Category Archives: gig review

Re-sized

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Pre-ordered my copy of Vennart‘s debut album week before last. Pretty excited. For those unfamiliar (no pun…) Mike Vennart achieved artistic, if not financial longevity as singer/songwriter/guitarist with indie-rockers, Oceansize. Negotiating a scarcely-categorizable line between Post Rock, Nu Prog and Art Metal, this sadly-short-lived, Manchester-based crew infiltrated the hitherto-unimagined no-man’s land between Elbow and Mastodon, jamming to fondly-remembered tales of Cardiacs, Faith No More, Tool and Radiohead; refreshed by lashings of mushroom tea. Heady brew? Fuck yeah! And a finely-balanced one too: heaviosity aplenty for die-hard metalheads and cool for the too-cool Guardian fashionistas.

The best rock band to come out of Manchester for a decade.

A year to the day following that band’s dissolution, Vennart and fellow Oceansize cohort, Richard ‘Gambler’ Ingram launched British Theatre: a canny proposition, streamlining the distorted, glitchy and lush atmospherics of the former, whilst substituting a full backing band for laptop dancing. Not a million miles from Radiohead‘s Kid Amnesiac days, albeit grimier, more louche, sordid.

Ingram, and former Oceansize guitarist, Steve Durose both contribute to the new record, The Demon Joke, but to all intents and purposes it’s a one man show now. He launched the new tracks – or some of them at least – at a gig downstairs in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar here in Brighton last week and I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I felt the same way the first time I heard Effloresce (much like Trout Mask Replica, Angel Dust, Second Toughest In The Infants and Spirit Of Eden: sometimes brilliance takes time to absorb and process, even when it’s presence is instantly recognizeable).

In interview, Vennart references (second Oceansize LP) Everyone Into Position, both musically and personally, suggesting ‘I’ve not believed in a record as much since…’ which is good news for me, since EIP is my favourite ‘Size album, though follow-up Frames comes bloody close, and Trail Of Fire (from Frames) is not only my fave Oceansize track but perhaps my favourite song of all time. They didn’t play that at the gig, though they did pull a few classics out of the bag, including Music For A Nurse, Ornament (The Last Wrongs) ‘really long and fuckin’ hard to play’ and Part Cardiac. Even the deceptively-basic, Sabbath-y grind of the latter – from Oceansize swansong, the uneven, Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up – conveyed more emotional depth than their support act, Lithuania’s Mutiny On The Bounty, whose selection of sub-Depeche  Mode b-side material merely served to confirm the futility of industrial, post-rock instrumentalism. The wank dripping from a sea of dumbly-nodding post-hipster beards. The ‘Size stood out from the crowd and one has a feeling that Vennart‘s new collection – written whilst on the road as Biffy Clyro‘s live utility guy, studio-enhanced and mixed by Gambler and Durose will too, thanks to a lifetime of musical geekality absorbed from Maiden to Radiohead. The live presentation was augmented by Durose on guitar and b/vox, Gambler on bass and keys and newkid Denzel on drums, who along with Jo Spratley (Spratley’s Japs) also appear on The Demon Joke. The latter is winging it to me as I type, whereupon the chance to make fuller sense and fall once-again in love will surely present itself…

Can’t wait, chaps 😉

Another track, Infatuate is also available upon preordering here

You know you want to…

Bushman telegraph

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The brothers Kellner have had a while to perfect this…

Part Stereophonics, part Pink Floyd and part The Grateful Dead was how guitarist/singer, Brian summed up the Bushman Brothers during inter-song banter at last Saturday’s gig; and it’s hard to image a better description: hooky, blues-based rock – check; proggy, instrumental flights of fancy – check; extended jams -check.

My girlfriend and I don’t always coincide with our musical tastes, but The Brothers gig at Brighton’s Ranelagh pub grabbed us both by the earballs and, shaking off our creeping exhaustion, we ended up staying and hour and a couple drinks later than intended. The Ranelagh is well-known locally as a live blues venue, but almost inevitably, the style and quality of the entertainment varies considerably: open-mic hopefuls armed only with acoustic guitar or piano and professional, full-band outfits; folksy to rockin’.

