Sunday, January 25, 2015

STARS (London Scala, 15/01/15)

Stars didn't rank as one of my favourite members of the Toronto-based Arts and Crafts collective until I saw them at the Kings Cross Scala in 2007. My experience at that show is documented in some detail here, but in summary, their earnest, hands-on-heart indie-pop was augmented a hundred-fold by the unrestrained passion of their lead singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Seven years on, and mercifully little has changed. True, their more recent material has veered on a sometimes questionable cod-disco tangent, but their gigs remain a joyous affair, full of an energy and charisma that may have come across as cheesy if it hadn't obviously been delivered with such sincerity (see also: Craig Finn of the Hold Steady). Plus, it's always nice to be at a show where you're surrounded by actual fans, rather than hordes of guestlist wankers.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

THE BEST LIVE ACTS OF TWO THOUSAND AND FOURTEEN


Another sterling year for live music, and one that takes my gig total to four shy of a thousand. Maybe I should find a new hobby. I saw quite a few acts in 2014 that in previous years would have doubtlessly made my Top 50, but weren't quite amazing enough to match this year's exceptionally high standard. So sorry, Haiku Salut, Hidden Cameras, Moonface, Chilly Gonzales, Tamikrest, Martha Wainwright, My Brightest Diamond, Daniel Rossen, Ramona Lewis, Peter Broderick, Tall Tall Trees, Flamingods, !!! and Tyondai Braxton. Maybe next time.

50. MIILA AND THE GEEKS- Tokyo Batica
Frankly, any event where cheesecake is a purchasable commodity is guaranteed to get me on side, but my first ever gig on Asian show also introduced me to the offbeat brilliance of this Tokyo trio, who match scuzzy post-punk with squalling saxophone and three Godzillas worth of energy.

49. PRINCE- London Electric Ballroom 
The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, in a 800-capacity venue, for ten English pounds? Don't get me wrong, it was an excellent set from a supernaturally charismatic and talented motherfunker, but the fact he kept all his best material for the Johnny-come-latelys at the later performance did kinda screw over all of us who spent eight hours queuing in the pissing rain for the first one.

48. MUTUAL BENEFIT- London St. John on Bethnal Green Church
The clientele of this show may have been a bit "International Sad Man Conference 2014," but this gorgeous, subtle performance, somewhere between Radical Face and Stars of the Lid was one of this year's low-key highlights.

47. BOOKER T. JONES- Latitude Festival, Henham Park, Suffolk 
A lot of people take the piss out of Latitude - and rightly so- but these days I'd frankly much rather watch an effortlessly charming Stax legend perform the likes of "Green Onions" or "Soul Limbo" (A.K.A the BBC cricket song) than sit through yet another band who wants to be Pavement.

46. KATE BUSH- London Hammersmith Apollo 
A creatively stunning, brilliantly batshit but rather overlong piece of musical theatre from one of Britain's most endearing and eccentric performers.



45. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS- London Shepherd's Bush Empire 
A show wherein the New Pornographers competently rattled through their enviable catalogue of top-drawer power-pop - as they always do - but with the welcome addition of Dan Bejar looking vaguely nonplussed throughout.
 
44. BESNARD LAKES- London Lexington 
Don't let the fact the lead singer looks like Jimmy Savile put you off - few bands do Fleetwood Mac-inspired shoegaze better than these hard-working Québécois.

43. JULIA HOLTER- Latitude Festival, Henham Park 
Julia Holter's shows at the Barcelona Auditori and London Barbican were too clinical and prissy for my tastes, but her Latitude performance, late at night in a secluded woodland clearing lit only by fairy lights, really did sound like something from another world.

42. MOGWAI- London Royal Festival Hall 
Mogwai may fear Satan (and my God, that song almost pulverised my already-frazzled eardrums into sub-atomic oblivion), but they should be more concerned about the exceptionally small bladders prevalent amongst their fanbase. DRINK LESS REAL ALE, PEOPLE.

41. LAIBACH- London Village Underground 
Three and a half decades haven't blunted the Slovenian industrial band's taste for controversy (the visuals for their first three songs incorporated graphic fellatio, wartime imagery and space Nazis- rather like a Richard Littlejohn wet dream), but underneath the faux-fascistic bluster, they're a bunch of bleeding heart lefties who now sound more like latter-day The Knife than Rammstein.



