Roland Shanks & Architecture in Helsinki
The Dublin Castle, 5th July 2005
Further proof that the ‘suburb’ of Camberwell is a strong contender for the title of Official Provider of Fun and Good Sounds, Roland Shanks are a band of bright young chaps who casually engrave rainbow-coloured sense onto the sometimes dour, grey disappointment of random ‘up and coming’ live acts.
They opened their set with ‘Broken English’, with its hip Strokesy, Interpoly guitar riffs and raw stop-start Art Brut-al vocals, conjuring up images of beery mayhem. It was during their second song I became aware that I was singing ‘In the Meantime’ by the Futureheads in my head, and it made me love Roland Shanks even more. ‘Anniversary’ was spectacular, punctuated by fuck-off base canoodling, dancey and anthemic, while their single ‘August’ is restrained but infectious, maintaining a formidable pace and pearlescent lustre. The lead singer boy has an impressive vocal range, his marginally terrified expression jarring with his ability to pull off those high notes with understated flair. A kooky fun-time keyboardist and a drummer who is unintrusive but omnipresent merely serve to add to the pleasure. Their easy stage presence could deceive you into thinking their music is uncomplicated, when in fact it consists of delicious, satisfying layers of sound, like a punk lasagne.
Quite simply if a gaggle of teenage, tearaway children of the Futureheads, Interpol, Bloc Party, the Strokes and Art Brut went out for a few Magners and starting jamming together, I imagine it would sound a little like this. But maybe not as good.
As for Architecture in Helsinki, it would be a travesty if this band was really rubbish, as a good band name would be wasted. They weren’t rubbish. Phew.
There’s definitely a novelty value here. They’re Australian, there are about eight of them, they can all play instruments pretty damn well and they look like they’re having a bloody good time. The crowd went a little crazy during their set, whipping up an atmosphere reminiscent of that found in obscure, darkened tents at 2am on Friday morning at Glastonbury, where everyone suddenly loves each other and you’re watching the best band you’ve ever seen in your life , that you happen to have never heard of.
As for the sound, without sounding like an utter prat, it actually felt quite innovative and interesting. Genre? Who knows. At times indie, Pixies style, then a bit ska, folky, others a touch of the doo wop. The vocals are shared, so one minute you heard a male version of Bjork, the next a sweet, girly Frente-esque (does anyone else remember Frente?) trill. Sometimes the whole gang appears to chip in. It might sound like disarray, but there’s something very endearing and admirable about the socialist haphazardness of it all.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
The Scala, 15 June 2005-06-24
With those two band names there wasn’t much spare space on the marquee. Two of San Francisco’s finest on the same bill, one with their profile on the up for the first time in years, one with a potentially tricky third album to promote, it promised to be an interesting night.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre have for a long time seemed destined to be one of the ultimate cult bands. With ten albums released in ten years, many of them independently and import only, and a revolving door policy for band members, they are maybe the closest thing the US has to The Fall. And in Anton Newcombe they have, much like Mark E Smith, one of those maverick frontmen that you’ll turn up to watch just to see if he’ll pick a fight with a band member/audience member/himself, or even bother to show up at all. Fortunately he does show tonight and is impeccably behaved throughout, trading comic asides with the audience and even taking time to big up BRMC’s (two of whom are former Jonestown alumni) forthcoming album. Whether the Sundance winning documentary DiG!, about The BJM and their friendship/rivalry with The Dandy Warhols, will markedly increase their profile remains to be seen but what is certain listening to tonight’s renditions of Nevertheless and Hide And Seek is how The Warhols have managed massive success with a very similar, albeit it more watered down and Vodafone friendly, blend of pop sensibility, 60s psychadelia and 70s glam stomp. They only manage to fit five songs into their 30 minute set tonight but when they close with a full on wig out version of Swallowtail, surely one of the great lost songs of recent years sporting a guitar riff Robert Smith would have killed for even in his prime, even a small taste of The Brian Jonestown Massacre can be a wonderful thing.