Tag Archives: london

The right forum for Battles

Battles — Kentish Town Forum — 21st November 2011

All good live music contains within it an element of remixing: if it didn’t, I may as well have stayed at home and listened to the album on a pair of good headphones. The art of performance requires a degree of spontaneity; however, the more complex the music, the harder it is to survive without some grid to which to adhere. And so it is that Battles, reduced to a trio, not only persevere with their most multi-faceted compositions but actually carve them into something altered, goofy yet utterly compelling. Continue reading The right forum for Battles

Explosions in the Sky — Camden Roundhouse (19/05/11)

Post-rock is a funny old nebula, and one that brought about some typically wise words from Simon Reynolds.

“[U]sing rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbre and textures rather than riffs and power chords.”

Reynolds also saw a logical conclusion to post rock: so-called “cyborg rock”, which constituted “some kind of interface between real time, hands-on playing and the use of digital effects and enhancement.” Battles, then.

Bearing all that in mind, it’s surprising that Explosions In The Sky (EITS) have lasted as long as they have. The Texan four-piece, have spent more than a decade carving out a ‘trad’ crevice for themselves within the post-rock nebula, mining the same territory, with the same instrumentation, in search of the same payoffs, even as their contemporaries parted for distant shores. Mogwai tentatively embraced the robotic; Sigur Rós, who used to write symphonies for glaciers, started writing anthems for humans instead. And all the while, EITS kept soundtracking the death and rebirth of the universe. It took until album number six for them to knowingly embrace this fact, naming the opening song “The Birth and Death of the Day”, but I think I had them figured well before then.

None of this is to say that I hold anything against EITS. True, their albums bear undeniable similarities to each other, and the band do little to deny or hide them. But each has its own charm; a subtle variation that helps differentiate it from its neighbours; and, always, original motifs that plant themselves in the mind.

Because there are no lyrics to the songs of EITS, the listener’s reaction is totally subjective—an innocuous passage can cause some to recoil in paranoia, while others might treat it as a lull before the Sturm und Drang. Arguably, you can attach whichever emotions you like to their music. Me? I’m a sucker for apocalyptic drama (supporting evidence: the dialogue in “Have You Passed Through This Night?”, cribbed from Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line), hence why I’ve typically failed to spot the undercurrent of euphoria supposedly present. Rebirth, in music, is not an occurrence heralding joy, but instead marks the comprehension of the universe’s cyclical nature. Such a response also meant I remained immune to the gentle resolution at the close of “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept”.

My response to their live show, which hit the Camden Roundhouse on Thursday night, was thankfully, in aggregate, positive. During their set, which was, as is their custom, devoid of an encore, I was unsure of how to react. There are no singalong moments, and yet the crowd (myself included) seemed to be psyching themselves for particular moments of release, which were typically accompanied by an onslaught of distortion from the guitars of Munaf Rayani, Mark Smith and Michael James.

Even when the overdrive was at its most ferocious, the music’s innate melodicism shone through, as in the more pummelling passages of “Yasmin The Light” and “Catastrophe and the Cure”. At these moments, however, I felt a certain disconnect from the band. With their heads bowed to the fretboards, and Rayani’s mop of hair obscuring any facial expressions, I didn’t know where to look. They seemed so wrapped up in their own private world, and it was hard to find the door that led to it.

In their more gentle songs—”Your Hand in Mine”, “Postcard from 1952″—I came to understand the selflessness of the music, which had remained hidden from my ears on record. The crowd basked in rays of contentment and epiphany, as golden chords rang out, and instrumental curlicues wove in and out of the main structures of the songs.

A Texan flag still draped over one of their amplifiers, the band closed with “Greet Death”, which is the opening track to what I regard as their finest work, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever. This is an extraordinary composition, which emerges from a mist of indistinct notes, suddenly exploding into a monolithic wall of sound. There is a false end, which leads into a sparse passage of unsettling beauty, but this too billows into a more broadly painted final section, wherein those heavenward guitars refract and fragment into a million shards. On record, this is an unforgettable moment; performed live, it felt like they had blown off the roof of the venue.

Upon leaving the Roundhouse, I told my companions that I felt like I had been immersed in a tidal wave, but protected from the true force of the water by a kind of transparent sphere. I had wanted to be toppled over; to be dismantled and then reconstructed by the music; instead, I felt as if I had been receiving the show through a particularly strong pair of antennæ, in a format that needed some intermediary decoding. It was not a total success—perhaps I need to witness My Bloody Valentine on stage to get the effect (and aural damage) I seek. But I enjoyed Explosions In The Sky nonetheless, and seeing them on stage at last satisfied a five-year itch of mine.

