Archive for February, 2006

Gig Review: ¡Forward, Russia!, Night & Day, 15th February 2006

¡Forward Russia!We’ve now seen ¡Forward Russia! three times in fairly quick succession and even though I’ve barely taken the time to listen to them on record, they are rapidly becoming one of my favourite new live bands. The last proper show at The Music Box the crowd seemed rather subdued and very taken aback at the band’s energy. This time, thankfully, it was a full on celebration of chaos. The band belted through their numbered tracks while much moshing madness occurred in the crowd, which seemed to be full of youngsters that went to every gig, knew every song and were bursting to show their unbridled adoration for the band.

As the band ripped through their fast-paced, guitar-driven howl of a catalogue the crowd surged around, worrying a few females stood near me who had worn some very inappropriate footwear for this sort of gig – there’s a reason us indie types like our Doc Martens ladies! Beer and cigarette ash were flying everywhere and it took the band several minutes to get the crowd to stop surging and shouting long enough to play their one quiet-ish number – 5 – which I must say was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Also good, per usual, were 17, 7 and 9.

This is one band who may be taking a cue from their contemporaries and their love of angular, 1980’s arty, post-punk guitar rock, but they do it with so much style and intelligence and energy that hopefully before long they’ll be playing to larger crowds than those at the Night & Day.

Posted by JustHipper on 27th February 2006 at 4:14 pm | comments (3)
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Gig Review: The Boy Least Likely To, Night & Day, 23rd February 2006

The Boy Least Likely ToLast night I ventured out in the cold and the rain to catch The Boy Least Likely To at the Night & Day, leaving JustHipper alone on her sickbed. The venue was sold out and sweltering hot but there was a mere smattering of applause as the band took to the stage. The Boy Least Likely To are a duo from Wendover, Bucks. who have been recently garnering praise on a number of blogs, many from across the pond, for their no-nonsense indie-pop stylings. I’d heard a couple of their tunes and was interested to hear more, and I suspect that much of the crowd was in the same position given the muted welcome the band received. The touring band numbers seven with drums, bass, banjo, violin and keyboards joining the two core members – Jof, who sings, and Peter, who sings and plays guitar and harmonica. The opener, which I now know to be called “Hugging My Grudge”, set the mood perfectly, its summery goodness immediately engaging the crowd and making it impossible not to smile. I almost clapped along, and I never clap along. As things progressed the standard rarely dipped below the high water mark set by the opener as quality pop tune followed quality pop tune, occasionally reminding me of the great Flying Nun bands of the eighties such as The Chills and The Bats. “Warm Panda Cola” was a brief delight; “Apple Wagon” was a joyous romp infused with elements of country and folk; the blonde keyboard player spent the duration of “My Tiger, My Heart” eating cake, much everyone’s amusement, and her own. The crowd loved it all and the band seemed a little taken aback by the reception but were affable and talkative throughout. The best was saved for the end with “Monsters” and the closing “Be Gentle With Me” leaving the rapturous audience demanding more. Clearly an encore hadn’t been rehearsed so the band played “Hugging My Grudge” once more, not that anyone complained.

I predict that The Boy Least Likely To will most likely be massive in 2006. They’ve got great tunes that will win the hearts of the indie-pop crowd but could easily find their way onto mainstream radio playlists. They’re playing the Academy 3 on 30th April. You should go.

Posted by The Ledge on 25th February 2006 at 12:28 am | comments (2)
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Gig Review: Broken Social Scene, Manchester Academy 2, 14th February 2006

Broken Social SceneBefore this gig I was having real problems with Broken Social Scene’s latest, self-titled, album. It’s a long, difficult listen; an unwieldly mess; killer indie rock tunes fighting desparately to smash through walls of studio trickery and overdubs. And failing, or so it would seem. Maybe I’m listening to it wrong; I read somewhere that you need to sit in a darkened room with a decent hi-fi and good headphones to get the most out of it, something I’ve yet to try. Such was my disillusionment, I was expecting to spend stretches of this gig a tad bored. Just my luck then that Broken Social Scene happen to be the most brilliant live band I’ve seen since The Arcade Fire last year.

The gig had been upgraded from the Hop And Grape. Quite how they would have fitted everyone on stage at the Hop & Grape I don’t know. I counted nine people on stage, though there could well have been more as the speaker stacks blocked much of my view of the right hand side of the stage. Feist was not there, nor Amy Millan from Stars, but it didn’t matter as Lisa Lobsinger assumed female vocal duties and did a fine job.

