June 29th, 2009

Nothing Brings Her Down More

Live Review

Written By Ria Wilkinson Monday, June 29th, 2009

Island Line and Emiliana Torrini at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Island Line tonight are duo Hazel and Ian – a delightfully folksy looking pair of long hair (him) and bare feet (her). Using Ian’s clearly skilful mastery of the acoustic guitar as the foundation, Hazel gently layers on some of her own tentative strumming or more assured organ keystrokes. The finishing touch is a generous drizzling of her pleasant but indistinctive vocals with occasional sprinkles from Ian.

The vocals relate frequently found themes such as relationships with Punchbag and Sweetheart to reminiscence of times past on Days Like These and Just Like The Old Days and whilst perhaps not at risk of being innovative, are at least engaging and indeed almost familiar. There are vague elements that remind of watching Eamon Hamilton (of Brakes fame) play his solo acoustic sets where his bluesyness surfaces more.

In common with Eamon, Hazel emotes her lyrics deeply – there are closed eyes, hand wringing, etc and combined with Ian’s adept guitar handling make the twosome a more charming watch than might initially be expected. The melodic and quite serene music laps over our ears as the humidity builds within the Brudenell and has just the appropriate relaxed appeal to entertain the amassing audience before Emiliana Torrini takes to the stage.

Emiliana Torrini – Iceland’s deputy foremost songstress – should first be commended on putting together a backing band of some of the most notable musicianship I have recently seen. Mentions in particular are deserved for the drummer who is unusually on the “wrong side” of 40, Cameron who appears to be able to play anything stringed from mandolin to zither and Ian from the support act Island Line who reappears to play the guitar foil to Cameron. A dedicated fellow also attends to keyboards, organ and glockenspiel and additional support comes from a bass guitarist on selected tunes. Together they form a wonderfully orchestrated and rich noise that enables Emiliana to successfully display the many differing influences of her music.

So to Emiliana herself. Her voice is clear and faithful to her recordings and the Icelandic lilt adds charm, warmth and intrigue to her enunciations. She wears a colourful short kaftan type dress that flutters about her as she moves which lends her an air of a butterfly as she flits about through her material. Whilst a butterfly might suggest beauty but fragility, Emiliana is far from brittle. Riding on the back of a curry washed down with beer and a cheeky request for the audience to buy her a whisky (request fulfilled several times), she is not the delicate little flower she may look. She also exhibits great stamina and along with her experienced band, she cruises through the lengthy 85 minute set despite the increasingly oppressive airlessness of the venue.

Dancing amongst her three internationally released albums (for she has two earlier works only available in Iceland), she soon alights for a generous foray into her second, Fisherman’s Woman, where her performance of tracks such as Lifesaver and Today Has Been OK feels as though she is greeting old friends. Perhaps despite being older material, it still carries the most emotional resonance for her. I believe many of the tracks (especially Fisherman’s Women for example) were inspired by the sudden death of her boyfriend at that time. Not material to fade from memory easily.

This is a rescheduled date on the tour to support her latest album (Me And Armini) on which the mood is certainly more uplifting with recent singles Jungle Drum and Big Jumps full of exuberance tonight for both life and love. Anecdotes, explanations, impersonations and other personal embellishments are littered throughout the evening and flaunt Emiliana’s delight in storytelling. She reveals more of herself, about being a rock chick in her youth (Bon Jovi and ACDC are mentioned), about her wide eyed naivety of first moving to London and about inspiration found in glasses of wine and remote cottages.

Music ranges from slight reggae of Me and Armini, to the Bowie’s Quicksand-esque Unemployed In Summertime via vague “Chill out” vibe of Birds. Occasionally the mood darkens with the pointed Ha Ha but the evening is about positivity so Dead Things, etc. is absent and Nothing Brings Me Down could be the abstract of tonight’s performance.

And so the evening slips by on sips of whisky.