Explosions In The Sky played:

  1. Last Known Surroundings
  2. Yasmin The Light
  3. Postcard from 1952
  4. Catastrophe and the Cure
  5. The Only Moment We Were Alone
  6. Your Hand in Mine
  7. The Birth and Death of a Day
  8. Let Me Back In
  9. Greet Death
PS Anne Maningas over at 3.1 has taken some gorgeous photographs of the concert on her Hasselblad.
[Photo: flickr user turgidson]

Field Music — Scala (03/03/10)

Photos: Richard Gray

The Brewis brothers are clearly extremely gifted musicians, who write songs (under the banner of Field Music) which are intricately arranged, structurally complex, and traditionally evoke XTC, Steely Dan and the Beach Boys. None of this makes their music particularly easy to love – though their Geordie voices are thick with region, they rarely let their emotional guards down, hence why some critics have labelled their music cold and mechanical and knowingly tricksy.

None of this can prepare me for witnessing them live – an environment which accentuates their flaws as well as their virtues. Augmented by Ian Black and Kevin Dosdale on bass and guitar respectively, the band launch into Tones of Town opener, “Give It Lose It Take It” amidst found sound, glockenspiels, rousing piano and thoroughly excellent drumming. For a few songs at least, the playfulness is plain to see, and the predominantly Sunderland-bookish crowd rewards them with a whole lotta love.

When the band cut to newer material, taken from the recent Field Music (Measure) double-album, the response is notably muted, because the band have to an extent abandoned the bucolic textures of their earlier work, in favour of a more guitar-based aesthetic that owes much more to Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and, on occasion, Queen. However, bereft of the intense personality bestowed upon these progenitors, the songs sound strangely lurching and mathematical. Though Field Music are, individually, some of the funniest, warmest and most virtuosic musicians, the sum is sadly less than its constituent parts.

All the more infuriating is just how playful and quick-witted the band seem in between songs, where they deal with all manner of obstacles, from troublesome electricals to the bassist’s Hawaiian shirt. The Prince-meets-Sunderland funk of “Let’s Write A Book” is very much the exception to this disappointing revelation – for once, the groove is remarkably simple, and it evinces the band’s personality. For the middle chunk of the performance, songs like “Something Familiar” and “Each Time Is A New Time” are dispatched with maximum skill (replete with tasteful bluesy guitar licks) but less-than satisfactory enjoyment.

I have really loved Field Music for far too long, championing them to my friends when their chips were down. Now, after a three-year hiatus, I find it hard to empathise with their new direction which, though on record comes across as lovingly crafted and “makes sense”, doesn’t work that well on stage. Though the band pad out the pure Field Music work with excerpts from their solo albums, I left with mixed opinions of a band who I thought I had really figured out.

Spoon — Electric Ballroom (16/02/10)

Spoon‘s 1997 EP was entitled Soft Effects; its opener, “Mountain To Sound”, was an almost robotic splurge of chunky guitar chords over a barren expanse of tape. Thirteen years on, Spoon trade in far subtler terms on record – the psychoanalytically titled Transference possesses compositions of nuanced yet ragged beauty, replete with lovingly painted washes of droning synths and bizarre vocal, yes, effects. Going in to my first Spoon gig, what I wanted to know was how this meticulously arranged chaos that the band have mastered in the studio plays out in a live setting, where everything is instantaneous and nothing can be rearranged or meddled with later on.

Impressively, and perhaps this is a rationale for why so much of Transference stems from live demo tracks, the band pulls off the performance with passionate and anthemic aplomb. From the get go, they are unafraid of playing with our conceptions of how their songs, whether new or old, sound and develop. Opener “Don’t Make Me A Target” is suitably slow-building, rising to a brutal peak as frontman Britt Daniel conjures the same vocal trickery used in their newer material. Throughout the gig, two things remain constant: the entire band’s sonic tapestry-weaving, and drummer Jim Eno’s delightedly precise and virtuosic rhythms, which manage to fulfil the same manifesto as opening band White Rabbits’ arsenal of percussionsists with considerably more economy and considerably less showiness.

A few songs later, when translating another Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga gem, “The Ghost Of You Lingers”, the band once again engage in direct combat with the material, with Britt Daniel’s characteristic gravelly bark gradually overwhelmed by feedback, reverb-drenched keyboards, and bliss-nearing slabs of white noise. From a band that usually trades in rock qua rock, in a minimalist style, this is an unexpected gesture that revels in their playful, emotionally raw experimental side.

