As for her guitar playing, you can’t actually hear it over the other instruments her backing band are playing and after three songs she herself puts it down and doesn’t bother picking it up again. If she can play, then let’s hear her.

Being able to sing/warble/screech is simply not enough when the material she has is so very thin. One incredibly dull song, from her just released debut album ‘Lights’, follows another but I’d had more than enough after the first one and pretty soon the prospect of being trapped in the same room as the woman for half an hour turns into purgatory. Half the crowd seem to agree with me and look bored or in pain, whilst the other half remained sadly heavily into her, including the two girls bouncing the stairs up and down near us.

By the time we get to ‘Under the Sheets’ which at least has a decent bass line, my only thoughts are it must be nearly over... then her hit single, ‘Starry Starry Night’ or whatever it's called, follows and brings her set to its horrific conclusion.

I'm sure she's a nice girl but her show is about as exciting as watching paint dry and if Ellie Goulding was a paint, she'd be Magnolia, she's that dull.

I guess Ellie is here on this tour because she is known to Boston's Passion Pit, having provided guest vocals to the re-released version of ‘Sleepyhead’ but I will try not told hold that against the band, who take the stage next and kick off with ‘I've Got Your Number’. Ah the romance of it. Passion Pit were conceived when Michael Angelakos gave his girlfriend four songs for Valentines’ Day and this was one of them. Not that is worked, well not long term at least, she’s now an ex or he is. He probably doesn’t care, he’s getting all the love and affection he needs from a warm reception from the Rock City crowd tonight.

As they move on and into ‘Make Light’ it dawns on me that this man can do high pitched very well indeed. OMG it's the Mika falsetto again... and there’s not escaping it because Angelakos’s voice drives each song, squeaking us wonderfully through ‘Better Things’. He looks and sings a bit like a chipmunk and probably prances around the stage like on as well. No offence.

The songs translate far better live than I expected and actually sound better than on CD. They’ve may have lined banks of synths up on stage but the band also make good use of guitars and their sound is more varied than I expected it to be. Plus they have a very impressive light show. Passion Pit come across as a real fun band, having a good time and thoroughly enjoying indulging themselves in front of an audience. An audience, who are enjoying themselves immensely too, there’s plenty of passion down in the pit tonight...

The double header of ‘The Reeling’ and ‘Moth's Wings’ prompts a big sing-along before Angelakos rudely turns his back on us to play ‘Swimming In The Flood’ at his keyboard and it’s the only time he still really.

The crowd repeatedly call for their signature song, ‘Sleepyhead’, and Angelakos seems to get a bit irked by this, pointing out that they have sixteen songs in total, not just one. Well mate, the solution to that is to throw it in early and have conviction in the rest of your material. Conviction that you have something else good enough to round off the night with.

I happen to think they have, this is far from a one track band. The crowd have gotten into every song and not just stuff from their debut album ‘Manners’ either, which is played in almost its entirety tonight, but also their initial EP ‘Chunk OF Change’ from where, to be honest, some their best stuff actually comes from tonight. The particularly lively ‘Smile Upon Me’ from the EP provides probably the best moment of the night when they play it just before set closer ‘Little Secrets’.

They return for an encore of ‘Eyes As Candles’ before the inevitable ‘Sleepyhead’ finally makes an appearance. Although to be honest, when it arrives, it’s a bit of an anticlimax, not the highlight at all. Have faith in those convictions Michael.

I’m actually a bit gutted about the encore tonight. They have been encoring with a cover of the Cranberries' ‘Dreams’, which would have been worth hearing. Not enough bands throw in a cover version live these days or if they do it’s something so obscure hardly anyone knows it.

Still a very good gig though.

Monday 8 March 2010

The Courteeners, Rock City

Tonight we are at Rock City for Mr Ego and his band, Liam Fray’s Courteeners.

To be honest, I haven’t been that struck on their new album 'Falcon' and I was actually more looking forward to seeing Detroit Social Club, who I’m quite taken with. A much talked about band, who have been around for a few years, with very little output to show for it but now with an excellent new single out entitled 'Kiss The Sun' which is what they open with tonight and pretty awesome live it is too.

With a name like Detroit Social Club they are obviously from... errmm... Newcastle upon Tyne and sound like a Geordie Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to me. This means I whole heartedly approve of them. It’s an excellent short set from them, where ‘Black And White’, a current free download, is just terrific in the middle of the set. As is the closing 'Sunshine People'. I think it’s all rather powerful stuff but then I was already a convert before tonight.

In the other hand I’m still to be totally converted by Liam Fray, I still don’t particularly like the man but I do like his band, so it’s a bit of a shame that he makes the live shows so much about him.

At least I think I've figured out why the Courteeners play the entirety of ‘Rock n Roll Star’ before they come on. It's to tempt people into getting the beer throwing out of the way before the band comes on and gives the crew chance to mop the stage. However it doesn't work. Although an impressive amount is dispatched at this point there's plenty been held back in reserve to be launched when the band take the stage, after the usual protracted delay. Both 'Cavorting' and the following 'Acrylic' are accompanied by industrial quantities of what can only hope is alcohol or water.

The crowd don’t help Mr Fray’s ego by chanting his name far too often for my liking, his heads big enough already thank you very much. When they get bored with that, and with chanting the band’s name, they settle on ‘Nottingham Is Full Of Fun' football style which isn't what they chant Nottingham is full of at Derby's home games but never mind.

Then there’s the crowd surfing, which is even more excessive and extreme than usual, which seems to rile the security who are getting rougher than they probably should be and taking no prisoners. So it’s unclear what causes the few visible injuries that are sustained, the crowd surfing or the unsuccessful prevention of it.

