The pains of being The Pains of Being Pure at Heart More

Blank Generation Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Thursday, May 21st, 2009

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at The Cockpit, Leeds

Float back on a wave of twee that surrounds The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and one could be in Leeds's famed Duchess or The Thekla in Bristol back at the start of the 1990s.

The New York band who play a set of St.Christopher or Field Mice inspired tunes pushed through more RAT pedals than My Bloody Valentine would find acceptable are a beguiling bunch. They beef up the sound with an extra guitarist and fuzz through most of the tracks from the début eponymous album.

As far as a band who make a sound from distortion it is note perfect but therein is the problem. Live they reproduce superbly but they add nothing new.

Not that this is always a bad thing and not that it is bad this evening but my mind that drifted before drifts back to last year and Vampire Weekend at this venue. Both bands are New Yorkers and both bands owe a chunk of thier sound to pilfering twenty years past. Like Vampire Weekend it is difficult to see where The Pains of Being Pure at Heart go next. The new song they try out sounds as if it could have been cut from the current album and oldie Kurt Cobain's Cardigan has not dated in their catalogue.

Like a great impressionist they, and Vampire Weekend, are yoked to the rise and fall of that from which they take inspiration. If twee fuzz up pop/doing The Strokes in a Paul Simon stylee falls from favour then the band fall from grace.

Nevertheless The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are, for the moment, very graceful. They encore with Hey Paul which along with Young Adult Friction stand out from a near perfect set and perhaps if a band takes inspiration from Sarah Records then so can I and suggest that the future for this band is irrelevant on a night of the less than pure pop being played to perfection.

Pete, The Pirates and the need for progression in Manchester More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Thursday, May 14th, 2009

The Manyanas, Disco Nasties, Bye Bye Johnny and Pete & The Pirates Puma Manchester at Moho Live at Moho Bar, Manchester

The opening band - and third place in whatever competition results in supporting Pete & The Pirates - start off with the tempo all over the place but soon settle down into a line of Arctic Monkeys with the obvious local dash of Oasis. “At least my songs mean the world to me” is a nice manifesto and in included in an introduction song that ends by name checking The Manyanas.

They enjoy their melodies and the singer’s tambourine is more than an ornament. They thank Puma for putting on the night - an attitude like that will take them far in the world of play-the-game indie as will their style and tendency to favour audience interaction.

They drop and raise tempo and roar through a feisty set of urban tunes about staying out and being the small side of twenty-five drifting into The Libertines once or twice but not enough to be unforgivable. Perhaps it shows a long gestation of the work that they reference the last eight year and the singer has snapped on Ian Brown's hair.

They even throw in a 'Woo' for good measure and seem interested in the audience.

They finish the set with some more experimental pop and a nod to The Beatles on Laundry. All of which makes a pleasing mix and certainly a refreshing cocktail if not the most original.

Disco Nasties follow once they have found Freddy who is missing putting his Pumas on we are told. Some local DJ enters the fray and talks about Puma some more. Corporate sponsorship is better the less overt it is. Someone should tell the Brand Agency behind tonight this.

Likewise someone should tell Disco Nasties too that not everything on every 80s Now albums is worth pilfering as they start off in falsetto and thumped bass. They stop the flow for technical difficulties but decide they can continue anyway so who knows if the feedback that drenched a song that sounded like Good Shoes covering The Jam’s Eton Rifles - and that need not be a bad thing - was intentional.

They drift into something more formulaic which is dominated by The Cure vocals but are well received by swelling audience.

Disco Nasties ran up to Bye Bye Johnny who take the stage next with the DJ endorsement of being the best new band from the City that gave us The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and Oasis. He assures us that one day Bye Bye Johnny will be headlining the MEN.

I'm always wary of the idea that bands should be appreciated because one day they might be big - sales are never an assurance of quality, a good band is a good band in a pub or a stadium - and Johnny fail to live up to that hype.

