Wednesday 27 February 2013

Sky Ferreira at Madame Jo Jo's - 26 February 2013

Sky Ferreira by Howard Melnyczuk

This is rather an event. Tickets have been rationed like the last crumbs of chocolate in Captain Scott’s back pack.

I’m not really sure why. Sky Ferreira seems an odd construct- she’s had one single, sung on an album track by New York underachievers The Virgins – the impression in advance is of someone who is famous for being famous.

First we have to negotiate Pale, who are two young lands with the germ of an idea.

While one busies himself with his keyboards, the other plays occasional guitar and croons. Pale are very much from the ‘new soul’ school of artists, which I always rather struggle with because it sounds far too much like the original soul music that I rebelled against in my teenage years.

Gender aside, Pale remind me of AlunaGeorge, who are currently being bigged up as a next big thing despite never being more than mildly interesting whenever I’ve seen them.

The singer has a decent voice, but rather overreaches himself when the band play a version of Bronski Beats ‘Small Town Boy’. Jimmy Somerville’s shoes are big ones to fill.

The first sign of Sky Ferreira’s arrival is an enormous battery of lights plonked directly in front of the drum kit.

With her band in place, and after the bare minimum of faffing about from numerous roadies, Sky strides onstage. Immediately the reason for a lot of the media attention becomes clear – she’s so photogenic that it is probably technically impossible to produce a poor image of her.

Blonde hair piled wildly about her face and wearing an exquisite black mini-dress that is a marvel of concealment, Ferreira certainly looks the part.

In the early part of the show she is clearly very stiff and nervous. The first song is a stomping glam racket of a number, but Sky barely moves and her voice is very measured and mannered. The second track passes in much the same way. The band are loose but the singer isn’t.

However, all this changes when, accompanied by just an acoustic guitar, she unleashes an enormous rather countrified torch song called ‘Sad Dream’. While the song itself is pretty formulaic, it does relax Ferreira, who forgets to be cool and just lets rip.

The ice is broken. The set continues and it becomes clear that she is much more at home with the showbizzy American Idol power ballads than when in surly rock chick mode.

Ultimately, Sky Ferreira is rather sweet. She has fits of giggles, confuses herself when trying to juggle her microphone and open a bottle of water at the same time and is good fun to be with.

I’m glad to have seen her. I don’t think that she is a long term pop prospect, but right here, right now, she’s a very pretty girl enjoying her fifteen minutes in the spotlight.

And there are a lot worse things in the world than that. 

Pins, Drop Out Venus, John J Presley at Roundhouse Studios -24 February 2013

Pins pic courtesy of Neil at Wildblanket

I don’t normally venture out on a Sunday. It should be an evening for dozing on the sofa digesting a heavy lunch. But certain gigs demand that exceptions are made.

I love the Roundhouse Studio. I’ve never had a bad experience here and the sound mix and back projections make every band look like superstars.

On entry, the room is dark and the screens flicker with black and white images of medical experiments. On stage, a stern faced girl is twiddling with a battery of electronic equipment to produce a sparse and unforgiving barrage of sound.

This is Female Band (aka Anastasia Vtorova) and while she’s perfectly fine, this kind of grimness was a cliché even back in the days of Throbbing Gristle and SPK. For once I’d like to see harsh noise accompanied by a montage of kittens and puppies in a basket. With a ribbon.

Next up is John J Presley, a swaggering blues rocker who is actually a bit of a pussycat on the quiet. He is joined by a keyboard player and a drummer and together they pound along nicely, each song showcasing Presley’s prowess with guitar.

I like what I see. John J is an enjoyable front man and his is a version of rock music that is not a slavish imitation of others but just a good honest sound that is tuneful to the ear and prone to set your head nodding along. I can get behind this approach, so I buy his CD and am content.

Tonight is a kind of anniversary for me. It was about a year ago that I first saw Drop Out Venus at this venue. It’s been a wild adventure ever since.

The band have been comparatively quiet in recent months and tonight sees them unveil the fruits of their labour.

It’s virtually a completely new set. Iva Moscovitch is glammed up to the nines, slinking around the stage in a shimmering blue/black dress. The new songs (all titles are approximate) seem to marry the usual themes of sex and power, but the addition of a keyboard allows Moscovitch an outlet for her softer, more vulnerable side – although she’s still as ferocious as hell.

There is a quite extraordinary new song which features Iva writhing and girating while spitting out “I’m sexy!” as though it were the vilest curse imaginable. It’s a sight to behold.  “Dance to Death(?)” is almost poppy, until the tune descends into squalls of guitar noise courtesy of Chris.

One of the very few old songs to get an airing is “Love+Desire” and it is still as raw and painful as an open wound.

If I had never seen this band before, I would be amazed. Seeing them for the past year feels like a privilege.

And then the icing on the cake is that headliners Pins are ace too. They are an all girl band from Manchester and they already sound hugely confident and accomplished, the real deal.

They are a bit shoegazey, a bit dreamy but crucially, really powerful and possessed of massive songs. They build up a mesmerising momentum that just transfixes you. They remind me rather a lot of the first time that I saw Ride- it’s the sheer epic-ness of their sound that surprises.

Singer Faith peers out from under her black fringe with the eyes of a predator, Lois and Anna smile at each other and know that all is good.

