Archive for May, 2007

Gig Review: The Besnard Lakes, Night & Day Café, 23rd May 2007

The Besnard Lakes have released one of my favourite albums of 2007 thus far in Are The Dark Horse, an album chock full of epic shoegaze anthems with nods towards The Beach Boys, Neil Young and Spiritualized, among others. With its huge guitar sounds and multi-layered vocal harmonies I wasn’t really expecting their live show to live up to it, especially in such a small venue as the Night & Day and with only around 40 people in attendance thanks, presumably, to the Champions League final (watched the first half, went to gig, managed not to find out the score, watched second half when I got in. Easy).

Land Of Talk @ the Night & DaySupport was from Land Of Talk, yet another excellent Canadian band, a three-piece playing a fairly conventional brand of indie rock but melodically a cut above many of their peers. I spent much of the set marvelling at singer Elizabeth Powell’s guitar skills as she managed to bash out rhythm and lead parts at the same time and make it all look so easy. That she sang so well while doing this was all the more impressive. On this form their Applause Cheer Boo Hiss long player should be well worth checking out.

The Besnard Lakes were six members strong, including three with guitars and one with keyboard, and they set about dispelling any doubts I had about their abilities to transfer their songs to the live arena. They kicked off with “Ride The Rails”, probably my favourite song from Are The Dark Horse, and it was unbelievably good, the muted, moaning guitars and subtle keyboards of the verses giving way to Olga Goreas’ superb descending bass riff to usher in the glorious chorus. This lead straight into “Devastation” where the only disappointment of the evening was that its gargantuan riff managed to get lost somewhere in the mix.

The Besnard Lakes @ the Night & DayFrom thereon in things just got better and better, the lonely atmosphere of an almost empty room was transformed by a band who played like they were playing to several thousand, the epic nature of the songs uninhibited by the size of the venue. There were so many highlights: Jace Lasek’s superb falsetto on “For Agent 13”; the sweet harmonies and pounding chorus of “Disaster”; the end of “Because Tonight” when the guitars take off and soar to the heavens, striking the few people who had started to chat to each other during the quiet bits dumb. I’m pretty sure that this gig will be up there in my end of year polls come December. Shame on you all for staying in to watch the football.

Land Of Talk – Summer Special

The Besnard Lakes – Ride The Rails

Posted by The Ledge on 30th May 2007 at 5:35 pm | comments (4)
File under Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

Gig Reviews: Bill Callahan/Electrelane/Sounds From The Other City

I’ll never get round to writing full reviews for these gigs so here’s a big review of all three.

The Bill Callahan gig was the day we got back from ATP and I hadn’t bought a ticket in advance not knowing what state of exhaustion I’d be in. JustHipper had somehow won tickets for the “secret” James gig in the Club Academy the same night and had gone down early. When I arrived I was told I had to join the huge queue of James fans queueing at the box office to pick up their free tickets in what was an appalling administrative cock-up. Why they couldn’t have given these out on the Club Academy door letting other people pick up their tickets for the other gigs in the building I don’t know. Instead I spent ten minutes flitting between the back of the queue, trying unsuccessfully to convince the guy on the door that the support band were already on and I was missing them, and trying to get a ticket from a tout. The latter eventually turned up trumps and I got a ticket for a couple of quid less than they were on the door and managed to catch the last three songs of Cherry Ghost, which all sounded very good despite a quite sterile atmosphere in the venue for what was a seated gig. Inevitably they closed with the brilliant “Mathematics” and I was glad I made the effort.

I’d seen Bill Callahan the day before at ATP and he was excellent but the Academy gig was stymied by the seating arrangements which didn’t work last time he played here when touring his Supper album. The new Woke On A Whaleheart long player is more rhythm, less introspection than its predecessors and the likes of “Diamond Dancer” and “Footprints” would be more suited to a small sweaty club than a soulless assembly hall. While the opening “From The Rivers To The Ocean” had little of the romantic sweep of its recorded version, “Sycamore” fared better but the real highlights came from the A River Ain’t Too Much To Love material, especially the superb extended version of “Let Me See The Colts” that closed proceedings. On the downside Thor Harris’ Neanderthal drumming with his cardboard box of a snare sound really began to grate after a while and I started to yearn for the delicate refined rhythms of the great Jim White, who had played on Bill’s previous tour.

