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Gig Review: Shearwater @ The Roadhouse, Manchester, 16th September 2008

I’ve been trying to get into Shearwater of late but it’s been a bit of a struggle. While I find their last couple of albums, Palo Santo and Rook, to be eminently listenable and quite enjoyable affairs, there just seems to be something missing, something that’s stopping me from declaring myself a fully-fledged fan. The main problem I have is that the songs don’t seem to stay with me too long after I’ve listened to them; there’s only a faint glimmer of recognition when I next put on an album. As for the songs’ titles: forget it.

I was hoping that the Roadhouse gig last Tuesday would fill in the missing pieces, that something would click and I’d finally be able to fully embrace the Shearwater enigma. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. Watching the gig was very similar to listening to the albums: it was largely enjoyable, I recognised almost everything they played, but a day later I couldn’t tell you what they’d played – even listening back to those albums. There were a couple of exceptions to this: “Rooks” is a gorgeous track, their best as far as I’m concerned, and the band certainly did it justice on the night while “Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five” is not one of my favourites but is one of the few Shearwater tracks that wears its title on its sleeve.

The band can certainly cut it live, though it’s a shame that so few people turned up to witness it. There were a huge number of different instruments on the stage – more, perhaps, than people in the crowd – and the band members swapped roles with great ease. Drummer Thor Harris – a guy who looks exactly like his name might suggest – certainly deserves much praise in this respect, although his drumming and snare sound were a little overbearing at times and I certainly hadn’t forgotten his performance the last time I saw him drumming for Bill Callahan. As well as drums he handled clarinet, glockenspiel and dulcimer with great aplomb and has certainly risen in my estimation. If only his bandmates had just an iota of his personality. There was barely any attempt to communicate with the audience and singer Jonathan Meiburg has the aura of a grown-up choirboy, which, I believe, he actually is. Compared to Okkervil River – lead by former Shearwater member, the charismatic, swaggering Will Sheff – they are shrinking violets. Maybe it’s this lack of personality and the inherent lack of character in many of the songs that has stopped them from becoming a band that I love rather than one that I merely like.

Shearwater – Rooks

Shearwater – White Waves

Posted by The Ledge on 23rd September 2008 at 7:48 pm | comments (5)
File under Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews,roadhouse.

The Manchester Gig Guide: 21st – 27th September 2008

Brett Anderson of Suede drooling over Bernard Butler

Well, a day late and from the wrong member of the Indie Cred household, here’s the weekly gig guide.

It seems that last night we missed Beggars at the Night & Day, System of a Down side-project Scars on Broadway at the Manchester Academy and hardcore band Strike Anywhere at the Music Box. Oh well.

As for tonight, if I manage to get this posted in the next 10 minutes or so, you might manage to get down to the Manchester Academy to see experimental rock-rap-funk outfit Flobots, down to the Roadhouse for Infadels or to the Night & Day for White Lies, although that last one, it seems, has been sold out at least since Friday’s Manchester Evening News went to press.

Now, on to the gigs that aren’t already nearly history. Tuesday, September 23rd looks to be a quiet night with not much more than Liz Green, Ben Wetherill and Essie Jain, a trio of singer-songwriters, on at Matt & Phreds. Elsewhere, Mancunian band Ideas as Opiates are on at a showcase at the Night & Day which also features Frank is Dead and Sycamore.

On Wednesday the 24th things start to pick up a bit more when quirky Canadian indie-pop outfit Islands take over the Night & Day. Last time I saw Islands playing to a half-full crowd in the Roadhouse they were utterly charming so I’d recommend joining The Ledge to check out their latest offerings. Elsewhere experimental folkster Adem plays at the Ruby Lounge, supported by charming jangly instrumentalists Tim and Sam’s Tim and The Sam Band with Tim and Sam while gloom-rockers 1913 play the Hilton Hotel, of all places. On a completely different note, grime rapper Sway is on at Jabez Clegg, which could be interesting if only to see such a hotly-tipped hip hopper in such a tiny setting. If small, intimate gigs by good bands aren’t your thing, however, or you’ve a zimmer frame and want to hark back to your childhood in a more overpriced, seated setting, you can always head down to the Apollo for The Moody Blues. If you remember them from their first go round, however, you’re either really old, you weren’t really there, or both.

