Saturday 31 October 2009

The Molotovs, Koko Von Napoo, Pop Martyr, ARCs at The Fly, 23 October 2009

Koko Von Napoo by Marco

I’m here at The Fly, which is always a confusing venue. The downstairs area where the bands play is bigger than the upstairs bit which is on open view to passers by at street level. This means that on evenings when the place is operating at less than full capacity that a casual observer would be forgiven for thinking that the whole place is completely empty and socially lifeless, when in fact there is vibrant activity down below. They can’t get much casual custom on such occasions.

Down below ARCS are in full cry. They play a loud, dynamic, fairly tuneful brand of rock and their fans are lapping it up. They look to be experienced musicians and are pretty enjoyable. I find them rather hit and miss, but several of my friends really like them and make noises about wanting to see them again.

Next up come Pop Martyr, who are rather akin to a jolly mariachi band. Trumpets are much to the fore. I respect their musicianship, but they do nothing at all for me and I temporarily retreat upstairs.

Following on come the band we are here to see, the exotically named Koko Von Napoo from France (via Brighton). The focus is the delightfully deadpan singer Toupie, who sings and scowls, having fun but careful not to appear too uncool.

The band plays a catchy brand of electro pop which goes down well with the crowd without ever quite reaching “hands in the air like you just don’t care” levels of excitement. There is some banter amongst the band when Toupie accidentally introduces the third song of the evening as being their last, with the drummer jokingly wondering if they are about to split up.

Koko Von Napoo are very endearing but don’t quite have that je ne sais quois, as they almost certainly don’t say in France.

The venue is pretty full now for The Molotovs, who have spent the year gathering fans like a snowball rolling down hill. They are starting to have the air of real contenders for mainstream recognition.

It helps that they sound like a jumble of any number of successful acts while incorporating their own unique elements. So while singer Will’s voice evokes bands such as Starsailor or Keane, the furious violin and trumpet work of Ed Jenkins propel things along at a much faster pace than those balladeers. Indeed, it is this surging confidence and attack which is the main difference between The Molotovs of a year ago and the new improved model.

I’ve had a long day, and I’m feeling a bit ropey, so I have to cut the band short to head off home.

If The Molotovs continue on their current trajectory, they’ll be on the radio when I get there.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Phantogram / Quad Throw Salchow / Grasscut at The Fly -25 October 2009

I have been looking forward to tonight for around three years.

It was back in late 2006, early 2007 (I think) that I first came across a band called Charlie Everywhere. I think that it may have been the result of a random add request on Myspace. It was an awful band name. But I fell in love with Joshua Carter and Sarah Barthel and I fell hard.
Since then I have kept tabs on the duo from Saratoga Springs, New York, downloading their tracks as they became available, buying their T shirt and keeping the flame alive in my heart. When they changed their name to the only marginally less awful ‘Phantogram’, I was relieved, bought the merchandise again and wondered if they would ever tour over here…

So I am here on a Sunday night in an under-populated venue called The Fly located in New Oxford Street. I have cajoled a number of my more forbearing friends to come along too. I have fingers crossed and hope for the best.

There are three acts tonight and we start with the fascinating if rather unfocussed retro-futurism of Grasscut. These are two guys (Andrew and Marcus) who wear matching suits and glasses and who entertain us with electronic glitches and skronks, samples of church bells and a rocking electric double bass. There are occasional Hot Chip –y moments, and perhaps an affinity with similar English electronic eccentrics Flotation Toy Warning or Hallmark. It’s the sound of the future engineered to mimic post war austerity. It’s an ambitious aim, and the duo can’t quite carry it off – they don’t have the songs as yet and there are moments when the technology seems to be playing the band rather than the other way around. Interesting stuff nonetheless.
Next up we have the trancey motorik beats of Quad Throw Salchow. A mysterious three piece, they create room for themselves to perform, with JG hunched behind a workbench laden with electronic gear to one side, bassist K pounding out rhythms in prime Peter Hook mode on the other. Centre stage is singer O, who croons in parallel with the music rather than following the tunes. Her eyes are closed and she twists from side to side, her arms outstretched in a pose of crucifixion.

These songs are persistent, nagging washes of sound, propelled by the bass and the electric tics of the machinery. They work through repetition and epic span. This band know a good groove when they hit one and extend themselves to heroic length – the final track must last at least fifteen to twenty minutes. As with all such music, whether they succeed or fail depends upon whether they can entice the audience to come along for the ride. I enjoy them a lot, but a quick poll amongst my mates afterwards indicates no more than a fifty percent hit rate.

And finally I am in a room watching Phantogram. And they are more wonderful than I had dared to hope.

