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.