Thursday 10 May 2012

Garbage at The Troxy - 9 May 2012


The first thing to say is that the Troxy in East London is one of the most unfriendly and paranoid venues that I’ve ever been to. I don’t mind the security checks on the door, but I’m not impressed by the teams of spotters within the venue itself who busy themselves insisting that even the smallest bag which had already been checked on the way in is then removed and placed outside the room. 

I also fail to see much logic in their insistence that the plastic bottles of water that they sell you are to be decanted into er...plastic glasses. There are rubber rooms in insane asylums that have more opportunity for self harm.

We are here to see the return of Garbage, who have been in limbo for a number of years while the band members took a rest from each other and replenished their various mojos.

The band start in an explosion of sound. Everything is louder than everything else and singer Shirley Manson’s voice is all but extinguished.

I pop in the ear plugs that I acquired on the Camden Crawl and everything is transformed. On one level, it’s rather like being underwater, on the other I can hear the singer and instruments clearly without all that top end distortion. So, ear plugs are the way to go unless you need to communicate with the guy stood next to you.

Shirley is sporting a shoulder length Rita Hayworth hairdo and is rocking a black pair of hot pants. She may look incongruous, but as ever, she’s definitely the one in charge round here. Duke Erikson and Steve Marker are pretty much dressed as accountants and go about their business with a minimum of show, Butch Vig pounding away on drums.

Garbage are plugging their new album ‘Not Your Kind Of People’ and are also limbering up for the summer festival circuit. So, whilst we get some new material, (all of which seems great and indicates the band returning to a heavier, guitar driven sound) there are also the hits.

Garbage are one of those bands that surprise you with the number of their songs that you didn’t realise that you already knew. ‘Queer’, ‘Happy When It Rains’, ‘When I Grow Up’ ‘Stupid Girl’, these tunes keep coming. The audience is delighted and Manson often allows them to do her singing for her, stretching her microphone towards the bawling throng.

For me, the highlight is ‘The World Is Not Enough’ Let’s face it – how many bands that you see have their own James Bond theme?

Manson has her family here tonight and thanks them, the band’s manager and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. It’s all genuine and unforced and cements the vibe that this is a band playing amongst friends. Garbage are as happy to see us as we are to see them.

Other than a minor confusion over the running order of the set list, this is a slick consummately professional show. Garbage in full flow are a mighty proposition.

It’s good to have them back.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Camden Crawl Day Two - 6 May 2012

Rolo Tomassi

It’s Sunday afternoon in the Lock Tavern. People are sat at tables tucking into huge plates of food. And, on, a small dais perched amongst them all, the second day of the Camden Crawl gets under way.

Echoes are two brothers and a percussionist who taps unobtrusively on a pair of bongos.

It’s damp and chilly outside, but Echoes transport us to warm tropical nights in Eighties Miami. Their epic, synthy groove is so redolent of another time and place that you can almost see the shimmering neon.

The singer has a wonderful white-boy soul voice that soars majestically. He stands transported, his eyes closed. This is the sort of electric pulse that weaved and throbbed through recent hit film ‘Drive’.

In the Roundhouse Studios Mammoth Sound are hugely entertaining with their funky/rap/ska/jazz/soul fusion. These kids are young and still learning, but their confidence and charm are very cheering.  Kenny Mukendi and Santarna Scott are fine foils for each other, she smiling, dancing and belting out a storm, while he raps, bounces and teases the guitarist. Very good indeed. I’d have said that they are certs for the Jazz Café, but they’ve already played there.

A long walk down the road culminates with a stonking set from Rolo Tomassi at Koko. The previous band are just finishing as we come in, and are so loud that the only way to order Tiger beer at the bar is to do a mime like a tiger. Like this.

There is something about Rolo Tomassi that always cheers me up, possibly for reasons that the band would not be happy about.

