Thursday 26 February 2009

The Kabeedies, Apache Beat, Hexa at Proud Gallery 21 February 2009

Kabeedies pic by Alex Batten

One day (probably the next time I do a review of the year to date) I’ll mention the events that have eventually led to me being at the Proud Gallery tonight. Suffice to say that I’ve just been to Haverstock Arms, a venue that is so ill suited to putting on live acts that many of those booked to perform have taken one look at the set up and refused to play. And that I then accompanied one of these bands on a trek through Camden on an ultimately fruitless attempt to get them on a bill elsewhere.

That excursion having come to naught, I have diverted to Proud for the rest of the evening. The place is heaving, but as I have said of this venue before, bands have to compete with DJs, private parties and all manner of other distractions. The performance area also has the acoustics of an aircraft hangar and acts have to be on top form to make an impression.

Hexa are giving it plenty of welly. And any band that includes three rotating singers and a brass section have the ammunition to make plenty of impact. Which they do.

The band blast out a succession of soulful pop stompers, all of which are relentlessly upbeat. Just right for a Saturday night. It is also to their credit that even though some songs are performed by one singer and others by one or more of the two others, that there is no noticeable dropping off in quality between each lead.

If Iain Sinclair was to do one of his psycho-geographical assessments of Hexa he would say that they perform at the crossroads of Bookhouse Boys and Go Team. (Actually, I’m not sure that he would, but that has enabled me to do the old writers’ trick of saying ‘Band X sounds like Bands Y & Z’ without putting it as baldly as that.)

Next up are the hotly touted Apache Beat. They are very impressive, even if most of the sound that they are making seems not to be leaving the stage, but somehow getting lost in the rafters above.

Singer Christina Aceto has a fine voice and she hunches over her microphone with her eyes closed, lost in music, caught in a trance etc. Next to her brother smashes his guitar around creating a forceful punky racket. Watching them I think ruefully of timing and how some bands hit the mark and others don’t - this lot are good, especially live, but to me they sound like a watered down version of The Sam I Am/Boudica, an incendiary act from Southend who have recently called it a day in the face of indifference from the general music scene. Unfortunately, they didn’t come from Brooklyn and so weren’t deemed hip.

Apache Beat deserve every success; it’s just that they make me a little wistful.

I have no such qualms about tonight’s headliners, The Kabeedies. This is the second time that I have seen them in three months and they are rapidly becoming one of my favourite live acts.

Small but sturdy singer Katie Allard is flanked by two lads on bass and guitar. She is a pocket dynamo, marching on the spot, pistoning her arms, all the while demanding attention.

The songs are short and spiky, twisted pop gems such as ‘King Canute’ and ‘Fuzzy Felt’. The crowd dance and whoop and are really enjoying themselves. The band even seems to have overcome the rubbish acoustics in here.

A very strange and eventful evening, ultimately saved by a trio of strong acts. As for earlier – let’s just say that The Haverstock Arms is a better place for watching football than music.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Spinnerette / Future of the Left / The Chapman Family at Islington Academy 23 February 2009

Spinnerette pic courtesy karaokequeen3 @

Kingsley Chapman is hitting himself over the head with his guitar. The Chapman Family are playing to a young and mostly female crowd and are tearing the stage up.

It’s been far too long since I last saw this band and it is clear that their almost non-stop touring has paid dividends in the tightness of their delivery and their developed showmanship. They need these skills this evening, because (at least at the beginning of their set) only half of the amplifiers in the venue seem to be working, and instruments and vocals are arbitrarily dropping in and out of the mix.

Another way to attract attention is to attack the audience. After the first song a drumstick is hurled straight at us. It whistles past my ear and hits a girl standing behind me. Fortunately she saw it coming.

The Chapman’s songs favour a strong martial beat and this relentless percussion gets the crowd going. Kingsley is also a fashionably tortured front man- now bent double and screaming; now threatening to strangle himself with his microphone cable. The set progresses to ever escalating guitar abuse, and ends in squalls of feedback and instrument hurling. They went down well, I think. The plan for world domination is stil on.

Future of the Left are always the same and yet always different. Tonight’s set borrows liberally from their forthcoming new album and all the usual FOTL elements are present and correct. There is sparse and brutal chopping guitar; massively angry and yet nonsensical shouted vocals and a running spat with the crowd.

