Thursday 30 December 2010

My voice is quiet but my thoughts are loud. Fave Tunes Nov/Dec 2010

Shake The Shackles – Crystal Stilts Excellently titled mopey garage

One By One From Dorney Reach - Wolf People Led Zep monstrousness

Bright Lit Blue Skies – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti Sounds like the title says. Also sounds like SFA

Exploring The Landscape - Hong Kong In The 60s A 70s childhood car journey as spring turns to summer

Icy LakesSurf City Doesn’t sound that icy, but does sound like Echo And The Bunnymen trying to be Deerhunter

Goodbye - Best Coast Singsong bratty cuteness with good thumpy drums and the line, ‘I wish my cat could talk’

Silbury Sands – Wolf People If you don’t feel the need to headbang to this you are very wrong

Write About Love - Belle And Sebastian A v. groovy beat tune

Sophie Softly - Gruff Rhys Sugary folk-pop-sike, “She breakfasted on orange flakes and purple pop”

No Strength - The Cavalcade Summer days gentle popiness then fab fizzing fuzz bit mysteriously appears

Mirrors – Crocodiles For the very exciting Krautrocking intro

Monday 20 December 2010

Gruff Rhys / H. Hawkline – 26 November 2010, Toynbee Studios

We haven’t been to Toynbee Hall since the beloved Arts Café, scene of many a top pop happening, was closed. So it’s weird to find that our former groovy gig place is now merely the bar in which us Gruff Rhys ‘aficionados’ are expected to gather as we await the opening of the doors that lead into Toynbee Studios and tonight’s show. It’s even more of a surprise to find that beyond those doors there’s this really nice little theatre, with red velvet chairs and a big stage and everything. Was this hidden gem lurking back here all those times we crammed ourselves into the Arts Café defying health and safety and the fire officer?

We settle in our seats for the support band H. Hawkline, who include alongside Mr H himself, Sweet Baboo on bass. Due to not setting out for the gig until quite late they have opted not to bring a keyboard with them, so we are treated to a scuffed and garagey set. The whole caboodle is endearingly, eccentricly groovy, but the stand out song is ‘Hells Bells’ with its Jonathan Richman vocals, Velvets at their crunchy garage-iest chug, deeply fuzzy guitar AND a false ending.

Burbling away half to himself, clad in a ‘Christmas jumper’ that only he could make alluring, Gruff Rhys’ solo show essentially involves watching a loveable eccentric pottering about in his shed. Spread before him is a table full of gizmos to be employed in piecing together his fine array of songs.

Before he gets to play with his toys, we get an utterly sweet-hearted set played on acoustic guitar. This consists of tracks from first album Yr Atal Genhedlaeth' and songs from the forthcoming ‘Hotel Shampoo’ and is kicked off with the introduction “This song accompanied the genocide scene in a film I was involved with.” There is plenty of this skew-whiff dead-panning throughout the evening. As anyone who’s managed to decipher his on-stage announcements with Super Furries will attest, Rhys is not just a brilliantly creative musician and a pretty face, he’s a bone-dry wit as well.

Amongst the new tracks we get; ‘the first song I’ve written with the word ‘Poland’ in it’; the short and incredibly sweet bubblegum psych-folk of ‘Sophie Softly’, and the cutely funky ‘Sensations In The Dark’. For the latter, Rhys shuffles along the stage to a dark spot to demonstrate a keyboard with keys that light-up. The lighting man misguidedly illuminates him, so Gruff sweetly asks for the lights to be turned down again, “Er, excuse me, I was trying to get into the dark”. This keyboard of wonderment, we are told, also features a rhythm track that sounds like 'Gangster's Paradise' by Coolio. For the purposes of the song, it gets sped up. The adorable, shivery single ‘Shark Ridden Waters’ becomes an entirely different beast played acoustically with just a one note drone from a er, droney box as accompaniment, eerie and wistful.

The first half of the set over, Rhys settles down at the table amongst the bird song albums, children’s percussion instruments, LED drumsticks, decks, metronome and other unidentified noise-making implements to introduce us to his ‘chat show’ entitled ‘Resist Phoney Encores’. The first guest (accompanied by his own ‘theme song’ as Rhys slaps a seven inch onto a turntable), is Sweet Baboo singing ‘Twelve Carrots of Love’ in his inimitable cracked country way.

