Archive for February, 2007

Gig Review: The Young Knives, Manchester Night & Day, 8th February 2007

I’m not quite sure why The Young Knives played the Night & Day last Thursday in what seems like a step backwards after selling out the Academy 3 last October and being booked to play the Academy 2 next month. I’m not complaining though; this could be our last chance to catch the band in such a small venue for some years.

Opening was Peg Simone, who I’d never heard before and who impressed JustHipper much more than she impressed me, probably due to a lack of pretense and kookiness. She played solo, with a guitar that dwarfed her tiny frame, and her strident bluesy rock was initially intriguing but soon began to grate. PJ Harvey does this sort of thing in her sleep and Simone’s vocals and guitar skills seem merely average in comparison.

The Answering Machine @ The Night & DayWe saw The Answering Machine a couple of times last year and not much seems to have changed since then; they still sound like a twee version of The Strokes with lyrics by David Gedge; they still have that innocent charm about them, aided by lead singer Martin’s constantly good-humoured self-analysis, picking apart his own between-song banter, at one point giving out the band’s MySpace address, thumbs raised, and immediately realising that he looks like a complete twat. With equipment failing around them he apologised profusely for the on-stage shambles, though it wasn’t their fault and, if anything, they seemed slightly less shambolic than they were last year. They’re still great, however. All the familiar songs were there; “Oh Christina”, “Anthony” and “Oklahoma” got things underway but it was “Your Home Address” that was the real winner. They played a new song at the end and, though it was up to par with the rest of their material, it was disappointing that it followed their own formula so closely.

The Young Knives @ The Night & DayThe Young Knives played a blinder, as I knew they would. Kicking off with your two best songs might not be the best of moves for many bands but these guys have got so many other songs snapping at the ankles of “She’s Attracted To” and “Part Timer” that after this momentous opening salvo the pace and the quality never dropped. With drummer Ollie stuck way at the back of the stage the Brothers Dartnell set about their songs with an energy that belied their physique. You could trace the timeline of the gig through the sweat stain on House Of Lords’ shirt as it grew and grew until the final dry patch disappeared and it was just about time to wrap things up. As that stain was growing we got cracking versions of “Weekends And Bleak Days” and “The Decision” while “In The Pink” was sublime with House’s manic delivery of the verse brought down to earth by the sweet harmonious chorus. There was plenty of amusing banter between the two brothers but sadly none of Henry’s incredible breakdancing that we saw when they supported Clor a couple of years ago at the Roadhouse. With House’s shirt ready for the wash they closed with “Here Comes The Rumour Mill” and then returned to play a song they claimed to have only just written. It was called, I think, “The Petomane” and though, like The Answering Machine’s newie, it offered no great change of musical direction, it was a corking tune worthy of ending such a cracking gig.

The Answering Machine – Oklahoma

The Young Knives – Here Comes The Rumour Mill

Posted by The Ledge on 13th February 2007 at 1:57 pm | comments (4)
File under Gig Reviews, Reviews, mp3.

Gig Review: Jason Molina, Green Room Theatre, Manchester, 4th February 2007

In between the Decemberists/Clap Your Hands gigs last Friday and the Decemberists on Monday, we slipped out on the Sunday night to catch Jason Molina of Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. fame in the intimate confines of the Green Room Theatre on Whitworth Street.

We arrived in time to see From A Family Of Candlemakers, two unassuming young men – one on mandolin and occasional keyboards, the other on acoustic guitar and vocals – playing quiet and slow. They started off brightly, recalling The Library Trust and Sparklehorse in their quieter moments, but soon things began to drag, melodies meandered and lyrics became increasingly trite. Just as yawns were being stifled they hit back with two final killer songs. The first was a maudlin ode to a life at a standstill and had a great melody and superb, witty lyrics about Daniel Johnston posters falling off the bedroom wall and the singer’s barren sex life. The last song, “Dressed In A Vest”, was the only thing they played that had any energy to it and showed that, thankfully, they are not one trick ponies.

