Monday 27 December 2010

Call Of The Wyld Review Of 2010

(Gratuitous but obviously necessary picture of Oral Oral bassist's bum from this year's Offset Festival. She didn't turn to face the crowd at any point.)

It is traditional at this time of year to mull over the past twelve months and revisit high times, low lights and possibly put together a blooper reel. Or something.

The year started properly with an evening of wild Japanese mayhem at the Bull and Gate as Molice and Moja rocked like demons to a crowd of ooh, several.

In February I did my biggest gig of the year, when Rammstein bought their brand of naughty but nice, cruel but surprisingly camp metal to Wembley arena. I’m a sucker for a good show, and the Germans always deliver. It’s a shame that smaller venues such as the Enterprise and the Lexington are not conducive to the use of flamethrowers.

February also saw an extraordinary evening at Cargo in the company of Merrill Garbus, aka tUnE-yArDs. A real talent, raw and wild as hell.

In the Spring I saw The Primitives at the Scala, the first in a conceptual series of gigs from 80’s twee pop exponents who have reformed in the wake of significant deaths. The second was the Darling Buds who played at the 100 Club.

By complete co-incidence it was just twenty four hours later that the 100 Club was revealed to be in danger of closure and the great and the good made appropriate noises about the need to keep it open. I’m somewhat ambivalent – the nature of music in London (and other cities) is that music may move from place to place, but it keeps going. This year has seen the closure of places such as The Luminaire but I’ve also been to new places like CAMP Basement. As I’ve ruminated here before, there is a real feeling that the centre of music in London is shifting from North to East.

To my mind the 100 Club is only worth saving if it is a thriving venue for new and current acts. If they just want to be a museum dedicated to the past then they might as well open a Hard Rock Café on the premises. To be honest, I’m much more disheartened that the Café De Paris has stopped showcasing young bands in favour of more lucrative, but aesthetically pointless tribute acts.

There was a rather underwhelming Camden Crawl this year, but May also saw one of the gigs of 2010 – the exuberant Canadian double header at The Lexington, when first Rich Aucoin took audience participation to unprecedented levels by acting as cheerleader while we did all the work, and then The Pack AD blew our socks clean off and somewhere way down the road.

The Lexington is Call Of The Wyld’s venue of the year. I don’t think that I’ve ever had a bad evening there and have seen some top bands. The range of beers downstairs is almost unparalleled in a music venue and the place is run with real love by some great people.

May will also live in the memory as the month when I saw Japanese pop idols Hangry + Angry at the Underworld. The only time I’ve seen a gig end with a question and answer session with the audience.

June was the time when dinosaurs walked the earth. Joan Jett was terrific at the 100 Club and Patti Smith surprisingly good humoured and relaxed in Hyde Park.

In July I spent a blisteringly hot day at the Shoreditch 1234 festival and caught a delightful set from Von Haze. I admired tent divers tombstoning into the crowd during a Rolo Tomassi performance and stood in the dark for an hour as These New Puritans vainly tried to plug an oboe into an electric socket. Or some other such technical difficulty.

August saw what I suspect I’m going to call my gig of the year – the first time I saw Warpaint; in this instance at CAMP Basement. That I had gone into the gig suspecting that it would all be a bit ‘meh’ made it all the better when we got a bogglingly marvellous and enjoyable show that completely confounded all expectations.

The way in which the Warpaint album is being marketed as an accompaniment to dinner parties / recreational cannabis use reminds me to give the Call of the Wyld Award for Ubiquity at Gigs to The xx. This year I couldn’t move at a gig without knocking into members of the band that won the Mercury Prize.

In September I spent a brilliant weekend at the Offset Festival. This event goes from strength to strength and I really didn’t have a duff experience among nearly fifty bands that I saw over the two days. If they could resolve the jinx of the Sunday night headliners, it would be utter heaven.

This was also the month that I finally saw Yuck for the first time. I really like them and am glad to see that they are getting some love in other quarters and are being tipped as ones to watch in 2011. It will be interesting to see how they do – there are two very distinct strands to their music and while I can see a mass market for their gentle, acousticy numbers, I wonder if a wider audience will appreciate their guitar-scree Sonic Youthy side.

I saw a compelling, but bizarre performance from Soap & Skin at the Union Chapel. I don’t mind tortured artists, but Anja Plaschg did genuinely appear to be in some distress for most of this gig.

Disappointment of the year was probably Zola Jesus at CAMP Basement. I can just about put up with her on record, although I find the fulsome praise that she attracts somewhat baffling. Her live show was dreary in the extreme, a one trick pony honking out a succession of tuneless dirges. The xx seemed to like it, though.

Another BBC tip for 2011 is Esben & The Witch who seem to have been regarded as Next Big Things for a couple of years, and unless I am wrong, are or were managed by one of the guys who contributes to the BBC’s music content. Coincidence? For legal reasons, let’s say “Yes”. I saw E & TW twice, once at Offset when they were terrific and once at Electrowerkz, when their limitations became starkly clear. I suspect that I’ll only be able to fully judge when the album comes out early next year.

And it was great to see The Blood Arm again for the first time in a couple of years. If you could bottle the Blood Arm experience, you’d make millions.

On the recorded music front, there were fine albums from the likes of O Children, The Pack AD, Cold In Berlin (who will get a full review on here as soon as I can find time to squeeze them in), The Indelicates, Teddybears, The Fall and Warpaint.

I’m so damned new fangled / confused that my album of the year is not an album at all but rather a pair of files that can be downloaded for free from the website of Computer Magic. These are a pair of ‘EPs’ called Hiding From Our Time/Hiding From More Of Our Time and to say that they are a complete knockout does them a serious disservice.

They are the work of a solo artist called Danz (or Danielle) and she has produced these demos over the past year. The songs are delicate, achingly poignant affairs which are also cracking tunes. The quality here is staggering. Watch her go in 2011…

Individual tracks of the year are very hard to assess, as they differ depending on mood. There’s a good selection on the music player at the top of the page at the moment. I am inordinately fond of Pepper Rabbit’s “Older Brother” though.

That’s it for now – back in the New Year. I’ve got a few things lined up…

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Frankie Rose and The Outs, Hawnay Troof at The Luminaire - December 14 2010

Frankie Rose and The Outs by Tim Griffin

The Luminaire shuts at the end of the year, so this is my last chance to savour the place. I’ve not been uncritical of the venue in the past, as I’ve always associated it with a frustratingly lax approach to band timings. However, I’m still sad to see it go. As a breathless and sweating Hawnay Troof exclaims later in the evening “Venue shuts, venue opens, it’s the circle of life!”

We start proceedings with Amelia Rivas and Christian Pinchbeck, who perform as Elephant. Amelia dabs at a keyboard, while Christian wrestles and frets away at a guitar. Theirs is a rather plaintive and melancholy sound, as desolate as an empty ballroom, but also somehow ineffably lost and sad.

Not a party band then.

