I Shouted Gun
Tue 5 April 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Angsty and clever post-rockers.
Jumping and pumping bass tunes are at the core of ISG. The two guitars throw the lot into the pot, spiralling hooks, chortling solos, complex insect-flight buzzlines, off-key niggling Hugh Cornwell style, solos of reverbing syrup, Urge Overkill twangery; calm dexterity that builds into staccato grunt sequences and choruses of slash and squeal. Drums are belting and ringing in turn. Vocal takes the form of three sets of emo-laden screams, lots of barking indecipherable monotone, and a surprising blast of blues croon in a guitarist-penned romantic ballad. For the most part, ISG remind me of Rock of Travolta, with countrified rock'n'roll shades of Leicester's TEAM. But, inexplicably, something in the set brings Duran Duran's "This is Planet Earth" to mind. Weird.
I Shouted Gun throw a fistful of fake dollars in the face of professionalism and instead create an unforced Reservoir Dogs persona, accident-prone but cool. Inventive wannabe gangster guitarists veering between the chestnut and the dappled, the gloaming and the pitch black. I loved 'em.
The Idiot Boy
Mon 19 July 2004 @ Hope and Anchor
Intelligence FUEL injected into anthemic punk rock.
Think of a tortured bellow of a voice in perfect Bob Mould style (Husker Du, Sugar). Remember backing that mixes Pistols football chants and Buzzcocks boyish backchat ("aaah, aaah, aaah"). Wait with baited breath for the end of the sweet melodic guitar intro that tumbles into a frenzied speedball chord sequence triggering reverberating harmonics. Groove to politely insistent bass tunes. Get swept along by the undercurrent of frantic snarey drunch punk drums.
This kind of sound was never designed to make it easy to figure out where the words come from or lead to. There's plenty of defiance about "You're not alone" and "Everything will rise up for me". A Bob Mould weariness about "Tomorrow, well who cares? I've told you I'll be there". Some mission statements in "Once it's too much, it's never enough" and "Shout it out now, who you are now, who you wanna be". And some lines so bizarre I might have dreamt them. "Look how beautiful the skies are. Look how lovelier the scars are" [erm, stars? ed]. Line out is: lead vocal/ guitar, left-hand bass/ backing vocal, drums. And Jo from Northampton said hello.
Mr Sartorial Elegance says: punks with ties need to remember that the tie you wear is the noose of authority. OK, The Idiot Boy do sound a helluva lot like Husker Du. But there's more to them than that, a dose of humour for sure, an ability to sustain a song for 3 blissful minutes, an infectious punk singalong grin, a willingness to sing about something other than conflict in relationships (sometimes). And a name that seems like an Iggy Pop reference. Confession time - Bob Mould is an OT guru. I was bound to love The Idiot Boy, like an ice cream nearly Eiffel Tower high. Tell them they're your favourite thing.
Thu 10 August 2006 @ Bull and Gate
The two-piece distillation of Abdoujaporov playing cheeky punk-pop songs.
The agenda is set at the start and they stick to it. Walking on to strains of Abba and launching into "What you gonna do when the world goes pop?". It's a simple arrangement, and a success every time. The opening TV samples to remind you of the Carter USM days. A backing track on an iPod, splurge and stomp singalongs and skittering beats. Twin-speed guitars that slash and tickle. And Fruitbat's wink-nudge vocal twists, with Richey's drier echoes and long-suffering responses.
As always with Fruitbat, it's the witty lyrics that grab for your attention. But where social issues and the seedy side of life were once at the core, these songs are mostly personal tales of growing older with relative grace, or silly stories woven purely for the purposes of wordplay. "You have made my life complete - cruising at 30,000 feet"; "Now I'm trapped in a tunnel desperately needing a dump"; and "There's this scary bird - I know it's absurd - but she's kidnapped me - she won't let me free".
Richey's bid for the limelight comes with a cover of 'White Wedding' complete with deep vocal menace, pouts, and revving guitar. And that's about as heavy as the set gets, iDou are resolutely and poppily upbeat with about as much political edge as the Bay City Rollers.
I defy anyone not to enjoy an iDou show. They're a gushing stream of cleverly written and catchy songs that bound along like a litter of Spaniel puppies. Sheer exuberance.
Fri 5 August 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Rollickin' guitar-punk anthems from former Carterman, Fruitbat.
It's an Abdoujaparov side-project, a game they call the iPod shuffle. Nine backing tracks are loaded up and the iPod orders them randomly: iDou's task is to figure out which track is playing before it's time for the guitar and bass parts to kick in. And, with a bit of conferring, the boys succeed. The backing tracks are of scooting and skittering beats and cheesy synths, each one starting with the trademark Carter TV-sample. Two guitars generate grunting chords, fuzzed-up punky revs, flickering licks, ska curls, wild solo scribbles, and squealing feedback collapses. Bass lines are simple but crammed with swift hooky repeats. Fruitbat seems to be perfectly at home with the lead singer's job these days, his playfully Buzzcock-cheeky melodies augmented by high harmonies from his fellow guitarman. Lyrics, as ever, are full of wordplay and ruminations on the meaning of life: "I would give the world to be - in love with peace and harmony"; "I'm happy that - I've never been stuck - and had to kill a duck - to feed my cat"; and, wonderfully "With the same name as a London railway station, you were cursed to always keep on moving" (I'm guessing at Victoria). iDou hark back to the glory days of Carter USM's "Rubbish".
iDou confirm to those who ever doubted it that there was a lot more to Carter than Jim Bob. Fruitbat clearly creates his fair share of singalong anthems and witty tongue-twisting. The three-man two-guitar format also adds an urgency and vibrancy that Carter hadn't recaptured for some years. As a bonus (or a warning) reminder that Billy Idol is back on the road, there's also a faithfully pouty outing for "White Wedding", with bombastic rawk vocal supplied by the backing singer. Cranked-up guitar pop fun with iPod the Unstoppable Beat Machine. Back to Fruitbat and his cat: "How could anything so small and cute get me into so much trouble?".
In Faded Glory
Wed 3 August 2005 @ Bull and Gate
The apex of crafty and intelligent grunge-metal.
The singing is wilfully bizarre, tunes that wail away are suddenly inflated with rock power, playful croons rise into breathy falsetto, and all accompanied by a stream of harmonic backing. Two guitars collaborate in quizzing licks and strangely catchy hooks from another world, set against Wild West flickers and chords that scratch, grind and jangle. Bass is a reverby control of measured booms and throbs, with forays into quasi-funk slapping. Drums are coiled to extreme tension, an unwinding of flutters and zaps. The strongest flavour here is sophisto-metallers Apes, Pigs and Spacemen, but there's a taste of everyone's favourite Foo Fighters too.
Frenchmen "In Faded Glory" know exactly how to create emo with panache. The Faded Glory feel is a passion that's intense, uncomfortable and (frankly) grimy. But the sound has fine definition; sharp, crisp crunches. If Miro or Grohl are amongst your heroes, Faded Glory are awkwardly essential. Trouble will always follow them around. In Faded Glory don't care, they're cool as fuck.
Wed 5 October 2005 karmadownload @ Hoxton Bar and Grill
Dark eighties styling out to steal Trevor Horn's heart.
You would expect something interesting from a band whose name suggests 'introvert' and 'invert', and they deliver. The singer uses melody to scold and chide himself, the audience and the world. A song about mental institutions might not seem like an attractive proposition but after Donnie Darko/ Mad World, who knows?: "Rid my life of desire," they plead. Desperate perhaps but the music is there to make you dance and forget. Tricksy drum rollling, and wonderful pings with nanosecond decay. Synth adds a second layer of throbbing and chortling percussion, it keys into foghorn blows with squeezy steam sirens. Heavy grooves come from bass, as guitar lines needle and solos spiral. Intervurt exist in a state of high anxiety "I'm a diesel train coming after you"; "Just put your body against me" and "I can sense rejection". This is an anxiety so 1980's the singer has his jacket sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
Intervurt occupy an unclaimed territory in the spaces between Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Suede, Pulp and those pesky Kaiser Chiefs. They perform outrageously catchy songs with exactly the right fractions of anger and despair to maintain commercial and critical viability. It's not just a set, it’s a full on show, with projections and light sculpturing images that describe the content of their songs, and a concluding stage invasion by half the audience. I'd rather stay here with all the madmen, I'm quite content they're all as sane as me.
Wed 10 August 2005 Akira/ Smalltown America Records presents @ Catch 22
Clever mix of urgent post-punk grime and summer breeze vocal harmonies.
The singers shift from hysteria to dreaminess and back, Beach Boys layering switches to traded cries that fly off the melody: "Waster! > Waster!". Guitar sounds are dark slashing chords, hooky repeated sirens, curling intricacies and sobbing entreats. Keyboard focus is swirling synth, organ flourishes and simple piano repeats. Bass is a collision of compelling bounce and evil thrumming. Drum sets a tempo like a jerky merry-go-round, beats that are racing, crunching, then broken. Flavours of Teenage Fanclub compete with Fatima Mansions and even early Idlewild.
These Swansea boys are serious musicians, but their concerns are urgency, crankiness and contagious tunes. They claim to have only a single fan in the audience, but win a rapturous reception from people who've never seen them before. A main event waiting to happen, they'll be back along the M4 soon. Goodbye, give thanks.
Izzy Strange and the Mad Staring Eyes
Wed 18 June 2003 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Garage 3-piece featuring serious musicians and impressive showmanship from the lead.
A range of rock ‘n’ roll styles are featured, including the Essex-boy R&B of Dr Feelgood and the stilted guitar riffs and rhythms in a 70s prog-rock melange. Lyrically, these guys are delivering complex stories about the wonder of London life.
Within its own genre of musicianly lo-fi, this can’t be faulted. Not an OT favourite though!
Sat 22 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Silly punk-metal, as camp as a boy scout uniform.
The singer bellows the melody over guitars that rev and squeal, and a galloping rhythm section. Songs are sneers at ex-partners and drug-taking, they think they're cleverer than they are: "Why do you have to say those lies?"; "Baby, you just made a mistake, cos every dog has its day"; drug song #1 "Merry go round, merry go round, round and round we go"; drug song #2, dedicated < Go fuck yourself Pete Doherty > "I got no time for you".
For Jack Viper, it is forever the end of the 70s. Golden Earring and The Vibrators rule. Rock'n'roll ain't noise pollution, but it's trying hard to be. An apt contribution to an AC/DC evening. File between Jayne and Wayne County.
Thu 2 December 2004 State of Decay 2 @ Purple Turtle
A unique blend of folk-, punk- and blues-rock.
The vocal pairing is superb, earnest assurance shared between the dedicated singer and front guitar man. There's genuine passion to the melodies and harmonies, and an impressive solo vocal and guitar piece with the breezy earnestness of Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook. Guitars also form a quality double act, with Wedding Present styled duelling, electric folksy strumming, solos that fiddle and squiggle, squeal and rasp, plus blues-outs, mournful minor chords and wild drizzle lines. Bass speaks in lolloping couplets and insistent punchlines. Drumming is a cymbal and snare collision, with snare pulled away for the quieter passages.
There are lots of lyrical references to seventies songs here: straightforward cuts "I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all" and "You look like you want it, don't you". Remarks that fall somewhere between bubblegum and social critique "I've got a great big car and a three-day weekend". Invitations to the band's world: "The walls have ears, they speak their minds" and "There's a whole big scene where it's not supposed to be… my hometown". Add to that some fine pop hooks that seem to have stylistic links as varied as The Byrds and Fleetwood Mac - songs like "Dry Your Eyes", hooks like "Stay, I can make you happy". Well-used lines, but used well. It's hard to find comparisons with the Jacksons Warehouse sound, but flavours vary from the Ramones to the Levellers to REM - that's one hell of a variation.
Jacksons Warehouse stores a cornucopia of unlikely influences to produce music that is simultaneously scuzzy, grungy, rocking and folky. The set feels like a personal baring of the soul. It's a tradition at Pogues gigs for the audience to form an arm-in-arm circle jumping and kicking to the beat. That's the uplift that Jacksons Warehouse might just emulate one of these days. Not just a dream, but a band in the spotlight forming a new religion.
Tue 12 October 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Remarkable cowpoke blues-punk 'n' roll.
Twin vocals intone and respond in blues melodies cracked with emotion and ciggies. Guitars are a roller-coaster of floating tingles, diabolic sludge chords, waspy angst drizzles, staccato flourishes. Bass hammers out iron Beelzebub pitchforks in a forge of deep evil tunes. Emotion-drenched drums panic from explosion to implosion. Tortured anthems accelerate to a fresh crescendo of extreme care every 8 bars. Lyrics suggest mature reflection: "Spare a thought for the broken hearted" and "The kids won't listen to just one reason". There are echoes of the good, the bad and the ugly in Jackson Warehouse, backwards from Nirvana to REM to Joy Division to The Godfathers to Rockpile to Doctor Feelgood.
Jackson Warehouse skilfully present the twin faces of fresh dirt and polished accomplishment. It's rock 'n' roll with urgency and emotional damage, swagger and tears, check shirts and army pants. Cowboys lonesome on the trail and thinking 'bout their certain females.
Sat 26 June 2004 Flag Promotions/ Club Noir @ Upstairs at The Garage
Dark and scarily serious rave.
Duo with synth, lap-top and occasional processed vocal bark. Lots of trickling percussive "chks", seething bass sounds, stellar bleeps, underwater breathing sucks, and bellowing body blows. Not dramatic enough to rate as evil, not melodic enough to rate as dance, not simply percussive enough to rate as trance, not dirty enough to rate as industrial. The last time someone looked so malevolently at a computer was when a crash lost me a whole web-page. But, looks aside, this is not threatening, it's boring.
Jerico One play brooding formless technological halocinogenics. A vision of purgatory. Dull, dull, dull.
Tue 6 April 2004 Club Fandango @ Dublin Castle
Glammy nu-metal/ punk quartet.
Slicing T-Rex harmonies. Forceful anthemic-punk bass melodies. Gorgeously squally guitar with Motorhead-grade metal staccato solos. Breakneck speed-drum madness. The sum of the parts is tuneful off-key pop to challenge Ash. Like Placebo and Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Jetson are simultaneously populist and slightly dangerous. OT will make no attempt to interpret lyrical content: this is the surreal world of "There goes my Tokyo" and single "Social hand grenades". Line-up is lead vocal/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums.
Yup, they're young and cute. Yup, they're powerful punk-rockers, accessible and a bit off-kilter. No, they ain't nowhere near the wet vein of Busted, or even as tame as Blink 182. Yup, they are likely lads. Wait until they're due up on MTV. Switch the set on. And thrill your television.
Fri 5 September 2003 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Cerebral psycho-sociological poetry and arty post-rock.
This edgy and melodic chicanary could stand on its own without the poetry. But the poetry provides form and focus - really it's the logically perfect conclusion to post-rock's development. And, notwithstanding the bleakness of the observations, the gallows humour and melodic guitaring produce some great pop. "Last Train to Waiferville", for example, seems to be a sound of suburbia that is neither complete mimicry nor complete parody. All that, and a 6 foot 6 inch Dave Gedge lookalike from East Kent on vocals. Set-up is: poet, two guitarists, bass-player, drummer.
Complex erudite pop. Superlative.
Sat 4 November 2006 @ Bull and Gate
An incredible one-man show of loops and layers.
Just four pieces in this show, but each one so slowly and cleverly constructed that you're glued to the performance. These painstaking creations could neither be entirely planned, nor could they be entirely improvised.
Superficially, he's a guitarman, but his first piece hangs on synth and voice. A pedal controls loops of splurge, bleep and moan. Voice is built into layers of skiffle-beats. More layers add a breezy skipping-rhyme, drifting in from many childhoods, each at a different phase in the cycle: "The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line".
Subsequently, guitar features heavily, loops of 'tabla' percussion from the soundbox, strings repeating pings and twangs, funky chords scratched and chewed, hooting sustain assembled into a scale, cycles of folksy jangling. Skiffling and popping vocal percussion continues.
The lyrics are sung onto reverbed layers, and paired into earnest and concerned harmonies. Thoughtful and wise words: "There's no need for you being obtuse"; "Sometimes you know - all that's forgotten isn't always forgiven" and "How can it hatch if it didn't get laid?".
Denis Jones is a different breed of showman. No costumes. No guitar heroics. No vocal gymnastics. Just a craftsman at work, forging pieces of robust delicacy, labours that absorb him and absorb the audience. When the creation is complete, he allows the loops to seethe briefly, then abruptly switches off the entire rig.
It's easy to get distracted from the content, but these are great songs - subtle, hypnotic, laced with guitar-sounds worthy of Greg Lake and Steve Hackett. The chap from Skelmersdale gets on with it, cool, businesslike - his mobile interferes with the electronics, it's out of his pocket and thrown to the back of the stage without a single loop disturbed. Unassuming genius in action.
Fri 14 May 2004 @ ULU (University of London Union)
Beautiful country-fried psychedelia.
Ethereal twin vocals from male and female lead, and Byrds harmonies across the front three. Guitars produce gentle strumming, breezy blues solos and punky off-the-wall picking. Keyboards deliver dreamy atmospherics, while bass ranges dramatically and drums subtly jazz about. The songs manage to be homely and surreal at the same time, with maybe a touch of existentialism for the religious. "You're not the father". "Check out my new Jesus; he talks while he walks… it you want him to". "When we were young, I told you not to cry… When we were very old, I said we were gonna die". "Every thought you have is mine". And "Why do I keep forgetting your name; maybe I never liked you anyway?". This straddles the territory between Belly and the Byrds, taking in a little Teenage Fanclub and Dandy Warhols. Light and floating yes, but with a firm grip on songcraft. Lined-up are female vocal/ keyboard, male vocal/ electric guitar/ acoustic guitar, bass/ acoustic guitar/ backing vocal/ maracas, drums/ percussion.
The wistful quirky humour is reminiscent of an Evan Dando/ Juliana Hatfield duet. The band truly enjoy a rare outing with a large audience, joking about the lead guitar's ambition to front a heavy-metal band, and generating an audience sing-it-back contest by handing the mike around for "You're the Sun (-You're the Sun-), I'm the Moon (-I'm the Moon-)". How much do we love Joy Zipper? In their own write "I love you more than 1,000 Christmases". Are they going to become megastars? It's about time.
Thu 9 February 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Classic punk energy and anger from a band that really knows how to play music.
July July vocal is about barking a catchy tune and adding football-terrace harmonies. Choppy guitars are ever-present in contemporary indie pop, but these guys add spangling, sub-ska slashing, intricate needling, calm solo melancholia, speed-strafing and semi-acoustic strummery. Bass is a meandering Hooky sludge-monster. Drums are scarily military, a marching army parade, a Glitter Band stomp, a coronation of artillery salutes. Interpret these words for yourselves: "I'm Abraham's son" (just like Homer Simpson); "I'm going to a place I can be alone - where I don't have to sit by the telephone"; and a vibe sillier than Werewolves of London "Got a secret agenda… by night, a cold-blooded killer". But the insistent "I wish that I could" sounds archly Franz Ferdinand to me. So punk can become fashionable without becoming fluffy.
July July are the most irresistible mixers of fluff 'n' crunch for many moons. At the opening, nods to Stiff Little Fingers, the Green Day radical years, even the Clash. When the mosh-chops get to work, the sounds become grand student anthems, fit to satisfy a stadium audience waiting for Franz Ferdinand or the Kaiser Chiefs. Any claims to be changing down a gear are just an excuse to get angsty. In July July, rock eclecticism meets the absorption of youth. They are young, and love is a battlefield.
Wed 22 October 2003 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Rock-jazz crossover with a massive WOW factor.
A sound that sits somewhere vaguely between a Belle and Sebastian stripped of female vocals and a Steely Dan bereft of keyboards. And you know what? You don't miss the bits they left out at all. Guitars can be staccato, jangly, jazzy. Bass can be funky, driving, melodic. Vocal can be fey, diffident, note perfect. These guys sure cut a broad cloth. Ans some fine pop songs too, rivalling that Stealers Wheel "Stuck in the middle" vibe. Formation is: lead vocal/ guitar, guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums/ backing vocal.
