Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let it blow, let it blow, let it blow...

Loving this track right now, even though it’s currently being played to death on 6 Music. No idea why 'they' insist on using a version the replaces the words ‘blow job’ with ‘snow job‘ though...what is this...the 1800’s? Jeez. The average news report's far more offensive these days and I don’t see anyone rushing to blank out the gibberish pouring from the brain dead chuff monkeys overseeing the decline and fall of Western civilisation do you? No! Exactly. More blow jobs and less nut jobs...that’s what I say. Happily the video version above it were...with the correct lyrics. Hurrah! Anyway, just listen to the track, one of the best things that lovely Mr Malkmus has done since his Pavement days. It’s really rather spiffing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas With The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas

With the three main men from the Rat Pack all having inconveniently finished their ‘last one for the road’ back in the 1990’s there’s a booming industry in recreating that old school Vegas vibe these days with dozens (hell, maybe hundreds) of performers stepping into the shoes of Messers Davis, Martin and Sinatra. Any tribute show comes with an immediate and unavoidable slice of cheese (not always a bad thing), but if the impersonators do a decent job, well, a helluva good time can be had by all. Approaching this current touring version of the Rat Pack show with this in mind the cast did indeed do an impressive job of reanimating the legends. It probably helps if you’re not an obsessive Sammy, Frank or Dean fan...I guess you’d spend most of the trying to spot the difference if you were. As a casual fan of at least two of the three the voices and mannerisms seemed pretty spot on to me though.

There are several Franks, Sammys and Deans in the current touring show and I guess they rotate from venue to venue. Here in Birmingham we got Stephen Triffitt, simply one of the best Sinatra’s in the biz and the perfect leader of the pack for the night’s entertainment. Amongst some fine solo spots (Sammy’s Mr Bojangles was particularly impressive) the group numbers were the most fun, capturing the legendary banter that made the original pack such a riot. The addition of a female trio, The Burelli Sisters, added more than a little sass to proceedings and they’re frankly good enough to carry a show on their own, some superb vocal harmonies, suitably festive and glamorous costumes and simple but effective choreography all delivered with oodles of energy.

It’s da toons dat really make da show of course. On top of the aforementioned Mr Bojangles you’ve got everything from That’s Amore and Volare, slurred to perfection by Dean, to the perennial Christmas party favourite New York New York (normally played just as Cheryl from Accounts has vomited into the punch bowl before copping off with...well...anyone actually). Plus, as this is Christmas With The Rat Pack there’s a flurry of Santa-tastic tracks of course including Frank’s take on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas accompanied in fine style, as were all the songs tonight, by The Rat Pack Big Band. Trust me, ‘yule’ love it and‘rats’ a fact (how many more puns can I shoehorn into this? ‘Franks’ for asking...).

Christmas With The Rat Pack is on at the New Alexandra Theatre until 3rd December.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Puppini Sisters – Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

Ahhhhhh the glamour of the past, when even ‘umble street urchins would wear a suit and tie to mug passers by and ladies wore stocking and suspenders. Nothing else. Just stockings and suspenders. Despite the fact that I would almost certainly have had my head blown off by Adolf and his mates I can’t help wish I’d been born in the 1920’s or 30’s. Sadly I was born in the decade that taste forgot, the 70’s and, whilst I did get to enjoy the best years for pop ever, the 80’s, I still hanker after a bit of old school glamour. That’s probably what attracts me to the Puppini Sisters, a trio of delightfully retro dames with three albums already under their (suspender) belts and a forth, Hollywood, due out in December. They’re off on a tour during the same month too (appearing at Birmingham Town Hall on the 7th), bringing some much needed festive cheer to the tired and oppressed masses.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vintage Trouble / Kill It Kid / The Reverend Soul Shakedown DJ @ Academy 22nd November

OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!! Nope, I’ve not trapped my ‘bits’ in the door again, that my friends, is the sound of Mr Ty Taylor, lead singer of tonight’s headliners, Vintage Trouble, and quite possibly the new hardest working man in showbusiness. More on him (and them) in a momento, first up, after some fine soul tunes from DJ The Reverend Soul Shakedown, Kill It Kid. Like a slightly less grizzled Black Keys, they’ve got da blues brothers and sisters. Formed in the deep south, that’ll be Bath then, KIK have been a howlin’ and a hollerin’ for a few years now and, it has to be said, they make an almighty sound. Notable for having darn impressive male and female vocalists (I mean one of each, they ain’t hermaphrodites or anything...although how cool would that be eh...blues hermaphrodites...they could sing about how they dun themselves wrong), Chris and Stephanie, they’ve also got a decent stash of self penned blues belters. Pick of the bunch were You’re In My Blood, a testifyingly sultry, make that lust, song and their last number, Let My Feet Fall Heavy, featuring some rather fine thrashy blues rock guitar solos.

