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Monday night, the 26th of September, was a busy one on American shores. The first debate between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was televised that evening, as was an early season Monday Night Football game (that’s football of the American variety). Even just in Phoenix, that Monday night was unusually active for music gigs, with shows on at several local venues, including the Marquee Theater in Tempe, the Crescent Ballroom, Valley Bar, and the Rebel Lounge.
Whichever of those events people in Phoenix were busy with that night, the entire city missed out on the best show in town, bar none, at a well-known and long-standing music venue, the Rhythm Room. Usually a blues bar, the Rhythm Room has lately expanded into other genres of music, and this night they took a chance on a band not as well-known in this part of America, Sheffield alt-pop quartet The Crookes. Their gamble might not have paid off in terms of ticket sales, but as the tiny crowd in the club that night can attest, the quality of the performance was no less than top-notch.
I arrived around 7:30 for a show that was advertised to begin at 8:00, but as there was no support act on the docket (earlier shows on the tour had included The Young Wild and Zipper Club), The Crookes apparently were in no great hurry to start their show. But the patrons in the bar, who numbered exactly 9 at my count, including myself, were antsy with anticipation and nonetheless enthusiastic when the band did eventually take the stage.
First and foremost, I have to commend The Crookes for the energy and heart in their performance, despite the infinitesimal crowd. I’ve seen them play several times in the course of my tenure at TGTF (going way back to their American live debut in 2013!), and I must say that they gave this show their full and undivided effort, where many bands might have been tempted to get lazy or write it off as not worth their time. Frontman George Waite was smooth and ever professional, despite a bit of heckling from the peanut gallery, and his voice was sounded as good as I’ve ever heard it. Drummer Adam Crofts, who might still be considered new to the band, having joined only last year, played through the show with an engaging smile on his face. The acoustics in the venue were bright and clear, and the guitars in particular, played by Tom Dakin and Daniel Hopewell, sounded amazingly crisp from start to finish. Much moreso, in fact, than when Mary and I last saw The Crookes earlier this year at SXSW 2016.
The Crookes’ set list at the Rhythm Room was tight and exquisitely composed, starting with a few popular favourite tunes from breakthrough album ‘Hold Fast’ before touching on new tracks from their excellent current album ‘Lucky Ones’ and diving momentarily into their growing back catalogue. Though I did miss hearing live favourite ‘The Cooler King’, I was delighted that they chose to include ‘A Collier’s Wife’ from ‘Dreams of Another Day’, which I must admit had an air of novelty about it for me, as I hadn’t listened to it in quite some time.
A small audience allows for a bit more flexibility in a band’s set list sometimes, and The Crookes did take the opportunity to deviate a bit from their plan for the evening. Judging from the set list photo below, they hadn’t intended to include new album track ‘No One Like You’, but in the end, they did play an intense version of it that created a nice dramatic peak in the set. Then, in a truly brilliant manoeuvre, they took advantage of that intensity and the rapt attention of their audience with a refreshingly cool and polished cover of Bruce Springsteen’s steamy ‘I’m On Fire’. This, for my money, was a fantastic addition to the Crookes’ set, even if it does steal precious time away from their own four full albums’ worth of music.
Waite didn’t spend a lot of time on banter between songs on this rather subdued Monday night, but of course, he couldn’t let the evening pass without a comment on the heat in the Arizona desert. He and his bandmates have travelled through the American southwest a few times now, and I suspect that they’re becoming a bit more accustomed to the climate. Still, l do hope The Crookes receive a much warmer welcome the next time they pass through the Valley of the Sun. I’ll most certainly be looking forward to seeing what they do next.
By the time this review goes to press, The Crookes will have wrapped up their Autumn 2016 American tour, which saw them following their wanderlust to a few new and unusual places, including Eugene, Oregon; Visalia, California and Birmingham, Alabama. But if you’re on the UK side of the pond, you’ll have the opportunity to see the Sheffield lads later this year. The Crookes will close out 2016 with a special Christmas tour of England this December; all the dates are listed here. TGTF’s extensive previous coverage of The Crookes is collected through here.
