Stag & Dagger @ various venues.
Baby Venom. Spitalfields Vibe Bar Live. 1920-1950.
Plugs. Spitalfields Vibe Bar. 1930-2000.
Speech Debelle. Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen. 2030-2100.
Dan Smith. Shoreditch Jaguar Shoes. 2100-2130.
Blue Bambinos. Hoxton Favela Chic. 2120-2150.
Navvy. Shoreditch Last Days Of Decadence. 2150-2220.
Flowers Of Sulphur. Hoxton Cocomo. 2200-2230.
Casio Kids. Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen. 2340-0020.
(advertised stage times shown)
It’s like a festival, only it benefits from being indoors in rooms, many of which wouldn’t make the venue shortlist for a cat-swinging grand prix. It’s like gigs, only loads in the same night to which you have a skeleton key; freedom of the city bestowed to those who like to cram like a panicking student when it comes to live music and checking out somethings new. Also, between bands, why stare at a roadies bum-crack whilst he fiddles with the drum-stack, when you can just pop out and head off down the road where another band in another venue can do away with the notion of having to have an elongated musical hiatus.
Of course, the Camden Crawl led the way in this respect, but Stag & Dagger acts as a slightly more left-field equivalent causing a mass barrelling around the EC1 and E1 postcodes between Old Street and Brick Lane. It is in the latter I begin after 7pm, in the upstairs room of the Vibe Bar. Hunched over a wooden table of beat-up synths, like two street card-sharps turning up the heat on their speed-‘Find-the-Lady’-off, are two thirds of Baby Venom (the third due at the drum set that sits behind the table), running late with their prep. Eventually one of them looks up and wonders “This is beyond soundcheck, yeah? This is playing? Are the doors open?”
They are, and the early bird smattering, lolling on sofas and perched on stools, are soon joined by a stream of ears as Baby Venom kick on with their lo-fi Kraut-pop. The stage set-up is much akin to Holy Fuck or Fuck Buttons, but this trio are much gentler souls, and not just for the lack of a vulgar exclamation in their name. That said, the drumming is certainly athletic but their electroid bent is more down-to-earth and calmly melodic yet still utterly captivating.
Downstairs to the Vibe’s main bar for Plugs’ last few numbers. They have described themselves as “psychedelic/concrete/progressive” and they could throw in a few more obliques and descriptors as well, as the three numbers I see are about as dissimilar as a bric-a-brac car boot display of a cheese ladder, a cable-knit tank-top with racing green trim and a photograph of a man waving from the seat of a ride-on lawnmower. Firstly they are sprightly alt.rock, then Mount Sims-esque bouncy electro then all nouveau post-punk angles. This blog, as is customary, applauds their lack of focus.
From one extreme of the Dagger campus to, nearly, the other as we leave Brick Lane to it for the evening, and thus eschewing the later highlights of Abe Vigoda at the Vibe, or Dananananakroyd at 93 Feet East. Still, having seen the latter before, it would seem out of keeping with spirit of the night to go and see any band one has already happened across, however exciting and interesting they’ve been. As such Micachu & The Shapes and An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump find their names etched off the matchday programme.
With tonight’s gambling rules drawn up, it is therefore to a hip-hop artist I am next drawn, having not seen much of it over the years, certainly not since Credit To The Nation seemed to support every white-boys-with-guitars alt.rock act around 1993/4. Credit playing with the Manics and Therapy? was eye-opening, but easy to reconcile when you consider the politics of all the acts in involved. For an “I’m not even going to try to warm to this” combo though, nothing topped the leather-clad rock n’ rollers vs. hair-clipped indie-types stand off when Rocket from the Crypt and Bis toured the country together in 1998, but I digress.
