End of the Road Festival 2013

End of the Road Festival… I’d half hoped it might be at the foot of the A303, but sadly it’s nearer Wiltshire. That’s about the only disappointment though, and it’s a trivial one. Three and a bit days of folk music I’d mostly never heard of, some absolute delights such as David Byrne and St Vincent, one of a kind revelations such as King Khan’s James Brown-esque crooning, a disco in a forest, all sorts of strange delights in the woods, in fact, and revellers aged six months to sixtysomething soaking it all up. It’s a little gem of a festival.

 
[Pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

[nggallery id=23]

Photos of Chvrches @ Village Underground

Tonight Chvrches face the challenge of a room full of hipsters in this brick Shoreditch temple. The rites begin with the kickdrums of ‘Lies‘, foreboding bass tones that recall early Gary Numan, spiky harmonic stabs driving the track forward while Lauren Mayberry dons her dominatrix hat to instruct us: “You got to show me / Both knees, skin and bone / Clothe me, throw me, move me”.

 
[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

[nggallery id=18]

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ Brixton Academy

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Brixton Academy, April 2013
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Brixton Academy, April 2013. Photo: Rosie Wadey

The opening drumbeats of ‘Let The Day Begin‘ are joined by growling chords that emerge thick and juicy like steak. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have made this cover of a 1989 track by The Call their own, charring the optimistic, bouncing, organ-enriched rocker into a bleaker number, plaintive notes hanging in a cloud of reverb.

For the opening date of their tour it also strikes a tone for the rest of the set, in turn salutatory and melancholy. Their seventh album, ‘Specter At The Feast’ harks back to the blues country folk maudlin of 2005’s superb ‘Howl’, overshadowed as it is by the titular spectre of Michael Been – frontman of The Call, father to BRMC singer/bassist Robert Been, and BRMC sound engineer/fourth band member – who died of a heart attack backstage at a gig three years ago. The resulting sense of loss hangs obviously over this album, though not necessarily to any detriment – if anything it forms a welcome break from a run of uninspired rock-by-numbers albums.

Through the barely lit darkness on stage Been and singer/guitarist Peter Hayes are cowled underneath hoodies, the only colour from amber spots on latest drummer, ex-Raveonette Leah Shapiro. The crowd is a mix of young and not-so-young wafts of blonde in leopard-print (so 2001), jowly silver foxes and callow youths, which if anything shows the cross-generation appeal of BRMCs fuzz-rock (as anyone who’d heard scuzzy shoegaze forebears like Spiritualized, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3 thirty years ago knows).

The pitch-bend and chopped riffs of ‘Red Eyes And Tears‘ are greeted by a cheer from the head nodding crowd at the back and the body nodding crowd at the front, followed by ‘Hate The Taste‘ from the new album and ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’ from the last. But it takes older material to set the gig alight – ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘N’ Roll‘ is greeted by sallies of flying pint glasses as arms and legs go up and over down the front, and the harmonica-drenched blues stomp of ‘Ain’t No Easy Way‘ still sounds fantastic.

But then the set takes an introspective turn, with alternate solo performances from both frontmen on piano, organ and guitar. In contrast to the band’s sunglasses-at-night, leather-clad rock reputation many of their finest pieces of songcraft are their calmer numbers – we hear gentle, regretful ‘Devil’s Waitin’‘, organ-led ‘Howl‘, and a slew of new tracks. The delayed refrain and overdriven guitars of ‘Love Burns‘, their opening salvo from 2001, still sparkle now, even through tonight’s uncharacteristically quiet sound system. So while each outing of early material is greeted by wild cheers and leaping, with raucous renditions of ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’ and ‘Spread Your Love‘, a second batch of downtempo numbers threatens to try the crowd’s patience.