A wholly new take on alt-rock. Pure unadulterated QUALITY.
Wed 8 March 2006 @ Bull and Gate
An unexpected bill this, with Kardomah added at the last minute, a slice of Coldplay brand indie-pop angst.
Keyboards chime and glisten, guitars combine swinging strum and tooting sustain, plenty of that jingle bells feel. The front man's melodies are impressive, from honeyed croon, to passionate swoon. But is this wisdom or pretentiousness: "You follow me through the streets of deception; we'll find a path to equality". Kardomah have perfectly mastered their chosen genre, but I still wouldn't listen to it at home.
The Khe Sanh Approach
Thu 12 October 2006 Sump Puppy @ Montague Arms
Lo-fi electro-punk with wicked gothic humour.
No low rolling fog of dry ice for these boys, their smoke machine fills the pub from floor to ceiling with thick white clouds. Clothes, naturally are black.
A continuous stream of images is projected onto the backdrop, some clearly appropriate and some apparently random. The singer is perpetually in motion, running across the floor, climbing, balancing, jumping. The stage is not big enough.
Nine marks for atmosphere then, but the full 10 for music. The toppy drums that rattle stamp and crash. The undercurrent of hooky rumbles from the bass. The keyboard-synth set-up, searing chortles and squiggles or lo-fi splurges and tootling, sounds borrowed from Half Man Half Biscuit. The uncompromising guitar madness, all harsh scribbles and chops, messy slashing, wonderfully stretched out-of-tune soloing and engineered screeches of feedback.
Words are a muttering stream of poetry, barked in a curious cross-key melody. From the story of The Columbian comes the line "You've got a hunch that you'd better wear black", an observation that explains quite a lot.
The initial images are of the psychedelic time-tunnel that opens Dr Who, followed by motion pictures and frozen frames, sprinting athletes and whirling dancers. Now they're replaced by clips of vintage advertising, and the title "British Theatre 1956-1959" is announced. Moving along, flames leap across the projected images to accompany an account of racial unrest in the North: "Burn Burnley, burn > burn Burnley, burn Burnley" come the alternating cries.
The closing chants of the second singer drive a final song "The riot cops, the riot cops", as the defenders of state and property march across the wall. Musicians depart as the skitter and chew of the synths continues amidst the dry ice.
I've not seen an outfit quite like the Khe Sanh Approach before and I'd be surprised if you had. There are elements of punk experimenters Wire and goth godfathers Bauhaus here, but KSA are fun - none of the too-too-clever attitude of Wire or the pompous theatricality of Bauhaus. Catchily anxious and awkward, this is clever humour left of the flat field. Burn down Tinsel Town.
Kid and Conundrum
Sunday 26 November 2006 @ Bull and Gate
A topical ocean of storytelling lyrics, breezy summer sounds and hardworking musicianship.
K&C relax you as soon as they appear. The conversational melody of the vocal simply seems to say 'welcome'. But there's nothing else simple about the performance. The beats skip and jump, gentle but awkward. Bass is as busy as a 2-minute dodgem ride, as mellow as big-band jazz, as urgent as an imminent tube train. The electric guitar jangles and pings or chops and slides. Rapid strumming, delicately picked rotations and deliberately frayed chords are delivered by semi-acoustic guitar. Yet both guitarists take time out to stroke many-toned keyboards, chortling the organ, wheezing the squeezebox, cascading the synth-stream, attacking and sparkling the piano.
All of this is great but it's the lyrics that are stunning. Bitter words in a sweet setting, protests and entreaties: 'Tonight we're gonna change the rules again - tonight we’re gonna sell-out all our friends'; 'That's how we worked out what's true, we just looked in your eyes, we saw right through you'; 'There's no point in getting comfy where you are, tomorrow they could take it all away' and 'I'm trying to understand why we are sleeping in the sand when the mystery of the sea is not far away'. Song-writing as evangelism, but with cleverly oblique messages.
Kid and Conundrum provide a wealth of material for the amateur reviewer and the pub psychologist. The narrative flow of the singing and the Gainsberg waft of the melody are the core features, but there are lots of interesting asides - disco-feel guitar janglers, a rolling soul ballad, an edgy funk number, bizarre titles (my favourite 'Baghdad Bakesale'), and a string of fake endings. There hasn't been such brightly odd pop music since the days of James and of Lloyd Cole. The final K&C protest 'Alien nation, what is wrong with you?' comes from a band that can analyse the problems of the world but feels powerless to change them. Brilliance born of frustration.
Kid Sister Phoebe
Sun 13 February 2005 UK Antifolk 3 @ Buffalo Bar
Bittersweet acoustica about childhood, romance, and the tiny gap in between them.
Except for a brief spell of snare accompaniment, this is one man on guitar and vocal. The singing is somehow simultaneously earnest and playful, he's got an impressive ability to whistle a would-be guitar solo, and a knack with busky semi-acoustic strum and slash chords. Subject matter is animals, girls who love Converse baseball boots, Chilean girls with irresistible accents, and having your partner stolen by a character from Cats. Lines like: "If I were a hedgehog, I'd roll into a ball, and anything that bothered me, it wouldn't bother me at all"; "Macavity the mystery cat, he always gets the girl"; "We're shouting in the attic and nobody knows we're at it"; and "Although your footwear will be different, your heart will be the same". I can't think of any other singer-songwriters that reveal themselves completely in simple unembellished tales.
Kid Sister Phoebe gives a direct and honest performance of wide-eyed story-telling songs. The set is announced as his first live performance, which is mighty surprising given his talent and composure. Astonishingly bright and untainted.
Wed 12 October 2005 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Grunge-punk with a cracking groove.
The singer is a man of Grohl-like switches: conspiratorial whispers delivered as screams mutate into angsty suggestions of melody. I think I'm hearing words, but I'm not too sure. "If I hurt you, then I'm sorry" and possibly "Go crack the USA". Guitar has lots of voices, urgent staccato pings, chord strafing, drifting sustain lines and speed shimmers. Bass deals in hooky propulsion and subtle prods. Beats are sharp but playful, drum-smacking sadism with a jerking conclusion to each piece. Kill Kenada play grimy spook music with elements of Joy Division, Sonic Youth and Nirvana. Angst grooves R us.
There's more urgency in Kill Kenada than in a 4 minute warning. There are also interludes of surprising calmness. This is intelligent punkage operating in the same dimension as Querelle and Cat on Form. As a disco diva himself, the son thinks they're "ok". Should you need to know, they pronounce their name like lemonade. I love Kill Kenada better than you, I know it's wrong, but what can I do? I need another fix of Special KK.
Thu 17 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Glitter camp, prog-pop, funk and punk.
The front man is almost too hilarious for me to waste time talking about the music, but, in brief, the musicians give you controlled-explosion drums, funky bass with beautifully squiggly flourishes, guitar that scratches at chords, revs the engine, squalls up a flood and Santanas a chewy solo. Now - that front man - his singing is a mix of wailing and passable blues screams, but it's his behaviour that is priceless. Petulant cries: "Don't clap yet, I'm not done". Prancing around, scarf thrown over the shoulder, the passed back between the legs for a sexual crotch rub. A stint onstage in YMCA mode with construction worker fluoro jacket. A flash of the £1.75 vest - a feminine psychedelic number - and what's underneath; plus backless (but rather grey) underpants. Some token guitar slashes and juddering mouth organ. A half decent attempt at being a human beat box. And truly silly lyrics: "I'll sabotage your genocide" then "I'll bag your heavenly body". Thank God he has no tambourine.
King Furnace play mock-cock-rock. As musicians, they're great at caricature, especially the Billy Idol style punk. I suspect they're lifelong Bowie fans, but they've also spent time studying AC/DC Whitesnake and The Cult. One vast love removal machine.
Wed 14 April 2004 The London Particular @ On The Rocks
Excellent female-fronted punked-up rock 'n' roll, featuring Julian Cope's comrade and co-writer, Donald Ross Skinner.
Vocals manage to combine the waywardness of a Wendy James, the raunch of a PJ Harvey and the punchy melody of a young Annie Lennox. Bass pummels out a superb irresistible squirm. Guitars engage in high-speed duelling, and neat little licks that produce a peal of harmonics to beat cathedral bells. The crisp drumming with tonnes of snare and cymbal is perfectly plugged into the unit. The staccato vocal style is pretty impregnable, but there are hints of old-fashioned lovelorn bitterness and anger in lines like "It means nothing" and "I can see you're mine". Line out is female lead vocal, guitar/ male backing vocal from DRS, guitar, bass, drums.
Psychobilly punk rock of the finest kind, this is one seriously choppy groove. I see you baby, shaking that ass. You need this. Let's hang out.
Fri 18 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Quirky jazz-fired alt-rock.
A predominantly female affair, K-Matrix are fronted by an airy jazz vocalist. Though there's some pre-programmed percussion, the rhythmic force is a deep bouncing tigger of a bass. Guitars deliver light metallic speed-strumming and bright but twisted dawn-chorus proclamations. Cheerful it ain't, but less maudlin than the lyrics might suggest - "This isolation grows and grows" and "There's unison in darkness". The groove of Stereolab and the wistfulness of Belle and Sebastian. Players are: vocal; bass; guitar; guitar.
K-Matrix are well off the beaten rock-path, but there's plenty for a pop audience to hum-along or dance-along to. An unusual combination of grooviness and musical articulacy.
Sat 24 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Excellent Southern Fried Rock from this 4 piece.
The vocals coo with the sweetness of a Tanya Donnelly, the depth of a Hazel O'Connor and the raunch of a Chrissie Hynde. Guitars have a mix of Ry Cooder desert jangle, country twang and gliding infinite sustain. All this set against dramatic drum rolls and slow teasing bass lines. Lyrically, this is the dry female cynicsm of those tired of male abuse. "I'm done, that's what I said… do I need to tell you again?... I'm done", "I've over-sized my intentions", and "Pass around the cup, take a drink, take more than your share". Not a million miles from Belly or the Pretenders. Set-up is female vocals/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, drums.
An atmospheric and haunting set with brilliant gutars and a beautiful voice. Finger lickin' good. But remember, bad boys get spanked.
The Koolaid Electric Co
Wed 20 September 2006 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Enormous madcap factory producing multilayered psychedelia.
Three vocalists generate drifting harmonies and whispers. An endless succession of guitars are employed, from 12-stingers to battered old semi-acoustics, to provide feedback squeals, awkwardly gnarled lines, subtle scribbles, light and hazy strummery and a reverb immersion tank.
Bass ingredients are zooms and gentle hooks, both incorporated into pulsing beats. The final additions are throbbing or tapping keyboard and searing bleeps. Before the set it seemed that a violin was being prepared but I never saw it in action. Still, I’m not sure this heady mix really needs any more sparkle.
The Koolaid Electric Co have built their own remarkably different variant of the nu-gaze bandwagon. It has so many extras I'm put in mind of Spiritualized, the Dandy Warhols, Ride, Jesus and Mary Chain and Velvet Underground. They didn't tune up so much as glisten, squeal and fade in. When the set is complete, they sail off on a spaghetti ocean of squiggle and whoosh pedal fx. The Koolaid Electric Co have built one scarily powerful land-to-sea-to-air vehicle. Jet engines, hydrofoils and propeller blades.
Tue 15 June 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Vocal is strangled blues and rant. Guitars mix choppy reggae, long rambling Killing Joke warbles, and crushed far-from-home licks. Bass plays assertive complex melodies. Drummer is a real star, giving it trash metal, rock flourishes and subtle jazz quirks all rolled together. Lyrically, it's full of aggro and confusion, and not that short on cliché. "You try to tell me something's not right; you try to tell me that I cannot fight". "You look for guidance in me". "Got no reason to stay here". "You may think I'm wrong, but I'm right". And the titles are in the same vein. "Man is authority"; "Find yourself"; and "State of Mind". At it's best, it's like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, at it's worst, like Ocean Colour Scene. Players are first vocal/ guitar/ tambourine; second vocal/ guitar; bass; drums.
Kronikel are in a blues rock groove, not a blues rock rut. Probably a sign of diverse influences like the truly 21st century System of a Down, and the cool seventies of Wild Cherry's "Play that Funky Music". More the last carriage in the train than the latest aero-engine, but so what? Kronikel rock.
Fri 20 February 2004 @ Bull and Gate
3 piece blues-rock with a hint of metal and folk.
Kushty are no more, they tell us, and by the end of the set, pick 'Bograt' as a working moniker. Funked-up bass spars with drumming that's part tickety-tick metal and part show-off rock. Bluesy vocal is offset by more varied guitar, a wrestle between complex solos that are measured rather than pompous, and gritty chord squeals in the realm of Killing Joke. Kushty are at their best playing instrumental segments, these are the passages where they rock out like premium 70s metallers - passages that could be slotted comfortably into a Thin Lizzy song. Some of the songs' main elements are decidedly worn - the opener reminded me of "What shall we do with the drunken sailor?". Still, the lyrics show signs of much more creative brainwaves - the gist of one hook was "No point in dying to the poison pen… Better to die fighting for your country… And then forget its name".
This combo succeeds in taking the old blues-rock lark somewhere fresh. Kushty RIP. To Bograt - or its ultimate successor - bon chance.
Sun 13 November 2005 VF Loud Alldayer with Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records @ Bull and Gate
Feel: look into the eyes of beautiful losers - they're a mirror.
Vocal: rumbling grunt.
Guitar: niggle lines.
Bass: meandering tunes.
Drums: crunchy, broken.
Extras: floating trumpet.
Popstar factor:75% - the frontman's even traded his duffel coat in for a suit.
Familiarity factor: 75% - I've seen them loads, but they still have the power to surprise.
Song count: half a dozen.
IT factor: overgrown hair on frontman, but some visible face.
Antecedents: Velvet Underground, The Fall, Blue Aeroplanes.
Quotable quotes: "This is a headcount"; "We do these things to remind ourselves we're safe and warm"; "23 foot high-rise"; "She could swim underneath and still come out on top"; and "You forgot whose life you lead".
Remark: Prince Headbutt.
Tue 7 October 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Post-rock artistry from the four Linguaists.
A difficult night for the boys, suffering from 'flu and disintegrating high hats. But still, the sound is rich in beautiful piano melodies, lustrous guitar lines, kaleidoscopic bass, tempo-bending kit-stretching drums. Much is instrumental, but edgy and tense vocals veer from barks to taut melodies. Words, whatever they are, fade as an extra-surreal element in the wider soundscape.
It's impossible to catch the majestic sweep and anxious desire of Lapsus Linguae in a review. Even trying to work out who's doing what is hard, with the line up roughly: first vocal/ piano/ guitar; second vocal/ bass/ piano; guitar/ bass/ backing vocal; drums. They are about to release an album, and you just know there will be no high-power marketing, no MTV plays, and you'll never hear it. Better see them live then. In their own words, on the only Lapsus Linguae record I've found: "Parade! And That's an Order!"
Last of the Real Hardmen
Fri 4 February 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage
Instrumental guitar virtuosity.
One man and an amazingly multi-tongued semi-acoustic guitar. Metal slidery, fiddly niggle lines, country twangery, thematic chords with twinkling undercurrents, wolf-whistles and birdcalls, jazz-jerky playfulness and wayward picking, and a final power-down to steely tickling. A couple of covers in the set, including a John Coltrane piece, but the Hardman's bizarrely-titled compositions dominate - "All of this shit I'm eating is leaving a bad taste in my mouth"; "I can see it coming and it looks bad"; and a dedication to the guitar, "Song for Honey". The classicism of Steve Hackett, the beauty of Nick Drake, the desertscape loneliness of Ry Cooder.
The Last of the Real Hardmen has a tenderness to his touch that makes the strings sing like a choir, sparkle like spring Sun on a mountain lake. Sounds that he tells us are miserable are actually full of wistfulness and memories of past pleasures, there's not a dreary moment in the set. Sublime ethereal grace.
The Last of the Real Hardmen
Sat 5 July 2003 RoTa @ Notting Hill Arts Club
One-man and his ambient electric guitar instrumentals.
Wicked mournful sounds, with subtle background guitar loops and sustains. Short soundscape-bites with long titles like "all the shit I've ever eaten is leaving a bad taste in my mouth".
The Hardman is relaxing, but never dull.
Last Year's Fashion
Tue 13 Jan 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Harrow four deliver a huge slab of grungey bloke-rock.
Madly pummelled drums, lolloping bass, guitars primed for crunching chords and searing power solos. All topped off with a vaguely flat blues drawl. Lyrics seem to be relationship-dominated "not-gonna-cry-when-you're-gone" material, although there are some intriguing titles. Is that "Confessions of a stone" or "Confessions of a stoat"? There are shades of Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana in here. Wonderfully like having sharp gravel stamped into your ears (in a good way!). Set-up is vocal/ guitar, guitar, 5-string bass, drums.
Old-fashioned maybe, but it rocks-out big time. A slice of Seattle in NW London.
The Left Outsides
Friday 24 November 2006 Fortuna Pop's Beat Motel @ Buffalo Bar
You are struck instantly by the female vocal, folksy in its airiness and phrasing, but with a perfectly pure and controlled melody. Viola is introduced early in the set, which adds to the traditional feel, but it speaks in many different tongues. These sounds may weep in anguish, seethe with regret, dance a slow jig, playfully descend the scales, or solemnly mark the end of an era. This is the work of Alison of the Eighteenth Day of May, so it's hardly surprising that the performance is both expressive and polished.
The fellas take the music away from the traditional roots to add a country-fried rock'n'roll dimension with surprising psychedelic flavours. Guitar that shifts from softly struck chords to a strange spaghetti western flamenco with ominous minor chords, to measured telegraph wire twangs, to steely strumming. Bass that trots in, rolls with the wagon train, thrums a melancholy hook, and joins in the viola's happy stepping down the scales. Drums that are quietly versatile, the opening crack and rattle displaced by calmer trickling, gentle tamping, busy patters and chops, and sparse arrangements of kick drum, snare and maraca.
Alison's calmly floated voice alternates with male vocal, daydreaming melodies, wordless harmonies, soothing responses and respectful duets. The arrangements are designed to tell the story, and wistful tales they are: "From sunrise to sunset, I dim the lights"; "Lately I find certain people I meet are not as they first appear" and "When the day is through you will be glad it's over > you won't want to face it, you'll be glad it's over". No-one's glad that this show is drawing to a close.
The Left Outsides chart strange territory. One moment, you're in the Animals' 'House of the Rising Sun', soon after you're exploring the Beatles' 'Strawberry Fields', then you're off to join the Thompsons and Fairport Convention at the fair. The Left Outsides' set is a steady process of mood development that draws you gently into their place of sad contemplation. They close with an apparent lament, but the throbbing bass is leavened by bright sleighbell accompaniment. "Ring out the bells tonight" declares Alison. Celebrate life on the outside.
Wed 22 February 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Gothic pop-noir excellence.
Their walk-on music is an odd piece of female-fronted balladry that seems to belong to Europe at War (no, it's not Edith Piaf's signature). Then the band bursts in demanding your immediate attention. The singer is close to hysteria - hear me, for I am desperate: he sneers, he chews, he warbles. Two guitars are heavy on the atmospherics, they twang and niggle, they scribble, squeal and strafe, they seethe and sob like violins, they phaser, they white-noise, they gnash teeth. A team exercise in fuzz, frill and shimmer. The rhythm section is F-O heavy, beats are firm and skin-stretching, but the bass is a diabolic gong, it purrs, it growls. That's an enormous sound already, but the lyrics are gigantic: "An image is nothing but a film in your eyes"; "It's a new kind of beauty, when a body feels empty"; "Did you fall asleep? Did you let yourself go? I thought I was the last one to forget how to say… It's all you"; and "Now I will clean up the mess and leave my body twitching in the dust" (?). A fistful of spaghetti.
I've consistently loved Leisur Hive shows for well over 2 years. They draw on so much that obsessed me as a teenager: Roxy Music intensity (second band playing on that tonight), Psychedelic Furs sonic-walls, original Ultravox robot-art, Bauhaus goth-sinister and Banshees guitar psychedelia. The audience is rapt as the set draws towards its close with the sulky threat of "Walk Away". But no-one's walking anywhere, and Leisur Hive press on to a crushing heavyweight finale. Bela Lugosi's still undead.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Fri 4 March 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage
Agit no-wave as it was originally created.