Next guest, introduced with a spot of Krautrock as her theme tune, is Lisa Jen. She ices frosty clear vocals over “Lonesome Words”, managing to make a simple song with acoustic guitar, metronome and Rhys’ singing into something ethereally beautiful. Jen stays to add her voice to a selection of tunes from Candylion; a brief clap-along assault on 'Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru' a toe-tapping ‘Court Of King Arthur’. The latter, “A song about archaeology, even though I know nothing about it”, gets a reprise when a Scottish voice pipes up from the audience, “Can you play that one again? I was in the toilet”. Gruff obliges with ‘the best bit’ from the middle section of the song and the Scottish bloke is appeased, “Thanks!”

Rhys makes an attempt at a new song, ‘If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)’ which he forgot to play during the first half. Jen is encouraged to beat time on a tambourine, but reveals she has never ‘played drums’ apart from when a friend taught her to play the opening to a Faith No More song (she demonstrates this with a bit of air drumming). The song doesn’t get far before Rhys falters, Jen asks, ‘Am I putting you off?’ and the song is abandoned. Happily it makes an appearance later in the encore and is well worth the wait, a lilting, bittersweet waltz.

‘Cycle Of Violence’ ends with Rhys sampling and looping his own voice, singing harmonies with himself so that the song floats on a layer of vocal drones. These are topped off with a trademark Rhys scream – also sampled into the mix but its inclusion kept mercifully brief – the guy can sing sweetly, but he sure can holler too.

The room frequently fills with laughter at Rhys’ gnomic comments, there’s obviously a lot of affection for him and his music (with a few sprinklings of lust). This is the happiest, friendliest gig I’ve been to for a long time. And I’ve been to Indietracks.

The final encore sees Rhys joined by all his guests to play Kevin Ayres’ nursery-rhyme-like 'Religious Experience (Singing a Song in the Morning)', its refrain pretty much sums up our evening, “Don’t even know what I’m singing about, but it makes me feel I feel alright.”

Friday 10 December 2010

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart / 14 Iced Bears / The Zebras – 2 December 2010, 229 The Venue

It’s flippin’ freezing out, but a cockle-warming bill of indiepop delights awaits us at ULU-ish place 229 The Venue, which turns out to have a neck-achingly high stage and an exciting /dusty netherworld beneath that stage which we discover upon lifting the little curtain that hides it. Also, the stage is VERY PRECIOUS and you must never, ever touch it with your grimy, ticket-paying, gig-attending fingers. This is made clear by a bouncer at the front who glares and gestures at any misguided fool who happens to rest a palm upon the stage when taking a photo, or just, you know, standing there enjoying the band.

Anyway, The Zebras are on before we can finish getting in the door, so we rush in as they’re sounding pretty fine even from the cloakroom queue. I’ve been vaguely aware of the band (they played Indietracks a couple of years ago, but we weren’t looking), but hadn’t investigated them. Tonight’s set makes me immediately purchase their e.p. ‘New Ways Of Risking Our Lives’. They make me think of The Go Betweens, not just because they’re Australian, it’s their bright shining sound; big, chiming guitars with a tiny touch of hardness, and lovely things happening when harmonies get sung. The Zebras are soaringly splendid and a rousing way to kick things off.

Next, 14 Iced Bears. I have surprised myself by feeling quite excited by this re-emergence of the Iceys. It’s not like I didn’t see them plenty of times in days of yore, but it seems they hold a special place in my heart. I loved 14 Iced Bears because their songs grew from being really quite cutesy/shambly (‘Dolphin Song’ is played) to going kind of spaced ‘n’ slightlydelic (e.g. ‘Mother Sleep’, and don’t forget they’ve been known to cover ‘Interstellar Overdrive’). They play an excellently chosen selection from across their back catalogue that pleases me and the three other people in the room who know all their songs.

Really, it’s a killer setlist, with the likes of ‘Cut’, ‘Hay Fever’, ‘Dust Remains’, the heart-breaking ‘Sure To See’, fizzing last ever single ‘Hold On’ and yes, ‘Balloon Song’ (this one gets a clutch of indie poppers bobbling about like bubbles in a milkpan). My all time fave ‘Surfacer’ gets an airing with its swooshy sun-addled swoon and the set closes with the thrilling Copey sparkle of ‘World I Love’.

Rob's vocals are still sweet-hearted and crystal-tipped, but unfortunately the sound is severely bass heavy, with nuances destroyed in the burble.The band seem on good form though, and they are original members (well, if you count late-period guitarist Tim), not just Rob Sekula and some blokes. Rob takes to the stage sensibly snow-shod in wellies – which makes the swirls of dry ice that precede the band’s arrival very amusing indeed.

