Sunday, December 25, 2016

BO NINGEN (London Cafe Oto, 22/12/16)

The 121st and final gig of 2016- and what finer note to wrap up the year than an unhinged psych-noise assault from London's own "Stick Men"? It's pretty much the same show I've seen them do thirteen times before, but why would you ask for anything else?
PRIMAL SCREAM (London Brixton Academy, 15/12/16)

Review: HERE
BORIS (London Electric Ballroom, 13/12/16)

Who needs hearing when you've got drone-metal/noise rock/shoegaze trio Boris performing "Pink" in full? By the end of it my eardrums felt like a Japanese city, post-Godzilla...
THE BOY LEAST LIKELY TO (London Social, 12/12/16)

The long-awaited return of the most gleefully twee band in existence, playing selections from their festive album as well as all the old classics (not to mention a delightful cover of Wham!'s "Last Christmas"). A pretty joyous experience all round.
CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX (London Dome, 09/12/16)

A two-hour psych/prog/metal odyssey from the erstwhile Mogwai side-project. Not really my bag, but "Burnt Reynolds" remains a sorely underrated epic.
PWR BTTM (London Shacklewell Arms, 06/12/16)

An inspiring, elatory show from the queercore power-pop duo, who sound like Fang Island and bitch like Joan Rivers.
LOW (London Union Chapel, 05/12/16)

There's no better way to kick off the Christmas season than with a dose of melancholic slowcore, and the Duluth veterans more than deliver with a mix of Christmas standards, self-composed Yuletime numbers and various down-tempo tunes from their extensive back catalogue.
PIXIES (London Brixton Academy, 29/11/16)

Review: HERE

Despite hanging round these earthly spheres since 1972, Idris Ackamoor and his eccentric brand of afro-futurism hasn't quite achieved the acclaim or cultural visibility of the not-dissimilar Sun Ra Arkestra. But their energetic live shows, fascinating array of instruments and compelling fusion of free-jazz, funk and traditional African influences make them a band well worth checking out if you like your mind blown and your grooves cosmic.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

MONO (London Electric Brixton, 17/11/16)

The Japanese post-rockers may be a one-trick pony (start off slow, build up glacially, GLORIOUSLY CACOPHONOUS PAY-OFF) but it's a damn good trick nonetheless.
HORSE LORDS (London Lexington, 14/11/16)

Do you like the idea of Colin Stetson and Deerhoof forming an off-kilter, Can-infused math-rock band? Do you like ridiculous displays of musical and rhythmic proficiency? Do you like fucktons of cowbell? If so, then Baltimore's tremendous Horse Lords might be the band for you.
OKKERVIL RIVER (London Islington Assembly Hall, 10/11/16)

Review: HERE
PAUL SIMON (London Royal Albert Hall, 08/11/16)

Not going to lie- this wasn't quite the epoch-defining gig I expected to be. But despite the stuffiness of the venue, the mediocrity of the sound-mix and the surfeit of filler, the sheer quantity of stone-cold classics nevertheless made this a gig worth the £75 ticket price. I mean, say what you like about Paul Simon's post-Garfunkel musical output, but The Boxer -> Sound of Silence -> Mrs. Robinson -> Bridge Over Trouble Water is a pretty solid encore by anyone's standards.
SPIRITUALIZED (London Barbican, 07/11/16)

There were many goosebump-inducing moments during Spiritualized's celebration of their all-time masterpiece "Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space", but the bit at the end of the title track where the gospel choir properly kicked in really did hit me right in the feels. Some songs felt a little-drawn out, "Electricity" was slightly neutered without the traditional strobe assault and the sheer maximalism of the set did occasionally overwhelm, but on the whole this was a magnificent, life-affirming gig in a week where joy was in particularly short supply.
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS (London Brixton Academy, 02/11/16)

Review: HERE
EZRA FURMAN (London Roundhouse, 31/10/16)

Another knock-out show from my favourite queer Jewish rock 'n roll hero. Not the best gig I've ever seen him do, partially due to some unnecessary aggro in the crowd, but even a second-tier Ezra show is a hell of a lot of fun (it was a nice tip to the date to have him carried onto stage in a pastel pink coffin). Fantastic support from Charlotte Church's Pop Dungeon as well, who perform the only mash-up of Destiny's Child and Rage Against The Machine you'll probably ever hear.
SLEIGH BELLS (London Tufnell Park Dome, 27/10/16)

As subtle as Brian Blessed bellowing a ton of bricks off Trump Tower - and we wouldn't have it any other way.
XENIA RUBINOS (London Birthdays, 24/10/16)

Being an embittered, tired old troll, it's rare that I'm properly, genuinely blown away by an act these days, but goddamn, Xenia Rubinos is The Real Deal - R&B, Cuban rap and abrasive indie-rock mashed together to create something astoundingly funky, pointedly political and tremendously fun. And that's not to mention Xenia herself, who combines the magnetic charisma of Patti Smith with the dazzling showmanship of Janelle Monae. Without a doubt my gig discovery of the year.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

DANPYUNSUN AND THE SAILORS (London Rich Mix, 21/10/16)

