Archive for February, 2008

Gig Review: The Hold Steady, Manchester Academy 2, 26th February 2008

The Hold Steady @ Manchester Academy 2, 26th Feb 2008Roughly a year ago the Hold Steady played their first ever Manchester gig at Club Academy. It was full of men in their thirties and forties. In fact, it’s entirely possible that Bricking Chick and I were the only two females in the place, not that I’d have noticed because I was too busy dancing. A week later and The Ledge was with me in Sheffield at a riotous gig that he refers to as “the greatest night of [his] life.”

Oh how things change and yet how they stay the same!

Tuesday night the Hold Steady played an NME gig in the Academy 2. The front row, instead of being packed full of middled-aged men (and me), was full of young lads, some escorted by their parents. The average age of the Hold Steady fan had dropped in the course of a year by about 10 years. Not bad really. Too bad my age won’t do the same. It was disturbing yet thrilling. I worried that the atmosphere would change and that the band’s live show, which works so well in a small venue where there is no distance between them and the audience, would suffer. I didn’t really have to worry (although I fear a leap up to the Academy 1 may be disastrous).

First, however, we had to suffer through The Haze. Now, I can’t work out how they ended up on the bill. I can only imagine that the promoter was walking along a quiet London street when he got hit in the head by, I don’t know, a large piece of debris from a Russian satellite as it crashed to Earth, and was so dazed when he got in to the office that he thought it was 1985 and getting The Cult to play was a good idea. I can’t imagine if he’d been in his right mind he’d have booked a band whose entire set consisted of variations on “She Sells Sanctuary,” a song I can almost tolerate when I’m too drunk to know better.

The Hold Steady @ Manchester Academy 2, 26th Feb 2008The Hold Steady were on great form from the start, all smiles, with Craig Finn saying that he wanted to top their last Manchester show, back in July, which he reckoned was an amazing night. I wouldn’t know, but it was great to get a different opening song, the snarling “Hornets! Hornets!” which we’d not seen live before and which led into a raucous “Stuck Between Stations.” At this point they were off, running through a set which was about half Boys & Girls in America, which the crowd sang back, and half Separation Sunday. Keyboard player Franz Nicolay, sporting a beard to go along with his handlebar moustache, was on good form, making eye contact and grinning at most of the front row, and Craig Finn kept exhorting the crowd to clap and dance more, although he seems to have stopped repeating every line he’s just sung away from the microphone for emphasis. I missed it.

The Hold Steady Setlist, Manchester, February 26, 2008Two new songs made the set: “Constructive Summer,” ostensibly about being home from university for the summer and trying to find something to do, and “Stay Positive” which is the title track from their upcoming album (and which we sneakily filmed for you viewing pleasure). While The Ledge reckons “Constructive Summer” sounds like Hüsker Dü, I thought that both songs were very much in the vein of Boys & Girls in America, that is to say, pop rock songs with great singalong choruses. I’m looking forward to hearing them when I can actually make out the lyrics.

Despite having seen the Hold Steady about a half dozen times over the last 13 months, I continue to be amazed at their ability to be playing a gig with the crowd rather than for us. A lot of bands (can you hear me, Pete Doherty) play lip service to breaking down the barrier between themselves and the audience, but most of those other bands want to be rock stars more than anything and they want to be around their fans so they can get fawned over and told how great they are. The Hold Steady, on the other hand, are no different from their audience (except of course for the fact that they’re genius songwriters) because they’re in the room for the same reason that we’re in the room – because a great gig is a thing of joy and because great music soundtracks all the important moments of our lives and getting to experience that music which is, ahem, scratched into our souls, in a live setting, with 1000 other people experiencing the same thing, can be the greatest feeling in the world.

The Hold Steady – Hornets! Hornets!

Video: “Stay Positive”

Posted by JustHipper on 28th February 2008 at 10:51 pm | comments (9)
File under Gig Reviews,manchester academy 2,manchester gigs,mp3,Reviews,stay positive,the hold steady,video,youtube.

CD Review: The Cave Singers, Invitation Songs (Matador, 2008)

The Cave Singers - Invitation SongsI sat down to review last night’s Band of Horses gig for whom The Cave Singers opened, but it seemed wrong to write about that live set without first giving an assessment of The Cave Singers’ debut album, which has been glued to the CD player in our kitchen for about three weeks now, having arrived in our postbox, ostensibly delivered by the happiness faeries who thought we needed something uplifting and utterly remarkable to raise our spirits during a gloomy February.

