Thursday, 23 September 2010

Erm maybe I was a bit previous

Hold that earlier comment - WP isn't doing all the right stuff, may not turn off Blogger quite  so soon...

We Have Moved

Well I have decided to bid farewell to Blogger and move my affections to Wordpress so the blog can now be found at

A wiser man than I has changed all the feeds if that's what you use. Lets hope it was the right decision!

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Quiet Lamb - Her Name Is Calla

A thousand years ago an advert proclaimed, ‘You can’t hurry a Murray’s’ referring to an old school boiled mint sweet. Well there is something of the Murray Mint to Her Name is Calla. It’s been a couple of years since I first brushed up against them around the time of the Heritage mini-album and my quest to get a copy of the majestic Condor and River. The full album has been long promised and much anticipated but The Quiet Lamb is now here, well almost. In an arcane and magical sort of way I seem to be the proud owner of the album before my wooden boxed and card-stuffed version comes tumbling through my door next month or so. Consequently I have been treating myself to many-a listen to this 70 minute plus opus.

HNIC don’t do short cuts, neither do they do hurried and in a time where everything seems to be faster, impatient and needing immediacy, this is welcome counterpoint. HNIC isn’t for everyone, this isn’t going to be up your street if you’re looking for a jolly sing-along or a smack between the eyes hook and chorus. Thankfully for an old prog type like me this is no problem. The slow build, reveal and development in The Quiet Lamb of course has its echoes these days in the perhaps unhelpful nomenclature that is post-rock, shoe-gaze and all the rest, but it also brings back more resonant memories of the album structures of Tangerine Dream and going back further still symphonic structures perhaps of Stravinsky or maybe Bruckner . Oh dear that sounds all rather worthy and pretentious, safe to say HNIC do carefully considered and structured music, written with a lot of heart and invested with a deep sense of authenticity and honesty

The Quiet Lamb is no easy piece of work. It does demand to be listened to in its entirety and at over 70 minutes that’s not always easy to achieve. The album mostly does manage to work as a whole, the shorter pieces such as Intervals I and II together with the perhaps too fragile, Homecoming inevitably suffer in comparison with the substantial set pieces across the work, which is a shame because they merit closer attention that simply link pieces.

The major tracks are either monumental pieces in their own rights, like Condor and River, or combine together as ‘movements’ of extended pieces as with Blood Promise and its associated track (and personal favourite)Pour More Oil and the three part suite The Union. IMHO I might have preferred Long Grass and Thief to be put together in a similar fashion but that’s not how it ended up.

Whilst there is of course a pervading melancholia to the set, inevitable given the provenance of some of the songs, it doesn’t feel maudlin or depressive to me. As you would hope there is a real sense of progression from earlier recordings, greater sensitivity in recording, Tom Morris’ vocals sounding much stronger and more assured, the greater use of horns and strings add splendid layers to the sound, altogether a much more grow-up and mature affair. An interesting little history of HNCI can be found here

I know from reading the excellent and helpful track by track article by Tom in The Line of Best Fit that the trilogy that is The Union is clearly an important collection for HNIC. It is in truth, well for me anyway, the most difficult part of the album and in particular the Recidivist middle section. Whilst I am growing to love the trilogy, the Recidivist still feel s like it needed a bit more work and maybe a little more discipline and structure imposed upon the second half of this very personal and raw piece. The final part Into the West is indeed a dense full on gallop off into the proverbial sunset replete with Mexicana horns, pounding drums and everything including the kitchen sink thrown into the mix.

The Quiet Lamb has been more than worth the wait and is certainly worth ordering up from their Label Denovali . A significant piece of work, at times soaring at others almost pastoral, but throughout imbued with an intensity and personality so sadly lacking in much output these days. This is band that deserves a greater audience and a band that promises even better things to come – one of my albums of the year, bless their cotton socks.

Pix courtesy of Valerio

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Jonsi at Colston Hall

The tickets for Jonsi at the Colston Hall were bought months ago on the basis of an album I had then yet to hear and which I still don’t know very well. As it turned out the show was the night of the first day back to work after the holidays and I was in two minds whether to go or not. The Lad and I did go though and to what must perhaps be the most astonishing gig I have been to.

There are times when music is transcendent, taking you to another level of being (promise no shrooms were consumed), however fleetingly. These are the special moments, the moments when you are so absorbed, so transported, and in truth such moments are still rare.

This was one of those nights. At times it felt impossible to take it all in – the music, the musicianship, the animations, lights and camera feeds all blending together. Its not often possible or appropriate to describe a concert as beautiful, but this was – the fallen-angelic falsetto, the melodies woven into sweeping sound-scapes, sometimes fragile and faltering at other times majestic and symphonic.

To tell the truth I had little idea which songs were played (but I am assuming that the set list is pretty much as per previous shows as below, virtually the whole album plus a bit – which goes to show how rubbish I am at not recognising these extraordinary live versions). Whether he was singing in English, Icelandic, Hopplandish or double-dutch I wasn’t sure and it mattered not a jot.

After buying the tickets I read glowing reports of the show and they were all true. You could see the show night after night and still get something new from it. The level of meticulous planning and preparation (by 59 Productions, see vid clip below) was amazing and of course necessarily made it far from spontaneous, but there was a completeness, a wholeness, carefully judged and precisely delivered and still in a manner that made it feel special despite the dozens of times they must have performed this set now. The video below gives a small sense of the intensity of the show, but is not able to properly pass on the actual experience of Grow Till Tall, the closer.

A couple of years ago we, as a family, took a helicopter flight over Mount St Helens and into the caldera itself. I was so awestruck that I kept forgetting to breath out, amazed at what we were seeing. All be it in a different context last night too was breath-taking. A brilliant, uplifting and astounding show.

