Sunday 30 October 2011

Tribes, Dog Is Dead, The Supernovas at Electric Ballroom - 28 October 2011

Tribes (Photo from Alfie)

When we arrive at the Electric Ballroom, the first band are already well into their set. It’s clear that the promoters want to get the whole evening done and dusted early, so that they can run a club night afterwards.

The Supernovas are young, cocky and as smart as a pistol. Literally- they spend quite a lot of time with their guitars to their shoulders like machine guns pretending to mow us down. They’re big of mouth and massively self-confident.

Rightly so, because they sound like a non-sensitive version of Ash, the songs being crisp and punchy and with big choruses. None more so than set closer ‘Dusty Air’, which I initially mishear as a tribute to the legendary Leicester and England rugby player.

If Connor McNicholas was still running the NME, The Supernovas would be all over it. Make of that what you will.

Dog Is Dead are this week’s contender for the band with the worst name in pop music. However, their silly nomenclature should not detract from their music, which is excellent.

The signature style of this five piece band is that they often sing in harmony, a rich Beach Boys effect that is enough to win over the hardest heart.

The young crowd love them and sigh and sway along with the music. The band are as sensitive as the Supernovas were brash. Both approaches are finding favour here tonight.

Tribes are local lads and this big hometown gig is a statement of intent. The crowd may be predisposed to like them, but on this showing, the band are going to draw big crowds up and down the country.

Flanked by flashing strobes, the band are adept at hitting the balance between sensitivity and bombast. Lots of arms are raised in the audience, and everyone seems to know the words. It’s an undeniably impressive spectacle.

The recent single ‘Sappho’ is dispensed with early, and may be the catchiest song about lesbian love triangles on record. Majestic stuff.

The set progresses and they even safely negotiate the dreaded acoustic guitar interlude that many rock bands have foundered upon in the past.

Tribes are aptly named, many of their songs are about banding together, about belonging. It’s a trick that Suede often used, and it breeds loyalty amongst the fan base. So we get ‘Coming of Age’ and ‘We Were Children’, the latter featuring a rallying call to kids “born in the mid-90’s”.

I sing along too. I know no shame.

The gig ends nice and early and everyone has had a grand time. All three bands have been good to excellent and make me feel that UK guitar pop is in a pretty healthy state.

The club night afterwards is called “I Love the 90’s”. Sounds that tonight’s bands must have heard in the cradle. Blimey.

Thursday 20 October 2011

The Blood Arm, Paris Suit Yourself, Great White Shark at Madame JoJo's - 18 October 2011

Paris Suit Yourself by Sebastien Dehesdin

I’m not sure that I like surprises.

What has caught me off guard is a previously unforeseen third band on tonight’s bill. This throws the timings out and will have implications later on in the evening.

The unexpected pleasure is Great White Shark, who hail from Berlin, but are originally from the UK. They illustrate how times and fashions change.

Fifteen years ago you couldn’t move for bands that sound a little bit like Oasis, a little bit Verve, a little bit Stone Roses. We used to sneer at these chancers and run them out of town on a rail.

Yet tonight, Great White Shark exhibit all of these tropes and sound fresh and (whisper it) pretty good. There is nothing here that hasn’t been heard before, but their skinny frontman knows what he’s doing (and throws a good rock star pose), while the band certainly understand the value of a catchy chorus.

There is nothing familiar about Paris Suit Yourself. A set that could have easily come unstuck because of massive, repeated and ridiculous technical problems becomes an unalloyed triumph, a performance that will live long in the memory.

The band come in all shapes and sizes, a foxy bassist, a cool keyboard player/guitarist, a semi naked tattooed drummer and the massively muscled and dreadlocked singer Luvinsky Atche, the sweat shining on his torso.

This is a primal performance that speaks to basic, animalistic emotions. It‘s all about drumming and rhythm and ritual. What is really impressive is that even though the microphones don’t work for much of the time, this is incorporated into the show, Atche filching mikes where he can from the other musicians and even at one point standing at the front of the stage and singing unamplified altogether, howling at the audience. He pants, yips and snorts as though expelling demons.

