Monday 14 June 2010

Feeder, Camden Barfly

I’m down in London today. Last week a friend emailed me to say he’d got tickets for the launch party for Feeder’s new ‘Renegades’ album.

Woah. Good call. In short, I snapped his hand off.

We make it to the Camden Barfly in good time for when the doors open at 1.30pm, for this is an afternoon show. Rather worryingly as we queue we can hear the band bashing out a couple of their new songs. Have they started without us? Thankfully not, as we grab a free Aisha beer and join the queue for the upstairs room where the gigs are held, we realise they were only sound checking.

When the band t hit the stage at 2.45, they play an eight song set consisting exclusively of tracks from the new album, songs they’d premièred on their Renegades tours. Including, to close, the new single ‘Call Out’ and still, thankfully, they’re doing it all as a three piece.

The crowd are understandably really up for it and the band seems to enjoying themselves too. The new material sounds better and better each time I hear them play it, although even the lighter moments of the new tracks, such as on ‘Down To The River’ are now starting to sound on the heavy side. We were hoping for an encore of oldies to follow the set but instead what we got was the promise of another complete set later on. Cool.

So we head back into the bar area, watch the Cameroon v Japan World Cup tie and try out the free Sake. Meanwhile all three band members are milling around meeting their fans.

Later turns out to be quite a bit later, but eventually the band come back on and I’m sure it’s going to be worth the wait. This set could be interesting.

They open with ‘Godzilla’ off ‘Comfort In Sound’, not a great fave of mine and to be honest it sounded a bit messy tonight but it set the groove for the songs that followed. The ‘Renegades’ set may have been heavy but this set if anything was even heavier. Included were the two missing Renegades numbers that we usually get live, ‘End Of The Road’ and ‘Left Foot Right’ but it was when they went back to album number two for an awesome ‘Insomnia’ that the place really got rocking. ‘Insomnia’ has not sounded this good or this raw for years. Probably not since the band were last a three piece and playing in venues of a similar the size to the Barfly. It cannoned off the roof and the walls, sounding simply fantastic.

Top that? Well, it was perhaps equalled by ‘Lost And Found’, which stripped down and played raw like this, took on a new lease of life and, please takes note, sounds much better without the Foo Fighters in the middle of it.

Before which we got a slightly unnecessary reprise of ‘Renegades’ because someone requested it. They’re just being too accommodating, when there’s so much else that could be played. Yet second time around it is kind of special as the crowd start off singing it before the band have even started to play it.

Then there’s ‘Sweet 16’, still so amazing and aren’t they getting better and better at playing it again now it’s had a few outings after years of neglect. This has got to stay in the set for the October tour. Surely?

Grant has a huge grin on his face and appears to be saying to Karl, ‘What we going to do now? Are we going to finish on Breed?’ Well, that’s what it says on the set list but seven songs have been got through in such a fast time, surely there’s time for more. Karl seems to agree, hits the drums and ‘Come Back Around’ emerges. Yes, another track that sounds just amazing stripped down to its basics.

Then they do close with a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Breed’. Good though it was, it begs the question... ‘Descend’? ‘Shade’? But still it’s not a bad way to finish and it’s been a wonderful second set, not that the first one wasn’t good because it certainly was.

Friday 11 June 2010

Kele Okereke, The Plug, Sheffield

Tonight I finally make it up to a venue that I’ve wanted to check out for some time. The Plug in Sheffield. I like it. Some places just have the right ambiance and this place has it in spades. Then there’s the good viewing with a high stage, this always helps.

First tonight, a local Sheffield band called Starlings. Which if we’re being honest is a really naff name, and a very girlie one at that and there’s no girls in this band. As with a lot of new bands around at the moment there’s something a bit 80s about them with their bass and synth pop sound. That said they’re rather good and seem determined to make the most of their stage time. They rattle through their songs in a hurry and it makes for quite a breakneck half hour.

Front man Justin Robson is a strong vocalist, albeit one with terrible knicker line, that is one above his low slung trousers. I’m not at all keen on how he keeps waggling his underwear at us. Thankfully it’s not quite enough to put you off the music.

