Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Tracks # 11 Julian Casablancas – 11th Dimension

Well, it’s nearly over…both the year and the decade. It’s sort of fitting then to feature a Top Track from a member of a band that helped to define the musical landscape at the start of the ‘noughties’. The Strokes were cool. Hip young things from NYC who swept aside the dying embers of what people called Brit Pop, shagged models, got drunk and looked all moody n'stuff in photographs. Of course it couldn’t last. After one stand out album they kind of lost their sparkle. Now, seemingly on a long term hiatus from the group, their lead singer’s making a bit of stab at solo stardom. Despite hearing only good stuff about the new material I’d not listened to anything until this track cropped up on the wonderful Pig Radio. Poppier (musically at least) than the Strokes stuff it’s got some nice Peter Hook style bass together with a bucket load of 80’s synths. 11th heaven…

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Raveonettes / The Northwestern @ The Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath Thursday 17th January 2009

The Raveonettes are Danish, right? It gets pretty damn cold in Denmark, right? Well they should be right at home in Kings Heath tonight then. Yep, it’s cold enough to freeze mercury (and the rest of Queen) out there, but here in the Hairy Hounds a capacity crowd soon help to thaw out my extremities (it was touch and go for a moment though…if anyone finds a finger tip it’s probably mine…pop it in the post, it’ll be fine) just in time to catch The Northwestern

featuring ex Hope Of The States-ers Sam and Simon.

Some of their stuff has a country tinged Americana flavour, other tracks a more indie rock vibe, throughout they seemed to have some decent lyrics and tunes though. Perhaps a little chilled in places to open for The Raveonettes for me, they really hit their stride more towards the end of the set with ‘Red Threads’ (which built nicely into a full on rock out) and a track that may have been called ‘A Million Pieces’.

NB: The band’s recorded a Christmas song in aid of the sound guy from Hope Of The States who’s suffering from a terminal illness. All proceeds from the download will go to him and his family.

Headliners, The Raveonettes, have been around for ages (since 2001 in fact…that’s ages in this disposable throwaway society we’re all stuck in isn’t it?) and over the course of four albums they’ve established an impressive reputation for straight up, no nonsense rock n’roll…albeit with the occasional cheeky shoegaze garnish. I’d not seen ‘em live before but I’m the proud owner of two of their albums (Chain Gang of Love and Pretty In Black which features the darn fine ‘Love In A Trashcan’). Some bands just drip cool and The Raveonettes, Sharin Foo (blonde bob, ‘60’s chic…the sort of woman Andy Warhol would jizz himself over) and Sune Rose Wagner (not blonde, but cute in a garage rock band kind of way…probably the kind of guy Andy Warhol would jizz himself over too) tick all the right boxes here. The music’s just as hip, a fusion of The Cramps, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, surf and garage rock in unholy matrimony.

Ascending the stage Sharin and Sune (plus a couple of other dudes and a dedicated lighting man who tried his best to send us all into a mass strobe induced epileptic fit) were bathed in dry ice…or that might have been the breath of the crowd…like I say it was pretty cold…before launching into ‘Gone Forever’ from new album In and Out Of Control. There’s a ‘Phil Spector-ish’ wall of sound to this, and a whole bunch of their other stuff too. It’s raw sure, but the (without going all muso on you) drums and guitars just sound a whole lot grander and fatter than you’d expect. The drums in particular are all echoey, like they’re being played in a huge empty hall rather than the upstairs of a pub. It suits the material (lost love, found love, regret, anger, failed relationships etc…all the things that make up life’s rich tapestry) perfectly. Then there’s the guitars, veering from the sweet and twangy to the downright dirty and scuzzy (ooooh you dirty, dirty guitar), the band tease a hell of a lot more from their instruments than many groups. Sharin’s got that uber cool slightly Nico-esque way of delivering a song as though it’s as effortless as breathing too, which, combined with Sune’s sweetly blessed out vocals again created that layered effect throughout the set.

The highlights for me were a deliciously sneery ‘Love In A Trashcan’, ‘Boys Who Rape’ and ‘Aly Walk With Me’(which descends into a brain splintering wall of heavily distorted guitar noise)…all of which came one after the other…proof that garage rock has a lot more in common with buses than we first thought. Possibly. A three track encore contained the twisted OD love song, The Last Dance (again from the new album), replete with whoohoohooo singalong chorus.

Words from the band were few and far between, but Sharin voiced her approval of the enthusiastic dancing down at the front (even I tapped a toe here and there…yes I know…how rock n’roll am I eh?). Personally I was quite happy for them to let the music do the talking. Long may they rave on.

For proper pictures of this gig you can shortly hop over to my other home at Gig Junkies where the fantastic Mr Fox will no doubt have 'done the business'. ShakeyPix and Andy from Drw-Images were there too so it was a something of a snapper orgy!

Kidkanevil attempts something really dangerous…

Kidkanevil's new album is a strange one and no mistake. Opening with ‘Bakusha 1’, featuring a slowed down voice basically telling us that our whole lives are worthless against a background of a low industrial hum, the rest of this album’s a little a soundtrack for some kind of weird Japanese sci-fi movie. Dubsteppy beats, atmospheric samples (sound du jour ‘8-bit’ makes an appearance all over the place too) and the odd moment of utter mayhem make this an album to play late at night with the curtains drawn, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the go and just your own troubled thoughts for company.

Dark and deranged ‘Drunken Master’ (track 6) is clearly the product of a damaged mind…music to serial kill by? Skittering 8-bit samples and Japanese cymbals kick the track off before the whole things descends into maniacal laughter and more random bleeps. What does it all mean? “I was watching a lot of Japanese cinema, listening to a lot of out-there, classical music, going a bit loopy really,” Kidkanevil explains “that was the starting point”. Ahhhh, right…er...now I get it.

You have to wait until track 11, ‘When Doves Bounce’, until you hear something resembling a, let’s say, conventional tune. Some more of those slowed down vocals set off with pounding (Japanese?) drums and squelchy synth sounds…the sort of thing they’d have on a remake of Blade Runner perhaps? It all goes decidedly oddball again with ‘The Whistling Of Wintry Wind / Lantern 2 / Bokusha 3’ (that’s all one track by the way) which is just like being locked in a Japanese cinema with a bunch of escaped lunatics, a pair of turntables and some obscure crate digger’s record collection (and I should know, it’s happened to me on more than one occasion).

You can’t accuse this record of being boring or conventional, which is a real positive in this bland age I guess. Whether there are that many people out there who want to listen to 21st century schizoid J-noise is another matter. A brave record to make though and well worth a listen if you want to expand your musical horizons.

Basho Basho is out on First Word Records on January 18th 2010…a free Psychotherapist comes with the first 500 copies (actually I made that bit up…or did I? Whoohahahahahaha…darn it I’ve been listening this record too much myself now).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sage (and onion) Against the Machine

Unless you’ve been living under one of Marilyn Manson’s many hats for the past few weeks you’ll no doubt be aware that someone’s decided they’ve had enough of the X Factor winners getting the Christmas number one and are urging us all to download Rage Against The Machine’s seminal ‘Killing In The Name Of’. I wouldn’t be surprised if Simon Cowell’s behind this little wheeze though. After all, what’s better than getting to number one? Yep, that’s right, getting to number two as well. Who knows, maybe he’s bought the rights to the song…in fact maybe he’s bought the rights to every bloody song ever written or recorded and maybe he’s planning to re-record them all with a whole aircraft hanger full of dreadful wannabe poptarts who’ll be dropped faster than a Tiger Woods sponsorship deal once the public get bored with them (that’ll be January 2nd then). If it can happen, it will happen. Anyway, if nothing else this gives me a reason to post ‘Killing In The Name Of’ which gave me many happy minutes of entertainment whenever the chance to play it in the office cropped up. There’s nothing quite like blasting out the words “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me…”in a business environment you know...

PS: Buy this track if you like (unless the Machiavellian Mr Cowell is actually responsible…). I fear it will make little difference but the band have promised to donate some of the money to real up and coming bands here in the UK, which can’t be a bad thing.

PPS: I don’t know why the X Factor winds me up so much…I really shouldn’t give a toss…but it does. It really does.

