Saturday, 28 April 2012

Loads of Live. From Enter Shikari to Skindred, Charlene Soraia, Dillinger and Hold Your Horse Is

I’ve fallen so far behind preparing my dribbly word gobs on the world of live rock and roll. But I thought I ought to get some burblings down on some of the recent shows I’ve dragged my aching carcass to.

I’ll try and be brief as there’s quite a lot to get through.

Hold Your Horse Is *****
Axis Of ***1/2**
More Than Conquerors *****
The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch
28th February

Right, first up a cracking show at The Old Blue Last. The fabulous Hold Your Horse Is, (another one of BSM’s genius menagerie) are the headline act. Aided and abetted by Axis Of and supposedly the raw, arse-kicking pop hunk scoundrels Real Adventures. But Dom their chief banjo plucker had an attack of the vapours, had mislaid his prescribed dose of Man Up and decided to stay at home with a box set of Downton Abbey and a box of mint Matchmakers. So first up, were late additions to the bill, Belfast’s More Than Conquerors (a circumstance of happy coincidence, abandoned, scuppered vans, midnight dashes to Scotland for ferries and all sorts of woe).

More Than Conquerors *****

The young fellas took to the stage and took the roof off. Crackling stuff, at times reminiscent of early Weezer and Biffy spiced up with quasi-mathy interjections worthy of Rosa Valle or Marmozets (at their least bamboozling). Short, punchy, catchy and ultimately tasty hors d’ouevres greedily grabbed off the waitress’s tray enthusiastically by the already thronging Shoreditch denizens.

Oh, and they ended with a drummy face-off duetty thing. Which was rather splendid.

Axis Of ***1/2**

Sorry, completely failing on the keeping it brief. I’ll try and stop being such a waffling dick. Next up are Axis Of. A weird blend of Celtic Ceilidh infusions and balls-out alt hardcore-ish rocky energy. I’m being a bit harsh, but the vocalist wasn’t the very best. But no matter really, the overall effect was a bouncy, riffy assault on the senses. I think they even threw in a great fun Pantera cover served with jaunty Gallic jus somewhere among the mathy mélange.

There are definite similarities with the incredible ASIWYFA (which after chatting with Niall the singer afterwards and finding out his brother’s in ASIWYFA is not as surprising or as coincidental as it might have been– although Niall did cheekily contend ASIWYFA were the plagiarists rather than the plagiarised.)

A great band with a great energy and presence. Surely a really strong festival act.

Hold Your Horse Is *****
So, after a wee while away from gigs and generally being out and about, it was time for the main act to kick us all in the danglers. Oh, and they did.

By now, the packed house was quivering like a fat man getting towards the front of the queue for a donut stand. And they were going to be given a massive dose of deep fried brilliance oozing with class, substance and joy.

The trio kick off with a new one (I believe called Mumbler) which sets the scene for the evening’s delicious fare. Fabulous throughout. Edgy. Discomforting. Precise. Dynamic. There are even classical nods, spine-tingling  Mahleresque chord descensions married with brutal, scalpel sharp anti-aircraft fire percussive attacks. It’s all so bloody tight. But not clinical. Complex but not contrived. This is grown up music. But delivered with a youthful exuberance. My only minor criticism would be tonight’s sets apparent lack of pace change. Most the set is full tilt pelvic fuckarsing without any dark, slow penetrative thrusting. That said, it definitely interfered with my G spot (have blokes got a G spot?) and I absolutely loved it.

HYHI are impossible to categorise but (lame Biffy comparisons aside) they conjour up Sabbath-like progressions, Refused-tinged aggression married to snappy Hives or even a Jam vibe. There’s a polyrhythmic thread which is reminiscent of the amazing Arcane Roots, an indie swagger and, at times, a proggy undercurrent. Equally as impossible to pigeonhole as to dislike.

The show ended with drummer Chris Rouse dismantling and rebuilding his kit on the floor of the room while guitarist Robin Pearson writhed around on the deck while not missing a hemi-demi-semi quaver. All as James Perry, the bassist was left on his tod on stage surveying the orgiastic hubbub below. Brilliant stuff.

Enter Shikari *****
Young Guns *****
HMV Apollo, Hammersmith23rd March

Ok, I admit it, I succumbed to the pleasures of a fine Argentinian Malbec  while overlooking a shimmering Father Thames  rather than get involved with the always thrilling Tek One. I did however managed to get my quaffing complete in time to catch Young Guns.

