Vanity Project

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2011: 25 gig salute

If my calculations are correct, I made it to 139 gigs/festivals/in-stores/bandstand busks in 2011 (a great many being free entry thank goodness), comprising 379 ‘sets’. Of those, here are the best 25, with a few bubbling under ‘momentary highlights’ and gig-like experiences of note.

A condition set upon myself for this list was that no band would appear twice, otherwise there are a few entrants who may well have done.

1=: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins. Union Chapel (May)
A sold out Union Chapel, candles flickering and, come the end, a standing ovation all round. Turns out collaboration between a modern folk troubadour and an electronica everyman works beautifully live. Key track: Bats In The Attic.

1=: Nisennenmondai. Kentish Town Forum (November).
Pretty much the same set I saw them do a year ago in support of the Ex at Tufnell Park Dome and again it was a 50 minute support slot, albeit to a far larger crowd, with four ‘pieces’ taking up the entire stint. Theirs is a powerful music, but without need for racking up the distortion or applying any extraneous vocalisation (their set being entirely instrumental). Nisennenmondai’s strength comes from danceable car-chase hypnotics, drama and energy building in the cyclical compositions as they jut out but roll fluidly.

The Magic Band

3: The Magic Band. Nottingham Rescue Rooms (December)
I followed this tour about a bit, and I would nominate the whole ‘gig experience’ of doing so but my damned rules determine a single show to be chosen. So I will choose Nottingham for the extra treat of a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning played by way of tribute to Wolf’s guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Also seen at London Scala, Dublin Button Factory and Leeds Irish Centre.

“Thankfully, French is an excellent blues singer in his own right, taking his cue from Van Vliet in much the same way as Van Vliet did from Howlin’ Wolf. Whilst he hasn’t got quite the same range, the growl is as hearty as you need to capture the essence of what watching Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band live must have been all about.” [FULL REVIEW]

4: Gaggle. Rough Trade East (April).
Like the old school Top 40 this, something coming in low and climbing as it begins to bed in. Gaggle performing their rework/remix of the 1969 feminist cantata ‘The Brilliant & The Dark’ was at #17 in my 2010 top gigs list, but that was in front of a ‘home’ crowd at the Women’s Library. Here, dropped like a cluster bomb into the midst of a packed Rough Trade East on Record Store Day, the themes of the piece were even more arresting and thrilling. Also seen at: Royal Albert Hall Elgar Room.

5: Kap Bambino. Krems Messangelände (May)
“So, after a weekend that has often been about the art of music, we are brought to a flurrying dervish of a climax by a band for whom the body response is of equal validity to the effect upon the mind.” [FULL REVIEW].

6: PJ Harvey. Mile End Troxy (February).
The album Let England Shake was a remarkable piece of work and was rightly showcased in its entirety (albeit not in order) and interspersed with material from across her canon. On Battleship Hill was the standout moment, as its intro broke away to Peej’s piercing Kate Bush-esque falsetto, and hairs jumped to attention upon many a nape. Also seen at: Alexandra Palace

7: The Fall. KOKO (June).
Three great Fall gigs in a row for me, and all when the set is chock heavy with material from the brilliant Your Future Our Clutter LP. The Fall will never be a band that treads water or looks backwards at old glories, but part of me wouldn’t be disappointed if they toured this record in perpetuity, especially on this form. Key track: Cowboy George. Also seen at: IndigO2.

8: Paul Simon. Roundhouse (July)
Beginning strongly with Crazy Love Vol. II, this was a two hour tour through Simon songs old and new. A quarter of that time was the two encores finishing with a riotous You Can Call Me Al but containing a brilliantly arresting solo rendition of The Sound Of Silence and a voluptuous Boy In The Bubble.

Factory Floor @ Alexandra Palace

9: Factory Floor. Alexandra Palace (July)
Sixth time I’ve seen them and while a hard sound as relentless and unflinching as theirs might lose its impact on multiple viewings, if anything the opposite is true. The perfect late-night-at-a-festival (on after the headliners) group. Also seen at: Krems Messangelände, CitiPost Building and Highbury Garage.

10: Low. Barbican Hall (June)
After an awry start where Alan Sparhawk’s voice goes all over the place during Nothing But Heart, they pull it back swiftly with the first of three goosebump moments as Nightingale follows. Especially Me and (That’s How You Sing) Amazing Grace are the other standout flesh prickling moments in a gorgeous nigh-on two-hour set. Also seen at: Brighton Old Market.

11: Blanck Mass. Shacklewell Arms (December)
Perhaps one man with a laptop and a table of buttons and dials should not make for the most gripping live spectacle, even with bespoke visuals projected to grab the attention. Yet gripped we were, by a brutal, bone-rattling sensory experience.

12: James Yuill. City Arts & Music Project (May).
Electro pop so perky you could hang yer coat on it and an ideal way to get the dancin’ feet moving at the end of a Stag & Dagger night where they’d been wearied by walking between venues in Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields. Key track: On Your Own

13: Charles Hayward. Catch (August)
“My maaaaad-ness” he begins, the glint in his gaze increasingly vivid, before moving smoothly into a groove that feet can respond to. A kindly, mildly eccentric presence, he later rises from his stool to pause one song for a good thirty seconds just so that he might peer out at us incredulously.” [FULL REVIEW].

