Is Robert Rotifer indie’s first polymath? Ok, so he may not hold a pilot’s licence like rock polymath Bruce Dickinson or have a PHD in zoology like punk polymath Greg Graffin from Bad Religion. But being an artist, songwriter, journalist, broadcaster, festival curator and as his latest album shows a darn fine guitarist, Rotifer’s probably as close as the indie music scene will get to that lofty moniker.
Being in a band of guitarists certainly helps boost his playing credentials; Rotifer’s drummer Ian Button and bassist Mike Stone are better known as guitarists in Death in Vegas and Television Personalities respectively. Button is also something of a whizz with guitar effects and as a result Rotifer’s guitars sound sumptuous on this album.
There’s even guitar solos, a rock staple that indie acts like Rotifer usually shun. But those on The Cavalry Never Showed Up are no clichéd fret meanderings. On Middle Aged Man in particular the solo sounds gorgeous, nicely complimenting the melody, something that Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook does so well. November’s solo is another high point, packed full of vintage sheen.
But what really marks this album out is the lyrics on what is just about the most political album you will hear all year, except possibly for Robyn Hitchcock’s Love From London. And quite right too; there’s a lot to protest about in 2013, from increasing economic inequality, Tory lies about so-called scroungers and private firms being handed our schools on a plate as previous ministers did with our railways, but more of that later.
On I Just Couldn’t Eat (As Much As Id Like To Throw Up) Rotifer takes the role of narked, middle-aged, middle class left winger with aplomb, sitting at his kitchen table, sipping his morning coffee and despairing about the world’s injustices as he listens to BBC Radio 4 Today’s programme.
Then on The New Fares, the one about the UK government’s handing over of our trains to a private firms, the anger turns to sad resignation as helpless commuters are left with no alternative but to greet the new fares that go straight into the fat pockets of the likes of First Group.
But enough of the politics. There’s music as well to be had here and notably a significant change in style from Rotifer’s nostalgic last album, 2011’s The Hosting Couple, which focused on a childhood visit to 1980s Canvey Island.
Here there are still nods to vintage 1960s music and of lost bands from that era such as Unrelated Segments and The Misunderstood, particularly on the Underfunded of London. But on opening track I Just Couldn’t Eat…the way the guitars surge in after a minute is bang up to date.
Other tracks that demand a mention are the slower and actually quite beautiful Wear and Tear, which features Rotifer and Button’s local Salvation Army woodwind and brass band, recorded at St Mary Bredin Church, in Canterbury.
And then there’s Black Bag, where Robert Rotifer recounts an office clear out and laments whether he really needs any of the stuff he is keeping. Although placed early in the album it feels more like a classic track 6-7, nicely anchoring the album’s rageful start and calming ending. Black Bag is also fast becoming one of the band’s standout tracks live, and was one of their highlights when they headlined our Brighton October 2012 show.
Another reason why I’ve taken to this album so much is the lyrics on on From Now On There Is Only Love, which references childhood memories of similar political demonstrations I used to go on with my parents. This track is the antidote to the anger of I Just Couldn’t Eat… as Robert Rotifer recalls his childhood in Austria watching demonstrators burn effigies of Pinochet and innocently asking why there can’t be more compassion in the world, especially from so-called peaceful protestors ? A perfectly reasonable question both then and now.
By the end of the album I’m convinced I’ve heard one of the year’s best releases, but also left with the sad thought that the cavalry may never really show up to save our railways, political demonstrations and the blood pressure of indie polymaths listening to the Today programme.
With Head In The Dirt, likeable White Stripes impersonator Hanni El Khatib gives us 11 three-minute soft-punk blues treats.
He delivers fat drum rhythms, rocky guitars, feisty keyboards, and at times a very good combination of voice and lyrics. There are elements of The Clash and even The Rolling Stones in Head In The Dirt, but the overall impression is that he’s got a ouija board strapped to Jack White’s soul. It is, perhaps, a mean comparison, because El Khatib produces some very good, commercial music.
The most annoying track is Family – a word that is oft repeated and oft spelled in the song. It’s all crashy percussion, high-note pianos and grindy-waily guitairs. The ingredients are there: it should be good, but it’s not. Interestingly enough, El Khatib’s own family are first generation Filipino-Palestinian immigrants to the States. Maybe I’m being unkind and he’s so proud of them he’s got to sing about it.
The rest of the album though is far superior to this minor annoyance. Pay No Mindis likeable and moshable that puts me in mind of shouty turn-of-the-century Swedes, The Hives. Skinny Little Girl reminds me of Kings of Leon, and the title track Head In The Dirtwouldn’t be out of place on a Kasabian album. Elsewhere there’s much organ grinding (of the keyboard variety) which will please fans of The Charlatans or Queens of the Stone Age like myself.
