Friday 19 February 2010

Hole, Foxy Shazam, Little Fish at Shepherd's Bush Empire - 17 February 2010

Courtney Love at Shepherd's Bush Empire, 17/02/2010

I feel like we’ve been here before.

I’m in Shepherd’s Bush about to watch the re-launch of Courtney Love. She is here to promote a new album entitled ‘Nobody’s Daughter’.

It’s not déjà vu. In July 2007 I saw a skeletal, ill-looking Love play a set at Bush Hall just down the road from here. On that occasion the new material seemed promising, but her trademark husky roar was diminished to a cracked croak and she didn’t seem to have the breath to do justice to her back catalogue. She was plugging the same album as now.

At the Bush Hall she was supported by an early iteration of Florence and the Machine, who were irritating even then. We have two acts in the Florence role this evening, the first being Little Fish, about whom I have heard good things.

The reality is a bit disappointing. There is no denying that singer/guitarist Juju and co are very proficient and know how to work the crowd, but there is equally no denying that they are a very safe AOR drive-time radio kind of band. It’s all rather Pretenders-lite, but you feel that they could do very well.

Next up come U.S. show band Foxy Shazam, whose stage antics and audience-baiting serve as distractions from a routine college-rock sound. Singer Eric Nally is deliberately whiny and antagonistic; the huge-bearded keyboard player Sky White needs no encouragement to stand on his instrument while the trumpet player Alex Nauth throws his horn high into the air. It’s wacky-by-numbers and they pull the same stunts for every single song.

It’s all knockabout stuff, but you only need to see them do it once. File under other underwhelming novelty acts such as Electric 6, Har Mar Superstar and Tragedy.

And finally we are back with the divine Ms Love. She has revived the ‘Hole’ brand, although the original band members are long gone, replaced tonight by characterless session musicians.
The good news is that Courtney appears to have got her mojo back. She looks strong and healthy, her hair a resplendent cascade of blonde curls. The voice is back too, a rasping smoker’s snarl.

The set is well-balanced between old favourites and new material. The biggest crowd response comes for tracks such as ‘Doll Parts’ and ‘Miss World’ from the ‘Live Through This’ era. Judging by the fervour with which the audience sings along to these songs there would certainly seem to be commercial mileage should Love choose to go the ‘Don’t Look Back’ route and play the album in its entirety.

The problem that I find tonight is that the sound in the venue is so sludgy and muddy that it is hard to distinguish one song from another or the vocals from the band. It’s all one flat roar.
I’m pleased that Courtney is back on something approaching old form, but I fade away after about three quarters of an hour.

I look at the faces of the crowd. They are wrapt. There’s a Hole lotta Love out there.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

tUnE-yArDs, Trash Kit, Think About Life at Cargo 15th February 2010

tUnE-yArDs pic by Anika :)

The crowd is nonplussed. This is not in the script. They don’t know how to react.

In front of the uncertain masses, Martin Cesar of Canadian outfit Think About Life is exhorting the band through an energetic set of exhilarating post pop soul. The band are bouncing around, doing silly synchronised dance routines and generally blasting out enough raw funky power to run a funky power station.

I’m bobbing about like a cork in the ocean. This is a truly fantastic performance. Bassist Caila is waving her arms like a toddler wanting to be picked up by its mum. The crowd are clearly enjoying it, but are too scared to move unless they muss their hair. And like, ‘fun’ is soooo uncool.

Think About Life refer to themselves almost throughout as ‘Hootie and the Blowfish’, a reference that eludes many of those present. They end with a song that is if possible even more uproarious and upbeat than before and are joined by Merrill Garbus. It is only when the band thank her as she leaves the stage that the penny drops and the audience wake up and start whooping. I shake my head in sad disbelief. On this evidence, every cliché about Shoreditch crowds is true.

If Think About Life are too confusing for the average scenester, then they are on much safer and familiar ground with Trash Kit. These three girls are liberally daubed with Maori-style face paint and musically do not wander very far from a carefully prescribed area where Point A represents The Slits and Point B is indicated by The Raincoats.

Not that they are any the worse for this. They are hugely enjoyable, and Cargo rings to their infectious afro-beat rhythms and easy banter. Trash Kit don’t move music forward an inch, but they are happy and entertaining, both commodities that are in short supply. The crowd eyes itself and decides that it likes Trash Kit.

And then the main attraction.

With a black stripe painted across her face, a small drum kit and what appears to be a large ukulele, we are treated to a set from Merrill Garbus aka Tune-Yards. Or more correctly tUnE-yArDs, as these things are important.

