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.
OTHER LIVES (London XOYO, 19/08/14) 

Beautiful, richly orchestrated indie-folk from a bunch of hairy Okies. Was feeling a bit ill throughout so didn’t fully engage (plus I can’t bring myself to truly enjoy a show at XOYO), but was pretty impressed by their musicianship nonetheless. Fans of Grizzly Bear and Wild Beasts will find a lot to love here.
NEKO CASE (London Union Chapel, 15/08/14)

Bit of a weird one, this. Severe technical issues meant that Union Chapel had to resort to a substandard rental PA, plus Neko and her band were obviously suffering from major tour fatigue which resulted in a show that, whilst still perfectly enjoyable, wasn’t as memorable as it should have been. That said, “Night Still Comes” was still bloody brilliant, and support act Jeffrey Lewis once again converted an initially ambivalent audience into fans of his erudite, politically conscious, frankly brilliant folk poetry.
FLAMINGODS (London Lexington, 08/08/14)

Review: HERE
NIGHT ENGINE (London Old Blue Last, 31/07/14)

Essentially  Franz Ferdinand covering the Talking Heads - and that’s 100% a compliment. Looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the near future.
CHILLY GONZALES (London Roundhouse, 29/07/14)

Chilly Gonzales has always been a fan of educating as well as entertaining his audiences, so a two-hour tutorial on basic piano and music theory is not as weird a concept as you may initially think. It truth, it’s not that much of a departure from last year’s Cadogan Hall show (although his crude but hilarious raps are less frequently showcased), but his witty and intelligent mix of compositional lectures, audience participation and recital remain as peerlessly engaging as ever.
GEORGE CLINTON & PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC (London Kentish Town Forum, 26/07/14)

George Clinton’s lost the rainbow dreads, dyed his beard and dug out his sharp suits from Parliament’s 60’s heyday, but the Parliament/Funkadelic experience is still as anarchic, self-indulgent and utterly unique as ever. There’s no set list as such, just an endless medley conducted by whim by Clinton and that results in an extremely uneven, if colourful performance. But when they crack out the impassioned majesty of “Maggot Brain”, perhaps the greatest moment of solo guitar in musical history, it’s possible to forgive them pretty much anything.
EELS (London Barbican, 24/07/14)

I’ve seen Mark “E” Everitt five occasions now, and each performance has been completely different from the last. From string-drenched classicalism, to gospel revivalism, to dour acoustic minimalism, to balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, it’s hard to predict where he’s going to take his live set-up next, even if the mode of his songwriting never changes all that radically. This time round, he’s gone for a Leonard Cohen vibe, all xylophone and tubular bells and richly orchestrated arrangements, which rather fits the more sober demeanour of the now fifty-something indie veteran. Sure, the set’s a little short not least because of the lack of trademark “surprise” encores, but at least there’s room for a shedload of classics – not least Last Stop This Town, 3 Speed, My Beloved Monster, It’s a Motherfucker and A Daisy Through Concrete. A most agreeable evening, in all.
LATITUDE FESTIVAL 2014 (Henham Park, Suffolk, 18/07/14-20/07/14)

Review: HERE
DEAP VALLY (London Madame Jojo’s, 15/07/14)

Heavy riffs, bluesy vocals, no nonsense. Deap Vally don’t do anything that’s not been done before, but for reliably excellent, unpretentious blues-rock, they’re hard to beat.
KING KHAN AND THE SHRINES (London Shoreditch Blues Kitchen, 11/07/14) 

The punk-drenched lovechild of Sun Ra and James Brown, the riotous Canadian-Indian-German King Khan can make even the boho hellhole of modern-day Shoreditch seem like an appealing Friday night out. Lots of brass, lots of sweat, lots of fun.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

ARCADE FIRE (London Hyde Park, 03/07/14)

The last Hyde Park show was, by some measure, the worst AF gig I've ever seen. The setlist was weird ("Wake Up" just didn't work as the second song), the sound was rubbish and the surfeit of Mumfordian terrorists chatting their way through proceedings made me want to set fire to a whole load of 16 year olds. But after a particularly uninspiring start, this wound up a damn sight better. No real surprises except "Crown of Love", but much fun was had and the finale of "Power Out", "Here Comes The Night-Time" and "Wake Up" was pretty much the epitome of how an encore should be done.
STEVIE WONDER (London Clapham Common, 29/06/14)