I’m not sure 14 Iced Bears have made much of an impression on the youngsters who edge closer to the (very high, must NOT touch) stage in anticipation of the Pains, but you never know, maybe the kids will be inspired to investigate the oldsters’ music. After all, a gaggle of boys next to us gets quite excited when The Smiths are played – singing along with gusto. One of them is wearing a Stone Roses tee-shirt, causing us to contemplate the fact that these persons weren’t even born when our fave bands of the eighties were in their ‘pomp’. It’s like us digging the sixties, excavating the past in search of present day thrills. Mental!

Talking of present day thrills…hey, hey it’s the Pains! And they are on fine ‘n’ feisty form, playing with a lot more punch than at their slightly weary Heaven show earlier in the year (though maybe not with quite as much ‘vivacity’ as at their secret Buffalo Bar gig in the summer – hoo! that was a firecracker). We realise that this is the third year in a row that we have seen the Pains play a December show – what a fine festive tradition. The set is still pretty similar to that of two years ago – top-loaded with faves: ‘This Love Is Fucking Right’, ‘Young Adult Friction’, ‘Come Saturday’, ‘Everything With You’... We’ve seen the band play these songs quite a lot by now, God knows how many times they must have played them, so hats off to ‘em for still managing to make these oldies but goodies into zippy pop blasts of noisy joy.

We get a sprinkling of new tracks, but not as many as we’d been anticipating – especially after the tantalising array of new songage we got at that Buffalo Bar show. The set ends, as tradition/drink seems to dictate with us olden folk jumping up and down gleefully to ‘The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’. The encore bit begins with Kip’s sweet, solo take on, ‘Contender’, before a boom-tastic finale of ‘Gentle Sons’ (with the inside of my head singing ‘The Hardest Walk’ along to it) sends us off into the night mufflered up against the cold, ears happily muffled by noisy guitars.

Dungen / Wolf People / Jim Molyneux – Islington Academy, 16 November 2010

Jim Molyneux plays to an exceedingly sparse crowd, but few though we are, we appreciate the way his fingers fly over his accordion. Molyneux plays folk songs old, new and Richard Thompson, and is joined at points by chums on violin, thumpy cajón/cuban box drum thingy and for one song, some excellent combined violin playing/clog dancing.

Prog – eww! what? Growing up in the 80s with my musical landscape dictated by the year zero-ness of punk, I avoided prog and all that crazy hippy shit for a v. long time. Psych was okay, but prog? long old rambling guitar solos, stuff about elves and giants? Jeez! Now though, I have accepted prog into my life. Dungen have probably contributed a lot to my appreciation of this long-time maligned form. And Wolf People have helped me see the light too. I am exceedingly pleased that they are playing tonight as I have been digging their fuggily storming LP 'Steeple' a fair old bit. They have lyrics about raising a glass to sulphur skies, and putting arms around the weather. They have heavy guitars with great funky bits, such as the evil truckin’, whole lotta lovin’ ‘One By One From Dorney Reach’. They sound like Yes, Focus and Black Sabbath. When they play ‘Silbury Sands’ people cannot stop themselves head-banging a bit, because it sounds immense and well rockin’. A large, be-stetsoned man air-guitars like a mental and we know what he means.

Dungen are flat-out amazing, an act of wonderment, and it’s a massive mystery why this gig isn’t packed to the gunwales. Still, the crowd is eager and fanatical, and the hour-long set speeds by.

Singer / main man Gustav Ejstes twists between sitting centre-stage at the piano, piping wiggily on a flute and jumping up to freak out mightily with a tambourine. Hair bear bunch bass player Mattias hunches over his guitar battling a few amp problems (Wolf People shuffle on discreetly with their amp as a replacement) whilst on the other side of the stage guitarist Reine creates eerie and elegant sounds. The set leans on the jazz-tinged skyscape of latest LP ‘Skit I Allt’.

Dungen sound luminous. Their songs wheel and slide, rhythms glancing and changing, underpinned by Johan Holmegard’s furious, complicated drumming. It’s a pleasure to behold a band playing so skilfully together, and not in a widdly guitar hero way - during the fast bits they skim around each other like swallows on a summer evening. This isn't difficult, chin-rubbing music, this is a band letting their creativity fly whilst keeping a tight hold on the tunes. Sometimes they’re languorous, floating through the skies, sometimes they crunch and fuzz, like on old fave ‘Panda’. The high points (and there are LOADS) are firework displays and cloud bursts. Dazzling.