Thursday, 26 February 2009

Neko Case at Bush Hall

Sometimes it's hard not to feel for the support band. You've got a full house, forty minutes or so to turn the audience your way, but nine times out of ten no-one gives too much of a shit about your act. They'll talk over you, wander off, come back, take phone calls by the stage. It's a real suckfest to play support, especially to an artist with a die hard fan base. Eric Bachmann, from a project called Crooked Fingers, but probably better known for being a key member of Archers of Loaf, fares a little better than that. But not by much.

There's still the 'half century' polite applause each time he finishes a song, and my attention begins wandering to guitar porn halfway through the set. Is that a thinline Tele modified with a Bigsby trem he's playing? Very nice. After he plays a song that sounds like Tom Waits (singing over a music box melody with a megaphone will do that for you), I look around the room. One man is counting out some change for the bar. Someone else is glancing around, checking out a prime position to walk to once this set is finished and other people have gone to the bar. Others have already done this. The room, with its curlicued white art deco panels and grandiose glass chandeliers, prepares for another dance. When Eric plays his last note, there is a delicate rush of bodies in opposite directions, stageward and towards the bar. My companion for this evening wryly notes that John Cougar Mellencamp called, and he wants his songs back. We walk towards the front, and when we find the right spot, are both in agreement that if you can't get a good view at this venue, you just aren't trying hard enough. The room is very warm, though, and gets warmer. A few songs in, Neko asks if it's "psychedelically hot in here". She's not wrong.

But it's a full house this evening, and when you cluster us people together we do pump out some heat. Everyone knows the show tonight is about the new album, and pleasingly all the new songs go down very well, the title track 'Middle Cyclone', about being "a tomboy in love", gets as big a round of applause as the classics that get aired. 'Deep Red Bells' is a highlight, but the songs I've been craving don't show tonight. Strangely, this is something I don't notice until the walk home. Most of the night is spent in awe at the awesomely tight country band Neko has assembled, who laugh and joke through their early nerves. Neko cracks the crowd up when she lets them in on a secret of a false start. "He (points at the guitarist) keeps whispering 'TITS!' at me". Presumably he's talking about the staggeringly talented harmony vocalist Kelly Hogan (who I've recently learned has her own impressive back catalogue). She and Neko are note perfect all night long, and their voices are so beautiful and clear it almost breaks my heart. The rest of the band all wear smiles on their faces, and the family vibe that the whole outfit exudes adds an extra layer of warmth to proceedings. It's almost like walking into a farmhouse idyll to hear angels singing over a honey drizzled country slide guitar. I've honestly never heard anything like it.

It's over too soon, and we leave for another bite at the mighty King Solomons next door. It's been some night. I can only say, should you get the chance to catch Neko Case live, don't pass it up. She's definitely made it into the 'Best Shows I've Ever Seen' category.

N.B. Found an EXCELLENT youtube clip of this show. There's a nerd with a camera in shot early on. That may be me.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Harsh Shark - Chris Cornell's solo career

has veered from one car crash to another. If you were a charitable listener, you could say that there might be enough material for an ok-ish album from his first two efforts, and that 'You know my name' was actually pretty good. But if you listen to the new song for thirty seconds, or watch the video, all the charity in your heart will dry up. You'll kick puppies, thanks to Chris Cornell's Pink Floyd inspired, Timbaland produced ZettaOmegaFail. Watch the horror that is the video here. Cue autotuned vocodered vocals, video cliches and line dancing. Nothing screams "But Steve, we have to hit that Midwest demographic" like a bit of line dancing, does it?

And while the fans of old might well hate it, there's a fair chance this single (and the album that follows it) will do sterling business for him in the charts. He's still a good looking guy, the production values are high, if you switched your mind off you could find yourself tapping your toes to the song. He's opening himself up to a massive new market, and you've got to admire his courage for doing that. Even if it does alienate a huge chunk of his fanbase in the process.