The Ledge first spirited the album away to his car, as he does with pretty much everything good, thereby damning me to never hear any new CDs until weeks after I’ve seen the band in question live, struggling to get to grips with hearing new material live for the first time and take it in properly. I asked him what it was like and he told me it sounded a bit like Grant Lee Buffalo, which excited me. Then I got into his car and heard the album. It sounds nothing like Grant Lee Buffalo, thereby proving what I have suspected for quite some time – The Ledge is entirely deaf and only pretends he can hear music. It explains why he thinks the neighbours can’t hear it when he plays his guitar turned up to 11 at midnight and it also explains his extensive Stereolab collection.

The Ledge-bashing aside, however, as much as this album doesn’t sound like Grant Lee Buffalo, it does sound remarkably like the bastard redneck bearded child of Alex Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Mark Greany of JJ72 attempting to cover their own songs in the style of Bob Dylan. If that sounds awful, I apologise for the hideous mental image but quite frankly it works brilliantly.

The album is a collection of poppy folk songs that evoke feelings of sticky summer evenings, rural settings and romantic yearnings. The most noticeable aspects of these songs are not the somewhat unusual bittersweet, tender lyrics which continually reference nature, wildlife and the physical sensations of emotional connection, but rather the yearning tone of the vocals and the simple, captivating guitar melodies, picked out carefully, note-by-note, which overtake everything else. Despite being very minimal – only three instruments and vocals on most of the tracks – the record feels very full and lush to me, perhaps because it causes more of an overall feeling as a finished whole rather than its songs standing out on a track-by-track basis. Very rarely does an album manage to capture a sensation so wholly through the way in which the melodies, the lyrics and the rhythms all blend together like one organic whole, sounding as though they sprung fully-formed like some strange Siamese-triplet beast from the breast of a country-music-worshipping forest nymph to run naked through the woods of the deep southern U.S. before taking a lazy nighttime dip in the Mississippi river and setting up camp for the night on the edge of the prairie, wind whistling through the grass and wolves howling in the distance.

What can I say? Invitation Songs took a few listens to really get to grips with the unique nature of the vocals, but it is definitely worth the effort. It is both beautiful and shocking and is going to make a lot of bloggers’ top 10 lists come the end of 2008.

The Cave Singers – Helen

Posted by JustHipper on 26th February 2008 at 1:22 pm | comments (2)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews,the cave singers.

Gig Review: Nada Surf and Rogue Wave at Manchester Club Academy, February 22, 2008

Zach Rogue of Rogue Wave live in ManchesterBack in November or so I bought a pair of Duffy tickets for a gig at the Ruby Lounge on the back of “Rockferry” which I’d had the privilege of having about 18 months to get to really love. Subsequently she performed on Jools Holland and was, shall we say, unimpressive – not because she doesn’t have a great voice, but because the songs were such bland soul-by-numbers tripe. The Ledge immediately said he was not going to watch Duffy as he’d been iffy on the idea anyway. I still thought there was hope, I mean if she has one song the calibre of “Rockferry” then perhaps there were more. Of course, then I noticed that Rogue Wave were opening for Nada Surf. That did it. Despite only knowing one Nada Surf song – their MTV novelty hit from around 1996 called “Popular” – I told The Ledge I’d put the Duffy tickets up for sale at Scarlet Mist and we could go see Rogue Wave, who had left us both gutted when they’d cancelled their previous (and only) tour date here in Manchester, leaving us wondering if they’d ever make it to the UK.

So, I, at least, was excited to finally get to see Zach Rogue and band as their second album, Descended Like Vultures, never fails to make me smile through the soft, lilting harmonies and Shins-esque guitar lines. The first album isn’t bad either, although it is a bit more naive and simplistic. In any case, we got to the venue early and a small group of people were already clustered near the stage, at least one of them in a Rogue Wave T-shirt purchased from the merchandise stand. While The Ledge was queuing at the bar I made my way forward where a very nice bloke noticed me behind him contemplating where my best view would be and kindly moved behind his friend so I could get close enough to see the stage.

Rogue Wave live in ManchesterBy the time Rogue Wave emerged on stage there was a reasonable crowd, and the number of people singing along and the sheer volume of the shouting suggested that quite a few people had done the same thing we had – come down to see the opener. While the sound was the usual muddy mess that you get in Club Academy most nights, the band were on good form and much louder and rockier live than on record. Like many slightly twee acts, they bolstered the sound a bit live to make it louder and noisier so that it would fill the room a bit more, and it worked, for the most part. I was fascinated with bassist Patrick Abernethy’s upside down bass – he’s left-handed so he’s restrung it rather than buy a left-handed bass.