BRMC’s first album landed at a time when overproduced nu-metal and shiny tween pop-punk ruled the charts. It was visceral, soulful, and songs like ‘Salvation‘ felt like exactly that. It was timely, paved the way for a catalogue of great (and not-so-great) garage rockers over the coming decade, and rightfully remains a classic. But ten years later, against the short attention span of the internet where new genres blossom and fade in weeks and new music is everywhere, the band plough a furrow that seems increasingly dated. And while the new material is a welcome change of tone, it’s not always easy listening for fans.

[Originally published at Clashmusic.com, April 2013]

FIDLAR @ The Garage, Highbury

FIDLAR
 

FIDLAR are recent cousins in a family of West Coast hardcore bands that stretches back through Black Flag and the Circle Jerks to The Germs. Unlike the social commentary, paranoid conspiracies, anti-establishmant rants or nihilism espoused by their musical forefathers however, FIDLAR are more like angrily riffing Beach Boys – a slice of the former’s surf-bum devil-may-care-while-it’s-sunny attitude dunked into the power-pop-punk of their nearer Californian contemporaries Green Day and Blink 182 (they cover ‘Dammit‘).

Their tracks are propulsive, catchy rackets drenched in cheap power-chord riffs and calls to drink beer, smoke weed, grab a skate board and flick everyone the bird. “Fuck school, fuck going to work, fuck all that,” says singer Zac Carper helpfully. “Start a band. I mean, if we can do it…”

So while FIDLAR (from a skater acronym, Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk) aren’t going to bring about the Decline of Western Civilisation anytime soon, nor leave the government quaking in their boots, they still kick out a mighty roar that has the teenage element here at The Garage leaping about like they’re hepped up on E102.

“This song’s about rehab, rehab is shit because you can’t drink,” he tells the breathless audience – who nod, barely comprehending the horror of it all – as they launch into the upbeat ‘No Waves‘.

It’s mayhem down the front as fan after fan pour over the barrier, security barely able to keep up with the assault of flailing legs and arms at first, and later completely succumbing to stage incursions and adventurous dives into the crowd across a six foot gap. Not everyone makes it. One tiny girl, five foot nothing in shorts and a gingham shirt, is deposited from on high into the arms of waiting bouncers who waft her down to earth whereupon she scampers back to repeat her airborne journey again and again, grinning ear to ear. Minimal band T-shirts just read “FIDLAR CHEAP BEER”, while behind the front few rows the mosh pit is full-on, without actually inspiring violence, and rank with the smell of hot, beer-drenched sweaty bodies who roar along to the shout-tastic chorus of ‘Cheap Beer‘: “I. Drink. Cheap. Beer. So. What. Fuck. You.”

Ironically, for all their hardcore sounds, with a short singer sporting a Union Jack shirt, a tall bassist with too-short trousers and a beanie, a drummer with a big mop of hair, and their generally good-natured vibe, they’re almost like the Monkees of punk.

FIDLAR serve up the in-your-face, three-chords-is-enough attitude of punk in a vessel carved from the sounds of Californian hardcore rather than the British bands of 1977, and it’s great fun for all that. Heading away from the stage, the army of ardent, silky-skinned fans at the front are replaced with the beards, jowls and wrinkles of an older crowd, where frenetic mosh-pit plunging makes way for the more restrained “aggressive head nod” style of dancing, but the wide grins on faces throughout show that what FIDLAR do appeals to anyone with a taste for balls-out music with an attitude to match. They’ll probably conquer the world, by accident.

 

[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

Moulettes @ The Roundhouse

Moulettes are the most precision instru-mentalists you’ll find wielding bassoon, autoharp, harmonium, cello, violin, double bass, guitar, glockenspiel and drum. They bring the dark crypt-like confines of the Roundhouse Hub to life with darkly comic tales of love, sex and death – like all good folk music.

