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…

Once when we were dreaming, I learnt to spell your name in the stones…

766f81b0ac9739cd7f2839b7bd4a6202Stunning night at the Exchange in Bristol yesterday…

Suuns

I’ve been looking forward to this gig for a while now. And, I’m thankful to say, there was no disappointment at all. I’ve got very high hopes for these boys…

First saw Suuns at Green Man a couple of summers ago and was, very, very impressed by them. I loved the way they spent most of the set shrouded in dry ice and veiled in distorted feedback. I was (am, still) a chump for the way you couldn’t hear any of the lyrics and the fact that parts you could make out were pretty inarticulate still… It’s kinda what young bands should sound like, I reckon.

Zeroes QC is a brilliant record, my favourite of that year, and the new one, I’m glad to say, has done nothing to smooth out the creases or make things any easier for the listener. (I still can’t make out a word of it…)

Taking the tiny stage (The Exchange is a really small venue) after an earnest but average performance by fellow Canadians, Valleys, Suuns continue to be thrilling, awkward, loud and menacing. A bare minimum of stage “banter” (I approve), lots of experimental noise, some genuinely sinister, rasping (and of course unintelligible) vocals, and all of it underpinned by those bassy, unrelenting rhythms. It’s an ideal cocktail, as far as I’m concerned, and I know people mention Clinic a lot, but I really can’t hear anyone else is doing anything similar. They pounded through a good selection of tracks from Images du Futur, and fitted in muscular versions of Arena and Pie IX from the first record, all of which made a small, sweaty venue seem smaller and, well, sweatier…

Don’t you just love modern music? If I were a younger man I think I could go seriously overboard on this lot – follow them around the country, offer to hold their towels and tune their guitars, and generally lose all sense of proportion and dignity in the name of the band. As it is, I’ll have to settle for drooling from my keyboard and acting like a swivel-eyed loon from the floors of tiny West Country clubs…

A great, great set, and some pretty fair recordings, including the third version of Arena to grace these pages… Wah!!!!

Bambi

Arena

Sunspot

Oh, and I met Big Jef…!

Seven Great Records of 2011

Started thinking about this a few weeks ago and I realised it’s been a really strong year for new releases – I could’ve named twenty albums very easily. On top of that I’ve recently picked up on a couple of records from this year in the last couple of weeks – the Wilco and Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – ones both of which I’m pretty sure would’ve been on this list if I knew them a little better…

So …

Seven Great Records of 2011

Bad As Me – Tom Waits

Had a real binge on Tom Waits last year and consequently hadn’t spent a lot of time on him this year until this came out. A real stormer in the Real Gone tradition rather than Alice – lots of rough and ready, Beefheartian rumbles and a motor that still runs pretty well after all these years.

High Points:Chicago; Bad as Me; Raised Right Men

It’s bravest to stay,

Even braver to go,

Wherever she goes, I go.

Everything will be better in Chicago

Slave Ambient – War on Drugs

This is an interesting record in that it’s got a number of immediate first appearances that I’m not keen on (not a huge fan of Dylan, not a huge fan of Springsteen) and yet I can’t leave it alone. Some beautiful melodies, some surging synth atmospherics and some wonderful Byrds-y guitar work. Above all it’s a record characterised by some really engaging lyrics that drift, unhurried, through the songs as they unfold. Lovely rich stuff.


High Points
: Your Love is Calling My Name; Best Night; Brothers; I Was There

I was there catching air
Thought I had him by the hand
Only had him by the glove

D – White Denim

I come from a generation for whom the word “virtuosity” was considered a bit of a slap in the face, not something you aspired to, or at the very least concealed with some care. Although hardly new, it’s still pretty refreshing to find a band wearing their technical expertise proudly on their sleeve, not to say flaunting it a lot of the time. These fellers can all play, not just the guitars but the bass and drums are all interesting listens. Bracing, stimulating, invigorating – all in large dollops!


High Points
: Burnished/Back at the Farm; Street Joy; Anvil Everything

Crossed an ocean,

Faced a fear…

Gentle Spirit – Jonathan Wilson

I’ve already used “unhurried”, haven’t I, I’ll go for “leisurely”, then, as my go-to word for Gentle Spirit. I don’t get the impression Jonathon Wilson does any hurrying, and a quick scurry to Wikipedia to discover that this gorgeous folk gem took four years to put together doesn’t really surprise me at all. A beautiful, sun-blistered collection of leisurely, folky songs from another age. Not come across anyone unmoved by it…

High Points: Desert Raven; Can We Really Party today?; Valley of the Silver Moon

When my word’s come out

It’s like oil and water,

Separation, no reaction

Writing you now from the valley of the silver moon

Last of the Country Gentlemen – Josh T Pearson

A record that I bought before I went to Green Man, but which I didn’t really get into at the time. The last few weeks though, it’s really grabbed me by the throat. A huge contrast to the Jonathon Wilson record, unremittingly miserable and bitter (but in a good way) and really (really) intense. His deft guitar playing lightens the mood a little and is occasionally supplemented with heart-breaking violin. I love the way the songs are shapeless explorations (“ramblings” you could say, four of them running past the 10 minute mark) that come to a natural conclusion in their own sweet time. Phew!