Written By Ria Wilkinson Monday, June 29th, 2009

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June 6th, 2009

Goldheart Assembly roughing around England, being sharpened to a shine More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Goldheart Assembly at The Live Lounge, Blackburn

Each member of five piece Goldheart Assembly look as if they have dropped out of being the coolest dressed man of a specific time period other than a quiet Saturday night in Blackburn. They sound out of time too too mixing a bit of pure pop with some Seventies Americana but this is Lancashire on a weekend night, Oasis are playing in a massive field twenty minutes down the road and the audience at the excellent newly opened Live Lounge is sparse.

Goldheart Assembly are "London's Fleet Foxes" of course because anyone who strums an acoustic is the Fleet Foxes of somewhere but the band wear the comparison well and march through the opening numbers impressively building a big sound, loud and whittled from stone.

They weave narratives through their songs in the finest traditions of storytelling bands and the collection of touchstones like Fleet Foxes and Big Star are valid. R.E.M. circa Reckoning might be another.

Goldheart Assembly live in Blackburn

The locals are impressed proclaiming them the best band to have played a Blackburn pub for some time – makes a break from counting holes one supposes - and Goldheart Assembly kick up a notch with the more up tempo Row Sixteen. They show an impressive range of work – perhaps a result of being in essence two rival bands who merged. Perhaps that is why Blackburn and A Day In The Life seem fitting.

The old Americana is punctured by a high Cockney accent and more echo is added to vocal which is already the rich sound is so drenched in reverb. They sound best when harmonising and which is not the case on Oh Really! Which is not their best but is catchy recalling The Animals. It is 79p - we are told - and buying it will enable them to fill the tour bus for tomorrow's trip to Middlesbrough. From Whitehaven to Blackburn to Middlesbrough the band are paying dues in the provinces, sharpening a style which will stand them in good stead.

They finish with a slice of sixties pop that you know to dance to but struggle to recall a name for but not after taking a request from "anyone who has come down just to see us" and the request is for single So Long, St Christopher which is a gem rough around the edges but pure and heartfelt and enthralling at the core.

It encapsulates the band.

Written By Michael Wood Saturday, June 6th, 2009

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May 28th, 2009

Morrissey, The Pope of Mope, Turns Fifty at The Apollo More

Live Review

Written By Duncan Slater Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Morrissey 50th Birthday at Apollo, Manchester

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So Morrissey, The Pope of Mope, turns fifty and hosts a party at Manchester's Apollo to "celebrate" what would you expect?

  • a. A life-affirming reminder that the human spirit has a large capacity for love and real friendship?
  • b. A sing-a-long with jokes and audience participation?
  • c. A moving demonstration that happiness is a valid, if complex, emotion?
  • d. All of the above?

If you voted d. then not only have you chosen the right answer but you were clearly at The Apollo for the former Smiths front man's fifty birthday gig.

As one of the lucky few who nabbed a pair of gold dust tickets - they ran out after six minutes - I was anxious to see if the great man would really deliver on his big day (and whether the audience would think it lived up to its huge hype) but when he walked on to the strains of Youll Never Walk Alone the spontaneous standing ovation demonstrated what we all really knew - we were all here to praise the old man not to bury him.

When I (in common with everyone) was given a laminate saying "I came to wish Morrissey a Happy Birthday", it felt like the man himself had just handed me a slice of cake I was well and truly invited.

So we began a hip-jangling performance of This Charming Man was followed by a (clearly unexpected) audience singalong of Happy Birthday. He was in a hugely good mood, relaxed, sure in the knowledge he was among friends. Irish Blood, English Heart was sung with gleeful gusto by (seemingly) every single person in the theatre. Barely ten minutes in and the warmth, happiness and camaraderie were already tangible.

The whole thing proceeded at a breakneck pace: How Soon Is Now?, Girlfriend In A Coma, I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris, Let Me Kiss You, Ask and Something Is Squeezing My Skull passed in what seemed like seconds. The usual stage-huggers were strangely absent: perhaps aware that a moment as special as this was best enjoyed from the Moz pit.

