Archive | December, 2014

Top 20 Alternative/Independent Albums of 2014

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Top 20 Alternative/Independent Albums of 2014

Posted on 16 December 2014 by Joe

Welcome to our annual celebration of the year’s best independent and alternative albums. Many of our releases are  by artists you may not have heard of. If that’s the case we urge you to read our full reviews, visit their websites and Youtube channels and go and see them live and buy their albums if you like them. There is some great talent out there on independent labels and we are proud to do our bit to help bring them to a wider audience. So sit back, pull up a gig guide, get Youtube on standby and enjoy our favourite independent and alternative releases of the year.

20. Junkboy – Sovereign Sky

Come take a barefoot run across the Sussex Downs, sandals in hand, kaftan lapping in the wind as we head with Junkboy down to the coast. These are the images that this hidden 2014 gem from brothers Rich and Mik Hanscomb conveys with its echoes of flower-power California and good old fashioned British folk and pop. Read our full review here.

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19. Steven Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags

One of the most accessible and satisfying releases from the former Pavement man and his band, who has learnt to curtail his fret meandering leanings in recent years. One of the year’s most solid indie rock releases. Read our full review here.

Wig Out at Jagbags

 

 18. Co Pilgrim – Plumes

Nestled in Winchester is Mike Gale, one of the UK’s brightest song writing talents.  This third album with his band Co-pilgrim is full of beautiful alt-country, Beach Boys harmonies and Pernice Brothers and Teenage Fanclub indie alternative melodies and is a gem. We think its about time you started to discovering Gale’s wonderful music. Read our full review here.

copilgrim

 

17. Avi Buffalo – At Best Cuckold

Four years on and California’s Avi Buffalo have finally released an album to match their breakout single What’s It In For. Full of 1960s pop references and sunny West Coast melodies Avi Buffalo, now of Sub Pop, have arrived as a major creative force in independent music. Read our full review here.

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16. John Howard – Live at the Servant Jazz Quarters

You can’t get more independent than John Howard, the singer songwriter who’s first career in the 1970s with CBS stalled before it began. Now from his home studio in Spain he writes, records, arranges, distributes and promotes each release with fierce independence. Here is a fantastic introduction to his work past and present that re-energised our appreciation of the live album.  Read our full review here.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

John Howard at the Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 2013.

 

15. Owen Pallett – In Conflict

Following a tour with The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, who specialises in autobiographical lyricism and story telling, Pallett has taken a more personal approach with this album. Gone is the fantasy imagery to be replaced with his most personal release to date. As you’d expect from a multi-instrumentalist who is equally at home conducting an orchestra or behind a synth the music is beautiful.  Read our full review here.

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14. New Mendicants – Into the Lime

The New Mendicants are a harmony-pop supergroup of sorts formed in Toronto by Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub/Jonny), Joe Pernice (Scud Mountain Boys/Pernice Brothers) and drummer Mike Belitsky (The Sadies). It will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of any of their bands to hear that Into the Lime is a string of melodic pop gems with beautifully sung vocal harmonies. Read our full review here.

The New Mendicants - Into the Lime

 

13. Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin

With Jason Narducy on bass and Superchunk and Mountain Goats man Jon Wurster on drums Bob Mould arguably is now in his best ever band. This is the second solo Mould album recorded with the pair and shows a veteran performer re-energised and at the top of his game. If you liked Sugar you will love what Mould is doing right now on this album and last year’s Silver Age.

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12. St Vincent – St Vincent

Art rock stalwart St Vincent, aka Manhattan’s Annie Clark, recently revealed that she tries to live ‘at the intersection of accessible and lunatic’. If her latest, eponymously titled, album is anything to go by, this is something she achieves with great success. Read our full review here.

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11. Hospitality – Trouble

This second album is as stunning as their self titled debut and shows a band progressing well, with guitars and synths powering them through an album full of influences from the 1970s world of progressive rock. As with their debut they have some darn fine tunes too. Read our full review here.