We follow with the latest live incarnation of Alessio Natalizia, who works under the name of Banjo or Freakout. Tonight he is joined by two other musicians to form a fuzzy low-fi three piece unit who experiment with lengthy drum and guitar work outs. These jamming sessions are leavened by Natalizia’s quiet voice as he imposes structure and song craft over the din. I think that it works very well.

I’m particularly intrigued by the drummer, who watches his band leader like a wide-eyed hawk, apparently terrified of landing a beat out of place.

Vice Cooler aka Hawnay Troof is a man of the people. In fact tonight he is a man among the people, an army of one with a mission to get the party started and to get London to make some noise!!!

His is an exhausting non-stop power ball of a performance, leaping on and off the stage, executing full tilt forward rolls and getting the audience down on their knees. He does a fantastic job, as initially the crowd is too self conscious to do anything but look nervously at each other. By the end everyone is yelling and whooping on command and well warmed up for the main act.

I’m a big fan of Hawnay Troof and am delighted to see him in such surroundings. Last time our paths crossed, he was stuck on a big stage and unable to properly interact. But boy, does he work hard. If he keeps this up he’s going to end up very fit or very dead.

I’m also glad to see him, because it gives me an excuse to post this marvellously stupid video footage of him being humped by a bulldog while performing earlier this year.

Hawnay is wearing the same costume tonight. Sadly, the dog could not make it.

Frankie Rose has spent time drumming in bands such as Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls and it is not altogether surprising that she and her current band The Outs tread in similar territory.

It’s the final night of the tour and I can’t help but feel that the band are a bit frazzled, tired and just glad to bash out one last show so that they can get back home.

Not that Frankie and the rest of the gang aren’t having fun. They play a simple, stripped down take on classic Sixties girl groups, without as much of the amplified reverb employed by Frankie’s previous bands.

Frankie Rose herself is very nervous and anxious to please. She tells of how she was originally scared to come to the UK because she thought that we were fierce and unfriendly. However, on this tour she has been introduced to strange concepts such as the savoury pie and football and as a consequence feels a lot happier. I wonder if her unease is because in her own band she plays guitar and leads proceedings, whereas in the past she has been by necessity, stuck in the background.

Included in the set is a version of the Vivian Girls' “Where Do You Run To” and it rather unfortunately sounds better than the bands’ own material. That could be down to my own familiarity, of course.

The band finishes and I wave goodbye them. As I prepare to do the same to the venue, I’m slightly confounded that the evening has run like clockwork and has actually finished slightly ahead of time. Incredible! Well done, and good luck, Luminaire.

Monday 13 December 2010

Ty Segall and Dignan Porch at CAMP Basement - 11 December 2010

Ty Segall (Photo by Eric Rex)

When you imagine going to CAMP Basement for a Christmas gig, you get an image in your mind’s eye of an outrageously over-the-top grotto, staffed by flamboyant characters dressed in Santa and elf costumes.

The reality is much more mundane. It is indeed a basement and the décor (pipes, ducting and an unevenly tiled floor) would be more in keeping with an episode in the Saw franchise.

For the second gig in a row, I arrive just as the first support act is finishing. I’m getting very poor at judging when events start when it is known that there will be an early conclusion – in this case because they want to turf us out to make way for a club night.

So I see relatively little of Weird Dreams. I’ll leave it at that.

Dignan Porch are much more my can of Red Stripe. They play a perfectly acceptable guitar and keyboard brand of indie pop and have actually written some decent songs, which is always a bonus.

It is extremely warm down here in the basement, and I admire the fortitude of the band’s bass player, who is not only wearing a heavy coat, but is also swaddled in an enormous scarf. It is only at the end of the set that he can take it no more and rips his layers off. You can practically see him steaming.

Ty Segall and his band hail from San Francisco and are in thrall to classic guitar rock. They certainly blow the cobwebs away with their blend of hard riffing and yelped vocals.

The DJ has been warming us up with Firehose, Grant Hart, Jay Reatard etc and Ty Segall and co sound right at home in this company. The crowd get excited and mosh about at the front. The band take a truncated rush through Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ and the moshing erupts into stage diving and crowd surfing.

A grand time is had by all. Segall is clearly very moved by the love that he is getting from the crowd and is effusive in his thanks.

For an encore we get a massed bawl-along version of The Vibrators’ “Baby Baby Baby (Won’t You Be My Girl)”.

Then it’s all over and we are encouraged to head off into the wilds of Shoreditch.

Not perhaps a vintage night, but a fine example of a small scene enjoying itself. And I can’t get that damn Vibrators song out of my head now…

Friday 10 December 2010

Homesick Hustlers / The Puppet Masters at Camden Barfly 09 December 2010

The Puppet Masters

I leave the office as the protesters attempt to break in

I arrive at the Barfly just in time to catch the last thirty seconds of Phoebo. The resulting snap judgement is that I’m sorry to have missed her. I’ll do better next time.

This evening is the culmination of a sterling project run by The Roundhouse, who over the past ten weeks have “selected four emerging young bands and teamed them up with industry professionals and inspiring session players to improve their sound”. This all sounds very worthy, but the proof is going to be in the performance.

The bands tonight are all very young and very raw, and that is in no way a bad thing – if an act has any spark at all, you should be able to detect it even at this early stage.

The first band that I can give my full attention to is The Puppet Masters and they turn out to be rather wonderful.

Very much at the hard rock end of the musical spectrum, the immediate focal point is the arresting singer Maya Talwatte. Not content with modelling a skirt that appears to have been made out of Christmas wrapping paper, (and not very much of it), she writhes like an eel and, when at a loss for anything else to do, wiggles her bum at the crowd. I’ve seen whole careers built on a lot less.

Her wild-eyed nature child routine plays like a happy amalgam of Kat(i)es Bush and Jane Garside and her roaring vocals work well against the heavy grunge rock of the band. When they start off I initially think that they have a good sound, but not necessarily any songs to go with it. However, after a couple of tracks, everything suddenly starts to click and from then on it is fun all the way. The moment when the singer’s flailing arm whacks a guitarist in the face draws a huge laugh.

The Puppet Masters have real potential and all they need to do now is get more gigs under their belt.

All the acts tonight are well supported; none more so than the next bunch.

Homesick Hustlers have such a wild and devoted following that there are screams every time their name is announced from the stage. Real, Beatles, knicker-wetting screams. Bloody hell!

The MC for the evening introduces the band (squeals) and says that they are uncategorisable. He suggests “swamp blues” and the audience hoot in derision.

Once Homesick Hustlers actually kick off, I’m equally baffled. Most acts can be lazily described as “sounding like band A meets band B” (see my comments on the last act), but with this lot there are so many points of reference that I’m spinning round like a compass at the North Pole.

The band has two singers. Ewa Leszczynska can belt like a bluesy night club trooper and acts as foil to the quite extraordinary loose limbed antics of Ben Walker, who even at this embryonic stage is one of the most effortless charismatic front men I have seen in years.

