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2010 catch-up: Live Music

Posted: January 6th, 2011, by Marceline Smith

This year was the tenth year it’s been running. A frightening yet pleasing milestone. Highlights this year included Wire being very nice chaps, Felix and Rome Pays Off being welcome breaks of blissful quiet in amongst the noise, and Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element (featuring me) playing our great one-off comeback show to a rapt audience of, oooh, twenty people. (Simon Minter)

Lightning Bolt
Thrilled to interview Brian Chippendale when LB played at the Brudenell in Leeds after desperately borrowing an mp3 recorder from the uni Language Centre to help “with my German degree”… Also really enjoyed this year’s Earthly Delights LP: the usual frantic cartoony cacophony. (Pascal Ansell)

The event that gave me the real Goosebumps and hairs standing up moment was called Avant! Noir which was part of the London Word Festival and featured four modern noir writers (Toby Litt, Courttia Newland, Ray Banks and Cathi Unsworth) doing readings while accompanied by Led Bib then Get The Blessing in addition to a comic strip being shown on screen at various points. It all made for a smoky night of perfection which culminated in both bands onstage facing off against each other attempting to blow the other offstage with their playing. It was the most powerful musical performance I saw all year. If only all music was like that. From a more straight ahead rock perspective the Mission Of Burma set at Dingwalls was easily the best set I witnessed this year which even saw me drunkenly air guitar. (JGRAM)

The Yummy Fur, Stereo, Glasgow
This was easy since I went to just one gig in 2010, and in the middle of December too! I mentioned my plans to see The Yummy Fur reunion show in last year’s catch-up, but I managed to catch an awful cold from a snow-filled train journey, adding to my lengthy list of Yummy Fur near-misses by ridiculous circumstance. Thankfully, they gave me one last chance and despite all efforts by fate to nobble me by cutting off my entire water supply for a week (seriously, we now have some of those disaster zone bottles of emergency drinking water courtesy of Scottish Water), I finally made it to a proper Yummy Fur gig. Of course it was amazing in every way. The audience was full of old-skool Glasgow lo-fi fans, the band members were on good joke form, and the tunes! I think they played everything I could possibly have wanted, though I would have happily stood there while they played their entire back catalogue from beginning to end. I’m generally against nostalgia-driven reunions but this was more like righting a 15 year wrong. Seems I can die happy now. (Marceline Smith)

Ausland in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
I generally don’t bother to even look up who’s playing – it’ll always be some incredibly weird but very fun stuff. If you’re “in the near”, turn up and you’ll have a good night of avant-garde brilliance in one form or other. Link (Pascal Ansell)

Ahem. I went to six festivals this year, and I have to say the one I enjoyed the most by far was Download. Not least because AC/DC live was one of the best things IN HISTORY, but also nice to see RATM, Dillinger Escape Plan, Cancer Bats, and relive my teenage years with Deftones. Ace crowd as well, loads of fun. Sadly, next year’s headliners are Linkin Park and System of a Down, so unlikely to go back in 2011. (Stu Fowkes)

Jonatan Nästesjö
Beautiful ambience in a freezing cold church in Leeds. (Pascal Ansell)

I only live here part 3: Call Mr Robeson & Inside

Posted: September 2nd, 2010, by Stan Tontas

CALL MR ROBESON, Zoo Southside, 21.8.2010

I liked this musical biography a lot, only knowing the vaguest picture of the singer’s life: Ol’ Man River, South Wales miners and not much else. He turns out to be tough, charismatic, intelligent, well-read and driven, reaching heights of international fame then battling on in the face of politically-motivated attacks. When he (as played by Tay? Aluko) talks of his father as his inspiration you shudder to realise that you’re only 3 full generations from slavery. That sobering fact is used to explain his determination to carry on in the face of travel bans and hostility.

