Wednesday 31 December 2014

Call of the Wyld - Review of the Year 2014

It’s time to be reflective and think back over the past year’s gigs. As ever it’s been a mixed bag – sherbet lemons and razorblades as always.

January and February were quiet…too quiet. I saw the reliably wonderful Skinny Girl Diet at the Barfly and had my first encounter with Abjects. Catching this same band later in the year was a revelation – either my radar hadn’t yet warmed up in January or else they had improved beyond measure.  

In March I saw The Men at Village Underground. It was the second loudest gig I have been to in my entire life (Swans in their heyday hold that dubious honour) and my ears were effectively ruined for the next three days. It genuinely hurt.

Undeterred I headed to the Buffalo Bar (RIP) to relive the mid-Eighties madness of A Witness and The Cravats.

At Brixton Windmill I enjoyed an all-day festival and particularly the performance of Ravioli Me Away, who were dressed as KISS at the time and have one of the songs of the year in ‘Cat Call’.

From there I trotted off to the O2 to see Miley Cyrus redefine the arena experience with a show that was so gleefully over the top that there wasn’t any point in the two hours that weren’t completely bonkers. I especially enjoyed her tribute to her dead dog Floyd accompanied by a vast inflatable model of the unfortunate creature that shot lasers from its eyes. It was both barmy and deeply moving.

In contrast, in the Autumn I saw Lady Gaga at the same venue and it was like spending an evening with an Agony Aunt who occasionally shook her ass at you.  1-0 to Miley.

I saw Tune-Yards twice in 2014. I was out of sorts for the Village Underground show, grumbling about the audience having the temerity to enjoy themselves. At a later show at Brixton Electric I was able to lighten up and enjoy the continued genius of Merrill Garbus.

In May I had my first encounter with Autobahn, a full blooded, honest-to-goodness rock band with a dynamic lead singer and a gale of sound that pinned your ears back. I later saw them in the confined spaces of the Lock Tavern on the Camden Crawl. Autobahn went off like a rocket about a foot away from my face. It was majestic and awesome and the best thing I saw all year.

I really enjoyed this year’s Crawl and it is a great pity that within days the whole enterprise fell apart in acrimony and unpaid debts. It’s unlikely to be back, but I shall treasure memories of a warm day outside the Camden Town Brewery watching Jeffrey Lewis frolic in the sunshine.

Another festival that went belly up was the Jabberwocky event at the Excel Arena. I benefited by attending a hastily re-arranged Deafheaven / Chelsea Wolfe show at the Garage.

Loop came back from nowhere at Heaven and were marvellous.  I saw The Fall for theumpteenth time at Stamford Bridge and was blown away by how invigorated they are in their current line-up.

In July I saw a jaw-dropping show from Japanese rockers Babymetal. I loved it to bits, but one clumsily worded sentence earned me the wrath of their fans. Apologies.

But as one venue closes, others are discovered. The latter part of the year saw memorable shows at Oslo (Carter Tutti Void, Stealing Sheep) and – my venue of the year – The Shacklewell Arms.

At the Shacklewell I saw terrific performances by White Lung, Skinny Girl Diet, Abjects, Girlpool and The Coathangers. I’m back ther early in 2015 for New York synth punks Pop. 1280 and I’m excited already.

In a move that no-one could have foreseen, Kate Bush returned and was utterly awesome. It was more like a lavish stage musical than a gig, but it was wholly extraordinary, not least in that she did it entirely on her own terms and barely played any of her most famous songs.

A claustrophobic Goat gig at the Roundhouse put me off that venue for good (so no Ride in 2015).

All praise too to Kero Kero Bonito and Bo En for a show at Electrowerkz that completely subverted what I expected from a live performance.

Looking back, it was a great year. Again.

Now… on to 2015.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Stealing Sheep and Kiran Leonard at Oslo - 18 December 2014

Stealing Sheep

It’s all very Christmassy. The restaurant downstairs is doing good business. A fat guy is so drunk that he is repeatedly falling against the table on which the DJ is perched, causing the records to jump. All is merry and bright.

I had heard good things about Kiran Leonard. What I initially actually get is a drummer and bassist gamely accompanying a gawky, gurning guy who is howling like Wild Man Fischer and assaulting a guitar. It’s not entertainment so much as a possible cause for medical intervention.  Not good at all.

However, having retired to another room for what seems like a safe period of time and then returning for his last three songs, I find the band transformed.

There is now a driving jungle rhythm and Leonard’s guitar is soloing wildly over the top. The whole room is rocking and dancing. Leonard seems much less physically awkward and is tying himself in knots to wring notes from his instrument.

Needless to say, this is a vast improvement over what went before.  Speaking to friends afterwards, the general consensus seems to be that the artist started very slowly but that everything seemed to gel and take flight about halfway through the set. So, recommended, but with reservations.

We have been promised that Stealing Sheep would put on an extravagant show. They certainly know how to make an entrance.

Led by a vast life size Chinese dragon, a procession of Pharonic figures make their way around the room. There appears to be a giant pink hippo with a fish stuck in its head. The rear of the party is brought up by a magnificently horned white ram. I’ve been drinking – but this is definitely real.

The three members of Stealing Sheep are almost unnoticed on stage, but start playing as the pageant in front of them moves away.

