Wednesday 18 December 2013

Call of the Wyld - Review of the Year 2013

Julia Holter

When I say that it has been a poor year I am only referring to the feeble showing that I have put up this last twelve months. My gig attendance has been way down on previous years.

A lot of this has been down to the general encroachment of age. It has been ever harder to get a quorum of pals together to go to concerts, particularly if an event is on in the middle of the week. We're of an age where we are not as resilient as we were in the past and we don't bounce back into shape as quickly as we used to. Frankly, if I'm out more than once a week, things start to drop off and roll away.

That said, there's been plenty of good stuff that I have seen this year.

2013 started off in the fur-lined bowels of Mother, to fulfil a lifetime's ambition and see Punishment of Luxury. They were better than I dared hope they could possibly be and set me off on a year long rendezvous with acts and performers who are still gamely plugging away and showing that there is plenty of life in the oldest of dogs.

This year I've enjoyed sets from Adam Ant, the B-52's and Sparks. The pick of all of these returning heroes was Siouxsie at the Festival Hall. She was just magnificent and arguably the best that I have ever seen her - stalking the stage like the goddess that an enraptured audience insisted she was.

Other veteran acts doing good were Yo La Tengo playing in a shrubbery at the Barbican and Wire finally getting round to the business of performing the songs that had been earmarked for their fourth studio album at Heaven.  

I also enjoyed the music and hospitality of Shonen Knife, serving up fast food and fast tunes on a Saturday afternoon at the Brixton Windmill.

There were return appearances from more recent favourites. I enjoyed Savages at the Electric Ballroom in the days before they took off into the stratosphere of critical adulation, and The Virgins returned after a long absence to showcase their new direction - which seems awfully close to Dire Straits' old one.

This was the year in which my most favoured band of the last few years, Drop Out Venus started out with a new glamorous and glitzy sound, gained a new member and then split up. Iva G Moscovitch is still out there somewhere and I'll be there when she returns. Skinny Girl Diet were great all year, but particularly at the last DOV gig.

It's been a grand year for psych rock. I was whirled away by the windswept whoosh of Gnod and danced myself daft to the tribal rhythms of Goat. Their Electric Ballroom gig was just fantastic and the band have now released the entire set as a live album. It's a record that transcends the usual 'souvenir' nature of most live recordings.

I enjoyed Suuns ticking away at XOYO and Cold Cave's gangling assault at Electrowerkz. I saw Purity Ring nurdle to themselves in an East End church.

It's been an um… interesting year for Sky Ferreira. I caught her early on at Madam JoJo's when she seemed caught between America's Got Talent balladry and something much darker. Catching her later in the year in an Oxford Streetdepartment store, she was definitely embracing her inner rock chick, something borne out by her excellent album. She finished the year being involved in a drug bust, so she may have to rein herself in a bit.

In March I saw Divorce and Her Parents turn the Macbeth into a seething cackling nexus of noise and distortion. Divorce in particular were pretty much the same as watching the bowels of hell crack open and demonic beings croak and writhe within. They didn't look or sound even human. Magnificent stuff.

And at the opposite end of the spectrum came a wonderful performance from Julia Holter, who wowed the Village Underground with a beautiful show that was somehow pop, jazz and classical all in one package.

So, it's been another great year. 2014 will bring Neutral Milk Hotel and Miley Cyrus, (for whom tickets have already been purchased) and who know what else?. 

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Sparks at Union Chapel - 02 December 2013


It's a near run thing. We squeak into a packed Union Chapel a handy three minutes before Sparks come onstage.

This is the third and final of a trilogy of dates at this venue wherein Ron and Russell Mael take a wander through their vast back catalogue of songs. As when I last saw them, this is a performance that is pared down to bare essentials.

Ron Mael, as imperturbable and inscrutable as ever, sits behind a keyboard as rigid as an automaton. He looks exactly the same as he did when Sparks emerged in the 70's.

Brother Russell is dressed for comfort in a black polo neck, cut off pants and training shoes. His hair is a black mass that sits precariously on his head, looking as though it may gradually slide down the side of his face. He's armed with a microphone. This is all that we need.

Russ starts off with "You Call is Very Important to Us", looping his voice back and forth to create a cacophony of interrupting accents. It's actually the only vocal trickery deployed this evening. All subsequent songs are delivered uniquely via his still-startling falsetto and occasional faux-French accent.

Tonight's show is primarily aimed at the hardcore Sparks fan. I'm familiar with the band's hits and have their last three or four albums too, but even so much of what is played tonight is relatively new to me, comprising in the main album cuts from their early career.

This is both a blessing and a pity. The lyrical inventiveness and humour of early Sparks is extraordinary, but the verses are so intricate that songs require multiple listening to fully unpack and appreciate. Listening to a track like 'Big Boy', ‘Popularity’ or ‘Nicotina’ is akin to the patter of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta; you admire the sheer dexterity and cleverness as much as the music.

The brothers also perform works from their current (ish) venture, 'The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman'. This is a long-gestating film project which they are pleased to announce has now attracted sufficient funding to finally get made.

The highlight -among many- for me tonight is 'No 1 Song in Heaven', a joyous clap-along that seems entirely fitting in this spectacular setting. Russ' voice soars to all corners of the chapel and it is a wonderful and emotional sound.

At the end of the evening Ron and Russell are so overcome that they cannot bring themselves to leave the stage, standing dazed as parts of the audience start to file out. Russell gets Ron to take his picture against the backdrop of a sea of beaming faces in the pews.

It's a lovely, intimate moment for two of the nicest guys in show business.  

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Manflu, Skinny Girl Diet at Lexington - 15 November 2013

It's a traditional Friday at the Lexington. Our enthusiastic determination not to miss anything sees us upstairs and into the venue as soon as the doors open. 

There's the usual three men and a dog in here. We're the three men and the dog has got the night off. 

It's only slightly busier when the first act takes the stage. 72% Morrissey is as bad a name as has ever been adopted by a band and it rather sells them short. 

