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 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.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Top Tracks # 5 - Everything Everything - Photoshop Handsome

Unusually for this series of random recommendations this one’s pretty recent (even though it has strong echoes of early 80’s legends XTC). On top of being a generally brilliant track (bonkers lyrics, some nice vocal harmonies and a side order of military drumming for good measure) the video’s not bad either. And, guess what? By a strange quirk of fate the band’s playing in Birmingham next Wednesday 28th October at The Flapper...whether they'll end up beating each other senseless remains to be seen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nine Black Alps / Sucioperro / Black Market Empire @ The Hare and Hounds, Monday 19th October 2009

Nine Black lousy photo.

A jaunt to the Hairy Hounds once more to see a band I’ve read about but never actually listened to, partly ‘cos I’m a bit slack like but mainly ‘cos whenever I go onto/into MyBook, YourFace or SpaceTube I inevitably get distracted by some Albanian Gangster Rap, videos of exploding goldfish or messages from people I’ve never met offering to enhance the length of my manhood for just $68 a month. For $68 a month I’d want my manhood to do all the housework, rustle up a nice bit of tea and sing me to sleep too. Why can’t science be more useful eh?

Black Market Empire

Anyhow, casting aside thoughts of singing members, tonight’s bill looked strong enough to get my left leg twitching (it does that a lot you know…it’s what passes for dancing in my eyes). First up were local boys Black Market Empire who kicked off proceedings with another fine Weller / Cast / La’s / OCS infused set. There’s an infectious jauntiness about this band that’s instantly likeable and each time I see them (I think this was the third or fourth time this year) I’m never disappointed. No ‘Get Up, Get Down’ tonight (often one of the band’s set highlights) but tonight ‘The Letter’ and ‘The Tony Allen Dance’ (it is called that isn’t it?) came off really well and, despite opening for two much ‘heavier’ bands, they got a great reception from the crowd too. Bonus points for a nice bit of banter with one of the audience who took the piss when the lead singer stuttered over one of the song titles “Thanks for coming Damo…you c***”. That seemed to do the trick…

Next up Scotland’s Sucioperro (all wearing a distinctive ‘uniform’ of black trousers, white shirts and black armband with a red cross on it) who played a set full of meaty drum driven rock with a good chunk of (fellow Scot’s rockers) Biffy Clyro in the mix. That’s probably not a surprise as lead singer JP Reid is also in (the frankly terrifying) Maramduke Duke with Biffy’s Simon Neil. The set, mainly consisting of tracks from new EP The Dissident Code (out now), cracked along at a rollicking pace and featured plenty of thrashing about and ‘foot on the amp’ rock god poses. The funereal ‘No. 273’ and slower ‘Conception Territory’ took the pace down a notch or two, but we were soon back with the thrashy stuff thanks to a blistering ‘Mums’ Bad Punk Music’. “Believe in your dreams and tell the ones you love that you love them” implored singer JP Reid just before their closing number ‘Don’t Change (What You Can’t Understand). Coming from the mouth of some people that would sound a little sickly, but at the end of a bruising set, and delivered in that slightly menacing Scottish accent, I found it rather touching. Proof that heavy rock has a heart…albeit a slightly twisted, blackened one.

Finally, Nine Black Alps. Kind of like Nirvana fronted by Liam Gallagher in places (quite a few places actually) they put on a solid show of full on rock, balanced with a couple of slower numbers that seemed to make better use of Sam’s vocals. As with Sucioperro there’s some pretty heavy stuff in there and the gig kicked off with a prime example in the form of Salt Water (from the aforementioned album ‘Locked Out From the Inside) before settling into, well, a little bit of a gig rut to be honest. Nothing wrong with the songs as such, but to me they seemed a little samey in places and, with the band suffering from a nasty bout of phlegm, you could understand if their energy levels were less than 100%. Perhaps not knowing the band’s music also stopped me from really getting into it as much as some of the audience, including a particularly determined and energetic stage invader who had to be (literally) carried off and physically restrained for a few moments (Sam christened him his ‘private dancer’...awwww how cute). At times Sam’s voice seemed a little too, I guess the word would be ‘sweet’…I found myself yearning for some Lemmy (or JP Reid for that matter) style growling to match the heaviness of the music. The set picked up considerably halfway through though with ‘Unsatisfied’, the more melodic ‘Bitter End’ and the frankly brilliant new track ‘Vampire In The Sun’ (the set highlight by a good garlic clove or two). So, overall, not bad but I suspect they weren’t firing on all cylinders tonight. Muchos respect due for turning up and doing the show if they were feeling like a bag of shite though...