The setlist is culled almost exclusively from the band’s last four albums (alas, despite numerous calls from the crowd, “Fitted Shirt” is absent, along with anything else from Girls Can Tell and its predecessors), but to be honest, many of the songs are melded into the aesthetic favoured on recent release Transference – in particular, “My Mathematical Mind” and “They Never Got You” are subsumed into effects-heavy motorik grooves, much to their advantage. Britt Daniel looks like he’s having a riot of a time mucking around with his voice, and it’s just as well that the crowd adoringly lap up his playfulness. This is evidenced further by the band’s mesmerising cover of The Damned’s 1979 single, “Love Song”, which ditches the original’s clattering punk in favour of the same droney keyboards that underpin “Before Destruction”.

Nevertheless, when it’s time to rock out, Spoon prove they’re no slouches, with “Rhthm & Soul” and “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” dispatched with great vigour and sparkle. Kill The Moonlight-era fare, meanwhile, is represented by the classic pairing of “Small Stakes” and “The Way We Get By”, and encore closer “Jonathan Fisk”, which is delivered with the maximum conveyance of end-of-tether anxiety.

As I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, it’s a crying shame that Spoon aren’t bigger fish here in the UK – particularly telling is the fact that on the same night, on the other side of London, bright young things Vampire Weekend were busy playing to a sell-out crowd at Brixton Academy. On the other hand, it’s always a pleasure to see such masters of their art at close quarters, and in this respect, the Electric Ballroom can’t be beaten. Taken in combination with probably the best live mix/engineering I’ve witnessed at a gig (we can thank the perfectionist Jim Eno for that, I suspect, and not just because the drums were notably crisp), this was a really tremendous performance, with a set of songs cherrypicked from a career full of cult classics. Spoon rarely bring their concise breed of art rock to Britain; this was an unmissable opportunity to see them weave their magic over a rainy and miserable London.

Spoon played:

Don’t Make Me A Target
The Mystery Zone
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
My Mathematical Mind
The Ghost of You Lingers
Is Love Forever?
Don’t You Evah
Small Stakes
Love Song (The Damned cover)
Written In Reverse
Who Makes Your Money
The Way We Get By
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
They Never Got You
I Summon You
Rhthm & Soul
Got Nuffin
Black Like Me

Encore

The Underdog
Nobody Gets Me But You
I Turn My Camera On
Jonathon Fisk

Modest Mouse — Electric Ballroom (16/12/09)

The last time I saw Modest Mouse performing live, it was May 2007 – they were raising the roof of the Royal Albert Hall while Liverpool were busy losing in the Champions League final. Since then, a lot has changed. Johnny Marr has taken time out of the band to work with The Cribs; Liverpool are no longer even competing in the Champions League. And this time round, Modest Mouse have swapped the hallowed hall imbued with the spirit of Hendrix for the sardine-packed club atmosphere of Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Their numerous instruments and bandmembers shoehorned onto a stage barely bigger than my bedroom, the band look and sound like a troupe of consummate professionals, ostensibly touring in support of an EP, but in reality taking to the stage out of love for their devoted followers, and love of taking their rural groove out on the road. Continue reading Modest Mouse — Electric Ballroom (16/12/09)

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark

Last night, after a surprisingly backing track-dependent opening set from Northampton-based Maps, London’s KOKO was privileged to host M83, the critically acclaimed French electronic/shoegaze act masterminded by Anthony Gonzalez (and formerly Nicholas Fromageau). Taking to a stage cloaked in dramatic lighting and decorated with two sizeable keyboard rigs and a perspex-shielded drum kit, Gonzalez treated the suitably blissed-out crowd to a substantial twenty-minute opening solo set, weaving intricate melodies and emotive washes of noise from his custom analog synthesiser, which one member of the crowd compared to an aquarium. Drum machine rhythms skidded and burbled, and Gonzalez occasionally looked up from his toys to greet and thank the audience, which, in true KOKO style, rose up to the rafters of this beautiful converted theatre.

Then, just as our attention may have begun to lapse, to a riotous reception, Gonzalez was joined onstage by his two current band-mates: on keyboards and vocals, Morgan Kibby (which I always thought was a boy’s name, but there you go); on drums, an unnamed musician who looked like he’d jumped out of an 80s synth pop group, and had colossal drumming technique to match. Breaking immediately into Saturdays=Youth anthem, “We Own The Sky”, the three-piece then proceeded to deliver a perfectly paced set incorporating new songs, old songs and songs that didn’t sound like songs that anybody knew. Gonzalez, now a certifiably talented musician, alternated between carving out backing chords on his keyboards, and unleashing a wall of shimmering, keening noise from his white Les Paul, simultaneously singing lyrics that veered between John Hughes and Philip K Dick. Kibby, dazzling in a sparkly blue outfit, made light work of the breathy, cooing vocals on newer songs, and also impressed on the keys.

