Futureshock and Awe

January 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , , )

Future Of The Left – The Freebutt, Brighton – 04/12/09

It would appear that the audience for punk, and indeed straight-up rock music as a whole is rapidly diminishing. True, the Freebutt does feel pretty rammed from my vantage point tonight, but on closer inspection this is largely due to the massive supporting column that has been handily plonked right in front of the stage, forcing the crowd into two equally crushed groups. There is still a fair amount of space at the back of the small venue, and with reports that Future Of The Left have been performing to crowds of 50 and 60 on the tour, the signs for the future of balls-to-the-wall rock are worrying.

This is a huge shame, as Future Of The Left seemed to have defied the odds and finally escaped the trappings of being two-thirds of legendary underground band Mclusky, by releasing one of the albums of the year with ‘Travels with Myself and Another’. It was a taut, focused album that perfectly fused lean, hardcore rock with a witty pop sensibility, and the reviews that followed suggested the band, and hardcore rock in general, may have been in line for more mainstream success.

Support act Tubelord manage to weave twitchy guitar lines and intricate drum patterns round some heavy, but fairly standard shouty choruses, and seem to have the whole quiet, quiet, quiet, LOUD! dynamic down to a tee. There is a bit of innovation in the more intricate musical passages, and the band seem very tight and together, but the lack of variety between songs coupled with the nagging feeling that all this had been done to death a good ten years ago didn’t really hep their cause.

Future Of The Left on the other hand, may not be overly original and have about as much subtlety as Katherine Hamnett’s wardrobe, but what they do, they do very well indeed. Opening with the savage ‘Arming Eritrea’, their ferocity is evident from the get-go. Lead singer Andy Falco’s hammering at his guitar, veins popping and eyes bulging as he screams ‘I’m an adult!’ into his mic like a tantrum-ing two year old in Tesco’s.

‘Stand By Your Manatee’, a song which seems chiefly concerned with the shame of eating with plastic cutlery, bounces along with a surprisingly jaunty riff, and maintains much of its harmonising charm in the live setting. Lyrically, it provides a glimpse of the band’s dry humour, which is further evidenced later, as the band relax into some genuinely hilarious back and forth with the eager audience.

Some tracks, notably ‘I Am Civil Service’ and ‘Land Of My Fathers’ are bereft of some of their on-record intricacies in favour of a blanket of screaming aggression which makes them sound a touch samey at points, but for the most part the live transition is near perfect. ‘Chin Music’ and ‘The Hope That House Built’ showcase a perfect mix of violence, wit and pop-savy choruses, before closer ‘Cloak The Dagger’ ends proceedings in an ten-minute orgy of feedback, audience participation, screaming and general mayhem that sends everyone home happy.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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Does It Offend You? Well, Only A Little….

January 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

Does It Offend You, Yeah? – Concorde2, Brighton – 19/11/09

The mosh circle, such as it is here, is like some kind of crèche for kids with ADHD. Tiny limbs fly around in joyous abandon even during the two support acts, whose mediocrity is rewarded with a display of exited adoration by those already crushed together at the front, thrilled to be let out on a school night. The over-eager dancing and general sense of being in a school disco is clearly bothering some of the older spectators, but it does make for a great atmosphere, and after all, it’s hardly as if we’ve come to see Sigur Rós.

DIOYY make the kind of music that is pretty much pointless to experience from a distance. There is barely any traditional musicianship to admire, little emotional connection to be made to the band other than a hyper-aggressive sense of anger and for the most part very little to be enjoyed in the way of melody. What they do specialise in, is a sound-clash of old school Prodigy beats, Daft Punk style synth lines and hyped up punk vocals delivered with power, force, and absolutely zero subtlety or originality. It’s a dirty, almost guilty pleasure that serves little purpose other than to soundtrack an evening’s wasted abandon, but on that level it delivers pretty well.

https://i1.wp.com/www.xyzmagazine.co.uk/img/live_does_it_offend_you_yeah_concorde_grace_langley_191109_03.jpg

The band begin with a fairly slack version of ‘With A Heavy Heart…’ which doesn’t generate nearly as much heat as it should, although the crowd are up for it immediately, before segueing straight into ‘Weird Science’. This comes over much better, as do the other tracks that make the band sound like tight electro DJs, as they actually end up sounding tighter than the more band-based songs. Immediately proving the point, ‘Being Bad Feels Pretty Good’, drifts by in dull anonymously, while ‘Doomed Now’, with its distorted vocals and emphasis on clashing guitar and synth lines is riotous, with the atmosphere towards the front verging on actual violence.

