Thursday 30 September 2010

NME Radar Tour, Rescue Rooms

I should have been reviewing the Emerge NME Radar Tour but unbeknown to me it was a 10pm curfew. Should have guessed really. The doors opened at 7pm and Flats were apparently on soon after, so we missed them completely. Sorry guys.

Wilder aren’t even here, choosing to only play three of the dates on the tour. Presumably they won’t play Nottingham because they don’t want to detract from their own headline show at the Bodega in three weeks time.

Chapel Club were on at 7.45, so when we arrived just after 8pm it was to the sound of ‘O Maybe I’ being belted out from the stage. We assume it was from the stage, we can’t see it because it's so busy. Full. Blimey, wasn't expecting this. We can barely get in the door. So we head back outside to go up to the balcony. Closed. No balcony. Odd. Ok. So we're going to have to fight for a decent spot. When we get closer we suddenly burst out into a clearing. No one is anywhere near the stage. Why is that people are often too ‘shy’ to stand close to the support band? Anyhow not our problem. Voilà, front row.

We only get to hear four tracks from Chapel Club, but they are good, very good. Not remotely chatty though. I’m just getting really really into it when ‘All The Eastern Girls’ and ‘Paper Thin’ close the set. We were handed a CD of ‘All The Eastern Girls’ when we walked in which was odd as I thought that was their new single but it turns out it’s just a blank disk to burn the track on to. Odd concept.

There’s not much setting up to do because while Chapel Club have had their drum kit in the ‘traditional’ position at the back of the stage, the Joy Formidable’s Matt Thomas always has his sideways on. I thought this must be due to space constraints at some of the small venues they've played but no, apparently not. Lifestyle choice. I suppose it makes him more visible.

He takes the stage alone, amongst the golf balls in bird cages and what appears to be British Sea Power’s air raid siren at the back of the stage. He starts to play, then Ritzy and Rhydian come on to join him. ‘Cradle’. Magnificent as ever. The golf balls turn out to be fairy lights. Well weird.

Next up, the only truly unfamiliar track of the night ‘Magnifying Glass’, which ends with Ritzy spilling her wine for what she says is the third night in a row. Someone brings her the whole bottle, which she then ignores for the rest of the night. Ungrateful or what.

The new single ‘I Don't Want To See You Like This’ follows but there is a lack of new material considering they have an album coming out in January. In fact there’s less unfamiliar stuff than when we saw them last in Derby and that was back in June last year. What’s worrying me is that they are now referring to last year’s ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’ album not as an ‘album’ but as a ‘mini album’, saying that in January they will release their ‘debut’ album. Which all sounds like record company talk to me and probably, but hopefully not, just an excuse to recycle a lot of the three year old tracks off the previous record. That’s not a good route to take, just look at bands like ‘Glasvegas’. They have been stuck in a creative rut playing the same songs over and over for five years now whilst their audience has got bored and moved on.

Then the band fall back on those three year old ‘classics’ to which they’ve added some intros and some outros, generally extending them. It’s time to crack open the Kopparberg. ‘Greatest Light’. Awesome of course. ‘Austere’. Superb. The sound often isn’t the best in Rescue Rooms but they certainly make it work for them tonight.

It’s quite a show; they’ve clearly worked on their performance and polished up their stage show. Though Ritzy almost gets a symbol in the face when she fronts up to Matt on the drums.

My favourite JF track and the best moment tonight is last year’s ‘Greyhounds In The Slips’ single, simply ferocious tonight, but there is no place in the set for its follow up ‘Popinjay’.

Then Ritz picks up an acoustic and we get a surprise in the middle of the set. Well more of a shock really. I can’t complain, I love an obscure moment and this was one. They play a slowed down version of 'My Beerdrunk Soul', which was their ‘Christmas song’ of a few years ago. It’s perhaps a bit early for all that but then I’m sure a lot of the population have already completed their Christmas shopping. I hope Ritzy Bryan isn’t one of them.