Speech Debelle [top pic] is the hip-hop act in question, but rather than being a post-Public Enemy politico, Speech is all about the personal, opening up a window to her world, possibly through an unlocked diary she keeps in the shoebox under her bed. Rather than crashing beats, Speech’s music is more soul-jazz in tempo, the words tallest man with the worlds longest fingers taking control of the double bass (if ever a man was built for an instrument) whilst drums are played gently and brushed. There’s a touch of Arrested Development about it, without the significant connection to the African diaspora. This is very South London, and has a down-to-earth, middle-classness stitched into the sleeves of it, much like early 90’s #42-with-a-bullet one-non-hit-wonder Efua. Which is damning with faint praise, but there’s nothing to really quicken the pulse here.
Next, in the dilapidated basement bar of Jaguar Shoes, is a man [see above] playing quirky piano, voice and occasional noises pop. “Kill me now” is Dan Smith’s refrain as I walk through the door, but largely this is bittersweet stuff, in the Ben Folds or Jeremy Warmsley vein. For Alchemy he self-harmonises over a bubbling synth bass-line that gives him an enticing gothic electropop mask, whilst his final song contains a jaunty vaudevillian twitch.
Onto Favela Chic for Blue Bambinos [above] and again as I walk through the door the picture is striking, as a man in a Tom Waits’-esque hobo hat bows at a singing hand saw. This is a first impression that softens one up for the caustic post-garage hardcore rockabilly blues racket that they also deal in. Singer, and saw player, Justin Young makes an arresting front man, and not just because of the natty titfer, but for his rock moves whilst singing, which look a lot like Henry Rollins, if Hank were to unwrap the mic cord from his forearm and impersonate an orang-utan experiencing lower back and limb stiffness as a result of an ergonomically incorrect desk layout. They close by bringing out the saw again for a woozy blues instrumental. This is what Stag & Dagger is all about, falling into venues containing bands you have not even heard of, and leaving with thoughts of album purchase on your mind.
That said, my next port of call is for a band that sent me a demo in my Vanity Project-editing days, so I am aware of them already and know that I liked them. Why is a mystery created by the deficiencies of my memory, but what better way to refresh than downstairs at Last Days Of Decadence, where there is a display of fine china crockery in the wall. Navvy [pic below] aren’t really in keeping with all this, playing perky and poky berk-pop, all yelps, synths, plated-jelly bass-lines all moshing together like feral cats after the same mouse. Making more enthusiastic use of woodblock and cowbell than is perhaps healthy, Navvy have a Devo-esque brashness about their quirk.
I’m not sure if I can genuinely claim to having seen the next act. Flowers of Sulphur were half way through their set in the basement of Hoxton’s Cocomo bar and the best I could do was to perch on the top of the stairs, able only to see a synth-player’s arm, the guitarist’s back and the drummer’s thigh. Still, the three instrumental numbers I hear are strong-armed and richly psychedelic and worth further investigation, possibly at a later date.
Time to try the luck elsewhere, but that certainly won’t be at Cargo where tonight’s top draws, Evan Dando and Cold War Kids, are in residence. Lack of interest partly, but also the queues for it are already snaking around Shoreditch. It’s similar back at the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen but I am keen to see Casio Kids and thus one has to calm the gadding about to play a more patient waiting game. Not that it was entirely necessary. Once White Denim had finished their set the place emptied so I might have been able to fit in Maps or Thunderheist in the time I was queuing, but no matter as the Casio Kids [see below] were very much worth waiting for.
They often talk about Pulp’s defining moment being when they owned Glastonbury in 1995. It’s not quite that here, but a similar kind of euphoria, relatively speaking, greets the Casio Kids as they leave the stage after their forty minute set and you get the impression that a great many in the room have come without being already partisan, yet leave having become so. Casio Kids do upbeat electro, harmonise angelically and have the guitar, bass and drums to give it a pop-post-rock undercoat.
One song is dedicated to a member of the band who has something to celebrate; “he’s handed in his Masters today! How about it?” They’re like !!! without being in so much thrall to 70’s funk, and like Toto if they preferred electro-pop to soft rock. The room is aglow as they finish, and although the night goes on for another couple of hours, anything else would now be after the Lord Mayor’s Show somewhat and thus my de facto headliners provide the show-stopping performance in keeping with their position.
Stag & Dagger website (with MySpace links)
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