I've always been a big fan of Bloc Party but haven’t been too impressed with their direction of late, they have been heading deeper and deeper into dance music but I thought the main man Kele with just a guitar would be a good way for him to get back on track... unfortunately (for me) that is not the track he intends to be on.

Tonight, there’s barely a guitar in sight and for me the best music = guitars. Instead Kele surrounds himself with electronics, a wealth of percussion and a new three piece band, so this is actually Kele far from being solo. They all take the stage to the sounds of Gary Numan’s ‘Airlane’ and beneath a big neon sign with Kele's name on it. A sign that makes him look a bit like the proprietor of a kebab shop as he delivers the first number ‘Walk Tall’, also the opener to his forthcoming debut album, ‘The Boxer’.

... and yep it’s all very dancey, as too is the next track ‘On The Lam’ but pleasant, in a dancey sort of way. The third track ‘Meet Me In The Middle’ is a bit different, with a slower introduction and those famous yearning vocals of his. His vocals are also supplemented by the lovely Lucy, his new keyboard player and added eye candy, whom Kele seems to be rather fond of despite the fact he’s not supposed to be of that persuasion.

So far Kele hasn’t even touched an instrument but he pitches in with the maracas for ‘The Other Side’. He doesn’t seem to miss his guitar, preferring to be a free spirit, jumping around to his own music and interfacing with the crowd. Perhaps this is his way of letting his hair down or it would have been if he’d not had it all cut off.

Then there’s a treat for the ‘home of knives and forks’, as Kele announces a medley of tracks from a band I ‘used’ to be in. Oooh, Freudian slip... That’s not good news for a band who are supposed to be on a year’s sabbatical. He dishes out ‘Blue Light’, ‘The Prayer’ and ‘One More Chance’ segued together, it turns a so far simply appreciative crowd in to lively one and warms them up for his debut single ‘Tenderoni’ which follows. Its pounding synth beat goes down equally well and almost everyone knows the words. Well suppose they’re not hard to grasp, if you can spell. T-E-N-D-E-R-O-N-I. See! Even I know it.

Then Kele dabbles in a little bit of guitar and I mean a little bit, for the intro of the closing ‘Rise’. It’s only to lay down the backing track, that he records ala Voluntary Butler Scheme. ‘Rise’ is a good closer and my favourite of the night.

He’s clearly enjoying himself and is already over running his allocated slot by the time he returns for an encore. Which he opens with the Bloc Party rarity ‘Your Visits Are Getting Shorter’. He’s overrunning so much that he has to cull a song from the encore. On asking the crowd what they’d like to hear, they opt for the Bloc Party song ‘Flux’ rather than a new song, which is predictable but disappointing.

He’s good but after a promising start it turned into too much of a Bloc Party covers night and that was a shame. There was simply not enough of his own stuff if he’s supposed to be promoting his forthcoming album. If I was you mate, I’d cut out the medley in the main set and play a couple of new songs instead. Then the show would just about have been as perfect as you can get (without a guitar) and still not good news for the rest of Bloc Party.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Julian Cope, Rescue Rooms

I don't think I've ever seen the back wall of the Rescue Rooms stage before. It’s not a big stage and it’s usually piled high with equipment. For all I know there might not have even been a wall there at all. Tonight though I can confirm that yes, there is a wall. I can see almost every square inch of it and that’s before the kit of the support act has been removed. Something rather obvious is missing. Ah yes. A drum kit. For either act. So no drummer induced deafness tonight then. The bereftness of the stage points to tonight’s show being a minimalist type of offering.

It’s 8.30 and Acoustika wanders on to the stage. One man, an acoustic guitar and a box of electronic tricks. Just like you get outside the train station, next to the Big Issue seller. Only better.

He must be a mate of Julian's, I can see the resemblance. Except unlike J he's a man of few words. Well one actually. 'Cheers' is all he says for five songs in a row but then what's this, a couple of 'thank you very much's. Then a full blown speech, as he confesses he must be mad for attempting it as he closes his set with ‘Fear Loves This Place’, that’s a Julian Cope song by the way. It’s Acoustika’s best moment, a very good rendition of a Cope classic. Step aside JC but then again, can we live without the banter?