The highlight of the album is the stomp-pop track four, Penny. With its line, “You’re my perfect, perfect, perfect, little Penny”, this song will melt any girl’s heart. Or it would if it were not about a low-denomination coin. It appears to be simultaneously a lovesong and a cri de couer of the credit crunch. It’s a song I can imagine sung around a fire at a 99% camp at Wall Street (are they still doing that?).
In House on Fire, the album’s down-tempo finish, El Khatib’s sexy scratchy vocal finally comes to the fore. It shows power, polish and potential, and it should definitely feature more his next album.
So all in all Hanni El Khatib’s Head In The Dirt is a likeable bit of soundalike commercial rock fun with some flashes of excellence.
Festival No6, one of the last of the UK’s summer festivals, takes place in the fantasy village of Portmeirion, North Wales; a unique setting made famous as the location for 1960s Cult TV series The Prisoner. But this relatively new festival doesn’t just rely on its incredible location, where bands play in and around he village’s various odd buildings, the line up is also one of the most impressive of the year, mixing well known artists with emerging talent.
First Band I managed to catch on the Friday, after putting the tent up at an angle on the side of a hill, was Mary Epworth, whose band was full of energy as she switched between guitar and percussion. Among the highlights from her set was the final song, The Four Horsemen originally by cult 1970s Greek prog band Aphrodite’s Child.
A quick climb up some spiral steps to the smaller stage at Tim Peak’s Diner was rewarded with a fine, psychedelic set from Hot Vestry, who looked like they were on one of those pop programmes from the Sixties with the band on multi levels. Time to wander over to see who was on next in the village.
At the town hall stage Cathal MoChroi had an intriguing name. Turns out it was none other than Madness’s Chas Smith under a new stage name. He sang some very personal songs accompanied by the No6 twelve piece ensemble. This was such a moving performance and Chas was was very nervous as this was the first time he’d played with the band. So glad I stumbled across this performance as it was one of those magical festival moments that catches you by surprise.
Next I went for a stroll into the forest and came across The Travelling Band playing on ‘The Lost in the woods stage. This proved the perfect setting for this hardworking, happy-hippy band. Next up on this stage was BadlyDrawn Boy who’d played the main stage earlier on in the day but this was a much more intimate setting amongst the trees. If you wandered deeper into the forest they had secret raves and bars fabulously decorated.
The Brythonthiaid Male Voice Choir
Meanwhile back at the Central Piaza stage I caught Stuart Maconie doing a stand up routine as a warm up for the entrance of The Brythonthiaid Male voice choir. There was a massive crowd consisting of young and old. The Choir start off with some more traditional songs as well as the Corneto advert music and ‘You’ll never walk alone’ before moving on to cover ‘Good times’ by Chic, then ‘Design for life ‘ By The Manic Street Preachers’ finishing off with a rousing version of ‘Uprising’ by Muse. The Crowd absolutely loved it, cheering for more. I caught the tail end of James Blake at the main stage to bring the first day of the festival to a close.
Paddle boarding at Portmeirion
Saturday morning and it was time to have a walk down to the estuary to see the boarding activities, which was part of the festival. An amazing sight to see them sail past. Back at a packed Tim Peak’s Diner Tim Burgess of The Charlatans billed as ‘Storytime with Tim’ was taking a Q & A session and proving to be one of the music industry’s Mr nice guys. What a thoroughly nice bloke he is.
The event also showcases new cinema at the Heavenly Cinema in the village and I managed to catch a pre premier screening of ‘Basically Johnny Moped’ about the forgotten punk band of the seventies Johnny Moped, which boasted Chrissie Hynde and Captain Sensible as former members.
Up at the main stage Daughter performed a magical and confident set in front of a large crowd and were my highlight of the weekend. They played with confidence and sounded so good. Probably the best band of the weekend.
Later on in the evening trip hop legend Tricky took to the main stage for a tense fraught set, in which his attempts to get members of the crowd on stage were thwarted by stage security. He was eventually unplugged after just five songs, but not before he played a storming version of ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead.
John Cooper Clarke
Next up on the Central Piaza stage was a trio of poets starting off with Kermit (Black Grape) – The man with the comb in his hair. You could see that the crowd was growing as they jostled for the best view points. Mike Carry was next for tales of about Manchester, Death and the late Anthony Wilson, superbly backed with music from the Festival No6 string ensemble. The main man arrived next, John Cooper Clarke -The bard of Manchester. I first saw John in a punk club back in the late seventies. Since then he’s become a British institution and his popularity continues to grow with the young audience. At certain points he gets parents to cover their children’s ears because it is still pre watershed. We’re treated to Hire Car, Beasley Street and other classics. He finishes off the set with ‘Chicken Town’ which was featured in an episode of The Sopranos. It boosted the cash in his swear box…..long may he reign.
Lianne Le Havas
Quick walk up to the Big Top to see Lianne Le Havas who starts the set off on her own with just guitar and her sweet, soulful voice, before being joined by her full band. She was another of many highlights at this festival.