The modus operandi is very straightforward. This instrumental three-piece play nothing other than a succession of gargantuan bluesy riffs which all sound fantastic. Unfortunately, as none of these lasts longer than a couple of minutes they never develop into anything as substantial as a song. 

The band have worked out a special bit of stage business to accompany each riff. Josh Ryan will throw his guitar about, or Joe Brown will fall to his knees to ring the neck of his own instrument. Or one of them will do a duck walk, or yell "Yeah Muithafucka!' off mike.

It's entertaining for about ten minutes, but the law of diminishing returns sets in surprisingly quickly.

Most acts tend to spend the evening holed up in their dressing room before being summoned to the stage. Not so Skinny Girl Diet. They've been parked on a seat behind me and come through the audience to clamber up into view.

Since I last saw them they have supported Primal Scream at the Roundhouse. This experience seems to have rubbed off on them. It's also no coincidence that Amelia is wearing a 'Death to The Pixies' T-shirt. The sound that the band produces now is ferocious and the new songs are rooted in the heavy fuzz of 1990's grunge.

Delilah's vocals are an incomprehensible 40-fag-a-day rasp. She snarls and sneers through the set and simultaneously looks both happy and utterly murderous.

It's an impressive performance, but at this rate the band will be wowing them at Download rather than at Glastonbury.  And quite right too.

Manflu have been on the scene for a number of years. I've long wanted to see them, but tonight is the first time that the stars have been favourably aligned.
Tonight the band are launching an album, and all stops have been pulled out. The guys in the band are in full grip of Movember, with much luxurious face-furniture on display. Singer Aza is spectacularly attired in a golden body suit.
The band plays and the crowd goes ape - Aza striding from side to side, her Nico monotone chanting the words.

And I don't like it. It's just one of those things. They leave me completely flat. I had been looking forward to Manflu for ages, and they just don't connect with me at all.
If I had to put my finger on it I think it's because I feel that all the dressing up is an end in its self and that without it they'd be very ordinary. I get no spark from them, too much art and not enough rock.

Manflu remind me a lot of of the Do Me Bad Things, another band who looked great but felt pedestrian.
I'm more disappointed with myself than anything - most people here are having a great time. But you can't win 'em all.







Wednesday 13 November 2013

Julia Holter at Village Underground - 11 November 2013

Julia Holter

It's a filthy night.

I pull my cap down over my eyes to protect my glasses from the pelting rain. I'm stood in a queue in Shoreditch waiting for the doors of Village Underground to open.

Once inside it is clear that one of the more bizarre laws of gig-going has come into play. This states that if there is a queue down the street outside a small venue, once you are inside the place appears to be largely empty. The late-lamented Metro in Oxford Street used to be the prime example of this phenomenon - that place could absorb punters like a black hole sucks in light.

I really like Village Underground. The vast brick vault that towers over the stage gives a cathedral-like majesty to events below. It makes every performance seem important and special.

The first act is a woman armed with a guitar and a series of loop devices. After Martina Topley-Bird last time out, this is clearly becoming a trend.

Lucrecia Dalt moves around in semi darkness, setting up a series of rhythms over which she chops with her guitar, stepping up to one of a number of microphones to coo indistinctly.

It's okay, but for me there is a slight problem in that all these pieces seem like introductions to something bigger that never arrives. They never go anywhere and even stop dead when it appears that they might. Interesting rather than essential.

This is my first live experience of Julia Holter. She grabs attention right from the start and doesn't relinquish it until she and her band leave an hour or so later.

Holter stands behind a keyboard. She is flanked by musicians playing saxophone, violin, cello and drums. It's not a common set up. But then, Holter is not a common performer.

The music played this evening is very hard to categorise in usual musical terms. I could give a great long list of references and comparisons, but these would only apply to brief moments within these very complicated but beautiful song structures. I would say that this is closest to modern jazz or contemporary classical music, but my ignorance of these genres is so complete that this is not a helpful description.

Julia Holter is an engaging presence. She's utterly relaxed and is happy to chat to the crowd. She declares herself fascinated by the 'trapezoid' shape of the room and is clearly bemused at having to play whilst being dive-bombed by a succession of flying insects attracted by the stage lights. "There's something very large on my keyboard…" she notes.

Holter's voice is a high and pure wonder of clarity, very well served by the excellent acoustics.

The set begins with the underwater wooziness of 'Maxims I' and proceeds from there, drawing heavily on her most recent album 'Lost City Songs'.

These tunes are varied and spellbinding. Sometimes the sax squalls in freeform anguish. Sometimes the violin churns like a guitar. Everything is intricately structured - there is very little improvisation here.

A cover of Barbara Lewis ' "Hello Stranger" is one of many highlights. The song is stretched and dissected until it bears only the ghost of a resemblance to the original.

For a encore, the band return to play a version of 'Goddess Eyes', a track that Holter has explored several times across her albums.

I'm totally smitten. I'm not often lost for words, but I'm deliberately holding back the gush of superlatives here. If I start, I'll be here all day.

So it's simple. Go and see Julia Holter live. She's quite unique. 

Thursday 31 October 2013

Warpaint and Pins at Brixton Academy - 30 October 2013


It's been a long time since I've been to Brixton Academy. It's not changed a bit. It’s true - there is advertising in the Gents for special offers that expired in 2008.

The stage is occupied by Martina Topley-Bird, resplendent in a fire engine red gown. She looks slightly like a novelty toilet roll cover.

Martina accompanies herself with a loop machine, which creates backing tracks from brief snatches of vocal. She then sings over the top of these rhythms, her voice smoky and distinctive.

It's an interesting exercise, but these all sound like extracts or demos for a larger, more complete work. Even so, it is a shame when a roadie appears on stage to give her the hook before the completion of her set.

I've seen Pins before and was impressed at that time. On tonight's showing, the band have progressed even further.