From a series of 80s-indebted synth-pop songs, such as “Graveyard Girl” and “Kim and Jessie”, the band then moved on to a more chilled-out segment, with songs like “Skin Of The Night” (with its straight outta Phil Collins drums) invoking gentle swaying from the crowd. Then, the band took on a more clubby vibe, employing tasteful dance-punk percussion and searing synths on various unidentifiable songs. Finally, after bowing out rather prematurely, the band returned to delight the crowd with a wonderfully extended, gloriously uplifting performance of “Couleurs”, the centrepiece of Saturdays=Youth. Most of the audience clearly wanted more; the time on the clock suggested otherwise. Though M83 played nothing from their landmark 2003 album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the manner in which they eked every last drop of emotion from their songs left every one of us with enormous ear-to-ear grins. M83 are an extraordinarily enchanting proposition on record; live, twice as much.

Vendredi à Hyde Park

According to the king of music news exclusive scoops, the NME, Blur have at last announced the full line-ups for their Hyde Park gigs this July. Excitingly, I’ve managed to secure a ticket for the Friday date, where I will be treated to the delightful strains of Vampire Weekend, Amadou & Mariam, Florence And The Machine, and Deerhoof. This news mostly makes me extremely happy, though it does mean I’ll be obliged to get to Hyde Park insanely early on the day. But, happily, it’s the final day of my university term, so a short hop to the other side of London shouldn’t be too taxing.

Vampire Weekend: I absolutely adore their eponymous debut. It’s a glorious celebration of life as a young person (albeit a highly privileged young person) in America; a witty and musically enchanting depiction of campus life. Almost a year into my degree, I can safely confirm that this album most sums up what university is about. As a live act, I’m slightly intrigued by the band. They’ve overcome the limitations of the a four-piece taking on compositions full of polyrhythm and counterpoint and string arrangements reasonably well, bouncing off the irrepressible energy of frontman Ezra Koenig (owner of the coolest first name ever invented) and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij (owner of the most unwieldy name ever considered fit for usage). I think they will fit in pretty well with the audience, particularly since they’ve wooed numerous crowds on the festival circuit last year.

Amadou & Mariam: A very good friend saw the Malian couple up in Scotland earlier on in the year, and, having closely observed Amadou’s dextrous guitar playing through many years of watching Jools Holland, I think they will be pretty special. It only helps matters that their latest album, Welcome To Mali, is currently one of the highest scoring albums of all time on Metacritic, and that this accolade is entirely deserved. Of course, it’s not that surprising to see them here – as with Vampire Weekend, they channel the spirit of African music into a pop setting, and they’ve worked with Damon Albarn through the Afrika Express coalition. He even produced bits of Welcome To Mali.

Florence And The Machine: The one band on the whole list of support acts about whom I know very little. Then again, she came out pretty highly on the BBC’s Sound of 2009 industry poll… which is probably a mixed blessing. I would guess that this was Coxon’s choice – she’s a vivacious solo artist with a bit of a soul vibe, apparently.

Deerhoof: Famous in blogosphere circles, no? They’ve been around for a number of years, with a huge back catalogue to choose from; their frontwoman is a very excitable Japanese lady; their music destroys genres and is generally great fun.

I think this probably makes this gig a better value day’s entertainment than most British festivals. Possibly even better value than cocaine?

Only kidding on the last comparison; poor taste.

Find me in the matinée!

Just a quick prelude before the meat of the matter a bit later on. I’ve literally just walked in from having gone to see Franz Ferdinand at the Hammersmith Apollo (now inexplicably re-christened the HMV Apollo). It were brilliant! The band were, unsurprisingly, very tight, and enjoyed a great rapport with the crowd. Songs new and old received a warm reception, the new ones in particular benefiting from the energy of the live environment. My goodness do they have a mighty rhythm section, capable of buoying those killer hooks for mass crowd singalongs.

Riot Grrrls

In just under an hour’s time, I will be interviewing Brooklyn’s wave-making indie trio, Vivian Girls, before their gig at the Proud Galleries in Camden. My dictaphone is ready; my questions are laid out neatly in a notebook; even the regulation checked-shirt has made an appearance: in short, I am majorly charged up in anticipation of what will be my first ever band interview!

The interview and gig will be written up into a lead feature for the student newspaper, but you can rest assured that I’ll also be posting up some thoughts on the evening here on the blog – maybe a photo, if you’re lucky.

If you’ve never heard of Vivian Girls, which is perfectly understandable, they are an all-female band, making shoegazey and reverb-drenched sweet pop songs that have set critics’ eyes alight. They’ve just been touring around Europe, and will be returning to the US next week, continuing the support of their eponymous debut. It’s a good ‘un, and it’s only 25 minutes long! That’s enough for now – I have a train to catch.