Sunday, October 25, 2015

THE SUN RA ARKESTRA (London Cafe Oto, 25/10/15)

One of the great things about watching the Arkestra perform during daylight hours was watching people walk by Cafe Oto and gawp in bewilderment at the be-sequined free-jazz space wizardry contained within. Of course, there's a whole load of other great things about watching the Arkestra, not least Marshall Allen's forceful, eccentric presence, which remains undimmed at 91 years of age.
REVERE (London Lexington 23/10/15)

Nine years ago, I went to see a short-lived Hope of the States spinoff band at the London Water Rats (remember that place?), and to be perfectly frank they were dull as hell. Their support, however, was not. Revere trod an intriguing line between post-rock and orchestral indie-pop (my two favourite genres at the time), and although nearly a decade later I'm not so in love with that sound as I used to be, on the evidence tonight they're still a band that deserve to be much bigger.
EZRA FURMAN (London Shepherd's Bush Empire, 22/10/15)

I never thought when I saw Ezra Furman at the Sebright Arms last February he'd be selling out Shepherd's Bush Empire 18 months later, but it's a (rare) credit to Britain's music fans that he is. One could argue that the first half of the set was not quite up to his usual gleefully anarchic standards, but when he started throwing out the hits (and there's quite a few of these now) "My Zero", "Body Was Made", "Wobbly", "Lousy Connection"- it swiftly became the chaotic, gloriously celebratory experience that's become his hallmark. And of course, there was that set-closing cover of "Crown of Love", that was essentially the most perfect thing ever.
SON LUX (London Village Underground, 21/10/15)

"It's a show that flits between haunting, echoey balladry and full on barrages of Boredoms-esque noise rock, a show that's cerebral yet also dancey, a show that on paper is the epitome of Pitchfork hipsterism, yet also delivered substance to back up the style." That's how I described Son Lux's 2014 show at the Lexington, which remains one of the best introductions to a band I ever did see. Needless to say, they're ever better now.
METRIC (London Kentish Town Forum, 14/10/15)

Although the heyday of alternative Canadian music is sadly long past, it's good to see some of the leading lights from back then are still doing their thing. Metric are a tiny bit older, quite a bit more theatrical, and sound a lot more like Goldfrapp these days, but what hasn't changed is that Emily Haines is still one of the most magnetic frontwomen around.
KYARY PAMYU PAMYU (London Roundhouse, 11/10/15)

Given that the first thing one thinks of when considering "Harajuku-style" is a balding Polish-Algerian blogger of minimal renown, I naturally had a duty to put on my most fluorescent crop top and join the gothic lolitas and pervy otaku to experience one of J-Pop's most engaging and quirky stars in the flesh. I must admit £35 was somewhat steep for what was a glorified karaoke show, and Kyary isn't exactly blessed with the most varied compositional range, but hey, the choreography was impressive and it was certainly lively.
DAHKABRAKA (London Village Underground, 01/10/15)

I've not seen many self-described "ethno-chaos" bands in my time, but if they're all as good as this Ukrainian four-piece, then perhaps I've been missing out. Marko Halanevych's vocals, veering between a high-pitched falsetto and an guttural Eugene Hutz-ish growl is quite the experience in itself, but it's the stunning Slavic-style harmonies of Olen Tsybulska, Iryna Kovalenko and Nina Harenetska that really mark out DahkaBrakha as something special.
THE OCTOPUS PROJECT (London Shacklewell Arms, 29/09/15)

Anyone who has ever had to endure my awful views on music may know that I reckon Austin's The Octopus Project to be one of the most underrated live bands in the world. Tonight's show at the Shacklewell Arms did nothing to undermine this opinion. Like a psychedelic take on Holy Fuck with additional theremin, they deliver an electrifying fusion of propulsive percussion and kaleidoscopic progginess, and if there was any justice in the world they'd be headlining the Brixton Academy rather than the back of a pub in Dalston.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

BEIRUT (London St-John-at-Hackney Church, 25/09/15)

