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.