There is an immediate problem. Stealing Sheep are polite and pleasant but their music is so slight that they initially have difficulty in obtaining the interest of the crowd, many of whom are just blithely ignoring the band and are excitedly shouting into each other’s faces.

Stealing Sheep remind me rather of Ravioli Me Away, another band of women for whom the visual elements of performance are at least as important as their music. Stealing Sheep though are more lightweight, so unobtrusive that while they spread an undeniable vibe of bonhomie, there is very little else to fasten on to.

About halfway through the set, many of the musicians who had formed part of the pageant join the band onstage to play a variety of percussion instruments. This immediately beefs the sound up immeasurably and adds a sense of direction and purpose to proceedings. There’s a happy atmosphere and a warm glow about the place.

It’s been a very convivial evening. The visual elements will stick in the mind longer than the music, but that’s cool too.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Kero Kero Bonito, Bo En, Lil Data at Electrowerkz - 03 December 2014

Kero Kero Bonito

There are some gigs that are so attractive that they draw me to them like a shark to freshly chummed waters behind a fishing boat. Tonight the bait is Kero Kero Bonito. I circle Electrowerkz a couple of times and swim in.

The First Law of gig queues is in operation. This states that a long line of punters outside inevitably means that when you get inside there are no more than a few handfuls of people milling about.

The first act is on. And this is where I get way out of my knowledge zone. Those who know more about this kind of thing should feel free to make a derisory snort at anything I type from this point onwards.

On stage is a projection of a computer screen. It swarms with code. There are various beeping noises that occasionally become off-kilter beats. As the code is deleted or re-typed, so the sounds change.

This is the world of Lil Data, and it is as incomprehensible to me as an airplane is to a goldfish.

The bleeps and bloops are easy enough to listen to, and the small gaggle of guys (obviously!) who crowd around the console where Mr Data is weaving his magic are wearing contented smiles. It’s all very Neuromancer – an Eighties vision of the future.

Compared to Lil Data, the next performer, Bo En is normalcy personified. Compared to anything else, he’s very unusual indeed.

Bo En stands smiling behind a bench of electronica, bathed in a sickly fluorescent neon glow. He sings joyfully (and badly) along with samples of ancient Japanese gaming machine themes or film scores, sometimes duetting with squeaky disembodied hentai voices or crooning through a vocoder.

It’s simultaneously silly and clever, and hugely danceable. The crowd leap around and marvel in recognition at various samples that are chopped, diced and discarded in seconds.

So small is this scene (loosely affiliated around the ‘PCMusic’ label) that all the artists know and collaborate with each other. Therefore when he deconstructs and rebuilds Kero Kero Bonito’s track ‘My Party,’ this is greeted with whoops of delight even though it will form part of their own set in less than an hour.

Almost uniquely for an electronic act, Bo En radiates warmth and good humour. He’s genuinely funny. And his music is great too.

Kero Kero Bonito take tonight’s Japanophilia a stage further. They’re a bouncy, gaudy sugar rush of kawaii. They’re extremely arch and knowing, mimicking innocence and ditziness, but they do it in a loving and celebratory way. There’s more than a hint of taking the mickey, but everything is so shaken up like a soda bottle and played in good fun that all you can do is chirp ‘Kero Kero’ and go along with it.

It’s not as if I’m in a position to decode the subtexts that bubble beneath the bright colours and high pitched trills of anime and J-Pop anyway.

The band are led by the permanently grinning Sarah Bonito, a delighted and delightful singer who skips around the stage singing in a childish voice. She is accompanied on beats by Gus and Jamie Bonito, who occasionally pretend to be playing their equipment but are just as likely to be doing silly dance routines or reading a book.

This is pop music and its purest and pinkest. There is a sense of the absurd in all of this, particularly in the lyrics. In ‘Flamingo’ Sarah wonders about how many shrimps a bird must eat before it’s skin turns pink. Or how babies are so strange.
There’s a lot of dressing up. Party hats for ‘My Party’, a graduation robe for ‘Homework’ and a pile of boxes for ‘Build It Up’. At one point Gus and Jamie don furry masks for a version of ‘Cat vs Dog’ that seems to fall foul of a technical problem and is not actually played.

It’s impossible not to enjoy Kero Kero Bonito, but they are rather like gorging on sugary sweets and its possible that there is not really much here beyond the silliness.

But, on the other hand... seriousness is way overrated.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Desperate Journalist, Miscalculations, Keith Top of the Pops and his etc etc - Buffalo Bar 27 November 2014

Desperate Journalist

It’s a sad coincidence that I’ve been banging on about thegreat times that I had in Madame JoJo’s, as one of the reasons that I’m out tonight is to say goodbye to a venue that has played a huge part in my life.

In the early 2000’s, I used to practically live in the small red-walled shoebox that is the Buffalo Bar. It was noisy, crowded and the sound was often awful. You could be stuck behind a pillar or a bigger person with the result that you only had an approximate idea of what was happening onstage.

I saw dozens of bands here, the majority of whom never went on to play venues that were any bigger than this. I saw, amongst others, Kaito, Electric Eel Shock, Klang, The Hotwires, Mikabomb, Help She can’t Swim, The Long Blondes, The Grates, Bolt Action Five, The Chapman Family, Tiger Force, The Sam I Am, The Bisons, The Mighty Roars, The Tennessee Train Crash, Cat On Form, The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club. I was here earlier this year forA Witness and The Senseless Things. I (mostly) enjoyed them all.