The play uses music to great effect in two powerful scenes: switching his set to Negro Spirituals / Freedom songs on realising his audience had been segregated (these Walls of Jordan, going to come crashing down). And at a festival at the height of his notoriety, with a cordon of workers protecting the stage from an attack by white supremacists, a rendition of Old Man River in which he struggles to be heard over the blades of a police helicopter but finally drowns it out. Music as weapon in defence of human dignity and attack on injustice, in Aluko’s gorgeous voice that reaches you through your gut as much as your ears.

There are moments of humour, with a recurring joke about his womanising, but also harrowing psychological drama as he reaches his lowest point in the mid-1950s. It adds up to a complete portrait that returns to life a complex and driven man who has slightly fallen out between the cracks of history.

INSIDE, Zoo Roxy, 16.08.2010

First a caveat: I know nothing about dance except that it comes with music. While others in the queue for this were asking “are you here for the Jean Aubreu?” I was thinking about 65 Days of Static. (The entire reason I saw this show? Many years ago that band left a sticker in the 13th Note Club which held together my bikelight until recently.)

Overall I enjoyed the show with some reservations that may have nothing to do with its quality. The dancing was both muscular and supple; looked high standard to me. I have issues with the way it related its theme of imprisonment, which felt like it drew wholly on film and TV representations rather than any real-life experiences. I’d love for the clichés of rape, pecking orders and macho posturing to be supplemented (if not overturned) by a more nuanced portrayal. I was left with unanswered questions. Increasing numbers of people are imprisoned: what is it actually like? Surely a big thing about confinement is the lack of space, constraint of movement? That didn’t feature here as the dancers slid & scampered across the whole breadth of the stage.

Another avenue not explored is the two-tier power structure of guards and prisoners (think Stanford Prison Experiment). These dancers all seem to play the role of prisoners, and interchangeably so. It’s an approach but I think they’ve missed an opportunity ripe with possibilities for reversal and surprise. Maybe that would require a more political engagement than the media-led view; but it would have dodged the brief moment where it looked like a boy-band video.

Aside from this: it was too long. I didn’t see enough variation in the routines and would have happily sheared off 20 minutes. The music is good but the programme’s “experimental” tag overstates it slightly; QUIET-loud-QUIET style post-rock isn’t unfamiliar now. I could have listened to more of the harsh rhythmic-industrial parts, they seemed to fit well with the dancing.

Gripes aside, a dance show that holds my non-dance fan interest has to have had quite a bit going for it.

I only live here part 2

Posted: August 30th, 2010, by Stan Tontas

Edinburgh’s slowest Festivals reviewer gets around to typing up his notes…

Although Edinburgh had more “Free!” events than in previous years, in most cases you were getting what you paid for and the standards were pretty low. Better to decide based on the quality of the beer than the banter. (A notable exception must be the Not-the-Perrier Award winner.)

One of the better free shows was News At Kate, at the Voodoo Rooms. Topical material from a performer who comes across as geniune and front-free, taking perceived-as-tricky topics like feminism and managing to make them funny. She engages with audience members without putting them down for cheap laughs and it’s impossible not to like her. Warm & funny stuff about her encounters with Peter Stringfellow and Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth.

I love unashamedly highbrow culture when it’s as open and exploratory as this. A near-capacity Usher Hall in rapt attention to 4 virtuosos, not just for straightforward crowd-pleasing chamber pieces but challenging works. The 3 scheduled pieces, by Steve Reich, George Crumb and Aleksandra Vrebalov were varied and made (discreet) use of delays and electronics.

The first piece comprised a tower of Babel of stringed instrumentation, starting with (I think) a one-stringed Tibetan thing and moving to and through melodies & rhythms that evoked klezmer, Raz Mesinai-esque Middle East and Japan.

The second piece, unmistakbly by Reich, was the least interesting. Pleasant string lines, with snatches of voice (which turn out to be Holocaust survivors, making me uneasy with the disjunction). It felt like the soundtrack to a Shinkansen documentary, lacking intensity and seeming too familiar. (Even as an evocation of train travel I liked it less than Henry Thomas’s hobo ballads.)