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10. Guided By Voices- Motivational Jumpsuit

Each year we lose count of how many albums Robert Pollard puts out, either solo or with his legendary band Guided By Voices. For sake of argument let’s say its about 20 albums a year. This was the pick of his 2014’s releases and sadly one of the last releases by GBV, who’s brief reunion ended this year. Read our full review here.

Motivational Jumpsuit

 

9. Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita

Despite having 20 years experience under their belts this 13th album from the San Francisco punk act manages to give the impression it is a debut by a group of youngsters. Its bold, enthusiastic and packed with a gigantic palette of genres like a band starting out and finding their feet in the world. Read our full review here.

Deerhoof

 

8. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Hailed as a return to form by many reviewers, we say that the Canadian power-pop supergroup never lost their form. It’s another superb release from Carl Newman, Niko Case and co as they continue to pack a punch. Read our full review here.

Brill Bruisers

 

7. Withered Hand – New Gods

If you have yet to discover the songwriting talents of Scotland’s Dan Willson you’ve been missing out. But there’s still time, just buy this fantastic latest release from the singer songwriter, go see his shows and then discover his back catalogue. One of many jewels on indie label Fortuna Pop’s roster. Read our full review here.

withered-hand

 

6. The Phantom Band – Strange Friend

By coincidence with stick with Scottish talent for the next release in our annual run down of the best albums. Listen to the stunning indie rock, pop and synth magic of this album and then join us in wondering why they aren’t one of the UK’s biggest acts around. Read our full review here.

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5. Alex Highton – Nobody Knows Anything

Now signed to fledgling UK label Gare Du Nord, Cambridgeshire based singer songwriter Alex Highton has taken his honest folk style to new levels for his second album. One of the most ambitious folk albums you will ever here. Read our full review here.

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4. Happyness – Weird Little Birthday

This album from London based trio Happyness  quickly established itself as one of our favourite debuts with its sardonic wit and Pavement indebted take on indie rock. Among highlights are the superb ‘Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same’. Read our full review here.

Weird Little Birthday

 

3. Sun Kil Moon – Benji

It’s quite an ability to write 11 songs about grief and death and make it one of the year’s most uplifting releases. On each of the songs on Benji, Mark Kozelek, under his Sun Kil Moon moniker,  takes us through some downright horrific tales of loss, but we emerge at the end treasuring life and ultimately happy. Arguably Kozelek’s best album to date. Read our full review here.

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2. Eyelids

When Robert Pollard chose to bring his Boston Spaceships project to an end (the band that released our favourite album of 2011) the core of the band stayed together and formed Eyelids. Headed up by Chris Slusarenko and John  Moen the band play a classic hook laden rock that evokes Big Star, The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub and Velvet Crush across yet another debut to grace our list. Read our full review here.

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1. Papernut Cambridge – There’s No Underground

Two years ago the Tigercats topped our end of year list with Isle of Dogs, a perfect collection of songs about urban London life. Here Ian Button, formerly of Death In Vegas, has created the perfect suburban pop album to complement it. Full of the imagery of his native south east London suburbs and packed with musical influences spanning the last forty years this is one of  the most life affirming,  feel good rock and roll albums of recent years. It is also the second on our list to be released on Gare Du Nord, the label that Button is a founder of. Read our full review here.

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Compiled by Neonfiller’s writers.

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Gogol Bordello and Mariachi El Bronx – Rock City, Nottingham (December 14, 2015)

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Gogol Bordello and Mariachi El Bronx – Rock City, Nottingham (December 14, 2015)

Posted on 15 December 2014 by John Haylock

Will I ever see a rubbish band in 2014? Whether by sheer luck or my remarkably refined taste in music every act I’ve seen this year has never been less than fantastic. My latest outing, to see Gogol Bordello with support from Miriachi El Bronx at Nottingham’s Rock City, proved no exception.

Mariachi El Bronx, the mariachi alter-egos of Los Angeles hardcore punks The Bronx are among the most beautifully outfitted musicians around, all sequins and, apart from their violinist Rebecca Schlappich, sporting fetching mariachi moustaches. They looked like a bunch of dazzling Mexican undertakers as they treated us to their strange hybrid of mariachi and acoustic punk all underpinned by their superb frontman Matt Caughthran, who revelled in the chance to play at this legendary venue. It was certainly a pleasure to be called a “motherfucker” by him.