They are a tight five piece though who play fast pop that sits well alongside and is the equal to a lot of bands one would hear on daytime Radio One but they have none of the innovation of those bands they were name checked against in introduction.

There is not the lyrical excellence of The Smiths This Charming Man or Oasis Live Forever or the fusion of The Happy Mondays or the Stone Roses early work.

What they do have - in common with the previous two acts - is Ska influence played at breakneck speeds. It is exciting stuff: entertaining and listenable but perhaps not memorable. That said a rather curious Pato Banton style cover of the cover of Baby Come Back is not fading my memory any time soon.

So not bad but nothing original which is what I would have thought of Pete & The Pirates before arriving tonight.

P&tP apologise for being from Reading – this is the North after all - but instantly they seem a cut above what has gone before. Tones match more smoothly and vocal modulation is more subtle.

They build a song well and stay close to a pop ethic that lays something near Adam and the Ants and the more throbbing pop of Blondie. Think Union City Blues done by suburban boys and you are not far wrong.

They are a meaty set with three guitars, two singers, keyboard and drums and the work the sound well creating that rarest of think - am unheard riff - or at least an innovative one.

They are working through some new tracks tonight as they build back after the initial thrust of 2007 new band status wore off. As a band they are diligent which does not sound like high praise but is.

There is a curious variety to their tunes which bodes well and ties into an idea that in the world of landfill indie the better acts will be defined by what they do after they get big. Pete and the Pirates have not written their 505 yet but they are trying and that attempt - that willingness to advance the formula - is admirable.

Short and sweet they test out new tracks well and take a few from the first album. Little Death and She Doesn't Belong To Me is a stand out but the hope - and the lesson to the three bands that proceeded them - is in the progression.

Blue Roses arrive leaving memories and feeling More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Friday, May 1st, 2009

Fourteen Corners, Jeremy Warmsley and Blue Roses Blue Roses Album Launch Night at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Something is wrong with Fourteen Corners. The usual chime of note perfection is failing West Yorkshire's leading band - here in Leeds's Brudenell Social Club as second support at the Blue Roses album launch - is lacking and Luke Silcock's guitar stumbles with a harsh twang through the opening We Are Pathetic, We Are Stars and stutters into The Walk Home.

None of this would be rare for most but Corners can pride themselves - should pride themselves - of getting the best sound in whichever arena they play be it pub or concert hall or strange mix of the two as Brudenell Social Club. One half expects to have a meat draw between songs or bingo numbers called but this Working Men's Club setting is the home of the non-workers, the students, of Leeds now. A mile or so away from the City Centre I muse for a moment on how this gig would have suited the long dead Duchess of York on Vicar Lane, Leeds. That is now a Hugo Boss shop.

By the time the second tune concludes Silcock's guitar has been tamed and Corners are back to the limitless wonders of the Bradford Music Scene which produce the main act tonight. Josh Taylor's vocals are sung with an unoften heard confidence but never with arrogance and they are layered over a set of melodies and tunes as distinctive from one another as the words that are delivered. Mike Wilson's bass and Marco Pasquaiello drums are pulse with an anticipation. One worries that the time for this band has come and gone and that they will leave behind memories of gigs and of tunes but no work and no album to march on as a memento of the excellence.

May The Days Be Aimless hows with a longing - "I know somethings wrong/Hold on now" - and I'm suddenly recasting Corners on the stage where fifteen months ago Okkervil River burst into my consciousness as that kind of spirited storyteller. The set continues and Silcock is back at million mile an hour fingering on his awakened guitar which drops as Taylor intones "To have no is to live without."

Fourteen Corners add another new song which tips hats to Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout and I'm struck by how many times I've heard musicians - good ones too - mumble about how the set up and the sound was wrong and how that is never the case with this collective who master the environment they play in. They finish the set with New Limbs for Old Flames and I doubt I will see a better band tonight or during these three days of Live in Leeds which turns out to be a prediction out by just one.