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have played it reasonably safe for their first show in the UK for almost a year, playing within the relatively intimate confines of The Scala to a crowd of the already converted, and are back on these shores to generate interest in forthcoming album Howl. Having been touted as the saviours of rock and roll, along with The White Stripes, only a few short years back an underwhelming second album saw them dropped by Virgin and having seemingly backed themselves into a corner with their none-more-dark image and sound. The audience are all ears then as they kick off their set with four new songs, two of which sound like vintage Dylan numbers, one of which is a nondescript plodder and the other of which one audience member almost correctly announces as When The Levee Breaks. It’s fair to say that the crowd are somewhat underwhelmed. Fortunately they follow up with a triple whammy of Love Burns, Stop and Six Barrel Shotgun and it’s as tho a pressure valve has been released in the venue. That latter in particular highlights the strongest elements of BRMC live, with Rob Turner and Peter Hayes trading lead vocal duties and Nick Jago displaying that he is the most metronomic drummer this side of celebratory session musician Dave Grohl. Tracks such as Ha Ha High Baby and Rise And Fall have extra muscle and menace live that was sometimes lacking on the last album. An acoustic version of US Government again shows the band trying to escape the straitjacket of their own sound with limited success and in danger of losing the edge that made them so exciting in the first place. They close their main set with Whatever Happened To My Rock N Roll which leaves the crowd on such a high that there’s no way an encore is not coming. Peter Hayes comes onstage alone to play two more new folksy blues acoustic numbers solo before being rejoined by the rest of the band for Robert Turner’s monotonously drawn out closing rendition of the title track from Howl. Turner has indicated that the new album is inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s same titled odyssey but it would appear that perhaps he and Hayes maybe have different ideas about where the band’s future direction lies. Ironically for a band initially derided as Jesus And Marychain copyists they now similarly find themselves struggling with metamorphosis mid career.
The Forum, 8 June 2005
By rights such a nostalgia fest has no place being this good. The original, and hence obviously considered by purists the best, line up of Dinosaur Jr back together again for the first time in 15 years. My initial excitement was tempered by the fact that it could only prove to be a disappointment. Happily, how wrong I was.
Ambling on stage resembling if not quite your dad then at least your slightly eccentric uncle, J Mascis, Murph and Lou Barlow are still the last word in geek rock styling. Taking up his familiar Cousin It pose behind masses of unkempt hair Mascis counts time and they tear into Gargoyle. This does not sound like a song that is nearly 20 years old nor does it sound like a song being played by middle aged men resembling university professors. In a three piece band there is no place for a weak link and Dinosaur Jr hammer that home tonight. They are tighter than a Scottish drum and louder than an aircraft taking off in your garden. Murph and Barlow provide the rock steady rhythm while Mascis plays guitar solos that in the hands of a lesser guitarist would sound hackneyed but here remind you of just why his playing has so often been compared to that of Neil Young. Neil Young never played this fast tho. They race through a set taken from the first three albums recorded as a three piece, Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me and Bug. These were the albums that led to them being labelled, along with Mudhoney, the forefathers of grunge but tonight shows the songs to be as fresh today as they were when Cobain, Vedder et al were still dodging school (probably). The crowd contains its fair share of old time fans but also enough of The Kids to suggest that their legacy is still acknowledged today.
Lou Barlow takes over lead vocals for a double whammy of The Lung and Sludgefeast before they close their main set with Freakscene during which the crowd goes predictably mental. The encore kicks off with their full tilt cover of Just Like Heaven and then after another couple of songs they’re gone with barely a word spoken to the crowd all night. Where they go from here is uncertain as it’s not clear whether there’s any intention or desire to record together again as a three piece after Dinosaur Jr being essentially a solo project for so long. Barlow is a famously prolific songwriter as his numerous projects over the years have shown, while Mascis would do well to stop titting about with The Stooges and releasing underwhelming albums with The Fog. Still, for one night at least it was like stepping back to a time that has now become known as BN (Before Nevermind).
The Research & Clor
The Windmill, 27 May 2005
Just like the sudden sweltering heatwave of last friday, The Research appeared to me like a bit of a slap in the face. After recently seeing more than my fair share (possibly for life) of bands comprised of posturing boys usually wearing little more than skinny jeans, sweat and attitude, it was a welcome change to see a band in which the drummer and bassist were nice (read pretty, but not scary or threateningly cool) girls, and the guitarist/keyboardist was a fully dressed unassuming young bloke wearing a baseball cap and a big baggy t-shirt.
