Saturday, 20 December 2008


Venue: Northampton Roadmender
Support: Devilish Presley
Reviewer: Dill

Many people will ‘know’ that the first UK Punk album was ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ by The Sex Pistols. However, it isn’t true. That distinction, as well as first UK punk single and first US tour by a punk band from these shores - even first UK punk band to reform! - belongs to The Damned. A fine addition to this in the early 80s, in the opinion of Ned Raggett, was: ‘Vanian's smart crooning and spooky theatricality ended up more or less founding goth rock inadvertently (with nearly all his clones forgetting what he always kept around — an open sense of humor)’ (The Damned at Allmusic). Quite a list of achievements, quite a place in music history, and after 30 years (give or take the odd hiatus, including a short solo career for original guitarist Raymond Burns – the one and only Captain Sensible of course), you would presume quite accomplished. However, none of this actually seems to matter to the protagonists themselves.

This was to be my second Damned gig and Ratty’s sixth, both of us looking forward to it with great anticipation. The group seem pre-disposed to a yearly tour just before Christmas. There is a family atmosphere to the proceedings. Little knots of Goth girls with their corsets just about keeping (most of) everything in will bounce around in certain areas, little knots of weathered old-school punks gather in certain other areas in their tartan and leather, the twain occasionally meeting. Middle aged men crowd the bar and know everybody else in clean jeans and t-shirts. The merchandising stall carries out a brisk trade. It is a curiosity to me to watch these little groups ebb and flow with little bits of animated chatter, pats on the back, large friendly laughs, far more intimate than so many gigs before the show starts. Then 300 or so of the faithful cram into the main hall, and the proceedings begin.

Support was from Devilish Presley. Guitars, Johnny. Bass, Jacqui. Loud, hard, fast, simple. Punk rock DNA. Their last number introduced another feature to punk, encouraging local talent. Up pops Ratty’s friend Mike (Motorbike Mike) to chug out rhythm to his own song as part of the Devilish setlist. I’d love to say instant cult-hero created, stage invasion, etc. but he actually looked scared witless. Set over, another dash to the bar, a chuckle or two, on with the show.

The Damned don’t have many formalities. Walk onto the stage, arrange instruments, click the drumsticks and off. In terms of music, they have loads of great music (this time around they were playing stuff off a new album, which made a great Christmas present for Ratty, and which interested Grahame enough to request a copy when he was round for dinner over the Festivities). Their style is a curious mix of punk and goth-rock, but it’s all held together really well by Dave Vanian. He’s been likened to a crooner, and from a pro’s perspective, would be a good character study for how a singer can hold an audience without histrionics, excessive movement, acting up, just economical theatric movement. If he’s not needed, he’ll vacate the stage, old enough and wise enough to know he doesn’t need to hog the limelight.

In this Sensible is the polar opposite. He will hog anything that is given to him, constantly hamming it up to the audience, keeping the banter going (the audience is very much a part of the show). This time round he saw fit to show his 50 year old backside, Nikki confessed she saw him totally nekkid a few weeks prior. Considering, though, that he’s pretty good on gee-tar, certain allowances can be made (I did have to resist using the statement ‘it’s no biggy’ there), especially when, as a special treat for us, he first gave a rare outing to ‘Happy Talk’, then hoiked a pre-pubescent youngster up onto stage to play guitar for the end of show (remarkably talented little ferret that he was), and by the look of him outside after the gig, about to embark on his own career, starstruck little sod.

However, my favourite band member has to be Monty Oxy Moron. The man just seems doomed. Last time we saw him, he had an elaborate Perspex barrier to protect his beloved keyboards, and set up at back of stage, so he got targeted for the beer chucking within 30 seconds. He spent the next five minutes right at the front of the stage, ranting at some random member of the audience, before the roadies moved in, soothed his furrowed brow, and shepherded him back to his set up, which promptly stopped working. This time, he chose to set up stage right, next to the smoke machine, which then proceeded to belch out fumes straight into his face. Quality. He gestured frantically to the roadies, ticked them off, got the smoke going anywhere but in his face… and then grimaced as his keyboards again went down. Cue again frantic gestures and some toys going out of the pram.

Highlight of the evening for Ratty was a ‘drum-off’ between Captain and Monty for one of their new tracks, and for me the frantic mixing of the sound engineer towards the end of the night. Vanian was obviously under the weather, and though it didn’t affect the overall show, his voice must have been all over the place. I say must have been, chiefly because of the work at the sound-desk. Its always good to see talent at work from close up, whether on or off the stage. The next days show was cancelled soon after the performance.

So were they any good? I suppose the best way I can explain it is as follows. The Damned have been playing for 30 years, and no longer have a recording contract, nor do they get much in the way of press. Very little of their back catalogue can be found in the major outlets. Yet they can still record kickass music (sorry KICK-AAAAASSSSS music) which doesn’t necessarily need to fit into any one particular genre. They’re not bored with it all, not regurgitating old standards, still showing a lust for life. The only thing that keeps them in the public eye is their tours. They’ll pop up all over Europe – I took a long weekend in Prague last year and missed them by a couple of weeks - and they are always well attended, their fanbase is extremely faithful, and new converts (such as myself) are continually being made.

Bring on the 2009 tour….

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Venue: London Astoria
Support: Fabienne Delsol
Dill and Phil W.

Phil, who WERE the support band? Apart from weird French people that is…

Support was provided by French singer Fabienne Delsol who performed a mixture of both covers and original material including new single “I'm Gonna Catch Me A Rat” from her latest album “Between You And Me”. She released her first album in 2004; looking at the track listing it includes a song called “My Love Is Like A Spaceship”! Not sure if she played that one or exactly how the metaphor works but it sounds like a song I'd like to hear!

Wow, that’s almost like a direct from website puff, or you really did like them? For me though, they affected my evening, as I got side-tracked into looking at the band dynamics, and I did that for the Warhols. It really did look odd with Fabienne Delsol – one side lively, having fun, bouncing around; the other side on secondment from Toussaud’s. They could well be termed ‘cute’, or maybe ‘chic’. Archetypal French peeps whatever. Do you think it was cobbled together to support her? Whatever, I think they won me over in the end.

They certainly won ME over in the end but I was far from convinced at the start of their set. As far as band dynamics go, its not too unusual for one performer to look upbeat and lively on stage while another looks like they’re waiting in line at the bank but it was noticeable here; the more the guitarist on Fabienne Delsol's right looked sullen and detached, the more the guitarist on her left seemed to be enjoying himself. But I doubt there was necessarily any pre-conceived plan behind this. Musically the band were certainly stuck in another time - somewhere around 1969 - from sound to dress sense. I'm never sure how I feel about that kind of thing, so purposefully imitating another time, but it worked for them and cute is definitely a good description of the final product both in looks and sound. Actually what stuck with me most after their set was their use of stage lights, which had them permanently bathed in simple, motionless blue and purple lights that shone down from directly above them through a permanent haze of dry ice. It rendered the late sixties vibe complete so that for a moment you could lose yourself in their own indulgence.

The lighting was possibly more to do with what was to come. I guess you’ll agree THAT was fairly elaborate…

Yeah, the Dandy's had themselves backed with banks of multicoloured strip lights; impressive but simple enough not to detract from the band themselves. Complemented with the house lights and the occasional burst of strobe, they drew us into a world of psychedelic starfields and bursting supernovas.

Hummm, maybe you saw a Black Hole as well. I just got occasionally blinded, but I don’t have your design experience to notice much else. I suppose part of the lighting was to somehow keep them in the dark. I don’t think I ever got a full-on, fully-lit sighting of Courtney Taylor, or (licks lips) Zia in the whole proceedings. Even Pete was a little obscure from 5 feet away, but then I suppose that’s his style, surly arse! It did allow Brent to get a sneaky, cheeky sniffsnort of something, however (allegedly). Age, I reckon. It’s hard to grasp the fact that they’ve been making their slightly kooky music for the last 15 years. Even though they were promoting a new album “…Earth to The Dandy Warhols…”, it wasn’t all new songs. You’d almost think they had an impressive back catalogue….

You would, except that over the last 15 years the band has quietly accumulated a VERY impressive back catalogue! I've been a proud fan of The Dandy Warhols since I first discovered them a little late on with their third album “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia”. Psychedelic shoegazing, grunge infested power pop and unlikely with horns! I'm there!! The same week I bought the record, I went back to the store and bought the first two albums, both of which have outstanding moments (“Minnesota” for example), but “Thirteen Tales” has remained my favourite listen. The three song sequence that opens the album has to be one of my all time favourite album openings; sometimes I've just stopped the album after the first three songs and gone back to the start! I saw them live that same year and they were stunning, the lengthy moments of psychedelic jamming making the biggest impression on me. I never really got “Welcome To The Monkey House” but “Odditorium” for me felt like a return to form. I've ordered “Earth To Dandy Warhols” from Amazon, so we'll see if it makes it through the post before Christmas!

Whereas I really dug “Welcome to the Monkey House”, along with the rest. I think it’s because they’re musical minah birds, mimicking styles that they dig. And with “Monkey House”, they dug the 80s, Duran Duran, Simple Minds etc…. Dude, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion if they’d just come on, played their new album to us, and cleared off. Instead they gave us a real treat. How many songs was it?

I think it was probably around 28 or 29 songs in the end. At some point toward the end of the set Zia complained to Courtney they had already played 26 songs, add in the unexpected (but hoped for! – Dill) performance of “The Dandy Warhols' T.V. Theme Song” and the closer “Country Leaver” and the fact you noted on the sound desk 27 songs’ cues and it must be around that number. I'm not even sure if they played an encore, at some point the whole band did leave the stage but for Courtney who treated us to a solo version of “Every Day Should Be a Holiday”. I wondered at the time if that was actually the end of the main set but the rest of the band just couldn't get Courtney off stage! After more than two hours, Courtney had to be practically forced off stage by his band members and the house lights. It was certainly value for money and I couldn't think of many songs I would have liked to hear and didn't! Over two hours they really did plunder material from all six albums including the first song from their first album, the aforementioned “The Dandy Warhols' T.V. Theme Song”, which Zia claimed they hadn't played in fifteen years!'