Judging by the pretty decent turnout tonight Vintage Trouble are clearly enjoying a bit of a boost from their Later...appearance earlier this year, I guess touring with Bon Jovi and playing with Brian May didn’t do them any harm either. Apparently they played 80 shows over 100 days in front of a grand total of 400,000 people. Blimey. That would go some way to explaining the sharpness of the show though. Despite looking about 150 at the moment I’m far too young to have seen the legendary Stax tour and soul revues of the ‘60’s. No, honestly, I am. You can get a vague idea of the kind of raw energy from grainy clips on You Tube though. Awesome. There’s something primal about the whole thing that’s difficult to find these days. I’m guessing the ‘newness’ of the music and the hunger (metaphorical and literal) probably had a lot to do with it. Well, tonight Vintage Trouble somehow managed to conjure up that same kind of feel. Boy this band works a crowd. Within seconds they’d got hands in the air, booties shakin’ and people singing along. Kicking off with Hard Times Coming (cue one slightly mournful Brummie voice shouting “They’re already here mate”) they barely paused for breath for nearly two hours with Ty spinning, leaping and jigging about like a man possessed...or, for the Sci Fi geeks out there, like Cat from Red Dwarf. It’s a masterclass in old school soul showmanship, channelling the spirits of Otis Redding, James Brown and Mr Midnight Hour himself, Wilson Pickett.

I’m guessing most of the guys in the band are late 30’s (Ty’s 42) so they’ve clearly put in the hours over the years, hence the tip top performance. I’m also guessing that this relatively late career break means everything to them too. It shows. They played as though their lives depended on it. Highlights? Hell, the whole thing. But that guitar solo by Nalle Colt during a 10 minute plus version of Run Outta You was one of the finest bits of blues guitar work I’ve seen, intricate and soulful one second, blistering and rawkus the next.

Ty’s vocals on some of the slower numbers, stuff like Gracefully, were just sublime too...somewhere the ghost of Otis is smiling down on this dude and nodding approvingly. A frantic run through Blues Can’t Hold Me Down capped off the encore before the Academy disgorged several hundred sweaty Brummies out onto the streets. I reckon even Mr Mournful had a smile on his face by the end of this one. A truly Vintage night out all round.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mamas Gun / Arabella @ Birmingham Academy, Friday 18th November

Capping off a week of frantic gig going (5 in 6 nights...yes...I know...) tonight might have been a bit heavy going had it not been for the mind, body and soul lifting music of both bands on the bill. Bless ‘em. Sadly we missed opener Kristina (it was really early doors tonight...3.30 or something...) but Arabella - a local outfit from Cov with a neat line in white boy soul – were mightily impressive. Well worth a listen or catching live.

Mamas Gun have been around for about 4 years now, delighting small but perfectly informed crowds in the UK with their instantly loveable blend of soul, funk n’pop. The last time I saw them (about 18 months ago) I lamented the fact that they weren’t playing to a much bigger crowd and, whilst numbers were most definitely up, the same gripe applied this evening. As with their last gig it doesn’t seem to bother them unduly though and I doff my proverbial cap at any band that manages to keep up this kind of relentless energy and effort in the face of much smaller audiences than they deserve. That’s a rant for another day though, tonight was an ass shaking joy from start to finish.

With two albums of gorgeous hook laden soul pop now under their belts there’s plenty of material to choose from and tonight’s set was nothing less than a ‘greatest hits’ show...The Life & Soul, Finger On It, Pots Of Gold, Rocket To The Moon, Reconnection...just one awesome track after another. Soul purists and train spotters may point out the influences from previous generations of artists but Mama’s Gun ain’t a covers band merely rehashing existing tracks, they’re genuinely adding some remarkably great music to the whole soul/funk genre. Perhaps more importantly though they’ve got a knack for delivering a 100% satisfaction guaranteed live show too. I’ve been to some gigs in my time. Thousands in fact. This one has to make the top 10. No question. I normally make notes, analyse, do the odd comparison but tonight all I could do was grin like a loon and shake a tail feather...not a pretty sight I’ll grant you but there we go.

Lead singer Andy Platts is as soulful as a plate of gumbo, ‘The Professor’ (bassist Rex Horan) is possibly the coolest dude in history (check out that ‘tache...), keyboardist Dave ‘Eighties’ Burnell teases out the kind of notes Booker T would give up his MG’s for, Terry ‘Spiller’ Lewis funks his guitar like a man making sweet lurrrrrrve and drummer ‘Union’ Jack Pollitt provides the essential backbeat that drives the whole thang along. It's just a joy to watch and together they put on the show of their lives last night. In fact I positively defy anyone to go see them and not love every single frickin' second.

If you only ever go to one gig in your life, make it Mama’s Gun.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lana Del Rey / Jake Bugg / Seye Adelekan @HMV Institute, Thursday 17th November

Predictably this gig was so sold out that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Lana herself hadn’t got in. Simply the hottest ticket in town. Before the delightful Miss Del Rey though the crowd were warmed up with some fine solo singer /songwriter stuff from Jake Bugg (shades of The Coral’s jaunty scouse pop in there)and Seye (“pronounced Cher”) Adelekan. Particularly liked his Legs Like Beyonce number...even if the subject of the track makes me want to seal up my ears with cement.