Olav Larsen and The Alabama Rodeo Stars were next and were just what the doctor ordered. There are times when all I need is a good ole country fix and the affable Olav and his excellent band more than fulfilled my needs with their superb authentic West Coast sound and tunes that were so good that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were covers of long lost country classics. Gram Parsons is an obvious influence and they also recalled Hank Williams, early Dylan and Neil Young and took me back to the late eighties when the likes of Green On Red and The Long Ryders piqued my interest in this much maligned and misunderstood genre. Not bad for a bunch of Norwegians.

I’ll confess that while I enjoy Jason Molina’s work as Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., I have trouble with his solo stuff. When it’s just Jason and his acoustic guitar the songs tend to run into one another and I find it difficult to latch on to specific melodies and themes that set the songs apart from each other. I’ll admit that this is because I haven’t invested the necessary time and effort in listening to his albums but then the cursory listens I have given them have hardly made me want to make that effort.

Live in this intimate little theatre, however, his songs come alive as we have no choice but to listen intently to the diminutive singer and his lonesome blues. There was plenty of Magnolia material in the set, from the opening salvo of “Hammer Down” and “Leave The City” through to the closing “The Dark Don’t Hide It” but I have to admit I didn’t recognise much of what he played, just bits and pieces of songs as if half-remembered from a dream. As with his solo recordings there seemed little to be little variation between the songs but Molina’s fantastic, soulful country croon filled the room with the spectral imagery of the songs with their recurring motifs of ghosts, birds, animals, the dark, railroads, highways and the blues and made for an entrancing evening. Even JustHipper, who I was convinced would hate it as she’d never heard any of his stuff before, found it to be an engaging experience. I feel an in-depth re-examination of the Molina back catalogue coming on.

Magnolia Electric Co. – The Dark Don’t Hide It

Jason Molina – Get Out, Get Out, Get Out

Posted by The Ledge on 11th February 2007 at 11:58 pm | comments (0)
File under Gig Reviews, Reviews, mp3.

Gig Review: The Decemberists, Manchester Academy 2, 5th February 2007

The Decemberists @ Manchester Academy 2While I was watching the disappointing Clap Your Hands Say Yeah gig at the Academy on Friday night, JustHipper was doing her homework at the Sheffield Leadmill. She had calculated the exact place to stand at last night’s Decemberists gig in Manchester to receive optimum attention from her hero and current obsession, Colin Meloy. To achieve her goal we had to get there early, wait for ten minutes in the freezing cold, show a blatant disregard for the British queueing system and wait, wait, wait some more. First, for Lavender Diamond.

JustHipper has a major aversion to “kookyfemale folk singers so when Lavender Diamond frontwoman Becky Stark flounced onto the stage, wide-eyed and seemingly stoned, and started saying things like “we are Lavender Diamond, and so are you” I knew that the blue touch paper had been lit. She made it ’til the last song when finally she snapped and made her way out of the hall, returning a few minutes later, when the band had left the stage, to deliver her inevitable tirade, a précis of which can probably be read in the comments section of this post.

Lavender Diamond @ Manchester Academy 2I loved Lavender Diamond. Becky Stark was funny, attractive, slightly weird, but she worked the crowd well and won most of us over with her infectious enthusiasm. She also has a wonderful voice and the songs were beautiful, often sad, pieces of sumptuous folk-pop with shades of country and gospel and I was occasionally reminded of the wonderful Mary Margaret O’Hara. And if she ever makes a comeback, rest assured that I’ll keep JustHipper well out of arms reach.

After the opening announcement (see Friday’s review for more details, if you must) and some tuning of instruments, The Decemberists got things underway with “The Crane Wife 3″ followed by “The Island”. If you think that beginning a gig with the final piece of a song cycle followed by a twelve minute, three-part, prog-folk epic is complete suicide then think again because it was a genius opening gambit with “The Island” coming across particularly well, its long intro and proggy interludes knitting together three songs of sublime quality. The goodness kept coming with the majestic pop of “Billy Liar” and the sweeping “We Both Go Down Together” encouraging plenty of singing along from the audience.

According to JustHipper the Manchester crowd was much more enthusiastic and knowledgeable than the Sheffield crowd from Friday night. It also seems that Manchester got the better setlist with Crane Wife highlight “Yankee Bayonet” and Picaresque’s standout track “The Engine Driver” both getting an airing, the former with backing vocals from the new violinist that were sadly too low in the mix. We also got a great version of “Shankhill Butchers”, with drummer John Moen joining Chris Funk at the front of the stage for percussion and backing vocal duties, and a dynamic reading of “Odalisque” from their debut.