PPPS: Yes, I do know why...it’s the cynical manipulation of (seemingly) an entire nation wrapped up as a family friendly talent show that does nothing but dull the mind, suck out the soul and distract millions of people who could be out there supporting real musicians and performers...just to give Cowell and Co another few squillion. The chances are that the poor sod who won will end his days playing local pubs for packets of pork scratchings. What it’s doing to the musical tastes of the younger generation lord alone knows.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Marilyn Manson / esOterica @ The Academy, Sunday December 13th 2009

Marilyn Manson? Playing a gig on a Sunday? Isn’t there a law against stuff like that? Happily not. I was kind of expecting a plague of locusts to fill up the Academy though (hmmm I wonder how security would deal with that one eh?) or perhaps the good Lord would turn us all into pillars of salt or some other such biblical jiggery pokery. Clearly he had other things to do this evening though. Washing his beard perhaps? That must be a bugger to keep clean. Anyway, enough mild blasphemy for one night...arriving at the venue I was greeted by a queue so long it could be seen from space. After negotiating the throng and getting in, there was just enough time to grab a cheeky Strongbow (don’t you just love queuing at the bar…it really brings out the best in people doesn’t it?) before industrial metallers, esOterica took to the stage. Surprisingly melodic in places, recent single ‘Life is Lonely’ had some vaguely Middle Eastern / Afro rhythms in there and they made a decent enough noise to get the crowd going (despite one or two sound problems at the beginning of the set). The lead singer, a terribly well spoken chap (it’s always a little disconcerting hearing someone with a nice accent yell ‘motherfuckers’ at the crowd) did a lot of that 'put your hands in the air' kind of nonsense that makes the whole thing a little Butlins, but that’s probably just me being a miserable git. Well worth a listen if you fancy banging your head off.

Well, what can you say about Marilyn Manson that hasn’t already been said eh? From (allegedly) buying masks made of human skin (well, what would you do with all that money eh, once I’d got myself a nice motor and a posh crib I’d head straight down to World of Skin for some nice flesh coated knick knacks) through to collecting Nazi paraphernalia, from marrying a burlesque star (you would though wouldn’t you?) to beating up security guards, our Marilyn’s packed more controversy into his 40 short years than most. Yep, 40 years. Mr Manson turned 40 in January. Good grief. Over the years I’d count myself more as a casual fan and admirer rather than a hardcore Mansonite. I’ve always liked the way he plays up to his image and anyone who irritates those who’d censor anything more exciting than Last of the Summer Wine is alright in my book. I rather liked his covers of ‘80’s classics too, notably the unholy trinity of ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Personal Jesus’ and ‘Sweet Dreams (are made of this)’. Ooooh he did You Spin Me Round (like a record) too…can’t forget that one. But, I have to admit, I’d not kept up with his recent output. Just how would a 40 year old bloke in dodgy make up cut the mustard? Judging by some recent live reviews I’d read the signs weren’t that promising…

The set started with so much dry ice that we could’ve been watching Marilyn Monroe and we’d have been none the wiser. Mr M was also wearing some rather nifty gloves with frickin’ laser beams on the ends of the fingers that he used to permanently blind around 20% of the audience. I believe the opening track was called ‘Cruci-Fiction In Space’ and it pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show, growling, grinding industrial glam metal (some of the riffs bizarrely reminded me of Gary Glitter) with enough catchy bits for the faithful to stomp along to. That’s got to mess up your throat all that growling, no wonder he’s pissed off all the time. Strepsils, that’s the answer. He’ll be singing like Aled Jones in no time. After the first number the Birmingham crowd (a weird mix of the faithful and the curious) were praised for being better than his London audience. It seems that London is now “Birmingham’s bitch”. In that case I’d like London to pop up and clean my bathroom, they can get tea for me too while they’re here.

Onwards and upwards and with ‘Disposable Teens’, ‘Irresponsible Hate Anthem’ and ‘Dried Up Tied Up, Dead to the World’…the…er…hits kept coming. Like I said at the start I’m not a hardcore fan and I found some of it a little wearing, but there was enough there to keep me entertained which, for a non metal head, is a real result I guess. I also became intrigued with his hat changes (a new one for almost every song) and his hand towels. Throughout the night every time he used a towel to mop the sweat from his brow (or other parts of his anatomy) he’d lob it into the crowd like a BO stained Turin Shroud for the faithful to fight over. He must’ve got through around 100 of ‘em. Each time a new one appeared on stage courtesy of a Manson minion. Oddly (or then again, given the amount of dry ice on the stage, perhaps it was quite understandable) he seemed to keep puffing on an oxygen tank too (no doubt sponsored by O2...ho ho ho). Daydreaming for a moment I imagined how much fun it would be to replace this with a helium tank for a couple of numbers…although I can’t imagine that our Brian would get the joke somehow.

The latter part of the show was more my thing, starting with the dark, menacing ‘If I Was Your Vampire (replete with a microphone set into a carving knife blade…the perfect gift for Christmas…just £19.99 from Argos) and plenty of crawling about on the stage hacking at thin air. Then he prefaced the ‘Dope Show’ with a little speech on the evils of cocaine…or more specifically how we shouldn’t do HIS cocaine or he’d be forced to suck it out of our noses. Now there’s an image I’ll take with me to the grave. His cover of the Eurythmics classic ‘Sweet Dreams’ seemed to get the biggest cheer of the night, this was followed by the Patti Smith song ‘Rock n’Roll Nigga’ and (after the obligatory will he / won’t he do an encore) a thumping, ticker tape accompanied version of the ‘Beautiful People’ that ended the set on a sweaty high.

Appropriately enough (this being the festive season) it was pretty panto in places (notably the burning bible effect and the strange knife blade microphone) but it wasn’t as theatrical as I was expecting. Perhaps after the odd decade and a half he can’t be arsed with too much frippery and just wants to do the show then get back to “fucking lots of beautiful women”. Come on now girls, form an orderly queue. I’m sure there’s plenty to go round and at least he’s got his own oxygen tank if you feel a little faint...

Set List (I think…)

Cruci-Fiction In Space

Disposable Teens

Pretty as a Swastika

The Love Song

Irresponsible Hate Anthem

Four Rusted Horses


Dried Up, Tied Up, Dead to the World

Coma White / Coma Black

If I Was Your Vampire

The Birdy Song…no…that’s a joke…

The Dope Show

Rock is Dead

Sweet Dreams

Rock n’Roll Nigga

The Beautiful People

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Top Tracks # 10 – The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping

I know that Christmas day is still a couple of weeks off, but what the hell, let’s have a Christmas themed Top Track eh? There aren’t that many cool Christmas songs, but I reckon this one, from 1981, makes the grade (no video sadly...not sure whether they ever made one?). The Waitresses were a new wave group from Ohio (hello out there the Bobby Dazzler) and this release was a UK smash hit reaching the dizzy heights of number 45 in the charts. It’s got just the right balance of cynicism and hope that a great Christmas single needs in my book, all set against some funky bass and kick ass horns. X Factor be damned. Bah humbug!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart / Depreciation Guild / Little Palm @ The Academy, Saturday 5th December 2009

Nearly Christmas eh? Done all your shopping yet? Nope, me neither…that list just sits there taunting me like a retail version of Dorian Grey’s portrait…whatever the hell that means. Still, what better way to take my mind off it all than a nice bit of imported shoegazing from the US eh? First up though some piano pomp from local girl making good Little Palm. I’ve only ever seen her in ickle venues before, so I was interested to see how she’d come across in the larger confines of the Academy 2. Rather well as it turned out. Her voice is even stronger than before and tracks like ‘My Sweet’ have fine touches of Regina Spector, Tori Amos and Kate Bush. As I’ve noted before though, she has her own style which seems to be evolving nicely. One thing that did come across tonight was that many of her songs reflected rather badly on men. One in particular ‘Pull Your Trousers Up’ was particularly scathing. As a (sort of) man this makes for uncomfortable listening. Clearly, if the songs are autobiographical, which they do seem to be, Little Palm hasn’t had the best of times with the opposite sex. I only hope that this, perhaps all too justified (after men, just like women, can be complete shits) sense of bitterness doesn’t overwhelm her as an artist and, more importantly, I hope that she finds true love somewhere, someday. This possibly wasn’t the best bill for her (after all the other two bands were distinctly guitar based and it was an early start too, so the room was pretty quiet to begin with) but she still has what it takes to be more than ‘A Minor’ success in my mind (see what I did there, clever eh? Oh alright then…I won’t use my, “If you want to see her in a small venue you’d better ‘B Sharp’” line again then either).

Next up, straight outta Brooklyn, Noo Yawk (“Hey wha’ you lookin’ at buddy” etc) it’s Depreciation Guild. Trading in scuzzy, swirling guitars and Green from Scritti Politti style vocals (and lyrics for that matter) they’ve taken that distinctive mid to late 80’s Anglo indie sound and put their own little twist on it with the addition of some nice vintage arcade game style electro bleeps (although tonight this element didn’t come across quite as strongly as it does on some of their recorded tracks). One of my companions for the evening remarked on how weird it was that a young American band was so obviously enamoured with relatively obscure bands like Ride, but then I guess what goes around comes around and perhaps, culturally speaking, the time’s right for a little more musical introspection. In short, if 4AD’s your favourite record label and Hungry Horace Goes Skiing is your favourite computer game (on the ZX Spectrum, naturally) then Depreciation Guild could well be your next favourite band.

