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For a night that was supposed to be dedicated to dance, it’s surprising how little dancing occurred. James Blake’s Saturday night appearance at Manchester’s Warehouse Project (being curated by Belgian dance label R&S) started early at 9 and ended up finishing at the wee hours of 5 in the morning, with a total of 12 acts performing altogether. Amazing! However, for the purpose of this review, I’m going to focus on the main man of the moment, Mr. Blake. I will admit here that I am not in anyway a fan of James Blake, but I will try and avoid any kind of bias. Honest!
Blake’s keyboard driven beats are hardly what you expect from a night like this; however, the tinkling and wavering of the keyboards is enough to have at least a few dance purists moving. By the time Blake arrived for the live set, the venue (under the Piccadilly railway station car park) was packed, sweaty and every shade of uncomfortable you can imagine. The bass during opener ‘Unluck’ was bordering on unbearable: while the pulsating beats had my heart pumping, it was a complete sensory overload from the start. Uncomfortable for me, yes, however in amongst the sensory bombardment was Blake’s wavering vocals, bringing order to the proceedings.
‘I Never Learnt to Share’ is an intense catastrophe of sound, with the introduction suitably dulcet, moving into an intense collision of keyboards. The post-dubstep sound he is looking for is released in the end with the crowd erupting in a sweaty, keyboard-induced mob.
This performance though was epitomized by the subtlety of this young producer’s music. It managed to fill a room while still remaining g as minimalistic as it is on a record, like the xx for the dubstep generation. The venue’s brick arched setting helped with this, keeping the sound enclosed where it could reverberate into the electronic beast it is meant to be in a live setting.
As I mentioned earlier, in this crowded setting the ability to dance was at a premium, which is bizarre for a dance-driven club night. But I don’t think anybody left the building unimpressed. Blake knew exactly which buttons to push to keep the audience ticking and on his side throughout. For a guy who is only really in his infancy in a live setting, he looks anything but an amateur.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 6th December 2011 at 2:00 pm
There is no use ignoring the music coming out of Northern Ireland right now. First there was Two Door Cinema Club, making a big noise last year and now headlining the upcoming NME Awards tour next February. So what’s going on now? Here comes the rampaging approach of two potentially heavy hitters: Cashier No. 9, earmarked by Simon Raymonde’s Bella Union and Two Door’s ‘little brothers’ Kowalski. (I put ‘little brothers’ in quotes because there is a brother connection between the two bands – Kev Baird’s brother Paddy plays drums in Kowalski.) Both bands played sets for a pretty well attended gig late November Thursday night in the Capital at relatively new venue XOYO.
Because of Kowalski’s relationship with Two Door, I kind of assumed an unfair assumption that they would be trying to ride on Two Door’s coattails to success. And while a casual listener might think these two bands sound the same, I think Kowalski has done a good job sonically distancing themselves from the band the media are probably going to lazily lump them with for the next couple years of their career, based on the jaunty guitars alone. ‘Navigate November’, a great track from their EP ‘Take Care, Take Flight’, was a standout from their support set. The band also showed off two new tracks (presumably appearing on their debut album?), ‘Ribbons’ and ‘While We Drive’ (watch it below). I’d keep an eye on these guys, I think they have great potential.
My impression the first time I heard Cashier No. 9: file under unremarkable psych rock. My fellow Washingtonian writer Cheryl urged me on, saying that I should give them a real try. So when their gig popped up in November just the week I happened to be in town celebrating my birthday, I said, okay, let’s give these guys a real chance. The multi-coloured light show keeping the band under a constant glow of various shades and glints added rather than distracted from their performance; turns out this was a happy coincidence, as frontman Danny Todd told me afterwards that the lights were the venue’s and not theirs. ‘Goldstar’, one of their singles this year, went down incredibly well, as did ‘Oh Pity’ (video below), currently making the British radio rounds. Three songs in, I applauded myself silently for choosing to attend this gig on my English holiday. I suspect this will go down in the band’s books as one of their early triumphs in London.