40. YAMANTAKA//SONIC TITAN- Primavera Festival, Parc del Forum, Barcelona 
I personally suspect YT//ST's impressive mixture of Japanese traditional influences and balls-to-the-wall hard rock riffage was merely a pretext to summon Ramuh, eldritch God of Thunder, as seconds after they left the stage, the heavens opened and Barcelona was subjected to the most Biblical deluge I've endured since Glasto 2007.

39. WILDBIRDS AND PEACEDRUMS- London Village Underground 
As per Swedish constitutional law, Wildbirds and Peacedrums have taken a swerve into darker, R&B tinged electro-pop, which on the whole seems like a sensible move. But as beautifully bleak as their reworking of "My Heart" was, I couldn't help missing the steel drums and zithers of old.

38. FUTURE ISLANDS- Latitude Festival, Henham Park, Suffolk 
*gyrates in the fashion of a constipated crab*

37. KISHI BASHI- London Bush Hall 
Can't help but feel Kishi Bashi's full-band shows aren't quite as magical as his more spontaneous solo performances (less looping, less beat-boxing, less unadulterated filth), but by God, does he carry off a good cover of "Live Or Let Die."

36. CHARLES BRADLEY- London Shepherd's Bush Empire 
Charles Bradley: a once-homeless sexagenerian reborn as an soul man with the voice of James Brown and the moves of a drunken uncle. One of the most raw and passionate performers you ever will see.



35. THE FLAMING LIPS- RiotFest Festival, Humbolt Park, Chicago 
Sure, it's as style over substance as ever, and yeah, Wayne Coyne has now reached apocalyptic levels of messianic self-regard, but let's face it: for sheer, unrestrained, joyous spectacle few things can match a Flaming Lips gig.

34. VIOLENT FEMMES- London Troxy 
Some older bands, when reuniting to play material from their long-distant youth, expend the least amount of effort possible in doing so (ain't that right, Frank Black?) Violent Femmes, on the other hand looked like they were having the time of their lives, and ensured we did as well.

33. TONY ALLEN- London Village Underground 
Progenitor of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti/Damon Albarn collaborator and all-round cool dude brings some genuine class-A Nigerian funk to East London. One can only dream of being so bad-ass at the age of 74.

32. tUnE-YaRdS- London Village Underground 
Nothing will ever top the Cargo show a few years back, but I'm never going to turn down the opportunity to see the marvellous Merrill Garbus bringing her hyperactive musical vision to life.

31. CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH- London Electric Ballroom 
It's a shame the indie-rockers are considered also-rans these days, because they're an infinitely more enjoyable live act now than they ever were at their peak. In 2005 Alec Ounsworth had all the stage presence of a dead Tory accountant; now he's relaxed, charming and blessed with one of the most lively backing bands I've seen all year. Songs are alright too, I guess.


30. SINKANE- London Oslo 
If Yeasayer ditched the Animal Collective influences for Fela Kuti, they might be as catastrophically funky as Ahmed Gallab and his band. Bonus points for the William Onyeabor cover at the end.

29. FANG ISLAND- London Birthdays 
What I learnt from this gig is i) you can never have enough riffs and ii) you can't really accommodate three simultaneous crowdsurfers in a 200-capacity venue.

28. COLIN STETSON- London St John on Bethnal Green Church
How does Colin Stetson produce such an array of weird and otherworldly sounds from his saxo-mo-phone? Answer: he's a sorcerer and should be burnt.

27. WHO IS WILLIAM ONYEABOR?- London Barbican 
Who IS William Onyeabor? A Russian-trained Nigerian cinematographer? A religious evangelical? A businessman of slightly shady repute? Whatever the truth is, he put out some bloody amazing electro-funk records out back in the 70's and Damon Albarn, Sinkane, Money Mark, the drummer from LCD Soundsystem and Alexis from Hot Chip overall did a solid job in recreating them.. In truth, this probably wouldn't have made my Top 50 if it wasn't for the sheer celebratory exuberance of "Fantastic Man" and "When The Going Is Smooth And Good", but give me an average gig with one or two moments of absolute brilliance than one that is solid but unspectacular any day.

