A small crowd huddles around the front of the stage to watch only the second ever Kingtree show, a set which served to prove that the songwriting prowess demonstrated on the original, self-produced, demos can and will ultimately translate into an arresting live show.

King Tree - so good, I joined his band.

King Tree - so good, I joined his band.


Direct songs with quick tempo, such as ‘The River Ghost’ and the aptly-named ‘Hooked’ -which always reminds me of ‘Blister In The Sun’ by the Violent Femmes – are extremely catchy (I tried my hardest, but I can’t avoid that clichéd word – they just are) and will ultimately compel bigger and more attentive crowds than this. A few careless ya-ya’s at the back gas and gossip whilst the big fella on stage opens up his heart and pours out a rich veinful of melody.

At this stage in Kingtree’s development, the delicately phrased vocals and rhythmically punchy guitar are present and correct, but delivered with the shyness of a man emerging blinking into the public eye, after years spent secretively honing his songs at home.

The droning open tunings deployed, along with the quick-strummed guitar attack sometimes used, actually pitch Kingtree closer to an acoustic Thurston Moore than your common or garden strummer and I for one would be fascinated to see how this music worked with a few extra instruments. Given some electric guitar, bass and brushed drums, these songs could really jump.

But even solo and at the point of his first ever half-hour show, the tremulous, beautifully poised closer ‘Blue Heart’ proves that this is a songwriting talent to believe in.

Baby steps, baby steps, but mighty oaks have grown from far less sturdy saplings than this.

Ollie

The first Charlottefield material I heard was an EP’s-worth of ridiculously strong live mp3s, taken, I guess, by minidisc out of the crowd. They sounded stunning – tight, fast, stylish, intelligent, original, pretty much everything I admired. They were instantly catapulted to the top of my list of new British bands to care about.

 I bought the debut album, How Long Are You Staying, in a state of fervent excitement, but was so disappointed by its relative formality that after the first week or so, I couldn’t listen to it. Yes, Ashley Marlowe’s octopus drumming was centre stage, yes, the bass was perfectly measured, yes, shards of guitar were panned either side and broke from the oaken percussive trunk of the sound like so many splinters – there was abrasion, there was power, there was a glorious sense of imminent crisis (a bad moon on the rise…), there was a sense of ungodly control, an underlying solemnity… but everything felt too restrained, too controlled…

So the album disappeared into my collection for a few months.

 Then I picked it out again when I was getting ready to go see them at Ubik and found, to my delight, that this time, it made total sense. The noise elements were still there, but it was the dexterity of the playing and the melodic and rhythmic ideas were brought to the fore, rather than that Sturm und Drang I so craved.

 It is notoriously difficult to record noise bands effectively, so its good news that Charlottefield are not just a noise band. They structure songs with serious intelligence and of course, by the time I finally get my head around their first album, they’ve already recorded their next one. So I sit down by the front of the stage to watch them, at half eleven on a December Sunday night. Drummer Ashley Marlowe, sitting centre stage, looks around at the band members huddled around him, heads down. Resembling a wild backwoodsman, he counts the group in and then plays his labyrinthine patterns, absolutely the eye of this particular storm.

 Everything revolves around the drumming, but when Marlowe does pause for thought and leave space, other elements take up the slack, most frequently Thomas House’s howled vocals. The guitars add layers to the rhythmic momentum and are subtly played. Bassy, droning, controlled feedback links diverse musical ideas; the bass player Chris Butler watches his instrument with care, rolling out superbly designed counterpoints, deciding not to try to match Marlowe’s frantic style by flurrying bass notes all over the place – instead, he allows the percussion to provide the rhythmic showmanship on its own and plays slow-motion melodies over the top, dropping in and out for added emphasis. This is sensible, intelligent, egoless playing.

I recognise little of the set, as they play material largely culled from the as yet unreleased second LP, but my abiding memory as I walk away is of a song beginning with a cloud of harmonics and proceeding, with its delicate, thoughtful air, to finally obliterate my original conception of Charlottefield as an incredibly visceral punk rock force. Those early mp3s showed the intelligence and the song craft, but mostly, the amphetamine-strength head charge; on tonight’s evidence, however, Charlottefield have slowed down since those early days, in order to evolve into a more brooding, complex and sombre musical machine.