High Points: Country Dumb; Woman When I’ve Raised Hell; Thou Art Loosed

Don’t make me rule this home with the back of my hand
Just let me sit alone in this chair, my own make believe little throne

 

The King is Dead – The Decemberists

I think I said last night, that I’ve rediscovered Colin Melloy and the Decemberists, courtesy of this record and the evening at the Academy. Really didn’t like The Hazards of Love (sounded like Queen to me), but the new record is a strong, strong come back from there. It’s a return to simpler songs and more understated canvases on which to tell his stories. I reckon the difference between this album and some of the earlier (great) ones is that the rest of the Decemberists have (been allowed to) come of age here and make tangible, intelligent contributions to what is a rich, quality record.

High Points: This Is Why We Fight; Rise to Me; Rox in the Box

And when we die,

We will die,

With our arms unbound

Zeroes QC – Suuns

I realise that I love this record beyond reasoned argument and get the feeling that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the other records here in anyone else’s ears. Maybe one day, when the brouhaha has all died down, I’ll give this a listen and wonder what the fever was all about. But now, right now, from the first dull thud of the drum and the stylophone meanderings that introduce Armed for Peace, to the last heady drones and squeaks that complete Organ Blues, I just love this record. Damnit, why am I so bloody old!

High Points: Pie IX; Up Past the Nursery; PVC; Arena

Do you want to?

Do you want to?

Do you want to?

Seven Great Gigs of 2011


I’m a little apprehensive about writing this post about best gigs of the year, partly because I think I’ve seen less this year than many others but mainly because I seem to know a few people who seem to go to a mindboggling number of gigs. I know of a couple of people who are nearly into three figures for the year.

Think about it, pretty much two gigs a week… {prostrates himself on the floor}

But, anyhoo, for what’s its worth here are seven cracking live experiences from this year.  In no particular order…

Seven Great Gigs of 2011

The Decemberists – Bristol Academy, March

I’ve tended to remember this gig for some of the sillier things that the ever-adlibbing Colin Melloy and friends got up to, but a quick listen back to the recordings remind me that it was actually a great evening. I loved the new songs (and went out soon after and bought The King is Dead on the strength of the evening) but also found myself enjoying the Hazards Of Love songs, previously not a record I’d warmed to at all.  Exhilarating, boisterous stuff, and they also played Grace Cathedral Hill, my favourite Decemberists song of all.  A lovely evening.

Laura Cantrell – St Bonaventura’s, May

A delightful get-together, in the unpretentious, intimate surroundings of St Bonaventura’s, itself a support player in a great evening. Laura Cantrell (can I call her Laura? Ms Cantrell?) still has a pure, ringing voice and an uncluttered delivery style which shines the spotlight full on her dazzling songs. Lots of Kitty Wells Dresses, but also a good few from the another favourite Not the Tremblin’ Kind. Engaging between-song chat and the always pleasing sight of a true star selling her own merchandise after the show.

Toots & the Maytals –BristolAcademy, September

I don’t think I actually wrote about this evening at all – I was sulking a little at another recording comprehensively buggered up by clumsiness and circumstance, I suspect. I’ve just referred to Laura Cantrell as a true star, so what is Toots Hibbert? I went through a phase in my early twenties of trying to see various old timers perform before they were gone forever, and I’m still a sucker for a bit of nostalgia. Great versions of 54-46 and Pressure Drop, and a whole lot off the Funky Kingston record, including a lung-busting, belting version of the title track. The sort of evening that the Academy does well…

Suuns – Green Man, August

I’ve banged on about this lot so much in the last months that there’s not a lot more to say, other than that for me this performance – in the Big Tent, mid evening, with enough smoke, distortion and swagger to suggest everything else should be called off afterwards – is the sort of stuff Suuns should be building their legacy upon. Belligerent, funky, inarticulate, and really very loud.

