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If there ever was a band defined by their frontman, The Crookes is it. George Waite, for it is he to whom one’s eyes cannot help but constantly be drawn, wields a hoiked-up bass, throwing it into all sorts of shapes whilst emoting into the microphone for all he’s worth. In the face of such competition, the rest of the band make up no more or less a competent background noise while Waite embarks on his various whimsical tales of romance with song titles lifted from Allan Ginsberg. It’s all unashamedly straightforward – there’s little in the way of artifice, in the music at least. The Libertines are a clear reference point, in the jangly arpeggios, keen-as-mustard drumming, and sweetly melodic vocal lines. That’s where the comparisons end, however, as there’s the sense that The Crookes would never think of veering anywhere near Pete Doherty levels of debauchery. They’re too nice and polite for that. At least in public anyway.
The new material does add some welcome maturity to their sound. Respite from jolly guitar japes is provided by ‘Howl’: a downtempo affair, admirably considered and reflective, with a nice big chorus that relies on emotional depth for its impact, rather than just up tempo guitar strumming. Also off the new album is ‘Outsiders’. We’re back to the romance theme again – they appear to sing of little else – but they are still displaying a maturity as befits a band promoting their third album. The lyrical content is artfully bookish, peppered with literary references and generally treading the well-worn path of contemporary realism, romantic yearning and the odd bit of existential despair.
Oops – my eyes have wandered from Waite for a second. A brief loss of attention. I’ve missed a moment, never to be brought back. Must keep watching, listening.
Could the band really be just a vehicle for his charisma? What if there was only him? As if sensing the same question, Waite dismisses the band – they’re “tired” – and addresses the crowd with just his voice and a battered Telecaster for company. ‘The I Love You Bridge’ is the highlight of the set – an unadorned paean to the power of a vocal melody and a handful of roughly-strummed electric guitar chords. Waite has the crowd in his hands, everyone knows it, and all are perfectly comfortable with the situation.
Which somewhat calls into question the need for three supporting players. Yes, drums are essential, as is a bit of electric guitar to fill in the treble range that the bass can’t reach. But are two guitarists really necessary? Apparently, Daniel Hopewell is responsible for a great deal of the lyrical content, for which he should be commended; but onstage, newly paunchy, sullen, mute, with his rhythm guitar turned down to the point of near audibility, one wonders how the sound would open out with just the one midrange instrument. Certainly Waite’s personality is the central celestial body, generating the charismatic field by which the others orbit – where’s the difference between two moons or three?
Harsh words, perhaps, and as a founder member and lyricist, clearly Hopewell’s position is secure. But the feeling remains that perhaps the band isn’t quite delivering the musical potential to do true justice to the intricate, erudite lyrics, that both guitarists are reading from the same crib sheet rather than playing disparate yet complementary parts. A subtle point, perhaps, that should take nothing away from the great ride that The Crookes have taken us on tonight. They’ve got some great tunes, of which the new ones are the best, a world-class frontman, and give enjoyable show. And one final word – the dedication of some of their fans is quite remarkable. One enthusiastic chap had already seen them in Leeds the day before this gig, and was planning to see tomorrow’s too. He could barely contain his delight in wangling the signed set list. Any band capable of such loyalty must be doing quite a lot of things very right indeed.
View Martin’s entire set of high-res photos from the Crookes’ set in Newcastle here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 23rd April 2014 at 12:00 pm
A couple of weeks ago, Chris Martin and his missus may have coined the term ‘conscious uncoupling’, and Coldplay may have a new album out on the 19th of May. But on the same day comes the release of something far more interesting, and ironically enough, its contents might throw you into thinking about a kind of conscious recoupling. London band Longfellow, who many in Britain have tipped to challenge Martin’s band’s global stranglehold on the mainstream alt rock scene, will be dropping their next single ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ on that very day.