PS: Noticed a nice blog post on the Nine Black Alps MySpace page slagging off the NME (who, rather unfairly I’d say, gave the band’s new album 3 out of 10). As a reader of NME back in the 80’s and 90’s the magazine’s decline is pretty sad but, I guess, inevitable. The pace of change in the poppier, more mainstream sector of the music biz is so rapid that a printed format just doesn’t stand a chance, which is probably why the NME is now stuffed full of glossy posters and desperate attempts to latch on to any new act that might pull in the punters. As a well established (three albums under their belt so far) straightforward rock outfit, without a hint of the electro sparkle or garage-lite that’s so hot right now NBA would seem to be the complete opposite of what NME’s after. A shame, but I can’t be alone in wishing the NME a speedy end before its dignity and reputation is sullied even further.

PPS: Both ShakeyPix and Wayne (snappers to the stars) were there last night so, for proper pictures, click on the links under Da Snappers.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Miserable Rich / Babel / The Random Family @ The Glee Club, Thursday 15th October 2009

It’s Autumn. My bits are getting cold. It’s this time of time of the year that going out gets just that bit harder. The temptation to curl up in the warm and eat your own body weight in Jaffa Cakes is difficult to resist but the prospect of seeing one of my favourite discoveries of 2009 again, The Miserable Rich, prised my sorry old ass of the sofa once more. But first the support bands richly deserve a mention, kicking off with The Random Family. How random are they? Well, for starters they’re not a family at all. Pah. I want my band names to tell the truth. After all the beatles were actually beetles, heavily made up I’ll grant you, but none the less beetles is what they were. To this day Paul McCartney still likes nothing better than rolling a big ball of dung around his garden. Fact. Anyway, glossing over the fact that The Random Family aren’t a family at all, they play a gentle form of folk pop, made for lazy summer days or, in tonight’s case, cider sodden autumnal nights. Some really lovely harmonies from the band, plenty of informal banter and a good dose of banjo made for a great start to the evening.

Next up - BABEL! That’s something biblical isn’t it? Actually there is something a little biblical about this lot…God they were good. No, really good. Watching them is akin to one of those spiritual conversions that you see on the telly. It was all I could do to stop myself from speaking in tongues. After 20 odd years of going to gigs I’m still constantly amazed by some of the truly great bands out there, doing their own sweet thing beneath the radar of much of the traditional media and, as a result, out of sight of the general public. Babel is one such band. Taking classical, bluegrass, rock n’roll, skiffle and folk, then sticking it in a blender and adding some (at times) oddball lyrics might not seem like a recipe for success but Babel somehow pull it off magnificently. Their lead singer Daniel has a lovely silky voice, note perfect (and I mean perfect) from start to finish. If chocolate could sing it would sound like him (hmmm…singing chocolate and dung ball rolling pop stars…this review’s getting weirder than usual…oh well, c’est la vie). Set against a musical backdrop that’s got shades of everything from Radiohead to Devendra Banhart, Dan Sartain, Canned Heat and ELO it was nothing less than a stunningly brilliant set. Buy the album. Go see them. Spread the word...or you'll be turned into a pillar of salt.