He half shouts, half sings, half raps. That number of halves doesn’t add up, but this band are way stranger than mathematics. There are elements of hardcore rock, blues, pop and hip hop. To do the analogy thing, the band that they most remind me of, although they sound nothing at all like them, is Rolo Tomassi. There is the same wild sense of anything goes, different styles in bizarre collision, sounds jammed together because it is too much fun not to do so. One track is a kind of bluesy hip hop and another may be a pop rock number. It all works and there are some great tunes here.

The tightly packed crowd are going bat poop crazy and at times the screaming almost drowns out the band. Bloody hell! Again!

At the end, the audience is invited up on stage to sing along with crowd favourite ‘Dr C’s Diagnosis’ (“too much sugar in the morning” apparently). A bevy of young girls surround guitarist Tom Owen and, stroking his hair, squeal at him. He looks both sheepish and delighted. The drummer and bassist, who have been superb tonight, are rather left out – such is the fate of drummers and bassists.

The final act of the evening has to follow that, and that they can’t is no disgrace. The Stowaways are much more traditional indie than either of the previous bands and, although hampered by sound problems, show that they have a singer with a fine falsetto voice. However, to go back to that ‘spark’ that I alluded to earlier, I’m not sure that they have got it.

It’s been an evening of terrific fun. Congratulations to The Roundhouse and all the acts. Tonight the Barfly, tomorrow the world?

Sunday 21 November 2010

The Blood Arm at The Lexington - 19 November 2010

The Blood Arm

I’m not good at counting.

I’m watching the entirely sensibly proportioned Keith Top of the Pops And His Minor UK Indie Celebrity Allstar Backing Band and I’m not sure whether there are sixteen or seventeen people on stage.

The conceit here is to have as many musicians as can be rounded up play the most basically straightforward garage pop. It works too, in the same way that Fucked Up work – extra numbers do not have to add complexity; they can also be used to create depth and warmth.

So, while this exercise can easily be dismissed as self-indulgence (and it is self indulgent), it also works as an illustration of love, good humour and camaraderie. Silliness aside, the songs stand up and a variety of vocalists, including almost inevitably serial band collaborator Eddie Argos, take turns to lead the ramshackle troop.

A band of this magnitude automatically comprise a sizeable chunk of the audience once they climb off stage. Tonight they are not just here as musicians – they stay because they are fans.

Next we have the stripped down dance pop of Le Corps Mince De Francoise, who are now a duo featuring sisters Emma and Mia Kemppainen from Helsinki. Mia plays guitars and operates a simple keyboard while Emma, distinguished by a bone-thru-hair accessory as sported by Sideshow Mel, talks and raps her way through a succession of catchy tunes.

LCMDF don’t entirely tear up any trees, but the vaguely bhangra beats of single ‘Gandhi’ and ‘Something Golden’ and the fact that they are clearly enjoying themselves, soon get your toes tapping. I like them.

I have been awaiting the return of The Blood Arm to these shores for ages. They have always been the most reliable of live bands and I am amongst a large party who are here to see the show.

What follows is a demonstration of how good a band can be. Nathaniel Freguso, Dyan Valdes and the rest blast out a classic set of euphoric punk and soul.

As ever, the focus is on frontman Nate, here channeling his inner James Brown from his great mop of hair and tight suit right down to sudden emotional moments when he falls to his knees.

The set is split fairly evenly between old favourites and new material that shows no dropping off in terms of quality or catchiness.

Nate never relaxes for a second and remains the consummate showman. He ventures from the stage to walk through a happily kneeling audience during the track ‘Angela’ stopping only to chat up members of the crowd, remembering their names in an ever lengthening chain that passes from the impressive to the prodigious as the evening progresses.

At one point, the audience is divided so that he can strut along his own ‘Project Runway’. Meanwhile Dyan and the band are rocking like lunatics, a frantic pop soul whirlwind. There are just no weaknesses here.

It’s very hard to refer to particular highlights – this is ALL highlight. However I do recall a storming tear through The Temptations’ ‘Get Ready’ and a stomping ‘Accidental Soul’.

The set ends with Freguso standing on the bar at the back of the venue, waving and swigging from a bottle of vodka that he has ‘liberated’ straight from its optic.

I love The Blood Arm unconditionally. Compared to them, no one else seems to be...trying.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Esben & The Witch at Electrowerkz - 10 November 2010

Esben and The Witch

They’ve changed things around in this venue since I was last here. Walls aren’t where they used to be. Electrowerkz is an atmospheric and fascinating place, all dark corridors and suspicious-looking outcrops of metal ducting. It’s like walking through a video game.

It is also a royal pain in the arse to navigate around, with every facility a five minute traipse away from everything else, on a different level or out of order. The gents are so far away they are in a different postcode.

I don’t normally write about bands that I don’t care for, because I generally feel that saying “Here’s a band called [insert name] that you’ve never heard of and they’re rubbish” is a waste of my time and yours. However, this evening it can’t be helped - both supports are extremely tiresome and to some extent they affect the light in which I see the headliners.

I’ll be brief.

worriedaboutsatan are two guys indulging themselves with the most pedestrian electronica imaginable. They drag on and on, boring the life out of the room. In their minds they are fusing the dance sensibilities of Underworld with the edginess of an act like 65daysofstatic, but in reality they are just one long wet fart. God, they are tedious! I try to pay as little mind to them as possible as they wibble, bobble and faaaaaaaaart away onstage.

After that, next act Gallops just make me feel old. They are certainly very good at what they do, and do expend a lot of energy, but, on a day when a few cracked windows in Westminster are called “a riot”, I hark back fondly to the days when prog rock King Crimson codswallop like this would have been met with a hail of bottles. Nowadays the youth actually seem to like this stuff.

So, after such disappointing supports, I’m not in the most benign of moods for headliners Esben and The Witch.

I had previously seen these guys at Offset, where they seemed really impressive. Tonight, things don’t seem to quite gel.

The band’s live dynamic is pretty good. Singer Rachel emotes and batters her drum; a guitarist flops his hair and occasionally joins in to leather the hell out whatever equipment he can lay his hands on. It’s all very proficient.

Individually, the songs are interesting. ‘Lucia At The Precipice’ is a good tune, ‘The Marching Song’ is even better - it’s just that all E&TW’s songs when laid end to end, are very funereal, very samey and very, let’s face it, Goth. So, as the set progresses, I can feel my spirits ebbing away to be replaced with a bad case of the glums.

Things spark into life (relatively) at the end, when Rachel clutches her microphone and rocks back and forth towards the audience intoning something like “Be Quiet, Be Quiet”. It’s too little, too late.

It’s been a frustrating evening, to say the least. Bah, humbug!

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Wire and Factory Floor at The Lexington - 08 November 2010

There’s a mixed crowd in the Lexington tonight.

On one hand there is the usual mob who are settled in for the weekly Rough Trade Shops pop quiz and on the other is a long queue of black-clad blokes of a certain age snaking around the inside of the pub, blocking the toilets and generally getting in the way.

