Saturday 27 November 2010

We Are Scientists, Rock City, Nottingham

With a door time of 6.30 we miss the opening band of three, Rewards. I didn’t even now we had three bands tonight.

We do catch second up, London’s Goldheart Assembly. Who were once supposed to be one of those happening bands but I don’t think much happened. Something might happen tonight though as they drag an oil drum on stage... The band have been known to use unusual objects as musical instruments and tonight appears to be no exception. Perhaps the fact that the bands two lead vocalists are both ex-zookeepers at Whipsnade Zoo accounts for such eccentricity or maybe not.

They start off a bit messily, with guitarist John Herbert on vocals, using the oil drum and I can’t really make head nor tail of their first two tracks. Track three though is mellower and much better with the bass player, James Dale, taking over vocals, which he seems to do from here on in. From there they kind of kicked on into a sort of more standard indie style and were rather good.

So to another hugely interesting set from We Are Scientists. Keith Murray and Chris Cain are two of the nicest guys you’ll ever see up on stage and rather appropriately they now have a song about ‘Nice Guys’ to open with. It’s probably not autobiographical, when Keith Murray singing ‘Nice guys finish last’ he can’t possibly be talking about himself and it doesn’t stop him complaining about the snow. Though I’m sure they have snow in America too. Perhaps he’s worried about it snowing in Rock City; it certainly seems cold enough in here tonight.

‘Chick Lit’ stokes an already lively crowd before ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ makes things really kick off. The oldies are still the favourites. So much so everyone susses the intro to ‘This Scene Is Dead’ even if Keith does try to disguise it a bit.

They roll ‘Inaction’ into it, a trick they do a few times, making up for the time lost to the inevitable stage banter which comes between most songs. Keith casually swigging on a beer, Chris appears to be on juice. The pair of them have a very good rapport with each other, honed through plenty of live shows, and with their audience. It’s clear they love what they do. Then Keith throws his beer at the drummer and... ‘It's A Hit’.

‘Impatience’ is eventful. First some random girl dances across stage and then Keith breaks a string. He gets tangled in his shoulder strap as he attempts a guitar change and it’s to his credit that he manages it without missing a single word of the lyrics.

For ‘Textbook’ Keith leaves the guitar duties to Aaron Pfenning of 'Rewards', who we missed earlier. I think Rewards is basically just him, although random dancing girl might also have something to do with it but I’m not sure. He’s one half of the band Chairlift, who I vaguely know of. I guess we should have been here earlier if we wanted to know everything.

Once he is guitar-less Keith climbs the crowd barrier so that he can get closer to his public, well mainly the adoring female ones. Of which there appear to be many. In fact later, as we do our usual post-gig debrief, my partner only really talks about Keith's bare midriff.

‘The Great Escape’ is as popular and proficient as ever, but also many of the new tracks from 'Barbara' are well received. Particularly 'I Don't Bite', lead single 'Rules Don't Stop' and the excellent ‘Jack & Ginger’. What their material lacks in variety they make up for with the sheer energy with which they deliver it live.

For the closing ‘After Hours’ Goldheart Assembly return to the stage accompanied by their oil drum, Aaron from Rewards and the random dancing girl for the usual communal sing-along. The Scientists always seem to bond with their support bands.

The encore of ‘Dinosaurs’ and ‘Cash Cow’ completes a short but very sweet gig, only just over the hour mark including encore.

Thursday 25 November 2010

The National, Warwick Arts Centre

Tonight we’re in the salubrious surroundings of the Warwick Arts Theatre on Warwick University’s campus to see The National. Last time we were here was a few months ago and among the acts on the stage was the Principal of the University thanking us for leaving our Son in his care for the next three years.

Support tonight’s comes from a band called Phosphorescent. The band is mainly a chap called Matthew Houck who performs with an ever changing group of musicians.

They were ok, worth a listen. In fact at first they were pretty impressive but they soon settled down and their alt-country/folk songs all became a bit samey, one paced. Houck himself has a strong, if slightly irritating voice and you can’t criticize his band for not giving their all because to a man they certainly did. In particular their keyboard player, whose face I never saw, but they were a blur of movement throughout. Their last track mixed things up a bit and started out a bit livelier before it too settling down into a similar comforting plod to the rest of their stuff. Probably just not my thing because they had plenty of admirers tonight.