This evening was all about one person though. Arguably as famous right now for the endless wittering on about whether she’s ‘real’ enough or merely the product of an undersexed marketing department one thing’s for Video Games Lana Del Rey has delivered one of THE songs of the year. Oozing fading Hollywood glamour it’s an instantly memorable theme tune for the self proclaimed ‘gangster Nancy Sinatra’, set to become one of those tunes that the world and his wife tries to cover (so far Kasabian and Bombay Bicycle Club are amongst the bands that have had a bash...come on Dappy, what’s keeping you?). Despite her seemingly rapid rise to fame Lana’s actually been around for a while though. In a previous life she traded under the name of Lizzy Grant (her real name’s Elizabeth Grant), playing dates in 2008 and delivering a low key EP back in 2009. After going to ground for a while she emerged, butterfly like and plump of lip, this year with Video Games, an instant You Tube hit (6,185,854 views so far...and counting). Okay, that’s the history and the hype covered, tonight was one of the first chances to see this potential icon in the making in the flesh. Front page news or classified ad?

Flanked by two giant white balloons (acting as makeshift screens for video clips to be projected on throughout the show) she came onstage, uttered a simple “Love You” in response to some similar declarations of affection and launched into Without You/China Doll (there seems to be some debate as to what this song’s called). Boy, the girl can sing. Possessing that same kind of other worldliness that Kate Bush has, and capable of a similar level of vocal gymnastics, she’s also, it has to be said, as sexy as Jessica Rabbit. Now that’s sexy. Being a hottie will only get you so far though and having only one big song does not a career make. The haters can toddle off and diss someone else though, remarkably Video Games isn’t her best one, vocally or lyrically. Born To Die sees the first of her split personality vocals, veering from tough country tinged to little girl lost in a beat. There’s the spirit of the chanteuse in there too and, whilst she’s no Piaf just yet, it’s not difficult to see her developing that same gut wrenching emotional intensity. Oui, vraiment! Next up came Blue Jeans, a David Lynchian trawl through shattered love and the American dream starting with Lana’s full on breathy vocal then moving on to a bewitching Tori Amos wibblyness. Just gorgeous. When she sang “I will love you ‘till the end of time” you could almost hear 600 hearts skip a beat. Next up, a track she introduced as “my favourite”, Million Dollar Man. Again it’s a damaged love song but this time with more of a laid back jazzy feel, a little My Funny Valentine in places. Vocally it was arguably the performance of the night with some truly ‘raising the hairs on the back of the neck’ moments. Video Games got the reception it deserved and was 100% stronger than her slightly tentative live rendition on Jools Holland a few weeks back. I’m guessing it’s not an easy song to sing, being pretty low key for most of the time and calling for tired restraint rather than the kind of powerful vocal Lana’s so clearly capable of. But, to see one of the most strangely magical songs of the year performed with such a light touch The 40’s Hollywood meets hip hop mashup of You Can Be The Boss was perhaps the least convincing song of the night but no less enjoyable for that.

I guess you can’t expect a two hour spectacular this early on in her career and Team Del Rey are clearly going for the old less is more approach so the set just scraped past the 45 minute mark ending with Off To The Races with Lana imploring to object of her affections to “kiss me on my open mouth” whilst provocatively lifting the hem of her baby doll black and white dress. Ahem...may need to have a lie down for a moment (cue 15 minute ‘break’). Right, back...anyway, quality tops quantity though and there’s simply no denying her talent. The cynic in me almost wanted to find some fault tonight but I couldn’t. Damn. I loved it. Every last second. Whether she goes on to conquer the world or ends up playing in a dive bar somewhere way, way off Hollywood Boulevard tonight’s gig will go down as something truly special.

She might be taking inspiration from some of the most glamorous stars of the past but Del Rey could well end up fulfilling a similar role in the future. Hoo-Rey for Hollywood eh?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wire / Talk Normal / Chicks Dig Jerks DJ’s @ HMV Institute, Tuesday 15th November

You wait years for legendary post punk bands to come along and then two play the same venue in the space of a week. Yep, hot on the heels of Magazine this week’s heroes of the post punk scene are Wire, arguably even more influential than Devoto and co. First up though relative newcomers Brooklyn no wavers Talk Normal. Drummer Andrya Ambro and bassist Sarah Register have been tickling the sweet spots of hipsters for a couple of years now with their raw as an open wound sound and primal skin pounding. Tonight was no exception with tracks crashing into each other to form one continuous thump round the ears. Quite how they keep up the furious momentum without bursting into flames is a mystery. Some years ago the venerable Kaiser Chiefs predicted a riot...this is what it would sound like.