Thursday sees the welcome return of Scottish indie-folk-rockers Broken Records to the Night & Day. We enjoyed them the last time around and we may head down ourselves, although we’re likely to skip opener Troubadour as we’ve had little luck with bands of similar names. However, we’re also sorely tempted by the idea of Neil Halstead of Slowdive and Mojave 3 performing on his own at Sacred Trinity Church. It may come down to a coin toss for that one. If you fancy a bit of hypnotically loud post-rock, then Amusement Parks on Fire are on at Retro Bar along with the very amusingly-named Apes Fight Back. For the more electronica-minded amongst us, try heading down to catch Fujiya & Miyagi at The Deaf Institute. If neither of those take your fancy, there’s always psychedelic rockabilly courtesy of Jon Spencer’s newest band Heavy Trash. Enjoyable local rockers The Maple State are on at The Music Box while Spear of Destiny trigger some memories of the 1980’s over at Club Academy.

Friday, Suede fans of the world will get the opportunity to lob rotten tomatoes, rocks and pints of piss at me as I head down to see Brett Anderson attempt to interest us in his latest solo offering at the Royal Northern College of Music. My companion for the gig and I will be hoping he gets the solo stuff out of the way early so we can see whether “Trash” and “Animal Nitrate” sound as bad on the cello as we expect they will. On a slightly similar note, Wigan’s finest, Starsailor, will be performing at Moho Live in front of the 6 people who still care. For those not interested in mainstream indie whinging, get your dancing shoes out for disco diva Sam Sparro at Manchester Academy or dust off your leather trousers and head down to watch Dragonforce at Club Academy. If none of that takes your fancy, you could always check out some famous folk offspring in the form of Teddy Thompson at the Ruby Lounge. Of course Corrie and a bottle of wine sound pretty good on a Friday night too.

Saturday the 27th looks to be the night of the indie anthem as Puressence play Club Academy and Longview perform at the Roadhouse. Of course, if you’re feeling a bit less 1997, you could head down and see It Bites at Club Academy. We’d recommend, however,  that you rest up for the following weekend as In the City prepares to descend on us once again.

Mojave 3 – Mercy

Amusement Parks on Fire – Asphalt (Interlude)

Posted by JustHipper on 22nd September 2008 at 9:27 pm | comments (6)
File under brett anderson,gig guide,islands,manchester gigs,mp3,night & day.

Gig Review: Bon Iver @ Manchester Academy 2, 15th September 2008

Bon Iver @ Manchester Academy 2

I think I can safely say that last night’s sold out Bon Iver gig at the Academy 2 exceeded my expectations, and probably the expectations of almost everyone there. Having seen his appearance on Jools Holland back in May where he played alone armed with just an acoustic guitar, and given the quiet, desolate nature of the brilliant For Emma, Forever Ago album, I was expecting much quietness and gentle nodding and stroking of beards. But no! Bon Iver rock! Like bastards! Well they did for the first two songs: a blistering “Blindsided” and a version of “Creature Fear” in which the guitars completely swamped the chorus to the song’s detriment. I was beginning to wish that I’d taken my new earplugs.

The band is now a four-piece with main man Justin Vernon on guitar and keyboard duties augmented by a drummer, bassist and guitarist, all of whom know their way around a four-part harmony. Vernon’s voice is a thing of wonder but backed by his three cohorts the likes of “Skinny Love” and “Flume” reached new heights that the album versions can only hint at. The contributions of guitarist Mikey Noyce, a guy who looks like he’s barely passed puberty, were especially welcome. He took lead vocals on an excellent cover of Graham Nash’s “Simple Man” and his atmospheric use of slide and E-bow on the likes of “Flume” and “For Emma” added an extra dimension to the sound.

There was some great audience participation with the extremely affable Vernon getting everyone to join in the “what might have been lost” refrain on “Wolves (Acts I and II)”. As the song built up from its subdued beginnings the band shifted gear as the audience came in and eventually drowned us all in another huge racket of guitars.

The band were equally as compelling when they quietened down a bit. “Skinny Love” had Vernon on acoustic and the other three on drums and those delicious harmonies while “Re: Stacks”, probably my favourite track on the album, was the most faithful to the album version with Vernon left to his own devices to send shivers down spines, bring tears to the corners of eyes. After the gorgeous “Flume” the volume rose again with new song “Blood Bank”, a superb organ-led country rocker that reminded us that they’ve only really got 9 songs and could do with getting a few more like this under their belts before they come back, something which Vernon then promised to do, sooner rather than later. This was a truly outstanding gig, one of the best I’ve seen this year. When they do come back, make sure you go and see them.

