Tuesday 31 January 2012

FOE and Fever Fever at Camden Barfly - 30 January 2012

Fever Fever

Having forgone a gig last week due to indisposition, I’m delighted to almost immediately have the chance to catch up with one of the bands that I missed.

I’m primarily here this evening to catch Fever Fever, about whom I have heard great things. They are bottom of the bill. On tonight’s evidence, this is not a position that they are going to have to put up with for very much longer.

I’ve long loved bands from Norwich. There’s something in the water out there that produces a steady stream of spiky, shouty, fascinating and fun performers. Kaito, Bearsuit, Hyper Kinako, The Kabeedies, Violet Violet…and now Fever Fever.

This three piece take you right back to the punk scene of the late Seventies. Rosie and Ellie generate a loud, thrashy, primitive and compelling guitar noise, ably supported by Smit’s crashing drums.

And they are angry. The two girls sing/shout back and forth, their eyes blazing with intensity. There are echoes of bands like The Slits or Delta 5, bands who sang about REAL STUFF and not just feelings.

They produce so much passion when they play that it is quite a contrast when they speak between songs and are gentle and relaxed and happy to see a busy venue.

I fall instantly in love with Fever Fever, buy armfuls of merchandise and put them in my diary for further appearances.

Calling yourself Yehan Jehan & Antimatter People is a statement of intent right from the off. There are no half measures about this band, particularly in regard to appearance.

Yehan Jehan and co are hell bent on recreating the very English psychedelica of the early Pink Floyd. I’ve no problem with that. They do it very well. They also lean occasionally towards the epic guitar sound and “in maa maaand” platitudes of the Verve, for which of course they should be drowned in a bag. Or mildly reprimanded at any rate.

The attention to detail is best exemplified by Jehan’s hair, which is a vast circular globe of curls that eclipses his face and is frankly worth the price of admission on its own.

Songs are complicated, often broken into distinct movements packed with organ swirls or backward tape loops. Jehan thrusts his guitar around energetically and it is just a pity that somehow the whole is less than the sum of these parts.

It may be because the voice is not particularly strong or that the songs don’t seem quite there just yet. The paradox is that it is only because the band are so close to being great that these shortfalls are apparent. There are flashes of genius here, but the band only really take off when they do some extended wigging out on their final number.

However, it’s early days yet. Yehan Jehan & Antimatter People are worth keeping a (third) eye on.

I hadn’t intended to review FOE again. After all, I saw them only three weeks ago at the beginning of this tour, which ends tonight.

But this performance is extraordinary. What was at the beginning of the month a small kitten playing with a ball of wool has evolved into a gigantic sabre-toothed turbo-tiger that just rips your head off.

The transformation wrought by a month of solid gigging is total.

At the Bull & Gate, Hannah Clark and her band were good, but very insular – the sound barely left the stage and they seemed far more wrapt in each other than in the audience.

In contrast tonight we are subjected to a wall of guitars and enough raw power to light every home in Camden. Although these are the same songs as before, they have grown from sparse tunes picked out on a keyboard to eardrum rattling anthems. An incredible transformation.

Clark is centre stage and engaged throughout. Her voice is a wonderful bratty, slurry rasp that reminds me of the accent that old women employ when talking with their cats. In the rock and roll context, this is totally a Good Thing.

A quiet night out on a Monday to ease myself into gigs again? Not likely!

Thursday 12 January 2012

Vuvuvultures, Severin & The Caulfield Beats at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen - 11 January 2012

Vuvuvultures pic by Neil Anderson

The photographers are in. At this stage of the evening there are more people packing large and expensive-looking cameras than there are members of those bands that have arrived to set up.

Stage left is Lawrence Northall, who performs under the moniker of The Caulfield Beats. He stands behind a bench of electronic equipment. Stage right is Molly, a young VJ (do we still call them that?) manipulating assorted images projected on a screen behind the pair.

The photographers mill around the foot of the stage, snapping away. Although I am sure that they are assembling a balanced portfolio of record, one suspects that the ratio of pictures of Lawrence to those of Molly is approximately 1:20.