They kicked off with the unreleased gem “Jimmy & The Photocall” followed by an exceptional take of “KC Accidental”, its main riff enhanced by Julie Penner’s virtuso turn on violin. It was already shaping up to be a great gig but as they progressed through the likes of “7/4 Shoreline”, “Ibi Dreams Of Pavement”, “Stars And Sons” and a stunning “Cause=Time” it was clear that we were witnessing something very special. Best of all were the two versions of “Major Label Debut”, both infinitely better than the distant, detatched album version; the first sending tingles down the spine as Kevin Drew and Lisa Lobsinger’s vocals swooned through the chorus; the second version, played a few songs later, the faster, rockier version from the “To Be You And Me” EP.

“Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl” was never going to top the perfect studio version but was a delight all the same, while tracks from Broken Social Scene that had previously confounded me played out like the pop classics that they actually are, the studio trickery making way for good, honest guitars and violins and synths and trumpets and drums. The band sounded fantastic, aided by their sound engineer on mixing duties, and the sight of nine people on stage all locked into the same groove, all hell-bent on giving the gathered audience much more than they could have hoped for, was truly thrilling. At the heart of it all was chief Scenester Kevin Drew who continually cajoled his troops to greater and greater heights while providing some amusing between-song banter along with bass player Brendan Canning.

They played for over two hours in all and even the break before the encore was filled with a solo number from The Apostle Of Hustle, Andrew Whiteman. The encore began with the awesome “Lovers Spit” which was followed an epic fifteen minute version of “It’s All Gonna Break” to wind up proceedings. I honestly never thought that Broken Social Scene could be this good. Now I’m look forward to re-evaluating the album, in a darkened room, with headphones.

Posted by The Ledge on 18th February 2006 at 12:34 am | comments (7)
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Gig Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Manchester Academy 2, 7th February 2006

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have come a long way in just a few short months thanks to this internet thing. Their album was released in the UK just last week and yet this gig at the moderately-sized Academy 2 sold out yonks ago. When we saw them in Liverpool last November it was more like Clap Your Hands Say “meh” (shit, I just googled that and Information Leafblower got there well before me) ; Alec Ounsworth’s nasal whine got on my nerves at times and they just didn’t seem to have any kind of spark to set them apart from all the other pretenders to the Arcade Fire throne. JustHipper certainly enjoyed them back then but the album has grown on me ever since, however, and I was willing to forgive and forget.

Support came from Dr. Dog, to all intents and purposes a bar band from Philidelphia, who passed the time before the main attraction with their amiable, but ultimately dull, college rock. Some of their slower songs caught the attention, occasionally bringing to mind The Replacements, but more often than not they over-egged the pudding and the songs regularly outstayed their welcome. And they’ve got a really crap name. Good beards though.

Clap Your Hands arrived to much clapping of hands and went straight into “Let The Cool Goddess Rust Away”; it was immediately obvious that this was to be a much improved performance. “Is This Love?” followed soon after and by the time they reached “Yellow Country Teeth” the crowd were really buzzing. Drunken teenagers sang loudly into their friends’ faces (why do people do this when drunk?) and I remember being impressed that they knew all the words given that I haven’t a clue what Ounsworth is singing half the time. His voice is the perfect synthesis of David Byrne and Bob Dylan, which is to say that’s it’s something of an acquired taste. Here he was much more lucid than he was during his half-hearted performance in Liverpool, and this, coupled with a much beefier and confident sound from the band, showed that they are reaping the benefits of a hefty touring schedule.

The decidedly Dylanesque “Details Of The War” sounded particularly good while “Over And Over Again (Lost And Found)” and a marvellous “Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood” with its simple yet inspired bass hook, went some way to demonstate the strengths of their debut album. And there’s more to come: new songs like the skewed electro-pop of “Satan Said Dance” and the bouncy, brilliant “Me And You Watson” bode very well for the future.

So, they’ll never be able to live up to the hype, and they’re an uncharismatic bunch with barely a word to the audience in their hour or so on stage, but they’re improving all the time and I expect their second album, whenever it appears, to be a cracker.

Posted by The Ledge on 10th February 2006 at 12:47 am | comments (2)
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Gig Review: Nick Cave, The Bridgewater Hall, February 6, 2005

The announcement of a Nick Cave tour always creates a great deal of excitement in our household. Having seen the man perform a “solo” gig at the Liverpool Philharmonic a few years ago, we both kind of figured that his gig at Bridgewater Hall with only Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos would be a similar affair – quiet, subdued and mostly consisting of Nick Cave on piano and only sparse arrangements behind him.

Oh how we were wrong.

The band entered first and began making an unholy racket which at first I thought was “The Lyre of Orpheus,” a song he’d abandoned at the previous Manchester gig because he’d forgotten the lyrics. When Nick strolled out on stage with his lovely new Fu Manchu moustache to sit at his piano, however, he launched into a feral version of “West Country Girl,” which was so different from the album version that it took me a verse to recognise it. This pretty much set the tone for the show. Although he stayed behind his piano for most of the night, emerging only to serenade the front rows with “Rock of Gibraltar” and to play guitar on a couple of old classics, he stayed behind the piano, pounding on it like a madman and contorting himself up and down and side to side.