Other tracks from their debut album released this summer, ‘To the Death of Fun’, like ‘Lost at Sea’ and ‘The Lighthouse Will Lead You Out’, shone as promising gems that the audience may not have known but lapped up in short order. At first I was worried this was going to be a case of “oh London punters are just too cool for school and won’t show any emotion” but I was wrong. Men and women alike cheered for the band that has interestingly a percussionist who breaks out in harmonica solos. (I have no idea if this is normal for Cashier No. 9 songs but it certainly isn’t for a rock show these days.) A pair of women next to me was squealing constantly during the entire set. Now, I have been known to get my fangirl on and squeal during my favourite bands’ performances, but it was funny, these women desperately wanted set lists and whatever else they could get their hands on. If one live performance was enough to encourage that kind of fanaticism (Cashier No. 9 hasn’t gone on tour all that much in the UK…yet…), god only knows the kind of popular reception they’ll have at next year’s festivals.
After the cut: more photos and set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Cashier No. 9 with Kowalski at London XOYO – 24th November 2011
With the launch of ‘Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything’ (review here), Johnny Foreigner decided to put on two parties. Billed as VsLondon and VsBirmingham, their label Alcopop! put together a showcase like no other with a billing which could make most other indie labels a little jealous. For one night only, VsLondon comes to the upstairs venue of The Garage in London and it promises to be a good one.
Arriving just in time to catch Screaming Maldini, I’m promised that Pandas and People and My First Tooth were lovely (and I’m certain that they’re right). Screaming Maldini really start to get warmed up but as venues will be venues, their set is cut short to make sure tonight stays on schedule. Doors close at 10 pm so starting at 5 does its best to keep everything going. Their shortened set proves to remove any filler the group may have and keeps their set short and sweet. They’re definitely a band to keep a watch on for the next year or so as their music just keeps getting stronger.
Next up and the main support for the evening are live favourites Stagecoach. Having supported Johnny Foreigner in their winter tour last year, the groups are sound friends and their fantastic summer of festivals has if anything made them an even stronger live band. Tonight’s crowd are familiar with them and from start to finish, it’s manic. Playing from each of their EPs and singles, ‘Map to the Freezer’ and ‘Hieroglyphics’ are highlights of a fantastic set.
Everything’s been leading up to tonight’s headliners though. ‘Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything’ has created huge debate on NME.com and has received a generally warm reception most other places. Of course, with a reputation as a strong live band, the Birmingham trio tonight are leaving it down to the music, even if the crowd are chanting “Who the fuck is Ricky Martin?”
Beginning with new album opener ‘If I’m The Most Famous Boy…’ before rifling through a selection of their back catalogue, through both EPs and albums to date. In parts, crowd and band appear to be one, as the enthusiastic audience sing along to every word with pure dedication. This comes to a peak in the ever popular ‘Salt, Peppa and Spinderella’, both a JoFo staple and possibly the track they’re best known for as The Garage turns into pure chants all the way through to the climax of “turn on the real drums” to which the room becomes pandemonium.
Choosing to limit the work from their second record ‘Grace and the Bigger Picture’ to just ‘Every Cloakroom’ ever, it almost doesn’t feel right to not get ‘Feels like Summer’ or ‘Criminals’ instead focusing on more recent EP work, but no-one seems to mind. They close their main set with new single ‘You Vs Everything’ (Video of the Moment, using footage from the show), which proves that as one of the standout tracks on the record, it does itself justice live.
An encore of debut album ‘Waited up Til It Was Light’ closing tracks ‘Yr All Just Jealous’ and ‘Absolute Balance’ might close the band’s set in style, but the crowd continue singing a drunken medley of tracks not heard tonight until being steadily ushered out for doors. It’s been a big night for Johnny Foreigner and Alcopop!, one that will probably live in the memory for a long time. To those present, this band and everything it brings means a lot, and there’s a real camaraderie that comes with it. There was even cake!
