Sunday, November 05, 2017

DISTANT WORLDS (London Royal Albert Hall, 04/11/17)

Another year, another fantastic Distant Worlds concert. No less than *five* pieces from Final Fantasy VII (Opening~Bombing Mission, Cosmo Canyon, Cinco de Chocobo, Aeris' Theme and One Winged Angel), a stunning a capella Hymn of The Fayth, the mighty Liberi Fatali, To Zanarkand, You're Not Alone, A Flash of Steel...and of course, Nobuo Uematsu being The Absolute Boss.
!!! (London Electric Ballroom, 02/11/17)

Twenty-one years to the week since !!!'s first band practice. Ten years to the week since I first saw them at the Koko (supported by Holy Fuck, because 2007 was awesome). Several days since I saw them perform the most unabashedly fun gig of the year. "Chk Chk Chk" are basically Chic plus James Murphy plus that Windows 95 conference with Bill Gates dancing, and I'm really not sure that formula could be bettered.
THE ORIELLES (London Lexington, 01/11/17)

Genial indie-rock from the hotly-tipped Yorkshire trio.
BNQT (London Borderline, 31/10/17)

Midlake plus Fran Healy of Travis, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand playing most of their collaborative album, as well as "Roscoe", "Sing", "Why Does It Always Rain On Me", "Hewlett's Daughter", "AM180", "Take Me Out", a Tom Petty cover and The Beatles' "Revolution"? In a 300 capacity venue? Yeah, OK then.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

SLOTFACE (London Camden Assembly, 25/10/17)

It took an uncharacteristically long time for Slotface to rouse a sedate London audience from its slumber, but by the end even the most undemonstrative scenesters were pumping their fists to the Norwegian pop-punks' effortlessly catchy hooks. Good show, though the lack of "Shave My Head" was baffling.
THE VRYLL SOCIETY (London Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, 23/10/17)

Solid set from the hotly-tipped Liverpudlians, whose sound distils the best elements of 90's British guitar music into something promising, if not entirely original.
DARK ROOMS (London Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, 21/10/17)

A well-received London debut from St Vincent collaborator Daniel Hart, who infuses his Son Lux-esque indie balladry with a heavy dose of R&B. Very much enjoyed the unexpected cover of "Lover's Spit"; not so much the drunken Spaniards kicking off in front of me.
MURRAY LIGHTBURN (London St Pancras Old Church, 20/10/17)

Obviously, Murray Lightburn playing Dears songs with a string quartet in a tiny Medieval church was always going to be special, but what will stay most with me is how Mr Grumpychops became such a charming, effusive raconteur with his band on the other side of the Atlantic. A scrappy, yet delightful evening.
PRIESTS (London Tufnell Park Dome, 18/10/17)

No offense to Priests, but they kind of got blown out of the water by queer Latino rabble-rousers Downtown Boys, whose uncompromising, ferocious punk was a glorious riposte to all those dullards who claim our generation doesn't "do" political music.
ST VINCENT (London Brixton Academy, 17/10/17)

Annie Clark has always had a left-field attitude to live performance, but her Masseduction tour might be her most divisive yet. A visual extravaganza which sees her alone on stage with nothing but a backing track to augment her guitar shreddage, it's fascinating conceptually (is the setup meant to reflect her unwelcome foray into the tabloid spotlight?) but a bit of a drag in reality, especially with Brixton's reliably shit sound. Amazing setlist though.
AUX (London Rich Mix, 15/10/17)

Excellent set from a seven-piece Korean outfit who fuse traditional Korean musical styles with Western rock music; think Jambinai, with a greater scene of theatricality. Enjoyed their take on the traditional Joseon ballad "Hey Jude", plus the organisers provided free fried chicken all night, which should become compulsory at all future cultural events.
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE (London Tufnell Park Dome, 14/10/17)

My annual dose of uncompromising face-meltage courtesy of Japan's premier psychedelic space wizards. Didn't even realise "disco post-rock" was a conceivable genre until I heard their newest take on "Pink Lady Lemonade"...
GO GO PENGUIN (London Barbican, 11/10/17)