Music wise, the new songs sound much better live than on record and I can see some of them becoming real favourites live. The faithful are already well rehearsed on most of them. Particularly 'Cross My Heart & Hope To Fly' and 'Scratch Your Name Upon My Lips' come across very well.

Liam himself seems a bit miffed at the negative press reaction to the new album and is not backwards in telling us all about it. Perhaps he set the bar too high with ‘St Jude’, where even the not so good tracks are still live favourites. Perhaps even, deep down, Liam agrees because tonight’s 21 song set includes more of the first album than the second, which is unusual for a band promoting a new record.

As usual they wind down towards the end with a trio of solo songs from Liam. During the first, 'The Rest Of The World Has Gone Home', he has to pause to watch as an attractive female crowd surfer is pulled out at the front, then as his pulse returns to normal he continues from where he left off. Following that with ‘No You Didn't, No You Don't’ and ‘Yesterday, Today & Probably Tomorrow’ with full crowd accompaniment.

The full band return for the recent single 'You Overdid It Doll' and the traditional set closers of ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘What Took You So Long?’. It’s all a tad predictable but still very entertaining stuff.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Editors, Engine Shed, Lincoln University

Support comes from New York band Cold Cave who are on stage when we arrive, standing behind three bands of synthesizers. It’s so 80’s retro, so Gary Numan, except they don’t sound much like him. In fact they sound more like New Order than current media darlings’ Delphic do, who happily sound nothing like New Order despite what the music press say, at least not when they were any good. Cold Cave are early New Order, when they mattered.

One of their members looks like that guy from Sparks, the miserable one, but only because he looks, well, miserable. There’s a girl on another of the synths, plus a drummer and then there’s lead singer, Wes Eisold, behind his keyboard. He’s more into being moody than miserable but they make a good sound. Their obvious 80’s-ness is mixed with a noisier edge which perhaps points to Eisold’s punk/hardcore background.

I love ‘em. Excellent stuff. My kind of electro, move over Delphic.

We only saw the Editors in October at the beginning of their 'In This Light And On This Evening' tour, but they were so good, we just had to book to see them again. Well, when I say good; they weren’t quite as good as I expected. On that night they seemed oddly subdued, well Tom Smith did, the crowd certainly were and the track selection irked me a little. So a second chance tonight and boy, did they take it.

What I didn't want them to do was to keep the same format of the set, same start, same end, same encore, as they have been pretty much doing, throughout their jaunt across Europe, the US and even down under. The middle of the set though has been ever evolving and that is the beauty of the Editors, they epitomise what I like in a live band. Their set is likely to include almost anything from their three albums, no track is ever completely forgotten and labelled as ‘we don't play that anymore’ as some bands so. Nothing is too obscure. B sides or tracks off the bonus CDs they often throw in with main albums. 'You Are Fading' is one such track that has become a live favourite. I just felt singled out on the wrong end of track rotation in Sheffield last year.

They start the same, although at first I don’t think they’re going to as Tom Smith himself appears to muck up the intro to 'In This Light And On This Evening' and has to start it again. 'Lights' follows and yes, all the big numbers are present and correct of course, 'An End Has A Start', 'Bones', 'Blood', 'Bullets' etc but what’s this... ‘A Life As A Ghost’ off the Cuttings II bonus CD. Cranky enough for me? Oh yes. I always find a cranky set list much more enjoyable than an obvious one. By the way, 'You Are Fading' is absent tonight, so they’ll get letters of complaint about that, but this allowed room for some cracking diversity.

Tonight they also play ‘The Boxer’, the only track off the new album criminally omitted last time. Possibly the best of the more doleful numbers of the new album.

Then there’s ‘Escape The Nest’, a live favourite, not played (just to annoy me) last time, and boy did I take it personally. It’s even more awesome live than on record. I’m one happy bunny tonight.

This is followed by much confusion and blank looks all round. I don’t know this one and looking round nor does anyone else. Turns out to be a brand new track called ‘Last Day’, played for the first time tonight. We are honoured and pretty good it sounds too. Of course Tom Smith still introduces nothing. You would have thought at least a few words about this one but no. Still he’s generally just as theatrical tonight as usual. He is not a man who is capable of standing still, literally throwing himself into things, or sitting still for that matter. He’s just as animated when he’s seated at the piano. His hands and body continually trying to embellish the song. He is so into his own songs and tonight, so too are the crowd, right from the start and this makes such a difference to the atmosphere.

Tom is a treat to watch but then so too is Mr Popular, Chris Urbanowicz, whether this be on his Rickenbacker or on the keyboard with the guitar slung across his back. You be forgiven for thinking that some of the words to their songs are ‘Chris Chris Chris’, such is the frequency of their utterance from the crowd near me.

Slightly surprised that ‘Camera’ is still in the set but it’s excellent again tonight. Then we have a really big finish with ‘The Racing Rats’, ‘Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors’ and ‘Munich’ back to back. Playing ‘Munich’ has really stuffed the encore, so it’s got to be different now.

Tom returns on his own and as he tinkles at the piano I think for a moment he’s going to play ‘Distance’ which would have been awesome but no, he gives us a ‘Twilight’ moment, well a ‘Twilight: New Moon’ moment. Their song ‘No Sound But The Wind’ which was part of the soundtrack but has yet not seen the light of day on any of their own releases.

‘Bricks And Mortar’ lifts the pace a touch before ‘Papillon’ cranks it up further and then Tom turns positively chatty, thanking the crowd generously before ending again with ‘Fingers In The Factories’.

No complaints from me tonight. Ten out of ten.