Their versions of Revolution Girl and 48 Roses were particular highlights of a great set the enthusiastic crowd approved of whole heartedly.

Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello

The UK’s energy problems could be solved in one fell swoop if you could only plug Gogol Bordello into the National Grid. Good grief, they were incendiary.

From the very first number We Rise Again, with its killer guitar riff and mad sing-a-long chorus, they tore the place to bits as lead vocalist and human dynamo Eugene Hutz took national hero status with his grand gestures and inability to stand still for more than a third of a second. This compelling frontman was down to his shorts within minutes and encouraging the crowd to go bonkers (not a difficult task) as he lead his gang of rabble rousing gypsy punks through nearly two hours of rhythmic craziness. They are basically Strictly Come Dancing for lunatics.

Their violinist Sergey Ryabtsev plays like his life depended on it, the hot pant clad energetic gymnastics of singer Elizabeth Sun are a sight to behold and when I tell you that accordionist Yuri Lemeshev sported a GBH T-shirt and the huge menacing bassist Thomas Goben wore one featuring Sun Ra you can see where the music was coming from – a planet where musical barriers don’t mean a thing and the only thing that matters is a big chorus that goes “da da da dadadada ‘Start wearing purple!”. Utter madness and utterly brilliant.

Gogol Bordello are not familiar with the concept of less is more, they expend more energy than you could think it humanly possible to do so. By turns exhausting and exhilarating, anyone with a dodgy back need not attend their gigs. They are a band of genuinely talented musicians totally dedicated to their art. Gogol Bordello wear their passions on their sleeve, purple sleeves of course.

Words by John Haylock, picture by Arthur Hughes.

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Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994 – 2014

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Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994 – 2014

Posted on 13 December 2014 by Dorian

To celebrate 20 years in the business Wilco have released two bumper sets of music covering their two decades of recording. The first (What’s Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994 – 2014) is 38 tracks giving a pretty good account of their albums to date.  With a back catalogue as good as Wilco’s there will always be arguments about which tracks to include, but this is a pretty excellent selection that stands as the perfect introduction to the band.

More interesting for the seasoned Wilco collector is Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a 77 song collection of non-album tracks from the same period. They aren’t all non-album songs, far from it, but the live versions, demos, compilation tracks, b-sides and covers gives a different view of the same band and offers up a few surprises.

Wilco Alpha Mike Foxtrot

Some slightly grudging reviews have complained that there is nothing much on show here that hasn’t been available before in some form, but for most people these recordings will be a new side of Wilco. The development of the band from the country rock traditionalists of AM through the more sonically challenging Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to the seasoned professionals of their most recent albums is charted in the progression across almost five hours of music.

The cover versions included are all of a high standard, but show the more traditional side of the band, largely songs by American classic rock artists. Bob Dylan, Moby Grape, Steely Dan and Neil Young all get the Wilco treatment. These are lovely additions to the Wilco catalogue but don’t reveal that much about the band.

The demo recordings of album tracks are a much more interesting proposition and my personal favorite songs across the four disc set. In some cases we see the song in a very similar form to the final cut, on other occasions the differences are more marked. ‘Monday’, in a rawer form, seems even more like a Rolling Stones outtake than the final album version and the “king-sized demo” version of ELT is the same pop classic from Summerteeth but sounding like it was recorded for a Cars album.

Other demos show that the band made the right decision with the way they were re-worked for release. ‘Camera’ is a fascinating mess that clearly needed Jim O’Rourke’s hand to become the pop gem ‘Kamera’ on the final album. ‘Hummingbird’ is all clicks and fuzz and scratch,  far cry from the music-hall jazz it became for A Ghost Is Born’.

The live tracks on the album are another reason to listen, this is a great live band and every incarnation sounds brilliant live and you get a real taste of that  here. The only shame is that we don’t get to hear more of the bands recent output  in live versions or demos here. In fact the album seems to gloss over the last few years a little. I’ll never tire of hearing the guitar interplay non the live version ‘Impossible Germany’ but that is already possible on the Kicking Television album.