Second on Jeremy Warmsley proudly announces that he had Blue Roses's Laura Groves supporting her in what was the singer's first gig and I hear my Dad's voice drifting into my cerebrum pointing out that he did the sound at the King's Arms in Bradford for her before then. It is a measure of cultural size when one's parents have heard of the thing you like. Former The Letters and current The Hobbes Fanclub guitarist Leon Carroll confirms that his Dad was also impressed that someone his band had the vaguest connection too (Blue Roses producer Marco Pasquaiello did the sound at The Letters gigs) was being reviewed in the Time and the Observer.

Warmsley hits feedback in his first song. He is acoustic and mellow making the kind of observations on life that would be on Jarvis Cocker's Twitter account and not his albums. His voice recalls Rufus Wainwright but his songs have the importance of everything The Lightning Seeds did that was not The Nearly Man which is not to say he was not good just that he was not weighty which in itself could have charm but tonight does not seem to. Perhaps it is the between song stories which paint him in an ill light or perhaps it is the fact that he falls a little too easily into Geek Chic to not do so consciously.

All that said he enjoys a couplet or two but "If he breaks your heart/I'll brakes his legs" rings hollow. Perhaps it is a stab at irony but too often irony masks a lack of truth and honesty of emotion is everything in song writing - or at least it is to me.

It was that honesty that interested me when I first heard Laura Groves - now Blue Roses - play her songs about Filey and the curved road down to Shipley station. Not the proximity or the fidelity to events but rather the resonance with a life I could empathise with. At the end of 2006 people I recall her voice standing out amongst the likes of The Streets and thinking that hers was the language of dreaming rather than urban nightmares and the broken down mundane.

Taking to the middle of the Brudenell stage Laura there is an air of anticipation. She is joined by Hannah Tidewell on violin and in front off the stage a small sit in has emerged - cross legged and ready for story time - which I join. I feel a burst of near paternal pride. This thing which I have evangelised to all who would hear is about to be shared. I gather thoughts for a moment now on how lucky I have been to catalogue this emergence - although that has been fortunate - but on how much pleasure every trip to The Love Apple or to Fagins, to St George's Hall or around Leeds last year watching this extraordinary performer has brought me.

And so into Greatest Thoughts and their is a silence and an appreciation for some but me I can see the evidence of metamorphosis. I feel I have watched for sometime but cannot tell you when the 21 year old Laura became this performer of depth and range and personality and confidence. These things where there for sure but when did they eclipse? When did they converge? I have watched the progression but I could not tell you when the shoulder became the neck nor when the arm became the wrist. At what point the girl from Shipley on the guitar became a performer of great merits but that she has.

Second is I Am Leaving which overcomes running repairs on the sound system. There is a feeling that there are new people here, people who are not used to the cues but are appreciative. They clap in all the wrong places but that warms the heart. They are new and they are converted. Coast - the song about Filey which first won me over - is picked out on an acoustic guitar maintaining a delicacy despite the layering of a violin to support and everything is how one would have hoped it would be.

Fourteen Corner's Josh Taylor joins for Does Anyone Love Me Now? softly adding a beat behind and I notice that the capo on the end of Groves's guitar turns and curls as a cello would and I am struck with the sadness of the song for the first time in the emote of the lyric "I tried so hard and for so long/but by the time I woke up you were gone."

A great performance should bring out new things from old songs. My favourite live renditions I've heard came last year with The Magnetic Fields imbuing Popa Was a Rodeo with a stark honesty I found utterly disarming and the aforementioned Okkervil River's A Stone bleeding from stage to audience. These songs were good that became great in performance. These are my pantheon. I'm not mentioning Blue Roses in the same breath, not yet, but only not yet.

Marco Pasquaiello - producer of the album and man on the rise - joins for Rebecca with Groves picking up an electric guitar over her acoustic and dipping deep into the soul to craft something of captive joy. Rebecca the song, Blue Roses the album, Laura, Marco, Josh and Hannah and these nights. These things are burnt into my mind and encapsulated in the optimistic advisory lyric "Turn yourself around/You can do better/Turn yourself around/Make yourself better" delivered here with an earnest gusto and never to be forgotten.

