Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pop Levi / Hot Machine Birmingham Bar Academy Monday 29th January 2006

First gig of the year at the Bar Academy...and what a gig. Oh yes. Openers Hot Machine were a new name to me but they were quite brilliant. Ezra Bang (lead singer...possibly not his real name) from Noo Yawk and Lilly Lotus (again possibly not the name on her passport) from Germany are a glorious mish mash of early 80's rap, electro, a bit of funk...hell just have a listen and you - the audience - decide. Unlike 99% of bands these days they actually looked the part too. Ezra sported a pair of tights last seen on the Wicked Witch of the North, nicely offset with a pair of gold trainers and a T-shirt bearing the legend 'CUNT', Lilly wore very little...delish. Anyway, I'm perving again. Oodles of energy and the kind of band that the music press should be raving about. Go see or regret it until the end of time. YOU NEED THIS SHIT IN YOUR LIFE!

Right...headliners Pop Levi had a difficult act to follow, but follow it they did. On record they sound a tight knit, funky, dancey, almost metally (Zeppish at their best in places) kind of band. Live you can multiply all this goodness to the power of GODDAMN THAT'S SOME FINE NOISE. Many of the tracks were expanded into mind melting groove blessed wig outs, with every member of the band added something special (excellent drumming and guitar from all concerned) and, once again, they made a real effort to dress up. I'm fed up to the hind legs with bands who wander on stage dressed like they were popping down to the ALDI (other cheapo supermarkets are available). Pop Levi all look like rock gods. They sound like rock gods...hell, they are ROCK GODS! (I'm using a lot of capital letters here aren't I...that's a good sign).

If Pop Levi don't bestride the world like a musical colossus (one l or two...hmmmm...I'll plump for one...) by the end of the year I will change my name by deedpoll to Mr Why The Chuff Aren't Pop Levi Famous III.

Now that's a gig review.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

In praise of Phil Ochs

Who? The chances are that you won’t know the name. Why would you? After all, his heyday (such as it was) was way back in the folk scene of the 60’s. But, for me, Phil Ochs is ripe for rediscovery and long overdue some serious respect. I’m no biographer (no shit Sherlock) so I’ll direct you to Wikipedia for the lowdown. But, in brief, he was once expected to be bigger than Dylan, he released some of the most powerful protests songs of his era, he recorded with African musicians at least 10 years before Paul Simon’s Gracelands and once bought his entire audience milk and cookies (I’m talking hundreds of people here) after a show...

After his 'one man and guitar' protest days he went off on a completely different tangent and created rich orchestral pieces as a backdrop for some pretty dark lyrics. Check out 'Rehearsals for Retirement' in the context of what was going on in his real life and you'll see what I mean. Listen to the music (why not start off with The War is Over - as appropriate today as it was back in the 60's - and see how we go from there). Read the bio. Spread the word. The man deserves it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The View / Ripchord Birmingham Barfly Wednesday 24th January 2007

Managed to get ourselves in to this Kerrang-tastic gig for a night of Glasgow and Wolverhampton's finest (sounds like a brewer's dream). Openers Ripchord (again part of the so-called Best Midlands posse) came as a real surprise. I was kind of expecting another Arctic Monkey's style tribute act but they've got a real classic, almost early 60's 'Garagey / Liverpooly' sort of sound in places, spiked with (and they did admit to it on one track) a bit of The Coral. It all seemed a bit surprising at first (there's a few two part male harmonies going on too) but it grew on me and, by the end of the set, I had made a mental note to pick up their album when it comes out. As you know, The Baron does not like to part with his 'hard earned', so that's a good sign.

Headliners, The View, have really been bigged up by the likes of NME, which always makes me a trifle wary (not a you're just being silly). But they've started to invade my brain with their new single, Same Jeans, so I was up for 'havin' it' as they say. What's really good about The View is that they have their own voice, accent wise I'm talking here, particularly during the in-between song banter. The fact that I didn't understand much of it is probably down to my proximity to the speaker and my advancing years... So there's none of the mid Atlantic cobblers that so many vocalists adopt. It sounds 'real', which matches the realness of the lyrics (spot the subtle use of the word 'real' there folks...that's 'real').

They're certainly a feisty live act and inspired a fair bit of mosh action, destined to be big on the festival scene this year too, but I didn't think they quite lived up to some of the comments written about them. It would be all too depressing if 'the media' (yes, you know who you are) built them up, then knocked them down again...for gawds sake let new bands breathe, find their feet, fuck up if they need to. Soapbox moment over. Anyway, the album is class. Check out 'Face for the Radio' to see a whole different view of (yes I'm going to be that obvious) The View.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ghosts / Prospect Lane / The Hoi Poloi / Ben Calvert Birmingham Barfly Wednesday 17th January 2007

Slack. I am very slack. I have an excuse for posting this review a full 5 days after the event though...the words Dublin and red wine are involved. Nuff said.