The most interesting songs of the night had to be the most surprising renditions: “Henry Lee” delivered with the same fast-paced ferocity as the opener – maybe that’s the emotion that the idea of PJ Harvey inspires in him these days; and unusually quiet and tender versions of “Red Right Hand,” “Stagger Lee” and the chilling “The Mercy Seat.” He also managed to get through “The Lyre of Orpheus” this time, which came complete with heckles from the audience about his last aborted attempt. In fact, quite a lot of heckling took place, something I would not be brave enough to attempt. He took it in his stride though.

What amazes me every time I listen to Nick Cave are the lyrical nuances I always discover on each and every listen. I never feel like I’ve gotten to know any Nick Cave record because everytime I play one it feels new and I find new things about familiar songs. This time, “People Ain’t No Good” made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I realised how much I’ve grown to adore “Love Letter,” “Wonderful Life” and “Babe, You Turn Me On.” It is one of the few gigs I’ve seen in a long time by an artist I adore where I haven’t spent much of the night wondering when or even if I’ll hear my favourite. He obliged, turning in what I thought was the least impressive song of the night with “The Ship Song”; but every song, even the ones I don’t know well, such as the two b-sides from his recent rarities collection, sounded magnificent and sent me scurrying off to spend eight hours the next day playing his albums on repeat on my MP3 player.

This was a spectacular performance from an amazing songwriter who for one night only took his beautiful songs into a place for quiet reverence of symphonies and filled it with a sound far greater, far more intense, and at times far more delicate and emotional than most symphonies I’ve heard.

Posted by JustHipper on 8th February 2006 at 9:38 pm | comments (3)
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Gig Review: Belle And Sebastian, Manchester Ritz, 30th January 2006

Last time we saw Belle And Sebastian was at the Apollo a few years back. It was awful. They played at such a low volume that they were all but drowned out by the 80% of the audience who seemed to think they were down the pub and stood chatting to their mates, or on their mobiles, for the entire gig. It’s fitting then that, moments after JustHipper and I had finished reminiscing about that night to watch Brakes, tonight’s support, they opened with a song about watching quiet bands, the chorus of which goes “shut the fuck up, I’m trying to watch the band,” or something similar. It was an excellent blast of thrashy punk, and, like many of their songs played tonight, it was very short and to the point. Brakes tackle a number of different styles with confidence and aplomb. There were a couple of country songs, some rock ‘n’ roll, more thrash, slabs of glacial indie rock and covers of Camper van Beethoven (no, not “Take The Skinheads Bowling”) and Jesus And Mary Chain. A couple of songs weighed in at under 7 seconds. Lead singer Eamonn Hamilton has recently left British Sea Power to go full time with Brakes; a decision that, on this showing, has my full support.

Belle And Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch promises us a “laid back” set tonight due to the apparent reluctance of last night’s audience to have anything resembling fun. Fortunately this crowd was much more up for it but it took a few songs for the band to hit their stride. They opened with a couple of tracks from new album “The Life Pursuit” and there was a definite distance between band and audience during these first few numbers, matters not being helped by a lack of continuity as instruments were swapped and tuned between songs. But things warmed up quickly with the title track from “If You’re Feeling Sinister“, a breezy “Mayfly” and a fantastic take of “Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie”, a personal fave of mine. Again, the sound was too quiet; from in front of the speakers we could still hear casual conversations in the audience, and the pissed-up gay couple behind us, singing deliriously into each other’s faces in the style of a four-year-old girl singing nursery rhymes, was more of a diversion than it should have been. Fortunately I was able to tune them out for most of the gig as the band and audience settled into a groove, a laid back groove, as they ran through the likes of “The Loneliness Of The Middle Distance Runner”, “Like Dylan In The Movies” and “Me And The Major” (“If You’re Feeling Sinister” being very well represented on the night). New single “Funny Little Frog” went down well, if not with me then with a vocal majority, but the icing on the cake was the wondrous “The State I Am In”, the song that introduced me to B&S many years ago thanks to John Peel.

With their records becoming increasingly, um, outgoing, I keep expecting the Belle & Sebastian live experience to turn into some kind of big technicolour behemoth with blaring horn sections and big lights and LOUDNESS, but it never does. Instead they opt for subtlety and intimacy, and we can all be grateful for that. But next time, the LOUDNESS, please B&S, turn your amps up to, well, 6. At least.

Posted by The Ledge on 1st February 2006 at 8:17 pm | comments (6)
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