Thursday 29 May 2008

The Indelicates - American Demo

Although this record has been out for around a month now, it has not had the popular acclaim that it deserves, something that I would like to do my small bit to rectify.

On this album, The Indelicates are the song writing duo of Julia Clarke Lowes and Simon Clayton with able assistance from Ed Van Beinum, Kate Newberry and Al Clayton, and guests including a veritable orchestra of strings and woodwind.

When most up and coming bands are simply happy to make some noise and jump about, the Indelicates have loftier concerns – this album deals with the Way Things Are, and holds up a mirror to feckless youth, deluded romance and dumbed down Britain. They present themselves as outsiders from the music ‘scene’ and they don’t like what they see.

After a string overture, the first track proper is provocatively entitled “The Last Significant Statement to be Made in Rock ‘n’ Roll”. It skewers those bands that sneer and preen and who claim to speak for the ‘kids’. The irony of groups who do this being lambasted by others is not lost on the Indelicates – whereas all those years ago when Joe Strummer sang about “turning rebellion into money”, it didn’t stop him decamping to the U.S. and being chauffeured around in combat gear.

“Julia, We Don’t Live in the Sixties” harkens back to Clarke-Lowes’ previous band, The Pipettes. It references 9/11, 1968 and ‘demonstration chic’. “Sixteen” is as catchy as hell and is about people in music not acting their age. Boy, do I empathise with that one!

The keynote song on the album is "New Art for the People"; a tawdry tale of a hopeless infatuation with a junkie who confuses drugged up squalor with noble aims and is feted by the Press, who just love all that suffering and the exciting possibility of tragedy. The words ‘Doherty’ and ‘Winehouse’ do not feature, but their’s are the faces in this coked up mirror.

A much more explicit elegy to the cult of dead celebrity is the wistful “If Jeff Buckley Had Lived”, which posits how the singer would have been perceived if ‘his voice was still heard/on the weak second album/and the difficult third’. The vision of a embittered, forgotten singer is contrasted with the almost Messianic figure that he has become in death.

"Unity Mitford" is a first person account of the socialite who became infatuated with Hitler and is another of the Indelicates’ catalogue of self deluded romantics. On this album, love is nearly always equated with deception and a refusal to accept the world as it is compared to the promise of what might be.

Aside from an untitled coda, the final track is the angry "We Hate The Kids" which encapsulates all the themes to which they keep returning – the repetitive mediocrity of the music business and how it always looks backwards and not forwards, how it is swaddled in the cloth of rebellion but fails to engage with reality. A terrific finish, with lyrical nods to songs by both Joy Division and Radiohead.

It is a an (in)delicate trick to pull off polemics and pop without the former overpowering the last, but this album achieves this – it’s a sing-a-long protest album, and a complete antidote to the UK school of lying in the gutter but looking at the stars sentimentality.

I love it to pieces and recommend it to your ears.

Buy it here.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Queen Adreena @ Luminaire: 27 May 2008

Arriving at the venue, we find that a hard corps of fans have already taken up their positions at the very front of the stage. Knowing the proclivities of the main act, this is a dangerous place to be, but risk-taking and excitement is what this evening is all about.

The Luminaire stage set up is unnecessarily cluttered – there is a large pot plant on one side of the stage and a ridiculously low hanging chandelier on the other. I thought initially that these were props that had been placed there for a specific reason, but it transpires that they represent nothing more than hazards that the bands have to work around.

Four lads with Very Big Hair take to the stage and immediately start crashing into each other, flailing their instruments and screaming incoherently. These are Vile Imbeciles and, although they are entirely unburdened by anything identifiable as a tune, I rather take to them. Watching them lurch and smash about to a primitive, deconstructed blues rock and roll reminds me not so much of The Birthday Party, but rather the slew of bands that were influenced by Cave and co. I posit the Inca Babies as a possible reference point, although my companions are not convinced by the analogy.

Vile Imbeciles’ set is further enlivened by the antics of some members of the crowd, who are obviously practicing for the main act by engaging in simulated straight/lesbian/three way sex fantasies, involving much rubbing, pouting and snogging. I find myself strangely distracted from the band on stage…

When Katie Jane Garside and the rest of Queen Adreena teeter into view, it is a bit of a shock. Garside actually looks healthy; her usual skeletal corpse pallor replaced with what might even be a tan. She has taken the time to plait what seems to be part of a hedge through her hair, giving her the wild, dishevelled look of Ophelia in the Millais painting. She also has her trusty chair with her.