14: Portishead. Alexandra Palace (July)
In the London bus approach to gigs, ticket holders for ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror weekender were treated to rare giggers Portishead curating, and topping the bill, on both the Saturday and Sunday. As the sets were identical, I’ll have to pick the Saturday as my choice as the impact of Silence as a set opener was all the more powerful for it being their reintroduction to the UK stage. Commanding and captivating.

15: The Antlers. Heaven (May)
Would the appearance of a set of new songs dilute the power of the tunes from their astonishing ‘Hospice’ record? Not a bit of it! Also seen at: Borderline.

Carla Bozulich works the room @ donaufestival

16: Carla Bozulich. Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche (May)
“Entitled ‘Eyes & Ears 5: Under The Skin’ it would continue a series of site specific performances that Carla has put together, and use the resonant monastic space to its full potential, rather than having the stage as the sole focal point. In that respect it worked wonderfully, the audience on being allowed to enter wandering between players arranged around the room, with films projecting across the space onto side walls, and also so that flickering images cascaded down the central pillars, encasing us as though in a cage of static electricity.” [FULL REVIEW]. Also seen at: Dalston Café Oto (as ‘Evangelista’).

17: Omar Souleyman. XOYO (December)
I find it nigh on impossible to not have a good time at an Omar Souleyman show. Those who have seen him will know what I mean when I say “Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaah…YALLA!” The joie de vivre that sweeps the room is highly infectious and impacts directly on the hips and feet. Key track: Leh Jani

18: Micachu & The Shapes with Brotha May. Plastic People (March).
It’s one thing collaborating with the London Sinfonietta to create an hour long suite entitled Chopped And Screwed, but alt.pop hero Mica Levi’s aspirations aren’t all towards ‘high’ culture as to accompany the release of the recording of this orchestral collaboration was a grime mix-tape version. This show in basement club Plastic People was to launch that recording and featured Mica, Raisa and Marc on lap-tops and synths in the DJ booth rather than their usual stage set up, and with grime MC Brotha May doing his thing from the step behind them. Idiosyncratic enough to begin with, this was them indulging their esoteric passions with some aplomb.

19: The Books. Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche (May)
“Cult-like propaganda videos, golf tutorials, the dark thoughts of unknown children captured on found Talkboy tapes featured among the collaged ‘samples’ that play out in synchronicity on a screen behind The Books. These found visuals and sounds are the kind of foundations upon which our three players build their jazz-trained whimsy beyond-New-Age expanse towards a 21st century folk music celebrating the technology as well as the spirit of the age.” [FULL REVIEW]. Key track: Cold Freezin’ Night. Also seen at: Alexandra Palace.

20: Laura Hocking & The Long Goodbye. Union Chapel (July)
Modern folk-pop groups led by singer songwriters can feel a bit ten a penny at times. However when they hit the right emotional note they can make an entire audiences jaw drop, and it certainly felt like this was happening when Laura Hocking followed her announcement that the next song as being about her autistic brother’s simultaneous responses of eagerness and fear to Firework Night, and wanting to capture that in song, with the astonishingly good Strongmen & Acrobats which, although I’m not intimately involved with the Hocking family, felt absolutely perfect.

21: The Ex + Getatchew Mekuria. Rich Mix (December)
The Ex are a fine, lively post-punk outfit in their own setting, however collaborations with brass sections seems to give them a mesmerising extra dimension. They ended up in my 2010 end of year ‘best gigs’ list with their set with Brass Unbound and this year’s entry again finds them in collaboration, this time a set with septuagenarian, Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria and his colleagues.

Ghostpoet @ Stag & Dagger

22: Ghostpoet. 93 Feet East (May)
Another highlight of a year of wise choices made whilst staggering around Shoreditch and Spitalfields for Stag & Dagger. Ghostpoet’s winning demeanour and electrifying sounds which defy simple categorisation was a winning combo for attracting the attention of a wanderlustful crowd. Key track: Us Against Whatever Baby. Also seen at: Thames Festival and Scala.

23: The Lampshades. Arnold Circus Bandstand (December)
One of the most unexpectedly beguiling sets I’ve seen in the semi-regular (and free) Sunday afternoon ‘Bandstand Busking’ series.

24: North Sea Radio Orchestra. St Giles-in-the-Fields (July).
Delicate, caressing and sweeping chamber orchestra in an ideally ornate setting. With material from the I A Moon amongst older pieces, an additional element of motorik krautrock (Berliner Luft) was added to their sumptuous ensemble sound. Highlight: Kingstanding. Also seen at: St Olave’s Church.

25: Mugstar. Rough Trade East (April).
Instrumental hardcore psych delivered with the emphasis less on whirlwind swirl as a tidal wave crashing forward. Also seen at: The Lexington.

honorary ‘gig’ of the year
Not a live performance, but Chris Watson’s sound-art installation at Donaufestival (Krems Kunsthalle, May) of sounds found on an expedition to Antarctica was also a further sonic highlight of the year. Invited to lie down on cushions, his collection of recordings such as pressure ridges, glacial caving, melt water and deep ocean current via quadraphonic sound attacked and doused as water and ice collided, capturing the ebb and flow as a force of seismic change rather than something gentle and calming.

