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!