The setlist, if I’m not mistaken, went like this:

Blindsided
Creature Fear
Wolves (Act I and II)
Skinny Love
Simple Man (Graham Nash cover)
Re: Stacks
Flume
Blood Bank

Lump Sum
For Emma

Bon Iver – Re: Stacks

Bon Iver – Blindsided

Posted by The Ledge on 16th September 2008 at 7:49 pm | comments (15)
File under Gig Reviews,manchester academy 2,mp3,Reviews,setlist.

MP3 Exclusive! The Star Fighter Pilot – “The Invisible Invasion”

So a couple of weeks ago I made a cheeky remark on Twitter about wanting a song about robot pigs in flying cars for my birthday (which was last Tuesday, in case anyone’s interested). I’m not sure why that particular fixation, but I have noticed in recent months that a lot of the music we’re buying is falling into one particular folky, American, indie-rock niche originally initiated (as The Ledge rightfully pointed out) by Granddaddy.  This is not to take anything away from the likes of Port O’Brien, Fleet Foxes, Phosphorescent, Bon Iver or anyone else – but I really wanted to hear something a little different.

In any case, the mantle was duly taken up by Martin from Manchester’s very own rather delightful electro-pop outfit, The Star Fighter Pilot. He promised a bleepy, electronic song about robot pigs in flying cars, and, considering the ludicrous premise, I have to say I’m more than impressed with the result, in fact. If you like what you hear, he’s playing at an In The City showcase at The Attic on October 7.

Here’s the song:

The Star Fighter Pilot – The Invisible Invasion

Posted by JustHipper on 13th September 2008 at 11:38 am | comments (8)
File under Indie Cred exclusives,manchester bands,mp3.

Gig Review: R.E.M. @ Lancashire County Cricket Ground, 24th August 2008

R.E.M. @ Lancashire County Cricket Ground, 24th August 2008This was the third time in five years that R.E.M. had played Lancashire County Cricket Ground at Old Trafford and, with the news from Cardiff earlier in the month of the band having to scale down to a venue a tenth of the size of the Millennium Stadium, you could be forgiven for wondering if Manchester would turn up this time, especially as the band’s setlists had become a little tired and predictable on their previous couple of tours. Manchester did turn up in droves, however, even if a large part of the cricket ground was cordoned off making it seem even fuller than it was. Maybe it was the band’s return to form of sorts with the new album Accelerate after the dreary Around The Sun; or maybe the rarity of a warm and dry afternoon in what has been a quite abysmal summer.

The support acts were both bands we showed an initial interest in, buying their debut albums before growing bored well before their follow-ups were released. We always had high hopes for the Guillemots as they were such a good live band before they released any albums and before their live shows became weighed down in tedious self-indulgence. Things didn’t start too well with “Get Over It” sounding turgid and empty thanks to Fyfe Dangerfield’s anaemic guitar sound fighting a losing battle with the wind and only bass and pounding drums backing his vocals. They improved from thereon in, first with a couple of tunes we didn’t recognise that sounded pretty good, presumably they were from the latest album, and then with a succession of tunes we did recognise. “Trains To Brazil” and “Made Up Love Song #43” reminded us how good the Guillemots can be while “We’re Here”, given the setting, really should have been played with the full band and not just Fyfe on his own. It was a ponderous version that was quickly drowned out by the chatter of a bored crowd. They finished, as ever, with a 10 minute “Sao Paulo”, which, though it sounded good, left me thinking that they really haven’t moved on as much as they should have in the last couple of years.

Editors @ Lancashire County Cricket GroundI’m not sure what I ever saw in Editors. Opener, “Bones”, sounded ok but things got very boring very quickly. They are the post-Interpol Coldplay and while the succession of half-remembered singles from their debut album sauntered by I was playing Countdown with their backdrop. “Steroid” and “storied” for 7, Des. At least Tom Smith seems to have left his ridiculous arms-around-the back-of-the-neck emoting poses behind, instead choosing to clutch his microphone like he’s practicing his new golf grip. We left for beer and food well before the end.