So to the man himself, Julian H Cope, all the way from Wessex to entertain a curiously busy Rescue Rooms. I haven’t actually seen the great man live since 1998, which is a bit remiss of me. So what has changed? Not much really. Except perhaps his eyesight. He has the largest set list I’ve ever seen and I don't mean as regards the number of songs on it. It's the size of the paper, it must be a metre deep at least and it’s printed in very large type. Well I suppose he is 52 now.

He opens with a couple of newer songs ‘Come The Revolution’ from his latest Black Sheep project, and a delightful little gem, entitled ‘I'm Living In The Room They Found Saddam In’. Which sounds very witty on first listen, unfortunately I haven’t a clue how you get hold of it. I can’t find any CD on his website that it’s contained on.

After arguing with record labels almost his entire career, Cope opted out of the mainstream approach of releasing proper records around 1996, instead promoting his music via his Head Heritage website. Oh and he’s not just a musician these days. He’s also an antiquary, an occasional poet and also an author. His latest book he tells us is entitled ‘Lives Of The Prophets: A New Perspective’, that’s from the view of an atheist. His banter and his forthright opinions are very much an integral part of his live shows. If you don’t get how the man thinks then you won’t get the music either, plus there’s the added bonus that Julian is funnier than your average comedian.

He’s also a well researched chap and he goes back to 1984’s ‘Fried’ album to tell us the story of ‘The Bloody Assizes’. The Winchester trials of 1685 where over a thousand rebels were sentenced to death, many were hung, drawn and quartered, for attempting to overthrow King James II.

Then he rambles on about people he admires. Britney, Mr R Williams.... he’s joking we assume. His real hero is Leila, a Palestinian terrorist but only because he thought she was beautiful. How very superficial of him. Cue the Teardrop Explodes' love song to a highjacker, ‘Like Leila Khaled Said’.

Amidst the rambling we get the quiet protest song ‘I'm Your Daddy’ and several cuts from 1991's ‘Peggy Suicide’, regarded by many as his best work but surprisingly there’s nothing from its follow up, the venomously anti-Christian, ‘Jehovahkill’. A record that caused a major record label, Island, to get shut of him.

He’s skipping songs on the set list now as he’s already behind schedule, now there's a surprise. He says he only has the set list as he doesn’t want to overrun the curfew. Well, it’s not working. ‘Land of Fear’ works though, not heard that one live before. Brilliant.

He moves to keyboards for a couple more old oldies, ‘Head Hang Low’ and ‘You Disappear From View’ before back to the guitar for another stand out moment, ‘Autogeddon Blues’.

There are impressive rain effects for ‘Search Party’ unless that is, it’s real, and it’s started bucketing it down again outside.

He’s back on the keyboard for ‘O King Of Chaos’, a song about a séance that went wrong and for ‘Screaming Secrets’ off ‘St. Julian’ which apparently was a song rejected by the Teardrop Explodes. I didn’t know that.

‘Las Vegas Basement’ is blindingly good but he’s now getting further and further behind schedule. The 11pm curfew is fast approaching. So play then someone cries out, stop bloody talking! That’s simply not his style.

‘The Greatness & Perfection Of Love’ is the closest we get to a hit, obviously no ‘World Shut Your Mouth’, ‘Trampoline’, ‘Charlotte Anne’ or anything like that.

He pre-warns us that there will be an encore but to make sure that we demand one anyway, just to make an old man, who doesn't get out much, happy, before he plays a rousing ‘Pristeen’. There’s a shambolic sing-along from the crowd to ‘Sunspots’, the fifth track to be taken from 'Fried' tonight, the album that caused him to get dropped by another label, Polygram this time, but thankfully JC rescues the song before departing.

Then, what a surprise, an encore.

Even less of a surprise is that it’s ‘Sleeping Gas’, which sees him joined by his entourage, beating drums, waving flags and oddly holding paintings. Acoustika, who also seems to be his roadie, is among them.