 
[Words and photos originally published at Clashmusic.com]

[nggallery id=13]

Palma Violets @ The Boston Arms

Palma Violets
Palma Violets

This energetic South London four-piece’s reputation saw them on tour supporting Savages, 2012’s most hyped Joy Division impersonators, then get signed to Rough Trade without so much as a demo. Tonight, tickets marked for Steve Lamacq are among a pile of industry passes at the door; the venue is sold out. What have the Palma Violets got to explain the hype?

It’s garage rock – cacophonous drums, insistent bass, reverb-a-plenty and shrieked two-part vocals. Pete Mayhew’s organ offers respite and aspires to a broader sound some would call psychedelic, but too often here it’s lost in the mix. On stage Sam Fryer (vocals/guitar) and snarling, floppy-fringed Chilli Jessen (bass/shouting) bounce off each other, launching a blitz of guitar and strobe through a thick pall of smoke and reverb. It’s gleefully reckless; they don’t hit all the notes, they chuck themselves about. Fayer’s voice resembles Ian McCulloch in tone but without the Bunnyman’s finesse; every song arrives laced with whoops, yelps and screams.

Single ‘Best of Friends‘ has a winning chorus, Will Doyle’s catchy drum clatter of ‘Tom The Drum‘ stop-starts to raucous effect, while ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ could be The Modern Lovers, whose more boisterous organ and bass-driven moments the Palmas sometimes echo.

The gig descends into entertaining chaos: articles of teenage clothing are hurled at the band, a shirtless girl clambers onstage and barely retains her bra, full scale stage incursions ensue, and Jessen indulges in some reverse stage diving by walking into the crowd to be raised aloft and thrown back onstage.

Nothing different then, just a classic recipe executed well with the infectious energy and unshakable faith of the young. These four are living the dream right now. Let them.

Paul Simon’s Graceland 25th anniversary concert @ Hard Rock Calling

Paul Simon at Hard Rock Calling. Credit: Andy Sturmey
Paul Simon at Hard Rock Calling.
Credit: Andy Sturmey

The big news is that it didn’t rain on Sunday. That the previous days and weeks had seen torrential downpours that required hundreds of tons of woodchip to shore up poor Hyde Park’s turf is a minor point – it was relatively quagmire-free as festivals go.

But there was never any doubt that the soaring sounds of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ on offer tonight would have lifted the dampest spirits.

Lurking mid-afternoon in the backstage hospitality area, refreshments came courtesy of Starwood Hotels’ impressively elegant (considering it was in a field) SPG VIP area, which among other things provided an opportunity to talk to two Russian ladies. Their initial friendliness was revealed to be an undercover marketing ruse, as their chat quickly turned to preferred brands of credit cards.

It’s a strange festival. Apart from the headliners – Paul Simon (age 71), Bruce Springsteen (62), the apparently ageless Iggy Pop (65), and Soundgarden – and a handful of others like Alison Krauss, the Guillemots, Big Country, The Mars Volta, – you’re left with a bill over three days of names that don’t resonate. Most seemed happy to pay only to hear Paul Simon, judging by the early evening rush at the gates.

With the crowd swelling Paul Simon came on a little early – perhaps in an effort to avoid a repeat of Saturday’s debacle in which Springsteen and Paul McCartney were abruptly cut off when they overran. Onstage Simon appeared a little like the lyrical travelling salesman of ‘That Was Your Mother’ in battered suit and hat – but while he was never a big man, his music still punches above his weight. Hits from the 1970s such as ‘Kodachrome’ seemed poignant looking back over a long career of many musical directions, while the crowd lapped up a sax-heavy rendition of ‘Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover’. Later ’80s singles like ‘The Obvious Child’ from South American-infused album ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ still sparkled, but was sung – jarringly, and inexplicably – without chorus. In a surprise guest spot, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff bounced spritely through ‘The Harder They Come’, and ‘Vietnam’ in a duet with Simon.