The BBs fall firmly into the second camp. Their set encompassed familiar staples of any self-respecting blues-rockers repertoire – J.J. Cale‘s Cocaine; Hendrix‘s Fire and Gary Moore‘s Parisian Walkways – as well as original BB compositions. Of those, Urban Madness, Whale Song and Travelling Man made a particular impression on the night. All of those appear on the 2012, all instrumental release, Tone Tonic. Persuaded to purchase both that album and their latest, the Condensation Fear EP, it’s the latter which has impressed me more on repeat listening. Whilst TT has more of a Joe Satriani/Steve Vai kinda virtuoso vibe, CF leans in the Stereophonics’ direction: ‘proper’ songs, aided and abetted by guest singer Paul Fulker. At £15 for both discs, value for money isn’t an issue and showcases two sides to the band. Brian Kellner possesses both David Gilmour‘s fluidity and Satriani‘s mastery of lightning-fast picking; along with a more than passing resemblance to Clapton on the vocal side, albeit grittier, which my girlfriend, a huge fan, appreciated. His chemistry with brother Steve on drums was clear to see: they were seriously tight; and I even managed to enjoy the latter’s drum solo, which is rare for me; generally finding percussion breaks something of a bore. They performed as a duo, with bass and keyboard backing tapes, though a full-band performance is scheduled for September 4 at Brighton’s Albert,with further dates to follow

Brighton residents but half-year-round (they spend the remainder surfing and jamming in Hawaii) catch ’em while you can…

Download/order HERE

 

 

 

http://bushmanbrothers.com/

NoMeansNo…

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…well of course it does, whatever Nick Ross has to say (and how embarrassing is it when us guys blunder into media debates on sex crime) and Cotton Ceilings be damned; but lets not get sidetracked, this is decidedly a post from the music, rather than the gender side…

I’ve been following ‘Canada’s finest power trio’ (suck it up, Rush fans) since their 0+2=1 album was voted an unlikely album of the month by Metal Hammer back in 1990, but last night marked my first live experience, aside from the excellent Live and Cuddly recording dating from the Wrong tour the previous year. Safe to say this was one of my most hotly-anticipated gig experiences ever – I was shaking with anticipation on the bus from work into town – and, heads up, I wasn’t disappointed.

Briefly, support was provided by UK band, The Domestics, whose generic, shouty hardcore merely served to counterpoint the headline act’s inventive, genre-defying brilliance. NMN, let’s not forget, are the band that turned out a 15-min, stripped-down cover of Miles Davis‘ seminal Bitches’ Brew, and had the audacity to add their own lyrics to the mix. In a way, it’s the most punk thing they’ve ever done, aside from their famously DIY approach to rock’n’roll and their unwavering commitment to – and outspoken relish in – touring the world club circuit.

They introduced their set with an unlikely ‘gone Techno’ version of The River (from 1993’s Why Do They Call Me Mr Happy?) which morphed into the full-on, mid-paced ear-shredder of a song familiar to fans. It took me a couple minutes to suss that drummer, John Wright was laying down the beats, such was his machine-like precision. It really can’t be emphasized enough, though, belying their punk cred, NMN have always been excellent musicians, not showy or indulgent in the manner of so many drug-addled, ego-driven ’60s and ’70s players, but never satisfied with restricting themselves to two minutes and three chords. That said, when they do that style, they do it well, as evidenced by Oh No! Bruno, a personal fave from 1989’s Wrong album. That album is frequently cited as the band’s finest – even, defining – hour, so perhaps surprisingly, Bruno and The Tower are the only inclusions in last night’s set. Mind you, with a catalog as embarrassed with riches as NMN‘s, surprise is perhaps a relative term. Many bands might claim to have never turned out a bad album; they’re one of few who might reasonably claim to have never committed to tape a bad song. The aforementioned 0+2=1 is better represented, with Everyday I Start To Ooze, a truncated version of Ghosts – sans the ‘ambient’ sections, John Wright‘s vocals instead overlaid onto the feisty, guitar-driven passages – and Joyful Reunion all making an appearance. For the latter song, singer, Rob Wright swaps his bass for de-tuned guitar. It’s another personal fave and I enjoy shouting along, even though I’m well to the periphery of the energetic mosh pit. Ghosts is followed by ‘A new song – sorta’ and an extended instrumental jam which once again showcase the band’s prowess without depleting energy levels. Maybe we’ll hear recorded versions on a future studio release: they’re overdue for one since All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt back in 2006. From that album, we only get In Her Eyes, but in four minutes it demonstrates beautifully the combination of punk directness and compositional richness that separates NMN from the rock plebiscite. In this respect, they have few peers, perhaps historically the likes of Cardiacs, XTC and early Police, the more accessible aspects of ’80s Crimson; today maybe Everything Everything in their gnarlier moments.