All but one song of the set was original content – and even “Little Drummer Boy” they had covered way back when. Yes, I remember that they couldn’t drag him off at the end. It was too late for an encore, but what could they have done? By that time, my bladder had pushed me away from front stage, and towards the ‘comfort areas’. The crowd was so dense, there was no way back!! Which brings me back to band dynamics. At front stage (off to the side), the band did seem a bit dysfunctional to me – three separate islands of activity. Zia on her own, Pete on his depressed own, Courtney and Brent having a laugh in the middle. But when I saw them from the back, it was completely different, and they were, actually, so together. And loving it. And loving us. The crowd were bouncing all the way to the back door, and I felt somehow…. ‘Christmas-ey’. Which brings me to this…. If the whole point of a review is to make someone want to see them, wouldn’t it have been far easier just to say ‘They’re brilliant, not to be missed, go see them, now’?

I guess it would be! I mean, they were brilliant, they really shouldn't be missed, and everyone should go see them now! Except the circus has already left town, and looking at their tour schedule, the band should be back in Portland by now to celebrate Christmas with their families. So most of you have missed the show, but what a show it was! More than two hours of sonic marvelling; Zia enthusiastically shaking her tambourine with one hand while working out a bass line on her keyboards with the other, Pete lost in his own world of intergalactic guitar textures and kicking away at a myriad of multicoloured effects pedals. Brent slamming on his drums while Courtney took centre stage, hemmed inside a circle of monitors that had the effect of mounting him on a metaphorical podium. And all the hits just started rolling out: “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth”, “Bohemian Like You”, “We Used To Be Friends”, “Good Morning”, “Godless”, “Boy's Better”, “Minnesota”, of course all of these were released over half a decade ago! Not to say the band haven't released some great music since then, but for now their chart topping days are definitely over and it’s quite possible the band are happy to keep it that way. Famously uncomfortable with their success at the time, and actually, as anyone who's seen “DiG!” can attest, the Dandy Warhols never were the band to save rock n roll. More than a decade after “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth”, the Dandy's are playing epic two hour shows in modest venues; they are the rock n roll legends of their own particular corner of the world, knowing full well even their fans find themselves scratching their heads in confusion the first time they spin any of their recent releases. In the end, you've just gotta feel the vibe man, you've just gotta get into the groove, you've just gotta dig! And if history is anything to go by, The Dandy Warhols will be back next year and everyone should go and see them! Well, you know, if you dig!

……A sort of ‘Yes!’, then, except for the ‘Now!’…

Monday, 1 December 2008

"Sue" : Frazier Chorus

(SONGS FROM UNDER MY BED – Lost Classics Rediscovered)
by MMT.

#1“Sue” : FRAZIER CHORUS (1989)

Not so long after coming up with the concept for this occasional series, and even less long after extricating my knackered copied tape of this album from the maze of tunnels which lies beneath our bed, I had one of those serendipitous moments: despite never having met anyone else that’s heard this album or having heard it mentioned anywhere in the music press or the world since, it’s been re-released this year for no apparent reason! So if you’re stuck for something to buy me for Christmas, details can be found at the bottom of this articlette. Ta.

Brighton’s Frazier Chorus (to me at least) were one of those indie-poppy bands who you might see on The Chart Show once in a blue moon (again, see below) but existed in a pre-Madchester slough in the late Eighties when quirky independent bands rarely if ever got into The Actual Charts and ‘made it’. (Though actually this, their debut album proper, was on Virgin). Their two ‘hits’ from “Sue” - “Typical” and the more memorable “Dream Kitchen” - reached #53 and #57 respectively. They apparently went a bit “indie-dancey” after this for a further two albums, but by then even their brief blip on my radar was over.

But listening to “Sue” again just shy of twenty years on, there’s still been virtually nothing like it since – it’s a smashing collection of lazily melancholic songs about frustration and boredom. I can’t even think of any other similar-sounding bands for comparison – and impressively, it hasn’t even dated much.

The band’s party piece is to forego much of yer usual guitars and bass in favour of flutes, clarinets, percussive instruments, a poppy orchestral/musak production and vocals recorded so intimately it’s like singer Tim Freeman’s sat on an old chair in your room mumbling, half-whispering the lyrics to you like a friend. Quite a miserable, deadpan friend.

Creating a mood that’s perversely evocative despite containing very little, “Sue” exists in a world of “snoozing”, “tea”, “pottering about”, “rain”, and “reading the papers”. Their songs tell pointless stories about going for a dull drive (“and once you've seen one tree... you've seen them all” - “Little Chef”), having a nap in front of Postman Pat (“Forty Winks”), and dying relationships and, er, Shake-N-Vac (“Living Room”). It’s a sad, sleepy album, but one with a genuine sense of menace at times. Standout track “Storm” is both achingly wistful and skin-crawlingly sinister – not an easy balance to work with. And the reverb-laden "Forgetful" is just creepy!

But by cripes it’s bored, too. An album that feels like a Sunday afternoon, watching the clock hands move slowly through the hours. An album that’s run out of things to say to its wife. An album that knows it can’t articulate itself about the things that really matter and so mutters on about kitchens and dust and lumpy couches and carpets. An album that maybe even enjoys this tired feeling of ennui. And surely we can all dig that. Ever decreasing circles. The minutiae of existence. This stuff is so kind to my hands.

So… if you ever see it in a sale or something, check it out. Or if somebody buys it me for Christmas I’ll do you a copy. It’s, y’know. Okay. (yawns)


* - official site with links to buying the re-issued album from the record label.

* – video for “Dream Kitchen” – a bit quiet but worth a watch, not least cos it’s a version straight off The Chart Show! Respec’! Also on YouTube is the video for “Typical” - – with some weird starsign captions from The Chart Show too!

Saturday, 22 November 2008


Venue: University Of London Student Union
Supports: Tabitha Benjamin, Satanic Sluts and Enjoy Destroy
Reviewer: Phil W.

The street outside Leicester Square tube station was heaving with police, riot vans and hundreds of woman chanting and holding up big placards emblazoned with the words END VOLENCE AGAINST WOMAN! My bro Ian and myself had just stepped out of the pub and into a feminist march! It was one of those unfathomable moments when you're not really sure exactly what’s going on but you're faintly glad to be caught up in the situation if only to get the story!

On stage, two slender females in faintly gothic attire stripped down to their leather underwear and started rubbing each other all over. The audience watched in stunned silence as a girl gave a topless lap dance to someone in a pig costume, while the maid in the rabbit mask left us all very confused. This was the Satanic Sluts, the burlesque dance troupe of Georgina Baillie fame. It was one of those unfathomable moments when you're not really sure exactly what’s going on but you're faintly glad to be caught up in the situation if only to get the story!

In the sepia-toned memory there are four of us; Ian, Steve, Anthony and myself. The Roadmender is busy, the gig had sold out several days ago but we had all managed to secure tickets. My Vitriol were poised to make it very big and had an album due out later that year. Seafood provided admirable supports but the headliners performed a breathtaking set. My Vitriol’s music was an impossibly good blend of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth textures, Foo Fighters hooks and meticulously composed instrumentals all held together by Som’s smooth, ethereal vocals. On stage they looked slick and cool in their sharp suits and eyeliner, flanked by banks of blinding strobe lights, lasers and thick smoke. That was 2001.

My Vitriol’s debut album, Finelines, turned out to be nothing short of stunning; their massive ambition realised across sixteen tracks of shoegazing aesthetics, pop rock tunes, startling instrumentals and hook-laden lyrics. I saw the band play several times over the next couple of years; at the Roadmender, at Reading, at Glastonbury. Then in 2002 the band disappeared into hiatus to record a second album and they never came back. They didn’t break up - over the years there were constant murmurs from the studio that the band were recording. Their record label released Between the Lines, sixteen b-side tracks that played like a second album, but in the studio the band were finding it very hard to follow up their huge debut. Finally in 2006 My Vitriol re-emerged to play the London Koko, Ian and I were there, but still there was no new album in sight.

So two years later, Tabitha Benjamin opened the evening with three songs of solid singer/songwriter fair, two of which were played on a ukulele. The Satanic Sluts were, well, confusing. And then Enjoy Destroy warmed up the crowd with some hard rock guitar tones but by now everyone was waiting for Som and company to take the stage.

“This is a new song!” Som cried out to the audience as the guitar inferno of My Vitriol broke into their second song. The band had opened with the hook laden crunch of Losing Touch. Behind the band and the blinding stage lights hung the My Vitriol logo; seven years on, they may be using the same backdrop! Over the next hour or so My Vitriol worked their way through all the classics; Pieces, Ode To The Red Queen, Under the Wheels, Cemented Shoes, Grounded, Infantile, Falling Off The Floor, Vapour Trails, Moodswings, plus a lot of new material. For much of the evening the band appeared to be playing alternatively old songs and new ones and the new material sounded very strong. The band can still draw awesome waves of sound from their instruments, turning distortion into art. Live, they still sounded shockingly unique, creative and impassioned. Indeed, but for the new songs this could have been the same gig Ian and I had seen at the Roadmender in 2001. The band played like visitors from another planet where time moves much slower; barely visible behind the clouds of dry ice and cornea-burning stage lights, sharply dressed and playing with achingly beautiful distortion played several decibels louder than your average jet engine. Finally, inside the hurricane distortion of Alpha Waves, Som announced the last song and the band burst into Always: Your Way. Seven years on, the crowd still went wild, fanatically singing along to every word. When the band returned for an encore they played the extended instrumental Tongue Tied before bursting into the short, sharp rage of COR.

After the rest of the band left the stage, Som stood in front of the audience; smiling, arms outstretched, looking close to tears. Same show, same songs, but absolutely priceless. They may never have followed up their stunning debut, but its shows like this that help explain the weight of expectation on Som’s shoulders. A band this good really does need to record something very special. But if the new songs played tonight are anything to go by, Som and company have nothing to worry about. Seven years on, the My Vitriol wave is still riding high.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


Words by: Phil W.