Seeing that Longfellow have signed to the exact same label to begin their career as Coldplay did in their early days – London’s Fierce Panda, whose ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ I reviewed a short while ago – it all seems very cosy. A little too cosy… However, it seems that Coldplay’s latest reveal, single ‘Magic’, has taken more reliance on beat than their past efforts, and they have cleared the way for a group like Longfellow to make it. That is, if they can write a pop anthem. Have they, in ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’? Let’s examine further, shall we?
When I first read the title, I thought the word ‘Makeup’ had to be a mistake. Surely it should have been referring to the act of making up after a break-up and not literally cosmetics? It bothered me a lot: hey, remember, I’m an editor! After further reflection, it made me think of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ ‘The Tracks of My Tears’, in which there’s the immortal line, “my smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. So that made me grin. Like Smokey’s song, ‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’ is about the dreadful wanting of someone after realising you’ve lost the world you shared with that person.
The lyrics of this Longfellow song may make you wince from the desperation contained within; “I was there by your side as you reached for another / and a part of me, it died”; “don’t make these blue skies turn to red / I’m yours but I won’t regret it”), especially with the way lead vocalist Owen Lloyd emotes this desperation, but any such wincing is brief. With words like “so let’s grow old together, sweetness you’re my heart and soul / a thousand nights that I lay restless, praying you’d come home”, the song makes you want to believe, to keep the hope alive that fences can be mended.
There are two major elements to Longfellow that make the Coldplay comparison seem apt: the bombastic piano played by Ali Hetherington and the anthemic quality of their songwriting. One major difference – and what I think could push Longfellow to the top – is Lloyd’s voice, which is far richer and emotional than Martin’s. I had the good fortune having heard the band perform this song in their BBC Introducing set at SXSW 2014 last month, all under the kind auspices of one Steve Lamacq. All three of these pieces make the single one compelling piece of pop indeed.
Let us watch and wait. The gauntlet has been thrown.
‘Kiss-Hug-Makeup’, Longfellow’s hotly anticipated followup single to ‘Siamese Lover’, will be out on the 19th of May on Fierce Panda. The band plays London’s Camden Barfly the next evening, on the 20th of May. They are purported to be filming a promo video for this new single in the West Country, and we’ll share that with you when we have it. But in the meantime, you can watch them performing the song live at Steve Lamacq’s BBC Introducing showcase on the Thursday night at SXSW 2014 in Austin back in March below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 22nd April 2014 at 2:00 pm
In the indie rock world where a band often fold after their first album if it didn’t do well commercially, We Are Scientists – Keith Murray (lead vocals / guitar) and Chris Cain (bass / backing vocals) are doing pretty well in terms of sheer longevity. By the time I saw them live for the first time in the summer of 2008, a couple months after their superb third album ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ hit the streets, they’d already honed their deadly combination of rocking tunes and hilarious stage banter. They released their fifth album ‘TV en Français’ in March and while the new LP sees the duo veer from their original formula concocted in a university dorm room in 2007 -it was inevitable they’d mature in sound, yeah? – I’m happy to report that their live show hasn’t changed and in fact, is better than ever.
The fully capitalised PAWS from Glasgow opened for the New York City-based act. I ran into their band members by accident in a pizza shop open late at night in Austin during SXSW 2013 when I was in the company of another band. I tried to make small talk with them while waiting in the queue for the toilet at 2 in the morning, and I’m not very charming at 2 AM in the morning after I’ve been out carousing with friends, I’m just not. (Awkward.) Thankfully, my next encounter with the Glaswegians was nowhere near as awkward. Nope. In DC, they rocked our faces off with their brand of brilliantly melodic punk.
I am almost uncomfortable to give them the label of ‘punk’ or even ‘garage’, because that would seem to indicate they have complete disregard for melody, and their beards are evidence that they’re super anti-establishment. But the weirdly wonderful thing about PAWS is that they’ve got a knack for writing memorable tunes with massive sounding guitar riffs that just beg for headbanging, accompanied by a relentless rhythm section. ‘Sore Tummy’, from their 2012 debut ‘Cokefloat!’, is probably their best known track, but on Thursday night, I favoured newer track ‘Narcissist’, not even lasting 2 minutes. Whether he planned the hilarity or not, newest band member and bass player Ryan Drever pointed out the location of an unfortunate rip in his jeans before the band lit into this song. Whoops! Their second album on Fat Cat, ‘Youth Culture Forever’, isn’t out until the 2nd of June in the UK, but it’s out earlier in America, and as the band were cheekily selling copies of the LP before the official releases, I couldn’t say no.
