Sunday, 22 November 2009

Kings of Convenience – Declaration of Dependence

It’s been three years since Riot on an Empty Street but at last here we have the third offering from Norwegian lo-fi heroes KoC. Sitting here on a perfectly horrid Sunday afternoon with the gales blowing and the rain a-lashing there seems no better music to listen to.

It’s a collection of unfailingly delicate and sensitive pieces, just two voices one steel string and one nylon string guitar and the very occasional snatch of viola or stand up double bass. The voices interweaving in a seamless way, the playing deft and accurate, nothing flashy or over-stated, the whole building a luscious sound-scape that lulls and cocoons, soothing away the horrors of the world outside.

The three years since the last offering haven’t seen them tack a hugely different tack stylistically or musically. These songs were apparently all written whilst out touring the world, written in concert halls and other on-the-road places, and they have attempted to capture that sort of reverby sound. Ok not music to rock out to, nor best suited for every situation, but given the right time and place, unbeatable.

KoC Myspace

KoC Website

We Were Promised Jetpacks – The Cooler

As is our way, the Lad and I turn up at the venue for opening time, conscious that this odd little venue has few spots that give a good view of the low-built stage. We needn’t have worried as for some forty minutes or so we were two of no more than a dozen inside the dubious confines of the Cooler. I must admit for some time I wondered if I had got the wrong date.

Finally spotting a schedule stuck to the wall we learned that there would be no support band tonight (surely there must be countless bands in Bristol keen for a live slot... promoters get your fingers out). Instead there was a DJ type who played a selection of non-offensive but reasonably nondescript tracks for the best part of two hours... ho hum.

Leading up to appearance time there was a steady but slender stream of punters to hear the rather excellent WWPJ – in the end perhaps amounting to, let’s be generous, 100 souls... where was everyone, I can’t be so ahead of the curve as all that, or maybe others aren’t as taken with this collection of young Scots lads as I?

WWPJ tumble down the stairs, through the ’crowd’ and onto the stage at a shade past nine thirty and proceed to blast out a very muscular set that amounts to the whole of their These Four Walls album. It must be hard to give it your all to such a meagre collection of people, but to my mind they did a more than passable attempt – despite being rather hung-over from the previous night in Amsterdam.

Apparently they are weary of playing Quiet Little Voices (see Drowned in Sound interview) but this didn’t show. Hard to pull out favourites but I must admit to being taken by Conductor and Ships with Holes. With just the one album to their name and with it all dispatched, after some words of thanks they exited the stage and back up the stairs at 10.25, leaving us also to make a sharp exit back home.

A slightly odd gig then – WWPJ we fine and enjoyable and you can’t help but think they would be better still with a larger crowd, one that had been warmed up by another band, and then a slightly expanded WWPJ cannon of tracks to hear. Don’t stop now chaps, there is much more to come you can’t help but feel, oh and do come back to Bristol. In the meantime babz54321 has posted a whole series of vids from their show at the Borderline just prior to the Bristol show...

WWPJ Myspace

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Andrew Bird - Union Chapel

Well going to a gig on your own is not the best was to see an act but then again sometimes there is no alternative. This time the lad blew me out and went to Muse instead ... but here I was at the Union Chapel in Highbury, possibly one the best venues to see anyone not a straight rock band.

Tonight was the magnificent Andrew Bird, who produced one of the best, if not the best album of the year, Noble Beast.
Support was from Moriarty who were new to me but they put on a great, professional and polished set. Their vocalist has a strong, pure voice ideally suited to the collection of Americana-blues songs. Their harmonica player was outstanding - not always an instrument that I love but when played this well, capable of great things and real emotion. A set all too soon over but with a genuinely warm reception from the crowd.

As the crew cleared the stage it became obvious that Mr Bird would not have the accompanying band that played with him earlier I'm the year in Bristol. And true enough he popped onto the stage as alone as I was, only infinitely more talented.