Arch-practitioner of maudlin brass-tinged folk Zach Condon may have once indirectly referred to me as a "bum", but after watching this "Greatest Hits" set I'm very much willing to let that slide. I mean, seriously, opening with "Scenic World"->"Elephant Gun"? What more could one ask for?
THE REFLEKTOR TAPES- The Arcade Fire Documentary

Review: HERE
AURORA (London Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, 18/09/15)

Review: HERE
BO NINGEN (London Cafe Oto, 17/09/15)

OK, "The Night of The Stickmen" wasn't actually a Bo Ningen show per-se, but it did involve the long-haired Japanese psych-wizards in various improvisational guises, combining forces with various guest musicians to provide an experience more avant-garde than their normal gigs, although just as loud and uncompromising. Shame about the lack of air-con at Cafe Oto though *faints*
JAMBINAI (London Rich Mix, 16/09/15)

Whilst Japan has long produced bands that have received critical, if not quite commercial acclaim over in the UK, the Korean music scene has remained decidedly low-profile in comparison. Jambinai may be the act to change all that. Whilst the structure of their music owes a lot to Mono, Sigur Ros and to a lesser extent Sonic Youth and Boredoms, Jambinai introduce traditional Korean folk instrumentation to the mix, adding a hauntingly beautiful, richly atmospheric edge to what could have been just A.N.Other post-rock band. An act that has the potential to become something very, very special.
TONY ALLEN (London Royal Festival Hall, 13/09/15)

Although the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer is the main-billed artist tonight, this turned out to be more of a full-on collaboration between some of Africa's greatest musical luminaries, including kora masters Toumani and Sidike Diabate, Francophone rapper Oxmo and Senegalese baritone Baaba Maal. Inevitably Damon Albarn also makes an appearance, but he thankfully he didn't bugger things up too much. Perhaps it wasn't as much of a dance party as I was hoping for (at least until the last quarter, where the audience are finally coerced into standing up) but damn, watching Toumani and Sidike in full flow whilst Tony Allen and his band provided the afro-funk was a very special experience for all concerned.
FINAL SYMPHONY II (London Barbican, 12/09/15)

Maybe it's a sign of me being fundamentally wrong as a human being, but I got considerably more emotional at this glorious celebration of Nobuo Uematsu's music than at Sufjan Stevens the previous week. The first Final Symphony was an excellent, if at times uneven night of music, but this was an absolute triumph from start to finish. The highlights in bullet point form:

 - Virtuoso Ukrainian pianist Slava Sidorenko's utterly magnificent performance during the FFIX Piano Concerto. From the off-kilter plinky-plonkiness of "Vivi's Theme" to the manic, key-hammering finale of "The Final Battle", he perfectly captured the magic of one of Uematsu's most underrated soundtracks.

- When the London Symphony Orchestra's string section broke into FFVIII's "Ami" with the richest vibrato imaginable and I was almost paralysed with goosebumps.

-  The FFV Symphony. Little did I know when I was downloading shoddily-translated ROMs on a dial-up connection in1999 that I would I one day hear the FFV Battle Theme performed by one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Like many, I thought the reliance on Lenna's Theme (not Uematsu's strongest leitmotif) was a very rare misstep by the arrangers, but the constant teases of "Ahead On Our Way" ultimately culminating in a full run-through made me so happy.

- Clash de Chocobo. A truly inspired mash-up of two of the series' most beloved melodies, performed with gusto and humour by the LSO.

In summary: a magnificent night of music by any measure, and one that proves once and for all, that the much-derided medium of video game music can stand its own against the very best of them.
THE DELINES (London St Pancras Old Church, 11/09/15)

St Pancras Old Church was a truly lovely setting for the Portlanders' downtempo country-soul, even if it turns out their music really isn't my bag.
a.P.a.t.T (London Brixton Windmill, 09/09/15)

In the dark and distant mists of time (2008), I went to a Casiotone For The Painfully Alone show at the dearly departed Luminaire in Kilburn (yes, an gig in West London! The Noughties were truly a more decadent age.) The headliners themselves were every bit as delightful as you'd expect from a indietronic tweecore act, but what's stuck in my mind over the years is the weirdness of the support acts. The first was Harry Merry, with his uniquely Dutch "Circus Of the Damned-meets-Yewtree" vibe, whilst the second were a Livepudlian collective all clad in white, who veered madcap through every musical genre under the sun. That band was a.P.a.t.T, and I'm glad to report that seven years on, they're still as endearingly batshit as ever.
FFS (London Forum, 08/09/15)