Wire always seemed to revel in shifting styles and tonight’s set was true to form, stopping off at punk rock, post punk, post rock, Krautrock and all stations in between courtesy of tracks torn from most of their albums. We had most of the original band here tonight too, with just Bruce Gilbert missing in action, his place taken by Matt Simms who was obviously tickled pink (Flag) to be there judging by the expression of sheer joy that spread across his face throughout the gig. I’d not seen the band before, given that their last Birmingham gig was over 30 years ago (at Barbarellas apparently) perhaps that's not a huge surprise. In many ways they’re an odd proposition. Lead vocalist Colin Newman looked a little like he’d turned up to deliver a presentation on the Bauhaus movement (1919-1933), with his Apple i-pad fixed on a stand in front of him to remind him of some of the lyrics. Graham Lewis has a touch of grizzled bulldog about him, well and truly adding the punk element to the mix by growling and yelping into the mic at odd intervals and stamping angrily on his FX pedals joined up by, appropriately enough, a tangle of wires. Meanwhile the metronomic Robert Gotobed provided the beats on the drums...although he started off by distractedly tapping against the metal stand of his symbol for the whole of the first track (Believer?). Newman’s not the strongest vocalist out there and it was difficult to make out all of the lyrics in amongst the sonic assault but since when has punk been about chin stroking eh? What you do get from a Wire gig is a rare glimpse of some of the original building blocks behind everyone from REM and The Cure to Blur and Henry Rollins. Capable of giving it a full on punk thrash one minute then knob twiddling wibblyness the next (sometimes in the same song) it’s an intense experience but, buried beneath it all are some killer riffs too which went on to give, amongst others Brit Poppers Elastica pretty much their whole career. Pick of the set included an ear shredding rendition of Drill with Newman firing questions at us like Paxman on speed and the fractured jangle of Map Ref 41°N 93° W which surely went on to influence REM’s distinctive sound. The new stuff stood up pretty well too, with Moreover (from this year’s Red Barked Tree album) seeing Newman’s trademark stream of lyrics in full flow against a bit of a twisted My Sharona meets Rocket From The Crypt’s On A Rope style riff.

Much of the set was short on chat. In fact they didn’t say a word until the encore when Lewis informed us that “If anyone asks for I Am The Fly...they’re fucking dead”. Someone, wisely someone standing at the back, did so prompting a wry smile from him. Happily he decided against beating the joker to death with his bass...for now at least. Clearly Wire ain’t the kind of band that takes requests. I’m guessing they’re not available for kiddies parties neither. They did give us Boiling Boy though, perhaps not the most obvious choice to kick off the encore. At over 6 minutes long it’s a hypnotising slow burn of a track which takes a while to get going but then, when it does, you don’t want it to stop. A krautpunk (if such a thing exists) classic. Thirty five years on from their debut Wire remains as barbed and individual as ever.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Buddy @ New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 14th November

Given that his career lasted less than the average world tour these days it’s remarkable that Buddy Holly’s still packing ‘em in half a century after his untimely death. Amazingly the musical based on his life and songs is now into its 23rd year, beating the meagre 22 years that Buddy lived. So what’s the appeal? Why does a skinny be-spectacled kid from Lubbock, Texas deserve his place in the rock n’roll hall of fame? Well, it’s simple. Within the space of a few months he practically invented it (albeit thanks to the huge influence of dudes like Bo Diddley). It’s probably quite hard to imagine just what a kick in the crotch rock n’roll was back in the 50’s but with it came the invention of the 'teenager' and a huge surge of adrenaline that gave us (one way or another) everyone from The Beatles and The Stones to The Pistols.

Short of actually inventing a time travelling De Lorean it’s impossible to catch Buddy Holly live but, in the absence of that, this blistering run through the DNA of rock and pop does a fine job. Ostensibly it’s a ‘jukebox musical’, there to showcase the hits, but there’s a brief story of Buddy’s life weaved in between to give a bit of an insight into the dude who gave us That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Rave On, Not Fade Away...each one a classic, part of the fabric of our musical heritage. This current touring version of the show perfectly captures that raw energy of these early singles, sweaty, hormone soaked and, in retrospect, surprisingly punky and rebellious. There’s a particularly powerful moment near the start of the show when Buddy and the Crickets are in a studio to record one of the typical Country & Western tunes that were the staple of the American music biz at that time. After a few lines Buddy and the boys suddenly launch into Rip It Up and you get that same shiver of excitement that teens no doubt felt over 60 years ago.

The set’s made up of a giant montage of ad images from 50’s America, a simple but incredibly effective way of transporting you back in time and some swift roll on/roll off mini sets do a neat job of recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of those tiny recording studios where Buddy and the band worked...often for days and nights on end to nail that illusive perfect take. Roger Rowley (one of two actors taking the lead role during this tour) captured that sense of energy and ambition that Buddy had, truly rocking out like a man (albeit unknowingly) facing his last days on earth throughout the show. Melissa Keyes’ delightfully OTT performance as an Apollo Theatre performer added a lovely touch of humour and Miguel Angel and Steve Dorsett both got the crowd rocking as Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper respectively. The whole cast put in 100% though and as you’d expect from a show that’s been running, in one form or another, for nearly a quarter of a century there’s little you could find fault with. The one observation, and perhaps it’s an odd thing to mention in some ways, is the demographic of the audience. The show seemed (tonight certainly) to attract an older crowd, familiar with the music from first time round I’m guessing. Nothing wrong with that of course but it would be a shame if Buddy’s music remained the preserve of just one generation. This stuff’s timeless and, with a cast as ‘up for it’ as this lot, anyone with ears should grab a ticket whilst Buddy’s still in town. A ‘Holly' (someone's already nicked "Buddy brilliant" and "Peggy Sue-perb"...that's as good as I get) good night out for the whole family in fact.