Finally, with a gentle nod (better make that a bloody big nod) to the indie pop of yore (Pale Saints / pretty much anything on the legendary Sarah records / the whole darn C86 movement etc) The Pains of Being Pure At Heart play the sort of jangly, staring at your shoes whilst gently swaying from side to side music that’s designed for lonely teens all over the world. Tonight’s gig had attracted a fair few of ‘em, plus, unsurprisingly I guess given the strong nostalgic flavour of their music, a fair few thirty / forty somethings wearing regulation Jesus and Mary Chain t-shirts.

At its worst this kind of music, not shoegaze in its strictest form, but with a ‘shoegazery’ element, can be a little dull and self indulgent. TPOBPAH manage to negotiate this tricky path though with more of a cute indie pop ethic that makes you feel 16 again (in my case that’s nothing short of a minor miracle). So, perhaps less shoegaze, more shoe glance then? The band even generated a few lively jiggling moments too – most notably on their more jaunty numbers like ‘Young Adult Friction’ (which really sounds like a Stars – one of the Broken Social Scene bands –track to me).

There were some sweet touches too, especially when keyboard player Peggy exclusively revealed that band’s guilty secret was an addiction to obscure Utah Saints tracks (she started singing one of ‘em to prove it) before doing the one thing that so many overseas bands do by asking asked if Black Sabbath were really from Birmingham (cue a rather well played snatch of the chorus to 'Paranoid') from lead vocalist and guitarist Kip. Peggy actually seemed even more impressed that Birmingham was also the birthplace of ELO, perhaps signalling the band’s future direction? I doubt it somehow, although I think some orchestral pomp might actually suit some of their songs. On top of the aforementioned ‘Young Adult Friction’ two other tracks really stood out for me tonight. The jangletastic ‘Come Saturday’, complete with its jolly ‘wooooooh’ bits (cue some more jiggling from side to side from some of the audience) and ‘Stay Alive’, which made the best use of Kip and Peggy’s sweetly blessed out vocals against a fuzzy wall of guitars. In essence it’s music that gives you a big hug and tells you it’ll all be okay and, with tracks like these, surely cult-dom beckons. Who knows, perhaps in 20 years time I’ll be standing (or maybe lying, dribbling) next to a bunch of thirty somethings wearing ‘The Pains of Being Pure At Heart’ t-shirts?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chris Wood’s Handmade Life @ Moseley All Services Club, Friday 4th December 2009

He might lack the ‘phwoarrr-ness’ of poster boy Seth Lakeman (don't we all eh?) but Chris Wood’s played an equally important role in helping to make folk a little more accessible in recent years, through his own fine albums as well as his participation in the Imagined Village project. The thing with folk as I see it (and I’m no expert) is that it’s often at its best when it reflects what’s going on today in our society, not just (although I’m all in favour of keeping the traditional songs alive too) looking back to the past. That’s why many of Chris’ songs seem to have a wide appeal. Take the Cottagers Reply for instance (one of the many highlights of tonight’s set), a tale of some city folk who pitch up to an old guys cottage and offer him a cool half a million quid for it. Let’s face it, many of our rural communities have been devastated by ‘incomers’ who use their quaint little cottages for the odd weekend here and there, leaving people who’ve lived and worked in the local area unable to afford a chicken shed. That’s the very real (and current) theme of the song (if you’ve not heard it before the cottager basically tells them to ‘4X4’ off).

Tonight’s gig broke with tradition (the last few times I’d seen Chris he played solo) by using a band (including a couple of Imagined Villagers). As before Chris came across as an incredibly amiable and relaxed performer, like a guy you’d see in a local pub somewhere, just sitting in the corner playing away to himself. That’s not a criticism by the way, far from it. It’s this, I don’t know…let’s call it blokeiness…that enables the songs to do the talking, with Chris’ warm vocal delivery helping to further break down that invisible barrier between audience and performer (the venue, a charming social club that had a real village hall feel helped too). I saw him before the gig for example, just chatting to a couple of fans at the bar, he was there again at the break, relaxed and happy to talk to all and sundry.

On stage he’s just as at ease, chatting away merrily about everything from why he didn’t want music played before he came onstage (“after all you don’t get a recording of Allen Bennett when you go and see some Shakespeare do you?”) to getting funding for the Handmade Life project (“You spend half your life going after grants then just when you’ve given up on it all they come after you”) from the Arts Council who wanted to “do something folky”. Each song had a little introduction like that, a musical amuse-bouche (good grief where did that come from...blame the red wine). Predictably in a two set gig there were plenty of highlights but, for me, two new numbers really stood out. First there was ‘My Darling’s Downsized’ in Chris’ words a “love song for oldies”, a charming tale of how love blooms once more when someone’s wife decides to cut back her hours at work and enjoy life a little more. Then there was ‘The Grand Correction’ written just as the ‘Credit Crunch’ was beginning, a kind of ‘bring it on’ message from someone who’s not binged on cheap credit and is actually looking forward to things getting back to basics a little more. Both songs bring me back to Chris’ key appeal again and the traditional role of folk itself in commenting on the issues of the day. You don’t have to be a ‘folkie’ to get it either. At its heart it’s decent, honest handmade music for decent, honest handmade people. Something the world needs more than ever right now…

PS: Congratulations to the good folk at Moseley Folk once more for putting on another top gig and for doing so much to keep the folk flame burning brightly. If you’ve not caught up with them check out their website for details of upcoming events and keep your eyes peeled for some exciting festival news soon too…

Friday, December 04, 2009

Paloma Faith / Josh Weller @ O2 Academy 2, Thursday 3rd December 2009

Retro pop anyone? Yes, tonight had a distinctly retro feel. Hop in your Tardis (other time travelling devices are available), flash back 30 years or so ago and Josh Weller’s brand of quirky New Wave would be perfectly at home. Hop back in and go back a further 40 years and you can just see Paloma doing her thing in some swanky Manhattan club. Tonight we were in the slightly less swanky (but still rather nice…boy is this an improvement on the ‘old’ Academy) Academy 2 as part of sell out crowd that literally ranged from 6 to 65.

First up, if you’ve not seen a photo of him before, Mr Weller’s a curious looking chap with enormous Eraserhead hair (tonight it was somewhat tamed though), a pair of Elvis Costello style specs and a penchant for bow ties and tweed suits. This evening he wore a rather snazzy white jacket with black lapels, a black shirt and black bow tie. Shut your eyes and, at times, you could almost be listening to prime era Elvis Costello c.1978. Like our Elvis, Josh has a nice line in, well, nice lines. Take ‘Down in the City’s’ warning that “nice girls don’t go south of the river…” make of that what you will (I think it’s less about geography and more about biology myself…think about it…innuendo ahoy). His single release, ‘Push’ has shades of classic tunes like ‘Putting On The Ritz’ and ‘Istanbul (not Constantinople)’ and conjures up (in my head anyway) images of huge great Hollywood chorus lines. Classy. It was an endearing performance, from leading the crowd in an arms aloft singalong to ‘Push’ through to beseeching us all to buy a copy of his CD to pay for his tea. Awww bless him. Remarkably he’s still unsigned, which says more about the sorry state of the music biz than the quality of his performance, talent and tunes.

On then to the divine Miss F who, quite frankly, came on looking like a million dollars in a big white dress, ruff around her neck, 6 inch Betty Page style white shoes and (to start with at least) a pair of silver shield/wing kind of things strapped to her arms. Why don’t we all dress up like that anymore eh? Whoops, I wasn’t here to come over all Gok Wan (thank God I got those words in the right order) now was I, how was the voice? Soulful, sassy and as classy as a dry Martina (shaken, not stirred). Boy does she have a big voice, ably demonstrated on opening number (and new single) ‘Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful?’(also the title of her debut album).Vocally, to me at least, she’s like a marvellous cross between Betty Boop (queen of the cartoon babes) and Bessie Smith (queen of the blues) - which is a pretty awesome combination in my book, although I’ve seen her compared to everyone from Amy Winehouse to Ella Fitzgerald. Tottering all over the stage and climbing up a pair of steps positioned at either side (a very brave move considering those shoes) she then gave us a belting version of breakthrough single ‘Stone Cold Sober’. Not a bad way to start a show eh?

