May 19th, 2011
Simon, Stardust, Sufjan Stevens More
Written By Michael Wood Thursday, May 19th, 2011
Sufjan Stevens at Apollo, Manchester
For the initiated imagine this: Paul Simon and Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust collaborating and neither being prepared to compromise. That is Sufjan Stevens.
An acoustic guitar and a sweetly pitched voice verbalising esoteric lyrics Stevens is the man who performs songs with titles like Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois and lyrics which reflect that deliberate curiosity he stands at the front of the stage of Manchester's Apollo and communicates something small and private to his audience. His audience significant too, he is a cult for sure, but a sizeable one.
But those moments are interleaved with an utterly constructed, garish, and in the very truest sense of the word awe inspiring show which begins with Seven Swans and Stevens sporting a pair of Swans wings that recall the horrors of David Peece's Red Riding as much as any dreaminess. There is neon on the stage, and dancing girls who danced just the right side of unprofessional to maintain the general edge of unease.
There are videos and curious artwork. There are lights and balloon. It is - frankly - unexpected. Much of it stems from the experimental electronic music of The Age of Adz which clashes viciously with (Come On Feel The) Illinoise and at the heart of the contradiction is Stevens. Cutting away from showmanship with hints at irony but never reveals itself Stevens delivers a cover of R.E.M.'s The One I Love at whisper quiet volume.
It is the tension at the heart of Stevens' duality which is so fascinating. He is neither the shoddy showman nor the simple acoustic artist or he is both but the violent clash is awesome to behold.
Breathless, and unlike anything else.
Written By Michael Wood Thursday, May 19th, 2011
This post is about Sufjan Stevens
May 11th, 2011
The Radio Dept. and waking up dreaming More
Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
The Answering Machines supporting The Radio Dept. Future Everything at The Deaf Institute, Manchester
The Radio Dept. were to feature in the first Dalliance review five years ago - they cancelled the gig – and have remained elusive since. The proposal of seeing them in one of the North's best venue The Deaf Institute in Manchester seemed to promise more than it could ever deliver.
The Swedes take their blend of fuzzed up guitar, circa-1988 electronic backing and whispered lyrics on the road infrequently but in the last year seemed to up output from the studio with both studio album Clinging to a Scheme and collection Passive Aggressive emerging from Lund.
Before that is Manchester's The Answering Machine who take a risk with their set playing to the main band's fans with collection of song's to match the mood. They are less energetic than previously and will have better nights than this.
Which is not to say that the three guys and a gal do not make a good noise, but they seem ill at ease with what they are doing where as they have looked so comfortable.
Then The Radio Dept. The four piece appear as a three - one reportedly not liking touring at all, causing the cancellation of the last set of Northern English gigs in 2006 - shuffling onto stage to take up guitar, bass and keyboard. There is a duskiness to proceedings as the bright sunlight that bathed their support fades.
Interaction is brief between anticipatory audience and seemingly criminally shy band. Occasionally instructions are passed to the sound man but these come in Swedish, which is apologised for.
A rich catalogue is reduced with little mercy. Domestic Scene starts the gig with a hush and a reverence. Three songs in and The New Improved Hypocrisy has both band and audience in comfort zones.
The fuzz of guitar both hides and reveals. Enveloping the band in a pocket of hissing The Radio Dept. seem to seep into the mind rather than enter the head through the ears. They are a sense more than a sensation, more reaction than a realisation.
In lament 1995 there is a hunt at why the Swedes distance themselves from their audience. It is in the crack of the voice on the line "Although I'm happier now I always go sometimes/back to 1995."
After 1995 there is an ease in the auditorium. Worst Take In Music is applauded from the first mention, Heaven's On Fire is a small scale Livin' On A Prayer. It is easy street for the band now having tentatively exposed a crack from which one could glimpse of their heart, their soul;
As with a dream though that crack is fleeting, and perhaps never happened. Perhaps it was just the mind playing tricks, filling in the gaps of hazy half memory.
They depart the stage not to return. No encore, which unsettled some but seems some how apt. If The Radio Dept. capture the feel of a dream then the sudden end completes that.