A couple of new songs are aired with mixed results. One tentatively entitled ‘Techno’ takes the tolerable bits of Kasabian, ramps up the intensity and then drops a massive techno bassline underneath to great effect. ‘Over Your Shoulder’ on the other hand, merely sounds like Kasabian being covered by a bad Bowie impersonator which is every bit as terrible as it sounds. ‘Lets Make Out’ sees the band accompanied by some kids from the crowd, but as none of them seem to know the chorus (which consists of shouting ‘let’s make out’ repeatedly), the whole exercise is rendered pretty pointless.

A mixed bag then, but on form (a frenetic ‘Battle Royale’ and closer ‘We Are Rockstars for example) DIOYY are capable of delivering some truly joyous moments of wasted, violent excess. On this basis, it seems to suit the kids just fine.

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From Here We Go Sublime

January 17, 2010 at 5:43 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

The Field – Audio, Brighton – 11/11/09

There is an enticingly strange selection of sounds emanating from Audio’s basement room tonight. An unholy union of trance and techno assaults the senses, played with power and intensity by an odd looking quartet, whose only connection seems to be a telepathic understanding of how each track should evolve.

While The Field started life as one man’s experimental DJ project, the recent release of second album ‘Yesterday And Today’ hinted at an evolution in sound, from bedroom atmospherics towards a more varied musical palette based around live instrumentation. As a result, tonight’s performance is enriched by the heady throb of a live bassist, the cataclysmic drumming of a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to WWE’s The Undertaker, and the fruits of a man sat with a laptop who is either a vital component of the group’s sound, or is simply an accountant sat doing their tax returns.

The Field, scary drummer watches on...

In amidst the chaos, stands Axel Willner, hunched over an array of mixing equipment and looking somewhat like a depressed Nordic fisherman. The Field is very much Willner’s project, and as such, he remains the focal point around which his live cohorts must work. The simplest of basslines weave in and out of the mix, fleetingly pushed to the front, before being swallowed in the melee surrounding them, whilst the tiniest alterations to the drum patterns help slyly subvert the rhythm of each track, in a way that seems almost unintentional. Indeed the focus on repetition within each piece often gives the listener the impression that they have been listening to the exact same song for several minutes, before suddenly realising that its fundamental principles have long since been changed in their entirety.

The overall effect occasionally makes for a rather disconcerting experience. The outward simplicity of each track constantly negated by the scope for alteration that the band finds within them, twisting each phrase into something vibrant and new. Most importantly though, The Field provide uplifting ammunition for those who simply came to dance. While most revellers are left in a trance like state of hypnotic wonder at the whole experience, there are still a fair few flailing limbs about to endorse the pure pleasure derived from the ominous bass rumblings, compressed drums and eerily distorted house vocals of tracks like ‘Over The Ice’. In fact, come the final song of the set, the crowd are practically baying for an encore, which they are given with a joyous rendition of ‘A Paw In My Face’. It leaves an indelible print of happiness and warmth on the beaming faces of the crowd as they are hastily hustled out into the night air. Just as well, it’s freezing outside.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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‘Like Watching The A4 Paper Taking Over The Guillotine’

January 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , , )

Everything Everything – Jam – 03/11/09

It’s nice to be surprised sometimes. Having become fairly well acquainted with Manchester’s Everything Everything through both their performance at this year’s Great Escape festival, and a fairly rigorous addiction to their MySpace page, I was expecting quite a lot from tonight’s performance. What I wasn’t expecting was two support bands providing quite so much in the way of killer pop hooks, brilliant falsetto vocals, laptops on ironing boards and live trumpet sampling. Both Brighton’s Rob The Rich and Scottish electro multi-instrumentalists Findo Gask were superb in their own right, and while space considerations prevents a full discussion of exactly why, my advice would simply be buy some tickets and find out for yourself.

Findo Gask - More To Follow, Hopefully.

By the time Everything Everything have morphed from enthusiastic onlookers into the evening’s main event, there is a palpable sense of anticipation in the air. They open proceedings bravely with the light ambience of ‘Tin’, which features beautiful vocal harmonies over a dreamy Eno-esq electronic soundscape. It’s a low key start, but in the context of the rest of the night’s offerings, gives a breathtaking display of the band’s versatility. Debut single ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ follows soon after, and somehow succeeds in marrying a Battles style drum and keyboard backing to a heavy guitar break reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Myxomatosis’ and a perfect pop chorus.