What’s especially gratifying is that age hasn’t dulled NMN‘s blade one whit. These are no grumpy old men going thru the motions: they’re clearly as enthused as any young band debuting on the club circuit today and giving it all to the performance moment. The final 20-odd minutes of their set consists of two encores – demarcated by the briefest, most perfunctory of departures from the stage – and mostly Ramones covers. Rob explains that for a recent home-town gig they rehearsed It’s Alive in its entirety as a tribute to their musical heroes. So we’re treated to note-perfect and heartfelt renditions of the likes of Sheena and Suzy, amongst others. It’s testament to the genre-defying quality of their music that these don’t sound remotely out of place in the same set as The Graveyard Shift and Jubilation. In a musical landscape in which punk has become all too frequently a superficial ‘identity’ NMN demonstrate that the spirit carries on.

In a way, NMN are the Cream of our generation, without the superstar baggage and attendant ego – and drug – issues. They play music that thrills both on a visceral level and in terms of realising musical accomplishment. John Wright‘s drumming in particular – his mastery of traditional grip and his synergy with brother and partner in rhythm, Rob – is jawdroppingly impressive, and hints at the influence of a school of Jazz/Rock influence that includes as disparate a bunch as Zappa, Phil Collins, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine, Everything Everything , Fair to Midland and The Mars Volta. Contrastingly, Rob Wright’s nonsense poetry vs social realism lyrical style adds an intriguing opacity which can be read both in concert and at odds with the music. In short, it’s a strange brew, but rarely a boring one.

Annoyingly, my malfunctioning phone’s low battery prevented me from capturing footage, so here’s some links to the band’s recent output from other venues, plus some studio footage. Enjoy:

In full flight

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I waited too long to lose my Yes virginity.

From my seat near the back of Brighton Dome this is evident from the sea of heads arrayed before me: white or bald or both, almost to a man. And man is the operative word – this is the first gig I’ve ever been to where there’s been a massive queue for the gents’ but none for the ladies’. Current Yes singer Benoit David would be forgiven for feeling similarly – being nearly two decades younger than the rest of the band

‘Yours Is No Disgrace‘ is not the most auspicious start – played at a somewhat slower tempo than its original incarnation on The Yes Album these days it is further slowed by an extended solo from Steve Howe, something that could have waited ’til later in the set. Opening numbers need to be punchy and this, great song though it is, didn”t quite fit the bill. Happily, ‘Tempus Fugit’ from the Drama album picks up the pace somewhat and it’s good that this Anderson-less line-up are exploiting the opportunity to air some Drama material mixed in with the old classics and new tracks from Fly From Here. ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’ is a dead-cert crowd pleaser with those trademark vocal harmonies; on which subject I’ve received a belated lesson on how much of a contribution both Chris Squire and Steve Howe contribute to the distinctive Yes vocal sound. On his own, David often doesn’t sound that much like Jon Anderson, bringing his own style to bear on familiar songs and revitalising them in the process.

The band seem relaxed and at ease, as well they might be; they’re old pros at this and it’s clear that the audience are on their side from the off.  The new material goes down well and, I’m pleased to say, doesn’t pale by comparison to the more established fan favourites. After a brief interval in which an overenthusiastic fan is ejected for upsetting his neighbours, we are treated to the entire ‘Fly From Here’ song cycle. This is an undoubted highlight of the show as well as the album, as are ‘Life On A Film Set‘ and ‘Into The Storm‘ which also feature tonight.