All in all a very giving performance from a man who, at 50, is at last comfortable with who he is, what people think of him and what his audience expect from him. Several critics have (unfairly) labeled he whole thing as a love-in, it was clearly a mutual appreciation society raw, heartfelt and charming - but above all joyful.

Written By Duncan Slater Thursday, May 28th, 2009

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May 27th, 2009

A Certain Trigger Loses Some Pressure To Quicken The Heart With Our Earthly Pleasures… More

Live Review

Written By Ria Wilkinson Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Gramattics and Maxïmo Park at 02 Academy, Leeds

Maxïmo Park are, at last, unleashed on a long awaited tour.

The third album Quicken The Heart is out of the trap and the pressure has been applied. Both tour and new material are now up for critical review, however the overwhelming feeling from the band is that pressure has been lost as the dye is now cast.

The night before whilst tweebopping at The Pains Of Being Pure Of Heart gig at the Cockpit we had managed to accidentally assimilate Paul Smith, his lovely other half and fellow band mate Lukas Wooller temporarily into our nine strong group. It was there that Paul was informed by one of us that he was “a decent front man” and his band were “good, yeah” - high praise indeed…

Having a night off locally prior to their own gig, Paul and Lukas were excited about viewing the POBPAH after giving the album a lot of love. Lukas mentioned that Maximo Park’s tour was going brilliantly and also that it was a relief to get the album out eventually after sitting on the material for what felt like ages. This seems a common angst of publishing albums (unless you throw it out there as soon as, Jack White style). The release is being able to proudly introduce this new material to not only to expectant salivating fans but also to it’s older album siblings with whom it will eventually jostle for love and affection as “newness” fades.

So the stage was set for an effervescence of verve, energy, zest and passion that is signature Maximo Park.

On the night support came from Stricken City – 80s indie influenced 4 piece from London way and also Grammatics – 90s indie rock influenced 4 piece from Leeds.

Grammatics had been brought in at last minute to replace Noisettes – “blues-rock, soul power and grrrl attack trio” from London, which I perceived as a bit of a shame. Noisettes apparently were pulled the tour as they’d not gone down as well as hoped. It was suggested that perhaps they’d have been better off with their own tour after the success of single Don’t Upset The Rhythm pushed their profile unexpectedly higher after they had already signed up to the support act.

Noisettes’ loss is Grammatics’ gain and being local lads (and lass) their set was well received and included an inventive cover of Justice vs. Simian‘s We Are Your Friends.

On to the main event. Through the puffs of dry ice reminiscent of a resting dragon, Maximo Park emerged through the cloud of mystery on stage to slot in behind their various instruments. Birthday boy Tom English on drums, Archis Tiku on bass both provided the pulse of Maximo Park in an understated style, local lad Lukas Wooller (from Huddersfield way) punched and stroked the keys and Duncan Lloyd gave both brawn and indeed guitar melody and of course, Paul Smith resplendent as ever in sharp aubergine suit and omnipresent headwear - this time a fedora, took possession of the mic.

After greeting the crowd with a local dialect pleasing “Leeeeeds”, they launched into The Coast Is Always Changing - their very first single. It succeeded in getting the crowd in the zone and we all sang the lyrics anthemically. Although preaching to the already converted, Paul informed us they have a new album out with a feeling of pride and also a tinge of shyness. However, as first taster of Quicken The Heart, Wraithlike kicked in, all timidity was shed and the zeal for the new material shone through. A siren ramped up the energy as Paul waved about a megaphone using it to selectively to enhance the lyrics. Delighted with the reception of Wraithlike, it was joined by album mate The Penultimate Clinch, and although not a single, a significant amount of the audience knew the lyrics.

