Monday 31 August 2009

Haunts, Sharks and Me My Head at Upstairs at the Garage -18 August 2009


There’s a last minute change of plan as we realise that although we would quite like to see Neon Kicks at the Hope and Anchor, the two support bands look to be so irredeemably awful that the prospect is too grim to bear.

So instead we do a quick swerve down the road to the newly re-opened Upstairs at the Garage to check out what’s on there.

There is a cracking result right away, as the first band on are the always wonderful Me My Head, possibly still the best band in the country who are distressingly not mega huge. Seriously people, MMH should be entertaining the arm-waving masses at Glasto or Reading rather than tearing up this tiny venue.

If crowd-pleasing good tunes and engaging stage presence are not your bag, then look away now. They are a bit Blur, a bit Killers, a bit Kaiser Chiefs (stop looking down your nose) and a guaranteed good time. Check out their self-released album.

Next up are the black-clad ranks of retro punks Sharks, who channel the likes of Joe Strummer and are mean, moody and reasonably magnificent. They put in a strong, determined performance, undercut only slightly by the antics of their guitarist, who should perhaps just restrain himself from showing off to quite such a degree. Sharks are well worth your gig-dollar. They are young and hungry and totally self-aware. Watch them go.

Headliners are Haunts, a band that I have not previously happened across, and which is rather to my shame. Wiry, brutal rock with all the anger and structure of Future of the Left, but without all the pantomime crowd-baiting nonsense that accompanies that band.

Haunts are louder than bombs, tighter than an owl and happy to make your teeth rattle. The crowd is too cool for school, but they are LOVING this.

Grand stuff for around a fiver. All these bands are excellent in their different ways. Treat yourself.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Cafe Rocks at Cafe De Paris 7 August 2009

The Elody by Bryn Bache

So I find myself reclining on a red velvet bed in the dressing room of a Brazilian pop star. We are in the VIP area deep beneath the sumptuous Café de Paris in London’s bustling West End. Ok, there are about another 100 people squeezed in here as well, but it’s the thought that counts.

Let’s recap…

The Café de Paris is one of London’s great secret venues. Most of the time it operates as a swanky nightclub or as the setting for the Press launch of weighty tomes such as a footballer’s autobiography. It’s glitzy and tacky and as camp as a row of tents. And on Fridays there are free(ish) gigs showcasing up and coming new acts. And the great thing about these events is that they don’t just serve the needs of the indie community. On a usual Friday you will get such a wide variety of music that it becomes less of a gig and more like a recording of old school Top Of The Pops. Eddie Argos would love it down here.

We start off with Red Nova, who actually make my jaw drop in laughing disbelief. Imagine The Fall fronted by Liam Gallagher and you have them in a nut shell. It’s basic but serviceable rattling rock music fronted by a singer so utterly in awe of the younger of the Gallagher brothers that he not only drawls his vocals in the same manner, but even affects a beetling stooped walk around the stage with his hands behind his back. And yet, in the same way that for all Oasis’ faults, their sheer chutzpah and self belief propels them along like a juggernaut, the same effect happens here. There are soaring choruses, there are decent songs. The package works. I give them a clap and a whoop and feel the thrill of guilty pleasure.

The next act incorporates a double bass, two backing singers and an old jazzer slapping a music case. This is the soul stylings of Mo Molokwu. My musical tastes are such that I am rather unsighted as to whether the personable young singer is any good or not, but she sounds fine to me. Pleasant, easy going laid back grooves, with a last-song-of-the-night vibe. She finishes with an excellent track called “Guilty”. The small crowd sway and approve.

There is a minor altercation as to who will go on next. The promoter has asked for the running order to be changed, either because of ease of getting things moving along, or because not all the members of the designated act have actually got here in time. Unfortunately, the band that have now been moved forward are unprepared and have to be collected from various different locations.

This is Monocle Rose, and is the band that I have nominally come to see. And here I have to tread carefully. For starters, they have been enjoying the bar facilities for most of the evening, and are very, let’s say, refreshed. Like Red Nova before them, they consist of a band that is dominated by their singer. Rosa is a wild and wonderful, full on performer, who is completely manic and off her head in absolutely the best possible way. She screams, she flails, she knocks her water glass flying, she then accidentally sits in the resulting puddle and looks surprised. It’s a genuine old school punk performance and her voice reminds me a lot of Pauline Murray in her Penetration days. It’s not complicated, or particularly cool, but it’s a real jolt of stomping energy. Hugely enjoyable.

Next up we are in TOTP mode with a vengeance. The Elody are appallingly named, but they certainly grab your attention. These five girls are aiming to compete with Girls Aloud, The Saturdays and any other troupe of hot foxtresses that have ever strutted for the public on a reality talent show. Are they good? Well, they certainly look the part, dance superbly and have some pretty catchy tunes too. Not a bad start then. However, they are so obviously an artificial construct that it is hard to see them as a single act, and more of a group of performers who can be moulded by some Svengali. So watching them is rather like inspecting goods at a cattle fair, and they are judged in ways that you wouldn’t dream of even considering if dealing with a ‘proper’ band. In my best witheringly condescending Simon Cowell tones I’ll say that there is one band member who I would take for my own girl group in a heartbeat and a couple of others who would do anyone a turn as strong backing singers. I genuinely wish them all the luck in the world, because, talented as they are, I’d say it is almost impossible for them to succeed without television patronage and that is going to take an astonishingly lucky break. They are not the sort of act that’s going to knock around rock venues.

We end up with a set from Rakell Sa, a Brazilian singer who has been based in Jamaica of late and who is making her UK debut. As with The Elody, this is well crafted up tempo dance music, here infused with a heady Caribbean/ Latin groove. Her set does not last long, but her material is very strong – I suspect this is a ‘greatest hits’ package. Rakell is certainly impressive, if not entirely distinctive.

And she invites us down to her dressing room, in the aforementioned red velvetine bowels of the venue. What can you do? It would be churlish to refuse.

This night of fun and debauchery was brought to you by Café Rocks. It’s free before seven and a fiver before eight. Go and surprise yourself.