Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anyone For Shark? / The Ladders / 360 / The Traps @ The Rainbow, Friday 27th February 2009

Hey kids! Today's review will be brought to you by the words 'Indie', 'Ska', 'Mod' and 'Jazz' (yes I've gone a bit Sesame Street today...right now I'm dressed as the Count...van, two, threeeee...of course if you've never watched Sesame Street this will make bugger all sense...'plus ca change' as Big Bird would say). In fact I'm joined by guest reviewers Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch. O what fun!

The Baron / Count: Right Bert, what do you reckon to the first act - The Traps!
Bert: 'I kinda liked 'em, reminded me a bit of a cross between Orange Juice, Franz Ferdinand and The Killers'.
The Baron / Count: Good observation there Bert, how about you Ernie?
Ernie: 'Can I have some candy?'
The Baron / Count: No Ernie, and here in the UK we call it go and sit over there with Big Bird. Bert hit the nail on the head, really impressed with The Traps. They've got that kind of archness (and the lead singer has a touch of Edwyn Collins to his vocal too) that you'd get in Orange Juice, fused with a Killers-ish knack for a winning riff. Check out 'Feeling and Failing' and you'll see what I mean. Sparky performance that left me wanting more. Okay, who's next Big Bird?
Big Bird: 'I like's like the cloud's have cried then the sun makes a big colourful smile...'.
The Baron / Count: Yes Big Bird, very nice, but who was the next band?
Big Bird: 'Are you angry with me?'.
The Baron / Count: Quite frankly, yes I am a little...oh good grief...anyone...the next band?

Oscar The Grouch: 'Hey asshole, it was 360'.
The Baron / Count: I don't think you're allowed to say 'asshole' Oscar the Grouch, but yep, it was 360. Whilst you're here though, what did you reckon to 360?
Oscar The Grouch: 'Well, I'm a bit of a ska head myself, so they pretty much rocked my can'.
The Baron / Count: Indeed, 360 are an 8 headed skank machine, guaranteed to raise Lazarus...or maybe even the British banking system...from the dead. A decent brass section (can there be a better sound?) is all too rare, but 360 have an impressive threesome (one of them was AWOL tonight, replaced by an equally talented chappie from Colchester). The lead singer has a great voice for the material and the whole band seem to play for the sheer joy of the skank. For an instant party just add 360.

Okay, Big Bird, time to make amends, who were the third band...van, two, threeee? '
Big Bird: Was it Captain Beefheart?'.
The Baron / Count: No Big Bird, good was The Ladders. Over to you again Bert, thoughts?
Bert: 'Mod, soul, sweat...what's not to love?'
The Baron / Count: Quite right once again Bert, you're pretty good at this, you should write for NME you know.
Bert: 'Thanks...see Ernie, you're just holding me back...I'm off, fuck Sesame Street, I'm going to London to take coke and shag glove puppets'.
The Baron / Count: No Bert, that's not very nice, give Ernie a big hug. Bert's on the money though, The Ladders are modtastic, as sharp as an Italian suit and with a set that already sounds like a greatest hits selection. They've supported the modfather himself, Mr Paul Weller, but I'd actually probably rather watch The Ladders myself. They are THAT good.

Finally, and for all our sakes that's probably a good job...what's that Big Bird? No, it wasn't 'Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch and Titch' was Anyone For Shark? Oscar, care to comment?
Oscar The Grouch: 'You got any drugs?'
The Baron / Count: No, not right now, thoughts about the band?
Oscar The Grouch: 'A nice mix of blues and jazz...perfect for sitting in your can, getting off your box and smoking the 'erb'.
The Baron / Count: Thanks Oscar, all good points. Anyone For Shark? have a Bees-ish vibe, chilled out jams burst into sudden explosions of noise. It's a bit like drifting off into a nice dream only to be woken by a slap round the chops with a wet shark. According to their MySpace page they're influenced by the 'Jobseekers Allowance'...hey, me too! Who knows, maybe my enforced period of unemployment will see me starting a jazz, blues supergroup too? Anyway, good stuff as ever from the Sharks and...god...this is getting silly...yet another brilliant Friday night line up. Until next time, from Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, stay safe, don't talk to strangers and beware the ides of March.