KOYAANISQATSI! Go Go Penguin's jazz-inflected rescoring of Reggio's masterpiece didn't actually include that particular choral intonation (sadly), but nonetheless they delivered a creditable challenge to Glass' peerless soundtrack, especially during the fast-paced city-based sections, which must remain some of the most stunningly edited visuals ever committed to screen.
ERIN MCKEOWN (London Green Note, 10/10/17)

A charming hour of top-tier folk-rock from the assured and self-depreciating Erin McKeown, who definitely deserves to be better known than she actually is.
THE DEARS (London Oslo, 07/10/17) 

Well, it didn't quite match THAT Village Underground show (few things could, to be honest), but there's few bands out there that can touch Murray and Natalia for baroque indie-rock awesomeness. I still kind of wish they'd bring back "Never Destroy Us" though...
SHILPA RAY (London Social, 04/10/17)

A rare, welcome London appearance from the smoky-voiced New Yorker, who seems made to play in poky little jazz clubs where she scream in the face of unwitting audience members.
JEFFREY LEWIS (London Lexington, 03/10/17)

My 14th (!) dose of J-Lew. Great to hear the songs he previewed in January given the full-band treatment, plus you can never have enough CANNIBAL MONKEYS.
MOGWAI (London Maida Vale Studios, 03/10/17)

A lunchtime Big Mac is all well and good, but there's few better midday pick-me-ups that the full force of "Mogwai Fear Satan" from three foot away.
SUSANNE SUNDFOR (London Union Chapel, 02/10/17)

Must admit to being more of a fan of "pop banger Sundfor" than "gothic piano ballad Sundfor", but there's no denying she's one of the songwriting talents of her generation.
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS (London O2 Arena, 30/09/17)

The O2 remains a terrible venue full of terrible people, but if there was one person who could make that hellhole feel as intimate as a church, it's Nick Cave. Somehow seeming younger and more energised that he did ten years ago, this was the Platonic ideal of an arena gig- indeed, I'd go as far as to say it was one of the best shows of that size I've ever seen. Some highlights:

- Absolutely ferocious renditions of "Higgs Boson Blues" and "Jubilee Street"
- That huge "Into My Arms" sing-along
- The soul-crushing triumvirate of "Girl In Amber"/"I Need You"/"Distant Sky"
- A mid-paced "Red Right Hand" suddenly going full My Bloody Valentine during the noisy bits. Also, the adjusted lyrics concerning "angry little tweets"- wonder who that could refer to?
- "The Mercy Seat" sounding like the Apocalypse
- Nick noticing Bobby Gillespie in the audience, and dragging him on-stage to sing the end of "Push The Sky Away"
 - "Stagger Lee", which was, well, staggering. The stage invasion! Nick prowling around the audience! Ten thousand people shouting "WELL, THOSE WERE THE LAST WORDS THAT THE DEVIL SAID, BECAUSE STAG PUT FOUR HOLES IN HIS MOTHER...FUCKING...HEAD!" You don't get that at a Joanna Newsom show...
THE NATIONAL (London Hammersmith Apollo, 26/09/17)

Sure some people would have enjoyed this a lot more than I did, but there's no way I was ever going to be on board with a setlist that contained three pre-High Violet songs. Impressive visuals, and Matty B was on fantastic form, but this might mark the last time I go out of my way to see them.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (London Alexandra Palace, 22/09/17)

Controversial opinion: LCDSS are a far better live act now then they ever were the first time round. They're a hell of a lot tighter, James Murphy is a more confident frontman, and their setlists are perfectly composed- the new songs sound fantastic, that retro mid-section of "Losing My Edge"/"Tribulations"/"Yeah" was just about the most exhilarating twenty minutes of live music I've ever experienced, and the closing double-whammy of "Dance Yrself Clean" and "All My Friends" is simply unimpeachable. Gig of the year? Almost certainly.
SIGUR ROS (London Hammersmith Apollo, 20/09/17)

Sigur Ros' three-piece shows last year left me cold but this really was special- the best rendition of Sæglópor I've heard in yonks, UNTITLED FUCKING 7 (it's taken 11 years and 14 SR gigs for me to witness that) and of course, the uncompromising sensual assault that is Untitled 8. Brilliant.
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH! (London Village Underground, 19/09/17)