It is this kind of thrilling hybrid of styles that is central to the band’s approach. They wilfully chuck everything they feel like into a musical melting pot, twice, with scant regard for time signatures or the difficulty that HMV’s shop assistants will have in filing their CDs. There are moments tonight when this doesn’t always work. Some of the subtle nuances of tracks like ‘Hiawatha Doomed’ for instance, are somewhat compressed by the Jam’s low ceilings and cramped stage with only a few fragments of melody and some strained vocals surviving.

Overall however, they demonstrate an incredible flair for a huge range of musical styles, often within the same song, with the result that many of their four minute songs sound like absolute epics. ‘NASA Is On Your Side’ for example, starts a bit like a weird of hybrid of Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’ and ‘Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm’ by the Crash Test Dummies, before gradually easing through 80’s balladering and into Sigur Ros territory.

It has the potential to sound like an unbridled mess, yet every song has a definite structure, sometimes only discernable after a few listens, and more often than not reveals an uncanny pop sensibility. The best is saved till last with a double whammy of ‘MY KZ, YR BF’, which features one of the best pop choruses of the year, and ‘Photoshop Handsome’ which perfectly sums up their crazed kitchen-sink alchemy in four minutes of perfect pop, at the end of a near perfect night.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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Speech Therapist

November 20, 2009 at 7:56 pm (Gigs, Music) (, , )

Speech Debelle, Brighton Coalition, 8/10/09

Typical. You finally get signed, get your album released, find yourself nominated for the Mercurys, win the damn thing against all expectations and then have the dubious pleasure of hanging out with Mr Gordon Brown and hearing your music pumped out of branches of Topshop across the country. Your management then sends you off on a mammoth tour of the UK and Europe to capitalise on your newfound fame, and less than two weeks in, your voice goes.

It doesn’t bode especially well for the evening ahead, particularly when Speech Debelle steps onto the Brighton Coalition’s small stage and immediately becomes embroiled in an unintentional slapstick routine involving her mic stand and cable.  She announces her predicament in suitably croaky tones, but assures us that it will give the show ‘character’, before shyly introducing herself, and thanking us for turning up. It’s a slow and somewhat nervy start that sees a few worried looks exchanged between audience members, many of whom are only here off the back of that Mercury win.

Even launching into opener ‘The Key’, things seem a little muted. Without the addition of a horn section, her paired down backing band (one acoustic guitar, one double bass, one small drum kit) are more a subtle accompaniment to Debelle’s wordplay, than a means to drive the songs along. The overall effect isn’t helped by the fact that it is pretty difficult to make out any of the lyrics that Debelle is laying down, particularly as this is her main strength. Almost as one, the crowd lean forward, as if attempting to lip-read some recognisable line, and it is through this close attention to the detail of her songs that the performance, and Debelle’s work as a whole,  starts to make more sense.

Speech Debelle as photographed by Lucie Goodayle

It takes time, but like some of the most rewarding music, Debelle’s quiet, confessional tones start to reveal a delicacy and minimal beauty rarely found in UK hip hop. The likes of ‘Searching’ and ‘Go Then, Bye’ unfurl themselves gently, and as Debelle’s vocals become more confident, they begin to sound clearer, and sit more comfortably in the midst of  the simple guitar and bass lines emanating from the stage behind her. Best of all is an exquisite rendition of ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’, which utilises the instruments onstage superbly, with the throbbing bass suggesting a barely concealed anger beneath the vulnerability of the delicate guitar work.

She finishes with a beautifully intimate ‘Speech Therapy’, bowed bass and swooning backing vocals perfectly framing her delicate voice, and with that she’s gone leaving the crowd hungry for more. It’s a fantastic turnaround, and proves that there is still space for performers who eschew brash showmanship and immediate thrills for a subtler, more human approach. Whether this will work in a larger setting remains to be seen, but on the strength of tonight’s performance Speech Debelle should still be a hot enough prospect come next year’s festivals to find out.

First published in XYZ Magazine

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‘I heard it said you had come back from the dead……

March 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm (Gigs) (, , , , )

…and you were playing so fine, scooping up the soul of the wine’

Peter Doherty, Brighton Dome, 19/03/09

peter-doherty

It’s fair to say that there is still an element of uncertainty surrounding Peter Doherty.