The percussion is relentless, including some proper honest to goodness drum solos. The bass line is immense and the combination recalls Doug Wimbish, Skip MacDonald and Keith LeBlanc and the heyday of Tackhead.

Towards the end of the set, Atche descends into the crowd, his body dripping with perspiration. He leads them in a frenzied dance that is wild and wonderful and completely unlike anything I’ve seen.

Paris Suit Yourself are unique and are heavily recommended.

This is all dandy and fine, but it does mean that headliners The Blood Arm come onstage horribly late.

Although perfectly clear, the sound mix seems wrong, with singer Nate Freguso almost inaudible behind the guitars and keyboards.

There is nothing wrong with tonight’s show, but I’ve been so spoiled by the Blood Arm over the years, with them always being exceptional, that when they are merely very good it seems a disappointment. This is of course a ludicrous state of affairs.

Time is against me and I have to leave half way through their set. I am told that I miss Freguso being mauled by a member of the crowd and Eddie Argos and chums getting up onstage for a drunken sing-along. Apparently things finally wind down at about 11.40. It’s very frustrating, and unusual for promoters White Heat, who generally run a slick operation.

However, I’d have been even more annoyed to have missed Paris Suit Yourself and I consider it an excellent evening.

Monday 3 October 2011

Versailles at Islington Academy - 02 October 2011

Hizaki of Versialles

The queue has formed two hours before the venue opens its doors. The heady mix of extravagantly dressed Goths, metal heads and cosplay aficionados are drawing stares from the muggles passing by.

We are here to see Versailles (aka Versailles Philharmonic Quintet in some territories) who are one of Japan’s foremost exponents of visual kei metal and are over for a European jaunt.

This form of music values appearance almost more than the songs themselves, and the more elaborate, androgynous and rococo a band looks, the better it goes for them.

There is a strict moratorium on all types of photography, video recording and images recorded by mobile phone. Although you might argue that this is the equivalent of KISS going “Don’t look at us!”, the ban is impeccably observed throughout the show.

The venue is about three quarters full and there is an incessant chorus of girly voices chanting “We Want Versailles!” They keep this up for twenty minutes solid.

After a minor delay, the lights go down and the show begins. Each member introduces themselves in isolation, slowly rotating to show off their finery, flashing devil horns and whipping the crowd into frenzy. It’s kind of like the music box opening from an episode of Camberwick Green, but in better costumes.

And then they start with thunderous kick drums and squealing guitar solos. This is good old fashioned thrash – with a twist.

A typical Versailles song lasts around ten minutes and consists of crescendo after crescendo. Everything they do sounds like the very final encore of a Metallica gig. It’s almost unrelenting.

The band look amazing. Singer Kamijo is dressed in a red frock coat that drips with gold brocade and incorporates a gossamer cloak that he can sweep in front of him.

The twin guitarists are Teru, who has silver sculpted hair like an anime hero and the other is the quite astonishing Hizaki, who is dressed as a lady of Louis XIV’s court. And is male.

Hizaki’s guitar work is extremely impressive, as is his dedication to his character. He maintains an impassive poker face throughout. Whilst most metal guitarists screw up their faces and stick their tongues out, Hizaki’s face remains as expressionless as a porcelain doll- even with one foot on the monitor, which is not something you often see from someone dressed in a crinoline.

Bassist Masashi is dressed in black and mostly stays at the rear of the stage, occasionally hulking over the others and drawing appreciative screams from the audience whenever he does so.

The band are tightly choreographed, always moving in synchrony with each other. They have perfected a graceful wave at the end of each guitar flourish – a courtly, feminine gesture a world away from the windmilling of the likes of Pete Townsend.

Versailles also often spin around, as though they are dancers in an elegant waltz rather than purveyors of metal mayhem .