Set List: Icicle Sleeves, Kolniður, Sinking Friendships, Tornado, Go Do, Boy Lilikoi, Animal Arithmetic, Around Us, Sticks & Stones, Grow Till Tall

Pix: found on Portland Mercury but photo from unknown Flickr source

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Arcade Fire and Life Sound Tracks

A minor coincidence set me thinking today. Along with countless others I am now the owner of the new Arcade Fire album, Suburbs, greedily gobbling up the music, hoping it will have a similar effect to the first time I heard them (almost inevitably not). Bouncing through Tweetdeck tonight and up pop a series of fevered tweets from @hernameiscalla, a band that also help recreate in me that elusive sense of excitement, the sense of something new and to be discovered. The tweets, once joined up , read as follows:

“my thoughts on the new #arcadefire - i do really like it, but a big part of this is cuz of how important the band is to me ...and how an album on suburban life & growin up makes me think of the band soundtracking my exams, feelin lost at uni, loneliness & boredom...... only arcade fire & broken social scene have followed me from gcse & school, to my halls, lonely houses & then love & working life...”

Isn’t it strange the effect a band, an album or sometimes just a track can have? How looking back they become inextricably associated with a moment, a period, an emotion? I am afraid that Arcade Fire don’t take me back to my school days, you have to travel a wee bit further for that.

The guilty pleasure of my teenage love affair with Yes ironically came right back around when, years later, Heart of the Sunrise became the unforgettable, and deeply appropriate, audio track to the journey home at 1am after the birth of my son.

Writing now I realise how impossible it is to try and succinctly attach specific music to life stages without writing a book and boring everyone to death. But the attachments are there, and sometimes only really clear after the event. The Joni Mitchell album Hissing of Summer Lawns is an unexpectedly durable example, at the time my introduction to elements of jazz and the as then unnamed ‘world music’ elements, later to reflect as it did in Harry’s House my own experience of becoming dislocated from home life through the pressures of ‘business’ life.

More recently music has again become centre stage. After years of not going to gigs, the Lad hit fourteen and off we went. Anally I track all our gigs, the supports, the experience of the night, the triumphs, the lesser nights. With the valued input of @binmouth and IDS we share new hopes and passions – The National have and will keep one of those few treasured places in our hearts - all the new bands that come and go, the impassioned early days of bands, those other artists that stay and grow and don’t grow stale.

The thing that has changed of late is the ability to discover bands and musicians from around the country and the rest of the world. It seems only yesterday that discovering new music was asking to listen to a 45rpm in a booth in record shop down town. The internet has revolutionised all that - it is almost impossible to keep track of all that is out there, trying to find the music that will connect with you, resonate and embed itself, become that part of your own soundtrack. But what a damn fine problem it is, this is a blessed time.


Prompted by FB alert (and a 'like' from @binmouth) that Mountaineater are taking to the stage again in their naive New Zealand, I popped back to listen again to the little that is available form the band.

There is of course the one, lone EP so far Mata/Sun Fired still available through Smoke CD's in NZ,and a planned album for later in 2010, but to be honest this doesn't have anything like to punch in the face that must be their live shows. The recorded live stream below at the bottom of the post, from their 2009 session at Radio 1 in NZ is much more like it (excuse the rubbish vid and all that) - bear with the set up before the fours tracks get played - Mata, Exegesis 7, Alucard and Sunfired. OK its a bit of a long haul vid but there ain't much more around! The three, Chris Livingston on drums, Anaru Ngata on bass and the legendary Tristan Dingemans on guitars (and what pass as vocals) create and extraordinary noise .

I know that @binmouth holds Tristan (ex-High Dependency Unit) in some sort of guitar hero status as he does generate the most visceral sound - I think some likened it to standing next to a jet engine - not that I ever have. There are a couple of vids on YouTube one of which is below and maybe an easier first bite at Mountaineater, which are worth a look as long as you can get over the inevitable poor sound. But despite the fact that we are unlikely to see them on these shore they do serve as a healthy alternative for my increasingly twee-leaning listening, a bit of counterbalance is a good thing don't you think?

Friday, 30 July 2010

Her Name Is Calla - The Quiet Lamb etc

Well it seems an age that we have been waiting the debut album from the glorious but improbably named Her Name is Calla (I have often wondered but never had the temerity to ask what that’s all about). There of course have been the various EP’s and little snippets of joy including Long Grass, Heritage, Blood Promise and the magnificent Condor and River that first introduced them to me and I have posted a couple of short bits here and here. This later track and a couple of the others are included, I believe in reworked fashion, on The Quiet Lamb debut released on Denovali records ( and their frankly befuddling website).

The lovely chaps at @hernameiscalla (for you Twitter following types) have quite properly been trumpeting some nice, positive reviews of the album but we mere mortals are still holding on for a pre-order date, now expected in September for an October release. HNIC (sorry to introduce an acronym, ah OK I instantly rescind it) hernameiscalla do put out their material in some charming packaging ideal for an artefact collector like me, including a wooden box with bits and bobs inside for Long Grass and a make-it-yourself card box for Blood Promise (I think it was that). So I have high hopes for the wooden box presentation for The Quiet Lamb.

Now in a shameless, but ultimately effective ploy, to garner more Twitter followers there was a promise of an album related ‘goodie’ once a certain threshold had been reached, and true to their word the fine fellows put up Pour More Oil from the new album up on SoundCloud for all to enjoy. A great swelling sound filled out with brass and strings, all boding very well for October.

A pre-album tour-ette is on the cards and dates are up on Myspace amongst other places. Disappointingly the only one I have a chance of getting to is Cardiff and that’s a long shot – so still no live experience for me.... any chance of some post launch dates, maybe one around Bristol or so...

Shearwater – St Bonaventure’s Bristol

It seems an age since I first heard Shearwater on an NPR podcast (what would I do without NPR and the other US public service stations – where’s the UK equivalent?) and tried to get hold of Rook, their second album. There was something immediately affecting about their music, an odd combination of fragility and strength. Golden Archipelago, their third offering, must be one of the albums of this year – graceful, undeniably beautiful, full of regret and anger.