There is a wealth of new material tonight, but the Adreena template remains unaltered. Garside screams, squeals, writhes and flailing her way through a lacerating set while the rest of the band pose and thrash, occasionally getting caught up in her maelstrom.

She crouches on her chair, arms pleading toward the crowd (who are going ten types of mental all around her), her voice rising from a whisper to a scream and back again. She downs a bottle of wine, rubbing it lasciviously against her crotch. All good family entertainment.

In a fairer world, Katie-Jane Garside and her loyal performers would be lauded as one of British music’s great institutions. They have been titilating, scaring and delighting audiences for twenty years now and are still amongst the very best and intimidating live acts that I have ever come across. They cross boundaries between performance art and music that virtually no-one else gets anywhere near.

After a smash ‘n’ writhe clatter through ‘Pretty Like Drugs’ and other favourites, Katie Jane is left exposed, alone on stage, standing on her chair. She is vulnerable and also triumphant. The stage has been devastated (the plant in particular took a bashing), the audience is a fetid and sodden heap in front of her.

Queena Adreena are one of the most reliably exciting bands around. Go see them. Take lubricant.
(The picture at the top of this piece is a generic photo. Go to the Queen Adreena fan forum for some excellent ones of tonight's gig.)

Saturday 24 May 2008

Ladytron @ Astoria

Ladytron pic by Mike Sharpe

It all starts off well enough. After arriving just in time to see Kling Klang (or K**** K**** as Kraftwerk's lawyers would prefer) play their final number and disappear off to a generally good reception, we have to wait for ages while Ladytron’s equipment is set up.

When the band appear, they go straight into three numbers from the new album ‘Velocifero’. These are ‘Black Cat’, ‘Ghosts’ and ‘My Little Runaway’. I may be prejudiced because I have already heard these tracks on the band’s Myspace, but they blend seamlessly into the Ladytron canon and all is well with the world.

The sound is good, ‘Seventeen’ is trotted out, a few more newies, and then, after a reading of ‘Soft Power’…a muffled expletive from the band and silence. And silence. And lots of guys on the stage scratching their heads and looking at a piece of equipment. And a shaking of heads. And the lights coming back on, together with the band back on stage to say that there has been an irrevocable technical failure and that the gig will be rearranged.

In truth, they have played for the best part of an hour and have been really good – I’m disappointed that they didn’t have a chance to get to ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ or ‘Versus’, which is to my mind the best of their new songs, but I’m pretty happy.

Subsequent information is that it was a blown mixing desk that caused the problems and that the rearranged date will be on 16th July.

I recommend that you go.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

A Place To Bury Strangers / The Tamborines / The Pity Party

Tamborines pic by Bob Stuart

This is my first time at The Social, which is not so much a venue as a 60’s night club set in a stairwell between two office buildings. It is so narrow that it is almost impossible for two people to stand side by side without one of them rubbing against a wall. I like it.

Tonight’s gig is brought to us by the good people of Sonic Cathedral, London’s premier purveyors of droney, distorty, feedback strewn melodies. The DJ’s are very hairy, very serious and play the kind of music that soundtracks forty year old Italian science fiction films. I like this too.

The first act on are The Pity Party, who have come all the way from Los Angeles to be here. Consisting of a red headed gal on drums and a skinny guy soloing on guitar, they are so raw and uncertain that I mistakenly assume that this is one of their first ever gigs. And that all they need is practice. Shows what I know.

The Tamborines are more familiar – in more ways than one. Stalwarts of the London circuit, on their day they can be a match for anyone, with the keys and original line-up My Bloody Valentine bowl-cut fringe of Lulu Grave and the guitars and singing of Henrique. Unfortunately, this is not their day. They are bedevilled by sound problems of the worst order and have to halt their set several times to coax life from recalcitrant equipment.

The other familiar aspect of the Tamborines is their songs. They have a blindingly good tune called ‘Sally O’Gannon’. At least three of their other songs sound so like it that it is if it is on repeat.

At the end of a troublesome set, Henrique throws down his guitar and flounces off. They’ll have better nights.

The headliners tonight are A Place To Bury Strangers, often touted as the loudest band in New York. This epithet is a blessing and a curse – they thrash about and make a big racket, but there isn’t much in the way of strong material behind the noise.

However, the crowd stand in pairs down the front and roar approval as though this feedback thing is a new concept. In other circumstances, I might have enjoyed them more, but it’s late and they seem to epitomise the emperor’s new clothes.

I still like the venue.

Friday 9 May 2008

Ween @ Shepherds Bush Empire


I beg your pardon?


It’s safe to say that in a rammed and humid Shepherds Bush Empire, that the fans are enjoying Ween.