For starters the band are totally at home on the big stage. Their dual-guitar attack rings around the cavernous venue. The acoustics of the place are not kind and seem to swallow much of the sound from the middle to upper register, but all the acts tonight suffer from this phenomenon.

Singer/guitarist Faith has grown into a mighty stage presence, either throwing axe-heroine shapes with her instrument or crouching down to draw the audience in towards her. That she is dressed in natty black hot pants also helps.

The drummer is a powerful focal point within the band. Sophie concludes the set stood on her kit, hammering down as the others look on. Pins have taken the opportunity afforded them in this support slot and grasped it with both hands.

I had rather forgotten Warpaint. When I last saw them they were a phenomenal live band whose music did not translate readily to studio recording. I can't say that I've had their debut album on any kind of heavy rotation.

Others clearly disagree. The Academy is full tonight and when the band appear they are given a rapturous reception.

The four members of the band remain masters of their sound, which is a fluid, bass-heavy amalgam of funk and folk-tinged rock, over which vocals are traded. The fascinating thing is that there is no single point of focus, no obvious band leader. Warpaint are a collective unit and no one part is less important than any other.

As the set progresses, the great strength and occasional weakness of the band becomes more evident. These are rarely songs in any conventional sense, more a succession of grooves and jams - a sort of Fleetwood Mac in Dub. I think that whether you enjoy this depends upon the degree to which you surrender yourself and follow the music, the beat, the rhythm.

Tonight, I feel somewhat isolated. I can't get into the mood; I need something to cling to. I get some stability with back to back readings of 'Undertow' and 'Billie Holiday', perhaps the nearest that the band comes to the verse/chorus/verse format.

The band finishes with an even looser, bassier work out than before. Warpaint are never less than fascinating, and there really is nothing else out there that sounds like them. But sometimes you have to tune in before you can turn on to what they do. 

Tuesday 24 September 2013

La Femme extra

The video that I included in my report from last week was a little old.

Here's their brand spanking new one - and this is EXACTLY what I was on about.

Remember kids. Guns and knives are neither big nor clever, but they are cool.

Thursday 19 September 2013

La Femme at Sebright Arms - 18 September 2013

La Femme

The first unwelcome surprise of the evening comes with the revelation that the headliners are not due onstage until nine thirty and that there are no support acts other than a DJ.

We troop off to a nearby hotel to watch the football and my second and final unwelcome surprise comes with the extremely disgruntling result of the Chelsea v Basel match.

After this discouraging start however, it's sheer delight all the way.

On returning to the tiny confines of the Sebright basement the atmosphere is one of expectant excitement. It's hot down here and the air hangs heavy with theatrical mist.

La Femme burst on stage looking like 1940's resistance fighters. They are clad in leather jackets, scarves and berets. Such is the energy that the band generate that most of this clobber is discarded by the end of the first song.

There's a wonderful cinematic quality to La Femme. Their songs inhabit a 60's noir alternate world where spies meet in darkened rooms, mysterious beauties hold cigarettes holders and trench coats are de rigour. The band take this as a starting point to produce a set of giddy high tempo electro pop that is as exciting and harem scarem as a James Bond car chase.

Singer Clemence is a delightful, elegant chanteuse who dances non-stop behind a small keyboard. To her left, band leader Marlon is down to his vest, his torso and neck writhing with tattoos. The rest of the band are slightly lost in the heat and the haze, but can be seen pummelling keyboards in frenzy.

There is a huge mosh pit in front of the stage, with everyone dancing wildly to tracks lack 'Anti Taxi' and 'Sur La Plage'. Arms are held aloft, heads bop furiously. When they are in full flow you could imagine that La Femme are the kind of band that Quentin Tarantino would have play at his wedding - even with their hair plastered across their faces and sweat pouring from every pore this band are COOL.

I have a big stupid grin on my face throughout and I'm not the only one. The whirling synths and pounding rhythms are irresistible.

The band slightly muff their encore by confusing the exhausted crowd into thinking that they are not coming back onstage. But when they re-emerge, the stragglers that remain in the room throw ourselves around like dervishes for one last time.

At the end of the evening, when I emerge into the night outside the pub I find that the band have beaten me outside and are hanging limp and steaming in the doorway.

La Femme really are the most fun that you can have with your clothes on - even when it’s so hot that you have to rip them off.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Skinny Girl Diet and The Greasy Slicks - The Macbeth 4 September 2013

Skinny Girl Diet - Watch out world.

The properties along Hoxton Street are being gentrified. The area is a collision of council estate and bo-ho gastro pub stylishness.

The Macbeth sits defiantly somewhere between the two extremes, a relic of the past facing an uncertain future.

The first band on tonight are The Greasy Slicks. In an era where populist blues rock is seemingly exclusively the province of power duos such as Drenge or the Black Keys, this group seem positively overstaffed as a three piece unit. However, the extra player adds a depth and authenticity to their sound that leaves the others in the dust. The Slicks are much less like a cartoon and a lot closer to the 70's rock gods that they take their inspiration from.

We're firmly in Led Zeppelin, George Thorogood blues rock heaven. Protracted guitar workouts, powerful and intricate drumming and crunching riffs. I'm really impressed with them and I'm not normally a fan of this type of music. If they lose me a little during the occasional guitar noodling passages then they are not doing anything that I wouldn't have expected.  Damn good fun.

My relationship with Skinny Girl Diet has changed. They have gone from being a band that I'm pleased to see on a supporting bill to being the reason that I'm here at all tonight.

I'm increasingly coming to believe that SGD are the complete package. They are effortlessly stylish and cool (a fact picked up by others) and their stripped down, fuzzed out simplicity hits my sweet spot too.

Amelia, Delilah and Ursula gel together in a way that many other acts would envy. The three together are somehow infinitely more than the sum of their parts. Any of them individually would be the highlight of any other combo. They occasionally use the Power Puff Girl graphic in their publicity material. It fits…

SCREAM! Bassist Amelia looks like butter wouldn't melt, but steps forward to wail like a demon.