The reason for the grey-haired invasion is that Wire are playing a couple of nights to road test some fresh material and break in a new guitarist.

It is with some relief then, when the doors to the upstairs venue finally open and the resulting stampede for favourable positions down the front clears some space. My own group time our entrance for some fifteen minutes later, to allow the old boys some time to settle in and stop pestering the barman.

A bonus this evening is that Factory Floor are supporting. I have seen this band several times before, but only in context of the Offset Festival. On those occasions, the chief impression has been of skull-crushing volume and strobes that assault the senses like being dropped in a war zone.

So it is interesting to see them in a more intimate setting. Centre stage is occupied by the drum kit of Gabe Gurnsey, and on the left is Dom Butler, twiddling with piles of the sort of electronic equipment that looks as though it was pulled out the back of a 1970’s TV set. And on the right is Nik Colk, who plays guitar with a variety of bows and drumsticks, when she doesn’t simply dispense with anything other than the feedback generated when she places her instrument near the speakers.

Factory Floor play three tracks, all excellent and all largely indistinguishable from each other. One of them is ‘A Wooden Box’, although at the time I am unable to identify it.

The signature sound is a Georgio Moroder style electronic throb that threatens to break into Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ but never quite does. Gabe is an absolutely killer drummer, really hammering away in wonderful fashion. Nik provides occasional distorted and unintelligible vocals.

It works really well and the crowd are transported along, nodding their heads gently. Our DJ for the evening, who has been generating noise from behind a ‘Slayer’ laptop, is REALLY getting into it, his head and hair bouncing up and down as though he is down the front at AC/DC.

This is by far the best that I have seen the ‘Floor and on this showing they look set to go from strength to strength. Live performance suits them well.

Wire wander onstage and the audience visibly relaxes in the company of old friends.

The first part of the evening sees an airing of some new songs. Wire have always shifted shape and sound and on first listen it seems as if they are heading back to a more melodic and poppy direction after the raw brutality of the ‘Read and Burn’ and ‘Send’ years.

So for example, we get newbies ‘Clay’ and ‘Please Take’, both of which evoke the mid-Eighties Wire and both of which sound really good.

The Wire back catalogue is formidable and tonight they plunder from the full span of their career, including tracks like ‘Kidney Bingos’ ‘Two People in a Room’ and ‘Advantage In Height’. We even get yet another reading of ‘Drill’ which is always welcome, this being a track that they have reworked so many times that at one stage they put out an entire album’s worth of different versions.

The band are as relaxed as their crowd and are all smiles, even Graham Lewis, who tonight exhibits the air of a benevolent East End gangster – you’re happy that HE’S happy because you wouldn’t want him mad.

Stick thin drummer Robert Grey is in his own little reverie, serenely sitting with his eyes shut, ticking along like a heartbeat…like a heartbeat.

In contrast, Colin Newman seems like an accountant who has wandered onstage, until he starts to sing, when all his old vigour and menacing snap are still apparent.

The previously heralded new live guitarist is clearly under instruction to keep out of the way, but seems to be really getting into the swing of things from beneath a mop of more hair than can be boasted by the rest of the band put together.

The set ends with two slightly protracted encores and a culminating rampage through ‘Pink Flag’ a track that dates from their first album, but which now closes their set in drastically expanded and altered form.

Wire are still relevant, still inventive, still the benchmark of art-punk that others merely aspire to. Salutations!

Friday 29 October 2010

Warpaint, Fiction and 2:54 at Scala - 28 October 2010

Warpaint by Chromwaves

There’s a three line whip out.

I last saw Warpaint about six weeks ago at CAMP Basement and was totally blown away. So I’ve helped to dragoon a large posse of mates to witness the splendour.

First we negotiate the support acts. 2:54 stand in a line across the stage and look the business. Singer Colette Thurlow has cheek bones up here somewhere and sister Hannah looks cool and dangerous on her left. There are two guys in the band, but suffer the fate of all guys in all femme-fronted bands. Theirs is a lot of thankless anonymity.

What 2:54 serve up I really enjoy, even if I can’t say that they are anything other than a band that sounds like any number of others that are currently mining that seam marked ‘California Desert with a bit of spooky reverb’. Or chill wave or something.

So what we get is breathy, dispassionate pop that references the Phil Spector Wall of Sound in much the same way that the Jesus and Mary Chain do. While JAMC bought distortion and noise, 2:54 and their ilk strip everything down to a glacial ghost, devoid of feeling.

I sound like I’m damning them with faint praise, but I’m impressed with 2:54. I just wish I could engage with them at some emotional level beyond simply acknowledging a job well done.

They are followed by Fiction, a hotly tipped new band from London. And if they played any of their current repertoire before the world at large had embraced Vampire Weekend and Yeasayer, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

This is not to say that Fiction are not pretty damn impressive. They are accomplished, jolly and get the party started. It’s just that everything they play reminds you of something else, often quite specifically.

It’s urban afro-beats all the way, and falsetto vocals from singer James Howard. The band completely divides the group that I am with, half are very disgruntled and half are happy to go with the flow. I’m in the latter camp. I think Fiction are good and I’d be happy to see them again. Fact.

Warpaint can do no wrong at present. The live shows are getting great word of mouth and everyone seems to love new album ‘The Fool’ too.

You are not going to get a contrary view here.

Tonight, Warpaint are absolutely bang on the money and the only regret is that it is unlikely that I’ll get to see them in a venue of this relatively intimate size anytime soon. And that they play a good twenty minutes past curfew, which explains the number of people clumping me on the shoulder and yelling “They’re great, but I gotta go!”

The band are as tight as a drum and utterly focussed. Many tracks are structured to run into each other, which causes difficulty for the crowd, who want to whoop, holler and stomp their appreciation, but cannot find a suitable entry point.

It’s a pretty much flawless show, which encompasses not only material from the current album and previous EPs, but also new material.

The last time I saw this band, I thought that they might be the best thing that I’ve seen this year. Now I’m sure of it.

Friday 22 October 2010

Hallogallo 2010: Michael Rother and Friends Present the Music of Neu! at Barbican Hall - 21 October 2010

You’ll be familiar with the sound of ‘motorik’ even if you don’t know what it is.

It’s that metronomic, fast ticking beat that powers along and forms an essential part of the repertoire of any act that proclaims itself to have Krautrock influences.

The pioneers were Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, who collaborated as the band Neu!. In the mid Seventies they released three groundbreaking albums with the less than groundbreaking titles of Neu!, Neu! 2 and Neu! ’75. It was a fraught partnership and the duo had long since stopped performing together at the time of Dinger’s death in 2008.

Michael Rother has now come back around to that insistent, driving rhythm and tonight, with the assistance of Steve Shelley on drums and bassist Aaron Mullan he is performing under the umbrella title of Hallogallo 2010. The name of the ensemble is a reference to the landmark track on that original Neu! album.