Then it’s back to that non-album of last year and Matt’s orgasmic drumming intro to ‘The Last Drop’. Ritz, very well spoken tonight, thanks us all for coming and they close with an eventful ‘Whirring’. During which I thought she was going to do a 'Leeds' on us with her guitar. At the festival she totally smashed up her guitar but tonight the air raid siren gets it instead. I just hope BSP don’t want it back undamaged. Matt has a bit of a fit with his sticks and Rydian breaks a string on his bass. He starts kicking it on the floor and into Ritzy, accidentally I assume. It’s all a bit unnecessary really. Good gig though.

There’s no encore, presumably because of the damn 10pm curfew. It’s a shame because the crowd seemed up for more but it didn’t happen. We were out the venue just before 10pm. How often does that happen?

Sunday 12 September 2010

Wolf Parade, Glee Club, Birmingham

Having been smitten by the Handsome Furs, whom I stumbled across last year, it only seemed natural to investigate Dan Boeckner’s other band, Wolf Parade, who conveniently booked a date at the Nottingham Rescue Rooms but then later cancelled it, citing scheduling issues. So rather than being disappointed we decide to go to Birmingham, where they are playing the Glee Club... which conjures up horrid images of America TV programmes...

The Glee Club is actually predominantly a stand-up comedy venue that has expanded into music. Situated in Birmingham's Chinese Quarter close to the Hippodrome Theatre, it opened in 1994. Since then they have opened venues in Cardiff, Oxford and now this month, one is scheduled to open in Nottingham.

Quite what the name has to do with comedy I’m not sure, the TV series had one thing right; traditionally a glee club is to do with music.

Support tonight is from Peter Kernel, who we thought was probably a soloist but may even have been a comedian but we’re totally wrong. ‘He’ is a three piece from Switzerland and as they start up, the floor immediately starts to throb under the assault of the very heavy bass. My ears will probably be out of commission tomorrow. Musically they sound a bit like our own Johnny Foreigner with the interplay of words between their female bass player and male guitarist. Then again, the girl kind of fancies herself as a Kim Deal I reckon and the chap doesn’t do anything to dispel the Pixies comparisons. That all sounds quite promising but for all that they are oddly unsatisfying.

So to Montreal’s Wolf Parade. I’ve been digging though Wolf Parade’s first two albums which are full of great moments but something about them just doesn’t completely satisfy then last month their new album ‘Expo 86’ dropped through my letter box and it’s bloody brilliant.

The ‘Expo’ is that big exposition ‘fair’ type thing that Prince Albert started up 150 odd years ago and now travels around the globe every year. Expo 86 was held in Vancouver and apparently that is where five young boys first became friends and made a pact to meet up sometime in the future to form a rock band. Believe it or not, that is the alleged beginning of Wolf Parade.

But never mind all that, they are now just a four piece who still find time to do Wolf Parade between their assorted side projects. The band take the stage and Dan Boeckner launches into ‘Soldier's Grin’ from their second album.

Boeckner, on the guitar, democratically shares lead vocal duties with keyboard player Spencer Krug, who promises us a mix of old and new songs without obviously playing the one you really want to hear. He takes vocals on ‘What Did My Lover Say?’ off the new record before handing back to Boeckner for another new song, the wonderful ‘Palm Road’.

Krug and Boeckner have complementary but differing styles and talents. Krug’s songs are more poetic and melodic such as on ‘Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts’ and he works away busily on his array of keyboards and other assorted electronic gadgets. He is not only a man in dazzling control of the technology at his fingertips but it is equally enthralling to see him perfectly in control of his stool, which he rarely sits on but instead manages to pivot around with his foot, never once losing control of it.

Boeckner is more old school. He belts out his numbers and pours passion into both his singing and his guitar playing. Whipping songs like ‘Pobody's Nerfect’ off the new ‘Expo 86’ up into a fervent, hot-blooded frenzy.

As a new recruit to the Wolf Parade cause I find all the new songs sound terrific tonight, although so too do oldies such as ‘This Hearts on Fire’ and ‘I'll Believe in Anything’ which are less familiar to me.

When they are not playing the lead Krug and Boeckner back each other up well, letting their respective instruments take a more background role. Everything combines together very well. In fact, the band as a whole have a lot of chemistry and that always makes for a good live show. On the other side of Krug to Boeckner is Dante DeCaro pummelling his guitar as hard as Boeckner does while behind them Arlen Thompson is a thunderous presence on the drums.