I even enjoyed the gallon bottle of Buffalo Trace whiskey that I won in a raffle here one time. It was vile, but I persevered. You could certainly taste the Buffalo.
The Buffalo Bar is going to close at the end of the year, so tonight is the chance for me to have one more rowdy evening down here.

Things start off with the loosely-organised chaos of Keith Topof the Pops and his Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band. Tonight there are more than fifteen musicians wedged on a stage the size of two telephone boxes. The horn section are jammed next to the toilets, a sax player eventually has to stand on the bar.

Keith wrangles everyone as well as he can. It’s like herding cats. The general instruction is for those who are unfamiliar with a song to join in as best they can once it gets going.

A typical Keith TOTP song consists of a spoken/sung snark against bands or institutions that have slighted him. Targets tonight include The Cribs, “a band from Birmingham called Peace” and the IndieTracks Festival (“Fuck off with your Ukulele Orchestra!” is a fine chorus). It’s all very funny, the more so because there is a genuine bitterness underneath some of this.

The band finish with a naturally epic sweep through ‘Two of the Beatles are Dead’ and end in discordant triumph. A great show.

Miscalculations couldn’t be more of a contrast. They’re a spare and lean four piece punk band who do not crack a smile during their entire set. And they’re all the better for it.

Fronted by Marco Palumbo Rodrigues, a searingly intense presence tightly buttoned up in a black leather jacket adorned with badges, the band spit out short, sharp songs that reference the first generation spiky punk of Buzzcocks and The Clash. This is a new take on 70’s new wave music and it sounds surprisingly fresh and powerful.

The audience certainly likes it. The front row is almost entirely young women who dance exuberantly throughout. There’s an astringency to Miscalculations. I find myself thoroughly enjoying them.

Headliners Desperate Journalist get more enthralling each time that I see them. I can tell that we are in for a good show by the way that singer Jo Bevan warms up by bawling and dancing along to McClusky’s ‘To HellWith Good Intentions’.

This is emotional stuff. Jo has a voice that soars and roars, and she almost hunches double with the effort required. This, together with her bright blue hair, makes her an arresting figure.

In some ways Desperate Journalist are a ‘traditional’ indie band, if there can be said to be such a thing. What elevates them is that their power comes from their songs rather than particularly flashy musicianship. They are very hard to resist, so I settle down to loving them.

If this is the last time I go to the Buffalo Bar, then it’s been a brilliant way to bow out.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Madame JoJo's - Fun While It Lasted

Madame JoJo's. 

I’ve been talking to a very pleasant young lady. She wants my assistance with a problem that she has. There is a feather that has become stuck in an unfortunate place. Can I help her? It would be churlish not to.

Thus my first memory of Madame JoJo’s is of the time that I followed a naked stripper across the dance floor and pulled a long ostrich feather out of her bum with my teeth. As was often the case at Madame JoJo’s, there were not many people present and those that were did not bat an eyelid.

This incident occurred between sets by The Martini HenryRifles (a brilliant band who solved the problem of having two guys who wanted to be frontmen by having both careening and shouting at the same time) and the much missed and totally out of control Terrashima, a band that could barely play without getting involved in fights between themselves or with their audience. Aside from the occasional spat on stage, it was a joyous, peaceful night – as it always was when I went to Madame JoJos.

Westminster Council have just revoked the venue’s music licence after an unsavoury incident involving a violent confrontation between bouncers and a criminal gang that was operating in the street outside. There have been claims and accusations on all sides. The Council has been accused ofusing this incident as an excuse to close down the venue as part of an ongoinggentrification programme. Other sources say that post-Olympics, Soho has been under-policed with the result that criminals had been targeting patrons and passers-by with impunity and that this brouhaha had been building for a while. In many ways, who is to blame is a moot issue – Madame JoJo’s is no more.

I prefer to think of the many great bands I saw there, mostly under the banner of White Heat, one of the longest running and most excellent club nights in London.

Friday 21 November 2014

Loop and Younghusband at The Garage - 19 November 2014

Loop pic from The Liminal Eye

I’m still a little taken aback by The Garage. It used to be a dusty concrete bunker of a venue, but since it re-opened a few years ago there have been ‘improvements’. Wooden floors. Tables. Some kind of weird black-upholstered banquette behind the mixing desk. It’s all very disconcerting for an old fart like me.

The crowd tonight is mainly composed of men of a similar age and hairline to myself. We reminisce about the past and gather in anticipation of a band from yore that have recently decided that they have a future.

But first, the support. Younghusband are a four piece band of a drone-y, psychedelic disposition. The stage fills with projections of whirling images, hidden messages and other arcana.

The band seem slightly hampered by technical difficulties this evening. Certainly, they have difficulty in getting their three guitars to function at the same time.

However, there is a more fundamental problem. There’s a lot more to this type of music than it sometimes appears, and Younghusband fall headlong into a common trap.

Their songs don’t GO anywhere. The basic sound is OK, but there is very little oomph, nothing that makes you sit up and pay attention. I’m stood in front of the stage looking squarely at them and I find my mind wandering to other matters. The overall effect is pleasant enough, but I suspect that the band would not be content with merely ‘pleasant’.

