Thursday 16 October 2008

Off to Japan...

...back early November.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Bodies of Water / Choir of Young Believers - Cargo 14 October 2008

After a long wait in an unusually under populated Cargo, we finally hear the crackle of microphones and a long, low note. Is that a cello?

It is, and it is operated by Cæcilie Trier, who is accompanied tonight by Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, a young man who looks as though he has stepped off the streets of Tombstone, Deadwood, or any other sepia tinged outpost of the Old West. He sports a moustache of a wondrous thickness and luxuriance, far removed from the scraps of bum fluff that often dirty the top lips of today’s serious young men.

Together, the pair comprise the touring version of Denmark’s Choir Of Young Believers and for the next half an hour or so, they are magical.

The obvious point of reference is the works of Fleet Foxes, because Jannis possesses an absolutely crystal pure voice that resonates around the venue and strikes the audience as dumb with awe as if they were in church. His harmonies with Cæcilie are similarly majestic. There may be people in here who are actually breathing, but it doesn’t sound like it.

The songs themselves are deceptively delicate, but louder than you imagine – although the cello underscores everything, Jannis is happy to rock out with shards of electric guitar.

After a wonderful set, I buy their excellent album “This is for the Whites in Your Eyes.” I recommend it wholeheartedly.

I have been looking forward to see Los Angeles’ Bodies Of Water ever since hearing their debut album ‘Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink’. It is a record of such boundless vocal enthusiasm that you can actually HEAR the grins of the singers.

Tonight, the four singer/players are strung across the front of the stage in a line, with a very stoic drummer sat a long way behind them. While all obviously have equal standing, it becomes apparent that keyboard player Meredith and guitarist David are the ones who are calling the shots, in terms of the live performance at least. Bassist Kyle confines himself to the occasional joke, many of which lose themselves somewhere between LA and Shoreditch. Describing a show in Leeds as ‘Dickensian’ is funny though.

Meredith is clothed in a black leotard and eyes us from beneath her fringe. Throughout the show she has a running dialogue with the sound crew, wanting a little more of this, a little less of that, then reversing the instructions and so on. That she can make this seem like good natured banter rather than prima donna behaviour is testament to her communication skills.

The default Bodies Of Water sound is four voices at full bawl over a tricksy, almost prog rock backing. It is like a regular rock band with four coincidentally overlapping lead singers who create harmony by happenstance. The results are not at all precious or twee – the power that is generated does indeed make your ears pop.

Tonight, the set is almost entirely draw from the next album. It is a mark of how damn good these songs are that unfamiliarity does not hamper enjoyment in the slightest.

Meredith does not cry wolf. Although there appears to be nothing wrong from the audience point of view, there definitely are sound issues on stage and eventually David’s guitar packs up and a degree of improvisation is required while it is repaired.

They end with a stunning (almost literally) rendition of ‘These Are The Eyes’, a song that builds and builds, with ever wilder vocal contributions from the band. Every time you think they can’t go faster, higher, wilder or louder, they go up a gear.

Two bands tonight, two completely different vocal styles. And two total successes.

Friday 10 October 2008

Rolo Tomassi / Pre / Throats & Madame Jo Jo's: 7th October 2008

Photo by 'Turquoise Boy'

It promises to be a rowdy evening, so where to stand? I eventually settle for perching on a balustrade overlooking the pit in front of the stage. Not that there are many people in here just yet.

The first band is so young and unprepossessing in appearance that you assume that it must be half-term. Surely they wouldn’t be playing on a school night? And then they crank into life and innocence hightails it out the door and off down the streets of Soho.

Throats specialise in slow, monstrously heavy riffage and sport a singer who is almost pathological in his reluctance to stand upright and face the audience. In the brief moments that he is on the stage he is crouched with his back to us, emitting a succession of guttural screams.

The rest of the time he is in the mosh pit, whirling his arms and jumping around. A few of the more energetic youngsters in the crowd stand around him looking fascinated.

Meanwhile onstage, the rest of the bands experiment with feedback – resting their guitars against their speakers, holding their instruments up to the roof of the venue.

Even though their puppy dog appearance makes them unlikely rock gods, Throats deliver the goods.

As it is still relatively quiet, I move down into the pit area. Next up are Pre, featuring the tiny whirling dervish that is Akiko Matsuura on vocals and a band that groove benignly as she freaks out amongst them.

There is either a huge problem with the sound, or the singer is emitting shrieks of a frequency beyond my threshold of hearing. I suspect it’s both. Either way, much of the vocals are inaudible.