Don’t get me wrong – I love their music dearly, but I also get a smile each time one of their gentle and intricate ‘musical’ interludes is interrupted by the harsh and guttural hardcore screams of Eva Spence. There’s a certain Spinal Tap ‘Lick My Love Pump’ incongruity.

Rolo Tomassi have had line up changes since I last saw them and I wonder if they have lost some of their old subtlety in the process. They are not helped this afternoon by sound problems that mean that they only seem to have one working microphone between them.

Eva writhes and twists and almost inverts herself as she cavorts around this big stage. It’s a great show, and the last really good thing that I’ll see on this year’s Crawl.

I head off to the outdoor arena to catch Japanese screamo outfit Crossfaith. They are very loud, jump up and down in unison and shriek “Camden Crawl” every thirty seconds or so. A girl from Action On Hearing Loss hands out ear plugs.

And then, for me at least, the Crawl just falls apart.

A stop off for food takes longer than intended and puts us behind. We can’t find anything good in the remainder of this time slot and end up in Dingwalls for the last fifteen minutes of Baxter Dury. Let’s just say that he does what he does and the people here seem to be enjoying it.

I then make the fatal mistake of heading to the Monarch for Willy Moon. I spend the best part of an hour watching a guy uncoiling bits of cable while an old man stares at a microphone as if trying to work out what kind of devilish device that it might be. It’s like a Beckett play. It’s an utter shambles and another time slot wasted.

Micachu and The Shapes are at least on time for their set at the Jazz Café. However, the sound mix is horrible, with Micachu all but inaudible and the only thing that you can hear being the discordant and deeply irritating plonk of a basic keyboard.

At this point, I throw my hands up and cut my losses. Despite things rather petering out, I’ve had a lot of fun on this year’s Crawl.

There’s always next year…

Monday 7 May 2012

Camden Crawl 2012: Day One - 5 May 2012

Antlered Man

It’s Spring, it’s cold and there’s rain the air. It must be time for the Camden Crawl.

We start off in the Black Cap for a set from Wrexham’s Mowbird. They blast along in a Pavement-y, US indie kind of way. The guitarist and drummer share vocals whilst their keyboard player coughs weakly and twiddles with a doll’s head that has been stuffed with various electronic gizmos. Creepy but fun. A good start.

Trwbador also hail from Wales and are so quiet that they make the xx look like AC/DC. Angharad Van Rijswijk is fetching in a tight crocheted dress and plinks at a small red toy piano. Owain Gwilym plays an acoustic guitar, which sounds almost deafening in contrast to the hushed vocals. I like the band, although they are hard to hear over the hubbub of the bar.

St Michael’s Church is having a record fair. In a side chapel, Race Horses are playing a semi acoustic set. It’s an amazing, intimate setting and the band’s cornet and harp interlude fit perfectly.

I nip up the road to the Roundhouse Studios to catch Tanya Auclair battling technology to deliver an in-the-end triumphant set of tape loops and ukulele.

The Kabeedies are playing to a rammed room in the Lock Tavern. It’s the only thing all day that we can’t comfortably get into.

Hymns are serious, proficient and making a loud racket in the Underworld. Unfortunately, I find them rather like the medicine that may be good for you but just doesn’t taste very nice. They’re far too grim and earnest.

Antlered Man at the Black Heart are much more like it. By turns preposterously heavy and ludicrously complicated, they wow from the off. The splendidly named singer Damo Ezekiel Holmes is compact, ginger of beard and occasionally slashes at a guitar strapped to a table. The band are both hardcore and elaborately proggy and don’t really sound like anything else. Really good.

In the Purple Turtle, Throwing Up are hiding behind a curtain. Newly expanded to a four piece, they emerge to reveal that drummer Ben has now moved to second guitar duties. He has the tattoos of a Norse god, all eagles and flames. He also has the word’ Rumours’ on his arm. Perhaps he is a fan of Fleetwood Mac. The band play no nonsense femme fronted Ramonse-y power punk. It’s a deceptively simple but big, big sound.