SMILE! Drummer Ursula is pretty much the happiest person ever seen on a stage. Always laughing, she's not even fazed by a major drum kit malfunction which brings the set to an unexpected halt after only a couple of numbers.

TEXT! Guitarist and de facto band leader Delilah responds to the brief hiatus not by engaging with the crowd or playing on but by becoming engrossed in her mobile phone. It is a moment that really sums up for me why I love this band - they are simultaneously fearsomely driven and urgently serious but then the façade slips and they are three young kids just having fun.

The drum kit repaired, the girls power onwards. Songs like ‘Eyes That Paralyse’ and ‘Dimethyltryptamine’  are really taking shape now and the power and energy of this band is not going to be long confined to venues such as the Macbeth. They've got a prestigious date coming up supporting Primal Scream at the Roundhouse and it will be very interesting to see how they handle the step up. I suspect Gillespie and co won't know what hit them.

Skinny Girl Diet. So much fun it’s not healthy.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

David Byrne & St Vincent - Roundhouse 27.08.2013

David Byrne, St Vincent  and a whole lotta brass.

The Roundhouse is rammed solid. There's a real buzz of expectation in the air.

David Byrne's disembodied voice politely requests that people refrain from recording and taking photos and watching the show 'through their iPads'. The crowd whoops its approval of these sentiments - and then proceeds to take no heed of his words at all.

This the 'Love This Giant' tour, just David Byrne, St Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and a large brass ensemble performing tracks from the album of the same name plus selections from their respective back catalogues.

The brass sound is impressive- a dozen musicians each specialising in a different instrument. These range from the familiar such as the slide trombone and the French horn, to the vast bass sousaphone, which lends a mighty 'oompah' to proceedings.

David Byrne, his hair white and wild, looks like a Victorian evangelist in a sombre suit (although he soon strips down to white shirt and braces). Annie Clark has dyed her hair blonde and is clad in black. This gives the early songs something of the air of a temperance meeting, with the brass as doleful as a Salvation Army band.

The section of the crowd around me behaves abominably throughout. Aside from the aforementioned tendency to record everything, despite being so far away from the stage that the exercise is completely futile, they use the St Vincent-led numbers to talk loudly to each other or go to the bar or bathroom. It's very depressing.

This audience of fifty somethings are basically here for David Byrne and even then only if he does Talking Heads stuff. It causes a friction when the artist is more radical than his audience.

Byrne first departs from the LTG material to sing 'Strange Overtones' from his previous collaboration with Brian Eno. The band parps solemnly along.

To my ears, this is a problem with much of tonight's music - unless in full-on swing mode, the brass accompaniment mainly seems gloomy and wistful, rendering it difficult to build any kind of sustained momentum in the set. It's all a bit sombre.

At later points in the evening we get versions of 'This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody) and a rare outing for Byrne's unexpected dance hit with X-Press 2 'Lazy'. The latter features some elaborate choreography and becomes a kind of church-y Sunday School hoedown.

Annie Clark is equal partner in tonight's enterprise. She has a fascinating guitar style which involves slapping at her instrument as though trying to extinguish a fire. Her highlight is a terrific version of 'Lightning', her shadow silhouetted on the big screen behind the players. She can also match Byrne’s robotic dancing, scuttling around the stage like a little automaton, or engaging him in a theremin duel during ‘Cruel’.

The band show great versatility in switching from jazz to funk to American marching band with alacrity. However, as noted above, a whole evening of this music becomes a little samey - and you can't quite escape the feeling that this veers into novelty territory, like Senor Coconut doing salsa versions of Kraftwerk, or Richard Cheese performing gangsta rap in a lounge style.

The encores give the audience what they came for, including a rousing version of 'Burning Down the House' which is much the best thing of the night and a slightly anaemic finale of 'Road to Nowhere'.

It's been rather a curate's egg of a show.  David Byrne and St Vincent will separately move on to other projects. The great thing about them is that they are happy to try new things - it would be good if they could take their fans along with them.


Tuesday 20 August 2013

Shonen Knife BBQ Party at Brixton Windmill - 17 August 2013

Shonen Knife (pic Annie Lesser)

The weather is classed as 'changeable', which is not normally a concern when attending a gig, but this is not your usual Saturday afternoon outing.

I arrive at the London institution that is the Brixton Windmill to join in what is billed as 'Shonen Knife BBQ Party'.

We start off by paying respects to Roof Dog and head in. A band is making noise but turn out to be merely sound checking. We head out to the tiny concrete garden in back.

Shonen Knife are dispensing meat from a barbeque. They are brightly and identically dressed in exquisite yukata-mode mini-suits. We say hello and enjoy a tasty feast.

Over the course of the afternoon and early evening we get three support bands. None of them are unalloyed successes, but there are some flashes of interest.

Echolocation are an eclectic lot, featuring amongst other members a flat capped geezer declaiming Mark E Smith style cut up lyrics and a red-haired girl manipulating a similarly coloured electric cello. There's a trumpeter and various others in there as well somewhere. The songs are long, slow jams that gradually build in intensity but which never quite manage to deliver.

Passerines have two excellent singers whose voices are fine when employed separately but which rather clash when they attempt to harmonise. Hiro Toshi from Smallgang (playing later tonight) has a low, rich gravelly growl, while Katie has a pure, high folk voice, best showcased on a song that begins with a line that sounds uncommonly like "That chestnut tree looks demented". I like this more than I would have thought.

Former Utopia are celebrating their 100th gig. Good on them.

The crowd then congregates to the front of the tiny stage. After a brief hiatus Shonen Knife appear, waving their trademark scarves above their heads and squeaking with glee.

What follows is an hour of pure pop joy as the band blast out a set of Ramonsey rainbow rock with a food theme. We get 'Sushi Bar'. We get 'Blue Oyster'. We get 'Rock' n' Roll Cake'.  They even gambol through 'BBQ Party', which is especially apt.

