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gigs                                            page 15

May 2003    see previous gigs page (#14)

Blur (London Astoria)

blur damon 0606.jpg (20159 bytes)The heady days of Britpop are long gone; Pulp have been mashed into one, Oasis lumber on in their musical Jurassic Park….and then there’s Blur, for my money always the most creative, though not always the best, of the lot.  Much has happened in the Blur camp over the last couple of years: the on/off relationship with producer Norman Cook, the departure of Graham Coxon, and the danger of total eclipse from Damon All-bran’s side project, Gorillaz.  So, 4 years on from ‘13’ and with a mountain to climb, what do they do? They resurface with critically acclaimed new album ‘Think Tank’, the catchy yet simple and sublime hit single Out Of Time and a 5 night stint at the Astoria that sold out in the blink of an eye; that’s what. 

For these shows the band is augmented by a keyboard player, second drummer and trio of backing singers.  The guy with the unenviable job of filling Coxon’s shoes on guitar duties is ex-Verve man Simon Tong, who got a warm reception.  The set list changed slightly over the nights, Tender and Coping bouncing in and out, but revolved heavily around the new album.  The influence of African rhythms on Albarn shows up in the likes Ambulance and Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club.  Crazy Beat, an atypical old-style Blur belter is destined to become a live classic, We’ve Got A File On You is short, sharp thrash punk that sounds like the UK Subs and is sooo good they played it twice, while by contrast Battery In Your Leg, Coxon’s only contribution to ‘Think Tank’, is an achingly beautiful bittersweet ballad. 

Mixed in with the new in a set that lasted the best part of two hours was plenty of the old, including For Tomorrow, Badhead and Beetlebum. A stonking Song 2 saw Albarn stage-diving and crowd-surfing and proved that Blur can still rock with the best of them.  He was clearly having a ball and looked like a cheeky little market stall holder who’s just sold his entire stock in one go; ‘roll up, roll up, get yer fresh Blur songs ‘ere’.  When his jacket came off mid set his shirt held more sweat than our beloved Cock Weasel’s undergarments, and that’s saying something.  The best light show I’ve seen for many a long year added to the spectacle of a band that, despite the odds, are still at the top of their game with plenty of miles left on the clock yet.        

Set list: Ambulance/Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club/Out Of Time/Beetlebum/Girls And Boys/Badhead/Gene By Gene/Top Man/For Tomorrow/Brothers And Sisters/Crazy Beat/Song 2/Trimm Trabb/Sweet Song/Battery In Your Leg/Pop Scene/On The Way To The Club/We’ve Got A File On You (x2)/Caravan/This Is A Low/Coping

Reviewed by Graham S
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Apples in Stereo (London Spitz)

apples in stereo Spitz 0606.JPG (24340 bytes)Support band The Loves have a song called ‘The Sound We Make Is Love’.  It would have been fitting for The Apples in Stereo to have kicked off with ‘The Sound We Make Is Loud’ because the sound is clear, unlike their last time in London, but cranked up to weapons-grade levels.  They’re delayed by three hours in traffic from Manchester and come on stage late but all that tension is exorcised in a huge set of Ramones-ish rock and roll.  Robert is more energy-filled than a tanker of Red Bull and almost levitates on stage while Hilarie thumps the drums like she’s sparring with a punchbag. 

Many of the songs are from ‘Velocity of Sound’ so it’s an appropriate approach: tunes like Nothing, I Want and Baroque are percussive, heavy clouds with seriously poppy, melodic linings.  There’s a dip into the stuffed closet of a back catalogue, pulling out, among other things, a happy-clappy, super-melodic Seems So while the Beatles-esque Strawberryfire is stunning, rolling along on a dreamy psychedelic wave.  It finishes with another shotgun blast of their version of Heroes and Villains.  And all too soon they’re gone again from England.

The other support comes from Radio Dept from Sweden, playing the first of two UK gigs.  Unlike many Scandinavian bands, the garage rock sound is far less pronounced.  Many of the tracks have a shoegazing, shimmery effect, the four humans accompanied by a drum machine.   The sound suggests the influence of Yo La Tengo and Mogwai but there’s an alternative poppy strain which, with its swelling keyboards, sugary pop vocal and casiotoned sophistication could almost be the best of A Flock of Seagulls (minus the hair of course).   Best track is the new single Liebling, with its rat-a-tat-tat beat, fat washes of organ and guitar and half-obscured vocals. 