However, this is an exercise in looking forward, not back, as the tunes that they play either unique to this group of musicians or are so heavily reworked as to barely nod to the originals.
For an hour or so the black-clad and largely er...let’s say ‘mature’ crowd sit in their seats and imperceptively tic and shudder as they absorb Steve Shelley’s furious yet extremely disciplined onslaught.

Songs are distinguished by swooshes of electronic noise or heavily distorted found sounds, such as at one point the slow metallic grind of a heavy iron gate.

Rother plays guitars and twiddles with miscellaneous pieces of equipment piled across a table. Mullan experiences some technical difficulty early on, but is soon in the groove, nodding along with the others in perfect synchrony.

In many respects, and perhaps rightly, it is Shelley who dominates, here working far harder than he would ever have to do with his other group Sonic Youth, his arms a blur.

This is a night about a beat, an urgent pulse of music that quickens the beating of your own heart. Imperious and mesmeric, Rother and company have tapped into the rhythm of life itself.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Soap & Skin at Union Chapel 18 October 2010

The Union Chapel is the perfect setting for this gig. The rows of pews, the light streaming in through the giant stained glass window above the stage are all elements that add to the atmosphere.

We are here to see Anja Plaschg, aka Soap & Skin, tonight assisted by an ensemble of various stringed instruments, a cornet and a backing singer who stands at the rear of the stage.

The lights dim and the musicians take their places. Plaschg pootles stiffly onto the stage, her hair wild, her movements apparently hampered by her tight costume.

She starts dead centre, her voice a desolate wail. The backing singer tracks her voice and everything seems fine.

Plaschg spends much of the concert seated at a grand piano, atop which stands a laptop computer. This marriage of traditional instrumentation with modern technology causes some difficulties with the sound mix, as the amplified voices tend to distort with reverb and are at odds the dark wooden saw of the cellos.

Anja Plaschg seems very on edge almost from the beginning, refusing to look at or acknowledge the audience and fidgeting in her seat.

As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that Plaschg is barely holding herself together and is struggling to control her emotions. In a cracked voice she dedicates a song to her father, and she appears to be in tears as she sings it.

The highlights tonight are for me (unusually) two instrumentals. During the first, the stage and audience are gradually enveloped in a creeping pall of dry ice. The second sees the stage bathed in blood red light as Plaschg hammers at the lower register of her piano, the notes rumbling like thunder, her arms stiff as sticks as she chops down on the keys ever, ever faster until she resembles a clockwork automaton.

Towards the end of the set Plaschg’s temperament gets the better of her again. During the song ‘Spiracle’, with its “When I was a child...” motif, she breaks down completely and has to stop, at one stage abandoning her piano to solicit a hug from her fellow singer.

She gathers herself for a final number delivered from centre stage, her eyes black fissures in a pale lit face. Her arms, flail, flap and mimic flying. It’s incredibly powerful.

After she leaves, the crowd stomp and holler for more until she returns to perform one last number unaccompanied. She clearly does not want to do this, but gig etiquette demands an encore.

It has been an extraordinary performance, which is obviously emotionally devastating for the performer. I’ve not seen an act wrestle with their demons quite so painfully since Soko. I hope that Anja Plaschg can conquer them.

Thursday 23 September 2010

The Darling Buds, The Drains, Disco at 100 Club, 22 September 2010

The Darling Buds

The chain of events leading to me being here tonight are Byzantine and strange.

So I’ll pass over the cinema and the mysterious disappearance of the movie I was due to see and the pub which appears to be operating as a pawn shop, with guitars exchanged for framed football shirts.

I end up at the 100 Club for a gig-come-celebration of the life of John Sicolo.

Sicolo ran the legendary ‘TJ’s’ in Newport, the venue that gave early opportunities to a plethora of bands in the 80’s, from Catatonia to Anhrefn, 60 Ft Dolls to The Senseless Things. TJ’s was described as the ‘only venue in Wales that London journalists had ever heard of’ and bands loved to play there, and they loved Big John Sicolo.

Tonight’s bill has largely come about because several acts reformed for a Sicolo tribute earlier in the year and decided that they would carry on.

First up come feisty five piece Disco, who are fronted by two female singers, Emily and Sam, who display markedly contrasting body language.

One is having a ball, screaming her head off, dancing and bopping and bouncing around. The other is a picture of self consciousness who looks and acts as if she wants the stage to open up and swallow her.

The songs are simple and enthusiastically belted out a la Shampoo or (more recently) Pens or Hotpants Romance.

I think that they are great fun, but even as they finish the awkward lass is only semi-joking when she says “Never again!”

The Drains remember when punk was young. The singer may now look like a bank manager, but he knows how to put a song across. And when that song is called something like “Motherfuckin’ Motherfucker”, that is quite something to see.

He tells tales of Sid Vicious and Nick Kent and even remembers the name of the original bar staff from the 100 Club back in the day.

Watching The Drains, I am struck how this kind of performance has gone out of fashion. This is song as an angry shout, with genuine outrage and venom in the vocals. It hails from a time when bands were pissed off on a personal and a political level. It ain’t subtle, but it’s sure effective.

Headliners are The Darling Buds, playing their first London gig since 1992. It is so long since they have been around that a modern band has taken the name, unaware or unheeding of the fact that somebody else had the same idea over twenty years previously.

The Darling Buds were always slightly the runt of the litter amongst late 80’s power-pop bands. They got played by Peel and they may have had one of those ‘for one week only’ slots on Top Of The Pops, but they never quite took off. As their set progresses, it becomes clear why.

All the elements are present. The guitars chime and chop, the drums snap and singer Andrea Lewis, in her black dress and snazzy red shoes, is all these years later, a strikingly good looking focal point.

Ultimately, it comes down to the strength of their material. With a few notable exceptions, many of the Darling Buds’ songs sort of tool along at the same level – pleasant in isolation, but subject to the law of diminishing returns.

But tonight is a celebration and not a critique. Lewis is showered with home made confetti from the small band of loyal fans, some of whom have dug out surprisingly pristine ‘Buds Burst Out ‘88’ tour T shirts.

It’s a fun evening, more party than gig. The bands and the punters are enjoying themselves and everyone goes home happy.

John Sicolo wouldn’t have wanted anything less.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Yuck, A Grave With No Name, Slowgun - Madam Jo Jo's 14 September 2010

Yuck by Valerio Berdini

Is it a smile? Is it a grimace? It’s hard to tell, but the grin on the face of Valentina, the drummer of openers Slowgun is fascinating.

I think that it is an expression of excitement. Of sheer joie de vivre at being onstage in a band. Let’s hope that the novelty of playing to audiences doesn’t wear off.

Slowgun are four kids who know the value of noise and of pop music and are working towards the best combination of the two. They are still very rough around the edges, but all the elements of a damn fine band are already in place.

Singer/guitarist Toni stands centre stage and guides her troops through their paces (amidst occasional gales of laughter). Slowgun are ones to watch.

I last saw A Grave With No Name a few months ago supporting Dum Dum Girls. On that occasion they did not make much of an impression. Tonight they sound like an altogether different proposition.

