Thursday 27 December 2012

Laura J Martin and Trwbador at Kings Place - 21 December 2012

Laura J Martin

I’ve not been to Kings Place before. And I’m impressed. This modern two-auditorium venue is akin to the Queen Elizabeth Hall but, as it seems to major on classical, folk and world music, it hasn’t fallen within my ken before.

Things start out fairly unpromisingly with a genial band from Brighton who play a rather plodding and unexciting brand of folky rock. It’s this lack of dynamism that really does for them -  they seem heavy footed.

I’d provide a link so that you could make your own minds up, but their name, which sounds like “Lie-ish” is proving unGoogleable.

Much better are Trwbador, who I last saw coaxing sounds out of a child’s toy piano one lunchtime on the Camden Crawl.

When they are at their best, Angharad Van Rijswijk and Owain Gwilym make music that is so quiet and uncluttered that it barely seems to exist. The pair become almost silent apart from the gentle strum of Owain’s acoustic guitar and Angharad’s high, clear voice.

They have an album out in the New Year, and what we hear from it tonight sounds very promising.

The last two tracks that they play veer into mellow jazz territory and, although these are very well done, it takes Trwbador into the realm of the commonplace rather than the unique music that makes them so

I’ve heard great things about Laura J Martin and am glad to report that these are entirely accurate.

Laura is an engaging and accomplished performer, who is clearly happy to experiment with new directions and technical equipment.

Many of the songs tonight feature extensive and inventive use of sound loops. Martin will play a snatch on her flute, or whoop like an Indian brave, and then utilise these sounds as an accompaniment to her singing and playing. It works very well.

Particularly interesting is her newest material from the Bónus Skór ep, which comprises the fruits of some recent sessions in Iceland. There is a slower, darker hue to this music, with ominous drones added to the mix.

This contrasts with Laura’s cheery demeanour. I’ve never been much of a flute aficionado, but even I can tell that Martin is a class act. She attacks her instrument with the same showy fervour that a guitarist would employ to pose with his axe. This flute is not just played, it’s SEEN to be played.

Laura is warm, chatty and happy to sign autographs in the foyer afterwards. She’s a sunny presence on a winter evening. Good for her.  

Thursday 13 December 2012

Dragonette, A*M*E and Little Nicki at Cargo - 12 December 2012


It’s a freezing night. Better to be at a nice warm gig than to wander the streets.

Fortunately, I’m in here, locked in the tender embrace of the ‘Popjustice Christmas Piss Up”. Popjustice celebrate the jollier end of the musical spectrum and DJ Bright Light Bright Light is playing a solid selection of chart hits. I bop around a bit to Girls Aloud ‘Biology’.

First on is Little Nicki, a veritable SuperBall of energy who bounces around the stage singing, rapping and performing complex dance manoeuvres with a loose-limbed male dancer.  She is clad in a tight top emblazoned with Batman logos. It’s a good look.

Music is provided by a DJ in a booth behind the cavorting Nicki and he occasionally contributes with a “What Up? “ or “Yeah!” as the situation demands. The tunes are catchy, the beats infectious and Nicki talented and easy on the eye. An excellent start to the evening.

A*M*E* is a comparatively subdued performer, but a gutsy one. She stands alone on the stage and belts out half a dozen upbeat pop numbers, including new single ‘Play the Game Boy’. She goes down well with the crowd (and me) but there is a tiny whiff of anger within her and it’s possible that she rather resents the rush to get her set over so that the main act can begin.

It’s more than five years since I last saw Dragonette. For many years they were based in London but they eventually decamped back to their native Canada.

Currently a three piece, Dragonette are a formidable pop machine fronted by the powerful pipes of Martina Sorbara. The band is delighted to be here and this joy radiates from them like a beam of light throughout the rest of the evening.

It’s straight into the hits, a triple whammy of ‘I Get Around’, ‘Riot’ and ‘Live In This City’. It’s gloriously uplifting hands-in-the-air stuff and the crowd is dancing and jumping so hard that they are practically levitating.

The band have made a huge impact around the world in the last few years by providing Martin Solveig with the vocals and sample for the global chart smash ‘Hello’. When Dragonette play this track and segue it into their own tune ‘Let It Go’ the room practically combusts with happiness.

Keeping things seasonal, the band deliver their Christmas track ‘Happy Xmas (Says Your Text Message)’ before asking for audience collusion as they shoot part of the video for forthcoming single ‘Run Run Run’. This involves Martina singing the song backwards (no mean feat) and performing with her back to us. The crowd play their part well and go suitably bonkers behind her.

It’s been a terrific night. Merry Christmas to one and all and remember…there ain’t no justice like Popjustice!

Monday 10 December 2012

Gary Numan and Officers at Kentish Town Forum - 7 December 2012

Gary Numan pic by Karren Bailey

From far and wide we come. We’re here to pay homage at the feet of a legend. He’s not cool or fashionable on anything other than his own terms. He’s Gary Numan.

The Forum is full. If there is anyone here who is not wearing black, I’m not aware of them.  This is not an evening for the uninitiated. Which puts me very much in the minority, as this is the first time I’ve seen the synth-pop pioneer.