Sarah is standing behind a selection of electronic equipment that appears to be half state of the art and half something cobbled together out of an old VCR. Joshua is feeding his guitar through a vast array of effects pedals. They start with “As Far As I Can See” with its sampled brass section and they don’t look back.

They are much more hard edged and dynamic than their recorded works would indicate, Sarah jolting as though shot through with an electric current, her eyes closed and her head thrown back in a delightful smile that highlights the wonders of American dentistry. Josh appears frozen by a frantic white strobe light, occasionally whirling his instrument in stabs of sonic violence.

The buzzing hum of ‘Running From The Cops’, with its peculiar effect that makes Josh’s voice sound as though he is drowning makes way for long time favourite ‘Mouthful Of Diamonds’ which is as sweet as a summer evening . This music is just fantastic. I could say that this is the sound that School Of Seven Bells promised, and ultimately failed to deliver, but such comparisons sell Phantogram short.

The set draws heavily from debut album/compilation Eyelid Movies, which I commend to you all.

This is the first night of a whistle-stop European tour and they are going to make friends wherever they go. Hurry back guys.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Doll and The Kicks - Camden Barfly 9 October 2009

Doll & The Kicks by Indigo Burns

It’s a routine trip out to the Barfly. However, as usual, there are unexpected treats to be found if you look about.

The first band onstage are the difficult-to-Google ‘Ray’. They have a laconic and cheery front man (let’s call him ‘Jack Kansas’) and they play basic, guitar-heavy rock. They aren’t revolutionary, but they ain’t bad either and I’m happy to spend time in their company. Jack is wearing a Damn Vandals’ T-shirt and I’m pretty sure that he and they may be related.

The next band on are already playing stadiums in their heads and whether they get to do this for real will depend on the British public’s hunger for yet another bunch of lads who have taken Kasabian/Oasis epic pomp pop as a rigid template. Sound Of Guns are big and brash and spend a lot of time blinding us with white lights. They are very good at what they do, which does not make them in any way likeable.

It is a huge, empty sound, devoid of anything other than fake emotion and shouty sincerity. They are dispiriting, and will probably be massive. It’s the equivalent of a television the size of a house that is just used to screen the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Headliners are Doll & The Kicks and their name says it all. This is an act that is all about singer er...Doll, batting her huge black eyelashes and bouncing around under a big pink bow in her hair. The rest of the band is utterly anonymous, both in terms of appearance and music.

As a showcase for their singer, tonight’s show is exemplary. We get snarly naughty-but-nice rock, the occasional lapse into reggae rhythms, and cheesy mainstream pop. Doll’s eyes are hypnotic (she has GREAT eyes) and you can’t tear yourself away from her. This is both the blessing and curse – I’m glad to have seen her in action, but can’t remember a single song or riff that the band played. It’s all very enjoyable and pleasant, but I expect more from the bands that I see. ‘Doll’ would be a charming performer whatever she was doing, but I get the feeling that she doesn’t need to be in this band to achieve this.

In many respects Doll & The Kicks remind me of past Call Of The Wyld faves Battlekat (who I think may have split up, but would be delighted if they haven’t) -a charismatic front person with a penchant for performance, but no real sense of direction or purpose. You might watch the DVD, but you wouldn’t play the MP3.

Dressing up is fun, but never quite as much fun for other people as it is for you.

Saturday 3 October 2009

Monkeyrush, The Farrs, Waiting For A Superhero at Camden Rock 02 October 2009

Farrs by Fragiled Photography

The Stones were shit at Altamont.

Sure, they had thousands of fans and drugs and free love and Hells Angels knifing some poor sod to death. Gimme shelter? Gimme a break.

You want ‘memorable’? You want Henry V? –“If you ain’t here you can hold your manhood cheap, motherfuckers.”[i] We got ‘memorable’ here tonight. I’ve just seen The Farrs play a set of such steaming greatness that I will tell my hypothetical son that his life is OVER, he can’t compete, Dad wins, sorry Bub, but it’s down to the hypothetical grandkids now.

It’s been an odd night. Even finding the venue is a battle because the Internet only belatedly identifies ‘Camden Rock’ as the building formerly known as ‘The Mint Cafe’ or ‘WKD’ or ‘that shithole across the road from the Underworld.’

When we finally get here, the Farrs are sound checking. This involves shouting at the sound guy, checking how far the mike lead will stretch and helping drummer Helen nailing a skittish kit down. They sound terrific, but once they leave the stage another band takes over.

Their sound check is a bit rubbish because the heavily, impressively tattooed drummer keeps knocking his kit off the stage. It is only when they carry on regardless that we realise that Waiting For A Superhero are not practicing, but actually playing.

Everyone has to start somewhere and they are in the early stages of their career here tonight. They are incredibly raw, but there is a germ of goodness in there. I wish them luck.