R.E.M. @ Lancashire County Cricket Ground, 24th August 2008We saw R.E.M. at T In The Park last month and they certainly seem to be hugely re-energised on this tour, as evinced almost immediately with the tremendous opening salvo of “Living Well’s The Best Revenge”, “These Days” and “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth”. The fact that the new songs from Accelerate are invariably short-and-to-the-point rockers is a great help as it means that there is very little slack in the set, unlike last time around when their set was bogged down with the ponderous five minute plus dirges of Around The Sun. With the U.S. elections around the corner it was no surprise to hear some of the band’s more political works with “Drive”, “Man-Sized Wreath”  and the ever wonderful “Fall On Me” joining a rare and highly welcome outing for “Ignoreland” in close succession.

When Michael Stipe promised something special to mark Manchester’s Gay Pride celebrations, JustHipper immediately predicted “Pretty Persuasion” and she was spot on. It brought a tingle to the spine and it was as if time had stood still for 23 years, which is probably how long ago it was when I last saw them play it, so faithful it was to its original form. We hollered along with inane grins on our faces, as we did a couple of songs later when “7 Chinese Brothers” was dusted off, heads turning inquisitively in our direction as we yelped with delight on hearing Peter Buck’s opening refrain. Things slowed down a little with an unexpected “I’ve Been High” showing that Reveal wasn’t all bad, followed by a quiet, intimate “Let Me In” with the band gathering in a circle and the much of crowd, sadly, resorting to chatter.

R.E.M. @ Lancashire County Cricket Ground, 24th August 2008To be honest, the final third of the gig didn’t reach the heights of the opening hour or so as things got a bit more predictable. “Orange Crush” and “Bad Day” are now firmly entrenched in the R.E.M. setlist and, while both are fine songs, I wouldn’t be sorry to see the back of them for the next tour. “Imitation Of Life”, however, was a highlight at T In The Park and was just as good here as it closed out the main set. The encores included the inevitable “Losing My Religion” – cue groups of lads jumping up and down with their arms round each other’s shoulders – and “It’s The End Of The Work As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and promised another surprise as Stipe introduced a song that “we don’t play very often”. Unfortunately it turned out to be “Mr. Richards”, which may be one of the better songs off Accelerate but it’s no “West Of The Fields”. At least they’ve finally dropped “Everybody Hurts” for this tour, which is especially good as JustHipper promised to buy me a cheap bottle of plonk to celebrate if they didn’t play it, though the ever-present set closer “Man On The Moon” must surely be up for review any year now. In all, though this performance wasn’t quite up there with T In The Park, it was close enough and I’d go as far as to say that this is probably the best R.E.M. tour since they toured Monster in 1995. Long may they run.

R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion

R.E.M. – 7 Chinese Brothers

R.E.M. – Ignoreland

Posted by The Ledge on 25th August 2008 at 5:50 pm | comments (44)
File under Gig Reviews,LCCC,mp3,R.E.M.,Reviews.

Gig Review: Those Dancing Days @ Manchester Roadhouse, 8th August 2008

So, I know this is a bit late. The problem was not so much lack of motivation or even lack of time as it was not quite knowing what to say. Even The Ledge firmly thinks I’m out of my mind about this gig.

The Bangs LiveIn any case, it all started off promisingly enough. We arrived early so we would be certain to catch The Bangs, who we very much enjoyed at Sacred Trinity Church back in February. They pretty much tick every one of our music-loving boxes being a female-fronted indie band whose influences are clearly PJ Harvey, The Breeders, Elastica, Sonic Youth, Helium, etc. They sound like they sprung fully formed from 1991 rather than walking the “indie” standard line of trying to sound like The Libertines or Oasis. They sound fabulous and they look the part too. If they’re not on stage at ATP in a couple of years time performing in front of a drooling cult following of hundreds of pale-faced indie boys in Yo La Tengo T-shirts and gushing music journalists I’ll be very disappointed. They played a blinder, the two female leads swapping bass and guitar back and forth, looking intent and not bothering us with loads of forced, between-song banter. But hey, if you’ve got the songs, you don’t need to ply the crowd with chatter, trying to get them on-side.

The Answering Machine LiveThe crowd had swelled considerably by the time The Answering Machine took the stage. It has been a while since we’ve seen them play – I can’t work it out even looking through our archives – although we do keep seeing them, most notably eating in Barburrito a few months back and queuing for beer at a Death Cab for Cutie gig a few weeks ago. We had not seen them perform since they added a drummer and we were looking forward to it. The drummer has certainly added a lot to their sound and their stage presence. The songs sound fuller and louder even if they haven’t moved on musically very much in the last couple of years. They still sound like a chirpy, British version of The Strokes’ first album. This is not to say that they were not as enjoyable as ever – they were – I just fear that perhaps they’ve missed their window. Too many bands with similar influences have come and gone at this point and it may be a case of evolve or die. I am surprised they haven’t had a hit single by now, but I suspect that if they haven’t they may not. I seriously hope I’m wrong because I think they’re fab.

