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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 31st October 2014 at 2:00 pm
Ever since I started blogging, I’ve been whinging about terribly mismatched headliners and their support acts. (Pretty sure the worst pairing I’ve ever seen was LA punk band Abe Vigoda opening for Vampire Weekend at Constitution Hall in April 2010.) Earlier this week, I probably witnessed the best pairing of my life so far: Kettering’s Temples, who have made their name in the 21st century by successfully resurrecting late ’60s psychedelia, were preceded by Brooklyn band Spires, who might not look as wigged out as Temples but they’ve got the same vibe. Both made their 9:30 Club debut in Washington Tuesday evening.
Yet to be signed Spires were originally started by singer/guitarist Matt Stevenson, whose intention was to make it a home recording project. Eventually, I guess touring became a viable and potentially profitable option once band members Jack Manley (guitar), Michael Goodman (guitar/synth), Jack Collins (bass) and Carter McNeil (drums) were added. Last year, NME dubbed them “the US’ answer to Temples”, which makes one wonder if Temples were sat around a laptop one day to come up with potential bands to take around America as support, Googled what bands were being compared to them and came across that NME blog entry. No matter how this all came out, it’ll go down as one of the better matched band bills in recent memory. Having already made a splash in the UK with their single ‘Candy Flip’ appearing on the Too Pure Singles Club in early 2014, you could never blame them for enjoying this stroke of luck of getting this tour.
While the psych rock feeling definitely runs through the bulk of Spires’ songs, I couldn’t help but notice the haircut and swagger of Stevenson, recalling less so Mick Jagger in the Swinging Sixties and more of those ’90s charismatic Britpop frontmen Liam Gallagher and Richard Ashcroft, both of whom as of late have seen better days. As evidenced by songs like ‘Comic Book’, there seems to be a poppier undertone to their music too compared to Temples, which seems to beg for listening in almost complete darkness, with the only light coming from one spare lava lamp.
Spires also seems to have a lot of material, which is pretty good for an unknown band, and their headlining buddies were nice to let them play a pretty long opening set. Their most recently released song, just public for a mere 2 weeks, is ‘Sleepy Eyes’, which like its name suggests is a dreamy, hazy soundscape. For even more street cred, the track was engineered, mixed and produced by Connor Hanwick, who you may recall as the former drummer of The Drums.
The dressing rooms at the 9:30 Club have adjoining balconies so that bands can watch the others on their bill from a bird’s eye view. This particular night, I was wondering why Temples’ balcony seemed to full of equipment. Shortly before they went on stage, all was revealed: in addition to two blokes on the Temples’ balcony, another two had been dispatched to the other side of the club on the punters’ balcony upstairs, and all four were in charge of the pulsating, constantly changing coloured backdrop onstage that can only be described as appropriately trippy for this band. One can only assume they thought the foursome would somehow feel dwarfed by the massive stage of the 9:30 without the kind of lighting rigs only bands like Cut Copy and Kaiser Chiefs can afford, feeling desperate that they had to come up with some kind of visual gimmick of their own. While the manpower deserve an A for effort, the effect was entirely unnecessary and to be honest, mostly distracting.
So what does one do at a Temples concert? It isn’t the kind of music to mosh to, though a pair of kids near us insisted on throwing their bodies and their backpacks around, much to the chagrin of the predominately older, non-teenage crowd who preferred to be respectful, their heads bobbing side to side with the shared knowledge that they were witnessing a pretty special band play. Frontman James Bagshaw – you can’t miss him with that glam rock-y, Marc Bolan-esque, massive perm of hair almost totally obscuring his face – seemed truly touched by the reception. He smiled while commenting, “I see someone in the front who knows the words better than I do. Which is good!” There must be no greater validation for a band than to come to the world famous 9:30 and to see your fans clearly enjoying your performance. While the club wasn’t anywhere near sold out and heaving as I’ve seen for other bands, it didn’t matter: you could tell from the mood and general excitement that everyone who was there were there because they truly adored Temples, which is not something you can for most shows at this venue, often attracting hipsters who disrespectfully chat their way through sets, swilling beer.
