Not so starry-eyed anymore…

IMG_1079This is a week old now.

I’m a grumpy old git, no question; ever more curmudgeonly as the years accrue. Even more prone to shouting at the telly than before. But still…

I went to see the splendid Decemberists last week, giving a graceful run through of their What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World record. I did see them last time they came to the UK and I remember being pretty underwhelmed, although again they had a great record in The King is Dead to showcase. I’d obviously forgotten all this when I jumped at the offer of a ticket for the Birmingham leg of the tour.

I actually wrote a curmudgeonly post for the evening the next day, but in the grips of an oncoming flu I was a bit more negative than I’d want to be really, so I deleted it. The gist of it was:

  • Not a fan of audience participation
  • Upstairs at the Institute is not a great place to see a band
  • Some of the tracks on the new record sound like ABC
  • I don’t feel very well

Harsh, and a little unfair.

The Decemberists, the Institute

The Institute is a grand old theatre with many original features and a fine 3-sided balcony. It would no doubt be a lovely old place to see quiet, reflective music, in the style of St George’s in Bristol. Unfortunately, last week it was rammed with steely-eyed middle-aged punters, all of whom seemed to know that you need to get in early for a decent spot (rather than, say, getting stuck in traffic and then having a couple in the pub next door). It was particularly daft in the balcony, where people were stood five or six deep to peer over the balustrade (there’s a good Melloy word…)

I should say that I do like the new record a lot, Colin Melloy really is a great songsmith, but I’m not a fan of the way some of the songs are arranged. I reckon “Cavalry Captain” sounds like an ABC number (and btw don’t let anyone fool you into thinking this a good thing…); and the faux-doo wop sound grafted onto “Philomena” just irritates the hell out of me. (I found myself wondering if there’s a bit more democracy going on within the band – a bit more input from the other musicians, maybe. My money’s on that bloody drummer…)

I’m well aware that I’m coming on like one of the hipsters that Melloy is patiently addressing on the opener, but I guess I prefer the simpler accordion and harmonica and double bass sounds of Castaways and Cutouts. I wish you hadn’t changed…

(And don’t even get me started on audience participation, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” and general on stage tomfoolery…)

Actually, “Cavalry Captain” was a one of the highlights of what was still a pretty good evening and the tinnier elements of the record seemed to vanish in the whole band experience. They played for a good hour and a half, maybe more, giving good account of the recent records and dipping confidently into their impressive back catalogue (although regrettably not Grace Cathedral Hill). They were jolly, passionate about their songs and there was not quite as much silliness as last time I saw them. I was moderately-whelmed, shall we say.

Considering the circumstances – too far up, too far back, too many people coming backwards and forwards (honestly, at times it was like sitting in the Buildbase at Kingsholm…), the recordings are much better than I had a right to expect, and certainly, as ever, worth a listen:

Make You Better

and, in the interests of fairness:

Cavalry Captain

(Now I must get onto those Ultimate Painting recordings, they’re really worth it…)

Clean and sharp and always laughing

IMG_1029Not long ago, I claimed, in slightly half-arsed fashion, that the Beck record was my favourite release of 2014. This was a mistake – it’s not; White Fence’s For the Recently Found Innocent is most certainly my favourite record of last year. I know this because this is what I plumped for in the @lpgrp poll (although I suspect Morning Phase may still take the spoils in the hipsters’ vote).

In my defence, this administrative oversight would indeed have been avoided if I’d actually bought the darn thing at the time of that post. I hadn’t, I only got round to buying it when the prospect of the mighty Tim Presley and band arriving in Bristol becoming imminent.

Since then, however, I’ve been overdosing stupidly on it.

White Fence

When I sounded out my Gloucester pals about this gig, I couldn’t really get anyone interested, but decided, somewhat awkwardly, that I’d go anyway. Everyone else’s loss and all that…

But anyway, I began the process of immersing myself lavishly in the shimmering, warped world of White Fence, my ticket winking cheekily at me from the noticeboard, and by the time I rolled up at the Fleece for an evening of fun, fellowship and fuzztone, I was really very excited. My first gig of the year. (In the end, I needn’t have been so self-conscious about flying solo, as there were people there that I knew and the scene was set.)

A friend had previously tipped me off about support band, Ultimate Painting, so I knew they’d be good. And indeed they really were. I won’t write anything about them here because I’ll do a separate post about them later (no really. I will…).

At about 9:15, White Fence trooped on, their numbers augmented by the welcome figure of psyche/goth minstrel Cate le Bon, playing second guitar and adding a few vocals. In truth, I didn’t think she added all that much to the proceedings, and looked a little ill at ease for much of the evening, her own brand of cagey melancholy not really suited to the raucous psychedelia of Tim Presley. There didn’t seem to be much room for her amidst the ensuing mayhem…

The rest of the band were well up for it, though, and streamed aggressively through an hour and a half set which just shot by. They tossed off more than twenty numbers in that time with a dynamism and general oomph that was thrilling to watch. I really like the way Presley wears his guitar high-slung and the easy way he skids through his guitar breaks, with all the writhing energy of Paul Weller in a hurry. I’m also pretty fond of Presley’s voice, although I’ve heard people say they think it’s pretty so-so. He ranges from a vintage garage punk whine to a cool Ray Davies-style detachment, with one or two other stops in between.

And while we’re at it, I also love the sharp, freakbeat riffs he gets from those strings – again and again I found myself reminded of the Who or the Pretty Things as he slashed his way into another song. Wonderful stuff altogether.

Here’s a clip on YouTube of the set opener, Chairs in the Dark, taken by a feller (?), called Knapperstino who must’ve been stood just to my right and whose videos I seem to have linked to before.


As I said the set included 20 songs, 19 of which were around the 3-4 minute mark, but a monstrous version of Baxter Corner weighed in at around 11 minutes and showed that Presley’s time served in the Mark E Smith bootcamp was time well-spent (I can almost hear MES snarling “It’s not repetition, it’s discipline!” as I type…)

The recordings have come out quite well (the Fleece is always good for this…) and give quite a decent flavour of what was a boisterous, cracking night altogether.

Baxter Corner

Arrow Man

Like That

By the time I’ve got this post up, White Fence have already disappeared from these shores and are no doubt thrilling crowds of Dutch or Belgian punters.

You’re coming back, though, aren’t you, chaps?