Those Dancing Days LiveAnd then we came to Those Dancing Days. Now The Ledge had sold me on this gig by telling me they sounded like an old Sarah Records band, playing lo-fi, girlie indie pop. I’d heard about half a song and it sounded pretty good. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves on stage and the crowd around me seemed to like it, but frankly, I was bored witless. To be fair, I was suffering from that sound problem where if you stand too close to the stage you can’t hear very well, but as a result it sounded like one long perky pop song. And that one long song was not as charmingly lo-fi as I’d expected. I could have done with the pace changing. Now, I can’t fault the band’s energy – they were throwing themselves into things – but I was just ready to leave after about 10 minutes. I’m not even sure that I wouldn’t enjoy them on record, but on stage, with poor sound, there was nothing particularly attention-grabbing, unexpected or exciting about what I was watching. It’s a pity cause The Ledge hasn’t stopped saying how much he enjoyed it (but he is a guy and he was watching a bunch of young, pretty ladies in skirts playing guitars – he likes that sort of thing – if Kim Deal had been on the stage he’d have been in indie-boy heaven) so I feel like I possibly should have liked it more. But I didn’t. Oh well.

Those Dancing Days – Those Dancing Days

Those Dancing Days – Hitten

Posted by JustHipper on 22nd August 2008 at 7:09 pm | comments (11)
File under Gig Reviews,manchester gigs,mp3,roadhouse,the answering machine,the bangs,those dancing days.

Gig Review Catchup: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, The Twilight Sad, Fleet Foxes, The Cave Singers

We’ve been to a lot of gigs this summer. We just haven’t had time to write about them. They’ve been corkers though. I’m going to try and summarize some of it here.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan at Manchester Academy 2On 12th June we headed over to the Manchester Academy 2 to see Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan performing in support of their marvellous second album, Sunday at Devil Dirt. While trying to find out the name of the opening band I did something I never do – I read three reviews from their London gig a few days earlier. They were not praiseworthy, suggesting that the pair had no chemistry and the gig was like watching statues performing. Needless to say, I was mildly concerned – until about the second song. Although they barely moved, much less looked at each other, both Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan were in fine voice and both appeared to be far more wrapped up in what they were singing than in each other. This could be down to the fact that they’ve hardly performed together and are still getting used to the idea. Or perhaps they’re both shy – a possibility since neither uttered a word on stage. Still, it didn’t matter at all as the songs themselves were intense and sultry and really brought out the bluesy elements of both albums, especially “Back Burner” and “Come On Over (Turn Me On)”.

The Twilight Sad at the Manchester Night & DayAfter a couple of days off for birthdays and anniversaries, we headed over to the Night & Day on Monday 16th June to catch The Twilight Sad suppored by Broken Records. Having played the same venue roughly two months earlier and with little promotion in the interim, the tables were out for a very sparse audience at the Night & Day. More’s the pity because they blew their previous performance out of the water, sounding tighter than ever. Final song “Cold Days from the Birdhouse” was simply stunning. Openers Broken Records impressed enough with their manic Scottish folk coming across like a combination of the Arcade Fire and Sons & Daughters with a bit of twang to it.

Fleet Foxes at Manchester RoadhouseWe were also down at the Roadhouse for Beach House and Fleet Foxes’ joint headline gig. We bought the tickets because we’d enjoyed Beach House’s laid back, fluid and relaxing summery tunes while sat on the fake grass at the covered main stage at ATP. By the time the gig rolled around, however, the buzz was all about Fleet Foxes. Beach House proved to be enjoyable and very personable, however their lightness did not translate all that well in the dark, dingy Roadhouse. Although I hadn’t heard more than a couple of tracks before the show, I thought Fleet Foxes, were superb with their harmonious folk tunes. The melodies are so catchy that it’s hard not to be taken in by them and the band were rather charming, asking how the crowd were doing, gushing at their reception and cracking jokes about comedian Tim Allen. If it weren’t for some of the usual idiots in the crowd trying to get in front of the barrier (and blocking my view) and then blaming me rather loudly for about three songs after security moved them on it would have been a perfect show. The encore in which singer Robin Pecknold delivered a solo, nearly a capella song – I think it was “Oliver James” but as I hadn’t heard the album, I’m not sure now about 6 weeks on – was haunting and note-perfect. As they reminded me at times of both My Morning Jacket and The Shins – two bands we love around here – I went looking for their debut album pretty much straight away afterwards.