This is a man who checks his guitar-sound by improvising accompaniment to the DJ's inter-set selections - Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" and Julian Cope's "World Shut Your Mouth". After that, he could do no wrong in my eyes.
Drums whip it good, a ferociously paced rock 'n' roll battering, a genuine snap, crackle and bop. Not short of tricksy "Go your own way" broken tumbles either. The speed-boogie feel of the set is confirmed by the splodgy bounce of the bass's power tunes. But it's the astonishing panoply of guitar voices that dominate the show. At the core are chewy chord deconstructions: add to that solos of sly off-the-wall tickling; pirouetting emergency wails; punky skitter and scrawl; maverick grated spangles; chimy picking and piping of almost Stuart Adamson proportions (Skids, Big Country); even accelerated reverby skanks.
Leo's voice never strays far from the melody, but he doesn't sing so much as bark, yelp, and stray into cod falsetto; an angry not-so-young man. The lyrical density is difficult to follow, especially given the guitar emphasis - Leo asks repeatedly "is the guitar too loud?", but the audience is having none of it. There are plenty of pumping chorus anthems - "It's all right" repeated dozens of times; "Looking dow-ow-own"; and "The time is now, now". But there are also lots of stream-of-consciousness ideas that disappear almost as fast as they appear: "We sing our song together, and it sounds so good"; "Show me the way to my heart"; and "I'll give you back what you've given and you'll get what you deserve" (disturbed karma).
A set of blistering 3 minute rock 'n' roll critiques, supposedly the compare of Elvis Costello - but I felt there was less directly personal vitriol, more of the Jam and Husker Du in the content, and more of the Woodentops in the live pace. But, though Leo indulges in cranking up the revs, he's no one trick pony: songs may open with the contemplative calm of A Day in the Life, or take on the supercharged stomping and extra-terrestrial guitar solos of The Sweet.
A show with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists is a religious experience. The US equivalent of seeing Mick Thomas of Weddings, Parties, Anything. Lots has been said about the range of underground bands claiming to be under the influence, but the most obvious direct descendant of this vibe is The Strokes. Leo is fast, direct, wordy; more than this, he loves his job and he loves his audience. He ands as he begins, performing along with the DJs post-encore selection: a Billy Bragg style karaoke of "Dirty Old Town". Ted Leo and the explosive chemistry class.
Thu 22 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Impressive mod sextet with huge slabs of blues rock and Britpop underpinning them.
Jazzy drums, quality funked-up bass trickery, deep keyboard washes, and a mixture of angular guitar squall and warm bluesy show-off solos (did he have to play behind his head and with his teeth?). Vocals are pure smoovery, a young Robert Palmer almost. Lyrics are sometimes obvious, but there's lots going on, and nice little twists. "I don't like to see you… down, down, down… But I still don't want you around" and "Who's the one that told you everything would be alright… well they lied. Who's the one who said your name would be in lights? Well I tried". Huge bunch of sounds in here - Faces, Lynard Skynard, Ocean Colour Scene (sorry), Bluetones, Stone Roses. Set up is vox, lead electric guitar, rhythm electric/ semi-acoustic guitar, bass, keyboards, drums.
Fun but not silly, this is the sound of the Blues Brothers but it's no joke. Excellent songs, excellent playing. And cute too - half Beatles, half Stones - Grandma would love 'em. Forget Grandma. Get down and cut some rug.
Lights Run Riot
Sat 12 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Two guitars entwined, intricate jangling, chord chopping, catchy musical-box licks, high speed frilling. Bass is an effervescent bustling, drums are assertive cracks arranged into twisted time signatures. Vocals are strangely hypnotic; first and foremost dreamy thoughtfulness, but melody and passion closely behind, forlorn cries and angry screams complete with harmonic backing. The regret and wordplay wash like a tidal wave: "Your humble insignificance"; "The daylight holding onto scraps of night"; "Don't look surprised when I say it's time to fall down"; "Things that you wish you never had said"; and "Sorry for being sorry". I don't think that they say anything regrettable.
Lights Run Riot are earnest young fellas making great alt-rock music like their heroes. I think it's a safe bet that their heroes are Idlewild. I like Idlewild and I like Lights Run Riot. Why should I be more cynical?
Thu 17 August 2006 @ Bull and Gate
A genre defying act, Lilygun offer an indie take on grunge-metal.
Lilygun's female singer is strident about songs and messages, tunes punctuated regularly by accusing cries. Like the singer, the rhythm section dwells on the dark side, with full hooky bass-buzzing and stomping drums that crack, pump and rumble. But the sunshine is not far away, as rasping thrash guitar gives way to frills and jangles, delicately mournful picking, a shimmering waterfall of strings.
The songs seem intensely personal and they're delivered with passion to suit. "Give me my poison", "There were times when all I wanted was some honesty", and "The many other masks you leave behind". Not to mention the sweat-drenched t-shirts you leave behind.
The Lilygun set is an impressively varied romp through distinctive and individual songs. There are heavily strummed ballads, angry punk belters, and juddering PJ Harvey blues-stomps that pull-up refreshingly short. The last song is a tight popsicle, complete with phaser fx and squealing climax. This is an array of sounds you could use to create a new Skunk Anansie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cure side-project The Glove, or a psychedelic reinvention of Hole. Lilygun's music rains like a shower of petals and bullets. Just like the snow in Summer.
Sat 1 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Expert blues-jazz fusion.
A great singer, smooth and effortlessly powerful melodies. Electric guitar is a cornucopia of fancy fingerwork, the Niles Rogers solos and the catchy electric licks that quickly develop and migrate are a mere fraction of what's on offer. There's hyperspeed semi-acoustic strumming too, vibrant meandering nudges from a six-string bass strapped under the chin, and drums that patter, smack and even stray into ska beats. Neat blues lyrics, get these: "Don't ask me where I'm going to, I'm not the kind of person with a long-term views"; "She's killing me, killing me with her love"; and "As we cast our minds away, I softly turn to you and say, I've only ever wanted what was mine".
I don't know much about jazz, I don't know much about blues, but I know what I like - and I like Lo Fuzz. I can't pinpoint their influences, but I'd say they've listened to Van Morrison's Moondance and Stevie Wonder's Superstition, and possibly the odd Blur song. Lo Fuzz are breezy but clever, a stream of tempo and phase changes, but everything gels. Ten years ago, acid jazz was going to be the next big thing, but the "powers" decided the public wasn't ready. Shame. This is music for groovers. As they might say on the Fast Show: Nyce.
Sun 17 October 2004 UK Antifolk 2 @ Buffalo Bar
Screwball noiseniks billed as antifolk rock 'n' roll.
The two singers drone misfortune and scream vitriol. Guitar emits harsh growls under the onslaught of a fearsome strumming, but is also tickled into sweet intricate Byrds flight. Pummelled bass glows like a Pete Hook melody. Lyrically, this is esoteric material, either deep or dadaist: "I've got the blood of Christ on my hands"; "And your ego blew up, and that's all"; "OK, it makes you feel ashamed, but you should not feel ashamed". The impact of this is part Violent Femmes, part Pavement, wholly welcome.
The Loners bring serious anti-naff attitude to the world of antifolk. Unabashed wood-shavings from the garage transformed into Pinocchio and winning by a nose. Worlds collide but everybody loves a lady's shame.
Fri 4 March 2005 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage
Artfully subverted blues rock.
Around half the material is instrumental, but the vocal episodes are cathartic - frenzied wails and yowls, bellows and barks. Ironically, the first lyric I jotted down sounded like "I won't be your dog". Other words of wisdom include "There could be trouble" and "I've got to feel my fingers, I've got to feel my toes". Seems like the blues to me.
The most striking facet of these three Lords is a twin guitar sound conveniently described as intertwanged. Each one perfectly fills every gap left by the other. There's oodles of warm string-bending and slidery, chiming cycles, rounded hooks, high speed flickers, and oddly bright blues grunt-chords. Drums are hefty but neatly damped for pinpoint sharpness. The beats are wild, tripping, tumbling and somersaulting. The net effect is mashed up and staccato experimentalism punctuated by heavy sludge-outs: a Beefheart barrage.
The Lords combine exciting but inaccessible sonic cacophony with lo-fi countrified blues. The two are cleverly exchanged, so that before one element begins to feel like too much of a good thing, they're romping into the next. The Lords take a century of bellowing woes into new territory. Have you ever been to eclectic ladyland?
Wed 8 March 2006 @ Bull and Gate
A wailing voice commands your attention to the stage, a protest that's part Jarvis Cocker (Pulp) and part Kevin Rowland (Dexy's): "I'm gonna shake your tree house down". This is the Low Sparks, a band showing off their knowledge of a range of forms and instruments, but with a focussed silliness.
Two guitars contrast choppy slashes with glowing reverb, and bass bounds wildly around the scales. Bonus sounds are percussion blocks and bells, the lonely wait of a melodica, and episodes of broken hooting from the keyboard. The writing is bizarre, epithets and truisms presented as revelations: "My floor is made of wood, but my roof is made of tin"; "Out came the police - the ducks and the geese started flapping at me"; and "The sound I make with my last breath will be the sound of a man who's ready for death". It's as though author Magnus Mills had decided to move into popular music.
Essentially, this music is whacky rock'n'roll'n'pop with a few exotic flavours. I'm reminded of 1980s Hull outfit Red Guitars. More recently, this everyman storytelling has been at the core of the Divine Comedy business. The Low Sparks' music is clever fun, not clever-clever fun. Bring the playhouse down boys!
Sat 26 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Deliciously verbose glammy pop.
Vocal is a veritable Jarvis Cocker croon. Guitar is a warm mix of long complex Ronson sequences, Suede scribbles and Bill Nelson declarations [fuck, he must be good… Ed]. Keyboard is a relentlessly Sparksy voice-changing business, screwball organ and reverby piano. Bass is in the realm of insistent melodies; drum backs the whole performance, across the board, come bass-hell or high-hat water. Lyrics? Well, us reviewers want to write down the lot. More "bon mots" than lyrics really. "It wasn't that hard, it just doesn't seem right"; "I want to hold your hand until sometime next week"; and (I think) "I want success, if it's not too late".
The players are: vocal; guitar; bass; keyboard; drum.
Luxembourg are the beautiful child of the Suede and Pulp generations. They have their own issue - their single featuring killer-line "You happen to have it, you happen to like it, and you're not giving it away". Luxembourg announce the closing song as "Success is never enough", then launch into the first few bars of "Wuthering Heights". Which changes into a glammy prayer to the Fame God, only to close with the keyboard playing that famous 4-note piano line. Ridiculously fey, and wonderfully off-balance.
Sat 27 March 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Electro-guitar croonery with a big nod to eighties new romantics.
Luxembourg's sound is warm but not wet. Bass plays nudging tunes, while guitar moves from high lines to galeforce squall. Keyboards initially hint at A-Ha pop, but switch into serious minor-key spookiness, and then on to kitschy popcorn. Vocal manages to be both operatic and grounded, not miles from Marc Almond. The glammy-punk phrasing hints at David Devant. Lyrically, it's revealing, specific and anti-racist: "I want your 3 day stubble and your ample chest"; "You want to send me and another 27 million home, but I was born on a roundabout in SE17"; and more obscurely "You happen to have it, you happen to like it, and you're not gonna give it away". Set-up is simply vocal, guitar, bass, keyboard, drums.
Luxembourg describe themselves as pop-noir. The set is quality glam-songcraft tomfoolery, directly and overtly from the closet. Luxembourg crackle with electricity. They deserve to be big.
Thu 25 March 2004 Club Fandango @ Bull and Gate
Northern tripped-out psychedelia that makes you desperately crave a festival and a ginormous spliff.
Vocal is a sweet dreamy effort drenched in reverb. Drums tickle gently. Guitar and bass are so fuzzed- and buzzed-up they are making whale music. Broadly, it's the little noddly bits between Stone Roses songs extended into 5- or more minute jams. Without any Ian Brown. At all. Ever. Yet, strangely, the odd lyric I picked-up sounded like "You're made of stone". Set-up is simply vocal, guitar, bass, drums.
The music of the narwhal, the dolphin and the seal. A new mode of sonar communication. Lyca Sleep are a thing of shoe-gazing, spangly, mushroom-inspired ethereal beauty. Underwater experiences can come in handy.
The Magic Heroes
Sat 19 November 2005 @ Half Moon, Putney
Nottingham's beautifully over-the-top blues rockers.
The Magic Heroes generally open the set with the same irresistible line. Tonight, you get an intro first, commencing with the bass thrum, progressing to chewy guitar licks, gentle drum pattering and a sudden explosion into the Jimi Hendrix Experience: "I'm a lovemaker, I'm a heartbreaker, I'm a piss-taker get out of my way". It's hard to resist the compulsion of the Heroes, and tonight, no-one's trying to. They've supported Dr Feelgood here before, so they're playing to an audience that already knows them and likes them.
It's not hard to see what the audience digs. Huge Presley vocal, wailing, muttering and screaming blue murder. Unbelievably fussy guitar cleverness, tickling, squealing, singing, soaring. A little semi-acoustic rock'n'roll cabaret too, crazy little things. Busily spidering bass slaps and plucks. Manic drum smacks.
The Heroes sing about what they know, which mostly means Nottingham; the local hero turned rough-sleeper/crack addict (don’t take no drugs, don’t take no shit, they warn); their favourite club night at The Social "Friday nights are so much better than the rest of the week". The highlight may be their summertime song 'Couldn’t give a monkeys' with the awesomely cheeky chorus line steal - "Too hot to handle". Here the Heroes get into a blue funk, with the vocals pecked, guitar scratching and frilling, bass zooming around the fretboard and drums pinging.
The Magic Heroes play silly, good time music and they do it darned well. By 9pm they’ve got the audience responding in song: "What you want? > What you want! > What you need? > What you need!" Two enormous afros, heaps of reverb and an attractively glistening drummer. Everything that you might want or need from a rock band, especially if you're a mother of a certain maturity (not uncommon in the Feelgood fan base). The audience love the Magic Heroes and it's great to see them in front of an up-for-it crowd. We love it when our friends become successful, and when they're northern it's even better.
The Magic Heroes
Thu 2 December 2004 State of Decay 2 @ Purple Turtle
Bombastic blues-rock with a slice of irony.
To begin with, I thought this whole set was meant as a joke. The opening number suggests "I'm a love maker, I'm a heartbreaker, I'm a piss-taker, get out of my way". Blues-rock needs some serious piss-taking, but the Heroes apply serious musicianship. The singer delivers clear blues melodies with the assurance of Ian Gillan. A comprehensive list of sounds his guitar doesn't make would be shorter than a list of the sounds it does, so as a sample, there's blues-funk licks and squelches, key-slipping solo spirals, reverby laments, Hendrix-inspired squeals and chuckles, and space-pedalled chimes. Bass menaces with melodies of speed, depth and complexity, or paces gently up and down the scales. Drum switches from determined rock out to subdued atmospherics, from snare smashing to cymbal ringing.
Lyrics are sometimes oddly constructed, but for the most part they seem deliberately obvious: "To cause you pain is not my aim" and "Give me back my heart". To reinforce the sense of irony, there's "Too Hot to Handle" - if I'm not much mistaken a UFO cover. The feel is a cross-breed of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
The Magic Heroes amount to The Darkness of the blues-rock world. Not a spoof, but a reminder that 70s rock bands were themselves stoners with a big sense of humour. They are taking the pee - for instance each stagily strips to the waist in turn - but they are acting out of love, not disrespect. Magic Heroes gotta whole lotta front.
The Magic Numbers
Wed 22 October 2003 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Mellow and melodic sounds from country-tinged acoustic rockers.
Two light female vocals harmonise with male croonery. Lyrical themes are self-discovery and the human condition - "Which way to heaven?" and "The weight of the world". Line-up is male lead vocal/ semi-acoustic guitar, female backing vocal, female backing vocal/ bass, drum.
I can think of no obvious comparison, although some parallels with Bread (erm… where are the female harmonies in Bread? - Ed). Gentle intelligence.
Thu 16 September 2004 @ Bull and Gate
An energetic clash of garage blues, mod and baggy.
The vocal wails torturedly around the melody in Robert Plant style. The singer also produces passages of fast strummery on semi-acoustic guitar. Electric guitar is a beast of bluesy chords, rock riffs and squally punk solos. Bass races away with a galloping tunes, astride a clatter-punch drum. True to form, lyrics are about forays with the female of the species - "She's so sexy" and "Why do you always refuse me, why do you always complain". Manatoba get me reminiscing about the Faces, the Animals, and the Stone Roses.
Manatoba play a mean lo-fi blues with attitude rather than swagger. Not so much punching the air as defying the clouds. Blues-rock with its eye on the 60s, 80s and 90s as well as that obligatory nod to Zep. What does Manatoba mean? I reckon it means Tenth City Army.
The Mandlebrot Set
Sun 28 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
A two-man towering sonic wall.
Not songs, but progressions from a cleverly layered and looped guitar and a complex set of drum patterns. Backing synth and sample track provides simple repeated thud percussion, white noise and whistles. Guitar builds vast piles of squealing and shimmering, chiming, scratching, hard-edged chords, violin bow soaring and e-bow sustain, all subject to pedal-controlled reverb. Drum trickles, skips and judders, the atmospherics of the dead and wounded rising like zombies on the battlefield into waiting sniper-fire and strafing machine-guns. The structure is provided primarily by the drummer's progressions from trippy jazz to thundering crescendos, but the closing piece does feature a relatively simple fuzzed-up and developed guitar melody. Stripped down post-rock like The Last of the Real Hardmen.
The Mandlebrot Set are a couple of musicianly technophiles showing off, but they have plenty to show off about. A beautiful and pasionate forcefield of sound. Not the Winnebago Deal, but the real deal.
Fri 9 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Classic bluesy heavy metal from these four.
Robert-Plant style vocals of the wail, scream and sigh variety. Lead guitar drips honey, rhythm guitar squalls. Steering is from crashing tin-roof drums and curiously Level 42 funkin' bass. Lyrically, this is really darned silly - apart from cliches about "The Sweetest Taste", we have these obviously retro derivatives perversely whingeing "Stop living in the past". Set up here is lead vocal/ guitar, guitar/ backing vocal, bass, drums.
If you like Led Zep wannabes, you'll love this. And OT has to admit to thinking - grudgingly - that this is proficient AND it's fun. But lines like "It all feels the same in my heart… We all look the same in the dark"? You're 'avin' a larf…
Sun 13 November 2005 VF Loud Alldayer with Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records @ Bull and Gate
Feel: crushed by the wheels of industry.
Vocals: out-screaming Ozzy by 100 decibels.
Guitar: feral revs and chimes - after all, today is the Sabbath.
Drums: mental Maiden.
Extras: squealing and whistling jazz sax, indecipherable rants, claimed to include French statements.
Popstar factor: almost possible, in a Henry Rollins kinda way.
Familiarity factor: 80% - I don't know them, but I sure know the genre.
Song count: normal.
Longevity: eternal, probably on a space waste-transporter called Red Dwarf.
IT factor: 25% - just two beards and a little floppy hair.
Antecedents: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Lydia Lunch, Ex-Models, Motorhead.
Quotable quotes: "Slice up your toys" - or possibly "Slice off your toes", and "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye".
Remark: Blue for Ceaucescu.
Massive Fire Fox
Sat 17 July 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Madcap wank-joke rap.
The crew's vocal organ are a bit of a Little and Large comedy duo - for contemporary audiences, think Gareth and David Brent. David Brent is dressed for the Office, but sounds terribly academical. Gareth is the Mad Hatter. Not surprisingly (this being rap) the musical core is booming drums and assertive bass. But we also get Brent on decks, and The Third Man on joke cock-rock guitar, scribbly strapped-on keyboard and ridiculous pipes. Their "Massive Fire Fox" introduction almost sounds like "Ebenezer Goode", but it's followed by a passage of Brent playing a cross between Father Ted and Ivor Cutler ("Keep it real, Lord, keep it real".) We move on to a bit of Am Dram from Gareth and the Tragedy of the Flatulent Gasmaker.