The short, 30-minute set consisted of about half new songs from an album that has yet to be released here in the UK (and which, sadly, was not on sale on the night) and older material. We were chuffed to hear “Publish My Love,” “Bird on a Wire” and the standout track from the first album, “Every Moment.” For much of the growing crowd, the highlight appeared to be the appearance of Nada Surf’s lead singer, Matthew Caws, to sing on one of the new songs. For me, though, the highlight was “Bird on a Wire” descending madly into everybody on drums and percussion, including Nada Surf’s drummer, Ira Elliot. Only 7 short songs later and with the promise they’d be back in May, Rogue Wave departed all too quickly.

Nada Surf's Matthew Caws on stage with Rogue WaveAfter Rogue Wave, The Ledge and I debated whether we should move back and let somebody more familiar with the band’s back catalogue to the front or whether my being able to actually see the gig would alter my perception that much. We decided to stay put, at least for a little while, as staring at people’s backs and getting jostled by people going to and from the bar never makes for much fun, and I am glad we did stay where I could see.

As for Nada Surf, I expected late-90’s-style American college drone rock, but they were far poppier and perkier than that and were actually pretty upbeat, chatting between songs to a crowd that (mostly) knew every note. They are, quite simply, probably a great example of the classic American indie-pop, college-radio-friendly band of the sort that I remember from my university days back in Boston, before that short period where everything sounded like Stone Tool Pearl Garden in Chains, and their sound certainly blended well with the live version of Rogue Wave. While the one song I knew I knew unsurprisingly did not make the set, I did recognise at least one other, a love song that The Ledge reckons was probably used in a film or TV show as he recognised it as well. The band chatted with the crowd and were pretty entertaining, but the set was very long – running towards two hours – and by the time they left the stage the first time, both The Ledge and I were exhausted and felt we’d had enough as listening to a band with whom you’re unfamiliar for that long becomes more of a chore than a pleasure, so we abandoned the gig and headed off for some food. Overall though, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Nada Surf are more substantial than “Popular” and probably worth further exploration.

Rogue Wave – Every Moment

Rogue Wave – Publish My Love

Nada Surf – Popular

Nada Surf – See These Bones

Posted by JustHipper on 25th February 2008 at 9:57 pm | comments (1)
File under cancelled shows,Gig Reviews,gigs,mp3,nada surf,Reviews,rogue wave.

Gig Review: Islands @ Night & Day Café, Manchester, 20th February 2008

Islands @ The Night & Day Cafe, Manchester
When Islands played the Roadhouse over eighteen months ago, I was already looking forward to a new album after an excellent set comprised almost entirely of new songs. Of course, in the months since I totally forgot about it; almost forgot about the band altogether. Well, Arm’s Way will finally come out in May and, on the evidence of their gig at the Night & Day on Wednesday night, it’s going to be a belter.

The band were six strong this time round, one down on the Roadhouse gig, but they produced a huge sound with dual violins and dual guitars backed up by a strong, and unfussy, rhythm section. Again, the majority of the set was new, but that didn’t matter, such was the strength of the material. The opener, “Vertigo” (I think), had a strong americana flavour running through it, augmented by some lovely slide guitar, and ended with a thrilling instrumental climax, though it was impossible to discern exactly when the song ended and the next began. The band was like a mini pop orchestra covering all sorts of musical territory from country to twee to power pop to chamber pop; there was even a bit of bluegrass fiddle playing in there somewhere. New songs, like the glammy strut of “The Arm” and the rockabilly stylings of “Pieces Of You”, really showcased Nick Diamonds’ expansive pop vision and went down very well with the sizeable crowd. The new stuff certainly sounds stronger and more ambitious than the material from their Return To The Sea debut – which was prone to meander along, with whimsical, often wafer-thin melodies – though Diamonds cheekily insisted that the new album was “not for you, it’s for your kids.”

Islands @ The Night & Day Cafe, ManchesterThe highlight of the set was an oldie, however. “Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone” is the best song on Return To The Sea, thanks mainly to a deliciously skewed rap from Busdriver, but without the rap the band instead played their heart out in a dizzying mid-song crescendo. The sweet pop shuffle of “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” saw out the main set and they returned with yet another excellent newie (something about animals and zoos) before rounding things off nicely with the epic “Swans (Life After Death)”.