Babel were the dream support for another band that I’m determined to expose to the entire western world, The Miserable Rich. I first saw this band through one of those happy accidents at The Great Escape in Brighton. I was in a pub watching a band I’d planned to see then, after their set, I was getting ready to leave to move on somewhere else when I spotted a cello and stuff being set up on stage. I’m a bastard for a bit of cello so (spur of the moment kinda guy that I am) I stuck around for the next band’s set…The Miserable Rich. Described as chamber pop (that’s as good as description as I can come up with) they strike an emotional chord with me that few other bands ever have done. The wonderfully named James de Malplaquet (the lead singer) has a voice like a slightly tired and world weary angel after a double shift trying to save a gutter full of lost souls. There’s hope and despair in equal measure, songs that remind you of love, childhood and regret, lullabies and late nights. I’m not one to wear my heart on my sleeve (tried it once…blood all over the place…heart in your chest, that’s the best place for it) but The Miserable Rich are truly life affirming. Listen to ‘A Time That’s Mine’. When you’re young you look at your parents and think, I ain’t going to be like them. Work in an office 5 days a week for the next 45 years? Scrimp and save from one pay day to the next? No fear. I’m off. I’m going to be a cross dressing astronaut pop star who invents a cure for cancer, writes the best book ever written, stars in the best movie of all time and then marries a string of hotties before dying at the age of 147 in a bed full of junkie crack whores. And lo, fast forward 20 years…and you’re sat in an office. In my case (before being rudely evicted by the recession) I was actually in the same office block my father worked at for years and years and years. Well, ‘A Time That’s Mine’ captures all that emotion in just a couple of minutes, before ending on optimistic note that sort of takes you back to the age of 7 again, when the world is just so full of hope. Just lovely. That’s only one song. They have a whole album (12 Ways To Count…a true classic in every sense of the word) full of the stuff, most of which they played tonight in a set that, even coming hot on the heels of Babel’s fine showing, still managed to blow me away. From opener, Early Mourning through to Boat Song (which James touchingly dedicated to his mother) on to Monkey and Muswell each and every song is a pocket sized symphony to life’s ups and downs. You know what? If this was the last gig I ever saw, I’d die a happy man.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Slits / PENS / The Courtesy Group @The Rainbow, Wednesday 14th October 2009

They may be less well known than The Pistols (Sex), The Spex (X-Ray) or…er…The John (Jilted) but The Slits richly deserve their place in punk history, not least of which for being one of the few mainly female punk bands (a good 20 years before an altogether more commercial brand of girl power).

Before getting my Slit fix though (that sounds a little wrong doesn’t it?), another chance to see Al Hutchins, Birmingham’s number one mad shouty genius and his band of merry men, The Courtesy Group. Imagine a mad fire and brimstone preacher trying to convert the unconvertable with a soundtrack provided by Frank Zappa and Acid Mothers Temple and you might get some idea of what they sound like. Then again you may have no idea (in which case it’s probably easier to go and have a listen first, then come back to this review and we’ll all pretend that you got what I was talking about all along). Although I’d seen the band a fair few times before, this was a different line up - the main change being the addition of a certain Fyfe Dangerfield, lead singer of The Guillemots. This ain’t as surprising as you might think (Fyfe is Al’s brother and was, I believe, in The Courtesy Group back in the day). Tonight, face hidden behind that floppy fringe of his, he played a mean guitar but otherwise remained silent, perhaps aware that his somewhat angelic voice might not chime too well with Al’s brand of Brummie street preacher. Line up differences aside it was, as ever, an engaging performance featuring another of Al’s stream of conscious poems, plenty of the classics (Brick House Blues and the New Beef were particularly fine tonight) and his trademark audience face offs. Watch out for their new album, ‘Tradesman’s Entrance’ (cue Kenneth Williams style sniggering) coming soon.

The next band, Pens, were a no show for some reason. Maybe they ran out of ink? So we pretty much dived straight into The Slits (hmmm that sounds even worse than ‘slits fix’), or a couple of them at least. Of the original era band only Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt remain. They’re joined by, amongst others, the rather brilliant Hollie Cook (daughter of Paul ‘Sex Pistols’ Cook) on keyboards and vocals. Like The Clash (who The Slits supported back in 1864) the band’s always been into the dubby reggae side of things and tonight’s set was a little like taking a deep drag on a phat one (not that I’ve ever done such a thing...much). Ari’s dreads look like the result of an over eager child using one of those Play-Doh hairdresser sets and her accent (a cross between German and Rasta) is a little unusual to say the least, but her bubbly enthusiasm (33 years into your career this has to be a pretty rare thing) was heartwarming. It warmed something else too as there was plenty of bumping and grinding going on (mainly between Hollie and Ari) and, for some strange reason, Ari poured half a litre of mineral water down her crotch to cool her ‘pum pum’ (that Little Drummer Boy song will never sound the same again). Mind you, given that one of the songs from the set, ‘Lazy Slam’, was an open invitation to shaft your partner whilst they’re asleep, perhaps her ‘pum pum’ needed a little cooling down. Speaking of songs (oh yes, this is supposed to be about music isn’t?) we got all of the hits, including a bowel shakingly dubby reworking of ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ (retitled ‘Heard It Through The Bassline’) and an audience participation version of Typical Girls, plus a selection of new tracks from forthcoming album Trapped Animal. Rather amusingly, before doing one of these new songs, Ari had been playing Tessa’s bass and got it stuck in her Play-Dreads as she tried to lift it over her head, ‘Me ‘air dun wanna le go o mi bass!’ she squealed. It took 16 firemen to cut her free…