This review was written in front of a live studio audience and brought to you by the words 'Indie', 'Ska', 'Mod' and 'Jazz'. The Hearing Aid is a production of a Deranged Mind.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Joss Stone / Adam Isaac @ The Rainbow, Monday 23rd February 2009

Soul. You either got it or you ain't. Last night, after a strong opening set from Adam Isaac (laid back, acoustic soul with a JK / Buckley tinge), Ms Stone showed - once and for all - that she's got it by the bucket load. Joss is probably the biggest star to play The Rainbow so far, perhaps she always will be. The place was rammed but not uncomfortable, with a nice mix of people and, as ever, a decent atmosphere. Team Joss had pretty much bought everything with them (new lighting, a mixing desk, cuddly toy, kitchen sink, roof, walls...that sort of thing) so the place looked a little different, but it was still a world away from the enormodomes that she's probably used to. It didn't phase her though. In fact I heard a rumour that she'd asked for the crowd barrier at the front of the stage to be removed just so she could be closer to the audience. No diva tantrums here. I'd not seen her live since Glasto a few years back, but the voice...and down to earth attitude...are still both firmly in place. No sign of the American accent that had crept but, to be honest, I wouldn't have cared if it had been there. It's the singing voice I'm interested in. A belter it is too, but not in a Mariah Carey, 'look at what I can do' way. It really is soulful, straight from the gut and with the same sense of passion you'd get from a classic Motown or Stax artist. I got a touch (no, not in that way...pervs) of Randy (steady now) Crawford too, rather than the Dusty that I've heard some people compare her to. Still sticking with the barefoot look and wearing just a simple white dress she looked like an artist reborn (perhaps signalling a return to the more stripped back feel of her debut album?), getting back to her roots (speaking of which I think she's back to her natural hair colour too?...oh jeez I'm turning into Gok Wan). For the trainspotters out there I got a shot of the full set list...there you go.

Not a duff moment in the whole set. The new material (in particular Free Me) stood up really well to the older stuff. Nice to be reminded of just how good that White Stripes reworking, Fell In Love With A Boy is...and Super Duper Love - soul heaven. A nice bit of relaxed between song banter too. Joss made some comment about men not asking girls out anymore and someone shouted, Brummie stylee 'Fancy a curry luv?' I don't think she took him up on his offer but who knows...if you're that mystery man and things clicked over a madras and table naan let me know. Really impressed with the band too. I believe the horn section had worked with the godfather of soul himself, Mr James Brown. That's musical royalty in my book. It was, all in all, a top night and the good folk of promoters Kamikaze! couldn't have done a better job either. To paraphrase our curry loving friend, "Simply Super Duper, luv".

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Velvet Texas Cannonball / Silence Is Dead / Jensen And The Interceptors @ The Rainbow, Digbeth, Friday 20th February 2009

Wooooowooooowoooo (that's my Dr Who's Tardis noise...good isn't it?). Yes, tonight we were transported back in time with a treble bill of retro magic. First up, garage is thy's Jensen And The Intercepters. For non petrol heads the Jensen Intercepter was a rather spiffing car back in the late 60's and early 70's, it had a massive rear window as I recall. Jensen And The Interceptors don't have a massive rear window, but they do have a clutch (geddit...boom boom!) of classic sounding garage tunes. Like all of the bands tonight they look the part too. Sharp threads, authentic guitars, Brian Jones haircuts and the kind of high octane enthusiasm that must've made the original garage scene so ruddy brilliant. Pick of the set tonight was I Only Dance For You, nice vocal interplay between the two singers and the kind of raw energy that would give the great Billy Childish a run for his money. A catchy oooooh oooooh aaaaahhh aaaaahhh chorus too. I do like a nice oooooh oooooh aaaaahhh aaaaahhh.

Next up, Silence Is Dead. Again a bit of a garagey feel, but this time with a shot of rockabilly blues (is there such a thing, well there is now). The lead singer has a breathless kind of vocal delivery, like his very survival depends on the words in the song. There's some great slide guitar going on too, some awesome double bass and a great wad of good 'ol harmonica. The drummer looked like he'd just stepped out of a Texas truckstop too. It's the kind of music you imagine driving down some American highway to, in one of those huge 50's cars with chrome all over the shop...stopping at truckstops to talk to drummers.