So, a triumphant night for Islands, but earlier on Edinburgh’s Damn Shames put in perhaps the worst performance by a support band that I’ve seen in quite a while. For a start, the sound was absolutely shocking, especially considering the brilliant mix that Islands got later in the evening. The guitars were lifeless, the bass woolly, and their drum machine was programmed with some of the dullest beats known to man and could barely be heard above the ugly sonic stew. To add to this, the band were just trying too hard, with their spastic dancing, their over-exuberant guitar playing and their horrible yelped vocals seemingly trying to pull a smokescreen over the weakness of the songs. You could catch them occasionally looking hopefully into the audience for some kind of validation; but they won’t have got any, just a brief, polite smattering of applause after each song. They calmed things down as the set progressed and improved a little but the damage had already been done. Having said this, I’ve listened to a couple of their songs on their MySpace page since and they don’t sound too bad. Maybe with a decent sound mix and a focus on playing the songs better, rather than jumping around the stage like they’ve got a small, feral animal down their trousers, they might yet be worthy of support slots such as this.

Islands – Where There’s A Will There’s A Whalebone

Islands – The Arm

Posted by The Ledge on 22nd February 2008 at 7:14 pm | comments (6)
File under damn shames,Gig Reviews,islands,mp3,Reviews.

Gig Review: Light Syndicate @ Sacred Trinity Church, Salford, 8th February 2008

Light Syndicate @ Sacred Trinity Church, SalfordA couple of years ago we blogged a bit about a local band called Nephew. We saw them live a few times and they were great, and they also released an EP called Our Cold War which was very good indeed. It all went a bit quiet on the Nephew front last year but they have now re-emerged as the much more Google-friendly Light Syndicate and last week played in the ornate but cosy surroundings of Salford’s Sacred Trinity Church.

First to take the stage on the night was local singer-songwriter Simon Connor who did a decent job and managed to keep most of the assembled throng interested in his folksy pop. It was above-average singer-songwriter fare and his guitar playing was excellent throughout. He even busted out the ubiquitous looping pedal on his final song, building up layer upon layer of guitar to quite brilliant effect.

The Bangs @ Sacred Trinity Church, SalfordThe Bangs were a pleasant surprise, not least because their rather unimaginative name conjured up the image of a bunch of ladrock dullards. Things could not have been further from the truth as The Bangs are a three piece with a bloke on drums and a couple of very cool and slightly nervous looking young girls in their indie best sharing guitar, bass and vocal duties. And they were great, mixing up indie pop with grungey rock and taking me back to the early 90s and the likes of The Breeders and Throwing Muses, as well as some of those Riot Grrrl bands. Despite these influences, they were clearly intent on doing their own thing and were obviously enjoying themselves. What really impressed me was the way they used their guitars, picking out melodies on both guitar and bass that dovetailed together quite beautifully. We’ll definitely be watching out for The Bangs in the future; they could go on to break a thousand indie boy hearts.

Light Syndicate @ Sacred Trinity Church, SalfordLight Syndicate have lost their violinist since last we saw them and so are down to a mean, lean four piece. This is a shame because he brought a lot to their sound, especially to the post-rock aspect of it, although without him they sound more compact and more focused. They have finished recording their long-awaited (by us, anyway) debut album and almost all of the night’s set was taken up by tracks from it. The church, with its high ceilings, chandeliers and huge stained-glass windows, was a great setting for their atmospheric rock. New songs like “Friday Night On Peter St.” and “87654” might betray an obvious Radiohead influence but they sounded excellent nonetheless. Old favourite “High Rise Buildings” from their EP (and re-recorded for the new album) sounded as good as ever with the missing violinist’s parts remaining intact thanks to the wonders of modern technology. The album’s title track, “Last In Line”, was the highlight of a fine set with its blissful instrumental coda, complete with melodica solo, filling every corner of the room.

They ended with a new song, “Super Tuesday”, which had a rather funky bassline and another lengthy instrumental coda that took the song well past the 10 minute mark. It is during these long instrumental sections that the band’s excellent rhythm section come into their own, laying down a solid groove and allowing guitar and keyboards the freedom to soar into the sonic heavens. This was an impressive return to action and Light Syndicate have got a few more gigs lined up in the near future; check out their MySpace page for further details.