Compare and contrast with tonight’s headliners. There is more pent up energy and anticipation in a single squall from Loop than in the entire Younghusband set.

Loop initially reformed about a year ago to test the waters and, after a small number of sold out shows, founder Robert Hampson has decided that he has unfinished business, although some other members from the reunion are no longer present.

Loop deal in noise and repetition. A riff is usually brutally short – sometimes no more than two notes- but bludgeoned over and over and over again as a second or third guitar takes flight.

It’s enthralling stuff. The crowd lurch in unison. It’s impossible not to be caught up in the (Wolf) flow.

There is a major buzz of excitement as the band perform the first new Loop tune for decades. ‘Procession’ (or ‘Precession’) is a loud staccato galloping riff that sits very comfortably with the rest of the band’s oeuvre. More new material is promised in the New Year. Loop are clearly a going concern again.

The volume gets ever louder, the feeling of disorientation ever more pronounced. An irony is that with improvements in sound technology, Loop sound clearer and crisper than they ever did back in the day when they would lurch around in clouds of dry ice and produce a muddy rumble from giant loudspeakers.

Loop make a lot of people very happy tonight. And there’s more to come.  


Thursday 20 November 2014

Girlpool and Oscar - Shacklewell Arms - 17 November 2014

Girlpool pic by Amanda Hatfield

I’m back. I’m back. I’m back at the Shack. This is my third gig in a row at the Shacklewell Arms and my second in 48 hours. I’m starting to end up here on autopilot.

It’s a free gig, but sold out, so I’ve been encouraged to get here early.

First up are Oscar, who turn out to be a band rather than a diminutive Chelsea footballer.

There’s a lot to like. The band are fronted by the very convivial Oscar Scheller, resplendent in his new sparkly top and possessed of a rich, deep voice and a nice line in catchy, C-86 style pop.

Guitars jangle while the bassist multitasks and lays down beats via a keyboard. Oscar have solved the perennial Shacklewell drummer problem by dispensing with one altogether.

Each song bounces along complete with ridiculously memorable choruses. Aside from the Postcard bands, this kind of sweeping, emotional pop never entirely caught the wider public imagination, but those of us who like it, take this music to our hearts.

The band are occasionally joined onstage by an uncomfortable looking singer named Florence. She adds to the sound but finds it difficult to make eye contact with the audience. The rest of the band are cheerfully away of her awkwardness and lend support. This does not stop her from hastily exiting the stage at any moment that she is not needed.

A very relaxed and enjoyable start to proceedings.

The internet moves at a staggering pace. Headliners Girlpool only seemed to first hit the pages of Pitchfork and Stereogum about two weeks ago and yet here they are abandoning sunny Los Angeles for a damp Monday night in Dalston.

It’s a simple set up. Two girls with guitars, one tall and red haired (Cleo Tucker), one shorter and blonde (Harmony Tividad) playing sharp sassy songs with a mocking slant. Their harmonies fall somewhere between folk and the country-inflected pop of outfits such as Those Darlins’. It’s a whole heap of fun.

Despite many of tonight’s songs running less than two minutes, they tend to be pithy vignettes that pack a punch. Literally in the case of the track ‘Jane’ in which the eponymous heroine thumps boyfriend Johnny for “talking out of both sides of his mouth”.

There seems to be a similar theme in a lot of the Girlpool material as tracks ‘Slutmouth’ and ‘Blah Blah Blah’ also touch on the consequences of trash talk.

The Girlpool set is short and sweet. Even allowing for the traditional girl band swapping of instruments, everything is over well within half an hour.  In honesty, the performance is a little rough around the edges, but that is very much part of their charm.

Yet another good night at the Shacklewell. But I’m going to have to go somewhere else soon…

Wednesday 19 November 2014

The Coathangers, Skinny Girl Diet, Abjects at The Shacklewell Arms - 15 November 2914

The Coathangers

The first thing you notice tonight is the quality of the lighting. There’s a harsh filter that renders the performers almost monochrome. Glaring black and white figures against the blood red curtain. It’s a great effect, although it doesn’t suit everyone.

So Tess Parks, long black hair, black lined eyes and a striped jumper resembles nothing so much as a figurine from a Tim Burton animation. Stick thin, huge eyes, she doesn’t look real. She plucks at a guitar and rasps with a throaty growl.  A good start.

I saw Abjects at the beginning of the year and didn’t go hugely overboard for them. In the ten or so months since they’ve grown beyond measure.

Noemi, Yuki and Alice are utterly commanding tonight. Where before there were hints of uncertainty, they now exude confidence. It’s not a radically unusual sound, but it’s put over really well and the crowd start to buzz with the joy of it all.

The lighting gives Noemi a set of cheek bones that could cut you open. Yuki smiles beneath a woollen cap that makes her look like PaRappa the Rapper. Alice clatters away at her drum kit. Good times.

Skinny GirlDiet get better each and every time I see them. In a world where most girl bands play pop, SGD unashamedly ROCK. They have enough grunge to sink Seattle.

The crowd starts to mosh about, a rolling churn. The girls are as relaxed as ever, laughing at private jokes. They look great, they sound great, they ARE great. Skinny Girl Diet are one of the best bands in Britain, let alone the London area.

The Coathangers are an odd bunch. They have a strange combination of chaotic goofiness and a heads down almost Ramones-like dedication to a no nonsense riff.