Naoko Yamano engages with the happy throng in front of her like a benevolent mother, while bassist Ritsuko Taneda beams from ear to ear and leaps from side to side of the stage. Behind them, drummer Emi Morimoto whoops and jumps up and down.

The audience enthusiastically joins in with the dance routines, never more so than during a climatic version of '(I wanna go to) An All You-Can Eat' which features members of Smallgang corralled onstage to provide extra vocals and kazoo assistance.

As the girls leave, its still early, but I'm exhausted. I never knew so much fun could be this tiring!

The B-52's at IndigO2 - 16 August 2013

The B-52's (Kate Pierson giving it some welly)

I head to the O2 via a boat down the Thames. It is a silly (and expensive) conceit, but there's something undeniably thrilling about approaching the venue in this fashion.

After staying perhaps a little too long in a hospitable riverside inn I wander into the vastness of the Dome itself.

This is the first time that I've been to Indigo, the small 'club' venue that dwells in the shadow of the O2 Arena proper.

The room has been expertly designed on the same lines as show spaces within Las Vegas hotels. There are no slot machines, but sight lines are clear, sound quality is good and there is the illusion of approachability.

The support band are in the final throes of their set. Surprisingly, it turns out that these are punk pioneers The Members, now down to a three piece and older than death.

Despite looking like Methuselah's grandparents, they rattle along with great vim. Even back in the day, they were principally known for a single song and when they finish tonight with an epic clatter through 'Sound of the Suburbs', it sounds wonderful, a truly classic piece of music.

I head to the bar and find myself stood next to a guy dressed as a lobster. A rock lobster. There's quite a few folk who have dressed up tonight, happy to leave their dignity at the door in tribute to the B-52's, one of the greatest party bands to ever cut a rug.

Now down to a trio of original members (guitarist Keith Strickland doesn't tour anymore), Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson are ably assisted by an extremely well schooled backing band.

The set starts with 'Planet Claire', Kate Pierson a vision in red, warbling like a human theremin.

It's hits all the way and it extraordinary how contemporary and fresh everything sounds. The B-52's have been often unfairly dismissed as a novelty act because of their unabashed and unapologetic emphasis on fun and day-glo colours. But the music is clipped, stripped down and sparse, with no extraneous embellishment, just pure dance rhythm.

Great tune follows great tune - 'Mesopotamia', 'Roam', a terrific '6060-842', 'Private Idaho', - we dance this mess around, the party out of bounds.

Fred does his snarky comments, Cindy gets a big solo number and Kate is a sashaying, shimmering crimson phenomenon.

Oddly, the only track that falls even slightly short of greatness is 'Love Shack', which feels a little underpowered this evening.

That's a tiny caveat. This is an easy home win of a gig and everyone, on stage and off, looks to be having a great time.

Although I've always loved them, this is the first time that I've ever seen the B-52's. I'm so glad to rectify this.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Cold Cave and Natural Assembly at Electrowerkz - 08 August 2013

Wesley Eisold (Cold Cave)

It's like riding a bicycle. You never forget. It's over six weeks since I last saw a gig and I almost wonder if I've grown out of it.

Fortunately, I take to the late night and hard rhythms like cats take to the internet.

Electrowerkz is as dark and angularly forbidding as ever. It's mottled with graffiti and appears to be passing itself off as the hold of a 'Nostromo' type space ship. It's a good look, although you feel that you would need a tetanus shot if you cut yourself.

There is so much theatrical mist and opaque lighting onstage that it is unclear (literally) whether the support band are performing or not. However, when Natural Assembly arrive there is no room for doubt.

The pair are clad in the dark, vaguely militaristic garb of a legion of industrial bands. It's the Henry Ford School of Rock- any colour you like, as long as it's black. We're in safe hands.

This is a classic electronic sound dating back to the very early Eighties. The beats are simple but harsh, there’s a mistrust of complexity and everything rumbles along like the motor on a giant refrigerator.

Singer Jesse Cannon prowls through the murk. He's not got an obviously melodious voice, but rather sing/shouts as though he was bawling abuse after a departing taxi. It suits the music.

Natural Assembly are roughly hewn, but they have recognisable songs and a winning enthusiasm. They sort of remind me of Visage but without an iota of pretention or foppery. Good for them.

In some respects I could almost repeat the same remarks in relation to headliners Cold Cave.

Once again the music is firmly referencing the early days of what would become the industrial/electronic sound. Wesley Eisold and Amy Lee are going right back to first principles, to the days when the Cure were pedalling Pornography and jackets were leather and covered in studs.

Wesley Eisold cuts a dash onstage. Right from the off, he's crashing around with such fierce abandon that for a second I think that he's drunk. He's not, he's just so awkward and committed that he's forever getting entwined with his mike stand or stumbling across in the gloom to bash at a few buttons or consult with Lee. He's both tough and weirdly vulnerable at the same time.

The music blasts and thrums like a runaway train. You can hear the squeal of complaining machinery in every note, every jack hammer beat.

Although mostly as rigidly black and white and stark as all industrial music, there are flashes of light. Literally so when for one song the stage is gradually lit with the image of bright yellow sunflowers and Eisold is illuminated in the golden glow.

For me the big moment of the night comes with 'Icons of Summer' with its refrain of "I can't Keep Falling Down". There's real anguish and frustration here and it’s a great track.

I'm back on the gig beat again and I won't be away as long again. Cold Cave and Natural Assembly are an excellent way to get start. 

Saturday 29 June 2013

Goat and Teeth of the Sea at Electric Ballroom - 27 June 2013

a Goat, yesterday.

I have some reservations ahead of tonight's gig. I'm not convinced that I'm going to enjoy it. I suspect it's because I'm wary of bands that are predominantly instrumental - I've seen way too many acts that nurdle away to themselves and gradually disappear up their own bumholes, oblivious as to whether they have an audience in front of them or not.

I'm also sure that I have seen tonight's support band, Teeth of the Sea, before, probably in one of their very earliest incarnations. What I AM sure about is that they are terrific this evening.