Debut album title track ‘Sun Structures’ is fantastic in its tempo, chugging along and being less psychedelic oozy, which I can appreciate. ‘Shelter Song’, their most recognisable tune, was saved for the end of the main set and got the best reception of the night, and with good reason: it’s fun, it’s happy and you can tap your toes to it. However, the highest technical marks must go to ‘Mesmerise’, which on record is less than 4 minutes long, but Temples somehow manage to stretch over 10 minutes (I think?) with instrumental flourishes and expanses. As the song went on and on, I had to wonder when it would end, but after getting my ears screamed in a couple of times (yes, those kids again), I think it’s safe to say most punters didn’t want to see the show end. Is psychedelic rock back? Why, yes. It is.
After the cut: Temples’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Temples with Spires at 9:30 Club, Washington DC – 28th October 2014
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 31st October 2014 at 12:00 pm
Arguably, the most famous thing that late Factory Records boss and journalist Tony Wilson ever said was, “but this is Manchester. We do things differently here”. The same can be said for bands in the North: far away from the reach, influence and trappings of London, the majority of them choose not to leave their home for the big smoke, instead making their name under their own terms, many thriving thanks to old-fashioned determination and incredibly hard graft.
Little Comets are one of the bright stars from Newcastle, though the brothers Coles and their growing families now call the Midlands (Birmingham to be more exact) home. The trio – singer/guitarist Rob Coles, his brother Mickey on guitar and Matt Hall on bass, supplemented by live drummer David “Greenie” Green – decided earlier this year to go it alone and leave Dirty Hit Records to strike out on their own The Smallest Label for all future releases. One of their great ongoing marketing plans in 2014 has been to release a series of EPs in lieu of a full album. (This will come later, in February 2015, when ‘Hope is a State of Mind’ will be released.) Monday sees the release of the third and final EP in the trilogy, ‘The Sanguine EP’, which follows ‘The Gentle EP’ (starring the brilliant ‘Little Italy’) released in February and ‘Salt’ in June. As seen with those previous records, Rob Coles’ lyrical content continues to be weighty and reflective, while the music is intelligent.
The foot-stompingly good ‘Ex-Cathedra’ begins this EP. As described by Coles himself on this entry on the band’s blog, the title comes from a Latin phrase “from the seat” that is used to describe the infallibility of the Pope’s thoughts and decisions. But ultimately, Coles wrote the lyrics to it in remembrance of his son William’s birth: the word ‘sanguine’ (frankly not used enough these days) that appears in the EP title also makes an appearance here as a sign of optimism, and the words “never let the winsome die” further this upbeat feeling.
The moniker of ‘Creeping Up Appearances’ is no doubt a pun on the BBC’s farcical tv series starring Patricia Routledge, but in some ways it’s a perfectly appropriate title if you consider Hyacinth Bucket’s primary goal throughout the series: to keep up her and her husband Richard’s appearance, things are business as usual as she continues her reign of snobbery while totally unaware of how she really appears to be to other people. While the guitars are suitably jaunty for Little Comets’ fare, the actual topic Coles is talking about is how the status quo is being maintained in Parliament while no-one is being held accountable. The overall instrumentation is restrained, allowing for the Comets’ trademark harmonies to shine bright.
With cheerful guitar noodle-y bits that sound like country western crossed with Jimmy Page’s parts in ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, ‘Cover Your Rain’ (shown acoustically live above) is the most instrumentally interesting track of the EP. Though the two songs sound different and have entirely different purposes, I can’t explain why this song reminds me of ‘A Little Opus’, the title track of their second studio album ‘Life is Elsewhere and it’s really bothering me. Maybe it’s time for me to sit down for another chat with the lads and pick their brains again to get to the bottom of this irksome feeling in my psyche.
And while I had their attention, I’d also thank them for ‘The Assisted’. It is in stark contrast with the rest of the EP, as it is presented as simply as humanly possible, with just Rob Coles’ voice and him playing piano. He’s explained it’s about assisted suicide and not wanting to live any longer with a terminal illness. As you can probably imagine, this is quite loaded subject matter; in the wrong hands and without true consideration of the gravity of such a situation, a song like this could easily come across completely insincere and out of touch, the song equivalent of the most terrible of train wrecks.