Right ho. Ben Calvert. Very good. He didn't really make much of a impression on me at the Moseley Folk Festival las year but that could've been down to the earliness of his set and / or the rain. Tonight he was hampered by slightly dodgy acoustics. The Barfly probably ain't the best place to see a singer/songwriter with a good streak of Barrett, Belle and Sebastian and Nick Drake running through him but the songs really stood out well. Silas added some solid 'double bassness' too which complimented the voice and lyrics like a glass of port with a fine stilton (I am available for speech writing, christenings, wedding vows...).

Next up were The Hoi Poloi. Musically they had some good moments and were pretty polished for a local band, but the lead singer distracted me by pulling some of the most ridiculous rock star faces in history. Ever. Please stop it.

Prospect Lane came on next and were a really pleasent surprise. They've got a rocky / slightly electro thing going on in places...hints of Depeche Mode on tracks like Ghost but difficult to pin down stylistically. They're a good looking bunch of guys too (oh how metrosexual am I?) which, even in these enlightened times, does matter when it comes to 'making it'. What I also liked was that they didn't seem too blokey. A number of Brum bands are taking the Arctic Monkeys as a big steer and creating music just for the terraces. Prospect Lane seemed a lot more sophisticated than all that. Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of shouty chorus, in fact I'm getting moist just thinking abou it, but vive le difference as we say in Bearwood. Prospect Lane (sound bite ahoy), a band with real prospects. In fact I could even imagine them playing the NEC to a crowd of adoring fans. Go see them and tell me if I'm wrong (I won't listen to you because I'm a Taurus, but hey, free speech and all that).

Finally, Ghosts - one of my top tips for 2007 - didn't disappoint. They do have a distinctly 80's vibe sound wise...I'm thinking more your ABC than Black Box. Catchy song followed catchy song and they're surely destined to have the same level of cross audience (by that I mean all sorts of audiences like them, not angry audiences, why would angry audiences like them? Then again the music does have a feel good quality so maybe...are you still reading this? Good, well done. Full marks for stamina) success as The Feeling had last year. The World Outside Your Window is a lush classic that sits comfortably next to the very best in British pop and live it was even better. Soaring vocals and beautiful orchestration. A number of the audience drifted off before the end of the set which staggered me, but then quite a few were probably friends, fans and family of the previous artists so maybe they didn't know what they were missing.

On an unrelated note it appears that some people are actually reading The Hearing Aid now. This is a good thing. If you are one of them I thank you. If you want to see more of anything (or less) just let me know. Similarly if you want me to review your band in my own half arsed style (some would say unique, I quite like half arsed, or even quarter arsed on a good day) just let me know and I will try to drag my ravaged frame out to see you. Especially if you play at the Barfly, Jug of Ale or Bar Academy 'cos I like these venues...thanks. I'll shut up now. Really. There. See. Bye. Okay, there's nothing to see here (who said 'no change there then'?)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Wombats / The Lights / Curzon Circle Birmingham Barfly Sunday 14th January 2007

Damn Sunday gigs...damn them to hades. Ahhh, that's have to vent your spleen everyone once in a while n'est pas?

Openers and local boys Curzon Circle had an 'enthusiastic' following which bodes well for their attack on the mainstream. You could liken them to the Arctic Monkeys and wouldn't be too far off the mark (Arctic Circle me then...right ho) but they've also got a Libertinesesque feel and certainly seem to engender a similar level of fan worship (jeez, what's this, have I swallowed a dictionary?). Given this, second on the bill, The Lights, had a tough act to follow. Their My Space page refers to a three year honing of their sound, and they're certainly a competent live band. A couple of tracks were particularly strong. Certainly one for fans of melodic rock a la Snow Patrol and Captain, but a bit edgier than both. Their guitarist had St Vitus Dance too...which was nice.

Headliners The Wombats are one of my top tips for 2007 and they were most excellent. The lead singer comes across as a little camp - which is always a winner in my books - and, as a band, they're a much sweeter proposition than many of the lairy guitar driven combos currently fiddling with our pop kids (nasty, string 'em up, bring back national service...put bromide in their tea...that'll fix 'em etc etc). Hmm, this isn't really a review now is it? Still, my site, my bullshit. Anyway, they're damn fine and, although none of the tracks struck me in the balls as much as Leaving for New York, I'm sure that many of them will be 'growers' in the coming weeks. As I say, ones to watch.

Electric Animals / Nigel Clark / Love Bites Birmingham Barfly Friday 12th January 2007

Yeeeh gig time. After a 3 week lull it was good to get back into the saddle again (?!) and hit the Barfly (one of the better venues in dear old Birmingham ). Love Bites, who I am compelled to call a 'feisty female four piece' ('cos that's what a real journo would do) are exactly that. They rock in an '80's poodle perm kinda way and did lot's of posturing and thrashing about. We had a bit of guitar fellatio too...and top marks to Aimee for the beer spray at the end.

