Thursday 20 May 2010

British Sea Power, Y Theatre, Leicester

Tonight we’re at the YMCA! Well Leicester’s Y Theatre, a totally new venue to me and quite an impressive one too. Though I dillydallied on getting tickets for this one and the standing tickets sold out, so we ended up with seats on the balcony of what turns out to be quite a lovely little theatre, very intimate and with great acoustics. Looking on the bright side, with being on the balcony we should get a good view of British Sea Power’s guitarist, Noble, when he goes on his usual climbing spree.

Support tonight is from John & Jehn or should that be Nicolas and Camille as those are their real names. The couple, and they are apparently a couple, are from France although they do have or at least had a London base and they sing totally in English. They’re another of the current crop of bands with an experimental edge and claim to have recorded most of their debut album in their bedroom.

In the last year or so they have expanded to be a quartet and follow another trend of late, which is proving their musicianship by getting everyone in the band to trade instruments at various times during the set. They appear to have expanded their sound too, embracing more of a pop side and less of the experimental. Still means they can throw in a few animalistic yelps occasionally. Pleasant, promising but not spectacular.

So to one of the most eccentric bands around. The eccentricity starts as ever before the band even comes on stage with the setting up of the equipment, which is again adorned with numerous flags in a nod to their ‘Waving Flags’ track and far more foliage than I’ve seen for a while. In fact the strategic placement of so many sprigs of plant life probably delays their entry by a good ten minutes or so. Then when they take to the stage you can only just see the band for the trees.

Opening with an oddity, ‘Apologies to Insect Life’ from their debut album, ‘The Decline Of British Sea Power’ they are soon up to speed with the wonderful ‘Atom’, which concludes as usual with the use of the air raid siren. Although their singer Yan, in some sort of woollen cricket jumper thing, he must be really hot, and with a hunting horn across his back, claims to feel a little out of sorts. Something is missing as regards his guitar he reckons. A plectrum perhaps someone kindly ventures from the crowd. Yan is as ever the most absurdly dressed of the band but the rest always run him close, all looking as they come fresh from the nearest charity shop.

‘Atom’ is taken from their most recent album, 2008’s excellent ‘Do You Like Rock Music’, which forms the bulk of the set, seven tracks tonight, with a few old favourites thrown in.

Yan hands over vocals to his brother Neil for a couple of tracks, which also happens to be some of their best recent stuff, ‘Down on the Ground’ and ‘No Lucifer’. Both are standout moments.

Then there’s the usual brilliance of oldies of ‘Remember Me’, the superb short burst that is ‘Favours In The Beetroot Fields’ and ‘Please Stand Up’, the only track from ‘Open Season’ tonight, played back to back.

It’s a laid back and relaxed performance from the band but then the Y Theatre is a very relaxed sort of place. The crowd is chilled too, no crush down the front and certainly no beer throwing. The band themselves are not quite so way out this evening, concentrating on the music. Again we have the violinist, Abi, on stage and playing throughout, although again we can barely hear her, drowned out by the rest of the band. This is despite the sound quality being excellent tonight, crystal clear in fact. As I’ve said, excellent little venue. Suppose Abi serves the purpose of being nice to look at but I can’t see her from my position ‘up on the shelf’.

There are three new songs, the last of which is dedicated to someone who’s been to 250 gigs... although the band seem to think only they qualify for this. All of new songs sounded impressive and went down well.

We know the end is nigh when their first single ‘Fear of Drowning’ gives way to the usual madness of ‘The Spirit Of St. Louis’, an oldie that is still not proving any easier to get hold of, despite manic googling. As expected, Noble is climbing up the speaker stack before the song is barely out of it’s blocks. He poses on top of the speaker for a while before decamping up on to the old gits' shelf where we’re slumped. Only the length of his guitar lead, which is actually impressively long, prevents him doing a full lap of the balcony.

They finish with a demonstration of roadie Paul’s muscles??? and with Yan promoting their own brand ‘Zeus’ beer, which also seems to the title of one of the new songs, before eschewing it for a glass of white wine and sending us home with the terrific ‘Carrion’. So no improvised ‘Rock in A’ tonight.

I wasn’t expecting an encore but the crew seemed to be setting up the guitars again as if we’re going to get one but it’s already gone 11.00 so we’re not. There’s a bit of a frustrating delay before this is confirmed.

We head to the merchandising stall and purchase a bar of BSP chocolate, at £3 hardly a bargain but it will fuel us for the drive home. ‘Bar is not dark, bar is not light, it just tastes good, especially tonight’, so it says and proves. Most bands sell t-shirts, CD’s, posters and perhaps a few badges. BSP sell chocolate, beer and even tea. As well as mugs for the tea to be drunk in, mugs that allegedly do strange things when you add hot water but they'd sold out, so we didn't get chance to find out. Another reason to catch them next time, not that I needed one.

Saturday 8 May 2010

The Big Pink, Sheffield Leadmill

First tonight, Esben and the Witch, from Brighton, who take their name from a Danish fairytale... They take the stage with a couple of miniature street lamps and a porcelain owl or two. Enough said? Singer Rachel Davies, stands between her two guitarists and delivers an ethereal sound that is perhaps part Portishead, part Bat For Lashes, maybe. Most of the real action seems to revolve around the solitary drum and cymbal that is set up in the middle of the stage.