So, apparently Jambinai are far from the only alternative band of note from South Korea at the moment. I discovered these avant-garde indie-rockers on the K-Music Month Spotify playlist a couple of weeks back, and they struck me as a band I nedded to see live. And in that I was correct, even though some of their songs are a little middle-of-the-road for my tastes. Danpyunsun is a hilarious, deadpan frontman, even when jetlagged to hell, and their riveting, no-holds-barred performance is up there with the most energetic I've seen in 2016. Well worth checking out, for sure.
HANNAH EPPERSON (London Slaughtered Lamb, 20/10/16)

Looped violins and birthday cake from the talented Julianna Barwick collaborator, whose spawling, absorbing compositions mark her out as a talent to keep an eye on.
OPERATORS (London Lexington, 18/10/16)

Any band involving Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner is always going to be one hell of a beast, but Operators might well be his best side-project yet, marrying the zest and energy of the Handsome Furs to electrifying synth-rock and tremendous live drumming. One of the best London debuts I've seen this year.
YUMI ZOUMA (London Oslo, 17/10/16)

Pleasant enough dream-pop from New Zealand, with a couple of standout songs going someway to make up for a lack of variety.
HOLY FUCK (London Village Underground, 15/10/16)

A holy fuckin' great show from the Toronto electro-rock quartet, who can still inspire a dance party even when playing an absurdly early time-slot. One of the few shows I've seen recently that I genuinely wish had been longer.
SWANS (London Islington Assembly Halls, 13/10/16)

Review: HERE
EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY (London Brixton Academy, 12/10/16)

Review: HERE
SYMPHONIC FANTASIES (London Barbican, 06/10/16)

There's no one person more responsible for my deep and enduring love of music than Nobuo Uematsu, the composer behind the "Final Fantasy" series. Since I first played FFVII at the age of eleven and heard the synthesized church bells of "Flowers Blooming In The Church" I've obsessively gorged on his soundtracks and the various arranged albums built around thhem. I've religiously attended every concert of his music put on in this country - the "Distant Worlds" series more purist and faithful to the original compositions, the "Symphonies" taking familiar melodies and leitmotifs and re-arranging them into exciting new forms. I've even met him in person, leading to the only time in my life where I've genuinely been star-struck.

 But I've always secretly hoped that I'd get to hear a concert showcasing from some of his lesser-known but similarly brilliant contemporaries, most notably Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross/Xenogears), Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts) and Hiroshi Sakimoto (FFXII/FF Tactics/Vagrant Story). I'm still waiting for that Sakimoto concert, but Symphonic Fantasies offered me the opportunity to witness Mitsuda and Shimomura performed by no less than the London Symphony Orchestra - and it was just as elatory an experience as I could have anticipated.

The first half comprised of two works, one based around Kingdom Hearts, the other around Hiroki Kikuta's "Secret of Mana" soundtrack. To my surprise, though the former symphony engaged the old nostalgia glands right from the start with the simple, beautiful piano line of "Dearly Beloved", it was latter that ultimately proved the stronger work, with its masterful use of choir and unexpected sound effects, including that of a tropical rain storm.

But it was inevitably the second half that truly shined, with a Mitsuda medley that wove together a smorgasbord of classic Chrono tracks- not least Scars Left By Time, Gale, Frog's Theme, Magus' Theme, To Far Away Times and Peaceful Days. What has always differentiated Mitsuda's work from most VGM composers is his passion for world music, and the effect that has on his melodies, his rhythms and his instrumentation - and thus giving a starring role to the effervescent red-coated darbouka virtuoso Rony Barrak and his percussive brilliance was a masterstroke. After that, a conservatively arranged work based around Uematsu's themes felt a little underwhelming, especially compared to what was showcased during the Final Symphony concerts (in fairness, this program predates those by several years), but there's no denying the hold those classic themes have over my psyche.

As is standard for these concerts, an "unannounced" encore wrapped up proceedings- and delightfully, it comprised a medley of final boss themes from the various games represented tonight. "One Winged Angel" and "Dancing Mad" are inevitably the focus of the piece, but hearing 80 or so primly-dressed choristers intone "LAVOS!" with appropriately apocalyptic volume may have been my personal highlight.

All in all, it probably didn't hit quite hit the heady heights of Final Symphony II - which was one of the best concerts I've ever attended in any medium - but just hearing the Chrono piece alone was well worth the price of admission. A superb performance, and one that makes me excited about what the organisers will come up with next.
JAMBINAI (London Oslo, 03/10/16)

Every time I see Jambinai, they get a little less post-rock and a little more metal. Which isn't a criticism by any means, as their fusion of the harder edge of Western music with traditional South Korean instrumentation remains as potent as ever.
STARS OF THE LID (London Barbican, 02/10/16)

Although they're almost indistinguishable from their sister band A Winged Victory For The Sullen these days (no bad thing), Stars of the Lid's beautiful orchestral ambience and stunning projections - which look breathtaking from the back of the Barbican Hall- provide the perfect soundtrack to a most agreeable Sunday evening.
MERZBOW (London Cafe Oto, 01/10/16)