Reviewed by Ged M
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Mogwai (Northampton Soundhaus)

Perhaps it’s just this reviewers all round lack of moral worth and deeply entrenched cynicism, but if Mogwai decide to call their latest record ‘Happy Songs For Happy People’ then the assumption is there’s the smallest touch of irony.  Evidently not so, as Stuart Braithwaite’s flailing guitar seems desperate to prove on the track-one-side-one set opener ‘Hunted By A Freak’.

On their last tour, the band sold earplugs at the merchandising stall, but tonight there is no such salvation. Northampton’s beardstroker, stoner and peacenik collective are left undefended against a furious hail of post-avant garde noodling. Mogwai waste no time in drilling home the message that not only are they content, they’re positively upbeat.

Stepping forward to the place where the dry ice from the front and the reef smoke from the back collide and spiral up in to one and other, the expression on Braithwaite’s face flickers back and forth between rapture and anguish with each and every note plucked, strummed and thrashed. Calls for “The BMX one!” and “Kubrick!” are met with a stern but frank silence. Those heartening vocals about spaceships over Glasgow and ghosts in photographs that they ‘found’ on the last LP are devoid. Instead, the band opt for the all out sonic terror approach - ambient riffage takes a back seat to merciless eardrum perforation, and they won’t stop until there’s casualties.

As the first few notes of ‘Like Herod’ are seeped out, the crowd unanimously exhale in a resounding admission of defeat, (albeit a ‘Happy’ one). They know that in 24 hours time, they will all still be partially deaf.

And in the end the irony that was so well masked from the outset reveals itself. Illuminated in green, they close the set with ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’. Fear him? They’re in league with the fucker.

Reviewed by James B
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The Music (Bridlington Spa)

Hyped up to buggery by the NME at the moment The Music follow in the footsteps of The Stone Roses with these two homecoming gigs a sight for sore eyes for young Rob Harvey and his compadres. Following their lengthy but promising start in the US, it must be a little hard to believe that they have returned home the conquering heroes, for playing music that the NME slated The Stone Roses for in the months prior to their break-up. But that’s the NME for you, go figure. Actually, don’t bother, it's not worth it.

Anyway, The Music’s success has come as no surprise to the fans here tonight. In short, the North needed a new guitar band to worship. The Coral are very promising and will be around for some time to come, but will always be a little too wayward for the type of worship I’m talking about here. The Music are perfect though. Yes, they have none of Oasis’ swagger, but they prove that any bunch of scruffy little gets can get on stage and dance like an octopus in its death throes, providing they have the balls and tunes that, quite simply, tap into a nerve and make people dance.

Following the Kings Of Leon’s excellent retro americana rock (expect to see them tearing up the stages at every summer festival going), the band step onto the stage to unashamed adoration from a very friendly crowd who want to do nothing but lose themselves in their sound. Harvey welcomes the crowd with that famous wail from the beginning of “The Dance” and for the next couple of hours The Music are gods.

No new material, just the album and an excellent B side, “Alone”, in which Harvey strums his guitar to death. Highlights? A blistering “Take The Long Road And Walk It” and a version of “Disco” that proves that the band really need producers that can capture their live sound for the next album. Promising though their debut was, it doesn’t do them justice, the only way to see what all the fuss is about is to see them this summer before they begin work on the follow up.

Reviewed by Robert B
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The Rogers Sister (London Spitz)


rogers sisters Spitz 0606.JPG (30326 bytes)The only London date on their latest two-week jaunt to Europe and that yearning for all things Brooklyn hasn’t left us in the meantime.  The Sisters get down and dirty with more of those fractured, edgy rhythms in a jagged Psycho Killer style, with the pulsing sound insisting that you move to the beat.  That movement is echoed on stage where the music becomes a ballet of falling offstage, falling over and falling to your knees to play guitar in best rock cliché fashion.  New single (I’m A) Ballerina has lovely great smudges of bass-thick sound, overlaid with filigreed guitar lines.  Zig Zag Wanderer is propulsive and melodic, while Calculator is savage and spitting.  Maybe their version of Shadowplay, for all its big, gothic sound, doesn’t sound quite right sung in Jennifer’s sweet tones but then the thought is lost as we wonder how Miyuki makes that dense rumble on only three intact bass strings.  They’ve got energy, passion and they’re having fun: sign up for the sisterhood.