But the biggest cheer was reserved for the many members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo whose arrival with ‘Homeless’ signified a whistlestop tour of ‘Graceland’, taking in ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’, ‘Crazy Love vol II’, a positively transcendental rendition of ‘Graceland’ and the glorious, rousing opening accordion chords of ‘The Boy in the Bubble’. While it was not possible to reconvene ‘Graceland’s entire original musical ensemble (“some were unavoidably unable to take part in this reunion concert due to being dead”, as the Telegraph so elegantly put it), there was obvious delight on the faces of all the musicians, young and old, to be playing such joyous music again – not least because in the years since it was written and first played, apartheid had finally ended.

By now the sun had departed, and alone under stage lights Simon whispered ‘The Sound of Silence’, ‘The Boxer’ and finally ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’. They said it was crazy to make an album like ‘Graceland’, but Simon and the millions of listeners turned on to this wonderful music from Africa 25 years ago have proved them wrong.

 

Originally published at Clash Music, July 2012.

Psychedelic Furs @ Highbury Garage

Psychedelic Furs
Psychedelic Furs

“When did you first see them live?”
-“1986”
-“Sometime in the ’70s”
-“At Glastonbury about twenty years ago”

Tonight’s crowd at the Highbury Garage has been around a bit – watching the stage is a landscape of widow’s peaks and thick trunks. There are men in plaid, with beer bellies and thick necks, a man in a battered original Cure t-shirt, and scores of men and women with a free pass from their significant others to come and wallow in nostalgia for an evening.

The Psychedelic Furs, led by brothers Richard and Tim Butler, were formed in 1977 and released their eponymous debut album in 1980. They’ve been gigging, bar some years in the wilderness, for thirty-five years, and some fans here have probably been coming to watch them for as long.

They kick off with the clattering, motorised ‘Into You like a Train’ from their breakthrough second album, ‘Talk Talk Talk’. Their early sound is tight and bass-driven, claustrophobic with flanged guitars, shrieking sax and Richard’s hoarse, evidently British, atonal singing voice. It just works, a lesson in how to pull off that style, unlike modern pretenders (The Drums, I’m looking at you. Find a singer).

Richard is a sinuous, writhing, grinning golem, still with the gaunt cheeks of his youth. Replete in head-to-toe black, a waistcoat, and heavy black-rimmed spectacles he looks like a successful graphic design consultant. Tim stalks the stage with his bass from behind dark glasses looking for all the world like Andrew Eldritch after a few good meals, and still managing to conjure up a little of the menace from the Furs’ punkier days.

The crowd are more than willing, their flesh discovering strength perhaps forgotten. Better-known hits like ‘Mr Jones’ and ‘Pretty in Pink’ are met with roars of approval, while a hundred similarly bespectacled faces mouth words they didn’t realise they remembered.

The more synth-heavy art-rock sounds of their later albums still please, with ‘Love My Way’ and the sublime saxophone of ‘Heartbeat’ provoking men in their ‘50s to roar out the words alongside girls young enough to be their daughters. Furious renditions of ‘India’ and ‘President Gas’ set off widespread moshing down the front and brings the set to a close after a respectable 90 minutes.

What’s our problem with ageing rock stars? No one tells BB King, Fats Waller, or Dave Brubeck to stay at home and age gracefully. Perhaps it’s the words “rock” and “star” that are so inflexible, that allow so little leeway for age and maturity over youth and exuberance. In his fifty-seventh year, Richard may be nearly superannuated but remains super-animated, miming lyrics with constantly moving hands, clearly enjoying himself as he high-fives fans down the front. Mars Williams – besides Tim the only other member from the ’80s lineups – looks like an immaculate bluesman in suit and shades, his sax soaring. With youngsters in the crowd as well as first-time-arounders, it’s clear that not only can the Psychedelic Furs can still knock out a show, but that their post-punk heritage lives on in the countless revivalists of the last decade inspired by them and their ilk.

To hell with the naysayers. How do you want to earn a living in your later years? Maturity is for wine and cheese.

 

Originally published at Clash Music, July 2012.