It's cross-country skiing all the way from there. Gareth "The elbow"; Brent, lustily "Yes". Gareth "The knee"; Brent, sotto voce "Yes". Gareth "The shin"; Brent, lushly "Yes". Gareth "The achilles heel"; Brent erotically (?) "Yes". And so on, Gareth pointing to each of his body parts in turn. Of course, at "The cunt", Gareth points to Brent. The closer is "Jump, jump, jump, if you don't jump you're a cunt". The audience does jump. Ad libs are lobbed in by Gareth, like "I like heavy petting; mostly with men; sometimes with girls". Line-up is Gareth: "Mad" Hatter - first vocal; David Brent - second vocal/ decks; The Third Man - guitar/ hip keyboards/ pipes/ backing vocals; bass; drums.
Massive Fire Fox are alarmingly silly and it works. A crowd-pleasing goodtime pisstake. Despite their self-deprecation, they're pretty decent musicians too. How low can you go? As low as you like.
Thu 27 October 2005 Club Fandango @ Bull and Gate
Lip-smackin' white-rhymin' bass-slappin': as camp as Carry On.
Guitar swishes and squelches, kneeling at the feet of Chic's Nile Rodgers. The promoters' description of the bass as Funkadelic is spot-on. He caresses you into the groove. But the core of this is the cool George Benson melodies, the tight-as-a-gnat's arse vocal harmonies, the Barry White middle-eight voiceovers. They rap about craps bands, and they rap about the gentrification of Notting Hill Gate ("In the Royal Ghetto"). They're wearing George Michael shades, and some of the rap could be about said Mr Michael: "I'm so crazy, I'm gonna change my name, I'm gonna party on my own" and "You ain't nothing but a jailhouse bitch".
If you want to get a grip on where The Mau-Maus are coming from, think of Wham and the Scissor Sisters' "Take Your Mother Out". I defy anyone not to get turned on to the music of The Mau-Maus - but shouldn't it be The Mau Mau? Whichever way, I bet their favourite game is Hide the Bone, and I say "Young guns, go for it". The Mau-Maus are The Darkness of funk-rap.
Me Against Them
Wed 21 April 2004 Club Fandango @ Archway Tavern
Uber garage blues-rock from this 4 piece.
This sounds like Jack White on speed accompanying a Wild West Strokes. The vocal is high octane Marc Bolan vibrato with juddering drawl. Guitars are a mix of tex-mex picking, punk flourishes and evil Department S chords. The bass is a gorgeous sloppy fuzzed-up throb, and the drums neatly stilted, flying almost at the speed of sound. And boy, those lyrics. "Your loving eyes aren't following me no more… if your loving arms aren't following me, what good are mine for?". And some brilliantly colourful images - "I am Napoleon", "Shoot, shoot the messenger", "We're never gonna be alright" and "We're surrounded, everyone's dead". Set-up is lead vocals/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar/ backing vocals, bass/ backing vocals, drums. Garage does not get any better than this.
Outclasses the White Stripes by a length and then some. "Don't put your love in a bad place" they warn. Join Me Against Them and sear your heart in the flames of hell. Horny rock. A good place to put your love.
Thu 19 June 2003 @ The Garage
Slow dramatic rock with psychedelic edges.
Almost like Travis and Coldplay get sent on a long desert highway to examine the width of the horizons and develop a good country drawl. The result is atmospheric and thoughtful - on an Australian front, 70s-80s bands like The Church and Died Pretty are in the same dustbowl, or for the UK, Headswim are not a million miles away. 4 piece formation is 1st vox/ lead guitar, bass, synth/ 2nd guitar, 2nd vox, drums.
Mellow sounds that weave a spell rather than invoking sleep – but it’s a close call at times.
Tue 17 June 2003 @ Metro
4 piece garage punk outfit that has found a place in the (so far short) OT catalogue of “betes noires”.
These guys produce simple driving bass lines and choppy tin guitars, part Stooges and part New York Dolls/ Sex Pistols. The vocalist behaves oddly like a glam crooner in spangly silver gloves to deliver lyrics that sound way too much like a pastiche of their influences – one hook seems to be “This is not fun”. To produce something fresh in the Iggy Pop genre, you need to have some very special material and a captivating style.
This is throwaway. Am compelled to leave by the awful hook “Lights out t’nite… Lights out, is that all right?”. Lights out can’t be soon enough for me.
Wed 20 September 2006 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Bright and anxious guitar pop.
Three singers are on stage, occasionally a female lead but mostly male lead with male and female harmonies. They have a fine portfolio of catchy hooks: "You're not the one I'm looking for"; "It gets us nowhere fast"; "You think that you've seen it before and you still don't know what you're waiting for" and "It must be hard, so hard to be you". Yes, it can be.
Meanwhile, guitar summons jangle strums, squiggly staccato solos, speed-scratch chords and classic middle-eight key shifts. The female singer is busy with bouncing bass hooks, pushed along by racing drums with episodes of metronome calm and Motown chorus stomps. These are classic 80's-90's indie sounds.
I don't know how a band so "me" as Mica has flown under my radar for so long, but now they’re at high altitude and I want them. There are elements of so much that I love here, Undertones, Josef K, New Order without keyboards, Wedding Present, Hüsker Dü, The Smiths and The Strokes. How can one four-letter word encompass so much? I may not grasp everything they intend, but my last scribbled lyric seemed to sum them up. The opening may have been "we're not", but I simply wrote: "Weird, but trying hard to break your heart". They very nearly did.
Mid Air Flight Scare
Thu 15 July 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Well-stocked grunge merchants.
M.A.F.S. surely could give Feeder a run for their money. Vocal varies between agonised blues and paralysed drone, with worthy harmonic backing. Bass is the powerful melodic steer of the band. Guitars are an impressive selection of squally Radiohead solo, spookily intricate lines, and fx laden chord chops. Drums are dramatic and toppy, but with the restraint to avoid a sound takeover bid. Songs are psychological musings. "I turned around, turned around... to see my reflection… staring back at me". "This is about responsibility. I know it's hard to take. You have to learn to face it. You are free". "You know who you are - you're my guiding star". The M.A.F.S. sound surely contains strong elements of the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. Line-out here is: lead vocal/ bass, electric guitar/ semi-acoustic guitar/ backing vocal, electric guitar, drums.
Mid Air Flight Scare produce perfect grunge by numbers. It's intelligent, it sounds good, but does it really add anything extra? Should they focus on Nirvana covers? I don't know, I'm going out for a while so I can get high with my friends.
Sun 1 August 2004 UK Antifolk Festival @ Buffalo Bar
Urban folk from the kitchen sink estate.
A pair of semi-acoustic guitars never sounded so electrified. A pair of singers without a piano never sounded so much like Chas 'n' Dave. For the most part, this is wry and slightly dubious social observation with good music and bad accents, as if Billy Bragg joined Squeeze. An extra dollop of cheese is added at open and close by a synthesised-samba backing.
A lot of this is strictly for larfs, but there are a few lyrical insights. "Without you, it's like Walt Disney without Goofy" comes early in a catalogue of comically coupled horrors: "like Benson and Hedges without a light"; "like REM without Michael Stipe" and "like Tony Blair without George Bush". But there's also poetry: "The cocaine spills out into the street, but it's not all doom and gloom tonight". There's plenty of bile: "I've smoked your ciggies and I've found your porn stash > Go drown in your Prozac!" There's respect for the music industry in "Kill all the A&R men tonight" - "I'll throw you off the Sony building with Milk Kan carved across your chest - how's that for a promotional stunt?".
Milk Kan sound unbelievably 1977. What are they on about - having £2.50 so you can see The Clash? But there's enough humour to sustain them - their theme seems to be "Sweep the dancefloor with your... dust pan; shake your body like a… Milk Kan". Out on the windy common, that night I've not forgotten. "Here come the part-time punks" they complain. Who could these part-time punks be?
Ming the Mong
Fri 9 December 2005 No Xmas for John Quays @ Montague Arms
Angular pop noir. So Ming The Mong reckons anyway, and who am I to argue?
It's just Ming The Mong himself, backing track and vocal. No costume, mostly recumbent on the stage. This must be the Ming equivalent of Gabriel's "Growing Up", but with a much smaller beard. The beats are harsh or they're throbbing. The synth is squeaky, or it's a treacly Bontempi organ jingle. Vocal is a Mark E bark and snarl, a three-note melodic grunt. It's about words, some you may understand, some you may not. You get more sense out of "Heidelberg man" - possibly. "Can I borrow your house, can I borrow your wife, can I have your wardrobe?" (Once In a Lifetime). "Giant rotting haystacks, you'll be a compost heap on legs" (wrestlers are not fixed). "9 years - 40,000 words, and you missed one out - Johnsonian" (Mr Webster missed out more than one). "I’m all washed up, I've nowhere to go, so I'm gonna sit in the corner and let my stubble grow" (that's ok, my Friends Reunited entry would be Robyn Hitchcock's "I'm an old pervert and I hang out under the bridge"). Misanthropy rules!
Here at Opposition land, we like a mature artist who writes about where they are now, and not what they imagine they might be doing if they were 20. We've all spent enough time trying to be successful and failing - we might as well just try to be good. And it is. The quirky, self aware w(h)eezing of JJ Burnel and Dave Greenfield. The Germano-Australian industrial complex of Snog. As Snog would have it, if you don't want to Ming The Mong, here's what you do: Submit, Obey, Marry and Reproduce.
Ming the Mong
Fri 14 January 2005 Tsunami Appeal Benefit @ Montague Arms
Genre: electronic irony.
Vocal: neatly phrased rants, poetry, monotonal blues.
Backing style: evil dance, Soft Cell, twinkling piano, vieltone and bontempi home organs, fake funereal violins, Fallesque drum tumult.
Costume: budget, half a child's football and some sellotape.
Rough quotes: "You can't, you won't ever sanitise me"; "Victoria Wood, but I wouldn't"; "We put our heads on the tracks and listened for trains"; and "My life is a mess, my own admission, I look like Dave Lee Travis".
Subjects: misanthropy, suicide, school reunions.
Precedents: The Fall, Half Man Half Biscuit, Carter USM, Country Teasers, Pitman.
Ming the Mong (aka Andy) performs poetry about how to enjoy being pissed-off, with chunky electronics for backing.
Weirdness to pop ratio: 40% - the eighties style dance backing is pretty hook infested, timing is pure Mark E. Smith.
Familiarity factor: 80% - plenty of Half Men Half Biscuit anthemic chants, by the end of each song you feel like you know it.
Wed 17 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Groovy 80s guitar and synth avalanche.
Singers provide crystal clear tunes and 70s rock-styled harmony and response. Keyboards are spacily 1980s, with kaleidoscopic turning and patterning. Guitars focus on hard-edged New Order chords with intricate lament lines, chirruping metalled solos, and a fleeting style I can only describe as vertical nibbling (a guitar played like corn-on-the-cob). Bass pumps tunes for certainty, and drum pounds for admission.
Lyrically, the feeling is one of resigned anger: "I don't want you hanging 'round to see me fail"; "What's the point in being pissed off the world when nobody else cares anyway?"; "We salvaged what we could and then retreated to the distance to lick our wounds"; and "Never wanted your permission, never wanted your submision, never wanted your acceptance, just not your casual indifference". Quality lines. They also dedicate "Just one at a time" to recently deceased steeplejack turned TV presenter, Fred Dibner, which earns them bonus points for bizarre behaviour.
The Minuteman sound is an excellent guitar-based danciness with a stream of hyper-conscious world-weary lyrics. Given the success of Mad World second time around, Minuteman have potential to do great things. The world is waiting…
Thu 5 February 2004 @ Hope and Anchor
Melodic and anthemic in parts, but quite complex and proggy. Guitars can jangle like a musical box, shimmer like the Cocteau Twins, or scuzz out delicate treble scratch-cycles like Mogwai. Drums have showy rolls, subtle tempo-shifts and high-energy steam-trains into machine-gun-backed charges. Bass is jazzed-up melodic drive. Vocals are a screamy rap, pitched towards harmony, but well to the flat side. The vocalist facing away from the audience is somehow faintly disturbing. Words can be angsty, but there's a touch of rock ego too. So there's shoutalong "Never forget where you came from… because it's gonna get you down" and teen erotic fantasy in the gentle Doorsy roots of "You want me". Set up is first vocal, second vocal/ guitar, guitar, bass, drums.
Misterhall are visionary, even if the vision is sometimes shorter than the reach. The future of rock - we hope.
Sun 25 September 2005 Stolen Nights @ The Spitz
Challenging mix of voice, electric violin, guitar, bass, percussion, electronica and found sounds, from a band that profess to parking a car in the same garage as NY antifolk acts.
The players tonight are Jamie Smith on guitar, Michael Oxtoby on electric violin and bass, and Lee Allatson on everything else. Guitar creates a warm southern comfort sound of picking and thrumming, and flocks of feathering that see hands moving too fast to focus on. Violin plinks, screams and swoops, or breezes a wistful serenade like the fiddler on the roof. Percussion is at once simple and complex: rattlesnake maraca, stick-shattering snare, a tambourine placed atop the snare and struck with a damped stick, even the microphone scratched around the snare and fx box. There's a synthesizer for whooshes, feedback squeals, and processing the vocal into a pitch-shifting cyber growl. Mostly, the voice is a reverby baritone weaving light but complex melodies, teasing poetry from everyday life: "There's holes in your happiness, there's gold in those hills" and "Squeezing drops of light from short skies". Misterlee are a one off. If Thomas Truax played with Hugh Cornwell and JJBurnel of the Stranglers, then the output might resemble Misterlee.
If you like rock-quarrying crunchiness and playfully seething guitar, Misterlee could be your band. But there's no compromising here, nothing for the faint hearted. When Lee takes complete control, we have "Wasted", with processed mike gobbling vocal and screwy synth only, bizarre echoes of David Essex's "Rock On". These are dangerous sounds, most of them not just noises you've never heard before, but noises you've never even imagined. As Lee observes, "Sometimes it's safer to sleep". Misterlee have mastered the correct use of space.
Sun 17 October 2004 UK Antifolk 2 @ Buffalo Bar
Dark urban folk and blues cabaret.
The Misterlee sound is simultaneously spartan and dense, an array of noises wrought from voice, synth processors and pedals, drum minimalism and guitars. This set is performed as a duo, with Jamie Smith on guitars and Lee Allatson on other media.
Jamie's guitaring is a phenomenon to behold, an exercise in controlled passion to match John Parish (PJ Harvey collaborator). The contrast between power and restraint is a detail in a much bigger picture. Frequent stylistic switches sometimes read as jolting or stilted, sometimes as swerves in the enigmatic but ordered flight of the bumble bee. For all the swerves and switchbacks, the guitar breezes jazz and drips sweet blues.
Lee's synth sounds swoop atmospherically then scratch and lust cyberneticly. Many sounds metamorphose from the intermeshed processing of voice and pedalling of guitar. But others are the unique product of a singer with microphone in one hand and drumstick in the other. Harsh beats of crunching, twisting scrapyard compactors. The vocal speaks in clean melodies and processed grind, unforced emotion and manufactured horror, plenty of earnest baritone and high tenor sounds without the whimsy of Mordor's depths or of fake falsetto.
Perhaps this has the feel of small-town blues - "an average day in an average town" - but it’s more evocative than the overworn angst of metropolitan alienation. In song, the outcomes include: self-frustrated roaring "Something I remember but I need to forget, I've been wasted"; forlorn crooning "Just an average day, so there's no need to shop around"; daily grinding "Rub the clockface from your eyes"; poetic painting "I may have missed a few editions in the night of the long admissions"; and "Squeezing drops of light from the short season". The density of thought and relentlessness of delivery is almost too intense to relay. Possibly an especially intense show tonight - Lee observes "I looked at [the cut of] the audience's jib, and decided to let rip" - but every performance I've seen has been full-on. The Misterlee sound is not one you could put in a box, but if it has progenitors, surely they include Tom Waits.
Misterlee produce a uniquely assured blend of urban folk and angry blues. Lee laments "The revolution is just another bar in this town". The Revolution is a chain of bars extending its market through town after town. Misterlee are happy not to pursue this in the direction of political pretension, sticking with the booze theme for songs dedicated to the genie of the beer bottle "Another seal gets broken". Streets ahead of antifolk from the amplified campfire, Misterlee represent the sound of post-modern musicianship, stripped down to basics, but with the basics layered like lasagne and cranked to maximum volume. Quality needs no soundcheck.
Mon 10 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Episodic and instrumental post-rock, a romp through the world's climatic zones and all the weather systems in turn.
Apparently, a 3-piece suite. Tricksily stilted beats come as standard. Two guitars needed for drizzle chords and sustainy chimes, solos that tickle and spangle, cat-strangling scribbles, and the obligatory stick as bow to a violin. The synth option, piano contemplation for wall texture, drifting breaths and space farts as air conditioning. Bass is the chocolate coin surprise, wandering tunes with a sub-funk pump. Like it or not, esoteric titles are thrown in: "In case you get caught". The first ten minutes is the most confusing, passages flow smoothly and suddenly disconnect, a jarring realignment that isn't a progression, but in the absence of an interval, doesn't seem to be a new piece. The subsequent and final sessions do feel like coherent pieces that build to a conclusion. Quietness developed to anthems, then descending to anarchy. More features in the post-rock game - that "special" contribution frontmen make to percussion (the parting flail at the cymbals) - and the blitzkrieg finale, two awkwardly crunchy to quite qualify as a rock-out. Music that reminds me of Youth Movie Soundtrack Strategies and Detwiije. Great sounds, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts - I'd rather listen to Genesis' Foxtrot, at least then you get the bonus of Peter Gabriel's vocal silliness.
Mode's music is a post-rock colourwash: how are you meant to tell which one of these bands/ albums/ songs you're listening to? It's a smokescreen, a fog of particles you can't grasp because there's no structured substance. < Mummy, mummy, why are your eyes closed? > Sorry, darling, I must have nodded off > Can I go out to play? > No, dear. Supper's Ready. >
Tue 3 August 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Female fronted goth rock.
The vocal is a tortured melody, sung way too straight at the start but picking up character as the set proceeds. None of the playfulness of Siouxsie Sioux or PJ Harvey, but progressing towards a Liz Taylor warble. Guitar needles and drizzles its way across the fretboard, eastern mysticism and gloriously Bauhaus sustain spooky jangle. Bass is a beautifully sludged-up reverby groove. Drums are crisply damped cymbal crash and snare trap. Songs? For the most part the brick-box of a venue disguised them - but I did pick out "In the desert his mind was free", which could be in interesting biblical reference or an unlikely Terry Pratchett reference. The set closes with a laudable cover of PJ Harvey's "This is Love". Mojag's sounds bask between The Cure's Pornography and Hawkwind's punk-era Levitation - with the added advantage of a deepened early Cocteau's vocal. Line-up is female vocal; guitar; bass; drums.
This is a new brand of goth for the post-rock era. Mojag combine complex sounds and musicianship with energy and attitude. Creatures kissing in the rain, shapeless in the dark again.
Sun 25 September 2005 Stolen Nights @ The Spitz
A set of extraordinary post-rock instrumentals.
A colourwash of tootling, shimmering, and raw grinds from guitars, layered over an immovable feast of cracking snare and thrumming bass guitar. Together, the guitars create hauntingly melodic flickers and heartrendingly sorrowful flights of strings: these are the twin cities of sustain and reverb. The show closes with a growling crescendo and the inevitable indulgence of two minutes' feedback noodling. Moly could be the Cocteau Twins without vocal, in contemporary terms, a close sonic cousin of the Exploits of Elaine.
Moly produce sublime but wildly progressing guitar atmospherics. Pieces that combine jangling sleigh rides, looping roller coasters and powerful storms of anger. This could be heaven or lost vagueness.
Sat 6 August 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Light and sentimental blues-rock.