After leaving the stage to rapturous applause from the audience (a mix of old punks, trendy young things, curious random folk and me) one of the audience members got on the stage, picked up the microphone and started the traditional call back the band for an encore bit. Ari and Tessa duly returned but, in return for the audience member’s impromptu MC’ing Ari left the vocals up to her and sat down behind the drum kit instead. So the encore was Ari, Tessa and (by her own admission) a slightly drunk girl. Actually she was very good, delivering a ‘hear mi now’ kind of toasting against more of the dubby stuff. A surprisingly endearing ending to a surprisingly endearing night.

The 'set Slit'

PS: All of my photographer chums were there last night so, for proper pictures of the gig, go to Da Snappers list to the left of this and fill yer boots!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This is Slits...

Tonight. At The Rainbow. Digbeth. The Slits. Legendary punk band. Gobbing by invitation only. Actually I don't think they ever went in for that gobbing business. Best not to try it. Maybe you could just pretend? Anyway, it's a rare chance to see them and a darn sight cheaper than the PiL gig at The Academy in December. £36! That buys a hell of a lot of butter Mr Lydon

PS: Did you know that John Lydon is Ari Up's (The Slit's lead singer) step father.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Destroyers / The Toy Hearts / The Old Dance School @ The Town Hall, Sunday October 11th 2009

The Town Hall’s seen a fair few acts in its 175 years. The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Pink Floyd, MC Charlie Dickens on the ones and twos (playing Bleak ‘House’)…but tonight it’s the setting for some homegrown talent, kicking off with folk six piece The Old School Dance. Actually that’s Folk with a capital F. The real McCoy. The sort of music that you’d probably have heard played in ye olde inns across the land a couple of hundred years back. Of course they’ve freshened it up a little (tonight they revealed that one of the jigs was inspired by a late night drive home from a gig soundtracked by Radio One) but the music remains true to its roots.

It’s always heartening to see a young band embrace such a traditional sound. Images of desolate moors, flame haired maidens and wild ale fuelled dances around bonfires abound and I had to nail my feet to the floor to stop myself from doing a strange kind of Riverdance jig (trust me…no one wants to see me dance…very messy). The guy who played the ‘box’ (he sat on it and played it like a drum…can’t think what’s it’s called, but a few folk bands use ‘em now) was particularly good tonight, at one point he did a kind of duelling banjos style bit with the two fiddle players…break beat folk anyone?

The idea that one of the greatest bluegrass acts around right now should be here in Brum is, let’s face it, pretty preposterous. But here we are watching them. The Toy Hearts (a family concern – two sisters, one dad) have been going a while now. I first saw them at the inaugural Moseley Folk Festival and since them they’ve (in a coals to Newcastle stylee) played at Bluegrass festivals in the USA and cut a couple of rather fine albums. Shut your eyes and you can almost smell the campfires and mountain air. Papa Toy Heart’s an accomplished banjo and slide player and daughter # 1 (Sophia) is, it transpired, the only female flat pick guitar player to be featured in Flat Pick Guitar Monthly (available at all good newsagents). Daughter # 2 (Hannah) meanwhile was recently at something called the Bluegrass Leadership Programme, a US backed scheme to destroy the Taliban with an army of mandolin and banjo players singing songs about how their man/woman gon’ dun them wron’. I jest (no, really), but clearly the band’s getting the kind of respect stateside that most bands would give their wing tip collars for. As with The Old Dance School, it’s traditional music but delivered in such a fresh and enthusiastic way that you’d need to be clinically dead not to feel invigorated by it all. Highlight of the set included a new number entitled ‘Tequila and High Heels’ - a not entirely successful combination Hannah ruefully observed (I can vouch for that, those high heels are a bitch after a couple of glasses of dry white wine).