For this band, altercations with members of the audience are as predictable and cosy as an episode of Last of the Summer Wine. Despite the mock-ferocity of the vocal exchanges, there is never any real threat or danger.

The new songs blend seamlessly with the older tracks like Small Bones, Small Bodies – they certainly haven’t messed with a winning formula. Great noisy fun for everyone.

Brody Dalle has been off the scene embracing Josh Homme and motherhood since previous band The Distillers ended, and tonight is one of the first chances to catch her new project Spinnerette.

It is clearly early days for this set of musicians and the band take quite a while to get into their stride. Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly the new material being played tonight – things may change in the coming months, but at present these songs tend towards formulaic and solid rather than dynamic and striking. It’s American alt-rock by numbers.

However, Brody herself has really developed as a performer and is clearly trying to add to her previously rather limited repertoire as a screaming punk chick. Tonight for much of the set, she dispenses with the guitar altogether, concentrating on her singing. She has a tremendously powerful voice and as the set progresses, you can see her start to enkoy herself, the band loosening up and confidence levels soaring.

The performance ends abruptly and violently. Brody leaps into the audience beneath her and disappears. It is not clear whether she has hurt herself or whether she has injured one or more of the girls who had been flocking adoringly down the front. The lights come on and confusion reigns. The rest of the band troop off and that’s it for the night. It eventually appears that no permanent damage has been done to anyone.

A noisy and enjoyable night’s entertainment. The Chapman Family are becoming a formidable live band and Future of the Left are pretty much one of the most reliably enjoyable acts around. Spinnerette are still very much a work in progress, but any band with the arresting Brody Dalle at its hub are worth catching.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Star Scream / Narration / Substatic at Water Rats, 19 February 2009

The first band onstage tonight features an electric violin. A fine instrument, but rather like Tabasco sauce in that there is a delicate equilibrium between too much and just right. Fortunately, Substatic have the balance spot on.

Substatic are impressive on this tiny stage, although their brand of dance friendly music should be rightly aimed at hordes of revellers in gigantic Balearic super-clubs. The beat is fierce and pulsating, but never to the detriment of a succession of catchy upbeat songs, well sung by the red haired Colleen Quinn. She stamps her feet, waves her arm and shuffles about. The audience does the same and we are off to a good start.

Next up come Narration and the room washes with their emotion. Every song is an epic, drenched with yearning and angst. Cobalt-eyed singer Dan Holt clutches his guitar to him like a drowning man to a proffered tree branch. Occasionally he seems about to clamber into the audience, but each time he appears overcome with torment and stays put.

This emo-onslaught is rather an acquired taste and I suspect that you have to suspend credulity and just allow it to gush over you. Tonight Narration have me teetering on the edge between wanting to see them headline the Glastonbury Festival or simply rolling around laughing at them. I can’t make my mind up about them, but they are very, very good at what they do. Set-closer ‘New York City’ is a fair indication of what they are about, a long, slow building tune that ends with the band a spent and teary wreck.

The Mars Patrol are altogether simpler, and a great deal less appealing. This is no frills pub metal. They have a lively fan following who adore them, but their plodding does nothing for me.

It is somewhat of a surprise that tonight’s’ headliners Star Scream have by far the fewest fans and are much less polished than any of the other acts. However, it is in this very looseness that their appeal lies.

They are a bizarre looking bunch. Drummer Dom sports the classic Phil Oakey Human League haircut, bassist Aiofe is attired as though she has just fallen out of one of those Substatic niteclubs and singer guitarist Adam Lightspeed is as tall and thin as a rake. He comes with the added bonus of a guitar that flashes blue lights.

They have great energy and play a rhythm heavy glam rock. They flirt with Golden Age of Burlesque era Marilyn Manson and are none the worse for it. Instruments are flailed, microphones are knocked about and much fun is had. ‘Scenester’ features a throbbing electro bass line that Georgio Moroder would have been proud of.

A generally good, if varied evening. I would not bet big money that any of the acts playing tonight will ever transcend small venues such as this, but there is at lot of pleasure to be had watching them try.

Monday 16 February 2009

Magazine / Ipso Facto at The Forum 13 February 2009

Magazine rehearsal pic by Graeme Oxby

I’m going to get round to new bands soon. I promise…

But when I found out that Magazine were getting together for a few dates after breaking up some thirty years ago, I just had to have me some of that.