The two guitarists are responsible for singing crooning tunes, bereft wailing and twin harmonies, flavours of Bowie in his Station to Station and Let's Dance phases. They use an electric and a 12-string semi-acoustic guitar to generate slashing and drizzling chords, wistful strummery, jangly flickers and curly licks, styles you might expect from Johnny Marr.
For rhythm, overarm bass player contributes busy tunes with a hint at funk. Drums are between clackety fast train and dramatic kicks, thumps thrown in for balladic sub-structure.
An oblique reference to Milan Kundera suggests the lyrics will be interesting, but I found them cloying and neurotic: "I'll keep you warm if you come out"; "I'll keep on living if you keep on singing"; "I stared at the sun until I thought I'd go blind… the song of laughter and forgetting"; and "I never said that I could be a man, but if you love me, I'll show you that I can". Weasly words.
Monkey Rope are good musicians and singers, but sorely used. The sounds are fine, a little like the Red Guitars, but sadly there's none of the Hull boys' everyday poetry. I'd guess this is their own material, but they'd be better off without it. Blues rock is a painfully overworked genre and even with quality guitar and vocal, it needs a wow-factor to stand out. This monkey rope ain't no stairway to heaven.
The Mono Effect
Tue 1 June 2004 Club Fandango @ Dublin Castle
High-speed high-energy grungey punk rock.
Choppy guitars with some cool Thin Lizzy grade squalls and spangles. Thumpy bass. Battering drums - an onslaught of synchronised cymbal/ snare/ bass bashing that is frankly annoying. Vocal has a wonderful Dave Grohl feeling, melodic but emoted from a whisper to a scream, with question-response sessions and neat backing harmonies. Lyrics are almost impossible to grasp, but no surprises from "I could wait for you" or "There goes my last chance of giving it up for you". Overall, the sound is somewhere between Green Day and Foo Fighters, but not on a par with either. Musicians are: first vocal/ guitar, second vocal/ guitar, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
The Mono Effect certainly look telly friendly, and the Foo Fighters/ Green Day-by-numbers sound ought to pay off. Unfortunately they paint over the edges, there's no sense of a memorable song (ok, Dublin Castle acoustics probably don't help), and the drum onslaught ends in a broken snare. Songwriting 1, Skill 4, Busted-factor 7, Stamina 12 (with apologies).
Fri 19 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Magnificently tortured punky grunge.
The big tunes come from the bumptious domination of the swampy left-hand bass. Guitar deals several hands, darkly urgent chords, scuzz strums, bright lines and mournful intricate picking. Drums are a freshly primed timebomb, a trickling hourglass triggering a micro-explosion as each grain falls. Vocals are melodic but SO-OH tortured, wails, hollers and yelps. The songs focus on blistering hooklines, catches like: "It's dangerous" and "Baby, this is all for you". But there are more surreal and esoteric moments: "Summer is not over, I thought I told you"; "Don't worry, you're not crazy"; "I know I was born to be inside of this, but I've gotten lost again"; "Get out of their system"; and "All we know is we don't understand". The Mono Effecto set dabbles with Nirvana shades of dark grey and black.
The three piece outfit makes for fine unencumbered gnarly pop music, and Mono Effecto use it to maximum effecto. Sparse passionate power from a triangular box. The sound of three imaginary boys.
Mono für Alle!
Thu 18 May 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Twisted cabaret-stomp punks is an adequate but insufficient caricature, it barely covers one facet of this musical volcano.
The stage is bathed in austere blue light. A pale imposing gangster prowls the stage, seemingly 6 feet high and 3 feet wide, clawing wildly at bass guitar, a fiercesome throbbing vibration of thumb and fingers. To his right, Beelzebub's own ManInWhite, a preacher in flowing robes, long hair slicked back: he stands before a keyboard on a black pedestal, mike fastened to him on a neck-holder, a sermon rising within. Keys progress in a seamless stream of deep-seated rumbles, consuming vibration from the belly of the beast. The voice is commanding but frantic, a schizoid division between authority automaton, personal confidant, and ranting maniac. A third force to the rear lets the long hair fly as he thumps, thwacks and kicks with determination. A pounding like a battering ram at the door of a vast vault, the pulsing death march tom, the alarm bell ringing the final crossing.
It took me the first 3 minutes of the Mono für Alle! set to drag my jaw back up off the floor. The quiet unassuming blokes who arrived from Germany last night and kipped on the floor have been through some instantaneous and bizarre ego-inflation process backstage. Their album bores slowly into your psyche, but the live performance stuns you from the opening moment. Paralysis in the face of rolling tanks.
The show follows the pattern of their 2003 San Pedro Konzert CD. So, despite the flamboyant style, there are just a handful of songs with surprisingly simple themes. A delicate melody that could have been cut from Losing My Religion turns into the forced march of condemned prisoners, translated roughly as Boring Life. More familiarity from their bad-season lament: in the New Germany, the hue of Summertime Blues is painted into a scene darker than indigo. An accelerated Paranoid/ Problem Child is the basis for MFA running amok: gleeful freneticism concluding with a sparkling keyboard whirlpool. The sparkle quickly fades as the gravitas and fanfare of Alles Falsche Schweine blusters in. The organ seethes now, as if controlled by Jon Lord, while the bass turns All Along the Watchtower into a stomping Subterranean Hendrix Blues, and the preaching becomes apoplectic. The Kafkaesque finale thunders and booms, not Watching the Detectives, but watching the secret service, Rock'n'Roll Suicide meets My Way in a comforting dirge, keyboards piping in and lingering onwards with thoughtful sadness. Final curtain for the show, gone but not forgotten, not forgettable.
Every Mono für Alle! piece is weighty but precarious, poised on the edge of mayhem, but clinging to the sanity raft of a strong and well-rehearsed melodic theme. Bombastic, yes, but the word is too short. A mad convoy enters the gates of hell - a cement mixer and an ice cream van, a steam-roller and a carnival float. Scorn on the water, fie on the sky.
The Monster Club
Mon 12 January 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Astounding 4-piece puts the blues back into country rock. You didn't know the blues belonged in country rock? It does now.
Complex song structures, frantic bass-pace, electrifying Pulp Fiction tumbleweed guitar action, and whiskey drenched vocal cords. And then the add-on treat of trapped-animal mouth organ screams. It's all wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, hefty wedges of werewolf (monster) legend and megalomania. "I'll have to accept that I'm weird" and "The world belongs to me". Nevertheless, it sounds genuinely and drunkenly wild-west. Set up is lead vocal/ guitar/ mouth organ, guitar/ backing vocal, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
A joy to behold. Not as tame as the Stray Cats, more like feral tigers. "Boy, you'll be a human soon" (apologies). Not too soon, I hope.
Fri 6 August 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Loud spiky surreal pop cheats.
What is the essence of Montana Pete? Twangy metal guitar bursts? Tumbling drums that produce such mad temporal shifts you can even have a 20-second pause mid-song? An urgent bass thump that pounds, jives and melodises? The paired vocal rants, one swampy and one reedy? Special though they are, I don't think these are the things that make the Petes great. What's unique is the way that almost classic pop structures and hooks are utterly subverted in the name of Humour.
A year on from their critically ignored first album, the Petes have a clutch of new songs tonight, with a heavy toytown feel. "There is a sense of justice", Bryn observes. The other bands are offered "Thanks for the equipment and parts of songs borrowed". Then back to the "Baige" material with the cry of "Today is a blank; today is a blank; today is a blank", heralding the arrival of the kooky romp that is "Smack Addict Song". For once, they treat the song with restraint, keeping it down to 3 minutes, but there are plenty of other chances to play the favourite MP game - each of them keeps interrupting/ speeding-up/ slowing-down the pace in an attempt to throw out the rest of the band's timing. Songs are stretched, accelerated or truncated, but they never succeed in breaking each other down, and the set is never the same twice.
More bonkers lines: "Get rid of that hat, let me see your hair" (from "Ugly Band"); "Nothing will change the shape of your head" and "Are your jeans on tightly?" (from "Glad to be Gary"). Bizarrely, after all this lyricism, the closing song is the almost instrumental amphetamine-shadows of "Kill You in the Face", which doesn't end - it ebbs away. Shocking.
Our heroes are: Bryn - vocals/ guitar; Ian - vocals/ bass; Leighton - laconics/ drums.
Montana Pete have twisted and turned 3-minute pop songs completely inside out. You can see the intestines. Guitar and bass slam across the stage wildly then stall in anticipation as the drummer looks on serenely before inserting a rhythmic cataclysm. It's music Jim, but not as we know it.
Sat 2 August 2003 Jonson Family Records' Twominutemen Launch @ Arts Café
Three guys utterly defying comparison with any other band.
Every song in at least two or three tempos, but always returning to a central theme. And every 2 minutes they've been there - seen it - done it - moved on. Manic stop-start drumming, bullying funky bass, roving minor key squall- and nibble-guitar. Twin vocal exploring the key issues of the day, such as "My clothes are my life". This from a chap in jeans and plain red t-shirt. Formation: Bryn guitar/ breakage/ vocal; Ian bass/ vocal; Leighton drums/ backing vocal of maximum joy.
The band for which the term "art-punk" was invented. Post ironic.
Moriati and the Sith
Tue 13 September 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Announced as a Sunderland vampire band, this outfit is the spinal tap of goth rock.
Irresistible showmanship and damned good music too. A teasing squeeze of keyboards, domination bass grunts, taut drums with glistening cymbals. This is a band that writes songs about human kebabs as if they were shepherds' pies: "You're in my power" or "Throw me away". Musically, a trad metal world, almost an amalgam of UFO, Iron Maiden and Rush.
You've got to love a band with this much death-mask make-up, these toothy plastic muzzles, braces of shrunken skulls, and plastic headstones. Then there's the gallons of fake blood and the zombie guitarist who plays in character - padded/ stuffed jacket, and one hand raised as he lurches around the stage, being prodded back into place by fellow band members. This chap gives a wholly new meaning to the expression "dead-pan". Wonderful, wonderful silliness. You won't believe a vampire can fly. But you'll believe a zombie can lurch. And you'll believe a vamp band can rock-out like freaks.
The Morning After Girls
Wed 20 September 2006 Goonite Club @ Buffalo Bar
They're not girls and it's still the night before (just), but they do play great psychedelic country blues.
The show begins and ends with engineered feedback hooting and squealing. The opening is instrumental but vocals appear quite soon in the form of classic questions and responses or drifting but intense harmonies, akin almost to chanted mantras. Bluesily misanthropic words: "Baby, I think I got to you"; "I let you go, let you go so you could feel alone"; "You sway in the ocean, you should be goin'" and "Just take a look at yourself, you're just like everyone else". I think not.
Musically it's the bass that has the Girls hooked on a leash. Beats trickle, tumble and judder, they're on the footslopes of the Himalayas, and they're going down. The guitars are the main event, they squall and shimmer, they pitch slides against gently grunting chords, they generate soaring or edgy reverb spangle, they do the wild-thing stomp and the Ry Cooder twang, they trade staccato pinging and fretboard scrapes, whichever way they get a compelling groove going. And, for one song, these guys have the violin I've been expecting, with heartbreaking pleas and sighs.
The Morning After Girls put on the most pleasingly confusing set I've seen for a long time. Initially I thought the most obvious reference points were the Byrds and the Stone Roses, but then I caught glimpses of Jimi Hendrix, Dandy Warhols and even the Jesus and Mary Chain. I thought I caught a flash of Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men" at one point, how many 21st century musicians have heard that? (It’s a great deal better than what Status Quo produced later). No doubt the commercial music press is busy branding this act as nu-gaze, but I always felt shoegazers were very single-minded, whereas The Morning After Girls are wonderfully eclectic. They work damn hard and they rock big time. Truly the alcohol-soaked cherry to top a cocktail-evening of inspired guitar wizardry.
Thu 29 January 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Epic post-prog anthems.
Morning Runner take on board the gentle rhythmic teasing of U2's "The Unforgettable Fire", alongside long bass-line melodies, a shimmering guitar and keyboard combo, and a vocal pitched towards a tune with a tortured brow. The soundtrack for Irish rangers working an Outback cattle station, there's a hint of The Church, The Sound and The Waterboys about this band. Lyrically, it feels like a personal odyssey turned road-movie. "Get away from this, I won't let it drag me down". Musicians are: vocal/ guitar, keyboards, bass, drums.
The Morning Runner sound is warm, hypnotic, lustrous. A desert highway as the Sun goes down…
Fri 25 June 2004 @ Water Rats
The core is an odd coupling of male and female vocals: he melodic mock-opera with Germanic John Foxx clip; she a huge bluesy harmonic backer, almost striving to be Alison Moyet. Other players deliver thumping bass melodies in a Simon Gallup (Cure) tradition and a synth-beat combo (and providing male backing vocal) that mixes Duran Duran bounciness with Nick Cave drama. Question-response lyrics are pretty impressive - "All that I want from you - absolutely nothing" > "Absolutely nothing's what you are". I also liked the (possibly) novel reference "You'll never put me down again". And the positively Roy Orbison "I drove all night". The line-up is twin vocalists, bass, synth/ male backing vocal.
Mourning Chorus are a decidedly 80s retro event, but not sure whether to go for goth, new romantic or blues groove. Caught between Sisters of Mercy, Human League and Heaven 17. And who will have won when the soldiers have gone?
Wed 13 October 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Breathtaking garage blues.
Movedrill have honed their sound to perfection. The frontmen are masters of bright lead vocals - worn with the precocious care of Rod Stewart's Faces - and measured backing harmonies - hitting the bull head-on. Lead singer is also purveyor of the guitar with the warm but oddly warped chords, the staccato elements of funkcious chime and abrupt rock-riff, and the now obligatory dalliance of drumstick on strings. Bass is an instrument of high skipping tunes, urgent reverb-fuzz and break-out funks. Drums are a sprinting train, clackety-clack over the points, a damped snare punch. Lyrics are inevitably caught between raunch and romance: "It's so hot in here, I think about it all the time"; and "Yeah, yeah, you and me, we could last forever". There are more inventive lines too: "Standing in line for your time"; and "You wanna take her out… but she is… the last one to know". Movedrill are not especially original or off-the-wall, but they possess the irresistible hammer of the soul once owned by The Jam and subsequently passed to the Woodentops.
Movedrill play direct, fast and unembellished blues. It's not big. It's not clever. It's just… exactly right. Heated-up, beated-up sweet old soul music. You got to get the feeling.
Mon 10 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Argentinean electro insanity.
Minimal electronica comes from an Apple laptop, skeletal dance swirls-bleeps-judders, military beats, PacMan showers, Space Invader squiggles, w-h-i-t-e n-o-i-s-e. Vocal one minute is a meths drinker shout, the next an ethereal croon, and then a marching Laibach chant. "Doomed to conform"; "You and me - Up and down - Up and down - Who are we? - Up and down - Up and down"; more bizarre "My love Michael Howard is home, he's naked, his chest is in my mouth… he's not racist, he moans and smiles".
Movement Improbable: one hand claps; two worlds miss. < Mummy, mummy, what's that scary man doing? > It's performance art, dear > But why does he look like he's banging his head against the wall? Why does he look like he's running away from a giant foot that's about to stamp on his head? > It's because his Daddy didn't love him, dear >
Mon 10 July 2006 World Domination @ Nambucca
Grasping at art-punk and cabaret hysteria.
One way or another, venue and soundcheck have conspired to stop this band fulfillling their ambitions, but you can see what they're driving at. The four musicians split their efforts roughly half and half between percussion and keyboard. The vocal is wailing processed into a telephone-rasp: "Don't take some time, hurry up" and "Touch my freaky body, or you'll be sorry". Keyboards beep and grind, mourn and serenade, squeak and sprinkle, waltz and puppet. Of course there's an episode of toy piano whimsy. Percussion is a 2-player game, rattling drum urgency with one man raining blows from a standing start. There's a pattern in the randomness but it's not been disguised this cleverly for you to recognise it with ease. For extra complexity, there's a spritzing cycle from a real glockenspiel. A piping melodica attempts to bridge the gap between melody and percussion but failing leads and jacks render ukelele connections impossible - shame.
Munch Munch seem to be more focussed on being quirky and avant garde than getting the sound right. Just the same, the shambolic set contains some precious moments. How could you not love a song entitled "Flash Bang Microwave" with the hook line "You do me so good"? Still, what they would call performance art, I prefer to think of as mayhem. Watch out for Munch Munch, they may tighten into an act of madcap genius - or they could just sink without trace.
Tue 21 October 2003 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Grungy post-rockers that tick all right boxes.
CHECK - yer acteral singing in tune; CHECK - yer posh guitaring moving seamlessly from beautifully picked themes to wild strummery; CHECK - yer melodic bass guitar rhythm-keep; CHECK - more drum-based tempo changes than you can count on 4 cloven hooves (or even yer acterul digits). Impossible to pick up lyrics in this wall-of-sound, but the feel is supremely angsty. Set-up is: vox/ lead guitar, bass/ backing vox, drums.
Do ask - what time signature was that track in?
Don't ask - may I have the pleasure of the next waltz?
These guys have definitely been listening to Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. Which is mighty fine.
Sun 27 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Vocal is a Gallic quasi-melodic wail. Unbelievably low-slung guitar mixes jangly glam, gnawing high-pitched lines, big rock riffs, frantic strumming,and an oddly-placed blues drip (in a song entitled "I could kill you", no less). Bass is a slow and squidgy steer. Drum creates a shares of punchiness and rambling showmanship from an incredibly small kit. Lyrics are English as a Foreign Language. "My grandma taught me how to drink blood". "God is never kind to me". "I could take you down, I could take you up, I could lose control, don't let me down". Overall, Bauhaus meets The Rocks… on speed. Set-up is vocal/ occasional guitar, guitar, bass, drum.
My Juliette sing silly songs with a daft mix of guitar styles, all enveloped in a punk attitude. And it's fun. My Juliette rock.
My Pet Junkie
Sat 28 August 2004 @ Betsey Trotwood
Clever punky grunge with a sense of humour.
Lead vocal powers an assured singing voice, but loves to lob in a good scream. He also makes the guitar wail, squeal, jangle and grind out crunching chords. The bassplayer wrenches out deliciously firm melodies and occasionally adds in sweet female vocal harmonies. The drummer is the affable nutter that gets the whole kit shaking with a rolling syncopation. Drum is also author of a quirky vocal sub-text. The trio bicker and joke between themselves constantly: "Why are pirates called pirates? They just ARE".
The songs contain some wonderfully wry lines. On staying away from someone who hurts you: "I kept my memories on the shelf". On the joys of town-centre punch-ups: "Exactly what the fuck is there to sing about" and "What's the point in it, what's the point in you?". On insecurity: "I want to know where I am and where I'll go". On psychology: "I can be disgraceful sometimes, but can't we all?". My Pet Junkie don't really remind me of anyone - maybe there's a bit of a Foo Fighters sound with Beautiful South content and structure, but that's hardly an easy combination to imagine.
My Pet Junkie are a band begging for a new genre… Amphetamine fun-grunge? Musically, MPJ are fast, direct and stylish, moshing from punk to cabaret to rock. Lyrically, they're thoughtful, cynical and funny. Put simply, My Pet Junkie are superb.
Sat 9 August 2003 @ Hope and Anchor
Mystifyingly complex prog rock from the 5 MenInWhite.
The eclectic influences behind this bunch probably include Pink Floyd, Genesis, 10cc and Wire. Serious musicianship: multi-layered sixties vocal harmonies, everchanging rhythms, dreamy guitar and brooding keyboards. The good bits are simultaneously haunting, melodic and foot-tapping. Moments of industrial keyboard wizardry and inescapable reggae/ dance grooves. But most of it feels overblown and esoteric. The lyrics sound like they're in Latin, and for the height of pretension there's "I'm a neophyte, I'm an acolyte, I come out dancing at the break of light".
It's the 21st century, and I can no longer deal with bands that come on stage with drifting strains of classical music as wallpaper. The Mystery Jets are good at what they do, but it's tedious, and I'd rather they did it a long way away from me.
Wed 6 April 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Cheeky scally blues-rock.
