Sunday 19 October 2014

The Hold Steady, Academy 2, Manchester

Supported by So So Glos

I suppose the advantage of having a university hopping Daughter is that not only do you get to see different cities but in this case also different music venues. Tonight I am inside her latest place of learning Manchester University or more precisely their students union in the Main Debating Hall as it was once known before being rather unimaginatively rebranded 'Academy 2'. This fits in with the equally unimaginative 'Academy' next door and 'Academy 3' upstairs. None of which have anything to do with those other Academies, the ones with a mobile phone company’s name attached to the front. Not sure how they get away with that. The place holds 900 and is probably about three-quarters full tonight.

Opening up are Brooklyn band the So So Glos with a number that sounds like off the shelf Stiff Little Fingers. I can't really pay them a higher compliment than that. It goes a bit Green Day after that but that’s not really a bad thing either. They’ve got a typical US Pop-Punk sound but are one of the best at it I’ve seen, although they are no newbies and have been around since 2007.

The chap next to be describes them as ‘scratchy’. I’m not sure quite what he means by that but it seems to fit them perfectly. They are, however, very good and soon have the majority of the audience gently head banging along. I’d certainly go see them again.

Half an hour later, the Hold Steady emerge to the sound of Lou Reed’s ‘Real Good Time Together’, which is very appropriate. The Hold Steady always seem to have a good time together up on stage and singer Craig Finn immediately enthuses the crowd to do likewise.

He thanks everyone for not staying home tonight and fiddling around on Facebook and/or Twitter but coming out to rock n roll show instead. Not a problem. Then they launch into their good time set.

They are my perfect band lyrically, as every song tells a story and also set list wise, as no two sets are ever the same. In fact each set shows more squad rotation than even José Mourinho would dare employ. Things are therefor never predictable but also you never quite get that set to die for. Clearly I’m asking for too much and also not accounting for the band’s own eclectic choices from their own back catalogue. Finn does like to go off on one lyrically and also thrown in something terribly obscure that causes most of us a bit of head scratching to place the track.

Finn goes off on one immediately tonight with the rambling opener ‘Positive Jam’, a slow-burning nugget from their debut album. Whilst tonight's terribly obscure moment is 'Knuckles', from the same album, five tracks in just after 'Ask Her for Adderall' which itself is a mere bonus track on a limited edition version of the ‘Stay Positive’ album.

It’s the punchy classics that go down the best though, like a rousing ‘Sequestered in Memphis’ but tonight there’s quite a bit of emphasis on their lighter moments as well, like the pleasant but more innocuous ‘The Sweet Part of the City’.

They only play four songs from their recent 'Teeth Dreams' album, which is a shame as it’s an excellent album. Yet still they thoroughly entertain with Finn (despite being almost as old as me) jumping up and down repeatedly and stubbornly refusing to stand still long enough for me to get a decent photo of him for this review.

The run in to the line is impressively punchy, through the popular ‘Chips Ahoy!’, newbie ‘Spinners’, their fourth album’s standout moment ‘The Weekenders’, an old classic in ‘Your Little Hoodrat Friend’, a sing-along ‘Southtown Girls’ and finally a most definitely pumping ‘Stay Positive’.

By contrast the encore seems rushed. A massive (obviously) ‘Massive Nights’ is followed by the return of the So So Glos to the stage for a cover of the Violent Femmes’ ‘American Music’. Then it’s all over and they tip us out into the evening drizzle after having confirmed that they still one of the best live bands around.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

The Twilight Sad, Bodega Social Club, Nottingham

Supported by Errors

When I previously saw the Errors at Summer Sundae in 2010 and a few months later at Stealth supporting, guess who, The Twilight Sad, the Errors were an instrumental band. As I said at the time, instrumental just doesn’t do it for me... they needed a vocalist. Well, apparently around about 2012 they found their voice and existing member Steev Livingstone took up the mic. I'm the last to hear, as ever.