Electrelane are one of those bands I keep meaning to check out but never get round to it so I went into their Club Academy gig a week later having only heard their Power Out record a couple of times. We caught the end of The Early Years and they sounded much better than they had when we last caught the end of one of their sets in Liverpool last year. Their wailing shoegazey guitars took me right back to 1991 and they even played the requisite ten minute closing track: all swirly effects-laden guitars and ethereal, half-heard vocals. More impressive were Electrelane, effortlessly cool behind floppy fringes and playing a varied set that, were it a book, I’d find difficult to put down. JustHipper was worried that they’d sound like Stereolab (she hates Stereolab with a passion; I took her to a Stereolab gig in 1998 and it’s as close as we ever came to splitting up) but, thankfully on this occasion, they didn’t. The only songs I recognised came in the encore with the splendid “On Parade” and a krautrocking version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”.

Our first experience of Sounds From The Other City, Salford’s annual mini-festival which takes place in seven pubs and a church in close proximity to each other and within easy reach of Manchester city centre, was a bit of a let down. It’s a great event, that’s for sure, but some of the venues were overcrowded to the point that we had to miss most of the bands we were planning to see. The afternoon started well with Onions‘ enjoyable power pop at the Mark Addy but stuttered immediately with the dire britrock of The Jakpot at The King’s Arms. We didn’t stick around and headed for The Black Lion to see Bitterly Ironic‘s homage to 80s synth pop and fashion followed by the electro indie of Modernaire, who I was quite enjoying until JustHipper suggested we move on to the Rovers Return where we had hoped to spend much of the rest of the evening but which was already packed to the rafters. After about a quarter of an hour of Italian Sub Poppers Jennifer Gentle’s excitable indie pop we decided to escape the crowds and found sanctity in the environs of the Sacred Trinity Church where The Boats‘ quiet electronic twitterings were in keeping with the surroundings but the two blokes sitting at their laptops didn’t hold our interest for too long – they could have been surfing the net for all we know. Or blogging. We just missed out on The Tremenduloes at the Albert Vaults but stuck around to see Gideon Conn and were very glad that we did. Conn’s refreshing, witty songs veered from folk to hip-hop and back again and this, coupled with his charmingly naïve stage demeanour made his set the highlight of the day by a long way. Back at the King’s Arms it was one in/one out for the Answering Machine so we ambled across to the Salford Arms to take in the guitar and drums racket of instrumental duo That Fucking Tank, who were pretty awesome and went down a storm with paying punters and locals alike. Then it was back to the Mark Addy where The KBC were supposed to be playing a secret show at the end of the night. We caught the last couple of songs from Working For A Nuclear Free City and decided that was enough and headed for the nearest taxi. Apparently The KBC didn’t show up anyway.

Bill Callahan – Footprints

Electrelane – On Parade

Posted by The Ledge on 28th May 2007 at 10:32 pm | comments (5)
File under Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

David vs. Goliath – the Net Radio Version

Thanks to Pitchfork for running a story about the possible demise of net radio. As it stands right now, royalties for internet radio stations in the U.S. are set to rise in mid-July to such an exorbitant rate that only the big companies will be able to afford to pay, putting the little indies, the stations that introduce us all to the great and the unusual and the new, out of business.

This is yet another example of the corporate music industry not understanding that it is slowly killing itself. If small radio stations prosper then people hear records they wouldn’t otherwise hear and they maybe go out and buy them. If these stations die off, then people aren’t going to turn to the big corporate stations, they’re going to start downloading more tracks and once they’ve downloaded them are probably less likely to buy the CDs.

In any case, it’s a travesty because it’s the small indies who set the trends and who turn us on to the best stuff. So, go register your disapproval with and help them keep the rates at their current level.

Posted by JustHipper on 21st May 2007 at 8:13 pm | comments (6)
File under News,Random comment.

