Archive | May, 2018

Superchunk – London ULU (29th May 2018)

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Superchunk – London ULU (29th May 2018)

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Dorian

Back in 1992 I sat in a friends bedroom listening to his vinyl copy of Superchunk’s second album No Pocky For Kitty and being blown away by how they mixed punk and fuzz and melody. Jump forward 26 years and I’m standing in a packed ULU with the same friend thinking the same thing about Superchunk live.

Superchunk

The same(ish) band (drummer Jon Wurster joined in 1993 and bassist Laura Ballance is replaced for live duties by Jason Narducy) certainly don’t act their age on stage. From the outset, an excellent ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ from the new album of the same name, they play at full throttle. No ballads here. Front-man Mac McCaughan in particular bounces like a teenager, more energy than you’d typically expect from a 50 year old record executive.

Superchunk

The set is well chosen, a mix of new songs, requests and fan favourites from across the band’s career. The new songs sound just as good as the old, but there is a particular nostalgic joy when old tracks like ‘Skip Steps 1 and 3’  are belted out.

The band wisely eschew the on-off stage encore routine to maximise playing time and with minimal between song chatter they rattle off a good length set. Not all of my favourites got an airing, ‘Learned To Surf’ and ‘Seed Toss’ would have been on my list, but I can hardly complain when the band have so many firm favourites to choose from.

The closing couplet of an anthemic ‘Slack Motherfucker’ and a pedal-to-the-metal ‘Hyper Enough’ round things off perfectly. The crowd (complete with crowd surfers) clearly loved every minute and I’ll be back down the front if the band make it to this side of the Atlantic again.

Words and pictures Dorian Rogers

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Echo and the Bunnymen – Birmingham Symphony Hall (May 26, 2018)

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Echo and the Bunnymen – Birmingham Symphony Hall (May 26, 2018)

Posted on 29 May 2018 by John Haylock

Echo and the Bunnymen are responsible for one of the greatest albums to come out of the UK post punk scene and equal to anything The Smiths, The Cure or Joy Division ever recorded.

The band’s second album Heaven Up Here remains a grandiose musical statement, a remarkably ambitious confection of envelope pushing songs that to this day remains a great big wonky wok of creativity, drugs and bravado.

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Ian McCulloch and strings.

The big hits came late on Ocean Rain, Echo and the Bunnymen‘s next album which gave them singles and fame but it is Heaven Up Here that reserves them a special place in our hearts. With this in mind we popped over to Birmingham to see if this legendary act are still any good.

Thanks to Liverpool getting through to the final of the European Championships this gig nearly didn’t happen. As soon as lead singer Ian McCulloch spotted the date clash he promptly cancelled the band’s appearance. There followed a rather large fan backlash on social media, which duly prompted him to stop being an arse and get his priorities right.

Indeed his first words as he strode onto the stage was a mumbled “sorry about all the shite”. What’s this? A humble and seemingly contrite McCulloch? Wonders will never cease.

For a frontman who is famed for his petulance and vaulting arrogance this is a first. Also plain to see is a man who is clearly enjoying himself, despite the fact that his beloved Reds side were losing one nil at half time.

We thought he would be slightly aggrieved and in one of his moods at this dramatic turn of events for the Reds. Far from it. Perhaps the road crew had told him Liverpool were four up within 15 minutes to keep him placated. Whatever the reason, it was good to see him looking (relatively) healthy and, for a veteran performer, sounding rather good too.

Birmingham Symphony Hall is an amazing building, large, spacious and with wonderful acoustics. Its size was needed for this sold out gig, no mean feat for a band who haven’t troubled the singles chart for nigh on 30 years.

Whilst not quite the orchestra as advertised, the band were supplemented by a string quartet comprising three violinists and a cellist, which added a welcome extra dimension to the songs.

Together with his trusty sidekick guitar hero Will Sergeant, a propulsive drummer, an unremarkable rhythm guitarist and a bassist who at first sight I mistook for Tony the mechanic from my local garage, they tore into a cracking set.

Opening with a storming triumvirate of Rescue, Villiers Terrace and All that Jazz, this was a good start of oldies but goldies, which saw McCulloch dropping in lyrics from various  eras. I heard Bowie’s Jean Genie, On the Road Again by Canned Heat and Roadhouse Blues by The Doors – it was just like the old days but with more wrinkles.