Amanda Plays A Small Show

Amanda, dressed in nothing but a corset and suspenders, climbs down off the small stage and into the audience. Her arms are smeared with black paint and her ragged hair is slick with sweat. In her right hand she is clutching a battered ukulele. The venue is small, the air thick with the sweat of 350 fans crammed into a tight, dark hole. It’s intimate and personal, the sweaty figure of Amanda in underwear squeezing through the audience and climbing onto the small concession table at the back of the room. Unamplified and off key, she begins to sing a cover of Radiohead’s Creep.

She sat behind her piano, Amanda in corset and paint, and gently played Hallelujah, the standard from Leonard Cohen. She gradually built up the tension, emotion tearing each verse. Appeared at the back, a girl dressed in black, wide eyed and barely nineteen. She was all long dark hair and waif like features, eyes open wide and alive. She was guided to the side of Amanda, told to sit on a stool by her feet;

“She broke your throne and she cut your hair….”

A man in black appeared behind the girl and proceeded to cut away long strands of her dark hair. Walking to the edge of the stage, he passed her locks out to members of the audience.

A backing track plays as Amanda Palmer steps out on stage for the first time. In her hands she clutches a set of hastily written cardboard signs, their words smeared down in thick black paint; Hello, I Made, A Record, This Is, Not, It, This, Is, Ben Folds, He, Helped Me, Make, My Record, I, Love Him, And, I, Love, You.

After the show I spy Amanda in the bar. She’s drifting absently between her fans, saying hi and signing autographs. I’ve nothing for her to sign. She offers me a lock of hair which I’m not sure I want; “but it’s so romantic!” she replies seductively. I tell her I really dug the show and she seems pleased. She puts her arm around me and strokes my chest. “Thank you” she says, her vivid eyes like glistening pools that dive deep into her soul.

Amanda Makes A Music Video

The lights are big and round and white and we are told repeatedly not to look at the camera once the film is rolling. There is a hushed atmosphere of excited anticipation coursing through the theatre. It’s our turn now, the cameras now fall on us. The director has been pacing back and forth around the upper tier of the theatre all morning, her expression focused. When she talks, she doesn’t need a microphone; “Ok, so what I want you guys to all do is all just act like screaming Amanda Palmer fans, just all go crazy, then the football fans are gonna come down here shouting “Leeds United”, then you’ll all be cheering together, then I want you guys to love each other, hugging, kissing, whatever, and then I want you all to start killing each other, really going for it, but comedy killing, its all got to be very over the top, people watching the video have got to know it’s a joke otherwise it won’t work…..”

The stalls are cleared and the tables are set. Inside the frosted glass illusion, this might be drinks in a prohibition era speakeasy. But beyond the illusion, huge omnipresent cameras wheel across the theatre on rails. On stage there is a huge, glowing sign; large round bulbs spell out AMANDA. In front of the sign is Amanda herself, casually dressed and loosely going through her dance moves and miming to Leeds United. It doesn’t really seem too important what she does though, she’s Amanda Palmer. It is the backing dancers which flank her either side that are getting the grilling from the dance director and who practice over and over again long after Amanda has disappeared into makeup.

Outside the venue it started to rain. Amanda’s personal assistant had a camcorder and she filmed me singing a few lines from the forthcoming single Leeds United. While most of the extras had already gone, it had become increasingly clear it would take more work to move on some of us. We had got out of bed at 5am that Sunday morning and some of us had travelled long distances to be at the video shoot. Amanda’s personal assistant took us all for coffee and filmed us singing Leeds United in a shopping mall.

Amanda Plays A Bigger Show

There is something strangely fitting about watching the show from high up in the gods of the Koko Theatre. Maybe it is something to do with the theatrical nature of her performances; the burlesque cabaret of miming and street performers, unlikely musicians, the dancers and the costumes which accompany her live show. Her music effortlessly combines Weimar era cabaret with punk and rock n roll. Her music sounds simultaneously post-modern and classical, ‘Brechtian punk cabaret’ as she self-described her music as one half of Boston-based alternative legends Dresden Dolls. Maybe it’s all those photos of bombed out theatres on the inside of the Yes, Virginia artwork, the Dresden Dolls’ second album, but it is fitting to see Amanda perform in a theatre, and watch her from a place where the existence of the theatre around you is so constantly apparent.

These are unfortunate times and when a dark cloud descends over a loved one there is often little one can do to help. It was left to Mr. Gaiman to break the sad news; from his place on the stage he reported the recent death of Amanda Palmer. Miss Palmer’s corpse, shrouded beneath a flowing white gown, was carried on stage by members of her performance troupe; freaks who perhaps would have found work nowhere else but in her travelling circus. Their heads were dipped, their queen had fallen. They placed her body behind the piano, where in life she had no doubt felt most at home…

…Amanda launches into the epic assault of Astronaut. Over the next hour and a half she ploughs through most of the songs on her new album Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and plunders songs from both Dresden Dolls records. Stand out highlights included a run through of Bad Habit and I Google You, a song co-written by Neil Gaiman. A horn section backs her for Leeds United; Guitar Hero erupts into a line dancing extravaganza with Amanda hopping around the stage in a plaster cast, having previously injured her foot. During an emotional performance of Strength Through Music, a song inspired by the Columbine Massacre, mime artists from her dance troop join her on stage dressed in school uniforms.

Seeing Amanda and co-conspirators dancing and miming to a backing track of Rihanna’s Umbrella, complete with real life umbrellas seemed unlikely but it happened - as did a cover of Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer. But Amanda pulled it off with style, skill and humour, her singing barely on key, her voice powerful and emotion driven, her piano playing confident and heartfelt. The show was wonderfully burlesque and just a little tongue-in-cheek. If there’s one message Amanda wanted to leave us with tonight, it seems to be that she’s no pop star. Record labels apparently made that mistake and she’s still sore about it, turning vitriol into mockery. But underneath what really drives Amanda is her songs; creative and intelligent, energetic and heartbroken, honest and theatrical, humorous but serious, and constantly twisting, refusing to be pigeonholed. Beneath the fiction there is truth, behind the comedy there is honesty. Amanda isn’t afraid to put her heart before her head, to die for her art if that art is pure. Combine that with her larger-than-life stage persona and a gig that that’s just as much a fringe theatre production and you’ve got something truly special. For now though, I still can’t stop playing her records….

Based on events occurring at the ICA London – 21st August, the Coronet Theatre – 31st August and the London Koko – 10th October 2008.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Venue: The Stables, Wavendon, MK.
Reviewer: MMT

Last Friday my Dad’s band played a retirement party in the meeting room at the end of their Department’s corridor. They’ve been going a good twenty, twenty five years, and as OU Party Bands go, they’re pretty damn good - for a bunch of Dads with guitars. ;-) It was a few songs before Southside Johnny warmed up enough to show that his own well-travelled act was anything more than just a bigger bunch of Dads with guitars and horns.

I will hold my hands up (as ever!) and state outright that I had never even heard of Southside Johnny - let alone his band the Asbury Jukes – before Dad invited me and Chris along to The Stables. But I always enjoy going along with him to these Dad Band Occasions, and this one was an eye-opener! I’ve never seen The Stables so packed, and an audience so enthusiastic, almost bordering on hysterical in places! And I’ve seen some pretty good bands there!

So – Southside Johnny is a singer from Noo Joisey who usually plays with a band which features a brass/horn section (delete as appropriate, I dunno the exact terminology!) – trumpet, trombone, sax and a much bigger sax which my Dad thinks was a bass sax. He’s been going a long time (he’s three weeks older than Dad) and his Wikipedia entry links him heavily with “the Jersey Shore sound” out of which also came Bruce Springsteen. Guitarist Bobby Bandiera also currently plays live with New Jersey’s most famous sons, Bon Jovi.

That’s the history, but judging them just on the performance was easy. It wasn’t really my sort of music – mostly good-time party rhythm n’ blues with occasional tinges of soul – but I’ve learnt on these occasions to sit back and enjoy the displays of musicianship on offer. I know it sounds a bit wanky, but the sheer craftsmanship of the band was breathtaking, one of the tightest acts I’ve ever seen live – even though Johnny kept muttering that they weren’t playing very well. Apparently their keyboard player had been denied a work permit on entry to the UK and was subsequently missing from their sound. “Tricky for us, he starts most of the songs”, drawled Johnny. Nightmare!

It was four or five tracks before this experienced frontman warmed up enough to start wisecracking, but once he did it was clear he’s been doing this a long time. The banter with the audience and the band was effortless, although his griping at the sound guys re: monitor levels is something I never like to see.

Their most recent album, perhaps unsurprisingly for 2008 (see also Scarlett Johansson) is an album of Tom Waits covers, and actually some of the songs they’ve done in their own R n’ B Big Band format work well. Me and Chris started watching the backline of the four-strong horn section to try and work out their characters. The long-haired trombonist had a permanent smile on his face, while the lead sax dude kept coming front and centre to do solos with a weird crouching stance that gave the slight impression he was blowing the notes out of his arse.

The main axis of the eight-piece band though was the partnership between Bobby Bandiera (who did a couple of politely feedbacky solos that I think even Phil might have liked!) and Johnny himself. As the night wore towards a close, they were taking requests from the crowd and playing them flawlessly, laughing and joking – even playing a heartbreakingly poignant impromptu version of “Silent Night” that perversely may have been my favourite song of the night.

The crowd were on their middle-aged feet and dancing enthusiastically by the encore. I glanced around and saw that there were younger people too, dotted here and there. Up on the balcony, three girls were dancing like the girls out of The Commitments. Where does the Dad Band line begin and end these days, I wonder? Something worth pondering. Anyway, a good night of funtime rock. Maybe one day I’ll have a horn section too.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Venue & Support: Various throughout the Summer of 2008
Reviewer: Dill

Despite Phil confidently predicting on a sunny Saturday morning that it was the first day of summer, my chronometer (with the handy calendar function) told me we were well into September already, and that, wishful thinking and global warming aside, Summer was now Over. A good summer, all told, as I took to behaving like an uncommitted student with a line of credit and generally did Grand and Noble things (at least in my eyes, especially after four or five large quaffs of the regular, please, landlord). However, the highlight of the Summer of 2008 has been without a doubt having the privilege and pleasure of following The Further Adventures of Vodka Boy on their travels around Milton Keynes. They’ve been creating a bit of a stir...