Finally, an 'on fire' display from psych rock legends Velvet Texas Cannonball, augmented for the very first time with some bongos. Nice touch. The lead Cannonball has a voice that reminds me of a cross between Rod Stewart (Faces era) and Jim Morrison. With some heavy Hammond action there's a Doors feel to the whole set too. But the secret of any band that takes inspiration from the past (like all of the groups tonight) is to do it well, with passion, conviction and sheer joie de vivre...or as they say in France, joy of life. Last night the Cannonballs were right on target. I've seen 'em a few times before but, like a number of Rainbow regulars, they're getting better and better. We've got a decent scene (I hate that word, but hell we have to call it something) growing here. Some real talent. And it's about time the city took the kind of pride in its bands that Manchester, London and Liverpool does. Soapbox moment over. Anyway, just grab a listen to some of their MySpace tracks, crank up the speakers, light a joss stick (not a Joss Stone...she's playing the Rainbow on Monday...seriously) and you'll see what I mean.

So, there we go. Another darn fine line up in one of Birmingham's musical gems - The Rainbow. Close it and set the city back 10 years. Boremingham City Council, the choice is yours...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stone me...Joss comes to The Rainbow!

Regular readers will know of my love for The Rainbow. Home to many of Birmingham promoter Kamikaze's best nights, it's seen some of the biggest up and coming stars play there in the last year or so (Ladyhawke and La Roux to name just two). But this...this is something else. International soul legend Joss Stone - yes...THE Joss Stone...the 10million album selling Grammy award winning Joss playing The Rainbow on Monday 23rd February. This ain't a wind's (as far as I can tell) a low key warm up gig to debut tracks from her as yet untitled new album. Suffice to say that tickets will be as rare as a bankers' bonus (hell...I might not be able to get in and I practically live in the place). They're on sale now at Ticket Web...well...what are you waiting for?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Soupercalifabulosagenrebendingtastic - The Anomalies' debut soon come.

Oh yes, after biggity, biggity, bigging up The Anomalies for some time now their debut album is set to hit the shops (if there any left) this April. But, being a sneaky little devil, I've grabbed an advance listen. Here's a blow by blow account...

Kicking off with what sounds like an outtake from ELO, opening snippet, Population, quickly morphs into a DJ Shadowesque soundscape before landing firmly in much more familiar Anomalies territory with first track proper, 1830. It's a bit Kaiser Chiefs in places, social commentary superglued to a crowd pleasing jumpalong. Next up Creatures of Habit sees lead vocalist Sam showing off some surprisingly jazzy vocals before Mouthmaster Murf crashes the party. That's the key to The Anomalies appeal for me. Yes, there are plenty of other good hip hop acts out there but like Birmingham's own Misty's Big Adventure, The Anomalies mix it all up with loads of other genres to create something that's as fresh as snowball down your Y-fronts (and that's fresh). Kid Riot, as I've writted here before is just a mental mash up of techno, thrash Jerry's In the Summertime. See? Glorious. Bamboo Beats keeps the pace up, fusing shades of Martha and the Muffins Echo Beach with 1920's style public service announcements. Vibrations, a mainly instrumental turntablist track, has hints of J5's debut EP coupled with The Avalanches. Smoothly done.

Employee Of The Month remains for me one of The Anomalies' best tracks. I forget the name of the female vocalist who was part of the band back in the day, but her contribution just adds that little extra sweetness. " I am the employee of the month. I've got a badge upon my front. So strike me down, down, down". Wise words indeed. The ghost of a McJob haunts me to this very day. The ska tinged Margarita bounces along nicely, then Blue Peter becomes the first ever track to rhyme Dalai Lama with Barack Obama. Ride that zeitgeist (nope, once again I have no idea what I'm on about). Jacobs Ladder is a bit of an odd one out as it leaves the rappy bits until well into the track. Strings, emotive vocals, classical's all here. Oldskool lifts us up again, with a catchy 80's feel (I'm getting a touch of Robert Palmer here) before the album ends where it began with Reprise, those ELO strings kick things off, then we're into some furious breakbeat, jungle drums, piano, fucked up vocals, psycho strings...bonkers. I think there's a hidden track then, just pared back guitar, simple bongos and one of those blow keyboard thingy's. It's like a bunch of mates sitting round a campfire on a hot, hot summer's night (kudos to the human beatboxer), just having fun, fun, fun...which is, pretty much the best word to sum up both the band and this entire genre eating album. And, what the world needs now, to bastardise Burt Bacharach, 'is fun, sweet fun'.

Free Soup Social is out on April 6th on Beyond Music. Buy it, download it, love it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Coast / All Your Peers / The Heathers / Tom Peel @ The Rainbow, Friday 13th February 2009

Happy Valentine's day! Feel the love. Mwah mwah (that's air kissing by the way, not me being sick). Before I get stuck into another chapter in the continuing adventures of The Baron in Rainbow land I wanted to show some love to Ian/Jimmy (I thought he was called Ian but he's called Jimmy in his band bio?!), the soundman at The Rainbow (and lead singer of The Indigos). I've been to one or two gigs in my time and know that a crap soundman can pretty much ruin even the best of bands. Ian/Jimmy on the other hand, is an awesome soundman and last night was nothing less than a masterclass in soundmanology. Give that man a medal.