Once again, Franz Ferdinand and Sparks prove that collaborations certainly DO work. They even brought joy to the Kentish Town Forum, which is a miracle far greater than anything Jesus accomplished.
SUFJAN STEVENS (Brighton Dome, 04/09/15)

Sufjan Sad Jams: Part 2. Much the same as the London show, minus pipe organ but plus "Casimir Pulaski Day".
THE POLYPHONIC SPREE (London Electric Ballroom, 03/09/15)

Texas' foremost pseudo-cultish music ensemble may be diminished from their mid-Noughties heyday (only fifteen members rather than thirty), but their rushed demo-turned-unexpected indie hit "The Beginning Stages Of..." remains one of the most uplifting collections of songs released in my lifetime, and it was an absolute joy to see it performed in its entirety. The second half, drawing on newer material, suffered from moments of self-indulgence (Tim DeLaughter sometimes doesn't know where to end a song) but nonetheless, for sheer happiness induced, this may well have been my show of the year.
SUFJAN STEVENS (London Royal Festival Hall, 02/09/15)

When I went to Copenhagen to see Mr Stevens for the first time, I described it as "one of the most riveting, over-the-top, luscious live performances I've ever seen." Needless to say, that was on the "Age of Adz" tour, which was a bit of an outlier as Sufjan albums go. This time around, as he promotes an album about the recent death of his estranged mother, things are naturally significantly more subdued. It was certainly a stunningly beautiful performance, with some of the most impressive lighting I've seen at a gig, yet....for some reason it didn't really connect with me. In fact, my highlight was the long noisey done, featuring pipe organ courtesy of Nico Muhly, at the tail-end of "Blue Bucket Of Gold" mostly because it was so at odds with the rest of the set. An excellent show by any benchmark, but alas, not the all-time classic others have declared it to be.
TV ON THE RADIO (London Roundhouse, 30/08/15)

It's easy to forget how many fucking great songs TV On The Radio have put out over the years, and tonight Tunde Adebimpe delivered them with such taut, blistering energy that it made up for the fact the last two albums have been lacklustre by their standards. Also, the sound mix was actually better than "dogshit" (the traditional level for a TVOTR show) so you could actually hear Kyp's vocals for once. A winner all round.
DEERHOOF (London Tufnell Park Dome, 25/08/15)

After 21 years, Deerhoof still sound like no-one else. Some would argue that's a good thing, but in my opinion their quirky jazz/noise/rock weirdness is more exhilarating than 99% of bands out there, even when tempered with Greg's interminable attempts at banter.
GREEN MAN FESTIVAL (Glanusk Park, 20/08/15-23/08/15)

I led a Dan Deacon dance-off in front of several thousand people. I experienced Natalie Prass' brave but fruitless defense against Powys' impressive wasp population. I saw Calexico bring their dusty, Mariachi-infused Americana to a wet, soggy field in the middle of Wales. I witnessed 91-year old Marshall Allen from Sun Ra ignore set curfews and continue playing until the power was cut. I was made pregnant by Charles Bradley as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. I had my socks charmed off by effervescent Norwegian popster Aurora. I felt my breath taken away by the genius of Son Lux. I flitted between the stark drama of St Vincent in her pomp and the lush, looped strings of Owen Pallett. And most of all, I got very, very wet. Green Man, you're alright.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

VISIONS FESTIVAL (Various Hackney Venues, 08/08/15)

If you like queues, Visions is the festival for you. If you do not like queues, you may want to proceed with caution. To be fair, what I saw was very good, especially Jens Lekman's twee dance party in St John-at-Hackney Church and Holy Fuck's much sweatier dance party down at Oval Space, but overall I spent almost much time moaning with my fellow punters outside venues than actually watching bands.
FUNKADELIC (London Camden Ballroom, 07/08/15)

