Archive for the 'Live music' Category

Akron/Family, The Garage, November 17th

November 24, 2009

Akron/Family are a band guaranteed to make you feel good. First there are the compliments: ‘You’re so polite. You’re so intelligent. You’re so spiritually advanced. You’re so sexy,’ cooed Seth Olinsky spreading well-being across the small crowd at London’s Garage.

Then there is the uplifting atmosphere they create. It’s practically impossible to leave an Akron/Family gig without joining in a communal hand clap. The band are famous for their riotious sing along complete with audience choreography to the nonsensical feelgood of ‘Circle, triangle, square (yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, yeah)’, filmed here spilling onto the street outside Emo’s at SXSW 2008:

Since Ryan Vanderhoof departed two years ago to join a Buddhist Dharma Centre, the band have performed as a threesome. Drummer Dana Janssen, guitarist Seth Olinsky and bassist Miles Seaton took turns on vocals, and for the final half an hour they were joined by a flautist, saxophonist and trumpeter.

With the tie dyed bastardised American flag seen on the cover of their fifth album, Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, pinned up behind them, stripey shawls draped over their mixing desks and obligatory sweatbands and beards in place, the scene evoked band practice in a student’s bedroom.

They played a diverse set moving from African inflected tribal drumming and township guitars of River and Ed is a Portal to bouncy dance beats, Indian rhythms and various prolonged psychedlic wig outs.

Yet things didn’t quite descend into the delicious chaos the band are capable of, instead we got protracted noodling. Perhaps the crowd was too sparse and too polite, perhaps it was because the vocals were so low in the mix they were barely audible, maybe 12 dates into a 20 date European and Antipodean tour the band are weary and homesick.

Akron/Family still sprinkled their warmth and joy across us frosty Brits, but those who came with the hope of partying on the streets must have been bitterly disappointed when the band left without so much as a goodbye or whiff of an encore.

This piece first appeared on Drowned in Sound

Blacksand, Hampstead Heath, 5am

September 21, 2008

By the light of the moon an audience of 13 trekked silently across the Heath to a secret location where we found Blacksand sound checking and putting the final touches to their set up.

In the darkness we gathered in a clearing under the canopy of a majestic ancient beech and wild service tree. Some climbed up and perched in the branches, others lay on the floor gazing up at the moon and stars through the leaves.

Using two guitars, lots of pedals and the power from a ship’s battery, Blacksand, aka Nick Franglen (also one half of Lemon Jelly) and Charles Casey improvised ethereal and ambient electronica. Looping and building their melodies they cast a shimmering soundscape into the night air, cut through with the mournful cry of Casey’s slide guitar.

For the past two years the duo, who released an album to great acclaim earlier this year, have revelled in finding site specific locations in tune with their work. Past venues have included a mine shaft, an aircraft hanger and a submarine. They have their eye on some stone circles near Oxford for the next gig.

What a treat to be part of this sensational union of music, nature and early morning magic, so rare in London’s concrete jungle. As the sun came up, it seemed as if the dawn chorus joyfully joined in with the music; delighted at the concert going on in their midst. 

After two sprawling ‘songs’ Franglen announced ‘That’s it’, and the little audience clapped politely as the birds raised their voices to the breaking sun. 

Casey apologised as the battery was too drained to boil the kettle, but as we walked out across the misty dew and into the city a cup of tea seemed a small price to pay for this special musical offering.

End of the Road Festival

September 21, 2008

Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire, 12-14 September

The last hurrah of the festival season got off to a bad start as a downpour left it awash with mud. As the rain poured, Brooklyn Forties swing outfit Clare and the Reasons brought a smile to everyone’s faces, singing the word ‘Obama’ to the melody of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. And what do you know? A whopping rainbow appeared.

The sun shone from that point on as 5,000 revellers connected with their inner child and wandered the enchanted woodlands (complete with piano, flashing disco floor and tree of knowledge with books for loan).

Much of the line-up consisted of reliable, if unadventurous, folk and Americana. Calexico and Mercury Rev both delivered big shows, heavy on lights and drama, while an animated Conor Oberst, backed by four beefy guitars, made for a great performance, though his classic rock set felt hollow compared with his solo introspection.

