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.