As a kid, Magazine were my favourite band – I sent away to their fan club and received a badly photocopied scrap of paper and a couple of badges. And despite never receiving anything else from them, I was happy as a clam. And I never ever got to see them live.

It’s weird that I get the chance to see the band so soon after checking out their progenitors, Buzzcocks, the other week. Initially I was going to say that I am surprised that the two bands are so very different, but that’s not really the point – Magazine don’t sound like ANYONE else.

Tonight it is clear that many guys of my vintage have had the same idea. The Forum is packed to the roof with blokes in their late forties and we’re all dressed in black. The souvenir stall is doing a brisk business in Magazine coffee mugs.

In their support slot Ipso Facto give it their best effort. They are the same tonight as they are every time I see them – it is as though the Devil once appeared and offered to put them on the front of every music and fashion mag. The price the Devil extracted was that they would have no songs to speak of.

Not that they are bad, mind. They just stick far more in the eye than they do the ear.

After the girls depart an expectant hush descends. From behind a curtain we hear Howard Devoto, Magazine’s gaunt and weird front man declaiming. It’s not at all clear about what.

Then the curtains part and finally, after all these years, it’s my childhood favourites. And they look and sound magnificent. The opening number is ‘The Light Pours Out Of Me’ and it’s a wonderful, soaring epic.

Bassist Barry Adamson looks like the coolest man alive in dark glasses and stove pipe hat. Dave Formula (the man who instigated this reunion) lords it over banks and banks of keyboards. John Doyle perches behind a huge drum kit.

The place of the late John McGeoch on guitar is taken by Noko, a seasoned Devoto collaborator. He does a fine job this evening.

I had always thought that it was Howard Devoto’s aversion to live performance that had split up the band. If that were the case, he has certainly exorcised those demons. No longer gaunt and weird, but now chubby and chipper, he revels in his role as an avuncular master of ceremonies. He struts, he conducts the rest of the band, and he is every inch the showman. No sign of nerves at all.

The sound tonight is crystal clear and the massed keyboards and pounding bass get the whole crowd going. There are sporadic guest appearances from Ipso Facto on backing vocals, which they perform admirably.

Another surprise is that although tonight’s set is understandably heavy on the classic tracks from the first three Magazine albums, there are also selections from their much maligned fourth, ‘Magic, Murder and the Weather’. I’m not sure that these have ever been played live before.

This gig is so pitch perfect that it is hard to pick out highlights. “Song From Under the Floorboards”, “Great Beautician in the Sky”, “Because You’re Frightened”, “Rhythm of Cruelty” – it’s greatest hits all the way. Well, greatest hits if you are as big a bunch of fans as we are tonight.

It’s not just an exercise in reproducing the albums, however. The band occasionally run tracks into each other, most notably when B-side “Twenty Years Ago” is extended and twisted into the majestic “Real Life”. Howard also gets to do a spoken word piece “The Book”, from behind a temporary lectern.

Did they do “Shot By Both Sides” and “Thank You (Falletin me be mice elf agin)? Yes! Did they do “Definitive Gaze”? Sure! Did we enjoy it? You betcha! Are we going to bore the kids with this? Definitely.

Magazine have so far intimated that these few gigs are going to be it. But they seem to be having so much fun tonight that it is hard to believe that they won’t venture forth a little more. If they do, beg steal or borrow a ticket – you don’t have to be an old guy to love this band.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Interior Monologue: How The Cramps Took Over The World

Darkside Mirrors (Japan)

I’ve only got a few of their records, and if memory serves, I only saw them live once. And on that occasion I remember enjoying them but thinking that they weren’t as good as I had been led to believe…

…yet when it was announced this week that Lux Interior, the lead singer of The Cramps had died, it really struck me as to how important this band were. And I say ‘were’, because I can’t conceive of any band calling itself by that name which did not include the manic Mr Erick Lee Purkhiser gurning it up at the front.

I listen to dozens of new acts each week, always seeking the next tune that is going to knock my socks off. And each week a goodly proportion of those acts share some DNA with The Cramps in general and Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach in particular.

This ‘Cramps gene’ in music is distinctive and indelible. The band may have sought inspiration from primitive 50’s rock and roll and the playful, licensed transgression of the American Halloween and those old Universal Pictures horror movies, but they themselves were the role model for similar souls the world over. Jean-Luc Godard famously said that to make a film all you need is a girl and a gun. Millions of would-be musicians looked at the Cramps and knew that all you needed was a voodoo beat, some hair dye and the guts to let it all rip.