Festival Review: ATP 2007, The Dirty Three Weekend, Day 3: Sunday 29th April 2007

Sunday began with a short walk into Minehead for breakfast and to get the Sunday paper, though finding a copy of The Observer or The Guardian within a five mile radius of an ATP event would require getting up before the sun. On our way back we saw the impeccably dressed Nick Cave ahead of us, seemingly heading towards Splash Waterworld, and we fantasised briefly of seeing the great man thundering down the huge water slides with a big dumb grin on his face. Sadly, he turned right before he got there and disappeared into a row of relatively decadent looking chalets. “We know where you live,” we thought.

A Silver Mt Zion Orchestra @ ATP 2007 (soundcheck)I left JustHipper in the chalet (she had a bit of a cold coming on) to get down to see Papa M who was first on at Centre Stage. On my way there I stopped to watch A Silver Mt Zion Orchestra soundchecking on the main stage and they sounded wonderful, all nine or so of them huddled together in the centre of the vast stage, looking inwards on each other, communicating through nods and smiles as they played through a couple of their numbers to a small but very appreciative audience. I regretted that I wouldn’t be seeing their set later on as I was planning to spend most of the day at Centre Stage.

David Pajo drew a sizable crowd for his Papa M billed set that took in much more material recorded under his PAJO monicker than his actual Papa M stuff. It was just him, his guitar, some bells that he played with his feet and his arsenal of shiny black folk songs and he sounded superb, his rich hushed vocals and unerringly precise guitar picking rendering the songs almost identical to their recorded versions, which, in this case, wasn’t a bad thing.

Mary Margaret O'Hara @ ATP 2007The place cleared out quite a bit for Mary Margaret O’Hara. Seems like the kids (well, anyone under 35) have no idea who this legendary, reclusive, eccentric Canadian songstress is but for me this was the most eagerly awaited set of the weekend – I never expected to ever get the chance to see her live as the world has barely heard a peep from her since she released her classic, and only, album Miss America in the late Eighties. O’Hara came across like your favourite dotty aunt, flitting about the stage, chatting lightheartedly to imaginary friends in the audience, consulting with her band but not seeming to be remotely on the same wavelength as them, or as anyone else in the room. The first song passed without incident, except for the incident where the bass player failed to turn up. The second song was Al Wilson’s “The Snake” and it was sounding heavenly with O’Hara’s vocals seeming to have lost none of their exceptional quality in the last twenty or so years. Up until the second verse, that is, when she completely forgot the words and turned to her guitarist and drummer and imaginary bass player searching for some sort of cue to get her going again. Alas, it was not to be and the song ended abruptly with O’Hara urging us to seek out the Al Wilson version for further enlightenment. The next song she didn’t even get past the first line before her memory deserted her. She made up for it with a slightly hestitant “Body In Trouble”, where she seemed to be fighting to recall some parts but ultimately winning, and a stunning, and full, version of “Dear Darling”, my personal fave from Miss America and a song that was worth any amount of cock-ups and forgotten words. “Year In Song, or “Urine Song” as she introduced it having, probably on purpose, misheard a request from the crowd, fared less well, falling again at the second verse. An impromptu band conference was called. The bass player turned up. For the last song. I honestly thought the band were joking at the start when they were calling out for a bass player. The song was something to do with rainbows and incorporated large part of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and it was brilliant thanks to O’Hara’s incredible vocals. Then she was gone and we were left slightly bemused but quietly satisfied to have witnessed probably the most bizarre set of the weekend.

Joanna Newsom @ ATP 2007The place was jam packed again for Joanna Newsom and she and the Ys Street Band didn’t let anyone down with a set most of which was taken up with Ys material, including a heartstopping “Emily”. There were none of the problems of last year when the incessant chatter from the perimeters caused all sort of feedback problems, instead there was almost reverential silence from an enchanted audience. It was her first set of the afternoon; the second set was to be even better but inbetween her paramour Bill Callahan, or The Artist Formerly Known As Smog, played a set of almost equal brilliance, starting with “Sycamore”, the standout track from his Woke On A Whaleheart long player and running through most of that album as well as the hoary old classic “Cold Blooded Old Times” and the beautiful “Rock Bottom Riser” and “Say Valley Maker” from A River Ain’t Too Much To Love, the latter of which rose magnificantly at its conclusion and made us all forget those tight white jeans Bill was wearing. It all ended on a bit of a downer when the set was cut short with a song left to play leading to disgruntled murmurs from the audience and a silent, abrupt exit from Mr Callahan.