The singer is the showman and focus; frankly, a Holly Johnson vocal. Not everyone's preferred comparison, but c'mon - white shirt, short fat white tie, black trilby? No room for dismissing critique on the grounds of taste. They have female backing singers on a couple of numbers, and the ladies acquit themselves well, bright and passionate without laboured indulgence or glitz. Two guitars, on the other hand, are as showy as you like: low grizzly rock riffs, high squiggles, glammy soaring, and spangly mirrorball smooch. Bass is the pompous boom tune you might expect, set against robust drums of the hard roll and the soft touch. Lyrically, these Heroes take a large slice of romanticism and pepper it with social observation. Schlock like "Stay just a moment with me" and "She's everything that I thought I'd ever want to spend my life with"; wordplay like "Her face is like a magazine" and "I drove all night trying to search for the day"; observational concern about Liverpool Lime Street prostitutes ("Sexy Susie") and the sophisticated but unostentatious mockney geezer ("London Town"). London is, of course, all of THAT and none of IT.
The National Heroes are classic 'Pool musicians, Pete Wylie joins The Commitments. I liked the front it took to burst into a 20 second snippet of "Take Me Out". I liked the Top of the Pops aura of the singer's star-shaped tambourine. The National Heroes are perfect dancehall cabaret material - transmuting the Beatles' Sexy Sadie (supposedly about the Maharishi Yogi) into Sexy Susie, and daring a reference to thievery before a sceptical southern audience - "She could steal the sunshine in the daylight, she's no ordinary kind". Entertaining. Self-aggrandising. Shameless.
Ned's Atomic Dustbin
Sat 10 December 2005 @ The Forum
Amongst the primary authors of the crusty anthem to the cerebral mosh-pit, the Neds remain superstars.
The set-list is taped up next to the mixing desk: 20 songs? Ambitious! If I'm not mistaken, they walk on stage to strains of "Wonderwoman", oh what wacky boys they are. For those that don't remember, here's what they do. Short pithy songs. Strong singalong blokey melody. Twin-speed guitar frilling, moments of mandolin sensitivity, chewy sustain, crowing wah-wah, solos that scoot, pipe and chortle. Bass lead line rumbles and throbs, a counterpoint to the scratch and spangle of the guitar. Drums that smack, crackle and bop.
The Neds are throwing their annual London party tonight, and I really had forgotten how good they are. Suddenly, I realise where the Idlewild mix of thoughtfulness, assertion and joy came from. The songs I was waiting for on the set list didn't come up until near the end: Grey Cell Green (you're telling me it's in the trees, in the trees: it's not, it's inside me) and the encore ignition Kill Your Television (soap for sore eyes) - sung mostly by the audience. But the pogo frenzy is present from the first song, and the stage-diving/ crowd-surfing kicks in by track 5. At the end, the crowd are doing handstands.
There's a lot more familiar Neds material than I expected. It's that mix of instant speed anthems, wistful insistence and mandolin flavoured balladry that hooked into the national psyche for a short time around 1992. Catchy harmonised repeats: "Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up". Cheekily sarcastic accusations: "Could you be less cool?". Assertive choruses: "I will talk, and you will listen" and "I don't know what's wrong with me… let's start throwing things".
Ned's Atomic Dustbin are, and possibly always will be, Stourbridge's finest. It's more about musical explosions, fiery solos, and moshpits than it is about words, but they have plenty to say. There's a vast array of musical connections in play. The synth backing track, pianos and dancebeats are rooted in the days of Senser and Pop Will Eat Itself. The swing guitar and funking beats are in the blues bruising of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The Neds and their contemporaries changed the world in ways that had never occurred to me before. This greatest hits set genuinely does include some greats. Drops for sore ears.
Thu 28 October 2004 Club Fandango @ Bull and Gate
Energised and stylised retro art-punk.
A classic 3-piece melange of Banshees guitar howl, staccato Cure vocal wails, driving bass and tribal drums. But there's more. Jilted John sneers form the delayed vocal response. Guitar is a shimmering melt of nasty chords, evil one-note tolls, sludge pedals of scuzz, fuzz and reverb, plus screaming feedback. Bass spikes the melody and limbers up the dub. Snare- and bass- centred drum patrols the beat with a damped thud. Cackling Spizz/ Bauhaus spoof-spookiness and an audacious PIL cover.
Lyrically, it's spot on the spirit of 1977. Apparently: "I'm not happy with what we got"; "I hate models, they're everywhere"; "Your life comes and goes, I know: my life is on overtime all the time, it's got to stop"; and "You could be lying or it could be true: anyway, it doesn't really matter to me". But the best comes with their foray into John Lydon's "Poptones", wail intact, but added dub-bass all their own: "I can't forget the impression you left, you burnt a hole in the back of my head". Neil's Children expose exactly what it was about late 70s music that turned teenagers into punx for life.
Neil's Children are the shocking electrodes on the corpse of twenty-first century punk. Every snarl, every squeal, every thwack is a joy. The irrepressible public image of hangman's-noose tie, blood spatters, black ink-accident hair. A truly twisted playground. Not art brut, but brutal art.
Thu 3 June 2004 moshi moshi night @ Buffalo Bar
Wonderfully frantic jangle guitar pop tunes.
Guitars combine intricate looped squiggles, spangly speed chords and high octane 2-car races. Belting bass melodies form the nuclear core. Breakneck snarey drumming keeps the energy level rising. Diffident vocal melodies are delivered with the lightness of Aztec Camera or Ricky Spontane, and the phrasing of Morrissey, with enhancement from baking harmonies and responses. Lyrics are not always easy to pick out, but apparently include the obvious and the bizarre. "I have had enough of your excuses, I've heard them before, I don't really want to hear them anymore". "How will I know if I don't know what's real?". "You give me something I cannot give back". And "I never want to go, I never want to be where I am, I never want to stay". Personnel are lead vocal/ guitar, second guitar, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
The New Rhodes produce a superb blend of breezy summer power-pop. All the catchy melodies and dancey intensity of the Woodentops and Franz Ferdinand. Quite possibly building a New Rhode to stardom.
New Rising Sun
Wed 5 May 2004 @ Dublin Castle
Bad blues-rock horrors.
A flat drawl of a vocal that never pitched a note in its life. A high and aimless guitar squall. But still, a warm melodic bass bounce, and a kit-thwacking drum frenzy. Lyrically, it's difficult to get excited by lines like "Soul destroyer… waitin' for yer". Christ, it's the twenty-first century. Set up is simply guitar/ vocal, bass, drums.
Bass and drums work at this, but guitar/ vocal is outside the entire melodic structure of Western music. I'd like to say there was a mix of the theatrical blues and the arty avant-garde - like somewhere between the Doors and the Velvet Underground. But by the end of the set, most of the audience was between the doors and the underground.
Tue 29 June 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Classic metal with a nudge and an enormous wink.
Vocals are melodic anthems with sailing harmonies. Guitars are menacingly choppy and juddery, clashing chord-play and delicate trebly flourishes. Bass kicks-out simple proggy melodies. Drums fill in any vacant space in the wall, an avalanche taking trains, homes, factories and pylons down the mountainside - but without dominating proceedings. And songs are full of good-humoured defiance. "Like it or not, that's what we do, take it or leave it". "Wake up to a brand new day, same as the one before". And (I think) "You need a leader, we all need a leader, we all need a leader that we can trust" (this in a song called - they claim - "Send in the Clowns"). Nex sound like Iron Maiden with an injection of Terrorvision. And why not? Set up is lead vocal/ slightly silly expressions/ guitar, guitar/ very silly grimaces/ backing vocals, bass, drums.
Nex represent the conclusion of classic metal, where the material is a parody of itself and can be peacefully at home with its own comedy. But with Nex, there's the added feeling that they have something interesting to say. Down from the hills came the marching men…
Fri 14 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Eighties styled pop-noir.
Well, they have films, obviously. These are a fair representation of the subject-matter on a very low budget: night-driving, over-exposure, light streams, extreme stylisation. The impassioned vocal is impressive, a torch song of wracked pain. Dreamy synth switches happily over to guitar gravitas. So guitars play chords that jangle and scratch, with the addition of gorgeously nibbled hooklines. Bass nudges with subtle but irresistible force. Consciously esoteric lyrics emerge from the fog: "I can't stop what's happening"; "You know it may be judgement day… it's today"; "In this place, there's home"; and "Now that you've found me, what you gonna do to me?" Vibes borrowed from New Order, Simple Minds, even Soft Cell.
No Mind may be retro, but the eighties is so hip right now, it's the new sixties: No Mind plunder their era cleverly. No electro obsessions, they range happily into everything, even quasi-acoustica. Maybe one style too many though, their signature tune is a Spandau Ballet lighter-waver: "If you find love, it won't be nothing serious if you don't give it back". So true. These crazy words of No Mind, they feel so wrong they could be right.
No Star Hotel
Fri 26 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Twin guitars concentrate on off-centre strangled lines and twangy chords. There is no bass, but synth produces bouncy harrumphs and simple, deep farty progressions. Drums produce a pacey quaky onslaught. Backing vocal produces decent harmonies and responses, but the lead is an oddly off-key mix of wailing, country drawling and drunken crooning. Lyrically, maybe it’s a bit lame: "If you need me, I'll be there for you" and "All I want, all I need, well baby it's you".
The closing song is a little different, an odd kind of Roxy Music meets Bruce Springsteen belter, which seems to say "All I really wanna do is penetrate the wall with you" - surely not? I can't think of any close bands to compare them with.. Maybe Godfathers meet Nick Cave? Country Teasers meet White Stripes?
No Star Hotel are country bluesmen with a bizarre synth input. In most respects, it’s a common format, but they've added Art Brut madcap energy and subtracted the evil humour of the Country Teasers. Sufficiently off-the-wall to watch with interest.
Sun 16 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
The name screams retro synth, but the noise screams garage punk. Damn!
Voice, guitar, drums. Dave Gedge/ Wedding Present gabbles. The guitarist is a clever beggar, twanging, jangling, scratching, twanging, slashing: and chord sequences that incorporate mad and implausible key changes. But the drums? I can't decide whether this is luxury or disaster. Nutty trips and rolls, the sound of a drumkit falling down Everest. Remarkably, the guitarist and drummer coordinate a gushing stream of halts and tempo changes perfectly.
Words are mystifying: apparently - "Jurors, make it easy on yourselves. It's not easy being stuck with someone you don't care about" - "I'm so afraid, I'm so afraid, it's all I have to be" - and "I can't believe you're happy with the things you said". Their own unique brand of Odd.
Nosferatu d2 have nightmares about chewing broken glass. I have nightmares about being force-fed broken CDs. They're interesting. Oh yes, they're interesting. But they're almost unlistenable. File under: Experiment - Inconclusive.
Fri 14 July 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Goth rockers who live up to all the promise of their name.
They're dressed in black of course, but it's the female singer who grasps at the moonlight with her spangly bodice, thigh-huggers and maneater boots. Despite a sweet speaking voice, her singing is close to screamo anguish, with a surprising break into gabbling rap. "There seems to be so much of me, I cannot find a reason" she seems to croak.
The musical format involves ominous openings, calm but brooding, that give way to hailstorm bleakness. Drums are a rushing tribalism with hammering snare, bass a busily circulating insect, 5 string grunts, rumbling and slapping hooks. The guitars are the sole points of brightness in the icy fog, twin spangly flashes, wah wah fx, even a rock moment of solo squeals and rushing arpeggio. But with a curling sinister lick, the guitars fade back into dark revs and rasping scribbles. The final score is Rhythm 4:Tune 1.
There was only one song in the Nothing Gained set that came close to uplifting, a dose of irrepressible gothic stomp along the lines of Siouxsie and The Banshees' Spellbound. The remainder of the set resembles a sullen version of Marilyn Manson and Hole. A relentless and unforgiving grind that ultimately makes you stop listening. And definitely no sweet dreams.
October All Over
Tue 27 July 2004 Club Fandango @ Dublin Castle
Twisted punky post-rock surf sounds.
October All Over produce more dissonance than a squealing Routemaster bus, but there's an inner core of melody if you search. The two guitars produce full-throttle duelling plus solos that crunch, grind, scour and surf. The bass is a beautiful sludgy noise, the rumble of an approaching avalanche. Drums represent a faithful old steamroller. The three share vocal and backing duties, urgent yelps and shouts from the chaps and reluctant tunefulness from the chapess.
The one line that jumps out of this cheerful cacophony is "It's all down to you… surrender". Quite simply October All Over are Sonic Youths. Musicians are: male vocal/ guitar, female vocal/ bass, drums/ male vocal.
October All Over have an excellent line in squeezing grunge-core until the the pips, the tunes and the angst spurt out together in a shower of boilng mud. Volcanic.
Oh No Not Him! (Michael J Coxx)
Sat 12 August 2006 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
A spoof DJ set.
It seems that the Coxx trademarks are visor shades, tight tracksuit bottoms and obsessive hand movements (imaginary decks and rap gestures). His theme tune: "You're just a dick > you are, and you know it".
The lines are silly and they're supposed to be: "Check - check - check > mike check" and "Clean your act up and rinse your mouth out". Drum and bass backing comes from a lap top, seemingly hundreds of samples of eighties synth bands. Skittering beats, bass splurges and foghorns, there are chirrups, meteor-showers and twinkles, sliding pitch-shifts and arcade soundtracks.
For the finish, a female rapper provides back up. Coxx wows her with his oddball dance moves.
Michael J Coxx is entertaining to watch but you wouldn't want to listen to this at home. He sounds like a third rate Pitman or a one-trick Milk Kan. His own analysis - "Very avant garde, that". It's a belly-laugh joke, as is the rest of the set.
Oil Red O
Sat 20 March 2004 Cut and Paste @ Buffalo Bar
Terror trio of post-rockers.
Each piece is a slow progression of shock and awe. There are gentle lulls in the storm, but desert storm it is. Drums are full of jazz-jerks and tempo-shifts, bass is the rounded melodic driver, guitar shifts between Steve Hackett Musical Box jangles and Robert Smith swirls and squalls of Faith and Pornography. The set is instrumental except for samples of scary American prayers: "Peace is our birthright" apparently. Set up is simply bass, guitar, drums.
Sun sets slowly into a dark and cataclysmic night, stormy blackness interrupted by bursts of blinding firecracker light. Play me my requiem. Here it comes again. Play me my requiem. Here it comes again, again, again, again.
Old Boy Reunion
Tue 5 September 2006 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Irresistible boot-boy punk, about a million times better than their chosen name.
Maybe it's an apt name, because this is an exhaustingly infectious set of familiar sounds in unfamiliar clothing. A rumbling tribalism from drums, with splashing and rocketing frenzies. Busy 6-string bass hooks join flashy guitars, high speed chops and frills, curling and squealing licks, hosepipe phut strummery, sirens to the Gods. Voices are powered by expanisive lungs, tunes screamed, shouted, calm thoughts and scary bawling. "This ain't no switch in direction", they proclaim, even though nobody looked like that at my Comp in 1978 (ed - it's a secondary school).
Old Boy Reunion rush through a fistful of shoutalong anthems as rousing as any from the original era of punk. There's even some warmly reverbed dub for your listening pleasure. But their sources seem to span the decades, Ruts, Husker Du, Faith No More, Green Day. How often does contemporary music manage to be simultaneously so resourceful and so direct? Blistering.
The Old Street Musical Union
Wed 8 March 2006 @ Bull and Gate
The Old Street Musical Union are a special bunch, although you'd have to decide for yourself whether they're intelligent and multi-talented or sanctamonius show-offs. Between the five, they offer up scratching and bluesing guitars, cello, banjo and chimes, jazzy drums and sliding bass hooks. There are three part male-female vocal harmonies, but lead vocals are taken by the boys, alternating from fake southern drawl, to cheeky cockney, to honest John.
A lot of The O.S.M.U feel is almost psych-country, a chilled out Zutons, but the observations of life in the city owe more to The Kinks and Blur, and the verse-after-verse-after-verse structures are Bob Dylan classics. Two observations struck me as spot on, even if they are too knowing. On the press use of an image of a suicide, and the last thoughts in a dead woman's head: "All these people watching me - I know what they wanna see - jump, jump, jump, (etc). Here I am on the window sill, I should have taken sleeping pills". On moving into Kilburn when you're not used to it: "Outside there's a lot of scared and angry people - they make you feel scared and angry too."
There may be no excuse to be lonely, but equally there is no excuse for making music that ignores the state we live in. The O.S.M.U. can't be accused of making excuses, they let rip. All of the angry people, where do they all belong?
Thu 18 March 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Four-piece art-punk combo with math-metal tendencies.
Frantic drumming changes gear more than a juggernaut on a mountain pass. Bass pinballs around an erratic spooky guitar nipple-twist, both worthy of the good Captain's Magic Band. Vocals are an angry Tom Verlaine crossed with Jello Biafra, plus fulsome industrial barks for backing. Lyrics are happily and self-consciously off-kilter - "Hitchcock Blonde, glorify the selected victim". Clever stuff. Set-up is lead vocal, bass/ backing vocal, guitar, drums.
The Optimist Club must be art. The Optimist Club knows it's art. Is it art sticking two fingers up its own jacksy? Sounds like a question for a professional critic.
The Optimist Club
Tue 26 October 2004 Club Spleen @ Bull and Gate
Proggy post-rock tomfoolery.
The OC are driven by nightmare drums of non-linear time. Bass is a massive random-thump jump-bunny (and left-handed at that). Guitar combines fast chord spangles with spiky machine codes and niggly binary lines, plus occasional left-handed guitar slaps from the lead singer. Lead vocal is an oddly melodic blend of chews and bellows, with backing scream and harmonies from the bass-player and supporting shouts from the regular guitar-man. This is my third visit to the OC, and I still can't tell you what it's all about, although soldiers and aerosols feature, together with "I've never seen such bravery" and (apparently) "Waiting for the revolution - mortician to the people". A kind of brain salad of Wire, Part Chimp and Bauhaus, the OC have a sense of uncoordinated urgency in the face of an insurmountable crisis.
The Optimist Club are post-rockers with a highly self-conscious style of madcap contorted musicianship. It's good, but is it fresh or poisonous? Oh classic gentlemen with your fish, that you surround, all around… you men will always point your fishes at me (Bauhaus).
The Optimist Club
Tue 31 August 2004 Club Spleen @ Bull and Gate
Thoroughly twisted choppy post-punk.
In my opinion, too few bands invoke a mosh-pit - however limited - in a small audience. The Optimist Club bring you the 3-man mosh-pit. Vocal, in a rapid succession of lines, is a tune, a wail, a scream. He is dedicated to the vocal cause bar a brief left-handed visit to guitar. Backing vocals, from bass and regular guitar, are an occasional screamfest that calms to a mournful "woo-woo". Whacked-out guitar sounds include fast and furious hooks, scary squalling chords, lines of intricacy, danger and cruelty, and interludes of twin-guitar churning. The bass grooves a tune as joyously spooky as the Addams Family. The drummer moves around the kit like an octopus. This sound is more jerky than an Argentinian cattle-processing plant. Words smack of cleverness beyond the abilities of the sound-system and my battered ears. There's the too easy "Get in the car, I wanna drive over, get in the car", the too bizarre "Soldiers and the aerosols" (ok, it could've been airforce), and the well cult "Hitchcock blonde" (or perhaps blood). The way the guitar renders the violin knife-stabs of the Psycho shower-scene is especially impressive. If the Optimist Club remind me of any other band, it’s a kind of anger-reduced and humour-enhanced Cat on Form.
The Optimist Club bring you a rant for its own sake laid over evil guitar, groovy bass and chopped-up drums. An optimist is, of course, someone who thinks things are as good as they get. Ironic though they may be, the Optimist Club ain't a million miles from being there.
Thu 23 March 2006 @ Bull and Gate
A melange of post-punk glam, goth and pop-noir.
Optimus are knowingly sophisticated. Drums are wonderfully taut, crumps, smacks and pings. Five-string tunes bounce along in an indie sub-funk. Twin guitarists play in a mirror image, chords rasp and twang, strings shimmer, whinny and hoot, a stretched spring recoils.