The band stand in a line at the front of the stage. They are past the first flush of youth and are challenging the onslaught of male-pattern baldness with a remarkable array of tonsorial techniques ranging from shave and dye, to distraction by means of outrageous moustache, to comb it all back and stick it up like a cockatoo.

Teeth of the Sea bring the fun. Rhythms are pounded on a small drumkit while the groove is picked up by a battery of keyboards. Stage right, a guitarist poses shamelessly with a Flying -V, sporting an ancient T shirt favouring ancient hair metallers Vinnie Vincent's Invasion.

It's all racketingly good. The band have a sense of the theatrical and the absurd and deliver a fine set of electronic dance with that glam rock beat.

We're off to a very fine start.

Goat hail from Sweden and have been gathering buzz since the release of their debut album 'World Music' late last year. There are such positive vibes about their stage shows that tonight's gig (only their second in the UK) has been moved to the Electric Ballroom from the Scala after excessive ticket demand.

What follows is pretty much indescribable…I just get blown away…

…a non-stop whirling orgy of psychedelic tribal drumming, insane rock, voodoo, robes, ju-ju, massive riffs, tribal masks, diamante knickers, hair flying, whooping, frenzied dancing, hand bells, ululation,  GOAT!……

..hypnotic groove dance jive, Egyptian imagery, arabian nights (at their primitive best), harem pants, seismic basslines, riotous colours, twins dancing dancing dancing ,  GOAT! GOAT!

,synchronised screaming, krautrock, glam rock, Ayers rock, mystery and mysticism, excitement, ectoplasm, exertion , passion, possession, afro beat, aphrodisiac, dizzy miss lizzy freak out freak out GOAT! GOAT!! GOAT!!!!

When the band leaves the stage you feel as though you have just been dumped in a field by a tornado. Everyone around you stands wide eyed and stunned.

Goat are an astonishing, almost religious cargo-cult of a band. Bloody hell!


Wednesday 26 June 2013

Sky Ferreira at H & M Oxford Street - 25 June 2013

Sky Ferreira

It seems like a bad idea. Sky Ferreira is playing an invitation only gig at H&M in Oxford Street.

So this is why I'm standing in a queue of excited teenagers that snakes round the building, drawing queries from passersby and muttering from folk who are trying to use the nearby bus stop. It's not really a crowd that I can easily blend in with, so I adopt the demeanour of a taciturn Russian minder.

There's an awkward moment upon entering the store when I have to squeeze into a tightly packed lift. It's so cramped that if I breathe out, we're gonna get trapped between floors.

Upstairs we are shown into an area teaming with excited youth. There's a sign that says "Try it on!" I decide that I'd better not.

We are eventually stacked like kindling in a small space delineated by curtains. We are facing a huge neon sign. It reads…'Fitting Room'.

One of the first lessons learned in rock school is 'make 'em wait'. And wait we do in our sardine state for nearly half an hour after Sky's purported stage time.

Then Sky appears and all discontent and doubts about this evening disappear.

She's a genuine pop star. While between songs she is all nerves and giggles, when the music starts she is all business.

I saw her earlier this year at Madame Jo Jo's and was impressed on that occasion. Tonight I'm even more so.

Unlike many young pop stars, there is no sense of sticking to a rigid or safe formula. The tunes vary from rock numbers, to emotional ballads, to dancey pop. Sky is able to nail them all with aplomb. And make you care while she's doing so.

To my unaccustomed ears, the best track tonight is a brand new one called 'On Top'. It's got a rumbling rocky churn to it and it builds in intensity and repetition as it goes on.

Huge ballad '24 Hours' elicits squeals from the young crowd and camera phones are held aloft (yes, even more than usual) during a climactic rendition of 'Everything is Embarrassing'.

We troop out through the store in polite order and are given a goodie bag containing a T shirt and other odds and ends which I'll have to find a good home for.

It's been an unorthodox but very enjoyable evening. Sky’s the limit. 

Monday 24 June 2013

The Virgins and Gentlemen at The Old Blue Last - 20 June 2013

The Virgins

The ladies are in the audience. Gentlemen are on the stage. At this early part of the evening the ladies are few in number whereas Gentlemen are the extremely difficult to Google support band.

These guys are long, slim and handsome in bright, tight-fitting shirts, skinny trousers and big hair. These guys are rockers.

They play an easy on the air psychedelic rock music and go down well in the room. It's a shame that more people didn't come up the stairs to see them, because they fit in very comfortably with the vibe of tonight's headliners.

By the time The Virgins arrive, the room is packed. It's really hot in here, a marked contrast to the first time that I saw the band on a minus eleven February day in New York in 2007.

It's been a while since the band have visited these shores yet welcome familiarity floods back as soon as genial front man Donald Cumming starts speaking. His is one of the more distinctive voices in all of rock, an amused and genteel adenoidal tone.

To untrained UK ears bands from the US sound…American. But The Virgins hail from New York and sound like that city, unmistakeably, through and through.

The band are promoting their new album 'Strike Gently' and it continues where their self-titled debut left off. And like that previous record, it is targeted like a missile at the love parts of every woman in the room.

The Virgins can make women dance like no rock band that I've ever seen. Donald calls out to them, praises them, winks and smiles. It's genuine and warm and not bogus or creepy. The band's music is a loping guitar and bass heavy funk that bumps and grinds against your hips, gives you a little nudge and invites you to dance.

As the new album has not yet really landed in the UK, it is the older songs that get the biggest response. Incredibly the audience sing along with their favourites in their entirety. 'Rich Girls' becomes a happy communal chant with the throng singing not just the chorus, but the verses and the off-the-cuff vocal asides too. This is real worship and affection.

I shuffle and groove with the best of them. I see a couple of lads try and hit on a pair of young women gyrating in front of me. They get rebuffed, but everyone is smiling, no harm, no foul.

The evening comes to a rather abrupt end dead on 10.30. It seems to catch everyone by surprise, including the band. 