I slipped back out to check out a bit of Nick Cave playing his second set of the weekend at the Skyline Pavilion only to notice a huge queue for the Centre Stage snaking all the way from one end of the Pavilion to the Burger King at the other end. Nick was playing “Love Letter”, damn him, but I knew I’d better get back to the Centre Stage if I was going to catch Ms Newsom’s second offering of the day. Now, there are two entrances to the Centre Stage, one in the Pavilion which is where the queue was, and one just outside the Pavilion on the other side of the Reds entrance. That was the door I’d just come out of and I walked back past the queue, through the Pavilion doors and straight back into the venue. No queue at those doors so why the hell was everyone queueing?

Anyway, Newsom’s set was even better even though she repeated performances of “Bridges And Balloons”, “Emily” and “Sawdust And Diamonds”. She played “Colleen” and a much improved version of “Inflammatory Writ” which was softer than the jarring album version. The Ys Street Band provided a thoughful and restrained accompanyment and the deft arrangements always served to enhance Newsom’s incredible harp playing and vocals, the flurry of fingers punctuated by a squeaked “ha!” during “Colleen” giving me goosebumps. As the set was drawing to a close the unholy racket of Mum Smokes in the Reds bar below leaked into the refined air of Centre Stage but the band soldiered on. “That’s loud” offered Joanna before a mesmerising “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”, which was anything but and which sent everyone away happy.

The Ducks Of Flamingo GroveI met back up with JustHipper at Reds where we caught the end of Mum Smokes, who weren’t that loud after all, they just had a really deep bass sound. She was enthusing about the Nick Cave/Grinderman performance, about how the great man had been taking requests from people throughout the day and how they’d played “Into Your Arms” which I was pretty gutted about. We watched a bit of The Small Knives‘ quiet acoustic pop before grabbing a pizza and heading back to the chalet, past the two ducks who seemed to be permanent residents of the long strip of grass along Flamingo Grove, certain in the knowledge that we’d be back next year.

Our Flickr photo set of ATP 2007

Here’s JustHipper’s video of Mary Margaret O’Hara doing “Body In Trouble”

PAJO – High Lonesome Moan

Mary Margaret O’Hara – Year In Song

Bill Callahan – Sycamore

Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band – Colleen

Posted by The Ledge on 11th May 2007 at 7:15 pm | comments (20)
File under Festival Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

Festival Review: ATP 2007, The Dirty Three Weekend, Day 2: Saturday 28th April 2007

Saturday started with more bluesy Aussie rock in the form of Joel Silbersher & The Spot Of Bother, The Spot Of Bother presumably being the two members of The Drones that Joel shared a stage with. Apparently Joel is some kind of post-punk legend in Oz and his set was refreshingly varied and a good way to start the day.

Magnolia Electric Co. @ ATP 2007Disappointingly Magnolia Electric Co. played pretty much the same set on the main stage that they had played on the Centre Stage the day before. The closed atmosphere of the Centre Stage certainly suited them more than the Pavilion where you sensed that the music didn’t quite have the reach to bring in a whole bunch of new admirers, although those already in the know lapped it up. Jason Molina was certainly in fine voice and “Leave The City” and “Memphis Moon” were sublime.

As we waited for Low to take the stage I was anxiously looking up the football results. Leeds were ahead, but so were Hull and it looked like it would go down to the last day of the season. Ipswich equalised and the rest is history. My phone flashed up “full time” just as the band were coming on (it wasn’t actually full time, it was a pitch invasion). Last year we were watching Destroyer at Camber Sands while Leeds were being destroyed by Watford in the play-off final. ATP is not a good festival for Leeds fans.

