Archive for April, 2008

Gig Review: James in Liverpool, Sheffield and Blackpool, April 2008

James Live in Sheffield, April 2008So, in case you hadn’t noticed, I have a soft spot for James. It goes back to about 1992 when I saw them live for the first time and they were the most amazing thing I’d ever seen on a stage. Back then, in the U.S., when every band was starting to sound like Nirvana or trying to sound like R.E.M., James were incredibly strange and as such, very very cool. The love affair has continued for 16 years, I’d like to say unabated, but I can’t, because Millionaires and Pleased to Meet You were so damned awful. As a result, despite last year’s triumphant gigs and the return of not only Larry Gott on guitar, but also Andy Diagram on trumpet, I still wasn’t expecting much from Hey Ma, the new album. Nonetheless I bought it, and tickets to three shows, and made plans with two of my American friends who were flying over for a week for some of the gigs.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the new album is actually pretty good! Ok, it’s not Strip Mine and it’s certainly not Laid (nothing is ever going to top Laid), but they struggled for a while, trying to write hit singles (and failing) and trying to sound different and instead they sounded forced, and boring. Brian Eno seemed to make their last two albums sound muddy, dreary and old. With a new producer, and back to a threesome for the songwriting (that classic Booth/Gott/Glennie threesome that wrote all the best songs) they do sound reinvigorated. The album sounds playful, it sounds primal again and energetic, and although some of Tim’s lyrics are pretty cringeworthy and most of the subject matter has been done before on older James tracks, this album sounds like it was made by a band who are enjoying making music – not a band trying to write hit singles. As a result they’ve produced a few more classic James indie anthems in the form of “Waterfall,” “Whiteboy” and “Hey Ma” it would seem, quite by accident. Go James.

So with my two American companions, I was really looking forward to seeing the band at Liverpool University on 12th April, Sheffield Academy on 14th April and Blackpool Empress Ballroom on 22nd April. First, however, we had to endure MySpace spammers My Federation who dress like the Libertines and sound like a bluesy Zutons covers band. Needless to say they are ear-splittingly awful. They made it worse by being cocky and “tricking” the crowd into applauding them by constantly asking if everyone was excited about James. They weren’t fooling anybody. Sad when you have to beg for applause. Probably the same way they had to beg for fans – although it seemed to work on the girl who was practically having carnal relations with my friend’s leg while screaming and jumping up and down during their set. Frankly, after the “we’re not spammers so please be our friend, we’re fans of James too” messages they were sending on MySpace months ago, they’d have had to be pretty special to get anything but ridicule from me (if you have to apologise for the spammy message, then you shouldn’t be sending it, cause it’s spam). Sounding like a pale imitation of a band for which I have nothing but derision and nausea was never going to do.

James live in Liverpool, April 2008James, however, had a treat up their sleeve, especially in Liverpool. Peter Kay came out to introduce them and ended up leading the crowd in a singalong of “Lullaby,” before helping us cajole them into adding it to the set. (If I were more cynical I would assume he’d asked a few days in advance, giving them time to rehearse it during soundcheck earlier, but we’ll just say they’re that good they managed a perfect version at the last minute no rehearsal necessary.) The crowd went mad, my American friends asked me who he was.

Liverpool in particular was special as the crowd were just rowdy enough without being violent and the combination of old songs and new was just about right. Favourites throughout the tour were “Bubbles,” “Tomorrow,” “Sound,” “Waterfall” and “Whiteboy.” During the final song, “Sometimes,” the crowd kept singing the refrain “Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes I swear I can see your soul,” for about five minutes, prompting the band to pick their instruments back up, spend a couple of minutes finding the beat, and finishing it off themselves. We were really taken aback as it all seemed so spontaneous. That was until Tuesday in Sheffield when Tim encouraged the crowd to do it again, and then again in Blackpool. Having said that, it was only Liverpool where the band felt inspired to start playing again.