Guitarist and singer Alex Shields is so stick thin and sickly looking that you wonder if he could get through the set without a blood transfusion. When he walks behind the microphone stand, he disappears.

His vocals are fed through a barrage of sound effects to produce an otherworldly falsetto whisper that conjures up the wind blowing through telephone wires.

He and the other guys in the band generate a succession of wonderful guitar riffs. They build the sound, get a groove going, set the controls for the centre of the sun and then…stop.

This is band as coitus interruptus. It’s as if they have an internal mechanism that regulates each track to 120 seconds and then the power dies. I’m all for brevity rather than indulgence, but this is ridiculous.

A good, but frustrating performance.

I missed the second day of this year’s Camden Crawl but was subsequently regaled with tales of the all round marvellousness of Yuck, who played a blinder at one o’clock in the morning when everyone was pissed and merry. It’s why I’m here tonight.

The four piece are certainly striking in appearance, looking for all the world like the live-action counterparts of Jamie Hewlett original designs for Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz project.

Centre stage, but apparently disinterested is bassist Mariko, long hair hanging across her face. Behind her sits a hulking drummer with an afro like a nuclear cloud. On either side sway two skinny guys with guitars. It’s quite the image.

They plug in, kick off, and I’m in love. This is a sound that I’ve not heard since Ride’s first twelve inchers, an elaborately structured amalgam of guitar fuzz and feedback utilised in the service of songs that you can actually sing along with.

As if this wasn’t impressive enough, Yuck have the confidence to show a sensitive side. So amidst the bombast we get quieter, more soulful songs like ‘Suicide Policeman’.

The fans lap them up, although they are now so comfy with the band that they feel the need to talk all over the quiet bits.

Silly name aside, Yuck is almost the perfect modern indie band. They look cool, they reference the past and yet they sound as hot and fresh as newly baked bread. They are loud, proud, complicated and you still feel that they wouldn’t run off with your girlfriend. But that she would want them to.

So, not yuck at all. Yum!

Saturday 11 September 2010

Bookhouse Boys at Camden Barfly -09 September 2010

The Bookhouse Boys by Tim Broddin

Camden seems to have fallen on hard times. It was always scuzzy and a bit lairy, but it used to be culturally vibrant. Now that the more cutting edge elements of the music scene have decamped en masse to Shoreditch, Camden is left tawdry and neglected, a feeling of desolation and desperation about the place.

The Barfly is a case in point. Its walls used to be covered with details of hot and exciting bands that were down to play the venue. Nowadays it’s like an old dog waiting to be put down. This evening everything is plastered with flyers for the new Runaways movie, and a claim is made that there are ‘three girl-fronted bands’ on as a tribute. I know who’s on, and to tie them into this rather strains credulity.

Leading off are Evans The Death, a four piece who are merely the first of the acts tonight who are severely hampered by an atrocious sound mix in which only bass guitar and drums are clearly audible. Under these circumstances it is perhaps politic to just say that the band does their best.

Two-girl-one-boy trio Bleech play a very surreal set in front of a wall of more than half a dozen photographers, who stand happily snapping for the whole of the band’s time on stage. It’s a bloody camera club outing.

With this barrier between them and their audience, and coupled with the bass-heavy sound it feels like they are playing behind a Perspex wall.

Even at the best of times Bleech are a band who are frustratingly close to being really good, but fall somehow short because their songs just don’t stick with you. Tonight, they are on a hiding to nothing.

Headliners The Bookhouse Boys have been off the touring circuit for quite a while, taking time out to prepare a new batch of songs. Tonight we get a first glimpse of the fruits of their labour.

This performance is so dedicated to the new material, that they only play a couple of tracks that I recognise, these being the great ‘I Just Can’t Help Myself’ and ‘Dead’

The unheard songs all sound like potential winners – aching, yearning, Tex-Mex twangers that give plenty of opportunity for Paul van Oestren’s growl and Catherine Turner’s atmospheric, heartfelt wail. The Tijuana trumpets are still well to the fore and cut through the muddy murk from the mixing desk.

In many ways it has been a disappointing evening – none of the bands have been done any favours, all will have better nights.

But, I’m always an optimist and am glad to find that The Bookhouse Boys seem to be going from strength to strength.

As the night draws to a close, I take a last look at the venue and, in keeping with tonight’s er…’theme’, I runaway.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Offset Festival Day Two - 05 September 2010

Monotonix (photo Wyldman)

On day two of the Offset Festival, Wild Palms get things off to a good start with their dark and brooding surf music. It sounds just dandy this Sunday lunchtime.

I am also taken with the gentle beauty of The Rifle Volunteer, who are kindly and beardy and feature the plaintive falsetto of Adam Symonds.

The Rifle Volunteer (photo Wyldman)

Skating past Electricity In Our Homes and Bitches, who were both excellent, we come to Monotonix, who take audience participation to even greater lengths than yesterday’s bands.

These three very hairy, very nearly naked men do not play onstage at all, but set up in the crowd in front of the Main Stage. All that can be seen are sprays of water and beer, the occasional piece of drum kit or guitar accompanied by the anguished cries of punters who have had their drinks snatched from them and stuffed down the Y-fronts of a wild eyed hairy arsed mountain man. It’s mayhem.

At one point I find one of the singers from Athens Polytechnic sailing past me at head height.

Ducking into a nearby tent, I am much entertained by Sauna Youth, who are screaming their heads off, abducting photographers and chasing each other around the tent pole until they collapse exhausted. Another band that I shall see again.

Sauna Youth (photo Wyldman)

I am under instruction to report back on Proxy Music, but would have done so in any event. This is a band of like minded musicians who are devoted to early Roxy and are happy to share the fun with others.

They are terrific. Their ‘Bryan Ferry’ is a marvel, debonair and louche in tight leopard skin pants and leather jacket. He has the voice and he has the moves. The rest of the band are more generically glammed up and bash their way through standards like ‘Editions of You’ and ‘Do the Strand’.

It’s rough and vital and probably a lot like the real Roxy sounded like when they were just starting out. I doubt that the real Brian Eno was screaming “Fucking keyboards!” quite as often.

Proxy Music (photo Wyldman)

I also enjoy Oral Oral, who are dressed like Visage, sound like the Flying Lizards and end with a deafening deconstruction of The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’ which sees the band members gradually sneak out of the tent one by one and hide, leaving their machines to fight each other.

Oral Oral (photo Wyldman)

Chrome Hoof also bring the glam, as only an eleven piece outfit dressed in spangly robes and fronted by a Notting Hill Carnival queen can do. They still sound like a hardcore screamo band colliding with a jazz orchestra, but today the penny drops for me and I love them to bits.

Chrome Hoof (photo Wyldman)

I then happen across an excellent show from Parisian noise pop merchants Team Ghost, who delight a small gathering with their ability to marry decent tunes with bursts of guitar abuse.