In simple terms Vodka Boy are, as they tell us in their eponymous, autobiographical track, Martin on guitar and Matthew on voice, and simplicity is certainly part of the duo’s charm. Each a composer of particular parts of their oeuvre, they seem to resonate best when pared down tunes match thoughtful, mainly wistful but oddly hopeful lyrics, with the odd finger click. While the chords are sparse and clean, the singing is powerful and pure. The diction is so good there is absolutely no need for lyric sheets, while each strum of Martin’s guitar is delivered with Swiss timing. It’s catchy. First time listeners have been known to sing along to choruses at the first repeat.

But it isn’t all simplicity. There really is something about these guys, something that captivates. Martin broods into his guitar, and amazingly keeps himself to himself on the stage. It seems to leave Matthew with sole possession of the stage, onto which he graciously invites all to partake of the experience. The man has chutzpah, huevas, balls. Listen to him singing ‘Blonde Girl on a Summer’s Day’, or Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’ and you get a sense of the fun that these two have together – it leaks out toward the audience. Matthew has a stage presence that seems to amplify ‘Essence of Band’ by a factor of 10. Used as headliners, they wrap up an evening so comprehensively, you know they were meant to be, were born to be, the headliners of that particular show. On their ‘Back To The Land Tour’ this summer (the resultant ‘Live’ CD is due for release at sometime in the near future), they’ve played without support, in fields, in woods, in corners of poetry stages, but always Convincingly. Festival season in Milton Keynes was continually augmented by their presence. Their music was mixed up with a few catchy covers, and a new track ‘Thistledown’ getting it’s first airing. But throughout, the delivery was a matter of professional consistency. This is Milton Keynes ‘Premier Acoustic Duo’. But they already know this. They’ve added in the lyric to their story track.

But the highlight for me was as a warm up act at a vast July evening party where the drinking and socialising had not yet begun. Everyone was in their own little groups, minding their own business, and wondering what the night was going to bring them. Vodka Boy took the stage to murmuring, chatting little groups, uninterested in any entertainment they could not provide themselves. Matthew greeted them to little effect. Martin hit the first chord meaningfully, Matthew hit the sing button and scores of heads snapped round, suddenly, unwillingly, unavoidably hooked. The party was a Great Party.

If there are any criticisms of the band I have to make it’s that Vodka Boy still play locally, unfazed by their burgeoning reputation, just seeming to ‘want to get the music out there’. There are rarely large crowds, but a large crowd would add to the magic. It’s charming, but the talent is obvious and you are left to wonder what the hell they are still doing here. Not that you’ll complain. I’ve yet to see anyone do so who has come across them. They are even starting to get together a ‘Stable’ of acts together and putting ‘Evenings’ on. Not that they need it. You have every opportunity of getting to see them. The Monkey Kettle editor is well apprised of their movements and should be able to tell you of their next appearance. I advise you to see them. They really are that good.

Thursday, 31 July 2008


Venue: The Ratcellar, Phoenix Park, Dublin.
Reviewer: MMT

glitter and doom. “a carny barker”. the rain on the roof of the Rat Cellar.

I must have been about ten when I first heard Tom Waits. Having been raised thus far by my Dad playing mainly Beatles or Buddy Holly records in our presence, I was scared shitless. It was probably something off “Swordfishtrombones” or “Rain Dogs”, neither of which are particularly scary compared to his more recent output, but still – who on earth was this man grinding gravel in this throat like a bluesman who’d been dead for a century and why was my Dad listening to him?

It took me about fifteen years or so to get any further. Occasionally Dad would do a compilation tape and post it to me at university, but I still couldn’t hack that voice – though under it the songs and lyrics seemed interesting enough. But slowly and surely, as my twenties waned and my Nick Cave Obsession showed no signs of going away, I started to Get It. They’re akin, two shadowy sides of a very dark coin. Probably a dark coin chucked down some kind of black well. 2004’s “Real Gone” album swung it for me. That voice was now harnessed to bizarre percussive clankings, wheezing machinery. A way in. I took it.

an aged monkey in a bowler hat. a hobo preacher. hoist dat rag.

Tom Waits has only come to the UK to play live for two short tours in the last twenty-one years. So you can imagine, it’s a hot ticket for the loyal fans. Luckily for me and my brother, our Dad is loyal enough to buy tickets for all three of us! And as he’d been on holiday when Tom last came in 2004, he was desperate to see him this time. Perversely enough, the only ‘local’ gigs on the “Glitter And Doom” tour were in Edinburgh and Dublin – London ignored altogether! – but Dad wasn’t going to let that stop him! So Dublin it was.

Rather than play at an established venue, on the evening of the gig we strolled up through Phoenix Park Dublin to what looked from a distance to be a huge circus tent. In fact, that’s exactly what it was – a 4,500 capacity circus tent called “The Ratcellar” with a huge blow-up of Tom’s face hanging above the entrance like the grizzled old ringmaster he is. Around the perimeter of the tent were the usual burger vans, toilet blocks and beer tents – I will officially state right now that the beer tent was the fastest and most efficient beer tent I have ever been in at a gig or festival. Kudos to the Irish!

a nightclub singer who’s never seen the sun. the human cookie monster. trampled rose.

Tom played for about two and a half hours solid, and even though I started to find my seat uncomfortable before he even started, I didn’t care. I was transfixed. It was genuinely one of the greatest gigs I have ever been to. Playing songs from all across his thirty-plus year career meant that I only recognised about one in five, but that actually made the experience even more mesmerising.

Shadow-boxing and shaking his fists into the dark fervently, the man live is even more a brilliant enigma than on record. Growling, spitting and hollering his way through twenty five tracks he was a sight to behold. A long section near the middle sat at what appeared to be a broken-down old piano (but was clearly in good enough nick!) contained some incredibly touching knackered balladry such as one of my Dad’s faves “Invitation To The Blues” and the achingly fractured “Innocent When You Dream”.

The tearjerking singalong he elicited from us during that last-mentioned was proof that his crowd-skills are as honed as you’d expect after such a long career. Telling us wry anecdotes – his speaking voice clearly the inspiration for Heath Ledger’s Joker – and conducting the congregation in lengthy clap-interactions, the Ratcellar denizens were obviously smitten. As you might expect, them having waited so many years!

croaking, hammering the keys. rusting engines spin their last. stomping in the dust.

But for me it was the Fucked-Up Jazz™ (which James was always trying to get Sebastian Windsor to play Back In The Day, incidentally!) and Filthy Blues which stood out. The semi-industrial chuggings of his backing band provided an expert canvas across which Tom could spray his world-weary poetry. Bleak gospels. “Lie To Me”. “16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six”. “Misery Is The River Of The World”. And “9th And Hennepin” is more akin to a poem over a backdrop of weird jingly noises than a song anyway.

“Make It Rain”, with which he closed his main set (coming back for three more songs after a lengthy pause that made us think perhaps he’d nicked off home!) was immense. It span off into an extended jam and sheets of glitter literally rained down from the ceiling onto the stage. Incongruous. Beautiful.

I’ve seen a few gigs in my time by Great Artists revelling in a long, diverse and impressive back catalogue: Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney. This was up there with them, for definite. Epochryphal.

y’know there ain’t no devil, thass jes god when he’s drunk . lost at the bottom of the world. glitter and doom.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Venue: Victoria Park, London
Support: Bat For Lashes
Reviewer: Phil W

In a vast arena carved into a London park, 40,000 people are congregating to see one of Alternative Rock’s leading stars. Strange and sinister electronica is playing through the PA and there’s nothing on the big screens. Bat for Lashes appear on stage with little of an introduction; they work hard with their astonishing array of musical instruments but somehow never quite pull together a really decent tune. Their best song has a lyrical hook about finding someone dead in a car. The beer keeps flowing; vendor vans dish out burgers at an astonishing £6 a go. The sinister electronica is back on the PA, building up darker and darker atmospherics. Down at the front, drunken fans squeeze and jostle with introverted geeks. I’m suddenly finding it hard to feel at home here, I just don’t feel anything in common with the drunken people around me. The Mighty G and his girl have already pushed deeper into the moshpit, but The French Dude and I have already assessed the situation and decided our staked-out position to the right of the stage is just fine. Looking about me, the event feels like a vast contradiction. Sinister, hookless electronica and dark, multi-instrumental experimenters are interbred with several thousand drunk radio listeners eating overpriced burgers. At a stall on the way in, Radiohead were selling t-shirts made entirely from recycled bottles. Next to the stand, Bat for Lashes were handing out free cardboard masks, 90% of which were immediately discarded by the takers and simply dropped on the floor. As we had gotten nearer the entrance, the ground was covered in discarded masks. At the gate, the security guards threw away perfectly good food and drink, informing us we could buy more inside, while UNICEF posters with pictures of starving children were plastered on steel walls. Now I scanned the horizon for The French Dude’s head... He should be on the way with the beer!

So could Radiohead be the UK’s biggest current band? Are they a modern day Beatles? Radiohead did rise to world-wide popularity with a musical style that appealed to the masses of the time. Much like The Beatles, Radiohead earned their wings in popular ‘rock-n-roll’ before entering a massively experimental phase. 2000’s Kid A saw the band put away their guitars and reduce the bass to three- or four-note riffs while Thom Yorke stripped his lyrics to the bone, leaving only simple statements and abstract concepts. How To Disappear Completely may have spoken of Thom Yorke’s deepest hope, but even when the band’s songs were at their most simple and abstract and swirling in a pool of electronic synths, they were still superb. Radiohead proved, like The Beatles and Pink Floyd before them, that pop music could be intelligent, ground breaking, critically acclaimed and appreciated on many levels. Then like The Beatles, Radiohead almost retired from touring in the traditional sense, making every opportunity to see them a rare and celebrated event. With new album In Rainbows, the band have broken from their record label and released the record on their own label, their very own Apple. And, like The White Album, In Rainbows shows a return to guitars after a lengthy period of experimentation which has been entirely unsuccessful in diminishing the general public’s infatuation with the band. Radiohead fans come from all ages and all walks of life; the band is appreciated by snobbish musos and lager louts alike.