The Farrs (often known as “Fucking hell, did you see The Farrs?”) not only blow the bloody doors off but detonate every single one of your senses. Bang! Your eyes are gone as singer Harley bounces onto and then along the bar, playing with the light fittings. Bang! Your ears pack up with the sheer sonic overload of the extended noise box thrashout of ‘Pest Go Easy’, Harley hugging passing bar staff, rapping with the crowd (such as it is) and engaging your correspondent in a knees-up joust across the room.

Other senses? The Farrs taste as salty and fresh as a tsunami round the chops – or more accurately the taste of the fountains of beer that the singer throws over himself and the photographers present. Touch – there isn’t a person in the room that has not been mauled, cajoled, boogied with or mock-molested by the time this is over. Smells good to me.

This is an epochal performance, and certainly the three men and a dog who are the actual paying audience appreciate it.

It is to the immense credit of the next band, Monkeyrush, that they can follow that. Led by bubbly Fil Planet, this Bromley contingent lay down some infectious ska/skank grooves that we can all get behind. She has a great voice and because she and her band are seasoned performers it is no wonder that they are pretty damn good at what they do. We jump up and down as much as is reasonable.

I leave with my mind blown.

Go and see The Farrs

Go and see The Farrs

Go and see The Farrs

You won’t be sorry.

Postscript: This piece was bashed out in less time than it has taken you to read it. It was fuelled by adrenaline, Stella Artois and an empty table on the Thameslink. I could have taken the time to tidy it up, but that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the evening.

[i] And gentlemen in England, now a-bedShall think themselves accursed they were not here,And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaksThat fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Thursday 1 October 2009

teenagersintokyo / Still Corners at Water Rats 30 September 2009


It may have been the usual mild/wet/disappointing summer, but on the Gray’s Inn Road conditions have obviously been more tropical. Tonight I’m in the Water Rats and it is as hot as the jungles of Borneo in here.

This leads to a bizarre beginning to the evening in which the slightly cooler bar of the venue is full of people while the doors to the performance area are wide open and there is not a living soul inside. Eventually a band comes on stage and finds themselves confronted with a completely empty room. However, once they start playing, the audience files in.

The band in question is Still Corners and they are rather wonderful. They are fronted by the striking Olivia, who stares straight ahead, gently swaying to the slow syncopation of the rest of the band. Her wispy, echoing vocals sigh like a summer breeze, almost indistinct but enough to raise the hairs on your neck.

The obvious comparison would be with the off-kilter and creepy nightclub music of David Lynch collaborator Julee Cruise. There is a sense of theatre, of mystery, of lush decadence.

The other band members are mostly undemonstrative, but work themselves into a quiet storm on the closing numbers. The hot-house atmosphere works in their favour, as they seem icily cool even as everything around them melts.

As Still Corners finish the room empties again, with the crowd dispersing in search of oxygen. I take the opportunity to purchase the band’s mini-album ‘Forget Pepper’.

The main act of the night is Teenagersintokyo, an Australian outfit last seen by me a just over a year ago. They are now temporarily resident in London, recording and touring.

Since last time I saw them the band have evolved and smoothed out many of the rough edges from their early performances. In particular, singer Samantha Lim is glamoured up in an off the shoulder sheath and eyelashes that are several inches long. She looks sultry and stunning, and knows it.

The rest of the band have taken the opportunity to dress up too, in a variety of Eighties-style themes that range from Olivia Newton John ‘Let’s Get Physical’ gym wear to Sheena Easton geometric haircuts. The lone guy in the band, drummer Rudy, wears a head band but is otherwise content to leave the girls to draw the eye.

It takes a long time for the band to make much of an impression. Many of their songs are routine dance/club numbers which you can tell are going to be much better on record once they have been tweaked and remixed. As it is they are good but fall short of being great. That said, new single 'Isabella' is just peachy.

It doesn’t help that there are a sizeable number of wankers in the crowd who seem to be only here to jabber and shout to each other all the way through the band. From the accents you get the impression that they are hangers on who don’t actually give a damn about the performance.

It is said that men sweat but women glow. Before the end Lim is glowing like a 100 Watt light bulb. She grabs a drumstick for the final number and leads the whole band in a percussive work out. Guitars and keyboards are abandoned as everyone grabs a stick and beats on bells and bottles. This is when teenagersintokyo come into their own and properly loosen up. It’s a great finish but I could have done with more of this spontaneity and a little less of the rather anodyne disco tracks that preceded it.

However, this is a relatively minor quibble. A band with an approval rating of say, seven out of ten, is well worth going to see. Kudos too for Still Corners, who I shall certainly endeavour to seek out again.