When Meloy exercised his Moses-complex with his parting-of-the crowds bit for “16 Military Wives”, a couple of chancers, small and female, saw their opportunity to get to the front and, despite the disgruntlement of the crowd and repeated instructions from the singer/prophet to go back from whence they came, they stayed put, irking a few of the people they had pushed in front of. When two lads tried the same thing they graciously retreated after just a few seconds, boos ringing in their ears. Meloy’s orchestration of the divided crowd during the la-di-das, was manic and highly amusing and almost made me forget that it’s my least favourite Decemberists song.

The Decemberists @ Manchester Academy 2For the closing “Sons And Daughters” the band were joined on stage by Lavender Diamond and Chris Funk took up his hurdy gurdy as seemingly everyone in the room sang the closing refrain of “hear all the bombs fade away”. For the encore Meloy, Funk and the violinist played a lovely “Eli The Barrow Boy” and a brief, functional “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” in response to a predictable request from the crowd for a Smiths song earlier in the evening. I was expecting “The Chimbley Sweep” to see out the night and was wondering if there was space in the crowded hall for everyone to sit down. Instead, Colin Meloy grabbed a mobile from an audience member, phoned a random person in the address book and the band launched into “Culling Of The Fold”, a Crane Wife outtake, Meloy singing into mic and phone. It was a remarkable, bruising version of a song that sounds relatively placid on record and culminated in a demonic Meloy pointing directly at me, singing a verse of “cut him up boy”, and then crouching down to sing a “cut him up girl” to JustHipper while tenderly stroking her hair and turning her legs to jelly. JustHipper’s homework had paid off handsomely in a stunning end to a truly great gig.

The Decemberists – Culling Of The Fold

Lavender Diamond – You Broke My Heart

Posted by The Ledge on 7th February 2007 at 9:01 pm | comments (16)
File under Gig Reviews, Reviews, mp3.

Gig Review: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Manchester Academy, 2nd February 2007

I was quite surprised when it was announced that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were to play the Academy; they sold out the Academy 2 almost exactly a year ago before retreating from the limelight to record their “difficult” second album. Well, the Academy was thronged last night; a sell out and fuller than I ever remember it being. Maybe some of that was due to over-blogged support act The Cold War Kids, though I was sipping beer in Big Hands while they were on so I’ve no idea how they went down.

CYHSY opened proceedings with “Gimme Some Salt” from their eponymous debut. A solid opener, sure enough, but perhaps a little low key. When they followed it with “Satan Said Dance”, a staple of their live set for more than a year, the signs were promising indeed with the crowd moving and singing along to one of the highlights of Some Loud Thunder. Unfortunately that was as good as it got for the new material, the vast majority of the crowd practically turning their backs on the band to chat to their mates as they ran through “Love Song No 7″ and the album’s excellent title track, sounding much more user-friendly without its much-derided digital distortions.

When the familiar opening chords of “In This Home On Ice” rang out the audience suddenly came to life, singing along and dancing, before indifference was restored by another newie and a pattern emerged as the band alternated between old and new material, never playing two consecutive older songs and therefore never being able to build up any momentum. It didn’t help that they are an uncharismatic bunch and offer little in the way of visual impact. Alec Ounsworth was maybe a little more vocal between songs than he has been on previous occasions but that really isn’t saying much. Most of the crowd around me were simply amused to find that he speaks in the same voice that he sings.

The evening’s highlight was undoubtedly “The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth” which saw the crowd singing along en masse to Ounsworth’s whimsical guitar riff, though shortly afterwards the excellent “Emily Jean Stock” went criminally ignored. Only with the closing “Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood” and the subsequent encores of “Is This Love?” and “Heavy Metal” did we get a run of songs that had the audience’s undivided attention, but it was too little too late.