The voice is melodic and smooth, but so passionate, bursting with depth and falsetto, a torch song of the used, abused, weary and contemptuous. The words may not be new, but the singer believes them: "I don't wanna be alone tonight"; "So much to lose, so much to live for"; and "The only thing I want is to give you everything". All of this and nothing.
Optimus play an awkward groove, it's hypnotic, but thoroughly twisted. These stomping angsthems I'd associate with Psychedelic Furs or Suede, the melodrama belongs to Morrissey and Gene, or on the London scene, to Luxembourg. Optimus music is uneasy, almost bleak - they're consoled by a cup that's half full, and laced with arsenic. You think that sounds weird? "Welcome to our world!", they proclaim.
Tue 27 April 2004 Glasswerk @ Upstairs at The Garage
Anthemic progrock lite from the Hounslow 5.
Vocal is the tortured declaiming of a Joe Jackson, with sweet harmonic backing. The array of guitars manages to encompass Knopfler string-bending violin sounds and Jimmy Page - Darkness blues-pomp. Bass is gently but firmly anchoring this Joshua Tree to the ground. Drums are huge dramatic crescendos befitting pretentious portentiousness (says you? Ed). These guys have no doubt they're clever. The first number, pronounced to be about "not swallowing" is about repeating passionately "I spit on your grave". And there's more cliched intellectualism - "I'm your butterfly, left out to die", and "You're burning while the world keeps turning… your light will never go out". The overall effect is like "Gomez perform the Red Hot Chilli Peppers". Set up is lead male vocal/ rhythm guitar, bass/ female backing vocal, first lead guitar, second lead guitar, drums.
This is so like an angry version of Coldplay it's difficult to believe they're not Australian. All primal therapy pain, graduate lyricism, and showy musicianship. Is there a moment here that shocks, jars, talks remotely about the urgency of big city life? No. It just keeps reminding me of Lynard Skynard. Born to be mild.
Thu 10 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Wistful and literate twenty-first century pop.
At the centre of the Paperlung sound is weighty piano-voiced keyboard, and crystal-clear vocal melody, with harmonic back-up and words packed in like sardines. Ex- Boo Radley Sice has surrounded himself with young and rather serious musicians. Sice straps on guitar only for a bouncing first and a shrugging final song. For the rest guitarist 2 generates twirling lines of syrup, spangle picking, wah-wah pedalling and licks so curled they peel off the wall. The drummer smacks and teases at the kit, there is at least a little cabaret whimsy. The bass player goes to the opposite extreme, seriously silly, with his bubbling tunes and booming slides, he got diverted on his way to join The Wonderstuff.
So what is Sice about these days? To some extent, professional Northern urbanity, complete with odd and slightly esoteric dedications: > To survivors of The Great Guitar Massacre of 1996; and > To Stoke Newington, the inspiration for "Happiness At Last" (really?). Relationships and life-experience fuel the lyrics: "You know it's hard, putting the world to rights - You know it's hard, but I'll be here tomorrow night"; "I don't know why I stick around you, you wouldn't know I'd gone"; and "I know what you say; I have a duty, have a duty to no-one but me".
Paperlung have not set out to relive the wild exuberance of The Boo Radleys. They do play mighty catchy pop songs, occasionally upbeat, mostly gentler and reflective. Not all of this is terribly original - at one moment I'm distinctly hearing snatches of The Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays". It strikes me that this may be too mature, all this Billy Joel "I'm getting on with my own life" personal re-evaluation. Enjoyable though, it's just a brush away from being jazz. That clever wee Sice man has found a way to be more cutesy than Keane. It was more a matter of 'when' than 'if'.
Fri 24 October 2004 @ Electrowerkz
A new take on lo fi (thank God) that you could loosely describe as feedback-centred nerd rock. These guys claim they are about to "Storm the citadel of a woman".
We are not talking singing here, but a staccato yowling - the sound of whelps. But this is layered over a stratospheric guitar caterwauling and a synth-organ grinding that combine as Dirty Surf; B52s washed to shore in the land of the Pixies and stoned to death by a tribe of manic Jesus and the Mary Chains. No compromise with commercial niceties here then. Set up is male vocal/ guitar, male synth, female drums.
Park Attack deliver daft and dangerous grinds, wails and squeals. This is way off the planet of sound; just like nothing on Earth. Refreshing.
Fri 7 May 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Perfect post-rock that is off the wall, but tethered firmly to it by a dog-leash.
A diffident but tuneful vocal bark, from the school of Mr Grohl. Guitar producing steaks of backdoor hound-meat, slices of Black Sabbath with Sonic Youth worms boring through. Bass is the anchor of the team, forcing the good causes in a Samwise Gamgee kinda way. And drum is possibly the most inventive of the bunch, a mix of choking and chugging stiltedness, but keeping the co-travellers off the hard-shoulder. The whole thing is a hand-painted Campervan, a cherished gnarly old bit of indie that we know inside-out, and we love to bits. It is exactly what we want… and therefore it is NOT. There is a thin line between creative re-use and parody, which the Foo Fighters stand firmly on the creative side of. Part Chimp are near it, but they wobble. So when they play something that sounds like "There goes my hero", you want it to be a cover of "There goes my hero". Minstrels are vocal/ guitar, guitar, bass, drums.
Part Chimp tick every post/ prog-rock box so carefully, they forget to relax and have fun. It plugs along nicely and obviously in the way the Fall followed the Stooges' "I just wanna be your dog" with "No never, no never no more, will I trust the elves of Dunsimore". Beautifully leftfield rock, but somehow tame. To borrow from the Grohl refrain, "He's ordinary".
Wed 1 December 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Satirical punk poetry apparently enjoying a new lease of life with the antifolk cachet.
Initially, Partition struck me as Attila the Stockbroker with backing musicians - but Attila hasn't had a pop profile since the 1980s. Whatever the influence behind the sound, these guys got me grinning like an idiot. The scuzzy guitar strumming ain't groundbreaking, but has its own scratchy personality steering well clear of rock and folk cliches. The drumming is simple and direct, the bedroom beats of Violent Femmes or the snare smashing of Meg White. The poet is the focus of course (well, he is the tallest).
Some of the words seem to labour truisms, but there are moments of genuine poetry and humour too. More obvious subjects were: "For all those dance bands everywhere, it doesn't end too soon" (a critique of extended mixes); "Let's really confuse the rest of the band by slowly changing the words" (it confused me); and "Let's stop talking, let's try to understand" (sound but well-worn anti-war sentiments). Inventions I enjoyed included: "I've dessicated my heart"; "You strain my brain and you hurt my head" (from Relationshipped); a cacophony of phrases they use to chuck you out the pub "I've told you once, I won't tell you again… I'm gonna stand here 'til you drink it" (from Not Before Time); and their complaint that no-one dances at gigs "You're all looking very happy, but you keep your feet stock still" (this actually gets 2 people dancing). Other fine moments include a short promotional poem for their new CD, and two odd running poetic gags. The first is a trilogy tribute to Latvia in two parts: part 1 concluding "I'm emigrating next week"; and part 2 "Her hands are cold, her head is cold, my heart is cold, my body's cold" (dangerously close to a piss-take of The Cure's 1984 "Give Me It"). The second reflects my view that songs should make their point then end: initially a 30 second blast of "We like short songs"; later reprised as the tribute "We miss John Peel", complete with the trademark session-ending of dying guitar reverb and dropped drumsticks clattering. As a bonus, there's also a condensed "A Witness" session with vocals and drums only (inventive, but doesn't include any of my favourites from the "I am John's pancreas" album). Overall, this does sound a lot like Attila the Stockbroker, but in collision with a stripped down Blue Aeroplanes.
Partition are playing agit poetry with a garage backing. Its an acquired taste, but Partition have the punchy hooks, clever lines and bonhomie to reel in an audience. Many ways to get what you want: the NME, anarchy, or poetry. Aw heck, by the end I loved 'em. Bless their cotton socks.
Wed 12 Nov 2003 Goo Nite Club @ Buffalo Bar
Whimsical rock n roll with good slices of fun, excitement and musicianship.
With its lo-fi feel, this is reminiscent of early Stiff Records. But this is not just speeded-up rock n roll, there are fine blues sounds from the guitar and bass and swirly surf keyboards. Vocals at once punky, staccato and melodic. These guys can be the Attractions, the Yachts, even lighter moments of the Stranglers - they seem to have the late seventies all sewn up. Lyrics seem to mix humour and social observation, and closing with the number "Pressure's over" seems neat rather than cheesy. Set-up is vocal/ guitar, (female) keyboard, bass, drums.
Past Caring are reversing into tomorrow with style. Way better than the regurgitated "garage" doing the rounds.
Path of Betrayal
Tue 4 May 2004 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
High-octane industrial-metal rage.
PoB combine the rock grandeur of Black Sabbath with the energy of thrash. Cymbal crashing drums and a vocal scream are accompanied by spookily melodic drivers in the form of deep brooding bass and a mix of dark guitar chords and leftfield sub-blues solos. Lyrics apparently deal with collective incest (?) and honour amongst thieves. Line out is lead vocal, guitar, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
PoB leave the behind the self parodying silliness of heavy rock without embracing the formlessness of thrash. A refreshing twist on metal, but still gloriously paranoid after all these years.
Paul the Girl
Mon 3 April 2006 Monotreme @ Bull and Gate
A one-woman show of classic storytelling intimacy for guitar and voice.
It's not hard to see why Paul the Girl is causing a stir. As a singer, she's simultaneously a baby doll and a blues honey, both an angel and a temptress. As a guitarist, she strums soft lullabies, sets up loops and space-noodles to overlay with grunts and squeals, rocks and rolls with fuzzy hooks, and folksily assembles chord components into chimes.
The idea of the solo performance seems to be to relax with the audience. Paul makes the most of the opportunity to project herself as the girl next door, more used to busking than to being on stage. Calculated or not, she comes across as an unassuming person, and avoids getting sidetracked from delivering a coherent and satisfying set.
She exorcises more of her self-doubt-demons in the lyrics: "Every single word is cursed and worthless"; "Although I get my beauty sleep, I don't look like anything"; and "I've been spending too much time inside myself". There's more to the songs though, a stream of chapters in long ballads, a flourish of wordplay - "I ponder the jazz of circumstances, a fleeting glance". It's the right sort of show for sitting cross-legged on the floor and pondering.
Paul the Girl is a rising star, no doubt about it. She sings cabaret, jazz, country and folk. In solo mode, there wouldn't be that much to separate Paul and PJ Harvey - but Paul's voice has more in common with Tanya Donnelly. Then there's the guitar techniques - facets of Hackett, Harper and Hendrix - that's sonic sculpture. Alex Cox should really be getting her to soundtrack a movie - think desert, campfires, celestial bikers. Whip crack away!
Sat 4 October 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Classic punk performance-art from this Middlesborough-based 4-piece.
Frantic guitar strummery; whacky lead guitar lines stemming from the two-note solos of the late 70's (think of the Buzzcock's Boredom); manic bass melody; thumping drums that thoroughly shock-wave the entire kit. The inevitable Fall comparison is not unfair, but there's far more fun in Pellethead than that curmudgeonly Mark E Smith bloke could ever deliver. Songs are about "real life" (whatever that is). Social observation of phenomena like "Paddy Badway" and Middlesborough FC's "Defending too deep". The set wraps up with a consummate "wall of noise" collapse. Formation is: bass/ vocal; lead guitar/ vocal; rhythm guitar/ vocal (yup, they all sing lead); drums.
Pellethead's quirky punk is too good to miss. My heart and I agree. And I'm right.
People's Revolutionary Choir
Thu 10 June 2004 Club Fandango @ Bull and Gate
Spirited punky rock 'n' roll.
The PRC singer is as petulant as Liam Gallagher (and as entertaining), he delights in deconstructing each microphone. Guitar is a fantastic scrawling of chalk on the blackboard and scrabbling of rats on the ship's steel hull. Bass is a decisive melodic core. Drums undergo a frenzied assault. Lyrics have a crazy ability to take a cliché and twist it - "I just can't get enough, but I'm sick of doing this stuff"; "But I want to be someone, tell me who I am"; "I want the walls to come down, I feel the walls are coming down". The effect is a melange of Manchester sounds from Joy Division to Stone Roses to Oasis. On stage are: lead vocal/ tambourine; guitar/ backing vocal; bass; drums.
This may not be remotely original, but the energy is irrepressible and the guitarist excellent. An alternative moniker… Stoasis Division? Manchester Ship Canal Power? Tonight, PRC are rock 'n' roll stars.
Mon 28 November 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Beautifully tongue-in-cheek prog-rockers.
No clambering on stage and getting down to business for this lot. A pre-recorded introduction. Clanging guitars. Synth with deep spookiness and disembodied beats. Dalek automaton poetry. And, with a burst of wild psychobilly drum clattering, they're off. For half-an-hour. Without stopping. A singer that aims to charm and scare snakes - one moment wistfully melodic, the next he's wailing - screaming - cracking with disillusion. Two guitars doing just about anything a guitar can: bizarre gongs, atmospheric string-scratching, catchy sustain solos, stopped-string plucking, high frilling and mysterious niggles intricately curled. The bass is a swamp thing, tunes that slide around in the mud. In case you need more edginess, there are TV samples of hysterical arguments.
Every genre you need is on show. There's suspense, there's prog-rock jangling with broken beats, there's grunge mutating into rawk-metal, mashed-up spirit of Rush, a mischievous reinvention of the Smashing Pumpkins. To some ears, Perceval Gage might sound pompous, but…
Perceval Gage do not take themselves seriously. It can seem as though they're showing off, but when you get a blast of the lyrics, you realise what they're up to. Initially "Life is all that I have". The tension mounts with "If I could tell you, I think I should, but still - you tell me I'm doing it wrong". The penny drops with the ensemble bellows of "All my fault". It's a ludicrously over-the-top drama about the relationship between the Man and the Woman. Tongue very firmly in cheek, Perceval Gage are performing the prog-rock equivalent of Chas'n'Dave's "Rabbit". It's a self-indulgent 30-minute slab of irony, it's hilarious, and I love it. The female of the species is more deadly than the male - and doesn't the male know how to wallow in it.
Mon 29 November 2004 @ Bull and Gate
A real jack-out-of-the-box, making his own space somewhere between antifolk and indie prog-rock.
Fearing the billed "Neil Young sounds", I almost stayed away. Tim does indeed hav a high and slightly ready vocal, and the music has North American country-folk inflections, but I think the comparisons end there. Tim is as much about the end of the twentieth century as he is about the post-hippie sad-rock of the 1970s. Tim plays as part of a 4-piece, almost entirely responsible for vocal, bar rare harmonic incursions. On the rock-outs he has a whelping wail like Tom Verlaine, but for the balladry he's a gently accurate tune-bending folksmith. No acoustic guitars here, but a teeming variety of electrified sounds from the guitar duo. Frantic free-form melodic strumming, whispering reverby intricacy layered over sighing sustain, spooky a.m. radio whistling that fades and returns, fiddling twangery, a weping and dripping solo of tears set against chimes that wring out the sadness, deep and gentle jangle chords, and off-kilter howling lines, with mad scribbles superimposed on metal-edged minor chords. Bass is a thumping progression and a twist around the tune in a style that is almost Bruce Thomas (Elvis Costello's Attractions). Drums are notable for versatility - atmospherics of approaching thunder, cymbalic crash psychosis, and the stilted insistence of Fleetwood Mac's "Go your own way".
Lyrics deal with the pain of growing up and staying alive. Get these: "Here we go again, into a massacre"; "You're plain see through, and they call you a cheat, 'cos you're honest"; on alcoholism "When I was young I used to hold out that things would change… can't wait to get out"; and "You say you're in love, but it takes too long to get it right". There are a few snippets that sound cliched - "Starlight all night", "All by myself", "And I'm breaking up again", but for the most part this is thoughtful personal material. Musically, Tim's band encompasses a bizarre range of elements from Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth to Bread to Ron Sexsmith.
Tim Philips draws on a vast variety of feels, syles and genres, but combined with the consistently passionate outpourings, the sound bears its own stamp of originality. He calls in a myriad of influential favours, and remains quintessentially himself - hard-edged and railing against it, but also caring and reflective. Folk, alt-rock, country blues: but mercifully, no folk-rock at all. White-light, white-noise.
Sun 28 September 2003 @ Bull and Gate
1976-styled punky rock 'n' roll four.
Phugs possess an engaging attitude, 3-minute melodies aplenty, and lots of "girl around the corner" Undertones lyrics. They start-out sounding like the Damned and end as a youthful Doctor Feelgood - who needs a better recommendation than that? Set-up is: vocal/ guitar, left-handed guitar, bass, drums.
The Phugs are what punk originally amounted to - angular, energised rock 'n' roll high school. Just for us, here's a love song.
Tue 6 December 2005 State of Decay @ Hope and Anchor
Accomplished female-fronted metal.
Now, this chanteuse can sing a perfectly hooky tune, but it's likely to take the form of an angry minor-key challenge. The guitar has lines of buzzing drones, motorbiking revs, squeals, squalls, and catchy little chord sequences. Bass rumbles ultra-low through irresistibly broad and contagious tunes. Drum has that predictable snare and cymbal focus, but plenty of showy kit-challenging flourishes. Meanings sound grimy - Phyal sing about flowers and they sing about blue skies, but it sounds as though the flowers and skies are black. Titles are impenetrable nuggets - 'Degradation' 'White Lines', 'Crude'. Lyrics don't reveal much more: "Run away", "I don't need it", "Running through the fire escape" and "Always welcome to the ghetto". Sounds like they're jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Phyal have mastered the anxious assertiveness that infiltrated rock in the wake of punk. Ultimately they accelerate into a mix of crusty rap-metal and punch-punk rock'n'roll. It's not so much that Phyal have any surprises up their sleeves as that they play it exactly right. One part Skunk Anansie, one part White Punks on Dope.
Mertle and Larry Pickleman
Sun 13 February 2005 UK Antifolk 3 @ Buffalo Bar
Folk nursery rhymes and playground threats written by children for children.
Both the Mertle and Larry sing, sweetly coy melodies, drawls, yelps and tantrums. Tanya Donnelly crossed with Pam Ayers set against Martin Corrigan crossed with Alex Harvey. Guitar is semi-acoustic strummery, country picking, jangly lullaby. Accompaniment comes from xylophone doorbells, coconut horse hooves, melodica, kazoo and spring whistle.
The most enjoyable moments are the 20 second kids songs: "Don't wanna go to bed", "Sniff sniff" and "Butterfly". The playground cruelty is also engagingly gleeful: "Running 'round, showing off… she wouldn't talk to me so I tripped her up"; and better "I'm gonna stick pins in her eyes and fag butts up her nose, feed her steak and kidney pies all night and cripple her toes". OK, some of this is mundane: holiday fallout "The Sun was hot, it didn't cost a lot, the holiday", and life-wisdom "It's so important to be happy". What does it all amount to; well, in their own words, they're more twee than the Bobby McGees.
Mertle and Larry Pickleman produce some fantastic bedtime stories and educational rhymes for kids. But when they plunder other aspects of their lives, the result is only faintly amusing, adults feigning childhood innocence. "Daddy ain't no peace freak honey; Mommy ain't no peace freak neither, are you" (Julian Cope)
Sat 12 August 2006 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
Glam punks extraordinaire, the New York Dolls tightened until they split.
The PG image is now heavily focussed on eye-makeup, blue hair and afros - obviously!
A twisting vocal melody with 1950s chews puts Steve Harley and Buddy Holly where they need to be - in the (k)now. Bass drives with insistent pulse-throbs, two notes are all you need. Drums rumble and crunch, then decelerate to build the suspense.
Sax soars smoothly or honks deeply. Then there's the keyboard, an opening like a sequence from Close Encounters, onwards with splurges and pitch-switching, sounds that tootle and schmeib.
Guitars offer lots, scribble and nibble hooks, twangy rock'n'roll solos, glammy slashing. Drums break the suspense with a Glitter Band stomp, well what else?