The fact that they decided to cruise by a strange little social club in leafy, suburban Bristol was too good to be true and so Mrs HC and I rocked up super early (my fault, I must have a good spot!) in the golden, warm evening sun. A strange, tiny (what maybe 150 people when its maxed out?), venue with a stage area whose size, according to Jonathon Meiburg’s quoting of his his tour notes is ‘variable , adequate’ – “you know you’re in England when you see notes like that” he joshed.

Consequently we were at most six feet from the stage; it felt like a domestic and intimate setting for friends and family, amid a crowd made up of your favourite uncles and skinny young things reading Russian literature. How heartening it is that, save for the execrable teen stars and plastic pop bands, gigs crowds nowadays are an eclectic mix of people and ages brought together by a common passion ( oops, prose getting a bit purple this morning, better take a pill!)

Support was courtesy of a Nils Frahm, a Berliner playing unaccompanied piano pieces. Seemed like a nice young chap even if his soft German accent couldn’t help bring to mind @stephenfry and his imitation of a German gay... The pieces were mesmerising, played with such fluency and heart. Reminiscent at times of Philip Glass structures but with emotional chord progressions and a cinematic quality. Not easy to deliver music like this in such a personal, close proximity environment, but he had me from early in the first piece. CD duly bought.

The Shearwater chaps (and lady-chap) wandered around the instruments and micro-stage, tuning, re-positioning and then with no to-do they were off. The albums give me goose bumps and I have to admit given the right place and mental state, bring a tear to my eye. Of course some of the finesse of the recordings cannot be reproduced live but the class of playing is there, the band members awareness of each other, and the sheer quality of the songs all more than make up for any minor technical losses.

The set was a sensible and rewarding mix of stuff from all three albums, the latest of course getting due prominence. The first four of five songs were played through back to back and I wondered if we would get no interaction form the band, but then a bit of banter broke out and the personal connection was made. As so often live , material comes over in a more muscular way so the contrast between songs like Corridors for which we were asked to ‘hold onto our hats’ and the delicate and heart rending songs like Hidden Lakes and Missing Islands was even more marked; a credit to their ability to let go when needed but other times play with control and constraint.

I, and I am sure everyone else there, could have listened all night, captivated by Jonathon Meiburg’s vocal delivery and the bands multi-instrumental talents. Called back of course for the encore they finally left after delivering the majestic Snow Leopard. Quite sublime.

Of course a stop by the merch stand was required and the purchase of Herr Frahm’s cd and a suitably elephantine sized Shearwater T was made. The super-cool thing about gigs of this size is you get a real chance to meet the band and so I was genuinely thrilled (what a girlie groupie I am) to shake the hand of Jonathon Meiburg and have a (frankly fawning and gloopy) chat with him. But it is brilliant to be able to tell someone face to face just how much you value their music. What a lovely chap too – and he promises to come back to Brizzle as well.

Bless them for taking me out of myself for an evening amid the grinding stupidity of dealing with the new dogma-ridden policies of our lovely new ‘coalition’. Music like this will be around long after their petty politics have disappeared from view


Sunday, 18 July 2010

Bombay Bicycle Club - Flaws

I have the Lad to thank for this one - he gave good reports of them at last years Glasto and seemed to jump on this as soon as it was released. It seems I have the first Bombay Bicycle Club CD sitting on my ipod but don't recall ever listening to it, how did that happen?

Given there undeniable youth I guess I had rather put them down as one of those fresh faced indie bands that crash around, to be honest I think I might even have got them mixed up in my head with Black Motorcycle Rebel Club... oops

Well for their second album, the so-called 'difficult' one they have thrown away most form of electric and ended up smack in the middle of the acoustic/folk thang right now. I guess they should be praise for being 'brave' as some reviews allude to, but whatever the motivation it sounds pretty good to me.

Not exactly and over-long set, maybe just as well, as although its a pretty good set it lacks a little variety overall but being on the short side lets them off any hook that might have been there. What a shame I have just missed them in Bristol... oh well better luck next time!

The Coral - Butterfly House

Well they have been around for ten years or so and I have never really taken much notice of The Coral before - just seemed a bit too locked into the Oasis scene for me. A couple of OK singles but never pierced my conciousness.

But the new album Butterfly House, apparently their sixth seems a bit like a new stage for them. The 'Best Of' thing has been done and heralds a difficult period - more of the same or a fresh effort?

Butterfly House feels like and ideal album for the summer - despite the current leaden skies - bright jangly guitars, a jaunty acoustic/rock favour and male vocal harmonies that have finally found their time perhaps. It all feels gloriously like a revisit of 1967 and Woodstock era songs, albeit updated for the new millennium.

The recent advent of bands like Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons will have done them no harm, warming up the market for this sort of sound - though of course The Coral are nothing like FF and M&S in so many respects.

Tracks like 1000 Years and North Parade stand out, the later with its more 'let loose' sound where James Skelly takes flight. All in all a pleasantly surprising set, the sound much like the vibrant, multicoloured and slightly hippy/psychedelic cover.

Friday, 2 July 2010

John Grant - Queen of Denmark

I have always found it hard to resist a fabulous voice and John Grant has one of the very best. A deep mellifluous baritone he could sing the proverbial shopping list and make it sound like honey. All the obvious references are there Scott Walker, Robin Pecknold, Rufus Wainwright (albeit on the softer end of his range), but a voice that his own, the potential sugary sweetness stripped back by the sense of loss and damage in his vocals (fine article in the Guardian gives details as does the BBC review to a degree).

Ex vocalist with the under-rated Czars, the fine fellows of Midlake have supported and encouraged him back into music after his troubled times. In addition to Grants vocals and piano , Messrs Midlake provide the full accompaniment here but never try to upstage or overwhelm.