What you lose in terms of drive and energy from a backing band you make up with, especially in a relatively intimate and acoustically sensitive venue as this, in crystal clarity and an opportunity to see and hear everything that is played.

He is a genuinely virtuoso player - his violin playing is legion, his whistling strong and clear, his guitar playing is up there with the best of them, he has a great and distinctive voice and he can do it all together with the aid of his quick moving stockinged feet around the myriad loop pedals. It is impressive enough that he can manage to do all this but the fact that the result is so brilliant, almost symphonic on ocassions, is nothing short of genius.

The set was made up of some songs unknown to me, some by his own admission a mashup of his own songs (like the mash of Sweetbreads and Dark Matter), some welcome new songs like Lucitania, and of course some old favourites like Natural Disaster that was sublime.

The crowd was strangely subdued, perhaps the influence of the venue, perhaps in some sort of hushed awe, I can't believe that having sold out two night it was indifference.

Of course having to catch the last train West meant that I had to leave well before the end, but better three quarters of the gig than none.

A remarkable man producing innovative, quality music with depth and resonance, how fortunate to have seen him twice in a year that has had him touring almost continually. I wouldn't be surprised if he heads off for some peace quiet and R&R for a while.

Andrew Bird Myspace
Moriarty Myspace
Moriarty Web site

Monday, 2 November 2009

Stornoway – Sheldonian Theatre Oxford

Two gigs in two days is something of an unusual occurrence, all the more so when the two gigs in question are as different as Idlewild and Stornoway, their linkages being only the accidental Scottish name and the affection for things folky.

Stornoway have built a strong following through their live sets and have picked up plaudits in the national as well as the music press. They also seem to have a bit of a reputation for playing in slightly unusual venues and this, first non-classical, show at the grand and impressive Sheldonian must be the most unusual. Billed as a home-coming gig for the band, the thousand seats were sold out (although ‘seats’ can only be an approximate term for the wooden benches up high). The further unusual component was the use of the Oxford Millennium orchestra to act both as support and accompaniment to the band.

Writing this as I do overhead Greenland en route to Denver, it all seems strangely surreal now; the determinedly Oxford crowd, the august surroundings, the young band on the cusp of bigger success all nerves and anxious in front of a wildly supportive home crowd.

The Oxford Millennium Orchestra seemed to made up of the local college students, playing well together. Mendelssohn’s Fingles Cave was a welcome reminder of music from my childhood and Vaughan Williams selection of English folk inspired tunes was an appropriate prelude to the folk-laden melodies to come.

With no recording contact at present, or at least no label (although and album is promised) the music of Stornoway has had to circle around Myspace and other online sites like iTunes etc, one of which provides chargeable download of four tracks. (and which I can no longer find...) and means that my knowledge of their output is pretty limited. But no worry it is the sort of music that is immediate and accessible without being trite and predictable; strong melodies, intelligent lyrics and accomplished playing.

He band, or at least Brian Briggs as their front-man, were perhaps understandably nervous faced with this their largest crowd to date, a heart ‘beating like a jungle drum’ seemed a fair summing up. Indeed the first one or two songs had a hesitancy to them, but his voice was strong and true with a character all of its own. Each song was welcomed as a triumph by the crowd.

However it was whether orchestra joined in that the set really came to life. Adding orchestral arrangements can be a hit and miss affair, but here it was a resounding hit, adding depth and texture but no maudlin sentimentality, all credit to the two band members who wrote the score. Zorbing and Unfaithful were excellent in this form but it was On the Rocks that was the stand out accomplishment – a triumph indeed.

Having exhausted their catalogue there was no encore, just an exhortation for the crowd to give a unified scream as a last way to unsettle the staff at the Sheldonian and a final appearance by Mr Briggs to say this had been the best night of his life. That it may have been but you cannot help but feel that there will be other and greater highs for this band which, if it can ‘let go’ a bit more and a bit earlier, must be on the threshold of wider, greater and deserved success.

Stornoway Myspace