Monday 26 July 2010

1-2-3-4 Festival, Shoreditch Park 24 July 2010

Von Haze by Drew Cox

I’m standing in the dry grass dustbowl that is Shoreditch Park. I’m watching three drummers and a phalanx of guitarists bash and thrash their way through a series of tunes. This is Action Beat, the self-styled ‘Noise Band from Bletchley”. We are here for the 1-2-3-4 Shoreditch Festival and sights such as this are eyed with idle contentment by the early crowds lolling in the scrub in front of the main stage.

It turns out to be a long and eventful day during which I catch sets by nearly twenty acts. I can’t detail them all, but there were memorable and noteworthy performances and incidents including:-

Trailer Trash Tracys’ wistful sighs on the main stage in mid afternoon. A band much more suited to the wee small hours in the morning but somehow pleasingly gentle and soporific here.

They were followed by Vic Godard and the Subway Sect, a band much concerned with developments in the affairs of the Royal Mail and the first of a number of bands here today who seem aimed at the more ‘mature’ festival goer. I park the more senior members of our team here and wander off to catch complete sets of great quality from Mazes and Sharks. On my return, Vic and co are still happily rambling on.

Soon after, I catch what turns out to be my favourite band of the day, the deceptively languid Von Haze. Travis Caine and Katherine Kin gradually draw a rapt crowd for their incredibly glacial take on shimmer-pop. The duo’s swathes of guitar, synth and barely audible vocals seemingly never go faster than 15RPM the whole while. And yet they are mesmerising, their very minimal sound focussing concentration until there is nothing else in the world except us and Von Haze. It’s an impressive trick.

Later, I enjoy the excessively rowdy Comanechi, with drummer/singer Akiko battering and screaming her way through a rambunctious set from beneath an enormous hair bow/hat that almost obscures her. In what proves to be a foretaste of things to come they have difficulties with their sound and refer to a ‘row’ with stage hands.

I join the hordes in front of the main stage for Peter Hook and his extended family playing Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ in its entirety. This starts off a bit ramshackle, but gradually becomes absurdly affecting. Hooky takes over most of the vocal chores himself, although this means that others have to take on bass guitar duties as he is unable to play and sing at the same time.

His enthusiasm occasionally carries him away, and there is a lot of arm windmilling and “make some noise Shoreditch”. But it works very well, mainly because the songs themselves are so strong. When Hook can’t cope with ‘Insight’ and ‘New Dawn fades’, Rowetta (Black Grape etc) takes over and her powerful voice really lends itself to this material. They end with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, which Hook dedicates to a young couple who are getting married. Barely a dry eye in the field.

Barely a waste bin either, and by the early evening the crowd is wandering across an apocalyptic landscape of scorched earth and metal cans. The entire area resembles the opening scenes of Wall-E.

Leaving an underpowered Wavves to flounder on the main stage, I sneak off to see Rolo Tomassi in the smallest tent on site. It is packed solid and so hot that you can barely see for sweat in your eyes. And not your own sweat either.

Rolo Tomassi are an unclassifiable beast that shouldn’t work at all, but just gloriously and riotously do. A combination of thrash metal screaming and grunting, prog rock keyboards and musical fannying about they are for once upstaged by their own audience. Goaded from the stage, various youngsters shin up the main tent stanchion and tombstone down upon their mates below - who mostly catch them. It is reckless, stupid and totally exhilarating.

Exhausted, I take in the final moments of Vivian Girls and do my best to ignore the indulgent karaoke bawlings of The Silver Machine, which is a Bobby Gillespie vanity project and yet another excuse for him to rub up against his icons (in this case Glen Matlock and Zak Starkey) in the anticipation that some of their cache will transfer to him.

I am looking forward to seeing how These New Puritans can transfer their ambitious brass and drum based album ‘Hidden’ to a concert stage. The lights go down, the band comes on and…phut! All sound disappears, along with most of the power in the tent. There is a further fifteen minutes of prodding around in the dark and a second attempt. This goes phut even quicker than their first try. It’s a cataclysmic breakdown and not one that can be resolved.

Apart from this setback, it’s been a terrific day and the organisers can generally be well satisfied with themselves. I join the throngs heading out into Hoxton and beyond.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Call The Doctor / Cold In Berlin - Buffalo Bar - 20 July 2010

Call The Doctor

I haven’t been to the Buffalo Bar for AGES. I’ve always enjoyed it in here and had forgotten that it is air conditioned. So while the city steams outside, I’m well up for tonight’s four band bill.

First up come Ma.Mentor, a three piece comprising two guitars and a drum machine. Together, they play a sparse and efficient post-rock. It is hard to dislike them, but they equally do very little to enthuse about. The band ticks along in a harmless but rather nondescript way, and I soon rather find my attention wandering. As a mate puts it, “...with this stage set up, they could be Big Black!” but sadly they are not, they are just a little underwhelming.

Deadlegs are another trio, this time with the numbers distributed between drums, guitars and vocals.

The band are entirely a vehicle for the considerable charms and vocal talents of Harriet Rock. She has a voice so raw and rasping that she is closer in delivery to Janis Joplin (or Tom Waits) than your average girlie singer.