This doesn’t actually distract much from the band, because Pre are all about physical performance and niceties such as lyrical content come fairly low down their list of priorities. The only song where the vocals can be heard seems to have the chorus “I want your penis, I want your love!” So that’s alright.

Akiko crawls around a bit and needs a little push to get her back on stage once she’s dropped down into the crowd. Good entertainment.

Rolo Tomassi have got a certain brand of indie kid in a bit of a tizz. They appeal to woolly cuddly Los Campesinos! twee-core enthusiasts, but also flirt with US hardcore in the same manner as acts such as The Ghost Frequency. They’re that happy blend of naughty but safe which means that girls are happy to fling themselves about in front of them as much as their boyfriends.

The very eye catching selling point of the band is vocalist Eva, tonight resplendent in a tight black dress that would be better suited to a posh drinks reception than a sweaty night in a rock band. A colleague describes her the next day as ‘very bendy’, which is a polite way of saying that she kicks ass, flails around and screams like a banshee. She is assisted by occasional vocalist and random keyboard basher James, who is awkward, very bendy, and her brother.

Tomassi songs are tough to get a handle on, because so much of the performance seems completely arbitrary. Any given track will approximate scream-twiddle-drum solo-gentle cooing noises-more screaming- guitar solo- both vocalists cooing-more guitar-twiddle-silence. And then start up again in some random repetition.

They are exhausting, fun, but ultimately baffling. The band seems to have no quality control at all, or ever had anyone say that something might be a bad idea. But this wild experimentation leads to moments of felicitous noise, and the crowd are going mental for them.

Rolo Tomassi have a devoted fan base, certainly in this small venue, but may be in danger of disappearing into their own artistic cul-de-sac. Making students run in circles is one thing, but it is hard to see them appealing to a wider audience without compromising on their ideals.

Me? – I hope they stick to their guns.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

HeartsRevolution / Death Cigarettes at Proud Gallery

Photo: Lorne Thomson

There are at least three reasons to be here tonight.

First amongst these is the appearance of the ever wonderful Death Cigarettes, about whom I rave on this site whenever possible. The second is anticipation of the head liners Heartsrevolution, and thirdly is the venue itself, which has good and bad points, but which generally creates a special atmosphere.

I still think that £11 is a bit steep for this evening, though.

For those unfamiliar with the place – Proud Gallery is a converted stable block which has been upgraded to cater for lavish entertainment. It’s a lovely environment and great fun, can be a very unforgiving place for small bands to play.

This is because the stage where the bands perform is set in a largish covered courtyard and is separate from the bar and stable areas. Unless you are interested enough to keep an eye on the stage, or are just passing through to the main venue where dance music blares all night, you wouldn’t even know that a band has started playing. On nights such as these, the acts are presented as exotic but incidental attractions in the same way in which girls dance on plinths in clubs in 1980’s movies.

Death Cigarettes thus have their work cut out. But of course they rise to the challenge.

The deceptively innocent looking Maya is fretful because of a large and unnecessary crowd barrier that surrounds the stage. Referring to it throughout as “The Cage” she tries to uproot it, kicks it, bangs her fists against it and generally rails against the injustice of keeping her from her audience.

So, like a mini-Maginot Line, she solves the problem by going round the side. Once among the crowd she can get to business chivvying them around and coyly luring passers by into her web- before grabbing hold of them and screaming in their ear.

The rest of the band mostly stay put, and become the real focal point once Maya has disappeared into the open spaces. The set is strong as ever, and concludes with a dismantled drum kit, guitars flung and an ankle-threatening jump straight over the top of the barrier. Another exhilarating performance and a job well done.

The Bishops who follow, have a much harder time of it. I’m not a great fan of them at the best of times and tonight they seem to have regressed to an embarrassing degree. They are just shouting to make themselves heard and it quickly becomes painful. I temporarily withdraw.

Heartsrevolution come here tonight having already played earlier this evening at ULU in a support slot for Midnight Juggernauts. Singer Lo looks very forlorn as she sits on an amplifier waiting for the two other members of the band to set up.

Once they start playing, they are terrific, although the sound balance is horribly awry, with the drums all but drowning out everything else. However, it becomes clear that Lo is in a lot of distress and has somehow this evening –the earlier show?- sustained an almighty blow to the head. She is clearly disorientated and after a mere handful of songs is unable to continue. It is very unsettling and you hope that she is going to be alright.

By this stage of the evening, the Proud Gallery has come into its own as a lively nightspot. This is what it does best. But they could make more effort on behalf of the bands that play there.