Radio session of the year
Deerhunter’s session for Marc Riley on 6Music was simply incredible and I had not, previously, been that taken with them (and that’s with having seen them live before as well). Re-investigation required.

other song ‘highlights’ from the year’s gigging

Aiden Moffat & Bill Wells, The Copper Top (Cargo)
Architecture In Helsinki, I’ve Been Thinking About You (XOYO)
Beach House, Zebra (Alexandra Palace)
Bearsuit, Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop (Old Blue Last)
Blurt, Enemy Ears (Deptford Bird’s Nest)
Bug Prentice, Get What You Pays For (Rich Mix)
Cocknbull Kid, Cocknbull Kid (City Arts & Music Project)
Destroyer, Savage Night At The Opera (Heaven)
Dom Coyote, song using verbatim text from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (Union Chapel)
Dutch Uncles, The Ink (Rough Trade East)
Electrelane, Smalltown Boy (Scala)
Elbow, Lippy Kids (The O2)
Fuck Buttons, Surf Solar (Kentish Town Forum)
Grace Jones, Slave To The Rhythm (Hyde Park)
The Hidden Cameras, In The NA (Barbican Hall)
The Irrepressibles, Nuclear Strike (donaufestival)
John Maus, Keep Pushing On (Rough Trade East)
Julianna Barwick, White Flag (Rough Trade East)
Ladytron, Discotraxx (donaufestival)
Liars, Scissor (Alexandra Palace)
Lydia Lunch, Atomic Bongos (donaufestival)
Marissa Nadler, Fifty Five Falls (Rough Trade West)
Matt & Kim, Yeah Yeah (Highbury Garage)
Max Tundra, Which Song (Kingston Fighting Cocks)
Phoenix Foundation, Bitte Bitte (Rough Trade East)
Planningtorock, Doorway (Rough Trade East)
Pulp, Sunrise (Hyde Park)
Still Corners, Cuckoo (Rough Trade East)
tUnE-yArDs – Do You Want To Live (Scala)
Underground Railroad, Russian Doll (Rough Trade East)
Wanda Jackson, Funnel Of Love (Scala)
The Wedding Present. Quick, Before It Melts (Dingwalls)
Wire, Bad Worn Thing (Rough Trade East)
Zea, Armpit Elastica (Café OTO)

All Our Yesterdays – The Top 5’s

2010
1: tUnE-yArDs @ Shoreditch Cargo.
2: Low @ Primavera Sound
3: The Fall @ Primavera Sound
4: Edwyn Collins @ Bowlie II (ATP)
5: The Hidden Cameras @ Shoreditch St Leonards Church
(full list)

2009
1: Amiina @ Shoreditch St Leonards Church
2: Transglobal Underground @ Shoreditch Rich Mix
3: Future Islands @ University of London Union
4: Veronica Falls @ Spitalfields Rough Trade East
5: Pet Shop Boys @ Greenwich O2
(full list)

2008
1: Tilting & Drifting: The Songs Of Scott Walker @ Barbican Theatre
2: Danananananakroyd @ Islington Lexington
3: The B-52’s @ Camden Roundhouse
4: Killing Joke @ Kentish Town Forum
5: Billy Childish & The Musicians Of The British Empire @ Dalston Barden’s Boudoir

2007
1: Carla Bozulich @ Spitalfields The Spitz
2: The Fall @ Hammersmith Palais
3: Rarely Seen Above Ground @ Whitechapel Art Gallery
4: Tim Ten Yen @ Brixton Windmill
5: Yndi Halda @ London Blow Up Metro

2006
1: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
2: Shitdisco @ Liverpool Barfly
3: Only Son @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
4: Stuffy/The Fuses @ Herne Hill Half Moon
5: Gogol Bordello @ Manchester Academy 2

2005
1: The Magic Band @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
2: Architecture In Helsinki @ Liverpool Barfly
3: Schwervon @ Liverpool Zanzibar
4: Cranebuilders @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
5: Thee More Shallows @ Liverpool Hev’n & Hell

2004
1: Charlie Parr @ Leeds Packhorse
2: Soweto Gospel Choir @ Edinburgh St Georges West
3: The Magic Band @ Highbury Garage
4: Nina Nastasia with Huun-Huur-Tu @ Leeds City Varieties
5: Kid Carpet @ Liverpool Barfly

2003
1: Low @ Islington Union Chapel
2: Jeffrey Lewis @ Leeds Royal Park Cellars
3: Olympic Lifts @ Southampton Joiners
4: The Kills @ Southampton Joiners
5: Melt Banana @ Liverpool Magnet

2002
1: The White Stripes @ Leeds Festival
2: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
3: The Polyphonic Spree @ Leeds Festival
4: Motel @ Portsmouth Horseshoe
5: Nina Nastasia @ Spitalfields The Spitz

2001
1: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
2: Lonnie Donegan @ Guilford Festival
3: The Monsoon Bassoon @ Highbury Garage
4: Muse @ Portsmouth Guildhall
5: Ed Harcourt @ Guildford Festival

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January 1, 2012 Posted by | Yearly lists | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Donaufestival 2011 (weekend 2)

Donaufestival
Krems, 05-07may11

The donaufestival plays out over two consecutive weekends in Krems, a town sixty minutes away from Vienna by train. Krems has been transformed in recent years with cultural spaces breaking out in an old tobacco factory (Kunsthalle) and a former monastery (Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche) and has dragged a type of city-based arts culture to a picturesque town on the banks of the Danube or, as they would have it, the Donau.