With a stripped down sound that often consisted of only a kick drum and a casio keyboard, the research brought to my mind thoughts of ‘what would happen if you crossed Hot Chip with the White Stripes?’.. perhaps not a fair comparison, but their sound did have a lot of elements of the emerging South London abstract electro-indie scene that brothers Chip, Clor, Rakes et al subscribe to, except that they’re from Wakefield, and there are girls- oh well…
However, something they do have in common with the South London boys are their intelligent lyrics, in this case often sung by all members of the band at once. My favourite song ‘I love you but I think I’ll fuck it up’ was sung by the drummer Sarah, who while being truly wonderful, at times looked like she genuinely thought she would fuck it all up – in fact I’m not even sure if she could even play the drums, although it did sound really good- perhaps another thing they in common with the White Stripes then.
Clor, on the other hand, took the stage with the sort of self-assurance that comes from selling out their favourite venue and playing to a crowd all too happy to do the dance moves and sing along to every word of their current single ‘love and pain’. The rest of their set was brilliant with their other single ‘making you all mine’ so catchy that it followed me around for days after like a lost but friendly puppy, even when I was sleeping.
Since seeing them play about four months ago, Clor are now a lot more polished and look ready for their imminent album launch in July and what I am guessing will be a subsequent launch into super stardom. They’re even supporting Fischerspooner in June, a feat which may well finally let them live up to the title of ‘Kraut rock’ which Time Out insists on labelling them with at every opportunity (are Fischerspooner German? I now have to ask myself- probably not, but it would make sense if they were). Barry and Co. closed to a ridiculous amount of applause and almost left the stage before remembering that they had not yet played their new single ‘outlines’ another song destined for a high level of airplay in the heads of all of those who were there for weeks to come.
The Astoria, 29th May 2005
In order to say anything even vaguely intelligible about the Bravery, I first need to acknowledge that I am intentionally refusing to delve into the following issues:
1) Stupid the Killers vs the Bravery faux rivalry sponsored by NME. They’re both US bands that are into makeup. Get over it.
2) Blah blah they’re a manufactured boy band and that guy used to have blond dreadlocks and be in a ska outfit
3) Oh my God they think they’re such Rockstars drinking and shagging like deranged drinking shagging things
These are possibly the three things I hear / read about the Bravery (who for some reason I now feel like referring to as THE BRAVERY, and will therefore do so) that annoy me most. Not because they’re necessarily fictitious or cruel, just because they’re contrived and meaningless.
Speaking of contrived and meaningless, let’s talk about THE BRAVERY’s music… Yes, it’s one-dimensional. Yes, you feel like you’ve heard it before – at their concert this was because it seemed like it was two minutes earlier. All their songs sound outrageously similar (kind of like the Killers…) Yes, it’s marinated in 80s synth juice (or, for the music pedants out there, ‘it’s soooo derivative’).
But lets go easy on them for a moment. I remember a time when I first heard ‘Honest Mistake’ and I thought ‘That’s a catchy little number, kind of makes me want to dance’. I should know by now that that very feeling is a sure sign that in a couple of months time you’ll be maliciously singing the song loudly in a mocking fashion in your kitchen just to get it in your housemate’s head so they’ll hate you. I know, I actually did this last night.
Anyway, THE BRAVERY galloped smoothly through their set doing an okay job. The main guy Sam can command the stage quite naturally with his teen angst Elvis warbling. Posing is his forte but you know he knows he’s doing it, so it’s not offensive. As for the others (sorry, I really haven’t done my research here. All I know is the one I like best is the bassist) they were all smiley and sweaty, very energetic and involved.
Their concise ditties such as ‘Something for Nothing’, ‘Unconditional’ and of course ‘Honest Mistake’ sounded snappy, clean and flawless. The crowd vibe was a positive one but weird – quite mid-90s clubby with lots of flashing lights and hands in the air.
As for the painfully obvious abuse of the encore, urgggh. They languidly walked off stage having not played their current single, ‘Fearless’. I mean come on, give us a little credit please!
All this said, I left THE BRAVERY feeling reasonably satisfied. I don’t know why, but I find them difficult to really dislike. I know the gig itself wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great. It wasn’t nothing, it just wasn’t something.