Steev’s vocals though aren’t particularly clear and he sort of chants/mumbles his way through track one. I’m not being unkind but I don't think they've quite got the hang of this singing lark yet, perhaps they should advertise. Then out of nowhere they put a call out for Cecelia and young lass hops up onto the stage.

Yep, that does the trick. She does a couple of tracks that hints at a more accessible pop sound and then it's back to Steev for a few more chants. However their last track of just five, I have no idea of its title so I'll call it ‘the last track’, is the best tonight.

The Twilight Sad were once known for the ear shredding decibels they produced on stage but they get quieter each time I see them. Tonight I can stand right in front of singer James Graham with no risk to my ear drums, although he might have an eye out with one of his flailing limbs. Graham, as ever, puts his life and soul into each single track, singing every word as if might be his last.

This short UK tour of just three dates is to tease us with material from their upcoming fourth album ‘Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave’ from which we get six tracks. Opening with newbies 'There's A Girl In The Corner' and 'Last January', then thereafter we get tracks from all three of their other albums interspersed with new material. It’s a perfect Twilight Sad taster session.

Their classics like ‘That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy’, ‘I Became a Prostitute’ and ‘Cold Days From the Birdhouse’ are naturally well received but so too are the excellent ‘Don't Move’ off their last album ‘No One Can Ever Know’ and a rare outing for ‘Walking For Two Hours’ from their seminal debut ‘Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters’.

Sadly all too soon Graham is thanking us polite (yet again) for turning up and the band depart to great applause.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Splendour Festival, Wollaton Park, Nottingham

Once our old pals Scouting for Girls were added to the line up this year's Splendour Festival became unmissable obviously... well, not really. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition to go to Splendour even if, like this year, there is absolutely nothing on the main stage I fancy but the second stage looks ok, so here we are.

There are actually five different stages, but we don’t really go a wandering, and a visit from boxer Carl Froch but we don’t see him either.

The Beat are playing as we walk up, after delaying our departure due to one of the many cloudbursts. They are oddly way down the bill.

Amber Run are the first band we catch in the flesh on the Confetti second stage, just one of thirteen Nottinghamshire acts on the bill today and the first of many cut and paste indie outfits.

Saint Raymond is another local and is next up on the main stage. Singer Callum Burrows has upgraded himself to ‘Saint’ and this year Splendour have upgraded him from second stage to main but we’re in the beer tent from most of it...

And here’s another Notts act, A Plastic Rose are up on the Confetti stage. More cut and paste indie but certainly a cut above stage’s previous occupants.

Then the next downpour came, it must be something the Foxes said up on main as most of their crowd run for cover. The bouncers block the entrance to the allegedly full beer tent, which it isn't. L nips in the exit, her second most heinous festival crime after she got caught smuggling a bottle of orange squash into the Leeds festival one year and I follow. I’ve no idea why they have separate entrances to the beer tent, perhaps this is the reason.

The rain abates a bit as The Rifles take to the second stage. I saw this band eons ago and I’ve always felt I should see more of them but they don’t do anything to particularly stand out today.

You can hear Scouting For Girls quite clearly from the second stage, so there’s no need for us to move closer, even if we wanted to. In fact, there’s plenty of need to move further away but we await Reverend and the Makers who are late due to technical problems or perhaps due to a late running Scouting for Girls. The Makers arrive and launch into the irritatingly lively Bassline.

The Makers pull out everybody’s favourite tunes and put on a slick show. Unfortunately for them all those favourites hark mostly back to their début record. Their new album provides just two tunes tonight. Still, theirs is probably the best set of the day.

Reverend and The Makers Setlist Splendour Festival 2014 2014

I've always felt I should see The Happy Mondays before I die (or they do). Not that they're my sort of thing because they're not, just because they are sort of 'legendary'. So I try, briefly, to like them but soon decide that they are still nothing like my thing.

Along with Reverend and the Makers, tonight’s second stage headliners the Boomtown Rats are the reason I’m here. Although I’m sure The Rats couldn’t possibly top their amazing performance at Rock City last year but, to be fair, they come close. A truncated version of that set, including the same stage banter and Geldof in the same suit, goes down exceptionally well even if the crowd do ignore Sir Bob's instructions to take off their clothes.

