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The Joy Formidable, Newcastle Academy

February 15, 2011 Gig, Reviews No Comments

February 8, 2011

You can’t help feeling that The Joy Formidable shouldn’t be here. That a band who have been consistently tipped for mainstream success since 2008 should have outgrown the smaller rooms at gig venues by now. Undoubtedly if the trio had had a penny for every time someone poured hype upon their heads they’d be millionaires by now. And looking at their rather cramped stage space tonight, this writer wonders if they had only capitalised on such exaltations, they could be playing in Newcastle Academy’s cavernous main room instead of The Hold Steady, who are holding court downstairs.

… Continue Reading

Delorean, Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, London

December 11, 2010 Gig, Reviews No Comments

Delorean (photo credit Sebastien Dehesdin)

December 6, 2010

So how can a Catalonian band who are more used to all things Balearic, rather than Baltic (it was freezing out!), come across in one of east London’s trendier than thou venues? Rather well, actually. If you decided to stay in watching Corrie, drinking tea and eating toast then you definitely missed out. … Continue Reading

tUnE-yArDs, London Scala

June 27, 2010 Gig, Reviews 1 Comment


June 23, 2010

Make no mistake: tUnE-yArDs‘ show displays the sort of oomph, pizazz and prowess to induce full-on obsession. And this higher-than-ceiling level of intense fangirling is not just emitting from me, on a whizzaround analysis of whoop-levels and dropped jaws. This hyperbole isn’t unexpected either, with Merrill Garbus performing like she’s got just five seconds to impress. From the moment she launches, she’s connecting and giving it everything with her phenomenal vocal range, blinding arrangements and an immense helping of charm presented near-aghast, with bulging eyes and direct calls to the crowd to interact. They’d do anything for her by the time the first song’s over…

From the beginning of the set to the grand finale of ‘Sunlight’, there’s never the sense of a momentum waiting to kick in, or the foreboding feeling that the next gear’s about to be reached; the entire show runs at optimum power. There is, however, a lurching feeling for each break and Mariah-high squee – just like Garbus‘ phenomenal show at Cargo earlier in the year, these frequent ‘moments’ are received with whoops, hip-shakes and wordless glances between audience members.

There’s the sense that we’re watching tUnE-yArDs as a ‘we’ rather a solitary ‘I’, in the presence of a performer with a blindingly unusual talent. The concept of layering one voice, tapping out African-influenced patterns on a single drum and picking out histrionics on the ukulele appears divisive at first, but Garbus breaks it down to make her mix look the norm. And the self-effacing yet super-confident nature of Garbus‘ show takes a hammer to the canon by showcasing the personality and drive at the heart of her vision.

There’s an incredible contrast between the complexity of this set’s genre-hopscotch, and the fresh and simple way it’s presented. Each slice of vocal is precisely slipped atop the previous, forming a tUnE-yArDs choir, and just how raw and exposed the processes are on stage  automatically breaks down the obscurity. The construction of songs from BiRd-BrAiNs and Garbus‘ frankly astonishing new material (‘Gangsta’ and ‘Business’ the highlights) is clean and simple, with her dense vocals propelling the songs to impossible levels of exciting. ‘Hatari‘ is played out with deliberately ugly facial expressions, mirroring the often uncomfortable, personal lyrics in tUnE-yArDs‘ music, and each move feels perfectly placed.

Another striking observation is the guises Merrill Garbus conquers. She plays the sultry soul singer on ‘Real Live Flesh’, the hip-hop guest vocalist on ‘Gangsta’, the torch singer on ‘Fiya‘, the Alp-dwelling yodeler on ‘Hatari‘, even slipping into a punk frontwoman persona on ‘Do You Wanna Live?’. It’s more than just vocal stylism, adding a degree of acting and conversely childlike role-play, pinpointed by repeated sounds and call-and-response vocals.

The fun is replicated by the band she’s got with her tonight (as a one-off), comprising two almost-choreographed drummers, a guitarist and her regular touring bassist – they come in for occasional songs to add power and provide a human spotlight for tUnE-yArdS. Even as a heftier line-up, the additional members thankfully never overpower the main act, but they certainly do test the limits of the venue’s sound technicians.

Sitting somewhere over tUnE-yArDs‘ live show is an intense sense of relief, one where I realise I’ve found my new favourite. Each of her enormous strengths are so concentrated and visible, so when the songs are delivered, it’s a touching experience to gaze around the room at an audience wrapped up in the warm blanket of Merrill Garbus‘ vision. The excitement never dips, making the second album my most anticipated release in the limitless future. And watching this crowd move between rapture, open-mouthed wonderment and sheer, unfettered delight at not just the familiar songs but the new, suggests I’m far from alone in that thought.

The Drums/Summer Camp, London Relentless Garage

June 8, 2010 Gig, Reviews 1 Comment
The Drums

The Drums

June 7, 2010

There’s a marked contrast between the simplicity of pop put out there by  Summer Camp and The Drums. The Drums’ music – save being heard in isolation, for ‘I Feel Stupid’ is a great big chunk of fun-pop – is ungraciously distilled if you’re vaguely familiar with the 1960s, Sarah Records, C86, Labrador Records, Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, Beach Boys or The Smiths. Their main trick is in producing a stream of concussed-simple lyrics encouraging dumb dancing as reflex. Summer Camp, on the other hand, offer pure pop key changes, beautiful nostalgia, two entirely distinctive vocals and intricately put-together songs so adorable they feel like they’re soundtracked the ’80s I imagine my older (, dafter) incarnation to have lived. … Continue Reading

Marina and the Diamonds, Leeds Metropolitan University

June 3, 2010 Gig, Reviews No Comments
Upscaled from the modest Cockpit to the more accomodating Leeds Met, Marina returns to Yorkshire on the back of some pleasing album sales and a pair of heavily-playlisted singles. Her ascent to the aisles of Tesco’s has been an elongated one, but
hardly hindered by the recent victories of a more successful, yet similiarly kooky female solo-singer also masquearading under
a band name.
Marina enters the stage donning a characteristic pair of gigantic red heart-shaped glasses, and her now familiar cheerleader
attire, shadow-boxing and bouncing her way through album track and well-chosen opener, ‘Girls’. Only having the one album’s worth of material, aside from the appearance of b-side ‘Seventeen’ and a stark, yet unmoving cover of ‘Starstrukk’ by 3OH!3, means that at times the setlist comes across as simply the album via a shuffle function, lacking the narrative and drama of the LP. Marina’s often-criticised yelps and other vocal frolics are in full throttle tonight, arguably even more testing when accompanied by visual portrayals of mock-shock, and most lyrics actually being acted out to some degree. It’s all very theatrical, but it doesn’t half throw her sincerity into question.
Despite the absurd fashion statements, self-help Whitneyisms (‘Always follow your dreams!’), and the ruthless drive and ambition (‘Don’t do love/ Don’t do friends/ I’m only after success’) there’s no real denying the power of the pop hooks and inventive instrumentation, and Marina delivers melodies with all the confidence of someone generally fulfilling the dual demands of acccessiblity and credibility rather well. ‘Obessions’ remains timeless, and ‘I Am Not A Robot’ and ‘Hollywood’ are devoured by the audience. There’s enough sensitivity and humour on display to defend most allegations of depthlessness, and the closing ‘Mowgli’s Road’ (still arguably her finest 3 minutes) is as much of a bouncy, euphoric romp as on record.
It remains to be seen whether there is any true longevity in Marina’s armour, and critics have noted a certain amount of confused clutter within her musical style, but it would be wrong to write Marina and the Diamonds off just yet, it’s just that the self-centredness (although more than a hint of irony is detected) and the slight lack of clear direction makes the proposition difficult to love, but easy to admire and respect.May 1
Marina and the Diamonds

Marina and the Diamonds

May 31, 2010

Upscaled from the modest Cockpit to the more accomodating Leeds Met, Marina and the Diamonds return to Yorkshire on the back of some pleasing album sales and a pair of heavily-playlisted singles. Her ascent to the aisles of Tesco’s has been an elongated one, but hardly hindered by the recent victories of a more successful, yet similiarly kooky female solo-singer also masquearading under a band name. … Continue Reading

The Crookes, Manchester Deaf Institute

June 2, 2010 Gig, Reviews No Comments
The Crookes

The Crookes

May 31, 2010

The Manchester leg of the Dot To Dot Festival 2010 plays host to an impressive array of established and upcoming artists, with notable mentions for the ferocious and fantastic The Chapman Family and the ever-dependable Mystery Jets. However, there was one band that stole the show (and hearts) of all with the good fortune to stumble across them.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Crookes. They are a four-piece pop band formed during their time at Sheffield University studying English Literature. Their grounding in the literary world is borne out in their imaginative and touching lyrics, which are delivered with sincerity and aplomb by lead singer George Waite. Telling tall tales of romance in the most affable manner possible, The Crookes are an example of an emerging band that is brimming with potential. … Continue Reading

Titus Andronicus, London CAMP

May 26, 2010 Gig, Reviews No Comments
Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus

May 25, 2010

I’m actually witnessing a crowd of people visibly enjoying themselves at a gig in Shoreditch.

Shuh-Hit you not: It’s real.  Maybe stuff like this goes on all the time, it’s just you have to travel southwest of the roundabout to find it.  Anyway, The CAMP’s a funny old space – Downstairs is very Tins-Of-Strongbow, upstairs is a bit Bottles-Of-Bulmers.  … Continue Reading

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

May 18, 2010 Gig, Reviews 2 Comments
The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

May 14, 2010

For anyone unfamiliar with The Brian Jonestown Massacre here’s a brief synopsis: this experimental, psychedelic rock band from California formed in 1990, have released 11 albums, seven EPs and 15 singles, and have undergone more member changes than pretty much any other band has. They had a huge falling out with The Dandy Warhols, which has been documented in the film DiG!. What this film also reveals are the countless times the band had the opportunity to make it big with a major record label deal, but somehow screwed it up every time. … Continue Reading

Cold Cave, London Cargo

May 13, 2010 Gig, Reviews No Comments
Cold Cave

Cold Cave

May 12, 2010

Maybe it’s the slight drunkenness, maybe it’s the moving horse head in the pub before the gig, maybe it’s the hour I spend trying to talk to a Dutch girl in rudimentary German when all I know are requests for snack food and lewd come-ons, maybe it’s the way Cargo seems like a cross between a Mediaeval dungeon and a BBC set for a dystopian science fiction drama, with huge exposed pipes and thick black curtains. Whatever the reason, opening band Factory Floor come close to being the cheapest hallucinogenic experience I’ve ever had bar sleep deprivation and that time I didn’t eat for 5 days. … Continue Reading

Everything Everything, London Koko

May 13, 2010 Gig, Reviews No Comments
Everything Everything - image by Jonathan Fisher

Everything Everything - photo by Jonathan Fisher

May 10, 2010

It’s with some intrepidation that I head through Koko’s doors, for I’ve not only fallen harder still for Everything Everything, but I’m tinged with doubt and fear following their disappointing turn back in November at the ICA. Thankfully, I’ve not added a hyperlink to my own review of that very show because on this showing tonight, the words just make the both of us look weak. We need not make reference to the near-immediate past.

The four-piece’s awkward beats and crazily intricate arrangements are perfectly pitched behind lead singer Jonathan Everything’s dizzying falsetto tonight, Koko surprisingly rising to the clarity test. That they make the whole mix sound this simultaneously dippy as crystal-clear is insane, as the unpredictability of ‘Suffragette Suffragette’ bears not only surprise after surprise, but a race through a mind at breakneck speed.  … Continue Reading

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