On July 1st we opted to skip seeing The National in Leeds as we were going to catch them at T in the Park a couple of weeks later and instead we went down to the Night & Day to see The Cave Singers perform a full set. Their debut album Invitation Songs is one of my favourites of the year and hasn’t been far from the CD player since around February. They had impressed us with their live show opening for Band of Horses so much that I expected a packed out venue. Instead, the tables were out across the front of the stage and were barely full for the band’s arrival. Nonetheless, fresh from Glastonbury, they delivered a captivating, if subdued, performance which included a couple of new tracks. The new songs didn’t sound much different but were enjoyable and the album tracks made me want to sing along – which would have been a bit silly given the setting. As always “Helen” and “Dancing on Our Graves” were spectacular. It will be very disappointing if they don’t acquire a bigger following because their sparse, rhythmic country folk is quite unique and incredibly gratifying.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Salvation
The Twilight Sad – Cold Days from the Birdhouse
Fleet Foxes – Oliver James
The Cave Singers – Dancing on Our Graves

Posted by JustHipper on 2nd August 2008 at 1:08 pm | comments (3)
File under female singers,Gig Reviews,Isobel Campbell,manchester academy 2,Mark Lanegan,mp3,the cave singers.

Gig Review: Daniel Johnston and Friends @ New Century Hall, Manchester, 24th July 2008

Daniel Johnston and Friends, New Century Hall, ManchesterI’ve never seen what all the fuss is about Daniel Johnston. Granted, I haven’t really made an effort to listen to the guy, apart from seeing the film “The Devil And Daniel Johnston” in which his music takes a backseat to his sad decline into serious mental illness. It was his “friends” on this outing that gave us the excuse to check him out; friends like Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse fame, Scout Niblett and Yo La Tengo’s James McNew.

There were short support sets from four of the friends, though sadly James McNew didn’t get a solo outing, instead he seemed happy to provide bass playing services throughout the evening. Jad Fair was first up and was highly entertaining, almost comedic, bashing away at a tiny electric guitar with no discernable skill while McNew and Blake provided backing for his lo-fi slacker rock. Scout Niblett was far more serious, her opener coming on like the sort of sparse alt.country that Jason Molina is so good at while she accompanied herself on drums for the cheery “We’re All Gonna Die”. Norman Blake was a bit of a letdown, unfortunately. I personally don’t think that TFC rockers like “I Don’t Want Control Of You” translate particularly well to an acoustic setting, although “He’d Be A Diamond” and the Scottish folk tune he played fared a little better. He ended with a new song that is no doubt destined for the next Fanclub release and sounded exactly like you’d expect. Mark Linkous seemed a bit cheerier on this occasion that I’m used to seeing him – he actively encouraged the crowd to sing along to “Homecoming Queen” – but we had to make do with just three short songs, acoustic again, which didn’t feel like nearly enough, though a rare outing for “The Most Beautiful Widow in Town” was most welcome.

After being slightly underwhelmed with the support I feared I might be more underwhelmed with the main event when the portly, trembling Daniel Johnston took to the stage alone and began to play. It seemed a real struggle for him, hunched over his music stand – presumably reading the lyrics – while clumsily fumbling the chord changes as if he’d only picked up a guitar for the first time the day before. There was a strange childlike innocence to the performance but there was no denying the quality of the songs, and, indeed, the gravity of the lyrics. I might have struggled to enjoy an entire performance of this so was slightly relieved when he left the stage after two songs and returned five minutes later with friends in tow. From this point on the gig was a delight. Johnston stuck to vocals while the rest provided a sturdy backing with Linkous, Niblett and Blake on guitar for the most part while Jad Fair spent the entire gig sitting on the stage banging a drum. Two songs I recognised – “Speedy Motorcycle” and “Hey, Joe” – were played early on and sounded better than I remember them being, particularly the latter which takes on The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and wins hands down. The cover of the same band’s “Rain” was almost as successful while a couple of energetic rockers – “Rock This Town” and “Rock and Roll” (I think) – caught the attention with some excellent shouty backing vocals from Niblett.

