March already. Jeez. Soon be Christmas. It’s cold enough dammit. Where’s spring when you need it eh? 1st March that’s supposed to be spring, right? Pah! Happily my deep frozen extremities were nicely warmed up by tonight’s openers Free School, a Birmingham based outfit specialising in what those ‘in the know’ might possibly call shoetronica (the bastard love child of Mr Shoegaze and Miss E. Lectronica).
Sounds that wash over you like warm milk mix casually with the beatier stuff and random spoken word samples, creating a craftily layered sonic cake. Yep...a freakin’ sonic cake. With a cherry on top. After perfecting their sound for a year or so this was Free School’s debut live show. Why the delay? Given all of the sonic knob twiddling it seems they were a little unsure of how to make it work live, something they’ve well and truly addressed by donning scary sheep masks and whacking the bejesus out of electronic drum kits. Ones to watch and a...here comes the obligatory pun...class act. Music to chill out, tune in or turn on to.
After chilling out, tuning in and getting a little turned on (must’ve been those sheep masks)...a midweek cider or two has that effect on me... it was time for Mirrors.
I was as gutted as a kipper that I missed their last Birmingham show but tonight more than made up for it. Imagine a more human Kraftwerk, with a dash of OMD, a sprinkle of The Smiths, a drizzle of the Human League and...oh go on then...a hint of the Pet Shop Boys and you’ll have a decent idea of the Mirrors sound. As a self confessed 80’s music lover I was in hog heaven (17) from the moment they struck the first note. There are four of them in the band and they all have their own metal ‘desk’ replete with keyboards and all sorts of other techy stuff. Dressing up in matching suits adds to that classy 80’s pop vibe whilst acknowledging their obvious debt to the corporate look and feel of das ‘werk in their prime. Tonight was the first date of their tour (supporting Fujiya & Miyagi) and their first live outing since the release of their debut album ‘Lights and Offerings’ (which I’d not heard before the show...slack I know). It’s crammed full of classy synth pop (or pop noir as I think the band prefer to call it) and whilst previous single ‘Ways To An End’ remains my favourite track tonight showed that there’s a whole bunch of others queuing up behind it. The Human League-y synths on ‘Hide and Seek’, the more clinical feel of ‘Fear of Drowning’ and the plaintive ‘Into The Heart’ could all easily claim their place on ‘Now That’s What I Call Music Vol 1’. And that’s some claim. Lead singer, James, twitches and pulls shapes along with the music and this, coupled with a back projection that ran throughout the show, added more of a visual element than you’d perhaps expect from them. Given the size of the stage there wasn’t quite enough room to appreciate all of this, but somehow I don’t expect they’ll be playing venues of this size for long.
Finally, and back to the more chilled out end of electronic music, it’s Fujiya & Miyagi. The beauty of F&M’s music lies in the combination of David Best’s (aka Miyagi) whispery, half spoken half sung vocals and Steve Lewis’ (aka Fujiya) hypnotic Krautrocky beats. It’s a bewitching mix and, after seeing them play at the Big Chill a few years back, I was hooked.
Tonight they played a pretty much perfect selection of tracks from their albums to date including the darn fine newbie Ventrilloquizzing. As a live act they’re as understated as much of their music. There’s no in between song banter or whoopin’ and hollerin’. Instead you’ll get gently drawn in their dreamy world where the ghost of Lena Zavaroni mixes happily with Hans Christian Anderson over a Knickerbocker Glory or two. They like repeating phrases in songs and this adds to the hypnotic feel , in fact once or twice during the show I found myself muttering along with certain phrases without realising what I was doing, but then again I’m a bit odd. Pick of the set included ‘Collarbone’, the aforementioned ‘Knickerbocker’ and closing number ‘ Ankle Injury’, its repeated Fujiya Miyagi refrain reminding us, as if there’s anyone else that sounds like this, of who we’ve been watching. Then they were gone. No encore. No “good night Vienna!” No pleas to visit the merch desk for all your Fujiya and Miyagi needs. Like the dreamy sounds we’d been watching they drifted away into the night...maybe they had a date with Lena?