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Top Gigs of 2010: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Tuesday, 14th December 2010 at 11:00 am
 

I went to a lot of gigs this year. (If you need the evidence, my gig list is under the cut, click the link further down in this post.) The more amazing gigs you go to, the more difficult it is to choose your top 5 performances for the year. I haven’t taken this task lightly, and without further adieu, here are my top live picks of 2010:

5. Delphic at Washington’s DC9, Liberation Dance Party (Friday 8th October 2010) – Most of my local friends do not share my enthusiasm for gigging – or music, for that matter – so it took a special band to get most everyone I know to DC9 for Liberation Dance Party at the end of the work week.

Washington often gets a bad (and unfair) rap for stoic crowds – I’ve seen far worse in my travels. This night, the DC9 crowd were going mental for the Manchester band’s electropop/guitar rock sound, and I couldn’t have prouder. (Exhibit A: two blokes were stood right in front of James Cook, described by my friend Silvia as “Mister Super Dancer and his 7-foot tall friend” going absolutely crazy, dancing like loons, “it looked like this was the most exciting thing that ever happened to them”. Haha. If you were interested, Mr. SD was later seen picking Rick Boardman’s brain after the show.) I’ll be the first to admit, there is a touch of bitter sentimentality about this gig for me, as for a long while I thought this might be the last dance ever put on at DC9. (DC9 was closed since 15th October after a tragic death [cause of death still unknown] occurred on the street outside the venue. I was really sad about this, because I’ve seen some of the best gigs of my life there. But it looks like the club will reopen on Wednesday [15 December]!)

4. the Futureheads at Washington’s Black Cat (Friday 4th June 2010) – I remembering Tweeting earlier that Friday afternoon about how I was going to see the Sunderland band for the first time that night, and what did I find in my messages but a personal note from Barry Hyde saying, “we’re going to knock your socks off. see you B x”. Being the professional I am, I refused to let that touch of thoughtfulness bias my opinion of the evening, and I really needn’t have worried. They played hit after hit after hit with no signs of the onslaught abating. At one point, Hyde even yelled at an inconsiderate drunk who was causing trouble, and everyone cheered. Well done, Barrington Hydeous! For a while I was almost sure this was going to be my top gig of 2010.

3. the Temper Trap at Boston’s House of Blues (Wednesday 29th September 2010) – You know how sometimes you can just feel greatness? Just two gigs in on a month-long tour of North America, you could just feel that this band from Melbourne, you could feel them at the top of their game. While I wasn’t impressed by the audience reaction and I am sure DC would have given them a better reaction based on their show in April at the 9:30, the sound quality at HOB was amazing. Afterwards, I ran into half of the band, smiles all around. (Who wouldn’t have been happy with a performance like that?) I would love to see them again, but I think their days of playing clubs are over.

2. the Joy Formidable at Washington’s Black Cat Backstage (Thursday 11th November 2010) – Ritzy Bryan knows how to rock it. I mean, I never expected her to go for it as much as she did when the Joy Formidable played DC for the first time last month. WOW. Talk about unleashing pure, unadulterated power. I’d been having such a hohum month that this gig kicked me in the arse and said, you know what? Music – and how you feel it – is what it’s all about. Cannot wait for ‘The Big Roar’ to come out next year, accompanied by full tours in the US and the UK, of course.

1. the Postelles at Washington’s DC9 (18th September 2010) – The Postelles, four incredibly fun guys from New York City who play the most fun guitar pop ever, haven’t even released a full album yet. Like the Joy Formidable, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing themselves 1,000x into their performance. And judging from the Saturday night crowd assembled to watch them – and go crazy for them – full scale Postellementalism is just around the corner.

After the jump is a full list of all the gigs I’ve been to in 2010 (in reverse chronological order) so you have an idea how difficult my job was to choose favourites. The runner-up gigs (gigs that fell were in my top 10 but did not make my top 5) are also marked.
Continue reading Top Gigs of 2010: Editor’s Picks

 

Top Albums of 2010: Editor’s Picks

 
By on Monday, 13th December 2010 at 11:00 am
 

Another year has gone, which means with the whole load of albums released in 2010, your faithful editor has gone through and chosen what she considers the best of the year. Agree? Disagree? As always on TGTF, comments are welcome.