Low @ ATP 2007The first couple of Low songs ran past in a blur as I struggled to get my head round the fact the Scunthorpe are now in a higher division than us. Fortunately the band were playing a blinder with songs from the new Drums And Guns long player coming across bruised and beautiful thanks to the spellbinding vocals of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker. During “Laser Beam” a young guy at the barrier a few feet from me started crying his eyes out and didn’t stop for the rest of the performance. Another Leeds fan, maybe. I don’t know how many people were watching as we were right at the front but there must have been perhaps two or three thousand at least and for a band whose music is so quiet and studied to hold such a large audience in their sway for an hour was a great achievement. The sustained roar of approval for “Pissing” had Sparhawk looking pleasantly bewildered.

Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline weren’t so successful and I spent most of their set feeling bored as Jason Pearce and co. ran through some of the more gospelly numbers from their back catalogue. The cavalry arrived with the final three songs in the form of “Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space”, “I Think I’m In Love” and “Lord, Can You Hear Me” all of which were ace and were worth sitting through the rest of the soporiphic set for.

Grinderman @ ATP 2007Nick Cave is a man on the top of his game and he set about proving it, first with a brilliant set of Bad Seeds numbers followed by the first ever live outing for Grinderman. The band were made up of his Grinderman companions Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos and they treated us to wired versions of “West Country Girl”, “The Weeping Song” and “Deanna” among others. Ellis was again a magnetic presence, playing with the same manic energy that had lit up his Dirty Three set the day before. “Red Right Hand” provided an unlikely crowd singalong while the version of “The Mercy Seat” was almost as good as the one they played at Bridgewater Hall over a year ago.

The Grinderman set was marred by a few technical difficulties that stopped the band from really getting a full head of steam until the end. Cave had to do the “white mice and baboons” intro from opening “Get In On” twice after Warren Ellis’ distortion pedal from hell failed to kick in first time. It was a great performance nonetheless and they were joined by Bobby Gillespie on percussion as they treated us to the entire Grinderman album. There was also the added bonus of the rare sight of Nick Cave playing guitar; nothing fancy, mind, just guttoral chords and the odd one finger melody. He had to get Warren Ellis to tune the thing for him on one occasion and he looked like a kid having his mum tie his shoelaces for him on the first day of school. Amid all the raw testosterone-fuelled rock moves the quiet songs, “Man In The Moon” and “Go Tell The Women” stood up admirably thanks to Nick’s way with a croon and the closing roar of “Love Bomb” brought proceeding son the main stage to a more than satisfactory close for the day.

The Drones @ ATP 2007There was still plenty watch on the other stages for the rest of the evening and having spent almost six hours in the same spot at the main stage it was a relief to finally get back to Centre Stage where we could sit down and watch The Drones, who were in electrifying form. I’ve had trouble getting into their albums but they make much more sense live and they played their bluesy Aussie rock (there seemed to be plenty of bluesy Aussie rock about this weekend) with fire in their bellies. Before the end, but not before a towering version of “Shark Fin Blues”, I decided to slip off to catch some of We Ragazzi in Reds but was slightly disappointed by their energetic mix of scratchy blues guitar and cheesy farfisa organ which should have been great but was merely ok and grew wearying after a while.

Back at Centre Stage I was again battling falling eyelids as I attempted to stay awake long enough to see Einstürzende Neubauten. Nina Nastasia didn’t help the cause, her folksy meanderings barely registering with us despite the assistance of Jim White on drums. When they finally came on it was worth the wait. I’d never heard much of their stuff before and expected them to be a lot more industrial and much less melodic than they actually were. Frontman, and ex-Bad Seed, Blixa Bargeld was on fine form, his deep German baritone bringing back memories of seeing him play “The Weeping Song” with his old band. The most startling aspects of the performance were the myriad forms of percussion employed. Hundreds of steel rods were emptied from a metal box over the percussionists equipment; a rhythm was beaten out on four huge wooden pipes which seemed to be singing out their cadence. Sadly, I didn’t make it to the end but saw enough to regret not having made the effort to listen to them previously.