Watching Saturday’s headliners My Bloody Valentine, who’ve been lying low for a few years, was like having your molars removed with no anaesthetic with a bulldozer driving through your brain backwards. It was an attack on the senses. Should have seen it coming when they wheeled in the biggest bank of amps and speakers ever seen. They created such a powerful wall of sound, which eventually drew me to the point of enjoyment once I got past the pain barrier. I think I enjoyed it.
My Bloody Valentine
On Sunday, the predicted bad weather arrived as campers were told to batten down their tents. The organisers had to close the main arena including the wood stages and a number of acts had to be cancelled due to the high winds and rain. It didn’t look good so many people decided to leave. But for those that braved it, normal service was resumed in the late afternoon as Johnny Marr played a fab set finishing off with a couple of Smiths songs he co-wrote. Chic had the crowd singing along to all the hits that Nile Rodgers has written for other people including Madonna and David Bowie. Also on this rainy Sunday Wales’ Manic Street Preachers, who’ve just released their eleventh album, reached out to young and old playing most of their hits in front of a packed tent.
It’s goodbye to No6 at Portmeirion, a truly magical festival, for another year. Looking forward to 2014 already.
Having previously watched them aboard the good ship Thekla back in 2008, such was the dense compactness of a crowd sprinkled with folks vociferously calling for what was then the recently released single ‘I Love You Like A Madman,’ I was more than aware of the reality that a cult appreciation of The Wave Pictures existed in Bristol. Marrying Morrissey-esque absurdities and Jeffrey Lewis style quirky confessionals with catchy indie pop melodies, frontman David Tattersall has written a unique body of songs that perhaps are more deserving than their meagre placing within the realm of ‘cult’ followings.
The Wave Pictures’ David Tattersall
So, five years later, it is no surprise to see The Louisiana crowd steadily swelling to capacity as the Leicestershire trio take to the stage. ‘Lisbon,’ a new song from their forthcoming album ‘City Forgiveness,’ kicks things off and its bluesy drum and bass groove forms a foundation on which Tattersall can showcase his adept lead guitar skills. ‘Sea Gulls’ and ‘Spaghetti,’ both from 2012s Long Black Cars and each containing 3 way vocals, are met by the audience with the enthusiasm of old favourites before Tattersall then introduces the band’s “secret weapon.” He jokes that, “Like Phil Collins, Karen Carpenter and that bloke from The Eagles,” The Wave Pictures also have a singing drummer. Jonny Helm then takes leave of his kit to stand centre stage in order to deliver, and then amusingly on a high note at one of the song’s choruses fail to deliver, the vocal to ‘Sleepy Eye.’
In his jokey reminiscences as to the absurdity of some of his early song titles (I Live For My Cheese Dreams, I Bit My Own Foot On The Way To The Land of Teeth), and his appreciation of the “Sensitive lighting man” who instantly dimmed the Louisiana lights upon introduction to ballad ‘New Skin,’ Tattersall is naturally funny and a charming companion throughout. In introducing new track ‘Before This Day,’ he tells the story of his first memory after moving house at the age of 4 and, around this period, of being first acquainted with bassist Franic Rozycki. The gorgeous melodic bounce of a Graceland-era Paul Simon style guitar riff then heralds in a beautifully wistful ode to childhood. Containing Alan Bennett-esque minutiae (“Mum steadies the ladder with a slippered foot”) and Tattersall’s very first memory of running “through grass that has grown high above my head,” it is an absorbing image of vicarious nostalgia and certainly the best received of the new songs.
The Wave Pictures are not all about Tattersall, of course. “Give Me a Second Chance” sees Helm take up lead vocal duties again while also providing some spirited backing vocals to the attractively jaunty three chord shuffle of new song ‘Missoula.’ ‘Little Surprise’ features a duel guitar and bass solo during which Rozycki spars proficiently with Tattersall at the lower and upper ends of his bass guitar. Eschewing his drum stool once more, Helm stands at the mic to perform ‘Now That You Are Pregnant’ and lines such as “I don’t need therapy because I’ve got cigarettes” produce a laugh from the crowd and reveal the idiosyncratic humour behind some of the band’s lyrics.
New track ‘The Ropes,’ with its menacing blues intro is far less quaint but, with the lyrics “I rummage in the door light with the other young Baboons,” linguistic quirkiness is never far away. While another new song that feels like a blues jam on which Tattersall can pepper his pentatonic noodlings, it is with the more familiar melodic, strummed indie of “Leave That Scene Behind” that The Wave Pictures are at their best. A further example of this is when the band return to the stage to perform an encore with “Stay Here and Take Care of The Chickens.” Featuring crowd participation of the backing vocal “Stay Here” at the song’s close, it is an indication of the easy bonhomie that has existed between band and audience all evening.
Compared to all the famous bands that have graced The Louisiana in their incipient stages (The Libertines played here in 2002, The Strokes in 2001 to name just two) a group like The Wave Pictures will clearly not be well remembered. However, after a fun hour of great songs, accomplished musicianship and affable charisma, it is a reminder of how great talent often exists away from the limelight and instead dwells somewhere within the shadows. And in the affections of a knowing few.
