Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Cold in Berlin at Black Heart - May 3rd 2015

Cold in Berlin pic by Neil at Wildblanket.com

I think that the time has come for me to close this blog down.

I still go to gigs, I still see many great bands.

Unfortunately, what has deteriorated is my ability to write about them in a fresh and interesting way. They deserve better, and so, reader, do you.

I shall instead turn my attention to Twitter, and try to do something more relevant via that medium. Frankly, in the current media world, my role is that of one of innumerable curators. All I can legitimately say about any act is “This band exists. I like them. Here is a link to their songs or a video of their live performance. I hope that you like them too. Go and see them live if you can.” 

Talking of which, a final recommendation for Call of theWyld stalwarts Cold in Berlin. I recently saw them play a show above the eye-wateringly expensive Black Heart bar in Camden.

They are still a wonderful live band. They are slower and heavier than of yore, but they remain a thrilling presence. Singer Maya is never more comfortable than prowling through a packed audience, her powerful voice dominating the room.

The band are now on their third album, something that I find incredible and wonderful. They are doing their own thing, have built a small but devoted following and bring pleasure to whoever encounters them.

That’s the ethos that I have tried to bring to this blog. I may flirt with the big arena shows or well-established artists, but really it is all about the new acts who are starting out, the bands that don’t get the publicity,  those who are amazed when anyone other than immediate family and friends turns up to see them.

For those bands, I'll still be there. And I will do my best to spread the word.


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Wire at The Lexington 17 April 2015


This is not the first time that I’ve seen Wire. This is not even the first time that I’ve seen Wire at the Lexington. If I had been so minded I could have caught them here five times this week. The Wire/Lexington interface is well established.

Wire have an eponymous album out and are playing a week’s worth of gigs here to promote it. They have a different support act each evening. Tonight we are treated to the deliberately retro space rock stylings of Orlando.

The figures on stage are loosely swathed in silver tunics and what appear to be cloaks made from bubble-wrap. This is a DIY ‘Blake’s 7’ version of the future, a 70’s sounding pop/prog space ritual.

I like what the band do, although they have rather painted themselves into a corner music and image-wise.

Tonight Wire arrive onstage and say that the set will be divided into two halves.
The first part is a charge through the new album in its entirety. It is the first time that I have heard many of these tunes and it doesn’t detract from the Wire experience one jot.

The band are in ferocious form tonight. They are very loud and metallic and rather grind my poor ears to mush beneath their onslaught.

All vocal duties are taken by Colin Newman, his voice an adenoidal semi-speaking snarl. Graham Lewis stands stage left, a craggy yet serene presence whomping out huge bass lines. Drummer Robert Grey thumps along behind them, his eyes closed and lost in music for much of the time. ‘New Boy’ Matt Sims makes up the quartet, conceding stage space to the others, but very much present in the angular guitar sound.

The new songs speed along very agreeable. ‘In Manchester’ has a catchy pop chorus, and things build up until we get to the end of this part of the proceedings with a monolithic version of ‘Harpooned’, effectively an eight and a half minute slow motion explosion of noise.

For the second half of their set, Wire are joined by Margaret Fiedler, who often played with the band live before Sims joined on a permanent basis. I would say that the sound gets even louder, but my by now largely destroyed lugholes tell me this is not possible.

The songs now played span the band’s whole illustrious career. The stand out, as so often, is the oft-mutated track ‘Drill’. Tonight’s reading is a back to basics no frills version which nonetheless rocks you back on your heels.

Wire say that they always go forward, never backwards. I’m very happy to continue to march along with them.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Jimmy Webb at Alban Arena 15 April 2015

Jimmy Webb (pic: David Brewster)

When I get a call in the morning offering me a chance to see Jimmy Webb this evening, I have to think for a minute before accepting. I know the name, but can’t quite place him. One quick scan of Wikipedia later and I am prepared to trample the infirm to get a ticket.

So a few hours later, I’m sat in the Alban Arena marvelling that such an iconic songwriter is still prepared to schlep around to places like this. Shouldn’t he be lounging around a piano shaped swimming pool in California somewhere?