Julia Kugel sings half her songs in a childish ickle-girl voice that is deliberately infuriating. Such songs are accompanied by much gurning and flapping of hands.  She only does it as the music demands, because other songs are roared out like a banshee.

Stephanie Luke becomes the second drummer that I’ve seen at this venue that has trouble with the lighting. It’s clearly an ongoing problem. Once this is solved she batters and barks through the entire set.

The Coathangers are funny, fierce and everything that an all-gal band should be. They even do that thing that seems exclusively the preserve of girl bands – the swapping of instruments so that everybody gets a turn either banging the drum kit or strumming the guitar. It’s an odd phenomenon, girls like to share whilst boys tend to be more possessive about their gear.

A riotously enjoyable set and a fine conclusion to a very good evening.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

White Lung at The Shacklewell Arms - 03 November 2014

White Lung

It’s a quiet evening in North London. The pub that houses the venue is largely empty. The pool table is dark.

I’m an idiot. I’ve been staking out the wrong door. The actual entrance is on the far side of the bar.

Entering the confined space in which the bands play, I swiftly discover two things. The first is that one of the acts that I had come to see, Tweens, are absent this evening and that their replacements on the bill are well into their set.

I therefore don’t get to see as much of The Wharves as I would have liked. That’s a pity, because they are very enjoyable.

The Wharves are an all-woman three piece who play simple songs and employ a lot of dual vocals. They are slightly halting and uncertain and I kind of like that. On this very brief acquaintance they come across as likeable rather than musically interesting, but ‘likeable’ goes a long way. Certainly, their harmonies are gorgeous.

This back room at The Shacklewell is odd to say the least. It feels like it has been through a number of incarnations before the owners just threw their hands up and turned it over to live performance. It looks like an Hawaiian tikki bar that has fallen into disrepair, been turned into a jazz club and that at some time or other they may have run a ghost train through here. Visually, it’s a mess.

The drum kit is set up in an alcove behind the stage. Bands go in and out of their dressing room through a small black cubby hole that looks as though it may once have been part of a fairy grotto.

When White Lung emerge they are not impressed. They don’t like the lighting or the sound. They do not profess themselves happy until drummer Anne-Marie Vassilou has been plunged into darkness and is out of sight and mind.

The band themselves have two settings – standing on the stage chatting to each other or screaming into your face from a few feet away in a full on assault. A White Lung gig is not one for the casual bystander.

Singer and chief instigator Mish Way is wearing a leopard print coat and has sprinkled her face with what looks like a light dusting of glitter. In the sweaty confines of this room everything starts to run together and get stuck in her hair.

The other focal point in the band is bassist Hether Fortune. She constantly joshes with Way and takes great pleasure in mocking her increasingly manic appearance.

White Lung thrive on interaction with their audience and as the set progresses Way decides that the crowd is not doing its bit. She demands more response from those down the front and dives down among them. This causes a wild melee with beer flying in all directions. Way emerges even more bedraggled than previously but pleased with the result of her intervention.

And so it continues. White Lung do not have any individual songs that particularly stand out, their great strength is the verve and energy with which this music is put across. This set is a thirty minute shot of pure adrenaline which ends with the band eventually disappearing through the door to their grotto.

That’s them done for the night.

A riotously fun evening which the crowd enjoyed more than the band. White Lung are a blistering live act, but you’ve got to bring your own ‘A’ game too.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Charli XCX at Heaven - 30 October 2014

Charli XCX

I’ve arrived in Heaven early. I’m not dead, it’s just that the venue of that name likes to get its acts on in good time so that punters can be turfed out ahead of a club night afterwards.

The place is already pretty full and the crowd is boisterous and enthusiastic. They are enjoying a set by CuckooLander, a four piece pop rock outfit that serves as the live vehicle for Holly Hardy. There’s lots to admire.

Hardy and her boys play a slinky type of guitar pop with catchy choruses and a surprising amount of grit for an act at the more obviously radio-friendly end of the spectrum.

Holly clutches her guitar and undulates in a black leather sheath skirt. I’ve not heard her music before but singles ‘Dumb Dee Diddy Dumb’ and ‘What’s Out There?’ make an instant impression. One to watch for the future.

It’s not entirely a surprise to find CuckooLander on tonight’s bill. Holly Hardy is the ex-drummer from headliner Charli XCX’s live band. They’ve both moved up the pop ladder.

Tonight is Charli XCX’s triumphant homecoming. Her songs have graced radios and stadiums across the world, but she’s often only been acknowledged as an associate, an ‘also featuring’ credit on the hits that she’s written for others. Tonight is her opportunity to take centre stage.

And how! Right from the start Charli walks on and just bosses it. She’s rocking a cheerleader outfit with ‘Sucker’ written across it. Her band are similarly attired. This is the title of the forthcoming album and the first song tonight.

It’s a banging hit right out of the gate. Within seconds everyone’s arms are aloft, giving the middle digit and chanting ‘Fuck You, Sucker!’ It’s great sweary fun and from here on we are putty in her hands.

Charli primps her vast mane of black hair, adjusts her tiny tiara and swaggers through her set with bratty brilliance and uber confidence. She doesn’t deal in wistful lovelorn ballads, these are all in-your-face declarations of strength and positivity.

The hits keep coming. Third song in is a riotous version of ‘I Don’t Care’, the global smash that she wrote for Icona Pop. The audience is so uplifted that they are practically levitating.