Radiohead came to fame in the early 90’s with their indie-grunge hybrid Creep, a song that appealed to fans of guitar music on both sides of the fence and both sides of the Atlantic and went on to take in everyone else too. Thom Yorke wrote the song while studying for his degree and his band were still called On A Friday. The band actually dismissed the song at the time, feeling it didn’t really represent who they were and lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood actively tried to sabotage the recording in the studio - but his improvised blast of open guitar notes actually ended up making the song just more special. If the band didn’t like the song, producers did and so did a worldwide audience that pushed the song to the top of the record charts in Europe and the US. The band broke America before they’d even stepped off the plane. Radiohead were worldwide stars, barely into their twenties. From there, there was no going back. Creep proved to have the kind of longevity to still have pop and indie fans alike cheering in night clubs a decade later. Their follow-up album The Bends remains a timeless classic that only seems to get better with age. OK Computer went on to win the Mercury Music Prize and Kid A and Amnesiac found a band on the cusp of their creative genius. But after Amnesiac, the band started to lose their way. Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows both have standout tracks, but they’re also both full of material that just isn’t as groundbreaking as their previous material. Radiohead had a stunning run of great records, each one more surprising than the next, so it was actually a surprise when Hail To The Thief contained no surprises!

In Rainbows is an intriguing record. It has some decent enough tunes but it all feels like Radiohead on autopilot. Its simple, subtle guitar tunes and Thom Yorke’s downbeat lyrics all feel like places the band has been to before. Jonny Greenwood has perfected the minimalist approach to guitar that he’s been perfecting since Kid A, but the bare bones he reveals beneath his sparse guitar are nothing new. The album’s songs all drift into one. Where Sonic Youth managed one step forward with each new record, Radiohead made giant leaps between their records, bounding ahead and leaving the rest of the indie crowd far behind. Few artists display such a sense of history in their recordings, each album belonging to a particular phase in both their career and their artistic development. But where Sonic Youth work like fine art students, subtly progressing in their chosen media over literally decades, Radiohead sprinted ahead and now it feels like they’ve found themselves with nowhere to go but to look back at the path they’ve already walked.

Radiohead walk onto the stage. Thom Yorke is sporting a huge grin and all the band members except Jonny Greenwood look in good spirits, waving at the crowd as they pick up their instruments and take their places. Their entry isn’t grand, there is no moving stage and the grins on their faces are contrary to the band’s foreboding reputation. Up high above them, huge steel strip lights clang in the wind. “It’ll be dark soon and then we can turn on the lights,” Yorke says to the crowd. He’s wearing a shabby denim jacket and red drainpipe jeans. The band start to play Reckoner from the new album. It’s an unpretentious start, like a wind-up toy swinging into action. All the parts are in place and the band begin to play. 15 Step follows much the same path and it’s not till single There There gets under way with Jonny and Ed beating on drums that the band really start to pick up a momentum. Much of the first half of the set is dominated by cuts from In Rainbows which, while well performed, just don’t feel like they suit the massive arena. The band seem like they would be more comfortable playing in the corner of a small jazz club, where their stripped-down guitar tunes would probably have been better suited. On the other hand, the massive audience may not have felt the same way as drunk and screaming fans across the audience continued to make their presence known throughout the songs.

A surprise performance of No Surprises midway through the set caught everyone off-guard, then the second half of the set heavily featured material from Kid A. The bass and synths sounded bruised and hard, injecting techno energy into the set. By the time the band walked offstage, they had built up quite a momentum and no one could dispute the great performances of all the songs. Then back for the encore and the band flatten the whole arena when they break into a stunning rendition of The Bends. Suddenly I remembered this was the band I had come to see. And then the hits came rolling out: My Iron Lung, Karma Police and a stunning closer of prog epic Paranoid Android. It was like getting to the bottom of the biscuit barrel and realising all the jammy dodgers had fallen down there. “Thanks for coming,” Thom said to the crowd. “All 40,000 of you!”

It took an age to get home. The tube stations were flooded and police were on every corner trying to control the drunk and weary crowd. At an intersection a female police officer was shouting repeatedly for people to not walk in front of oncoming traffic. Her voice was hoarse, the crowd didn’t care. We lost The Mighty G and his girl in the chaos of the main road as the thick crowd pushed and surged in all directions. At Mile End tube station the queue went on as far as we could see and the crowd was getting ugly. A girl was shouting savagely at a police officer. Ahead of us, people were being dragged into the back of police vans. Assessing the situation, The French Dude and I broke away from the crowds and made our way through a random series of suburban back streets to find a tube station that we wouldn’t have to queue up all night at. At one point, after circumnavigating several alleyways I wondered if we might be lost. “Oh wait,” said The French Dude. Reaching deep into his rucksack, he pulled out an A-Z!

As we sat on the tube train, rumbling somewhere beneath the London streets, there was a moment to reflect on what had been; the crowds, the chaos and the human excess. The vastness, the capitalism, the cheers and the police vans. And the shining moments that gleamed like gold in the centre of it all. Descriptions of the event sound like the lyrics of a Radiohead album. But in the middle of all this excess, Radiohead did perform a decent enough set. It wasn’t amazing, and it wasn’t overly long. For a band that has a formidable reputation for live performances, tonight’s was underwhelming. The material didn’t really suit the massive scale, and leaving all the hits till the end only highlighted the weaknesses of the first half. Radiohead’s performance, like their new album, had managed to seem small and unimposing even in the centre of this wildly excessive setting. It was unpretentious; no crazy sets or costume changes. No drum kit appearing out of a glass rocket, no Thom Yorke rising up on a podium. And the band looked cheery throughout, not trying too hard, just playing some songs for us. They smiled and didn’t say too much. They just came and played their songs. After all these years, perhaps the band would like to be seen as just another guitar band, to have the limelight turned away for just long enough for them to breathe! Perhaps In Rainbows is all about being smaller and more insular, and not progressing as far but taking a moment to enjoy the moment and not worrying if you’re watching history in the making. Maybe it’s just about putting out a decent record and a decent show. So there’ll be no more surprises. You were lucky to have seen them play at all. But everything’s in its right place. And with the new record you won’t get the bends. 2+2 doesn’t always equal 5.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


Venue: Camden Roundhouse, London
Reviewers: Phil W (bold) & MMT (italics)

As we entered the auditorium, a girl standing at the door offered us each a pair of bright yellow ear plugs. I was about to refuse them but Matthew, always a much wiser man than I, accepted a pair and suddenly I felt left out and wanted some too. I reached deep down into the bucket and plucked up one of the little plastic packets. It’s one of those unlikely moments that seems irrelevant at the time but makes so much sense later on. I’d never been offered ear plugs at a gig before and had never really felt I needed them, but looking back now it’s all very clear why we needed them.

Once inside, on either side of the stage stacks of amps and speakers reached high up to the roof of the Roundhouse. There were racks of classic Fender guitars; Jaguars, Jazz Masters, Mustangs - their key is the floating tremolo that effectively gives the player a second bridge. Rows of effects pedals surround the microphone stands, the drum kit has a special mic over the kick drum and in front of the kit sat a white bass guitar fitted with humbucking pickups. Perhaps the band may turn out to be quite loud, I pondered. My Bloody Valentine were always known to play at legendary volumes. I’ll keep the ear plugs close to hand and if it gets too loud I might give them a go…

I never loved My Bloody Valentine at the time. I was aware they were massively critically acclaimed, but somehow I could never quite get with it. To start with, they just scared me when I was fifteen – hearing them on John Peel was like the batteries in my stereo were slowly grinding to a halt, or some gremlin had got into the speakers. But when I was sixteen I bought “Isn’t Anything” on cassette in an Our Price sale, and slowly came to Quite Like it. My favourite tracks were the ones with a bit more tune, like “Soft As Snow” or “No More Sorry”. But by the time they came to be – slightly unfairly – lumped in with the rest of the Shoegazing genre that they accidentally spawned, I preferred the more structured approach of Ride, or the ace coolness with tunes of Curve. A less challenging listen than the “classic” second album “Loveless”, anyway. That’s what I wanted in 1991/2.

But almost two decades later, it’d be a foolish man indeed who’d pass on the chance to accompany Phil to Camden to see the recently-reformed noisy pioneers. And Ma Taylor she no raise no fool.

I never really listened to My Bloody Valentine until I was at university and I started out with Loveless. I’d become fascinated with the euphoric properties of guitar distortion and had become vaguely aware at some point I’d missed an entire movement known as Shoegazing. Sonic Youth had done plenty of experimentation with the guitar sound and I’ll be forever indebted to their influence, but somehow I was after something bigger and louder. Something heavily distorted but also smoother and almost blissful. Within a few spins I’d fallen in love with My Bloody Valentine’s seminal classic. It was never exactly what I was after but it has been a hugely influential album for me. The guitars sounded amazing, the production consistently fascinating. I loved the way the vocals were mixed equally with the guitars, treated no differently in the mix to any other instrument, no longer the lead. If anything, the only real problem I’ve always felt with the record was that it just wasn’t loud enough!! Legend had it that live the band were torturously loud, but they had broken up long before I discovered them and for years the idea of seeing them reform was like a crazy dream that could never be.

While Phil likes to get right in among the crowd, pushed right up against the barrier (and surely dangerously close to the speakers considering who the band were!), I’m more of a peripheral browser. Even before I became the claustrophobia-niggled bundle of nerves I am today that’s where you’d find me at the big gigs. Seeing what I could find on the edges of things. In this case it was a couple who’d brought their own sandwiches from home. I don’t think we’re at a teenage metal gig somehow, dude!