According to the blogosphere, Anna Calvi’s music is average. To be more specific, 6 out of 10 average. But when you learn that that six is the average of three and nine out of ten, depending on who you consult, things take a more interesting turn. The NME are believers, praising Calvi’s “sumptuous Gothic”; Drowned in Soundare somewhat more pessimisticly oblique, and I quote: “…whether the dominant sound of twenny-’leven will be something like the Florence-ization of tabloid-friendly alternative culture…” Eh? Answers on a postcard, please.
This sort of contrasting critique must be very confusing for the artists concerned. After all, they have been ploughing their own furrow for many years, gradually becoming more sure who they are and how they want to express themselves; a vibrant sun in an orbiting solar system of opinion. But, opinion counts, and the respectful yet assertive Leeds crowd tonight spares no opportunity to make theirs heard. Shouts of “We love you, Anna!” garnering a bashful smile; moments after the crescendo of ‘Suzanne and I’ (video here, the call of “Who’s this Suzanne then?”, receiving no factual response. It wasn’t audible, but the imagined, muttered postscript, “Lucky bitch!” hangs heavy in the air.
If a musician turns up with a minimalist setup, sans backing tracks, and has the guts to play their sumptuous album with the sparest of accompaniment, it’s brave. When they succeed in portraying their music in a new light, and make one miss the flummery of production not one jot, it’s a triumph, and so it is with Calvi tonight. Accompanied by a drummer and a percussionist (who doubles on that table-bound squeezebox thing that no-one knows the name of), this is essentially a naked performance, the emotion and musical prowess Calvi’s alone. On record her guitar playing is part of the musical firmament; tonight it is front and centre, the first evidence of which being the languorous intro of Rider To The Sea, with its blend of blues riffs, sweep-picking and Buckley-esque suspended chords. When she rattles off a rapid descending lick, straddling the fine yet imperative line between pentatonic and chromatic, the ease of execution takes the breath away. The fact that such superb technique is almost hidden, made subservient to the song, and only revealed in its service, is equally impressive.
Her slight frame attired in trademark red blouse, high-waisted trousers and red lipstick, Calvi is quite the madam, at once vulnerable yet aloof, domineering yet timidly appreciative. The material is certainly arch, but is that really a problem? The musical equivalent of prancing around a crumbling gothic pile in the Cotswolds, swishing a scarlet cloak and falling back into whichever dusty four-poster bed takes one’s fancy, all the better to weep in tribute to lost love – don’t we all aspire to such outbursts of demonstrative introspection? The spirit of Jeff Buckley hangs heavy over proceedings: he’s there in the breathy, vibratoed vocals; in the reverbed, throaty guitar, constantly teetering on the brink of overdrive.
Calvi clearly wears her heart on her sleeve, which always leaves a naked flank vulnerable to criticism, and sometimes downright ridicule. But she can’t be faulted for effort, nor indeed can the skilful execution be criticised. An embryonic example of potential? Certainly… but hugely impressive and enjoyable nonetheless.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 1st December 2011 at 2:00 pm
Words by Ben Parkinson
Big Deal operate in the periphery between defined musical genre, pragmatically plucking influences from acoustic and anti-folk, to indie, garage (or in this case ‘front porch’) rock and post-grunge. Soaked in adolescent angst and words of unrequited love, they conjure crisp Polaroids of colonial Americana; a bedroom creation with overtones of the Moldy Peaches, Giant Drag or even Bob Dylan’s time with Joan Baez. Their sound is mirrored in the surroundings of The Lexington, Kings Cross, with its polished bar, honest vibe and American draught.