Despite the new album being a couple of months away, this already feels like a ‘Best Of…’ tour. There’s virtually no flab in this set at all – ‘Stay Away’, ‘London Queen’, ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’ are all stripped-to-the-bone live monsters.

Charli has always had a good ear and this is shown tonight by her only true cover version, a ramped up tear through The Flying Lizards’ take of The Beatles’ version of the Barrett Strong track ‘Money (That’s What I Want).’ It’s all so meta that your head spins.

Just before the end of the evening a net is released and we are bombarded by the heaviest deluge of balloons I’ve ever experienced at a gig. It’s balloonageddon! The venue resembles an enormous pink and white gumball machine as Charli signs off with ‘Boom Clap’, yet another massive worldwide hit.

It’s been a fantastic evening. Charli XCX has arrived!

Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Pop Group and Goodbye Leopold at Islington Assembly Hall - 26 October 2014

The Pop Group - pic Martyn Boston

I’m standing amongst a crowd of similarly mature and dark-clad individuals at Islington Assembly Hall. It takes a lot to get me into London on a Sunday night, but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

Starting proceedings, three extravagantly garbed women line up across the stage. They are sheathed in splendiferously vibrant and exquisite leotards, adorned with long tassels that hang from their arms. They look like three rare and exotic butterflies. Somewhere, David Attenborough stirs with excitement.

This is Goodbye Leopold. They sing majestically acapella, a plaintive chorus of interweaving harmonies. The room falls silent.

The sound swells. It is never entirely clear what they are singing about, and a quick bit of research afterwards reveals that the band have a penchant for singing backwards, which may explain it. Nevertheless, Goodbye Leopold lift us up to a higher frame of mind.

Tonight is a benefit for Campaign Against Arms Trade. A banner hangs across the stage, there are guest speakers and stalls in the lobby. It’s like the agit-prop days of the late Seventies.

I’m here to see The Pop Group, a band utterly unique in the annals of British music.

I’ve long been a devotee of frontman Mark Stewart, both in his solo career and his work with The Maffia, but this is the first time I have experienced him with the band with whom he first started out.

Mick Jagger swaggers, Michael Jackson used to moonwalk. Mark Stewart lumbers. A huge mountain of a man, he prowls around the stage continuously, a towel around his neck. He looks more like a bemused heavyweight boxer than a singer.

The Pop Group were/are the most uncompromising and didactic of bands that allied with the Hard Left. Their songs rail against injustice, greed and corporate evil, their concerts were rallies to the cause.

But above all, they were funky. You got a hefty dose of politics, but you danced your ass off.

The band start with ‘We Are Time’, Stewart’s voice a wild electronic scream of rage and distortion. Around him, the rest of the band - Gareth Sager, Bruce Smith, Dan Catsis – lay down an irresistible rhythm that veers between funk, soul and dub.

The power that comes off the stage would light most of Islington. ‘Thief of Fire’ follows, another howl of pain and anger. The crowd are dancing so hard that you can feel the wooden floor heave beneath you like the deck of a ship.

The band are promoting a compilation album called ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, a collection of rarities that are obscure even by the standards of this band. A track called ‘Genius or Lunatic’ is introduced with the statement that it was first performed at Westbury-on Trym Youth Club. I'll bet they never knew what hit them.

‘Amnesty Report III’ is a song based on an report of police brutality against Irish prisoners. The Pop Group were angry then and remain so now.

‘Where There’s a Will’ is probably the single best live moment that I’ve had at a gig this year. This music bypasses your brain and simply jerks your body about.

There’s a certain amusement to be had from a roomful of people chanting along to songs with titles like ‘She Is Beyond Good and Evil’ and ‘We Are All Prostitutes’. The Pop Group are a throwback from the days when music culture and politics were expressly linked. We sang the songs, we went on the marches, we supported the causes. Compare that to the wishy-washy stance of the majority of acts today.

Tonight is a thumping, pumping, propulsive triumph. Mark Stewart and co finish and stand exhausted. We cheer them to the echo.

Then we filter away to man the barricades…

Sunday 26 October 2014

Lady Gaga - artRAVE at 02 Arena - 23 October 2014

Lady Gaga

This is my first time at a Lady Gaga ‘ball’ and I’m not really sure to expect. Two hours later I’m still rather flummoxed.

Things start off much as anticipated. A vast pink curtain is pulled down to reveal a set that looks like a Peruvian adobe village fashioned out of sugar lumps. There are runways and catwalks under which the die-hard standing portion of the audience congregate.

Gaga has a tight but unspectacular five piece band and a solid troupe of dancers who strut their stuff in a succession of pastel costumes that are often adorned with random geometric shapes. They are professional and competent, but they are individually anonymous and do not pull focus from the star.

Lady Gaga herself first appears in a costume that looks to have been at least partly fashioned from a giant furry crab. As might be expected, Gaga is never one to shy away from a costume on the grounds of unsuitability or discomfort. Her most outlandish effort tonight is a Dalmatian-spotted creation that looks like a melted octopus. She teeters around and sings ‘Paparazzi’ and it’s all suitably odd and enjoyable.

Gaga has a powerful and technically perfect voice. Throughout the show she constantly reiterates that she sings live and plays her own instruments. No-one would suggest otherwise, but it appears to be an accusation that rankles.