26. MELT YOURSELF DOWN- London Village Underground 
A ferociously dynamic mixture of jazz, no wave and central African rhythms underpinned by the irrepressible energy of Zun Zun Egui's Kushul Gaya and on this occasion, the slightly unnerving presence of no-wave pioneer James Chance.



25. OF MONTREAL- London Electric Ballroom 
The "Camden Crawl" incarnation of Of Montreal may have only had three people and no theatrics, but they more than made up for it by ignoring pretty much everything they've released since "Skeletal Lamping." Can't go wrong with a Sunlandic Twins/Hissing Fauna greatest hits set, right?

24. PATTI SMITH- RiotFest Festival, Humbolt Park, Chicago 
No "Gloria" or "Land" alas, but if there was a single person that summed up what RiotFest should have been about, it was Patti Smith who at 67, is more punk than a gazillion Offsprings put together.

23. JANELLE MONAE- London Brixton Academy 
A show that felt too small for the 3,000-capacity Brixton Academy, I'm frankly surprised that Janelle Monae isn't world-famous at this stage. The natural heir to Michael Jackson or Prince, her slick pop-funk, powerhouse vocals and impeccable stage presence makes her one of the few acts on this list I suspect would be enjoyed by normal people as much as me.

22. EELS- London Barbican 
From string-drenched classicalism, to gospel revivalism, to dour acoustic minimalism, to balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, it's hard to predict what tone a particular Eels tour will take. This time Mark "E" Everett, fresh from being granted "Freedom of the City of London," went for a richly orchestrated Leonard Cohen vibe, which worked fantastically with a setlist uncharacteristically filled with old-school hits. Sometimes respectability ain't such a bad thing.

21. AK/DK- London Lexington 
God knows what happened to Holy Fuck, but AK/DK sound a lot like them...but perhaps even better? Two drummers, synths, a lot of electronic gubbins and a 1940's oscillator because why the hell not, they're one of the best support acts I've seen in recent times.



20. THE FIRE! ORCHESTRA- London The Laundry 
If it wasn't for a mid-section of noodly free-form wank, this show by a 28-piece Swedish jazz orchestra may have been a contender for gig of the year. Mariam Wallentin's vocal talents never fail to send a shiver down my spine, but it was Sofia Jernberg, an impossibly versatile Ethiopian-born jazz singer who truly took my breath away.

19. SATELLITI- Latitude Festival, Henham Park, Suffolk 
If you ever find yourself at Latitude, I'd recommend moseying down to the "Late Junction" stage after the main headliners have finished, because more likely than not you're going to discover something brilliant. Case in point: Satelliti, an incredible Italian duo who fuse jazz, krautrock, noise and techno influences into something brutal and propulsive without devolving into self-indulgence.

18. NINE INCH NAILS- Primavera Festival, Parc del Forum, Barcelona 
Can't help but think Trent Reznor is essentially culpable for the existence of emo, but that notwithstanding, this really was a masterclass in how to do a headline slot. If it wasn't for the fact I was in a concrete exhibition park in the middle of Barcelona and it was 2am, I'd have gone and bought some black nail varnish right there and then.

17. THE HOLD STEADY- London Bush Hall 
My interest in the Hold Steady diminished rapidly after Franz Nicolay left, but I still couldn't bring myself to pass up the chance to see them in a venue as tiny as Bush Hall. And it appears even they've realised that their recent stuff is crap, as the setlist overwhelmingly drew from "Separation Sunday", "Boys And Girls In America" and "Stay Positive". Craig Finn was at his over-enthusiastic best, the audience treated the whole thing like a religious revival, and the encore of "Massive Nights", "Constructive Summer", "Hot Soft Light", "Stay Positive" and "Killer Parties" was SO AMAZING that it more than made up for the number of bruises I acquired.

16. TEETH OF THE SEA- Latitude Festival, Henham Park, Suffolk 
Yeah, it did feel slightly incongruous watching Teeth of the Sea in the middle of a forest, rather than an abandoned Peckham warehouse or the set from "The Running Man," but their uncompromising mix of electronics, brass and electronic guitar left nothing but burst eardrums and blown minds in their wake.