While it would appear that 2009 may finally be the year in which he finally gains some semblance of control over his career, addictions, and life in general, we have all been here too many times before. There have been too many broken promises, squandered opportunities, no shows and downright lies from the wayward minstrel since The Libertines imploded in 2004 for even his most ardent fans to take any suggestions of a ‘new, cleaned up Pete finally ready to fulfil his promise’ with a fistful of salt.

So there is still a slight air of trepidation surrounding the Dome tonight, it may just be the relative majesty of the building confusing some very drunk minds, but the crowd milling at the bar look slightly nervous and, truth be told a little lost. Scenesters clad in Libs era military jackets rub shoulders uneasily with balding beer bellied dads, Hacket shirted lads, old school skins and, most alarmingly, a number of people wearing shellsuits, in what one can only hope is a gesture of irony.

'Love you Pete!'

'Love you Pete!'

Although it would be nice to think that such diverse clientele is symptomatic of Doherty’s ability to bring people together in a live environment, it is probably more indicative of the fact that for many, his career is now little more than a soap opera. It seems likely that many of tonight’s crowd have a first experience of the man through a tabloid headline involving some arrangement of the words ‘Smack’, ‘Kate’, ‘Insanity’, ‘Blackmail’, ‘Squalor’ and ‘Jail’, and are simply here to see the fireworks go off.

So we take our seats in the Dome’s plush balcony shortly before 9:30 when Doherty is meant to take to the stage, and anticipate a lengthy wait.

I’ve barely had time to point out some of the Dome’s more interesting archaeological features to my associate when the lights darken, the music stops, and Peter Doherty strolls confidently onstage lit from beneath by a sea of blue lit mobile phones. He looks in good shape. No longer quite so drawn out pallid and wide eyed, he gives a jovial wave to the audience, picks up a guitar, and launches into a seamless ‘Music When the Lights Go Out’ to a crowd now bathed in a kind of stunned rapture. From here a band slowly builds starting with the addition of Babyshambles drummer Adam Fieck for a Freewheelin’ Dylan-esq jaunt through the ramshackle ‘Arcady’, before the rest of his band, accompanied by a string section and a melodica emerge for new single ‘Last of the English Roses’.

The musicianship is tight, and though Doherty’s voice occasionally gets slightly lost when everyone is playing full bore, most of the time, such as a beautifully realised ‘1939 Returning’, the lush strings imbue the music with an air of grace and cohesion so often missing from Doherty’s shows. The decision to air large parts of the new album, technically only released a few days ago, from the start of the gig and at the expense of older fan favourites is a bold move.

It’s a move that works due to the strength of the songs, and the finesse with which Doherty is able to perform them with relatively little practice. ‘A Little Death Around the Eyes’ comes across as the theme song for a Bond movie sadly never to be made and featuring our hero as a doomed romantic, lost and heavily medicated somewhere in Algeria, while ‘Salome’ tips its hat to Syd Barrett before branching out into a biblically dramatic close. Doherty then goes electric for a brilliantly unexpected 60’s rock take on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ which breathes new life into the well known rarity in a manner reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘Never Ending Tour’ with its continued reinterpretation of well loved classics.

By this time the view of the massed hordes in the standing area is a little too tempting to ignore, and, in the interests of journalistic diligence, we head downstairs to try and talk our way in. After an initially unsuccessful attempt, it transpires that a couple are leaving never to return, on the basis that Doherty is ‘fucking awful’, which rather begs the question of what exactly it was that they were expecting to see. Still, never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, even when it comes in the guise of idiocy, we accept their tickets, and bounce down the steps into the sweaty masses just in time for an incendiary ‘Fuck Forever’, followed by a joyous ‘Baddies Boogie’. The fans at the front are in a state of swaying delirium, and with the crowd baying the ‘lousy life’ refrain back to him with menace, Doherty looks to have cracked it.

Even a full glass of water exploding onto his acoustic guitar during a tender ‘Lady Don’t Fall Backwards’ from some cretin at the front can’t deter him. A knowing ‘Hey, I’m trying to be professional here’ and mock angry waving of guitar at the first few rows is all the reaction this engenders before Doherty smoothly re-takes his seat and slips effortlessly back into the song’s chorus. This new more confident and polished rendering of his work is not only a welcome relief from the shambolic chaos of earlier gigs, whose notoriety threatened to overshadow the music into permanent darkness, but crucially, it does not detract from the air of unpredictability and charisma that made Doherty such a compelling performer in the first place.