The previous weekend’s line up included esoteric delights such as John Cale, WU LYF and James Blake as well as the gallery exhibitions, performance art and theatrical pieces that continue over to this weekend.

News at the end of last year that Carla Bozulich (formerly of Ethyl Meatplow and The Geraldine Fibbers, now a sonic adventurer both solo and with her Evangelista group) would not only be curating parts of the second weekend, but also putting together a one-off performance to take place in the Minoritenkirche was certainly the hook that reeled me in.

Entitled ‘Eyes & Ears 5: Under The Skin’ it would continue a series of site specific performances that Carla has put together, and use the resonant monastic space to its full potential, rather than having the stage as the sole focal point. In that respect it worked wonderfully, the audience on being allowed to enter wandering between players arranged around the room, with films projecting across the space onto side walls, and also so that flickering images cascaded down the central pillars, encasing us as though in a cage of static electricity.

Then, with the rap of a drum, Carla entered dragging a gong, the musicians leaving their perches to join the full collective on stage (some returning to the floor later to mirror on-stage drum clash, or to offer a mid-set trumpet vigil). Following the entrance, elements of her regular performance weaved in, such as using a child’s mini-microphone toy to sing through her guitar pick-ups [below] like a wailing widow about to turn her mind to vengeance. Baby, That’s The Creeps from the astonishing 2006 Evangelista LP allowed her to go walkabout, descending into the crowd like a preacher; all that’s missing is the hand placed on foreheads and the subsequent flailing limbs.

That is what Carla captures so well in her music, an outsider-art hunger firing practically Pentecostal turbulence. If you’ll forgive me quoting myself, I said in a prior review that “When fully flaunted, [Carla’s voice] is like a feral growl contained in a rickety cage; burnt yet eager, sharing the kind of ragged timbre one might associate with the Rev. C.L. Franklin as he looms over a pulpit roaring the gospel.” That gives a sense of the dark and tattered melodrama just within the music and thus a visual theatricality can be interlaced without it feeling too ‘forced’.

As I say though, as much as it is a chance for Carla to perform this exclusive work, the festival also allowed her the opportunity to showcase both her contemporaries and her heroes. In the case of the latter, the first night was top heavy with them, both Laurie Anderson and Lydia Lunch appearing in the Messegelände main hall: Halle 1.

In what was essentially a full live performance of Laurie Anderson’s latest album Homeland, washes of slender synth ambience underpinned stories, parables and jokes essaying the ten post-9/11 years. At one point, Anderson sat in an oversize armchair speaking to us as though we were grandchildren eager to learn about life during wartime mostly through being on a promise of some toffees. The piercing moments when Anderson picks up her violin act as the start, finish and ‘turn-tape-over’ moments for a set that is otherwise like a ninety minute hypnosis reel.

Later Lydia Lunch also offered a performance of an entire LP, in her case her 1980 debut Queen Of Siam (apparently for the first time, although a tour will follow), and was a much livelier watch; ‘no wave’ era rock n’ roll delivered with a strident PVC boot. Lunch’s group offer a post-punk take on Broadway swing, a gothic cocktail jazz, over which Lunch growls and sways. The highlight of the set was when Atomic Bongos fired out, inspiring here a dancing stage invasion from our curator.

Offering a similar vibrant spirit, despite also now being of ‘veteran’ status, was Marc Ribot and his group Ceramic Dog (Messegelände Halle 2). Ches Smith running his drum stick along the edge of a cymbal, Shahzad Ismaely pressing at his bass guitar and Ribot tickling his strings so they twinkle; such were the beginnings before they moved into more robust territory, unleashing an unhinged part-surf-part-Hendrix-part-fusion-freak-out stripped down and sinewy blues.

Ribot’s set was certainly a fine way to close the first evening but possibly not quite as impressive as its opening act. Cult-like propaganda videos, golf tutorials, the dark thoughts of unknown children captured on found Talkboy tapes featured among the collaged ‘samples’ that play out in synchronicity on a screen behind The Books (Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche) [above]. These found visuals and sounds are the kind of foundations upon which our three players build their jazz-trained whimsy beyond-New-Age expanse towards a 21st century folk music celebrating the technology as well as the spirit of the age. For Free Translator, the lyrics of an old folk song are filtered through a number of online translators, through many a language, a dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards phrasing coming out the other side.

Pretty sprightly stuff but, despite this as the kick-off; dense noise and intense sound collage was also well represented at the festival. Hiss Tracts (Minoritenkirche) grouped members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Fly Pan Am and Growing to offer chimes, rolling bells and a terrifying haunted rush. Their half hour piece wandered shimmering like a river and before too long the drone was all enveloping, before eventually petering out to bird song and black.

The darkness continued over at the Evangelische Kirche. Like Hiss Tracts, Tim Hecker has a dark undercurrent but with far more glimpses of light, a sense of hopefulness shimmering out of his deep-think drone. Moving between apocalyptic lows and ethereal highs, a strange divinity occurred perhaps through his interactions with the organ sound.