It seemed to me that CSN&Y don’t yet have the sonic arsenal or the personality to succeed in a venue of this size with an audience that have had little time to get familiar with an album that is much more demanding than its predecessor. It would be great if they could get Dave Fridmann to tour with them and reproduce the album tracks in all their fake lo-fi glory, though I doubt that many people there on Friday night would share my opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time we see them they’re back at the Academy 2, and I, for one, look forward to that.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Upon This tidal Wave Of Young Blood

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Emily Jean Stock

Posted by The Ledge on 6th February 2007 at 6:13 pm | comments (4)
File under Gig Reviews, Reviews, mp3.

Gig Review: The Decemberists, Sheffield Leadmill, February 2, 2007

The Decemberists' setlist, Sheffield Leadmill, 2nd Feb 2007You know you’ve seen a great gig when Colin Meloy sits on your friend in the middle of it and then lets you play his guitar. The Ledge and I were faced with a dilemma last night. I bought us tickets to two different Decemberists gigs – Manchester and Sheffield – and then a couple of days later he bought two tickets to see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It was a week before we realised that the CYHSY gig and the Decemberists Sheffield gig were on the same night. The Ledge decided he wanted to see both bands so opted to give his Sheffield ticket away. I wanted to see both bands as well, but as The Decemberists are my favourite band in the world at the moment, I opted for both Decemberists gigs instead, thinking that I really need to give the new CYHSY album a few intense listens before seeing them perform it live. Thankfully for me, not so much for The Ledge, based partially on the above events, I think I made the right decision.

Just to set the stage here, I introduced rock babe Bricking Chick to The Decemberists’ music about two weeks ago. She reservedly agreed to go with me to the gig despite the fact that we had a late-night work-related function the night before and even though she was not even sure she actually liked them. She’s pretty sure she does now. When we set off for Sheffield at about 4:30pm, neither of us were entirely certain we would manage the drive, much less be able to stay awake for the gig and still make it back to Manchester in one piece. Such is the charm and brilliance of The Decemberists, they managed to wake us both up with their intro tape alone which asked us all to look out for those around us, please don’t push and instructed us to introduce ourselves to our neighbours. Then the band strolled on stage, all smiles, to inform us they were a bit jet-lagged as it was the first night of the tour before launching into “The Crane Wife 3.” The set involved a huge amount of time retuning, some instruments I’d never seen before, including Chris Funk using this grey accordian-like contraption with buttons, strings, knobs and keys which he had to wind and a new violinist to take the place of Petra Haden who filled her role more than adequately even if she doesn’t quite exude the same amount of charisma.

The set included the full cycle “The Island” which doesn’t delight me on the album as much as other tracks but I thought translated brilliantly. Sadly, the rather subdued crowd who did not seem to be particularly familiar with the band’s material ignored Colin’s instructions to stomp along with the first part of the song. “We Both Go Down Together” was the first non-Crane Wife track and it sounded oddly jaunty. Moving on to “Summersong” off the new album, I wondered why they’d chosen that over the far superior “Yankee Bayonet” or “The Perfect Crime” and was delighten to hear “Eli, the Barrow Boy” and “Billy Liar” back-to-back, the latter of which contained some odd piano which was rather high in the mix, but also provoked the first slight bit of movement from the crowd as I think maybe three other people had possibly heard it. The band, however, did not seem to notice the lack of energy in the crowd as they cracked jokes about Sheffield bands and countered hecklers with obscene gestures. It was painfully obvious to me however as I felt a bit silly bursting to jump up and down with nobody else following suit. Even when Colin came to the barrier right in front of me and put his foot on Bricking Chick’s elbow, there was absolutely no pushing behind us to get near to him. While I appreciated not having to fight to stay on my feet, it did seem rather unusual for a gig.

“The Legionnaire’s Lament” found its way back into the set. I’d particularly enjoyed it at All Tomorrow’s Parties even though I’ve never paid the track much attention on the record, and I enjoyed it again. It seems to work very well in a live setting. Finally came “O’ Valencia” and the crowd started to move a bit. They maintained the energy with a fantastic version of “16 Military Wives” which contained a crowd sing-off as Colin divided us in two for the “La di da di das” at the end of the song. Finishing the main part of the set with “The Crane Wife 1 & 2″ and “Sons and Daughters” the band held another audience sing-along to the refrain “Hear all the bombs fade away” at the end of the song before disappearing off stage, having finally provoked mass screaming and singing along.