One of the most noticeable things about the band on stage this time was the presence of Andy Diagram. He was everywhere, and played a number of different instruments and was constantly dancing and smiling. I’d missed him that much and I didn’t even notice. His trumpet really ups the energy of the songs and watching his interaction with Tim and Larry in particular reminds me of that primal force they used to be on stage which affected me so much all those years ago. Things have changed a lot since then though – Mark Hunter, who used to practically hide behind his keyboards, came down to Andy’s microphone with his melodica during “Out to Get You” which was both surprising and really great to see. Saul playing the drums during two songs was great too.

Tim Booth of James at Sheffield Academy, April 2008Sheffield as a gig was notable for the opening track “Destiny Calling” which should have been consigned to the dustbin years ago. The young girl next to me went mental – and it seemed to be the only song she recognised all night. Being jumped on by Tim when he sprung off the stage during “Come Home” was a rather unexpected, erm, pleasure. Driving over Snake Pass in a hailstorm to get there was less enjoyable. The new Sheffield Academy venue is really good and I look forward to seeing more gigs there.

And then there was Blackpool…I almost didn’t bother as it was on a Tuesday, and I think perhaps I should have left it. The band themselves were flawless, from what I could see (which was not much), but the crowd was as rough and unpleasant a James crowd as I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve experienced some very rough James crowds). I had a woman try to beat me to death with her handbag and then scream at me for shoving her because I kept pushing it away from me. I had a bloke scream at me for waving at a friend and threaten to “make” me move back because I had no right to cause the crowd to move about merely by waving. I also got punched in the back several times by a man with his 10-year-old daughter in the 3rd row because it was okay for him to mosh into people and injure those around him, but apparently people shoving forward who couldn’t see there was a small child in the mosh pit should have somehow telepathically known better. I’m still wondering what sort of fucktard brings a child who was over a head smaller than me – and I’m usually the smallest person in the room most places I go – into the middle of the mosh pit at a gig for a band whose mosh pits are among the most wild and violent I’ve ever experienced and expects the crowd to just behave themselves.

In any case, I’d say overall it was a triumphant return to form for a band I’d pretty much written off as long-since having been creatively spent. By Blackpool the new songs were being sung back by the crowd like old favourites and the band were beginning to really tease out their nuances in the live setting. I enjoyed it so much I’ve bought tickets for four nights in December. I realise this seems a bit excessive, but every music fan has one of those bands and James are mine, and as crazy as it sounds to everybody who knows about this strange obsession of mine, I’ve learned to accept that.

James – Waterfall

James – Bubbles

Photos courtesy of Gregory Pauswinski

Posted by JustHipper on 28th April 2008 at 11:34 pm | comments (11)
File under Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

Manchester’s MP3 Bloggers Takeover Futuresonic

Well, it looks like Manchester’s bloggerati are throwing their own event at Futuresonic on Sunday, 4th May at the Contact Theatre on Oxford Road, lovingly titled Bloggerpalooza. We’ll be down there, for a while anyway, in between watching sets at Sounds from the Other City. So, log in or come down, either way it looks set to be great!

Cheers to Black Country Grammar and his contacts at Futuresonic for sorting it out.

Posted by JustHipper on 28th April 2008 at 8:39 pm | comments (4)
File under mp3,News,salford.

CD Review: Tindersticks – The Hungry Saw (Beggars Banquet)

Tindersticks - The Hungry Saw album coverThough they were probably my favourite British band of the mid-nineties, having released two stunning, and eponymous, albums by the time that Britpop was in full swing, Tindersticks seem to have fallen off my musical radar in the five years since their last album, Waiting For The Moon, was released. I gave that album short shrift and came to the conclusion that the band were long past their peak and were on a bit of a downward spiral since 1999’s brilliant Simple Pleasure. With the release of the new Tindersticks album, the excellent The Hungry Saw, I’ve been compelled to retreat and reappraise the band’s noughties output and while both Can Our Love… and Waiting… are, in fact, crammed full of quality tunes, they somehow don’t come together as a whole in the way that Simple Pleasure and those first two eponymous albums did.