After a very busy and productive year, Sheffield’s own “intelligent pop dreamers” The Crookes will close out 2016 with a special Christmas tour. Their list of December live dates will include stops in London and Leeds before wrapping up with a Saturday night show at home in Sheffield on the 17th of December. Tickets for the following shows are available now. [For a taste of their live show, you can read Carrie’s review of their gig in her current hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, coming along at 2 this afternoon. – Ed.]
The Crookes started off 2016 with their outstanding new album ‘Lucky Ones’, released back in January on their own new label Anywhere Records in the UK and on Modern Outsider in America. You can have a look back at TGTF’s full archive of coverage of The Crookes right through here.
Monday 12th December 2016 – Nottingham Bodega
Tuesday 13th December 2016 – Bristol Louisiana
Wednesday 14th December 2016 – London Camden Assembly
Thursday 15th December 2016 – Newcastle Think Tank
Friday 16th December 2016 – Leeds Brudenell Games Room
Saturday 17th December 2016 – Sheffield Queens Social Club
Veteran Northern Irish rock band Ash are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album ‘1977’ with a live tour, on which they’re playing the album in its entirety, along with a few more recent favourites. On the North American leg of the tour, they’re visiting a mix of small and mid-sized venues, but surely one of the smallest on the list was Rips Bar in Phoenix. Rips is a stand-alone club tucked into a residential area just northwest of downtown Phoenix, away from the hustle and bustle of other Phoenix venues and with an extremely relaxed vibe that seemed to suit Ash perfectly.
Ash’s three band members went largely unnoticed by the bar patrons as they set up on the indoor stage at Rips. Meanwhile, the small crowd in the venue were treated to the opening act on the outdoor patio. Local folk-rock band Avery were just getting started when I found my way outside, and they came as a pleasant surprise ahead of Ash’s unabashed punk rock stylings. Avery’s lineup features singer/songwriter Mariah DeRaet on lead vocals, her smoky timbre uniquely accompanied by cellist Allison Galbreath at the front of the tiny stage on this night. The cello adds a deep sense of yearning to Avery’s lovelorn lyrics, as you can hear in their single ‘Hospital Call’ just below.
Back inside the bar, Ash were nearly ready get back to ‘1977’. Or, more precisely, back to 1996, when the album was actually released. I was buried in my own classical music studies at university in 1996, and thus I missed out on the album the first time around. But anyone with even a passing interest in UK or Northern Irish bands will have heard of Ash, and editor Mary assured me that they were not to be missed live, so naturally my interest was piqued. Unfamiliar with the songs on ‘1977’, I had assumed that the title referred to songwriter Tim Wheeler’s birth year (also, coincidentally, my own). But in the course of doing some pre-gig homework, I discovered that it also paid homage to the release date of the movie ‘Star Wars’. which is referenced in the album’s opening and closing tracks, while other bits of 1970s pop culture are mixed into the middle.
The audience, though still small, had grown a bit while I was outside listening to Avery. I hadn’t expected to see many longtime fans of the Northern Irish indie rockers at this gig, but there were, in fact, a handful of dedicated Ash fans milling about wearing the band’s t-shirts. There was no need to crowd the stage in a venue as small as this one, but we did all creep a bit closer as frontman Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray tore into ‘1977’ opening track ‘Lose Control’. They hit their stride early on, even with the more pensive tones of ‘Goldfinger’ and moreso in the higher energy of ‘Girl from Mars’, and it must be said here that McMurray certainly got his workout in during this set, pounding relentless rhythms throughout.
The sound quality inside Rips was surprisingly good, given the small size of the venue, and mid-album tracks ‘Kung Fu’ and ‘Oh Yeah’, were especially energetic. Despite the almost complete absence of between-songs chat, or perhaps because of it, the band’s momentum from those tracks carried through to the end of the ‘1977’ set, which Wheeler announced as the final album track ‘Darkside Lightside’.
