Wednesday 21 September 2011

The Subways, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

Welsh five piece Straight Lines seem to be going down well with the crowd as, running a bit late, I push my way to the front at the Rescue Rooms. They also seem quite well known. There’s plenty of head bopping and even singing along. I’ve not come across them before and their punk/pop/hardcore blended sound could be described as sounding like everyone else’s but it wouldn’t be fair to say that on the few numbers I heard, so I won’t say it, I’ll just think it.

So to another band who could be accused of sounding like everyone else ‘The Subways’. I haven’t seen them for a while and I need to top up this year’s gig list, which is rather low, so I thought why not. They were rather good on the NME stage at the Leeds Fest in 2005, blimey that was a while ago. I saw them at Rock City a year later as well but now they’ve been downgraded a little to the Rescue Rooms. You may say the real reason I'm here is to get some photos of Charlotte Cooper, now a veteran at 25, but you’d be wrong of course.

Some things have changed. Rock City’s little brother ‘The Rig’ is now the ‘Black Cherry Lounge’ and the stage at Rescue Rooms now goes all the way across. Bigger. Tidier. Better? In a summer refit the steps have gone, the bar moved and balcony access is now no longer from some secret door at the back of the main bar where you had to utter ‘Phil sent me’ or something, to get in. The place now finally looks like a gig venue rather than an afterthought. They’ve even got real ale on the bar for crikes sake, heady days indeed.

So some things change but in a way it’s comforting that The Subways haven’t. The band bounce on stage to Gene Wilder’s ‘Pure Imagination’, then bounce their way through early single ‘Oh Yeah’ and basically don’t stop bouncing throughout the night.

Songs from their heavier second album ‘All or Nothing’ rub shoulders with the poppier sound of their debut ‘Young For Eternity’, in pretty much an even split of tracks between the two. In between they mix in a some tracks from their new album, released just yesterday, the style of which seems to fall somewhere between the two.

‘Young for Eternity’, ‘Obsession’, ‘Alright’ the songs tumbles out one after another, each one igniting the crowd and setting off a fresh wave of bouncing by crowd and band alike. It’s nice to see a crowd so up for a gig and a band too. The threesome give it their all from start to finish.

Isn’t there something great about threesomes, I mean three pieces. Concise, raw... limited yet eminently appealing.

Vocalist Billy Lunn tells us ‘Mary’ is about his mum and then goes off for another charge around the stage, passing bassist Charlotte Cooper on the way as she charges in the opposite direction, head banging, hair tossing with her bass guitar.

Billy's younger brother Josh bangs the drums. Legend has it that he was such a wild kid at home that his parents got him a drum kit to channel that wildness. I think he’s still got that drum kit because it’s kind of a mini set. The type they used so sell in the toy section in the back of the Argos catalogue, perhaps.

The new album ‘Money and Celebrity’, takes a pop at celebrity culture with tracks like current single ‘We Don't Need Money to Have a Good Time’ which provokes another a surge of energy from the crowd. As does the older ‘Shake! Shake!’ which goes down a storm with lots of, well, shaking.

The best moments are the older ones though, the slow building ‘I Want to Hear What You Have Got to Say’ being rolled into ‘Rock and Roll Queen’ was a clear highlight.

Billy and Charlotte stand some distance apart tonight on the somehow bigger Rescue Rooms stage, making it difficult to photograph them together. I’m sure this is the norm and not indicative of their eight year romance that ended sometime ago in marriage, to other people. Their relationship now appears cordial, friendly but also businesslike and lacks some of the on stage chemistry of before.

I was particularly surprised to hear that Billy had recently got hitched because he’s cheating on his missus already, tonight Billy is truly, madly, deeply in love with his audience. He urges them to get a ‘circle pit’ going to ‘Turnaround’. After a few false starts, due possibly to a lack of understanding (honestly, youngsters today), they finally get it going. Then after a resounding ‘With You’ they’re off without a word, which I thought was a tad rude.

They return for an encore that opens with ‘Kalifornia’ and continues into ‘At 1 am’ at which point something comes whizzing past my ear and lands on the stage. A bra, a very large bra, in fact a scarily large one. So large that I daren’t turnaround to speculate on the owner of such a huge garment. Clearly our freshly married man isn’t impressed either, as he kicks it into touch. Instead he strips off his own top and dives headlong into the crowd. They catch him and carry him aloft as the band close with ‘It's a Party’, a song about how awesome a party they have on tour.

Then down goes the Argos drum kit, in that most un-rock n roll of rock n roll gestures and the lights go up.

The Subways remain mostly unvaried but a more upbeat rock band you could not wish for. They also put more energy into tonight’s performance than a lot of bands put into a lifetime of touring. They’re a band clearly enjoying what they do. Though I still think they may need to move on a touch to survive, if they get time amongst married life of course.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Bluetones, Academy 2, Sheffield

Tonight we’re in the intimate surroundings of the upstairs room at the Sheffield Academy, complete with a reassuringly sticky floor, as is so often the case in these places. It’s nicely full which is good to see.

Now I must confess that I’m coming a bit late to the party on this one. So late in fact that everyone else has got their coat and is making for the exit, including the band, who announced in March that this will be their farewell tour.