The following day at Minoritenkirche, Barn Owl would also offer dark soundscapes, although these were evocative of the desert, and of tribalist mysticism. One guitar delved into the underbelly, whereas the other overarched a light swirling with the occasional vocal howl; like Morricone in a dust bowl sky darkened by the swirl.

Another intensive sonic experience the festival offered was former Cabaret Voltaire man and field-recording troubadour Chris Watson who offered a live performance (Kunsthalle) entitled ‘A Journey South’. Less a gig than it was lecture and slideshow, Watson talked through his experiences recording on location in the Ross sea, Antarctica, at the start of last year detailing the transformation of sea ice from solid to fluid in the Austral summer season. Interesting as this was, his collection of recordings such as pressure ridges, glacial caving, melt water and deep ocean current were best experienced as a sound collage installation running throughout the festival in the same room. Invited to lie down on cushions, the quadraphonic sounds attacked and doused as water and ice collided, capturing the ebb and flow as a force of seismic change rather than something gentle and calming.

Another act at the festival offered a similar intensity to the likes of Hecker and Barn Owl, only adding a sense of playfulness, was Gambletron and her ‘Extreme Karaoke set’ ( Messegelände Halle 2) where members of the audience chose the tracks that they would then re-interpret live with noise artiste Lisa Gamble. Watching a keen Carla Bozulich throw herself into a George Michael re-invention was certainly the highlight, despite the best efforts of the lay punters. Certainly a niche product but the right environment for it.

If anything, what the ‘noise’ acts were missing was a beat. Factory Floor [above], however, were on hand (Halle 2) to offer both intensity and pulse; their incessant palpitations underpinning a detached brutal malevolence. Bows attack guitars, vocals are moaned out like injury, beats pulsate like heart attack and when they are on form they ensnare like a venus fly trap.

If this festival bill sounds a bit unyielding dark, then acts later in the weekend offered some lighter relief. Electro flavour of the month, Gold Panda (Halle 2) [below] uplifted without being mindlessly euphoric, Snow & Taxis being a giddy highlight in this respect, while Mount Kimbie (Halle 1) overcame technical difficulties and a dull first impression to seep themselves in slowly.

The Irrepressibles (Halle 1) were certainly very different from anything else on the bill, but went down a treat. My only previous encounter with them was at a cold and wet Bandstand Busking event at Victoria Park last year. There were only about thirty watching, but even in more stripped down conditions it was clear from their choreographed movement that there was more to them than just (just!) the grandiose chamber pop sound. So here they presented their ‘Mirror Spectacle’, reflections making it appear as the more than just (just!) the 9 of them, in their full fallen angel/marionette kit and make-up caboodle.

Death From Above 1979 used the same space (Halle 1) with just the two in the personnel. Back five years after calling it a premature day, bass (and sometimes synth) combined with the drum set to fire out a red hot pop thrash. In Halle 2, Candelilla also offered a power pop style, without being as one dimensional in pace. From the Heavens To Betsy end of Riot Grrl in spirit, the interweaving vocal lines captivated with the simplest of tools.

As the festival drew to a close on the Saturday night, electro and synth ruled the roost, with Ladytron (Halle 1) promoting their new ‘Best Of’ LP with, as you might imagine, a set crammed with career highlights. Had they asked me to write their set list to my specification, I’d have likely come up with something similar to them (although I’m Not Scared would have been very welcome). Early numbers betrayed a slight rustiness, their last record proper ‘Velocifero’ having come out three years ago with live performances few and far between in the last two years, but they soon warmed up to the task, Discotraxx and Destroy Everything You Touch being distinct highlights.

Three days in then, one o’clock in the morning and Bordeaux’s Kap Bambino (Halle 2) are tasked with closing out the festival. No wind down is allowed though as Caroline Martial rips across the stage, like a pocket version of bubblegum and biker leathers period Madonna, bouncing incessantly and making an astonishing impact for their time slot as the room succumbs to dancing with an abandon not seen in the three days hitherto. So, after a weekend that has often been about the art of music, we are brought to a flurrying dervish of a climax by a band for whom the body response is of equal validity to the effect upon the mind.

May 22, 2011 Posted by | new reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2010: 21 gig salute

Looks like my volume of gigs is likely to reduce significantly in 2011, but I can’t really complain given I’ve overdosed on ‘em in the last year or two. Indeed I believe I made it to 173 gigs and festivals in 2010 (living near to so many free opportunities helps) and I present the foremost 21 here.

1: tUnE-yArDs. Shoreditch Cargo.
One of those gigs where the atmosphere just bristles with ‘this is probably my gig of the year’ vibes all around. Not bad considering it took place in mid-February. Merrill Garbus, like a Tuuvan throat singer, has such an incredible command over her vocal chords, and a percussive bent that aligns neatly with it. Also seen at the Scala.


2: Low. Primavera Sound.
Low were brought to Spain to perform, in its entirety, their album The Great Destroyer, which I had struggled to love in the five years since its release. By the end of the show, the all-seated Auditori at Parc del Forum no longer needed its fixtures, as the entire audience was on their feet acclaiming something just incredible. In terms of the record, I struggle to love no longer. Also seen at Coventry St John the Baptist Church.