Instead, Coles has written a truly beautiful, moving piece, showing an astonishing gentleness and cognisance of a difficult decision, and a final one at that. It’s a real tearjerker. For those of us who have had to contemplate for ourselves or for others such a fate, it’s not something that can or should be taken lightly. Even if the song doesn’t resonate with you personally, you can use it as one of many examples of the Little Comets back catalogue of their great artistry. If you haven’t figured this out already while following their story, Little Comets are a band who aren’t afraid to defy convention, to touch hot button topics like this and deal with them head on, and we should thank our lucky stars every day for this.
‘The Sanguine EP’ will be released on Monday, the 3rd of November, on the band’s own The Smallest Label. Their third album ‘Hope is a State of Mind’ can now be pre-ordered on their PledgeMusic Web site, along with the opportunity to purchase a whole series of unique and limited edition items. The album will be released on the 16th of February 2015. You can stream EP track ‘The Assisted’ below.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 30th October 2014 at 11:00 am
This is part 2 of a massive interview with Cloud Boat. Go here to read part 1.
Cloud Boat and I switched gears to discuss their latest release, this year’s ‘Model of You’, released in July. At first Tom seemed anxious about divulging his thoughts to me. “Nonspecifically, it became more expensive as we tried to have a bigger palette of sounds and expressions. We tried to explore a wider space, really. I think the first album was quite narrow in its production and its kind of sound choices. That’s not a negative thing at all…but we had more means on our second album, so we used it the best we could.” Sam explains further about their humble recording beginnings: “If we’d been able to record with a live drum kit, grand piano, a harp on the first album, we would have done it. But we had one microphone, one amp in the bedroom and that was it.”
I then asked if they were like most electronic-type musicians I’d come across, being very OCD about the way things sound and the way things come across because they’re in charge of everything behind the scenes, including all of the production. Tom disagrees: “we’re probably the opposite. We like to do things differently every time to see (what happens). We don’t need to record the vocal through the same mike, through the same pre-amps, through the same compressors every single time because it might sound better (recorded differently). I wouldn’t like to do everything the same every time in case it could have been done better another way.”
Sam chimes in: “…because we’re not producers first. When you say a lot of electronic artists, they probably started making music in their bedrooms making beats and things and have become almost scientific in their production. We could never sit at home and make a track with a mix that would sound good on the dance floor. I’m essentially someone who has grown up playing guitar and Tom has grown up singing. We have always thought of ourselves as a band, and that’s why working with a producer on the second album (Andy Savours, who has worked with My Bloody Valentine and Sigur Ros) meant that the science of everything was taken out of our hands, and we were just free to be creative. So in response to us having any sort of OCD, there isn’t any of that. The more happy accidents, the better.”
Tom adds, “there has to be a level of spontaneity in live music and recorded music in order for it to stay exciting, I think. If you know that everything is going to stay the same every single time, it becomes monotonous and you won’t be able to be excited about it.” Sam describes an unusual part on one of the standout tracks on the new album: “There’s a part of ‘Hideaway’ on the record, we recorded it at The Crypt in North London, which is fairly sort of renowned, they’ve got a baby grand piano in there. It was Friday night, I was just doing all the piano takes for everything, I hadn’t written any of the parts. We did four songs for which I’d worked out the parts and recorded them between 6 at night and midnight. Me and Andy went and had a massive slap up dinner at this really nice restaurant opposite. We came back and the room was freezing and I was really tired. There is a chord on the end of ‘Hideaway’ in which I kind of creak on the seat, and there’s this noise or something. Andy wanted to cut it out from the recording and I was like, ‘you’re leaving that in’. It’s really, really quiet, but knowing that, there are bits and bobs on the record (like that) when there’s a sound when there’s not supposed to be (one) there, you use that sound as a focal point instead of getting rid of it.”
Speaking of strange noises, I just had to ask them about the goat noise on ‘Portraits of Eyes’, which I’d Tweeted them about the morning of the Soup Kitchen show. “It’s actually a guitar”, Sam admits. “I’m pretty sure it’s a guitar with loads of tremolo on it? And I suppose it’s really high.” I express my mock disappointment that there was no goat onstage in Manchester. “But how would you make it go on cue? You’d have to get a goat that could mime. But I’m pretty proud now that I could make a guitar sound like a convincing goat though. We’ll try and get another animal on the next album.”
