Saturday 23 October 2010

New Model Army, Rock City

Back in 1985 I recall seeing New Model Army make an appearance on Top Of The Pops with their single at the time ‘No Rest’, which went top 30. Most striking, apart from the great song, was the bands T-shirts with the slogan ‘Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin’ which the BBC didn’t quite know how to deal with, what with it being a bit too confrontational for them but at the same time appearing to give out some rather good advice, that probably fitted in with its remit as a public service broadcaster.

It wasn’t long after that that I was persuaded to go see the band in the flesh at Rock City. It soon became a regular occurrence, going through the routine of donning shin pads, putting all valuable belongings in a very safe pocket and double checking the life insurance before heading down to join in the mosh at these exceedingly 'lively' affairs. The band's fans have always said the concerts were friendly occasions even though you’d be counting the bruises afterwards. They may be more on the friendly side these days but in the earlier days I’m not so sure. Perhaps it was just other more unsavoury types attaching themselves to the band at that time.

This was all some time ago and I don’t think I’ve seen them in at least five years. Consequently I have somewhat lost touch with their material but rather like 25 years ago I’ve been persuaded down to Rock City tonight for the second of their 30th anniversary shows in Nottingham. Rock City has, despite the band coming from Bradford, become somewhat of an adopted home for them. The band are playing two consecutive nights in various cities worldwide playing a different set each night and supporting themselves. There are only two shows in Britain:- London and Nottingham, so people have come from far and wide tonight to pay homage. I hear they played 29 tracks last night and we’re due a completely different selection tonight. Tonight, by the way, really is their 30th anniversary. The bands very first gig was in their home town on 23rd October 1980. Exactly thirty years ago.

Justin Sullivan, the band’s lead singer, guitarist and only constant factor in the bands existence takes the stage a little after 7.20 with just an acoustic guitar and his fellow guitarist for company. It’s a gentle start and hey, I know this one, ‘Heroes’ from 1986’s ‘Ghost of Cain’ album opens the night. I don’t know much else of what follows, save for ‘Lovesongs’ again from ‘Ghost of Cain’, in a nine song ‘support’ slot which includes a mix of material across the 30th years of the band and even includes a b-side ‘Modern Times’.

Throughout this set they gradually build up the pace and the instruments, first the drummer joins them, then the bass player. Sullivan’s long term partner, the artist, novelist and poet Joolz Denby who has frequently worked with the band makes an appearance during ‘Space’ (from 1990’s ‘Impurity’) before they close the set with ‘Ocean Rising’ from last year’s ‘Today Is A Good Day’.

After a twenty minute break they return to the stage and are straight up to full throttle. The crowd are also now well warmed up and I let myself drift backwards away from the stage as mayhem erupts during ‘Christian Militia’ from their debut album 1984’s ‘Vengeance’, to avoid having to explain the multiple bruising to my partner later. Now they’re in my era. This is how I always remembered New Model Army nights absolutely heaving and one constantly moving dance floor.

Another obscure track ‘Falling’ gives way to a few newer numbers before another track from ‘Ghost of Cain’, unsurprisingly well represented, ‘The Hunt’ stirs things up again. The usual no crowd surfing signs were up at Rock City and I didn’t actually see anybody doing any but instead we get a bit of ‘crowd walking’.

At one stage they were building a human pyramid which predictably collapsed.

Security doesn’t usually put up with any of that sort of behaviour, not these days, but it appears as it’s a special occasion and it’s the ‘Army’, I think security have been given the night off.

‘Get Me Out’ from ‘Impurity’ and ‘Here Comes The War’ from 1993’s ‘Love of Hopeless Causes’ are more stand out moments before an awesome threesome close the set. ‘White Coats’ (1989’s ‘Thunder and Consolation’) is followed by ‘51st State’ (‘Ghost of Cain’ again). Referring to the subject of the song, Justin points out that ‘some things haven't changed in 30 years’. It’s a reworked version which verges into reggae territory in the middle but still doesn’t stop the crowd singing every word back at the band. Then finally the track I mentioned right at the beginning, ‘No Rest’ (1985’s ‘No Rest For The Wicked’) finishes things off.

They return for a five track encore, which may have been longer had it not been for another of those annoying 10pm curfews, that concludes with a double from ‘Thunder and Consolation’, ‘Stupid Questions’ and then finally what he describes as the only way to finish, with ‘I Love The World’.