Low – Pissing

Grinderman – Go Tell The Women

The Drones – Shark Fin Blues

Posted by The Ledge on 9th May 2007 at 10:48 pm | comments (5)
File under Festival Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

Festival Review: ATP 2007 – The Dirty Three Weekend, Day 1: Friday 27th April 2007

The Skyline Pavilion, Butlins, MineheadIt has to be said that the new venue for All Tomorrow’s Parties at Butlins in Minehead, Somerset is a massive improvement on the Pontins in Camber Sands where the event had taken place since its inception in 2000. Ok, so it’s still a crappy holiday camp but the rooms are better, there are more places to eat and drink, there’s an extra stage and the size of the stages has increased to accommodate the extra capacity, which has doubled to 6,000. Plus, it’s much easier to get to (for us at least), my run down to Taunton to pick up JustHipper, after her week of following James from Birmingham to Brixton, flying by in a haze of Nick Cave and Mary Margaret O’Hara CDs.

The main stage is in the Skyline Pavilion which is the resort’s centrepiece. It’s a huge indoor climate controlled space and the size of the stage alone makes it feel like you’re at a festival. The Only Ones were the first band on on Friday and were playing their first gig in 26 years. They were forty minutes late for the performance because, apparently, no one woke Pete Perrett up. Perrett looks like someone who needs waking up for a gig, like a younger but no less cadaverous Keith Richards. Considering how long they’d been away they put in a remarkably tight performance. I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with their work aside from the obvious but I was impressed with what I heard: above average post-punk with sharp edges, clever lyrics and Perrett’s highly individual vocal style. All very much like “Another Girl, Another Planet”, then, which I stuck around for (it was a definite hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck experience) before heading off to the Centre Stage to see Magnolia Electric Co. who were even better, their warm country blues and superb guitar interplay charming the sizeable crowd. I hadn’t planned to stick around for too long as The Dirty Three were on the main stage and MEC were playing again on the Saturday but I couldn’t drag myself away. After the beautiful closing “Shiloh” I made my way back to the main stage to catch most of The Dirty Three’s set.

The Dirty Three @ ATP 2007The sound that these three musicians make is incredible and easily filled the huge space in front of them. Jim White’s ingenius drumming and Mick Turner’s unflappable curtain of guitar are a sumptuous backdrops to Warren Ellis’ wailing violin. Ellis with his manic, electric stage presence was the undoubted star of the weekend and the sight of him throwing his long, lank hair back, mid-song, while launching a huge glob of saliva towards the heavens was perhaps, for me, the defining image of ATP 2007. His long, often hilarious, song introductions certainly lightened the mood between the bouts of intense, soaring post-rock.

There was pause for breath after the curators’ set so we finally grabbed some fish & chips before heading off to the third stage, Reds, to catch The Art Of Fighting, who didn’t seem to be as hard as their name suggests, playing a quiet, lush pop with an occasional epic sweep. I recognised the excellent “Heart Translation” from Sweeping The Nation‘s Songs To Learn And Sing feature of last year but overall the performance didn’t really grab me, instead it merely suggested that I might like to investigate further at some point in the future, if I feel like it.

Back at the Centre Stage Devastations‘ brooding bluesy Aussie rock spiked with the odd blazing torrent of guitar abuse was hampered by some clunky lyrics but ultimately went down quite well with both of us though by now we were dead on our feet after a long day and chose bed over the frightening prospect of Josh T Pearson at two in the morning.

Magnolia Electric Co. – Leave The City

The Art Of Fighting – Heart Translation

Posted by The Ledge on 8th May 2007 at 10:23 pm | comments (27)
File under Festival Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

Gig Review: Brett Anderson, Manchester Academy 2, May 2, 2007

Apologies for reviewing out of order, but this one is half-written in my head and the three James gigs will take longer to describe. Plus, we’re enjoying being controvertial at the moment and I suspect that anything I say about Brett is going to spark a bit of lively debate.

