September 9th, 2009
Okkervil River the masters of invention More
Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
Okkervil River at Academy 2, Manchester
Three things you can count on:
In Manchester it will rain. This is the first thing and sounds like a tired cliche but is true and this afternoon the rain has been heavy, filling the drains and bringing about a sewer smell to pervade the city and fill the lowest floor of what Will Sheff will call a "four level music processing facility."
You can count on Red High Tops too - this is the second thing - and I broke out a new pair for the wander up Oxford Road to the gig and although it is over twenty years since I first wandered to a gig in Converse. Chuck Taylor, Eddy Current, McCarthy's Larry. They are - or were - Americana.
Crawling out of Americana come Okkervil River. Okkervil River are a third thing you can count on. Will Sheff and his band are an unremittingly excellent collective in all they do. Five albums of intelligent, articulate and fascinating music and a string of live shows that take those songs further than one could have thought.
My definition of a good live performance is that a performer is able to take a song heard hundreds of times and breathe a new life into it, change intonations on lines to tweak context, alter the focus of narratives by dropping or raising vocal sections, embowering surprising and effective emotional layers onto what is already familiar. A good gig sees this happen three or four times. Okkervil River deliver such near magic dozens in occasions measured in dozens.
The band play a very similar set to the last time they played in this venue and while Sheff has not a beard and bassist Patrick Pestorius has shaved his off they look much the same as they did ten months ago. The acoustic guitar that Sheff strikes often and hard, throwing over his back on a well worn strap, is the same well scratched piece which played here last year.
Not reinvention then but rather invention. Invention coming in a performance that never goes beyond the remit of being a rock 'n roll show but rather celebrates the form.
Will Sheff uses a rich understanding of the rock n' roll performance to pull off all the tricks he can to beguile and audience that shows gig experience through it's part greying hair.
He drops to speech leading the audience back to "pause and add your own intentions/right here". He slows a song down to near still lingering over "just one rose/one day/and that was years ago." which cuts a swathe of silence through those collected here tonight in a genuine and affecting way.
Affecting too is the unsettling undertone underlying the Okkervil River catalogue and Sheff's battle torn lover is replaced by a seething menace who "thirsts for real blood/for real cuts..." stalking the centre of attention making you complicit in his crimes.
The beat of "a bad movie/where there is no crying" is pattered out in hand claps while "we sail out/on orders from him..." is intoned by Pestorius stepping out from bassist shadow to share Sheff's stage.
It is Sheff's stage though and he takes it for encore picking his beat up guitar and returns as the devastated lover "to cheat/on Maine Island" slowly, delicately, setting his voice against the embers of the evening.
Ultimately though Sheff lifts the mask a final time concluding the encore out at Westfall with easy murder and examination. Playfully he begs to be examined, to see if you can see the truth in his performance, see the legion in his swollen eyes. "Evil don't look like anything" he finalises daring you to carry on an investigation of what this occurrence, to analyse.
New insights gleaned, the night relies on that.
Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, September 9th, 2009
This post is about Okkervil River
August 4th, 2009
Grammatics vs Blue Roses show scope for Brinley and beguilement from both More
Written By Michael Wood Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
Grammatics vs Blue Roses at Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds
The word "verses" is ill picked. Owen Brinley and Laura Groves - one of Grammatics, the other who is Blue Roses - combine intriguingly on the evening dubbed as Grammatics vs Blue Roses but ultimately is creates a potion mixture of both.
Blue Roses are a wonder, of course, with Groves having graduated from the pubs of Bradford and area into a fully fledged artist. She shows her abilities by melding the distinct style of her richly produced debut with the four piece she shares the stage with allowing a the depth of Emilia Ergin's Cello and the harmonies that Brinley provides to create new versions of I Wish I, Coast and especially Does Anyone Love Me? which is the best of the three songs from the eponymous album.
Owen Brinley's voice swoops alongside Laura's on her songs but on his own - Grammatic's are interleaved - is restricted to a more melancholic simplicity. Time Capsules and The Great Truth and Inkjet Lakes both benefit from Groves adding a texture but when covering The Killing Moon Brinley's voice comes to life in warmth. One wonders why he does not explore that more in his own band's songs which are lachrymose and lucid.
The seven song set is an idea of both and illustrates the differences - Blue Roses are the emotion, Grammatics more analytical - while celebrating the similarities which are in the craft that goes into music, delicately crafted, and beguiling.