I'm going to be honest here- Funkadelic have never quite lived up to my expectations live. I love their chaos, I love their character, I love the goddamn funk but sometimes they're just too messy to truly groove. And despite being in a venue with a decent soundsystem for once, the turgid sound-mix did not inspire me to get off my ass and jam. Plus, they didn't play The Best Guitar Instrumental Of All Time, an act worthy of Sir Nose D'voidoffunk himself.
SON LUX (London Rough Trade East, 07/08/15)

Usually I don't review in-stores, but Son Lux truly is something special. From their unusual sound- a hybrid of trip-hop, R&B and indie-rock, to their strange, poised energy their live performances are some of the most spine-tinglingly brilliant I've seen over the last few years. And whilst you might get the impression from their albums that Ryan Lott may be somewhat of an unapproachable, humourless type, on stage he's quite the opposite- down-to-earth and appreciative of even this modest audience. They deserve to be much bigger.
THE MYNABIRDS (London The Islington, 05/08/15)

Pleasant enough show from Laura Berhenn, who at times sounds like the missing link between Carole King and Beach House. But after two energetic gigs earlier in the week, this was a tad too sedate for me.
ANAMANAGUCHI (London XOYO, 04/08/15)

A short, sweet and oh-so-sweaty set from the chiptune masters, whose glistening synth-pop and neon aesthetics are the musical equivalent of downing three gallons of sherbet. And yet even they seemed relatively reserved compared to the utterly bonkers Kero Kero Bonito, who vibe is best described as halfway between "Harajuku" and "CBeebies".
ROY AYERS (London Ronnie Scott's, 03/08/15)

The vibraphone wizard is still a force to be reckoned with at the age of 74 and although his vocals aren't as powerful as they used to be, two-and-a-half hours of premium jazz-funk ain't to be sniffed at.
THE EARLIES (London Shacklewell Arms, 31/07/15)

When I was at Uni I discovered a wonderful half-Texan, half-Mancunian outfit named the Earlies, who combined 60's West Coast harmonies with psychedelic prog (and roughly several hundred instruments). Their live shows were always blissful, and I was deeply saddened when they disappeared into obscurity somewhere in the middle of '07. So you can only imagine my delight when I discovered they had not only reunited for a one-off tour, but that their London date coincided with my 30th birthday.

And what a show it was. Not only did they manage to get the whole 11-piece live band back together (quite a feat given the dimensions of the Shacklewell stage) but they still had that old magic, despite their self-depreciating stage patter. I actually have a greater appreciation of their more outre, abrasive material now than I did in 2006, but it was the likes of "One Of Us Is Dead" that really underlined to all present what a criminally underrated band they were. If this is truly the end for the Earlies, it was a fine note to bow out on - but if it isn't, let's hope we don't have to wait 'til 2023 for the next time.
EZRA FURMAN (London Abbey Road Studios, 30/07/15)

It's not like I'm obsessed with everyone's favourite transgender Springsteen-channelling Jew, but this is the fourth time I've seen him perform live in 2015. Tonight's show is a bit of an oddity as it's actually a recording for a live EP at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios, and as a result it's much more mannered than your typically unhinged Boyfriends gig. But despite Ezra being frazzled by an uncomfortable radio interview earlier that day, the band still put on one hell of a performance, dusting off under-appreciated gems from their back catalogue as well as "Lousy Connection" et al. The perfect pick-me-up on an otherwise awful day.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

SONS OF KEMET (London Lloyd Park, 18/07/15)

Shabaka Hutchings may appear to be involved with every other band in London at the moment, but Sons of Kemet may well be the best. Sax, tuba and two drums (one played by the mighty Seb Rochford), and a down and dirty post-jazz vibe that gets the whole of Walthamstow dancing. Awesome stuff for Awesome-stow.
PIKA (London Brixton Windmill, 16/07/15)

Fresh from eviscerating my eardrums with the mighty ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE a couple of weeks back, Pika's solo show is also worth a gander. Her solo guitar material is rough-edged yet kawaii, but its her noisy improvised sets with assorted other musicians that proves the real draw.