They are of course ‘The Bluetones’, purveyors of thirteen Top 40 singles and three Top 10 albums. All some time ago. Yet they have continued to tour to a loyal but sadly decreasing fan base. I’ve been remiss in never seeing them prior to Splendour this year, despite being an admirer of their early successes. I feel that tonight many others are returning after too many years of absence and if you neglect something it falls apart. Which appears to have been the cause of the demise of the Bluetones. Even the playing the classic album trick, with ‘Expecting To Fly’ didn't do the job. So, now as a parting gesture, we get this final tour.

First though we have Pugwash, shiver me timbers, but they have little in common with the cartoon Captain. I bet they’ve heard that sort of pun a few times but if you pick the name, you get the comments.

They fit the bill as a warm up act for their comedy element as well as for their music. They’re entertaining and easily strike up a good banter with the crowd. The Lindisfarne loving (apparently) Irish outfit have a bit of Liverpudlian thrown in, on bass guitar, actually sound incredibly like Elbow at times. Well until they dig back into their catalogue where the older stuff is more rocking. Lead man Thomas Walsh, for it his baby and has been since 1999, even seems to be going for the Guy Garvey look, e.g. physique or perhaps he had it first.

He’s also not adverse to a bit of name dropping, e.g. ‘Ben (Folds) popped in to do keyboards on this one’ or ‘here’s one I recorded with Neil Hannon’, when apparently they toured as ‘The Duckworth Lewis Method’. Still they’re good, affable and talented not that I’d buy any of their records. I’m just not sure when the right mood to play them would be.

Half an hour later, “breaking up is so very hard to do...” blares through the PA, “just tell me that we're through...”. The Walker Brothers playing “Make It Easy On Yourself”, this as Mark Morriss tells us is ‘the beginning of the end’. Cue boos. He scowls at the booing, we’re not here to boo, we’re here to celebrate the career of the Bluetones.

They open with a couple of album tracks, ‘Unpainted Arizona’ and ‘Zorro’ or as Mark describes them an ‘opening of openings’ as he adds ‘Surrendered’, the opening track from album number five. Odd idea but clever. So let’s spoil it, be pedantic and point out that ‘Unpainted Arizona’ was track number two on ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’.

From here the pace is gradually hiked, starting with ‘Fast Boy’, who we’re told is the man who once sold him weed. There after we get the same professional and polished performance that seduced me (belatedly) at Splendour.

Mark Morriss’s vocals blend with the intricate guitar playing of Adam Devlin, together with drummer Ed Chesters and Mark’s younger brother Scott on bass.

Mark is always entertaining to listen to, even when commenting on Sheffield’s road system. Now after sixteen years of coming here on tour, they’ve finally finished it, as the band split up. This acts as his intro to the automobile inspired car ‘Autophilia or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Car’. Unfortunately the parking charges seem to be paying for those improvements. Ouch, as my wallet would say later.

‘Cut Some Rug’ needed no introduction and didn’t get one but Richard Payne, the fifth member for nearly four years did, as he comes over from Australia to rejoin them for this final tour and to treat us to keyboard on the like of ‘Tiger Lily’ from their third album ‘Science & Nature’.

They seamlessly move from one of their oldest tracks, the excellent ‘Bluetonic’ to one of the newest, last year’s ‘A New Athens’ from the album of the same name, with ease and without dropping the quality. Then we’re into a run of singles ‘After Hours’, ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’, ‘Solomon Bites The Worm’, ‘Marblehead Johnson’ from back when, he says, they were fashionable.

So what words of wisdom have the boys got to offer after sixteen years...? ‘We've learnt many things after years on the road so here’s another song about drinking...’ Cue ‘Carry Me Home’, a recent single that shows that they still had it to the end. Then moving swiftly from ‘a single that didn't sell enough to one that sold too many’ ‘Slight Return’, a track they’ve struggled to throw off the shackles from ever since and Mark always seemed slightly irked that they have to play it.

Then closing with possibly the band’s favourite and mine too, ‘Never Going Nowhere’ and then they go off, promising to return swiftly but in the interim leaving us with an empty stage so that we can contemplate what it will be like from now on, forever. No more Bluetones.

The mandolin, ‘hard to play and look cool’ comes out with one of those blowy keyboard things, A Melodica is it? for a quirky encore of ‘Slack Jaw’ and ‘Vostock of Love’ the B-side to ‘Autophilia’, and that they claim is ‘one of the best we've done’. Not totally convinced about that. Then it’s the traditional close of ‘If...’ before they go off for a second time, leaving us to wonder if that really is it.

Not if the crowd have anything to do with it, impressively picking up the ‘na na na na na’ from ‘If...’ and hurling them back at the empty stage.

So the band return again, in dressing gowns and clutching bunches of flowers to play something that has ‘always been requested of them’... seriously? A hilariously light-hearted but still excellent cover of KC and The Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’. An ‘I was there’ moment I think.

They finally close the night quietly and with little fuss courtesy of an obscure moment from their debut ‘Expecting to Fly’. The track called ‘A Parting Gesture’ is an appropriate way to go. Then with four final final words from Mark, "We were The Bluetones...", they are gone... forever. Well, call me a sceptic, until they reform of course.

The Bluetones Farewell Tour runs until the 27th September, catch them while you can.