Speaking of masterclasses...aaahhhhh...thy name is Tom Peel. Being a slack assed ho I go to the gig a leeeeetle bit late and Tom was already well into his set but we caught a fair chunk of it. At times so fragile he's almost not there, at others (last night at least) channelling the spirits of Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits (yes, I know Waitsy ain't dead), he is, as I've said on more than one ocassion, like chicken soup for the soul.

Next up, The Heathers featuring, for only the second time ever...Rachel! Off the door and all that. Rachel's voice is perfectly suited to the indie rock (with a twinge of West Coast) material and she's bloody great fun to watch too, acting out bits of the songs with little hand gestures and some awesome air guitar. The left breast raising bit in This Copper Heart was a particular highlight. Maybe she'll do it for you next time they play? Like I said in my first review of the band it will be interesting to watch where they go from here but it's an impressive start (catch 'em at The St Patrick's day do on the 15th March and see for yourself).

Brighton Pier, Wigan Pier, Blackpool Pier...yes, it's All Your Piers! What's that? Oh PEERS. Right. All Your Peers are a curious proposition in places. The vocals and much of the music is pure rock, but the lead guitarist plays that more high pitch, faster guitar style that you'd associate with The Foals (maths rock I believe the old men call it) for example. It works though, at times they almost hit Muse (one of the best big name live acts around right now in my humble opinion) levels of sound and impact. Lady B wanted them to all have long hair and wear spandex...I'm beginning to worry about her. I can heartily recommend listening to their standout track, All Fours, right now at their My Space page. It's not at all rocky, but that guitar bit, very catchy.

Last up, all the way from Canada, it's The Coast. Coming from Canada they have to be part of that Broken Social seems anything but broken really. Like one of my personal favourites, Stars, they share that same emotional edge to the music, big on slow build tunes that reach a crescendo before vanishing like snowflakes on a hot tin roof (yes, I'm only too aware that snow and hot tin roofs have no place together, but I'm a bit hungover and starry eyed today and, besides, you're not actually reading this are you?). I have to admit I'd not heard any of their tracks before tonight but a couple really stuck out and are lodged firmly in the old brain, the piano driven Nuevo York, being a particular highlight. Niiiiiice.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

You are not your job...

Well, it's finally happened. After a 'consultation period' - not really sure where the consultation came in as we were told we were buggered pretty much at the start of the process - I've been made redundant along with most of the rest of my team. Never been made redundant before. Lots of my fellow workers keep coming up and hugging me, others find it hard to make eye contact. I've been with the same company (as a, websites, radio scripts, brochures, press releases...that kind of thing...can you tell I'm touting for business?) for nearly 7 years and on Friday the 13th (nice timing) I'll be one of a growing band of unemployed folk. What am I going to do? Not sure yet. Part of me is crying out (in a Mr T stylee) 'get your CV up to date and start applying for everything under the sun you crazy fool'...another part is a little more chilled. For the last 17 years or so I've worked pretty much non-stop with no real 'career plan' - I've got even less of a 'career plan' now I guess - and there's a real temptation to just see what happens. Hmmm...straight back onto the corporate career ladder or...and there's the thing...I'm not sure what comes after the 'or'. Watch this space.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Crimes / La Roux / The Electrilickers / Death Ohh Eff @ The Rainbow, Friday 6th February 2009

Snow...snow? Call that snow. Pah. When I were a lad we had 60ft of snow every winter, t'wer so cold the outside loo would freeze over from October right through to April and we'd have to hold everything in until spring. Happily the Rainbow crowd are made of sterner stuff and we pretty much had a full house. Death Ohh Eff kicked things off with a stunning ambient piece inspired by Eno and Glass. I liked it. Atmospheric. What's that? Oh. It was feedback from a dodgy guitar lead? Right ho. Well, once all that was fixed the Ohh Eff did their twitchy shouty electro thing in fine style. Recently tipped by the walking skellington himself Mr Steve 'give the man a pork pie for god's sake' Lamacq as 'good' (cheers Steve...that's the kind of insight that makes national radio such a treat), they're evolving into a kind of a shoutier, rockier, twitchier Foals. I do like a good twitch, it's probably the sign of some form of degenerative disorder but there we go, you can't have everything, right?