After a couple of other numbers she picked up a tray of what looked like powdered paint and a powder puff during a slowed down cover version of the Akon/David Guetta track ‘Sexy Bitch’ and punctuated key lines in the song with liberal dabs of powder all over her lovely white dress, before resorting to drizzling the stuff over herself. It’s this focus on the theatricality of a performance that marks out Paloma as being a far more interesting proposition than your average artist and, I’m betting, as she gets bigger (which is a sure thing) the shows will get more and more outlandish. Bring on the dancing horses, fire breathers and sword swallowers that’s what I say. Or how about a fire breathing, sword swallowing horse eh? Over to you Paloma.

After a truly star making set (and a little tease about the chances of an encore being in the audiences hands) the last three numbers, if anything, took the show up a gear. As this was the last night of her tour Paloma promised us something special that she’d not done on any of the other dates and proceeded to sing a spine tingling version of Etta James’ ‘At Last’ (as seen on Later with Jools Holland). Joined by Josh Weller (now wearing a lovely tweed number) we were then treated to her Christmas tune from last year ‘It’s Christmas and I Hate You’ (a bitter sweet…actually scrap the sweet bit…it’s really bitter…little number). Check out the video at the top of this review. Finally she led us all in a spirited sing-along of ‘New York, New York’ which segued nicely into her own track about the big apple…handily also entitled ‘New York’.

Of course Paloma’s still right at the start of her career (even though she’s already been – in no particular order – an actress, a magician’s assistant and a dancer…good grief, makes me feel like lazy slacker). It’s a little too early to start gushing over her (and I’ve seen far too many artists fall or be dropped by the wayside before really fulfilling their potential), but Ms Faith, dare I say it, does seem to have the real X factor. Or, then again, especially given her early days as a performer at Burlesque shows, maybe that should be the XXX factor…

PS: At the end of the show I had the good fortune to bump into a lovely chap called Martin, the guitarist with brilliant late 90’s indie glamsters King Adora and can exclusively (oh yes…you read it here first) reveal that the band’s reforming for two special shows next April at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath and The Garage in London!

PPS: This review will also appear soon be appearing at my other home (Gig Junkies.com) accompanied by some lovely photos from Mr Wayne Fox Esq.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Top Tracks # 9 - The Very Best - Warm Heart Of Africa

I just love this track right now. The product of an inspired collaboration between Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit (who form The Very Best) and Ezra from Vampire Weekend it's like a (much needed) blast of Summer through your speakers. It seems that there's a The Very Best album out now too (also called 'Warm Heart of Africa'). There's no video, just a pretty picture of the band, so you can shut your eyes and let the music do its thang. Either that or you can dance around in your underpants like me...oh dear...too much information again right?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Heavy / At The Zoo / Smiley Mic @ The Rainbow, Friday 27th November 2009

After fighting off a dubious complaint about noise that threatened its future and fitting a new super roof that’s capable of muffling the sound of a nuclear explosion (probably) The Rainbow, Digbeth’s jewel in the crown, continues to put on some darn fine gigs. Tonight’s offering included hotly tipped funksters (or should that be funkateers…funk knows?) The Heavy, but first up was SmileyMic who, in his own words I hasten to add, proudly boasts of being ‘an expert in playing with himself’. Happily my fears of watching a grown man wank himself into a frenzy for 20 minutes (oh dear, there was no need for that was there…what would mother say?) proved to be unfounded, instead Mr Smiley uses all kinds of clever little bits of kit to record himself singing, beatboxing and playing various instruments, then plays back said recordings as an accompaniment. Live looping he calls it. This must be tricky. A little like patting your head and rubbing your tummy I expect. Go on try it. Not easy eh? Happily Mr Smiley is indeed ‘an expert in playing with himself’ and delivered an impressive set of organically self built tunes that was as enjoyable to watch (seeing how he bought in all of the various elements into one coherent whole track) as it was to listen to. An inspired rendition of Rappers Delight closed the set on a high but self penned tunes ‘Promises’ and ‘All Good Things’ (you can listen to both tracks on his MySpace thingy) both stood out too.

Next up, it’s At The Zoo. I rather like zoos, especially ones with meerkats in. Damn those are some cute motherfunkers. I think we should put meerkats in charge of the country. They might not make any great policy decisions…so no change there then...but imagine how much more fun Prime Minister’s question time would be eh? Anyway, we’re not here to discuss meerkats…or zoos…but At The Zoo (see how easily distracted I get…I blame global warming). Imagine a more ska tinged Libertines, with catchier tunes and less crack, and you’ll be on the right lines. Pick of the tracks tonight included ‘Non Conformist’ and ‘Love For Granted’ (which sounds like a cross between something from the Grease Soundtrack and the first Arctic Monkeys album…if that isn’t enough to get you dashing off to their MySpace page to listen then I don’t know what will).

Finally, with a combined weight of 16.5tonnes, The Heavy are officially the biggest band in the world. Oh, hang on. Not THAT kind of heavy…the “damn that’s some heavy shit you’re laying down brother” kind of heavy. Right. Take a pinch of Ska, a dash of soul, a large dose of classic rock and stir a generous spoonful of da funk and you’ve got The Heavy’s retro tinged sound, brought to life thanks to an energetic, sweat drenched performance. From the raw garage funk of ‘Oh no! Not you again’ through to the sweeter Curtis Mayfield style vocals employed on ‘That Kind of Man’ and on to the reggae skank of ‘Cause For Alarm’ lead Heavy, Swaby, proved to be one of the most versatile vocalists I’ve seen in ages. I often curse my misfortune that I wasn’t around for the classic rock and soul years of the late 50’s through to the early 70’s and, whilst there’s plenty of footage and recordings around from that era, you just can’t beat the live experience. The Heavy are one of only a handful of groups that I’ve seen over the years who can, for a few brief moments, take you there. When they’re not taking you to sweet soul land they’re rocking out like Led Zep on a mission, more than justifying their name with some furious riffs and raw, full throttle, heads down rawwwwk. To be honest there wasn’t a duff moment in the set but if I had to pick a few real highlights I’d plump for ‘Sixxxteen’ (the bastard half brother of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ classic ‘I Put A Spell On You’), ‘That Kind of Man’ (the kind of track Lenny Kravitz would gladly cut off his genitals for) and set closer (which saw some furious boogieing from the more energetic members of the crowd… and some deranged arm waving thing from yours truly) the James Brown-tastic ‘How You Like Me Now’. Sure, as one member of the audience observed it would’ve been nice to have a live horn section but that’s a minor quibble and, as Swaby responded, keeping a horn section on the road ain’t cheap. The Heavy? Worth their weight in gold.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Top Tracks # 8 The Fiery Furnaces - Tropical Iceland

Hmmm I guess this is a Top Band as well as a Top Track. The Fiery Furnaces are a frankly odd lot. Recent years have seen them record an album with their gran for example, whilst their next release is some sheet music so you the public can play their new album for yourself…’cos they’re not going to. Yep, in response to all this downloading business The Furnaces are getting ahead of the game by not recording the bloody thing in the first place. Ha! Take that, internerds. I love it. And I love this band. Some of their stuff you might find a little odd (okay then, bloody odd), but this early track is happy happy catchy catchy and a perfect (gentle) introduction.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

CHEW LiPS / I Thee Lothario / 51 Breaks @ The Flapper, 24th November 2009

Remember remember the 24th November? Nope. The poor old 24th November isn’t normally a date for your diary. Too late for bonfires and fireworks and too early for ‘figgy’ pudding and brandy butter it’s stuck in a limbo land of dull dampness, crap telly and stressed out parents trying to hunt down the latest ‘must have’ toy for their demented offspring to smash into a million pieces on December the 25th. Happily in a basement far, far away (The Flapper actually) there’s something worth celebrating – le musique pop as my old French teacher used to call it. Getting the party started, it’s everyone’s favourite snooker themed indie band 51 Breaks. No, you’re right. They have nothing to do with snooker, although the lead singer is sporting a slightly John Virgo-ish beard now. My second viewing of the Breaks and, as before, they delivered an impressive set of anthemic indie, taken a step above the rest by some nice harmonies from the band. ‘Words Regarding’ and ‘Tunnels’ (replete with a Bono-ish whooohooo) were amongst the highlights, but I was most impressed by a storming new song of theirs (which really made the best use of those harmonies) that might have been called ‘Hoppo’s Razor’ (I heard the ‘Razor’ bit but I might have been dreaming the ‘Hoppo’s’ part…I do that sometimes…it’s my age). Get it up on MySpace smartish.