1. Delphic‘Acolyte’ (Polydor/Chimeric) – It’s always dangerous to say an album released so early in the year is wonderful, because you leave no room for anything else that comes after it. But after minimal internal debate, it was obvious which album I would choose as #1. The timelessness of this album wasn’t immediately apparent until I started listening to it, from start to finish and voraciously, for the first 3 months of 2010. It’s one of those debut albums that I know I’m going to look back in 10, 20 years and wonder how it was even possible for three guys to write such a sonic masterpiece in a cottage in the Lake District. (And later realised with producer Ewan Pearson, of course.)

The first time I heard ‘Submission’, still my favourite song on the album with its clean electronic sounds, the ever so funky bass and drums and crashing guitar, I was near tears. (As I wrote on the official Roskilde blog in May 2010, “…I consider [this] to be one of the best songs ever recorded. It’s that good. Should I run into them at the festival, I want to give them all hugs and weep on their shoulders.”) I’ll be honest, I’m a little scared about where the band is going for their sophomore album, but I’m confident in the band’s talent that whatever the three of them agree on for the new release will be great.

2. Two Door Cinema Club‘Tourist History’ (Kitsune) – It was a real struggle to figure out which of my top two albums would have to be the runner-up. The only reason why I put Two Door Cinema Club’s in at #2 is that there are two songs on here that feel like filler that I could do without. (I will say however that these two as live versions are a different story, because having seen the band twice this year, I actually liked the live versions a whole lot better than the ones committed to disc.) These are songs that will never leave your brain, because they’re so damn catchy. You can read my review of the album here. Definitely looking forward to the next album, bring it on boys.

3. The Hundred in the Hands‘The Hundred in the Hands’ (Warp) – Sleigh Bells? Overhyped. LCD Soundsystem? Good but ‘This is Happening’ pales in comparison to this. Sorry. The Hundred in the Hands: now this is the sound you should be listening to. This is 2010 synthpop with guitars, the way ’80s New Wave bands did it and did it right. This couple from Brooklyn have taken the best from New Wave and added emotional fragility with Eleanore Everdell’s beautifully expressive voice. Brilliant. You can read my review of the album here. I kick myself every time I remember I missed seeing them at teeny tiny DC9, headlining Liberation Dance Party.

4. Broken Bells‘Broken Bells’ (Columbia) – James Mercer’s voice couldn’t be beat. He’s just cool. And Danger Mouse? Put two cool cats in the same room with their ‘toys’ (all those wonderful instruments they can play and electronic gizmos aplenty) and let them go to town. The instrumentation is chill, dude. This is lounge music for the masses with a touch of sci-fi thrown in there for good measure. Good stuff to relax to. I hope this is one of those ‘side projects’ that turns into something more permanent, because not only are their recordings great, they’re pretty good live as well.

5. Villagers‘Becoming a Jackal’ (Domino) – The UK market has been saturated with indie folk pop acts. Some of them will be one trick ponies, never to be heard from again. And then there’s Conor J. O’Brien. You can’t teach someone how to write a good song. You either have it or you don’t. And without a doubt, O’Brien has it. He sings with the experience of someone decades older yet he’s not even 30 yet. After leaving me near breathless live this summer, I’m expecting great things from this ‘kid’ from Malahide.

Under the cut: albums that almost made the top 5…as well as some albums that disappointed.
Continue reading Top Albums of 2010: Editor’s Picks

 

Live Review: Flashguns at London Old Blue Last – 2nd December 2010

 
By on Friday, 10th December 2010 at 4:00 pm
 

Well, it’s been very snowy here in London which means it’s been very cold, which inevitably means that the whole of the UK’s transport system effectively and efficiently grinds to a halt. It happens every year and will probably always happen every year! Nonetheless, I had tickets to the Flashguns single launch at the Old Blue Last and I was going.

Having reviewed their latest single, ‘Come and See the Lights’, I was looking forward to hearing how they performed live. I arrived at the venue and the band had just gone on stage, the room was packed out with what seemed like mainly friends of the band, or maybe fans too, considering the radio support these guys have had in the past. It’s a small stage in here and a somewhat curious venue for a single launch, but we settled in all the same.

I was hoping to hear a really energetic three piece, embellished with the epic vocals and ambiance I had heard on the record, but unfortunately that didn’t really happen. The band had some technical difficulties on the night and it’s a shame as it seemed to be affecting them and they couldn’t get into the gig. Saying that everyone else in the room seemed to be enjoying it, but the sound and performance just wasn’t doing it for me.