Set list: Zero Point/ I Dig A Hole/ Song For Freddie/ Check Level/ (I’m A) Ballerina/ 45 Prayers/ Calculator/ Zig Zag Wanderer/ USA/ Fantasies Are Nice. Encore: Shadowplay/ Now They Know (XOXO)

Reviewed by Ged M
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The Basement / The Zutons (London Metro)

You can predict the band by the audience.  Lovers coupled in a glue like embrace, Coldplay it is; specky geeks in anoraks clutching tape recorders, o look here comes Apples in Stereo; lads in trackies with a 'bockle o' lager' and yes it’s The Zutons.  Not as infectious as the Bandits or as eclectic as the Coral, they still have a certain common Scouse charm.  They also tear pages from similar songbooks with the odd sea shanty, blues and country moments littering their set.  The addition of a sax additionally gives some of the better numbers a Dexys style Stax sound.  However despite the rapturous applause at the end I come away thinking they’re travelling on a familiar road but as yet it’s not fully tarmac’d. 

Merseyside is also the home of top o’ the bill’s The Basement though top o’ the morning would be equally appropriate for these boys who are originally from Norn Iron.  They’re enjoyable, capturing the livelier moments from 60s Bob Dylan and delivering a bluesy set of skiffle folk and though the lyrics are completely indistinct they are delivered in the familiar whiney drawl of a young Mr Zimmerman by the diminutive frontman.  The only criticism is that a fair few of the songs are devalued by overlong bluesy wigouts which leave you looking forward to the next track when you should be appreciating the current one.   

Reviewed by Paul M
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The Unisex (Notting Hill Arts Centre)

The Unisex - Water Rats 0505.jpg (34766 bytes)At 6am tomorrow morning, I’m meant to be flying to Sweden, so I’m asking myself what the hell am I doing out at this time of night drinking beer when I haven’t packed my bag yet. I must be mad, but call me a tight sod, the offer of a free gig is tricky to turn down when you’re a professional ligger.

The Unisex, what’s that all about then? 6-piece rock type band with little history. They come from a small town in Sweden called Enkoping. Hang on, I’m bloody well going there in the morning! This is fate, they’re gonna be great. It’s written in the stars that I’m gonna discover the next Hives, and be famous. It was all peachy on paper.

The NHAC is a great venue when they put a stage in. When they don’t and you’re watching probably the shortest band in history since Snow White decided to form a barber shop septet it’s very hard to get an idea of what sort of image the band are trying to portray. There were 3 people between me and the stage, and the most I could see for long periods was the top of the bass players head. They could have been doing cartwheels, or swallowing swords for all I know.

It wasn’t just the band that was vertically challenged. A frighteningly short set which I didn’t actually time, but couldn’t have gone much beyond 30 minutes was inoffensive, radio friendly pop music of the Dodgy/Tom Petty (full moon fever era) Toploader variety in the main, and it wasn’t really raising my flag pole. They lacked real dynamics or passion, and though they do have a good line in vocal harmonies they came across as almost imageless (not helped obviously by not being able to actually identify them after their set).

When they did “Rock out” they were actually more than competent, and cut a fine dash in the Rolling Stones Brown Sugar sort of way. Ah, that’s a bit better, keep doing that for the rest of your set and I’ll be happy. They played one more song (the current single who’s title escapes me at the moment though I’ve heard it on XFM), and it was the star on an other wise fairly bare Christmas tree, nice chunky sounding, with the keyboards mixed down a bit. I left a tad disappointed, and trudged of back to my packing. Not a complete waste of a night, but not the revelation I was hoping for either. Adequate not inspiring. It’s like my old school report, mainly C- could do better, with the occasional surprising B+ for effort. They need more get up and go to even think about taking on the UK market. Ho-hum!

As a postscript, I had a 45-minute stopover in Enkoping (the sign as you enter town says “The Nearest Town In Sweden” – whatever that means, what’s it near to? Nothing substantial that I could see) the next day, and it’s the sort of town where if you brought one horse into it, they’d give you a pony as change when you left. If this was in the UK, it would be breeding the sort of anxty rock and roll that kicks against boredom, and has some damn anger about it. Maybe it just goes to prove that we do it better than everywhere.