But the core of PG is the anthemic vocal, rousingly noisy mutters, gabbles and pogo cries. "Get out of my house, get out of my bedroom" (the car's out of the question then?); "With you, it's just an impulse, and with you I can't control it"; "Forget about the nine-to-five" (I try to); and "I do you in my head" (I doubt it, but good line).
Last time I remember seeing Pink Grease, they were playing with Franz Ferdinand. They seem to have been left behind by the scene, but they're a lot better now than they were that night. This is stupidly and flamboyantly enjoyable, an amazing bondage and flares amalgam. This band excels in cries of whoa-oh-oh and ridiculous crotch wiggling, skills learnt gazing in awe at The Sweet, Roxy Music and The Damned. "Oh yeah we wanna have a party" they cry. Awright!
Plans and Apologies
Thu 30 September 2004 @ Islington Bar Academy
Prog-rock and grunge-pop collide to create the Pavement of the 21st century.
The seven-stoner ensemble pull more rabbits out of the hat than you could count. Three guitars collectively provide gentle coax-chords, slipstream into vortex burble-lines, metallic swipes and brainstorming jangles. Bass steers this every-which-way with a crinkly noodle-tune. Together, these four pursue mellow harmonic chimes into a crucible of deep layers and developing themes. Two synth/ electro beings add a ghostly piano skeleting, an asphyxiated sigh, and a squeakatry of the puppet string. Drums are unbelievably at home with a jerk and staccato style that flows into a twisting and turning set without a single jolt. Even the steadier floes are syncopated.
Two of the guitarists switch lead vocal duties, with backing duties grabbing the attention of the third guitar and half the synth-combo. Lead vocals are perfectly Dave Gedge dour, backing is the Motown sheep or the delayed harmony. The pieces are not so much songs as romps. There's a one-minute work-out on the letter "Q", and another one-minute speed rant dissembling the essence of Subterranean Homesick Blues.
Given the lyrical density, isolating a generic strand is an impossibility. The subconscious playfulness of voice is a breeze of Graham Coxon. The condensed classical development is a playbox of Super Furry Animals.
Plans and Apologies have a character all their own - the sub-atomic ingredients of quark, strangeness and charm. A band that can contain a jangly love-ballad and a rock work-out in a 3-minute popsong. Wry pop, campus indie, electronica and progressive-rock brands all thrown into the tumbler. Post-structuralism or what? Some PS white noise, returned with thanks.
Plans and Apologies
Tue 27 July 2004 Club Fandango @ Dublin Castle
Nutty post rock 'n' pop wags.
Plans and Apologies throw a wealth of musicians at their math-rock sound. No less than three guitars jingle and jangle away, with rapid slaloming, high pitched minor chords and deep crunches. Two keyboard players produce a churned-up Charlatans groove and a twisted space-out from the planet of the Clangers. Bass is a gracefully gloopy controller, and the drummer bends 'em and beats 'em way better than Beckham. Vocals are a mix of dry flat speeches and anthemic declarations, not far removed from the style of former Wedding Present frontman Dave Gedge, along with baa-baa harmonic responses.
The songs are a dense and wry exposition of the post-teenage condition. "What has become of the things I like doing". "I will be on my best behaviour for you". And "We put the operation on hold, and we all went home". There's lots way cleverer than that breezing by, but too fast for our bumbling reporter. And to prove there's no unnecessary noodling, the P&A perform two 1-minute songs back-to-back. There's no obvious comparison for Plans and Apologies, there are elements of They Might Be Giants, but the P&A sound is quirky rather than conciously silly.
Musicians are: first vocal/ guitar; guitar/ backing vocal; guitar; bass; keyboard/ small acts of percussion/ mouth organ/ backing vocal; keyboard/ second vocal; drums.
There seems to a correlation between the size of a band and their distance off-the-wall; the seven-strong Plans and Apologies don't defy that. The logical cause would be the centrifugal force of various ideas and influences spinning off at different tangents. Plans and Apologies have gallery-loads of novel images, blurred impressions and stormy brainwaves. The virtual gallery-tour packages proggy post-rock into bite-sized popsongs. With the wryness of Lloyd Cole and the feyness of Belle and Sebastian. Urban guerillas making smart-bombs in the cellar.
Mon 23 June 2003 @ Hope and Anchor
French garage noir from this 5 piece.
Fine slabs of dark rock ‘n’ roll with a Rolling Stones, Primal Scream and even Stone Roses vibe. Features guitar of the wonderful fuzzed-up chord and the searing solo kind. Couldn’t pick out a single lyric – file those under surreal.
Playground make stale old blues-rock sound fresh.
Sun 5 November 2006 @ Bull and Gate
Urgent gothic guitar-pop.
Eight rapidfire nuggets of insistence. The singer yelps and cries, he's verging on hysteria, but settling around Mark E Smith. Now and again he'll calm to a purr. "Everything you do is such a waste of time"; "Here comes another coma, too bad it's only just begun"; and "Dry thunder works both ways". Eh? [for the record, I am reliably informed that the line is "Wire a thunder, month or twist" - got that?]
Bass is the heftiest force here, a continuous busy stream of thrumming portents, rumbles and rock'n'roll hooks. Drums are scarily energetic too, tickling with a wash of high hat, tricksy Joy Division clatter, a rush of cracks, jerks and tumbles. Guitar is satisfyingly nasty, scuzzing rasps and clanks, anxious hoots and jangles, twangs, curls and shimmers.
Pocus focus on graspable 2-minute songs. But they veer off the furrow often, a burst of high-pitched tequila strummery, a double-speed hyper-rhythm, a tense scratching around the guitar bridge. They even interrupt the pop barrage for an instrumental.
Variations aside, the heart of Pocus Whiteface is in oddpop. Catchy, but perpetually awkward. They close with spooky Bauhaus guitar fog and whirring fx. Pocus Whiteface must be Papa Lazarou's brother.
Mon 10 October 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Spooky vaudevillian pop-rock spoofs.
The frontman does lots of leaping around, and as he flails, he wails in anguish. Nothing is sacred or safe from being targeted: a song called "Intelligent" slams religious belief on the basis that it's not - "And maybe on your next go round you're gonna be intelligent, but I have my doubts"; while caring for the elderly gets shock treatment in "Your mother has needs too" - "She ages, oh Christ she ages, she looks like a cabbage-patch doll". The music is pleasingly crunchy; guitar slashes and feathers, scratches and spangles; bass prods and spiders; beats shift between cabaret patters and showy atmospherics. An electro moment too, monkey programmed skitters and chirrups. A song that could have been prompted by opening act Movement Improbable - "Scary man, scary man, I'm so scared of you". But most fittingly, a prog-rock ending to the set. I didn't take him seriously when he was explaining his upcoming 10 minutes of self-indulgence in 3 parts - but that's EXACTLY what followed. It's a search for meaning, and there are three staged conclusions: "I don't like emotion, I just don't like the commotion"; "Unless it's rational, unless it's for a reason - if it's rational, I can do it"; and "There's nothing out there, there's no point in anything". It's official - The Truth is Boring. I don't think I ever heard prog-rock lampooned so comprehensively before, this is like John Otway and Neil Innes play Rush. Microscopic observation of the curiosities of the world in an Alex Harvey/ Pulp/ Space tradition. And following on from the pretensions of support act Mode.
There may be no point in existence, but this is not the end. After 2 acts of effete knowingness, there are still parts of the music façade left to demolish, and Tim Poland is the man for the job. Beefheart randomness and beat breakage, the parting shot "God is my maker Part II". Aficionados of Lennon and U2 would understand. The drummer contributes growling chants and utter madness is achieved. "God is my maker. He is my maker, and He is my baker… Too may cakes, too may cakes". And too much cheese. < Daddy, daddy, I can't sleep. And I'm still hungry > Lick on my chocolate salty balls, son. >
Postcards from Dead Stars
Wed 5 May 2004 @ Dublin Castle
Passionate rapidfire punked-up pop.
A tortured wail of a vocal slides immaculately onto the chosen note like childhood laughter. High-pitched guitar lines needle and tease waspishly. Punchy chords chime like next door's clock. A prodding bass line is hopscotching along like distant traffic. Drums produce staccato and stilted snare-laden fireworks. Howard Devoto, Buzzcocks, Placebo, Franz Ferdinand - all of them, and yet none of them. Lyrics are as angst-fuelled as you might expect. Apparently "I wish I could tell you how I feel", "This feels like fear… and I love it", plus "I think I'm better than you… And I put it down in a letter to you". Line out is lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ backing vocal, guitar, drums.
Postcards from Dead Stars truly enjoy playing, and the enjoyment is pure contagion. Pop's ferocious and beautiful (he)art.
Fri 31 December 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at the Garage
Jazz meets post-rock in a twenty-first century New World Symphony.
As a main course, Headbutt involves dreamy trumpet, thumping progressions from guitar chords and bass, plus heavily tripping drum. But there's much more on the smorgasboard. The guitar's dripping jangle, niggly twanging, contagious licks, and urgent picking in minor keys. The trumpet's urgent punches. Female vocals that take in swanky Peggy Lee dismissals, light melodic insistence reminiscent of Sandie Shaw, and the beauty of the butterfly-like quasi-operatics. A bass that deals waltzes or collapses the pack mid-flight only to rebuild a complete house of cards within seconds. Drums driving a merciless groove-out or twisting and turning the tempo - on its head, on its knees, on its derriere. And, as if that wasn't enough, for 10 minutes there's the treat of guest brass of sweet and tender sorrow, sax and french horn added to the trumpet. A mad romp through tight pop songs as the tunnel collapses; the bright-light fast-car seedy Chicago gangster feel of the 1930s; the groovy work-outs of Julian Cope's Peggy Suicide; and through it all, the light breezy trumpet aloft on the thermals.
Princess Headbutt master the juxtaposition of calmly breezing brass and vocal against the crashing church bells of post-modern metal. The detached observer and the celestial fanfare announcing the dissonant speed and chaos of streetwise strings and drums. Maybe its easier to withdraw from life; maybe its more rewarding to subject yourself to the reign of Princess Headbutt.
Fri 2 January 2004 Silver Rocket @ Upstairs at The Garage
Captivating jazzy prog-rock from the famous five.
Utterly unpredictable beats combine with guitars that chime and soar, insistent bass, soulful trumpet, and occasional R&B vocal. A magical combination of airiness, edginess and evil - quite sublime. And the temptation to noodle is firmly resisted - a theme is introduced, developed and completed pretty much within the 4 minute mile. Set-up is female vocal/ trumpet, guitar/ tambourine, guitar, bass, drums.
In the words of love-cat Robert Smith "I can't believe it's not jazz". A rare uplifting set in a world of musical bleakness. Incomparable.
Sat 8 May 2004 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
Phantasmagoric Motown surf-punk girls.
Lead vocal is a melodiously bruised angel, with backing from a mix of sweet harmonies and dry leader-of-the-pack "Yes, we see"s. Guitar produces engagingly thick soupy fuzzed-up jangles. The bass motors along just inside the speed limit, but no such control on the breakneck drums. An amazing range of classic rock 'n' roll sounds on show. Belly, Generation X, Ramones, Damned, Sweet, erm Elvis? Bubblegum lyrics of course. "You've got me lovestruck baby, you know what I'm after". "Saw his poster on the underground, soon I knew he was the one". Less obviously, "Should I eat meat, or chips, or pies… I can't decide". Set-up - obviously - is lead vocal, guitar/ backing vocal, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
Dance hall fun, this takes OT back to the days of Mari Wilson. But this is so punk. More Nancy than Priscilla. Identity, it's a crisis can't you see.
Sat 3 April 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Eclectic punk-rock piss-taking.
Lydon/ Biafra vocals fray with amphetamine guitar, JJ Burnel burning rubber bass and Cozy Powell drums. Dissonance never sounded this melodic before. Lyrically, there seems to be something auto-erotic going on: "You don't know what they've done to me in the back of the car" and "I've got a million excuses you could use in the car". The Cranks satirise everyone and remain themselves - I can hear the Fall, the 3 Johns, Smiths, Stranglers, ZZ Top and even The Kinks, but all employed with tongues-in-cheeks. Players are: vocal/ guitar; bass; drums/ LED flashing dentures.
Politically correct they ain't, but Probing Cranks drag punk kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. From Bauhaus to house. Storming.
The Probing Cranks
Fri 23 January 2004 @ Hope and Anchor
Wry and mischievous mix of post-rock and rock 'n' roll calculated to bring warmth to the heart of the curmudgeon.
Super-twisted drum beats that spin unexpectedly into a watusi. Evil bass with a funky spring that's hard to take seriously - Bauhaus artiness and Department S feyness. Wonderfully understated guitar drifts through uneasy Velvet Underground chords and Hendrix blues hammering (let me stand next to your fire). Vocals mix harmony with the diffident flatness trademarked by the Stranglers' Hugh Cornwell. He almost sounds like Mark E Smith, but there's added shrilling and sneering to shame Poly Styrene and Jello Biafra. Lyrics jump between critical social observation and teen-rock silliness. Cynicism ("Everybody's got a point of view… that'll take them to their grave"); Roxy/ Velvets archivism ("I don't know what goes on") and Elvis sightings (ain't nothing like a hound dog). Want a lo-fi punk comparison? Try the Fall's "Elves". Simple set-up of: guitar/ vocal, bass, drums.
Probing Cranks are a fine mongrel born of ante-diluvain rock 'n' roll, technical trickery, and the social despair of 18 years' Thatcherism (maybe that should read 26 years'). The Cranks succeed in uniting the difficult fringes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Possibly too all-knowing for post-rock in 2004. Before Thatcher had gotten herself firmly behind the wrecking-ball, Motorhead had written "Too late, too late". The Probing Cranks pronounce: "We live denial". Excellent, but time to go beyond denial.
Sat 6 Dec 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Mutating trio that romp effortlessly through punky rock 'n' roll to heavy and proggy post-rock to art-punk to pure whimsy.
The Cranks are impressive musicians. The drummer is all over the kit at an incredible pace, the guitarist's array of styles is vast, and the bass displays the depth and va-voom of the Stanglers' JJ Burnel. Lyrically it's an odd mix of ingredients too, from the banal must-be-a-cover of "You're gonna miss me babe, you're gonna miss me child" to the bad-attitude "I don't really, I don't give a flying fuck… We don't care", with spoonfuls of quirky social observation in between. Set-up is vocal/ guitar, bass, drums, plus a fine guest performance on mouth-organ.
Probing Cranks score sky-high in the weird-out and rock 'n' roll mosh-pit stakes. Good stuff.
Fri 19 August 2005 @ Bull and Gate
Mesmerising dance grooves with elements of rebellion and rap.
Two singers, one responsible for anger, reverb and melody, the other the grandmaster of a smoover rap. Chief architects of the groove are the bassman, with irresistibly forceful nudges, and the programmer of the twittering percussion. Live percussion is here too, cascading cymbals, drums tickled and stroked, never just hit, the live and the programmed combining at times to create a feel akin to Portishead. More electronics are added in the form of urgent and spiralling synth squeals and twinkling house-piano mellowness. Guitars add the critical atmospheric embellishment, initially semi-acoustic and electric together, but it's the electric guitar sounds that are sustained throughout, and - for me, at least - that steel the show. Beautifully worked moods of shimmer and reverb developing into haunting melodies. Words I picked up on seem pretty earnest mantras: "I don't know what to do, but I do the best I can" and "Start from the top, I wanna see the drop". Refreshingly unusual sounds that remind me of the anxiety of Senser, a male-fronted take on the electro vs. guitar grit of Curve, and an algebraic log of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Prodigal Sun make music that has the three defining qualities of excellence. Prodigal Sun make you want to dance, they love the act of creation and they have something to say. There are clearly some retro borrowings here, but this is inventive re-use rather than trendy copying of Britpop or glammy punk. The final track of the set is entitled Electricity, also the title of an Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark track, but don't expect anything that sounds too much like OMD. Prodigal Sun sampling of speech is 80s/ 90s, but the rap remains contemporary, and the guitar is timeless. Serious atmospherics, fun groove. Electricity doesn't come from other planets, it comes from the Sun.
Wed 2 July 2003 @ Borderline
Jerky nu-metal meets emo.
Abner move seamlessly from thrash to melodic post-rock to grunge and quality mosh-fest fun. To scale, they are: S drums; M screamer of the long dreads; L guitar; XL bass of the LED landing strip.
Project Abner make every song a mini-epic of violent mood and tempo swings. Don't argue, do it.
Wed 10 August 2005 Akira/ Smalltown America Records presents @ Catch 22
Former Cats on Form return for vital post-punk noisecore with extended progressions and throbbing synth.
The juddering synth beats open the set. Punky up-down bass thrums, crunching drums, and guitar curl. The vocal is classically Cat, it follows its own melodic logic, but it pitches wildly, the birth of a new key. Guitar sounds become ever wilder and more inventive too, grimy slicing and scratching, opposing squalls and tickles, spitting feathers, coiling reggae hooks, a toytown music box cycle, and the brief but inevitable finale of feedback and beating harmonics. Bassman is the primary tunesmith of Holst-like gravitas. Bass moves deep and dirty into some serious grooves, carefully measured jazzing, and a combined force of earth-moving booms tied to the synth. Instrument-hopping brings more out of the synth, a Kraftwerk style compulsive-obsession. Drum output is close to insane, manic crunches schism into military beats. Vocal proceeds as an angry and strangely mystified bark, self-confidence steadily dissolving: "This is heaven"; "Something must give"; and "You should have seen the way they looked at us". Projections may have lots of Cat on Form characteristics, but the Cat never played long songs with a slowly engineered development. Projections are not emulating childhood heroes, they're utterly incomparable.
Projections are everything you could wish them to be. Add to that the apocryphal voice, a devilish sniping between bass and guitar, and guitar lines so frightened they draw you in and tie your heart in knots. The future is a nightmare, and Projections will force you to confront it: a quip in one hand, and truth in the other.
Sat 1 November 2003 @ Bull and Gate
Intelligent folk-tinged pop rock.
The Proles deliver quality rolling bass-line melodies, squally Hendrix blues guitar. Lyrically, this seems to be about connecting the personal and the political. For example, a song "Perfect Lines", ostensibly about the march of the Russian army, contains the line "Let me be, let me live again". Set-up is lead vocal/ occasional mandolin/ occasional rhythm guitar/ occasional backing vocal, lead guitar. Bass/ backing vocal, rhythm guitar/ backing vocal/ occasional lead vocal, drums.
Protest and pop do mix, so how come we still have an Antisocialist government. Is it that we were eating while other people were starving? Is this our crime?
Sat 6 March 2004 Noisestar/ RoTa @ Notting Hill Arts Club
Gripping indie rock.
Bass pumps away unremittingly, a reminder of 70s/ 80s post-punk outfits like the Sound. Drums tick like clockwork, life seemingly running out but suddenly slowing and reversing. Guitar is an insistent jangle with moments of supersustain. Vocal is part croon and part off-beat Belle and Sebastian dreamery. Lyrics are extreme: "I don't lose… I've never lost control - that's what I live for". At times, a sound like the first Dead Can Dance record, at times a proggy take on Josef K. Set-up is male vocal/ guitar, male bass, female drums.
Querelle are complex but meaty. Here are the young folk, a weight on their shoulders. And making inspirational music the way it should be made.
The Quiet Kill
Sat 12 August 2006 Guided Missile @ Buffalo Bar
An almost-instrumental set of compact and tightly-structured post-rock.
Around half-a-dozen songs that leave you wondering what happens next. Cranky beats crunch like a flat-sided bowling ball ricocheting around an enclosed helter-skelter. Bass provides the consistency and glue, a resolute pumping of bubbles and grunts.
Guitar sounds constantly shift and reformulate, long squalls, revving chops and clangs, contorted lines, string-bending shrills and pirouettes. With the last pieces, a wild vocalist appears on the floor with rasps, screams and hysterical cries. "Count the bones!". He throws himself around violently.
The Quiet Kill are anything but quiet, they're frantic and frightening. This is the mad mastery of Cove and The Lords, it succeeds because it perfectly meshes 57 varieties of the unthinkable. For the Quiet Kill, too much is not enough.
I do not want what I haven't got (Sinead O'Connor)