Next up ahhhh…I Thee Lothario…shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? Nope, I shall compare thee to Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Simple Minds. Yes, my favourite sons of ‘80’s pop have been something of a hit in Baron Towers this year. Tonight was the forth time I’ve seen them (I think…I can only count up to three with any degree of certainty) and, once again, they delivered a stadium-tastic performance in the relatively (oh alright then, delightfully poky) confines of the Flapper Basement. Just cop a listen to set opener ‘Arise, Release, Repent’…doesn’t that track just deserve to be sung along with by the odd 100,000 people? If John Hughes (RIP), maker of some of the best 80’s films of all time, were around he’d be straight on the blower to this lot for a soundtrack. The(e) icing on the cake is the lovely sax man Byron (you just gotta have some sax on music like this), who adds some soulful parping to tracks like ‘An English Sentence’ (which, together with ‘Soldier To Your Heart’) ended the set on yet another high note. The(e) whole band are a total delight though and seem to have a cracking time up there. I Thee Lothario, I thee salute you.

No pastel silk suits (despite my pleadings) but I’m happy to report that the keyboard player seems to be going for some kind of record on the biggest stack of keyboards ever played. It’s so tall that air traffic controllers are now alerting low flying aircraft of its whereabouts. Bigger, taller, more…that’s what I say. I won’t be happy until he needs oxygen and a whole team of Sherpas to reach that B flat on the very top keyboard. Oh…one last thing…I much prefer the lead singer’s haircut now too. Some nice sideburns there fella.

Finally, they’re the new La Roux don’t you know? Yep, before the old La Roux’s had the chance to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, miming to their new hit as a dozen sequinned floozies flash their sweaty gussets (hmmm…sweaty gussets) at the nation’s granddads, we’re on to the La New Roux…CHEW LiPS. Actually, whilst there’s kind of a similarity, which I’m guilty of picking up on way back at the start of the year, Chew Lips are a different can of hair spray altogether. For starters lead LiP Tigs has much stronger, more of a show tunes kind of voice which, if this pop star lark doesn’t take off, could well see her pursuing a career in musical theatre (let me see those jazz hands people). That would be a real shame though as Tigs n’Co have a real knack for perfect pop (albeit with a slightly dark edge). I’ve heard her describe their sound as 8-bit Casiotone disco (for those not in the know 8-bit tunes resemble the sort of soundtracks that ZX Spectrum games had way back in 1982…and cool 8-bit covers of all sorts of tracks are currently doing the round on t’web) and I’m buggered if I can do any better than that. So, right now, the LiPS couldn’t be any cooler if they tried. Apparently this gig was even one of Murray from Flight of the Concords’ (aka Zane Lowe) hottest tickets. Ignoring the hype though, CHEW LiPS are a darn fine addition to the electropop landscape. The 'over all too soon' (always a good sign when a gig flies by) eight track set included both Kitsuné singles (‘Salt Air’ and ‘Solo’) together with a half dozen others that were, amazingly, every (8-)bit as strong. In fact, barring any short circuits, I think we might already have a contender for one of 2010’s albums of the year. CHEW-riffic.

PS: A special mention for Tigs’ unique dance moves too…like a young foal learning to walk…awww bless. Bonus points for standing up for Birmingham too when one of the audience said it was ‘rubbish’…civic pride at its best once more (I’m assuming the offender was ‘local’).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Top Tracks # 7 Chris Wood – The Cottager’s Reply

Regular readers will know of my folk fetish, so this week’s top track pays homage to one of the best folk artists around, Chris Wood. Part of The Imagined Village collective (a truly unique multi-cultural folk supergroup that’s given the whole genre a nice kick up the arse) Chris is the reigning Folk Singer of the Year (he defeated Eliza Carthy in the third round after a cracking left hook) and recipient of Folk Album of the Year to boot.

Folk’s been (in my eyes and ears at least) enjoying a well deserved upturn in popularity over the last decade or so, helped no doubt by ‘sexy’ Seth Lakeman as well as groups like The Unthanks (hubba hubba…I’m sorry …I have a thing for clogs) and the aforementioned Imagined Village. Birmingham’s very own ‘Moseley Folk Festival’ has showcased some of the very best in ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ folk and their Lunar Society seem to be putting on some stonkingly good shows at the moment (I’ve added them to the Promoters list to the left). I missed the bonkers but quite brilliant Beth Jeans Houghton (she found my silly ‘tache most amusing at this years Folk Festival) the other week, but have firmly pencilled in the next big Moseley Folk presentation which is, by a happy co-incidence, none other than Chris Wood.

With a voice as warm as Christmas punch and a set of songs that respects folk’s past but still manages to keep one foot firmly in the present, if you’ve not seen him before you’re in for a treat. Actually make that a double treat as this is his very first tour with his own band (featuring several fellow Imagined Villagers). Of all his songs the track I’ve chosen here is the one that moves me the most. I won’t spoil it for you by wittering on about its subject matter (whether you’re a fan of folk or not, give it a listen) but it neatly sums up the very best and worst of contemporary Britain (it gets bonus points for featuring the best use of the letter ‘f’ since The Who’s 'My Generation' too). Enjoy.

Chris Wood’s Handmade Life plays Moseley All Services Club on Friday 4th December 2009. Tickets available (I’d be surprised if it didn’t sell out, so get in sharpish) from www.moseleyfolk.co.uk

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Sunshine Underground / Andre Aristotle @ The Hare & Hounds, Monday 16th November 2009

Tonight’s gig was free entry for all (well, all of us who could fit into the Hare & Hounds that is) courtesy of those lovely folk at Birmingham Promoters. Bless ‘em. You don't get much for free these days. Infectious diseases, ASBO’s…er…that’s about it. Happily this evening was far more pleasant than either option, kicking off with the wonderfully named Andre Aristotle (although I’ll bet that’s probably not the name on his passport). In fact I know it’s not. Andre is/was the lead singer of the rather splendid Bourgeois Four who played some clever, catchy indie rock. Ditching the indie rock bit Andre’s now playing some clever catchy electro pop instead. All on his lonesome. Having loved the B4 (and with a bit of a thing for electro pop in general) this was right up my street, shades of Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Soft Cell and The Human League melded with a more beat heavy vibe and a voice that’s capable of great things (as witnessed on a beautifully delivered ‘The Lights Change’ – a homage to getting off your box). Electro pop heaven...and a lovely bloke too.

The Sunshine Underground are one of a huge ever growing number of bands in my ‘must listen to one day’ file. You know the sort of thing. Someone says to you, “Hey daddio, have you heard such and such a band? They’re a big hit with all the cool cats” (forgive me, I’m in one of those moods). You smile, nod enthusiastically and make a mental note to check them out. Then, when you log on to have a listen, you get distracted by videos of Shakira. Just me? Oh. Okay. In the case of The Sunshine Underground someone mentioned them to me about 4 years ago and so, here I am, some 48 months later…right on the case, Mr Finger on the Pulse. Actually when I say I hadn’t heard anything by them I was soon proved wrong when they played several tracks which had obviously seeped into my brain by osmosis. I knew them but I’m buggered if I know where from. Maybe the tune fairy left them on my pillow one night?

For a band that’s released just one album so far (2006’s ‘Raise the Alarm’) they’ve managed to maintain a pretty loyal following, evidenced by the enthusiastic sing alongs throughout the evening (culminating in some frantic frugging at the front to their biggest song to date, the funk/rock/dance classic ‘Put You In Your Place’…damn that’s a great track). Before all that though we were treated to a pretty equal mix of the old and new stuff, including several standout numbers that might just explain what the band’s been doing for the last few years. Pick of the bunch for me was the Muse-tastic ‘Spell It Out’, complete with soaring falsetto vocals and anthemic, orchestral sounding guitars (how the chuff can a guitar be orchestral…good grief I get worse). There’s a distinct Killers-ish edge to the band too, a harder version certainly but that kind of ‘grand’ sound that you can imagine the odd 50,000 people singing along to. Take another newbie ‘In Your Arms’ (and another set of impressive vocals tonight) for instance. It’s the sort of music that’s destined to really unite a crowd and it (together with the rest of the set) was played with all of the joyful enthusiasm of a group that’s just starting out, rather than one that’s a good few years into its life. On the strength of tonight’s show, this particular ray of Sunshine could be on the verge of going Overground. Big time.

Their next long player (good grief, how old am I?), ‘Nobody’s Coming To Save You’ is due out in February 2010, just in time for Valentines day…probably. You could give a copy to the one you love, especially if they’re fond of funky indie rock. Who knows, you might even…ahem…get lucky? Awwww…I feel just like Cilla Black, either that or some kind of aging pimp. Hmm…yes, I prefer that, Pimp Daddy.