Not quite as fun as the Electric Ballroom set a couple of years back, but the transformation of Alec Ounsworth from the least charismatic frontman in indie-rock history to confident, compelling performer remains one of the more pleasant developments of my gig-going career.
EX-EASTER ISLAND HEAD (London St John's-on-Bethnal Green, 16/09/17)

Twenty people whacking guitars with xylophone mallets never sounded so good.
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS (London Barbican, 09/09/17-10/09/17)

Stephin Merritt's love of novelty album concepts is well-documented, but "50 Song Memoir" (one song for every year of his life) sees his songwriting take an unusually personal turn. It's fair to say that some songs are stronger than others, but the quirky production (exactly 50 instruments are used, but none in consecutive songs), Merrit's deadpan wit and the virtuosity of his backing band made this two-night spectacular a memorable one.
LUBOMYR MELNYK (London Royal Festival Hall, 09/09/17)

Uncle Lubie's undulating piano soundscapes can be utterly enchanting when he's on form, but my God, does he bang on. Less chat, more "Windmills" dude.
ALVVAYS (London Koko, 08/09/17)

Review: HERE
SPARKS (London Rough Trade East, 08/09/17)

Not going to lie- it's not every day you get to see the Brothers Mael perform "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Two Of Us" in Rough Trade East. Still a brilliantly eccentric live act almost half-a-century into their career.
SINKANE (London Heaven, 06/09/17)

Ahmed Galleb's Fela Kuti-meets-Curtis Mayfield afro funk was so good at EOTR, I decided to see him in London four days later. No regrets.
END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL (Larmer Tree Gardens, 31/08/17-03/09/17)

Another year, another fantastic weekend at End of the Road. Highlights:

- Amidou & Mariam and Vaudou Game bringing the afro-funk party on Sunday (including a conga line during the latter)
- Sinkane doing similar on the Saturday
- Bo Ningen's star-jumping, face-melting guitar shreddage
- Tides of Man's midday post-rock onslaught
- A lycra-clad King Khan and the Shrines serenading my insomniac self at 2 in the morning
- Jens Lekman covering THAT Boyz II Men song
- Deerhoof being Deerhoof
- Alvvays's wistful indie-pop
- The Burning Hell's morbid sense of humour
- Starcrawler's ultra-intense, spider-limbed frontlady
- Mac DeMarco's impressive crowdsurf from the Woods Stage to Pond's set in the Big Top
- The chicken and coriander noodles at the catering tent
- Andyloos by the Big Top- the least grim toilets in festivaldom.
JENS LEKMAN (London Koko, 29/08/17)

I've occasionally found every cardigan-wearer's favourite songwriter to straddle a thin line between charming brilliance and intolerable smugness, but this show was a joy from start to finish. The Opposite of the Opposite of Halleujah, indeed.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

TRICOT (London Bush Hall, 25/08/17)

Premium Japanese math-rock from a band who come second only to Otoboke Beaver for sheer, unadulterated on-stage energy. An absolute joy.
NERVOUS CONDITIONS (London Old Blue Last, 24/08/17)

If you locked a bunch of teens in a room with only the more avant-garde records of the late 1970's as entertainment, you might eventually get a band that sound like Nervous Conditions (you'd probably get put on some sort of list too, but that's beside the point). Abrasive, intense, groovy and shot through with sinister swagger, I can't help but feel they're karma's way of compensating for Ed Sheeran and his thrice-cursed ilk.
DAMO SUZUKI (London Moth Club, 11/08/17)

Review: HERE
HOLY FUCK (London Jazz Cafe, 09/08/17)

I still don't know who Allen is, or why he's so lovely, but the Canadian electro-rock wizards' pulsating, pulverising aural onslaught presumably wiped him out some time ago.
SILVER APPLES (London Oslo, 03/08/17)

When I'm 80 years old, I want to be as cool as Simeon Coxe. Not only did he help pioneer the fusion of electronics and pop music back in the mid-60's, but he's still unleashing cosmic beats that sound like the future today.
FEIST (London Shepherd's Bush Empire, 28/07/17)