A few of the songs here that didn’t make the cut for albums are warmly welcomed here. ‘Kicking Television’ (clearly not a favourite recording from  Tweedy’s linear notes) shows just how good Wilco are when they allow themselves to rock out a bit. ‘A Magazine Called Sunset’ is just a great piece of pop music that deserved space on an album release.

Alpha Mike Foxtrot is a wonderful, warts and all, look at one of the truly great American bands. It is a slightly daunting song set, and one that will keep revealing gems for months to come. Anyone who likes Wilco will love it, and it might just be the best place for the uninitiated to start.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Alabama 3 – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (December 6, 2014)

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Alabama 3 – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (December 6, 2014)

Posted on 11 December 2014 by John Haylock

Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to get down, to get down and dirty at the unholy church of the Alabama 3. Praise the lord and pass the beer, brothers and sisters let us pray to the gods of techno gospel, we need some contextual healing baby.

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To help us sinners on our way are vocalists The Very Reverend Dr D. Wayne Love, looking like a sly used car salesman with dementia, and Larry Love, Mr Rock n Roll personified. In addition there’s keyboardist Orlando Harrison, who tonight looks like an extra from a Hammer Films production of A Clockwork Orange.

Tonight they are spreading the word, or rather words, of revolution, anarchy, love and subterfuge. Take me to the river, I cry. Well given the location take it to the bridge on the River Trent at least.

Abling assisting our preachers is Aurora Dawn, here filling in for a pregnant Devlin Love on vocals for this tour. She immediately got into the groove, singing her heart out for the cause and what a voice she has. At one point she even got to do her own thing as the band leave her and bassist Mark Samms to re invent that old rock standard Black Betty. This band of Brixton ne’r do wells sure know how to cook simmer and boil. The roof is raised, brought down and raised again but a bit higher every time with some truly great ‘toons’ such as Hypo Full Of Love,  Woke Up This Morning and the new single Following Rainbows. 

Seeing Alabama 3 is the most fun you could have with your freak on, hallelujah brethren we have seen the light. Amen.

By John Haylock

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Picturebox – Graffiti EP

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Picturebox – Graffiti EP

Posted on 08 December 2014 by Joe

Bonkers is a word that rarely gets used in reviews these days. I’m happy to revive it though to describe the brilliantly bonkers psych-pop of Giving It All I’ve Got, one of three covers on this four track EP by Canterbury’s Picturebox, led by Robert Halcrow.

This track, a cover of another Canterbury artist Luke Smith, alternates between robot vocals, indie pop, 1960s pyschedelia and spoken word from Emily Kennedy. As well as being utterly bonkers it is a darn clever track, managing to pack a lot of fun into its short three minutes.

There’s more fun too, with a rip roaring version of Bit Part, the Lemonhead’s classic indie-pop track from their stellar album It’s A Shame About Ray. Kennedy is back again here filling in the Juliana Hatfield role.

Halcrow’s third cover is an eponymous 2013 track from Papernut Cambridge, the ensemble project of Ian Button, one of the founders of Gare Du Nord records, which has released this EP and will release Picturebox’s album The Garden Path next year.

The creation of Gare Du Nord last year has come at a good time for Halcrow and it looks like with their help he has a good shot of getting a wider audience after years of “self releases and low key café gigs involving tea, biscuits and music,” as he puts it.

The last track to mention is the title track that opens the EP. At just over a minute it is an editor’s dream, delivering perfect indie-pop with no extra baggage and a similar decade spanning feel of Papernut Cambridge’s album There’s No Underground, one of 2014’s best releases.  But while this short track  about spontaneous love is a lovely slice of indiepop it is the Luke Smith cover that shines brightest as we eagerly await more clever musical bonkerness from Halcrow next year.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Gare du Nord’s Arrivée/Départ – Mel Mayr, John Howard & Rotifer – Servant Jazz Quarters, London (Nov 26, 2014)

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Gare du Nord’s Arrivée/Départ – Mel Mayr, John Howard & Rotifer – Servant Jazz Quarters, London (Nov 26, 2014)

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Patricia Turk

It wasn’t quite a trip on the Eurostar, and I didn’t need my passport, but at Arrivée/Départ, the festival organised by Gare du Nord records at Dalston’s Servant Jazz Quarters last week, I did feel as if I was taken on a musical European journey of sorts.