Before the main act we are treated to a very enjoyable set from Deborah Rose, a folk-inflected singer with a beautiful, clear Welsh voice and a penchant for Victorian poets.

Many of Rose’s songs are based on adaptations of romantic classics. She sings of the Lady of Shalott and references other of works Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott. It makes for a very pleasurable performance.

Jimmy Webb don’t stand on ceremony. He bellies up to a battered piano (pronounced ‘pianner’) and tells folksy tales from his long life as a songwriter.

It’s a simple set up and one that draws you in. As he talks, his hands wander over the piano keys, finding melodies and motifs. He pays them no mind. They seem to have a life of their own and they have served him well.

A Jimmy Webb song often drips with emotion, an aching in the heart. Quite early on he plays ‘Galveston’, a meditation on the effects of what the US Government couldn’t bring itself to describe as a ‘war’ in Vietnam. Webb is still impassioned about this and rightly says that when 50,000 men die it sure feels like a war.

Webb’s story is entwined with that of his great friend and collaborator Glen Campbell. Webb was a hippie and Campbell a redneck Republican, but each recognised something in the other and glorious music resulted.

Webb can’t quite sing the same anymore and encourages the audience to help him out on the high notes. A version of ‘Up, Up and Away’ is surprisingly moving, with the pianist throwing his head back, closing his eyes and straining after the soaring tune.

He is much more comfortable with tales of everyday heartbreak. ‘By the Time I get to Phoenix’ still packs a hefty wallop. This is soul music in the truest sense of the word. The style may often be called ‘country’ but the songs address the very fibre of your being.

Webb closes his main set with a tale of Glen Campbell, cruelly struck down by advanced Alzheimer’s disease, playing back to back versions of ‘Wichita Lineman’ because the applause at the end of the first version went on so long that Campbell forgot that he had just played it. Campbell’s second take on the song is even better than the first.

The ‘Wichita Lineman’ that Jimmy Webb plays tonight is so fragile that it is as bright and delicate as a crystal spider-string. The ghostly song fades away until it is just a single piano key forlornly tap, tap, tapping in the darkness. It is genuinely one of the most affecting songs that I have ever seen played.

At the end of the show, Webb announces that he wants to meet everyone outside, shake hands and sign any bit of memorabilia that comes his way. He is a true gentleman, still humble, a master of his art. 

A legend of music in every sense of the word.  

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Yelle at Village Underground 04 March 2015


As I enter Village Underground, the support act already on stage and comfortably into their set.

I’ve see NZCA Lines before and liked them. Although it is perhaps telling that I had not given the band a second thought from that day to this.

The band play pleasant but utter unchallenging synth pop. Singer Michael Lovett is wearing a nice crisp shirt and it is all very affable.

There may be hints of the precisely clipped ‘white’ sound of acts like Hot Chip or even Scritti Politti, but ultimately there just isn’t enough here to really get your teeth into and engage with.

Yelle is a French electronic artist who has been producing Gallic club bangers for a number of years.

Tonight, Yelle (aka Julie Budet) is joined by two identically-clad male drummers. She is only armed with a microphone, although she occasionally bashes at a third, electronic drum pad. As the racing synth music blasts out it becomes clear that anything up to around 80% of what we will hear tonight is backing track.

This doesn’t really matter. The drummers are primarily here to perform dance routines, posing and throwing shapes and only sporadically actually playing their kit.

Yelle herself has a good voice and a winning personality that she deploys to manipulate the crowd. We are happy to clap our hands, wave them in the air like we just don’t care and ignore the artificiality and absurdity of it all.

What does come as a surprise is how long the band plays for. After a minor encore on the half hour mark they play for at least as long again. It’s cheesy fun and the biggest cheer of the night comes when the two drummers entwine and start snogging each other’s faces off.

Yelle are very much a club act. They would be happiest on a podium in some Ibizan Manumission style dance shed.