Having five albums to choose from gave We Are Scientists a lot of latitude when it came to their set list in Washington. When I mentioned their very funny stage presence, this also included audience participation this night in the form of two different fans getting up on stage and introducing themselves to the audience, after which they were razzed by Murray and Cain. The second punter probably was drunk ,as he made the regrettable admission that he hadn’t listened to or bought their last 2 albums. Naturally, the audience started laughing and booing and Murray quipped, “sorry dude, we can’t help you now”. The punter did get the audience’s favour back when he yelled for how great their second album and breakthrough release ‘With Love and Squalor’ was, and the crowd responded with thundering applause. I think about this moment as being a prime example of what has made We Are Scientists such a fan favourite: they’re the guys who make you laugh, the ones you want to go out and have drinks with because they’re fun, self-deprecating and entirely unpretentious. You’d never see punters be invited onstage like that at most any other show, would you?
But you’re probably reading this review for information on the music, I’m sure. Whether it had to do with ‘TV en Français’ having been released too closely to this North American tour or like that aforementioned fan with his 15 seconds of fame, people just aren’t buying their most recent albums, the newer songs just couldn’t compete with the bigger hits of their back catalogue. I think no matter how long they continue on gigging – and I assume it will be a long, long time to come, so don’t worry – they will always play ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ and ‘The Great Escape’ off ‘With Love and Squalor’, because they always cause mental crowd reactions, whether they’re playing a club or a festival. However, I’m pleased that others from their catalogue continue to be firm fan favourites, including the hooky ‘Rules Don’t Stop’, the oozy sleaziness of ‘Can’t Lose’ and the anthemic ‘After Hours’ (well, as anthemic as WAS dare to tread).
I had assumed that after ‘Barbara’ was released in 2010, I’d never hear ‘Lethal Enforcer’ from ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ ever again. Never say never. As the opening funky bass notes began, I couldn’t believe my ears. What? Are they really playing ‘Lethal Enforcer’? Year made. I also wondered if they would come out for an encore, as ‘The Great Escape’ had already been ticked off by the (first) time they said goodbye. Much to the delight of the crowd, they returned for one more, ‘Impatience’. By that time, I’d made it over to the bar to give my feet a rest and it was then that I noticed all the people who were not down the front; they’d chosen purposely to stand further back so they could cut some shapes and boy, were smooth moves being made the encore.
The crux of ‘Impatience’, besides its unyielding guitar, is the insistent voice of the song, pointing out to someone else that there’s no point of being impatient and that problems are only as big as you make them. As bad as us music journalists often make the music industry seem as a place where indie bands make no money and barely a career (and this is true), it was in that club Thursday night that I realised sometimes when you’re watching a gig like this, all of that stuff temporarily melts away from your consciousness and what you’re left with is seeing people who are actively appreciating live music. Ultimately, this is what we’re all in it for, isn’t it?
After the cut: We Are Scientists’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: We Are Scientists with PAWS at Black Cat, Washington DC – 17th April 2014
Photos by Carrie Clancy and Mary Chang
It’s always exciting to see a favorite artist live, and I had been happily awaiting Neil Finn’s show at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC for weeks before the day actually arrived. That kind of gleeful anticipation can occasionally lead to a bit of a letdown if the show isn’t quite up to par, but Finn and his band of cohorts seemed particularly determined not to disappoint on the night, and they most definitely didn’t. The evening was a mix of happily obliged expectations and a few surprises, both planned and spontaneous.