Most of the crowd depart after the set closing Rat Trap which is a shame because Diamond Smiles in the encore probably steals the show and the Rats push the Makers close for performance of the day. McClure and co just shade it though, with the real ale tent coming in at third, as for the first time ever it lasts well into the evening this year.

The Boomtown Rats Setlist Splendour Festival 2014 2014

Finally to close the evening there’s Tom Odell, who I don't really know and he looks about 15 although he's actually 23. So I can't even say he's a young person’s Jake Bugg, who’s not my thing either but by now we’re heading for home.

Thursday 13 March 2014

We Are Scientists, Rock City, Nottingham

I miss the first of tonight’s bands, The Heartbreaks, who were due on a 6:45 which is way too early to start a gig but I do see the second band, who are called Superfood and come from Birmingham. They play to a pretty small crowd, so I hate to think how few The Heartbreaks played in front of.

Superfood are very 90s, nodding their guitars furiously at the heavier side of Britpop. They also have a female bass player, which was almost compulsory in the 90s, with waist length hair, boots, black tights and a bare midriff. What's not to like?

The music? Oh yes, that’s not bad either particularly if you like your indie sort of 90s retro, like I do. I’ll be on their website later.

With only half an hour to go until We Are Scientists are due to hit the stage, Rock City is still looking a bit sparse and under half full tonight. I start wondering if perhaps the WAS bubble has burst and it’ll just be us diehards tonight but then suddenly the place starts to fill up. By the time the band take the stage, to the tones of REO Speedwagon’s ‘Keep on Loving You’, the place is almost full, although with the balcony closed.

I'm not sure I like the baseball hat Keith and perhaps he’s not sure about it either as it’s off after just one song, a newbie ‘Return the Favor’ from their just released new album ‘TV en Français’.

Old favourite ‘After Hours’ follows and then we get down to the serious stuff, the banter. Although... perhaps the banter’s a bit tired this year. I think we've heard all these gags about Robin Hood before, like the last time they played Nottingham... and the time before... and Keith still can’t pronounce Nottingham. So it’s sort of good when the boys move on to argue about Miley Cyrus.

In between the banter, there’s the music of course, which is still good and it’s great to see that everyone still goes mental for ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’. I’ll assume that girl who is yelling ‘My body is your body, I won't tell anybody, if you wanna use my body’ at the top of her voice in my ear doesn’t mean it, at least not to me. Perhaps she’s yelling at Keith.

She’d be wasting her time yelling at Keith Murray’s sidekick and bass player Chris Cain. Chris still seems distracted at the thought of Miley Cyrus, who apparently is in the crowd tonight. ‘Scream if you’re here Miley’ he asks and Miley obliges, screaming from all four corners of the venue at the same time. Impressive. This one’s for you ‘Sprinkles’, another of their new tracks.

The highlight, as ever (for me), follows in the glorious ‘Textbook’ from way back as they play pretty much all the big songs you’d expect them to play except for ‘This Scene is Dead’, which is a bit of a big omission but no worries, I like it when bands shake things up and there’s more than enough oldies tonight to keep everyone satisfied.

Highlight of the new material probably belonged to ‘Make It Easy’ which comes in three from the end and then in just over an hour and only 14 tracks they’re rounding things off with ‘It’s a Hit’.

They come back on for a photo with the crowd and Chris dedicates ‘Can't Lose’ to everyone in the audience called Chris... or Miley.

Then I discover that the guy stood next to me on the front row has colluded with one of the bouncers and has got a note up on to the stage where it’s stuck to Keith’s jacket. Keith reads it out and it’s a marriage proposal, not to Keith but from the guy to his girlfriend. Who, as they are both hauled up on stage, replies ‘well I’ll have to now’. That may be a yes.

The night ends with ‘The Great Escape’ dedicated to the happy couple and of course, Miley, who presumably is by now down the front screaming along. Possibly.

Then they’re gone and all ready to spend their day off tomorrow in Nottingham, the lucky people.