Buddy is at the New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham until Saturday 19th November.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thomas Dolby / Aaron Jonah Lewis @ Birmingham Academy, Sunday 13th November

There are beards and there are beards. Opening act tonight, Aaron Jonah Lewis has a BEARD. Big, bushy and possibly home to a family of travellers it’s the kind of beard that threatens to take over a room. If the music thing don’t work out this dude’s a shoe in for one of those Father Christmas jobs one day. Ignoring the beard for a moment, as if you could, wow...just wow...our Aaron’s a bundle of banjo and fiddle based loveliness, playing the sort of stuff that no doubt floored the crowds back in the 1900’s. Fast forward 100 years and it’s still a powerful force. There’s something magical about banjo and fiddles, don’t ask me what, perhaps it’s just that joyful hit of sound that makes you want to jig around like you’re auditioning for Riverdance? Clad in an incongruous red tracksuit (his musical partner had a matching light blue one...nice) Aaron and chum (Ed) fiddled and banjoed their way through a good half dozen (traditional?) tracks to the slight bemusement of some of the more synth based Dolby-ites. I loved it but I guess it’s a huge leap from the electro pleasures of Hyperactive to the 100% organic sounds of the Appalachian trail. This is a point we’ll be coming back to in a moment or two...

Excluding a brief tour in 2007 (I brain’s like a sieve too) Thomas Dolby’s pretty much been away from music for 20 years, busying himself with inventing polyphonic mobile phone ringtone software and, no doubt, making himself a squillionaire in the process. Given his techy background and origins as a synth pioneer some of tonight’s gig might have come as something of a surprise in places then. Whilst he’s not thrown out the digital baby with the electronic bathwater there’s more of a ‘natural’ feel to some of the music this evening, reflecting much of the rather fine new album, A Map Of The Floating City. The evening kicked off by almost going right back almost to the beginning though with a funky run through Commercial Breakup seeing Thomas grab the mic and come up to the front of the stage in full on lead singer style. The decent sized crowd gave it and him an enthusiastic welcome, befitting the return of a bloke that most of them might not have seen live for...oooh...the odd couple of decades or so.

Tonight was as much about the present as the past though and the second track of the night introduced some of the audience to a new addition to the Dolby songbook, Nothing New Under The Sun. Thomas was in particularly fine voice here (he looked pretty buff in his tight t-shirt too...I'm just saying y'know...)and the addition of more ‘live’ musicians added a little extra sparkle to the version on the new album. It was great to see a decent band around him this evening in fact, including long time collaborator Matthew Seligman on bass. Perhaps it’s not all as instantly addictive as hits like Hyperactive or She Blinded Me With Science (what could be eh?) but arguably it’s got more depth and, well, humanity, reflecting a road more travelled now and reinforcing Dolby’s reputation for songwriting that dates back to more thought provoking stuff like One Of Our Submarines, given a particularly poignant airing tonight (today was Rememberance Sunday after all) and beefed up nicely with a little extra live bass. Next another newbie, A Jealous Thing Called Love and here it’s time to pause for a mo to mull over the synth vs live instrument debate. This track’s got a lush Herb Alpert kinda feel (you know, that gently parping trumpet sound) tonight played on a synth (like it is on the record I guess). It works but, given the ‘feel’ of the track, the muso in me couldn’t help yearning for a live trumpet. Of course humping around a band ain’t cheap and I guess that’s part of the issue but it would be interesting to see a...dare I say it...synth free Dolby show, or at least a section of the show that dispensed with the electronic wizardry for the tracks that really suit it, like this one. It's an observation rather than a grumble but, from time to time, especially when Aaron returned to the stage to do his thang, that slight clash between the two worlds was there.

On top of the music the set was liberally scattered with charming little anecdotes about lost lovers, turkey hot dogs, Welsh eco hippies and mad scientists in between a pleasing mix of old and new songs that had plenty to please the faithful die-hard Dolby fans, My Brain Is Like A Sieve, I Scare Myself, Europa and The Pirate Twins, I Love You Goodbye and, of course, Hyperactive and She Blinded Me With Science...surely two of the most joyful hits of the original synthpop era? Several of the new songs are already starting to take hold now too though with Toadlicker, admittedly an odd proposition...Dolby does Bluegrass...and encore opener, the mariachi/techno mashup of Spice Trail both deservedly going down a storm. As bed was beckoning the set ended, appropriately enough with Silk Pyjamas from 1992...Dolby goes Zydeco (he’s got form when it comes to this genre hopping business). It’s blinking great to have him back, as a songwriter and performer, and with a Map Of The Floating City having clearly got his creative juices flowing again let’s hope it’s not another 20 years before his next release eh?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Get Wire-ed up...

If you missed post punk legends Magazine in Birmingham this week, Birmingham Promoters have another must see band next week, the mighty Wire in the intimate setting of the Temple at the HMV Institute. One of those bands you really must catch before checking in with the grim reaper, they formed during the white heat of the original punk explosion and went on to release three of the most important of that era, Pink Flag (’77), Chairs Missing (’78) and 154 (’79).

Want to know how influential they were? Recognise the tune above this waffle? How about this one.

Yep, Elastica's Line Up and Blur's Girls and Boys were both, let's say 'inspired' by these tracks. Actually, unsurprisingly really, Elastica got their asses sued for it too.

The current touring line up features 3 out of the 4 original members including vocalists Newman and Lewis as well as drummer Robert Gotobed. I strongly suggest that you...ahem...getoutofbed and get down there.