The Hungry Saw, then, marks a return to form of sorts, though it can well be argued that the Tindersticks were never really off-form. Despite the band shedding three members to slim down to a three piece, there’s no great stylistic departure here; they’re still dealing in late night, cigarettes and wine balladry, heavy on piano, acoustic guitar and violins, with Stuart Staples’ unmistakable baritone croon at its heart. Which is a very good thing, because they do it so very well.

The album begins with the sparse, mournful piano-led instrumental “Introduction”, a curiously sombre opening that takes its time to reveal its bittersweet melody. “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” laments the passing of time with soulful guitar stabs and brassy swells while “Come Feel The Sun” and another instrumental “E-Type” hark back to the band’s early years, the former a short, sparse arrangement that would have felt at home on any of their first three albums. A third instrumental, “The Organist Entertains” acts like a theatre intermission, giving us a breather and settling us down for the album’s brilliant closing stretch. The title track sets a brisk pace, its upbeat nature at odds with its grisly imagery. “Mother Dear” slows things down again with languid organs and a distant timpani heartbeat until an uncharacteristically bellicose guitar bursts in to prompt the song’s majestic conclusion. “Boobar Come Back To Me” is another slice of classic Tindersticks that recalls the likes of “Rented Rooms” and “Travelling Light” and may well be the best thing on here. “All The Love” runs it close, though, getting maximum mileage from a simple repeated melody as it builds gradually and gracefully, while “The Turns We Took” displays the sort of shimmering soul vibe that the band brought to their sound with Simple Pleasure.

The Hungry Saw is undoubtedly the best Tindersticks album in almost a decade, the last five tracks being worth the admission alone, and for anyone looking to rekindle their dying love affair with the band, it is a must, as well as being a good starting point for the uninitiated as it is as good a representation of the band’s legacy as there is.

Tindersticks – The Flicker Of A Little Girl

Tindersticks – Boobar Come Back To Me

Posted by The Ledge on 27th April 2008 at 11:23 pm | comments (2)
File under CD Reviews,mp3,Reviews,the hungry saw,tindersticks.

Gig Review: The Breeders @ Manchester Academy 2, 14th April 2008

The Breeders @ Manchester Academy 2, 14th April 2008The new Breeders album, Mountain Battles, is a bit of a grower, by all accounts. I hope it’s true as I was pretty underwhelmed after a couple of listens and haven’t been back since, mainly due to there being not enough hours in the day. The Breeders’ gig at the Academy 2 last week was also a bit of a grower, starting off in subdued fashion with a slowed down version of The Amps’ “Tipp City”. If there was little enthusiasm on stage, save for the ever grinning Kim Deal, there was even less in the crowd as many of the gathered 30 and 40-somethings barely seem to have noticed that the gig had started. “Huffer” got a few heads nodding and while I was lapping up their excellent cover of Guided By Voices’ “Shocker In Gloomtown” others seemed to be getting restless, already starting with the pointless requests for “Cannonball”. It wasn’t until “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, the first of three selections from their brilliant debut, Pod, that both band and audience suddenly came to life and set the tone for the rest of the evening. From then on there was banter aplenty between sisters Kim and Kelley and the crowd, as well as a bit of good-natured heckling. And there were plenty of great songs; “Pacer”, another Amps track, was a bundle of brisk country harmonies while the eerie “We’re Gonna Rise” was a great advert for the new album, as were “Overglazed” and “German Studies”, which were saved for the encore. They rolled back the years with crackling versions of those other Pod tracks, “Iris” and “Fortunately Gone” while the inevitable “Cannonball” was as scruffy as Kim Deal herself (she might have been wearing her office best on the Pixies reunion tour a couple of years back but with The Breeders it’s definitely dress-down Friday every night) and pretty much summed up the whole gig: a stuttering start but then electrifying, ramshackle and great fun.

The Breeders – We’re Gonna Rise

The Amps – Pacer

Posted by The Ledge on 23rd April 2008 at 7:03 pm | comments (2)
File under Gig Reviews,manchester academy 2,mp3,Reviews,the breeders.