Howe gets a solo spot proper after ‘FFH’ and in contrast to some of his electric work tonight which is untidy in a Page-ey way, he shows that his fingers are still nimble on the acoustic as he plays ‘Solitaire’ and ‘Clap’ (during which   the audience do just that) back to back. The change of pace works well and sets us up nicely for another epic ‘And You  And I’.

Despite – or maybe because of – the epic qualities and sheer length of much of the material, the night really flies by (no pun intended). It’s heartening to hear that the new material sits comfortably amongst the old: the constant flux of personnel – bassist Chris Squire is the only original member – within the Yes camp has ensured that they have never become stale whilst – miraculously – retaining a distinctive ‘Yes-ness’ and the level of audience appreciation never flags for a minute. If I was put up against a wall and threatened with a loaded firearm I might gripe that there’s not a great deal of audience interaction – David, despite his obvious vocal prowess doesn’t appear to have found his feet as a frontman; and being in a seated venue restricts audience interaction somewhat. But witha band of this vintage I’m mostly just pleased that I got to see them whilst they can still do a creditabvle job with their vast canon and whilst they don’t appear to be showing any signs of throwing in the towel you never know when they might call it a day (I’m still kicking myself for missing the last Genesis tour in 2007).

On the general ambience I was impressed by the light show which enhanced without being overpowering (the mini-film avec Trevor Horn cameo during ‘Fly From Here‘ was particularly apposite) and The Dome is a perfect venue for this kind of show, striking a nice balance between club and arena.

All in all, a very good show indeed.

Trio of Fish

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There’s an unspoken agreement amongst Fish-heads that one is too polite to mention that the old boy’s voice ain’t what it used to be. Why? Everybody’s voice changes with age, especially after a lifetime of smoking and hard liquor – the trick is to write material that plays to one’s strengths or transpose old songs into lower keys, rather than lamenting high notes gone by. Presenting songs in a stripped-down format is a brave move: there’s no rock bluster to hide behind, especially beginning with an acapella snippet from ‘Plague of Ghosts’. Quipping between songs that recent X-Factor departee,Frankie Cocozza ‘can’t sing for shit’ might be considered foolhardy, though Fish does at least have the grace to say ‘I do like his attitude’.

With that in mind tonight’s performance can only be judged a partial success. The material is not an issue: with four Marillion and ten solo records under his belt, Fish is spoilt for choice. Performing as a trio, with long-time collaborators Foster Paterson (keys) and Frank Usher (guitar) allows the words and melodies to take centre stage; well, almost centre stage. Everyone who attends a Fish gig knows that the big man’s stage presence and banter is a big part of the appeal.

Fish explains the three rules of tonight’s show: no flash photography, no videoing – well, maybe just a little bit – and no talking during the songs as it ‘pisses off the band and the other guys on your table’. Next to me a woman exclaims how refreshing it is for someone to say that. In between renditions of ‘Somebody Special’, ‘Brother 52’ and ‘Zoe 25’ amongst others, we are treated to stories about cancerous fish (the piscene kind) in the pond at Oxford services and Foss Paterson’s ‘shite shirt’: the latter being a product of the Shite Shirt co. and available online for just £30.Form an orderly queue, please 😉

Pairing ‘Punch and Judy’ and ‘Family Business’ is a calculated juxtaposition that allows Fish to expound on his chequered family life over the years. He chats to a guy in the audience who is about to get married before declaring marriage and himself incompatible (he keeps the rings from his last abortive marriage on a chain around his neck as a reminder ‘never again) and apologising incase he comes across as a ‘bitter, misogynist bastard’.

By way of an antidote his ‘drunken romantic’ side comes to the fore by way of ‘Torch Song’ and ‘Slainte Mhath’  from his Marillion days and both songs work well in the trio format. For all his limitations as a singer Fish has always been an articulate chronicler of rock’n’roll hedonism and on ‘Clutching at Straws’ he struck a fine balance between his then propensity for flowery language and telling it like it is. ‘Incubus’ works less well: shorn of its original rich arrangement the climax falls somewhat flat and his voice cracks badly at the end. ‘Sugar Mice’ is a good choice of closer for the main set and has the crowd singing along rousingly.