Finally, the explosive force of energy that is The DestroyersBirmingham’s very own gypsy klezma ska collective (a proposition that’s probably even more preposterous than the Toy Hearts). I like to think that they all live together in a big house somewhere, cooking huge pots of stew and singing songs late into the night whilst plotting ways to overthrow the government and make the wearing of gypsy style clothing compulsory (I reckon those pointy hats that some of the band wear would end gang violence overnight). At the heart of this whirling maelstrom of fiddles, ukes, trumpets, clarinets, tubas, trombones and hurdy gurdys is Mr Paul Murphy, part demented ringmaster part MC and with a voice to die for (Scots with a distinct hint of menace and madness). The lyrics are as nuts as the music…just cop a listen to Glass Coffin Burial for example…an everyday tale of a scientist who finds a way to make himself dead….but alive…so he can lie in his coffin and watch time pass by. You don’t get that from Lady Ga Ga. The band started this track lying on the floor of the stage, corpse like before kicking off with a tune that could, quite possibly, actually raise the dead. Another highlight (there were many) was the mass sing along to Viva La Musica, several hundred people belting out the words, unaccompanied, back to the band. As celebrations for the Town Hall’s 175th birthday go, you couldn’t get much better. It was a dizzying show, part celebration / part call to revolution…hmmm…perhaps it’s time to end the old three party political system once and for all and just introduce the PARTY system, courtesy of The Destroyers. They’d get my vote.

PS: It appears that this show was recorded using six cameras (that’s roughly one camera per 28 members of the band) so I suspect some form of film might be in the offing. As this was arguably one of their finest ever performances that’s a very, very good thing. Viva la musica!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bollywood Steps @Victoria Square, Friday 8th October 2009

At last! A Hindi tribute to H, Clare, Faye, Lisa and the other one. Can’t wait to hear their version of ‘5,6,7,8’ (or “Panch, Chhah, Saat, Aath” as you’d say in Hindi…ha…that’s impressed you eh?). What’s that? Oh. It’s not a Hindi Steps tribute band? Shame. I really think there’s some mileage in that. Nope instead it’s a spectacular Bollywood style dance event hosted by Bobby Friction (now that’s a great name for someone in Steps innit?). I have to admit that I’ve never seen an entire Bollywood film, but I’ve seen bits of them and they all seem to feature some kind of dance every 5 minutes or so. If only real life was like that eh? There you are, standing in the queue at Aldi and all of a sudden the old woman in front of you whips off her cardie and starts waving her arms all over the shop and doing that head sticky out thing. Then the geeky 16 year old stacking shelves joins in, scattering packets of pasta (99p for a kilo) as he goes, followed by the heavily tattooed security guard, the slightly scary cashiers (how quick are they…do Aldi provide a stash of speed for everyone?) and that Albanian chap who’s always playing the concertina outside. Soon the entire store is a riot of music, colour and cheapo knock off wannabe brands like ‘Twax Fingers’, ‘Anthrax Toilet Tissue’ and ‘Noddy Form Sanitary Towels’…

Anyway…sadly life ain’t like that but tonight was as close as we’re going to get with a fine troupe of dancers shaking their thang as part of the Town Hall’s 175th anniversary celebrations. Backed by 10 Dhol drummers, lit up by fireworks and featuring a host of flexible young bodies (if I tried to do any of those moves my limbs would snap off) it more than lived up to its claims to be a ‘spectacular’. I was fortunate enough to have a press pass (shhh…don’t tell anyone) and enjoyed a particularly good view of the whole shebang. Choreographed by Birmingham’s very own Simmy Gupta the show’s five years old now and has already played to rapturous receptions all over the shop, but this was its first showing here in Brum. Split into a head spinning 22 sections over 40 minutes or so it’s a little like being dropped slap bang right into the middle of a Bollywood movie – in other words, mad, funky, exotic and more than a touch camp in places. The night kicked off with an all girl dance (dancing in what I’d call a more traditional Bollywood style). Half way through a fountain of water sprayed over them, catching the light as it fell like a million tiny pearls. Quite magical. Next up were a bunch of chaps dressed in tuxes doing a more modern R&B tinged number (some Jacko style moves in there if I’m not very much mistaken). Their neat trick was a Buck’s Fizz style ‘Making Your Mind Up’ trouser rip off, revealing traditional Asian dress underneath. Funky and funny at the same time. The Town Hall made perfect backdrop and, at several points, Dhol drummers and dancers appeared between the columns of the Hall, the lighting casting giant shadows up the walls of the building. The show climaxed with the Wedding scene, culminating in an explosion of fireworks and a mass dance off featuring 175 local schoolchildren who’d been taught some of the moves (makes a nice change from double geography I guess…).

Of course describing dancing’s even harder than describing bands (you’d think after reviewing the odd thousand or so I’d be getting better, but no). Happily Andy (aka DRW-Images) snapped away like man possessed and captured the real flavour of the event far more than my mere words could ever hope to.

