The Freelance Whales with the new old and the old new More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Co-headline show of Freelance Whales and Broken Records at The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Crowded onto the stage at the Brudenell are the six members of Freelance Whales and they have brought a glockenspiel.

A glockenspiel or a xylophone - I forget the difference between the two - but either way watching the Brooklyn band in action and seeing them pick out the melody to catchy hook from stand out track Hannah one is struck by the self-effacingness of it all. Chiming, simplistic and charming describes both melody, song and band.

For the uninitiated Freelance Whales fill the room left when Vampire Weekend made it fashionable to do something other than be The Strokes mixing the tried, tested and at times tiresome line up of instrumentation with the odd thing that gets hit with a stick that has a ball on the end of it.

And they do it well. "Indie" for sure but probably in the best and worse ways but enjoyable to watch. The set is first album Weathervanes reordered but the approach is fresh, and seems to blend the old and the new.

So while Broken Records - who follow as co-headliners - are a fine example of what they do they are left looking a little stolid. Not bad but heavy and claustrophobic. They put in a good set, but suffer in comparison.

The Ripples of Arcade Fire More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Arcade Fire at Central (G-Mex), Manchester

There are few times in a person's gig going career that one feels one is in the epicentre but tonight is surely one of those nights. Every publication on the planet has something great to say about The Suburbs while the wisdom of all things popular museo Q Magazine dubs them the band of the year. Arcade Fire are - perhaps - the most acclaimed and respected band on the planet, and they have just taken the stage.

They are legion, Arcade Fire, with a octet of instruments and as many players although those switch as the evening goes on. The start is low key with Ready To Start but shift into thrashing with Month of May both from the latest album before dodging back to 2004's Funeral for Neighborhood #2 (Laika).

So the patten for the night emerges. New tracks are pumped into with vigour and passion but always backed up with something from the six year old concept album that broke the band world wide. The freezing conditions of recent days - receding in the North of England - colour Neighborhoods #1 and #3 which pulsate bookending a the more recent We Used to Wait. Win Bulter falls on his backside as he sings, he smiles.

"Few things better than watching the singer of a rock n' roll band fall on his ass" says Win. As a front man he is cut from the same cloth as a David Byrne or a Michael Stipe. He fashion of imagery in his songs and his dress are welcomed into the mainstream to the point where they will inevitably become the mainstream.

Bulter checks his Manchester credentials - The Suburbs it turns out is based out the riff from The Smiths' There is a Light That Never Goes Out - but for all his left leanings his band's accent into the centre of music which this City once represented seems inexorable. Indeed with over half of the massively popular Funeral and two from Neon Bible played it seems that the band have an awareness of what the mass of audience might want to see.

Which is not to criticise a band for playing songs like Rebellion (Lies) or Wake Up which are anthemic and very ready for stadium rock - they are superb songs, superbly played and etched into the mind of any who see them - but to not that the purest moment of the evening comes at the second part of the encore when Régine Chassagne steps forward for a second time - she had put in a luscious version of Haïti - and enthuses though Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).

It is this moment in which Arcade Fire excel. The anthems are wondrous, but it is the lyrical detail with a life poured into by Chassagne which inspires an awe. Carving a new meaning from the lyrical whist on escaping suburbia Chassagne comes alive as she heavy heartedly commands "I need some darkness now/someone please cut the lights."

The song turns from the rebellion of the suburbs to the call back from afar. A statement honest and true on behalf of the band that one escape leads to another entrapment.

This is not the epicentre tonight. The epicentre happened some six year ago and ripples out no doubt to reach a stadium near you. Arms aloft, singing as loud as a crowd can.

Listen though, for the quietness.

The gig on Setlist.fm

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Belle and Sebastian and the Difference Between Good and Great More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Daniel Kitson & Gavin Osbourne supporting Belle and Sebastian with The London Contemporary Orchestra at Apollo, Manchester

There were good gigs - gigs that inspire you, that make you want to pick up a guitar or write a song, that make you want to create or do - and then there was Belle and Sebastian on a December Tuesday night in Manchester.

The stage is beset with instruments - there is the forty plus piece London Contemporary Orchestra on stage - but it is the gentle strum of If You're Feeling Sinister softly controlled through Stevie Jackson's pedal that starts off the evening. The floating Stuart Murdoch vocal drifts high around the auditorium.

No, that was not the start.

Daniel Kitson with support from Gavin Osbourne on the guitar lyrically telling a story over forty minutes which detailed parallel lives split over decades. To tell more would be to ruin something which has to be experience first hand but needless to say there was a tone set and a crafting with set the evening perfectly.