I next put the question to Tom about the origin of ‘Aurelia’, one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs on the new album, and if suicide was the theme he was going for in the lyrics. “I studied French existentialism in university and did my thesis on Camus”, he replies. “There’s a lot of that running through (the album), not suicide in the particular act, just the idea of it, not like explicitly. I like to use those themes and try and create something that sounds like a specific moment in time, a specific situation that reflects those themes. Not a situation I myself have personally experienced, but something I’ve created in my mind with those themes.”
I asked him how he felt about the majority of dance / electronic music’s lyrics being throwaway, with the primary intention for the beats to get punters out on the dance floor. For Tom, it has become a more personal thing and that has bettered him as a person too. “For me, it’s important to feel like singing the song is worthwhile, to be able to give something of myself to it. I’m not a confident person, and I’m not an outspoken person, I don’t like people to know too much about me. There is something, it probably sounds quite cliche, but there’s something very therapeutic about, whether directly or not, telling a load of strangers something about yourself.
“Whether they know it or not, telling them something about yourself you’re not necessarily comfortable with is, like, massively therapeutic and good for you. I think it’s good for you, and it’s been the best thing for me over the last however many years. It’s good for your mind, I think. People say that if you struggle with depression and whatever else, and talking about things like that directly is almost the best medicine for that. In those kind of frustrations and thoughts and existential ideas, talking to people directly about them has been really good for me…But I think the lyrics are almost cryptic enough in telling them. I know what I’m telling them, and I know what I’m thinking, but they don’t necessarily. It’s kind of selfish in that sense.”
I next ask about ‘Thoughts in Mine’, what I consider the other massive song on ‘Model of You’. Sadly, the song was not included in the set in Manchester due to time constraints. Sam considers the tune “the most biggest departure for us. We were in the first studio, writing it in Dalston. Tom had this big vibe he called ‘Little Orange Buckle’, and it had a pretty weird beat in it, and we set up all these synths and started pissing about. We thought it might be kind of fun trying to write a song that didn’t have any guitar in it, and that was sort of the challenge in that. As a result, it’s a departure from anything from the album, and certainly from the first album, and that’s why it’s later on the record.”
I query Tom about the lyrical content, citing that the first time I’m heard his words, it immediately made me think of Morrissey‘s ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get’ (“I am now a central part / of your mind’s landscape / whether you care or do not”). “Yeah. There’s a Deftones song as well that has this idea, I’ve been listening to it, it’s on my phone but I forget what the title is. It has this idea like the thought of occupying someone’s mind but it sounds stalkerish, that kind of like describing being close in proximity to someone and being inside. I really loved that, because it’s obviously not actually true, but the thought of using music words to make it sound like a specific situation. It’s not so much about a specific person, it’s more about me, (in) quite a lot of the lyrics I describe myself as another person and write about myself. So that’s kind of in that song a bit. I like writing about a person that’s me and writing it from another person’s perspective.”
We then turn our attention to ‘Carmine’, which was picked up by NPR, who then went on to write several nice features on Cloud Boat’s music. “The NPR thing was great”, extols Sam. “The press team for the record were looking for the outlet with the best reputation and reach for the music, and NPR was what they decided to go with. The press side of things is something we’re not particularly comfortable with, and we are guilty with sort of letting our team get on with things, which may not be the best thing to do.”
The video for ‘Carmine’, however, is something they are more than eager to talk about. “That was done by a good friend of ours”, says Tom. “Neither of us are visually inclined”, laments Sam. “Whether it was the fonts, the artwork, the merch, the videos…we’re quite useless. So basically, our friend Chris (Toumazou) who did the video, we trusted him with it. Music videos are something we struggle with a little bit, because something you’ve spent so much time making orally, to then have someone put a visual to it and it doesn’t come anywhere near what you feel for the track, it’s quite rare, I think. We enjoy hanging out with Chris; for a serious artist, he is a fucking hilarious guy. He’s like this little clown! He had this sort of idea, and we gave ourselves to him pretty much…I didn’t really have anything in my head of what I expected the video for that song to be like before we did it. But if I had, it definitely wouldn’t have been that.”