The band return for a brief encore, and having drained a box of wine during the performance thusfar it seems fitting that ‘The Company’ closes the show. The audience are invited to stand and raise a glass at the appropriate moment and all are happy to oblige.

And top marks to the barmaid who remembered what I was drinking on my second trip to the bar despite a sizable crowd – such good service is all too rare these days.

Fresh from the vault (5)

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Still with my gig head on and in anticipation of upcoming dates with Fish and Yes, I thought I’d share a previously- unpublished review of a classic gig from a now sadly-departed British band. The mighty Oceansize played alternative rock worthy of the name: fiery, complex, emotionally engaging and frequently exhilerating:

Oceansize,  Brighton Concorde, 06 Oct 2010

“You must never lose touch with silly” as Humphrey Lyttleton once advised his ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ cohorts. Like the late, great jazzmeister, Oceansize are serious musicians with a well-developed sense of the ridiculous: their intro tape consists of looped samples from a Venom gig; Cronos’ faux-demonic cackle rousing his – frighteningly – enthusiastic audience to increasing heights of ritual ecstasy. Tonight’s audience are mostly too young to remember Venom, but when the band stroll on and tool up, anticipation has been properly ramped up to a simmering intensity.

New album opener ‘Part Cardiac’ also begins the set: a grinding doom metal call to arms, which lacking either the unnerving tempo shifts or dreamy interludes typical of their music sits uneasily within their canon. It feels like a second intro. ‘Superimposer’ hits the spot, though: imagine Mastodon covering Radiohead fronted by Ian Brown – artful, heavy yet dead catchy with a certain Manc brassiness. The mix is fat in the bottom end – I could feel the shockwaves sloshing the Guinness around in my stomach – whilst generally clear enough to allow the subtleties to shine through, although guitarist Steve Durose’s backing vocals are occasionally drowned out in the cacophony.

“Our best songs are always track seven”, Vennart intones dryly, by way of introducing ‘Silent/Transparent‘, a song which, actually sounds a little ‘Oceansize by numbers’ to me. ‘Self Preserved…’ is a fine album, yet it’s some of the older tracks that ultimately move me the most. Amputee (from their debut EP of the same name) remains a potent reminder of their early impact – and of Mike Patton’s impact on a younger Vennart – and the show almost inevitably ends with another long-running fan favourite, ‘Ornament/The Last Wrongs‘. In between, ‘Unfamiliar’ and ‘Trail Of Fire’ represent ‘Frames’: the latter is perhaps the band’s best 8 minutes. From rippling opening through thunderous double bass drum climax to sweet fade, I’m transfixed. Like ‘Superimposer’ these songs showcase just how jaw-droppingly effective Oceansize can be with all the elements in perfect balance. Their propensity for juxtaposing piledriving aggression and lush ambience is second to none. They also serve OTT: songs like ‘Homage To A Shame’ and ’Sleeping Dogs And Dead Lions’ layer on the riffs, beats and screams almost to the point of tilting from sheer excess. We (sadly) get neither of those tonight, but ‘Build Us A Rocket Then…’ and ‘It’s My Tail And I’ll Chase It If I Want To’ are very much in that tradition: relentless, intense and ever so slightly daft.

Those same superlatives could equally well be applied to Cardiacs; a band much beloved of Oceansize. Tonight, Vennart draws our attention to a Cardiacs/Tim Smith tribute album to which Oceansize have contributed, ‘ Leader Of The Starry Skies’. That I ordered it the following day is a tribute to Vennart and company’s conviction. This is British art rock at the top of its game, a must-hear for any – not too – serious prog fan. Seriously.