Gig Review: Elbow @ Manchester Academy, 13th April 2008

Elbow @ Manchester Academy, 13th April 2008There has been something of a law of increasing returns governing Elbow since we first saw them supporting Grandaddy at The Leadmill in Sheffield in 2000. The band just get better and better with each passing year. It’s not that each new album is better than the last – their albums are so consistently good that it’s difficult to say which one is my favourite – but the extra weight that they add to the band’s exemplary back catalogue means that their live sets become more and more of an event as the years pass. With the release of The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow now have an embarrassment of riches to call upon and their set at the Academy last Sunday was one long series of high points. It helps that the band were back in their home town for the first time in a couple of years and that Guy Garvey has become such a charming, charismatic and self-effacing frontman that he makes the venue feel much smaller than it actually is.

Elbow @ Manchester Academy, 13th April 2008They kicked off with “Starlings” from the new album and it was a startling opener with a number of the band playing trumpet on the song’s occasional singular burst of brass. The following “The Bones Of You” was tender and heartfelt with Garvey’s superb vocals coming to the fore. “Leaders Of The Free World” and “Forget Myself” were barnstorming sing-alongs and there was a very welcome surprise guest appearance from that other great and charismatic northern frontman Richard Hawley for “The Fix”. They went back to the first album for “Red” and “Newborn” and both sounded better than ever with Garvey allowing the audience to sing the first verse of the latter. The highlight of the set, however, came in the encore with “Station Approach”, one of the band’s finest songs, and one about the “greatest city in the world” as Garvey put it. No one argued. Instead we waved to Garvey’s mum, who was stood on the balcony (yes, the Academy’s refurbishment has finally been completed and it now has a balcony, an entrance that doesn’t resemble a building site and toilets that aren’t portaloos) and sang along at the top of our voices. Richard Hawley appeared again for the closing, hymnal “Grace Under Pressure” which was, you’ve guessed it, another huge sing-along. We left reeling off song after great song that they didn’t play: no “Fugitive Motel”, no “Powder Blue, no “Scattered Black And Whites”. Maybe they’ll play them next time, and if they don’t it’ll still probably be the best Elbow gig we’ve seen.

Elbow – Starlings

Elbow – Station Approach

Posted by The Ledge on 21st April 2008 at 12:21 am | comments (6)
File under elbow,Gig Reviews,mp3,Reviews,richard hawley.

CD Review: Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight (FatCat)

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ FightThis record has barely been off my CD player / out of my car / off my MediaMonkey playlist for the past three weeks. I’ve had nights where the chorus of “The Modern Leper” or the first verse of “My Backwards Walk” has done endless somersaults through my brain, refusing to let me sleep. This album is so good it could seriously damage your health. Or at least leave you feeling a bit drowsy in the morning.

Frightened Rabbit have come on in leaps and bounds since their excellent Sings The Greys debut. While that record was a little rough around the edges and lacked focus, what with it being a fleshed out mini-album, The Midnight Organ Fight is a fully-formed indie classic-in-waiting, unerring in its consistency over its fourteen track length. The aforementioned “The Modern Leper” kicks things off in blistering style with an epic chorus that would fill the heart with glee were it not an outlet for Scott Hutchison’s monumental self-loathing. It could well be the best track on the album but this is one of those albums where the best track changes from day to day, listen to listen. “Fast Blood”, with its gorgeous Sonic Youthesque guitar riffs, and “Good Arms vs Bad Arms”, with its beautiful, keening chorus, are regular contenders, as is “My Backwards Walk”, which builds and builds to a surprising conclusion when the drum machine bursts in out of nowhere. There are three minute-long tracks – an instrumental, a reprise of another song and a curious album closer that sounds like a work-in-progress – and they all work well as stop gaps, allowing us just enough time to digest the greatness of the previous few tracks before readying us for what is to come.