 

3: The Fall. Primavera Sound.
“At the end of 50 mins and a rigorous ‘Wolf Kidult Man’, Mark E. Smith slips back on his black jacket and departs, triumphant; as do I, knowing that so early in the proceedings, I have already had my money’s worth.”

Nothing like seeing your favourite team win away from home, in Europe. Also seen at Shepherd’s Bush Empire


Edwyn Collins @ Bowlie II

4: Edwyn Collins. Bowlie II.
Teenage Fanclub learning all the tunes to be his backing band for the afternoon, Ryan Jarman of The Cribs turning up in Somerset apparently just to duet on What Is My Role?, Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand guesting on a few numbers late in the set; this was a vivid exemplar of those one-off sets where the variables all come together neatly, the stars align if you will, for a truly memorable set. Also seen at Rough Trade East.


5: The Hidden Cameras. Shoreditch St Leonards Church.
A special one-off show with an expanded string and brass section to aid the Albert Kennedy Trust. This bigger ensemble and the church setting was perfect for doing justice to the gravitas of the new sounds that characterised their most recent LP ‘Origin: Orphan’. Also seen at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen.

 

6: Omar Souleyman. Scala.
“When the hard beats kick in over Rizan Sa’id’s chaotic dual-keyboard playing; when one of the bands associates removes his suit jacket to take centre-stage and, like a quiet and reserved uncle startling his family at a wedding, begins to gradually work up a slinky sweat; and when Omar takes time out from low-key cheerleading to fire out the poetry, it’s virtually impossible not to be exhilarated by their projected joie de vivre”. full review here.

 

Blurt @ Offset Festival

7: Blurt. Offset Festival.
Cut It! is an astonishing album to come up with thirty years into a career, and Blurt have not been shy in displaying these great new songs like a jeweller displaying his new intake of Cartier watches. Blurt were the last band on at the Offset, appearing after the larger stages had shut up shop, and seemed to take it upon themselves to show the preceding acts how it really should be done. Also seen at Rough Trade East, Mile End Victoria and Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen. Offset review here

 

8: Carla Bozulich. Dalston Café Oto (May and October).
“the full callused power of her vocal range…is like a feral growl contained in a rickety cage; burnt yet eager, sharing the kind of ragged timbre one might associate with the Rev. C.L. Franklin as he looms over a pulpit roaring the gospel”. Full review of the May show here.

Two visits to Café Oto this year, with different collaborative works. In May, Carla performed with cellist Francesco Guerri, and in October with bassist Massimo Pupillo as well as violinist John Eichenseer. Difficult to pick one of the two shows for the list but the latter should take the prize simply because it opened with a breathtaking performance of her incredible Evangelista piece.

 

9: The Manganiyar Seduction. Barbican Theatre.
“Eventually an intense four-drum breakaway builds the pulse-rate, a down-tempo diversion then cleverly counters expectation of this being a non-stop race to the summit before the entire ensemble comes together as a whole for the first time. Naturally, the breath is stolen from us at this point”. full review here.

 

The Pre New @ The Lexington

10: The Pre New. The Lexington.
“Jim Fry, looking like a terrace bruiser in their court suit, does an admirable job of filling shoes and channelling some of the anarchic spirit [of Earl Brutus]…The Pre New are to all intents and purposes an art-school glam band, but one that is piloted by a combination of boilermakers, dockworkers and granite-faced shop stewards, in a dance hall where the glitter balls are lined with asbestos”. full review here.

Members of Earl Brutus in a new band, you say? Right then. If you don’t see me there, you can safely assume I’ve been killed. Also seen at the 1234 Festival and Camden Dublin Castle.

 

11: Factory Floor. Rough Trade East.
Since seeing them at the 1-2-3-4 in 2009, Factory Floor have come on in leaps and bounds.
Also seen at Offset Festival.

 

12: The Ex with Brass Unbound. Tufnell Park Dome.
Scratchy Dutch post-punk in collaboration with a party-brass quartet. Also seen without Brass Unbound at the same venue later in the year.

 

13: The Clean. Brighton Freebutt.
My better half is a big fan of the Flying Nun Records based scene in New Zealand, and was keen to see these veterans of said scene during some rare UK gigs. I’d not heard a note of theirs prior to dropping into the Brighton Freebutt, but came away with In The Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul as a persistent earworm. Also seen at Primavera Sound.

 

14: Hallogallo 2010. Barbican Hall.
Neu!’s influence increases year-on-year so it makes perfect sense that Michael Rother take his work with both Neu! and Harmonia back out on the road, joined by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Tall Firs bassist Aaron Mullan. Hopefully this isn’t being seen as a one-off thing and we see him back again soon. Also seen at Primavera Sound.

 

15: Les Savy Fav. Primavera Sound.
The plan was to watch Les Savy Fav for twenty minutes before checking out something else on another stage. Then Tim Harrington shed his fake fur dog costume and started to see if how far out into the festival he could explore with his extended mic lead. When he’s in that mood, it’s difficult to take your eyes off him and before you know it, their whole hour is done. Also seen at Shoreditch Cargo. review of Cargo show here.

 

16: Nissenenmondai. Tufnell Park Dome.
Only a support slot, but their captivating electro-kraut piece was the evening’s showstopper.