After the interval came the most avant garde piece, Black Mass, featuring bowed gongs and wine glasses. Austere passages of intense concentration on single sounds and their resonances, the possiblities of sound from the instruments. It’s not dis-similar to Improv in its approach. Rather disconnected on the face of it, has moments of beauty and is presented theatrically: dangling violins are silhouetted against the far wall of the Hall.

Edinburgh’s applause for Black Mass earned us an encore of Clint Mansell’s soundtrack to Aronofsky’s The Fountain, an absolute stormer. It uses melodic string lines with an underlay of electric guitar and drums to life you up and dash you down. The crowd went wild, in a refined, concert hall, way.

I only live here, part 1

Posted: August 13th, 2010, by Stan Tontas

It’s the Edinburgh festivals season. For a change, I have been going to shows this year (instead of scowling at tourists from out in the suburbs). So I’ll post some reviews, in a very-much-not-instant tweeting as the lights go up style.

After 2 days of intensive trawling through free shows at the Edinburgh Festivals, I’ve found the first one which I would feel good about paying to see.
Are You There? at the Roxy Arthouse (wendy squat style venue; sponsored by a beer company that’s not shit) is by turns creepy, funny and touching. It takes a ghost setup and instead of sticking to farce, says things about distance, communication, relationships and letting go. It’s a shoestring show that makes up for resources with care in the script and performances. It feels like what a Fringe show should be.
There are wee things that need tightening up — early scenes maybe run for longer than they need to, gaffer tape could be used at the top corner of the walls — but the two performances are already good and this was the first or second night I saw.

Christmas Catch-up: Events & Places

Posted: January 2nd, 2010, by Marceline Smith

AC/DC at Wembley Stadium
Every song brought something new. They understand that watching a band with 90000 other people requires a lot of attention-getting so every 5 mins you were treated to something extra be it video screens, fireworks, a fucking great big train crashing through the stage and then being ridden by a 100ft high inflatable woman, Angus emerging in the middle of the crowd on a flashing podium etc etc etc. Absolutely value for money. (Chris Summerlin)

Ophibre; Nature; Hunted Creatures; Peace, Loving at Church (Boston, MA)
This was one of the best drone shows I went to all year. It was the first night of a monthly event at Church put on by The Whitehaus. Sadly, they didn’t keep it up for too long. It was great while it lasted though. Review. (Justin Snow)

Lightning Bolt at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Being at the front for the whole of their set was a personal achievement, one for grandkids I think. Breaking your phone pales into insignificance at such immensity – I got to speak to Brian Chippendale afterwards – lovely chap! Watch this space. (Pascal Ansell)

Spending three weeks travelling around Japan was amazing. I am in love with the place. The details are too many to go into, but it was endlessly fascinating, enjoyable, welcoming and intriguing. It’s one of those places where everybody says ‘Ooh, I’d love to go…’ and I’d urge everybody to actually do it. You won’t regret it. (Simon Minter)

You know, I don’t think I went to a single gig or festival this year. Finances and far too much work left me a bit of a hermit in 2009. I finally gave in to the reforming bands of my youth craze and have a ticket for the Yummy Fur in a few days, which I hope will be awesome, or at least awesomely nostalgic. So, my event of the year was going to Oban for my dad’s birthday in the summer. Family events are not supposed to be this much fun – we spent a week going on ferries and boats and miniature trains to tiny islands and ruined castles, seeing seals and puffins and otters and eating more cake than even I would think is necessary. Good times. Photos here, if you like THE SEA. (Marceline Smith)