I’m not normally much of a fan of one-man, largely instrumental rhythm merchants, The Caulfied Beats are toe-tappingly uplifting.

Northall lays down a series of crushing beats, punctuated by the odd yelp or cry of “Caulfield!” down one of his two microphones. Meanwhile, behind him flashes a montage featuring amongst other things, vintage shots of Twiggy dancing and a Japanese callisthenic class. I don’t know what it means, but it’s all very pretty.

A good opener to the evening, and I also enjoy the next act, Severin.

With a name like that, this dup were never going to be all sunshine and daisies and indeed they are not.

Instead, Elizabeth plays keys and sings inexpressively while Dan smashes at a bass guitar and plays with a variety of electronic boxes to produce a sound that we used to call ‘Goth’ but which is now more likely to be referred to a ‘witch house’ or some such.

Severin are aware that downbeat music does not have to be drab or lacking in showmanship. The pair quickly generate quite a bit of head nodding and shuffling amongst those sections of the audience that aren’t staring at them through a lens.

I’m as happy as anyone, and am particularly taken with a bit of kit that Dan plays like a games console, but which appears to have something to do with percussion.

Let’s not beat about the bush. The snappers are here for Vuvuvultures, a band that are complex to say the least.

Singer Harmony Boucher is as lean and spare and taut as the skin stretched across a drum. She has the finely delineated androgynous facial structure of the fashion model that she is. She is beautiful in the way that classical statues are beautiful.

And she performs bare from the waist up.

Sex and sexuality play a large part in Vuvuvultures’ show and it is fascinating how it works over the course of their set.

At the start, the watcher is very aware of a sleek and handsome semi-naked woman. The instinct is to look at everything except her body. Boucher eyes the crowd and stretches herself in mocking, flirting fashion, the awkwardness that arises a deliberate part of the performance.

And yet, because the music is entirely serious and because the stage presence is so powerful, the ‘nudity’ disappears. The watcher becomes engrossed in the performance and not the mere physical appearance. This dawning realisation is also very much part of the band’s plan.

The songs themselves are grandly emotive and melodramatic, but never stray into camp or kitsch. There is not a hint of bawdiness in the actual music. The greatest trick that Vuvuvulture’s pull off is that for all their acts of provocation, if they were playing behind a thick curtain you would still know that you were listening to a very fine band.

Despite all these various subtexts, this is also a good natured and fun performance. At one point a member of the crowd presents Boucher with a bondage harness, which she has no initial inkling of how to wear.

During the final number, Boucher and the bassist, the splendidly named Nicole Marie Bettencourt Coelho leap into the crowd, becoming entangled and screaming and writhing on the floor. The photographers close over them like onlookers bunched around a body in the street.

This has been great, but timings mean that I have to forgo Manflu (a real pity) and I head off home. It’s been an eye opening evening and a credit to all concerned.

Monday 9 January 2012

The Night Jars and Oh! Gunquit at Old Blue Last - 7 January 2012

The Night Jars (photo: Ciaran Beale)

This is my first visit to the Old Blue Last in a while and I’m pleased to see that it has been refurbished and is heaving with a happy Saturday night crowd. This place used to be so er… basic in its facilities in days of yore that you needed a tetanus shot or a Hazmat suit before approaching the toilets. Now, it is very acceptable indeed.

Tonight’s gig is being promoted by the Hackney Working Girls Club and they have put on two fun bands for our delectation.

First up I’m delighted to renew my acquaintance with Oh! Gunquit, who are always fabulously entertaining with their twanging old time garage sound.

This four piece are die hard rock and rollers and have appropriately cool names. Dr Zoom blows up a storm on saxophone, and Sam Bam Leadfoot pounds on the drums. Vocals are shared between ace guitarist and general hep cat Manchine and Wanda Smacksome, who is tonight a vision in yellow and orange.

The infectious rhythms soon get the whole joint jumping like teenagers at a sock hop.