In any case, I had the feeling, heading down to the Uni, that this gig was going to be a bit of a let-down. After all, I’d spent the week watching James perform songs that I’d never expected to hear live, watching the inaugural Grinderman performance as well as Mary Margaret O’Hara’s first live gig in 15 years. Brett Anderson playing songs from an album I find devastatingly mediocre was bound to be a disappointing end to a very long and exhausting 8 days of gigs. I did not even really want to go as I had a nasty cold and had not had a full night’s sleep since some time in the middle of April; but, as I’d paid roughly £18 for the ticket and the fact the show hadn’t sold out meant I knew I couldn’t sell it, I dragged myself down there expecting disappointment. I’d heard he was subjecting his audiences to some of the worst moments of Suede, namely “Obsessions.” This was clearly a bad sign.

The opening band, the Silky Peaches (or something like that) were on stage when I got inside. The most memorable thing about them was the P.A. blowing about 2 songs before they finished causing them to have to end their set early. I felt bad, they were very gracious about it. But they were also entirely unremarkable. It’s a shame. Brett has Charlotte Hatherly opening for him elsewhere on the tour. I’d have been excited to see that.

Brett Anderson at Manchester AcademyThe P.A. was working, however, in good time for the man himself to emerge on stage, looking very much like a banker, with a backing band which includes Mat Osman, formerly of Suede. He started with “To the Winter,” a track that had gone right past me on the first 7 or 8 listens, but now I must admit has grown on me, it’s one of the more honest and vulnerable tracks on the solo record and it sounded nice live. Brett’s voice is certainly on form at the moment and he’s a warm and witty performer, playing to his crowd well. The second track, “Love Is Dead,” which is also one of the more listenable tracks from the solo record, seemed a bit marred by the fact that he sounded like he was struggling a bit with his voice, a dry throat or something. Beyond that the singing was never in question though.

He tore though a bunch of solo tracks: “Scorpio Rising” gets worse every time I hear it; “Dust and Rain” works well live despite the idiotic lyrics; “Intimacy” should be dirtier but gave Brett an excuse to shake his rather shapely backside; “One Lazy Morning” had the crowd going but is so cringeworthy it made me embarassed to be in the room. It struck me that although most of these songs are meant to be personal and intimate, and despite their softness, Brett was still striding around the stage like he was belting out “Animal Nitrate,” waving his arms in the air, striking rock poses. Maybe this is reflex and he doesn’t realise he’s doing it, but often it seemed very self-conscious, as if he knew very well the crowd were there and felt he had to perform this way to satisfy expectations. It is at odds with the tone of the songs and distracted from them.

Moreso, while his on-stage renditions seemed to defy what he says he wanted to achieve with his solo record, it seems that even Brett realises he has won no new fans with this record and has worked out the crowd really just wanted a Suede reunion. Somewhere in there, as a result, we got “By the Sea” and Brett asking us “Do you recognise this one yet?” I’ve never heard Suede play “By the Sea,” one of my favourite tracks off Coming Up, and I must admit I was thrilled. It was followed up with “Colour of the Night” which is the song whose production works the best on the album, but bothers me with its mysogyny, “Back To You,” a wonderful track recorded for Fred Ball’s album which is what prompted Brett to work with Fred Ball on his own solo album and is one of the best things Brett has written in a long while, and “The Infinite Kiss” which I must admit is a great song.

At this point, the Dark Overlord of the Fringe took himself off stage so they could swap the setup, bring out a stool and a different microphone for him. He returned to take requests, just him and an acoustic guitar, for the Suede portion of the show. Two things became immediately apparent: stripped of the protection of a full band, just him and us, the whole thing became more honest and more vulnerable and this seemed to be the tone that he needed to strike for the solo material to work live; also, nobody really seemed to care about hearing the solo stuff, they wanted old Suede gems. Brett must have realised this and seemed happy to oblige, taking requests for “The Living Dead,” “The Big Time” and “The Wild Ones,” which seriously and quite pathetically made my night as those are three of my favourite Suede tracks and they sounded wonderful. He properly won me over though when, in response to a request for “Lonely Girls,” possibly the worst song ever written in the history of songs, he said “You really want to hear that? No. It’s a bit shit really.” Too bad you can’t go back in time and not include it on A New Morning eh Brett?