VHS or Beta and the Paddingtons
Death Disco @ the Notting Hill Arts Club
18th May 2005
Another week, another Paddingtons gig…
Seeing as Wednesday is officially the new Friday (proper hardcore alcoholics can’t wait till Thursday any more) it seemed a trip to Alan McGee’s den of indie iniquity was in order.
The dingy Arts Club lived up to it’s Death Disco moniker, in that it was so rammed that wherever you stood you were about 3 millimetres from having your chest crushed beyond repair. No doubt also a breeding ground for those charming retro diseases like TB. Love these ‘intimate’ venues.
VHS or Beta are a group of lads from Louisville, USA whose name I’ve noticed has recently been bandied around by the mainstream indie music press. They looked cool and we just happened to accidentally be standing at the front when they started playing, so thought we’d have a listen. I was glad we did. They pulled off an effortless set of tunes that have an instantly likeable early Cure sound and funky, feelgood disco ambience to them. Tracks like ‘Night on Fire’, ‘Melting Moon’ and ‘Alive’ are all very 80s teen Breakfast Club – I fought the urge to pull on some pink lacy fingerless gloves and go and help decorate the gym for a forthcoming prom. Their laid-back, aloof-without-being-indifferent (perhaps this is just being ‘cool’?) aura worked too. It was a nice surprise to listen to a band you’ve never heard and like them within the first strains of the first song.
The Paddingtons. What can I say? They still haven’t let me down. The most noticeable difference between this performance and previous ones was that the crowd (bar me and my companion, who’d drunk too much tequila and were dancing like disabled dogs with ADHD – so sorry to anyone who had to witness that) was a lot more reserved and restrained. The boys were on good form and my knowledge of their repertoire only served to make them sound even better: they delivered another grinding set of fun that included ‘Panic Attack’, ‘Yarmouth Town’,’ Some Old Girl’, ’50 to a Pound’ and ‘Loser’. Tom swaggered about the stage oozing his malnourished urchin charm while the rest of the band plugged away at his soundtrack. I’m genuinely quite excited about where this band will go – its already difficult not to be seduced by the big graphite-coloured cloud of ‘verge of major success-ness’ that hovers over their boyish heads. All in good time methinks…
The Blood Arm, Red Organ Serpent Sound and Roland Shanks
The Windmill, 17th May 2005
Knowing precious little about ‘The Blood Arm’, aside from the fact that I felt just a tad squeamish at the name even if it is derived from a ‘biblical reference’ and not the outcome of a violent attack, I must admit to being more excited about seeing their support act Roland Shanks, who I knew from past encounters to have a pleasingly catchy punk rock style and a lead who commands centre stage with his boyish good looks, energy and fantastically toned forearms.
So anyway, after enjoying the jingle jangles of Roland and his arms, we didn’t know what hit us when the likes of Red Organ Serpent Sound literally sprang onto the stage, there was no ignoring this band of mad Irish rockers from Derry – their name, as random as their outfits which consisted of a hotchpotch collaboration of naked torsos (singers own), woolley jerkin, black and white striped motorcycle helmet, red pointy face mask, massive red boxing glove (yes, just the one), two tone jacket torn to shreds, and finally a red stocking over the lead singers face topped with glasses and black hat – sound like a recipe for madness I ask?
Aside from the highly theatrical visual impact, this band made you wanna move with a sound that incorporated all the best elements of funk, rock, punk and a dash of hedonistic energy thrown in for good measure. The lead writhed about the stage and floor like some kind of crazed serpent/hell-raisier and as a whole these guys captured a look and sound that certainly excited the senses and left us begging for more.
Before we knew it, on came The Blood Arm – a professional rock outfit lead by Nathanial Fregoso whose seemingly Jim Morrison (god rest his soul) inspired antics quite frankly annoyed the hell out of me. Agreed, the songs were catchy and melodious, dark and broody, well delivered and perfomed yet it all felt a little bit contrived and it probably didn’t help the cause that we had really enjoyed the random spontaneity of the Red Organ just moments before..