15. JEFFREY LEWIS- London Electric Ballroom 
I've seen Jeff Lewis a hell of a lot over the years, and this was one of the sharpest and wittiest shows I've ever seen him do. I mean, who else could get away with reciting a (fully illustrated) rhyme summarising the history of Vietnam in-between a ballad on his love for British cuisine and an ode to Russian feminist punks Pussy Riot without coming across like an utter jemble?

14. BO NINGEN- Raw Power Festival, Tufnell Park Dome, London 
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGEN! *flails around on stage, swings guitar around, unleashes massive psychedelic riff, destroys audience*

13. 65DAYSOFSTATIC- London Koko 
The Sheffield-based math-rockers have always been admirably cynical about rose-tinted nostalgia, but the 10 year anniversary of "The Fall of Math" reluctantly persuaded them to finally play their debut in full, to the net benefit of all concerned. "Retreat! Retreat!" nearly broke me; the encore of "Radio Protector" finished the job.

12. EZRA FURMAN- London Sebright Arms 
Springsteen reincarnated into the body of a nebbish, shrill-voiced youth. On paper, this should be awful. In reality, it's absolute genius. If you don't fall in love with his infectious enthusiasm, you're basically a UKIP voter.

11. ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE- Raw Power Festival, Tufnell Park Dome, London 
Acid Mothers Temple claim to be from Japan, but they are not of this Earth. They are ancient psych wizards from another dimension, sent to bombard the people of this accursed plane with waves of AWESOME EAR-SPLINTERING NOISE.



10. THE OCTOPUS PROJECT- London Lexington 
I've never seen a band blow up three separate pieces of equipment in a single set before, but perhaps the sheer brilliance of the Octopus Project cannot be bound within mere electronics? Also, they use a theremin and that is an awesome and beautiful thing.



9. ZA!- Primavera Festival, Parc del Forum, Barcelona 
 Za! are that rarest of beasts: a band that genuinely defies categorisation. My memories are a bit hazy as I did watch them at 4 in the morning, but the Barcelona duo's insane genre-hopping odyssey was a genuine marvel, incorporating Boredoms-esque noisiness, traditional Catalan folk songs, full-on Eurorave and everything in between.



8. OWEN PALLETT- London Oval Space 
Given I've seen the Artist Formerly Known as Final Fantasy in churches, fancy concert halls and on one occasion, surrounded by palm trees in the Californian desert, it seems odd that the best show I've ever seen him play took place in a converted industrial space in Hackney. But there you go.



7. NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL- London Roundhouse 
Neutral Milk Hotel are a disorganised, scrappy mess of a band, and Jeff Mangum looks like a murderous hobo with that stupid beard but nonetheless this was as close to a spiritual experience I'm likely to get until I inevitably join some Californian murder-cult.



6. SONS OF KEMET- Latitude Festival, Henham Park, Suffolk 
Combining the talents of Shabaka Hutchings (saxophonist for Melt Yourself Down), frizzy-haired drumlord Seb Rochford, another percussionist and a tuba player, Sons of Kemet's visceral fusion of hard jazz and Jamaican dancehall influences turned the intimate Lavish Lounge stage into an unrestrained dance party that included, for reasons as yet unfathomed, a stage invader with his own cowbell. Forget post-dubstep or whatever poncey genre the Dalstonites are pushing this week - drum and brass is where it’s at.



5. ST VINCENT- London Roundhouse 
I am certain that in years to come, Annie Clark will be considered one of the defining artists of our generation. As someone who first saw her back in 2007 playing a student union bar to less than 50 people, it's tremendous to see how a shy solo guitarist with a bunch of loop-pedals has become this imperious, theatrical, vital performer whose has honed her craft to near-perfection. There are those that would argue that parts of her current show are a bit stage-y (probably a result of hanging about with David Byrne too much), but that rendition of "Your Lips Are Red" are as potent an antidote to those complaints- or any complaints about anything whatsoever- as one could imagine.