If there’s a drawback for me, being an old git, is that there is only one track from each of their first two albums tonight. Particularly as I’d expected the place to be full of fellow old gits but surprisingly it’s not. There are an amazing number of people, who as Justin points out, were not even born when they started.

See you at the 40th’, says Justin. Yep, I imagine you will.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Feeder, Leeds Metropolitan University

Feeder re-emerged at the start of the year as Renegades and played two blindingly good low-key tours showcasing their new material. Now with an album of that name released they’re out to promote it but back under the Feeder banner.

The now familiar strains of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ signal that this is going to be basically a Renegades show in all but name, but on a bigger scale and with the hits re-added to shut up the handful of hecklers who disrupted a few of those shows.

It’s also though, about bums on seats or more precisely feet on floors. Like a lot of bands they are finding that the records aren’t selling much but the gigs are. So the band are playing a lot of gigs at the moment and by the time their current schedule ends in March 2011 they will have played nearly 80 gigs in 15 months. Serious gigging and there's no sign they're done yet. Apparently have another album in the can, that may contain lighter material, though the band haven't confirmed this and to be honest Grant and Taka appear to love playing the heavier Renegades stuff so much. The record was originally rumoured to be out around now but it's now shelved until at least early next year, perhaps longer.

The band take to the stage, then seconds later ‘Barking Dogs’ launches itself out of the kennel and growls its arrival (sorry), opening the night in breathless fashion. A style that is typical of their new record.

If nothing else the Renegades experiment showed what a tight live band Feeder still are and you can hardly spot the join as they vault back eleven years for 'Insomnia'.

Like the opener, ‘Sentimental’ is also from that first Renegades ‘Black’ EP and its heavy chords continue the raucous theme. Feeder's new material has been a trip back to their dark side of old and a welcome one. A dark side of short, sharp, adrenalin fuelled tunes.

Even when they do show their lighter side, when the first of their two suicide infused power ballads arrives in the form of 'Feeling A Ooooh Ooooooh Ooooooh Moment', it’s as if the track has been taken out the back, given a bit of kicking and then let back on stage. It seems a much more intense animal tonight.

The band are just about still a three piece, although the keyboards are back for those softer moments, of which there aren’t that many but even then the keyboards are kept pretty much in the background.

‘Renegades’ itself, a track as good as anything they've ever done, with its subdued opening before it explodes into life, gets the crowd really jumping for the first time tonight and starting to appreciate this new/old Feeder sound.

Then just as the tone has been set, most of the big hits arrive in a clump in the middle with newbie 'Down To The Ooooh Ooooooh Ooooooh River' for company, and this disrupts the tempo a touch. Of the ‘big’ tunes, ‘Pushing The Senses’, which I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for, is the pick of the bunch. Pretty awesome tonight.

Karl Brazil is, with respect to Mark Richardson and the late Jon Lee, one of the ‘keenest’ drummers I’ve ever seen and he tries to leave the imprint of his drum kit on everything but I swear he was drumming something else, possibly ‘Home’, over the top of ‘Just The Way I'm Feeling’. Which has also been roughed up a bit at the edges but if anything comes out sounding a bit muddled.

Well ok, I don’t like it much anyway, the song grates on me but always has, though I can’t begrudge the band their moment. It’s such a sad song that draws heavily on Jon Lee's suicide. There’s also the fact, admittedly, that this song and the following one about drinking cider from a lemon get a very big crowd reaction.

Then we’re back to those heavy guitars for 'White Lines', so good they played it twice. Well the first verse anyway, after Grant messed up but I think he was the only one who noticed and then 'Home' which just seems to get faster each time they play it.

Throughout the show Taka Hirose prowls the stage with his bass guitar, showing no signs of his alleged passport problems. Apparently the Home Office don't believe he’s been living in this country since 1992... and if he went out of the country he may not get back in again. Which could cause a problem or two for the upcoming European Tour. Tonight though, he's seems to be an adopted Yorkshire man.

Unlike with ‘Silent Cry’, Grant seems to like their new record and pulls heavily on it tonight. Whereas on the tour for that album they played very few tracks from it live. So it’s no great surprise to hear nothing from that album tonight. Perhaps they’re trying to forget that record ever happened, which would be shame. Just one track tonight would have been a nice touch but Feeder never were big on surprises. Well until recently, when the Renegades tour briefly broke the mould.

The big moment for me comes after they close the set with ‘Call Out’ and return for the encore for which the crowd are already singing ‘da da da’. For God’s sake Grant just play the damn thing when they ask for it and don’t be so predictable by leaving it until the end. Better still, why not blow everyone’s mind and open with it or something. Encores should be for surprises.