He's got a gig at Shepherds Bush soon, after selling out The Scala last week. Where he played 'Scream' in it's entirety. It's £27-50 a ticket, plus booking. Unsurprisingly, there are still good seats available.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Odd charity shop find #86568 / The Joy Formidable

I found a signed copy of the Mike Bassett: England Manager soundtrack, signed by Cerys Matthews, Jarvis Cocker, Danny from Supergrass in an Oxfam today. Checked the sigs, and they all seem genuine. Bought it for curio value, really. It's a ragbag, last gasp of Britpop compilation (featuring Justine Frischmann's last contribution to the world of music). The Jarvis track is the only worthwhile moment. Don't even think I can be bothered to Ebay it!

Went to see The Joy Formidable at Pure Groove a couple of nights ago for their album launch. Interesting sound they've got there, very big for a three piece. They borrow the better parts from Bloc Party, Gary Numan sounding synth-style guitar and My Vitriol's attack but manage to sound entirely different thanks to Ritzy's voice. She's the focal point of the band, their blue eyed, blonde haired ringleader, half whirling dervish, half 1000 yard stare. Also a genuinely excellent guitarist, with the requisite skills and intricate pedal set up to sound individual. They're road-ready tonight, but still a little nervous in front of a packed shop crowd. After a mini acoustic set, they rip through the rest of the album at pace. The bass player is a former guitarist of note himself, I think; he plays the bass right, with a punchy mid sound, and throws understated poses. Over the sea of heads, the drummer is almost invisible, but doesn't drop a beat all night, later songs showing advancing technique. 'Cradle' and potential third single 'Whirring' are the stand outs tonight, all action and blurring guitar shapes. The kinetic energy they unleash isn't transferred to the crowd as it should be, though. There's toe-tapping and head nodding aplenty, but no dancing. As with all small instores, the lack of a raised stage means unless you're six foot plus, you won't see anything *at all* unless you're at the front. It's hard to get a gig vibe at a performance like this, impossible if you can't see the band. This is the first record store show I've been to where they have a functioning bottle bar, making the experience feel closer to a gig and less achingly bone dry than your usual promo performance can often be.

Giving your album away for free via the NME, being tipped by DiS, a little radio support, album released on a tiny and hip London label, good videos, free shows and appearing on a Skins trailer.. they'll all boost your popularity. This has been a super-solid joined up PR job, and I'm not saying that in a negative way for once. Here PR has been used to get a good band out while everyone has been chattering, blocking the way with a swathe of new year hype. I like seeing the cream rise to the top like everyone else, and am predicting BIG things for this band. I'm a little late to the party on that count, but am happy to lend my inconsiderable support to their cause. Should you not be able to make it to their gigs (and I bet you they'll be gigging virtually non-stop), try and see them at a festival this year. They'd tear the roof off a tent at Reading, I reckon...

Monday, 16 February 2009

The one where all the other blogs link to all the other blogs

I wrote a Six by Seven piece for Sweeping the Nation's forgotten albums of the 00's.
Also, Found a great Simon Reynolds piece on Dinosaur Jr on Archive Music Press too. From 1987. Christ, Mascis looks so young in that picture.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Spotify playlists / The Merger / Sprites

A few playlists I've knocked up on Spotify for the amusement of others. All of these lists are open, so if you use Spotify and see something I've missed, or want to adjust anything, go ahead.

Late era (post Wish) Cure
A lot of people think the Cure haven't released anything good since Wish. This is a selection of tracks they've put out since then. Shame Geffen has pulled The Cure from Spotify though, had to rework this this 'list and omit two real crackers from there, The Promise and (I don't know what's going) on.

Rare Bowie
Loads of great stuff on here. Shadow Man is terrific, as is the Ziggy era take on The Supermen.

Grunge 201
A fair mix here, with some choices that might be considered very predictable indeed. 90's flannel wearing fun!


Expecting to read about the Ticketmaster/LiveNation merger today. May I just be the first person to mutter the word 'monopoly'? Other good words and phrases... Zaibatsu.. immature oligopoly... safety in numbers... if we merge, it'll hide the big holes in our finances for a year or two, and by the time they realise we'll already be sipping margueritas in Rio. Just kidding with the last one.


Have become obsessed with a twee indie pop band called Sprites.
Many free tracks here and I recommend downloading 'Bionic Hands', 'George Romero' and 'Following her around' for free. Nice!