Accompanied by a dead-pan bassist, Garbus bangs at her drum and scratches at her uke, feeding these elements through a series of electronic loops until it sounds as though there is a whole bunch of players up there.

And then there is her voice, which is as unexpected as it is unique. If you close your eyes you would think that you are variously listening to either an African warrior, the All-Blacks performing a haka, or an old Delta-blues shouter. Occasionally she switches to a more recognisably female voice. It is an incredible range of sound – in other times this glossolalia would have had her burned as a witch.

The audience response is hysterical and indiscriminate. They cry out through the quiet bits, they cat-call, they are so much in love that their outpourings of affection are completely out of synch with events on stage – not because the band are not worthy of the adulation, because they certainly are- but because this reaction is so unfocussed.

There’s no ‘too cool for school’ now. The whole joint is in motion, Garbus roars, hollers, makes noises like a hillbilly calling a pig. Cargo rocks to the sound of the Kalahari and New Orleans and God knows what. It is one of the most impressive and uncategorisable performances that I have ever seen.

What an evening! I scamper off happily with my new Think About Life CD and my head spinning with the sheer gleeful madcap bonkersness of the magnificent Merrill Garbus.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Miike Snow, Music Go Music, We Have Band at ULU - 11 February 2010

Music Go Music "Explorers of the Heart" from Music Go Music on Vimeo.

There was a band back in the early Eighties that had huge world-wide success, but almost no cool, even at the time. Nowadays, if they are remembered at all, it is for silly hair. They were the Thompson Twins (and I’m thinking of the three piece line up of the ‘Quickstep and Sidekick’ era rather than the earlier nine piece roving circus of ‘Set’) and I hadn’t given them any thought for around two decades. Until now.

I’m at ULU and I am watching We Have Band, a trio who major on electronic percussion, slap bass and the kind of hair that Wesley Snipes had. They are dressed in white, they bang drums and rattle tambourines and their music seem less like songs than extended jams with sporadic, often inaudible vocals. What works on record doesn’t really come across very well live this evening, partly I think, because of an unhelpful sound mix, but also because their output seems fundamentally muddled.

However, they are energetic and improve as they go on. By the end of the set they’ve got love love love on their side.

I’m actually here tonight because the next act, Music Go Music, sold out their scheduled gig at the Lexington, and have relocated here. They couldn’t quite relocate to the top of the bill, but never mind.

The band troop onto a stage decorated with a precariously balanced roman column and statue. They plug in and blow all their power with the first chord. Cue five minutes of fiddling about and singer Meredith wittering away completely inaudibly. A bunch of drunks next to me start whistling and cat calling. It’s an inauspicious start.

However, with this hiccup out of the way MGM proceed to deliver a set of such pounding pure pop magnificence that a thrill that runs through you as you watch them. The thrill of knowing that there is no better place on earth to be than right here and right now.

Meredith is as ever beaming so brightly that you would have to shield your eyes. The guitarist and bassist (or ‘Steely Dan’ as a friend calls them) take turns in out-soloing and riffing off each other.

With just one album behind them Music Go Music already sound like a band playing Greatest Hits. Not necessarily their own. Their sound is rooted in ABBA and disco and Seventies kitsch. It is homage rather than pastiche, and is sure footed and celebratory rather than ironic or knowing.

Their set passes by in a warm whirl of happiness. The critical drunks from earlier are holding each other up and stomping and roaring along with tears in their eyes. I now firmly believe that if we could somehow squeeze the entire global population into this small space and let them experience MGM doing ‘Explorers of the Heart’ that we could rid the world of the evils of poverty, famine, cancer and David Cameron.

The band troop off to tumultuous approval and I collapse limp but happy.

The headliners tonight are Miike Snow, a band about whom I know very little other that they have blossomed from relative obscurity to the crest of mega-stardom in such a short period of time that they are the musical equivalent of an algal bloom that suddenly chokes rivers and estuaries.

The band come onto stage with their faces hidden by inexpressive white masks. Synthesisers rev and light beams pierce the swirling dry ice. A singer emerges, also masked, but with his beard sticking out the bottom, which slightly undermines the effect. When did you last see a Cyberman with a goatee?

He sings in a high falsetto. The band thrum behind him. It’s a little bit Royskopp and a whole lot of Coldplay, with all the good and bad that that may imply.