Dark, gloomy and intriguing... nothing like tonight’s headliners, The Big Pink.

Who open with the wail of guitars and an ear shattering rendition of ‘Too Young To Love’, that sounds little like it does on record. This is the approach they take to most of their material. They make everything bigger, beefier, louder, more distorted. So much so that some folk who have come for more of the bubbly pop of their hit record ‘Dominos’ immediately seem disappointed. Once you make the mental adjustment though it’s all rather good. Personally I have never actually been a big fan of 'Dominos' anyway, the track quickly became irritating but I was swayed, surprisingly, by the heavier sound of the rest of the album which I rather like.

The Big Pink are actually officially a duo. Consisting of singer/guitarist/self appointed rock God Robbie Furze and his keyboard maestro Milo Cordell. Cordell has his hoodie over his head all night as he prods at his keyboards, while simultaneously working an impressive range of effects pedals (for a non guitarist) and updating his Facebook profile via his laptop (or whatever else he’s using the laptop for). These two are joined on stage by their scantily clad drummer, Akiko Matsuura. Who was hidden from my view practically all night (shame) by a combination of her own drum kit and the band’s bass player who completed their live line-up.

'At War With the Sun' followed again accompanied by Furze’s shrieking guitar and a bass cranked up so loud and rumbling it’s almost painful. Although this is probably my own fault for standing right in front of the bass player’s amp.

The guitars are cut back slightly for ‘Velvet’ and ‘Frisk’, which are slightly more electronic, as tracks from their album made up the first half of the set. The best of which are probably an excellent ‘Crystal Visions’, sounding particularly huge tonight and a fave of mine, the wonderful ‘Count Backwards From Ten’.

The content of the second half is less clear cut, as they slip in a few covers and a new song. They cover ‘100%’, although I’m not sure where they got it from. Didn’t Mariah Carey do a song called 100%? and didn’t Sonic Youth? To be honest, it could be either or neither. Someone please advise.

No one is particularly talkative, apart from the odd cry of 'Sheffield’ from Furze and a brief introduction to a new track called ‘Twilight’, there’s little chat.

They finished in more of a pop mode with the new single, ‘Tonight’, a cover version of Beyonce’s ‘Sweet Dreams’, yes really and of course, 'Dominos'. I hate it when bands save their 'big' record until the end but it sounds good tonight and at least they don't elongate it.

Monday 3 May 2010

Temper Trap, Rock City

By delaying her entry until 8.30 Sarah Blasko risked being upstaged by the impromptu balloon show organised by the impatient crowd. Then once on stage it takes an age to get her band’s double bass booted up, or whatever you do with a double bass. Finally she gets started.

I was worried we'd get an Australian Ellie Goulding but she's more of a Florence, with a touch of Cerys Matthews thrown in. Well, perhaps more than just a touch as it happens. Overall, her sound is a simple mix of drums, keyboard and double bass with only a light sprinkling of guitar and the occasional banjo. A blend that lets her strong vocals shine through.

Her tunes are generally quite mournful and her rockiest moment comes during the closing 'No Turning Back', which is perhaps pure Florence but then I have a suspicion that Sarah Blasko got there first. Her rather long 45 minute set doesn’t drag and she’s entertaining but frankly, just not my type.

After the resumption of the now rather tedious balloon show, fellow Aussies The Temper Trap take to the stage and open with something, according to their set list, imaginatively called 'Intro'. This is basically a jamming session for the band but is actually rather good. Then it’s into ‘Rest’ and a trawl through every track on their debut album and solitary release, last year’s ‘Conditions’.

‘Fader’ is a real crowd pleaser, vocalist Dougie Mandagi singing in the highest pitch I’ve heard since Jimi Somerville warbled Smalltown Boy but it’s the band I find most impressive, at times they pile three guitars on top of Mandagi's distinctive voice. Bassist Jonathon Aherne was entertaining in his own right, as he bobbed around the stage, and his long hair, piled weirdly on top of his head, bobbed along with him.

‘Sweet Disposition’ has frankly been everywhere in the last year, in numerous TV adverts, repeatedly used as background music for, well, practically anything and it even featured in the film '500 Days of Summer'. In fact, you only had to be walking down the street and it would come up behind you and tap you on the shoulder. Tonight though it seems to creep up on the crowd with an elongated teasing introduction, before exploding into life.

After which they closed the set with ‘Resurrection’ amidst a blinding light show, ‘Resurrection’ like ‘Down River’ which was played earlier, builds up gradually in layers towards a grand finale. They then segued this into another jam session that turned out to be 'Drum Song'. The band letting themselves go like they did on the equally instrumental opener and we get our first crowd surfer of a so far quiet evening for the security staff.

Dougie pours a bottle of water on to the solitary snare drum that he is playing and then illuminated by strobe lighting, he bangs the drum so that the water splashes up high, to quite impressive effect.

They depart after almost 50 minutes on stage, which is only marginally longer than Ms Blasko but after a short break they return. The break being just long enough to give the roadies time to mop up the water from the stage.

For the encore, they play a new song called 'Rabbit Hole’; again it’s another song that starts slow and builds up, something that seems to be a bit of a trademark style for them. They leave us with their most recent single, 'Science of Fear', and Dougie again gives security something to do by seemingly trying to hug as many of the crowd as possible.