The judder back into the world, the sense of remembering something more in emotion.
The idea at the back of your mind that you just cannot bring into focus but that swirl in your head, setting your mood for days to come.
March 6th, 2011
Walked Out On a Line by Okkervil River More
Written By Michael Wood Sunday, March 6th, 2011
In a lull before the mid-year release of I Am Very Far what does one expect from a b-side - if there is such a thing any more - from the band that the world seems to have passed up in favour of The National that are Okkervil River?
Probably not this, a tune which seems to have seeped out of the cracks between what the band - superb at the best of times - want to do and want to avoid. It has a richness for sure and Will Sheff's vocals are always bled from the soul but there is something in the lilt of the singers voice.
Being able to write a line like "In the ambulance lamps of his eyes/and the smell of black blood on the backs of his hands/I could tell that his world can’t be mine." harms not the vocal but there is a sweet reflection and tenderness that swirls around the rising sounds that reach back to Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds and an era of American music often imitated but seldom advanced.
Written By Michael Wood Sunday, March 6th, 2011
This post is about Okkervil River
February 28th, 2011
Stopping to listen at 2:54 More
Written By Michael Wood Monday, February 28th, 2011
2:54 supporting She Keep Bees at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
She Keeps Bees are going to spend their days as an acquired taste.
Which is not a criticism of Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaPlant's band who combine the starkness of a drum guitar combination with a set of lyrics that talk of a kind of sharp distress which is fascinating but it is because of that snarkness that they will never be a radio favourite, even amongst the sort of people who loved PJ Harvey records who surely must see them as a very close cousin.
The world of She Keeps Bees is a slightly troubling one - at contrast to Jessica's amused banter between songs - but all the better for it. My second visit and the place gets more interesting.
Instantly interesting though are support 2:54. A pair of sisters from London who take their names from their favourite part of a Melvins song they muse onto stage with a thick smoke and set alight the buzz of heavily distorted guitars.
They make a music drenched in itself. Feedback to the point of constant fuzz with a hook or a solo sitting atop the noise and a vocal that weaves in and out of the forest of sound it is impossible to not mention My Bloody Valentine and Blonde Redhead but even on first listen there is so much more going on than a band wearing a reference on its sleeve.
Creeping builds a song by layers, it drills into the head, On A Wire has a woozy, lazy cool about it. Rumour has it this is the band's first set of dates, they return to West Yorkshire for Live At Leeds in May and they are very worth stopping what you are doing to listen.
February 27th, 2011
Who Headlines on a Sunday Night? More
Written By Michael Wood Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Loose Talk Cost Lives supported by Delta Sleep, Wot Gorilla? and Buen Chico. at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Who headlines a Sunday night gig? Ostensibly one of the bands is on last but on last means on after people have wandered away for last buses and to be up for work in the morning.
Perhaps this accounts for the generally mixed bag feel of Sunday night gigs and the unevenness of the evening. I'm hear to see Buen Chico and they are first up.
Stacking up four newer tracks Buen Chico offer something of a split set. The older work is more raw and battered out of the trio's mix of guitar, bass and drums with more aggression. The new tracks - which form a forthcoming ep - have a more considered feel.
That consideration does them good too. Nothing reinvents the wheel but the rolling is good which is not that case with the much discussed Wot Gorilla? who's reputation proceeds them onto stage but there seems to be a troubling discord with what they are doing.
Half steady band, half aggressive thump they have the odd touch at something good but it is lost in a kind of clashing at sound which is likened to standing equidistant between two bands getting one in one ear, the other in the other.
Not entirely bad, but entirely too much and perhaps on a Sunday evening one is in no mood for complexity or perhaps - for me - Wot Gorilla? just need to make less noise and more sense. They are not unappreciated and at least one can say that they offer something original.
Delta Sleep and Loose Talk Cost Lives follow but do not live long in the mind. The fashion for interesting Afrobeat mixed with guitar playing sensibilities that started with Vampire Weekend seems to have lost something in the translation to the Sunday evening and drifts into the night ineffectually.