‘That’ was the promo filmed in a working laundrette in Barbican, London, filled with actual customers. Sam continues: “It was a really surreal day. We were all really busy, and it just happened that there was just one day where we could be in the video. The laundrette was still open while we were filming, so they blacked out the curtains. There were lots and lots of old people who obviously went there every Friday to do their laundry, they would come in and find their way through this curtain…So we sort of shot the shots round so people could then use the free machines. It was really fun, it was brilliant, it was a great day. I dunno, I remember the first take, when the main lady mouthed the lyrics, we watched on in the monitor. They shot it sped up to then slow it down to get the sort of crazy movements. I remember it being really sort of powerful. I remember thinking, ‘wow, this is really good’. It wasn’t the setting I would have imagined for the song, but in trusting the director, we got a result we didn’t really expect but we were really happy with.”
As a final question, I asked the three of them if there were any band secrets no-one else but them would know. Tom says he shaves his legs, to which Sam quickly quips, “but we all knew that!” I am not sure whether or not this is true, since naturally they’re all in jeans. So I ask if they have any musical vices, to which Sam is quick to answer. “I think people would probably be surprised with the amount of heavy music we listen to, including really old shit heavy music that we liked when we were 15. I think people would think if we were to get into a van with that band for a week, they probably would not expect full-on metal…When we first started releasing music, we kind of got lumped in with serious, weed-smoking bedroom producer kind of vibe, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
This leads into a discussion over what bands Cloud Boat do get compared to. “Almost always the comparisons are flattering”, says Sam. “We get compared to some really weird, obscure bands, like Cocteau Twins”, replies Tom. “This Mortal Coil”, Sam contributes, “but I’d barely even heard of them. I listened to Cocteau Twins and thought, ‘that’s brilliant!’…Luke, the bassist of face + heel, said some of my guitar playing reminded him of Low, who I’ve never really listened to.” Tom adds, “I’ve heard Moby, This Will Destroy You, bands that don’t sound anything like each other! Which is always good…I suppose it would be really bad if you’re in a rock band, and every night 10 people came up to you and said ‘you sound like Weezer.’…I’ve settled for electronic post-rock, and I don’t even think it’s very accurate, but for when people ask, that’s a broad enough spectrum of sounds.”
Andres, who has been pretty quiet up to this point, interrupts with, “a guy I know said we sound like Moby and Mogwai.” Then they get into an argument over what a project between them would be called. Mobwai? Mogwy? They are, however, in agreement that a collaboration between those two artists would be amazing. “I’d listen to that”, says Tom.
Many, many thanks to Tom, Sam and Andres for this wonderful interviews. Best wishes, fellas.
Scottish veterans of alt-pop Belle and Sebastian have recently announced details of their forthcoming album ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’, due for release on the 19th of January 2015 via Matador Records. Following the album release, Belle and Sebastian will play 13 live dates in the UK next spring, culminating with an appearance at Liverpool Sound City on the 24th of May. Tickets for the following shows go on sale this Friday, the 31st of October.
The first single from ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’, titled ‘The Party Line’, recently premiered on BBC 6Music and can be streamed below the tour date listing.
Sunday 3rd May 2015 – Cardiff St. David’s
Monday 4th May 2015 – Bristol Colston Hall
Tuesday 5th May 2015 – Portsmouth Guildhall
Thursday 7th May 2015 – Cambridge Corn Exchange
Friday 8th May 2015 – Norwich Open
Sunday 10th May 2015 – Birmingham Symphony Hall
Monday 11th May 2015 – London Westminster Central Hall
Thursday 14th May 2015 – Manchester Albert Hall
Saturday 16th May 2015 – Newcastle City Hall
Monday 18th May 2015 – Buxton Opera House
Tuesday 19th May 2015 – Leeds City Hall
Friday 22nd May 2015 – Glasgow SSE Hydro (with the Scottish Festival Orchestra)
Sunday 24th May 2015 – Liverpool Sound City
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 28th October 2014 at 2:00 pm
I love Glasgow. It’s definitely surpassed Manchester in my favourite cities in the UK. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people in a town that really shouldn’t be so friendly; if you kept your eyes to the sky above, often cloud-filled and threatening to rain if it’s not raining already. I still remember the first band interview I ever did, 5 years ago in Nottingham with Friendly Fires on their tour bus. They said they’d had an outdoor picnic before meeting up with me, as it was so unusual for Notts to be that sunny, so surely I must have brought the sunshine over from America with me.
My gift seems to have worked for this last visit to Glasgow too, as the only times when I was in Glasgow that it actually rained was after I’d gotten back from Edinburgh to see Fatherson and Model Aeroplanes Thursday night (see that review here) and after I’d emerged into the night after this show Friday night. The rain, it appeared, seemed to understand exactly how I was feeling at that moment.