The Virgins are a safe bet, a home run, a cast iron guarantee. You'll have a good time - and ladies will dance.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Siouxsie and Viv Albertine at Royal Festival Hall - 17 June 2013

Siouxsie (obviously)

Viv Albertine is golden and gorgeous as she takes the stage of the Royal Festival Hall as part of Yoko Ono's Meltdown Festival.

Looking for all the world like a gleefully beaming mumsy gladiatrix in a shimmering metallic dress, the former Slit leads her five piece band through a set that is a deft mix of punky noise, sweeping strings and familial concerns.

Viv acknowledges the passing of time since her eventful youth and jokes that her song 'Needles' might previously have been written about heroin, but is actually an account of her (successful) IVF treatment.

She's moved from 'Typical Girl' to everyday mother. Another song is entitled 'Life's too Short to be Shy'. Viv Albertine completely embodies this sentiment. Good on her.

Siouxsie Sioux has been absent from the stage for the past five years or so and it is a coup for Yoko that she makes her return with a couple of shows here on the Southbank.

The set design is striking- a wall of huge metal blinds and bright light beams that creates an antiseptic, hospital atmosphere. When Siouxsie appears there is an audible gasp followed by wild cheers.

From my lofty perch up in a balcony I can see a heaving rush of bodies crashing over the seats below, forming a pyramid of devotion as the fans pile on top of each other at the foot of the stage. It's exactly like this striking image from World War Z.

Siouxsie is dressed in a skin tight white latex gown, her hair hanging long and black and straight. It's an image directly referencing Japanese horror. Gone is the Victorian lace or coloured scarves of previous incarnations - this version of Siouxsie is dominant and cruel and not in the mood for softness or subtlety.

She starts with 'Happy House'. Her band is brutally loud and battering. For the rest of the night they will hammer us into submission. Siouxsie's voice is perhaps a note lower than previously and there are occasional signs that she can't quite control her breath in way that she used to, although this becomes less noticeable once she warms up.

Siouxsie is a formidable presence. She strides around, high kicking like a Russian soldier or else twirling and shimmering like a belly dancer, her arms weaving mystical patterns in the air.

She rips off the robe to reveal a clinging white latex cat-suit. It's a costume that only the very bravest would even attempt to wear, let alone carry off as triumphantly as this.

The crowd are in a febrile frenzy and Siouxsie playfully growls at them for thrusting gifts and flowers towards her during one of the relatively quieter numbers. They love her for it and they love the music – tonight’s set is very heavy on tracks from the Banshees’ third album ‘Kaleidoscope’.

The second half of the show starts with 'Israel' and the roof pretty much comes off the building. This is followed by a crunching version of 'Arabian Knights' which Siouxsie admits herself is demanding to perform.

It's a devastating, deafening show and an uncompromising performance. As the band leaves following an industrial 'Spellbound' my senses are spinning and my ears are ringing like gongs.

A literally breathtaking show. 

Wednesday 29 May 2013

The Besnard Lakes and Sweet Jane at The Garage - 28 May 2013

Besnard Lakes pic by Patrick Kelly

It's probably more than two years since I was last here in the Garage. Initially at least, I am surprised at how sparse the crowd is. However, those who decide to come and give time to the support band are amply rewarded.

What immediately strikes me about Sweet Jane is that I'm unused to watching bands that play anything like a version of traditional 'classic' rock.  Sweet Jane are a well set up five piece from Dublin who evoke the song craft of late period R.E.M. or even Neil Young. This is melodic guitar-led Americana done really well.

Singer/guitarist Danda Paxton has a very pleasing voice and an easy manner. His mighty moustache is a thing of beauty too.

I like Sweet Jane a lot. I enjoy their harmonies and appreciate that they can incorporate guitar solos into their music without derailing their songs.

I have recently been listening again to "Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO", the latest album from headliners The Besnard Lakes. It is an album of epic vastness and wonder, if a bit low on actual tunes. It will be interesting to see how the band approaches these songs in the live setting.

The immediate answer seems to be an overreliance on the powers of dry ice to convey mystery.

Singer Jace Lacek can occasionally be glimpsed through the fog, either wringing the neck of his guitar or coaxing sounds from a tall keyboard set up. He sings in a falsetto, his voice more a part of the grand sweep of the music than a distinct and separate thing.

When a more traditional voice is required to deliver a song, it is provided by Olga the bassist.

It is ludicrously hot in the venue and the band suffer along with the crowd, often stopping between tracks to mop themselves with towels.

The heat and the dry ice are distancing and damaging, much of the set passing by in a literal blur in which nothing can be distinguished. It makes for an at times dull and uninvolving show.

And yet. For the encore Jace leads the band through a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' for Olga and a friend dressed as Fidel Castro presents her with champagne and a cake. It is a silly, human moment.

This rejuvenates the band. The dry ice mostly clears and we see a cheerful, sweaty group of musicians enjoying themselves whilst making epic music. It's a fine end to the evening and goes a long way towards sending me home a lot happier than I would otherwise have been.

Not a great night, but decent support and a strong finish. I'm not a fan of the Garage though - I've been in saunas that were less oppressive.

Friday 24 May 2013

Drop Out Venus, Skinny Girl Diet, Ben Dodson at Sebright Arms - 22 May 2013

Skinny Girl Diet (what a picture!)

The Sebright Arms is famously hidden away down a side street and rather hard to find. As I walk along the road to the venue I find Skinny Girl Diet wandering the wrong way along the pavement. They are laden down with their gear and am pleased to point them in the right direction. I'll catch up with them later this evening.

Some hours later, I squeeze into the tiny space beneath the pub and find Ben Dodson already onstage playing a small piano keyboard.

Ben has a lovely deep and sonorous voice that rumbles round the room. He's very tall and almost has to bend over to fit on the stage. He's dressed in black threads and is sporting a hairstyle with a topknot that makes him look like a startled bird of prey.