Reviewed by Micky K
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Lomax / Franz Ferdinand (Barfly, London)

Lomax 0606.JPG (11756 bytes)Seen over two nights (here, and supporting the Rogers Sisters at the Spitz the following night) Lomax are a noisenik (hunk) threesome: all lacerating guitar and post punk punching bass – a la Big Black or a Gang of Four on speed.  The ‘songs’ go by in a sonic blur with no discernable melody and indecipherable lyrics but it is, nevertheless, intense and earnest stuff.  The highlight is the climax where, against guitar squall and decay, the bass player puts down his instrument and instead plays the buttons on his FX pedal shouting out a slogan over and over (the first night was “Violence is a violation”).  Actually, quite effective.  

Franz Ferdinand from Glasgow desperately want to have an identity -  wearing slacks, shirts (brown, black) and tri-coloured armbands.  Oh dear this sort of thing has been done before and clearly they are trying to ape the Joy Division look (the bass player has a Rickenbacker copy like Hooky in the early days, and the second guitarist must have been studying the pics of Bernard Albrecht.)  Beyond the copying, I didn’t note any irony or statement at all.  Unless it was in the brief interlude in proceedings when there was an exchange in German with the lead singer translating in polite fashion for the audience: off the cuff stuff, and got a laugh or two from the crowd. Musically, it is not a million miles away from JD meeting the B52s or - when getting dancey – like the funking A Certain Ratio.  Some not bad stuff here – the glam drum and Fallesque delivery of one track stood out.  Perhaps it would have helped if any of the lyrics could have been heard. But the image is more powerful than the music - flirt with fascist imagery and you deserve being called a fascist.  And look what happened to the original Franz Ferdinand….

Reviewed by Kev O
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Billy Bragg (University of Ulster, Belfast)

Never one to turn down a gig, by the time Billy Bragg arrived onstage at Conor Hall he¹d already done a short set from the back of a lorry at the Irish Congress of Trades Unions march.  Any thoughts I had about being the only Bragg fan amongst a handful of politically aware, but Bragg unaware, students were quickly dispelled by the queue outside the venue and the number of English accents in the front row.  This was a gig for diehard Bragg fans.  The 380 capacity venue was by no means full, but from the outset the crowd were in full song. 'I love you', sang the biker-type who'd decided to show his love for Billy with several pints of beer and a tattoo of the Braggster on his thigh, (photos on request). 'I love you, you big, hairy, tattooed bastard', sang Bill.

Apart from a few of the 'Mermaid Avenue' collaborations, (even 5 years on his pleasure at being asked to work with the material is still obvious, 'Here¹s a song I wrote with Woody Guthrie'), most of the set was from the 80s with just the odd song from the more recent albums.  A good split between the political/social commentary and the poignant lovesongs, a great down-tempo version of Like soldiers do, new song Wolf covers it¹s tracks, from the War Child charity album Hope with it's borrowed Dylan lyrics, and possibly the best reworked version EVER of Waiting for the great leap forwards.

An eventful second encore when he forgot both the key and the words to The price I pay then went on to fair murder Smokey Robinson's Tracks of my tears, ('It's a very long time since an audience made me sing Tracks of my tears' he said. Stop it, stop it right now, said the little voice inside my head), he redeemed himself with the moving Tank park salute, (not a lighted match in sight, what¹s wrong with these people?), by the time he got to New England, complete with the Kirsty MacColl extra 2 verses, the crowd were singing so loud Bill himself was rendered redundant.  A tiny venue and student-union priced beer. Short of Bill playing in your front room it couldn¹t have been better. We partied. We had fun. We missed our flight home, but that¹s another story.

Setlist: A lover sings / (Wobbly head) / Milkman of human kindness / She came along to me / The short answer / Saint Monday / I guess I planted / Dry bed / Against the law / The only one / Wolf covers it¹s tracks / Little time bomb / Like soldiers do / Saturday boy / All you Fascists/ No power without accountability / Sexuality / Waiting for the great leap forwards

1st encore: Levi Stubbs¹ tears / World turned upside down / Power in the Union

2nd encore: She¹s got a new spell / Jeane / The price I pay / Tracks of my tears / Tank park salute / New England

Reviewed by Jackie J
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The Suffrajets (The Water Rats)

The Water Rats is a great venue. The Stage isn’t the biggest, but it’s high enough and there are plenty of decent viewpoints for the audience. Also the PA is way over spec’ed for this size of room, so the sound is normally very good.