Although the setlist read “Solo” at the start of the encore, presumably meaning a solo track from Colin, the whole band emerged instead before Colin’s usual intro about an “autobiographical” song led into “The Chimbley Sweep.” As they did their usual 10-minute rendition, complete with a segue into Leonard Cohen’s “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On,” Colin worked the crowd, coming again down to us at the barrier before sitting himself down on Bricking Chick and handing his guitar first to the security guards to play before turning around, holding the correct strings down and letting us have a strum and shaking a few hands. He even handed his guitar back into the crowd briefly before returning to the stage to theatrically encourage the band to lie down for a nap, shouting at Chris Funk for reaching for his beer instead of lying down. While I was surprised to still see this routine after two years, I realised as he encouraged us to sit down and nobody moved a muscle until I pulled Bricking Chick to the ground, that this was a completely new thing to British audiences (at least the ones who didn’t make it to ATP) and that everyone really should be delighting in the histrionics as they’re such a fun and amusing part of The Decemberists’ live set. Wouldn’t you know it though, one loser refused to sit down on the floor and Colin refused to play on until he did, so finally the crowd booed at him so loudly he was forced to get down in time to hear Jenny Conlee’s vocals and the crowd jumping back to our collective feet for a giant finish. As the band left the stage and Bricking Chick grabbed hold of the setlist, all I could think was how thankful I am that I can still look forward to a second showing on Monday night in Manchester, with hopefully a more responsive crowd.

In case anyone was wondering, to my surprise, Liam Frost opened, not Lavender Diamond, and was charming although not exactly what we needed. I prefer him with a full band, but he certainly sounded lovely, just not lively enough for me in my state of exhaustion. I’m looking forward to seeing Lavender Diamond on Monday night.

The Decemberists – The Legionnaire’s Lament

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife 3

Posted by JustHipper on 3rd February 2007 at 5:45 pm | comments (12)
File under Gig Reviews, Reviews, mp3.

Gig Review: Hot Club de Paris, Manchester Night & Day, January 26, 2007

Ever have one of those nights where you’re at a good gig and you’re just not in the mood? Friday was one of those nights. We got down to the Night & Day reasonably early, in time to see part of Slow Club who seemed a fairly charming concatenation of lo-fi girl-boy vocals, and upbeat melodies. There were two of them, a female drumer and a male guitarist and If I’d been able to see both of them I might have enjoyed it more. I’ll certainly be looking out for future gigs because they did intrigue me, especially after The Ledge pointed out that the female drummer was playing a wooden chair, not a drum set.

Next up were Dartz who barely deserve a mention as they were nothing more than uninspired Bloc Party copyists. When they didn’t sound like a bored and slightly less intelligent version of Bloc Party they sounded like a bored and slightly less intelligent version of Gang of Four. Needless to say, they did not impress. Mostly all I could think about was how hot the Night & Day was, how much I was looking forward to my bed and how much people who bump into me at gigs while heading for the bar/toilets and don’t apologise really piss me off (yes, all 309,983,966,975,715,625 of you who did so during Dartz’s set, you know who you are and you are VERY RUDE!).

When Hot Club de Paris emerged onto the stage I was just tired and grumpy and I could not even tell where the stage was, much less see the band. Despite this, it was hard not to notice how much better they sound live than on record. On their album, at times they sound a bit monotonous and verge into novelty act territory. Live, they make much more sense. The impishly filthy lyrics which are harmonized acapella show their personalities and the pseudo-Futureheads sounds of the rest of their material take a backseat to the energy of the delivery and the cleverness of the wordplay. The audience were certainly loving the show as “Sometimesitsbetternottostickbitsofeachotherineachotherforeachother” inspired a giant singalong. Sadly, my temper on the night meant that I was quite pleased that it was a short, 45-minute set showcasing the album and a couple of newer tracks. Hot Club de Paris, however, are a delight to behold live and hopefully they will start to lose some of their more blatant influences and let their personality and energy shine through a bit more on record in future.

Hot Club De Paris – Sometimesitsbetternottosticksbitsofeachotherineachotherforeachother

Hot Club De Paris – Bonded By Blood (A Song For Two Brothers)

Posted by JustHipper on 3rd February 2007 at 5:38 pm | comments (3)
File under Gig Reviews, Reviews, mp3.