Mark Eitzel, St. Giles Church, London, 7 October
I am Jack’s total lack of surprise at this hugely predictable number one. What’s remarkable is that I went into the church thinking this would be the show of the year, and it actually lived up to my own personal brain-hype. I have never seen a performer with the same intensity as Mark Eitzel. He lives every note of his songs, but he’s also wickedly funny and self-deprecating. And to see him accompanied on piano, on his knees in the aisle of a beautiful church singing ‘Johnny Mathis’ Feet’ was the best five minutes of music of 2009. (Stuart Fowkes)

We moved to Texas from Glasgow in February.  I feel like we only arrived last week.  Adjustment is slow but ongoing… er… y’all. (Alex McChesney)

4 weeks trotting around Europe
Finding out family history and couchsurfing. Visited the city I’ll be living in next year: Berlin!! You can find my every footstep in this blog hyaaa. (Pascal Ansell)

Lord & Karlheinz, Audrey Chen & ID M Theftable, Jajuno Trio at The Piano Factory (Boston, MA)
One of the many truly fantastic shows put on by Semata Productions at The Piano Factory. Lord & Karlheinz fucking destroyed the room with epic noise, Chen & Theftable were just batshit insane, and Jajuno Trio was about as minimal as you can get without copying Cage’s 4’33”. Review (Justin Snow)

Summer catch-up 2009: Bands

Posted: July 24th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

Shonen Knife
Much like movies this year, gigs are great too and last month (June) I finally had the opportunity to see the legendary Shonen Knife when they played their first UK show in fifteen years. When Kurt Cobain commented that they were able to render him to the state of a screaming girl at a Beatles concert he was not exaggerating as the latest line-up tore through one of the most enjoyable sets of music I have heard in many years. Not one element of the set was dislikeable as it was impossible to feel the least bit of cynicism when faced with such a happy band complete with fantastic new bass player in Ritsuko Taneda. They opened with “Konnichiwa” and ended with “Riding On The Rocket” – perfection. One day all gigs will be this fun. [JGRAM]

Oxford has been thin on the ground for interesting music recently, but Bitches are my current band du jour, if for no other reason than their complete lack of complexity and cleverness. A friend of mine dubbed their music ‘thug rock’ and that fits perfectly. Good honest insane noisy pseudo-punk rock music. [Simon Minter]

The Paperchase
Last.FM tells me I have been addicted to The Paperchase recently, like some kind of diseased bag of mint humbugs. The new record’s not as consistent as some of their previous efforts, but I reckon there are three or four absolute killers on there. Also Dan Deacon and Marnie Stern have been making me cross-eyed with joy. Ooh, and Drive Like Jehu and Th’Faith Healers, if we’re talking 90s throwbacks. [Stuart Fowkes]

Pet Shop Boys
The first proper band I went to see live (in Glasgow, no less), I later gave all my records away to my sister. And now I have a lot of them back as she’s selling off lots of her vinyl. There aren’t many pop bands still together after 25 years and it’s even more surprising that they’re still making fantastic albums, their latest written with Girls Aloud gurus Xenomania. If nothing else, I’ll always love them for knowing that pop music doesn’t need to be for idiots – their attention to detail in packaging, performances and publicity still inspires me hugely. Would be nice if they’d play some proper shows in Scotland though – I haven’t seen them since 1992. [Marceline Smith]

Issho Taiko Drummers, Alasdair Roberts & Peter Nicholson @ Stills Gallery

Posted: April 28th, 2009, by Stan Tontas

Very pleased I made the effort to go to this, one of Edinburgh’s few experimental music events. The music was varied, all non-amplified, and high quality and it sparked off loads of ideas in my head. The range of sounds attainable from fully-unplugged instruments reminds me that there’s no need for a lack of electricity to mean a lack of adventure.

First was a cellist (Peter Nicholson?), with 2 songs separated by some strong free playing. I can listen to stringed instruments being taken to extremes forever. This was human enough to be engaging and alien enough to be interesting too.

Next was Alasdair Roberts with solo guitar and beautifully performed folksongs and a rare joy in hearing lyrics that aren’t shit (though he mischaracterises the politics of the Luddites as wanting “barbarism” – at the time they were around this was synonymous with “North African” – I don’t think this is going to bother anybody other than me).