This is the traditional “home” venue for the Suffrajets, and there’s normally a good turn out to see them here, and by the time they hit the stage it’s over half full with expectant punters of a mixed demographic. Their music appeals to a broad spectrum of people, and there’s not many people who see them once, and don’t go to see them again.

The stage line up is slightly confusing though. Alex the singer sets her mic up to the right hand side of the stage, whilst the sisters in some bizarre sibling bonding exercise set their mics on the opposite side, so there’s a big gap centre stage. I can’t fathom out why they do this (it was the same last time I saw them – should have asked during the interview. Doh!). Possibly Alex smells (unlikely as I sat opposite her only an hour ago and there was no discernable odour then), or it’s so that Gemma can be seen by the audience (sensible, as she’s an entertainer and needs to be seen), or it just harping back to the old 3-piece days. It’s not important, but it does look weird.

Still, who cares? Opener is “Hello World” which is a terrific tune with a great slide up riff. Tonight they play it 50% faster than they recorded it. It sounds even better at that pace and demands the audience to shut up and pay attention. “Wednesdaze” follows again chock full of guitar flailing and plank spanking. They play like nothing else matters in the universe other than the next 50 minutes, and they are enjoying themselves. There’s grins and banter with the crowd and as I look around the assembled throng all I see are smiles on everybody’s faces. There’s not a hint of somebody bored or unimpressed. “All Eva Wanted” brings harmonies that would bring tears of joy to the average choirmaster, followed by “Universal” which is a nuclear power plant in meltdown of a song.

Seven songs in comes the new single “Distinction”. Having not heard it yet, I’m very interested as to what it goes down like. Opening with those harmonies again and with restrained drums and guitars, for 30 seconds I’m thinking cop out ballad. Then comes the chorus, and full on guitar assault with vocals set to stun. Just for a moment, the crowd in front of the singer take a step back in shocked unison. If they had though bubbles over their heads they would all for just an instant say “fuck!”. It’s the old Pixies formula – quiet verse – ultra loud chorus – but it is a brilliant song, and an incredibly brave move by the record company to release it. I’ve no doubt that if it’s recorded it this form it will have critics all over the country salivating about it, but will probably sell poorly unless they market it incredibly carefully. If this is the sort of stuff we can expect from the album, then roll on the New Year.

The rest of the set seems to pass in a instant. At some gigs time stands still and you can picture every movement of the artist, each nuance and string pluck, there’s no chance of that happening here. It breakneck and relentless, and there’s no way you can concentrate on everything at once. It’s pure sensory overload. Even during closer Car Crash when the D string breaks on the guitar, it doesn’t matter because they just carry on regardless and make an almost un-holy racket. This is what rock and roll is all about, just a blur of riffing, flailing slamming performers, legs akimbo in proper guitar hero stances, rolling around the floor in front of the stage with little concern for personal safety, then throwing your instrument onto the ground without the slightest worry about what will happen to it. In five words: IT IS JUST BLOODY GREAT!

If fate is on their side (and let’s be honest, by the look of things so far lady luck has been good to them) this band will be enormous. They need exposure to a larger audience, so they must be doing at least one of the major festivals in 2004. This band could change the future of alternative music in this country for a long time. If I was a teenage girl and saw them play, I’d would be going out to the nearest music shop the next day, buying a guitar and forming a band. They look cool. They have fun. They are everything a good roll model could be, strong girls in control of their own destiny, doing what they want to do. Playing by their rules. I came away from this show almost wishing I was a girl. Now there’s a horrible thought!

A couple of my friends who were converted to the church of the Jets at the Garage earlier this year were at this show and had smiles from ear to ear. The one recurring phase keeps coming back, “every time we see them, they just get better.”  Never a truer word.

The star is in into the ascension. The Kings are dead, long live the Queens. The revolution is coming, and when it does remember where you heard it first. Get your arse off that chair, and go and see them. I will accept no excuses…..

Reviewed by Micky K
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The Vines / You Am I / Rocket Science (Brixton Academy)

the vines craig.jpg (19137 bytes)The antipodean aural assault advances apace with this all-Aussie affair.   Bit of alliteration for ya there folks!   First up were Rocket Science who have come on in leaps and bounds since I last caught them.  They belted through a set of 60s garage rock with some spacey/psychedelic organ from frontman/keyboard player Roman Tucker, who goes in for a bit of Jaggeresque posing.  The highlight was the whole set and if there’s any justice it won’t be long before they’re headlining places like this themselves.