Most anticipated were Bon Iver, three young men from Wisconsin who held the festival in thrall, their falsetto harmonies and primal drumming melting even the most unromantic of hearts. The biggest drama came from the unlikeliest of sources. Alan Sparhawk, frontman of the mellow Low, ended his set by declaring ‘I’ve had a crap day. Everyone I love has told me they hate me’ and hurled his guitar into the crowd. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Best performance Bon Iver.

Overheard ‘He said: “I could make you a natural beauty if I covered you in fake tan.”‘

Best discovery Wildbirds & Peacedrums.

This piece first appeared in The Observer Review

Laura Marling

May 4, 2008

Holy Fuck

May 4, 2008

Susanna and The Magical Orchestra

May 4, 2008

Portishead ATP, 7-9 December, Butlins, Minehead

December 16, 2007


A Nightmare Before Christmas

After a decade in hiding, Portishead chose a music festival at a holiday camp for (almost) the most hotly anticipated reunion of the week. Organised by All Tomorrow’s Parties, the fourth Nightmare, with its winning formula of chalets, intimate gigs and no corporate involvement, offered the perfect backdrop for the reclusive band, who curated the weekend and gave two performances.

Hearing Dummy live after 10 years devoid of Portishead gigs and new material was delicious closure for fans as Beth Gibbons’s clear, emotive voice sang out mercifully undiminished. Five new numbers were trialled, with hip hop now replaced by trance and jazzy influences, but how relevant a third Portishead album can be in 2008 is unclear. The crowd were ecstatic, the band revelled in the adulation, but would anyone have cared if Portishead had been as ubiquitous as Massive Attack over the past 10 years?

But this was Portishead’s moment, which was just as well because behind the trip hop glitter much of the rest of the festival line-up was disappointing. Mark Linkous played solo as Sparklehorse in an underwhelming set, Julian Cope bored with Eighties rock pomp, Rosie Red Rash – an all-girl teen punk band from Bristol – flicked their hair self-consciously, while a room of ageing white people excruciatingly threw Ws at Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA.

Elsewhere, the Horrors lived up to the NME hype with a spectacular performance, while Brooklynites Oneida shone with their energetic nu-rave rock and awesome drumming. How many of these acts were chosen by Portishead? Hopefully not Glaswegian so-called comedian Jerry Sadowitz, who tainted the whole weekend with an hour of hatred and tired jokes at the expense of every minority imaginable.

Thankfully, as the cold sea wind whipped around Butlins’ dome, Aphex Twin restored the glow of Nineties nostalgia with his two-hour DJ set of feel-good beats and bleeps.

This piece first appeared in Observer Review

Set list:
Wicca NEW
Hunter NEW
Mysterons Dummy
Mystic NEW
Glory Box Dummy
Numb Dummy
Wandering Star Dummy
Machine Gun NEW
Over Portishead
Sour Times Dummy
Only You Portishead
Cowboys Portishead
Roads Dummy
Peaches NEW

Mercury Prize Nominations 2007

July 17, 2007

What a yawnsome list:

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’
Klaxons – ‘Myths Of The Near Future’
Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’
Maps – ‘We Can Create’
The View – ‘Hats Off To The Buskers’
Jamie T – ‘Panic Prevention’
Dizzee Rascal – ‘Maths & English’
Bat For Lashes – ‘Fur And Gold’
Young Knives – ‘Voices of Animals And Men’
Fionn Regan – ‘The End Of History’
New Young Pony Club – ‘Fantastic Playroom’
Basquiat Strings – ‘Basquiat Strings’

Shoo in for Wino then. Maybe she can use the £20,000 prize to buy herself some food.

Good to see that Bat has been nominated though, and amused by Guardian music blogger Paul MacInnes’ description of her as ‘our mate Bat For Lashes.’

Umm, I was there way before you ‘mate’.

Courtney Love, Bush Hall, London

July 10, 2007


In town to showcase her endlessly postponed album Nobody’s Daughter to a small group of 300 adoring fans, Love didn’t disappoint. Looking aggressively thin and toned, due to a crash diet reportedly involving a lock on her fridge, she took to the stage on her 43rd birthday with loyal drummer Stuart and a band of puppyish English adolescents. Providing support were two male guitarists; Micko Larkin formerly of Larrikin Love and Liam, a sometime model from Grimsby, and two female musicians; Bethina on keys and percussion and Pato on bass and vocals.