Rewind to 2005 and my first trip to the Leeds Festival. It wasn't too big a wrench to desert the Queens Of The Stone Age on the main stage, not to my liking, to head to what was then the 'Carling Stage' for the breakthrough acts. A band from Brooklyn called The National were on there entertaining a small crowd. Warming up for the delights to come, mainly Saul Williams, Charlotte Hatherley and Ladytron... as I recall. I had been quite taken with some of the tracks on their second album, 2003's 'Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers' and at Leeds they were excellent. Playing a surprisingly up-tempo set which I later discovered was mainly drawn from their new album at that time 'Alligator'. That was five years ago.

Now two critically acclaimed albums later, 2007’s 'Boxer' and now 'High Violet', one of the albums of this year, they are playing venues such as the Warwick Arts Theatre and it’s far busier than the Carling tent was.

After an entry accompanied by Neil Young’s ‘On The Beach’, it’s with ‘Boxer’ they start and ‘Start A War’. Vocalist Matt Berninger stumbling around like a punk drunk fighter and telling the crowd off for whistling at him. He’s joking, I think, and all the band are in high spirits throughout the night, with the Dessner brothers, Aaron and Bryce on guitars, verbally sparring with Berninger between songs. The National are a very family friendly affair because completing the line up are another set of brothers, Scott and Bryan Devendorf. Bryan somehow smashing a cymbal during ‘Mistaken for Strangers’.

There’s also an additional two members touring with them, adding among other things trumpet and trombone to many tracks. Which are very evident on beefed up rendition of ‘Slow Show’, an often requested wedding song... so they tell us.

'High Violet' may be close on album of the year but it’s actually ‘Boxer’ that provides the most stand out moments tonight. The two I’ve just mentioned plus a very lively ‘Squalor Victoria’, a fantastic ‘Apartment Story’, what they describe as one of their many songs about social anxiety, and the closing ‘Fake Empire’.

They tell us a lot of stuff about their songs. ‘Afraid of Everyone’ is about how f***ed up American politics is. Whilst ‘Conversation 16’ turns out to be about marriage and not they say about cannibalism. I didn’t actually think it was...

They are excellent, if a tad too polished at times. What annoys most is that throughout the night they are fighting off requests for oldies. To be honest I didn’t expect much, if any, really old stuff because I didn’t think anyone would know it but the knowledgeable crowd tonight proved me wrong with their repeated requests. So why not give in and play some? They won’t. Claiming they have a set list to adhere to and anyway Berninger claims to not know the words... Then they do play ‘Available’ and a bit of ‘Cardinal Song’ off ‘Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers’ but it’s mainly a case of showcasing the quality of their last two releases. We get all but one of 'High Violet' and seven tracks from 'Boxer'.

'Alligator' is only plundered twice, first for a corking ‘Abel’ with Berninger screaming the chorus down the microphone at us and then for ‘Mr November’ in the encore, when he does similar.

The highlight from the new album for me is the utter misery that is ‘Sorrow’. Love it.

Finally they give into a request and say they will break band protocol for a guy near the front and insert a song into the set. It’s the excellent ‘Green Gloves’ but hardly an oldie and it’s not inserted, as it replaces a much older track ‘Lucky You’ from the ‘Sad Songs’ era, which is criminally binned.

Berninger croons his way through ‘Runaway’ to start the encore before fierce versions of ‘Mr. November’ and ‘Terrible Love’. They close though with an epic, attention grabbing, totally unplugged version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’. Which was just superb.

Aaron Dessner and Berninger start the song stood on speaker stacks close to the crowd before Berninger journeys deeper into the throng, standing on the crash barrier being held up by a fan and leading the audience in an acoustic sing-along. Terrific stuff.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Interpol, Rock City, Nottingham

My partner's only here for the blood, that is Florida’s Surfer Blood. After that I might have to keep her awake through the ninety minutes of the morose majesty of Interpol.

There has been quite a bit of internet chatter about Surfer Blood and they are certainly different from tonight’s headliners. For a start singer John Paul Pitts is attired a touch like a public schoolboy but they also sound totally different.

They launch energetically into their first track 'Fast Jabroni'. That is as energetically as a five piece crammed into such a limited amount of stage space can. It's a good song and they appear at their best when they are playing simple up-tempo guitar driven pop songs like that, rather than the few slower numbers they throw in.

However a few songs do veer off successfully into different styles and show they’re capable of mixing it up a touch, such as on ‘Twin Peaks’ where there’s all sorts of things going on. Their best known moment so far though is the annoyingly catchy anthem that is 'Swim', which closes their very short set.

The band are pleasant enough in a quirky sort of way but are just one of several bands doing this sort of thing at the moment. What other bands don’t have perhaps is a keyboard player with such impressive hair along with a set of maracas and other cool things that he keeps in a bag of tricks slung under his keyboard.