Some of the tracks here are just obviously beautiful (Its Easier), others sounds a little cheesy on first listen (but then again so do many Scott Walker tracks), but there's a hardness here, the result of hurt and personal suffering that perhaps not dealt with in this way would just be too much. Jesus Hates Faggots is scattered with acid drops of experience, and the title track is no bed of roses.

A remarkable piece of work deserving of a wider audience than he has so far had.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Broken Social Scene - Birmingham

Conceivably the hottest day of the year; England at its June best. Young Binmouth and the Fair Nicola cruised by for a spot of lunch and a quick look around the HC ‘manor’ before affording me a rare luxury of being driven up the Brum to meet up with IDS and see the indescribably brilliant Broken Social Scene.

Its seems an age ago that the Lad and I saw BSS at the old Brum Academy around the time of the eponymous album release (when Bill Priddle broke his collar bone just prior to the gig), I remember it being a tad too ‘out there’ for the Lad at the time at a tender 14 or 15 years. Earlier this year Binmouth (aka Peeblemeister - better decide what to call him methinks!)and I saw BSS rip it up as support for Pavement in London only serving to whet the appetite for a full headline set.

I will draw a veil over Sky Larkin as support, nothing terrible just didn’t do it for me.

Stage was set with a million mics and kit showing up how tight it would be to squeeze the whole BSS crew on stage and with no cheesy fanfare there they were and off into World Sick. Impossible to keep track of the set list but as well as the new album stuff (how drop dead gorgeous is Sweetest Kill the truly fab and brilliant stuff form afore and especially the eponymous album stuff – the extraordinary 7/4 Shoreline, Fire-Eyed Boy and Super Connected to name but a few.

The playing is of course uniformly sparkling, Justin Peroff’s drumming inspired, jazzy and magnificent; Andrew Whiteman has that slightly spacey/starey look but plays a mean Gretsch Tennessean with some intriguing leg poses going on (physical tip for Binmouth??); Brendan Canning a little like a blond/grey Jarvis Cocker according to the Fair Nicola and Kevin Drew the essential lynch pin, disarmingly looking a little like a talented Russell Brand. Lisa Lobsinger bringing an other-wordly quality with her dreamy, Stevie Nicks-esque delivery, and her wafting on and off stage. With the full nine(or was it ten?) BSS-ers on stage, including the horns section, there is that wonderful sense of barely contained musical chaos, except you know full well that it is rock solid and they are just too good not to know where it’s all heading.

The hour and a half set disappeared all too soon, a strict curfew for the grim club session that was to follow. You just knew that they would have played and played given the chance. The fabulous and unsettling thing about a collective such as BSS is that the very fragility of the set up makes it something special, an intensity that others only dream of, yet it could all fall apart so easily. So thanks be to be able to experience it whilst it’s here, a thing of beauty, passion and inspiration. The monumental and triumphant Meet Me in the Basement still in our ears we buy our shirts (a big Boo to Mrs IDS for not liking them!) and rejoin the Brummies outside just starting their own sweaty club nights.

Pix – RHC and IDS more here and from Binmouth here (sorry 'bout the pix placement, Blogger is mental)

Oh and the new Alpine Earplugs work a real treat!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Band of Horses - Roundhouse and Wolverhampton

Two years ago the Lad and I saw band of Horses deliver a roaring set at the Shepherds Bush Empire and here we are in 2010 and I get to see them twice within a couple of days: first off with the Lad at the Roundhouse and second time around with IDS at Wulfren Hall in Wolverhampton.

Infinite Arms as an album struck me initially as a disappointment, too laid back and just lacking the verve of the first two. But Arms has turned out to be a collection of songs that have wheedled their way in and but the time we rocked up at the Roundhouse I was looking forward to hearing it all live.

The Roundhouse is a great venue, large enough but no so large to be impersonal and we grabbed our place on the raised patch in front of the sound desk (the Lad isn’t fond of the crush bar area for some reason). Darker My Love did nothing to really endear themselves to us, they sounded a bit ragged, the vocals sounding like a six inch nail being dragged down a window pane and generally the sound was awful. The Lad couldn’t wait for them to go – never one to miss a chance for an immediate judgment!

BoH entered after In the Air Tonight ushered them on stage at the celebrated drum point. Ok a very cheesy entrance but it was so bad it was good. There is a little review of the Roundhouse show from ‘Eggs’ Oakley which most helpfully has a full set list. BoH rocked through the set pretty darned well, the new songs fitting in well with the older ones, and felt stronger, tougher and generally better. The huge back sheet had a continuous run of great monochrome and just off monochrome pictures of rural America, a perfect visual accompaniment for the music they play. Funeral certainly got the most vociferous welcome, a masterful song delivered powerfully, wonderful.

We had to slip away after Detlef Schrempf to get the last train back to Swindon. A good, perhaps very good show spoilt only by being so far back in the crowd.

Wolverhampton was the one that did it for me though. IDS and I were at the doors with acres of time, straight to the front and our spot at the bar – perfect. Wulfren Hall, an almost identical smaller brother to the Civic is a perfect size venue.

Darker My Love came on and my expectations were low given the previous experience. However the sound was better, they played better and actually they were pretty good, if I hadn’t seen the first show I would have thought them very good.

No cheesy Phil Collins intro tonight, a much more regular and appropriate stage entry. From the off BoH seemed more relaxed, chatty, happy and up for it. Straight into a stonking set (details can be seen here) Banter between band members, a crowd that couldn’t get enough, a set of songs that was perfect, playing at the top of their form... ah magic. I could have stayed all night. The addition of 13 Days (JJ Cale cover) and the final Am I A Good Man (a Them Two cover) were brilliant. All too soon it was over

It’s always a bit of schlep up to Wolverhampton especially after a bit of crap few days, but just how worth it was it? One of the best of gigs, super loud (might finally have to succumb to gig ear plugs), great to share it with IDS, ah great times, wonderful band, uplifting and transcendent.