PS: The show’s on again at 3pm today…er, right now then…and tonight at 8pm (arrive at 7.30 to learn some steps for yourself). Altogether now…‘‘Panch, Chhah, Saat, Aath’…

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Top Tracks # 4 - The Miserable Rich - Pisshead

Okay, time for another in my random series of Top Tracks and this time it’s a bit of a heads up too. Next week (Thursday 15th October) the world’s leading purveyors of chamber pop (and performers of this particular Top Track ‘Pisshead’), The Miserable Rich, are playing at The Glee Club. Tickets are a mere £5, so even the miserable poor (like me) can afford it. I was lucky enough to see them live at The Great Escape in Brighton earlier in the year and they are heartbreakingly, tear inducingly good. Seriously. As this live clip shows they’re big in Duisberg, but have yet to get a sniff of the attention that they deserve here in the UK. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Frame and fortune…

Regular readers will be familiar with my humble photographic efforts. To be honest I don’t put a huge amount of effort in most of the time (which probably explains the results) but hopefully the snaps capture something of the evening. Over the past few months though I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some proper photographers at gigs and, for your delectation and delight, I’ve added links to them in the lists to the left (under Da Snappers). They (Andy aka DRW-Images, Richard aka Shakeypix and Wayne) are often at the gigs that I attend and, on top of being jolly nice chaps, are all excellent photographers too. Enjoy!

PS: You’re quite possibly wondering what a picture of a lizard is doing at the top of this post. Hmmm…me too…but I took it and it looks a damn sight better than most of my efforts, so there we go. Er…and Jim Morrison (of The Doors) was known as the lizard king...there was a band called the Flying Lizards as well. See, my musical blogging integrity remains in tact. Sort of.

Doll & the Kicks / The Lights / Drunk Lovers, Sinners & Saints @ The Hare & Hounds, Monday 5th October 2009

Before tonight’s gig there was a bit of a rumour going around that Morrissey was going to turn up. Yep. THE Morrissey. Hmmm, we’ll see. It’s not entirely bonkers for reasons you’ll discover in a moment…but even so…Morrissey in a pub? In Kings Heath? It just don’t feel right.

Anyway, first up Drunk Lovers, Sinners and Saints (which one are you eh?). Lead Drunk Lover/Sinner/Saint (delete as applicable) Sal’s got a really strong, rocky voice, perfectly suited to the material. This might sound like an odd thing to say but you’d be surprised how often the two just don’t quite match somehow. ‘Say Anything’ and another track that might have been called ‘Someone Stand By Me’ were particular highlights. Citing Paramore as an influence they’re well worth a listen, especially if you’re in touch with your inner emo (although debate rages about whether Paramore are emo or not…but that’s a whole different kettle of eyeliner).

Next, and hallelujah brothers and sisters, I’ve seen The Lights! Actually I saw them before a couple of years back supporting The Wombats, but that doesn’t make a very good intro now does it? Folky, country tinged grown up pop, they’re pleasant listening and, in tracks like Low Hundreds (the standout number of their set), cleverly combine this with some memorable choruses and hooks. The male/female vocals work really well in places, with the female half recalling shades of the lushness of Sam Brown. Now that’s lush. Wonder what happened to her (anyone under the age of 30 probably has no idea what I’m on about, but Sam was one of the UK’s best female vocalists back in the late 80’s). Hold on a mo. Hmmm seems she’s working with Jools Holland, releasing solo stuff and living in a tiny Scottish village. I don’t blame her. Ain’t the web great? It’s not just there for porn and images of cats with captions reading ‘Can I has a reason why this is remotely amusing?’ you know.