Young Guns *****

I must admit, I don’t really get the extra ‘noise’ this lot appear to be making in a fairly competitive area of the industry at the mo. Bands like KIGH, YMA6, Deaf Havana and The Blackout are all churning out great, bouncy, radio-friendly (well, mostly) material as the latest successors to the likes of Lost Prophets and Funeral For A Friend, but I constantly hear that this lot are supposed to be doing something more magical.

By the size of the assembled scene army and the empty WKD and Cider bottles outside the venerable old Odeon, there were at least 3,500 who concurred with the general word on the street. But I still don’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re good. Very good. Good stage craft. Catchy and well constructed tunes. But am I missing something? There’s nothing dazzlingly original here. Is there? Bones is the best number on show tonight. Catchy, classy, ballsy and big. But the whole experience left me feeling a little let down after all the industry hype. The fact that one of their Big light-bulb festooned YG logos flickered and faltered during the set pretty much summed it up for me. All good, but not quite as dazzling as I’d hoped.

Enter Shikari *****
Right, those of you unfortunate enough to have regularly read any of my rambling word wrongs, must be aware of my love for the St Alban’s miscreants and rascals Enter Shikari. I’ve followed them since they were barely more than a zygote floating around in sweaty amniotic fluid of scout huts and front rooms. It is therefore with immense pride and, of course, the attendant prejudice that I’m lucky enough to be crammed in among tonight’s sell out crowd at the venerable old Hammersmith Odeon (Insert current sponsor name and Apollo).

Having been forced to miss the recent Bull And Gate intimate fisting session I needed compensation. Was tonight going to offer me adequate restitution?

Just a bit. Seldom lost for words, tonight’s show rendered me as near to dumbstruck as I’ve ever been. So, I’m going to try and sum up the complete tour de force in 50 words:

Spectacular. Visceral. Explosive. Energetic. Sweaty. Violating. Unsettling. Crazy. Incendiary. Joyous. Sonne. Lumiere. Assault. Wobbery. Smiles. Anger. Adoration. Adulation. Insane. Thought-provoking. Agit. Fisted. Tumultuous. Dynamic. Incomparable. Original. Sexy. Vulnerable. Magnificent. Loud. Blistering. Coruscating. Fresh. Relevant. Heavy. Venomous. Optimistic. Emotional. Seductive. Brutal. Mesmerising. Faultless. Gauche. Awkward. Confident. Superheated. Radioactive. Amazing. Fucking. Amazing.

Put simply the most vibrant, original, exciting and brilliant live band on earth. Astonishing.

Skindred *****
Therapy? *1/2***
The O2 Academy, Brixton
13the April

A sold out Brixton Academy show is always a heart-warming prospect. Throw in Britain’s best front man and his joyous feel-good party starters and it’s about as good as it gets.

But, before we get onto the main course, what about the appetizers?

Black Spiders? Meh. Couldn’t be arsed. Missed The Defiled. Sorry.

Therapy? *1/2***
Therapy? Don’t get me started. Quite why they’re on the bill is beyond me. I’m all for diversity, range and contrast, but sadly, Andy Cairns and the boys were out of their depth this evening. Anachronistic, uncomfortable and pretty much unlistenable. And I can’t even blame the legendary murky shite-sound that Brixtaaan normally churns out. I’d stop short in saying embarrassing, but, regrettably not far short.

Therapy? Have always been an interesting proposition. Punky in attitude and pub rock in DNA with heavier and technical chromosomes coding a complex, oft original and even groundbreaking mischief. My collection proudly boasts a good collection of their oeuvre. But, unlike Killing Joke and Per Ubu, they’ve always mysteriously fallen short of the art house nostalgic cool that propagates forgiveness and fondness from dewy-eyed left-leaning old hacks and beardies. Nope, tonight Matthew, they were no good.

Skindred *****
Lights down. Crowd now fully ensconced. AC/DC booming out through the towers. A mass of expectant bodies baying for the main fix. Then the Darth Vader tune thing from Star Wars cranks things up a level. And on walk Benji and the boys. An over 18s mainly male crowd has seldom sounded so much  like a pre-pubescent YMA6, fizzy-knickered throng. Must be the Jager. But fever pitch moves up a notch and we’re off.

Mr Webbe orchestrates proceedings consummately. The band look as though they’re loving it. And it’s infectious. As always. 
The raggabastardreggaetoastingmetalhardcoredancedubcore boys are back in town. The back catalogue is ransacked, so Trouble, Destroy the Dancefloor, Pressure, Nobody and Rat Race are all served up accompanied by more recent concoctions from the last brilliant long player Union Black including Cut Dem and the sultry Doom Riff.