Having watched them fail to beat technical difficulties at 1234 Shoreditch I am glad to finally catch up with These New Puritans, who are ploughing a wilful furrow with their current heavy percussion meets bassoon line-up. Rather like their recent album it is easier to admire their ambition than to warm to the music itself.

I regret missing all but the last three songs from The Rayographs, but a man has got to eat sometime. This band have evolved into something rather special, as closing track ‘Yellow Hair’ proves. I’ll see them again.

Walking around the site, I see Flats tearing up the stage in front of a packed crowd and then move round to catch one of the ‘buzz’ bands at the festival.

Esben and The Witch are a fascinating combination of strong female vocals and wild interludes of manic guitar and frenzied percussion. At one stage the whole band circle a drum and leather the hell out of it. Their guitarist has enough FX pedals for a small army, triggering a phenomenon known as ‘pedal envy’ in one of my colleagues. Even at an event such as this, Esben and the Witch stand out as ones to watch in the future.

The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster are having a riot on the Main Stage, with their ferocious speed rock and obligatory stage diving cheering up a big crowd. They are oldies, but goodies.

It is now mid evening and it is clear that there is going to be a problem finishing the event on time. The Main Stage is running at least half an hour late and Caribou experience a protracted loss of power as they are setting up.

When the Canadians eventually start, there are horrible problems with the vocals which sound like a local taxi firm has infiltrated the mix. However, once things are sorted, Caribou are easy and likeable company, their light, dancey electronics spreading a soothing vibe. For me, it’s a lovely way to finish.

Caribou (photo Wyldman)

Time constraints mean that I have to miss headliners Atari Teenage Riot, but I am well satisfied with this weekend. This is my third Offset and it is the best one yet. Big thanks to the organisers and all the bands.

Monday 6 September 2010

Offset Festival Day One - 04 September 2010

Teeth!!! (photo Wyldman)

This is not going to be a definitive report on the 2010 Offset Festival. For starters, over the two days I saw over fifty acts that I LIKED to varying degrees. And I couldn’t be everywhere, despite trying my best.

Things get off to a rollicking start on Saturday with Hull’s The Neat on the Main Stage. Much angular guitar and the first instance of one of the Themes of The Weekend (TotW). The front man who leaps from the stage and chases his audience across a field.

Into a tent next for the blindingly wonderful Athens Polytechnic, who are a Roadrunner cartoon come to life. Twin vocalists scream their lungs out, wrestle with each other, improvise dance routines and chase the audience around the tent. Amidst the carnage is a thrash version of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’. Second TotW – the inspired and non-obvious cover version. They are also the only band today with a chorus that goes “We want you for the Cameron youth!”

Athens Polytechnic are bloody marvellous and put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Next up, and also ace, are Oh! Gunquit, who are a bit rockabilly, a lot twangy and powered by saxophone and a phenomenal pair of black lederhosen.

Oh! Gunquit (photo Wyldman)

Back on Main Stage, Cold In Berlin have evolved into a full on festival monster. They are slick and powerful as a steel panther. They go down a bomb, and rightly so.

Cold In Berlin (photo Wyldman)

TotW the third – If you are an artist who basically just twiddles knobs on a small podule, you need a gimmick. So House of Schtinter hides in a tiny model house and Death In Plains wears a mask. It’s the musical equivalent of telling a joke. Once you’ve seen it, the novelty wears off very quickly. Neither act detains me.

The Bo Ningen mothership decends on Main, and their space rock is well suited to the festival atmosphere. They manage to top last year’s antics by finishing the set with a member scaling the stage until he is perched right above us and about fifty feet from certain death. Larks!

I miss Paper Crows because they are taking an age waiting for them to jack Scart Lead A into Socket B. This is the problem with electronic acts – they have much greater difficulty than bands that just need to plug in their guitars or adjust the height on their drum kit. I later regret not waiting, because subsequent reports are that they were really good and did a fine cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’.

Instead, I am happily entertained by The Receeders, who are a very shouty and punky band that features Kate Nash amongst others. Great fun.

The Receeders (photo Wyldman)

Teeth!!! are a revelation. A three piece electronic dance outfit who send the tent mental. Tiny singer Veronica So is paraded around over the crowd’s heads and I find yet another new band to love.

Kap Bambino are doing something similar on a grander scale on the Main Stage. Singer Caroline works the crowd into a frenzy and spends much of the set being tossed among them like a beach ball.

Most ambitious cover version of the weekend is probably La La Vasquez and their version of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ played as a piece for halting girlie guitar. It works, just.

I enjoy the suave rock of The Bridport Dagger, admiring the clothes and quiffs as much as their elegant music. I’m really impressed with this band too.

The Bridport Dagger (photo Wyldman)

Art Brut and Eddie Argos are in their element on the Main Stage, bantering with the audience and playing essentially a greatest hits set. We get updates on ‘Emily Kane’ and a report on Eddie's Rusty Gun of Milan.

I find a correlation between the uncompromising hard electronic repetitions of Factory Floor and the organic percussion of Liquid Liquid, the venerable New York no wavers who play a polarising set on Main. Both acts require tolerance from their audience, a willingness to go along with what the band are doing.

Saturday ends with an impressive set from O Children, who have all the makings of a very big act indeed, if they could just get the elements right. Tonight they sweep all before them, but the set is oddly structured and they seem to have all their really big tunes and crowd pleasing rarities like ‘Ace Breasts’ in the first half and they send us off into the night with one of the lesser songs from their very fine debut album.

That’s quite enough for Day One. Back with more shortly.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Zola Jesus and The Haxan Cloak - CAMP Basement 01 September 2010

Zola Jesus

I’m back at CAMP Basement for the second time in a week. It’s less busy than for Warpaint, but in a space as cramped as this it does not take many folk at the front of the stage to constitute a throng.

A young man wanders onto the stage and ducks down out of view. Then the droning starts…

…this is Bobby Krilic, aka The Haxan Cloak. For the next twenty five minutes or so he produces a single slab of electronic buzzing, punctuated by some metronomic ticking to provide a bit of beat and variety.

Music like this depends almost entirely on the willingness of the audience to immerse itself in the experience. By concentrating on the subtle modulations in the deafening hum and thrum, an almost meditative state can be reached, and all other stimuli blocked out.

Or alternatively, you could regard it as a lot of old rope and head to the bar.

It’s fair to say that the Haxan Cloak provide plenty of evidence for both reactions. I actually get right into it and rather enjoy nodding out to the monotonous sound. Some colleagues are prodding me in the back and looking meaningfully at their empty beer glasses.

The noise stops, Krilic pops back into view, waves and departs. I head further down the front.

Zola Jesus is gathering a lot of interest at the moment. She is one of the more visible exponents of the current trend towards gloomy, often distorted electronica. I’m loathe to call it chill-wave or dark-wave because these terms have become so tribal that to put an act in one category or another is to invite storms of protest akin to the endless debates as to which heavy rock band is death/hair/thrash/black metal. I’m just here to see what the fuss is about.