I muse on how watching Blue Roses is a holistic experience and how I can see parts of other bands I've watched over the past three years along with the Kate Bush parts of my Mum's record collection. I think about how the music comes from the surrounding area - from Shipley's Clock Tower of my student days to the East Coast of my young holidays. Perhaps it seems personal to everyone here, or perhaps just to me.

By the time Doubtful Comforts begins I'm aware of how Blue Roses and Laura Groves have drifted away into something bigger, something wider, something with depth and height and breadth and something else. If my chest were a ocean the waves of pride would be Tsunami. Solo - the very well hidden track on the album - references the Wizard of Oz which seems appropriate and finally I Wish I... grows and swell to the point of awe with Laura's vocal gymnastics something of a special effect, a fireworks show, a layer atop but not to distract from the core and that core being an honesty coupled with a ability which is now untethered and gloriously drifts on like a balloon loosed on a blue summers day.

She returns alone to whittle through Can't Sleep and in the last verse picks out a bum note or two. Diligently she looks down and corrects herself continuing with no fuss.

The last swallow of the summer that goes unnoticed. The last kiss.

Slip and recovery for David Gedge as the brass meets the neck More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

David Gedge of The Wedding Present and Cinerama fuseleeds09 at The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

He is David Gedge - king of the room of indie kids, the leader of his tribe - and he is nervous.

Gedge - for twenty years the man behind The Wedding Present and Cinerama - must have sung My Favourite Dress hundreds of times but never like this and never having stopped a few lines in having fluffed his vocal.

The song - a standard of those who enjoy things on the thrashy side of twee - has been re-arranged by Tommy Laurence and is being pumped, blow, tinkled and blasted out by the BBC Big Band.

Gedge is more used to a sticky floored gig venue has put on a velvet jacket but still does not manage to look anything other than unkempt in the theatre surroundings of The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. His right hand hung low during the opening pair of Cinerama songs Cat Girl Tights and And When She Was Bad and flicked for the comfort of a guitar that was not forthcoming. He is exposed and looks smaller, more nervous. No, not more nervous: Nervous for the first time.

Out of his element Gedge's eyes flick to Conductor Steve Sidwell who counts him in and prompts him. Delicately he stumbles into this twenty one year old song of young man's heartbreak a percussion section behind him to the left and a thirteen piece brass section to the right. He stumbles.

He stumbles and a curious feeling crosses the room. Gedge - his on stage persona and, being the sort of guy who will share a word or two at gigs, his personality off it - is characterised by a confidence that comes from his achievements. Of course his greatest hit only got to number ten - Come Play With Me gets an airing tonight and emerges from the guitarist fuzz of The Wedding Present in 1992 into a chirpy blast of Sax that borders on jazz - but who else in the room at a regular T' Weddeos gig can say that? Who else makes a living doing what they want to do in as grumpy a way as they want to do it. He is king of all he surveys on those nights but on this evening he in vulnerable and unsure.

His eyes flick around between songs checking for applause which is fulsome and supportive. Bands and fans are symbiotic in nature and while it might always but true it is not always obvious that Gedge needs his support tonight. He is humbled and humble.

And he is appreciated. Carolyn and Heather emerge from the masterpiece Seamonsters and one wonders if the durged guitar of that record makes the arrangement easier where as one would have assumed that a tune swallowed up in fuzz would be more difficult to remake. Certainly the distinctive riff of show closer Brassneck is not repeated in a Sax tooting D/A/D/A/D/A/G as many here have knocked out in imitation of Gedge.

Before brass tackles neck though is the show stopping Piano only accompaniment of TWP Cinerama cover (or it is a TWP cover done by Cinerama? Who can say?) Don't Touch That Dial which Gedge lilts though with a firm confidence restored. There is a beauty to much of the 2005 album Take Fountain and none more so than that recording.