(Couldn’t find any decent quality footage of OC live to link to so here a couple of tasters of them rockin’ da warehouse ;-))

And in the studio:

The heart beneath the prickly coat

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You’re supposed to close the show with your killer tune, so a lesser talent than Steven Wilson might have clipped the first hurdle and fallen flat on his face opening with a song as strong as ‘No Twilight In The Courts Of The Sun’ from Insurgentes (2008). This slow-building mostly-instrumental tour-de-force allows the top-flight backing band to make our acquaintance one at a time, until Wilson strolls on last in time to deliver the killer chords around three minutes in and the song takes off into the progosphere in latter-day Crimso stylee.

But I’m jumping the gun, here. Wilson is nothing if not a master of suspense and the atmosphere for the night was expertly set by Lasse Hoile’s eerie movie footage – as seen in the Grace For Drowning album sleeve – projected onto the transparent curtain screening the stage area, accompanied by ambient sound textures from Bass Communion. Expertise aside, I was champing at the bit to hear ‘the real deal’ and tired of this long before the band came onstage: ambient/drone type stuff has never been my bag, beyond a 3-minute intro tape. The aforementioned curtain stayed in place for the first three numbers, the backlit musicians juxtaposed with more spooky Hoile projections both in front and behind. The artfulness of the presentation immediately impressed.

Nick Beggs and Marco Minneman make for a deft rhythm section and are clearly enjoying themselves from the off: you can practically see the sparks coursing through them as they throw themselves into their work. whilst stage left on guitar, Aziz Ibrahim is a calmer presence, leaving his fingers to do the talking – which they do with great fluidity. Wilson himself is a man of few words tonight, though he does find an opportunity to banter briefly with journo Jerry Ewing, pointing at empty seats and suggesting that ‘his four dates never showed up’.

Such a top notch backing band are going to want to flex their chops and Wilson writes the kind of music that allows them to do just that. ‘No Twilight…’ is followed by a selection of material from new album including the mammoth ‘Raider II’ which Wilson introduces as ‘the cenrepiece of my new album. Centrepiece it may be by virtue of length and sheer complexity, but overall it’s the shorter, more melody-based material that sucked me in. We know that Wilson can prog it up with the best of them, but as impressive an arrangement as ‘Raider’ is, it judders and stumbles through its             twenty-plus minutes, in contrast to the expertly-paced tension and release of, say ‘Arriving Somewhere…’  or ‘Anesthetize’ recorded on the day job.

‘Postcard’, on the other hand is as beautiful and poignant as can be; its theme of bereavement and depression illustated  by an uncharacteristically narrative Hoile projection. ‘Remainder The Black Dog’ and ‘Get All You Deserve’ (another Insurgentes number) combine artsier atmospheric textures with more conventional songcraft without outstaying their welcome, whilst ‘Sectarian’ – almost Wilson by numbers on record – becomes a powerful statement of intent live.

It’s striking that, vocals aside, these songs bear little resemblance to Porcupine Tree – ‘Deform To Form A Star’ is the closest thing to a PT song here tonight – the influence of free jazz and ambient/noisecore giving the music a very   different flavour whilst still showcasing the superlative grasp of melody and melancholy that is Wilson’s calling card.     His role too, is very different: he comes across as much an artistic director as a frontman per se. Dryly suggesting at      one point that ‘he just lets the band get on and do their thing’ he then proceeds to leave his position stage centre to ‘conduct’ individual band members.

The show was characterised by the perfectionism we’ve come to expect from Mr Wilson – from the lightshow/projections to the ‘tight-as’ backing band; from the crystal clear sound to the challenging material – and it was a joy to see him come out from the mantle of other band monikers to perform under his own aegis. If hard work and a great ear for a melody are the prerequisites for a a successful pop career then Wilson surely deserves to be far better known. That said, the factor that really propelled his PT career to a new level was the embrace of metal, something largely absent here tonight. This is, as the homeless guy I was chatting to outsidewhilst having a fag surmised, musos music: rock but not rock’n’roll. PT sell out The Albert Hall, SW Shepherd’s Bush and that’s probably the way it’s going to be.

Catching up with friends aside it wasn’t exactly ‘fun’ – veering to the serious side of prog rock – but I felt satisfied and privileged to have played witness.