 

17: Gaggle. Women’s Library.
Seen them attract the intrigue of passers-by heading back to their tents at midnight at Latitude, and seen them booed by pockets of Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip’s audience during a support slot, but the main highlight will be their ‘remixed’ and updated version of the 1969 cantata The Brilliant & The Dark performed in the perfect setting of the Women’s Library. Also seen at Bush Hall, Latitude and Shepherd’s Bush Empire. review of Bush Hall show here

 

18: Future Islands. The Old Blue Last.
For many, the combination of sea-sick synths, thundering bass and a voice that sounds like someone’s had at James Mason’s vocal chords with a power-sander will be a horrendous combination. For me, it’s a combination I can’t get enough of. Also seen at City Arts & Music Project and Brighton New Hero.

 

Thee Oh Sees @ Primavera In The Park

19: Thee Oh Sees. Primavera In The Park.
Grimey garage rock n’ roll it may be, but they were the ideal band for a warm afternoon watching bands amongst the palm trees at Barcelona’s Parc Joan Mirò.

 

20: Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Bishopsgate Institute.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums make the seemingly austere combo of single voice and percussion tender and inviting with just those tools, but adding a choir certainly couldn’t hurt, and didn’t.

 

21: Crystal Castles. Latitude Festival
“To borrow the phrase John Peel once used to the describe the atmosphere at an early Fall gig (and which often still applies), that Latitude set ‘crackled with malevolence’. Partly this was in terms of the pubescent members of the audience getting a little rowdy and letting off some steam. One young fella was seen walking out of the main throng clutching the remaining half of his glasses to his left eye like a makeshift monocle to find his way out. It was like the watching an indie-fest version of Saving Private Ryan’s opening salvo”.

Playing to a family festival crowd between The Maccabees and Belle & Sebastian. What could possibly go wrong? Above quote taken from my review of their Roundhouse show later in the year. Also seen at the Roundhouse & Bowlie II.

**A condition set upon myself for this list was that no band would appear twice, otherwise there are a few entrants who may well have done.**


other song ‘moments’ from the year’s gigging that have stuck in the memory

Alasdair Roberts, Kami Thompson & Munto Valdo, Three Sisters/Babylon (Hoxton Apprentice & Rough Trade East)
Applicants, Evelyn Waugh (Dalston Victoria)
Beach House, Gila (Primavera Sound)
Bis, Eurodisco (Primavera Sound)
Caribou, Sun (Offset Festival)
Cathedral, Rise (University of London Union)
Charles Hayward, “…information rich, information poor…” (Dalston Stag’s Head)
Chrome Hoof, Tonyte (Offset Festival)
Hot Chip, Ready For The Floor (Rough Trade East)
Franz Ferdinand, Matinee (Bowlie II)
Idiot Glee, Ain’t No Sunshine (Shoreditch Old Blue Last)
If…, Beasley Street (Dalston Victoria)
Jimmy McGee, 69 Ways… (Bloomsbury The Lamb)
MJ Hibbett & Steve Hewitt, Literature Search (Edinburgh GRV)
Musee Mecanique, Sleeping In Our Clothes (Farringdon Pure Groove)
The New Pornographers, Challengers (Bowlie II)
The Nuns, Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy (Tufnell Park Dome)
Public Image Ltd, Warrior (Shepherds Bush Empire)
Shellac, The End Of Radio (Primavera Sound)
Shrag, Mark E. Smith (93 Feet East)
Sun Ra Arkestra, Saturn (Dalston Café Oto)
Therapy?, Innocent X (Kings Cross Monto Water Rats)
Think About Life, Wizzzard (93 Feet East)
The Wedding Present, Brassneck (Tunbridge Wells Forum)
Wilko Johnson, Paradise (Rough Trade East)
Yusuf Islam & Ozzy Osbourne, Peace Train vs. Crazy Train (Washington Mall)

 

Go here. where it’s 2009 all over again

 

 

 

December 25, 2010 Posted by | new reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

1234 Festival @ Shoreditch Park

1234 Shoreditch Festival.
Shoreditch Park. 26jul09.

These smaller festivals are made for serendipity, a chance to wander about and find something new. That is increasingly so today as it soon becomes clear that the times given in the programme bear so scant relation to what’s actually going on on-stage that a printed listing of the contestants in the Hartley Wintney village-fete under-8’s fancy dress would have served just as well.

Still, it’s only a £15 in, I have no rigid agenda as to who to see and, well, I like a challenge. I’m not sure if my fellow mug-punters feel the same and certainly the bands on the second stage appeared a little disgruntled as they were forced to hammer through 15 minute sets due to the over-running.

Brevity is the soul of wit though, as well as being the key to not out-staying one’s welcome. KASMs (below) are a vibrant, jagged soul-punk outfit, but Rachel Mary Callaghan’s yelped vocals grate rather than pummel, so a quick in-and-out means there isn’t time to get too hacked off with it. Rory Brattwell’s guitar work does the job though.

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (below) have been reviewed here before, and only did 15 minutes of their pencilled-in 30 then anyway. So, everything remains in place, and is even a little more thrilling this time, what with their cataclysmic drum beat; their incessant fuzzcore; and their primal soul holler coming in three different shades as each member takes the lead mic.