Tonight’s extravaganza is to promote her most recent ‘Artpop’ album and the theme is #Artrave. This laudable concept intends to foster the idea that anyone can be an artist, and that if others don’t like it, do it anyway.

The slight problem is that the current album has its moments, but is nowhere near as strong in depth as Gaga’s previous works. Songs like ‘Aurora’, ‘G.U.Y’ and ‘Venus’ are fine in themselves, but they don’t compare to the likes of ‘Poker Face’ or ‘Americano’.  When these older songs are effectively tossed away in medleys it seems a waste.

However, the performing of songs is possibly not the main reason why people are here nor the most important part of the show. Gaga has a connection with her audience, her ‘Little Monsters’ that is somewhere between den mother, agony aunt and best friend.

At all times this evening, if Gaga stops still for a moment she is pelted with notes, messages, items of clothing and general votive offerings. She takes a lot of time to read these out and give advice, put on the jackets etc and to offer counselling.

There is a lengthy, but very touching interlude when Gaga ministers to a fan who is struggling with issues surrounding a bi-polar disorder. Gaga gets her onstage, comforts her and allows her to sit alongside her as she performs a piano ballad version of ‘Born This Way’. While there is no doubt that time has been built into the show for something like this to happen, there is equally no doubt that this is a genuine gesture of affection and solicitude.

The crowd love Gaga and she loves them back. It doesn’t matter that the rhythm of the show is very haphazard or that things seem kind of subdued.

Things are so laid back that once she and the band perform the song ‘Swine’ and disappear, there is a hiatus where everyone just sits before the house lights come up and it becomes clear that if there is going to be an encore we might have to wait a while. Most of the crowd get up and leave at this point, myself included.

It’s been a very interesting evening. I come away feeling slightly short changed by the show, but with a much greater appreciation and respect for Lady Gaga the person.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Goat and Lay Llamas at Roundhouse - 03 October 2014


Things start off pretty well.

We’re at the Roundhouse to see Goat, but first off we have to negotiate the support act.

The Lay Llamas are a band formed around the core of Nicola Giunta and Gioele Valenti. They are strung out across the stage in a line.

Initially, things aren’t too promising. The band are playing a polite type of vaguely psychedelic music that seems pleasant enough but which rather drifts by without leaving much of an impression.

It’s clearly well performed, but the singer has a rather nondescript voice and stage presence. The songs sound as though they are sketches for something that hasn’t been completed yet.

There is however one glorious exception. One song is an absolute corker, a krautrock-y beast based on abrasive guitar riffs. It goes on for about five minutes and is generally fantastic.

Unfortunately, the band go back to being ho-hum again and eventually shuffle offstage.

The venue seems unpleasantly packed this evening. We are crushed like sardines in the middle of the floor and it soon becomes very difficult to move or see. Or even to stand. Meanwhile, the queues to the toilets are long and slow moving and less accessible than in a football ground. The bars too seem unable to cope. I don’t know if the average Goat fan is unusually thirsty, but punters are queuing fifteen deep for weak lager.

It’s an extremely uncomfortable atmosphere, as though you are trapped in a place that could get out of hand.

When Goat take the stage, the room erupts.

Goat are an enigma wrapped in a mystery hidden behind some very natty robes and masks. Band members are deliberately anonymised behind elaborate costumes. Two singers chant and whirl in front of the wash of psychedelic afro beat and wah-wah guitars behind them.

The stage makes space for an artificial tree, its angular branches casting strange Goya-like outlines on the projected backdrop, which is itself a riot of kaleidoscopic colour.

It’s probably fair to say that while the totality of the Goat live experience is wonderful, the individual tracks tend to blur together a bit.

An exception is the fantastic ‘Run to Your Mama’ which tonight forms the centrepiece of the Goat set. A song as vibrant and dynamic as you will hear anywhere, tonight it is the perfect blend of crescendo and chorus.  

However, the overcrowding in the venue is just becoming ridiculous. My colleagues gradually make their excuses and retire to the perimeter. I stay for a while, but after an interminable trip to the loos, spend the rest of the evening trying to meet up with a friendly face. Bizarrely, at the edges of the crowd, people are making no pretence to watch the band, but just natter to each other and get in the way.

It’s awful in here. I can’t move, I can’t drink, I can’t pee. I cut my losses and leave.

Goat were good, though.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Mixtape - July to September 2014

Once a quarter I inflict a mixtape on my friends and acquaintances. These are some of the goodies that have been floating the Call of the Wyld boat in July to September 2014

Orange Caramel – My Copycat

Girl One and the Grease Guns – Jessica 6

Twin Peaks – I Found a New Way

BRONCHO – Class Historian

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – My Club

18+ -Crow

Eno*Hyde – Lilac

Kate Bush - Before the Dawn - Hammersmith Apollo 23 September 2014

Kate Bush (Pic: Ken McKay/Rex/REX USA)

We’ve waited a long time. Oceans have risen and fallen, entire avian species have gone extinct since Kate Bush last performed live.

The atmosphere in the packed Hammersmith Odeon (I’m using old money) is breathless and excited. People are practically pinching themselves that this is happening and that they are here to witness it.

The stage has a formidable amount of equipment on it – multiple percussion stands, guitar racks and keyboards. A lighting rig in the form of a formation of diamonds hangs above the stage.