Tickets available from those lovely folk at Birmingham Promoters.

Wild Beasts / Braids @ HMV Institute Thursday 10th November

Tonight’s review is brought to you by the words ‘texture’ and ‘soundscape’. Everytime I mention one of these words you’re heartily encouraged to down a shot of Absinthe. TEXTURE! SOUNDSCAPE! TEXTURETEXTURETEXTURETEXTURE! There, now isn’t that better, blurrier I bet, but better.

First up Braids, who wove a multi-textured soundscape (yes you’re right, I’m just being silly now) with lovely echoes of late 80’s bedroom romantics Cocteau Twins. Possibly the only Canadians who aren’t part of the sprawling Broken Social Scene collective they take dreamy electronica to a whole new level with each member of the band seemingly having their own bit of knob twiddling kit to hand to twist and mutate music or vocals into wonderful new sounds. Amongst all this slightly trippy sonic experimentation lead vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston goes all Bjork on our ass, veering from an ickle girl lost quiet voice to a RUDDY LOUD ONE. It’s all quite beautiful, a little like a fucked up fairytale fact if Disney ever decided to hook up with David Lynch I reckon Braids would be a shoe-in for the music. Set highlight was a glorious track called Glass Deers, a mere 8 minutes long it begins with minimalistic pips (a little like an elongated engaged tone on a telephone) before building into a glittery crystalline landscape that’s strangely interrupted by Raphaelle informing us in her best little girl voice that’s she’s “fucked up”. Then she goes a bit nuts (shades of Bjork again) before reverting back to that sweet innocence of hers. Fan-frickin-tastic.

Now three albums into their career Wild Beasts are finally getting more of the mass appreciation that their particular breed of atmospheric pastoral pop so richly deserves. Notable for, amongst other things, the testicles in a vice (don’t try it me) falsetto vocals of Hayden Thomas they’ve quietly crafted some stunningly beautiful tracks peaking with one of this year’s best singles Bed Of Nails. Proper lush. With the room rammed to capacity (seriously, people were hanging off the ceiling) a retina scorching blast of white light accompanied the band’s entry as they kicked off proceedings with that very song. Not even a bit of feedback could dent the beauty of this track, a twisted love song with some truly emotastic lyrics “Ink up the wound for a crude tattoo”, “I want my lips to blister when we kiss”...see what I mean? That’s kind of the appeal of the Beasts, perhaps inspired by the poets of their native Lake District (old Wordsworth, Coleridge and chums) they bring a touch of classical romanticism to the dirty world of pop that’s often more concerned with grinding its....eurghhh...sweaty crotch in your face. There’s a delicacy and subtleness to the whole performance that makes it a pretty intimate affair too, even with a moist sold out crowd rubbing up against you.

Like I say it’s taken a while for the world to catch up with Wild Beasts, a fact that Hayden duly noted early in the set. The last time they played Birmingham (with Adele as support!) the sort of audience in attendance tonight would have been, in his own words “impossible”. Fresh from two months overseas they seemed pretty blown away by this evening’s reception. Hayden even admitted that he found Birmingham “a romantic place...seriously...I’m not taking the piss!” Wow. Never heard Brum called romantic before. Still, we do have more canals than Venice so maybe he’s onto something? Shall I compare thee to a Summer Row? Can I take you up the Outer Circle? Hmmmm...maybe not.

Anyway, back to the music and the band took tonight as an opportunity to revisit some of their earlier stuff as well as tracks from this year’s breakthrough album, Smother. This arrangement saw vocal duties shared pretty equally between Hayden and Tom Fleming, who are kind of chalk and cheese. Whereas Hayden has that angelic falsetto Tom’s more of a gruffer Beast. It’s a rather marvellous contrast though adding (yep, get ready with the Absinthe again) a real texture and depth to it all, particularly effective tonight on early single Devil’s Crayon form the band’s first release 2008’s Limbo, Panto. New single Reach A Bit Further melded a bit of a Tears For Fears Mad World beat with a vocal worthy of Jamie from The Irrepressibles (seriously if you’ve not heard this band do yourself a favour and check them out) and was so beautiful you could kind of forgive the slightly dodgy “Lewd, crude, rude” line. Come, come now boys would what would Wordsworth say eh? A meaty run through Hooting and Howling (or maybe Hooting and Growling given Hayden’s throaty roars during the track) raised the biggest cheer of the night, prompting some spontaneous clapping along from the bewitched capacity crowd. The encore and night culminated, appropriately enough, with End Come Too Soon which, despite extending beyond its 8 minute album version, pretty much summed up the mood of the crowd.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ba ba ba ba ba ba baaaa...coming soon at The Flapper!