Coming To Save You

Commercial Breakdown

Your Friends

In Your Arms


Change Your Mind

Any Minute Now

Spell It Out

Way It Is

The Messiah

Standby For Nothing

Put You In Your Place

PS: For proper photos of the gig check out Wayne Fox's link to the left of this mumbo jumbo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The 12 gigs of Christmas…

I’ve had a couple of weeks off the gigging now (just enough time to recover some hearing and basic liver function) but the next few weeks are shaping up to include quite a few tempting offerings. In the spirit of Christmas (you know...giving and sharing and all that humbug) here’s my pick of the bunch:

The Sunshine Underground do their indie rock thang @ The Hare & Hounds Monday 16th November in a FREE (yep, there’s my favourite word) gig. Entry by free e-tickets available here…if there are any left that is (see, I builds your hopes up then dashes ‘em down again…naughty Baron).

ChewLips ("they’re the new La Roux you know") and Hearing Aid favourites I Thee Lothario play The Flapper on Tuesday 24th November.

Soweto Kinch plays something called The Hockley Bar and Kitchen on 26th November and…bless my cotton stockings…that’s a freebie too. Tidings of comfort and joy eh?

The Heavy lay down some funky ass shit at The Rainbow on Friday 27th November.

Them Is Me (some blokes out of Reef) and Black Fang rock The Flapper to its very core on 28th November.

Pom Pom wearing fruitcake Paloma Faith freaks out the Academy (in a rescheduled gig) on Thursday 3rd December. It’s sold out so if you want to go tough bananas (either that or you can buy a ticket for £80 off some Scouser on ebay).

The cool as folk Chris Wood brings it on at The All Services Club, Church Road in Moseley on Friday 4th December.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart make some noise at The Academy on Saturday 5th December.

The harmony-tastic Goodnight Lenin come together at The Hare & Hounds on Monday 7th December.

Self appointed ‘God of Fuck’, Mr Marilyn Manson brings his laminated crotch to the Academy on Sunday 13th December.

The Raveonettes rave on at The Hare & Hounds on Thursday 17th December.

And…finally…Santa makes a special guest appearance down your chimney on Thursday 24th December, performing tracks from his latest album ‘Why Don’t You Fuckers Ever Buy Me a Present eh?’.

Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Misty’s new adventure

Just came across a couple of new-ish tracks from one of my favourite bands of all time, Misty’s Big Adventure and (as ever) they’re well worth a listen. There’s the self penned parping ska of ‘Someone at the Window’ and a Pipettes-ish cover of ‘Dumb Head’ by a ‘60’s singer called Ginny Arnell. ‘Dumb Head’s’ the first non Gareth lead vocal (to my knowledge) that the band’s ever done and, far from being a curiosity, it’s a belter. Now, how about a 7inch single release for that authentic girl group experience?

PS: For the uninitiated amongst you Misty’s Big Adventure are a Birmingham band who combine the wit and wonder of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band with a little ska, some classic pop, a healthy dose of cynicism about the modern world we all find ourselves stuck in and…oh hell, just watch the video (from 2006...old skool stylee) and you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Top Tracks # 6 - Findo Gask - One Eight Zero

Top track you say? Oh alright then, here you go. A band I only discovered last week but am rapidly falling in lurve with…it’s Findo Gask! I don’t think they’ve released much yet but I came across this dinky little video to one of their tunes and it is, like much of their stuff, darn fine quirky electro pop heaven. Imagine Kraftwerk fronted by a disco dancing angel and…well…you’d probably be sectioned but that’s another matter. You need this band in your life. Trust me on this one. For more Gask loveliness head over to their MySpace page. It’s like Christmas come early.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Delphic / Two Door Cinema Club / Old School Tie @ The Rainbow, Friday 30th October 2009

Achingly cool French label Kitsuné hit the Rainbow with a double header of two of their latest discoveries ably supported by local dubby dance psych legends Old School Tie. What’s not to like eh? I suppose the gig could be on a tropical island populated by nymphomaniac porn stars and an endless supply of Weston’s Old Rosie but we can’t have everything can we? Squint a little and that forlorn looking plant in the corner of the room could almost be a palm tree and I reckon one of the security guards on the door would be up for a quick fumble if you fancied it…

First up roll yerself a phat one, brew up some shrooms and indulge in some serious dubby dancey rubba dubby fan dubby dozeee dubbiness…it’s Old School Tie. Resisting the temptation to strip naked and do those strange handmoves that you see old hippies do in films about Woodstock instead I let myself drift off into a magical world of purples and golds where talking lobsters float across marshmallow skies. Yes, there’s something in the air, and it’s not the smell of the Rainbow toilets. If you let it, the music of OST really does take you places, especially on tracks like their epic masterpiece (and, as ever, one of the set’s highlights) ‘God’s Electric Super Scene’. Watching this band live is always a joy because they all seem to be having a genuinely great time up there, in fact you get the sense that they’d play like that whether they had an audience or not. The bass player (tall chap, curly hair) in particular spent most of the set bouncing up and down like Tigger on speed and having the time of his life. The last track of the set (a new one?), the rockier ‘We Are Machines’ got the crowd throwing all kinds of shapes and could well give ‘Gods Electric Super Scene’ a run for it’s money when it comes to their best song.

Next, if Foals met Vampire Weekend on the dancefloor of their local indie disco the result would sound a lot like Two Door Cinema Club…probably. Go on. Have a listen. I’ve nailed it haven’t I? Oh alright then, please yourselves. It took a couple of numbers for the boys from Bangor to get the crowd to shuffle forwards but, with the frankly irresistible ‘Something Good Will Work’ the same posse that had just been getting down with OST were, as they used to say back in the day, ‘having it large’. ‘No One Can Talk’ (what Editors would sound like on an E) seemed to go down particularly well too. A good showing, if a little nervous in places (but then I guess the sight of a Rainbow full of Friday night revellers is enough to throw anyone off their stride a little). If you’re Birmingham based you can catch ‘em (and I heartily recommend that you do) on November 8th at The Hare & Hounds.

Finally Delphic. I was struggling to think of a way of describing this band but happily I met a lovely chap just before their set started who’d seen them before and he neatly summed them up as Underwold meets Joy Division. Genius. Makes my job a lot easier. I’ve seen them referred to as ‘post dance’ too. So that’s what the Royal Mail are up to eh, bopping around sorting offices all over the country instead of delivering our gas bills? Truth be told there’s a mighty slab of the early 90’s dance scene with Delphic, from the beats right through to the ravetastic lighting set up…strobe lights, neon lights, LED lights…basically a whole big light thing. Standing quite close to the stage my retinas now resemble those crispy bits of chorizo sausage that you get on pizzas. Nice. Anyway, back to the music. Delphic have that kind of early 90’s trippy, trancey approach to dance music that stirred distant memories of dodgy nights in even dodgier nightclubs during my dim and distant student days. Take their big anthem ‘Counterpoint’, New Order-ish guitars and Beloved (remember, they did ‘The Sun Rising’?) style floaty, bleepy bits. The crowd went nuts for this track in particular (although there was a fair bit of hands in the air stuff going on throughout the set), the slightly chilled out section giving them a breather before a clattering build up (and enough flashing lights to bring on epileptic fit) left the more active amongst us a sweaty mess (even I threw a couple of shapes at one point…I’m sorry, it won’t happen again). Despite clearly being designed for (and destined) to play enormodomes and Summer festivals the whole thing worked really well in the confines of the Rainbow, not a trick that every ‘dance’ act can pull off but down to the fact that, despite being dancey, the band were actually playing live (guitars, samplers, keyboards, those little drum things that Depeche Mode used to use). Now, I’m off to find myself some glow sticks…sorted.

PS: Proper photos of this gig were taken by the lovely Mr Wayne Fox (check out Da Snappers section to the left of this)...who gave us a lift home after the gig too. What a lovely man.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Marc Almond / Baby Dee @ The Alexandra Theatre, Thursday 29th October 2009

Oh Marc...shutting your eyes won't make this review go away.

Delighted to have the chance to see Baby Dee for the second time in a year or so. For those of you who don’t know her work Baby Dee is a transgender artist who plays a mean harp (and piano tonight) and sings a whole bunch of songs about transformation, regret, love, confusion…you get the picture. She’s a real Marmite artist, you’ll either love it or sit there feeling a little confused…at best. I’m a fan, partly because the music can, at times be hauntingly beautiful and partly, if I’m honest, because I have the utmost respect for any outsider artist who has the balls (hmmm…perhaps not the best turn of phrase in this case) to just go out there and do their thang. Tonight the audience was certainly split. There was some rather nasty snickering going on (to be fair Dee’s singing voice is a curious mixture of a haggered old sea dog and an angel and at times she sort of laughs the words out) but that says more about the puerile narrow mindedness of some of the audience than it does about the performance. Shame on you, whoever you were. In future please stay in and watch X Factor or whatever people like you do when you’re not inflicting your vile presence on the rest of us.