Their appeal is world wide. Every country has its own scene where girls empower themselves in black and boys transform themselves with eyeliner and pound out primitive rhythms in small dives. It’s not evil, it’s not pretentious, it’s just good clean nasty fun. It’s all about the music, but it’s also all about the performance.

There are many bands that were bigger, that sold more records. But very few that were as inspirational to as many. It is to their testament that you can use the name ‘The Cramps’ to search for bands on the internet who define themselves in relation to Lux and Ivy and whoever else was around them at the time. And that all these bands are worth listening to, if sometimes only once.

I may be like an inmate in an insane asylum, flapping and scratching at swarms of ants that aren’t there – but I see The Cramps EVERYWHERE. In the make up and thumping drum beats of An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, in the fuzzed guitars of Kasms, in Nick Cave’s lope, in every front man who ever threw himself into the crowd, in every clothes shop in Camden and any seedy club from Harajuku to the Lower East Side.

The Cramps are now gone, although only in the corporeal sense, because their spirit is all pervasive…

…When I saw The Cramps, it was circa ‘Smell of Female’, when they were possibly as near as they ever came to the mainstream. I remember them playing on a stage that seemed too big, under lights that were too bright. They looked uncomfortable.

I’d have loved to have seen them in a dark club, with Lux beating his chest, howling at the moon and crawling into the crowd. And in my mind’s eye, I feel that I have.

See what I mean…

Damn Laser Vampires (Brazil)

Damn Laser Vampires

The Drop-Out Wives (Blackpool)

Sunday 1 February 2009

Buzzcocks at Shepherds Bush Empire - 30 January 2009

The shock of the old. Buzzcocks by Ian Rook

It’s not from want of trying that I haven’t posted for a bit. Since I last reported, I have been to two gigs that featured up-and-coming bands and on both occasions the acts that I saw were so awful that it is unfair to come on here and ridicule them.

So from the new to the very …mature.

I troop along to Shepherds Bush to see Buzzcocks run through their first two albums in their entirety.

I’m not really a fan of this modern trend of bands playing their ‘classic’ albums in full. I think that the practice robs a concert of the spontaneity that it should have, and it is also the case that a record does not necessarily follow the best format for a live show. Albums tend to be front loaded whereas a gig should build to a climax.

However, when Buzzcocks appear in a flash of light and start up the riff from ‘Fast Cars’, the first track on their ‘Another Music in a Different Kitchen’ debut, such misgivings are forgotten. What a stonking record this is!

Front man Pete Shelley still has his uniquely clear, high voice. He is all smiles, even though age has left him looking like a very surprised Ronnie Corbett. To his right stands the only other original member of the band, the irrepressible Steve Diggle, a man who looks like he has come onstage via fourteen pubs and a hedge backwards.

Buzzcocks have always been feted for their way with a pop song, but the first album in particular shows that they had/have a real machine-tooled crunch to their music. I have never heard any other band replicate the guitar sound of tracks like ‘Autonomy’ or ‘Fictionromance’. If I could bottle it, I’d make my fortune.

The crowd is wildly appreciative, and plain wild. It is the only gig that I have been to where I have had more beer thrown over me than I can throw down my own neck. It’s a karaoke type of evening, and everyone bawls along. This is a great help to Diggle, who is unable to muster much more than a string of expletives whenever he is near the microphone.

The second album ‘Love Bites’ contains their greatest hit, and the one that presumably still generates royalties. ‘Ever Fallen In Love With Someone You Shouldn’t Have’ is pretty much perfection, and tracks like ‘Nostalgia’ also prove that this was their most fertile period.

However, this album also runs out of puff a bit on its second side- there are two mainly instrumental tracks and I have always thought that the band never quite had the material for a full record. This is a minor thought – ‘E.S.P’ and ‘Late For The Train’ are still great tunes.

The encore sees the band plough through their compilation ‘Singles Going Steady’ fo good measure. I cannot believe how long it is since I’ve heard ‘Love You More’ or ‘What Do I Get?’, nor how fantastic they sound.

Buzzcocks may be a bit long in the tooth, but their place in history is assured. If you haven’t heard these albums, you really haven’t heard anything.

Do your ears a favour here.