The fiery tempo abated as we entered calmer waters. Nothing Lasts Forever was rendered perfectly, the quartet supplying added poignancy.

All My Colours Tonight performed stripped back, no drums as per usual, just guitar and vocals. Surprisingly it still works.

Bedbugs and Ballyhoo instigated the arrival of swaying women of a certain age, who know a good psychedelic singalong when they hear one. They love Ian and try to prove it with some middle aged gyratory action and pointing at him whilst singing Lips like Sugar, which looked more scary than sexy.

From that point on madness ensued. Two Japanese women behind me burst into tears as Bring on the Dancing Horses galloped across our ears.

And as for Seven Seas, it is such an iconic Echo and the Bunnymen tune it can do no wrong. With its not very ambivalent sex lyrics and cracking tune, the audience is theirs.

The Cutter keeps up the pace, then it’s all over apart from probably everyone’s favourite song Killing Moon, performed almost solo. Backed by just a debonair gent on piano, Ian valiantly muddles through. It’s a tough one for him though, as this track does expose his inevitable age related vocal wear and tear, but we forgive him especially as they reprise Never Stop as the very final number – a rocker in all but name. Then, ironically, they stop.

Minus one point for not doing Over the Wall.

Enation

Enation

Support for Echo and the Bunnymen tonight came from Nashville trio Enation. But don’t go screaming “yee-haw” at their gigs – these gents are more like a cross between Sigur Ros, U2 and with a bit of Nirvana in the mix.

Some jolly good rock action ensued – very intense and persuasive. Three numbers in they had sound problems, something feeding back, prompting mild panic among the sound guys. It took them quite a while to sort it, but to the band’s credit they soldiered on and were thanked for it by an appreciative audience.

Most of the tracks tonight were off their 2017 album Anthems for the Apocalypse.

Certainly not the end of the world for these chaps.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.

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Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

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Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

Posted on 24 May 2018 by Joe

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best.

This ninth album from group features some of the strongest personal song writing from leader Will Sheff, something which made other career high points like The Stage Names (2008) so effective.

The band’s 1980s influences, as used so well on The Silver Gymnasium (2013), are also deployed perfectly here once again.

And it feels like a band, rather than just Sheff and some others. That’s because he used the same close knit group that were with him two years ago on tour to promote their Away album.

“It was my favorite touring experience in many years… I felt like a kid again. I realized how phenomenally lucky I am that I’ve been able to play music for this long,” says Sheff.

OkkervilRainbow

The results are uplifting and even spiritual in places, which is perhaps no surprise as Sheff’s recent visits to Quaker meetings are clearly a huge influence on his life currently.

Opener Famous Tracheotomies is superb. Here Sheff recalls the time of his own windpipe incision as well recounting the variety of celebrities to have also had this procedure.

It’s a track Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle would have been proud of. There’s something so bizarrely life affirming about hearing about the medical records of the likes of Ray Davies, Gary Coleman and Motown star Mary Wells put to a laid back 80s pop funk soundtrack.

There’s some great melodies here too. The Dream the Light is superb enough with its gospel choir and cheesy synths, but is elevated further by its strong chorus.

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I had to check that Love Somebody wasn’t a cover of an 80s chart ballad. It sounds so familiar, like I’ve been listening to this on radio for years. Turns out that its definitely Okkervil River, written by Sheff, bassist Benjamin Lazaar Davis and guitarist Will Graefe.

It’s not all 80s FM pop though.

Don’t Move Back to LA with its acoustic guitar picking is a timeless addition to the Okkervil River collection. Just beautiful.

The list of fine tracks goes on across an album of all killer, no filler and one I’d recommend to any Okkervil newbie as a great place to start. That’s not something you can often say about an act that has been around for 20 years.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

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Tallinn Music Week 2018 Review

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Tallinn Music Week 2018 Review

Posted on 21 May 2018 by Joe

Neon Filler could not resist returning to the Baltics this year for our second consecutive Tallinn Music Week. We unearthed some real musical gems last April so we didn’t hesitate when organisers invited us back for 2018. This year things were bigger and better with TMW celebrating it’s tenth birthday, with a whopping 262 artists hailing from 31 different countries.

Here’s a roundup of the standout acts we saw…

Lexsoul Dancemachine

Lexsoul Dancemachine are fast becoming a party highlight of Tallinn Music Week with their contagious funk capable of forcing dance moves from even the most stubbornly reluctant of Estonia observers.