Pix courtesy of IDS

Thursday, 20 May 2010

BravoBraveBats at The Louie

BravoBraveBats (henceforth the Bats) make me smile. There is something about a new band (or at least a new band that feels like it might go somewhere) that is fundamentally smile-making. There’s something irrepressible, something so hopeful and full of potential. How often has a band first flush of music been their most vital, their most alive

Well as I say The Bats make me smile and their set to a capacity crowd at the Louisiana (well maybe not quite capacity) was an especially smiley affair. Having heard a few demo-type recordings it was good to hear it live – there is always something essentially more energised about hearing material live.

Of course knowing someone who is helping make the racket does help – it’s more personal, there is a vicarious sense of ownership somehow. I am reminded of how hard core loyal fan bases are built and sustained – fans feel that they own a little bit of the action, that there is common cause, a shared experience. Anyhoo enough pop psychology.

Only three gigs in and of course there are rough edges, but these are edges that will get knocked off with more gig practice, it will all get tighter and Hector, Ieuan and Dan (self styled Snap, Crackle and Pop) will quickly better understand how each other play, how they spark off each other.

As the set progressed through their current cannon of seven completed songs, they settled in and by Tent City, Anty Matter and the final Loup Garou, the groove was better fixed. The Bats are hugely enjoyable and it is great to see three chaps giving it their all, out to enjoy and have fun and the energy leaps off the stage and is infectious.

I have no doubt that if they keep pushing on, taking shows wherever they can, writing more songs and finding their own individual and collective identity, not only with they have fun but so will all those who get to hear them. Bravo Brave Bats indeed.

The Bats can be found on Facebook and YouTube as well as the inevitable Myspace and can be followed @BravoBraveBats

Friday, 14 May 2010

Roky Erickson - True Love Cast Out all Evil

Once again I owe thanks to NPR for letting me stumble across this in one of their podcasts. Roky Erickson was a new name to me but Okkervil River who provide the backing band on this remarkable album was not.

The CD liner notes carry an extensive resume of this man's extraordinary life from his time in 13th Elevators in the late '60's, the habitual dropping of acid before shows, to the early stardom followed by the swift decline and eventual locking up in a secure mental hospital and finally his re-emergence back into society and picking up his music once more. There is a truncated version of this history on his web site but the longer version does merit reading.

Okkervil River, and in particular Will Sheff, were handed the task of making sense of years of scraps of music and fuller songs and in good time this CD emerged. Even without knowing the history it has a heavy sense of nostalgia, of stuff that needed to be said, a man finding his voice again after very troubled times, and in some ways the sort of feeling that came through in the last of Jonny Cash's American series (although hopefully Erickson at 63 has a little more time remaining)

Music with substance, gravitas, and even if this sort of folk/country/Americana is not your thing, music whose quality cannot be denied.

The National, High Violet and Bloodbuzz Ohio Vid

Well the news that High Violet is out and frankly rather brilliant is no news at all. In fact quite pointless to write anything about it at all it would only sound too sucky. The splendid Bloodbuzz Ohio track now has an official vid and its a weird thing, really not sure that the dad-dancing sections should be there and the whole vid thing seems a bit needless but I'll forgive them most anything, still here it is:

Pavement and Broken Social Scene at Brixton Academy

Having missed the boat for the Broken Social Scene show at Heaven and only thinking too late for the Pavement reunion shows in London @binmouth rode to the rescue with a spare ticket for this show at the Brixton Academy, the of the three sold out nights, what a generous Bat he is!

Despite being a Pavement fan (how many hours did I spent downloading tracks through the dial up connection?) and their now legendary influential role on so many bands, if I am absolutely honest it was BSS that I really wanted to hear. Having only seen them once before in February 2006 as one of the early gigs with the Lad in the grubby Academy 2 in Birmingham, I was eager to hear them again and see if they can pull off their shambling, euphoric sound.

The forty minute or so set was like a musical drive by shooting, almost no pause for breath, no let up, only one ’ballad’ type song, a great mix of the new album and sparkling moments from earlier albums. The band, at various times six, seven or eight people, seemed buzzing, swapping instruments, a bit of leaping around, little or no banter as they ‘crashed’ through a high energy set (and the drummer – just how good is he?) How much do I love this band? Loads. Buried sometimes a little deep in the songs are hooks that once they get you don’t let go, the controlled chaos of the sound is a joy to behold. Best songs? Well maybe World sick the opener, Forced to Love and of course 7/4 Shoreline and Fire Eye’d Boy not to mention the closer Meet Me in the Basement. Cannot wait to see them headline in Birmingham in June – magnificent.

The stage set for Pavement with their two drummer station and Steve Malkmus positioned to one side, his monitors carefully creating a private space for himself, they arrived to some considerable enthusiasm. There has always been a wonderful thickness to the Pavement sound, something that many have tried to replicate (the insider view from @binmouth is that they mostly play chords rather than notes – I bow to his superior knowledge!). Well whatever, but that ‘thickness’ is there live as well. I have to say they sounded fantastic, good and tight, vocals up in the mix for a change and they cracked through the set. Whilst being a lover of the extended musical form there is something very satisfying about the three minute song – it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Malkmus played the fool, playing his guitar in strange positions, wheeling it around, smacking the headstock on the ground – as @binmouth commented, this stuff was all way too easy for him. But on a couple of occasions we got to hear a bit more of his guitar playing ability – tantalising stuff, more would have been very welcome. As if we didn’t know for a band that so obviously doesn’t get on like they once might have (well Mr Malkmus anyhow), this collection of reunion shows is as much about fund raising as anything, something they obliquely referred to doing one of the inter-band banter sessions. But that said the set was barnstorming and a timely reminder of the quality of their writing and playing, they set a high bar which many others still fail to leap.