Right. Time for the main event. A band you read about here first (sort of). The last time I saw Doll & the Kicks was May 2008, playing upstairs in a pub on the outskirts of Brighton. Now look how far they’ve come, here they are, playing upstairs, in a pub, on the outskirts of Birmingham. Ahhh but there’s a huge difference. This time they’re fresh from a tour supporting a certain Mr Morrissey who, by all accounts is a bit of a DATK fan and prone to popping along to see them (see…that’s how rumours start). In fact they’re supporting him again soon all over the UK and they will…I am hearts, minds and asses. I’m not going to beat around the bush here - lead singer Doll is, let’s face it, a sexy lady. I know we’re all supposed to live in a world in which such things don’t matter but they do, especially in the world of la musique pop. She’s ditched the long blonde hair that she had last time I saw her and the short version that followed, now she’s gone all noir, creating a slightly 60’s kind of look (the sparkly hot pants helped). That’s the image sorted then, but combine all of this with a belter of a voice (Gwen Stafani meets Lena Lovich), enough stage sassiness to give the pope (or indeed Morrissey) a stiffy and tunes so infectious (Blondie meets the Scissor Sisters) that scientists across the western world are currently working on a vaccine and you’ve got a winning package. ‘Roll Up the Red Carpet’, ‘He Was a Dancer’, ‘Pictures’, ‘You Turn Up’…one great, classic new wave pop song after another, all delivered by a bouncing ball of energy. Being in the fortunate position of already knowing most of the songs tonight’s gig came across like a greatest hits set to me but, purely in the interests of impartiality, I sought the opinion of a few people who were new to the band and they were knocked out, bowled over, blown away, tickled pink (or whatever superlative you fancy) too. Top Doll-ar.

And did Morrissey turn up? What do you think eh? Although I did see a slightly camp looking fellow in the toilets. Oh. That’ll be a mirror then…

Monday, October 05, 2009

General Fiasco / The Onlookers / The Fall, The Rise @ The Academy, Birmingham, Sunday 4th October 2009

Forsaking the Antiques Roadshow (how rock n’roll am I eh?) a comfy sofa and a gentle drift into dribbling oblivion after chuffing my way through an entire roasted cow instead I made my way to the new Academy for a night of equally new music in the shape of…deep breath…The Fall, The Rise, The Onlookers and General Fiasco. General Fiasco? Admit it, as band names go that’s kind of asking for trouble. Short of calling yourself ‘Colin Cockup and the Halfwits’ you couldn’t arm your critics with much more ammunition if you tried. Anyway, we’ll gloss over that for now and focus on the opening act, ‘ladeeez and gennelmen iiitttt’s The Fall, The Rise!’ Oh, hang on. Where’s the audience? Hmmm, I’m not a mathematician but there can’t have been more than 15 people here, in a venue that must hold around 250 people. Shame. That’s the allure of the Antiques Roadshow I guess. Those that were there, mainly a line of teens clamped limpet like to the barriers, probably weren’t the best audience for The Fall, The Rise’s take on At The Drive In / Biffy Clyro. With larynx shredding vocals and a lead singer who paced the stage like a caged animal it was an engaging performance (sprinkled with a nice line in self depreciating wit) but, without the buzz of a decent sized audience, they were really up against it. Set highlight (and new song – you can listen to it on Their Space) ‘As Close To An Apology As You’ll Get’ shows that, 4 years into their career, the band’s name could well be coming true. Fans of a raw, head down rock would be well advised to check them out.

Next up (and arguably deliverers of the most consistently impressive set of the night) The Onlookers. Bringing an iPod’s worth of influences the lead vocalist has a Kings of Leon sort of sound (even straying into Noddy Holder style blues hollering at times), whilst the music sweatily embraces everything from Sex Pistol riffs to The Doors, The Small Faces and Hamburg-era Beatles. The bluesy feeling ‘Woodlouse’ got the best response from the crowd (which stubbornly showed no real signs of growing) and the band neatly avoided any mid set lulls with a well paced selection of tracks.

On then to Northern Ireland’s very own General Fiasco. I knew less about this band than I do about Quantum Physics but a quick search on Google reveals that it’s made up of three Bulgarian transvestites in their 80’s. Hmmmm…maybe the Interweb isn’t the reliable source of knowledge I thought it was. Ahhh, no, hang on, I have it now. They formed at school in Northern Ireland a few years back and have since supported The Wombats, The Pigeon Detectives and The Enemy (educational huh?). Recently signed to Infectious Records (who’ve previously snapped up Ash and The Subways amongst others) General Fiasco are attracting a fair bit of attention right now, earning themselves a support slot on The Enemy’s next major tour and the attention of Zane ‘I’m nothing like Murray from Flight of the Conchords’ Lowe. Okay, here endeth the lesson (there’ll be questions later so I hope you were paying attention), how was the gig? Well, you just can’t fault the energy or deny the catchiness of some of the songs, especially ‘Rebel Get By’ (an anthem for generation Skins if ever I heard one), ‘Sinking Ships’ and new single ‘We Are the Foolish’ (out soon and – neck on the line here – a surefire hit) replete with shouty out ‘HEY!’ bit for the crowd. Musically they came across as a mix of the Kooks and Green Day (unsurprisingly there were echoes of Ash in there too)…in other words catchy pop with a rock edge. The crowd (still not much bigger) consisted of a few superfans who I noticed knew most of the words and there was some gentle bobbing about. For me some of the mid set songs were a tad samey, a problem accentuated by the strength of the tracks already mentioned, but this is a band at the start of their career so there’s plenty of time to develop more killer and less filler. The lead singer also does that eee-lonng-aaaat-iiiiinnnggggg of words from time to time that’s ever so popular these days, (his voice is strong enough to dispense with such vocal clichés), but that’s a minor gripe. All in all an impressively solid show from a band you sense have a lot further to go. Fiasco well and truly avoided.