The sound of a tiny kitten skipping lightly over a sea of rose petals. Or forty-five minutes of unrelenting harsh noise being blasted in my direction, and every other direction, and possibly in directions not as yet discovered by even the most intrepid scientists. A not entirely unpleasant experience oddly enough, but one that left me in a weird daze for some time afterwards.
THE GOON SAX (London Shacklewell Arms, 27/09/16)

A scrappy but endearing set from the maudlin Australian three-piece, whose wistful lo-fi melancholy compensates for their lack of polish.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

TERRY RILEY (London Barbican, 24/09/16)

Review: HERE
WEAVES (London Scala, 22/09/16)

The best band to have come out of Canada since the mid-Noughties heyday of that particular scene, the off-kilter, grungey art-pop of WEAVES is an unabased riot live, coming across as a glorious mix of Deerhoof, Pavement and the Pixies (and maybe a sprinkle of Ponytail too). The best support act I've seen in many a year.
BJORK (London Royal Albert Hall, 21/09/16)

Being eight foot away from Bjork is like being in the presence of a unicorn, a rare and beautiful creature - that you're even there seems an honour in itself, regardless of what she actually does. So the fact that the show was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen could be considered almost a bonus. It many ways, it was her "Carrie and Lowell" to the Volta tour's "Age of Adz", eschewing the lasers, confetti, and electronic beats for minimalism and subtlety and though it wasn't quite what I was expecting, it was undoubtedly a truly special experience. The first half, focusing purely on "Vulnicura" was relentlessly bleak but utterly beautiful, complimented by understated, but stunningly arranged strings. The second, a carefully-curated run through her more delicate classics, including "Aurora" and "Pagan Poetry" (where she giggled in delight when the audience joined in during the final refrain) added some light to the darkness, culminating in an ambitious and unexpected string-based take on "Pluto". It probably wasn't a show for everyone, but for those who respect Bjork's inventiveness and innovation, it was a night we won't soon forget.

Interview/feature: HERE

Saturday, September 17, 2016

END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL (Larmer Tree Gardens, 01/09/16-04/09/16)

Yes, it rained. A lot. Yes, it felt there was a slightly higher proportion of twats in the audience than in the past (although maybe that was just due to the ubiquity of the guy from MONEY). Yes, I still hate camping with a passion that burns brighter than seven suns. But at the end of the day, it was another fantastic weekend filled with good music, good people and good hot dogs slathered with melted raclette cheese. Highlights:

- Broken Social Scene: Hearing "Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl" performed live for the first time since 2008 made me cry. The rest of it was alright too.
- Ezra Furman: Three separate sets, three stunning performances - although Thursday's all-covers set incorporating Madonna, The Arcade Fire, Springsteen, Jackie Wilson, The Clash and Beck was my personal favourite.
- Jeffrey Lewis: No comic strips, but more rockage than usual from the New York "anti-folk" veteran. Always a pleasure.
- Whitney: Some much-needed summertime vibes on a desperately grey day.
- Anna Meredith: One of Britain's most inspiring, eccentric composers, bringing something a bit more left-field to the EOTR mix.
- Martha: Riotous, tongue-in-cheek lo-fi punks from Yorkshire trigger the most middle-class crowd-surfing experience ever witnessed at a live music event.
SILVER APPLES (London Corsica Studios, 31/08/16)

Review: HERE
KAMASI WASHINGTON (London Royal Albert Hall, 30/08/16)

One of the most astounding figures in modern jazz, with a 20-piece gospel choir and a 36-piece string section, playing at the Royal Albert Hall. Of course it was going to be one of the best gigs I've seen in my life. Perhaps the Star Trek-ish choral washes went a bit overboard at times, but when the band were in full flow, their hard-bopping, dazzingly proficient, orchestrally-enhanced jams produced some of the most transcendent music these ears have had the pleasure of hearing

The Moth Club in Hackney may have been sweatier than Chris Moyles' jockstrap, but the Australian psych-rock phenomenon would have melted everyone's faces regardless. Two drums, two guitars, two bassists, one flute, all the riffs- no wonder they're selling out venues ten times the size of this.

Monday, August 29, 2016

DAN DEACON (London Roundhouse, 24/08/16)

Malfunctioning player-pianos. A 25-minute, audience-participation-fuelled improv. piece involving five hundred mobile phones blasting out Phil Collins. Dance-offs and human tunnels and overhead projectors and The Crystal Goddamn Cat. Even by Dan Deacon's standards, this was a pretty out-there show, but by God, it was tremendous fun.
GRANDADDY (London Oslo, 23/08/16) 

It's not everyday you get to see "The Crystal Lake" performed in a 300-capacity sweat box where you're so close to Jason Lytle it's actually a little bit awkward. True, the band looked a little tired, even pissed off at first, but the overwhelming reaction of the audition soon saw them perk up, and by the end it was grins and A-grade lo-fi American indie-rock all round. Superb.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROES (London Islington Assembly Hall, 15/08/16)

Review: HERE