It's a shame "1234" proved such an albatross around Leslie Feist's neck, for as catchy as that ubiquitous exemplar of mid-Noughties twee inarguably is, it tends to overshadow the fact that the rest of her work was considerably more interesting (see also: Chairlift). Her new album "Pleasure", for example, is sparse, moody and abrasive, yet works magnificently in a live setting- who needs bubblegum choruses when you've got righteous guitar shreddage and Jarvis Cocker? Add in some carefully curated earlier numbers (and a unplanned rendition of "Secret Heart"), and you've got a show that'll linger in the memory even longer than that damn song.
A TRIBUTE TO SCOTT WALKER (London Royal Albert Hall, 25/07/17)

Of course nothing could ever come close to seeing the actual Scott Walker perform his songs live on stage, but Jarvis Cocker, Susanne Sundfor, John Grant and Richard Hawley give it a damn good shot. There's definitely an argument that Sundfor aside, the assembled talent play it too safe to capture the essence of what made Walker so unique, but Jarvis' general loucheness and Grant's unmistakable tenor went some way to compensate.
SONGHOY BLUES (London Somerset House, 16/07/17)

Mesmeric desert blues from the new generation of Malian musicians, who balance political stridency with a great sense of fun. The perfect way to spend a warm summer's night.
MERCURY REV (London Barbican, 14/07/17)

It's bewildering to think no-one had the idea to combine Mercury Rev's baroque dream-pop with an orchestra before, but needless to say, it's a marriage made in musical heaven. Jonathan Donahue looks like he's on Cloud 9 throughout, the arrangements are uniformly lush, and they even carry off an entirely straight-faced "When You Wish Upon A Star" without coming across as majorly self-indulgent. Truly enchanting.
EZRA FURMAN (London Barbican, 13/07/17)

"The kid taking over the opera house" is how our queer Jewish hero describes himself tonight, and this one-off Barbican performance certainly proves a very different experience to the scrappy, euphoric rock 'n roll sermons he normally delivers. There's new and very old songs rendered acoustically, there's poetry, there's Leonard Cohen covers, there's collaborations with Du Blonde, there's a weird "Jazz Club" interlude, but most of all, there's Ezra, proving that even outside his comfort zone, he remains one of our generation's most compelling performers.
THE KILLERS (London Hyde Park, 08/07/17)

Review: HERE
ARCADE FIRE (Manchester Castlefield Bowl, 06/07/17)

Not going to lie, the setlist was not really to my taste ("Intervention" is emphatically not my jam), but a second-tier Arcade Fire show is still better than almost every else out there. Plus, they ended with an a capella "Love Will Tear Us Apart", which was surprisingly well-judged for the band who wrote, recorded and released "Chemistry".
ARCADE FIRE (London York Hall, 04/07/17)

"Everything Now" might see Arcade Fire hitting the maligned "80's Bowie" section of their career, but whilst Win Butler's lyrics contain more tired cliches than a Tory press conference, their live prowess remains manifestly undimmed. Indeed, blessed with a perfectly constructed setlist and the most passionate performance I've seen from them since the "Funeral" era, this intimate in-the-round set was genuinely one of the most exhilarating gigs this seasoned old bastard has ever had the pleasure of experiencing. So glad to see that the band who made me fall in love with live music all those years ago still have the power to give me goosebumps. <3
GREEN DAY (London Hyde Park, 01/07/17)

Billie Joe Armstrong may be slowly morphing into Liza Minnelli as his age skews closer to "pension" than "teen", but Green Day remain one of the slickest, most unabashedly crowd-pleasing live outfits this side of Springsteen. Lots of hits, lots of nostalgia, lots of fun.
KRAFTWERK (London Royal Albert Hall, 22/06/17)

IMPORT Kraftwerk
DEF Show:
     Visuals = 3D, Eye-Popping
     Performers = 4
     IF x < 3:
          SING "FAHREN"
          x += 1
AVALANCHES (London Forum, 21/06/17)

Review: HERE
ANNA VON HAUSSWOLF (Birmingham Town Hall, 16/06/17)

The Arch-Deaconess of Drone on a fuck-off giant organ- a (literal) pipe dream come true, at least in theory. The reality was a little less transcendent, with less-than-perfect sound and a running time best described as "brief", but she still sounded commendably like Armageddon incarnate.
MELT-BANANA (London Garage, 15/06/17)

Melt-Banana may have lost half their members, but they still sound like 500 Pokemon angrily having a seizure. Uncompromising, in the best possible way.