November’s a monumentally busy month for gigs, as bands go all out to end the year on a high before stuffing themselves with Quality Street and turkey vindaloo. Possibly both at the same time. Before all that though The Flapper plays host to yet another couple of hot, hot, hot (yes, probably vindaloo hot) bands, kicking off with Retox on Tuesday 22nd. You want anger? You want 200mph vitriolic spurts of punked up insanity? You want to have your brain removed, scrambled, kicked around a bit then shoved back into your head via your left eye socket (these are all good things by the way...). Then Retox, my friends, is the answer. Fronted by San Diego grindcore legend Justin Pearson (formerly of The Locust) the music’s inspired by all the shitty stuff that goes on in the world, so there’s more than enough to have a go at there then eh? Given the speed that the whole thing runs at tracks generally last a matter of seconds but, judging by some of the footage I’ve seen, they’re likely to be some of the intense, insane seconds of your life. Serously. Not so much a gig, more therapy for the dispossessed. That’s most of us right now, yes? Support comes from explosive Stourbridge old skool hardcorers History Of The Hawk and hotly tipped all girl four piece Pettybone, fresh from their interview feature in this week’s issue of Kerrang!

Somewhat quieter (and in many ways the ying to Retox’s yang) Capital Sun play a FREE gig on Thursday 24th.

Shades of the Manic Street Preachers on some of their stuff...classy emotive rock from the backstreets of Birmingham. Support comes from Brother & Bones, fusing folk with a meaty rock edge they’ve been described a Mumford & Sons meet The Dead Weather. You’ve got Rubicava too, on a bit of a Pavement tip. As if that wasn’t enough our chums from Goodnight Lenin are on the ones and twos spinning some hardcore death metal spazzcore...possibly. So there you have it, two nights, two cracking gigs and one lovely venue. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Magazine / In Fear Of Olive @ HMV Institute, Tuesday 8th November

One of the original, and hugely influential, post-punk bands Magazine split up in 1981 after an all too brief four year career only to return nearly three decades later. Now that’s a decent break up eh? That’s how you do it Stone Roses...15 years...pah...that’s barely an intermission. During their initial incarnation Magazine cemented their place in post-punk history with the truly seminal single Shot By Both Sides and a handful of critically acclaimed left field albums before vocalist and ex Buzzcock Howard Devoto buggered off to pursue a solo career then form another band, Luxuria in 1988. There, that’s got to be worth a few points at a pop pub quiz one day eh? Here endeth the lesson.

Before Magazine though openers In Fear Of Olive warmed up the crowd nicely with some fine blues rock, Americana and a little bit of good ol' country twang. Not sure of the name of the first track they played but it was a belter, with an extended blues jam threatening to go on all night. I wouldn’t have minded to be honest, I do love a good jam. Elsewhere they made the best use of the fact that all four band members can more than carry a tune with some lush four part harmonies. A spirited cover of Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues won over some of the aging punks in the audience and the set ended with the odd cries of “more”, a rarity for any opening act eh?

With the room stuffed to the rafters with men of a certain age, many of whom had clearly waited the odd decade or three to see the band, Magazine received a bit of a hero’s welcome. The love was handsomely returned with opening number, Definitive Gaze, spiky cut throat guitars, wibbly synths and surprisingly complex rhythms and shifts in timing providing the perfect soundtrack for Devoto to prowl the stage slowly revealing placards bearing the legends “Let’s fly away to the world” and “You do the meaning”. It’s safe to say that Devoto’s not got the most conventionally tuneful voice in the world (although it seems a hell of a lot stronger now than it was back in the day), but then again neither have many of the more interesting artists around. What he lacks in the old ‘do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do’ talent he more than makes up for in effort and charisma though, illustrating the songs expressively with his hands and constantly wandering the stage. He looks a little like Dr Evil from Austin Powers these days, much more preferable to the balding monk look he sported in the late 70’s. “Welcome to Magazine version 6.0” he proclaimed, drawing the number 6.0 in the air just in case we hadn’t got the message. I half expected him to follow it up with by putting his little finger in his mouth and demanding $100billion or he’d destroy the earth. Instead what followed was a masterclass in post-punk, reminding the faithful of just why this band had meant so much to them 30 years ago and introducing a few newcomers (to be honest most of the crowd seemed to belong to the former category though) to a dozen or so musical gems. Most of the tracks were plucked from the original era albums but tonight wasn’t just a history lesson. Yep, they’ve recorded a new album too, No Thyself. “We’ve been around a long time as a band so it was easy this time...I’M LYING!” explained Howard before launching into one of the newbies Always Happening In English, which actually sat pretty comfortably next to its older brothers and sisters. It’s the classics that really got the juices flowing though. A Song From Under The Floorboards seemed even more potent tonight, with keyboardist Dave Formula bashing away dementedly and Devoto spitting the self hating/self inflating lyrics like poison from a dart. Philadelphia combined lush basslines (you can see where Japan got a lot of their sound from) with more gloriously demented keyboard stabbing from Mr F and a post-punk-funk cover of Sly’s Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again), first heard on the classic The Correct Use of Soap, neatly fused the funkiness of the original with Magazine’s own unique sound. Genius. Predictably the encore saw the ‘big hit’ (astonishingly it seems that it only got to number 41 in the charts back in!)rolled out, a furious run through Shot By Both Sides whipping the aging punks up into something of a fury and even inspiring some mild pogoing. That’s a very dangerous thing when you get past me. Covered by such luminaries and Morrissey and Radiohead it still sounds incredibly fresh today and, remarkably, throughout tonight's gig so did the band. Over 30 years on from their original heyday this is one Magazine subscription that’s well worth renewing.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Gardens &'s Spacetime baby!