The Centre for Contemporary Arts, known by everyone in town by its neat acronym CCA, is a world-class museum. Its location in Glasgow makes perfect sense: in a city with so many visionaries and creative types, you need a place like this to take these folks’ cutting edge ideas and shout them to the heavens, so to speak. I’d been promised by a local manager friend of mine that the place was gorgeous and the Glass Animals show there would be unmissable. So off I went.
First up were support act Atom Tree, local to Glasgow. Live, they’re an electronic three-piece, but Atom Tree is essentially the project of 23-year old Glaswegian Shaun Canning, who both writes and produces the act’s music. While this isn’t all uncommon to have an electronic act to be run behind the scenes in essence and to have a beguiling female vocalist out front – think Germany’s Claire, and to somewhat lesser extent, NO CEREMONY/// – Julie Knox fills her role as frontwoman well. In only black and metallic colours, she could be the ice queen of your dreams or your nightmares, whatever your poison. Mick Robertson joins Canning’s project live as drummer, choosing standing over sitting over his percussive equipment (not a full drum kit, mind) for a more dynamic presence.
Banter between songs by either Knox or Canning was minimal, but that makes total sense after the fact, now that I know Atom Tree is Canning’s baby. As a result though, I don’t know the titles of the songs they played, though I can say that I quickly became mesmerised by the Atom Tree sound. Knox’s vocals drip off of ‘See the Light’, nonchalant as she questions coldly, “our love is only real if you feel it inside / whatcha gonna do if I turn around and tell you I’m not in love with you?” The words pair perfectly with Canning’s spare synth and piano notes, as if sympathetic to the singer’s own conflict on how she feels.
Atoms are the basic building blocks of life and trees represent life and strength, so the act’s name is entirely appropriate, as Canning favours a less than more approach to his songwriting, yet without sacrificing might. In these days of overblown production in nearly every genre, it’s truly refreshing to see an electronic producer show such restraint. Major key and bombastic instrumental ‘Die For Your Love’, a track that was released to the blogosphere’s acclaim in late 2013, doesn’t suffer from lack of vocal content at all; if anything, it proves Canning’s talent for developing and creating the kind of epic soundscape that most DIY bedroom laptop producers can only dream of.
The bands I met and talked with on my trip in other cities are all in agreement that they look at Glass Animals‘ recent success in America with wide-eyed wonderment. It’s always confused me why a band will succeed in one market and not another; while I predicted the band would do well in America solely on the r&b / hip hop flavour Dave Bayley has managed to infuse into all of their songs, I also thought they’d do equally as well in the UK. I also saw them play Liverpool Magnet on this tour a week prior, and while the response was good, the energy of the crowd wasn’t anywhere near what I’d witnessed on their prior visits to Washington in July and September. Leave it to the Glaswegians to sell out the CCA and give the band, at the end of the UK leg of their European tour, a proper sendoff. The only thing missing were those 8-foot tall palm trees.
If you had the chance to see any of the shows on this UK tour, I’d bet a million (Scottish) pounds Glasgow was the one to be at. Appreciative punters yelled and whistled with approval. They stamped their feet on the all too posh, all-wood floor (apologies to the CCA, I don’t think they knew what they were in for when they booked this gig). They sang along – loudly – to ‘Gooey’. Bayley seemed impressed by the crowd reaction, complimenting the grooving of one of my new local friends down the front who seemed to have gone into a trance upon hearing the band play live for a second time. Another time, Bayley praised the city as a whole for their dancing ability. Maybe my impression that all musically-inclined Glaswegians can be found in their bedrooms late on a Sunday night with a bottle of whisky and The Twilight Sad spinning on their turntables is unfounded?
Unquestionably, the moment of the night was when Glasgow got their first chance to lay their eyes and ears on Glass Animals‘ live cover version of Kanye West’s ‘Love Lockdown’. I thought I would be surrounded by men and women fainting from the spectacle and for sure, there were some weak knees around me. But somehow they all righted and a carnival atmophere endured when encore closer and all-around crowd pleaser ‘Pools’ started up.