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Playing this year as Saturday night headliners in one of Tallinn’s more salubrious venues, Erinevate Tubade Klubi (fitted out to look and feel like an authentic 1970’s Brooklyn Discoteque), they put in a sensational performance of raw smoking hot funk. If you need a second invitation to check them out look up the track ‘Beef Grinder’ on YouTube for a sample flavour of Estonian Funk at it’s finest.

Högni

In his native Iceland Högni Egilsson is one of the most respected singers and songwriters, having been a member of both GusGus and Hjaltalín.

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At TMW he showcased his solo work. Songs such as the hauntingly beautifil Paradísarmissir took us and the rest of the mesmerised audience on a journey of serenity and moving contemplation.

Põhja Konn

Põhja Konn (translated directly from Estonian means Northern Frog) can be described as many things; but to listen to their eponymous album you’d think old school prog rock. Witnessing and listening live at a festival like Tallinn Music Week  is an altogether different experience – one that gives real insight into their masterful understanding of all things jazz, classical, rock, funk and pop.

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There’s few live acts we’ve seen at places like Glastonbury, Green Man etc on the biggest stages, that can enchant an audience as much as Põhja Konn. We’d hazard a guess that if lyrically they would turn their backs on their loyal Estonian heritage, and write some material for a wider audience, they’d be filling festival stages across Europe and beyond.

Other highlights included…

Cari Cari

Cari Cari want to have their music featured in a Quentin Tarantino movie. So says their charismatic guitarist Alexander Kock. We managed to catch them perform twice at Tallinn Music Week this year and on both occasions it seemed a pity that the legendary American movie Director was not there to take heed.

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A two-piece act from Austria, the male / female duo played two very different sets albeit with the same set list. The first, a juxtapositioned short gig set in a shopping mall storefront, was a grungey, tribal, foot-stomping affair accompanied by Jew’s Harp and a Didgeridoo. The second was a evening slot in Tallinn Old Town, at a venue more appropriate for their whiskey soaked, bluesy anthems. Comparisons with The White Stripes, The XX and The Kills are inevitable. If they continue on their current upward trajectory it would seem a soundtrack berth on the next Tarantino flick will also become inevitable.

D/troit

Having to follow arguably the most exhilarating act of the weekend Lexsoul Dancemachine, it seemed D/troit had their work cut out. The electricity in the crowd was tangible and people were in the mood to party. D/troit were able to keep the party swinging with their timeless soul style, that brought Saturday night’s live music to a close.

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Once upon a time an obscure Garage band, the Danish group have today found their calling as one of Scandinavia’s finest soul music acts. Craig Charles recently labelled D/troit his favourite new band, playing their music on both his radio 2 and 6 shows. From where we are sitting, D/troit come across as the most under rated and effortlessly cool soul band since The Heavy.

Special Mentions…

Kalàscima

Kalàscima hail from Salento in Italy. In their local dialect their name is a combination of the words for good and evil.

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And, just like the battle between good and evil in all our favourite books and movies, their music is a tussle between the traditional folk of the region and modern electronic sounds. These collide, thankfully harmoniously, into an unforgettable music experience.

Púr Múdd

If you wanted to encapsulate the look and feel of Estonia’s youth today Tallinn Music Week, you would have had need to look no further than Púr Múdd.

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Their modern and almost gritty electronic pop sound echoes a nation at the cutting edge of modern technology (Estonia refers to itself as e-Estonia), and a determined start up culture that sees its youth striding towards a bright future.

Trad Attack!

If someone were to say to you “We are going to see an Estonian folk band, there will be bagpipes, a jewish harp and such like” you have an immediate expectation. A nice pleasant sound, perhaps traditional costumes and dancing, lovely!!

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What you get is folk that slaps you across the face with its vibrancy and currentness. It’s no wonder that Trad Attack! are playing at festivals around the world.

The Toasters

Ska pioneers The Toasters are a well-known act to many. The seasoned performers first came together in 1981, and despite performing over 6000 shows in their career, it was their very first time in Estonia.

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Luckily, the Tallinn Music Week crowd weren’t disappointed by the wait and thoroughly enjoyed the feast of musical enthusiasm that was served up.

Words by Marc Argent and Mark Taylor.

Pictures by Marc Argent and Tallinn Music Week.

For more information about Tallinn Music Week visit their website here.