And here she comes, slowly marching her band on stage. Kate looks happy and comfortable.

Her voice is a revelation, a strong and expressive roar that effortlessly fills the venue. Her band groove alongside, the stage illuminated by projected flames that scorch across the lighting rig.

Second song in is ‘Hounds of Love’ and a fair proportion of the audience die happy then and there. It’s a loping beast of a song, replete with that oddly disturbing hunting horn sound.

‘King of the Mountain’ is an extraordinary song. There is a real feeling of frenzy and of things out of control, the flames behind the performers billowing as though in a hurricane. The song rises to a crescendo…

…and everything goes mad.

Anything can happen in the next half hour, and it basically does. What follows is a lavish and boggling rendering of ‘The Ninth Wave’, a suite of songs from the second side of ‘Hounds of Love’. It features skeletal fish people, a projected Kate bobbing around in a flotation tank, an interlude in which her son Bertie argues with his ‘father’ in a living room that bobs on the sea, a ‘helicopter’ that zooms down and hovers over the head of the audience, a stage set that looks like a Ken Adam imagining of the inside of a whale, and a giant automatic buoy.

It’s utterly bewildering, baffling and quite brilliant. The only thing that I’ve seen remotely like it for sheer unexpectedness was a revue at Bally’s Las Vegas where the high point was the sinking of the Titanic performed by showgirls.

The audience stands and hoots approval. A breathless Kate then invites us back for the second half.

The second portion of the show is devoted to ‘A Sky of Honey’ a long suite of connected songs from the second disc of the album ‘Aerial’. It’s a lengthy, challenging piece of music that thematically draws inspiration from the flight of birds, the different moods of day and night and the struggle of the artist to capture nature.

Visually, the section of the show is wonderful – the stage is swathed in autumnal haze, giant projected geese and tits flap slowly above the band. Less successfully, a wooden mannequin is manipulated through the ranks of musicians, a figure forever struck with ‘wonder’ at the scenes around it. It’s kind of unnecessary, and seems to reflect a worry that the music alone would not be enough to engage the whole crowd.

Bertie appears again, as a painter, struggling with capturing cloud formations on a giant canvas. He gains cheap applause by telling the mannequin to ‘piss off’.

There’s a bit of a conundrum surrounding this whole segment of the show. The music has a cumulative power but this only becomes apparent as the sequence progresses. Until things become clear in the final sections, there is a sense of drift and loss of momentum before the final destination is reached. I am not overly familiar with this piece of music, which may be why I struggle with it.

As the sequence reaches a climax, the birds are starting to take over. There are metamorphoses among the musicians, Bush herself sprouts a raven’s wing, before appearing to take flight as the stage lights go black.

The crowd stands and does its nut. Kate leads her band through a version of ‘Cloudbusting’ which everyone stomps along too.

And then, still happy, still regal, still flippin’ marvellous, she departs. It was worth the wait.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Carter Tutti Void and EIIII at Oslo, Hackney - 16 September 2014

Carter Tutti Void

There’s a lot of black in here. We’re here to listen to a certain type of music and this means a certain type of dress code.

We arrive as the first act gets started. A woman peers intently at a lap top and occasionally makes adjustments to some equipment beside it.

This is EIIII, a name I have much fun pronouncing.

At first it doesn’t appear that anything is happening and the crowd continues to chatter. However, things start to change…

…I’m aware that the back of my jacket is blowing back from my body and that my ribcage appears to be pulsing and vibrating. We are in the world of infrasound, frequencies that are so incredibly low that they are all but inaudible.

The crowd continues to talk, now conscious of the noise that throbs through the room. EIIII continues to stare at her lap top with a look of determination. She looks like a sonar operator who has just discovered a nasty ‘blip’ on her scanner.

It’s an interesting experience, but it still comes as a relief when the sound occasionally whistles up into a more traditional pitch, even though this in turn starts to make your ears bleed.

Carter TuttiVoid are what used to be called a supergroup. Chris Carter and Cosey fanni Tutti are famously members of Throbbing Gristle as well as frequent co-collaborators and Nik Colk Void is currently part of experimental techno-rockers Factory Floor.

Carter stands at the back of the stage and busies himself with piles of electronic equipment. He goes about his work unfussily, his face a mixture of gentle concentration and the contented half-smile of a man taking pleasure in a hobby.

He lays down a succession of skittering rhythms and beats that flicker and thrum, propelling the crowd into that twitchy type of dancing you do when you are really enjoying yourself but don’t have the room to really cut loose.

Stage right, Cosey is smartly attired in a black sparkly frock and clutches a bass guitar that looks like a long piece of melted plastic. She gets gradually more animated as the evening progresses and it is she who sporadically addresses the crowd or provides a wordless vocal that is distorted and delayed.

Nik Void stands to the left, bobbing about and, as was her habit when playing with Norwich ahead-of-their-time post punks KaitO, playing her guitar with a drumstick or occasional violin bow.

Each song is a propulsive groove which allows space for Tutti and Void to riff over. It’s bewitching stuff.

So compelling is this music that it comes as a disappointment when a track has to end, generally around the ten minute mark, with Carter either switching off his beat or abruptly changing the pace and heading off to sonic pastures new.

The hour flies by. Carter Tutti Void leave the stage to roars of approval, including mine.