Nika Rosa Danilova, to give her family name, is joined tonight by a couple of guys who play keyboards and add backing vocals. But it is Zola Jesus herself who is the focal point.

She is a tiny figure with white hair. She makes herself even smaller by hunching almost double, either rocking back and forth with the rhythm or beetling to and fro across the stage like a little old lady fleeing through a dark forest.

She’s small in stature, but big in voice. Her biography indicates that there may be some opera training in her past, and she can certainly project herself with a deep throaty roar.

However, to my ears there is a fundamental problem. Zola Jesus treads so closely in the footsteps of Siouxsie Sioux and Diamanda Galás that she is always going to draw comparisons with them. And she is going to come up short.

There are few songs here that really stand out. The track ‘Night’ from the new ‘Stridulum II’ album is an exception, but most of the set is samey and lacklustre. Things get a bit more animated towards the end, but generally most of this material is nondescript. I find my thoughts drifting towards Greek duo Mary And The Boy, who operate in a similar field but to much greater effect. (Give ‘Bobby Peru’ a listen).

Zola Jesus is an enthusiastic collaborator with other artists and it could be that via this route she will produce something more original and interesting. Tonight’s show is that of a performer who hasn’t stepped out of the shadow of her influences yet.

She’s got a voice. But has she got a voice of her own?

Saturday 28 August 2010

Warpaint, Pull In Emergency at CAMP Basement - 26 August 2010


The queue has been forming since seven o’clock. It is seriously chucking it down with rain. I do the sensible thing and adjourn to a nearby establishment with a good view of proceedings. I’m not the only one admiring the fortitude of the sodden masses outside.

Things don’t get really moving until nearly nine o’clock. I squeeze down the narrow stairs into the rammed sweatbox that is CAMP Basement and find that a support band is already on.

This is Pull In Emergency, a winning five piece fronted by Faith Barker, all smiles in a Breton top. They don’t stray too far from a twee pop Belle and Sebastian template and it is perhaps fitting that they have a song called “Everything Is The Same.” However, they are a welcome sight as the crowd gently steams and fidgets with umbrellas. After finishing with “The Problem” they rightfully take their applause.

I feel lucky to get to see Warpaint at such close quarters. These four girls from Los Angeles are on umpteen ‘ones to watch’ lists and in October are due to headline the Scala, a far bigger venue than this.

It’s one thing being on a list, and quite another to decide what heading to file them under. Tonight Warpaint are the most complex, astonishing and uncategorisable band that I have seen this year.

At various points during a jaw dropping eighty minutes they display elements of progressive rock, dub reggae, Fleet Foxes style harmonising, booty shaking funk and searing sheets of guitar noise. All this often within a single song - but with the changes of direction seeming to be a natural and organic flow rather than a forced or precious desire to show off their influences.

The biggest compliment that I can give to them is that they kept me wrong footed throughout. Every song is different from the one proceeding it, and none develop as you might expect. Warpaint have an early e.p. called “Exquisite Corpse”, named after the game similar to ‘Consequences’ played by members of the Surrealist Movement, where each artist would draw part of an artwork without knowledge of what had come before. Warpaint have a similar approach to their music.

Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa all take the lead at different times, sometimes alone, sometimes in combination with the others. It’s impossible to choose which configuration to prefer, I’m just stunned by their ambition and ability to make all this experimentation danceable and fun, rather than a sterile noodling exercise.

Tonight they are showcasing tracks from forthcoming album ‘The Fool’ and goodness knows how they are going to do justice to songs like “Set Your Arms Down” or “Undertow” in the studio. Loud, long and complicated, a transport of delight.

They end with an extended and extemporary version of ‘Billie Holiday’ which goes from gentle, aching lovelorn harmonies to a mighty wig out with Jenny Lee and Stella battering the life out of a drum kit. When they stop, there is a momentary silence as the whole crowd takes a big lungful of air, then a deafening roar of approbation.

Before this evening, I thought I knew about Warpaint. I was not remotely close. My tiny little mind is comprehensively blown.

Get your Scala tickets now.

Friday 20 August 2010

The Pretty Reckless at Islington Academy 19 August 2010

The Pretty Reckless

There’s a queue right the way through the shopping centre and down the road. It is mainly composed of young women who seem oddly determined and grim rather than simply excited at the prospect of the gig in front of them. I get the feeling that this is serious business and everyone is eyeing everybody else for pointers on how to behave. No-one wants to look uncool…

Happily there are no such concerns once we are snugly ensconced in the dark heart of the venue. The place is packed and there is a buzz of expectation.

On occasions such as these it is the role of the support act to get things going, to soften up the audience in order to prepare them for the headliner. This is a function that Francesqa provide with alacrity.

These five lads deliver a set of upbeat anthemic rock music which drives the crowd into a frenzy. They spend most of their set jumping on their monitors, popping up and down like one of those fairground Whack-A-Mole machines.

They are very likeable, proficient and entertaining. Their various singles are dutifully plugged and judging by the screams that accompany their every utterance, tonight is a job well done.

This is the part where I run the risk of sounding like one of those decrepit High Court judges that suddenly wakes up and asks “What are The Beatles?”.

I am aware that there is a teen soap opera called ‘Gossip Girl’. I am aware that the lead singer of tonight’s headliners is in it. I have no idea how big a role she plays or the name of her character. I do know that Taylor Momsen is apparently deadly serious about her Pretty Reckless project.

The band come on first. They look to be standard issue session players, poodle-haired and probably in their thirties. This would put them at roughly double the age of the artist they are supporting.

Taylor Momsen is certainly striking in appearance. She has vast cascades of waist length blonde hair and kohl black eyes. She looks like a ghost from a Chinese horror picture, or possibly a photo negative of Lily Munster.

Her voice is a real surprise. Very powerful, it is a genuine rock snarl rather than a stage school ‘songs from the shows’ affair. Wildly shaking her head so that she is entirely wrapped in blonde tresses, Momsen is seventeen-going-on-Steven Tyler.

The songs are variants on a theme of tough girl bravura and they don’t understand me angst. As it was once said on The Simpsons a band “making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel” and this certainly the case tonight, as waves of adulation flood towards the stage.

At least two songs genuinely stand out. “Zombie” and “Make Me Wanna Die” are rousing Hole-lite sing-a-longs. Momsen’s clear role model is Courtney Love and together with her voice has youth and looks on her side too.

What Momsen lacks at present is any real stage presence beyond her surface appearance. She stands rooted to the same spot throughout and even though for one number great play is made of her strapping on an electric guitar, she barely strikes the instrument twice. This may be nerves, but is more likely because she feels no affinity with the musicians around her and is just …performing.

Tonight’s show is a very creditable showcase for Taylor Momsen’s talents. She’s seventeen now and by the time she hits the big Two Zero she’ll be, like, ANCIENT in TV terms. ‘Gossip Woman’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

She has a decent voice, a couple of decent songs and a lot of good will going for her. She’ll be just fine as a rock and roll singer.

Or she could just go and do a sitcom or something.