You Am I already have a healthy UK fanbase; witness their t-shirt sales and the warm reception they got as soon as they hit the stage.  They’ve been around since 1990 and have had considerable success Down Under.  In a long support slot they played old-fashioned rock with touches of blues and Quo-like boogie.  An obvious influence is The Who (plenty of Townsend-style windmilling), plus Free and The Faces.  They were good but it’s not Rocket Science.

Events have conspired to keep me from seeing The Vines; cancelled gigs, Halloween parties, volcanic eruptions… OK, so I lied about the last one.   With the eNeMEy constantly droning on about the state of Craig Nicholls’ mental health (pile some more pressure on the guy, eh lads?), numerous reports of disappointing, shambolic gigs and Craig’s mong-like behaviour, I wasn’t expecting much.  Just as well really.  Because it gave me the chance to be pleasantly surprised.  With a set still based heavily on top debut album ‘Highly Evolved’, they started with In The Jungle, Craig screaming most of the lyrics.  There was a certain untogetherness early on, and by song three they’d had bass and guitar problems.  But things picked up as they knocked out Factory, Highly Evolved and a crowd-pleasing Outtathaway.  By the time they did a truly breathtaking Mary Jane they were firing on all cylinders.  A short main set (the same length as You Am I) was capped off with a thunderous Get Free, but of course the night ended with a blistering Fuck The World.  So, The Vines; been there, done that, and yes, I bought the t-shirt.

Reviewed by Graham S
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Vines image couresy of Mr ? on internet

Coldplay (London Earls Court)

As the final chords ring out, Chris Martin thanks a sold out Earls Court for being, I quote, ‘tremendous’. I might be wrong, but a paying audience hasn’t been branded ‘tremendous’ since 1948. However, his choice of adjective is justified, as 30,000 people erupt at the end of a flawless set of impeccable songs. ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ is currently residing at number one in the charts – it was released last August. In 2003 the sky’s the limit for Coldplay, and tonight this is confirmed by thousands of passionately devoted fans falling at their feet.

Set Opener ‘Politik’ sets the tone for the rest of the evening. It is a powerful pumping tune, harnessed by Buckland and Berryman’s stomping guitar and bass, Champion’s crashing drums, and dressed by Martin’s velvet melodies. ‘Open up your Eyes’ he repeats, looking at the assembled crowd – they wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘God Put A Smile Upon Your Face’ and ‘Daylight’ dole out equal measures of trance-inducing melody and rising rhythms, each member of the band playing their part perfectly. It is easy to forget that there are only four people creating this huge bracket of sound.  The simple charm of ‘The Scientist’ leads us to the double whammy of sheer audience ecstasy that is ‘Yellow’ and ‘Trouble’. Suddenly the crowd begin to belt out every word. Everyone is singing. During these two songs you get the impression that the band realise just how far they have come. In three years they have gone from a decent indie band on the second stage at Glastonbury to a world class live act, with two albums of timeless songs under their belt. Following a rousing ‘In My Place’, throughout which Martin’s hesitance to be in the centre of the stage is nowhere to be seen, Coldplay depart. Despite the bands’ obvious experience and ability in playing their songs, it is Martin’s voice that stands out during every tune they play. Honest, individual, strong, wandering…..he’s just a bloody great singer.

The house lights are on during the finale of ‘Amsterdam’, exposing an enthralled arena – who all look as though they couldn’t be happier if someone baked them a cake and gave them a kiss. Coldplay’s professionalism and passion for their music cannot be missed. As Martin thanks the audience for ‘giving us the best job in the world’, his ascension to the celebrity A-list, rumours of Hollywood women flocking to the sound of his voice, and alleged internal rifts within the band disappear. They have been branded by Alan McGee as a ‘bunch of bed wetters’ and s**t on by some as being a mere southern version of Travis, but insults and comparisons such as these mean about as much as Whigfield’s latest hairdo . Tonight is about the music. Brilliant Songs. Faultless Performance. This is the biggest band in the world. This is tremendous.