Presumably it's usually the record company’s idea but bands should never self title an album. It's just plain dull for a start and utterly pointless. You should know who the album is by, I would hope, and it's so lazy. It shows a lack of creativity which tends to be repeated throughout the tracks on the album, so it should serve as a warning to us buyers as well. If you must do it. First album only. Never after that. Certainly never your fourth as Interpol have done.

The signs are that the band themselves aren’t that enamoured with it either, which backs up my thesis, because only five tracks are played from it tonight. Add to that the fact founder member Carlos Dengler left straight after the album was complete to 'concentrate on other things'. Maybe this shows he wasn’t that keen on it either. That said; it isn’t too bad. A little underwhelming on first listen but it's a real grower. Carlos, you should have given it another spin mate.

'Success' the opener on the album and also the opener tonight, is slower, steadier and more funereal than their last two albums, harking back to the style of their debut, 'Turn on The Bright Lights'. Things immediately get a touch livelier with the next track, a rocking 'Say Hello To The Angels', proving that they had rare upbeat moments even on their debut album.

The plus side of the new album only being lightly touched upon was that tonight became pretty much a retro night and this yielded a quite brilliant set full of juicy treats with six tracks from each of their first two albums.

'Antics' supplies us with ‘Narc’, which soars along whereas ‘Length Of Love’, a nice extravagance, swaggers.

With Carlos D gone, the new boy on bass is David Pajo, who it has to be said is pretty anonymous throughout. Perhaps he’s nervous; he appears to have a quadruple brandy next to his water. Is this to help him get through it?

Main stays guitarist Daniel Kessler and main man Paul Banks, who met in a philosophy class you know, are positively lively by comparison. The band’s lack of mobility is legendary but they are far from statuesque tonight. Not that they leap around the stage or anything. That would have somewhat spoiled things.

Paul Banks is positively chatty, well almost. He even puts names to a couple of songs. Nice hat by the way Paul. He even smiles a bit. Daniel Kessler smiles a lot and his expertly delivered guitar hooks are accompanied by some neat footwork.

There’s only one track from 'Our Love To Admire', which was a bit harsh on what isn't a bad album and 'Rest My Chemistry' wouldn't have been my choice either but it’s affecting enough.

Everything is accompanied by a never ending fog of smoke that envelopes the barely lit stage, so the band all have their own little lights so that they can read their set lists. All this means there’s not a lot to aim the new camera at. So it’s just a case of stand back and appreciate the music which is as tightly performed and as expansive as expected.

The trio of hits from 'Antics', their more populist more upbeat album, are all present and correct: - 'Slow Hands', 'Evil' and 'C'mere' and it helps to lighten the mood of the darker stuff. Those numbers also blend well with recent single 'Barricade' but it was their choice of oldies that excites and makes it such a great night.

‘NYC’ isn’t always in their sets, which is a shame, as it’s just so fantastically moody and wonderfully done tonight, wallowing in its own exquisite misery. As for ‘Leif Erikson’. Just amazing. Well I think so but my partner is looking a bit bewildered. I guess with Interpol you either revel in their intensity or... well, not.

There are some new slow burning epics too. Particularly the dazzling 'Lights'. When Banks poignantly cries ‘That's why I hold you dear’ you feel that perhaps he means it.

They close with a thumping 'Not Even Jail' which means that 'The New', a real rarity that sent the forums all a chatter when it surfaced mid set at their last gig two nights ago in Germany after (apparently) seven years of not begin played, isn’t in the set tonight.

Ah, but it is. Disappointment turns to delight as the encore from heaven for any hardcore Interpol fan follows. Not that I would regard myself as hardcore but anyway. You would have thought it unlikely that they'd play 'Untitled' but to not only play it but then follow it with 'The New' and then 'PDA' is simply sensational. That’ll upset them and make them drool in equal measures back in their home country across the pond. That’s an entire encore from the darkest depths of ‘Turn on the Bright Lights’ and some way to finish.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Gaslight Anthem, Rock City

It’s an early start for Leamington Spa's Sharks, a 7.40 stage time, ten minutes after doors open. I'm stuck outside in the queue and suspect Sharks are playing to about fifty people but no. It's packed inside when I finally get in; they're already hanging from the rafters. What I see of Sharks is quite promising and thankfully they have nothing in common with the 70’s band of the same name. The only 70’s thing about them is lead singer/guitarist James Mattock’s sleeveless Exorcist t-shirt, a film that pre-dates him by a couple of decades.