Best of all were the Issho Taiko drummers, though. Having no amplification meant that they had to rein in their thunderous impulses to allow space for the accompanying guitar and drone. The playing was accomplished and the players were listening to each other, producing a surprisingly rich & varied experience. Drones and pounding rhythms that you thought could only be produced using electricity are coaxed out of acoustic instruments. This got me thinking of post- (and pre-)electric raves, thousands of years of sound placed into a secular warehouse party era. Dubstep on Aeolian harps, acid on kazoos, jungle on an air-conditioning duct.

My imaginings aside, this was excellent stuff. These constraints might have stifled the group but instead proved them to be a talented and coherent bunch, reworking (presumably) raucous pieces into an absorbing alternate direction.

diskant rewind: Asking For Trouble #2

Posted: March 24th, 2009, by Marceline Smith

(Originally posted December 2001)

Asking For Trouble by Marceline Smith

Last month I was whining about the wait for new stuff by …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead. Now, however, I have a shiny new copy of the Relative Ways/Homage EP [Interscope, US only] and I’ve stopped whining. Well, about this anyway. Relative Ways is very much on the catchy side of things, maybe even verging on a pop song. Conrad’s not singing about death destroy kill kill kill but instead about everything being alright and ok. and coming together in relative ways. But he’s also screaming himself hoarse with the emotion of it all and it works out like the next stage on from Mistakes and Regrets. You might get lulled into thinking, ‘well, it’s TOD but a properly recorded major label catchy TOD’ but look out! ‘cos Homage is about to smack you in the face in a hardcore punkrockriot. Always my favourite of the handful of new TOD songs heard live, it’s pretty much perfect on record with Jason’s Olympia garage punk past showing up loud and hard. Then to carry it on you get Blood Rites which is Conrad screaming over some Kill Rock Stars era Unwound guitars. If anyone says TOD have sold out then put this on and laugh in their face. Sadly the last track is an instrumental washout but hey, nothing’s perfect.

Mogwai had a couple of new records out recently which have been well worth money. The long-awaited live favourite My Father, My King on one track 12″ [Rock Action] may well be the record Mogwai are remembered for, the classic, essential get-this-one-first release. In 20 minutes it sums up Mogwai and everything that’s great about them, the statement and restatement of one simple motif, the build-up and the utter wonder of the noise. Steve Albini keeps it all clear and dangerously sharp so there’s no chance for Mogwai to meander too far and it all seems perfectly succint, 20 minutes being neither here nor there. No opportunity for John to try and break your hearing with waves of feedback either so definitely gets my vote. hah.

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VOLCANO! + CASS McCOMBS + TIGERS! – The Library, Leeds, 18th November 08

Posted: November 20th, 2008, by Pascal Ansell

After 2005’s stunning debut album, a two-year break and another spectacular album (review here) Chicago’s finest trio, Volcano!, land upon the shores of Old Blighty exhausted but enthusing about the general British friendliness. Hurrah.

Volcano! play loose, twitchy alternative rock which provides the pastry base for the spicy mincemeat that are their other meanderings: glorious and ecstatic chaos, improvised gibberish and half-minute noise-ridden catastrophes. Volcano!’s vast musical blending and genre-bending just shouldn’t work. This is one thing many listeners emphasize but miraculously it does and it takes a bunch of very switched-on, very talented songwriters to achieve this. Tonight’s bands are respectively connected with Volcano! in ways of ‘wacky’ spelling and a shared hometown, thus fulfilling a fantastically tenuous line-of-thought to run through my review.