Phosphorescent – Thekla, May

One of those, for me classic, occasions when I turned up not entirely convinced of a band’s worth, but left having totally got it. The Here’s To Taking It Easy album sounded entirely different afterwards and throughout the following weeks, I couldn’t listen to Hard to be Humble without seeing the foppish Matthew Houk waving his finger in my face. Another of my favourite songs of my year, Mermaid Parade, got its definitive performance this evening.

Gruff Rhys / Y Niwl – St George’s, February

Saw both artists again later on in the year at Green Man, but neither sets were as good as the twin performances in the robust, muscular surroundings ofSt George’s. Again, some of the magic of the evening was lost for me as soon as I realised I’d not managed to record it properly, but that’s all wrong, really. It was a terrific evening, the Y Niwl boys banging out their surf sounds with infectious eagerness, before joining Gruff onstage as he ran through most of the Hotel Shampoo offering in his own inimitable, shambling style. Guest appearances from Cate le Bon and Sweet Baboo as well…

Wild Beasts – Guildhall, May

Yet another performance for which I have no recording, but which will survive in my memory for a good while. Lots from the two recent, breakthrough albums, neither of which I’m terribly familiar with, still (inexplicably); but also a good few of their older more awkward songs, their galumphing, shuffling rhythms still on show for all to see. Really enjoyed their combination of craft and enthusiasm, and they went down well in the old hall.

So, another year gone, another few tickets, pinned to the board, wink lasciviously at me and it all starts again…

Tomorrow I’ll think about my best of the year releases.

Generals have fought for spies like you

Dashed off to Thekla the other night, in the distinguished company of habitual gig-buddy Coleser, ostensibly to see Canadian rock icons theBesnardLakes, but in reality much more excited by the prospect of seeing fellow Canucs, the magnificent Suuns.

In the end, it really was a dash from the car park to stage side as we heard promising sounds eddying from the famous old boat, and just about made it on time.

I love Suuns; and I may as well say now that Zeroes QC may well be my favourite record of the year. They were great (and phenomenally loud) at Green Man and the prospect of seeing them bring their blend of edgy, sneery, post-punk tunes to a small dark space was truly mouth-watering. Numbers were disappointingly thin, though, and the atmosphere never quite got going which was a terrific shame, really. It was all over rather too soon, as well, the briefest of half hours disappearing in a flash (an edgy, sneery, post-punk flash, mind).

Having said that, the songs were good, and they played “Bambi” which was a new one to me, although I think it’s out as a single or something. I just couldn’t believe it was all over before it really began…

In due course, the place filled up, theBesnardLakescame on and did their thing, which was pretty good in places, but a bit dull at times. They’ve certainly got some strong songs and there’s a lot to be said for being immersed in high-volume noise for an hour or so, but none of their new material (what there was of it) really impressed.

Apart from that, not a lot to be said, apart from the obvious fact that Jace Lasek looks like Ian Hunter, and the less obvious fact that beneath his shades he appeared to be wearing eye make-up. Ho-hum…

I recorded some of the set, and I’ll leave you with a couple of mementoes of the evening (one new track and a couple of great favourites)

Bambi – Suuns

Arena – Suuns

Disaster – Besnard Lakes

PVC sits on his own…

I simply don’t know where to start with all these Green Man recordings, so I guess I’ll just keep it random…

Here’s a video of the Suuns evening that I was on about yesterday. It kinda does the trick…

Which you which you which you can’t explain to me

Ah… Another Green Man has come and gone, and one of the very best it was. Possibly the best weather of all, and some great company, plus a bunch of new and old friends met there. Ahhhhh…

I have a wheelbarrow full of a recordings I’m going to bore you with, but this time I’m going to get them out quickly (no more waiting for the muse to visit) as, for once, (get this…) a few people are actually waiting to hear them (can you imagine?). Less words, more recordings!

Loads of terrific sets but surely the very best, and the best I’ve seen all year was this one…

Suuns

I’d never heard of this band of Montreal lads until fairly recently, but a few weeks of GM homework had made this set one of the most keenly anticipated amongst our group. And they were just … terrific – hectic, swirling, stuttering and above all really loud.

 

Suuns do a frenzied mix of garage-y guitars, really tight techno and weird special effects which I found irresistible. I think when I wrote about them a few weeks ago, I tried to fashion some sort of otherworldly feel to the record which was kind of still there – the lyrics were obscure and hard to hear, the lighting smothered them in garish colours and smoke and there was that implausible volume As well as this, though, they were also pretty human, ladish too – young, energetic, overconfident. A proper band in every sense…

A great, great set.

Armed for Peace

Gaze

Arena

Up Past the Nursery

PVC

Optimist

Pie IX

Sweet Nothing

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