December 7th, 2010

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.

Written By Michael Wood Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

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December 5th, 2010

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.

Written By Michael Wood Sunday, December 5th, 2010

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November 27th, 2010

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.

Written By Michael Wood Saturday, November 27th, 2010

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October 27th, 2010

Stuck Between the Middle with Dinosaur Pile-Up More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Holy State, Turbowolf and Dinosaur Pile-Up at The Cockpit 2, Leeds

If it were the case that bands enjoyed a linear progression from nowhere to somewhere then it would be hard to place where Leeds three piece Dinosaur Pile-Up were on the trajectory.

Filling the Cockpit's second room is not uncommon and undoubtedly DPU have done it by virtue of a strong following. Impressive immediately on first listen it is not hard to see why but just as the progression from local lads making good to national indie stars seemed to gape in front of them the band seemed caught like rabbits in headlights.

This will probably not be a problem Holy State who are an earnest and not entirely bad outfit but lack anything like a signature or a stamp of originality. Thinking back to the first time one say Dinosaur Pile-Up one was taken by the clash of melody and grunge and how well Matt Biggland had been able to pull that off. Holy State's journey needs to get to the moment of alchemy where something unexpected occurs.

There was something massively unexpected about Turbowolf who were Heavy Metal as if Spinal Tap and Steel Panther never existed. They rawk, and they do so unapologetically, and in a sea of indie gigs in an indie town like Leeds that is the hurricane surge of fresh air.

A band who seem to enjoy being on stage, who seem to enjoy playing guitars, who seem to have a demented need to make sure I enjoy watching them they are a blast. It is speed metal - I discover later - and it is massively good fun.

Fun being what seems to have drained from Dinosaur Pile-Up. The first half a dozen songs sounded like a man having a great time, liberated and with a guitar, and stand out on the night amid more ponderous and almost forced efforts. The album Growing Pains is more a difficult second affair than the fresh first and hearing the tracks from it ground through live has me wondering if Biggland will recapture the effervescence that marked those early song.

Until then, one fears, Dinosaur Pile-Up are stuck in the middle.

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

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October 2nd, 2010

Committing for the Uncommitted More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Blood Oranges, Summer Camp and Frankie & the Heartstrings at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

It is Elizabeth Sankey's birthday and the slimmed down Summer Camp are playing songs from their new ep to a smattering of people in Leeds' Brudenell Social Club. Each track has a vague sound of a brilliance just out of reach and suddenly I am struck by the worry that this will always be the case.

Opening act Blood Oranges do not have this worry. They are a fine but formulaic act. No trees were harmed or pulled up in their performance and that is entertaining but ultimately unengaging. They have an excitement that last for exactly the time they are on stage, no more no less, nothing is out of their reach but their reach is not great.

Likewise main band Frankie and the Heartstrings are a superbly tight band who set out to create a modern spin on fifties rockabilly and - like The Crookes - pull that off. They are a raucous night and good to listen to but what you see with them seems to be what they get.

Summer Camp though promise something iconoclastic. A sly take on pop culture while at the centre of it. The smartness of the kid at school who was sexy because they didn't try to be. They throw out lines of cynical gold. Jake Ryan's "I can't wait to burn your letter" is as good a comment on living through mediated culture as you could hear.

They deserve more, but they have to earn it. Sankey is charming, Jeremy Warmsley a smart partner and to see them commit to being the uncommitted band is almost a tautology but they need to take more care about not caring. It is hard to put the finger on why things do not click live as well as they do on record but undoubtedly the blast of smart brilliance that comes from the speakers is not passed over live, or has not been so far.

As a band they have a lazy way - new song Veronica Sawyer is dreamily sublime - but as much as the band deserve all the plaudits for what they do they need to make sure that what they have in hand does not drift away.

That Summer Camp is more than just one good season for eight sunny week.

Written By Michael Wood Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

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