I had mentally pencilled in a ‘predictable’ encore of ‘High’ followed by ‘Seven Days’ and that ‘da da da’ number but we do get a treat. Even a surprise if you like. ‘We’ve not played this one for a while’ he admits, as he lights up my evening with the wonderful ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’, performed all too rarely. You see, it’s not difficult, I’m easily pleased. One more like that and they’ll be carrying me out on a stretcher.

Then he decides to ditch 'the big rock ending' he said they had planned (probably ‘Godzilla/The End’) and play some old ones instead. ‘Ooh good’ me thinks, fingers crossed for 'Sweet 16' and 'Descend' again, which were so wonderfully resurrected for those Renegades shows. Get that stretcher ready... but no. He means ‘Seven Days’ and that ‘da da da’ number. Well suppose they are old too, it’s been ten years now. Nothing from ‘Silent Cry’ is maybe understandable but nothing from either ‘Polythene’ or ‘Swim’ is just criminal.

That said it’s a lively finish, a good finish, sending the crowd into delirium and yes I do love ‘Just A Day’ as much as everyone else but it’s all a bit too predictable.

Still an excellent gig though. The Renegades stuff still sounds awesome and largely blends with the older stuff well. Now if Grant just had the conviction to draw on their amazing back catalogue a bit more, because he clearly has a liking for the grungier stuff, then we'd really be in business.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Delays, Sheffield University SU

It’s October, so it must be about time for another Delays gig.

We miss the tackily named ‘Scars on 45’ but catch the unusually named Ruberlaris from nearby Chesterfield, who seem to have a bit of a ska/reggae thing going on. Well, at least the lead singer/guitarist Chris Alsop does. Sometimes I think the rest of the four-piece band, who apparently are usually a five-piece with a saxophonist added, are playing something more conventional but it all blends together quite well. Lyrically he is strong too.

The band struggle at first to get much reaction, other than warm applause from the small crowd, because it’s still quite early in the evening but the crowd gradually warm to their high tempo music and energetic stage presence. They’re pleasant enough but really not my thing.

After a short delay (that’s nearly a pun), Greg Gilbert bounces onto the stage in typical Greg Gilbert fashion, wearing what I’m almost sure is the same shirt he always wears when we see the band live. I just hope he washes it occasionally.

‘Girls On Fire’. It's back. The Bodega in June was good but this is already better, they didn’t play it then. Well its better until I start getting picked on. That's all I need the lead singer having a go at me for not clapping to ‘Lost In A Melody’. It’s not even one of my favourites. Then he seems to keep his beady eye on me all night which, I think, makes my partner a touch jealous.

Greg introduces ‘One Night Away’ as just a song from ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’, their first album. I don’t recall them playing it before but I’m sure they must have, just not recently. I always like it when bands chuck in an obscure oldie. The song ends with a touch of feedback and morphs into the excellent ‘Friends Are False’.

Four tracks in and nothing new yet, nothing from their new album ‘Star Tiger, Star Ariel’. Then ‘Find a Home’ appears but the only track we’ve not heard before is ‘May '45’ which appears mid-set. That apart there’s a lack of new stuff.

A chap in the crowd keeps yelling for his favourite song but he doesn’t actually know the name of the song he keeps yelling for. Aaron fights him off once but then Greg has a go when he requests ‘In Bittersweet Sunshine’ for the third time. ‘How can I play that when I aint f***ing written it yet?’ he protests before launching into ‘In Brilliant Sunshine’.

Tonight I think it's possibly the liveliest Delays crowd I've seen, the place had filled up considerably, adding to the small crowd who witnessed Ruberlaris. The band are as lively as ever, well Greg is, he even bounces his shoe laces undone during ‘Wanderlust’.

‘Panic Attacks’ is accompanied by an order to ‘get your arms up Sheffield’ and I’m sure he’s looking at me again. He hasn’t got much time to hassle me though; they seem to be in a rush now, up against another Saturday curfew. To coin a phrase or an album title, ‘Everything’s A Rush’. (Mental note: in future pick midweek gigs for longer sets).

‘Hideaway’, ‘Nearer Than Heaven’ and ‘Valentine’ end the set with the crowd continuing the latter even after the band have left the stage.

They return and Aaron protests about the curfew, ‘they’re trying to kick us out’. Yes but you were late coming on mate. They still run slightly over budget with ‘You And Me’ and ‘The Earth Gave Me You’ appropriately from the aforementioned ‘Everything’s A Rush’.