They also delivered a long set, on at nine and finishing their second encore set when I left at just about eleven (including the giant bouncing balloons) – would have been surprised if they didn’t come back for a third time but I wasn’t there to see it. Great stuff indeed and a real sense that this must likely be the last time this band will be playing like this, now in their late 30’s (or for Malkmus, 43) and engaged with other projects.

A quality evening and a privilege to see one legendary band turn in an astonishing set supported by another great, soaring band.

More pix from the Peeblemeister for Pavement here and BSS here and some of my own for Pavement here (the BSS were a bit rubbish!)

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Neat

Having become rather acutely aware that I seem to have headed off into beardy folky territory quite a bit of late ( see posts about Josh Ritter, Roky Erickson and the like) the ever reliable Steve Lamacq reminds me that there is still much fun to be had at the spiky end of the spectrum. The Neat offer quite a tonic in that department and I commend the House to review the said Mr Lamacq's post that is more eloquent than I could be, watch the Vimeo vid below and spend a little time on their Myspace site...

Friday, 7 May 2010

The National - Royal Albert Hall

@binmouth and I sat high up in the hallowed surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall, now the prestige venue of choice for many top acts. It is a remarkable venue that affords the great majority of the audience an excellent, if sometimes distant, view however the venue has a notoriously poor acoustic despite the mushrooms in the roof. The National had chosen RAH for this their main UK show prior to the official release of High Violet (assuming the previous nights Electric Ballroom is accepted as a warm up gig) and typically seats ‘sold out’ almost instantly.

Support was from Buke & Gass who did sterling work as a two piece to warm the crowd up (despite many staying in the bar – shame on them). Buke & Gass is certainly a band that deserves greater and closer attention, they played with style and an intriguing creativity. The National have a bit of a fondness for the slightly odd as support, St Vincent played Bristol when last they were there.

On cue the lights go down, violet light floods the stage and some portentous walk on music plays and on they come. I have to say that the early songs sounded fine but not as secure as they might have been, the band perhaps a little unsure how to deal with the Hall. Baby, We’ll Be fine was started, re-started and eventually abandoned when Matt Berninger totally screwed up the lyrics.... ‘shame, it sounded f***ing sweet in rehearsal’ . This seemed to be the moment when the band settled down. From here on in it got tighter and more assured, nerves seemed to have been wiped away.

High Violet is a great and majestic new collection of material and the songs shone during the set at the Albert Hall ably bolstered by songs from Boxer and Alligator. Berninger is an exta-ordinary front man. In some respects he is reminiscent of Roddy Woomble (from my other tip-top band) in that he is a strange mixture of reticence and shyness and by turns effervescent and full of wreckless abandon. Where Berninger is particular is in what appears to be his lack of rhythm, his on stage jerks and spasms must surely belie what is going on in his head. Not being an archetypical front man, clearly pained in some respects from fronting up, this does lend him a humanity and vulnerability, also shared by Woomble, that oddly makes him an ideal front man, although perhaps at his best in slightly more modest surroundings.

Stand out songs? Well of course Abel, All the Wine, England, Terrible Love, oh and of course the perennially excellent Mr November and final extended and climactic closer About Today. In an attempt to bring IDS into the occasion he got the dubious delight of listening to Secret Meeting down the line from the mobile – must have sounded shocking, sorry... As the set ran on it got better and better, the playing, Berningers performance walking out among the crowd, and finally a sense from the crowd that there was a real connection.

Great though it was I still feel less comfortable with gigs of this sort of size, 7000 is affair audience even in this the most accommodating of venues, and it is hard to feel the immediacy and the closeness that you inevitably do at smaller shows. That said here I am a day after still with the songs running around my head and the event still at the front of my mind. Let’s do hope that there will be some smaller scale shows maybe later in the year. The National – maybe this is their year, maybe this is the big break through (to what?) album? They have certainly paid their dues but what a shame if they end up doing the stadium route and the fragile connection with their fan base is fractured and distanced. But what music ... I am still in love.

Pic Of Matt and H courtesy of @binmouth, a few more back stagers can be seen here

Some great pix if the night are here from David Emery

Monday, 3 May 2010

Eric Bibb - Cheltenham Jazz Festival

I have to say that I suffered some weird kind of cultural guilt trip at times watching the frankly astonishing Eric Bibb play at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Here we all were, say about 5-600 people genteelly crammed into a tent in the manicured Imperial Gardens, every man jack of us as far as I could see white and resolutely middle class, clapping along to blues music from the deep south with a strong seam of religious faith running through it, a seam probably eschewed by the bulk of the right-on liberals in the crowd.

But what a musician. Effortlessly switching between three guitars and producing the most sublime sounds, even I had to forget about the incongruities of the evening.

After a very short ‘showcase’ set from Megan Henwood, Radio 2 Young Folk award winner, Bibb strolled onto the stage with his trademark hat firmly in place. With a voice like melted chocolate his easy banter put the crowd at ease and he fired off a few songs in quick succession. Soon he introduced Grant Dermody l the Seattle born harmonica player who is Bibbs sole accompaniment on his new CD Bookers Guitar. Dermody might look like a cross between an IT technician and a professional wood whittler but he can produce the most amazing blues harmonica playing. Played badly the harmonica is the instrument of the devil but like this it is incomparable.

Bookers Guitar is a set of songs inspired by being invited to hold and play the1930s vintage Resophonic National steel-body guitar that had belonged to Delta blues legend Booker White. The whole set is infused by that Delta blues character helping show off Bibb’s extraordinary skill at acoustic blues.

Bibb has long been perhaps better known in the UK and Europe than back at home in the states although that seems to be changing now too. He has a good history of recording in Europe, especially Sweden and the title track of the new CD was recorded in the UK.

