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.

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