They’re still pretty jolly on a cold night in Shoreditch.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Decemberists at Brixton Academy - 21 February 2015

The Decemberists (pic Louder Than War)

There are some venues that I try to avoid. One of these is the [This week’s Sponsor’s Name] Brixton Academy. I’ve had problems in the past with muddy sound quality and I certainly have problems in the present with the infamous sloping floor which just murders my poor old back and legs. What a drag it is getting old.

And yet… here I am again.

The stage is always impressive, set amongst faux classical columns and mysterious sculpted figures. It’s like being at an outside amphitheatre but without being exposed to the elements.

My misgivings about the sound are initially borne out by the sad fate of support act Serafina Steer, who can be seen onstage making some kind of noise, the specifics of which are lost in the cavernous space. Which is a pity.

However, from this point on it’s good news all the way.

The Decemberists have been away for a while. This is partly due to health scares (fortunately now passed) and partly because band leader Colin Meloy doesn’t feel the pressure to record and tour in constant rotation anymore.

The band are here to promote their excellent new album ‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’ and their set is artfully split between these new songs and big set piece numbers from their extensive back catalogue.

They are dressed as befits their age and experience, in dapper suits and evening wear. The audience too seems to have mellowed. A Decemberists’ gig of yore would be accompanied by legions of fans dressed as 1850’s New England fishermen, complete with inflatable whales. There is none of that tonight.

The band starts with ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’, a song about how bands change over time. The sound is loud and crystal clear and remains so all evening.

Initially it appears as if we are going to get the new album more or less in its entirety, as new songs ‘Cavalry Captain’ and ‘Philomena’ (“Not about Judi Dench”) follow.

There are five full time Decemberists, but they are joined tonight by two female backing singer/musicians who play a prominent role in all the songs tonight, doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Meloy.

They come to the fore in the quieter moments like ‘Carolina Low’, picked out by a white spotlight.

There is older material too, which gives Colin Meloy the chance to revel in his showmanship. ‘Sixteen Military Wives’ features a segment in which he conducts the differing segments of the auditorium in synchronised clapping. ‘The Rake’s Song’ has the whole crowd in the palm of his hand, shouting and whispering (and thinking) the chorus.

The Decemberists are a class act, still very much at the top of their game.
And even though the next day I am as stiff as an ironing board, it’s been totally worth it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Girlpool, Fake Laugh, FVC at The Lexington - 16 February 2015


Everybody has to start somewhere.

Tonight is the first solo show by Florence Van Camerjik akaFVC. To me she seems familiar, and I eventually realise that she had been the reluctant girl singer who helped out the band Oscar on a support slot the lasttime I saw tonight’s headliners.

She starts her set abruptly, rather at the mercy of her backing music, that provides beats, melody and a vocal track over which she can sing.

She wanders the stage, psyching herself up, her microphone clutched close to her face. The effect has echoes of a girl trapped in her bedroom, grabbing a hairbrush and singing along with hits on the radio.

Florence is a bit stiff and awkward at first, but gradually loosens up, rearranges her clothing and presses on. She has an air of knowing gaucheness that suits the material very well.

What really stands out even at this early stage is the quality of the songs. In a short set of barely half a dozen tunes FVC establishes herself as one to watch out for in the future.

Florence is followed on stage by Kamran Khan, who is doing a solo set as Fake Laugh.

Kamran is young, handsome and painfully earnest, possessed of a beautiful clear voice that gives every song he sings the eerie intensity of a religious work.

Unfortunately, the singer is attempting to make a silk purse from sow’s ears. The songs, though lovely to listen to, are very humdrum, with lyrics that are very much of the moon-June-spoon variety.

By coincidence, both Fake Laugh and FVC have songs called ‘Little Things’. FVC’s was a pop-savvy vignette of young woman anxiety, while this one goes ‘The little things you say / Make me want to run away’. It’s delivered delightfully, but terribly trite.

This is the second time in a couple of months that I have seen tonight’s headliners Girlpool.  The pairing of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad is evolving all the time.

It’s interesting watching the dynamic between the pair. Before Christmas, it seemed as though the flame-haired Cleo was the dominant partner. Not so now. The spotlight is very much shared, and Harmony is much more forceful.

