Wednesday 11 April 2012

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour and Casablanca at Scala - 10 April 2012

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour

On the way into the Scala, a guy hands me a big woollen sock. A little further on, his mate hands me another sock.

“What are these for?” I ask.

“This is the Scala” he replies “You might as well stuff these in your ears, cos you ain’t gonna hear a fucking thing!”

That didn’t happen, but you get my point. The sound mix in the venue tonight is utterly appalling and that I and everyone here has a great time is despite rather than because of the conditions that the bands play under.

First on tonight are Casablanca. They must be named after the rather disappointing in real life Moroccan sea port because they seem way too young to be familiar with the film. Hell, they are so young that they probably think that Avatar is a fairytale recounted to them by their parents. Even their other inspiration, Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, must seem like a distant father figure.

They are dressed in leather coats and look rather as if they have just trudged in off the moors. They are slight in stature and curly of hair. Hobbitses they are.

Actually, a pretty decent band is what they are. Singer Jacob hangs from his microphone and croons songs of love and loss. He has fierce little eyes and a winning smile.

The band never quite reaches sufficiently happy highs or affecting lows, but occupies a musical middle ground that is perfectly acceptable. I quite like these guys, and from what I can see, so does everyone else. Ones to watch. (Although if you were previously aware of an outfit called Lo-Fi Culture Scene, you may recognise them in their new guise).

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour are here tonight in support of their new album “Out Of Frequency”. Their first effort was a pop masterpiece that provided the soundtrack for advertising campaigns around the world and, on the evidence of tonight, the new collection of songs is going to be equally ubiquitous.

There are many band members, and most of them play more than one instrument. It makes for a riotous performance.

Singer Mette is togged up in classic fashion as a sexy 60’s pop sensation. She slinks around the stage rasping in her unique vocal style that is part way between Cyndi Lauper and a cartoon character. She’s definitely an acquired taste, but her voice works incredibly well in this context.

This band can swing like Sinatra as a pumping full-on brass section lends oomph to old favourites like ‘Around The Bend’ or ‘The Sun Ain’t Shining No More’’.

The new album gets a good airing. ‘Heart Attack’ bounces along and title track ‘Out Of Frequency’ sports a Ron Burgundy-esque jazz flute solo.

That the band are brilliant is all the more remarkable in light of the awful sound mix. Every song has to fight through a muddy stodge. When the band plays keyboards, all that can be heard is a feedbacking distorted bass rumble. It’s like listening to the best band in the world play on the other side of a wall.

The sheer vim, vigour and joi de vivre of Asteroids Galaxy Tour wins the day. We’re all laughing and jumping, lost in a whirl of parping brass and good vibes. The band concludes with ‘The Golden Age’. Now if only that were used in an advert...

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour - Around The Bend - Live from Cinematze on Vimeo.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Public Image Ltd at Heaven - 2 April 2012

Public Image Ltd (pic Chiaki Nozu/

The kids are elsewhere. This is a night for the faithful, the ones who still believe. I see virtually no one here this evening who is younger than myself. Very few with more hair either.

When Public Image Limited reformed last year for their ‘Metal Box’ tour, I was cynical. It seemed like a cash-in, the trampling of a legacy for a quick buck.

Then the reviews came in. And they were wonderful. I had been utterly wrong to miss out. I am here tonight to atone.

John Lydon bounces onstage and ferrets out a pair of spectacles so that he can see what he and we are all doing. A sinuous bass line erupts for ‘Deeper Water’ and Lydon is off and running. He barely pauses for breath for the next two hours.

To watch John Lydon perform is to watch an absolute master at his work. Songs are often lengthy jams that afford him plenty of time to commentate, extemporise, scream, act, laugh and yell. He is in his element, arms flailing, fingers jabbing as he inhabits a succession of personas.

The second tune of the night is ‘Love Song’, here stretched and twisted into an unrecognisable shape. A thudding bass groove weaves through the venue.

The band are all guys of a similar age to Lydon and have mostly played in previous iterations of PiL. They are just as much on top of their game as their front man.

Scott Firth looks cool in a suit, but his calm demeanour belies his penchant for laying down an ever louder, ever more bone shaking bass thrum. Across the stage, Lu Edmonds the guitarist is as wild-eyed and beardy as Rasputin. He wields a mean axe, plucks a nifty banjo and is not averse to playing either instrument with an assortment of bows and found objects.

There is little from ‘Metal Box’ this evening, but we do get a ten minute version of ‘Albatross’ , Lydon gurning good-humouredly throughout.

The absolute highlight of the night is an incredible twenty minute rendition of ‘Religion’, in which the stage turns blood red and Lydon rails and gibbers as a maniac preacher, conducting his own perverse service. At his exhortation, the bass levels are increased until first my nose starts to itch and then the organs start moving in my chest. Forces don’t come much more “Tour de” than this.

During ‘Death Disco’, the crowd around me starts to jump up and down. I join in, in an ineffectual manner. The signature drumming of ‘Flowers of Romance’ (Bruce Smith also excellent) is even more galvanic, and once again a track becomes a hypnotic ten minute plus groove. Heads nod in unison all through the venue.

There are new tracks amongst the oldies. ‘Lollipop Opera’ features an epic rap/rant from Lydon, bellowing down a megaphone, words tumbling from him a mile a minute as the band settles into an industrial-sized loping skank.

Back to the familiar then for ‘Bags’, with the singer marching on the spot until the song gradually mutates into ‘Chant’, the rest of the band and the entire crowd bawling “Love! War! Fear! Hate!”

Lydon is talkative all evening. Over two hours into the set he responds to a querulous voice from the throng with the admonition “We’re just warming up. We never go off easy.” The encore lasts a further half an hour.

PiL remain a vital group. John Lydon proves once again that he is unique, a twinkly and mocking jester at the court of Rock. Gawd bless him.