Hotly tipped Californians Gardens & Villa (signed to the ultracool Secretly Canadian label...always a surefire sign of quality) descend from the skies to the Hare & Hounds tomorrow night (Wednesday 9th). Cop a load of their latest release, Spacetime, a lush mix of Kraftwek, Sun Ra and George Clinton. Cosmic eh? It's enough to get ET tripping off his box...

Tickets available right here, right now for a mere £7. (given that the lovely Mr Branson wants to charge $200,000 for a quick trip into space I'd say that was a bit of a bargain eh?)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Troumaca – Fire


I’m well behind the curve here (no change there then) but it seems that a new band has risen from the ashes of rather fabulous local legends Scarlot Harlots. Troumaca (named after a town on the island of St Vincent...that should help you with your geography homework) is a dubbily tropical five piece featuring, I do believe, all of the former Harlots. Musically there’s not much out there to listen to yet but this incendiary gem’s just popped up on Soundcloud. Seemingly inspired by the recent riots and the systematic rotting of civilisation caused by the pursuit of filthy lucre it’s an all too rare example of a current band tackling some of the bigger issues of the day. And boy oh boy are there some big issues out there. Quite why we’re not seeing a rebirth of the kind of anger and energy that birthed the whole punk scene and, a few years on from that, Billy Bragg and the whole Red Wedge thang, is a mystery to me. Maybe, tough as times may get over the coming years, things aren’t as bad as they were back then. Or maybe, just maybe we’re all far too busy Facebooking, Twittering, X Factoring our lives away to see what’s actually going on eh? Hmmmm. Anyway, this ain’t a political blog, not yet anyway (come the revolution brothers and sisters...just as long as the revolution involves a nice G & T, some nibbles and the Antiques Roadshow). The important thing is that music could and should provide a mighty voice of protest right now and, well, Troumaca could well be it. Failing that they’ll still be a darn good bet if you just fancy shaking your rump as the world collapses around your ears. One’s to watch. Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrre!!!!

PS: There's a rather fine free Troumaca mixtape to download too.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

New Music Roundup Thingy

Time for another whizz through the mighty, mighty inbox of tunes and some rich pickings once again this week, kicking off with Seattle based multi-instrumentalist Anomie Belle (featuring Mr Lif...can't forget Mr Lif). Take a bit of a jazzy laid back hip hop groove add a little Tricky-ish growl and Ms Belle’s slightly deranged fading screen siren delivery and you’ve got an oddball but particularly timely anti-capitalist anthem for the St Paul's crowd. Bonus marks for including the word ‘unconscionable’ in a song. Love it.

Machine’s out on November 14th on Anomie Belle Records

Next up Crystal Fighters Basque Hop belter Champion Sound. Yeah, alright I know this tracks been around for a while now but it’s being re-released with a pretty new video so that’s enough of an excuse for me to stick it up again. If you’ve been lucky enough to see ‘em during the festival season this’ll bring back some mightily happy memories. I have it on good authority that they’re off to record their second album any day now. The soundtrack to Summer 2012 by any chance?

Champion Sound is released 14th November 2011 via Zirkulo/P.I.A.S

Coming off like Eartha Kitts granddaughter Ruby Goe’s Get On It is pretty much the perfect 'getting ready for a Saturday night on the razzle' record. A bit of dubstep, some vocoder, a party, party, party chorus and a neat build to climax with that last swig of Lambrini just before you head out the door. Yes, Lambrini, I'm a classy girl. Actually I'm neither classy nor a girl but what the hell.

Ruby Goe - Get On It by rubygoe

Get On It is out on the 14th November on Goe Music.

This is great. Seriously. Roman Holiday by Fanzine. Slacker pop of the finest order. Scuzzy lo-fi guitars, ever so slightly stoned vocals and the sort of vibe that makes you want to make bongs out of beer cans. Play this to your mates and be instantly at least 86% cooler. At least.

Roman Holiday from Fanzine on Vimeo.

Roman Holiday is out on Fat Possum on 22nd November and the band’s on tour in the good old UK throughout the month.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Where the Wild Beasts are...

Help! Help! The wild beasts are to the hills, grab your pitchforks, light some of those flaming torch thingies that the villagers always have in Frankenstein movies...oh...what’s that...ahhh...Wild Beasts the band. Oh. Righty ho.

Yes, Wild Beasts are on the loose again, roaming the UK and drawing in unsuspecting punters with that bewitching falsetto of theirs. If you’ve not seen them live yet you’ve missed one of the best bands around right now and, with their third album Smother containing the simply sublime Bed of Nails, they’ve delivered the record of their career to date.

With a voice like a less histrionic Anthony lead Beast Hayden ends more shivers down ya spine than an ice cube enema whilst his fellow Wild ones weave an atmospheric multi layered tapestry of pure beauty.

Good eh? They play the HMV Institute in Birmingham on Thursday 10th November, a suitably beautiful venue in many ways, and at the time of writing this tickets are still available I think. Hang on. Yes. Still available. I’ll just check one more time. Yes, still there. Go see’em, trust me on this one. Awesomely good.

PS: Support comes from the hotly tipped Braids too. A little like an edgier Cocteau Twins...ask your granddad...he’ll tell you.