It’s a good gig but the sad fact is that Cope and just a guitar will never make a great one. He’d need a band for that and he doesn’t show any signs of wanting to take a band out on the road to perform his songs. As ever it’s the banter that makes it all worth the while. This is Julian H Cope, musician, antiquary, occasional poet, author and all round entertainer.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Delays, Bodega Social Club

The Delays have announced, what turn out to be false, new stage times proclaiming they’ll be on stage at 8.45 rather than the usual 9.30. So we get down to the Bodega Social for 7.45, 45 minutes after the new door time of 7pm. Even this is a bit late if we want to secure a front row spot. Tonight we are ticket numbers 29 and 30 and traditionally we’re always 1 and 2 at the Social, so we’re expecting it to be busy. Who are all these interlopers? We have to be close. My partner’s aim isn't very good, so she doesn't want to have to throw her undergarments too far. Of course, she could just throw them at me rather than at Greg Gilbert. I’ll be the one stood next to her.

The doors to the Bodega Social are locked and there’s a mini queue of other folk who’d also heard about the new start time. Misinformation obviously and from an official source as well. We abort and head off for a pint, returning later.

Tonight’s support is Nottingham’s Amber Herd, last seen supporting That Petrol Emotion. I remember it well. They were a right mishmash of sounds as I recall but tonight they seem more sorted, more consistent in their music style. Probably because they appear to have dropped the keyboards tonight. Their new single ‘Red Gold’ sounds good to me as does a later track ‘Days Like These’ with singer Neil Beards sounding as if he’s got his Mick Jagger voice on at times.

By now there’s a healthy crowd inside the Social, all waiting for the Delay’s to take the stage, which they do at 9.30... so what was all the fuss about stage times...

As a band they are always entertaining, always alluring and always a good target for hurling underwear at (so I’m told), if you’re near enough. It also appears that they have now learnt a thing or two about how to hook an audience. Their first three tracks tonight arrive in an almighty hurry with little or no chat and they all go for the jugular. ‘Lost in a Melody’, ‘This Town's Religion’ and ‘Friends are False’ make a lively trio. The latter, tellingly being the only track tonight from their last album, 2008’s patchy ‘Everything’s The Rush’.

This threesome, combined with Greg Gilbert’s boundless energy and enthusiasm, ensures the crowd are well won over before they hit us with the first newbie. Even that’s not that new. ‘Find a Home’ has been out as a free download and features the Clangers on back vocals. Honestly! Just listen to that intro.

All the old faves are there of course, ‘Nearer than Heaven’, ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Long Time Coming’, with Greg’s voice on top form, as well as other tasters from their forthcoming fourth album, ‘Star Tiger Star Ariel’, in the form of the guitar driven ‘Lost Estate’, ‘In Brilliant Sunshine’ sung brilliantly by Aaron and the new single ‘Unsung’. Then Greg’s back to leaping around the stage again as ‘Panic Attacks’ ignites the venue.

It’s good to see a different oldie thrown in as 'Bedroom Scene' from 'Faded Seaside Glamour' makes an appearance but things get even more obscure as requests come from the floor. We seem to have a knowledgeable crowd tonight, who are shouting out for obscure album tracks that I’m not familiar with. Please stop it. That’s exactly the sort of annoying thing that I’d do. What’s even more annoying is that no band ever takes the blindest bit of notice when I do it but tonight Greg Gilbert actually takes on board the suggestions and steps up to the plate, adding an acoustic excerpt from 'You Wear The Sun' to the set list before the closing ‘Valentine’.

Then for the encore I’m hoping for ‘Hey Girl’, which apparently they’ve resurrected recently and been playing a lot but some other clever sod in the audience wants something more unfamiliar and of course, gets it. Greg apologises for barely being able to remember the words, or so he says, before obliging the fan and performing acoustic duties again for the requested ‘Overlover’. Can't complain, I do love an obscure oldie.

Then we’re back on familiar territory to close, with a lively ‘You and Me’. As always the Delays can be relied up on to put on a good show and tonight was no exception.

‘Star Tiger, Star Ariel’ is out on 21st June.