It’s very much a joint enterprise, as all songs are sung in tandem, a folky keening that makes their work seem traditional in nature, even though the songs themselves are brand new.

Girlpool are only just coming to the world’s attention, and at present it is not entirely clear what they will eventually be. They are writing and discarding songs at a prodigious rate, with new material appearing on the internet almost weekly. Half of the songs tonight are introduced as ‘new’ and by that the pair seem to mean ‘written in the last couple of days’.

This is clearly evidence of a duo on a hot streak of creativity, but it does also mean that their set is so much in flux that at times it feels like a jam session between the two. They are still figuring out what works, what doesn’t, what they like, what they don’t. The audience gets a bit shut out during this process.

An interesting evening then, with a variety of acts finding their way and attempting to forge an identity. Good luck to them.

(Another song not played!)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Kælan Mikla and City Boys Band at Power Lunches - 03 February 2015

Kælan Mikla (rotten photo by Wyldman)

It’s a bitterly cold February night and everyone is standing around shivering. I’m squished somewhere between the bar and the toilet in Power Lunches, a tiny venue near Dalston Junction that was once a café.

The door to the room is wide open to accommodate a steady stream of smokers, bands, friends and acquaintances. I break the ice forming on the surface of my beer and struggle my way down the stairs to the room below.

The space is tight and dark and even the mirrored walls do not disguise the claustrophobic feel of the place. It’s like entering a pharaoh’s tomb.

We start off with a selection of short films. Without exception these are shot in black and white and depict something indeterminately unpleasant occurring. Indistinct images jump and flicker. The deafening atonal soundtrack amplifies the unease and horror. Probably the best film depicts what might be some ancient hunting ritual enacted by strangely attired girls hurling wooden spears and chasing after some unseen quarry.

In order to avoid their heads getting in the way, half the audience is enticed to duck down or sit on the floor. We hunch in the dark and it all feels very daring and arty.

The first act of the night eventually emerge from behind the tacked-up movie screen.

This is CityBoys Band, two musicians who fuse distorted vocals and heavy percussion to create an unsettling, industrial rhythm that echoes Mark Stewart’s solo work or even Cabaret Voltaire. As such, the duo’s hypnotic sound is right up my street.

The singer mutters intensely, his head bowed as he hunches over an electronic console or clatters away on a drum. The performance space at Power Lunches is so small, and the stage area so low, that if you stand more than two rows back you are pretty much stuffed in terms of actually seeing what is going on.

The room is pitch dark by now and I’m standing on a sea of discarded bottles. The room is packed and there is a real sense of danger about the place. One moment of panic and people could die down here. 


I like City Boys Band a lot, but I make sure that I’m in a better position for the next act. 

I’m here this evening to see Kælan Mikla, a three piece noise outfit from Reykjavik. Such is the speed of the internet, I only discovered they existed on Sunday afternoon, and yet, here we all are two days later.

The band are young, cheery and sing emotionally in Icelandic.

They have a very simple set up. A drummer (Sólveig Matthildur Kristjánsdóttir) who also sings; a thumping bassist with orange hair (Margrét Rósa Dóru- Harrysdóttir) who occasionally screams terrifyingly off-mike; and the psyched-up singer Laufey Soffía Þórsdóttir, who is necking a respectable quantity of beer and whisky and who crawls around on the floor of the stage.

It’s my idea of heaven.

I love acts such as this. They are following their own idiosyncratic path to create something that is important to themselves and if an audience likes it, so much the better.

As my conversational Icelandic is sadly not up to scratch, I’m not entirely sure what Laufey and co are singing about. I do know that it involves a fair amount of screaming and alcohol. And that is a universal language.

It’s been a genuinely different and really enjoyable evening. There is an easy atmosphere of genial chaos – things sort of start when then there is sufficient momentum for them to do so, rather than to a set timetable.  At times, this has been less of a gig than a Sixties style Happening. It fits in with the tea bar origins of the venue.

Far out.