Reviewed by Ross B
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Hot Hot Heat / Har Mar Superstar / The Bandits (ULU, London)

This a diverse bill – intensity, stupidity, and popability.  In that order.

the bandits at ulu.jpg (23765 bytes)The Wild Bunch picture draped over the keyboards is a fitting image for The Bandits: not so much a band as a gang, crossing musical borders (rock, country-rock, reggae) to come and liberate your mind from its musical hub-caps (ok I’m losing grip of the imagery…).  There is a musical maturity here that goes beyond years.  John Bandit is an intense front-person, daring you to not like or take this music seriously – as it moves impressively from pumped up 60s-style rock to country.    The Warning (their debut single) is the former, a more straightforward rock infused with a Clash-like attitude, whilst the forthcoming single, Take It and Run, is a few grams worth of excellent cosmic american music which should be playing on a dusk ‘til dawn truck stop jukebox; Once upon a time mines a similar country rock vein with a slight nod to Morricone (spaghetti country and western anyone?). The whole wagon train pulls up too early but triumphantly with Looking at You (MC5 cover version on the b-side to the new single): a full-on sonic workout that promises to give you tinitus.   Terrific stuff. Vamanos muchachos! (or as William Holden would have said…)

har mar superstar 0505.jpg (13061 bytes)Har Mar is a one joke joke (and the joke’s probably on you). If your idea of fun is a bloated buffoon as sex god karaoke pastiche and you like your acts as cheap and camp as a 70’s Hai-Karate ad then you might like this.  Bless him, Har Mar does give it 100%.  But the joke cums and goes fast. As disposable as a man-size tissue.

Hot Hot Heat’s XTC meets Blondie spikey powerpop is infectious and has deservedly garnered them attention.   Steve Bays performs keyboard stabs in between running across the stage and leaning into the audience - it’s hard to be the frontman and the keyboard player (traditionally a static position) - yelping in his staccato fashion songs of heartbreak and loss.  There’s no doubt HHH have some killer pop material in  Le Le Low, 5 Times Out of a Hundred which would get the lame bopping along.  But, like the album, it’s inevitably hard to sustain and along the way things begin to sound like filler and the set begins to go off the boil a bit (but try telling that to those who are mouthing the lyrics to every song). Perhaps we’re just simmering because by the time of the finale and the opening over-driven organ intro to the superbous Bandages is played, we’re back on the boil.   Went home happy?  You bet.  

Reviewed by Kev O
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The Unisex (London Water Rats)


The Unisex - Water Rats 0505.jpg (34766 bytes)What is it with Sweden? From what I’ve been told, it’s freezing, wet, dark and most people are called Sven. Discounting their names, it all sounds very similar to parts of England. Perhaps these similarities in climate stretch to musical influence as well, as Scandinavia has recently produced some great bands. Oh…and look…here’s another one. The members of The Unisex have been in a band together for well over ten years. The songs they play during tonight’s short but sweet set, indicate an experience and energy that could only come from playing together for more than a decade. Having had a group cuddle somewhere offstage, and done a lot of ‘psyching themselves up’ by shouting like Americans do before the Superbowl, the six-piece stride on and rip into some serious foot-stomping, head-bopping rock’ n roll that is, quite simply, a joy to watch.

Lead Singer Jonas Linde has his mic-stand Jaggerisms down to a tee, and a powerful, tuneful voice to match. Their songs – expertly fired out by the rest of the band – are gleaming, catchy pop tunes, cut with enough psychedelic oil to make your little sister dance, and your older brother watch ‘Tommy’ with a satisfied smile. New single ‘Take Me Higher’ has an airwave-friendly melody that will have many tapping their toes. Yet it is when they turn up the guitars, and it becomes (as Linde tells us using his very limited English vocabulary) ‘the time to Rock n’ Roll!’, that their style and quality begin to shine. Lofgren and Rasks’ Keith Richards-influenced rhythms, and Bavanmark’s Doors-like floating organ, are all locked into songs such as ‘Mushrooms & Broccoli’ and ‘Magic Carpet. Linde is already a master of poise, looks and energy completely at home fronting the band. More melodic than The Hives, more charming than The Soundtrack of our Lives, The Unisex have got the songs and all the necessary trimmings. ‘Now it’s time to Rock n’ Roll!’ Yes, I think he’s right.

Reviewed by Ross B
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Ballboy (The Garage, London)


ballboy at the garage 0505.JPG (19007 bytes)It wasn’t just the Wedding Present echoes of I Wonder If You’re Drunk Enough To Sleep With Me Tonight that reminded me of David Gedge.  It was the eminent likeability of Gordon McIntyre, the between songs banter and stories, his autobiographical writing, the cleverness of the song titles, the fact that he’s a man in love with love (check the way he sings “and no-one will ever love you as much as I do” on Something’s Going To Happen Soon for confirmation).  There’s something warm and clubby about Ballboy and if you ‘get’ Ballboy, you’re lost in them for good.  