All the old favourites were given an airing – Celebrity Skin, Doll Parts, Miss World and Northern Star, in a set list that spanned 16 songs. The good news is that the new material sounded just as good as the old – opener Samantha went down a storm, as did Never Go Hungry Again, Letter To God and Nobody’s Daughter.

Okay so she had to be taught the chords to her own song – Miss World, by her baby faced guitar player but this crowd were ready to forgive anything. Just as well, because Love was in a brilliantly abusive mood. On being passed a handmade birthday card from the crowd, she used it to fan herself for a few seconds, tossed it to the floor, then drowned out a chorus of Happy Birthday and shouts of ‘We love you Courtney’ with ‘Shut up! Just shut up!’

Intermitttent song requests were likewise rewarded with ‘Shut up. You’ll get your fucking encore’, and; ‘I’m not playing that fucking song,’ to calls for Violet. Rather than use the opportunity to thank her long suffering English fans for their patient wait for new material, Love found something to complain about everywhere she looked.

‘This fucking smoking ban you’ve got here. I can’t even smoke on stage,’ she said looking desperate and throwing a hot pink cigarette into the audience. ‘The only place you can smoke now is the Houses of Parliament. Did you know that? That’s so retarded.’ Of the sound she moaned bizarrely; ‘I wanted chandeliers and shit sound and I got chandeliers and shit sound,’ before dismissing her entire audience and asking one of the puppies, ‘Do we look like retards? It doesn’t matter if we look like retards. This is 300 people. This isn’t Wembley.’

Love played the diva to a ‘t’, swapping her guitar every song, getting impatient if her personal guitar hander was too slow, and then barely playing a note. She also repeatedly stopped songs after losing her place or forgetting what they were playing. Just as well that the puppies were musical prodigies.

In fact some of the best moments were the few songs where she left her guitars alone. This was Love in all her car crash glory (‘Rehab can be good for you. Yeah, I want applause for that.’) The voice and the emotion were both undiminished – raw, real and utterly captivating. The high point of the evening came when Love let rip on a new ballad penned with Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes fame; Letter To God.

This summer’s exhausting spate of huge stadium telethons – Glastonbury, the Diana Concert, Live Earth has been enough to kill off even the most ardent music fan. But Courtney Love was just the person to restore the faith.

Rude, yes, belligerent, certainly, but this was, quite simply, an exhilarating, exciting gig to remember. Packed into the tiny auditorium, with sweat trickling off every surface, the adoring fans were abused and dismissed by their bumbling, incompetent Queen. But when she did pull it together the raw power of Love’s emotions and the energy of her performance were viscereal and life-affirming. Abused they may have been, but this audience would have stood there all night as long as Love was on stage.

Set list:

‘Stand Up Motherfucker”
‘Sunset Marquis’
‘Miss World’
‘Nobody’s Daughter’
‘Pacific Coast Highway’
‘Doll Parts’
‘Letter To God’
‘How Dirty Girls Get Clean’
‘Celebrity Skin’
‘Never Go Hungry Again’
‘For Once In Your Life’
‘Northern Star’
‘Happy Ending Story’

Homefires IV, Conway Hall, London WC1, June 2 & 3

June 9, 2007

Basking in the sun between acts

London’s Red Lion Square, and the scene was set for a chilled out weekend of musical enjoyment. The sun was shining, the Pimms and lemonade was flowing; and all a two-minute walk from Holborn tube station.

The low-fi loveliness continued inside Conway Hall, an early twentieth century chapel-like building and home to liberal free-thinking types, with the ambience of a tea party or laid back wedding. Friendly faces poured drinks from behind a table in the bar room where DJs and live acts entertained intermittently. No Glastonbury crush here, as people chattered at red-clothed tables beside glowing yellow lamps and candles in the most intimate of settings.