LR Rockets were first on when I arrived (you can thank their valedictory remark of “Oh, and by the way, we’re LR Rockets” for me being able to identify them for you) rolling out some sweaty and dishevelled Parkinsons’-like art-punk, vocalist Le Bomb prowling the empty grass arc in front of the safety barriers in lieu of a dancing crowd.

Out on the main stage, the unfeasibly young looking Lion Club were playing half an hour earlier than billed. With crowds still only trickling in, and many picnicking outside due to food being confiscated on the way in (I found myself two apples light after picking up my wristband), the Club didn’t appear to be overjoyed with their rescheduling, singer Lewis Henry Rainsbury misanthropically announcing “luckily for you, this is our last song.” Far as I could tell, people were quite receptive to the big expansive keyboard sweeps in their arch pop-rock endeavours, but Lion Club seemed happy to do the off anyhow.

Back inside the second stage’s tent flaps, Wild Palms (thanks to the good people at MySpace for the ID on this occasion) were chopping about, drums nibbling around; their singer Lou Hill looking like Zammo MacGuire, the vein on his neck popping as he prowled. He’d come in an 80’s shirt of many misguided colours running together, but at least this made a change from the uniform black on show thus far.

Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man brought the sartorially monochrome back to the fore for their main stage set, but at least Frederick Blood-Royale had the decency to put a suit on for the occasion. Arguably he took it a little far on returning after a lengthy instrumental break in a lengthy grey coat with a pointy hood. Still, their Birthday Party-esque rumbling punk blues was agreeable enough.

After …Air Pump in the tent came the duo Banjo Or Freakout. Alessio Natalizia sings and manipulates guitar, sampler and snare drum, often all at once, whilst his colleague Daniel Boyle rat-a-tat’s away behind him. Their second tune sounded like an electric train hurtling towards the inner ear as the two player’s clattered together in an attempt to beat it back. Ploughing a similarly defiant vein later, Factory Floor brought into unison a crackling electro-beat, brooding PJ Harvey vocals and a guitar being bowed like a carving knife attacking stubborn duct tape. They climaxed with an aggressive tumult of screaming feedback, then wandered off.

As a contrast back outside, Polly Scattergood was playing her cutesy and twee summery electro-pop under a sky that was refusing to play ball. Later on, Patrick Wolf would alter his set to be in keeping with the elements, respecting Mother Nature, but disrespecting whoever it was that threw their drinks can at him. “Go back to the dole queue, motherfucker” was the end of long ranted riposte. Still, Patrick is always likely to be provocative to audiences that are not his own, being that he is the most ostentatiously dressed pop hero since David Bowie packed his Ziggy Stardust costume up in the loft next to his old Beano’s. Yet for all the make-up and clothing unbuttoned to the navel, young Patrick makes a wonderfully ambitious classic pop sound that follows in the lineage of Bowie, Scott Walker and ABC. Nowt wrong with a little flamboyance or even, as in Patrick’s case, a lot.

Aside from the serendipity, festivals can also act as a point of reconciliation. I can only ever remember walking out on bands twice for reasons other than transport home. The two bands were Mega City Four and The Warlocks, both of whom bored me to the point of anger. The Four got a second chance at a small festival gig in Gosport, and failed to win me back. Now, six years on, Warlocks got their chance, and whilst their records will continue to be thumbed past in record shops, I can happily say we have reached a point of partial reconciliation, even if Bobby Hecksher’s voice continues to detract more than it adds. Yet, I liked the fact that they all looked a little silly in their war-paint (each face sporting a different tiny coat of arms) and I am much more receptive than I was to getting locked into a peering-at-me-tootsies post-rock groove. Others do it better, but I reckon even more do it a lot worse. This is about as faint praise as you can get, but its progress nonetheless.

After all this came the final two acts of the day on the second stage. S.C.U.M.’s psychedelic, Joy Division-with-more-showmanship kinda thing was just starting to grab me when the power was cut on them for over-running. Those plugged in could only raise their arms in an incredulous ‘WTF??!?!?’, however drummer Melissa Rigby gamely clattered through to their end of the tune with a ridiculously wide grin on her face. Every drummer wants their Cozy Powell moment, it would appear.

Getting Chrome Hoof’s many instruments sound-checked was proving problematic, the soundman having to speak to the band through the house-speakers rather than the monitors to get his message across. His message containing many heavy sighs and a final exasperated “let’s just get on with it, I’ll sort it as we go along, this PA is a fucking joke.” Not that this appeared to affect the band, but then you can pack up any troubles in a uniform set of silver robes, I guess. Also, chants of “Hoof, Hoof, Hoof” would suggest a less than 100% ideal sound mix isn’t going to affect the on looking punters too much.

Besides, the ‘Oof are arresting in every sense so only the real nerds would notice. They work through, free-noise, shimmering glam jazz and freak-soul. Not only that but when bassist and co-founder Leo Smee (formerly of Cathedral) has a barbute-like helmet shoved on his head, this gives him the threat and energy to deliver death metal to a disco-pants crowd. The Rakes are still playing the main stage as we file out after this, but checking their progress would seem a bit post-Lord Mayor’s Show after Chrome Hoof’s captivating display.

More photographs at SongKick

July 27, 2009 Posted by | new reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment