2013 – Seven Gigs (plus one)

calexico-bellyup-590x390 (1)2013 has hardly been a vintage year for seeing live acts – a combination of low funds, apathy and a series of wet festivals in previous years has somewhat taken the fizz from the live experience for me. And so to be honest, I’m scraping around for seven top quality gigs; I went to some pretty good evenings, a few fairly good’uns and a couple of real stinkers. Looking back, I’ve also been a bit negligent in maintaining my recordings – there’s a few tapes which I just never got around to processing, in some cases inexplicably (they’re good!). So anyway, roughly in order of greatness:

Calexico, Bristol Academy, Feb ‘13

I’ve seen Calexico before and I remember being pleasantly surprised at what a good live act they were; and so it was this February. I’d been slightly underwhelmed by the Algiers record but went back to it in the following weeks on the strength of a bustling, classy set from Burns, Convertino and team, which I think comes out as my favourite evening of the year.

Puerto

Kurt Vile, The Fleece, December ‘13

I know I’ve only just got back from this gig, and it may well be a combination of this and the fact that I’d not seen any live music for, oh, ages, but I really, really enjoyed this evening. A good combination really, an artist I was new to, on top of his game and at one of my favourite venues. Win, win and win again.

Girl Called Alex

Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, St Bonaventura’s, March ‘13

This one definitely comes under the heading of “inexplicably missed” from previous pages of this Blog. I don’t think I can have written about it at all, and the recordings were left sitting on my hard drive, untouched. I’m guessing the reason for this was that this March gig was in fact the third time I’d seen Anais Mitchell in a year and maybe I thought there was nothing more to add. Actually listening to it now, I wish I’d written more about it at the time, because some of the versions of songs from the Child Ballads record she released with Jefferson Hamer are just exquisite. Beautiful songs, beautifully sung.

Riddles Wisely Expounded

Suuns, Bristol Exchange, May ‘13

Actually, I think this was the third time I’d seen Suuns recently too, but that took nothing from the lustre of another spectacular evening in the company of Montreal’s sinister young gentlemen. Still unable to catch any of the words (although I think we’ve established that the first lines of Pie IX having nothing to do with a certain West Country town), no communication with the audience, loads of smoke and distortion. Fine, mean stuff.

2020

Richard Hawley, Colston Hall, February ‘13

Another early-in-the-year gig, in fact I think if I remember rightly this evening was in the same week as Calexico, phew! A sold out Colston Hall was treated to a long, heartfelt evening of Hawley favourites, each one enhanced by a top notch backing band and a real warmth between artist and audience. If not as exhilarating as Suuns and Calexico, every bit as enjoyable.

Leave Your Body Behind You

Sweet Baboo, Prince Albert, Stroud, April ‘13

Classic live band-in-a-pub, sort of an evening, although you’d hardly call Sweet Baboo a classic pub band. The Prince Albert is a terrific pub on the edge of Stroud, with top beers and food and a tiny stage, all a bit reminiscent of the old Slak Bar in Cheltenham. Sweet Baboo who I’m sure, I know (I’ve seen), has played much larger stages but he entered into the spirit of the evening, bouncing around enthusiastically on stage giving his Ships album a fair old (stripped down) thrashing. Oh, and Keith Allen turned up..

My Heart is Ready to Bounce Again

British Sea Power, The Guildhall, August ‘13

Maybe not quite as good as the other gigs here, (or even the unlucky eighth gig – Pere Ubu, since you’re asking), but for sheer excitement and as a peek into the BSP er “phenomena” (?), I really enjoyed this evening. I have a group of friends who are complete nuts for BSP and had travelled a fair old distance to be in Gloucester for this, (one of whom cheerfully told me he’d seen them seven times this year already, another of whom was on first name terms with the guys on the merch stall), so it was kind of a given that I’d need to get along to this a rare decent gig on my doorstep. In the end it was a rousing evening from a band who genuinely do have a bond with their audience. In-jokes abounded and I didn’t really understand the bears, but it all made for something of an experience which made their Green Man performances look a little pale.

Apologies to Insect Life

Of course, if we’re talking about exhilarating, one-off experiences, nothing will top this, my real “live music” highlight of 2013…

Seven Great Records of 2012

Bobby_MooreI have loafed about this Christmas – reading, drinking, watching films and generally living the life, which has been great, but now I find myself with just a few hours in which to throw this together…

To be honest, it feels like I’ve already done this once already having been asked to nominate five 2012 records for the January Lpgrp session. I managed it with some difficulty (particularly as my Lpgrp line manager made me nominate one to be the best of them all – wild stab…), so seven should be a piece of (Christmas) pudding, eh?

Well, no. Partly because it means I’m only allowed to add two more, and partly because I change my mind as frequently as night follows day. (In fact, I can’t actually remember which one of my five was the top-rater… Just as well…)

Should give a few honourable mentions to records I really liked but didn’t quite make the cut – today’s cut at least… Really liked the best bits of the TOY record, the poppier efforts from Django Django and Alt J, the garage/psych labours of Goat, Pond and the Allah-Las and that hefty ska record from Prince Fatty and Mutant Hi-Fi. Coming up on the rails, Clear Moon by MountEerie has also grown on me an awful lot…

Anyway, here, in no particular order, my Lucky Seven for 2012

 

Bend Beyond – Woods

A real sixties-fest, this, bubblegum-ish vocals, garagey guitars and woozy, effect-laden keyboards. The album’s full of great pop songs and on stage, Woods showed a heartening willingness to “wig out” when given the chance. Great record and great live.

 

 

The Marble Downs – Trembling Bells with Bonny “Prince” Billy

Was loving this album, heaps and heaps, even before their brilliant stop off in Cheltenham… Lots of humour, a fair amount of pathos and a fascinating clash of British and American folk traditions – brass bands wrestling Americana stylings to the ground, even down to the derby/darby pronunciation clash in Ferrari in a Demolition Derby

 

 

Plumb – Field Music

Thrilled to bits to see the fabulous Brewis Boys getting a Mercury nomination, and had even begun to think they might sneak off with the prize themselves (a tad over-optimistic, I know). Still a sparkling record, chaotic, complex, fidgety and damn clever. Somebody on Twitter described Plumb as being like seeing Funkadelic covering the King Crimson back catalogue… [This is a great clip…]

 

 

Young Man in America – Anaïs Mitchell

Another fine record, massively augmented by a couple of very memorable live performances. I can’t remember if this got my Top Vote for lpgrp, but it may well have, and I’ve certainly bought this for a friend this Christmas claiming it‘s the one record of the year he should listen to. Haunting, intelligent and at times crushingly bitter. A magnificent piece of work…

 

 

Lions’ Roar – First Aid Kit

Another glimmering country gem, only this time cooked up on the wild plains of Sweden. Saw First Aid Kit at Green Man a couple of years ago and they were pretty good. One for the future, I remember thinking. I didn’t anticipate a record as strong and as fully formed as this coming out as soon as it has, though. Probably the standout track is “Emmylou” but, again, this is another collection remarkable for a whole range of very strong songs throughout.

 

 

CYRK – Cate Le Bon

Seem to have written quite a lot about Cate Le Bon over the last month or so, most of it incidental, and a slightly luke warm performance at Green Man took the sheen of this for a while. But a couple of days reacquainting myself with this gawky fizzer of a record reminded me what a cracking piece it is. Anyone know who the drummer is on this clip? (I don’t want to know…)

 

 

The Echo Show – Yeti Lane

Haven’t seen this show up on any one else’s lists, but I absolutely love it. Another band who impressed themselves upon me at End of the Road, with a graceful and stylish set on the last night, none of which was lost in this their second record, their first as a duo. Smooth, experimental and somehow very French, it reminded me of Air or Stereolab, but with a bit more oomph and a dash more geekiness.

 

 

There it is, then. Probably should’ve found space for the Gravenhurst record, and probably should’ve listened harder to the new Grizzly Bear and Tame Impala ones, but, hey! Whaddya gonna do, eh?

Lucky Seven – The Joy of Sets

dexys2OK, regular Christmas readers of this organ will remember that it often takes me a while to get into this end of year malarkey, but once I’ve warmed up…

So, anyway, I’m venturing forth and starting with some great gigs I’ve been to this year. I’m always a bit sheepish about recounting my gig tally for the year – usually I can do this on the fingers of both hands, although this year I’ve had to take off my shoes and socks too. (I have buddies who talk about getting close to three figures, think about it…)

That being as it may… here we go, chronologically:.