With Melbourne, lo-fi wizard and college drop-out Jackson Scott has done his homework. His debut album offers a heavy dose of hero-worship. Laying down the tracks directly on tape, using a four track and doing pretty much everything himself, emulates Beck or John Linklaus.
It’s not hard to see why. Scott recalls that “I remember riding in the baby seat listening to Nevermind – maybe listening to a junkie sing pop songs subconsciously influenced me as a four year old.”
At it’s worst, this album lays on the morose mimicry too thickly. Evie sounds like Scott’s put all of Radiohead’s in a blender and produced a sonic smoothie with an aftertaste of Paranoid Android and Karma Police. It’s not bad, just … too familiar perhaps?
Never Ever is a fat dopey psych rock wedge that’s so reminiscent of Syd Barrett you can almost smell the patchouli. Elsewhere the album feels like a more listenable Neutral Milk Hotel.
Sandy is the most emotional song on the album. As with much of the album, it’s still vocally deadpan, but it explores the recent Sandy Hook high school massacre in a way that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
At his most poppy Jackson Scott’s That Awful Sound fuses a Monkees like vocal with yet another Radiohead tune. Doctor Now is poppy in a different way. It’s like a morose heroin hit. Comforting and frightening. Uplifting and saddening.
Together Forever is all anthemic distortedly kaleidoscopic guitars and slacker lyrics. Its a fusion that works. It hints a little at Slowdive or early Boo Radleys.
It’s hard to tell whether Melbourne is a work of creative genius or Jackson Scott is a master forger. Either way he shows talent.
I think it’s an admirable debut, but a definite crowd-splitter. After my regulation three listens-through I still couldn’t work out whether I thought it was madness or genius. I’m now up to my tenth listen and I’m still not sure. But I am still enjoying it.
Any of you who have experienced a Dreadzone show will testify to the life affirming nature of their exuberant on stage antics. After a Dreadzone gig it’s impossible to be anything other than elated.
Escapades, their seventh studio album, captures the band two decades in and still firing on all cylinders, it’s another full on dread-o-scope production, full of positivity and good vibes; the words miserable and boring will never be found in a Dreadzone review. There’s the tasteful mix of uptempo, righteous dance inflected rhythms on Rise up, Fire in the Dark and Man in a Suit, but also more contemplative lyrical ruminations such as on Next
Generation and Music of the Spheres. These guys love a party, especially a punky reggae party and Clash guitar hero Mick Jones pops up on Too Late, which has the thread of the riff from ‘is Vic there’ by Department S running through it, an excellent choice for a single methinks.
Passion, depth, integrity, Escapades has it all and makes for a very satisfying listen. On the dancefloor and in the head Dreadzone are thee dub warriors.
Glacier, the new album from Canadian producer Jamison, aka Teen Daze, sees the twentysomething continue to operate within ambient dream-pop, using his own voice as well as live instruments and field recordings to create a collection of soundscapes.
Glacier is an apt name for the album, although probably not for the reasons Jamison intended. While at times it drifts beautifully, something akin to US songwriter and producer Washed Out, aka Ernest Greene, at his ethereal best, it is mostly unambitious, hinting at something much more substantial under the surface. Rather than pulsing, the album drifts from one underdeveloped idea to the next.
Opener Alaska is outstanding, throbbing majestically in a similar way to Sun, Arise! on Phosphorescent’s Muchacho album, peaking and slowing spaciously. It is a tantalising way to begin an album which promises so much but fails to continue to delight. At its best the themes tease the listener, while at its worst it sounds – dare I say it – like a weekend spa massage soundtrack. This is particularly the case with Autumnal, a disappointingly bland way to follow Alaska. Lyrics are used sparingly throughout Glacier, so much so that one wonders why they are used at all, and in the case of Ice on the Windowsill they are fairly indecipherable.
Jamison is touring the album with a full band for the first time, which should hopefully breathe some more life into the tracks. The use of live instruments and field recordings is not altogether aurally evident on the album, but transferring the material into a live setting could be an interesting experience.
The issue with Jamison, prolific as he is and capable of producing some truly extraordinary material, is that he creates so many singles, EPs and albums that one wishes he devoted more time to each of his projects and developed them more fully. He is also much more effective when producing more upbeat, dance material such as his My Bedroom Floor album. The simple lesson for Jamison to learn from this album is to slow down and expand on his ideas.
What makes a great gig? We are looking to compile a list of your best ever gigs via the comment box in this article and to get you thinking our contributors have taken a stroll down memory lane to revisit some of their favourite concerts.