4. JOHN GRANT- London Royal Festival Hall 
I generally find "gigs with instrumental ensembles" a bit disappointing, usually because they fail to gel with the regular band set-up or dilute the impact of the original compositions, but John Grant's collaboration with the Northern Sinfonia was an absolute triumph. Sure, sometimes he's too earnest for my tastes, but to hear "Queen of Denmark" and "Pale Green Ghosts" with full orchestral backing was to hear perfection. Line this guy up for the next Bond theme.



3. STEVIE WONDER- London Clapham Common 
I've been to nigh-on a thousand gigs and Stevie Wonder at Clapham Common may have contained the highest number of bona fide, stone-cold pophits out of all of them. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." "My Cherie Amour." "Sir Duke." "Living For The City. " "I Wish." "Master Jammer." God-damn "Superstition." So brilliant, it almost made up for having to endure Jack Johnson, the musical equivalent of gonorrhoea and Nigel Farage combined.



2. SON LUX- London Lexington 
The last time an New York band blew me away so comprehensively as Son Lux was Battles in '07, and pretty much for the same reasons. True, they don't sound much alike, but they both marry originality and intelligence with a blistering, passionate, sublimely executed live performance that's quite unlike anything else out there. Hipster bollocks perhaps, but of the best possible vintage.


1. ARCADE FIRE- London Earls Court 
Never thought I'd experience a Arcade Fire gig like this again. The Suburbs tour saw the band going through the motions with songs so middling even I, Mr "I've seen AF 28 times" can't remember the names of them all. The early Reflektor shows were by and large a return to form, but the audiences were filled with teenagers who'd get excited about "Rococo" but would be oblivious to "Tunnels" (an overwhelming argument for the return of National Service if there ever was one.) But this...this show had the old magic. Everyone around me knew the words to the Funeral songs. The band seemed re-energised. There was a piñata, not to mention Ian McCulloch. And, of course, there was Here Comes The Night Time->Wake Up to wrap things up. It may not have been the most intimate or epoch-defining or even well-performed show I've seen this year, but it's certainly the one that gave me the most of a buzz, and that ain't to be sniffed at.

Photo credits:  
John Gleeson (St Vincent)
Matt Crossick (Sons of Kemet)

(For previous editions of this egotistical bollocks, here are the lists for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

THUS: OWLS (London Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, 04/12/14)

Pleasant, autoharp-wielding Swedish-Canadian outfit who had the misfortune of following an absolutely cracking run of gigs, and therefore seemed a little...tame in comparison. Deserved a bigger audience nonetheless.
OWEN PALLETT (London Queen Elizabeth Hall, 03/12/14)



Not quite as phenomenal as his Oval Space show earlier this year (personally, I thought he seemed a bit tired) but the Man Formerly Known As Final Fantasy's experimentation with an ensemble resulted in some stunning moments, not least the live première of "On A Path."
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (London Shepherd's Bush Empire, 02/12/14)



The nice thing about New Pornos gigs is that you always know what you're going to get- a satisfying, no frills performance of some bloody fantastic songs that covers all the bases without being truly spectacular. The only novel addition to the mix was the appearance of the ever-enigmatic Dan Bejar, who as always looked like he'd rather be dipping his ballsack in molten wax than performing on stage. Never change, Bejar.
SINKANE (London Oslo, 01/12/14)


Why isn't all music this catastrophically funky? Sinkane sound like Yeasayer if they ditched the Animal Collective influences for Fela Kuti, and that, in my books, is an instant recipe for awesome. Plus, he covered William Onyeabor's "Body and Soul" in the encore, an act almost calculated to get me on-side.
JOHN GRANT (London Royal Festival Hall, 30/11/14)
 

John Grant has never been one of my favourite artists. He's got some brilliant songs but also a lot of filler, and I find his style a little too earnest for my tastes. But this...this was a gig for the ages. Collaborations with orchestras almost inevitably fail to live up to expectations, but the Northern Sinfonia absolutely nailed it, transforming Grant's arch, deeply personal synth-pop into gloriously rich, ostentatious epics worthy of a Bond film. True, sometimes not even their luscious orchestrations could elevate some of his more humdrum output, but the renditions of "Queen of Denmark", "Glacier" and "Pale Green Ghosts" were serious contenders for my musical highlight of the year.
JULIA HOLTER (London Barbican, 29/11/14)