It would be nice, of course, to simply be able to go see them, put your head down and mosh, but they almost seem to be saying, in a very stately, determined way, “take a look at the world around you in 2007. 30 years on from punk, life isn’t like that anymore”.

This is a band I can believe in.

Ollie

Some months back, Jason Molina performed a compelling acoustic set at Manchester’s Green Room, leaving me and my companions, who are usually only too keen to yap on about music, pretty much hushed and satisfied. The taxi ride home was a quiet one; nothing really needed to be said and any words that did come didn’t seem to do the event any justice.

<br>That Molina, acoustic, clean-shaven, neatly turned out – has, for now at least, disappeared. Tonight, this Molina mooches on stage in an old plaid shirt, cowboy hat, lank hair and moustache, resembling a miniature David Crosby. He even flicks a ‘peace’ V-sign to the audience.He then sets up a tiny Vox amp, hands his Les Paul to a guy in the front row and disappears, returning draped in glittery fabric, which after some effort, he manipulates into a sort of robe. “I found this backstage and made a bet that I could use it on stage”, he says. “It’s a pain in the ass, but I’m a man of my word”.

Kicking at the trailing fabric on the ground, he commences to bust out stark fragments of abrasive guitar in accompaniment of that inimitable voice, playing a set which takes in songs from his recent boxed set and the LPs Fading Trails, Magnolia Electric Co, Let Me Go, What Comes After The Blues, outtakes and songs I don’t recognise – but could well own, so radical are his gleeful reinterpretations of each song.

Virtually every track is rendered in a completely different arrangement to its recorded cousin. ‘Talk To Me Devil Again’ is particularly affecting, with its hushed lyrical highlight, ‘Devil, if I fall / Hold out no hand’. ‘Riding With The Ghost’, with its spoken, stuttered ‘baby … baby … something’s gotta change’, seems as if it is on the brink of falling apart, but makes glorious sense as soon he hits the word ‘change’ with a slight uplift in the melody and sympathetic chord. What you thought you knew, you no longer know, as you watch him make it new.

Jason Molina goes through changes and lives in the moment, outputting wildly as he does so. In his between-song raps, he mentions that he’s recently been doing improvised gigs with pick-up bands and even writes a song on the spot at the end of the set, a stormy, dirgy blues, which turns out to be one of my favourites melodies of the night.

As the set winds on, Molina seems to simmer down, storming on his Les Paul less and less and singing more and more softly, offering a beautiful, surprising ‘Whip-Poor-Will’, before a delicate ‘Hold On Magnolia’ ends the set and surpasses the recorded version. Someone calls for it and he obliges, despite a little mumble of ‘oh, this song’s so sad, I’m not in the mood for it’.

That makes sense, in that this has been such a relaxed and expressive solo show and it seems that by singing these sometimes self-lacerating words, he is laying many ghosts to rest. Journeying alone under a huge sky and mapping out territory that hitherto seemed frightening and forbidding, his voice is his sword. ‘Hold On Magnolia’ is delivered with grace and a generosity of spirit. It might not have quite been where he was at in that moment, but he appreciates that someone out there would love to hear him repeat that feeling, even if it’s not really in his nature to operate that way.

He informs us that he has recently moved to live in London and tells a charming cock-and-bull story about his upcoming gig at the Luminaire (‘you’ve got to come, it’s one of the greatest venues in the world… all sorts of crazy shit’s gonna happen’). It feels strange to think that this singular American songwriter will be sharing an island with us for a while. Who knows what London life will trigger in his heart?

If tonight, his first show since relocating, is anything to go by, the homesickness still hasn’t kicked out yet (‘it breaks my heart to leave this city / I mean it broke what wasn’t broken in there already…’), so let’s see what happens next time I see him play. How will he look, what will he express, what card will he lead with?

Ollie

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