 

February: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins @ The Fleece, Bristol

My first visit to the Fleece, if I remember rightly, and really enjoyable evening it was too. Hot, pubby, beset with sound problems yet still gentle and intimate. Spent a lot of time following Creosote and his warm, delicate songs, but Hopkins impressed too, sympathetically colouring in around the King’s bold lines. Really nice support spot from Withered Hand too.

Only Living Boy in New York

 

April: Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy @ Frog & Fiddle, Cheltenham

Possibly my highlight of the year. Oldham was as unconventional as you’d expect, by turns daunting, witty and self-effacing, employing a new and impressive set of quirky gestures and never less than whole-hearted in the delivery of a terrific bag of songs. Trembling Bells were also powerful and more than a little scary, and a storming set was delivered with what can only be described as Gusto.

Every Time I Close my Eyes (We’re back there)

 

June: Anaïs Mitchell & the Young Man Band @ St Bonaventura’s, Bristol

Another massive treat in the warm, DIY surroundings of one of my favourite venues. Performed most of the wonderful Young Man in America record, and a good selection from her earlier stuff, all with affection and intelligence, and was supported expertly by one of the most talented bunch of musicians I’ve seen for ages. And she signed a copy of Hadestown for me.

Saw her later in the year solo in Oxford, which was also brilliant but didn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of this gig.

Tailor

 

June: Andrew Bird @ Trinity Centre, Bristol

Another debut venue, and another beautiful evening in Bristol; and if we’re talking expert musicians you’ve got to tip your hat towards Andrew Bird. I’ve never seen a man play the fiddle like this guy, bowing beautifully, then strumming it like a yuke, then back to the bow all within a verse sometimes. Played a good long, occasionally theatrical set and finished it up with an Ol’ Timey clutch of toons. Didn’t know whether to stroke my beard or grin like a loon…

Desperation Breeds

 

July: Wooden Shjips @ The Fleece, Bristol

This was the steamy, roller coaster of an evening you kinda hope for when Ripley Johnson and his awkward crew lumber on stage. You know what you’re going to get with the Shjips, meandering, uncomplicated and repetitive yet somehow fascinating and complex at the same time. The Elevators of the 21st Century… Another evening where the support band, three young lads from Weston called Towns, added to the fun.

Flight

 

August: Dexy’s @ Green Man

So to the festival season.

Despite the rain, there were some fine moments at Green Man as usual –some of them young (TOY, Savages, Field Music), some of them old (Van) and lots of them Welsh (Cate le Bon, H Hawkline, Sen Segur, Pen Pastwn). But the most enjoyable set of the weekend came from the wild-eyed bugger himself. Only managing to get through 5 or 6 numbers in his hour (so gloriously teased-out was each one), Rowlands, and a band that included long-suffering confidante Pete Williams; Mick Talbot and spurned chantoose Madeleine Hyland mugged their way through a hugely pleasing set. Highlights included This Is What She is Like, Lost and a gigantic version of Come On Eileen. Wow!

Lost

 

August: Woods @ End of the Road

There were some even better sets at my End of the Road debut this year too. Honourable mentions should go to Yeti Lane, Gravenhurst, First Aid Kit, TOY (again) and a bedraggled Midlake, but my favourite section of the weekend was Saturday afternoon’s belter from Woods. Their records often major on the slightly fey, slightly geeky tones of Jeremy Earl’s vocals and Woods’ bubblegum sound. On stage. however, the shackles were off and some great garage-y, psychedelic meandering went on. We also heard a lot of stuff which was new then, but which appeared on Autumn’s Bend Beyond.  Happy daze.

Cali in a Cup

And no one taught me how to cry…

A rather fine windfall came my way last week, in the shape of a spare ticket to go and see Anaïs Mitchell. Saw her in Bristol a couple of months ago with her brilliant Young Man band, but this was a solo gig, in the new-to-me surroundings of The Jericho in Oxford.