Light Syndicate – High Rise Buildings (album version)

Nephew – Secret Army (from the Our Cold War EP)

Posted by The Ledge on 20th February 2008 at 9:57 pm | comments (34)
File under Gig Reviews,light syndicate,mp3,nephew,sacred trinity church,salford,simon connor,the bangs.

CD Review: Bob Mould – District Line (Beggars Banquet)

Bob Mould - District Line
I can’t say I’ve taken much notice of Bob Mould’s career since Hüsker Dü went their separate ways back in 1987. I never really liked his post-Hüskers band, Sugar, despite the fact that they seemed to enjoy much more success in indie quarters than their hugely influential predecessors, and, because of this, I never felt obliged to dabble in his solo work.

District Line is apparently a move back to the guitar-based indie rock that made his name back in the 80s and early 90s, after a couple of forays into techno territory. To these ears it certainly sounds very familiar. Solid opener “Stupid Now” gets things under way with its quiet verses and full-on rock chorus and by the end, Bob’s voice is cracking up under a blanket of warped effects. Epic break-up ballad “Again And Again” finds Bob on compelling form, backed by a wall of acoustic guitars and a mournful cello; it’s possibly the best thing on the album. Elsewhere, “Return To Dust” and “The Silence Between Us” come closest to replicating the sound and urgency of his pre-solo output and, not surprisingly, they are both superb.

On the downside, “Old Highs, New Lows” is a dull MOR ballad while “Shelter Me” is a plodding techno dirge with lashings of ugly vocoder, an effect that is also in evidence on the excellent “Very Temporary” and the upbeat acoustic pop of “Miniature Parade”, though its use on these songs is much more subtle and it doesn’t detract from them.

The album ends with “Walls In Time”, a song that’s been kicking around trying to find a proper home for 20 odd years, which is about as long ago as I last took an interest in Bob Mould’s work. It’s a meditation on the songwriting process and features more multi-tracked acoustics and more mournful cello. It’s a good end to a very good album and, although it won’t necessarily compel me to delve backwards into the Mould solo discography, I’ll certainly sit up and take notice of what he does next.

Bob Mould – The Silence Between Us

Bob Mould – Very Temporary

Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising

Posted by The Ledge on 11th February 2008 at 5:37 pm | comments (5)
File under bob mould,cd review,CD Reviews,district line,husker du,mp3,Reviews.

Gig Review: Laura Veirs at Manchester Night & Day, February 5, 2008

Contrary to popular opinion amongst my friends (and perhaps anyone who’s read my gushing endorsements of The Decemberists), I bought my first Laura Veirs album, her current one, Saltbreakers, not because she duetted with the lovely Colin Meloy, but rather because a friend whose taste in music I trust said it was a fantastic album. It is. While I had previously avoided her studiously as I thought she might be another one of those boring, faux-quirky female acoustic singers with whom we have been assaulted over the last 18 months, much to my chagrin; it turns out she writes lovely songs that mention water somewhat regularly and that she has a very pleasant, soothing and friendly voice.

So, we took ouselves down to the Night & Day expecting a pleasant evening – which is pretty much what we got.

The opening act was Clyde, a singer-songwriter from Seattle who sings in a band called Your Heart Breaks. I listened to a couple of their songs on MySpace prior to heading down to the gig and they were warm, quirky, lo-fi numbers that reminded me of the Moldy Peaches in tone, if not in content. Funnily enough, Clyde mentioned being friends with Kimya Dawson, formerly of the Moldy Peaches. In person she was warm, funny and very self-deprecating and if lyrically some of her songs were a bit lacking, she made up for it with enthusiasm and some very entertaining storytelling. I was smiling when she left the stage and feel like I really should go back to the Your Heart Breaks MySpace page and download a few tracks.

We were expecting Laura Veirs to be touring with a full band, as Saltbreakers has a lot of instrumentation on it, but it seems we missed that jaunt a few months back and this time she was on her own, because, she told us, she likes to see how the songs stand up alone occasionally. They sounded lovely, in fact. Despite some problems with her monitors, she put in a faultless performance that even saw a couple of songs on the banjo and some old folk covers as well as a set covering not only her most recent album, but all the ones before it that neither I nor the The Ledge have heard. That is, all her albums except the first one which she reckons is a bit crap as she was still learning her trade at the time. The audience were entranced by her, with a gaggle of young women at the front of the stage singing every word along with her.