The Flaming Lips’ explosive Greenman 2010 set. Pic by Arthur Hughes
For some of our writers a great gig is simply being in the right place at the right time, when a band at the peak of their powers performs at a stellar venue. For others it is one of their first tastes of live music, while for others it has been seeing musical history being made. Judging by the responses from our writers going to see the The Flaming Lips, almost anywhere and at any time, is also a sure sign of a gig’s greatness. So stand up, get your lighter and mobile phone out and settle into a feast of great gig memories. Look forward to reading about your gigs.
Joy Division, Assembly Rooms, Derby, October 1979
Joy Division were the support for The Buzzcocks and played in semi darkness, four stark immobile Mancunian stick insects. It was loud, brutal and threatening, then Ian started doing his mad dancing during She’s Lost Control; some people laughed, we hated them for laughing as for us here was something new. As Shadowplay echoed around this architectural monstrosity we looked at each other and realized punk was over, something had eaten its corpse and was spitting out blood, Ian was dying for us and nobody had noticed. (John Haylock)
Fugazi, Zap Club, Brighton, November 1989
Back in the late 1980s the now closed down Zap Club regularly booked up and coming alternative bands from the US. The legendary and superb bands I saw at this sweaty damp venue, nestled into the old fisherman’s arches on the seafront, included Mudhoney, The Lemonheads, Rollins Band, Teenage Fanclub and Hole. But for me the best of the bunch was Fugazi. I was tucked up just to the side at the front of the packed venue, half on the stage as lead singers Ian Mackaye and Guy Piciotto, together with the precision rhythm section of Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, powered the band through a remarkable set. The timing was shortly after their first EP Margin Walker had come out and before 1990’s Repeater. Breathless, exciting and superb. (Joe Lepper)
Faith No More, Reading Festival, August 1990
In many ways this wasn’t an ideal gig. Sat between Nick Cave and The Cramps on the bill Faith No More were a bit of an oddity. The 1990s were also the decade when Reading was at it’s least “Rock”, it was the most “indie” of all the festivals during this period. The sound quality was also terrible, something that Reading was often guilty of, and a bootleg cassette I picked up some years later sounded pretty terrible. But it was my first real full-on festival rock experience and it seemed pretty wonderful at the time. The band arrived on stage to billowing smoke and an orchestral soundtrack (2001 perhaps?) before launching into a breakneck version of ‘From Out of Nowhere’. They rocked, they sneered (a snatch of New Kids on the Block in the middle of ‘We Care A Lot’) and front-man Mike Patton (replete in a kilt) scaled the stage scaffold. That was how to do it, something that The Pixies failed to emulate with a phoned in headline slot on The Sunday. They clearly already wanted to call it a day. (Dorian Rogers)
Nirvana, Astoria, London, October 1990
Friends at university told me that Nirvana were the next big thing. They played me Bleach, their only album at the time, and I was quite impressed even if it did sound like a Mudhoney rip off act. Turns out my friends were right, live they were sensational and across the 19-strong set Bleach’s tracks and Cobain’s vocals were filled with a passion I hadn’t grasped before. We were also treated to two new songs, Lithium and In Bloom, both destined for their forthcoming album, 1991’s Nevermind, which catapulted them to legend status. This was one of those great, ‘I was there’ moments in music history. (Joe Lepper)
Julian Cope, The Event, Brighton, September 1995
This gig happened at a point where Cope’s popularity (he had a top 40 hit with ‘Try,Try’Try’ from his then latest album 20 Mothers) was slightly out of kilter with his overall trajectory, having been dropped by Island a few years earlier. It may have been at the beginning of the end for Cope as a popular recording artist, but it was an exemplary live performance. Three sets were played that night involving 39 songs in total, the first being heavily drawn from his most recent albums and including a host of excellent cuts from Peggy Suicide. After this the band left the stage and Cope treated us to a set of solo acoustic numbers, chatting jovially and taking requests from the audience. And as is this wasn’t enough the band returned to the stage and treated us to a full greatest hits set featuring his best known songs both solo and with the Teardrop Explodes. Everything sounded great and at that moment he seemed like the best live performer in the world. (Dorian Rogers)
Neil Young, Phoenix Festival, Warwickshire, July 1997
After an eternity of soundchecking and with a minimum of fuss Young tore into Hey, Hey, My My. It was akin to being in the eye of a screaming tornado of sound and unbelievably it got better with Sedan Delivery, Why Do I Keep Fucking Up, Cinnamon Girl and Down by the River all having their entrails ripped open and fed through sixty thousand watts of amplification. It was guitarmageddon in a cowboy hat as he carried on, nailing acoustic versions of Sugar Mountain, Heart of Gold and Needle and the Damage Done. Forty six bottles of Evian water later I remember encores consisting of Like a Hurricane, Dangerbird, Rockin’ in the Free World and of course Cortez the Killer. My review in a word – legend. In another – goosebumps. (John Haylock)
Oasis, Cardiff International Arena, December 1997
