Thursday 22 January 2009

The Joy Formidable / It Hugs Back / Theoretical Girl - Wilmington Arms - 21 Jan 2009

Joy Formidable pic by Joseph Hughes

This is a new venue for me, positioned slightly awkwardly midway between Farringdon and Kings Cross. However, the performance space at The Wilmington Arms is pleasingly small and agreeably run, and it is only due to the calibre of the acts tonight that it gradually becomes uncomfortably rammed by the end of the evening.

First up we have Theoretical Girl aka Amy Turnnidge. Coping gracefully under pressure is the mark of good performer and tonight she certainly has plenty of opportunity to display this ability. For starters, most of her band, The Equations have forsaken the delights of Clerkenwell for the pleasures of the ski slope, so tonight she is only accompanied (very ably, I might add) by Kelly, who smiles sardonically in the face of mounting difficulty.

Lacking a band, Theoretical Girl have to rely on backing tapes and these become a problem throughout the set, with sound levels on stage fluctuating or disappearing. Nearly every song features a perfectly sung passage that goes “Is this monitor working? …etc”.

In such trying circumstances the pair perform valiantly, and songs such as Hypocrite and Red Mist still come across very well. Here’s to the next time.

Due to a late flurry of media buzz, the running order tonight has been altered, and previously announced headliners It Hugs Back find themselves demoted to the middle spot. This I find to be a great pity.

With their predominantly acoustic-y sound and quiet vocals, It Hugs Back are a bit drippy. In fact they are so wet that we are issued with wellies and life jackets. Jacques Cousteau is seen going down for the third time, mouthing “They’re too wet!”

Suffice to say I find them a tough watch. If I was feeling charitable I would acknowledge that they make the sort of gentle undemanding sort of music that might be unobtrusively played in a coffee house on a warm Sunday morning, music that doesn’t need to be consciously listened to, but which twitters away in the background.

But I’m not that charitable, and I’m glad when they are over.

I first saw tonight’s headliners in an empty Barfly towards the end of 2007 when they were still called Sidecar Kisses. They showed a lot of promise and had a couple of really good songs in ‘Austere’ and ‘Cradle’.

In the year since then the band have gone away, and have obviously fiercely honed themselves into an act to be reckoned with via a Rocky-style montage of log sawing, meat thumping and step running. They are now called The Joy Formidable and great things are expected.

The focus of the band is the diminutive Ritzy, who may seem rather unassuming when off duty, but once she has a guitar in her hand and a crowd before her, commands all before her. Her eyes rake the crowd like lasers and fanboys swoon.

Colleague Rhydian pounds at his bass and thrashes against the speakers. The sound that comes forth is a dreamy wash punctuated with bursts of feedback and noise. It is all rather wonderful, and it is a shame that quite a lot of it seems to be pre-recorded.

In fact it is only this ‘Is it live or is it Memorex?’ conundrum that mitigates against an otherwise terrific performance from the band tonight. When Ritzy jumps off the stage and charges off through the tightly packed crowd with her instrument, you are momentarily tempted to ponder whether it was ever actually plugged in in the first place.

At the moment this is a minor quibble. The songs are great, although ‘Austere’ is still the best one, and the band have certainly got the charisma and confidence that will ensure that they are unlikely to play a venue as small as this again anytime soon.

A mostly fine evening and I extend my admiration to the girl from Clang who is running proceedings tonight- she does everything from taking money on the door, helping the bands set up to moving through the crowd with plates of soup. A trouper indeed.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Applicants / Young Paul at the Metro, 8.1.2009

Applicants pic by Julius Beltrane

I enter the Metro with mixed emotions. It’s the first gig of a brand new year and I’m looking forward to it. However, due to the Cross Rail train project, this venue will close for ever next week and London will have lost one of the better small places where bands can play in the Capital.

I have been coming here for years and have seen the likes of Kaito, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Soledad Brothers, The Kills, Mika Bomb, Rogers Sisters, and many others. The Metro is tiny, intimate, atmospheric- the real embodiment of that which is sometimes dismissively referred to as the ‘toilet circuit’, but is really the bread and butter of live performance, giving new bands the opportunity to hone their skills in front of a paying audience. It is vibrant, urgent and necessary.

Or like tonight in the first working week of January, largely deserted.

As I don’t believe there is mileage in knocking up and coming bands, I shall skirt over The Blind Hearts and merely say that they don’t appeal to me much. Fans of The Verve, and Richard Ashcroft in particular, may find something more to their taste.

Much more my cup of poison is Young Paul. This is a duo of guitarist Omer, resplendent in white suit and permed hair flopping over his face and Carole, who has a huge voice and a small keyboard.

Despite being bedevilled for much of their set by poor sound (I am no more than ten feet away and have to crane forward to properly hear them) it is clear that these two are onto something. There are proper songs here, and an impressive chemistry between the two performers.

Omer sings quietly and plays groovy dance licks, Carole undulates and roars out the numbers like a she-demon. The music is insidiously catchy, the mood is warm and a general bonhomie prevails. If it wasn’t so stubbornly attached, I would have danced my ass off. Track ‘Breaking and Entering’ is a stormer. Young Paul are well worth keeping an eye on.

The final band of the evening is the Applicants and right from the start it is clear that we are going to be in for a good time. For starters, most of the band is spattered in fake blood and wearing distressed clothing that makes them look like passengers from the Titanic just after the iceberg arrived.

They charge off with all guns blazing right from the start, and before the end of the first song singer/guitarist Fidel Villeneuve is off the stage and playing his instrument with his teeth. Musically, they are the closest thing I have seen to the Rezillos since, well, The Rezillos.

This is good time rama-a-lama garage punk with a smile on its face and its heart full of mischief.
The queen of misrule is bouncing bundle of energy Jeff, a perpetually grinning and prancing anarchic presence on stage and amongst the audience. She’s fuelled in equal parts by the sheer joy of performing and copious swigs of Red Stripe.

The whole of the Applicants’ set passes in a whirl of candy coloured fun. It doesn’t matter that some songs have to be curtailed because the guitarist has broken all his strings or has become entangled in his microphone cable, nor that Jeff spends some time sat on top of the drummer, somewhat cramping his ability to play.

The audience gets to participate too. Having seen a colleague mauled and flattened by a careening Jeff, I find a microphone thrust into my face with an invitation to bawl along to the song ‘Evelyn Waugh’. I bellow lustily, despite not knowing any of the words.

And then the tumult stops and all is quiet. It has been an exhilarating final performance and an absolutely fitting way to bring in the New Year and say goodbye to a great venue.