In many ways, Julia Holter's music is the musical equivalent of a Wes Anderson film: studied, quirky and occasionally genius. Sometimes it clicks for me- in the middle of a woodland clearing at 10 in the evening, with the arena lit only by fairy lights, it sounded like something from another world. On other occasions, like tonight, it fails to fully connect- it's all a bit too clinical, washed out, prissy. She's inarguably a singular talent, but I think she's one I really need to be in the mood for to appreciate.
MARTHA WAINWRIGHT (London Queen Elizabeth Hall, 27/11/14)

For many years Martha Wainwright has been pretty much the only artist I can watch perform with just an acoustic guitar who doesn't make me want to shoot myself. She's got a great voice, great songs and a casual self-depreciating charm that's incredibly endearing. Unfortunately, she also has a Wayne Coyne-ish tendency to self-indulgence, which particularly came to the fore tonight. Whilst the musical portion of the set was superb, at least a third of the running time seemed to involve her chatting about whatever came to mind, trying to co-ordinate arrangements with varied family members or looking after her son Arcangelo (whose cameo at last year's Union Chapel show was admittedly incredibly cute, but didn't last for 45 minutes like on this occasion.) It was all too much, even for a fan of her eccentric ways, and it's a shame it distracted from what was otherwise an excellent performance.
TONY ALLEN (London Village Underground, 20/11/14)

Review: HERE
OUGHT (London Scala, 19/11/14)

  Energetic Canadian art-punks. Probably something I would have enjoyed more when I was younger, when I wasn't burnt out on indie kids with guitars.
COLIN STETSON (London St John's-at-Bethnal Green, 18/11/14)


I suspect Colin Stetson may well be a sorcerer, for there can be no other explanation for the multitude of strange and otherworldly sounds he extracts from his saxo-mo-phone. Sometimes it sounds like two people playing at once. Sometimes he vocalises whilst simultaneously maintaining some heavy, rumbling drone on his baritone. Sometimes he simply sounds like the end of worlds.
TINARIWEN (London Roundhouse, 16/11/14)
 
Review: HERE

Sunday, November 16, 2014

WILDBIRDS AND PEACEDRUMS (London Village Underground, 14/11/14)


It's been four years since Wildbirds last played the UK, and that just happened to be one of my favourite shows of all time. Tonight's doesn't quite hit those heavy heights (no gospel choir in tow for one thing), but their shift to a slightly darker, more R&B direction works commendably well. It's a slight shame their sound relies more on electronics rather than steel drums and zithers these days, but Andreas' drumming and Mariam's vocals remain as spellbinding as ever, that ferocious passion is still there in spades, and that new, haunting rendition of "My Heart", dropping the tempo a few notches and pushing everything into a minor key was a superb twist on one of the best songs of a generation.
TAMIKREST (London Scala, 09/11/14)
 
The vanguard of the new generation of Tuareg musicians may not yet have the name recognition of their comrades Tinariwen, but their fusion of traditional Malian rhythms and Western psychedelic rock pushes the groove quotient beyond even those achieved by their forebears. A band that deserves way more recognition.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

THE KNIFE (London Brixton Academy, 06/11/14)


The Knife's overpriced prance-fest may not be as profound as they clearly think it is, but you know, they played "We Share Our Mother's Health" and thus I'm willing to give 'em a pass.
MELT YOURSELF DOWN (London Village Underground, 05/11/14)



Who ever said British bands can't be exciting? A ferociously dynamic mixture of jazz, no wave and central African rhythms, Melt Yourself Down sound fresh without being pretentious, groovy but also punky, a band that says to hell with subtlety and just aims to make you dance like a madman. And in that, they certainly succeed.
MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND (London Village Underground, 28/10/14)



I've historically been more of a fan of Shara Worden when she collaborates with other people rather than doing her own thing, but this show went some way to changing that. True, her songwriting isn't always as striking as her voice, but she's one hell of a great performer (and gifted with a very charismatic band) and her new, rockier direction gives her more latitude for her natural charisma to shine. Plus, that closing cover of Peggy Lee's "Fever" in the middle of the audience was bloody brilliant.
ST VINCENT (London Roundhouse, 25/10/14)