Baby Dee...unlikely to be appearing on X Factor any day soon.

Speaking of doing your own thang, Marc Almond’s always ploughed a curious field (not literally, I can’t imagine him up to his ankles in turnips and manure). Recent years have seen him putting out a covers album, a couple of Russian language albums and all sorts of obscure underground dance collaborations. The fact that he’s been able to put anything out after smashing his head into a million pieces in a motorcycle accident a few years back is nothing short of miraculous. The last time I saw him was at The Academy 2. Disdain for the venue dripped from his every pore. ‘They’ve stuck me in the corner of some shitty bar’ he moaned. True, it wasn’t the best venue for him and his musicians, a perfectly competent bunch of people but with more than a whiff of those wedding bands who do covers of ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ about them, didn’t really help matters. Marc was my first ever gig at The Powerhouse (now the Oceananianiaiaia or some such godawful chain crap) way back in 1988. It remains possibly my favourite ever gig, filled with classic era Almond (Mother Fist, Vermin in Ermine, Stories of Johnny, The Stars We Are) and backed by La Magia (including Marc’s then muse Annie Hogan). I’d not been to a gig before so I wore a huge, thick, heavy donkey jacket (hey, it was the 80’s) and stood there sweating like a motherhumper all night, surrounded a mainly gay or gothic (or gay gothic in some cases) audience. I went on my own too. No one I knew then would’ve wanted to go as Marc was (and still is I guess) something of an outsider artist, despite all of the hit singles. Fast forward 21 years and here I am sitting in the Alex Theatre watching him for the 8th or 9th time (I forget…it’s my age) with Lady Baron but, sadly, without the donkey jacket (I wonder where it is now?). I have to say that, knowing how great he can be, Marc’s performances have somewhat frustrated me over the years. He has a tendency to camp it up and make light of some of his best known songs which unnecessarily cheapens the material (‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ ain’t a comedy number in my book). His choice of musicians, in particular Neal X, has also surprised me. I’m sure Neal X is a lovely human being and a gifted musician but he’s just not right for Marc’s music. Hell, I’m skirting around the issue. Last night’s gig was, for me, something of a disaster. It saddens me to say that, but I do actually care enough about Marc’s career to make a few constructive criticisms:

(1) Get a new band of younger, fresher, classically trained musicians. Sadly the drummer made every line of every song sound like the punchline to a bad joke…be-dum tschhh.

(2) By all means include new and more challenging material but don’t leave the better known tracks for the last 15 minutes. The couple we sat next to walked out after an hour of (mainly) Russian songs.

(3) Hire a really good musical director who can pull the whole show into something cohesive and add a little freshness to the older material. The 12 Years of Tears show in 1992 was a triumph...30 Years of Tears could be even better.

(4) Stop camping it up so much…on the piano backed songs the power, emotion and (most important of all) voice were very bit as strong as 20 years ago. ‘Witty’ asides are fine in between tracks, but not in the middle of them (take Mother Fist for example...substituting 'Barcelona' for 'Birmingham' just ruined it).

(5) Learn the words to the songs…especially your own (Tears Run Rings in particular seemed to get a little 'confused').

(6) Rehearse the show. Last night was sloppy. I wouldn’t mind so much if I’d only paid a fiver but tickets were £21 each + all kinds of random booking fees.

To be fair Marc actually apologised profusely at the end of the show and called it a ‘bit of a mad one’. Hmmmm…that’s not the word I’d use. The absolute nadir was reached when the hapless Mr X’s guitar kept feeding back during the first part of ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’. Marc stopped and said something along the lines of ‘For Fucks sake Neal, can’t you get an amp that works?’ A sound man was summoned. He fiddled with some knobs and the song resumed. Two seconds later, more feedback. The entire song was then abandoned and there followed some farcical get the band off the stage, get the band on the stage nonsense. I half expected the band to start doing the Hokey Cokey at one point. Still, the faithful applauded like mad, showing just what a loyal lot us Marc Almond fans can be. Loyalty can, however, be misplaced. Let’s hope some realistic reviews of these shows finally get the message through and Marc’s true talent doesn’t end up being wasted in some dreadful end of the pier show which, sadly, is what last night ended up being.

PS: Before anyone takes offense at this review please note that Marc himself acknowledged that it wasn't a great show. I've been lucky enough to see him at his best and this wasn't it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Everything Everything / Findo Gask / Fix Monday @ The Flapper, Thursday 28th October 2009

Fix Monday...on a Wednesday

I wasn’t going to go to this gig but I made the mistake of watching one of the headline band’s videos and that was that…hooked. Oh dear. I’m going to have to gig detox soon or else my ears will fall off. First up, Fix Monday. I wish someone would. Then they could get on with fixing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday too. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I can live with most of the time, you can leave them as is. A quick glance back through the history books reveals that I was particularly impressed with this lot last time I saw them. I used the phrase ‘life affirming’ even. Bless my cotton socks. With songs like ‘This Will Make My Life Better’ and ‘I Change’ there’s certainly a cheery positivity about the band that was perhaps a little lacking in The Twilight Sad’s brilliant but rather more wrist slitting gig on Monday night. Tonight The Monday’s (not the Happy Monday’s as the drummer helpfully pointed out) were as joyously charming as before, making good use of harmonies particularly on their reverse stage invasion, when the entire band decamps into the audience to deliver a beautiful a’capella number. They certainly fixed Wednesday for me.

Gerard Gask...this charming man

Next up, Findo Gask. Odd name. Sounds like a Bulgarian side dish…‘yes please, I’ll have the fillet steak with large helping of Findo Gask…not too much chilli’ (actually Findo Gask is a small village in Perth and Kinross – who says this site ain’t educational?). Musically they’re an equally tasty proposition (nice link there…I’m getting cheesier by the day), a spellbinding blend of Cocteau Twins, Super Furry Animals (check out ‘Go Faster Stripe’), Foals, Chic, The Associates…for me nothing short of musical nirvana. Lead Gask, Gerard, has a voice like a naughty choirboy with shades of Russell Mael (lead vocalist of Sparks) and the late great Billy Mackenzie (lead vocalist of The Associates). That’s vocal royalty. I’d chuck in Nils Bech if anyone knew who he was, but you don’t (unless you’re Mrs Bech) so I won’t bother.

One of the Gask lads blows his own trumpet

Gerard’s got some cheeky Morrissey-esque stage moves too (minus the gladioli sadly) and despite clearly suffering from the mother of all colds he really put his heart and soul into it (as did the rest of the band). I met him in the loo afterwards (I do that a lot…maybe I’m a closet cottager?) and he was simply lovely. In the world’s shortest interview (approximately 15 seconds) he revealed that the debut album is nearly in the bag and they’re just on the lookout for a label to release it. It could well be one of the great releases of 2010…I stake my nuts on it…and any label would be freakin’ lucky to get them. I’m conscious of bigging up a lot of bands at the moment, but bollocks to it, there are some amazing groups out there at the moment (anyone who says otherwise is either (a) deaf or (b) mad) and Findo Gask are tantalisingly close to the top of the tree for me. Sparky, truly original Scots indie dance with a hard drive stuffed full of enough quirky bleepy bits to keep a Kraftwerk fan with ADD happy. Go and listen to every single track on their MySpace page right now and play it to everyone you know…then get them to play it to everyone else they know etc etc. By the weekend the whole country will be bopping away to ‘Va Va Va’, ‘One Eight Zero’, ‘Go Faster Stripe’ and the world will be a better place. Let’s go magnificent!

(By the way, what is it with all these great Scottish bands at the moment? Sucioperro, The Twilight Sad, this lot…I sense a bandwagon for NME to leap on. Gawd help us all).