The third or fourth song in the set was the single, ‘Come See the Lights’, which was delivered well, but lacked the nuances and production of the record that ultimately turn it into something special. Don’t get me wrong, the band were tight and obviously made the best of a bad situation. There just wasn’t enough dynamic on stage to really hold my attention, even for a set this short; the band only played five or six songs, so hardly had time to leave much of an impression.

Once Flashguns have played some more shows at some bigger venues, I could definitely get behind them as they have some great songs and are great musicians. For now I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but the jury’s still out on this one.

 

Live Review and Film: ‘My Life Story’ and Mark Ronson and the Business Intl at London Abbey Road – 25th November 2010

 
By on Wednesday, 8th December 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited along to probably the most famous recording studios in the world. Abbey Road opened up both of its main studios for the red carpet premiere of ‘Epic’, a short film by Ridley Scott Associates, Channel 4, American Express and Mark Ronson and the Business Intl. The evening started swimmingly with a champagne reception in the wonderful studio 2. Canapés came thick and fast, we decided the chili beef ones and the mini fish and chips were the most desirable by far. For the record; if anyone ever offers you a mozzarella risotto ball….avoid it at all costs! It was great to spend some proper time in such a fantastic room seeped in so much musical history, you can imagine any superstar from the past 40 years walking down the staircase from the control room at any second.

Once we’d had 40 minutes’ gorging time, it was time to head into studio 1 for the screening of ‘Epic’. Rick Edwards off the TV and the film’s director, Toby Dye, introduced the film. The film started from a project called ‘My Live Story’ to uncover the best music experience. Members of the public were asked to go out and film an ‘experience’ at a live gig of their choice, then 21 finalists were chosen, and their pieces were featured in the film. If I’m totally honest the film was a bit of an anti-climax and it had undertones of corporate brand experience throughout. Unless I fell asleep for the majority of the film (which I didn’t) hardly any of the footage seemed to make the final cut of ‘Epic’. There were some great stories unearthed: one guy who proposed to his girlfriend onstage at Wembley Stadium, and another guy who hopped onstage and played drums for Paramore, but a very limited amount of this footage was in the film, which I found strange. I mean, the film looked great and was put together well; it just needed some more substance I thought. Once the film finished, DJ Ali B spun some tunes whilst the stage was set for Mark Ronson and his Business Intl.

After a few more glasses of ‘plonk’, it was time for Mark Ronson to hit the stage. The most exciting aspect of this gig for me was the expectation of top notch sound, being at Abbey Road and all! The band came onstage looking pensive, almost uncomfortable I thought. I put it down to the crowd maybe being smaller than they are used to playing to. All of Mark Ronson’s branding was in place and the stage looked pretty cool, although I did think at times it looked a bit like Dracula with his disciples of drummers.

Ronson opened with an instrumental track from the new album, ‘Record Collection’. I didn’t care so much for this rendition but it was a nice way to start the show. Next was the cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, which went down an absolute storm. Different to the earlier funked out, brass-influenced version Ronson used to perform, this had an altogether lo-fi and dancehall vibe to it. The drum sound was fantastic, and Abbey Road started to come to life.

Continue reading Live Review and Film: ‘My Life Story’ and Mark Ronson and the Business Intl at London Abbey Road – 25th November 2010

 

Live Review: Stornoway with Franz Nicolay and Major General at Black Cat Backstage, Washington, DC – 5th December 2010

 
By on Tuesday, 7th December 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

When I heard Stornoway were coming to Washington, I was really disappointed they were playing the smaller Backstage. Not that there’s anything wrong with Backstage – the Joy Formidable show there last month was absolutely amazing – but I just thought the Oxford band could draw a much larger crowd. Turns out the intimate 200-person capacity Backstage was preferred by the band over a larger place, as you will read about in an upcoming feature in which I interviewed Stornoway’s singer and principal songwriter Brian Briggs. Back in October I was already going through my gig list to try and tease out which would be my top 5 but I think after Sunday’s performance, I’m definitely going to have to rethink my top picks…

The DC date was the last show Franz Nicolay and Major General (his touring band and also the name of a solo album he released in 2009) would be playing on this tour. I always (and you also possibly) always thought of Franz Nicolay and the Hold Steady together, but he left the Hold Steady this year to have the freedom of doing his own thing. He released an album ‘Luck and Courage’ this year, and many of the songs he played for us were from this new offering. What I had envisioned: folky, emotional tunes like ‘This is Not a Pipe’ that you can hear on his MySpace.