So what we have is tuneful but vacant synth pop that is custom-built for large arenas. Within two songs I’m wondering what the position is these days on waving cigarette lighters at a band, what with the smoking ban and all. You can almost hear the scramble of advertising executives and sports montage compilers jockeying to use these compositions to hawk their wares.

The masks are soon discarded and the band proceeds to rock out, in a tasteful and controlled manner. The crowd love it, but it’s all a little bland for me.

It’s been a really enjoyable evening. Music Go Music have cemented themselves in my heart as a band that needs to be savoured at every opportunity. We Are Detective, sorry, We Have Band, have stirred memories long dormant. Miike Snow will not be seen in venues as small as this for very much longer. A good result all round.

Monday 8 February 2010

Rammstein, Combichrist at Wembley Arena 4 February 2010


I’m standing amidst a vast army of giants, most of who are dressed in black, many of whom have more metal in their faces than Old Man Steptoe had in his scrap yard.

Barfly on Tuesday, Wembley Arena on Thursday. We sure get around.

The evening gets underway with the furious two drum kit assault of ex-pat Norwegians Combichrist. Completing a triptych of muscle bound torsos is a keyboard player who has sculpted his hair and beard until he precisely resembles a medieval devil. The three hammer and writhe and wrestle with their equipment.

In front of them struts Combichrist’s singer and founder member Andy LaPlegua, marching around the stage to the martial beat in his role of master of ceremonies. He attempts to interact with the crowd – “Every one say ‘Fuck That Shit!’” he orders. The crowd are rather unresponsive. They don’t seem to mind That Shit.

The band thunder along in happy fashion. It’s like being run over by a truck, but a truck with some quite good tunes.

Combichrist are of course merely the hors d’oeuvre for the sumptuously overblown main course that is to follow. Rammstein are back in town and once again prove that when it comes to delivering ridiculously over the top spectacle, that they have no equal.

The stage is dominated by four huge and incredibly mobile light rigs that hover over the band. The whole vibe tonight is that of a foundry designed by H.R. Geiger.

Rammstein take the same simple pleasure in fire that small children do with mud. They can’t resist playing with it. So tonight at various points we get singer Till Lindemann setting a stagehand on fire with a flamethrower, pouring a canister of molten cinders over keyboard player (and excellent comic foil) Christian Lorenz and more random gouts and whooshes of fire than a hot night in Hades. I’m stood half a mile away and can feel the heat on my face.

We also get to enjoy strings of detonating babies with green laser eyes, many explosions, the coating of much of the audience in foam and a foray out over the crowd in a dinghy. Ah – but what about the music?

Rammstein are as camp as a row of tents, but play perfectly straight. They sing almost exclusively in guttural German, and no language is better suited to this driving, pounding, majestic music. The crowd roar and make devil signs throughout.

New album “Liebe ist für alle da” is heavily plugged, the best song from it tonight being the opener ‘Rammlied’ which gives everyone a chance to yell and roll their ‘R’s’ a lot. Old favourites such as ‘Benzene’ also get an airing and it is during this number that a stuntman is carelessly immolated.

Rammstein roar on and on. It is all magnificent, but also slightly wearing. There is little light and shade, it is just bigger, faster, louder. The law of diminishing returns sets in. When Lindemann appears for the encore as an angel gouting sheets of fire from a ten foot wingspan, this is actually slightly disappointing. Rammstein have become victims of their own excess.

What Rammstein deliver is red hot entertainment. Tickets tonight are £50 and upwards, yet you can see where every penny went. To recreate what they do any cheaper would mean pouring gasoline over yourself while smoking a cigarette next to a pneumatic drill. I’m happy to leave it to the professionals.

Thursday 4 February 2010

Japanese Voyeurs, Sharks, Wounds - Barfly 02 February 2010

Japanese Voyeurs pic by FreeFrenchPunk

Dark and noisy. Doorway blocked. Push past huddled throng. Large empty space inside.

Guitarist and singer spinning, screaming smashing and squalling in spit and beer soaked frenzy. This is Wounds.

Audience scared but in a good way. Band sham dangerous, mock mayhem and assault. Pussycat friendly behind the snarls. All band take turns to scream, eyes shut, neck veins throb. More beer sprayed than drunk.

Epic thrash through Stooges’ ‘Search and Destroy’. Band say they now happy. Happy means leaping from stage on top of friends in crowd. Hardcore Heaven.