The boy wonder turned elder statesman of soul may not be as sprightly as he used to be, but man, he's still one of the greatest songwriters ever to have graced this green Earth. Two and a half hours of hit after hit after hit (seriously: "Sir Duke"->"I Wish"->"Signed, Sealed, Delivered"->"You Are The Sunshine Of My Life"->"My Cherie Amour"), well judged covers in tribute to Bobby Womack and Gerry Goffin, self-deprecating jokes in a faux-South London accent and of course the song with the Funkiest Guitar Line In History (TM) to close. Perhaps a little less Jesus chat and a bit more "Misstra Know It All" wouldn't have gone amiss, but eh, he's Stevie Wonder- he can do whatever the hell he wants.
LONNIE LISTON SMITH (London Jazz Cafe, 28/06/14)

The jazz-funk pioneer and former Miles Davis collaborator is 73 years of age, but time and fading eyesight hasn't dimmed his ability to play some damn funky keyboards. Some material heavily verged on the cheesy, but "Expansions" remains a bona fide, stone-cold classic of the genre.
DAPTONES SUPER SOUL REVUE (London Shepherd's Bush Empire, 27/06/14)

For soul of the old-school variety, you can't do much better than the Daptones label, and this showcase of their finest talent did not disappoint. Sharon Jones, recovered from cancer and more vivacious than ever and Antibalas with their energetic Afrobeat both put on excellent sets, but the night inevitably belonged to "The Screaming Eagle of Soul" Charles Bradley, a once-homeless sexagenerian reborn as an soul man with the voice of James Brown and the moves of a drunken uncle.
CAMDEN CRAWL (London Electric Ballroom/St Michael's Church, 21/06/14)

It's a shame this year's Camden Crawl ended in bankruptcy and acrimony, because for all its overambition, I had a hell of a lot of fun. The much-reduced, Greatest Hits toting incarnation of Of Montreal triggered mild anarchy at the front of the Electric Ballroom, antifolk messiah Jeff Lewis killed it with one of the sharpest and witty sets I've seen him do (his ode to British cuisine almost brought a tear to my eye...) and Au Revoir Simone and Haiku Salut bookended proceedings with sheer loveliness.
VIOLENT FEMMES (London Troxy, 18/06/14)

Some older bands, when reuniting to play material from their long-distant youth, clearly expend the least amount of effort possible in doing so (*cough*Pixies*cough*) but the Violent Femmes looked like they were having the time of the lives, and ensure we did as well. Plus, they played "Blister In The Sun" twice because they could, and that made me very happy.
RAMONA LISA (London Courtyard Theatre, 17/06/14)

The natural inclination when discussing Ramona Lisa, the solo project of the immensely talented Caroline Polachek, is to bring up comparisons to her more established synth-pop outfit, Chairlift (best known for scoring an iPod commercial with the excellent "Bruises" back in 2008). However, her dramatic debut London performance would perhaps be better paralleled with Swedish electro-oddball's The Knife, in particular their controversial Shaking The Habitual tour, in that it was less a traditional gig and more a piece of performance art. Yet whilst The Knife shows suffered a surfeit of pretension and a shortfall of substance, Polachek's melding of music and dance proved significantly more interesting and artistically unified. Stylistically, her inspiration seems to be the late 60's- the crisp, sterile retro-futuristic white jumpsuits, the sinister eye motif, the purposefully kitsch choreography. Instruments are nowhere to be seen (a rare example of this being a good thing), audience interaction is restricted to a few words and cleverly-utilised projections augment the beguiling, stylised atmosphere. Yet this impressive stagecraft isn't delivered at the expense of the music, which combines the melodic strengths of her other band with the dreamlike otherworldliness of Julia Holter. A triumphant introduction to Polachek's brave new world, Ramona Lisa are destined to become one of the "must-see" live acts of 2014.
WYE OAK (London Islington Assembly, 10/06/14)

Review: HERE
ARCADE FIRE (London Earls Court, 06/06/14-07/06/14)

To be honest, I thought the days where Arcade Fire's shows were something to rave about were long past. Sure, the Suburbs tour featured the likes of "Tunnels" and "Wake Up" so they couldn't be all bad, but the magic was certainly starting to wane. But the Reflektor tour, for the most part, has been a real return to form. Sure, they still persist in playing fucking "Rococo", but a Funeral-heavy setlist, juxtaposed with the best tracks from the new album (plus a sprinkling of Neon Bible, an LP they pretty much excised in the last tour) and an impressive stage setup worthy of their new arena-filling status resulted in what was undoubtedly the most out-and-out enjoyable gigs I've seen in a very long time.
SHANNON AND THE CLAMS (London Lexington, 04/06/14)