Mike Everything...giving it, well, everything

Finally Everything Everything (recently honoured inductees of The Baron’s Top Track Club for their ‘Photoshop Handsome’ toon) which reminded me of a cross between XTC and the criminally underrated Dog’s Die in Hot Cars (RIP), in other words slightly bonkers intellipop that’s as good to dance along with as it is to sit and stroke your beard to...not that I have a beard as such. I think my silly ‘tash is quite enough facial hair for now. Happily EE were far more than one just track ponies tonight though, with ‘MY KZ UR BF’ coming across as a funky ass Foals meets Futureheads NY disco classic and 'Suffragette Suffragette' a weird hybrid of Talking Heads meets Ocean Colour Scene. Yep, they’re not an easy band to pin down (Fleet Foxes go indie disco is another comparison I found myself making during the gig – just check out set opener ‘Tin’). Of course anyone can take influences, it’s a different kettle of fish to take ‘em somewhere interesting and ‘Everything Everything’ do just that, gleefully playing around with pop’s past. The set ended all too soon (I think one of the band’s new and they’re still learning the ropes) but I’d seen and heard Everything (Everything) I’d come for. Yet another top night all round and proof that, whilst the music industry might be dying on its arse, the music itself is in fine fettle (fettle…did I really just use the word fettle?).

PS: I’m not sure how they’re doing it (witchcraft I guess) but Birmingham Promoters seem to have a bit of a knack for booking some of the best bands around just before they break through. Check out their listings and take a punt…you won't be disappointed.

The Dead Weather @ Birmingham O2 Academy Monday 26th October 2009

Ladeeez and gentlemen (cue fanfare…dancing girls…fireworks…Ant & Dec) it gives me great pleasure (more fanfare…some of those dancing horses with nubile young ladies on the back) to introduce (drum roll, flashing lights, lasers, dry ice..hell let’s have some more nubile young ladies…) Mr Andy Watsonnnnnnnnnn!!! (Over the top? Moi?) Yes, it’s guest reviewer time! This time Andy braves the wet weather (can you see where I’m going with this?) to catch the…(wait for it)…Dead Weather (ooooh that’s smooth)…

In January 2009, after an impromptu jam session at Jack White's “Third Man” studios, the idea for The Dead Weather came about. Two and a half weeks of writing and recording later and the band was fully formed with fellow Weathers Alison Mosshart ( The Kills ) Dean Fertita ( Queens Of The Stone Age ) Jack Lawrence ( The Greenhorns & Raconteurs) joining Jack White (White Stripes & The Raconteurs ).

Just a few short months later in March The Dead Weather debuted their first single “Hang You From The Heavens” at the launch of Third Man Record’s HQ in Nashville before playing their very first live show. Fast forward seven months and the band have been touring all around the world before landing in rainy Birmingham at the recently opened New O2 Academy. Surprisingly the venue was only about three quarters full, with the balcony area almost completely empty apart from the support band sitting down to watch Jack White's…well…what do we all them…side-project (or was that The Raconteurs)…Indie/Alternative Super-Group? On tonight's performance the only thing that comes to mind is SUPERGROUP. From the opening song Alison’s prowling the stage like a lioness scowling and snarling at the crowd who are lapping up every beat from Jack. W and Jack. L's rhythm section.

The band kept the talking between songs to an absolute minimum and just seemed to love playing, so much so that each song was played with as much if not more enthusiasm as the previous number. Half way into the set Jack White came out from behind the drums to take up guitar duties for one song and played one hell of a guitar solo, showing he’s one of the best riff makers around at the moment. Throughout the gig the crowd seem awestruck and under Alison's spell as she keep prowling the stage, often jumping up and walking across the monitors balancing like she was on a tight-rope. During the encore White again came out from behind the drums to take up guitar duties. At one point all the members of the band were playing guitar, with a drum machine and sampler providing the beats. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a band play so tightly and be so connected by the music. For a time, when White was playing the guitar, Alison was dancing in an almost a hypnotic state, her eyes fixed deep into his showing this band is all about the music. No egos just pure music!! The highlight for me was the closing song “Treat Me Like Your Mother” with great beats, seething guitars and one hell of a rhythm section. Jack White surely has the musical Midas touch.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Twilight Sad / Mutineers / Goodnight Lenin @ The Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, Monday 26th October 2009

The Twilight Sad...out of darkness comes light.

Are you sitting comfortably? Right, then I’ll begin. Once upon a time in a magical kingdom far, far away (oh alright then, it was Birmingham) there was a rather fine band called The Allies. They had more than a touch of the Arctic Monkey’s about them (no bad thing), but one or two tracks hinted at a more unusual and intriguing Celtic flavoured direction. For some reason they split up (‘musical differences’ no doubt). Now several of them (there seemed to be about 97 people in The Allies) have returned as part of a brand new five piece, Goodnight Lenin. Ditching the indie direction entirely they’ve gone all folk harmonies - Simon & Garfunkel meets CSNY on the way to a barbecue at Bob Dylan’s house (B.Y.O.B…Dylan’s a bit of a tight arse). When I say brand new I mean it. This was only their second ever gig. Their MySpace thingy currently features a mere brace of tracks recorded in a kitchen (one of the band told me they planned to play a lot more kitchens in the future…makes a lot of sense to me, you can make a nice cup of tea halfway through the gig and rustle up a bacon sarnie if you get peckish). Whilst the MySpace tracks are acoustic the live sound’s beefed up by drums, amps, fiddles…one of the singer’s mum’s raucous laughter…so it’s a lot richer sounding. The one constant though are those gorgeous three part harmonies. I know they’ve sung together in one form or another in the past (so they’ve got a bit of a head start) but, for a group that’s only performed live in front of an audience for half an hour or so to date, this was simply a stunningly good performance with moments magical enough to tingle the strongest of spines. 'Wenceslas Square', 'Crook in the Creek' and 'Incendiary' were all crackingly good but, to be honest, there wasn’t a dud in the set for me.

Second on the bill, ahoy there m’hearties, pieces of eight etc etc it’s Mutineers. With echoes of such 80’s indie luminaries as the Lotus Eaters ('First Picture of You') and Fiction Factory (‘Feels Like Heaven’), especially on tracks like 'Shadow Kisses' (one of their set highlights tonight) there’s a lot to like about this motley crew Jim lad (actually they weren’t motley at all, they looked like lovely lads, but I have to keep this tiresome analogy going now I’ve started it don’t I?). Some nice jangly guitars, Nicolas’ angelic vocals (shades of Billy Mackenzie) and poetic lyrics (cop a load of "All the shallow graves laid by Chinese whispers. Through these sliding doors cursed with shadow kisses") combined to cast aside any thoughts of making the band walk the plank.

Finally it’s The Twilight Sad. Awww…shame. Cheer up chaps. It’s not that bad. Why so sad? Oh, your girlfriends have all run off with your best friends, taking your record collections with them. What’s that? They nicked your favourite jazz mag too? And made several long distance calls to a Thai brothel before they left resulting in a massive ‘phone bill and the unwelcome attention of several ladyboys who want to “love you long time?” Wow. I think I’d be a little sad too. That explains the music I guess. A mix of Glasvegas, Arab Strap and (swirly walls of guitar noise ahoy) The Jesus and Mary Chain it’s pretty miserable stuff, but miserable (done right) can, in a perverse kind of way, be uplifting too. What The Twilight Sad managed to do quite brilliantly in this live performance was to avoid making it all seem tooooo dark and depressing. There’s a defiant quality there, a celebration of the ying and yang of life all set against a torrent of guitars, some Joy Division-ish drums and intriguing angst ridden lyrics. Take these beauties for instance:

“Head up dear, you're shallow and blind
Head up dear, the rabbit might die
Because they're putting, the boot in, tonight”

Easy listening it ain’t, but then life ain’t a bed o’ roses all the time is it? At times tonight the music enveloped us like a thick fog (there literally was a thick fog in the venue too thanks to a highly efficient smoke machine…) but it was a warm, strangely comforting embrace, a little like being hugged by a drunken reveller on New Year’s Eve. James, the lead singer, was at the heart of creating and sustaining this atmosphere. He seemed genuinely touched that so many people had turned up. I imagine next time round, as more people catch up with them, he’ll be even more touched. He also seemed totally lost in the performance, not in a fancy ‘look at me’ kind of way, but genuinely singing as though his very life depended on it. It's a rawness that you rarely see these days. On ‘I Became a Prostitute’ this really shone through, the quite and loud bits giving him the chance to show his softer as well as his rockier side. At one point during the gig he knelt down in front of the drums, beating a drumstick against them with such ferocity that it splintered clean in two. Like I say, there was'nae any pretence here. As Richy Manic would’ve carved it, this was ‘4 real’. During ‘And She Would Darken the Memory’, abandoning his microphone altogether, James ended up bravely howling out the words against a viscous wall of noise. Like many of life’s battles depicted in their songs it was one he couldn’t possibly win, but the fact that he tried says everything you need to know about the band's heart and soul.

PS: Both Wayne and ShakeyPix were there last night to photograph the gig so click on Da Snapper links to the left for some proper pictures. Flash, bang, wallop.