His rapport with the crowd was a relaxed one, cracking a few jokes along the way. After spending some time tuning his guitar he quipped, “Tuning, a bit like aircraft maintenance – always worth it”.

All together the set was an accomplished one, high quality music, with a suitably quality sound engineer on hand, delivered with style and confidence. The only downside, at least early on, comes from the problem of playing in, albeit a rather flash, tent. Traffic noise was an occasional bug bear as was the ending of an earlier, louder set elsewhere in the Gardens. The most irritating was the car alarm: “ Seems like we have Jimney Cricket with us tonight”, but that too gave up soon enough.

An outstanding musician and performer.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Rufus Wainwright - Bristol Colston Hall

Just twenty four short hours from a rollicking Idlewild show in Wolverhampton I found myself sat down in Colston Hall for a show that was a polar opposite, Rufus delivering his All Days are Nights: Songs for Lulu album, a tribute to his mother's, Kate McGarrigle passing.

Fortunately I had been pre-warned of the format for the evening and an announcer read out:

"The first part of the program will be performed as a song cycle with visuals by Douglas Gordon. During the first set, Rufus has asked that you please do not applaud until after he has left the stage. His exit is part of the piece. After a brief intermission, Rufus will return for the second part of the show during which you may applaud to your heart's content. Please also refrain from photography during the first set."

Well thank goodness he hadn't gotten all precious on us then...

The 'song cycle' frankly is a hard set of songs to listen to in a block like this, there is a monotone to their nature, the tried and tested soft/loud/soft structure just too obvious on this excursion for me. Songs like Martha are more approachable and the final Zebulon a painful elegy for his mother. The visuals of various forms of his heavily made up eyes, blinking across the huge, backdrop paled after a while. Rufus' uber camp and ponderous arrival and exit in a black gown trimmed with feathers and sequins stretching far out behind him as he made his oh so slow progress from wings to piano stool was I guess, 'dramatic'. Not a comfortable of entirely enjoyable first half.

The second half on the other hand was much more the ticket - a more chipper and personable Rufus played a pleasing number of old songs from Poses, a few from more recent sets and pleased the whole hall. A particular personal fav was Under ta Memphis Skyline, a complex song delivered with sensitivity and accuracy - great stuff. His piano is excellent and he was in full voice last night, from the low notes to the high and the long notes such as those in Vibrate. A long second half meant that he must have played for close on two hours in total, quite a marathon on your own. Closing the pre-planned encore with the Walking Song written by his mother seemed quite appropriate and we all left in better humour than we would have at half time.

Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang - The Wonder Show of the World

I have been an occasional fan of Bonnie Prince Billy the nom de plume of Will Oldham but heard a track from this latest on an NPR podcast and it grabbed me. The Wonder Show of the World is basically a trio with Oldham, Emmett Kelly and Shahzard Ismaily.

There have been a few less than ecstatic but none the less positive review perhaps the most useful of which might be the Pitchfork review. For me its an almost sublime affair, not as bleak perhaps as earlier stuff, but not a barrel of laughs either. The sensitive playing highlights Oldhams vocals and the harmonies on some tracks are quite delicious, with sonic similarities on a few occasions to the Fleet Foxes harmonic style and hints of old Neil Young.

On a warm sunny Saturday afternoon with no-one else around this is a perfect accompaniment. here are some beautiful tracks here but the set seems to pivot around That's What Our Love Is. Feels like this might well be one of the albums to come back to time and time again - fabulous.

Idlewild Wolverhampton

Almost goes without saying that its a bit of a schlep up to Brum or Wolverhampton at the end of the day for a gig, but needs must. Deeply irked that I missed both the Bristol and Gloucester Idlewild shows earlier because I was away, this trip was a necessity. Furthermore after turning me down on a couple of shows IDS had an evening pass and away we went.

The Slade Rooms (named after... well you know who) is a congenial if a bit pokey venue on the edge of town, with a very small stage and a wide and narrow room. Inevitably being the sad old groupies we are we nabbed a spot at the crush bar and settled in.

Support for the evening was ably given by The Sparrow and the Workshop, a threesome from north of the border (with a dash of Chicago and Wales thrown in). I have to ‘fess up that I am not normally enamoured of female led groups – its a bad non-PC thing I know but somehow it often just doesn’t work for me. First off I thought my prejudice might be held up again but this lot are a little different – they really drive along, a little bit alt-country, a little bit rock a little bit Americana flavour. A couple of songs in and they had me. Their debut release Crystals Fall is out and of course at the end of the gig IDS and I sloped along to the merch stand bought a copy and had a wee chat and the chaps signed a poster or two. Will certainly seek them out again as live they are great stuff and Gregor on drums and vocals is the devil incarnate.

Without too much ado the Idlewild chaps sauntered on stage and took up their spots, Roddy quite properly pointed out the minuscule nature of the stage. IDS commented that they, and especially Roddy looked a bit tired, and I guess after the 40 or so shows they have done in support of Post Electric, they have a right to.

I pondered about how many more times we might get to see them, they have been at this for some time, produced some most excellent stuff but nothing lasts for ever. It was a fleeting thought but the very next day the blog post sort of confirmed my worst fears. A hiatus maybe but they often turn into splits, maybe this will be different. It must indeed be hard if you sense that your time is over, despite a loyal and fervent band of followers, if you sense that it’s a downward trajectory. I had thought that perhaps Post Electric was a project that would knock them back on track but perhaps it wasn’t.

The set, as so often now with their increasingly tight and sharp shows, was a great mix of stuff from across the Idlewild cannon. Some very welcome returns from early albums, some well loved mainstreamers and a smattering of newer stuff. A great set, delivered with polish and attack, they looked like they enjoyed themselves and the crowd certainly did. Idlewild never fail to make me feel good, to bring a sometimes long lost smile to the face, its music that somehow touches a deep place, maybe its associations with times and places maybe its more visceral. This show did all that again. Let’s hope they are just a bit weary, need some time out to recharge and will come back to their loyal followers...