And forward to Belle and Sebastian who dance from their vintage work to new material with a glee. Write About Love and I'm Not Living in the Real World flourish with the bigger arrangements and meaning and significant is lashed on them layer upon layer. It is in the confessional ode to Isobel that is I'm Waking Up to Us that the tip over occurs from good to great.

And so it is in Lord Anthony that one could be excused a tear forming at the eye - a new meaning emerges in my mind about a more modern Anthony, the mark of a good gig - and it is possible that Murdoch is having as much fun as the assembled and seated audience and perhaps that is what the night captures. An artist as happy with his back catalogue as his current work and proud of both. At one point someone calls for a song and Murdoch replies that he cannot play that. "People would slit their wrists."

One recalls the reputation of the band as being hit and miss, hot and cold and contrasts it with the delight that the band seem to be as captured in as the audience. The Fox In The Snow is dreamy, lilted and sounds as if it was constructed delicately from the snow which covered the roads around the venue. I Fought in a War comes after with strings sliding behind its vocal and the swell of emotion and mood drill sit into the heart.

Dirty Dream Number Two is followed by a rapture when The Boy with the Arab Strap starts and people are welcomed to the stage to dance connecting the ebullience of audience to band. They are given medals, but in the end we take something more precious home with us.

The set is a mixture of the old and new but is lavished with attention, meaning and detail. The London Contemporary Orchestra augment, never overpowering. The emotion rises and maintains a level but never drifts to melodrama.

There is an encore that makes for an hour forty five on stage and for the final tune Me and the Major the entire Orchestra come forward to dance joyfully.

There were good gigs - gigs that inspire you, that make you want to pick up a guitar or write a song, that make you want to create or do - and then is a gig that just makes you glad you were alive.

The Duchess in York and The Wedding Present More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Sunday, December 5th, 2010

The Wedding Present at The Duchess, York

The Duchess in York is a tidy little venue. A touch dark perhaps and not the sort which could be used for a quiet drink but a decent place to enjoy The Wedding Present running through the 20 year old Bizarro album.

The Wedding Present are now as they ever shall be remarkable good value live. Gedge injects songs written two decades - and a great deal of the audience's hairline - ago with a kind of vigour which could prompt one to think the he had only just penned the line "Lost your love of life? Too much Apple pie..."

The Duchess in York is the son of the The Duchess of York the famed Leeds venue where many a man of my age found the joy of music. Grant Lee Buffalo, Even As We Speak, Green Day, The Voodoo Queens, Nirvana, Passion Fruit and Holy Bread, Elastica, Not Oasis, Sleeper, The Popguns and on and on the list of bands seen good and bad befits a venue of such legend.

Gedge himself was a regular - he featured in a YTV five minute programme called "My Favourite Pub" - and everyone had a story about encountering him cutting the figure at the time as he did of the Leeds arm of the Madchester scene. In hindsight the bands there and there could not be further apart, but that seemed lost on us at the time and The Wedding Present were taken to heart because while the other side of the Pennines had the antics of Shaun and Bez we had Dave.

And Dave meant it. He still does. New tune End Credits stands up against most other things played while mid-1990s track Real Thing has an edge of the unlistened about it. There is a rich back catalogue and it is worth a trawl as the majority of tonight's gig proves but the highlight is a live version of 2005's Interstate 5

Everything should be new, even the old.

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Paul Smith and the Quiet More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Paul Smith at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

"There is nothing like the general chatter of conversation," says Paul Smith, "when you are playing the slow songs in a gig."

Smith, erstwhile front man of Maximo Park and today solo artist, has recorded an album of rare charm and softness in Margins and in his heart on the sleeve way he beams with pride over it. He likes it, he wants you to like it, or at least hear it.

Leeds is a strange City. To sum it up when the band turn things up to try overcome the kind of chatter that plagues a gig like this then some of the audience - affronted that their conversation is drowned out - talk louder. It is that kind of place.

As Smith goes through Margins playing heartfelt versions of While You're In The Bath and Improvement/Denouement - as well as a fine cover of Arthur Russell's A Little Lost - the audience is polarised to the spellbound and those who want him to plough into a few Maximo Park tracks.

He does, in encore, and it is a shame that his own work is not judged on its merits but the man understand stage craft better than most of his peers and perhaps that is why he gets the leeway to do what he does - Ricky Wilson has not realised a quiet, soulful solo album at time of writing - and so the words "Apply some pressure" drift into proceedings to drunken shouts. Of the Maximo Park tracks he could pick recent work Tanned does not sate the desire for a stompalong but reminds all about how different, how distinct last year's Quicken The Heart was.

Of the pop personalities in the last decade Smith remains the most interesting creating a music of images and movie stills but avoiding the perils of the "aural soundscape". Margins is his art house indie film - his Lost in Translation - and it is a shame that that cannot be appreciated for what it is without the demands for explosions and special effects.

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