Review: HERE

(Photo: Kimberley Ross)
EZRA FURMAN (w/ Guildford Boileroom, 08/07/15)

Once again an awkward, queer Jewish guy channeling Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen puts on one of the scintillating live sets you ever will see. True, the Boileroom more than lived up to its name, but the oppressive humidity didn't put a dampener on Ezra and the Girlfriends' peerless energy and verve.
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE (London Dome, 03/07/15)

Ancient and venerable psych-wizards once again declare war against my hearing, now with auxiliary support from Afrirampo's vivacious drummer Pika. Victory was ultimately theirs.
SEA OF BEES (London St John on Bethnal Green Church, 30/06/15)

Review: HERE
FFS (London Troxy, 29/06/15)

Despite their protestations that collaborations don't work, Franz Ferdinand and Sparks turn out to be a match made in heaven. Ron Mael still is the most terrifying man alive, Russell Mael has more energy in his late 60's than I do in my late 20's, and the whole set, from the Sparksified version of "Michael" to the camp majesty of "Achoo" is an arch, tongue-in-cheek delight from start to finish.
BOREDOMS (London Barbican, 27/06/15)

DID YOU KNOW: sitting a few feet from 88 people hammering cymbals in unison may be something you may want experience with earplugs wedged firmly in your earholes? In truth, this wasn't the greatest Boredoms show I've ever seen- it was overlong at 140 minutes, and cymbals are pretty limited as an instrument even in that sort of quantity, but goddamn, when it was good, it was truly transcendent. Particularly enjoyed the bit when it all went a bit Geinoh Yamashirogumi in the middle. DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!
NATALIE PRASS (London Islington Assembly Hall, 24/06/15)

Natalie Prass is a top songwriter and supernaturally charismatic, but the instrumentation tonight seemed a little weaksauce for someone known for her lush arrangements. Nice cameos from Jessie Ware and Ryan Adams though.
ALDEN PENNER AND MICHAEL CERA (London 100 Club, 23/06/15)

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Ability To Hit A Note. Michael Cera is fine when playing bass guitar, or playing some socially awkward man-child, but he really should have left the songwriting/singing to the Unicorns frontman. They didn't even play "Careless Whisper". :-(
BLUR (London Hyde Park, 20/06/15)

As someone who was massively disappointed by Blur's last Hyde Park, I'm delighted at how much of a joy this was. Great staging, perfect balance of new stuff and hits, and the circle pit for "Song 2" was one of the most fun things I've been involved with for yonks.
THE STROKES (London Hyde Park, 18/06/15)

Julian Casablancas may have been on a heroic amount of drugs and the rest of the band rather workmanlike, but a bona fide greatest hits set is still not to be sniffed at. More enjoyable than it had any right to be.
THE GO! TEAM (London Village Underground, 17/06/15)

I first saw The Go! Team in 2005 and they were shit, so I'm glad to report they've improved immensely over the last decade. That might because maestro Ian Parton wrote the new albums to fit the live set-up better, but it's also because Ninja and co. have finally matched the energy that made the likes of "Huddle Formation" and "Ladyflash" so infectious in the first place.
DAN DEACON (London Oval Space, 16/06/15)

Review: HERE
LIIMA (London Village Underground, 15/06/15)

Electro-klang. Yeah, they're not as good as Efterklang were at their best- they're still a little loose and unfocused at times, but there's definitely promise here. And Casper and Rasmus remain two of the most endearingly enthusiastic people in music.
LITURGY (London Electrowerkz, 12/06/15)

Review: HERE

(Also, more importantly: Circuit des Yeux's haunting, Nico-ish songwriting was a lot more compelling than what I was sent to review. Very dark and atmospheric)
PERFUME GENIUS (London Royal Festival Hall, 11/06/15)

Glad to see Mike Hadreas has got over his stage fright, and his darker, more dramatic new material does have its merits, but for some reason, Perfume Genius still hasn't really clicked for me. At least I didn't fall asleep halfway through this time.
HEALTH (London Tufnell Park Dome, 10/06/15)

John Famiglietti whips his hair back and forth, their drummer looks like Zangief, and several hundred eardrums implode under a relentless electro-noise-rock barrage. HEALTH haven't changed a jot in the last seven years, and who would want them to?