Anyhoo like the girlie groupies we are we hung around, IDS blagged a set list (which he unaccountably donated to me – it’s now pinned on the lads wall of gigs along with the ticket) and we then slid over to the merch stand for the Sparrow stuff. Off home from the dubious qualities of Wolverhampton, half deaf from the unexpected loudness and stoked (ooh get me with the lingo)from perhaps the last Idlewild gig for some time.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Grizzly Bear, Beach House, Rozi Plain - Roundhouse

This might be a long post – advanced warning! Sometimes a show lifts itself from the good or the ordinary by dint of a ripping set, the venue, the company, the anticipation, and then again sometimes all of these things come together to make a truly outstanding and memorable occasion. This was one of those.

(apologies for the silly layout of pix - Blogger is being a Bugger)

Fence Collective ‘member’ Rozi Plain was invited to support the frankly wonderful Grizzly Bear at the second of their Roundhouse gigs. Thanks to Rozi and the efforts of the Peeblemeister trading as @binmouth, I got a guest pass at this otherwise long-sold out show – undying gratitude all round.

This was my first time at the Roundhouse somehow and it is indeed impressive and easy to see how it has become a bit of a prestige venue for bands nowadays. A large main space rising with slim cast iron pillars to a domed ceiling high above with a balcony encircling the venue. It was great to slip in and see the hall before it filled with people, that eerie sense of expectation and preparation –the shot above shows the set up for support Beach House.

Rozi Plain and her band were allotted a space in the foyer next to a bar space and a main entry point to the main space for the hall, with a rather pleasing backdrop of a glass wall looking out onto the Camden streets. I know they had problems getting a sound engineer who knew anything about sound, and negotiating with the venue so that they could play at a volume that might be audible to anyone but in the event they sounded just fine, pitched right so as not to be ignored nor to be over-powering. The show was the last night of their short tour that took in the Fence Homegame in Anstruther and the delights of Blackburn (not often you get ‘delights’ and ‘ Blackburn’ paired together is it). @binmouth has a set of pix from the jaunt up on his Flickr page and a couple of clips including Lone Pigeon and Pictish Trail

Rozi put in two sets, one before the main hall opened and a second during change over between Beach House and Grizzly Bear. I have only heard Rozi once before doing a solo set in support of the excellent James Yorkston. In a very intimate space Rozi’s songs carry well but with a bit more brouhaha going on a band really fills the sound out and adds a sense of drive to the songs. The band comprised François covering guitar ( also of Uncle Jelly Fish of whom some video footage from the Fence dates is available and Francois and the Atlas Mountains). Rob acquitting himself very well on skins and the Peeblemeister laying down some Rickenbacker licks (! ) and a chap whose name I don’t know adding some harmony support. Not surprisingly, given that the crowd was not expecting them, the more upbeat songs, including those from her first album Inside Over Here, drew the best response. I hope that they though the sets a success – certainly the comments I heard were very supportive and appreciative, a bit of merch was shifted and the experience will have done them nothing but good leading up to the second Rozi Plain album due later this year (maybe?!).– photos of the bands tour can be found here

The Beach House album Teen Dream is currently one of my favourites so far of 2010 and so the opportunity to see them in support of the mighty GB was too good to be true. The album is a mix of electronica, fuzzy guitar and a slightly trippy overall feel to it. I have to admit that I had always thought the vocal was a chap but Victoria is clearly a lady chap... Beach House comprise Victoria Legrand on keys and vocals, Alex Scally on guitars and live percussion by Daniel J Franz. Laptops and loopy bits allow them to reproduce the full sound of the album and the set was an excellent presentation of a fine album. They have been touring with GB for some time and this seemed like the end of the run for them as well. As is so often the case with a support, the sound although certainly good enough it wasn’t ideal for them but then again nowhere as bad as it might have been. Maybe its performing is such a place, maybe its the anticipation of the main ‘talent’ but the set was long enough, hugely enjoyable but they might be even better in a closer environment.

The Grizzly Bear Vikatimest album is scarcely new being many peoples album of the year 2009, and the band have been touring it now for quite some time – you might expect them to have bored with it by now, but if they have it wasn’t at all apparent from this storming set. This was perhaps one of the finest sets (the finest?) I have heard for a long time. Like so many bands, the songs were stronger, had more attack than they do in recorded mode, and the 18 months or so of touring has honed them to near perfection.

It had taken me a long time to get to grips with this album, but once it had it really took hold. The playing was pinpoint sharp, tight, accurate; oh i don’t know just kind of ‘right’. The live set reminded me perhaps of why I had found the album such a challenge to ‘get’. Live it is much more obvious how complex these songs are, not just the remarkable harmonies but the structures, the lack of adherence to usual song forms. Once you have negotiated the stops and starts, the swoops and dives then of course you somehow feel like an initiate, not dissimilar to absorbing complex old prog rock albums of yore.

At times it felt too much to take in as a whole and I ended up focussing on one band member or the other, trying to absorb what was going on. Chris Taylor the bassist, in addition to playing some stunning bass, also put in treatment laden harmonies, played flute and bass clarinet, clearly demonstrating his versatility, Christopher Bear the drummer is quite staggering and you could watch him alone all evening – the complexity and sensitivity of his playing and a jazz inflected style – brilliant. Of course I would be remiss to ignore Daniel Rossen the singer/songwriter/guitarist and more of him can be found on the excellent Department of Eagles, and GB member number four, singer/songwriter Ed Droste. @binmouth managed to snatch a little of the GB soundcheck but be warned, fab and groovy though the iphone is, it isn’t idea for sound capture....

What more to say, a superlative set, brilliantly executed by a band in peak form. ‘Oh What a Night’ as Frankie Valli and the Four seasons might have said...