Next up The Electrilickers...well half of them. It seems that the guitar dude was stuck in Croydon (nasty) in the snow. Oh, before anyone from Croydon puts a fatwa on my head I'm sure it's a lovely place to be stuck...really. Anyways, I've seen The Electrilickers before a while back and recall being taken with one track in particular Nous Sommes Allees a la Discotecque, sung in French, all classy like. Just as good tonight. In fact, despite being a man down the lady 'licker (oh dear...that sounds a little close to the bone doesn't it...oh does that...keep writing, they won't notice) played a great set and, despite her reservations, I quite enjoyed the slower numbers (check out Fears). Tonight I was taken with No Rest For The Wicked too, full marks for the wooowooowooo bits.

Third on the bill...chuff's only hotly tipped next big thing and 80's pop saviour La Roux! I'm loving this whole 80's revival. Old skool keyboards? Check. Simple, easy to follow and sing along with chorus? Check. Signature haircut? Check. Glam videos? Check. Yep. It's all there. "I'm going in for the kill, I'm doing it for the thrill"...hell, it's just great pop. Lead La Roux, Elly, has a surprisingly strong live voice. I'm guessing there's been some serious vocal training there. The songs may sound simple, but there's a fair amount of vocal gymnastics in places. It was a shortish set (6 songs) but she did exactly what this tour is all about I guess, get the buzz going. Debut single Quicksand got the biggest cheer of the night (damn that's a catchy mother...the daughter of Prince's When Dove's Cry), but every track's a pop gem. If you're an old bastard like me you'll pick up little snippets of old friends, like the touch of Blancmange in Reflections are Protection (jeez, that's an even catchier mother). Unlike Lady Ga Ga (just don't get it I'm afraid) La Roux's worth the hype and, following a sold out tour with Lily Allen in March I'm predicting nothing less than pop stardom. Check her out, it would be Roux'd not to (I've been waiting all day to write that).

Last up the multi-headed (there's six of 'em!) funk rocksters The Crimes. Some great guitar playing, bongoing and vocals tonight - they're pretty much guaranteed to get a crowd moving -and three covers, including a blazing version of The Doobie Brothers' classic Long Train Running. Of their self penned material 'I Know' is standing out as the strongest so far...I can almost hear some brass on there (sax, trumpets...that kind of thing). Seb's vocals were gutsy and powerful throughout a set that lasted well over an hour (not an easy thing to maintain) and the encore demanded by the crowd was justly deserved. Constructive criticism? I like the covers but maybe just one per set? I think the band's developing some good material of their own, the danger of putting this next to such familiar tracks could distract from their songs which would be a...oh...I have to do it...crime. Yes, you're right. I'm going straight to bed without any supper.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Drumattic developments...

We interrupt this website to bring you a record review... remember that robot in Short Circuit? Johnny 5? I think he has a cousin. A seedy little cousin who hangs around nightclubs picking up Blackberrys and taking them back to his shag pad. That is him at the start of this track ordering us not to be ‘so fuckin’ drumattic’ isn’t it? Yes, the latest Drumattic Twins release 'Don't Be So Drummatic' kicks of with some kind of crazed robot vocals and the sort of strings Alfred Hitchcock would cream himself over, before descending into an electro squelch fest. It’s a ear bashingly catchy track, pulsating with energy and (Johnny 5) alive with the spirit of old skool rave. ‘ave it!

B side (if they have such things nowadays) ‘Sound of the Drum’ keeps up the pace with a lively chappie informing us that’s it’s ‘the sound of the drum that makes you…er…cum’. Indeed it is sir…that and an industrial tube of lube, a 500GB hard drive of European porn and a selection of root vegetables. Third track ‘Under The Lights’ takes a bit longer to get going, but when it does it all goes a bit trippy n’chilled, it’s perfect for the beach, sunsets, large rum n’cokes and those girls who twirl balls on bits of ribbon around their heads. If anyone would like to pay me to go out to one of these beaches just to check this theory out I’d be only to happy to oblige. No? Oh alright then.

‘Don’t Be So Drumattic’ is out on Finger Lickin’ Records on 2nd March 2009.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

John Martyn R.I.P

I just couldn't let John Martyn's passing go by without some form of tribute. A truly unique voice and artist he's responsible for some of the most heartbreaking but life affirming music of the past 40 years. If you've not discovered him for yourself start off with this beauty then enjoy exploring one of the best back catalogues around.