Wounds show why kids want to be in rock bands. This is excitement. This is fury. This is fun. New single ‘Dead Dead Fucking Dead’. Coming soon. Get it.
Sharks follow. Kiddy Clash / pre-school punkers. Mirror-practiced guitarist/singer with Idol sneer and legs akimbo. It’s 1978 as performed by those unborn until the 1990’s.
Fresh faced guitarist in Prisoner blazer in eyes-closed solo reverie. Flailing arm is less Pete Townshend windmill, more strange class-room “Sir, can I be excused?” gesture.

This band is cool. This band is tight. This band is alright.

Japanese Voyeurs are misnamed. They are not Japanese. And we are looking at them. And loving it.

Singer Romily clutches mike to her pink-hair obscured face. Voice is high and strangled. Think kitty cat. Think Katie-Jane Garside. Think Julie Christmas. Think four kinds of fabulous.

Seattle sturm und drang. Grunged to the max. Heads nodding, hair flying. This is not new, but it is well done. Keyboards wash against three guitar thrash. Songs not quite there yet, but attitude and sound spot on.

Dust off my Camden lurch. Stop and holler. Buy record. It 'Sicking And Creaming'. Thumbs up from this judge.

Wounds and Japanese Voyeurs for the WIN!

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Mechanical Cabaret, The Modern, Cassette Electrik - Purple Turtle 29 January 2010

Gratuitous publicity pic of The Modern

What better way to stave off the winter chill than an evening down the Purple Turtle checking out underground electro bands? That was a rhetorical question, obviously.

We start proceedings with dapper duo The Cult With No Name. This pairing consist of Jon Boux, who plays an electronic keyboard wonderfully well and the tall, be-suited Erik Stein, who looks uncannily like the actor Lee Tergesen, who played the hapless Beecher in violent US prison drama OZ.

Stein croons wistfully, Boux tinkles. They don’t really excite, but they are decent enough company.
I have long been a connoisseur of UK electronic bands and am delighted to finally get to see Cassette Electrik. It’s like getting the missing stamp in my album.

And as stamps go, it’s a penny black. Cassette Electrik are in phenomenally good form this evening. Singer Lucy soars over a keyboard attack of crunching tics and bleeps. The audience jerk and twitch like they are connected to an alternating current. The small clunking sound that is heard at one point is my jaw hitting the floor.

Keyboard player Oli hangs off his instrument, delighting himself with the skronks and blasts of sound that he is able to conjure up. This music is a pure mash up of early techno a la LFO and modern club sounds.

The band are showcasing tracks from their forthcoming album, which on this evidence is going to be one of my 2010 faves. Single '28 Days’ is a good start.

Next up are a band with a chequered history and a certain amount of inadvertent notoriety. In 2006 The Modern were thrown out of the pop charts for chart rigging and the then line up fell apart shortly afterwards. While it transpires that the misdemeanour was more to do with a bulk order of singles to distribute overseas rather than an active attempt to manipulate the stats, the trauma of the events led to the remaining members of the band to soldier on under the name Matinee Club. But it wasn’t quite the same and it is good that they have now put all this behind them and have resumed activities.

Their fans have remained loyal, and I see plenty of the old faces who used to frequent the crazy parties/gigs that got the band noticed in the first place. It is thus something of a ready made triumph when the four piece start proceedings with their greatest bona fide hit “Jane Falls Down”.

Singer Emma Cooke is still a stunningly attractive performer, all blonde curls and voluptuous curves. She wriggles like an eel and single-handedly scotches the misconception that electronic music has to be cold and aloof.

Keyboard players Chi and Nathan are ensconced behind their trademark podules and take turns singing and acting as willing partners as Emma rubs herself around them. The set is a revelation as they are playing songs that I’m not familiar with, ending with an epic tune called “7 Oceans”.

Also from the Old School come Mechanical Cabaret, the vehicle of singer Roi Robertson, who seem to have been going for years with their brand of simple tunes and genial, mock-ironic emoting.

At first Roi seems a bit out of sorts, and the duo seems rather subdued. It’s not quite happening for them and the crowd stand around losing interest. However, about halfway through their set, the band pull a version of Adam Ant’s “Desperate But Not Serious” out of the bag and everything is transformed.

Now Roi is happy as a clam and enjoying himself. He starts to clamber off the stage to better interact with the audience, putting his arms around shoulders and crooning into their faces. This is always a popular move and serves as a reminder of just what a fine showman he is. It may have been a performance of two halves, but it ends in glory.

It’s been a marvellous evening – new bands discovered, old friends revisited. Great stuff.