We certainly weren’t! In the thick of things at the front of the crowd, leaning on the barrier, I found myself relatively free of pushing as I mingled with the 30-somethings. On the front row I had a chat with a guy and his girlfriend about The Pixies; it really might have been the early 90s. The crowd was civilised, seasoned, and left you with that niggling concern that many of them didn’t get out much.

“Umm, hello” Kevin Shields said shyly as the band shuffled uneasily onto the stage. They all took up their instruments and for a moment all looked at each other with mild concern. There was a feeling suddenly that now, as the gig was about to start, the band were bewildered with the idea that anyone bothered to even show up at the gig at all. The band looked old, Kevin had gone grey and Belinda looked like someone’s mum. She smiled absently to herself, clutching in her hands a seductive sparkly red Mustang. Then Colm beat his drumsticks together and the band literally exploded. A tidal wave of white noise rippled across the crowd, you could actually feel a breeze coming of the stage. My vision blurred, my ear drums bulged and suddenly it all became very clear and I fumbled in my pockets for those yellow ear plugs the girl gave us both on the way in.

They kicked off with a couple of classics (“I Only Said” and “When You Sleep”) that even I with my lust for “tunes” could hum along with! And there’s no getting around the fact that the sound was immensely impressive! I could literally feel my trousers quaking with the vibrations! Visually too they’d compensated for the fact that MBV have always looked like a gang of scruffy teachers on a night off by having some cool lo-fi indie images projected massive onto the back wall: a camera whizzing through country lanes, colours and shapes, corridors. Interesting stuff.

The band played with stunning clarity and at ear bleeding decibels. It’s like watching a gig from the inside of a jet engine. Their sound is tight and fast, burning through decade-and-a-half old classics with fresh new discovery. One after another they deliver up classics I’d dreamed of hearing live, plucking up material from both albums and their EP’s. When You Sleep, Only Shallow, To Here Knows When, Blow A Wish, Soon. Feed Me Wish Your Kiss sounded like a metallic punk played in a furnace while Sueisfine would certainly have whipped up a moshpit if the audience had been ten years younger. And with each song the volume just got louder, their sound euphoric and rapturous. Asteroids burst, volcanoes erupted, geysers exploded and stars went supernova. My Bloody Valentine created a ruptured world carved with walls of distortion and feedback, of canyons and seabeds and wailing coastlines.

Cripes! :-D

Debbie’s bass rumbled through everything, pushing the instrument’s tone to previously unfound levels; always playing tightly with Colm’s drumming, the pair facing each other, driving the music with near metal fury. Kevin and Belinda’s vocals interweaved as they played their guitars, fingers clutching the tremolo bar as they strummed; tugging the guitar strings like the sea tugs the shore.

Towards the middle of the set though, I was starting to flag a bit. Having few lyrics to catch hold of, and not much to look at other than the pretty colours, my attention began to wander off. But the set-closer, a 25-minute version of “You Made Me Realise”, was enough to capture anyone’s attention right back! It came to a climax with a 20-minute barrage of riffing, feedback and chugging drums which relentlessly battered away at the crowd, building in sonic assault till it was almost unbearable. People were literally running out of the moshpit with their hands over their ears – as if they hadn’t expected it! I went through waves of enjoying it then feeling sick then enjoying it again – but there’s no denying it was an immense sensation.

The ending was immense, something stunning and incomparable. As I leaned on the barrier, earplugs in and fingers over them, the sound was still deafening. Every now and then I eased off the ear plugs just a little and heard nothing but an immense rush of air coming from the stage. As I looked about me, the people on the front row rotated as fans pushed to the front, found it too much to bear and started heading for the door. The moshpit depleted to less than fifty percent of what it had been. As I looked up to the balcony, from both sides people were pealing off and heading for the doors. All the time the band continued to play, faces to the floor, the same note over and over again in a constant barrage of sonic annihilation. On and on - a part of me never wanted it to end, wanted to let my senses continue to be so entirely absorbed with the sonic maelstrom. Then the next minute I wanted it to end, didn’t think I could bear it anymore either. But then I was back again, wanting it to go on forever in its swirling tornado of white noise, sucking up the world it had created and leaving nothing behind but devastation.

The gig ended. People cheered but no-one could hear them, we were all deaf. The few people that had lasted till the end began to politely file out of the room. There was a hushed atmosphere across the entire venue. I saw Matthew, still alive and well at the edge of the stage. He too had survived the war where so many had fallen. “Like being in a war!” he shouted from somewhere far away, “I’ve seen things man….”. We all had. Life wasn’t going to be quite the same now. Indie dinosaurs had briefly returned to the stage to shake us up and show us how it could be or could have been or once was. And we knew not to worry, one day we would hear again and be better for it all.

Monday, 23 June 2008


Venue: Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Support: An Horse
Reviewer: Phil W

Like, the first band were pretty cool, aye! My heart like, totally sank when only a drummer and guitarist/vocalist walked unassumingly onto the stage but once they got going we really didn’t miss a bass player. An Horse were so awesome, I totally bought their EP after the show and the band were there at the desk to thank us for all our support and to sign our CD’s. Their sound was all wild drumming and massive, chunky riffs wrapped around alternative pop tunes which quickly sucked us in. Kate’s Mustang was massively overdriven, pummelling us with huge wedges of sound for her sharp vocals to cut through. Their set was short with little room to breathe inside the whirlwind of guitar except when Kate stopped for five minutes to tell us a story about airline hospitality. “They totally gave me a colouring book and everything!” she said. I remembered being let into the cockpit of a trans-Atlantic jumbo back in 1991 and wondered where those carefree days had gone…..

Tegan and Sara Quin like, totally know where it’s at. The singer-songwriter twin sister duo have been recording their own albums since they were kids, cutting their first two albums in their school’s recording studio in 1997. Living on opposite coasts of their Canadian homeland, the pair record demos of their songs at home, fully assembled with vocals and all the instruments, and then send the tapes to each other. By the time they reach the studio they like, totally know how they want the songs to sound and play most of the instruments themselves on new album The Con. Sara’s songs tend to be meticulously assembled idiosyncrasies while Tegan sticks with punk riffs and big chorus’s and the two styles totally compliment each other. Live, each of the sisters alternate between acoustic and electric guitars and a big red keyboard set just in front of the drum kit, their untrained vocals hitting somewhere on the middle ground between cute and angry, interweaving between each other and the instruments.

The two sisters opened alone with the gentle strum of Like O, Like H. It was like, a totally intimate moment with both sisters standing side by side on the stage strumming acoustic guitars. Then the backing band filed quickly onto the stage and the music exploded with the title track from new album The Con. “I listened in, yes I’m guilty of this you should know that” Tegan cried against a backdrop of swirling acoustic and electric guitars which seem to perfectly compliment each other in much the same way as the twins differing vocal deliveries. The Quins’ tiny pop songs, most of which are dispensed with well under the three minute mark, are consistently ingenious. Are You Ten Years Ago is a whirlwind of dark synth pop, Back In Your Head is a quaint piano driven pop song, Floorplan sounds like alt-folk on overdrive, So Jealous is epic with oozing synths. In between songs the pair chatter and bicker and tell stories; Sara went into great detail about her visit to a chiropractor earlier that day while Tegan dwelled on why she’s still single and questioned if Kate from An Horse was really the band’s best friend. The situation seemed complex, but after some playful banter she devoted the glorious single Nineteen to her; a story of teenage heartbreak wound tightly to a frame of simple punk pop.

Ingenuously diverse pop songs, tight performances, interweaving guitar melodies, and all delivered with unassuming ease, their banter affording an intimacy to the gig few other performers could master. Like, they totally rocked and I dug every minute! After the show I bought a t-shirt with my An Horse EP - Tegan and Sara morphing into trees; Treegan and Sara maybe? Awesome!

Thursday, 19 June 2008


Venue: Brixton Academy, London
Reviewer: Phil W

Outside the doors, in large red letters, a sign informs passers-by the event inside has sold out. It has been for weeks. Inside an Australian dude is performing a solo set on the large stage, just him and his acoustic guitar. At first I write him off as derivative, but by halfway through his set he’s won the crowd over. He sings about convicts and fights and girls and heartbreak, his songs flexing between folk and rock n roll. His penultimate song is tender and delicate without sounding insincere or hollow, while his final number rocks with the aid of an overdrive pedal and punk riffs. In the centre of a break, his guitar howls with hollow feedback. He said his name a number of times but I never managed to catch it so you’ll have to trust me when I say it wasn’t bad at all*!

It’s been a while since Canadian icon Alanis Morissette graced our small island, even longer since she put out a relevant record. In 1995, in collaboration with veteran record producer Glenn Ballard, actress-turned-teen-pop-star Alanis Morissette went alt-rock and cut the biggest selling debut album by a female music artist ever… And according to the Recording Industry Association of America it still is, with upwards of 14 million copies of Jagged Little Pill sold in the US alone! Overnight a fame-shy 21 year old Alanis was made an international superstar, and the world either loved or hated her. The shows got bigger, the lights got brighter; fans praised her as the new voice of alt-rock, while critics labelled her a man-hating shrew and claimed Glenn Ballard as the genius behind her success. And what’s a girl to do? She escaped to India to collect her thoughts. She parted ways with Glenn Ballard, first lyrically and then musically to go it alone and prove the critics wrong. And she never put out another relevant record. She was entirely unable to follow up her debut, and alone couldn’t turn out the tunes that Ballard had honed into platinum singles. Worse than retirement, she became irrelevant.