August 2nd, 2009
Twangly Jangly Time Tunnel More
Written By Ria Wilkinson Sunday, August 2nd, 2009
The Lazy Darlings, The Crookes and Swimwear Juniors at Cockpit 3, Leeds
It’s a Friday night and we are stood upstairs in room titled “Cockpit 3” – an intimate venue with the stage squeezed into the corner of a room reminiscent of bomb shelter. A curved, metal lined ceiling can cause potential havoc for particularly tall band members which was not an issue for the delightfully diminutive Laura Groves who performed here pre-Blue Roses and no doubt many other up-and-coming acts over the years.
Leeds based trio The Lazy Darlings take to the stage and quickly establish they know what they’re doing with their sound. It’s a fusion of the twangly with the jangly.
The simplicity of guitar, bass and drums is occasionally spiced up with some harmonica that enhances the county or blues influence over some of their tracks that are mostly routed into the original ‘90s indie sound. A particular stand out track is Lover, Come In – with vocal stylings and lyrics that Graham Coxon would happily swipe for himself.
The creative centre of Lazy Darlings is Dave James, a veteran of the Leeds music scene and the continuity of the band’s line up. He crafts considered, and often uplifting songs that treat the ears by not having a monotonous rhythm. He is joined by relatively new recruit, a Texan called Rod Castro on bass who uses his exotic drawl to attempt to lure people upstairs to further populate the audience.
Rod is also responsible for manning the video loop backdrops that are projected during the songs that give The Lazy Darlings an audiovisual style that is more memorable than most similar acts of their size. The projections add to the music without overpowering or distracting from it.
The Lazy Darlings are too lazy to mention they have an EP out - Life Is Easy - and on which the eponymous track and some others are sprinkled with some female backing vocals reminiscent of Throwing Muse Tanya Donnelly - further rooting their sound into the 90s indie. The Lazy Darlings produce an aurally easy going noise that I’d describe as laid back, not lazy, for there is effort being made here.
Suddenly we are zipped through the time tunnel to the 1950s. Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley and Bill Haley are alive and well and have all just graduated from Sheffield University. Not really, but close your eyes and you can certainly hear their influences alive and kicking inside the youngsters who take to the stage in front of twelve people.
Open your eyes and you will see in the sharp 15 minutes stage turnaround time, we are now suddenly inside the kind of British bedsit Morrissey would dream of. There is worse-for-wear portrait of a youthful Queen Elizabeth, a Lowry print propped up on the amps and a couple of table lamps warm the underlit stage. A small battered suitcase customised with tape spells the name of the act on stage – The Crookes.
Named after the student area of Sheffield where they resided and met, The Crookes are a very fresh faced group of four. They were recently lauded with high praise from Steve Lamacq on BBC radio 6Music as “definitely one of my top three unsigned acts in the UK today”. Lamacq knows his musical onions.
This is their first visit to play Leeds. Their attention to detail includes dressing in the style of clean cut boys of the era – buttoned up plaid shirts, trousers a little short to show off their moccasins, etc. However, the bassist has a quiff that droops into his eyes – clearly the sign of a potential ‘50s bad boy – and sure enough it is he that starts proceedings with some finger clicking as he launches into his croon.
Half an hour later we have been treated to some ukulele and banjo in addition to the nostalgic sound of guitar drenched in moody reverb, not forgetting some energetic “legs in braces” dancing. The set is over and songs such Yes, Yes, We’re Magicians, A Collier’s Wife and Backstreet Lovers will linger as we digest the erudite and imaginative lyrics. Perhaps if Bobby, Bill and Buddy had just graduated in English Literature, they may have had lyrics like this. Elvis? He studied Geography...
The night ends with the interestingly monikered Swimwear Juniors. Immediately you can hear there is something “good” about them. That sort of initial gut feeling that this set promises to be of a quality that sets them a bit apart from the hubbub of regionally sourced music. However it’s too early in the set to put your finger on the exact words to yet describe how they are better than average. The vocals of Oliver don’t always “fit” with the music but are spit out Los Camposinos style like breathless notes from diaries hurried to the beat.
The third song in and people are turning to each other nodding and simultaneously mouthing “this is good”. However, soon after that the crowd becomes a bit distracted by the giving out of luminous wrist bands (woo!) and shortly after, free vodka samples.
However, you can’t ignore music which is as well crafted as this. There is something thoughtfully folkish, a leaning towards, say, Noah and The Whale but Swimwear Juniors are navigating more into their own waters than following in the wake of others. They too have an EP out (eponymously titled I believe) but fail to mention this at the time. I go and ask them if they have a cd (The Lazy Darlings came prepared with sample cds to give out) but sadly they have not. This is a shame because there is relatively little of them about on the internet to listen to – their mySpace has only three tracks on, one of which is a Radio 1 jingle. I am even unable to determine where they are from – I assume somewhere Yorkshire – and therefore kick myself I didn’t ask when enquiring of a cd.