PS: This was my first time in the ‘new’ Birmingham Academy. A great improvement on the old one, but then again a second hand septic tank would be a great improvement on the previous place. Tonight we were in the equivalent of the old Bar Academy. This version is so much better, a square room (rather than a long one) giving plenty of space to move about and a decent view wherever you stood. Not sure about the flashing urinals though…most disturbing seeing your genitalia (or anyone else’s for that matter) lit up like a Christmas tree. And £3.70 for a pint of Strongbow? Shocking.

PPS: There are some more super pictures of this gig (and many others for that matter) taken by the lovely Wayne John Fox right here (look under "Sets" "Live music").

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Zu / Beestung Lips / Das Bastard @ The Rainbow, Friday 2nd October 2009

Graagggghgnggngnagghhhhhhhh!!! Okey, maybe that’s not the typical way to begin a gig review but then again none of the bands on tonight’s bill were what you’d call ‘typical’ either. Nope. What it is though is an approximation of the noise emanating from the mouth of the lead singer of openers Das Bastard. Formed from several other projects (including an Untitled Musical one) tonight was the Bastards very first gig. You couldn’t tell. They’ve already really gelled as a ‘unit’ (as they call it in the biz) and make a glorious noise in the grand tradition of bands like The Jesus Lizard (or so someone far wiser and better versed in this particular genre told me), in other words LOUD…but surprisingly melodic in places. The lead bastard spent a large part of the show crawling over monitors and thrashing about like a beheaded anaconda on the floor. It was during one of these thrashes that I noticed he was wearing odd socks. Hmmm, perhaps it’s a comment on the mixed up nature of the world in which we all live (hence the angry, angst ridden soundtrack)…or then again perhaps he just got dressed in the dark. Whatever the reason Das Bastard are a darn fine addition to Birmingham’s musical scene and an absolute must see. The wearing of odd socks is, of course, compulsory.

Sandwiched between the Bastards and headliners Zu were Birmingham’s finest hardcore punksters Beestung Lips, making a triumphant return to the live stage. On top of being a damn fine bunch of musicians the Lips are blessed with a lead vocalist whose very soul seems to explode out of his pores as he performs. If you’ve seen Heroes (Season One I think) where that bloke explodes, taking the world with him, you’ll know just what I’m talking about. Variously going by the name of Biff, Hetero and now Ben, he never gives anything less than 100%. He has one of the most engaging microphone techniques I’ve ever seen. It’s as though he’s fighting with the thing, holding it at arms length, trying to protect himself from it with a well placed hand, using it like a cross to ward off the evils of the world. I could just be imagining things, but that’s how it seems to me. Trying to explain the sound (of any of tonight’s bands really) isn’t an easy thing to do. This is music to be experienced. But, if you want some idea, it sounds, well, damn pissed off. Imagine the most angry you’ve ever been about anything. Now multiply that feeling by 10. Now feed that through bloody great speakers and crank up the volume. There. That’s what Beestung Lips sound like. Bloody brilliant.

Last up – and legends in their genre…actually they’re probably the only group that exist in their genre (given that the play a kind of demented metal math jazz) – Zu. For a three piece they make one hell of a noise. Imagine a jazz combo crashing into a psychotic metal band on the M25 and you’ll get some idea of the sound. Deep, throbbing bass, tribalistic drumming and the kind of sax that would give Lisa Simpson an instant embolism all come together in surprisingly intricate freeform jazz patterns that, depending on your state of mind, either makes you want to blow off your own head or leap up and down like fruitcake. It’s music for the mad…your own personal soundtrack to your 119th nervous breakdown and yet…and yet…after a while it all seems to make some kind of strange sense.