Tonight’s atmosphere is sedate as the crowd filters up the narrow staircase towards the stage. The raised rear means everyone is guaranteed a view, but for some ardent fans it is their first opportunity to hear tracks from Big Deal’s critically acclaimed debut album ‘Lights Out’, released in August 2011. The crowd moves forward to fully experience this intensely intimate spectacle. As the delightfully waifish Alice Costello and band mate Kacey Underwood prepare their well-loved guitars, they chat with fans as if they were high-school friends hanging around their practice room.
Tuning flows seamlessly into Big Deal’s opener, the haunting ‘Seraphine’, and the themes of love and worried apprehension that makes up the lyrical backdrop are given aural resonance through the wandering melodies of Underwood’s acoustic and the bite from Costello’s telecaster. Strangely for a band on the cusp of cracking the NME set, the duo seem sincere enough in their music to avoid exaggerated self-promotion, despite their debut album barely having time to register on the musical seismometer.
The brooding of ‘Distant Neighbourhood’ gives way to the minimal yet playfully distant sound of ‘Homework’, a teenage tale of innocent lust to which the audience stands in appreciative silence. Between songs the in-jokes and coy smiles sent between band mates gives the audience the role of a communal ‘third wheel’ which continues into the flirtatious ‘Cool Like Kurt’ and painful finality of ‘With The World At My Feet’.
They wrap up with the infectious ‘Talk’ and an encore of Big Star’s autumnal ‘13’ before the lights go up and the audience seems to wake from a hazy slumber. Having toured almost continuously since August, their look of enjoyment and release is still evident to a crowd who identify with these timeless teen worries. It is hard to predict how Big Deal intend to follow on from such a debut, but for tonight at least the pair have delivered with such personal resonance that their sound has taken root in the memory and consciousness of this congregation.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 28th November 2011 at 2:00 pm
Editor’s note: I would have gotten this review on the site earlier, had I not succumbed to some sort of cold / lurgy that took me out of commission for a couple gigs and that made me lose my voice (!) so apologies. Photos now on here as of 03/12/2011…
Due to planned engineering works over the weekend (thanks every so much, TFL) I arrived just in time for Manchester-based four-piece City Reign‘s set but missed both the openers. Next time. But no matter: as you probably have guessed if you’ve read my coverage on them, I was really there for the headliner. I feel a bit smug to say that I tipped this band nearly a year before Steve Lamacq did; these days you can hear the band’s single ‘Making Plans’ on his 6music drivetime programme. Firstly though, I want to clear up a few things that were explained to me in detail on this evening. I had thought there were 2 bandmates from London and two from Manchester: false. Singer/guitarist Chris Bull and guitarist Michael Grice are from London, that is true. Bass player Michael Glaze is from Brum and not Manchester; their new drummer Duncan Bolton is not English at all, he’s Scottish! This all came down to me as a startling revelation, but I suppose if you consider that Manchester is a hotbed of creative musical energy drawing young, eager musicians like moths to a flame, it’s not surprising they ended up in Manchester and quite happily so.
City Reign have a new EP out called ‘Numbers for Street Names’, released this past Monday (21 November) so essentially this show was the London launch party. ‘Making Plans’ is the most recognisable tune by far on this night (not surprising with the plays it’s gotten so far on 6) and it goes down a treat (watch it below). Being a ‘young’ band they haven’t been around all that long, so their set, while sounding great, is too short. Here’s to hoping to more songs being written, recorded and released to the general public very shortly.
After ‘Daybreak’ received a rapturous reception, the band paused. That was all that was on their original set list. But then Bull quipped, “since you were all so well behaved and you’re nice to your mothers”, they were going to give us another song. Called ‘Tired Eyes’ (I think that is the name; I didn’t recognise the title), it was a nice way to end a rousing and spirited night.
It was obvious that this London hometown crowd have adopted “City Reign! La la la!” as their fight anthem. I don’t think you really have arrived until you have your own football chant. Maybe “arrived” is the wrong word. City Reign are here and I hope they will be around for a long, long time.