There’s quite an obvious folk influence over much of the album, with shades of bluegrass on the jaunty “Old Old Fashioned” and a debt owed to Will Oldham on the excellent “Poke”. Catchy choruses abound, some of which could be described as positively anthemic, though Hutchison’s lyrics keep the songs grounded in the grim reality of his personal life: the meaningless drunken sex, the self-loathing, the “other man” he wants to kill, the not being in a relationship, the being in a relationship you want out of. The Scots are very good at this sort of thing and he is no exception. There’s even a note of optimism late on in “Floating In The Forth” when, after another break-up, he finds the strength to “save suicide for another year”. It’s another superb song at the end of an album that will surely mark 2008 out to be the Year of the Rabbit.

Frightened Rabbit – The Modern Leper

Frightened Rabbit – My Backwards Walk

Posted by The Ledge on 16th April 2008 at 12:45 am | comments (3)
File under CD Reviews,frightened rabbit,mp3,Reviews,the midnight organ fight.

Gig Review: Frightened Rabbit @ The Night & Day Café, Manchester, 5th April 2008

Having moaned about them cancelling their support slot at the Night & Day with MGMT last month, it was great to see Frightened Rabbit remedy the situation with a headline appearance at the same venue on Saturday night. Not that it felt much like they were the headline act thanks to local band The Bottomfeeders, who brought a healthy contingent of friends and family to watch their supporting set, most of whom sloped off home long before Frightened Rabbit took to the stage, leaving a disappointingly small number of punters to cheer them on.

The Bottomfeeders @ The Night & Day CafeFortunately, The Bottomfeeders were highly entertaining and good enough to suggest that perhaps some of their gathered throng were actual fans, rather than mums, dads and colleagues. There was something quite theatrical about them, with a line-up that included a (faux?) Japanese bass player who also played the musical saw, a cellist, a trombone player in dungarees and a lead singer in a spangly dress who was somewhere in between Courtney Love and Beth Ditto – if you could ignore the thick manc accent. With such an array of instruments at their disposal, and the lead singer’s excellent vocals, the songs straddled a wide range of musical styles, occasionally defying categorisation, occasionally sounding like direct rip-offs (“Loretta” could have been lifted straight off PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love). There was also a rich vein of wacky humour running through much of the material with some songs straying dangerously close to novelty territory. I’m not sure if they’d stand up to repeated listens but they were great fun, nonetheless.

Frightened Rabbit @ The Night & Day CafeMost of their fans were daft enough to leave immediately after their set, or retire to the bar to chat loudly, leaving a handful of us to bask in the glory of the really, rather brilliant Frightened Rabbit. They’ve bulked up to a four piece since I last saw them, but rather than employ a bass player they’ve opted for another guitarist, which is great news as the sight and sound of three Telecasters churning away at the front of the stage while scary drummer Grant Hutchison beats the shit out of his drums at the back was terrific. The early part of the set was weighted towards songs off the new album, The Midnight Organ Fight, which has hardly been out of my CD player for the past two weeks. The likes of “The Modern Leper”, which opened proceedings, and album highlight “Fast Blood” were played with a searing intensity that sent shivers down the spine. Unperturbed the disappointing turnout, singer Scott Hutchison was really giving it everything, obviously excited about playing the new material but also making sure that the Sing The Greys stuff sounded just as fresh. “Be Less Rude” positively bounced along while “Go Go Girls”, with its irresistible “Shocker In Gloomtown” riff, sounded like the album version with an electric cattle prod rammed up its arse.

They ended with “The Greys” segueing effortlessly into “Square 9” to create a sweaty eight minute epic, and were gone after a brief set of ten songs or so, to a paltry smattering of applause. I see this gig as a mere taster of what’s to come from Frightened Rabbit in 2008. When the album comes out and word gets around they’ll easily be selling out venues of this size by the Autumn. Can’t wait.

The setlist, if I recall, went something like this:

The Modern Leper
I Feel Better
Be Less Rude
Fast Blood
Old Old Fashioned
Heads Roll Off
Music Now
Go Go Girls
The Greys
Square 9

Frightened Rabbit – Heads Roll Off

Frightened Rabbit – Be Less Rude

Posted by The Ledge on 10th April 2008 at 10:52 pm | comments (6)
File under frightened rabbit,Gig Reviews,mp3,night & day,Reviews,the bottomfeeders.