In short, for a hard earned £5 entry, tonight has yielded three acts that are really worth seeing again for their own individual merits. Steve Lamacq has indeed pointed us to a new band breaking the current musical mold in the form of The Crookes and in return we’d like to offer him Swimwear Juniors. And so our journey through the Twangly Jangly Time Tunnel finally deposits us back into the damp Leeds evening.
July 18th, 2009
Analog Bombs Go Bang on a Friday Night in Clayton More
Written By Michael Wood Saturday, July 18th, 2009
Black Feathered Feet, Analog Bombs and Young Loves. Mermaid's Flannel at Fiddler's Three, Bradford
"Its rocking on The Fiddlers on a Friday night" the singer shouts.
Black Feathered Feet are pub rock pure n' simple and very simple they are too wailing between verses and noodling on guitars. It is rough and ready rock but that is no bad thing on a Friday night in a suburban pub a stones throw from the suburban house this writer grew up in Clayton - a typical suburb of Bradford.
The criterion for gigs in walking distance aside Black Feathered Feet do growling Chris Cornell style rock decently and are worth your attention if that is your bag. If it isn't your bag then take a look just to see how much the drummer looks like the one from Lost who was also a Hobbit.
Not at all like a Hobbit is Ben of Analog Bombs. Standing at least seven foot tall - perhaps - he is as striking as he is charming fronting the band with a warm, rambling presence. "Good evening we're the Analog Bombs", he says "We've had a drink."
Analog Bombs mix musical styles but are mostly indie ska - if such a genre exists, perhaps they just look indie and play ska - and are a a blast. Ben's lyrics are based in being a local of Bradford - in parts at least - and at times can be touching and have a ring of truth. His delivery is rare and enjoyable. He rapidly fires Yorkshireisms spinning the odd tale of being unlucky in love around the Wool City.
Charming, enjoyable, and probably the best band you will see on a Friday night in Clayton. Hancock - the song about long flattened club Tumblers - is worth the admission alone. It is indie disco as tragic love affair and nudges the Analog Bombs past The Pigeon Detectives Test as in "Why is one more popular than the other?"
Young Loves come on with an "hilarious" joke about knife crime and an opening number that sounds a bit too The Libertines for its own good.
As a band they are well regarded and five minutes into their set the five yards in front of the pub corner dubbed a stage is peopled with young things dancing but something about the band seems as like it has been seen before.
Perhaps it is the contrast to the innovate Analog Bombs or perhaps it is the fact that Young Loves come behind the likes of White Light Parade and The Swing Movement in Bradford's canon of bands making this kind of sound. Indeed they lack the drive of the former and the spark of the latter.
The kids love them though and they finish the night well.
The night - Mermaid's Flannel Presents - deserves applause too for the attempt to put on good music for the drinking crowd. More power to them.
July 2nd, 2009
Insert Own ‘Hyde Parklife’ Pun Here More
Written By Rebecca Price Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
Golden Silvers, Crystal Castles, Foals and Blur at Hyde Park, London
Picture the scene. Thousands upon thousands of people have voluntarily shut themselves into a giant enclosure in Hyde Park, on the hottest day of the biggest heatwave South East England has seen for years. There are empty tents in preparation for the Wireless festival, the grass is long dead, there are signs telling you to drink plenty of water (which is priced at £2 a bottle), and Crystal Castles are billed to be playing live at some point. Why would normal people subject themselves to this?
The main reason is to revel in Blur’s grand resurrection following ecstatic reviews of their low-key warm up shows and their triumph at Glastonbury only a few days before. The other reason that people are actually quite enjoying themselves here – sunning themselves on the dried ground, surrounded by cigarette butts and empty pear cider bottles, listening pleasantly to Nouvelle Vague booming through the speakers and when Golden Silvers come on to churn out some competent but thoroughly ignorable indie music, no one seems to break from their sunbathing to pay much attention, apart from to work out whether the smoke machine effect is actually a smoke machine or a lost cigarette turning into a would-be forest fire. To be fair to Golden Silvers, they have discovered that magical knack of writing fairly catchy songs that only contain the words of the title repeated over and over, so expect to hear a little more of them in the future (but not too much).
This balmy summertime haze is shattered when the arrival of Crystal Castles is marked by an almighty screech, with some loud bleeping noises that the Dr Who sound effects team abandoned some thirty years ago. The screeching is coming from a poor girl who resembles one of those lost-young-things out of their skull on Substance Death in the drug education videos schools force 12 year olds to watch – staring with a blank face as she stumbles over the stage, collapsing and rolling round the floor until a nice bouncer drags her up again, kicking the bass drum out of time with the Digital Noise, and occasionally standing still then flailing wildly or no reason.