The only problem, really (apart from someone standing nearby who really needed a stick of deoderant and the omission of “Drink Deep” from the set), was that not knowing most of the songs meant I couldn’t fix on the lyrics very easily and so the overwhelming experience was her voice, which doesn’t really change much from song to song (not that it would without effects which would kind of defeat the purpose of an acoustic performance), and the melodies which started to blend together without the help of a range of instruments to give the songs musical depth and variety. I don’t think this was an issue of songwriting but rather my lack of familiarity with the songs. A full band would have kept my attention better and given me more to hear and see.

On the whole, however, Laura Veirs put in a great performance and is clearly a songwriter whose back catalogue is well worth exploring further.

Laura Veirs – Nightingale

Laura Veirs – Drink Deep

Posted by JustHipper on 10th February 2008 at 8:44 pm | comments (2)
File under female singers,Gig Reviews,gigs,Laura Veirs,mp3,night & day,Reviews,Your Heart Breaks.

Gig Review: American Music Club @ Manchester Academy 3, 6th February 2008

American Music Club @ Manchester Academy 3
My blogging “career” started with a review of American Music Club at the Academy 3 (or Hop And Grape as it was then known) almost three years to the day of their return to the same venue. In the years between, their line-up has changed considerably with just Mark Eitzel and Vudi remaining of the original band and a new drummer and bass player on board. They also have a new album, The Golden Age, which was released a couple of days before the gig. Three years ago, I praised the band for not playing any songs from their godawful San Francisco album; this year, unfortunately, they started out with that album’s “Hello Amsterdam”, perhaps my least favourite AMC song of all time. Surprisingly, it rocked. The sound mix was terrible: the guitars sounded like mud and you could barely hear Eitzel’s vocals, but it was a raucous mess and a far more enjoyable experience that I could have hoped for. Fittingly, they followed this with “Blue And Gray Shirt”, the band’s finest moment, in my book, and it was a beautiful version – with the sound problems fixed, Eitzel’s yearning vocals and sublime guitar work was worth the £17 price of a ticket alone.

Much of the rest of the set was taken up with material from the new album, which I bought at the gig and which I’m a little bit disappointed with after a couple of listens. The versions of the likes of “The Sleeping Beauty”, “All The Lost Souls Welcome You To San Francisco” and especially “Windows On The World” carried far more punch than their recorded counterparts. Eitzel’s raw, plaintive vocals and Vudi’s beautifully controlled swells of guitar really brought these songs to life whereas on the album they sound a little leaden. In amongst the new tracks were the occasional dips into the back catalogue which veered from the dull “Revolving Door” to the brilliant “Johnny Mathis’ Feet” but included little from their pre-Mercury heyday.

There was plenty of audience banter and some rambling stories from Eitzel, who was on excellent form. We learned that he had spent Christmas watching figure skating with bass player Sean Hoffman, and that the excellent “Decibels And The Little Pills”, the highlight of the new album, is the re-telling of an eventful night at a heavy metal gig. When the much requested “Western Sky” was played, one unhappy punter asked them to play it again, but a better version. He got his wish in the encore when Eitzel told him he was going to play it “right up his ass” and produced a beautiful solo rendition which did indeed improve on the full band version from earlier. It was a shame that he chose to play one song twice when so many other classic songs were passed over, but overall, despite a couple of bum notes, it was a very enjoyable night.

American Music Club – Blue And Gray Shirt

American Music Club – Decibels And The Little Pills

Posted by The Ledge on 9th February 2008 at 5:25 pm | comments (6)
File under american music club,Gig Reviews,manchester academy 3,mark eitzel,mp3,Reviews.

Gig Review: Stars @ Manchester Academy 3, 31st January 2008

Apostle of Hustle @ Manchester Academy 3, 31st Jan 2008Fortunately, I managed to miss out on that 30 Seconds To Mars gig that JustHipper went to last week, so this was my first gig of the new year and my first in almost 8 weeks, which must be some kind of record. It was good to get back into the swing of things with what was a pretty decent start to the year.

Support was from The Apostle Of Hustle, the band of Broken Social Scenester Andrew Whiteman, and it was easy to hear Whiteman’s influence on the Canadian supergroup in the first couple of songs as his exceptional, and quite distinctive, guitar work weaved its magic. There followed a tongue-in-cheek (I think) tribute to dead rapper Easy-E and an excellent instrumental with Whiteman’s guitar again to the fore. The last couple of tracks meandered a little but overall it was an excellent set.