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Tigercats – Pig City

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Tigercats – Pig City

Posted on 18 May 2018 by Joe

Tigercats are back, bigger, brassier and they’ve brought the party with them.

The London act have moved from their usual taglines of either merely “indie-pop” or the slightly more adventurous “Afro-beat pop” into the far more impressive press release description of being a “Kalimba-led psychedelic pop septet”.

Tigercats

Tigercats

The kalimba, refers to the traditional African thumb piano that has replaced a Fender Jaguar as frontman Duncan Barrett’s musical weapon of choice.

The septet refers to a brass section added to the mix and the psychedelic, well, not sure about that, but why not chuck that in as well?

The results of this heady mix on their third album Pig City are exceptional, taking the band back to the ethos of their stunning debut, of a group of young Londoners against the world, well more specifically bankers and hipsters.

Here the gang is back, albeit one with trumpets and saxophone, and still careering around the capital, and later on the album they even venture into nearby Thanet.

The sound is great, like Still Flyin’ for those familiar with the San Francisco act, with Perfect Fried Chicken the pinnacle of this new direction.

I thought the Go-Team had cornered the upbeat party indie pop market with their remarkable album of earlier this year Semi-circle, but this Tigercats’ track gives the Brighton act a real run for their money.

Planet Thanet, where they pop off to the often maligned North Kent district is another highpoint, with the horn section coming to the fore.

While their previous album Mysteries hinted at this new direction, with Gallon Drink’s Terry Edwards providing saxophone, here the Tigercats are far more ambitious. And while Mysteries impressed on first listen, its been rarely played since, something I cannot say about their debut. It is still on regular rotation, and I suspect Pig City will be too over the coming years.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Steven Adams and the French Drops – Virtue Signals

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Steven Adams and the French Drops – Virtue Signals

Posted on 04 May 2018 by Joe

One of my favourite aspects of former Broken Family Band frontman Steven Adams’ new band is that their keyboardist Michael Wood ignored the turn-ups memo for their photo shoot.

Steven Adams and the French Drops

Steven Adams and the French Drops

Wood’s stand against this middle-aged fashion faux-pas is arguably the only radical departure made by Adams’ new venture, Steven Adams and the French Drops. But that’s no bad thing. If it aint’ broke… and all that.

Here Adams once again produces a collection of pleasant, well crafted songs supplemented with razor sharp witty lyrics, that rally against the injustices of the world, both big and small.

Post-Brexit vote malaise is a key concern here, with opener Bad Apples aimed squarely at the sort of patriotism that drove that surprise vote to leave Europe. Lyrics such as “lashing out” and “poisoning the well” on Wolves add further rage.

Musically, there’s less of the Broken Family Band’s country twang and as with his Singing Adams output this sounds decidedly urban, especially the smart keyboards from turn-ups maverick Wood on Free Will.

But there’s still time for melancholy and romance. Second track Paul is lovely and  as near as this the album gets to that aforementioned Broken Family Band twang. The use of this first name in the title also makes it sound much more personal and will please fans of Adams’ 2005 solo track, St Thomas, which was one of our highlights when we saw Singing Adams in Bristol back in 2012.

Imprinted is another strong love song with lyrics like “I could spend my whole life with you next to me” delivered with welcome sincerity.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

Steven Adams and The French Drops are touring during May. More details here.

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Green Man Festival 2018 Preview

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Green Man Festival 2018 Preview

Posted on 03 May 2018 by John Haylock

We’ve been regular visitors to the Green Man Festival over the years. Nestled in the Brecon Beacons it’s line up is always one of the best in the festival calendar and this time around is no exception.

Among the many highlights are Australian psychedelic rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. After seeing them twice at Glastonbury we can confirm their live shows are not to be missed.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

John Grant, another we have seen live on a number of occasions, is also an essential act to catch, as are Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and Fleet Foxes.

Further down the bill Teenage Fanclub are a welcome addition to any festival line up. We have being watching them at venues across the UK for nearly 30 years and they always delight us.

John Grant

John Grant

New bands also feature strongly, with Atlanta act Omni’s jerky pop and Amber Arcades among our top picks.

Big Jeff is there too DJing! Jeff has been a regular gig-goer in Bristol for the last 15 years and will be drawing on that vast array of experience to delight you. If Jeff’s there you know it’s the best gig in town.

Greenman2

For more information about Green Man, which takes place August 16-19, visit their website here.

by John Haylock

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