The accordion he used to play on occasion with the Hold Steady is ever present but Nicolay also plays banjo and acoustic guitar, and many of the songs he plays are high energy, much higher than I expected. ‘Jeff Penalty’, the set closer, was a foot-stomping, hand-clapping affair. Nicolay is a master of a stage patter, making us all night with his jokes, like how we were ‘on notice’ and later on when it was obvious the crowd liked them, we were ‘allowed’ to buy his merchandise later. Anyone unsincere with similar words to an audience would have gone down like a lead balloon, but Nicolay, genuinely in it for the art and for the fans, is a great entertainer. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how well matched he and his band were going to be for Stornoway, but they were the perfect warm-up for what lay ahead.

Stornoway’s wonderful debut album ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ was practically surgically implanted in my ear during the entire month of November. I shivered hearing the band soundcheck ‘The Coldharbour Road’ while I was stood by the Red Room Bar right outside the room where they would play for us. This was the song they began with, and what a fun number it was, the whole stage covered in instruments and people. The band’s merchandising seller, Jared, was wearing a burgundy ‘cloak’ and hitting an antiquated tv set with mallets while Briggs’s brother Adam was banging on a beer keg (???), recreating the industrial clankings you hear on the recording, along with the band themselves and their violinist Rahul Satija.

‘Fuel Up’, now my favourite song of the album and an insightful look at the life you have lived and the pains of growing up, was gorgeous in harmony and lilting melody. ‘Watching Birds’, a song whose title now makes complete sense knowing that Briggs got his doctorate in ornithology and very keen on wildlife, was a up-tempo, exuberant number that energised the crowd. It was great to see the band comfortable and enjoying themselves in front of the Washington crowd. What looked to be the band’s last song, ‘Zorbing’, was obviously the number most of the crowd knew, cheering as soon as Briggs announced it. Luckily for us it was not the last song, with the band returning for two more tunes done acoustically and completely unmiked, ‘End of the Movie’ and ‘We Are the Battery Human’. Bands who can do acoustic numbers and do them well are a rare breed these days, and Stornoway have the goods.

The only thing that could have been perceived as a misstep was an instrumental malfunction: when Briggs switched acoustics and broke the lowest string on his black guitar, ‘Here Comes the Blackout’ had to be abandoned and the set list was slightly rerouted. All through their set, I could not (and even now still cannot) get over how beautiful Briggs’s lead vocals and the band’s combined harmonies are. Briggs told me that he and the band were happy to be playing small intimate gigs on this tour, as back in Britain they don’t get to play small venues anymore thanks to their popularity. But regardless of where you see Stornoway, go – because I can guarantee you a spellbindingly stunning performance.

Continue reading Live Review: Stornoway with Franz Nicolay and Major General at Black Cat Backstage, Washington, DC – 5th December 2010

 

This Week’s Gonzo – series closes with visits from Mark Ronson and the Drums

 
By on Thursday, 2nd December 2010 at 1:00 pm
 

This Friday marks the last episode of this series of MTV Gonzo, but don’t be sad: some special guest appearances are planned for the show. DJ and producer Mark Ronson, who released the album ‘Record Collection’ with his Business Intl. in September and recently worked with Duran Duran on their new album, stops by to talk with Alexa and shows her his drum pads. (No, that’s not innuendo for something else.) Now sporting shocking platinum blonde hair ala Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro, he comments, “I’m worried my hair might fall out from the bleach”. But rock ‘n’ roll is all about taking risks, isn’t it?

The Drums from New York also make an appearance, no doubt to talk about their amazing success this year. Everyone’s favourite American jokers (and rockers) We Are Scientists phone in for what is sure to be a comical video chat. Mat Horne, who guested on last week’s Gonzo, suggests a new band to watch: you’ll have to watch the show to find out who he’s tipping. On the video front, Gonzo queues up Paramore‘s ‘Playing God’ as well as the new promo video of White Lies‘s ‘Bigger Than Us’, and the London post-punk band is in the studio to talk about what went on behind the scenes of its filming.

Watch this series’s final episode of MTV Gonzo tomorrow night, Friday, at 7 pm on MTV Rocks, with a repeat at 9 pm on MTV.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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