Darkness on stage. Soft, purple lights make the stage glow as the backing band file on and begin in play. A slow ballad gets underway and Alanis performs the vocals to the first song off stage. I’m about to write her off from the start as over indulgent, then she storms onto the stage for the baroque tidal wave of Uninvited. By the time the band have surged into a superbly fresh sounding All I Really Want, Alanis bouncing across the stage and wailing her vocals to the stage floor with unexpected passion, microphone clasped in hand, I’m entirely won over. In fact at moments like these, Alanis may have perfected the art of time travel. I could have sworn it wasn’t 2008 at all; I was ready to declare the last 13 years of my life just an unlikely daydream I’ve just awoken from. It was 1995 and Alanis sounded as fresh and invigorating as she ever did! Over the next hour or so, Alanis performed virtually the entire Jagged Little Pill album; You Oughta Know, You Learn, Head Over Feet, Hand In My Pocket, they were all present and all sounded fantastic. During a particularly emotional rendition of Perfect, Alanis actually started to cry. I was unsure whether this was a good thing or not, but if nothing else, her passion and honesty for the songs was undisputed. Later cuts such as Thank U, Uninvited and 8 Easy Pieces also sounded great, and the rest of the set wasn’t bad, but there’s where the problems lay. The newer material wasn't bad, but the cuts from Jagged Little Pill were fantastic. An encore of Ironic was easily the high point of the night. I went home and put Jagged Little Pill back on my CD player, but I didn’t leave the gig with any ideas about bothering to buy the new album. The songs weren’t bad live and were performed admirably, but their lack of tunes and their complex and wordy vocals left little room for hooks or generally memorable new songs.

Alanis was and still is a mesmerising live performer with a unique voice few can effectively imitate - but since her 1995 debut, she just hasn’t had the tunes or hooks. 1998’s vast and underrated Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie was an interesting listen, but later albums flexed between the boring and the nearly unlistenable. I was pleased she played so much of her debut but it felt unfortunate that the gig simultaneously highlighted her inability to follow up that record. As with many highly successful artists that make it big too fast, it was another case of too much too soon for Alanis. At 21 she’d made the album of her career and found herself with nowhere to go but down - the best alternative to simply continue to surf the perpetual wave of her Jagged Little Pill. In the end it’s a pill that Alanis seems to have found hard to either swallow or come down from. Briefly she was the music world’s brightest new star, seemingly with infinite potential; she’s now found herself irrelevant, a relic of another time. But every now and then we’ll get her out of the box, have a listen, and remember 1995. Like Liz Phair’s landmark debut Exile From Guyville, Jagged Little Pill is a record that still sounds as fresh today as the day it was recorded and Alanis could spend her life performing it and no-one would mind too much.

* A little bit of Googling reveals it to have been a man named Liam Gerner, dude! MMT. ;-)

Friday, 13 June 2008


Venue: Crauford Arms Hotel, Wolverton
Reviewer: Phil W

It’s not often - even for a professional like myself - that you get to hang out for the evening with your rock n roll heroes, so as I found myself sitting in a beer garden, supping a beer with Rooh shortly before his set you’ll forgive me for having missed all the other acts on that evening. I’m sure they were great, the cream of Milton Keynes’s budding music scene, but tonight it was all about Rooh. “I’ve been thinking about recording an album,” the dude mused, a rolled up cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other. “We’ll see.” Ever elusive as to either his musical direction or future releases, their’s something undisputable natural, pure, and untainted about Rooh’s musical output. There might indeed be an album in the making, but only if it’s the right time. Only if the signs are right. Only if the course of the river happens to be flowing in that direction.

Sitting on stage, bathed in red and white light, in a venue that sounded vaguely like the interior of a submarine, Rooh called out to the soundman “maybe it’s too loud?”. That’s not something you hear often, but Rooh is a modest dude, never wishing to impose himself - and an overamped guitar would destroy the subtleties of his playing style. The auditorium is then treated to a tight and beautifully delivered set of acoustic songs. Tonight Rooh appears at ease, pacing his songs and letting them breathe, each one delivered with deceptive ease and a natural banter with the audience. Fan favourite Flat Rock had never sounded so good, the vocals delivered with particular subtlety which let every line shine.

Despite his youth, Rooh plays like a seasoned bluesman from another time. As my mate the French dude said, sitting next to me in the audience, “watching Rooh is like stepping into a time machine!” People just don’t write music like this anymore. But there is no imitation in Rooh, he’s not copying the skills and ideas of the past, he’s adding to their canon. This is the real thing, approached with honesty and modesty and delivered with cool and style. Rooh isn’t making things easy on himself, but this is the music in his heart and he’s staying true to it. If you want to hear a true local legend, check out Rooh. He’s a dude who knows where it’s at! He is, after all, a professional!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


Venue: O2 Arena, London
Reviewer: Phil W

Ahead of me, the darkened concrete tunnel was bathed in luminous pink lighting. I could hear screaming from up ahead of me, the sound of thousands of young voices crying out. The tunnel rounded a corner; I could see now where it led. It was dark in there, bodies moved and mingled back and forth in a vast, cavernous pit. The sloped walls of the pit moved and surged, lights of green and pink and blue flickered and waved among them. The high pitched screams were everywhere, from every direction. There was something insane going on, something huge.

On the stage, four boys pretended to play guitar while bathed in white floodlights. Behind them, a complete second band backed them. They had no spotlights. I particularly liked the big, overweight dude playing guitar just off to stage right. In the shadows he pulled off some nifty guitar licks and - after the boys left the stage - he stuck around to help out packing away all their stuff for them! What a helpful chap! I only caught the last two songs of the set; an insider had already told me it wasn’t worth catching all their set! They had a name and they have CD’s out there somewhere, but they where pretty missable boy band fodder. Kind of an American McFly. Nothing to bother going into the details of on this blog.

Avril Lavigne. Her first single came out when she was just 17 and the whole world bought into it. Her second album sold on the back of a single about saying No to giving in to sex too soon. Yes, Avril was the anti-Britney in a world where pop starlets were going head-to-head to see both how little they could wear on stage and how many sexual innuendoes they could fit into every song lyric. While Britney was sweating and moaning in a sauna, Christina was releasing albums called Stripped with singles called Dirrrty, and Flick from Neighbours was appearing in music videos completely starkers, Avril had class. She wasn’t naked and she was telling the girls to say No.

Jump to the present and little has changed. Lead single Girlfriend from new album The Best Darn Thing is playful, more giggles from the back row of the school bus than Debbie Does Dallas. Avril says at 23 she wanted to make one last fun record about being young and innocent before she thought about doing something more serious with the next one. There’s even a song on the record called Innocence. And so, from the centre of a stage bathed in pink flood lights, rising through the floor to the stomp of the opening thump of Girlfriend, is the elfin figure of Avril Lavigne, wearing skater shorts, hoodie and a huge grin. She charges down a catwalk that slices through the middle of the pit; “are you ready to have a good time?” she cries out to the audience. The audience explodes in a ludicrous frenzy of youthful enthusiasm and suddenly I’ve a huge grin on my face that won’t budge for the next hour and a half. Five minutes ago I’d been certain I’d come to the wrong gig - but now I was reminded of the immortal words of the late great Hunter Thompson; “buy the ticket, take the ride!” And this was one hell of a ride!

Over the course of the evening Avril played all the hits from all three records. Some she sung while bouncing around the stage beaming enthusiastically at the audience. For several she played her Telecaster Special. There was an interlude midway through the set in which she played a brief acoustic set, slumped over an electro-acoustic guitar, flanked either side by her two session guitarists. Cynically, it was fairly obvious at times her guitar was turned way down, but like, dude, who cares man? She’s really trying! She doesn’t have to put this much effort into her live set but she does! Later on a huge, pink grand piano is wheeled onstage and to our surprise Avril takes a seat behind it to play Innocence from the new album. And if anyone in the audience still doubted her musical abilities, toward the end of the set a pink, sparkly drum kit was brought on stage and Avril beat the skins to a rendition of Runaway, singing and drumming simultaneously. And, like, dude, it was awesome! I’ve always been impressed with multi-instrumental performers, but I wasn’t expecting Avril to be one of them!

Avril finished with He Wasn’t and then an encore of Sk8er Boi. She finished her set having sung, rapped, danced, played guitars, pianos and drum kits, and done it all without a hint of irony or snobbery or any of the other things that bog down far more credible artists. The whole thing just seemed like a lot of fun and she performed it all effortlessly and with enthusiasm. There were no signs of any backing tracks either. All the way through there was a full band backing her. Her vocals were sometimes note perfect - she has a very gifted voice - but sometimes they were off key and muddled, sometimes almost spoken, with all the swear words extenuated. But far from this being a problem this merely highlighted her live, raw vocals and, well, made it that much more punk, you know in a pink teen pop kind of way! The gig hardly had the indie credibility of Kaki King, but like Avril’s albums, it was a guilty pleaser, like admitting you quite enjoyed watching Never Been Kissed. You didn’t expect it to win an Oscar, and yes it was a bit girly - but, you know, you smiled when the dude popped up at the end of the movie to give her that first kiss, I know you did*! So, buy the ticket, take the ride, and just don’t bother over thinking the whole thing. You’ll love it!

* How well you know me, Phil! :-D MMT.

Saturday, 17 May 2008


Venue: University of London Student Union.
Reviewer: Phil W

Katherine Elizabeth King, Kaki to her friends, is the first and only female to be inducted into the Rolling Stone Guitar Gods listings, and she’s not even out of her twenties! In fact she’s barely out of indie obscurity. Her debut album in 2003 (Everybody Loves You), assembled from demo’s recorded at friends' houses, was hurriedly put together after she was offered a record contract by a passer-by who saw her busking on the New York subway. And its not just Rolling Stone and New York indie producers who’ve noticed her talent; she’s just finished supporting the Foo Fighters on tour in Australia after Dave Grohl spotted her and immediately fell in love with her innovative picking style. She even guest starred on the last Foo’s album. And Kaki knows her audience; at one point during this very intimate gig at the ULU she said with a smile; “I know most of you are musicians. I know this because it’s normally musicians that come to my shows. I’m sorry, I don’t really have any advice for you, I was playing the New York Subway and then suddenly someone was offering me a record contract! What I can say is keep going because playing music is just awesome! The whole thing’s just awesome!” Yes, Kaki is very enthusiastic about her musical compositions and it spills out in her playing and into the audience, making her and her compositions even more compulsive!