There's little doubt in my mind that out of this decade's crop of musicians, Annie Clark is the one most likely to achieve long-term cult reverence. She has the style, the skills and most importantly the songs, and she's certainly not the sort to rest on her laurels. Although the Roundhouse show isn't too dissimilar to her performances earlier this year, she's tweaked some elements that didn't quite work, to the net benefit of all concerned. Although this tour she's affected a very mannered, almost robotic demeanour inspired by former touring partner David Byrne, she's loosened up a little this time round and the show is less stagey and easier to connect to as a result. Songs have been subtly reworked- "Cruel's" new synth part sounds far less watered down that it did in February, "Krokodil" is much punchier and visceral- and the setlist flows more naturally (and still includes that breathtaking, nigh-on-apocalyptic closer of "Your Lips Are Red".) In fact, if it wasn't for a fewer duller numbers from her latest album towards the end, it would have been pretty much flawless.
PETER BRODERICK (London Bush Hall, 22/10/14)



Review: HERE
KISHI BASHI (London Bush Hall, 17/10/14)



I've loved Kishi Bashi and his luscious, string-heavy indie-pop for several years now, so it's nice that he's finally getting the attention he deserves. Not sure if he really needs the full band (as with most artists of his ilk, part of what attracted me to his music in the first place was his prodigious use of loop pedals) and it's a shame he doesn't beatbox as much as he used to, but he's most definitely established himself in the indie-rock violinist pantheon right next to Owen Pallett and Andrew Bird. Inspired cover of "Live Or Let Die" too.
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE (London Cafe Oto, 16/10/14)



The last time I saw veteran Japanese psych-rockers Acid Mothers Temple at Cafe Oto, I noted that it was perhaps the most surreal performance I've ever seen. This may well have topped it. This wasn't AMT as such; rather a three-man offshoot who performed as eight separate acts over the course of the night. The night started with an extended avant garde jazz solo, then moved into hypnotic drones, a guy prancing around with two recorders, a proper 60's-style heavy blues band, a covers act which performed the likes of Dylan and Deep Purple in the style of Captain Beefheart, a band who utilised instruments as diverse as trouser zips, a pencil sharpener and a radish (don't ask), a rather rough-edged vocal harmony group and finally, a cut-down version of Acid Mothers Temple themselves. It was bizarre. It was bewildering. It was brilliant.
HAIKU SALUT (London St John on Bethnal Green, 11/10/14)



Is there another British band as thoroughly lovely as Haiku Salut? Their lush, glitchy instrumentals owe a lot to the likes of Múm, but they've got enough ideas of keep things fresh, and the whole set-up of watching a show in a Victorian church lit by two dozen vintage lamps located haphazardly round the stage was impossibly twee yet superbly atmospheric.
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH! (London Camden Roundhouse, 10/10/14)



Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! were the third band I ever reviewed for a proper publication way back in '05, and if I recall correctly (this was in the middle of my student days, so one can't take that for granted) they were bloody awful. Squawkmeister-in-chief Alec Ounsworth stood there, transfixed like a deer in the headlights, confining his interaction with the audience to a muted "thanks". His fellow musicians rattled through the songs competently enough, but it was impossible not to get the distinct impression they'd rather be anywhere else in the world but a student bar in Leeds (a position I can certainly sympathise with.) It almost put me off CYSHY! for life. But after being exposed to their most recent album I decided to give them another shot- and it was like watching a completely different band. Literally, in that the only original member left is Ounsworth himself, but also in that they were very, very good indeed. Alec's transformed into an impressive frontman- he'll never be Springsteen, but he now knows how to convey his off-beat intensity to a live audience; and his new band's frantic energy hugely enhances the likes of "The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth" (which remains one of the best indie-rock songs of the last ten years). A most pleasant surprise.
BESNARD LAKES (London Lexington, 02/10/14)



Besnard Lakes are a band who deserved to get way bigger than they actually did. Yes, they're basically a 21st century reboot of Fleetwood Mac but man, when they hit the mark they hit it good (seriously, listen to the shoegaze-y majesty of "Albatross." One of the most underrated tracks in recent history). This rather excellent performance didn't little to disabuse me of that notion, even if their lead singer does look disconcertingly like Jimmy Savile.
FIRE! ORCHESTRA (London The Laundry, 26/09/14)