From Spain to the UK via Austria – it was a whistlestop tour that managed to gather a group of talent together for two nights of music in the lovely east London venue.

Having been at the previous year’s event of the same name, it really was as though I had made part-way of the journey with the fledgling label that’s not so that’s not-so-fledgling anymore, and it was wonderful to be back beneath Bradbury Street to be a part of le premier anniversaire.

Mel Mayr

Mel Mayr

Founded by Robert Rotifer (of Rotifer), Ian Button (Death in Vegas) and singer/songwriter Ralegh Long, Gare du Nord first hosted the event last November in an effort to showcase its mix of emerging and established talent.

Speaking to Long before the gig, he said the label had been going from strength to strength, which, looking at the back of the label’s sampler CD, is quite clear and lists the likes of Papernut Cambridge, Thirty Pounds of Bone and Alex Highton, among an ever-growing and diverse cache of musicians.

This diversity was on full display on Wednesday night, the second of the two-night event, which got underway without fanfare or indeed introduction when Salzburg singer Mel Mayr took the stage to open the night. Performing her first ever live UK show, she started with some sombre solo songs that had something of the Sharon van Etten about them – raw, stripped back, emotional. But things took an altogether more optimistic turn when she was joined onstage by Robert Rotifer, Ian Button and other fellow Austrians/guitar shop owners, and we were treated to lush, melodic pop songs instead.

John Howard

John Howard

Up next,was John Howard. Last year I was blown away by his easy charm, effortlessly lifting voice and exquisite piano playing – and a year on, nothing was diminished for me and I found myself once again smiling from ear to ear while he played joyfully from his extensive back catalogue.

Howard’s story is one Neon Filler has documented extensively over the past few years – from his signing with CBS and subsequent ‘next-big-thing’ status in the 1970s, to relative obscurity, and finally, rediscovery in the 2000s. He played songs spanning the breadth of his career, including his debut single Goodbye Suzie, another of his 1970s tracks Family Man as well as Believe me Richard – from 2013’s Storey’s and still his most downloaded song to-date. Paul Weller’s  bassist Andy Lewis joined Howard on the cello for a beautiful rendition of Missing Key.

Full band back-up came from Button, Rotifer and Lewis, and Howard revealed that the foursome were, the very next day, retreating to Ramsgate to begin recording a new album. It’s a collaboration that has been in the pipeline for a while, beyond English borders, with music and lyrics being sent back and forth across the seas from Spain, where Howard is now based.

He treated us to two encores – Deadly Nightshade and then an incredibly moving rendition of Star Through My Window. Suffice to say, I am a fan.

Rotifer

Rotifer

With only minutes left before curfew, Canterbury-based-but-Vienna-born Robert Rotifer took the stage solo and played on his jangly, mod-ish own while his AWOL bass player was hunted down from wherever he had left his white wine. But pushing it past 11pm, they played from last year’s release The Calvary Never Showed Up, including Optimist out on the Open Sea, and the sentimental Canvey Island songs, about the young Rotifer’s unusual childhood stay with a family on the Essex seaside retreat, far from the bright lights of London he craved.

When writing about last year’s event, I went on about there being a great sense of musicians helping each other and supporting each other, and I think that Gare du Nord achieved that again this year. Collaboration seems to be at the centre of what Rotifer, Button and Long are trying to achieve with Gare du Nord and it’s wonderful to see it doing so well. I’ll be looking forward to hearing the results of the Ramsgate sessions immensely and am already looking forward to Arrivée/Départ 2015.