Paul Smith of Maximo Park on stage in Leeds

Maximo Park have stagecraft honed. They gave honest thanks for the enthusiasm for the new material, but ever conscious of including material old and new to draw in all the crowd, they moved with great agility through Our Velocity and then I Want You To Stay which featured a satisfying solo from Duncan Lloyd.

Tonight, however, was about showcasing the new album and so we returned to it with I Haven’t Seen Her In Ages and Overland, West Of Suez from towards the album end. The latter track was noticeably less known by the crowd but the verve of the band and Paul playing King Of The Castle standing on the speakers to gain height above the crowd relayed the band’s passion to infect the crowd.

The audience was rewarded with Books From Boxes before a quip about new favourite Let’s Get Clinical being an ode to Marvin Gaye‘s Let‘s Get It On. Paul’s face was as expressive as ever and watching him strut, leap, enunciate and emote was akin to a RSC production and was appropriately captivating. Going Missing lead to further waving and thrusting of the mic stand punctuating the lyrics as if a spear used by a chief to rally his tribe into battle.

A couple of new tracks Tanned and Roller Disco Dreams mellowed down the mood and came to life from the new album. An explanation that the latter track was inspired by a girl in an oversized grey jumper further serving to endear the new material to the bosom. It was noted that the slower pace of the new songs seemed to act as a counterpoint to the more frenetic pace of the older tracks. However an upbeat tempo or more megaphone activity did not conceal the dark heart of favourite Limassol and the holiday angst theme continued with recent single The Kids Are Sick Again instigating more audience incantation.

The short, snappy The Night I Lost My Head lament saw the use of the trademark scissor leap from Paul, the light show from behind perfectly marking out his distinctive silhouette. The set signed off with Girls Who Play Guitars featuring spontaneous Freddy Mercury style mic grabs for which unnecessary apologies were issued.

Smith’s performance whilst free spirited was also occasionally self aware. In getting carried in the way in the moment, he may have looked a bit daft and some self depreciation kicked in.

A brief interlude enabled an encore that premièred a really interesting new track not on Quicken The Heart. It was entitled That Beating Heart and was quite downbeat, shot through with essences of How Soon Is Now? and the noise of Depeche Mode to really let Lukas shine on keyboards. It was an unusual start to an encore - something so downbeat and totally unfamiliar and there was a sense of apology about that in the introduction from Paul which also tainted Questing, Not Coasting, the next track, so that even though the audience was familiar with this album track, there wasn’t the sing along other tracks had been treated with earlier in the set.

At this point, Paul mentioned his sojourn to the Cockpit the previous night …“A nice chap said he remembered us playing there and it was one of his favourite ever shows, which was super-nice of him.” much to our personal amusement. Mirth turned to mosh as Apply Some Pressure restored uplift to round off the encore and left the audience out of breath with from impassioned bouncing and singing.

As gigs go, I found it one the best I’ve attended for some time.

This wasn’t my first viewing of Maximo Park - they converted me some time ago with their synergy of fantastic melodies, empathetic, detailed lyrics and captivating live performance and they delivered above and beyond my hopes for the gig.

The other half accompanied me to this gig who had yet to see them, and he’d had his ear bent off enough about how good they were. Despite the hype, he understood why it was I had raved about them and was impressed - quite an achievement! I had heard that on a previous night of this tour had yielded a sub-hour set duration and focus almost entirely on the new album. However our gig was about 75 minutes, covered 19 tracks (two albums worth!) and included a really crowd pleasing ratio of old, new and newer material still, I think is defence enough. I could have enjoyed more focus on the new album as stand out tracks like Calm and In Another World didn’t get a look in this time around.

Maximo Park tick more boxes that most from my demanding list of wants from a band and yet they are still small enough to watch in a venue that doesn’t require binoculars. I’d suggest they’re a bit of a hidden gem of the British music scene and part of me hopes they stay that way.

Written By Ria Wilkinson Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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May 21st, 2009

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.

Written By Michael Wood Thursday, May 21st, 2009

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