The energy never wanes. Benji is brilliant. The band are brilliant. Mikey’s riff magicianship and effortless bombast is brilliant. There’s even snippets of Slayer and AC/DC thrown in as a paean to the heavier side along with a cracking remix of Duality while we’re waiting for Benji to change his togs. The crowd are brilliant. The pits are brilliant. The sound, well, not so brilliant, but it is Brixtaan and who really gives a shit. It’s just brilliant. Skindred should definitely be on every single person’s bucket list. They are like nobody else.

Yup, it's a crutch.

Finally, Benji (after a costume change now in white fur and regal red– get him, Mr Ga Ga!) gets the whole floor to turn their t-shirts, bras, vests, tweed breeches and windcheaters into whirling helicopter rotors for the crackling closer Warning (In which Mikey D admirably takes on the Jacoby Shaddix singing duties). What a show. What a showman Brilliant.

The Union Chapel
25th April

Can’t be many places where there’s a review of raggabastardreggaetoastingmetalhardcoredancedubcore juxtaposed with shimmering, beautiful, heartfelt and naked gorgeousness. Well, here goes.

I first caught Charlene Soraia supporting Fink last year and was instantly captivated and lovestruck. With the music. And her ability. Obviously. (Even though Ms Soraia clearly missed out when they were administering beatings with the ugly branch – and to suggest that she might make a middle-aged man’s ventricles work more than a little harder would be inappropriate. And a bit pervy. Clearly). Anyway, that night, she cut a gauche, vulnerable and open-hearted lone figure perched in a church. Tonight, the same. But with two blokes called Dan. Adding bass and drums to support Charlene’s mesmerizing playing and gymnastically fluid and flexible vocal nectar.

Another reason for being in love with Ms S (apart from her guitar prowess and lovely voice box, just to clarify, just in case any significant other or lawyer may be reading) is her wonderful manner. Kooky, but clearly savagely funny and delightfully engaging banter between her wonderful songs makes the whole experience even more heart-melting.

The Dans certainly add backbone and a more than a bit of oomph to her offering and provide a rich counterpoint to her whimsical and engaging delivery without stamping all over it or turning things a bit Radio 2.

She is a fabulous guitarist and ridiculously versatile too. Tapping, hammering, sweeping, riffs, jazzy progressions and tantalizing pops and harmonics with delicious arpeggios all add beautiful depth to an already sumptuous and snuggly quilt. She plays mandolin and milks true originality out of her baritone guitar (although on Animal, the Dan’s were probably ‘one’ too loud and mildly obfuscated her entrancing playing).

Throughout, her voice is just to die for. So pure. So spine-dissolving. So beautiful. The super upper register Riperton-esque feline meows would melt even the flintiest, most curmudgeonly of hearts.

There were new songs on offer tonight including the gorgeous Broken. Established faves  Rowing, Postcards from IO, When We were Five and Bike all made appearances, but sadly no Lemonade. Still, can't have it all. It was probably made up for by the wonderfully naughty Does She Fake Her Cumface?

Ok, we’ve got this far without mentioning the Tea thing, but she does give it a magnificent airing backed with a John Martyn-esque, quarter of Lebanese red-fuelled soundscape of wombs (nice noise, not baby waiting room) and whahhs. All controlled on a waist-high pedal board with which she twiddles and tweaks throughout the song without missing a precious and perfect note. The spirit of Small Hours invoked as a magical backdrop to her equally magical mellifluousness.

By the time she reluctantly, wonderfully endearingly and awkwardly wanders back on to stage for her encore, I have fallen even deeper in love. Ahem, <shuffles nervously looking down at shoes> Her playing and singing you understand. Swoon. Can’t wait for the next date. Er, gig.

From the sublime…

The Dillinger Escape Plan*****
Three Trapped Tigers*****
The Relentless Garage
26th April

A bit like my unexplained and somewhat irrational love for Enter Shikari, I have a similar tryst with the unfathomably bewildering, nihilistic and murky mind rapists The Dillinger Escape Plan.

The night after having my heart stolen again by Charlene Soraia, I prepared to have it cut out, trampled on, covered in grit and razor blades and shoved back up my arse by an aggressive, ripped prison warder. And that’s exactly what happened. Well, not exactly. Clearly.

Three Trapped Tigers *****
First up were Three Trapped Tigers. Keyboards. A guitar. Drummer. What could possibly go right? Well, after 40 minutes or so of mind-melting electronica-infused post noise math rock, tecchy, instrumental wizardy, everything.

A complete surprise. And a welcomed one at that. Shamefully, I know little about these lads apart from they’re a trio from London made up of Tom, Adam and Matt. And they’re bloody amazing. 