You’ve got to be pretty mental to have an exclamation mark in your name – step aside:

Godspeed You! Black Wussies,
You Slut!,
Panic! at the Disco,
Los Camposinos!,
The Go! Team,
Capeman! (this is just getting silly)
¡Forward, Russia! etc.

but pointless lists aside, the Leeds hardcore outfit Tigers! are tomfoolery-loving jokers and funnily enough the music’s good enough to stand for itself. Melt Banana and all the other grimecore lot have a HEAVY influence (pun central!) but Tigers! are infinitely more listenable than the bands mentioned. Like The Locust for the family, akin to listening a mad cartoon. Definitely worth seeing if just for the comedy wrestling costumes, the horseplay, the banter and ‘strong man’ muscle-pumping displayed at the triumphant finish of songs.

Cass McCombs has appeared on a variety of very impressive labels: 4AD, Moniter and Domini can’t be argued with. He and his Chicago-based band start off with a nice, lazy instrumental on the surf-guitar side of ‘50s rock and roll. Laid-back and bare, each song shuffles along with slight changes to the general theme; a gradual development progresses in its own sweet time (i.e. very bloody slowly!). This is well-executed and straightforward rock, Cass’ guitar playing comparable to the delicacy of Buddy Holly – soft and unobtrusive, a gratifying listen.

They may be at the end of a mammoth European tour, but never mind how physically-drained they appear before playing, Volcano! are just as explosive live as on record. Things get so loose and free that it’s best to simply stop trying to follow the (wonderfully frayed and ragged) thread of the music and instead lose yourself in its amazing disarray. The number of gadgets on bassist/electronics dude Mark Cartwright’s desk is phenomenal. He blows a wind piano, draws on a squishy electronic pad-thing while tapping a laptop and a couple of keyboards moments later. Pretty impressive as he doesn’t budge his multifarious sounds into too prominent a part of the mix. Sam Scranton is a magnificent jazz/rock drummer to watch – the collective channelling between beats and all-out improv is captivating. Stellar performance. Shame we’ll have to look forward to seeing them in a couple of years I expect.


Cass McCombs


Pascal Ansell

Room 237 presents: ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE + STEARICA + ASTRAL SOCIAL CLUB, Brudenell Social Club, 9th November 2008

Posted: November 11th, 2008, by Pascal Ansell

The Japanese Psychadelic band Acid Mothers Temple are, apparently, a very mixed bag when it comes to playing live. Due to their prodigious record-releasing ethic (69 records in 13 years, give or take a few) and ever-changing line-up, you can’t always bank on a thrilling gig with AMT.

Ex Vibracathedral Orchestra man Neil Campbell plunges the night into action with his latest noise band, Astral Social Club. Vast clouds of sound morph seamlessly into the next. Or do they? The one problem with is it all develops at such a slow pace as not to keep the attention ticking. Obviously, it depends how you listen to it, and drone lovers don’t exactly listen or play to a stopwatch. His defence is: “I’ve stopped trying to present things as finished and stopped worrying if the whole thing doesn’t run together as a completely smooth whole.” Even so you can’t help feeling his general spread of disparate noise goes nowhere.

Tired, overused rock beats and ambient guitar lines are pretty much all that Stearica deal in. The Italian trio have little ear for distinctive melody, and like a good few similar bands they get stuck at the arse-end of the post-rock trail. On the surface the quality of music can’t be denied, but a murky, tuneless limbo is where they’re really trapped.

Acid Mothers Temple begin their set with bassist Tsuyama Atsushi indulging in Mongolian and Tibetan throat singing. Vowels are chopped and changed by gyrating jaw shapes, then the lips seeks out eerie harmonics by gradually closing the mouth. Truly incredible singing.

The AMT modus operandi consists of float around on one lumbering idea for a leisurely fifteen minutes, speed the pace up, add an outrageous guitar solo and then they’re done. It’s a mystery how AMT keep things interesting with such little material. Songs progress at such a snail pace that it’s a wonder they’re not an incredibly dull live act. What makes them so special is that they’re the polar opposite. We’ve caught them on a good night.

Astral Social Club


Acid Mothers Temple

Pascal Ansell