Anaïs Mitchell

I’m glad to report that The Jericho is another in a reassuringly long line of recently discovered cracking little venues, putting on great music. It’s an upstairs room in a pub, basically – tiny stage, tiny dance floor, stools, tables, beer, what else are you looking for?

As we walked in, we were met by the sight of Anaïs Mitchell sat on the floor amongst the audience, watching support act Jack Harris, which was all rather cool. I have to say I’m afraid I talked boorishly through most of Jack Harris’ set and can only remember the fact that he told a very funny story about Les Paul. (Must try harder…)

Anaïs Mitchell came on in due course and started her set with Cosmic American and went through a range of songs mainly from Young Man in America and Hadestown, but also took requests and played a good few older songs. She also finished with a version of Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.

If I was a little disappointed not to be seeing the Young Man Band, I needn’t have been, her songs are so muscular that they pretty much stand on their own, and some were even a little stronger. Both times I’ve seen her now, I’ve been struck by how tiny she is and wonder how she manages to command a stage, but she certainly does. I think it’s by the power and sheer intelligence of her songs and her beguilingly vulnerable voice. I don’t think I was the only one in the small audience to be mesmerised by her for most of the evening.

This video was shot by Twitter buddy Substandardnerd, (although he seems to go by a different name on YouTube) and it’s terrific…

Lovely evening, and pretty good recordings too…

Wilderland / Young Man in America

Wedding Song

1984

Out of Pawn

Every lump inside your throat…


Another lovely evening recedes into the distance…

Anaïs Mitchell

I’ve said this before, but I really like St Bonaventure’s.

I like the way it has no pretensions, resembling a community centre as it does. I like the way it has plastic chairs (and not that many of them – “intimate” doesn’t really do it justice) and signs asking people not to rearrange them. And I have nothing but admiration for the staff who manage to book brilliant acts in these surroundings purely on the basis of their sterling reputation.

It’s only been the last three months or so that I’ve cottoned on to Anaïs Mitchell and her brilliant songs. Young Man in America is a high, high-quality record, full of clever songs that demand thought and attention, and which will be in my Lucky Seven for 2012 undoubtedly. Hymns for the Exiled is made of similarly fine stuff, and on this evening I bought a copy of Hadestown which it turns out … is just magnificent.

Sidling apologetically on “stage”, she chatted disarmingly with the audience from the start and fitted well into what is obviously the St Bonaventure’s style of artist-  unassuming, country-based and, above all, gifted. Backed by the Young Man Band, Rachel Ries on keyboards, Benjamin Davis on percussion, guitar, glockenspiel and banjo (oh yes!) and husband Noah Hahn on fretless bass, she came up with one of the best evenings I’ve seen for ages. We got a good selection from Young Man and Hymns and enough from Hadestown to get me interested enough to buy it from her at the end (autographed indeed – thanks, Marcus!).

I love her voice and playing but her song writing is just so interesting. I like the way she writes as different people – young men, middle-aged women, figures from mythology – without at any point lapsing into novelty pieces, and at all times managing to be convincing. She’s a very intelligent woman, whose records we’ll be listening to for a good few years, I imagine.

Benjamin Davis is an extraordinary feller, too. Frequently it was hard to take your eyes of him as he switched between drum and string duties mid-song (mid-verse, at times). I am, of course, a real sucker for the banjo, and when played with the precision and lightness of touch that Davis managed, it really is the instrument of the gods. In truth, he was close to stealing the show at times, but operated with some discipline and self restraint at all times.

On top of that, it became obvious when Mitchell dueted with her on “Oh My Star” that Rachel Ries is no slouch herself, playing and singing beautifully when the song demanded. There is, apparently, an EP the pair have recorded called the Country EP, and I’m guessing it’s well worth finding…

It’s a rare thing to see such a talented group of artists enjoying their evening and performing such premium fare, and to do so in such relaxed intimate surroundings. Mmmm…

I recorded the set, and I think it’s come out pretty well, with some real highlights below…

Wilderland / Young Man in America

Oh My Star

Why Do We Build the Wall?

You Are Forgiven

Bit late to the party, I know…

But this whole record is lovely.

 

 

Tickets for the St Bonaventura show are apparently “in the bag”…