Deadlegs don’t really do songs. Instead, most numbers are mere fragments that provide background while Harriet shows off her range. She can emote, she can growl, she can go up and down the scales, but you don’t really believe in the band at all. They are so clearly a temporary showcase that you wish that the inevitable Svengali would just hurry up and take them over. Harriet Rock is a potentially lucrative diamond in the rough, she just needs the right setting.

The reason that I’m here tonight is to see Cold In Berlin, a band that I am always happy to be around and who never ever disappoint. This is the first time that the band has played at the Buffalo Bar, after some years of trying to get gigs here. It ain’t Carnegie Hall, but in many respects it is their spiritual home.

Within thirty seconds of starting, the band is threaded across the venue like a daisy chain. The drums by necessity are stuck on stage, but singer Uli and the other members are off the small platform and lined up from front to back of the room. The audience part, dive for cover and try to keep the hell out of their way.

The current line up of CIB is still relatively new. The good news is that if anything their fire and fury are even more concentrated. And there is new material tonight, with a song that may be called “I Am The Liar” particularly catching the ear, resembling as it does, the sound of a tiger which has just had its tail stomped on.

Uli chivvies the punters around like a collie with a particularly recalcitrant flock. Monitors are knocked flying. A fine time is had by all.

I am initially a bit wary of the headliners. ‘Call The Doctor’ seems such a naff name that my repressed indie snobbery insists that they can’t possibly be any good. Fortunately the band are so busy being shit hot and generally bloody impressive that my reptile brain can just fuck off.

What lifts CTD out of the rut is the verve and power of singer/guitarist Patti Aberhart. She is squeezed into a white dress and is wearing a tiara made of twigs. She seems like a feral pagan bridesmaid and commands such authority that you have no option but to pay attention. I’m always a sucker for bands just letting rip.

I’m rather blown away by tracks such as “For You Leisure” and “Running With Scissors”. In some respects the band are very straightforward, playing pleasant songs that are easy on the ear and don’t demand much thought. But the live performance transcends this simplicity – they are terrifically entertaining and I am terrifically entertained.

They finish with “Little Bones”, which turns out to be a monster of a song, an excuse for an almighty wig-out from the band and featuring one moment when Aberhart is on her knees in the audience, shuffling towards the stage like a penitent.

So, a triumphant return to the Buffalo Bar for me and a fine night’s work from the various bands. I head off into the tube station, which is as hot as a furnace. But not as hot as Cold In Berlin and Call The Doctor.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Mirrors, The Hundred In The Hands, MNDR at Madame Jo Jos - 13 July 2010


MNDR, known to her friends as Amanda Warner, is finding the London audience to be hard work. After a lot of cajoling she gets us to wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care, but as soon as she stops cheerleading and resumes a song, the arms flop back down and we stand about like twitching Muppets.

We’re crap at joining in choruses too…

…which is a real pity because MNDR is pure sassy party fun, from the white frames of her oversized Trevor-Horn-in-The-Buggles glasses to the groovy abandon with which she shakes her rump. And it's a fine rump.

This is good simple electronic dance music with lots of pizzazz, vim, oomph and any other adjective that sounds a lot like a popular brand of household cleaner.

She’s great, and is clearly relishing the chance to do her own thing outside of her other job as part of Business International, currently Mark Ronson’s backing band.

She ends her set with the emotional power ballad ‘The Sparrow’ which she dedicates to those who protest against Arizona’s racist immigration law.

Next up come Brooklyn’s hotly tipped chill wave dance duo The Hundred In The Hands. Jason Friedman and Eleanore Everdell are a striking pair – he all a constant tick and twitch as he plays a succession of guitars and basses, she thin and elegant, her hair a curtain across her face.

The contrast with the previous act is marked. Where MNDR is all about connection, The Hundred In The Hands are distant and aloof.

Everdell has a pure, clipped voice, and annunciates more than sings. She barely acknowledges Friedman, instead she is in a world of her own, slowly contorting her body, pressing her legs together and writhing to her own rhythm. It’s clearly born of the energy and emotion of her performance, but she does look awfully as though she really needs the loo.

I enjoy them a lot, even though their live sound is notably different from their recorded works. They finish their set with an absolutely tremendous reworking of their most well known song ‘Dressed In Dresden’; tonight stripped down to an almost PIL –like dub bass rumble. The notes they don’t play are as important as the ones they do.

The headliners tonight are Mirrors, who are four immaculately suited and booted young men from Brighton. Mad Men has a lot to answer for.

When I say that they should have been on first it is not a slur on their abilities. In fact it’s quite the contrary. It’s because they each operate from behind a bank of vintage electronic equipment and it takes an age for them to lug all their gear on stage and assemble it. There’s enough cable and wiring to juice up Frankenstein’s monster and it takes slightly less long to put together than Jodrell Bank.

Once they are finally ready, and we have marvelled at an introductory back projection, and watched the dry ice blow across the stage, they explode into a jaunty old school electro pop that nods both to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and Franz Ferdinand.

I like them a great deal and my one regret is that it is now so late that I have to leave them to it.

It’s been a damn good evening of varied and compelling music. Even without my arm in the air like I just don’t care.