Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Call Of The Wyld: Live Review Of The Year - 2009

The Farrs - Band Of The Year

As ever it has been a busy year. Many gigs attended, many strange sights seen. Most of it has been documented on this site, but incredibly, some of it hasn’t, such as a breathtaking show by The Decemberists at the Forum.

The band played their ‘Hazards of Love’ album in full, with guest vocalists, a version of ‘The Rakes’ Song battered out on five drumkits, and even the door men guarding the entrance turning round and clapping. The band also managed a trick often employed by Nathaniel Fregoso of The Blood Arm, where they get the whole audience to sit down – some mean feat in a venue this size and with pools of Christ Knows What on the floor.

Other goodies this year have been the Applicants playing a blinding set at the late-lamented Metro off Tottenham Court Road. This was one of my favourite venues – small, noisy, sometimes packed to the gunnels but often almost entirely empty apart from a no-nonsense sound lady and a resigned and weary looking barman.

The year started with epic shows from related Manchester bands. Buzzcocks played both their debut albums and made me all happy and silly, then Magazine reformed and were slow and majestic and proud and magnificent.

I had a lovely night in the wilds of West London with a brace of UK-based Japanese bands. It was my first exposure to the awesome Bo Ningen, whose name I didn't even catch at the time. Their set involved full frontal nudity and guitars being passed amongst the crowd. This was just a taste of what was to come later in the year. That night also saw me introduced to the wonderful No Cars, as delightful and funny an act as you are going to see anywhere.

One of the strangest nights of the year was an attempt to see Death Cigarettes at the Haverstock Arms, only to find the band fuming outside because the venue’s idea of a suitable performance area was a small shelf just inside the door, underneath an enormous telly showing a football match. Band and fans then tramped around Camden trying to find a location that would let them play. This ultimately proved futile so I diverted to an excellent show by the Kabeedies at Proud.

I loved Death Cigarettes and saw them more than any other act this year. They have of course now changed their name to the more media-friendly Cold In Berlin. So fingers crossed for that. Best Cigs moments included a couple of riotous shows at Mother in Shoreditch and a well received performance at the Offset Festival.

Death Cigarettes also indirectly introduced me to two new favourite bands – Breakneck Static, who virtually obliterated Tommy Flynn’s in Camden and The Farrs, who I have now seen twice and award the accolade of Call of The Wyld Band Of The Year for their blend of top tunes and aggravated audience and venue molestation. When The Farrs play, no-one is immune from an invitation to dance, be it members of other acts or bar staff goggling at their antics. And lovely people too.

This year saw excellent sets from more established artists. David Byrne used his collaboration with Brian Eno as a basis for a triumphant celebration of the best of Talking Heads, complete with dancers and a very bashful Eno himself.

Also back and barking (literally) was P J Harvey, whose new album with John Parish gets better with each play.

I’m not one for music festivals, but I always make exceptions for the Camden Crawl and Offset.

Perhaps not a vintage Crawl, not least because the event has become so commercial that it is little more than an adjunct to a single big show at the Roundhouse for well-established acts. However, it did introduce me to The Constitution, a Camden pub that I now frequent regularly.

The Crawl was also where I first got to see The XX, a band whose stratospheric success I find somewhat baffling. I’ve got the album, I’ve seen them twice – I’ve TRIED. And I still can’t deal with them for more than five minutes without checking my watch and wanting to be somewhere more interesting.

Offset was back for a second year and was wonderful. Ignoring the performances on the main stage, the real action was in the smaller tents. There were great performances by local bands, but the real finds were those from abroad, particularly Berlin Brides from Greece and Panico from Chile. If money and time and airlines allowed, I’d go and see those two again in a shot.

However, the best performance of Offset and one of the most extraordinary that I have ever seen was that of Bo Ningen, the four Japanese overlords of guitar based psychedelic mayhem. They were heavy like Black Sabbath and as full of violent slapstick as a Mack Sennett comedy. The packed crowd were awestruck, fearful and convulsed with laughter all at the same time. The band were treated like gods for the rest of the weekend, and rightly so.

Bo Ningen Destroy Offset

The Japanese march to a different drum to most acts and props this year also go to Baguette Bardot, the dancing dolly-bird with bread sticks for arms who supported a delightful Shonen Knife at a heaving and humid Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes. Shonen Knife also provided my favourite T shirt of the year- all I’ve got to do now is lose more weight so that I can properly get into it. Afrirampo also rule, as I’m sure you know.

The most unusual gig of the year was seeing LA weirdos We Are The World provide the accompaniment to a fashion show held in the Victoria Miro art gallery. After a trip around an exhibition of strange knitted sculptures, we were lavishly fed and watered and then bombarded by the twin percussion attack of WATW, who paraded around in a succession of impossibly bizarre and shape-altering costumes. Followed by more hospitality by the side of the canal.

Kudos this year also to Kap Bambino for their high energy set at Cargo and Dengue Fever for their surprisingly loud and upbeat show at the Scala. Also great fun were Bang Bang Eche and the seriously strange Duchess Says at Madame Jo Jos.

It’s also been a fine year for what I would term ‘proper’ pop music. Music Go Music’s appropriation of Seventies disco made for a memorable evening at the ICA and The Asteroids Galaxy Tour’s recent brass-injected extravaganza at Bush Hall will also live long in the mind.

Random moments of greatness:
– Amanda Palmer swinging from the balcony of the Union Chapel, strumming a ukulele;
-lying on plush red beds in a boudoir beneath the Café De Paris with Rakell Sa;
- Bearsuit dressed as chickens at Offset;
-Innerpartysystem at the Constitution, spraying beer everywhere so that it dripped from the ceiling throughout their set.
- Mark E Smith skittering around the stage in his wheelchair like a Dalek;
-hiding from the rain and thunder with a pile of bedraggled Goths, their hair and make-up in disarray after a show by The Birthday Massacre;
-Doing a pas de deux with The Farrs at Camden Rock;
-The Horrors fizzling out like a spent firework at Offset as I sit down with a coffee.

Things I could do without:

- Soko at Dingwalls. A performance that was indistinguishable from a mental breakdown. Not good to watch, it was less a question of whether to clap as whether to call the emergency services.
- Pens at Cargo. If you’re going to play, then play. If you are not, then not. Don’t just stand there and simper.
- Telepathe at ULU. Maybe try turning your equipment on?

Finally, this year also saw me finally catching up with a band who I have admired for years and who played their first UK and European dates. Phantogram were everything I could have hoped for and more. Let’s hope for more from them and all other Call Of The Wyld favourites in 2010.

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