It was frustrating that Fregoso found it necessary to be constantly elevated, perhaps he enjoyed looking down on the crowd or maybe he just had a thing for standing on tables/bartop and clapping his hand against the ceiling (hello Jim?), all he needed was a bottle of JD’s. Whatever the case, it’s not like I’ve got a problem with people straying from the stage, obviously this is necessary to invoke crowd participation/reaction and a degree of unpredictability is always welcome; certainly The Red Organ’s lead was not shy, but it started to get ridiculous when our main point of focus was not where he should be but down the back of the crowd standing reverberating on some table you couldn’t even see.
On a more positive note, Dyan on the keyboard oozed style and sophistication. Her appeance and pout put me in mind of Courtney Love – although Courtney is perhaps not someone you would refer to as ‘stylish’ let alone sophisticated, she certainly has attitude on stage and a presence that is unique and this is exactly what made Dyan stand out, not to mention her precise control of the keyboard.
To be fair, The Blood Arm were really good, enjoyable even, they were a very tight outfit and they could certainly entertain but for me personally, they lacked the organic vitality and dirty unpredictability exuded by the likes of Red Organ. Give me serpents any day.
Koko, Friday 29th April 2005
Does anyone actually go and see Babyshambles for the music? Really? Or is it just to satisfy a morbid desire to know whether Pete ‘Car Crash’ Doherty actually shows up and is able to walk / sing / play without brawling? I’d tried to see them twice before – the first at their notorious ‘Christmas Party’ at the Astoria in December last year where hammered, disillusioned indie kids stormed the stage and trashed equipment (how rock n roll …ie NOT AT ALL). Yeah, so then I was a little pissed off about being forced to purchase overpriced beer in a sweat-pit till 2am, but the faux riot and pathetic, hysterical girls were actually entertainment enough. Nothing like watching human misery to lift the spirits. Not to mention the pair of (extremely comfortable) cheap souvenir Babyshambles knickers I bought from sheer boredom.
The second time was at Koko in late February, when at least the Shambles had the decency to cancel a few hours before the show, which was in fact also just a few hours after announcing the show…You’ve got to hand it to the man – most people get wrecked and call their ex, hijack a shopping trolley or dance outside their local kebab shop. Pete Doherty organises a series of ad hoc concerts for thousands of people . And then pulls out of all of them. Class.
So this gig was a replacement for the cancelled February one and I was aware that disappointing this crowd could be a big mistake – there are some fancy furnishings in Koko that wouldn’t last long if the teens got arsey. And you couldn’t even begin to chase any riotous culprits – there are so many damn stairwells and rooms to hide in that place, you need a compass and Sherpa guide just to go to the toilets.
I wasn’t entirely comfortable with having to turn up at 7:30. There are some things you should never have to do in daylight, and queueing is one of them. On the plus side, it did mean we got to see the Metro Riots (the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen them recently, hooray! To be honest I’m just a little bit in love with this band. Good music, easy on the eye and nice chaps all round. But that’s a whole other review…)
Back to the junkie. It had come to my attention that the venue was filling up with accountant types in white T shirts with bad hair. The sort that go to Fabric to celebrate a mate’s birthday. It wasn’t pretty. And then Pete appeared, the pale, hatted one looking his trademark worse for wear. It felt a bit surreal and even mythological for about thirty seconds and then I realised that I was drowning in a sea of dirty chavs, being elbowed and molested. I generally like being fairly close to the front / centre of the crowd but it was unbearable. As was standing at the back it turned out – I became convinced that I was actually going to get pregnant from the kind of liberties fellow crowd members were taking so we had to edge to the side like sad aged rockers who can’t hack the pace anymore.
Meanwhile, the band played on. It sounded pretty rubbish to me. Yeah, he slurred out the hits like ‘Killamangiro’, ‘The Man who Came to Stay’ and ‘Fuck Forever’ but they were delivered in a half-arsed, diluted fashion, so it was like listening to the radio underwater. And I couldn’t help wanting to close my eyes and not open them until the band had morphed into the Libertines and everything was happy and utopian again (yes, I’m still mourning, but rightfully so…)
My initial fleeting buzz at seeing THE MAN (because lets be honest, it’s not really a band, more the Pete Doherty Show with some props) was dulled by a sense of shame that I’d been cheated, duped by the hype surrounding the man we hate to love.