I’ll let my partner sum it all up. ‘Such nice boys’, she says. So there you have it.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Twilight Sad & Errors, Stealth

Tonight's gig could be a difficult one to blog. The Twilight Sad appear to have no website, no forum, no recent listings and no live reviews of their current tour. Add to this the fact that, although they have a great line in song titles, the titles bear little or no relation to the song, so much so that the band themselves can’t even remember them and resort to cryptic codes on their own set lists. Then throw in instrumental band Errors as support and you can see I’m going to be in for a tough evening set list wise. Even if the bands were to introduce everything, what with them both coming from in and around Glasgow, it probably wouldn't help as I won’t be able to understand the accents.

So first, Errors, last seen at Summer Sundae wedged between The Besnard Lakes and Los Campesinos. They are billed as co-headliners, which means they get fifty minutes on stage and I suppose theoretically even an encore.

Well, honestly I haven't a clue what they played but it was good and the small crowd at Stealth approved. There was nodding aplenty from a crowd desperate to sing along to their infectious blend of electronics mixed with traditional guitars and drums, but with nothing to sing along to, a good old nod had to do instead. Sorry... I just don’t really go for instrumental bands. I'm not sure of the point but presumably they are. Perhaps, to get their music used as backing tracks by the BBC. Which these days seems to be the ultimate endorsement for any slightly obscure band and in this case the BBC don’t even have to strip the vocals off. How convenient is that?

Errors like everything just so. Their lead man Simon Ward seems a bit of a perfectionist, often signalling instructions to the sound desk and then smiling to himself when it all goes to plan. The Twilight Sad on the other hand are much more rough and ready, brash even. They start loud with the lead track from their new EP ‘The Wrong Car’ and get louder.

By track two, ‘That Birthday Present’, I had already realised that in my eagerness to get a look at their set list I have made a tactical error. I am standing far too close to guitarist’s Andy MacFarlane’s amp because the wall of guitar noise that he is producing is now swallowing me whole. So much so that most of the time I can’t hear James Graham’s vocals at all or the keyboards. I know there are some keyboards in there somewhere.

I consider moving across to the other side of the stage to see if I can hear the keyboards or perhaps moving to the back in the hope that I can hear everything but then a) I wouldn’t be able to see and b) I fear the damage has already been done to my eardrums.

Their albums, particularly their first one ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’, are quite sombre affairs which did not quite prepare me for the intensity of the band live, where the cacophonous noise dominates everything, unlike on record, where the guitars are reigned in, letting the vocals shine.

More blistering guitars obscure their finest vinyl moment, set listed as ‘hit single’, more commonly known as ‘That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy’. Gripping his microphone in both hands, James Graham’s face is a mass of anguish as he delivers his impassioned vocals. Sometimes I can even make them out and at the moment he is informing us that his ‘kids are on fire in the bedroom’.

He frequently stands sideways to the crowd, appearing lost in his own world and I can see why he’s often compared to Ian Curtis, although isn’t everybody these days. Although this guy even sound-checked like I imagine Ian Curtis would.

‘I'm Taking the Train Home’ is equally piercing and far louder than its vinyl counterpart. The floor starts shaking. Did I mention that the Twilight Sad are loud? Very loud. Not just ear bleeding loud but nose bleeding loud and probably causing internal damage loud too. As I walked down to the gig tonight I had to thread my way through the hoards queuing to get in to see Mumford & Sons at Rock City, probably less than a hundred yards away as the crow flies and this lot are trying to drown them out.

Then a quiet moment. A slow burning start to ‘Cold Days From The Birdhouse’, sung pretty much guitar-less, until the song eventually bursts into life, well exploded if I’m honest and practically blasted the head off the front row. The song as a whole though worked well live and was undeniably the best bit tonight.

Then to close, the noisier but still slow building, ‘And She Would Darken The Memory’ driven again by MacFarlane’s guitar and the powerful drumming of Mark Devine.

Then James Graham thanks us all for coming and for not going to see Mumford & Sons. Wouldn’t have mattered, we’d have heard them from there anyway. I leave with my ears ringing. That was one incredibly loud gig. As an overall spectacle it was rather impressive. 10 out 10 for intensity but a lot less for audibility. I have to say overall the experience was a little underwhelming. I’d go again but next time, perhaps I’ll stand further back.

I’ve made a good stab at that setlist.