A rollocking, if slightly shallow set from a band that's basically an encapsulation of West Coast California circa 1961. Good fun, even if their punchy garage-rock/doo-wop fusion gets a bit old over the course of an hour.
PRIMAVERA SOUND FESTIVAL (Barcelona Parc del Forum, 29/05/14-01/06/14)

A long overdue return to Catalunya for another round of Primavera Sound, and what a doozy it was. Colin Stetson with his saxamophone, Neutral Milk Hotel->St Vincent->Queens of the Stone Age->Arcade Fire providing my own personal indie jukebox, Nic Offer's godless gyrating, Trent Reznor's intense emoting, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan summoning eldritch gods of rain, Sean Kuti's melding of A-grade Afrofunk and anti-neoliberalist ranting, Za! providing the glorious middle-ground between Boredoms and a.P.A.t.T I was unaware I so fervently needed and a frankly unwise quantity of absinthe. Still not got over the lack of pizza cones though.
THE OCTOPUS PROJECT (London Lexington, 26/05/14)

Not only did the Octopus Project, a more psychedelic Holy Fuck with added theremin, manage to blow up three separate bits of equipment tonight, they also succeeded in blowing our minds. God knows why the Austin band remains under the radar for so many, but their propulsive onslaught of percussive electronica never fails to seriously impress.
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL(London Roundhouse, 22/05/13-23/05/14)

 First night, stood at the back, pretty underwhelmed. Second night, got to the front barrier, absolutely loved it. Truth is, Neutral Milk Hotel aren't a particularly well-rehearsed or exceptional live band, which given I've waited a decade to see them isn't something I hoped I'd have to say. With the exception of Jeff Mangum's abrasive yet remarkably powerful vocals, they're mostly carried by their enthusiasm and the audience response to their deservedly revered catalogue of songs. That explains why the experience was so much better from close-up, where the regular failure to keep in time didn't matter as much as the fact I was surrounded by hundreds of other fans singing "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" at the top of their voices. Don't think anyone could accuse this of being a masterclass in performance, but as a chance to join in a communal singalong of some of my favourite songs of all time it was pretty unimpeachable.
OWEN PALLETT (London Oval Space, 21/05/14)

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 one of the best shows I've seen him play took place in a converted industrial space in Hackney. But there you go. His new material sounded great ("The Riverbed" has an almost post-rock brutality about it), the older material even better ("Lewis Takes Off His Shirt"! "This Lamb Sells Condos"! "This Is The Dream Of Win And Regine"! "Song Song Song"!) and Owen seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, which wasn't the case the last time he played London. A blinder of a show.
TYONDAI BRAXTON (London Oval Space, 20/05/14)

An improvisational electro-percussive riot, courtesy of the erstwhile Battles frontman. It occasionally slipped into noodly pretentiousness, but the last third was as rhythmically brutal as Boredoms (the highest of all possible compliments).
EZRA FURMAN (London 100 Club, 19/05/14)

Why would you pay money for a gig just to chat through the whole damn thing? It's a question I had to ask myself several times tonight, as a typically spirited performance from Ezra and his Boyfriends was repeatedly ruined by the London Dickhead Fraternity. The sooner a swift crowbar to the kneecap is introduced as a legitimate response to this sort of thing, the better.
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH (London Songkick HQ, 16/05/14)

Review: HERE
WHITE HINTERLAND (London Birthdays, 14/05/14)

The problem for artists as quirky and complex as Casey Dienel is that their music always doesn't lend itself to being performed solo. In fairness, she made a decent stab and she's certainly a charismatic presence, but her beguiling Bjorkishness didn't come across as effectively as I'd hoped.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

tUnE-YaRdS (London Village Underground, 12/05/14)

The marvellous Merrill Garbus' latest album may not be quite as instant as the fantastic "whokill", but her live prowess remains diminished. Her band seemed rather superfluous last tour, adding little to her breathtaking musical talents but they're much tighter this time round, adding extra layers of density to her heady, brilliantly eccentric mix of afrobeat, R&B and indiepop. A couple of the new songs don't quite hit the mark, but the others sparkle with humour and vitality - and "Powa" remains one of the greatest songs of the decade so far.
JULIANNA BARWICK (London Elgar Room, 10/05/14)

Julianna Barwick's stunningly ethereal looped vocals are beautiful to behold, but I'm not entirely sure a packed and humid Elgar Room was the right venue to appreciate them in. Would definitely like to see her play a church or somewhere equally grand someday.