Certainly, ‘Zaba’ is going to be a hard act to follow, and so is its accompanying live show. Will Glass Animals suffer from the difficult second album? We’ll have to wait and see, but if Bayley’s assertion to Clash magazine that he’s already been writing new material while on the road and “When we do get to do another record, though, it should be quite quick…”, it will be sooner rather than later when we’ll know.
Usually, TGTF goes out of its way to cover new music, both in terms of the age of the bands themselves, and the neological styles they might come up with. Well, tonight’s show is the complete opposite, featuring the well-worn genre of commercial bluesy pop, played by Brits, but owing a considerable debt to our transatlantic cousins who, after all, kicked the whole deal off a century or so ago.
First up is John E. Vistic, a man whose accent can’t decide where it likes the best – southern USA or southern England – and conspires to combine the two, which means he sounds like he comes from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. A pretty damp place to live, one imagines. His music is in a similar vein, clearly indebted to Dylan in its literary pretensions and casual way with pitch, but hinting at English folk. He comes nowhere close to matching the great man’s import, of course, but Vistic himself is careworn enough to provide a decent implied back story: his incapability to look the audience directly in the eye speaks of either a rocky childhood or even rockier adult years. Previously, Vistic has played electrified rock music with a band, but tonight it’s just him, his acoustic guitar, and the occasional toot on a blues harp.
‘Gamblin’ Man’ is a straightforward ditty about the perils of having a flutter; ‘Henry Miller’ is evocative of Parisienne literary decadence, whilst giving a welcome reminder of the eponymous writer’s historical significance; while ‘Miracle Mile’ proves the futility of trying to “do Dylan” – nice try, but no cigar. All told, however, Vistic does come across as a reasonably genuine article, a young-no-longer musician just trying to make an honest penny from his bare songs.
At first glance, tonight’s all-seated audience might as well be in a cataract surgeon’s waiting room, given how much life is in them. Granted, Jon Allen isn’t exactly bleeding edge hipster fare, but surely he deserves better than the gentlest of nods, the occasional foot tap, and polite yet hardly enthusiastic applause. Tonight’s set is inevitably heavy on material from third album ‘Deep River’ – starting with album opener ‘Night & Day’ is astute, showcasing as it does Allen’s fascinating husky-yet-high-pitched voice, which combines Rod Stewart and Paul Simon in a not unappealing tonal embrace. Standout single ‘Falling Back’ is next, perhaps the highlight from the album overall. The band are sharp, experts at delivering that lithe, drums- and bass-led sound which lets the lead instruments do their thing in acres of ear-space.
But as the set progresses, it becomes apparent there’s something amiss. For Jon Allen, the world begins with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, proceeds through ‘Eagles’ Greatest Hits’, and then stops for coffee and puts its feet up with Eric Clapton’s 1992 ‘Unplugged’ set. And that’s pretty much it. The gig is a deeply journeyman affair, with each song knocked out with depressing competence, as, presumably it is exactly the same every night. Minor confusion over the set list becomes a major talking point – ooh, you devil Jon, you played a couple of songs in the wrong order! Don’t tell the music police! As if in an upmarket chain restaurant, everything tonight is perfectly edible, but one can’t help but become increasingly convinced that it’s all just come out of a packet, that one’s taste buds are being tweaked, not because of the chef’s passion for experimentation, but because expert laboratory research has proved that that combination of flavours offends the least number of diners. There’s a bit of cod-funk here, a touch of cod-country there: the trouble is, it’s still cod.
It’s all too trite, too smug, too safe, a toothless facsimile of styles which were originally edgy and meaningful. Music that nobody could object to, except on the pages of a non-mainstream blog. As if that hadn’t already offended enough people, try this: there’s something deeply *the south* about the whole thing. Outside parts of London, and perhaps the South West, swathes of southern England are suicidally tasteless, but not in a scruffy way – more in a new money, white-leather-sofa-and-orange-Audi-TT way, repeated ad infinitum down innumerable streets of overpriced, new-build people-hutches. Streets in which the music of Jon Allen would fit right in. Nothing to object to, nothing to engage the brain about, and just enough kudos to get one over on the neighbours. Something dirty and northern, like Evil Blizzard, would go down like last year’s hairdo. Allen himself, in his corduroy jacket and limply arseless jeans, is the epitome of such a society, making music for middle-aged south-east divorcees to get pissed and snog to. Ugh.
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