The band are here tonight to perform a three hour show which will take in all facets of their varied output. There will be no great theme or purpose, just a random selection of great songs, great fun and an opportunity for young lads to spazz out, throw devil horn fingers at the band, drink and spill lots of beer and go “Ween! You ROCK!” at regular intervals.

The sound tonight is really awful, with the band veering between being too quiet and too bombastic, with the vocals indistinct at the same time. Fortunately, the crowd know every word and bellow along gleefully.

Gene Ween is in his element, laughing all the while, and relishing his master of ceremonies role. It’s almost enough for the band to simply play a few chords and let the fans do the rest.

The heavier songs fare best. A thunderous “Buckingham Green” is greeted with hands aloft, whereas more intricate pieces, such as “Mr Richard Smoker” are merely gratefully acknowledged. The best song of the night is “Dr Rock” which is a stone cold rock classic and should be played whenever young men with long hair congregate to smoke dope and compare tour T shirts.

Cod-Irish fight song “The Blarney Stone” is welcomed with a roar, as is faux country rocker “Piss Up a Rope”. It’s a non-stop party and everyone is invited.

As the band go past the two hour mark, the heat, sweat and bellowing get too much to take. It seems a million miles from the first Ween gig I saw, at the Sausage Machine in Belsize Park, where I was one of three people in the audience. Now they inspire a fervour which I seldom see at concerts.

Whooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrghitsmuthufukin…time to go home .

Thursday 1 May 2008

teenagersintokyo / Stricken City / O Children

teenagersintokyo photo by Daniel Boud

Getting in to the venue slightly late, first band O Children are already onstage. You can’t really miss them, because they have just about the most distinctive looking singer currently on the circuit.

Tobias is not far shy of seven feet tall and is as thin as a snake. His eyes are hidden behind dark glasses and he seems very self conscious – occasionally dancing, but often with his back to the audience. In many respects he reminds me of Mark Stewart, another giant who was uncomfortable in the limelight (although Stewart would go to even greater extremes to hide, usually turning all the lights on stage off and cowering behind the speakers).

I really like their sound. It is an extremely pared down rumbling take on the darker moments of Eighties bands such as Bauhaus or the Sisters of Mercy. A more modern analogy would be with the US act She Wants Revenge, but O Children are much lighter of touch, more danceable, more playful. They have a song called 'Ace Breasts', for a start.

Tobias loosens up as the gig progresses, finally cracking a smile as they play 'Dead Disco Dancer' with the wrong backing track behind it. They finish the song and then repeat it sans accompaniment, twitching and snarling (jokingly) as they do so. I like these boys and will see them again.

The next act is called Stricken City and they too have a very tall singer in the pleasingly goofy form of Rebekah Raa. The rest of the band play second fiddle to Raa’s flapping, jumping and whooping – she’s exhausting to watch.

She doesn’t sing so much as yelp in a series of staccato barks, rather like Bjork but without any of the latter’s range or power. Raa is very likeable, but only rarely hints at any real emotional depth, for all the sincerity with which she performs. And I hate to say this, but the band’s cover of Talking Head’s “The Book I Read” is truly excruciating, despite obviously being a labour of love. Stricken City are not really bad, just a bit silly.

teenagersintokyo (spelling and lower case important) hail from Sydney and burst onto the stage in a whirl of percussion. At one point during a tumultuous opening number every single member of the band is hitting a drum, bottle or other percussive instrument. The venue goes from standing to full-on party in about ten seconds.

There are four girls in the band and one guy, who wisely keeps his head down and lays down a series of whomping beats on the drum kit. Although they have a nominal lead singer called Samantha, who weaves around the front of the stage in a diaphanous robe, the apparent leader of the band is keyboard player Miska, who also sings. She is wearing one of those trilby hats that were really cool about two years ago, and complains bitterly how hot she is under it, but cannot remove the offending item for style reasons.

As the set continues it becomes clear that this band are almost schizophrenic, veering from thumping funk numbers such as the opener, some soulful ballads (which Samantha struggles to get her voice around) to long free-form almost psychedelic rock tracks, complete with Great Gig In The Sky operatic wailing. It’s all good, but musically teenagersintokyo are all over the place. I don’t know if there is more than one songwriter in the band, but it certainly feels like it.

However, the girls are great fun, and the growing sense that things are slightly out of control and could collapse at any minute just adds to the slightly unreal atmosphere.

teenagersintokyo in many ways resemble that other chaotic band of goodtime girls, CSS. As yet, they are not as confident or advanced as the Brazilians, but on tonight’s showing, they are going to get noticed sooner rather than later.