The drummer (Adam) seems to be the main organiser. He perches centre stage and like Zeus, issues percussive lighting bolts in every direction. Supported by power riffs, farts, burps, bangs, booms and explosive walls of noise provided by guitar and keys or two lots of keys and electronic boxes of buttons. There are elements of other post/noise rock evident, Maybeshewill, You Slut! and Brontide could all sit happily on the same wine region shelf. But there’s a sparkling originality here too. Great stuff. Definitely need to see them again and would urge folk to do the same.

Right. Brace position adopted. Read the safety card. Heart racing. Scared shitless. 

Let’s do this.

The Dillinger Escape Plan *****
The Garage is rammed to its arched ceiling. Beards, plaid, ‘character’ specs (are they mad? A Dillinger gig. In specs?), hardcore johnnies in their snap backs, metal heads, heads, stoners, hipsters, ink-covered ne’erdowells, muscles; in fact the back streets and underground are pretty much fully represented and all salivating wildly like a pack of feral, rabid dogs.

Then it goes off. No one in the world does it like DEP. No one. In fact, no one comes close. Yes, there are hardcore pretenders and contenders, but compared to this lot even Converge look like Girls Aloud. The aggression. The energy. The apparent malevolence. Just looking into the deranged eyes of Greg Puciato with his gym-honed, nuclear ripped, bulging veins spells out the intention. They are here to melt faces. To rip balls off. To kill. And with such sweet and irresistible weapons.

The precision with which these boys administer their punishment is micro surgeon-like. Intricate, impossible riffs and runs. In scales that haven’t even been invented yet. Syncopated bomb bursts. Time signatures that interfere with the biochemistry of the human condition.

Wilson. Laser eyes set to kill
Billy Rymer’s mathematically unfeasible and improbable percussive algoryhytms eviscerate and violate. And, as always Ben Weinman and Jeff Tuttle’s impolitely murderous guitar work drops jaws, evacuates bowels and sets fire to visages.  But Tonight, Mr Liam Beardy Bastard Wilson is revealed as the true evil genius. His bass playing is other worldly. Ridiculous. Ok, he’s not Mark King or the ludicrous Henrik Linder of Dirty Loops (check this out ), but he is a wizard. An evil fucking wizard with murder on his mind. He fuses the whole thing together down to the tiniest sub-atomic particle of every perfectly timed note. Like some nightmarish version of Gandalf armed with his jauntily worn bass bazooka – he’s here to take names. And souls.

Danté? Pah!
The crowd is reduced to a ridiculous, sinful writhing mass of humanity. A constant conveyor belt of contorted, wretched souls. Stage diving? Nah, for pussies, this is stage suicide. Stage kamikaze. Leaping, running, bombing and torpedoing. Greg dive bombs into the pit from atop the massive chain-suspended, swinging rig. Ben runs into the crowd still playing his alien scales without missing an impossible fret position. During Sunshine and The Werewolf, Puciato invites the assembled perishing souls onto the stage. The drum kit gets a makeover, temporarily disrupting Rymer’s artillery fire. There’s a general feeling of fuck the world. It’s amazing. This, my friends it what the inside of a fucked up madman’s head looks like. And it’s joyous. Nihilistic escapism. An antidote for every manufactured and anodyne, autotuned abortion that we’re up to our sorry knees in on a daily basis. Or maybe it’s what the inside of God’s head looks like.

But, hadean comparisons aside for a moment. There’s genuine import here. Serious musical statements. Stockhausen, Stravinsky and Schoenberg have all been represented here tonight. Dissembling the notions of harmony, structure, rhythm and form is not new. But it’s important it keeps getting tested. Pushed. Reinvented. Rewired. Reframed.

It’s tantalising to imagine what it must have been like at the premier of Stravinksky’s The Rite Of Spring. How uncomfortable. Bewildering. And how fucking important. That’s how I like to think about this horrible lot.

Bernstein said of the Stravinky’s masterpiece,  “it's got the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, and the best asymmetries and polytonalities and polyrhythms and whatever else you care to name."

He could have been talking about tonight.

I’m exhausted. Spent. Defiled. Sated. Amazed. Stunned. Uplifted. Fucked.

Here’s the setlist.

Panasonic Youth
Milk Lizard
Room Full of Eyes
43% Burnt
Black Bubblegum
Hollywood Squares
Weekend Sex Change
Sugar Coated Sour
Fix Your Face
Good Neighbor
Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants
Sunshine the Werewolf
Farewell, Mona Lisa

Russian Circles next.

More tunes soon. Bwoooar!

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