He strikes a confident figure, has a strong voice and overall I like their lively punk sound. They’re also a good test platform for my new camera. Well they are until, amid much confusion, they abort their set a song early due to a broken drum kit. Just how do you break a drum kit? Not seen that before and how does it hold you back. One drum, possibly a snare, surely does not matter much but they go off anyway. I’ll forgive them; they’re a young band who haven’t learnt the art of improv yet. Then again many experienced bands haven't or simply can’t be bothered to improvise when required.

The chap who walks on next and slings his jacket on the floor before tuning up an acoustic guitar could have been a roadie but how many roadies do you see in a flat cap? No this is Chuck Ragan who certainly fits the experienced description. The American singer/songwriter has been a member of Florida rock band Hot Water Music since 1993.

Like the Gaslight Anthem’s last UK tour support, Frank Turner, Chuck is another ex-punk rocker who has picked up the acoustic and gone folk. They like their maverick acoustic performers do the Gaslight. I’m obviously going to say Frank is better and he is. Chuck was good though, a bit more ‘throaty’ with his vocals than our Frank and whereas Frank has an entire band to back him, Chuck just has his side kick, John on the fiddle. It’s all very, well folk. All we need now is a spot of harmonica, which duly arrives on track four. Anyone called Chuck has to have a harmonica. At which point things do veer dangerous into barn dance territory but between them they ignite Rock City with their sheer energy, Chuck n John quite a match. Move over Kate n Wills.

And so to the Gaslight, who again come on stage a good ten minutes early. Isn’t that refreshing? Provided of course you’re not running late yourself, and thankfully I’m not. They’re known for playing ‘value you for money’ slots but will be up against one of Rock City’s immovable curfews, so it’s good that they’re getting started early.

Opening with their recent single, odd choice though it was, ‘The Spirit of Jazz’ they get the place jumping straight away, through another newbie ‘Boxer’ and the cracking ‘Casanova, Baby!’

Then Brian Fallon launches into one of his huge monologues before they play ‘The Diamond Church Street Choir’, about cakes, and his mother, who told him that rock 'n' roll was from the devil and gives you STD's and he probably mentions other things but they are largely indecipherable due to his thick New Jersey accent. He rambles a bit, as perhaps you can tell and he’s fascinated by the balloons which have lights in them, so he bursts one to see how it works... and some lag predictably likens it to a condom, which is perhaps how we got on to STD’s and his mother, and maybe cakes but who knows. He’s prone to ramble a bit. Have I mentioned this?

Oh and he also has his flat cap on... and the band have a flat capped roadie. So there’s flat caps everywhere tonight, just shows what I know.

He could have probably talked all night but he’s wasting serious music time. Which when it comes is seriously good. Then he picks up a harmonica in middle of ‘Old White Lincoln’, what else.

Of course nobody can mention the Gaslight without mentioning Springsteen and the band are now clearly sick of the comparisons but they did dig themselves a rather large hole with their second, albeit brilliant, album ’The 59 Sound’ and then shovel the soil in over themselves by going on and on about it.

Now they say they’re moved on, grown up, but they will never get away from it. Though to be fair their new album ‘American Slang’ sounds nothing like Springsteen. It sounds like plenty of other things but not ‘him’. More importantly it sounds like them. Whilst despite the popularity of ‘The 59 Sound’, probably the reason for the near sell out tonight, their best album remains, in my opinion anyway, their first album ‘Sink Or Swim’ from which ‘We Came To Dance’ and ‘Wooderson’ are both particularly electric tonight.

On CD the new album comes over as perhaps a bit too glossy. Whose third album isn't? Live, as ever, it sounds much rawer. 'Stay Lucky' particularly appears faster and punkier, whereas some of the slower tracks sound much more epic and ‘The Queen of Lower Chelsea’ is a stand out moment.

Naturally there are a couple of covers. Wilson Pickett’s ‘In the Midnight Hour’ is instantly recognisable but Wayne Cochran’s ‘Last Kiss’ is met with many a bemused look and sends me scrabbling post-gig for someone with a stolen set list.

Then finally chance for the Brucie lovers to go ape with the closing duo of ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The 59 Sound’ for which Chuck Ragan returns to the stage to assist.

The title track of 'American Slang' opens the encore but the highlight has to be ‘1930’ from 'Sink Or Swim' which follows. Before the slower ‘Miles Davis and the Cool’ leads us into the usual rousing finale of ‘The Backseat’.

A damn good night. They missed a few faves out but very few bands rotate a set list like these guys do, and they’ll be getting those in Leeds tomorrow.