If touts are entrepreneurs then that degree I bought online makes me a doctor.

So it seems that Glastonbury only sold 100,000 of 137,000 tickets when they went on sale over the weekend. Now this could be because of the horrible lineup (Jay-Z? Really? Ugh.) – not that a bad lineup has ever stopped people in the past. It could be because of the weather – but the weather is vile almost every year. Or, perhaps, it could be that the new anti-touting measures have worked and we’ve seen what the actual demand is instead of the fake demand created by touts and people trying to make a fast buck off other music fans. Considering that Reading/Leeds, T in the Park and V Festivals all sold out immediately, I’m thinking it’s that last one myself.

For better or worse (it’s looking like for worse at the moment), we purchased T in the Park tickets. Unlike last year, when we managed to get 1 ticket between 3 of us, this year we managed to get 4 tickets between 3 of us. Why four you ask? Well, you could only get a maximum of 2 and 3 of us wanted to go. To avoid last year’s problem we opted to try for 2 from each household. It worked. The number of people who did the same is probably pretty high. We offered our spare to a friend who accepted. Most people will have gone straight to eBay. If touting were illegal, this dilemma may not have occurred. It would also have prevented the several hundred tickets that were on eBay within minutes of the festival selling out being on there at outrageous prices. Or the hundreds that will be sold via eBay, Gumtree and other, similar sites and through dodgy ticket resellers between now and mid-July.

When hundreds of tickets go on sale every day, it suggests that an extremely large percentage of the tickets for T in the Park (or any festival or major gig) are going to touts, not to fans. So people aren’t getting the helpful opportunity to buy tickets from resellers when they miss out because they didn’t know something was on sale or couldn’t get to the phone or computer, they are being forced to buy tickets this way because touts (and we mean you, music fans who are selling your spares above face value, as well) are cornering the market and artificially driving up ticket prices.

Now, Word Magazine had an interesting suggestion which they claim will sort everything out without the need for legislation – just don’t buy tickets at inflated prices. But can you imagine being a 16 or 18 year old who’s missed out on getting a ticket to the gig or festival you’ve been dreaming of for months or years, finding out all your friends managed to get those tickets and then being faced with the dilemma of paying 2x, 4x or even 6x the face value but not missing out or staying home and feeling like a social outcast? It’s not going to happen.

With the kids starting to go to gigs now for the first time having this scenario as the norm, they will just accept it and nothing will change. If anything, it will get worse – and the bands and artists aren’t even benefitting from this. The touts are actually making more money per ticket than the artists are in many cases. If you consider that a £30 ticket to the Manchester Apollo for the Arcade Fire was selling for a couple hundred pounds, you have to wonder about a government commission that tells us that these people are offering a useful service when what they are really doing is making a living by being disrespectful to the artists and disrespectful to the fans. These people take pride in contributing nothing to the betterment of society and instead would rather make a living off other people’s hard work instead of their own. To me, that behavior is not only unethical and greedy, it’s highly anti-social.

Word Magazine suggested that maybe touting agencies should be required to pay royalties to the artists. Well now, that won’t make them raise their prices further, now will it?

When you consider that the ticket touting, ahem, reselling industry makes a living by trying to disguise the fact they are resellers, offering tickets for sale that have not been bought yet, and is full of companies that take people’s cash and never deliver, you have to wonder that the government has not cottoned onto the fact that this is not legitimate business any more than the spam emails we get from “universities” offering degrees and the ones offering prescription drugs prescribed “legally” are legitimate businesses.

When will the people who make the laws wake up and see that they should be encouraging entrepreneurship and community, not greed and laziness? Make touting illegal.

Oh, and if you miss out on tickets, or you end up with spares, please use Scarlet Mist.

Posted by JustHipper on 8th April 2008 at 9:07 pm | comments (7)
File under ebay,gigs,Rant,stop touting,Tickets,touting.