In truth, the sound tonight is not particularly good, and this hampers the vocals a bit, but such is the nature of the music that your ears fill in the gaps and you hear everything as you want it.

This set puts a huge smile on your face and it culminates with Wanda displaying her prowess with the hoola-hoop. This is an incredible feat as the physical effort required to hoola and sing at the same time is clearly tremendous.

I love Oh! Gunquit and would recommend them to fans of old style rock and fun times generally.

You can tell that The Night Jars are rock stars as soon as they climb onstage. The singer is going for the full Roger Daltrey, with tight curls, tight white T-shirt (tonight advertising the Sound of Music), braces and a pair of sprayed-on jeans that just need a rolled up sock down the front to complete the illusion.

Where The Night Jars differ from other bands is that they also wear black masks complete with long pointy black beaks, looking for all the world like medieval doctors during the time of the Black Death or revellers at a Venetian masked ball.

For a split second it appears as if we are going to get an attempt at the record held in this venue for the time it takes for a singer to leap off the stage and wave their private parts out the window. The current holders are another bird-related band An Albatross, who accomplished the feat in twenty seconds.

The Night Jars don’t quite manage this, but within one number the singer is off the stage and dancing within the crowd, rarely to be seen again for the rest of the evening.

At first, it seems that all is chaos, but the band soon coalesce into a fearsome garage punk outfit that are not as different from the preceding band as might have first been thought.

It’s a riotous, raucous set. You can’t really tell what the singer is bellowing, but it is hard not to get caught up in the primitive energy that he and his band mates are blasting out.

This has been a rollicking, roaring Saturday night. It’ll do for me. Well done Working Girls, well done Gunquit, well done Night Jars.

Find more videos like this on The GaragePunk Hideout

Wednesday 4 January 2012

FOE at Bull and Gate - 3 January 2012

Thank god for Twitter.

A chance search reveals that my intended gig for tonight (returning veterans Artery and feisty young pups Cold In Berlin plus others) has been postponed because the ageing headliners are 111. Sorry, they are ill. Thanks to Les Dawson for that joke.

I divert across town to the Bull & Gate for the first night of a Fortuna Pop records residency. Even this event is not running entirely to plan. One of the bands (Whales in Cubicles) have pulled out and as a result, timings are all over the place.

The first remaining band are Wild Swim, who hail from Oxford. I don’t particularly care for them, but they do spark some debate amongst my party.

My view is that they are painfully aware that the singer Richard Sansom has an almost classically good baritone voice and that the desire to showcase this utterly stifles them. There are moments when the rest of the band threatens to break out into some kind of wild fidgety jazz, but these flashes are mostly damped down as soon as they begin in favour of a safer option.

My friends point out that the overall sound of Wild Swim is very commercial, and that in particular, fans of Wild Beasts may care to lend an ear. I’m not convinced and think that the band needs some proper tunes. They are not irredeemable, but they require work.

In contrast, headliners FOE show what rock and roll energy is all about.

Hannah Clark and her band just sound FILTHY. The guitars and keyboards crackle with a dirty, buzzing electricity that sounds positively dangerous, as though someone could get a nasty shock at any minute.

Clark squints through long red tresses and is wearing a rather shapeless heavy cloak-like dress. This is understandable, because it is bloody freezing in this room. Less understandably, she has topped off this ensemble with a natty tiara.

The rest of the band keeps warm in the old fashioned way, thrashing their guitars and bobbing and weaving around the stage. I do like to see guys enjoying themselves and I do like to see instruments physically abused. Good work.

Hannah Clark has a rapid fire yet monotone vocal style. It adds speed and a sense of urgency to the songs, so that they fairly motor along. This intensity means that songs such as ‘A Handsome Stranger called Death’ burn much more fiercely than their rather more measured recorded versions.

I find FOE a fine way to greet the New Year. If I have a minor quibble it is that Clark never quite engages with her audience, her eyes being either closed or gazing off into space. However, I accept that it is hard to have empathy with a half-empty room in which the crowd are bunched closer to the door than the stage.

A sharp evening’s entertainment. I’m a friend of FOE.