In the main hall lampshades and umbrellas hung in front of the red back-dropped stage under the fitting Conway Hall inscription ‘To Thine Own Self Be True.’ By mutual consensus viewing was sit down only, and festival goers lounged cross legged or lay on the wooden floor as if at a giant indoor picnic. For those in need of a chair, the balcony seats upstairs provided equally intimate viewing.

American Anni Rossi opened Homefires, setting the standard high with her percussive viola playing and simultaneous singing. One of the most pin-drop beautiful moments of the weekend came when she sang of wool-coated winters, making the sound of her father shovelling snow by scraping the viola with her bow.

Also unmissable were Adjagas, a Norwegian troop of wonderment fronted by Sara Marielle Gaup and Lawra Somby. The male-female duo sing in Sami – the ancient languages of a group of approximately 100,000 indigenous Scandinavians scattered across Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia near the arctic circle. Backed by the usual guitars and percussion and some haunting trumpet and flute playing, their beautiful languages weaved a soothing web of calm.

In complete contrast but no less stunning, St Vincent aka American Annie Clark yowled, stamped and thrilled like Jimi Hendrix reincarnate. Sometime member of the Polyphonic Spree and guitarist for Sufjan Stevens she releases her debut album at the tender age of 23 this July.

The day drew to a close with the beautiful voice and songs of Californian Nina Nastasia and finally the sounds of festival founder and South Londoner Adem. But as he wrapped up with a delightful range of instruments including the extraordinary innovation of playing a xylophone with two bows, my heart was yearning for the Baghdaddies or Squirrel Nut Zippers to burst onto the stage and set the tea party alight. Surely it was time for some frenzied toe-tapping and jive shaking? Sadly we all just went our separate ways and shuffled off into the night.

Sunday was the day of strings and multi-talented musicianship. Do we detect a harp renaissance sparked by the lovely Ms Newsom?

Starting proceedings was unsigned One Little Plane aka Kathryn Bint, a Chicagoan based in London. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied on slide, her lovely understated songs were a welcome treat.

Ohioan Baby Dee was the first harpist up, with some fantastic playing and fascinating vocals. Sounding like Andy Kaufman‘s alter ego Tony Clifton’s alter ego, the effect was of several different voices conversing in an operatic drama. Hardly surprising, as she was once a he.

Then the strings were wheeled out in earnest for Canadian Basia Bulat, whose rich voice was accompanied by a veritable orchestra of strings and assorted instruments playing lively jigs to great effect.

Second harpist of the day was Thee Stranded Horse, Frenchman Yann Tambour; perhaps the most astonishing yet unassuming performer of the festival. First he simultaneously played harp with his left hand and acoustic guitar with his right, before moving on to cover T-Rex’s Misty Mist on the harp (!) and ending with a song where his high almost falsetto alto sounded like Neil Tennant. After this astounding performance he scurried off stage without a backward glance.

Another Canadian, Emily Haines and her Soft Skeleton crew, continued the strings extravaganza and with heavy piano and string quartet captured the Victorian gothic feel of the red stage and wood panelled room perfectly.

Playing solo but conjuring an entire orchestra with a violin and clever looping, Illinoisian Andrew Bird lived up to his name with some enviable whistling and transfixed with his trickery.

The hall was packed, although still with less than a thousand people, for Bat for Lashes‘ closing gig and Natasha Khan and her Brighton girls didn’t disappoint. Over a year of serious gigging finds them tight, assured and the magical, madrigal world they have invented still utterly unique. In a folk family over-populated by solo singer-songwriters and their guitars, Khan’s varied instrumentation and percussion raises the standard to something altogether more complex and rewarding.

Indeed, in a weekend peppered with some undeniable gems, the lack of people, lack of travelling (for Londoners) and chilled out atmosphere made labouring through a lot of boring flabbiness; David Karsten Daniels, Richard Swift and Emmy the less than Great to name a few, bearably enjoyable.

For where the quieter fare on offer is broken up by some roaring guitar and electro noisiness at festivals like All Tomorrow’s Parties, at times the Homesfires acts blended into one long shoe gaze.

Electronics and guitar noise would be incongruous for a festival billed as ‘quiet’ but a bit of a double bass and skiffle action, some horns or a Cuban rumba or two is surely what Homefires needs next.