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...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Frightened Rabbit - Academy Birmingham

Up to Brum with the Lad and his lady, sadly without IDS again despite this being a gig for one of his favs – Frightened Rabbit. Once again lined up in a tiny queue for our show this time next to a humungous line for Dave Matthews – pretty sure we made the right choice

An early show and so we weren’t expecting a second support, tonight in the shape of local Brummie band Goodnight Lenin. Despite being shamefully young ,the band knocked out some good stuff and got the crowd rolling along. In the mould of the current Mumford & Sons, Stornoway, stylee - they were rightly very well received put out some jolly banter good banter and would be well worth a second visit to one of their own shows – details on the Myspace site of course.

The publicised support Airship have been on my radar for a while and this was the second time of trying to see them. They were the first support for the Death Cab gig in Bristol last year, but who we missed by arriving too late. Their EP, Spirit of the Beehive, has a strong set of songs, but on the night they had a slightly distracted mein, and were woefully let down by the sound, particularly in the vocal department, overall sounding way to bass heavy and muddy. A disappointment but still worth trying a again – they are out on the road again with the wonderful Joy Formidable

Frabbit were also support for the aforementioned Bristol Death cab gig and so a headline show was much anticipated. Their sound was better but still too visceral in the bass area with a loss of treble and consequently much of the detail of the songs. None the less they delivered a good mix of new and older songs – interestingly some of the newer songs that felt least good on cd come over strongly live. So an enjoyable gig but not quite as great as I had hoped for due in the main part because of the rotten sound quality – why can’t sound engineers give as much attention to the top of the range as they do to the bass...sigh

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Turin Brakes – Outbursts

It is just over five years since the Lad and I went to see Turin Brakes at the Academy in Bristol as the Lads first live gig. I have held a special place for TB since their first album The Optimist. Back around 2005 they were heralded as part of the then new folk/acoustic revival, but it is a burden to be tagged to any particular ‘wave’, and in some respects the indie band period took the sheen from TB’s star.

Outbursts is the fifth TB album and was paid for I believe from the royalties accrued from a Take That track that the chaps wrote. Given my allegiances I felt curiously disloyal to feel the album a disappointment. On first plays only the opening and closing tracks seemed to have the old TB magic, the whole feeling a bit downbeat, a little careworn and weary.

But it’s an album that is repaying repeated listens. Yes, Sea Change is the most immediate but tracks like Mirror and Rocket Song also give up their pleasures. There is an abundance of what the Lad calls ‘soft’ tracks, Paper Heart and The Invitation as examples but these are carefully written and crafted songs. Embryos is an odd track that I can’t yet warm to , but given a little time the whole set has opened up and is rewarding, maybe not the immediacy of some earlier TB albums, but good none the less, and the closing title track, Outbursts, is beautiful

Much is said about the second album but I wonder rather if it is not around the fourth or fifth that the difficulties rise up – how do you keep a band sounding fresh, how do you avoid falling into a musical rut? Not to say that TB are in a rut but to put out another few albums might require a jolt of some sort.... now that is sounding disloyal isn’t it? Well we are due to see them for our annual TB show at the Shepherds Bush Empire, and I am sure they will do us proud once again

Sea Change - ascent of man from Turin Brakes on Vimeo.

Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks

The follow up to Frightened Rabbits The Midnight Organ Fight was going to be difficult with it its near cult status in some quarters, going down especially well in the US. Equally since MOF there have been numerous other Caledonian bands achieving success, Twilight Sad, There Will be Fireworks, We Were Promised Jetpacks to name but three, and maybe the thrill of the Scots approach might have palled.

Maybe it was because it came along with a clutch of other new cd’s but Mixed Drinks didn’t make the instant connection that MOF did for me, a couple of plays and I felt vaguely disappointed. But with a show on the horizon I felt compelled to give it more time, and thank goodness I did. This is a fine piece of work, retaining the Frabbit feel and character, but with perhaps more finely judged songs. True the bitterness of a failed relationship has been softened and with it some of the raw edge to some tracks. But overall this set works well together – Things is a great opener and what I think was the ‘single’ Swim Until You Can’t See Land drives along in a similar vein.

The sound-scape has broadened, more instruments but without cluttering the sounds. You can hear this as a live set, and there are enough crowd-pleasing chant opportunities to go around. Having only seen them once in support of Death Cab, a full headline show should be a thing of joy. So Mixed Drinks is a resounding success despite my initial misgivings, well done them

Zip It Up – Fierce Panda

I have to admit that this little 16th birthday celebratory EP Zip It Up from Fierce Panda (home of the soon to be released cd from the wonderful Goldheart Assembly) has rather got me hooked – seven excellent tracks from bands new to me. Not the usual indie bands either, more a sense of rather exciting déjà vu with a twist of today and a side order of youth. There are more than a few smatterings of Smiths and other 80’s type references, not that these aren’t very welcome

The rather brilliant Brilliant Mind have lots of that northern grit, The Heartbreaks got me from the get go what with all the hand claps and sing a long chorus and Sketches manage to combine close harmonies and a bit of welcome punch in an unexpected combo

All tracks are to be heartily recommended though and provide a refreshing snapshot of emerging bands – there’s a collective urgency and purpose that comes from bands finding their feet, pushing for the big break. It’s only a shame that this hard to define set of qualities often gets lost later – ah the appeal of the new, the as-yet –to–be successful, the freshness of music created under adversity ....I wonder of U2 can remember that far back?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Miccoli - Podcast

I only became aware of Miccoli through IDS who caught them in a show at a shopping centre around Birmingham - he bought their album and had a chat with their father. Undeniably talented and professional they have self-released a first album and are writing their second. With a single Angel and Demons out now and proceeds from this and their current tour of shopping centres around the UK all going to the British Heart Foundation you can't but wish them well.

We caught up and recorded a podcast with them between tour dates to hear more about them, their music and their reason for supporting BHF.