It’s been a tremendous almost-miss-the-last-train-home type of gig. What a night! 

Saturday 23 February 2013

Savages, Beak> at Electric Ballroom - 21 February 2013


It’s way too cold to chance the possibility of having to queue outside the Electric Ballroom, so I arrive fashionably late to the show.

As I go to the bar for liquid supplies I can hear electronic rumblings from within the venue. The crowd have parted to allow five girls to perform a slow, very intense choreography piece. They stand in a line and gradually rotate in an arc, hands held together and aloft. The piece speaks of loneliness and separation and a feeling of being lost and alone in crowds. This is the work of Fernanda Munoz-Newsome, and it is a fine start to the evening.

As the dancers finally separate and march off, the focus shifts to the stage, where Beak> are ready to begin. The act of walking across the floor to see a band is always exciting, in a Ready Steady Go or Top of the Pops kind of way. It makes your pulse race, your face turned upwards in expectation…

…which rather dissipates when faced with the reality of Beak>. This is a project featuring Geoff Barrow (better known as one of the prime movers behind Portishead), Billy Fuller and Matt Williams. They’re called Beak> but what they really want to be called is Can.

What follows is a set of reverential motorik that is perfectly amiable, but terribly lacking in any kind of real passion or drive. This should be music that propels the listener along with the power of an ever changing yet repetitive groove. Instead, it’s all just a touch too low key and polite.

Only the last song of the set breaks free of its shackles and delivers the much needed oomph. I get the feeling that Beak> may be a better proposition on record than live.

There are no concerns about the live attributes of the headliners. Savages take off like a rocket and never let up.

The stage is simply lit with white beams of light illuminating the bone structure of singer Jehnny Beth, her hair cropped Renée Falconetti short, her eyes blazing like the Maid of Orleans.

Savages are a band that have so far kept their powder very dry in terms of releasing material. There is an album in the works, but most of these songs are only known to those who see the band. That Savages are now headlining venue of this size means that these numbers are rising all the time.

Although still heavily indebted to the likes of the Bunnymen and the Banshees, Savages are moving away from these influences and are forging their own identity. They are now much more clearly a band of four determined and individual musicians rather than a singer and some people who play alongside her.

That said, it is Beth who draws the eye. She never rests – even when not singing, she punches the air, slaps her head, prowls the stage, coiling like a spring until she can attack the microphone again.

Their one widely released calling card of a track ‘Husbands’ is saved for the penultimate song. You can tell that the crowd around you are held in thrall, but you can’t take your eyes off the stage. You’re in thrall too.

It’s an exhilarating performance. Savages are one of the best British bands out there at the moment. Catch them before they disappear into even bigger venues.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Filthy Visuals and Echo Park at Bull and Gate - 2 February 2013

Filthy Visuals 

It’s another Saturday night, so what to do? The logical solution is to schlep down to the Bull and Gate to see some bands that I know nothing about.

The first thing that strikes me is that the place is much busier than is usually the case for these portmanteau gigs where there is nothing much between the bands in terms of their current career trajectory.

One of the first rules of rock is that a band needs to make an immediate impression. Bedford’s own Filthy Visuals certainly do that.

Sporting hair that has been chopped and teased into elaborate asymmetric explosions and adorned with facial make-up that hints at Manga villains (or in the case of the drummer, a panda that has let its mascara run), the boys in the band make sure that they do not go unnoticed.

In contrast to the Sigue Sigue Sputnikery around her, Steph the singer and guitarist is much more conventionally attired in leather jacket, short skirt and stockings – the rock chick paraphernalia that will never go out of fashion. She wears it well.

The band play a happy brand of straight forward hard rock. Steph has a strong voice that ranges between a soaring roar and a kitteny growl. Tracks like ‘Harder’ and ‘Dancin’ Backwards’ stand out.

There is a lot to like about Filthy Visuals and, if at times they are slightly stiff onstage, that is nothing that getting more gigs under their belt won’t fix.  As it is, I would already say that they would make some band a damn fine support act. Now they’ve got to grab the top slot for themselves.

It becomes clear that it is the next act, Echo Park, who have drawn the bulk of the fans to the venue tonight. You can see why.

This gang of young lads from Guildford are an infectious good time right from the off, bouncing around the stage like balls in a bingo machine.

Theirs is an uptempo blend of rock and pop, showcasing the vocals of Laurence Brundson. He can really belt it out, work the audience and lead the band – excellent front man skills.

My only mild criticism of Echo Park would be that whilst I enjoy them when they are in full swing on the stage in front of me, the songs that they are playing don’t make that much of an impression. The band are an instant pleasure, a sugar rush of jolly pop enthusiasm – but it doesn’t last once the music stops.

The Black Yolks are also well supported here tonight, but I can’t quite see what the fuss is about.  This is rather meat and potatoes rock music that may be well performed, but doesn’t connect with me at all.

Vocalist Sophie Harrison has a good set of pipes, but the whole thing is a little too chicken in the basket/ cruise linery for my tastes. Different strokes, I guess.

Not a bad Saturday at all. I really like Filthy Visuals, and Echo Park have enough pep to cheer up any gloomy evening. So I take away fond memories...

...and a rather nasty bite on my hand that makes me feel that the Bull and Gate may be harbouring some unwelcome guests in its upholstery!