The first of those pleasant surprises for me was opening band Midlake, who played an acoustic set with only three of their usual six members in attendance. Hailing from Denton, Texas, Midlake were an interesting choice of guests for Finn, but the chemistry between the two acts was clear. The Lincoln Theater show was the last on the North American tour, and the bands celebrated it by comingling freely, with Finn appearing on stage to play piano on one of Midlake’s tunes and members of Midlake returning the favor at several points during Finn’s set.
Midlake played a handful of songs from their debut record, ‘Antiphon’, pointing out several times that these versions were “stripped down especially for Neil Finn.” I quite enjoyed their streamlined sound, especially the deft and dexterous use of the flute in several of their arrangements by keyboard player Jesse Chandler. Midlake closed their set in appropriate fashion for an acoustic set, with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released.’ I’ll admit to not being very familiar with Midlake before this show, but I was impressed enough to chase down their frontman, Eric Pulido, for a quick interview after the show (stay tuned for that audio clip in the coming days).
Midlake’s atmospheric sound and stream-of-consciousness lyrics were a perfect foreshadow for the songs from ‘Dizzy Heights’ (reviewed here), two of which opened Finn’s set. Hazy album opener ‘Impressions’ and debut single ‘Flying in The Face of Love’ both played perfectly off the psychedelic stage backdrop. From that point forward, Finn interspersed older hit songs with the newer ones, touching on Split Enz, Crowded House, Finn Brothers, and Pajama Club tunes throughout the set.
While the older numbers were inevitably well received by Finn’s audience of diehard fans and Frenz, I was most impressed with how comfortably the ‘Dizzy Heights’ songs fell into the playlist. Finn gave the new songs full attention and full arrangements, which highlighted them against the creative and often sparser reworkings of some of the older songs. ‘Better Than TV’ and ‘In My Blood’ were both charged with energy, and ‘White Lies and Alibis’ was absolutely electric toward the end of the set. The last played of the new songs, ‘Pony Ride’ was performed with special energy for Finn’s father, who was in attendance via the magic of Skype.
Finn’s onstage banter included several references to Bruce Springsteen’s recent Australian tour and the marathon-length gigs The Boss puts on, even at this late point in his career. Finn was apparently inspired enough to emulate Springsteen in his own shows; according to a printed set list nabbed from the stage, Finn had planned a lengthy set for DC, and while he did eventually deviate from his own agenda, he most certainly didn’t cut the song list short. He mentioned that he was trying to honor as many last minute fan requests as possible, which led to a widely varied set, including a few rare gems, such as the extended jam in ‘Chocolate Cake’ and a loungey piano version of Split Enz track ‘Message to My Girl.’ I was near to ecstatic when Finn closed the set proper with a personal favorite of mine, solo hit ‘She Will Have Her Way’.
Naturally, Finn acknowledged the customary and genuinely enthusiastic crowd request for an encore. (At this point, a disclaimer: I went into fully-fledged fangirl mode during the encore, dancing and singing along rather than taking notes. The actual encore deviated significantly from the set list in the above photo.) He broke out several fan favorites, playing to the heady desires of his audience, including an exquisite version of ‘Private Universe’ utilizing the vocal and instrumental talents of Midlake. Having already touched on the ubiquitous ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ earlier in the set, Finn chose to end the evening with an impromptu and delightful performance of ‘Weather With You’.
Neil Finn takes his ‘Dizzy Heights’ tour to the UK and Ireland starting next week. Full tour date listings can be found here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 17th April 2014 at 4:00 pm
Sometimes the best results come out of spontaneous activity. Such is the case with Oxford band Spring Offensive‘s impromptu decision to tackle Drake’s ‘Hold On, We’re Coming Home’ and film it last minute on their smartphones. I really like this cover. Watch it below.
Earlier this month, we posted the band’s latest promo video for ‘Bodylifting’, which you can watch here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 16th April 2014 at 4:00 pm
I don’t know about you, but in DC this morning, we had sub zero temperatures. So this new documentary-style video via Adio Marchant – better known at the moment under his solo stage name Bipolar Sunshine – from his time at SXSW 2014 couldn’t have come along at a better time. Sun, shades, good tunes…man I miss Austin!
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