After another short gap, Brett returned with the full band to tear through “Can’t Get Enough,” “Trash” and “Beautiful Ones” and I found myself singing along and dancing despite myself, even though I’m pretty sure there is something cringeworthy and pathetic about someone approaching forty still playing songs about being a wasted youth as part of his live show. It’s like seeing the Who play “My Generation” now. It is somehow wrong. But he still looks and sounds great playing them and they dragged me back in time ten years. And after all, I was dancing to “Trash” in an indie disco when I first noticed The Ledge. I guess it was just one of those moments.

So, it was a great gig. Brett Anderson is a great performer. But I walked away feeling that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much. As good as he was on stage, it seems sad that in order to keep his audience happy he realised he had to make the set about his past instead of his present. Hopefully this is a wake up call, not to a Suede reformation which would be nothing more than nostalgia, but about upping his game a bit, pushing for that intimacy and honesty he nearly had when it was just him, us and his guitar, and making himself vulnerable again. If he did that, he’d probably never write a duff song. But the same thing could be said about any good songwriter.

“Back To You” – Pleasure feat. Brett Anderson

“The Big Time” – Suede

Posted by JustHipper on 6th May 2007 at 11:21 am | comments (6)
File under Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

The Pony Collaboration, At Swim Two Birds @ Kro Bar, Manchester, 13th April 2007

At Swim Two Birds @ Kro Bar, ManchesterWe went to this gig on the strength of At Swim Two Birds‘ performance at The Circle Club supporting Final Fantasy last year. That night Roger Quigley played to a hushed audience his slow, lonely songs and it was all rather wonderful. Unfortunately the crowd at Kro Bar were not so courteous and despite the fact that the first thing Quigley did was to ask people not to talk during the set his pleas fell on deaf ears, or perhaps people couldn’t hear him through the din, and his set was effectively ruined by a constant chatter that grew in volume as the gig went on. Quigley was joined by a cellist – the perfect accompanyment for his sparse, maudlin fare – and, after opening with “I’m In Bed With Your Best Friend”, which was marred by a sound mix that rendered Quigley and the cellist almost inaudible below the backing track, a film was projected onto the back of the stage. The film was called “The London Nobody Knows” and was a documentary made in 1967 which saw James Mason meeting all sorts of oddball characters on the streets of the city. Unfortunately I became quite engrossed in the film and ended up not paying enough attention to the music. The same could be said for much of the audience and as the murmuring increased you could sense Quigley becoming more and more frustrated until, after only about four songs, he said “right, that’s it” before making an abrupt exit.

Earlier we had enjoyed My Side Of The Mountain‘s melodic, laid back pop: a keyboard-heavy brew augmented by electro bleeps and some beautifully constructed instrumental passages when guitar, bass and drums came into their own and stole the show, particularly on the superb final song, which may have been called “Start A Fire” and which featured some rather excellent drumming.

Tim And Sam's Tim And The Sam Band With Tim And Sam @ Kro Bar, ManchesterTim And Sam’s Tim And The Sam Band With Tim And Sam were a kind of twee version of post-rock, all airy instrumentals with acoustic guitars and violins and no bass or drums. The only vocals were of the “aah aah” variety and they were mostly, and sometimes jarringly, out of tune. Though the performance was initially pleasant I soon began to yearn for the bit of bottom end and the vocals that the songs were crying out for.

The Pony Collaboration rounded off the night in style, the upbeat nature of their music at odds with everything that had gone before. After the country pop of their opener had immediately engaged the crowd they played a varied set that incorporated some great boy/girl vocals and nodded occasionally towards The Go-Betweens and Eighties indie-pop and at one point managed to sound not a million miles away from Broken Social Scene. It was a good end to the night though I left slightly disappointed that the At Swim Two Birds set had backfired so badly.

At Swim Two Birds – Darling

My Side Of The Mountain – Winter People (from their website)

Posted by The Ledge on 3rd May 2007 at 10:30 pm | comments (7)
File under Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews.