http://www.myspace.com/gianttree

There is a video excerpt from our debut show here:

http://thesilverwoodshop.blogspot.com/

We’re the third band in.

Tom Mills is first – he played some organ on the new Nightjars album.  Which I think will be done soon.

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MY BLOODY VALENTINE @ Manchester Apollo, 28/6/08 (£22.50)

Fate bestowed free tickets on Philange and I for this uncompromising set from Kevin Shields and a drummer.  There were other people on stage and they looked busy, but I’m not sure why they were there.

 

Another legendary group walk onto the Apollo stage.  This one features a man who owns at least fourteen speaker cabinets.  Two full Marshall stacks, one full Orange stack, a couple of Vox AC30s with extra cabs underneath them for good measure, plus a couple of other full stacks.  Tech nerds can enlighten me as to the exact make / model of each head and cab and, I’m sure, the contents of the Shields pedal board, which presumably takes up half the floor of the Apollo stage, just as his backline leaves little room for anybody else.  Belinda Butcher and Debbie Googe’s amps (one each) cower apologetically at the opposite end of the stage.  I have never seen so many amps in one place, apart from in Johnny Roadhouse, etc.  Denny says that when he saw Slayer, they had a whole wall of Marshalls on stage, but the majority of them were just props.  These are all real. 

 

As soon as they kick in to ‘I Only Said‘, you get hit in the head by the sound.  Drummer Colm O’Closoig keeps it steady for the Loveless numbers, then blitzes out on the more adventurous Isn’t Anything tracks, like the barnstorming ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’.


Many’s the occasion when, soundchecking for a Nightjars gig, we’ve had the soundman coming down to the front, looking askance at Phil and Dan’s humble 50W valve combos and saying, ‘I need you (points at Phil) and you (points at Dan) to turn
down ….’, slowing his speech in the manner of an English idiot talking to a waiter in Majorca (‘I want ham … and eggs…’).  I can tell you now that on this MBV tour, that this has absolutely not happened to Kevin Shields.  The soundman has not come down to the front and said, ‘Kevin, I wonder if you could do me a favour?  It’s just a small favour.  I wondered could you turn down a little?  Yeah… Maybe on all the amps, if that would be possible, actually?  Yeah… it’s just that I’m struggling to get the vocals out front.  OK… that’s magic, Kev.  Thanks.’

 

That simply has not happened on this MBV tour. 

 

Therefore, apart from on the ravishing ‘Lose My Breath’, when Shields switches to acoustic guitar, Butcher might as well not be on stage, as you can’t hear much of what she sings anyway.  I enjoy a lot of the songs from memory, more than anything.  I know that he big huge, blustering guitar squall corresponds to a bassline and to a lead melody, which I add to the noise on stage, close my eyes and enjoy it that way. 


Ultimately, this show is all about ‘You Made Me Realise’.  This is why they dished out earplugs on the door.  I stand calmly, arms behind my back, staring into space, whilst Shields thrashes out 35 minutes (Denny timed it) of feedback.  It’s oddly calming.  Soothing.  Overwhelming, of course.  Some down the front are waving their arms in the air and going crazy.  Others are standing, heads bowed, their fingers tightly pressed into their ears. 

 

I used to dance like a dervish to this song at the indie disco.  Me, Matt Soffe, Jay Dean, Moo…  now, I simply stand and watch.  I hear sirens screaming at the high end, I hear thunder in the low end (Googe is adding bass scree to the avalanche, too), I hear the hiss of a thousand pressure valves being opened simultaneously.  Wah pedal, I muse.  It isn’t as exciting when you understand what he’s doing.  It’s magical if you think the man on stage is some kind of shaman.  That he’s not wholly in control.

 

Some walk out.  Without my ear protection, I couldn’t have stood it. 

 

It starts to feel as though we’ve been living in Shields’ soundworld forever… I start looking at the band, for the visual cue.  I mean, he must, at some point, signal to the others to kick back into the song.  That’s how it works, right? 

 

Nuh-uh.

 

Suddenly, I notice that O’Closoig appears to be waving his arms in the air.  Oh, I think. He must be trying to get Shields’ attention.  Some chance…

 

Nuh-uh. 

 

I suddenly realise that he is, in fact, drumming.  Then, hilariously, I notice that Butcher has bothered to step up to the mic.  They’ve gone back into the song.  Kevin Shields may or may not be on the trip with them.  Maybe the decision was made arbitrarily by the others, as maybe, just maybe, Kevin Shields was never, ever going to stop.

 

He finally departs the stage.  Men come to switch off the amps.  The last couple of minutes are quite interesting, as amp by amp, the noise level decreases.  It all ends with a stark, staccato, oscillating bark, which I rather enjoy.  I enjoy the ‘silence’ that comes after, which is of course, the silence of all the people in the Apollo shouting at each other simultaneously. 

 

In the aftermath, Ange tells me later that she could smell puke.  Rumours that people have shat themselves abound.  I talk to Lee and Stu from The Longcut.  Lee is flabbergasted.  Stu shouts about how amazing it was.  He doesn’t realise he’s shouting.  Noone does, until their hearing gradually returns to normal.

 

Lee says, ‘everything we have ever done is just so… We’re pussies’.

DOT-TO-DOT FESTIVAL ’08, Nottingham City Centre, 24-25th May (c. £30)

dot_to_dot_08

Thirty quid well spent!

It was a slow start, the Saturday. The night before, Tomo had been working the Bless, so he’d not got home til god knows what time – and I’d run into some of the Plans & Apologies’ lot, ending up in Mosh and then… beyond. So I was slightly disorientated and somewhat sleep-deprived when I boarded the Red Arrow opposite Derby Town Hall, with the aforementioned Tomo, John Deegan and Wolves Ed. Leanne was meant to be meeting us, but no word from her as yet.


The band I’d bought the ticket for, Blitzen Trapper
, had cancelled, their name mysteriously disappearing from the line-up a week or so before the gig. So I was pretty much resigned to just mooching around with the chaps and seeing what happened. What was happening when we got to Notts was that the Coca-Cola Championship Play Off Final was just about to kick off, so we went to Walkabout to watch it, over burgers. I had a Kangaroo Burger, which I quite enjoyed. Nottingham Walkabout is a vast cavern, with many television screens in lieu of atmosphere.

Windass - provided pre-gig entertainment with terrific volley

Dean Windass - no Blitzen Trapper, but he did score a great goal at Wembley that day.

So, no music until a bit later in the afternoon. We started to get into Saul Williams at Rock City, but we’d already made the decision to catch a bit of his set, then go to see The Little Ones at The Rescue Rooms. I thought it might be worth giving The Little Ones a go, even though they annoyed me with their album cover – you know, the one that looks like a bad colour copy of The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow. I could never understand that. Why? By all means, get the same guy to do something for you, but don’t let him repeat himself.

As we left, Williams was delivering a between-song harangue on race as a construct. He had already illustrated the intellectual divide between himself and sections of the audience by initiating a prank call and response routine, which hinged on the fact that he was asking the crowd to say nothing … ‘NOTHING!’ roared the front few rows. This went round a couple of times, before he finally started to say ‘Shut up’, before initiating the routine again. Still people chanted.

What are you listening to? What are you looking at?

So we left Saul and his earnest, jazzer musicians (they were such, although the cyberpunk dress sense did its best to cover the fact) to operate on the minds of a white crowd intrigued by hip-hop whilst we went off to see The Little Ones play to a white crowd who like indie. Only trouble being, The Little Ones had pulled out at very short notice, which meant we got a group called The Hosts, I think, instead. The Hosts come on in black shirts and white ties. We’ve seen this before, I think. The group play competently. I look at them. They look like local lads. Hard working lads. Committed lads. Dedicated lads. Grafters, they generate the odd gem, mining their talent earnestly. There’s a touch of glory about one song with a chorus, ‘don’t waste your time on me anymore / cos I’ll never be yours and you’ll never / no, you’ll never be mine’. I have respect for them as working musicians. But the sound is just that – workmanlike. The singer aims for that Lennon ‘a nod and a wink and your missus has creamed herself’ charm and I’m sure it goes down well in the smaller towns. As would the music. But Dot to Dot is aimed at people with a bit more savvy.

So we walk away from The Rescue Rooms. I am enjoying the air. Wrighty is drinking water, at this stage. I have tried to choke down beer… really, I’ve tried, but it has been awfully difficult. I’d been hoping Leanne would turn up with fags, but she is nowhere to be seen, god damnit. I complain to the lads about The Hosts. “The Vines, The Hives, The Strokes, The Fours, The Fives, The Nightjars…”.

See? That’s why we win. We have an extra syllable.

The Nightjars - so good, they've got an extra syllable...

The Nightjars - so good, they've got an extra syllable...

We are off to see a band randomly at The Bodega. My mind is cabbage and the band is called Dag For Dag, I think. A Swedish combo, bass, guitar and drums, female guitarist and singer. She sings rather well. The guys get a round in. I do battle with a bottle of lager, quickly followed by half a coke. The guys aren’t impressed, either with me, or Dag For Dag. Contrarily, I start to quite enjoy them and mooch up to the front. There’s something glamorous about the rudimentary nature of their gear. The bass player is good, really solid. The guitarist can hardly play. The drums are dead simple – it’s like Joy Division, the needling riffs that can’t go very far. The tension that causes. The bass and the guitar spar – I’m drawn in further, but the lads have quickly seen enough. Amateurish. They’re right. We move on.

Woop-de-do, it’s the fucking Dirty Pretty Things at Rock City. These will have tempted a fair few Nottingham teenyboppers to part with their hard earned (‘dad, can I go to a concert please?). Great. On comes Barat. He has a certain musical style. One of the guitarists is wearing a Primal Scream T-shirt. Cool, man.

Barat takes regular vocal ‘holidays’, the bassist and guitarist covering for him as and when necessary. One or two of the songs are alright. I really don’t know what else to say about them.

I’m more excited about The Mae Shi at Stealth and have talked the lads into coming along. These were a Denny recommendation, way back. I remembered listening to the myspace, hearing a load of scratchy noise and not finding a way in. That was a year ago, perhaps. Wolves Ed buys a round, apologising for the fact that it’s Strongbow. I tell him not to be daft and thank him. I still haven’t smoked all day, although I did plenty of that the night before.

The Mae Shi are the highlight of a pretty uninspiring day of music by a country mile. They scream, they rock, they play intelligently. They send a white flag into the audience. The audience bear it aloft, they are under the flag. Then the guitarist is out in the crowd. He has a wireless transmitter, damn him. This means he can do things like jump on an audience member’s shoulders and be carried around, whilst still ‘playing’. The band are wrestling with some insanely good stuff. I can’t remember… just being faced by such an intense and singular group was refreshing after a bunch of British mulch, some mildly diverting pantomime, some Swedish amateurs and 39 year old Dean Windass volleying Hull City into the Promised Land, for Christ’s sake. This was more like it.

A guy jumps on stage. Security are lurking. The band wave security away. He’s OK. He’s one of them.

The Mae Shi - good messy, raucous fun and the highlight of Day One

The Mae Shi - good messy, raucous fun and the highlight of Day One

A decision is taken to go back to Derby. I decide to eat a doner kebab first – from some dirty old Nottingham fast food joint. It’s great. Sometimes, you can’t beat a doner and I find that if I’m back in the East Midlands, it’s got to be done.

Then the Red Arrow arrives. Me and Ed chew the fat on the ride back. We get back to Derby and then it’s absolutely, irrevocably bedtime for me, much to Tommo’s disgust. I leave him in the doorway of the reopened Vaults, hurling abuse at me. “Too busy off taking MDMA with your real mates…” I know, I know, I’ve been bad. It was just.

I tell him I want to get to Nottingham for 2pm tomorrow, to catch Lovvers. He shouts that we will meet at the Standing Order at midday for breakfast. I nod. I tell him there’s no need for him to shout, I’m not that far away from him.


Walk home.

Blessed sleep.

SUNDAY

Wake up at about half ten, having slept solidly for about eleven hours. Brilliant. Mooch around mum’s house. Watch TV for a bit. Postpone breakfast. Phone call from Tommo half elevenish, he’s just woken up. He sounds spangled. Turns out it was double vodkas in The Vaults until kick out time. Breakfast put back to 1pm. Too late for me, that, I tell him. I’ll miss Lovvers. Agree that I’ll head onto Nottingham in advance and the guys can catch me up later.

I get to Rock City at about half one and am pretty much the first person there. Buy an orange juice from the bar and stand about waiting for something to happen. Prowl around the auditorium. Vague memories of being here at tender age of 15, with Phil, The Prodigy on the soundsystem. Hoping we might, you know, meet chicks. But I don’t remember it well enough to feel nostalgic. It doesn’t feel as big as it did then, of course. Back then, it seemed like an enormous cavern of noise and exciting gothic rock menace.

Nottingham's Rock City - A place where I looked for teenage kicks in the 90s...

Nottingham's Rock City - A place where I looked for teenage kicks in the 90s...

Lovvers take the stage, by which time, about 60 people have arrived to bear witness. Singer has bleached blond long hair and leather jacket, but reminds me more of one of the geezers who works in Johnny Roadhouse than a rock icon. Fast-forward fifteen years…. Guitarist has Fender amps set up on either side of the stage. They remind me of a baby Nirvana, they remind me of a baby Stooges. They remind me of the Vic Inn in 1998. They make me happy for 20 minutes. They please me my playing ‘Ex-Lion Tamer’ by Wire. I guess this also shows their naivety a little. They’re a good little garage proto-rock band, who would probably have been happier at The Rescue Rooms than on the Rock City main stage.

Downstairs, X-Box have set up a Rock Band stage. I object hugely to Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I played Guitar Hero and it has to go down as the biggest waste of human time and potential since I started working as an admin assistant. You play Guitar Hero, you sit there, pressing buttons in time with a track you like, or maybe don’t even like, on a plastic fretboard. If you get it right, the crowd start to wave their arms in the air and your avatar starts to ‘rock out’. Mistime your key hits and the crowd start to boo. Your avatar starts to look somewhat confused. Panic sets in.

After the Lovvers set, I come across the lads, playing some X-Box in The Rig. Wolves Ed and Deegan are head to head on the new incarnation of Tony Hawk. A Rock Band employee is coaxing teenage kids to get up and have a go on the plastic computer instruments.

Rock Band – for fuck’s sake. Learn a real instrument! Join a real band! Get some exercise! Use your brain! Try!

On second thoughts, what am I talking about? I wouldn’t actually recommend starting a band to anybody. Rock Band is a great idea. You don’t have to deal with egos, move amplifiers, bother practising, read the considered thoughts of prissy wanker-bitches who really, really, ought to show me their record before delivering a verdict on mine. Don’t have to deal with incompetent soundmen and promoters, or bullshit members of other bands who you secretly hate (and who secretly hate you, too). You don’t have to stare jealously at the myspace pages of talentless bastards who don’t even like music and who are getting ahead whilst you languish in an obscure office job, seething day in and day out, brooding, staring blankly out of the window, mind full of regret – working out where it went wrong. Play computer games instead. There is no pain. Tony Hawk, not skating (you could break your ankle). ISS, not football (you might break your leg). Rock Band, not real music (you might break your – )

Play computer games instead of living. The parameters are a lot easier to deal with. You have a lot more control. The implications of defeat are nowhere near as serious. At least you’re not chasing chimaeras. You finish the game and you don’t have to drive back home from the other end of the country. There’s always a crowd in Rock Band. If you play well, they always cheer. You get Bonus Points and move onto the Next Level.

Have you any idea how many bands there are out there looking to move on to the Next Level? Some of them even email me. They say, we are looking to move on to the Next Level and we wondered if you knew anybody who could help us. I tell them, lads, just write songs. Write fucking songs. The rest of it is bullshit. I doubt they like that advice, because they want shortcuts. Also, there are no guarantees even if you do write a great song. It’s cheeky of them to email, actually, because they don’t know me. They just see that we’ve had a modicum of success and say ‘that’s what we want’ and email me, demanding the keys.

Anyway, Lovvers are doing the right things and I hope to get to see them in some sweaty little whites of the eyes club one night. But I’m not sure I will. I’m not cool anymore, see?

Lovvers - the band for whom the word 'proto' was invented

Lovvers - the band for whom the word 'proto' was invented

Finally, I meet up with Leanne, at the Rescue Rooms. It is hammering it down with rain. Finally, fags! Yesssss. We drink Sol, despite the weather. The nice young man behind the bar gives us lime. We don’t bother with the bands for an hour or so, just have a bit of a natter. Watch about twelve seconds of a female-fronted band before deciding noooooo. Back to the bar. Consider going to the Trent Uni but the rain says noooooo. Rescue Rooms buzzing with people. Tommo, Deegan and Wolves Ed out there, somewhere. For the first time since I was in the club in Derby on Friday night, the beer starts to flow.

Leanne and I walk up to the Sir John Borlaise Warren and have an excellent Sunday Lunch. Is this rock’n’roll enough for you? Well, I’d rather spend a tenner on a nice, slow IPA and a good plate of food than on three cans of Red Stripe. Think of the profit margins. Festivals are a license to print money for somebody. Makes yer sick.

Then back into Nottingham, to the Trent Poly (as it was when I wor’ a lad and went to my first ever gigs there) to catch Caribou. Thank God for that, finally a band to really get into. Pastoral psychedelics, gentle burring melodies, bits of Stone Roses, Spiritualized, melodic quality – two-drumset rhythm patterns, instrument swapping. Slow building architectural music, not spectacular, but solid and becoming more impressive in gradations. I semi-dance, gradually drawn forward through the crowd. Really pleased with Caribou.

Then back to Rescue Rooms for Wild Beasts. Again, I don’t really know what to expect, but I’ve had enough good references (Domino Recs, Marc Riley approved, interesting artwork) to have a punt and persuade everybody to come. They’re intriguing. The look is deliberately, wilfully wrong (bumfluff moustaches, purple trousers, rollnecks), which is the first thing I like about them. Second thing is the musical competence – they’re sort of jazzers, I think. Rollneck guitar chap certainly plays jazz chords. Bumfluff ‘tache singer sits down and plays piano. Really uncool. Good. They finally win by delivering the moment of the festival. Bumfluffer sings, in a highly fruity, histrionic falsetto the line ‘take these chips with cheese / as an offering of peace’… Well done, sir. Lyric of the year. Everyone is well pleased with Wild Beasts.

Cheers, chaps! The Wild Beasts prove to be just the tonic.

Cheers, chaps! The Wild Beasts prove to be just the tonic.

Next is Spiritualized at the Trent. Beers are flowing. By this time, Gilly has joined the throng – it’s great to see him. He’s come all the way from Brighton.

Spiritualized are playing a bunch of new stuff which says little to me. Pierce has a new young band who play perfectly well. Then they do ‘Let It Flow’ from Pure Phase, replete with ‘wooaahhh wooaahhh woah’ backing harmonies and everything. I am reminded of how important this music was / is. The new stuff, with its lazy lyrics mining the gospel cliché seam for all its worth, is not really fit to share a name with the material from Lazer Guided Melodies, Pure Phase and Ladies and Gentlemen We leave about half way through, by which time, my Spiritualized yearning has been more than slaked by the magisterial ‘Shine a Light’, one of my favourite ever songs anyway.

Then what?

More beer. Tommo and all want to catch Glasvegas, so we go back to the Rescue Rooms and install ourselves on the balcony, before it gets too full (Leanne’s already missed Santogold, because by the time we got there, she couldn’t get into the room). I buy a sandwich from a stand. It’s a chicken sub roll. I stand there holding the sandwich for about five minutes before any bar staff come near, I fight off the temptation to steal the chicken sub. Then I go up to the balcony to wait for the band. On they come, to face an expectant throng. They are dressed all in black and have a female stand up drummer. They look a bit like The Clash, though, not The Velvet Underground. Then they start playing and I am bored shitless within about 8 seconds. Is this dour Scottish plodrock not just Simple Minds in brand (bland) new drag? He certainly sings with all the panache and style, adventure and range of Jim Kerr. Fuck this. We look down on the heaving mass of people. I move my foot and inadvertently kick a girl who is sat underneath me. The guy can’t sing. There are no songs. I decide to leave.

We consider going to Stealth to see about Tim Goldsworthy, who is DJing, but there are two different rooms and we don’t even know which one he’s in, or what time he’s on. I am offered a lift to Ilkeston (rather spicily rechristened Cracktown UK by the Independent on one of their sensaltional front pages last year) by Leanne’s mate Claire. This appeals more than the Red Arrow home, so I take it. End up on sofa cushions, listening to the denizens of Ilkeston’s superclub going home after another Saturday night of Woo Woo, Wkd, Stella, speed and fags. Who fucked who? Did Gaz, Baz or Daz go home with Shaz, Kez, or even Stella (Stez)? If I listened close enough, I would find out.

Thousands of nights out like this in hundreds of towns, every weekend. Spannered. Nothing else for it. Seeking community, seeking pleasure, seeking connection. My heart hurts.

Ilkeston High Street is a conservation area, would you believe, which means that back of the shops, there are tons of wonderful old flats that have never been messed about with. Apart from the noise from the superclub and the kids nicking the petrol out of your car, it must be a really nice place to live. Claire explains to me that the ‘Cracktown’ label is unfair and was more ‘lazy journalism’ than anything else. The statistics including crack usage figures in outlying villages without even taking their populations into account, artificially increasing the per capita crack abuse figure.

It’s still a bit cracky, though.

Leanne drives the hungover, sleep-deprived me back to Derby, where I loiter at mum’s, waiting for my sister to turn up with Carl and the kids. Ellie is a dancer and an ice skater now. Mason is a tank. Baby Reilly grabs my glasses, arms, fingers and locks onto them with a surprisingly strong grip for a baby. He must be in the grabbing phase.

And then it’s time to get the train back to Manchester after a whirlwind, whistle-stop weekend.

down

Polytechnic have returned and I for one am glad. I’ve missed them.

Stage One of their return to action (a four piece, these days) is a gig in a function room above a pub in Chorlton. Maybe 150 people cram into the place to hear. Song One is new. Song One is structurally a lot like something Wilco might create, I think.

There follow more new songs, which sound fine, which will start to make sense on repeat exposure. We reach the fifth song before we hear anything we already know and inevitably, in the face of so much new information, minds wander, heads turn, conversations start. But the fifth song is ‘Man Overboard’ and it shuts everybody up. The power of the song is not in its immediacy, but in the way the momentum accumulates. It’s so slow, but it inexorably shifts through the gears to its haunting, glorious chorus falsetto, the vocals transported by the overdriven roar of this most sleek of bands.

Then, there comes another sudden gearshift, another new song; this time, a perfect, first-time heartbreaker, classic Poly with a nagging guitar intro of the type unique to the Dylan / Yuri / Tim rhythm machine. There’s something special in that triangle, some chemical bond that links the skittering drums, the pumping, smooth simplicity of the bass and the needling, precision hook-and-barb of Dylan’s guitar sound.

It’s a brief moment of pure sunshine, before we are caught in a heavy squall of unfamiliar and more complex material. Dylan, possessed of far more sonic real estate since guitarist Denny’s recent departure, now steps up and takes genuine lead solos, a la Jeff Tweedy (after Neil Young, of course). I, for one, am a huge fan of the bloody-minded solo, one man raging against order and not necessarily fully in control of the writhing electrical current at his fingertips (ah, ‘Fingertips’, now there’s a Polytechnic I still miss … one of their finest moments).

It’s a brave group who are prepared to ditch the old and come back radically new, as even the old school die-hards will struggle to instantly accept and assimilate a set almost wholly shorn of anything they know. Late in the set comes a nod to the old, in the shape of ‘PEP’, but it’s slow tonight, lacking in energy. However, all is soon well again, because of a superb encore.

‘Running Out of Ideas’, that oceanic, unwieldy beast, builds to a critical mass somewhere in its fifth or sixth minute, that point where Peet’s ghostly organ and Tim’s raging, agile drums overpower Dylan’s screams and a moment of sheer ecstasy descends upon me, the ecstasy that comes from walking alone as the evening sky grows dark, watching clouds zoom across the horizon and feeling strong currents, the airstream on your face, cleansing your skin, the first spots of rain…

This is not California. Goodbye, unbroken sunshine.

With such a barrage of new material, it would seem unfair to draw critical conclusions on the strength of one show. Yuri urges me to come back on Friday and watch again. I think he was disappointed with the band’s performance, which was absolutely fine, actually, especially considering it was the first gig back with a new line-up.

So to Stage Two of the comeback; this time, a slightly higher profile club night, Friends Of Mine at Joshua Brookes, in Manchester city centre. Still no pressure, when you consider that this group once stepped out at Wembley Arena.


I don’t get the Italian support act, Jennifer Gentle (who command an impressive crowd and have released an album on Sub Pop, no less), my interest tickled solely by the fact that their guitarist has a very ‘big face’. Entranced by the sheer scale of this moonlike visage, I rant about it to anybody who will listen, comparing it to that of a character from ‘Spirited Away’. There’s something in its composure, the big eyes, the roundedness, the unchanging, serene expression, that makes me feel that way – loquacious with drink, I feel the need to share.

Jennifer Gentle - didn't manage to Spirit me Away

Jennifer Gentle - didn't manage to Spirit me Away


A woman wheels around to accuse me of slagging the band off, when I wasn’t (although friends of mine were). I was merely talking to a friend about the Big Face and the fact that Jennifer Gentle (hate the name) reminded me of The Beep Seals (who are in attendance, paying close attention). The woman asks Noel and I our ages, which we disclose. She’s older than us, by the look of her…

I have no idea what her jive is all about.

You could describe Jennifer Gentle as ‘an uptight Pavement, hired as the house band for a circus big top (having first been taught how to play properly)’.

Onto the main event, then. Half the crowd are in bands. It always means a lot to a group to earn the respect of their peers and it’s a knowledgeable crowd who look on as the four-piece Polytechnic v2.0 take to the late-night stage.

Dylan leads the line with his customary passion. When they started out, he always looked shy and uncomfortable, but these days, the boy busts a gut to give the crowd what they’ve come to see, which is, of course, him, yelping out those most memorable numbers from Down Til Dawn. Again, however, there is a barrage of new material to contend with first.

I catch various echoes from last time, at the Royal Oak – the gentle Krautpop groove of the opening number is easy on the ear, then a ghostly, spectral backing vocal from Peet stays with me, part a song from the stately, ‘Still Spinning’ end of the Poly canon.

They play ‘PEP’ with more vim tonight and the crowd dance, as is usual. A brief on-stage conference leads to the group deciding to reward the hardcore with a quick zip through ‘Cold Hearted Business’, which goes down a treat; although if you listen hard enough, it sounds like Dylan’s blown a little gasket somewhere and the vocal comes out in staccato bursts. No matter.

By half past one, we have almost reached the end. I have heard enough, if I’m honest. It’s late, I’m drunk and they’ve played at least seven or eight new songs. There isn’t much more from Down Til Dawn that I think I need to hear right now, except for ‘Running’, maybe… Then Dylan announces the last song…

My God, it’s ‘Fingertips’, that magnificent B-side!

In days gone by, Dylan played a second bassline on this impending hurricane of a song, but he switches to guitar tonight, with no loss of effect. I punch the air, feeling the power, the urgency, the flow and feel best emphasised by those subtle songs like ‘Still Spinning’ and ‘Running Out of Ideas’, but this time supercharged with negativity. It’s a freak-out; that snap-snap rhythm, beaten out on the snare drum (Tim plays no tom-toms), skips surefooted across a low-frequency quagmire – one false beat and it would be buried.

The music takes you down with it, as Dylan shrieks out his neuroses (at least, that’s what it sounds like – ‘early in the morning, we’re on our way’, it starts, rumbling into life like a monstrous trouble generator and then the lyrics are hard to catch) and all is not, not, not sunshine any more. The atmosphere is dark, dank, the club is cold, it’s 1:30am, it’s Friday night, the music is brilliant, stark, heavy, complex, soulful, technical. Down ‘til dawn alright and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

Many of the less hardy boppers are gone by now, knowing full well that they won’t be getting another ‘Won’t You Come Around?’ tonight.

A man shouts into my ear, ‘I don’t understand. They have this fantastic talent for pop. Why don’t they just do that?’

It’s not that simple, I think.

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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Look at this, isn’t it beautiful?

SO IF YOU’RE IN MANCHESTER, COME!

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This is the second of the All Tomorrow’s Parties “Don’t Look Back” gig series I’d been tempted into. The first was superb – Tortoise performing Millions Now Living Will Never Die, with a few from TNT and It’s All Around You for afters – and of course, this one is superb too.

What else did you expect me to say?

Thurston, Kim, Steve and Lee come on, a silver candle as their backdrop, then burr through “Teenage Riot” as I muscle my way to front, breaking a personal record for the most repetitions of the word “sorry” in one minute. I’m not sorry. Well, I am, but it can’t be helped. I find my friends by fluke; we touch glasses together and settle in to venerate our idols.

Can anybody spot the irony therein?

My first thought is ‘where is the bass?’ – but the bass on the album itself is largely subliminal, a delicate, just tangible pulse, dominated by the glacial, plaintive, twin guitar attack. So I guess the treb-ly sound is justifiable.