A true encore might have been overkill in this tiny venue, but luckily Ash had more to offer. Following the ‘1977’ sequence, Wheeler paused again to introduce the band’s debut single ‘Jack Names the Planets’ before the band added a few newer songs to round off the set. One enthusiastic punter squealed out for a song called ‘Default’, and Wheeler seemed puzzled for a moment, until he realised that she meant ‘Dispatch’, from Ash’s most recent album ‘Kablammo!’, which came out last summer. This would have been a more familiar song for me as well, but alas, the band weren’t prepared to play it, opting instead for another new track, ‘Let’s Ride’ before closing with ‘Burn Baby Burn’ from 2001 album ‘Free All Angels’.
They may not have had a large number of fans in attendance in Phoenix last weekend, but Ash most certainly won a new fan in me with their combination of punk energy, deft melodicism, and engaging stage presence. If you’re like me and ‘Kablammo!’ was your first real exposure to Ash, I strongly recommend browsing through their back catalogue for the gems you might have missed.
Ash will continue the North American leg of their ‘1977 – 20th Anniversary Tour’ with larger shows in cities including Chicago, Washington, DC and New York through the start of October. They will bring the tour to the UK in November and December; those live dates are listed just below. A full listing of Ash’s worldwide tour dates can be found on their official Web site. TGTF’s previous coverage of Ash is right back here.
Thursday 10th November 2016 – Dublin Olympia Theatre
Friday 11th November 2016 – Belfast Mandela Hall
Thursday 1st December 2016 – Gloucester Guildhall
Saturday 10th December 2016 – London Roundhouse
Sunday 11th December 2016 – Manchester Ritz
Monday 12th December 2016 – Nottingham Rock City
Wednesday 14th December 2016 – Aberdeen Garage
Thursday 15th December 2016 – Glasgow Garage
As promised in my interview with him from earlier this year, Northern Irish singer/songwriter Foy Vance brought his ‘The Wild Swan’ tour to American shores last week, starting the festivities with a show at the Valley Bar in Phoenix. It was only last summer that I saw Vance in this very same venue, but it’s been an exciting year for him in the interim, including tours with Josh Groban and Elton John. On his current trek through the States, though, Vance is the headline act, and this occasion was the first time I’d seen him perform with the luxury of a full band.
Vance’s support act on this tour is American singer/songwriter Trevor Sensor, who came from Chicago to join the tour in Phoenix. Sensor’s onstage persona, much like his singing voice, came across initially as a bit harsh, but the underlying appeal in his songwriting soon became apparent. He touched on songs from two EP releases ‘Texas Girls and Jesus Christ’ and ‘Starved Nights and Saturday Stars’, most notably his recent single ‘When Tammy Spoke to Martha’. Sensor also included in his set list a piano-based cover of Bruce Cockburn‘s ‘Pacing the Cage’, and he seemed surprised that someone in the audience recognized it, remarking sardonically, “Congratulations on knowing who that is.”
Sensor’s moodiness carried over into Vance’s headline set as well, but it reared its head more in the between-songs banter than the music itself. Vance hit the stage running with ‘Noam Chomsky is a Soft Revolution’, which as he mentioned in our interview from this summer, works best with the complement of a full band behind him. The band was indeed a welcome addition to the live performance of Vance’s new songs from ‘The Wild Swan’, and he ran through a list of them to open the show, including the smile-inducing ‘Upbeat Feelgood’ and the populist anthem ‘Ziggy Looked Me in the Eye’.
It might have been politics that dampened Vance’s mood as he started the North American leg of his tour. Though he said he was glad to be back on American soil, he did make a disparaging comment about presidential candidate Donald Trump, which fell a bit flat among an audience who might have preferred to put their political concerns aside for the evening. That statement being made, however, Vance quickly moved on to songs of a more personal tenor, seating himself at the piano for an ode to his own ‘Bangor Town’ and ‘Be Like You Belong’.