If it wasn't for a mid-section of noodly free-form wank, this show by a 28-piece Swedish jazz orchestra may have threatened Arcade Fire as my show of 2014. Mariam Wallentin's vocal talents never fail to send a shiver down my spine, but it was Sofia Jernberg, an Ethiopian-born jazz singer that truly blew me away. What she does with her voice reminds me of Colin Stetson's saxophone work, pushing the boundaries of what you think their instrument is capable of; one moment hauntingly beautiful, the next producing punctuating the Orchestra's funk-laden grooves with guttural fury. Amazing.
HAUSCHKA (London Union Chapel, 25/09/14)
 


Loveable German composer Volker Bertelmann is always a pleasure to watch live, and although I was a little too tired to properly connect with his more sober compositions this time round, his prepared piano tricks (including several hundred ping balls) remain a delight.
FANG ISLAND (London Birthdays, 18/09/14)



The most important lesson I learnt at this gig is that Birthdays (capacity: 250) cannot really handle three crowdsurfers at once. The second most important lesson I learnt was that Fang Island and their mighty, mighty riffage provide an adrenalin rush akin to deep-throating a maxi-size tub of Haribo.
RIOTFEST FESTIVAL (Chicago Humboldt Park, 12/09/14-14/09/14)



Not sure if RiotFest really was the festival for me in retrospect, but fun was had regardless. A Biblical storm on the first day turned Humboldt Park into an absolute mudbath (which made its frankly bizarre layout even more of an effort to traverse) and I swiftly realised that I was probably right to give pop-punk a wide berth in my teenage years, but the likes of Patti Smith, The Flaming Lips, Gogol Bordello, The Hold Steady, Television, Die Antwoord, Paul Weller, Metric, Wu-Tang Clan, Tegan and Sara and The Cure made up for the inescapable fug of weed and Offspring fans.
COCOROSIE (New York Webster Hall, 07/09/14)



For a show dedicated to future feminism and various worthy left-wing causes, there was certainly a lot of aggressive, entitled morons in the room. But twatty Manhattanite audience aside, it was a solid performance from the immensely talented sisters Casady, even though I can't help but feel many of their more recent songs kinda sound the same. Girls of Karen Black were great fun too, as well as being the most...naked band I've ever seen on stage.
KATE BUSH (London Hammersmith Apollo, 05/09/14) 

So many words have been expended on Kate Bush's comeback shows that I feel that I'm somewhat shouting into the the ether at this point, but I will say it was a spectacle of a type you sadly rarely see these days (albeit a slightly overlong one that was a bit too reliant on the questionable vocal talents of her son) and a fittingly batshit, yet gloriously imaginative summary of one of Britain's most brilliant and eccentric talents. Only she could have carried it off, and although it was far from "the best show ever" for me, I definitely feel I got my money's worth.
RAW POWER FESTIVAL (London Tufnell Park Dome, 30/08/14-31/08/14) 



All credit to prolific London gig promoter Anthony Chalmers, this was the best London music festival I've ever attended. Sensibly priced? Check. Catastrophically loud sound levels? Oh yeah. A superb roster of bands, including Acid Mothers Temple (playing the most awesome version of Pink Lady Lemonade you ever will hear), Bo Ningen (instigating a mosh pit which resulted in at least one bleeding nose), AXES, AK/DK, Evil Blizzard, Teeth of the Sea and Flamingods? Damn right. Fingers crossed it returns next year, although it may be wise for me to invest in some earplugs in the meantime...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

DANIEL ROSSEN (London Union Chapel, 26/08/14)


Although I still await the day I finally get to see a fully-fledged Department of Eagles show, this gorgeous solo performance from my favourite Grizzle Bizzle member went some way to fulfilling my dream, featuring as it did some of the best tracks from his 2008 masterpiece "In Ear Park," as well as an excellent Townes Van Zandt cover, "Yellow House"-era GB tracks and some more recent material. As "man with an acoustic guitar" shows go, it was pretty excellent.