Fever Fever play a blinding set at the Monarch. Intense and heavy rock rap that triggers ecstatic dancing inside the venue and a small crowd to form in the street outside. I love this band.

I end the evening in the Barfly to see old favourites Sauna Youth. I recognise some of the personnel but find they have done a ‘reverse Throwing Up’ and that singer/guitarist Boon has retreated behind a drum kit. The band are a 300mph motorik monster that destroys all in its path. This is absolute ball-out tear-ass rock and roll at its best. They polarise opinions – many leave, whilst the rest of us lurch and bang our heads until they all but fly off. Terrific!

Now that’s a good end to Day One.  

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Bow Wow Wow and Dead Wolf Club at Islington Academy - 30 April 2012

Bow Wow Wow

There’s a mixed audience tonight. Some of us are old and some of us are even older. Not exclusively, though. One little lad looks to be about ten years old. Good, Get ‘em started young.

Given the obviously nostalgic attraction of the headliners, I’m surprised that the support band are hungry and clattering and youthful. Even better, they’re really good.

Dead Wolf Club are led by the hyper-excitable John Othello, who flails at his guitar and screams his lungs out from under a thick fringe of hair that all but obscures his face.

The songs are varied and catchy and put over with wild enthusiasm. This old audience may not be able to move very much, but they like what they hear.

Othello becomes ever more manic, at one point leaping from the stage with his guitar, only to find himself stuck behind a barrier. He runs up and down a bit before hauling himself back into view.  It is clear from the expressions of guitarist Alwin Fernandez and bassist Martha Supajirawatananon that the rest of the band are as fascinated by his antics as the rest of us.

So carried away does he get that during the finale, Othello feigns as if to smash his guitar and then proceeds to do so for real. Stage left, Fernandez looks horrified.

Dead Wolf Club are thus thoroughly entertaining. I buy their self-released album immediately.

Bow Wow Wow started as one of Malcolm McClaren’s projects to provoke and outrage the pop world, and the actual quality of the music was often overlooked amidst the general hoo-hah and controversy over Annabella Lwin’s age – fourteen at the time.

It’s been over thirty years since they last played in the UK, and Annabella and original bassist Leigh Gorman have decided to head out on tour once more.

The stage set is dominated by a huge drum kit. This is to be expected, because the key thing that Bow Wow Wow will be remembered for (along with the closely connected Adam and The Ants, who Lwin repeatedly thanks this evening) is that thumping, pounding Burundi Beat. This double, primitive rhythm is unlike any other sound. When those galloping drums start, the band just run over you.

Annabella is now a vivacious and charming woman who dances and smiles in a perpetual shimmy, her long black hair whipping around her. She’s so full of energy and bonhomie that she cheers up the whole room.

The songs still sound great, particularly the very early ones from the ‘Your Cassette Pet’ EP. We get ‘Louis Quatorze’ and ‘Sexy Eiffel Towers’, the last of which I haven’t heard in a very long time.

The pièce de résistance is ‘C30, C60, C90 Go!’ which has lost none of its urgency and bite. Annabella speed-raps through it and I realise that I can draw a straight timeline from the Bow Wow’s to all the contemporary stuff that I love today.

‘Wild In The Country’ is met with roars of appreciation. Lwin acknowledges this and says that it is good to be playing in front a sizeable audience, the implication being that attendances may have been a bit sparse at other times on this tour.  Frankly, on this showing, the rest of the country has been missing out.

Annabella stops proceedings to get the crowd to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to surprised guitarist Will. Interestingly, and because we are all of that kind of age, it is the Altered Images song that is sung.

After a tribal and triumphant version of ‘I Want Candy’ the band run out of their more obvious material and the demanded encore that follows falls slightly flat. It doesn’t matter.

Bow Wow Wow will always have a place in my heart, and it would be good to see them enjoy some success through these live shows.  It’s been far too long.

 “We’re so young and dangerous!”