Johnston seemed to grow in confidence as the gig progressed and was much more lucid when recounting stories behind some of the songs than when he first came on the stage and stumbled over the band introductions, which he seemed to be reading off a sheet. After a sweet reading of “True Love Will Find You In The End” with Linkous for the encore he ended the set unaccompanied with the harrowing “Devil Town” and I must say that he did win me over in the end as the brilliance of his songwriting shone through on almost everything he and his friends played on the night. The non-stop involuntary shaking of his left arm was a constant reminder that he is not remotely in the best of health but it’s a blessing that he has the strength and courage, and the help of some good friends, to be able to continue doing what he was clearly put on Earth to do.

Daniel Johnston – True Love Will Find You In The End

Sparklehorse – Hey, Joe

Posted by The Ledge on 30th July 2008 at 8:43 pm | comments (3)
File under daniel johnston,Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

Gig Review: The B-52’s @ Manchester Academy, 22nd July 2008

There are not too many bands that I’ve seen and The Ledge hasn’t, but the B-52’s are one of those (or they were). It would have been impossible for me to avoid them, growing up just south of Athens, GA, in Atlanta where as teenagers we mostly claimed those Athens bands for our own. I was looking forward to this gig for very different reasons from The Ledge, I suspect.

The B-52's @ Manchester Academy, 22nd July 2008We got down to the venue ridiculously early – The Ledge thought doors were at 7pm, turns out they were at 7:30pm, but it meant we had a prime spot at the front in between where Keith Strickland and Cindy Wilson would later stand. It also meant we had 90 minute wait for music as the “opening band” was a DJ playing records we could have listened to at home were we so inclined. It gave us a chance to chat to the crowd around us, and it was a friendly bunch, some had driven up from Reading for the gig and were very excited.

When the band came on, however, opening with “Pump” from their new album, Funplex, perhaps the aging crowd couldn’t really dance so much anymore, but it wasn’t quite the mayhem I expected. Perhaps they were too busy being shocked at how damned good Kate Pierson looks for a woman who recently turned 60 – if I look that good at 40 I’ll be thrilled.

The B-52's @ Manchester Academy, 22nd July 2008Personally, I spent a large part of the gig feeling incredibly homesick. I don’t miss Georgia, or the States in general, all that often, not after nearly 11 years in the UK, but every so often I have a moment. I had one watching REM at T in the Park the other week, and I had one tonight. It’s partly the southern accents which are home – I hear them and they sound so familiar I forget where I am for a moment, and it’s partly the incredibly strong associations I have between the band and my teenage years. The moment they start singing I’m in 10th grade algebra where Casey McKittrick is telling us all that if you play Cosmic Thing backwards you get weird messages about drugs and sex. Some of the boys in the class ask him how he managed to play it backwards and he can’t really answer, but everyone’s still wondering if it’s true. Or I’m in the car driving up to Rock Eagle for a school trip with my best friend and the driver is also one of the chaperones for the weekend who happens to be my brother’s best friend who’s now a student at the University of Georgia in Athens and he’s treating us to all the stuff he’s hearing at college – The B-52’s, Lifes Rich Pageant, They Might Be Giants and the Violent Femmes. Needless to say, I was in a weird place for most of the gig.

The B-52's @ Manchester Academy, 22nd July 2008You certainly couldn’t fault the band for one second as their enthusiasm never waned through a set which mixed up tracks from the new album (which, admittedly, I’ve only heard once and then I dozed through much of it on a long car journey) and classics. “Mesopotamia” came second and they even brought out a couple of tracks that I hadn’t heard in so long I’d forgotten they existed in the form of “Strobe Light” and “Party Gone Out of Bounds.” It was just before the latter, during a particularly brilliant rendition of “Private Idaho” that some guy tried to squeeze in between me and the guy next to me because he thought Cindy Wilson might want to shag him. He was about 22. She’s old enough to be his gran. He got angry when I wouldn’t move for him, but I’m not letting a guy a head and a half taller than me get between me and my view – especially when he was all arms and elbows. He spent the next 30 minutes banging into me and humping  my leg in a crowd where nobody was pushing against anyone because the venue was only half full.

