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.