Focusing mainly on his latest material, Vance didn’t spend much time rehashing old favourites. ‘The Wild Swan’ tracks ‘She Burns’ and ‘Casanova’ were well-received by a crowd of mainly new fans, as was recent album single ‘Coco’, though Vance prefaced this last with a sharp tongue-lashing for music critics who might have misinterpreted its meaning. As it turned out, perhaps the strongest connection he made with his audience all evening was in the heady gospel of ‘Closed Hand, Full of Friends’, from previous album ‘Joy of Nothing’.
Altering his usual course, Vance closed the set proper with ‘Guiding Light’, leaving those of us “in the know” wondering what might be next. Not typically given to ostentatious encores, Vance left the stage only very briefly before returning for a short postlude. He ended the show on another personally significant note, with the classically poetic ‘The Wild Swans on the Lake’, changing its third verse lines to sing “a child is on the way” and pausing proudly to announce a due date. If congratulations are indeed in order, our most sincere ones are extended to Foy Vance as he completes his American tour and heads back across the pond for winter shows closer to home.
A full listing of Foy Vance’s upcoming shows can be found on his official Facebook. Vance will finish the year with live dates in Ireland and the UK in November and December, which are listed here. TGTF’s complete previous coverage of Foy Vance is back this way.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 23rd September 2016 at 4:00 pm
Brighton band The Wytches – now a four-piece, with Kristian Bell (vocals, guitar), Daniel Rumsey (bass), Gianni Honey (drums) and Mark Breed (guitar, organ) – are gearing up to release their sophomore album. ‘All Your Happy Life’ will drop next Friday. Previously announced single ‘C-Side’ proved the band were continuing on with their uncompromising lo-fi and punk swagger. Now the song has its own promo video, the band accompanied by a high-tech buddy.
Animatronic artist John Nolan, known for his work in such fanciful films as Harry Potter, Where the Wild Things Are and Warhorse, is a Wytches fan and was eager to work them after falling in love with the band’s 2014 debut ‘Annabel Dream Reader’.
“The Wytches are a top band and I wanted to work with them since hearing the first album. A lot of their previous films were shot low res and feature the band and their friends dressing up and messing about, I wanted to honourthis but introduce some sort of narrative and creature fx. I wanted to play around with the human form and create something that looked normal from one angle but growing into something completely freakish as the camera moves across it. Elongating the neck proved to do this brilliantly and it led me to research into Rokurokubi, a type of Japanese apparition where the human head leaves the body stretching out the neck. The act of the head separating from the body represents the spirit’s soul wandering.
The band we’re completely open minded and gave me their full blessing so we committed to the idea. I’d worked with Conor Craig-Stephens before as he was the lead creature in The Hallow, I knew he would be perfect as our guy. We spent 5 weeks at the studio building a full mechanical animatronic human head with the long neck blending into something that Conor could wear. The face was controlled by two puppeteers using radio control transmitters and the head and neck movements performed by either by Conor or lead puppeteer Rob Tygner. The film uses a number of effects disciplines including animatronics, puppetry, motion control camera work, rod removal and a full cgi neck animation in the final outro, so with a very low budget it was ambitious to say the least.”
You’ll be amazed by the results. Watch the video for ‘C-Side’ below. ‘All Your Happy Life’ will drop on the 30th of September on Heavenly Recordings. For past coverage on the Wytches on TGTF, head here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 22nd September 2016 at 4:00 pm
Melbourne electronic soul group SAFIA released their debut album ‘Internal’ merely a fortnight ago. Read my review of their long player through this link. Back in June, 3 months prior to the release of ‘Internal’, the band took a trip to blighty, stopping in London for a Sofar Sounds show there. The below video is of the Aussie trio performing their single ‘Counting Sheep’ (about what else, insomnia!) in a stripped back fashion. While the song doesn’t appear on ‘Internal’ – it was released as a single in its own right in early 2015 – this should be solid proof to any naysayers just how beautiful and perfect frontman Ben Woolner’s lead vocals are when isolated. Watch the arresting performance below. For read more of TGTF’s coverage on SAFIA over the last year and a half, follow this link.