Damn good stuff.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Jónsi, Birmingham Academy

Tonight when I arrive at the Birmingham Academy, ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ an instrumental album by Jónsi and his other half, Alex, who is also part of his band tonight, is playing. I have missed the support band, Mountain Man, who are (obviously) three girls from Vermont, USA. That's the first time I've missed a support for a while.

I’m not sure what I’m expecting tonight. Only that the whole Jónsi experience is going to be a bit different. Jón Þór Birgisson is better known as the guitarist and vocalist of Sigur Rós, a kind of Icelandic Cocteau Twins. A band who, after 16 years in existence, are now on ‘indefinite hiatus’ presumably having temporarily ran out of new ethereal soundscapes to craft and have all gone off to have babies, an option not open to Jónsi.

The thing with Sigur Rós was... well... I have to be able to sing along to my music, which is why this new wave of instrumental bands just don’t do it for me and with Sigur Rós, Jónsi went one better than being instrumental and choose to sing not just in Icelandic but also in some made up hybrid that he called Hopelandic, or Double Dutch if you prefer. Tonight though, cue drum roll, because Jónsi’s debut solo album 'Go' is predominately in English, we won’t need subtitles, mostly.

Suddenly a couple of chaps amble on to the stage, catching everyone by surprise and probably some folk still at the bar. It’s the man himself and his drummer Doddi. It’s the most low-key of low-key starts ever and Jónsi keeps it simple for ‘Stars in Still Water’ with just his guitar and a little added glockenspiel courtesy of Doddi.

The rest of the five piece band join them on stage, then after dabbling with the English language on the opener, Jónsi reverts to Icelandic or whatever for ‘Hengilás’, while Doddi get serious with the glockenspiel playing it with a couple of large orchestral bows.

The music I suppose is broadly similar to that of Sigur Ros but far easier to get into, the songs are shorter, happier, poppier. Making it all more accessible for the Academy crowd tonight. The somewhat large Academy is though, I would guess, only about half full.

The set seems to be cleverly structured. The slow numbers come first, building things up, through moments like the thumping bass drum finale to ‘Icicle Sleeves’, eventually bringing us to the faster numbers, whilst saving the epic ones until last. Not that it's not all epic.

The band alternate between a selection of instruments, continually swapping roles, while Bass player Ulfur Hansson plays with a brace on his hand. His thumb struck permanently upwards after slicing his hand open on broken glass after their Gothenburg show last week. They all engage in what appears to be a mass xylophone love-in session before ‘Tornado’ and then Jónsi takes over at the piano for ‘Sinking Friendships’ as he works his way through the entirety of ‘Go’ plus a smattering of unreleased tracks.

Visually too it is spectacular. A continually changing animated backdrop accompanies the music, brings us a steady flow of assorted woodland animals, birds and even a wolf who appears to be stalking them all.

So far he hasn’t uttered a word to us and then when he does, to introduce ‘Go Do’, it’s such a shock no one knows what to say. There seems to be a brief moment of embarrassed silence on both sides before he picks up a ukulele and then suddenly an audience that has been mainly transfixed to the spot so far, is suddenly rocking to ‘the hits’.

He even offers the mic to the crowd during ‘Animal Arithmetic’... Yeah right. Love to mate but... even in English the lyrics still tend to leave you a little bewildered ‘Wake up, comb my hair, making food disappear, riding bikes, making out, elephants swimming down...

He slow things down again with something called ‘New Piano Song’ which is a bit more than what the name implies. Then to close ‘Around Us’ for which he starts seated at the piano before seamlessly handing over the ivories to come back centre stage. The set ends with the band leaving Jónsi alone crouched at the front of the stage doing his best ‘My Bloody Valentine’ impression only without the guitars, generating plenty of feedback with only a microphone at his disposal.

The band return quickly for an encore with Jónsi wearing a Red Indian head dress and starts with the up-tempo ‘Sticks and Stones’ from the score to the film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’. Then to finish ‘Grow Till Tall’ appropriately grows in stature, the animated screens fill with rain and the band are drenched in strobe lights as the show comes to a dramatic conclusion.

Then after the encore the band come back on to the stage, take a bow and clap the audience, just like at the theatre, and it’s a nice touch.

Well... It was unique. Different. An experience. Rather good actually. Well worth going to see ‘Go’.