My first ever gig – this is where it all began. The excitement, anticipation and the immortal feeling of being 15 years old and experiencing your musical idols for the very first time. I remember hearing ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ over the loudspeaker before the large curtain at the front of the stage suddenly opened and the band launched into ‘Be Here Now.’ The volume of those guitars hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer (in the best way possible) and, with that, I was born as an Oasis fan, gig goer and music fan for life. (Scott Hammond)
The Flaming Lips – Various, 1999-2012
Bowlie Weekender, Camber Sands, April 1999 – On the main stage were Divine Comedy, on the smaller stage were The Flaming Lips. Their album Soft Bulletin had just come out and I’d only heard the name not the music before. But as soon as lead singer Wayne Coyne took to the stage, bashing away at a giant gong with his giant personality and tiny, passionate voice, I knew this was no ordinary live band and the Divine Comedy could do one. The Flaming Lips didn’t even need animal costumes and giant space balls back then to be great. (Joe Lepper)
The Flaming Lips, Greenman 2010, pic by Arthur Hughes
Bristol Academy, January 2003 – My 18th Birthday night saw a busload of mates journey to see The Flaming Lips at the peak of their powers. Peerless pop conducted by Wayne Coyne’s all-engrossing showmanship. (Matthew Nicholson)
Greenman Festival, Wales, August 2010 -They were totally mindmeltingly awesomeballs. The grandiose epicness of the music married to the everything but the kitchen sink pyrotechnics of a stage show was so out there it would have put the big bang to shame. The power of live music to make you love this beautiful world, this, ladies and gentlemen is what it’s all about. (John Haylock)
Primavera Sound, Porto, June 2012 -I was excited when they were announced as part of the Primavera Sound festival lineup in Porto, but wasn’t prepared for the utter elation I felt seeing them live for the first time. They’re one of the best live acts ever – the colours, the spectacle, the songs – it all makes for a surreal, psychedelic explosion of music, complete with dancing girls and glitter cannons. I defy anyone to come away from a Lips gig feeling anything but on top of the world. (Patrica Turk)
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Bowlie Weekender, Camber Sands, April 1999
This is my second entry from this excellent festival, which was curated by Belle and Sebastian and kick started the All Tomorrow’s Parties events. Watching Jon Spencer’s trio for the first time made me feel like a 1950s, Tennessee teenager at an early Elvis gig. I’d heard of Spencer’s band, I heard the odd track on CD, but nothing could prepare me for the incredible performance of dirty rock ‘n’ roll from this incredible front man, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins. To this day the most exciting live act I’ve ever seen. (Joe Lepper)
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Radiohead, South Park, Oxford, July 2001
A wet homecoming night in which my favourite band headed a stupendous line-up (Humphrey Littleton, Sigur Ros, Supergrass, Beck) and delivered a heavyweight set of alt-rock anthems. (Matthew Nicholson)
Guided By Voices, ULU London, September 2003
This was the last time that Guided By Voices played in England, and possibly the only time that I’ll ever get to see them play. Bob Pollard’s famous hatred of travelling and their aborted ATP show in 2012 give little hope of a UK gig any time soon. Many people are stuck on the “classic” line-up of the band, but this gig featured the twin guitars of Doug Gillard and Nate Farley and they sounded pretty amazing to me. Blasting through a set that drew heavily from the then-current Earthquake Glue album we were treated to dozens of oddities and classics with fan favourites ‘Game of Pricks’, ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’ getting a particularly enthusiastic reception. This is a band that works hard playing a huge set (around 45 songs on this occassion) with an encore that lasted longer than some acts entire back catalogue. Legendary. (Dorian Rogers)
Guided By Voices
Roger Waters, Hyde Park, London, July 2007
As with many 16 year old teenage boys, desperate for intellectual stimulation and strange sensations, I was drawn to the minimalist soundscapes and sixth form philosophy of Pink Floyd. Listening to Dark Side of the Moon while staring at the ceiling and broodily muttering about the evils of Money was heaven to a tubby pubescent teenager with few social skills and no girlfriend. Seeing Roger Waters make a rare performance of the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon at this central London park, arms wrapped around fellow Floyd Fanatics, was made all the more luscious as the moon came out and he sang the final refrains. (Conal Dougan)
Monsters of Folk, Cardiff Coal Exchange, November 2009
An intimate gig in front of a seated audience, the supergroup played for a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes. Playing the MOF album in its entirety along with a panoply of Bright Eyes, M Ward and My Morning Jacket tunes, I couldn’t quite believe I was bearing witness to two of my all-time musical heroes (Conor Oberst and Ward) on stage in this tiny space in Cardiff Bay. Costing less than £15 a ticket and with only 300 people in attendance, I truly blessed the world for its lack of taste. (Scott Hammond)
Blur, Glastonbury Festival, July 2009
Watching a reformed band on the heritage rock scene can offer be a sad experience. Not so when Blur decided to reform for a run of gigs that included a show stopping set at Glastonbury. They played everything you hoped they would but it was Tender that provided the real spine tingling moment and, indeed, the mass singalong. (Matthew Nicholson)
Pulp Brixton Academy, London, September 2011