Between the idiot behind me and a couple of newer tracks I didn’t recognize, my enthusiasm waned a bit when Fred Schneider wandered off stage and the two women did a new track and “Roam” back to back, the latter wasn’t great. But when Fred re-emerged so did the tunes and we got a riproaring finish, right down to the crowd singalong for the requisite “Love Shack.”

The B-52's @ Manchester Academy, 22nd July 2008In the interval my “friend” tried to push in again and when I told him to piss off I got an ear-bashing because he was a Bigger Fan because he’d flown to Paris to see them and I wasn’t singing – apparently if you’re going to stand at the front you have to sing along, silly me for not knowing. I tried to explain that his experience and mine were different. I was actually trying to explain I was from Georgia and they were making me homesick  but all I got in response was “I’m from Dublin and that doesn’t mean I know Bono!” Whatever, dude.

Luckily the band re-emerged with a couple of songs, rounding off the night absolutely perfectly with the party classic that is “Rock Lobster” and the excellent “Planet Claire.”

While I can’t say there were not a few they missed out I’d have rather heard instead of newer tracks, the gig was everything I expected and more than I’d hoped for. After going on 30 years the songs don’t sound remotely dated and the band seem as vibrant and enthusiastic as ever. If they can keep this up for the next 30 years I’ll be a happy girl.

The B-52’s – Planet Claire

The B-52’s – Hot Corner

Posted by JustHipper on 23rd July 2008 at 12:18 am | comments (7)
File under Gig Reviews,manchester academy 1,manchester gigs,mp3,the b-52's.

Gig Review: My Morning Jacket, Manchester Academy 2, 27th June 2008

My Morning Jacket @ Manchester Academy 2, 27th June 2008The hoo-har over the new My Morning Jacket album, Evil Urges, seems to have had a negative effect on the band’s concert audiences, if this gig is anything to go by. When the band played this same venue a couple of years ago in support of their Z album, it was pretty much full. Last Friday night there were noticeable gaps in the crowd, with some people no doubt put off by the new album’s dalliance with disco, funk and boyband soul. Well, it’s their loss, because My Morning Jacket are still one of the greatest live bands around at the moment, a fact that they effortlessly proved last Friday night.

Admittedly, I was pretty unimpressed with Evil Urges when I first heard it but I stuck it out and by about the fifth listen I was hooked. I remember the same thing happening with Z and that is now one of my favourite albums of this century so far. The new material certainly adds variety to the MMJ live set; for the most part the songs are shorter than the average without much in the way of guitar solos. Shorn of their studio sheen, they’re a little ragged around the edges, which is exactly what they need. The title track opened proceedings with Jim James belting out his Prince-ly falsetto, which he did to better effect later on in “Highly Suspicious”, though Carl Broemel’s hilariously deadpan backing vocals at the other end of the range stole the show. Even better were the studied James Taylorisms of “Sec Walkin”, though “Thank You Too!” still managed to sound like the schmaltzy boy band anthem that it is on record – if Westlife get their hands on it it will be massive. As you would expect, the more straightforward rockers from the album, “I’m Amazed” and “Remnants”, shone and I’m sure they’ll be staples of the band’s live set in the years to come.

As good as the new stuff sounded it was definitely out-muscled by the older material as the band revisited past glories to show anyone who hadn’t been paying attention what a rich back catalogue they now have. JustHipper’s personal fave “Lowdown” got a welcome outing early on, as did a few choice cuts from Z, while the white boy reggae of “Phone Went West”, from At Dawn, reminded us that they could switch styles with relative ease long before the beats and bleeps of Z paved the way for their latest style-hopping effort. It was Evil Urges‘s finest moment that swept away all that had come before it. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream pt. 2” is already an MMJ classic and live was an all-enveloping disco stomper that had everyone’s head bobbing as if nodding in agreement with James’ sentiment in the chorus: “This feeling is wonderful / Don’t you ever turn it off”

For the encore the band upped the ante even further, bringing out the big guns like “Dondante”, “Mahgeetah” and perennial crowd favourite “One Big Holiday”, which closed the show. The crowd, which had become more and more animated as the gig wore on, were positively ecstatic by the end. Not only are My Morning Jacket a great live band but they have a canny knack of bettering their previous performances each time we see them. Roll on T In The Park.

My Morning Jacket – Lowdown

My Morning Jacket – Remnants

Posted by The Ledge on 5th July 2008 at 5:55 pm | comments (5)
File under Gig Reviews,manchester academy 2,mp3,my morning jacket,Reviews.