This, we assume, is mean to be stage presence, but as she attempts three times to crowd surf while not a single member of the audience as much as reaches out to her as she wails over the barrier at them, this goes to show how poorly she’s being received. But overall, it’s her voice that turns the already-irritating-but-inoffensively-so noise of the backing music into one of the worst performances I have ever witnessed in my life. She shrieks – an unidentifiable, earsplitting, awful shriek – and this shriek is repeated over and over again in the same note. For half an hour. Every couple of songs they start to feel merciful towards the audience and distort her microphone so heavily with vocoder that she can barely be heard, but then sadly they take it off again, leaving her to do the Junkie Banshee act once more.
I only made out one word she was singing from the entire set, and I think it was ‘pasta’. Eventually, the set ends, and she has to be dragged offstage by her own drummer, while someone puts a Nouvelle Vague song over the speakers, just in case she starts screeching again. If support acts are often picked to make the next band look better, Foals promise to outdo a Beatles reunion with Mozart on the keyboards.
But of course they don’t. The main thing going for Foals is that they are essentially TopShop models who got given guitars and admittedly a decent sense of beat. They are rather good looking up on those screens, and thud along rather nicely, even if it mostly sounds the same (this proved when they introduce a new song their working on, and it sounds exactly like to intro to Cassius. As does most of the set, come to think of it).
Perhaps I would be a little kinder to Foals had a selection of their irritating fans not been stood right next to my friend and I. These were men in designer flipflops and those radiator grid glasses who were playing air bass, and their loud mouthed girlfriends saying OhmygodarentFOALSlikesoAMAZINGyeahtotallyIhopetheyplayCassius etc. Perhaps I would be a little kinder to these fans too if they hadn’t disappeared after Foals’ set. Yes, there were people who bought Blur tickets, only to leave after Crystal Castles and Foals. Isn’t that awful?
But for the rest of us, there’s a long wait of what must have been at least a full album’s worth of Nouvelle Vague, and watching a guy on the lighting rig trying to attach a mirrorball to the top of the stage, until at last The Debt Collector theme starts playing and the band come onstage to huge applause. The opening riff of She’s So High starts to ooze out across the park, and all is right in the world, and when Girls And Boys kicks in suddenly ten rows of people – a fair percentage of whom probably haven’t pogo’d in years – are bouncing up and down, singing ‘GIRLS something BOYS something GIRLS something BOYS...’, and generally having a great deal of fun.
The setlist is basically the same as the Glastonbury one, mixing the big hits with the less expected but still much appreciated album tracks, and the wild frantic songs matched with ones that make everyone stand back and stare at the stage in wonder. Tender turns the entire audience into a massive gospel choir, but after Damon announces that Parklife was inspired by people-watching in this very park, the reaction is so crazy that I lose all sight of my friend, am almost crushed to the ground, and it takes until ‘It’s got nuffink to do with yer Vorsprung Durch Technique, y’know’ before I realise Phil Daniels is even on stage. The mirrorball descends for a gorgeous yet slightly jazzy To The End, before immediately disappearing again (the guy who spent so long fixing it up must have been happy) as This Is A Low spectacularly finishes off the main set, leaving the crowd to mix the chorus of Tender with the chants of ‘We love Blur! We luh Blah! Weluhblah! Weluhblah!’, until they come back onstage to kick out an encore. The audience clearly haven’t run out of energy yet because I’m almost crushed again during Song 2, which is sandwiched between Popscene and Advert for even more wild pushing, shoving, bouncing, dancing, singing and screaming.
After they disappear again, and a new chant of ‘We want Blur! We war Blah! Wewarblah! Wewarblah!’, they come on once more for a final appearance, finishing beautifully with The Universal. After detaching himself from the hands of the front row, Damon thanks us all for coming, wishes us a good summer, and it’s all finished.
‘We want more! We wah more! Wewahmor! Wewahmor!’, but they’ve gone. Nouvelle Vague are back on the speakers, and it’s time to kick through the millions of empty bottles and head home. Interestingly, the mix of broken lost objects on the floor hint at how varied Blur’s fanbase really are – commuters’ Oystercards and trendy young things’ sunglasses lie together, snapped beyond repair. Once everyone is reunited with the people they lost during the set, and has squeezed through the limited amount of exits only to find Hyde Park Corner tube is still shut, they stroll through the warm London evening, buzzing about how brilliant the gig was. Because it was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. In the space of about a week, Blur have once again proved themselves to be one of the most well-loved and highly regarded British bands of the past twenty years. Oasis should really be paying more attention.