Stars @ Manchester Academy 3, 31st Jan 2008Stars have built up quite a fervent fanbase over the last few years but I can’t say that I’m one of them. There’s no doubt that they produce intelligent, sophisticated pop music, but they are occasionally too slick for me, tip-toeing over into worryingly bland MOR territory. That said, their albums are usually more hit than miss and at the Academy 3 they brought with them mostly hits.

They inevitably began with “The Night Starts Here” and it was great, with its hypnotic repeated melody and interlocking vocals from Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan showing great promise for the evening ahead. Soon after came “Window Birds”, probably my favourite track of theirs and certainly the highlight of the night. Things dipped a little in the middle with the sound mix going to pieces for “What I’m Trying To Say” and a version of “Personal” that did as little for me as the album version does. “The Ghost Of Genova Heights” fared a little better, benefitting from the rough edges that a live performance lends and getting me thinking that it is perhaps a little more than just a rehash of “The Night Starts Here” with added Bee Gees chorus. It has to be said in mitigation that during this middle section of the gig my attention was occasionally diverted by a couple of drunken dickheads who pushed their way through the crowd til they got next to us and royally pissed off everyone around them, especially JustHipper who ended up threatening physical violence. She does kickboxing now, so beware.

Stars pulled out the big guns at the end, with a run of much of their best material, including “Your Ex-lover Is Dead” (possibly the best song The Delgados never wrote), a quite brilliant “Take Me To The Riot”, and an epic closer in “In Our Bedroom After The War”. I doubt I’ll ever be a fully paid up member of the Stars fanclub but they are an exceptionally enjoyable live band with plenty of good songs and I’ll doubtless be down there next time they come to town.

Apostle Of Hustle – My Sword Hand’s Anger

Stars – Your Ex-lover Is Dead

Stars – Window Bird

Posted by The Ledge on 5th February 2008 at 11:24 pm | comments (9)
File under apostle of hustle,Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews,stars.

Gig Review: 30 Seconds to Mars at Manchester Academy 1, 27th January 2008

In what is possibly not an auspicious start to the gig-going for 2008 I attended my first emo gig since about 1996 (back when emo bands played church basements full of straight-edged teenagers and didn’t wear eyeliner), using a spare ticket that Bricking Chick had for 30 Seconds To Mars, the band fronted by none other than Jordan Catalano out of the TV show My So-Called Life. Most of you probably know him as Jared Leto. Having only a vague idea that the band play some sort of predictable emo rock, I was, I must admit, tempted enough by the notion of being able to gaze up at the rather nice looking Mr. Leto that I completely forgot about the last time I saw a rock band fronted by a Hollywood leading man – Keanu Reeves and his band Dogstar who were the laughing stock of Glastonbury in 1999 because they were so abysmally awful.

This was nowhere near as bad as that Dogstar performance. Thank goodness.

For starters, Jared Leto can actually sing. In fact, his voice reminds me a lot of that of Ed Kowalczyck of +Live+ whose first two albums are pretty good. 30 Seconds to Mars are actually pretty competent musicians who do a very good job of entertaining a crowd. While the songs were pretty derivative and the set contained far too many ballads, their music was in no way offensive or off-putting. It just wasn’t particularly memorable. On the whole, though, I liked the louder songs well enough and was somewhat amazed by the fact that this was more of a “rock” show than the Marylin Manson gig I attended back in December (which really was just theatrical pop). The only real downsides were the fact that we couldn’t get close enough to the stage to really see the band and the between-song banter which was just pathetic. Apparently a song which Bricking Chick informs me they wrote two years ago is actually about their trip to China they took last month which was, it would seem, “life-changing.” Whatever.

The highlight of the night was not actually the band, though, it was the teeming masses of 15-year-olds who were in the crowd (whose parents were queuing to collect them at the end of the night). They were brilliant. They were enthusiastic, they were screaming like the girls in those old videos of The Beatles, and I swear that the four girls in front of us, kitted out not only in 30 Seconds to Mars T-shirts and hoodies but also bags and wristbands, were crying at one point. Maybe the choice of band is a bit poor, but hopefully with that enthusiasm for their music in a couple of years they will have developed a taste for something a bit more challenging and unusual. The fans of today’s manufactured rock may well be the people buying records by the next At the Drive-In, Trail of Dead or even Mogwai.

So, musically, not as good a beginning as 2007, but still a hopeful start to 2008.