It hit me the other day that Nigel Clark is probably one of the few artists that I've followed from the start(ish) of his career (back in 1992 with Dodgy) right through to the current day. Dodgy were, unfairly, lumped in with the whole Britpop thing and didn't really get the success they deserved. The fact that Nigel left the band just as they were starting to get somewhere probably didn't help. I can understand why he did it but can't help wondering whether there's now a little regret? Still, he's back, back, BACK! with an album every bit as good as Dodgy's finest. I suspect if he hit the big time again he'd probably jack it all in again. He seems quite happy playing smaller venues and I'm quite happy to keep watching him (shame he didn't play any Dodgy songs last night though...I hope he doesn't go all Paul Weller on us and refuse to play his classic songs for the next 20 years).

Finally (three bands for four that's VFM) Electric Animals hit us with a Kasabian/Oasis/Slade (just have a listen to Just Plain Stupid..can't you just hear Noddy belting this out in a 'Coz I Luv you' stylee?)/Led Zep-ish set that was indeed, as their my space page says, peppered with 'filthy, dirty riffs'. Very enjoyable in a familiar kind of way and well worth catching. They are one of many Midlands bands who have the potential to break out and I wouldn't be surprised to see them swept in the record label feeding frenzy that The Twang might cause if they make it big.

There we go then. That's my 2007 gig cherry well and truly popped...I totted up last year's tally the other day and it came to 51. So that's the target to beat. Hmmm, it's going to get messy...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I see a tall dark stranger...

Okay, I'm normally crap at stuff like this, but hey since when has that got in the way eh? Yes, I'm talking predictions (makes a change from bollocks I suppose). Last year was pretty good musically speaking, so we may be due a fallow one ('cos music is like farming...obviously). The great British public never ceases to amaze me with its obsession with bloody rubbish, so I may be pissing in the wind. Oh for the golden days when the Christmas number 1 wasn't decided by Simon Cowell some time in January. Razorlight? Why? "Oh oh ohhh there's panic in America" Gee, thanks for the insight Mr Borrell. Still, for what it's worth here are a few 'tips for the top'.

NB: Most of this is indie/pop sort of stuff. I have little knowledge of Mexican Death Metal, Ugandan Light Opera or Iraqi Gangster Rap...but if you do, let's hear it.

Ghosts - Garnering a fair bit of press at the moment they remind me a bit of The Blutones in their demos, or that band that did Life in a Northern Town back in the day. Catchy pop with a dash of 80's and a slice of lime.

The Wombats - Moving to New York was one of my tracks (not literally you understand, I'm not a Wombat) of 2006, a driving indie classic with insistant drum and guitar breaks...yeah...and powerful vocals...and stuff. Oh , just go and listen.

The Twang - Obviously destined to be one of the biggest bands of the decade (and they're from Brum, or 'Best Midlands' as the NME have labelled most of the central part of the UK) they have the Stone Roses/happy Monday thing going on but I also keep hearing echoes of Campag Velocet (who were also once tipped for the top just a few years ago but faded like a Comic Relief Red Nose on the front of P reg Nissan Micra). I like the music but I doubt whether I'll be so happy with some of the audience that they're likely to attract now they've gone national...beered up knuckle draggers who want to grope birds and hit people (or vice versa). If there are any of those reading, hello, I don't mean it, I love you really, you're my besht mate...cmon...let's 'ave it!!!

Mika - Think the best of Elton in the 70's, a hint of Devandra, a slice of Robbie and more than a little Freddie...sounds good to me, but then I'm a bit camp.

Uffie - Dirty girl. Electro pervstress who should kick Madge's sad ass off the world's stage so that she can finally give up the day job and induge in her new hobby of collecting babbies...go on Mrs M, they're just like Panini stickers, 1 down only 49 to go. Maybe you could play swapsies with Angelina?

The Rumble Strips - 2007 is all or nothing for The Strips. Their debut album comes out in May (I think) and will hopefully see them achieve the success they deserve...'cos they're lovely.

Blood Red Shoes - Boy/girl double act with a nice line in post punkish drum n'bass (White Stripe stylee).

Los Campesinos! - Difficult to spell but lovely to listen to (ahhh) there are loads of 'em (7 at the last count) and they make a noise a bit like Belle and Sebastian's drunken younger siblings - on speed. You Me Dancing!

Plus ones -

Other names to look out for: The View, The Shins, The Horrors (obvious I know but very entertaining), Hufdis Huld, 1990's and Men Women and Children.

Just remember, you heard it here first! Well...after the BBC, NME, The Times, The Guardian and Ferret Felchers Monthly obviously...

(in case you're wondering where the gig reviews have gone, I haven't been to any 'cos it's cold and wet and there's no one I want to see enough yet...)