It’s a small venue, the ULU, a capacity of only around 500, and I got there early and found a perch right up front. With no gap between the stage and the audience, I was able to spend the gig leaning on the stage, with Kaki only a few feet away from me! Kaki opened, slumped on a stool, hunched over her Ovation acoustic guitar, with Bone Chaos In the Castle, the opening track from her forthcoming album, Dreaming of Revenge (currently available on import from the US, but look out for the UK wide release in July), before ploughing into the catchy pop of Life Being What It Is.

Over more than two hours of mostly instrumental solo guitar playing, in which Kaki treats us to acoustic, electric and lap steel guitar performances, she sings on only five songs, two of which are covers. But we barely notice the absence of vocals; her guitar does the talking. Her playing is enchanting, taking melodies to ever intriguing outcomes that never tire. And when she’s not playing she’s talking enthusiastically to the audience, her face fixed in a permanent grin. She talked about the tour, about Australia and New York, about partying with the Foo Fighters, about her mum and her gran and the importance of staying hydrated, seemingly at complete ease with the enraptured audience. As she played, delicately plucking her guitar strings, the event was so intimate and the audience so quiet you could hear people’s cameras clicking.

After every song the stunned audience would clap and cheer before falling completely silent, eagerly awaiting Kaki’s next move. It really was an audience of musicians, here to see an exceptional fellow musician. So intimate was it that Kaki often didn’t need to use the microphone when addressing the audience, she could simply chat unaided, exchanging fragments of conversation and taking requests. When an audience member requested Happy As A Dead Pig In Summer from her debut album she casually asked “wow, how does that one go again? Can someone remind me of the tune? Seriously, I’ve written like 500 songs but I can only remember like 40 of them!”

Covers by Morrissey and Justin Timberlake, built up with complex guitar loops, go down well as does her debut single Playing With Pink Noise from her sophomore effort Legs To Make Us Longer, and an electric version of Yellowcake from her post-rock makeover album ….Until We Felt Red. And all the while she’s grinning to herself; she’s loving every minute of her time in the limelight. She hangs on till the very last moment in which she literally negotiates with the folk on the sound desk for just one more song before they turn the lights up. “I know which song I wanna play” she says. “Just one more, I really love this song!”

Finally, after more than two hours that feel like a quarter of the time has past, Kaki finished with the effortlessly beautiful Jessica, a lovestruck song that can’t help but leave our hearts aching and our ears longing for more. It was all over just too quick. As we left the venue there was little more to say except simply stunning.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Evening Of Diverse Entertainment

Venue: MADCAP, Wolverton
Acts: Frantic UK, Sushi, Raw Pride, Neil Beardmore, Baron Makabre, Faceless Joker, Joshua Timmins
Reviewer: MMT.

I dunno if reviews of the legendary Evenings Of Diverse Entertainment at MADCAP would usually qualify for inclusion here in The Dudebox – the Diverseness is supposed to encompass Theatre, Poetry, Film and Anything Else Anyone Can Think Of (e.g. Omelette Cookery) – but this one for some reason contained bands and bands only. And I do mean bands only. Inexplicably* there was virtually no audience to speak of, so the evening consisted of each band playing their set to the watching waiting other bands. Almost like a great big communal rehearsal, or a Jools Holland programme. So into The Dudebox it shall fall. ;-)

Frantic UK aren’t really a band, I suppose – more an “urban dance troupe” – but they kicked things off with a compelling mix of high energy breakdancing and shape-throwing routines. As they grabbed volunteers from the audience (including our mate Thomas!) to learn some moves, I whispered to Tony “this is what MADCAP is all about!”

So the first band band up were Sushi, an act extremely close to the heart of The Dudebox. I think Phil would admit himself (and he did!) that this was a hit-and-miss set from him and Breakdancing Thomas. The more songs they do as an electric-guitar-and-bass duo, the more you think as an observer “hmm… this could probably do with some drums, dude”. But the songs themselves are cool, from classic “oh yeah, alright” number “Party” to the newer songs which hint at a slightly different direction for Sushi. Watch this space, here comes the Summer! ;-)

Raw Pride are fast becoming one of our favourite MK acts – in fact Simon and I had been talking about them in the pub only that afternoon. Their set at MADCAP was a different vibe again from their Sunset Lounge or Lupus Aid appearances. Two rappers and a turntable were joined by a dude on funkeh bass and a dude on guitar, so the general result was more rap-rocky than their usual sound. They seem to be able to turn their hand to anything – and they’re jolly nice blokes too! ;-)

At least the evening was able to conjure up Diversity in the types of music, though. Neil Beardmore’s bluesy lounge act, all bright red boots and Hammondy organ sounds, is quite a distance from Raw Pride. And to have that followed by the standard Baron Makabre set of unsettling “” voodoo rock? Well… it’s certainly not yer standard Band Night, anyway.

The biggest noise of the evening came from a five-piece band of young lads who’d been very patiently (well, most of them!) been waiting at the back of the room for their turn. Faceless Joker served up relatively standard grungey rock, but were still interesting, clearly very tight - and went down well with what audience there was left by that point. Phil talked to them later and apparently they’re splitting up soon to go to University. Ah, the ways of the world. I have been there, brothers. They did a song about “the greyness of things”. I have been there too. Good stuff.

But one of the nicest surprises of the night came with the final act – cheeky-faced hat-wearing acoustic boy Joshua Timmins. I can’t believe a) he’s only fifteen, but more importantly b) this was only his second ever gig. His big-hearted campfire singy-songwritering put a smile on everyone’s faces – and you have to have something special about you to be able to cover “What A Wonderful World” and get away with it. I bought a copy of his CD for £2, apparently only recorded that afternoon. Chap! Definitely one to watch.

And so against all the odds a good night, despite the low turn-out. Definitely worth clicking on their various MySpace links and checking them out. Local talent. Go on. Go on. Go on.

* Doctor Who had already finished!

Thursday, 17 April 2008


Venue: Hammersmith Apollo, London.
Support: Leila
Reviewer: Phil W

Well it only seems right to mention (before you start reading this review) that the playing field isn’t entirely even! There is a chance my version of the story will be entirely bias and I just thought that was important for you to know at this point in the game. I’m a big admirer of Björk and have been for some years. I’ll be thirty this year, a fact that seems to occur to me almost every day, but while most of the posters from my teenage years disappeared years ago from my bedroom wall, and posters in general gave way with age to pictures in frames, one single poster remains; Björk. I’ve had the poster well over a decade and love it so much that when it came to doing the photo shoot for the release of The Road to Corm’s debut album, I had myself photographed standing next to it.

So, after a five year break from touring and two more albums, Björk was back in the UK for three headline slots at London’s Hammersmith Apollo and I was there for the second. As usual the support act was largely missable. Maybe I’m missing something, maybe I just didn’t get it, but I wasn’t impressed by Leila’s DJ set. But then this wasn’t a night club and no-one was dancing. Some of the ‘sounds’ were genuinely intriguing, and I did my best to appreciate what she was doing, but it was evident by the general disinterest of the crowd, that we were all here to see Björk.

The stage explodes, the circus has definitely arrived! A brass band march onto stage, machines churn clouds of confetti into the air and Björk appears in the centre of it all sporting a wild hairstyle and bizarre dress. She hops frantically around the stage, somewhere between a sugar-overdosed ten year old and a mischievous pixie, singing, chirping and screaming with genuine joy and glee. After two decades of fronting rock-n-roll acts, she still seems to love every moment on the stage and there is no doubt of Björk’s belief in what she does. She has a genuine passion for her music, and in interviews she gives the impression of never doubting her next pirouette in musical direction. She opens with Earth Intruders, the only song on her new album Volta that sounds like it might have been recording in the mid-90’s. It’s synth-pop forced through the Björk blender and it sounds fantastic!

Other songs from the new album go down well too, my personal favorite being horn-driven Wonderlust which really came to life on stage. It’s not often these days that I find myself only really understanding a song when it’s played live, but this was one of those moments and a live triumph. Older material like Hunter, Bachelorette, Joga and a stunning rendition of Army Of Me - delivered with industrial strength - were also real highlights. And there were chillingly beautiful moments in the set, such as when Björk sung the delicate Unravel while encircled by her brass band which she introduced as Wonder Brass, and her stunning rendition of Desired Constellation from newer album Medulla.

But then partway through the set Björk loses all her momentum. She probably meant to, as she let a huge sway of slower songs from her newer albums take the lion’s share of the stage time down the middle of the set. It’s unfortunate, and I’d hate to think of myself as someone who’s living in the past, but these songs just seem weaker than the older material. And while Björk seemed to be obviously loving performing the newer material, I found myself torn. On the one hand, I wanted to hear the classics I’ve loved all these years. But on the other hand it’s great to see a successful artist still producing and performing new material, twenty years into her career, and still exploring and expanding her boundaries as an artist with every new record. I couldn’t wish her to play the same set of greatest hits over and over but then I just didn’t feel the new material was as strong or held together as well. Björk breathed life back into the set with Hyperballad and then a heavy industrial performance of Pluto before returning for the energetic stomp and call to arms of new single Declare Independence. It was a fantastic closer but you were left feeling you wanted to see the set again, if only to appreciate more those probably lovely performances down the middle of the set you just didn’t quite get the first time around. But there’s no time for all that, an hour and a half with Iceland’s queen diva goes pretty quick and before you know it you’ve bought the t-shirt, taken and ride and you’re out the doors. Either way, I wasn’t disappointed. I shall be back here in five years time, the next time Björk is in town. It’s just the way it’s always been.

Set List
01. Intro - Brennið Þið Vitar
02. Earth Intruders
03. Hunter
04. Unravel
05. Hope
06. The Pleasure Is All Mine
07. Dull Flame Of Desire
08. Pagan Poetry
09. Vertebrae By Vertebrae
10. Desired Constellation
11. Army Of Me
12. Bachelorette
13. Who Is It
14. Cover Me
15. Wanderlust
16. Hyperballad
17. Pluto

18. Jóga
19. Declare Independence