Growing up in Australia, Pulp were a band that I thought I’d never get to see live. But then, as so many do, they reformed and toured. They’re the songs from my teenage years and seeing Jarvis up close and personal was a girlhood dream come true. Nothing compares to hearing and seeing your old-time favourites performed live and it was a terrific moment of past-and-present excitement all rolled into one. Jarvis is still my hero. I even have his face on my tea mug. I’m 30. (Patricia Turk)
Pulp, Brixton Academy, 2011. Pic by Patricia Turk
Field Music and Stealing Sheep, The Fleece, Bristol, February 2012
Sometimes gigs are just perfect in every way from venue to support to crowd to stage banter. Field Music’s musical talent is well known on record, but live their mixture of King Crimson prog rock with the jerky pop of XTC is even more incredible. Here they were on top form, rattling out 23 tracks, from their back catalogue and to promote their then latest album Plumb. They were funny as well in between songs and just about the most engaging band you’ll ever see. To top it all the support act, Liverpool’s Stealing Sheep, left the packed crowd at this legendary venue in awe with their blend of folk, hippy chic and surf rock. The best support act I have ever and probably will ever see. (Joe Lepper)
Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012
Django Django, Bestival, Isle of Wight, September 2012
The highlight of an astounding festival, featuring knock-out gigs by De La Soul, Stevie Wonder and The XX, was a small tent performance by Django Django. With the speaker volume tempered to make later headline acts more of a spectacle, the crowd was pulled ever closer to the stage to be immersed in their folktronica rhythms. The crowd joined to become a single amorphous beast, embracing each other to shift body weight and crouch for the peak of Default. Jazz fags and rum punches were merrily shared with trucker women and inebriated Glaswegians as the best weekend of my life got off to the perfect start. (Conal Dougan)
First Aid Kit, Moles, Bath, September 2012
Enjoying a pre-gig pint in a quiet pub adjacent to Moles, I suddenly saw the young Swedish sisters emerge from a neighbouring building and casually walk towards the venue completely without regard from anyone passing by. It was almost like they weren’t brilliantly talented, precocious songwriting prodigies or something. I got to the door, handed over my £10 ticket and was astonished to find that the 220 capacity venue hadn’t yet sold out. I then found my standing space just 10 feet away from Klara, Johanna and those gorgeous vocal harmonies. (Scott Hammond)
First Aid Kit, circa 2012. Pic by Joe Lepper
Tame Impala, Primavera Festival, Barcelona, May 2013
Primavera Festival is renowned for its outstanding sound quality above its atmosphere, with main stage headline sets sounding intimate and personal. Upon arriving early on the first day, however, we really were treated to an intimate gig, with Tame Impala rehearsing their full set to only a handful of us. Frontman Kevin Parker’s remark that “we thought there would be more of you here” came just before we were escorted out by a security team, embarrassed from mistakenly letting us in early. The brilliant set they played later that night to a huge crowd, the balmy sea breeze flowing through Parker’s hair as the band waded through their psychedelic back catalogue, was made all the more magical by having seen them rehearse for our sole pleasure. (Conal Dougan)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Glastonbury Festival, June 2013
Nestled about 20 people back from the main Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2013 on a Sunday evening I was expecting to be impressed by Nick Cave but not completely blown away by his brilliance. Across his hour long set he provided a masterclass in live performance. The whole experience was made even better by his scheduling just before the Folk-lite of Mumford and Sons. Their eager young fans being beaten back verbally by Cave’s middle aged hardcore fans was great to see. The poor Mumford dears that sneaked through were left open mouthed as Cave showed them how live music should be played. And as if that wasn’t enough, during Stagger Lee Cave moved into the crowd and serenaded a female fan dressed entirely in white, who appeared atop a pair of shoulders like Kylie’s ghost rising out of the swamp. (Joe Lepper)
Nick Cave crowd schmoozing at Glastonbury, 2013. Pic by Joe Lepper
The National, Roundhouse, London, June 2013
When a snap show at the Roundhouse was announced I was more than prepared to spend an hour and half in an online queue to see one of my most favourite bands in one my most favourite venues. It was everything I wanted it to be. The National are a special band of super talented musicians, led by an extraordinary voice in Matt Berninger. The songs are emotional, intelligent and epic, and the gig was intense, driven, amazing. There’s nothing like being part of an audience that adores the band they’re seeing. Spectacular. (Patricia Turk)
Melody’s Echo Chamber, Greenman Festival, August 2013
Propelled by Melody Prochet’s ethereal floaty vocals, the band add crunch and added freak out, I stood there entranced like a good looking deer in the headlights of a pop car, that is until I got so carried away during Crystallized that I became a danger to passing aircraft. They swept me up in a whirling vortex of sound that I keep playing back in my mind like some antiquated reel to reel tape recorder. A week after this gig and I wanted to see them again and again, I want to go to every gig, become an uber fan, have Melody’s poster on my wall. (John Haylock)
Remember to tell us about your favourite gigs in the comment box below.