The first thing that I notice is that he appears to be playing a song that references Drop Out Venus' 'Love + Desire'. The reason for this will become clear later on in evening.

Dodson's set progresses with him playing a guitar. His songs are long and intricate, and often declamatory in style. He's as much preacher as singer.  He ends with a drum tucked under his arm, beating a sparse tattoo and glaring confrontationally into the crowd.

I smile back at him, I like the cut of his jib.

It's over a year since I last saw Skinny Girl Diet and that thudding sound that you can hear is me now beating my head on the desk and going "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" - because tonight this band are stone cold brilliant and I've missed them so many times between then and now.

The three piece are deceptively basic - Amelia on bass seems almost too small for her instrument, teetering on massive shoes and occasionally emitting ear-splitting screams.

Singer and guitarist Delilah has a face of exquisite sadness, her eyes often closed. She is a soul singer in the original sense that the songs that she sings are deeply personal, utterly heartfelt and genuine in sentiment.

Behind the others, drummer Ursula is apparently transported by the music, almost unaware of the others. Her beaming smile lights up the room.

There is not a scintilla of archness or artifice about Skinny Girl Diet. There's a real purity of purpose about them. They rattle and thrash and they make you feel good about yourself and about them and about life itself.

Drop Out Venus are headlining tonight and have entered a new phase in their evolution, a direction which had been hinted at during the Roundhouse Studio show back in February.

The band has expanded to become a four piece and it is Ben Dodson who has been added on keyboards and occasional guitar. He and the rest of the band are now randomly splashed with blue face paint, which is all part of the 'Glitz and Glamour' campaign they are running at the moment.

They start with the new single ' Death is Screaming'. It's a weird beast of disconnected time signatures and lyrics. The band have always described themselves as 'junk jazz' and this is not an idle affectation - their current material is leading them in all sorts of odd directions, often in the same song.

The addition of keyboards is not always a good thing. The band's trademark sound is softened and at times it feels as if there are two competing acts on stage, with the intensity and violence that made the band so startling in the first place being swamped and diluted. A friend whispers to me that "they've sold out" i.e. gone commercial. It's a Dylan Goes Electric moment.

Iva Moscovitch is the same as ever- beautiful, compelling and terrifying all at once. She introduces one new piece with the promise that if "any one of you says a word during this song I will come down there and put you in the fuckin’ hospital!" She means it. No one says a word.

The addition of keyboards is not an unmitigated disaster. New song 'Pain' is a fabulous thing and the first Drop Out Venus song that could be played to a wider audience without a prior health warning.  It shimmers and throbs with a rhythm that flirts with the Gnarls Barkley track 'Crazy'.

When Dodson switches to guitar, things sound different. The lurching, staggering power that the band generates reminds me at times of The Birthday Party and that is never a bad thing.

For the encore, the band comes back and performs the only 'old' song of the night, a typically emotional read through of “I Don’t Know.”

A really enjoyable and fascinating evening. It's the first time that I've seen Drop Out Venus given a genuine run for their money, with Skinny Girl Diet stealing the show.

DOV are clearly still getting to grips with their line up change. But they are never dull, never still, never content, never afraid. They'll be just fine.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Mika Bomb at Dublin Castle - 17 May 2013

Mika Bomb pic by Martin Myers

The backroom of the Dublin Castle is a tiny dark space that has seen more rock history than a busload of geologists.

Tonight, there is a bill of five acts, as there is most days of the week. When bands 'pay their dues' by getting gigs under their belt then places like the Dublin Castle are where they pay them.

By the time that I arrive, the Black Dots are well into their stride. A girl plays guitar and sings, while beside her a guy stands and plinks away at a keyboard. They don't immediately grab you by the lapels, but they are perfectly enjoyable as a prelude to the long night to come.

Next up are Lord Numb, a three piece who are clearly a gig-hardened and experienced outfit. The main singer/guitarist is a really mean axeman. He's one of those players who can make his instrument do anything and tonight it's blistering rock all the way.

Lord Numb soon get the room stomping along to their set which is mostly original songs with the odd well chosen cover version of various punky standards. They finish with a rousing version of Jim Carroll's 'People Who Died' and as this is one of my all time favourite songs, they get two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

It's becoming almost a cliché of these multi-band bills that somewhere in the evening there will be an appearance from a bunch of lads who are in thrall to the terrace anthems of Kasabian. Tonight is no exception and the exponents are The Beautiful Game.

Musically they are actually perfectly reasonable (as all these bands are) but the relentless swagger and machismo gets a bit wearing after a while. The singer alternates between pumping his fist and exhorting us to get into the mood and rubbing his stomach and chest in a manner that might be better suited to the privacy of his own home. “Your Bones” is a tune, though.

Next comes Rhonda, a soulful, torchy singer from Germany who has the pipes and R & B vibe of this venue's most famous alumnus, Amy Winehouse.

It's the perfect time of the evening for Rhonda - the crowd is happily drunk and in the mood for some serious soul. Her band swings, she emotes and everyone falls into a joyfully lachrymose reverie. Great stuff.

I first saw Mika Bomb back in the late 1990's and they have now reformed for their first series of gigs in more than half a decade. 

Mika Bomb were pioneers of Japanese all girl guitar pop, taking inspiration from Shonen Knife. The line up was always very fluid and we always used to joke that Mika Handa would hang around Heathrow Airport and recruit any passing Japanese girl who came off a plane with a guitar in her luggage.

Tonight it's as though the band have never been away. The guitars still thrash at one hundred mile an hour, the vocals still a succession of high-pitched screams and squeals. The Chipmunks play The Ramones.

Mika Bomb released one of the all time classic pop/punk albums in 'The Fake Fake Sound of Mika Bomb' and a lot of this gets aired tonight. 'Contact Tokyo', 'Hey Man' and ‘Heart Attack’ come blasting past and we all go nuts.

A brilliant show and a really enjoyable evening. I derive pleasure from every single act tonight (to varying degrees).

The Dublin Castle is a Camden institution - treasure it.