On to “Silver Rocket”. I crane my neck this way and that to spot what the two guitarists are doing, trying to see who is responsible for which coruscating riff, which precise piece of magic comes from where. Praying that this is not the last word in guitar style. Sure, there’s the odd lyrical clunker from Thurston Moore, who tried a bit too hard to be cool at points (example: – ‘There’s bum trash in my hall and my place is ripped / I totaled another amp, I’m calling in sick’, delivered in a tone that sounds way too healthy to convince during “Hyperstation’), but musically, all the stars aligned, everything coalesced.

I wonder how Sonic Youth feel, replicating this glorious material, trying to deliver it as if it is new, but in reality, simply covering themselves. As artists, I can hardly imagine they are thrilled to do it, but they have kids to put through college, mortgages to pay, lifestyles to fund and a sold-out Roundhouse is more than happy to chip in £25 a man, on what is only the first of a three-night stand here.

Steve Shelley looks as happy as a pig in shit, gleefully and faithfully pounding out the simplistic, pummelling, military rattling rhythms. Kim Gordon, dwarfed by a huge Firebird bass, focuses and leads the band through a deadly “The Sprawl” and “Cross the Breeze”. Lee Ranaldo then heroically delivers the sterling brace, “Eric’s Trip” and “Hey Joni”. He stands by two excellent sets of lyrics with pride and emerges from this show with maximum credit.

By the time they reach track nine, “Candle”, any pretence at watching and taking mental notes has deserted me. Several beers from the earlier session in the Lock Tavern with Phil, Will and Fran have their inevitable effect and I am nothing but another sweaty male figure within a superannuated moshpit.

It’s those songs that sound so awesome on your stereo at home, writ large – you can see Thurston and Lee at work, generating some of the most intelligently harmonised guitar parts in history. It’s too much. When Thurston delivers ‘Candle’, all my churlishness at his occasional lapses in taste (and who the fuck am I to judge the man?) are utterly, utterly dismissed. His pop instinct is perfectly married to the arthouse style and something melodically infectious and uniquely potent is magicked into being.

“Kissability” is a riot, slightly spoiled by the fact that I am bouncing around like an oversized child, bellowing “kissability”, out of tune with Kim. It’s better if I don’t do that. I can hear it and become conscious of myself and the others around me, the big, dark-clad, male shapes. They are bellowing too. It sounds vulgar.

It sounds better if you close your eyes and listen, just like you do in your room.

The drink, the surreality of the situation, the perfect, faithful rendering. I knew all this already, I think, as I go crazy to the music, always a step ahead, always aware of what is about to happen, even when they noise out. It’s not about what’s happening on stage, it’s about what already lives in my head. I know this.

Our kicks, if these are they, were fashioned 19 years ago. I was a child then and didn’t come to this music until over a decade after the fact, but it instilled fire and belief in me, belief in guitar music as a valid art form, not just a product to be packaged and sold. We, the bedroom thinkers who worship Sonic Youth’s achievement and queue up to give them more money, we know this and we are united.

Ticket and booking fee @ £27.50 + train there and back @ £44.50 + drinks and expenses @ best part of £40. About £110 to hear what I already own on beautiful gatefold double 12” vinyl, followed by an encore consisting of much of Rather Ripped, the latest album. Ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold joins the band for this section of the set and they purr through the excellent “Incinerate” and “Reena”, which pretty much are that album but, you can’t help but realise, are truly inferior to the material that preceded them on the night.

I’m exhausted and stupefied with drink by this point and back at the bar for another pint of Kronenbourg, which is the only beer on sale. Then off into the night. We stand outside, smoking cigarettes, but I fail to choke mine down. Camden buzzes, of course. Then we get the tube. I don’t talk on the tube. I look around at scores of people buffeted by the noise and shown up in the surgical, harsh light and for the first time, think I’d never like to live in London. I’m scared of feeling so small, scared of spending hours a day on these tubes, even though part of me finds it’s all so romantic.

I look at the texts I sent around to my friends in the aftermath – ‘Fucking Genius’, ‘…best gig ever’, ‘I reek of mosh’. Back at a friends’ house the next morning, I awake feeling nauseous. I go to the toilet and vomit a little, discretely, into the bowl, leaving no trace.

http://www.myspace.com/sonicyouth

-Ollie Wright