I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t reference the album title at any point in this review, it is a difficult typing effort each time and takes up valuable words. It is a strangely verbose title on a very musically economical album, but one that does perfectly sum up the mood that Case is trying to evoke on the album, and also her mental state when composing the songs. A Neko Case album is an unmistakable thing, not just because of her peerless vocals, but also the way that she writes and arranges her songs. However, each of her albums has a very different feel from the last. There is a darkness to all her albums but this is a much darker album than the superficially upbeat Middle Cyclone.
Early on we get the single ‘Man’, a song that would fit in well on a New Pornographers’ album, and one that features confident lyrics which border on aggressive – make no mistake Neko Case is in no mood to put up with any shit from anyone.
That track is a little uncharacteristic, a rock/pop blast on a record that has most of its standout moments in the quieter, sparser tunes that make up most of the album’s running time. Centrally positioned on the album is the stunning ‘Nearly Midnight, Honolulu’ an acapella that has the protagonists mother stating “Get the fuck away from me, why don’t you ever shut up?” in the middle of a tour de force vocal performance.
Aside from the vocals this is a beautifully played album with Case’s band, and a selection of musical guests, laying down beautiful accompaniments to the songs. Playing that supports the softness of most of the numbers whilst being capable of creating a bigger sound when called for, such as on the aforementioned ‘Man’ and the future single contender ‘City Swans’.
This is an album that has no sags, no filler and nothing that doesn’t feel like it shouldn’t be on the album. It is telling that the final two songs featured are as good as anything that has come before. The haunting ‘Where Did I Leave That Fire’ is a complex arrangement where the vocals draw in the instrumentation for two minutes before the final minute and a half sees the song float to a strangely understated conclusion. This is followed by ‘Ragtime’, the longest track on the album, where simple rhythms and stirring horns bring a sense of positivity to the albums conclusion.
Fans of Neko Case’s previous work will not be at all surprised that this is a brilliant album, the equal of anything else produced this year. One of the best vocalists of her generation, a songwriter of considerable merit and a brilliant band is a combination that always produces exceptional albums. This album has something just that little bit extra-special, and it deserves to be her biggest success to date. As Case herself says, a number of seconds after the end of the final song, “That was awesome”.
Too often accessibility is seen by reviewers as something to criticise. How dare this act (insert name of any once lo-fi act now releasing well produced music here) attempt to appeal to a wide range of people? So often though such criticism is misjudged. It is certainly misjudged when people refer to The Mountain Goats post Panasonic boombox cassette recordings and it is equally odd when referring to Okkervil River’s latest album, the highly accessible The Silver Gymnasium.
The band’s first on ATO Records this latest release is the most autobiographical yet of singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s tenure as Okkervil River frontman as he takes the listener into a brief period of his childhood in the small New Hampshire town of Meriden, where his parents worked in 1986 as teachers at a local boarding school.
Conceived as “a tribute to the spirit of pre-adolescence” the arrangements, with synths nestled beside guitars, is full of references to 1980s music thanks to some smart production from John Agnello, who has worked with artists from that era such as Cyndi Lauper and John Mellencamp as well as latterly with the far cooler Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr.
As a result it is easier on the ear than the more rock focused I Am Very Far and musically is littered with catchy hooks and pop references. It’s highly appealing but not, as Pitchfork suggests in its review of the album, a shameless attempt to sell more records at the expense of artistic credibility. The accessibility of this album’s sound and music may well end up making Sheff and co richer but artistically it is far from unnecessary; it is crucial to the album’s attempt to conjure up the emotions of an innocent, young boy in mid 80s small town America.
For me this is lyrically and musically Sheff’s best work since 2008’s Stage Names and while at the time I loved 2011’s I Am Very Far, its barely registered on my CD player in the years that have passed. Silver Gymnasium is a different beast and one I’m certain to come back to as the years go by, as I do with Stage Names.
The pacing of the album is also key. Starting with It Was My Season, with its piano melody with echoes of Boom Town Rats and then followed with the 1980s MTV friendly guitar riffs, trumpets and singalong chorus of On A Balcony.
Synths come to the fore on Down Down The Deep River, as Casey Kasem’s Top 40 continues to echo in Sheff’s ears before this upbeat opening segment to the album takes a breather on the melancholy Pink Slips and Lido Pier Suicide Car. As the album moves across the rest of its 11 tracks the 1980s synth and guitar references continue and work particularly well on Stay Young before the Cure-esque Black Nemo closes this collection.
What is perhaps most striking about Silver Gymnasium is that it pays respect to a particular era without copying it outright. Few can copy the 1980’s production outright and succeed, with Destroyer’s Kapputt and Field Music off shoot The Week That Was notable exceptions. Instead Okkervil River have created something that pays homage to an era, will satisfy the band’s fans, particularly those of Sheff’s generation, as well as attract new admirers. Is such a universal appeal really such a bad thing?