First, we are treated to a set by Officers. The sound mix is so muddy that it is quite hard to tell exactly what they are doing, but they appear to be a fairly decent industrial rock band.

They are swathed in black (natch) and the singer is keen to show off his tattooed arms, the sleeves sensibly un-inked at the forearm.

Officers make all the right sounds and, amidst the murk, tunes emerge. They’re perfect for this evening, and indeed have collaborated with Numan on their most recent release.

The stage is dominated by a huge wall of speakers and two banks of equipment. A drummer perches between them. A guitarist and bassist strut in front of the speakers. This just leaves a microphone free for…

…Gary Numan.

There’s no getting around the fact that the first impression I have is one of shock.

Numan has always traded on being ‘other’. He began his career pretending to be post-human and he could carry this act off. He still looks and sounds completely unique.

He’s utterly pale, as though he has never seen sunlight, and his pallor is exaggerated by a thick mop of hair, dyed as black as midnight.  His face is still striking, his features looking as though they originally belonged to someone else. There’s a distinct vibe of Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Gary has long since freed himself from the tyranny of standing behind a keyboard. He allows his band to manage the electronics. This leaves him free to wrap himself around a microphone stand. He occasionally grabs a guitar, but never really plays it, using it mainly as a prop instead, waving the instrument at arms length.

The Numan voice is unchanged. It’s still a kind of strangled whine which is wildly unorthodox, but which works with these songs.

The crowd are in raptures. They don’t just sing along with the choruses, they belt out the verses too. This is communion as much as concert.

The set spans Numan’s long career, but principally showcases several tracks from ‘ Splinter’, a long term project that has not been released yet.

There’s a slow, sedate, almost melancholic air to the music. Numan sings of the Outsider, of the soul out of kilter with the mainstream. Weirdly, the last time I encountered an artist that so persistently dealt with themes of alienation and not fitting in with what others think or expect, it was Britney Spears. It’s fair to say that the comparison ends there.

The set culminates in a magnificent version of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”.  This version is partly stripped down to a simple piano-led motif before the familiar refrain crashes in with the power and majesty of two planets colliding. It’s an epic song that has almost never been bettered.

Gary Numan is soon to immigrate to Los Angeles (which might help his tan). In the meanwhile, I’m very glad to have caught him in his element on a cold December evening.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

The Raveonettes and Holy Esque at Village Underground - 3 December 2012

Raveonettes pic by Jeff Spirer at The Owl Mag

“Hawoooorgghhh! Awooorrkkkghhh!”

It’s fair to say that Pat Hynes, the singer with Holy Esque has an emotional and unusual delivery.

This music is vast in size - great sweeping paeans of guitar dinning out over the heads of the crowd.  The instruments thrash, the songs build and build and build to an epic chorus and Hynes, unable to hold himself in check any longer lets loose with a “Hawaaaargh!” or “Woooaargh!”

I am of course being facetious. Hynes’ massively over the top style of belting is exactly what these songs need. There are shades of that old Waterboys’ ‘Big Music’, where feelings are turned up to eleven, but in more measured moments, his voice is closer to that of Clap Hands Say Yeah singer Alec Ounsworth (i.e. still pretty distinctive).

Holy Esque are as confident as can be and have the tunes to back themselves. They easily pass the Wyldman test for support bands, which is ‘Does this band feel as if they are headlining in their own right?’ This lot already sound like huge festival favourites.

This is my first trip to Village Underground and I’m really impressed. It appears to be a converted warehouse that was itself created from a courtyard next to some railway tunnels. The stage is extraordinary, managing to be both intimate to the crowd and yet also vast, as the ceiling vaults cathedral-like way above us. It’s a triumph.

There are few niggles with the venue – the toilets are pitifully inadequate and there is a crush to leave at the end of the evening that brings back unwelcome memories of trying to fight your way out of the old London Astoria.

However, that stage space justifies any minor inconvenience.

In an uncertain world, you can always rely on The Raveonettes.

I’m slightly amazed at how long I’ve been going to see them. It’s been just over ten years and in that time Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have just got better and better. They’re not long in the tooth, but they have certainly matured in sound and ability to the point that where what was initially better in idea than execution is now pretty much perfect.

Sune and Sharin share vocals, their harmonies producing a pure Phil Spector chorus that is wedded to huge slabs of spiky guitar and crackling bass. The sound is huge in scope, but the tunes themselves are never lost in the din.

The band are here to promote their attest album ‘Observator’, a set of songs that are slightly more scaled back and delicate than in the recent past. However, the new songs are still capable of pinning you to the back wall when the occasion demands.

New tracks ‘Young and Cold’ and ‘Observations’ sit comfortably alongside old favourites like ‘Dead Sound’ or ‘Aly, Walk With Me’. Sune and Sharin change guitars so often that their roadie almost becomes a fourth member of the group, always presenting or carting an instrument away.

It’s a pleasure to watch a band in supreme control of its powers, doing good work.

This band, this venue, these songs…it’s all just spot on.