Gedge does not do encores but returns to take another stab at My Favourite Dress because - he jokes to the brass section - "one of those guys messed up or something." He is impressed that the guy on Sax at the back has played n every James Bond soundtrack but as he finished off this evening which twenty years ago would have seemed teh height of the surreal Gedge's swagger is restored.

The fervour though, is in the slip, and the recovery.

Unable to retain a Vessels state More

Live Review

Written By Ria Wilkinson Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Vessels fuseleeds09 at The West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Vessels are rather popular. Perhaps not overly with this crowd gathered here to see David Gedge later but if they're working on their second album and are touring Europe, they must be doing something right for someone.

I want to like Vessels. I should like Vessels and their fellow “post-rock” peers. I'm ideally placed in the centre of the Venn diagram where guitar led rock meets ambienty dance in my musical tastes. I was there and thoroughly into the “Chill Out” phase of music fashion of the turn of the millennium. I know my Mr Scruff from my Bent, my Groove Armada from my Kinobe. I am not afraid of ten minute instrumental epics, nay there was no finer way to soundtrack the musings on the intricacies of “cell signalling”... but that was then and a decade on, we have arrived at “post-rock”.

Now, I have tried with some effort to get into this genre, hoping it might pick up and move me on to somewhere a bit darker from where “Chill Out” left off. I've listened to four Animal Collective albums (most accessible I found was Sung Tongs), two by Deerhunter, one from Atlas Sounds and have seen local proponents Laboratory Noise perform too. But I just don't get it. And by gosh, I want to! Almost as much as I want to “get” British Sea Power (but that's another story...).

Sadly Vessels are not the act to provide me with the cipher to unlock the magic factor that enthralls so many others for this genre. This type of music is often described as “aural soundscapes” and I understand that. It lends itself to soundtracking certain sorts of movies and scenes. In fact Laboratory Noise have scored short film by Jon Yeo called ‘Beauty is the promise of happiness’. But this is not a review of Lab Noise.

So Vessels. Well they accomplished four discrete tracks within a forty minute set. There may have been more tracks merged but there seemed only to be four pauses for applause. This is fitting as when watching the Leeds based five piece, they really seem to be doing it for themselves rather than for the audience. All five exhibit the pained expressions of musicians lost in the (lengthy) moment of just them and their instruments, and like modern jazz, prog rock or porn, you do feel they are having so much more enjoyment playing then you could ever derive from watching.

Are they good? Well they certainly showed off their skills by playing “musical chairs” with the various guitars, keyboards and two drum kits. It became tiresome to see them swap about, retune their inherited guitar and kneel down twiddling knobs on the boards whilst the music seemed to carry on regardless, care of a laptop. Maybe this might have been entertaining if it was a solo act (like, for example, The Voluntary Butler Scheme) or if they bothered to engage with the audience at all.

However no eye contract or utterance (save some mumbled vocals) was made until end the end of the penultimate song by which time we'd seen the VT projection behind them (to keep us visually stimulated, one supposes) though several times and had become zoned out. The utterance was polite and informative when it arrived but it wouldn't have hurt to have it at the start (support bands not introducing themselves or acknowledging the audience is a pet irk of mine, admittedly).

Looking around the seated audience, and also hearing the accidental applause in silent bits within the tracks, indicated to me that I wasn't alone in restlessness during Vessels' performance but then such is the hardship of a support act – you're never going to thrill all the audience as it's not you they've primarily paid to see. I felt I needed more melody to ride me through it.

Some occasional clue and small satisfaction of feeling where a tune is heading would have mentally engaged me more and I think that's symptomatic of a lot of “post-rock” for me. I guess I've become more attached to a little structure in a tune than I've realised. I do wonder (in a simplistic way), how they know when to come in with different instruments when there is no obvious rhythm or structure to count in? I guess that's practise and psychic synchronisation or something!

So would I recommend Vessels? Yes, I really would if I knew you enjoyed Animal Collective et al. Unfortunately they are not the conduit for “post-rock” I was hoping for but if I do discover the key one day, I will pay Vessels another visit with my ears...

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