He will never be the smoothest performer, and his lengthy extinguishing of a cigarette thrown on-stage (which mainly consists of smoking it down to the bone) suggests that he is still very much a law unto himself. However as a great man once said, ‘to live outside the law, you must be honest’, and it would seem that Doherty’s new found determination to let his songs stand for themselves without any of the attending distractions is his way of doing so. It’s only a start, and Peter Doherty may have seen more false dawns than most, but on this evidence it would appear that he may finally be ready to come out from the shadows for good.

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”Out of the darkness, and into the fire”

February 20, 2009 at 5:06 pm (Gigs) (, , , , )

The Walkmen – Concorde2, Brighton – 19/02/09


This wasn’t in the script. At a time in which even the freshest, most overly hyped new bands are barely given the chance to step foot inside a recording studio for the second time, the future of groups such as The Walkmen looked bleak indeed.

Having garnered a fair amount of interest with their debut and follow up ‘Bows & Arrows’ (not least as 2/5ths of the group had jumped ship from the critically lauded Jonathan Fire*Eater), it seemed that the band were falling further from public attention with every release. Live performances were less and less cohesive, and the group seemed to be losing its way and short on confidence. This is, of course, a fairly understandable state of affairs. After all, when you release one of the greatest singles of the decade and still no one’s really heard of you, it must get a little demoralising.

However, the band didn’t fizzle out or implode into a snarling alcoholic mess as some may have feared. Instead they settled down, took stock, and then to the unprecedented step of taking two years off to write and record the excellent ‘You & Me’ which has not only re-ignited some of that early critical acclaim, but brought them back to into the public eye. That they did this by reigning in some of the anger and clatter of their previous efforts and making a smoother, better paced and more organic sounding record is more surprising still.

So the crowd at the Concorde tonight is a bit of a curious mix. We have the devotees who have stuck with the band and are now rather smugly relishing the fact that they have been with them from the beginning, casual fans who remember their early promise and been stirred into life by the bands recent renaissance, and, most intriguingly, a small gaggle of kids, swelled by recent reviews in Pitchfork and DIS who seem a bit bemused that their new heroes are over the age of 25.

The band themselves seem invigorated and actually in pretty good spirits, showing admirable patience with the small vocal majority continually calling for ‘The Rat’. A large proportion of the material comes from the new album and somehow sounds both highly polished and fresh, with every element of the band’s huge reverb soaked wall of noise pitching in unison. Peter Bauer’s constant thronging bass ensures a collective unity that underpins the flanged out, almost surf-like rolling guitar of Canadian Girl, and the swampy organ chimes that are liberally dabbed on to ‘In The New Year’.

There is a real sense of confidence about the band, with singer Hamilton Leithauser happy to stand centre stage and allow the band to play around him, the guitar and organ lines being left to slowly marinade, pushed forward by Matt Barrick’s subtle drum work. This approach works beautifully on songs such the fragile encore ‘New Country’, with Leithauser standing stock still at the front of the stage, with a single guitar line undulating beneath his tender vocals.

Leithauser himself has never sounded better. The more rounded approach of his vocal work on ‘You & Me’ coming over perfectly live, infusing older songs such as ‘138th Street’ with a new found clarity and direction. His voice is still used in part as part instrument, part weapon of ear-splitting destruction, but the effect of having it higher in the mix on their latest album seems to have galvanised Leithauser into ensuring that every note, even those throat ravaging cries near the top of his register, are hit.

The Rat is finally delivered towards the end of the set, sounding every bit as powerful, contemptuous and lonely as when it first thrust the band onto MTV screens all over America. The difference now is that its power is offset by an ever increasing army of songs that are in turns beautiful, playful, fragile and exuberant, and that have given the band the confidence they may have needed to play in the way they always wanted to. In short, the new album, from its elongated recording process to the positive reactions engendered by the finished product has helped free the band from just being ‘those guys who did ‘The Rat’’ to a group with the self belief to make music on their own terms. In doing so they’ve made one of the best albums of the last year, and possibly the finest work of their careers. On this showing it could well be one that finally fulfils its promise.

Review now up on Brighton Magazine.co.uk

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