Words and pictures by Patricia Turk

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Morrissey – 02 Arena, London (November 3, 2014)

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Morrissey – 02 Arena, London (November 3, 2014)

Posted on 02 December 2014 by John Haylock

The ego has landed…..to be precise he’s landed south of the River Thames, in the Blade Runner-esque environs of the 02 Arena.

Of all the self obsessed vegetarian Penguin classic authors who used to be in a dead famous band called The Smiths , Morrissey is the greatest (in his own mind at least ). We are here to pay homage, and it being ‘that there London’ the homage is a bit on the expensive side, but the disciples don’t care, God is in the house.

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First though, Domino records big white crossover hope, Anna Calvi is not at first glance the ideal person who would come  to mind as a suitable support act for Morrissey. She’s overtly ‘rock chick’ and her guitar playing, of which there is a LOT does not take prisoners. Her lyrics unfortunately drown and scream for air under the combined weight of frenetic and relentless guitar solos, whatever deep meaningful shit she’s singing about it is unfortunately lost in the histrionics. But despite the bombast she did go down well with a devout fanbase in attendance who lapped up tracks from her current album One Breath.

Before the appearance of the man himself we are treated to a brilliant Moz curated montage of images and footage of variously, The Ramones, Brian Eno, Charles Aznavour, Nico, live archive footage of much loved punkers Penetration from 1978 doing ‘Don’t Dictate’, The New York Dolls ripping up German TV  with ‘Lookin for a kiss’, plus some poetry,  snippets of black and white interview clips  and an ecstatically received ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ accompanied by footage of Thatcher’s funeral. The presumably ex miner on acid two rows in front started clapping and singing along like he was at a Lady Gaga gig. Fantastic.

Lights down, no messing, enter stage left one band plus Moz, dressed all in white like a middle aged angel looking a bit like Stan Laurel. The band do an incongruous group hug, he then walks to the front of the stage and says so honestly it would make grown men cry  ‘I am so privileged.’ In the light of recent guarded hints and ambiguous statements about his health this tearful honesty runs like a river through this gig, lyrics take on new found significance and the gig is one of those rare occasions where a musical event is lifted into a realm that is so much more than mere pop music. Elements of mortality and love and a deeper connection to each other and to our planet spin around your brain. You’ll dance but you’ll probably be thinking about death. He is the king of hilarity and venom, which to those here is a truly great thing.

The music starts with an enormous image of a photoshopped Queen Elizabeth II projected onto the backscreen, she’s giving you the middle finger, then there’s some photos of the vile  Kate and Wills, and out comes a familiar scream  of feedback as the band tear into an absolute scorchio! version of ‘The Queen is Dead’. There’s a collective gasp of recognition and elation sweeping around the venue as madness ensues. This breathtaking opener set the bar high and was only bettered by a delerious version of ‘Suedehead’.

He disses the label who put out the current album World Peace is None of Your Business, who, according to Mozzer, fucked him over. Three of the band also sport ‘fuck Harvest Records’ T-shirts, to hammer home the point. Despite this he’s clearly proud of the album and tonight plays virtually its entirety, veering from delightful jaunty pop fluff of ‘Kiss me Alot’ to the intensity of ‘Smiler with a knife’ and especially ‘I’m Not a Man’, which really comes alive with its repeated denouncements of stereotypical male bravado bullshite.

His version of ‘Meat is Murder’ is just staggering, starting with an angry tirade over the current contaminated supermarket chicken fiasco, he goes on to state that ‘people might die ha ha ha!’ There follows some very harrowing footage of the wholesale slaughter of animals for the food trade, whilst the music builds to a climax amidst a vivid red strobe lightshow and a rockingly intense coda. I’m going veggie after that!

That previously mentioned thread of mortality and loss is never more evident than on the penultimate number ‘Asleep’ the B side of ‘The Boy With the Thorn in his Side’ from 1987. The huge venue falls silent and we try decipher the clues (at this point, go listen) it’s not difficult.

By the end a stunned crowd is floored, shredded and torn asunder, this is ART baby and don’t you forget it. Finally, he brings the evening to a close with a flourish, he reprises one of his greatest singles Everyday is like Sunday, a most fitting ending to a stupendous gig.

by John Haylock

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