At the halfway point, the rest of the band scoot off for a quick rest, leaving Kamijo to sing a slow, hugely lachrymose ballad. Most of the audience have purchased glowing fluorescent roses, which are waved in unison amongst a sea of hands.

The rest of the band return and it is back to the bombast.

At one point Kamijo and Hizaki dive off the stage into the audience, who were clearly not expecting them. No one is hurt.

Versailles are (obviously) an unusual proposition. In some respects they could be deemed to be very limited in what they do – any twenty minute passage is much the same as any other. Yet they are hugely entertaining and their ninety plus minute set passes in a blur.

Versailles have completely achieved their goal. They are a beautiful, intricate clockwork toy that is completely artificial and could almost be put under a glass display case. And they rock too.

I forego the opportunity to meet the band afterwards and spin off into the night, waving gracefully.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Razika, LCMDF, Sykur at Hoxton Bar & KItchen - 29 September 2011


It’s the end of September and quite unexpectedly, the weather in London has turned as hot as hell. No one expected this, certainly not the bands playing here tonight.

Tonight’s entertainment is bought to us courtesy of Ja Ja Ja Music, purveyors of top Nordic pop fun.

We start off with Sykur, who hail from Iceland. They are three young guys called Halldór, Stefán and Kristján, who hunch over keyboards and produce a minimalist, stripped down Knife-like funk.

However, the undoubted star of the show is their guest singer Rakel Mjöll, who has prepared for the performance by getting cataclysmically, heroically, gloriously drunk. She crashes onto the stage dressed in a white manga school girl outfit and just lets rip.

Sometimes she raps, sometimes she sings, often she just wails off microphone, producing a sound not unlike the Clare Torry vocal solo in Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig In The Sky’. She also jumps up and down a lot and bashes the rest of the band about.

She is hilarious but utterly brilliant at the same time. Occasionally slurping from a pint of lager secured with both hands, she has a magnificently expressive face, across which every thought and emotion can be read as though it were on a ten foot billboard. Confusion, determination and terror being the feelings most prominently featured.

Despite, or perhaps because of this apparent chaos, Sykur are absolutely fantastic. The music is catchy and the sheer lack of inhibition and open vulnerability on display completely disarming.

You can tell that the band are a bit disappointed with the static, gobsmacked crowd. This is a shame because this is one of the most memorable performances of the year.

I have seen LCMDF several times over the years and had pegged them as kind of ‘ok’ but not much more than that. Tonight, my preconceptions are not so much blown away as completely vaporised.

The two Finnish sisters Emma and Mia Kemppainen are accompanied by Christian, an unflustered and cool drummer. It is quite clear that the addition of a live percussionist has completely rejuvenated the band and allows the two girls free rein to bombard us with their full on bouncy pop.

Blonde singer Emma struts, preens and dances in a pair of denim shorts and works herself up into a breathless frenzy. Mia plays guitar and gradually sheds clothing in the heat, each laughing at the other deteriorating into a sweaty, sticky (sexy) mess.

The set starts with crowd favourite ‘Gandhi’ and proceeds from there, each track more energetic and joyous than the last. LCMDF are on terrific form tonight and have not just raised their game, they’re playing a whole different sport. They have a track called ‘Cool and Bored’ – it’s pretty much the least appropriate title imaginable.

Headliners Razika thus have two very tough acts to follow, and that they don’t manage it is hardly their fault. This is their first show in London and they are clearly extremely nervous.

Razika are an all-girl quartet from Norway, who dress in black and white and play ska music – although not in the usual sense of the term.

In some respects the Razika approach to ska is the same as Vampire Weekend’s appropriation of Afrobeat- measured, deliberate and more of a mathematical exercise than an explosion of energy and fun.

The girls stand stiff and awkward and you rather feel for them. They come across as sweet and earnest, but very daunted by the experience and hopelessly outgunned by the acts that have preceded them.

It has been a sweltering, rowdy, booze-fuelled belter of an evening. There’s talk of an Indian summer – but it looks like a brilliant Nordic night to me.