The music itself is guitar-fuelled Caledonian soul music and, as on the last single Where Do The Nights Of Sleep Go To When They Do Not Come To Me, it’s occasionally an electro folk-punk sound.  I Hate Scotland seems to be a heartfelt denunciation of the Little Scotland mentality while Sex Is Boring is simply anthemic.  Does anyone still harbour dreams of astronauts and space these days?  In the encore Day In Space, which is bookended by snatches of In The Ghetto, Gordon captures all the lost dreams and unfulfilled possibilities that we knew growing up in the space race days.   Most surprising is the song chosen to exemplify the band’s anti-war feelings, Springsteen’s Born In The USA, which is crooned slowly rather than sung and resembles an apocalyptic Eve of Destruction.  Like the Wedding Present/Cinerama, Ballboy have the gift of matching catchy songs and spiritual lyrics to a charismatic performance and when you can do that, you’ll have all the love you need.

Set list: I’ve Got Pictures Of You In Your Underwear/ Public Park/ I Wonder If You’re Drunk Enough To Sleep With Me Tonight/ Something’s Going To Happen Soon/ I Lost You, But I Found Country Music/ I Hate Scotland/ The Time Out Guide/ Where Do The Nights Of Sleep Go To When They Do Not Come To Me/ Avant Garde Music/ Born In The USA/ Olympic Cyclist/ Nobody Really Knows Anything/ Sex Is Boring/ Day In Space

Reviewed by Ged M
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The Cornerstones (London Water Rats)

The Cornerstones’ performance tonight is almost identical to the first time I saw them (then as Fourth Volume) towards the end of last year. This is by no means a bad thing. This band produce harmony-laden guitar anthems that have secured them support slots with Oasis, The Mock Turtles and more recently, The Bandits. Although many will say they are simply reproducing mid-90’s British guitar dirge, The Cornerstones’ songs are instantly memorable pieces of guitar and piano-drenched pop.

Vocalist….has a powerful Neil Finn-like voice, and some of the tunes themselves are not far removed from Crowded House’s own sunshine melodies. Upcoming debut single ‘Smack Me In My Face’, is a driving mid-tempo melody, with a riff as strong and unyielding as the lock on Chris Martin’s booze cupboard. ‘Garden’ is a swaying, wandering tune that you could easily see Noel Gallagher singing to his gathered disciples. The band finish with ‘Something I Gotta Do’ - a melodic acoustic number that builds to a catchy chorus backed by the band’s tight harmonies.

So, with soaring melodies, solid musicians and a confident belief in their music (all obviously present onstage), what could the critics have left to throw at The Cornerstones? Well…they will draw comparisons with every guitar combo to come out of Britain in the last ten years and say, ‘What’s new here’? In one sense they would be right. This band are not at the forefront of the detroit-punk-funk-garage-rock-chitty-chitty-bang-bang scene, but this is as irrelevant to The Cornerstones as Colgate is to Shane MacGowan. Memorable tunes are hard to come by,  and although at times the songs seem to slow the band’s momentum down a little too much, it was a refreshing change to leave the gig with the last two songs playing on repeat in my head. In the current overflow of southern hemisphere, rock-sweltering mayhem, it’s good to see a home-grown band who write songs that stick in your head, and make them sound as good as you remember them to be every time they take the stage. The Cornerstones – a very good, very British band.

Reviewed by Ross B
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Laura Cantrell / Paul Burch (Union Chapel, London)

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today at the Union Chapel to witness the coming together of Laura Cantrell and Paul Burch. If anyone has any just reason why they should not be here performing together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.

Okay, no objections? Let’s begin. Do you Paul ‘sometime member of Lambchop’ Burch promise to keep entertaining us with your predominantly solo and acoustic country tales of women, beer and mountains? To do that off-microphone yodel at the end of Deserted Love that adds a ghostly, haunting quality to the song? To continue to write and sing tunes that drift elegantly between reminders of Johnny Cash and Evan Dando? To write bottom-of-a-whiskey-bottle intro lines like “There aint a tavern in town, that don’t want me around; since you’ve been gone” in 13 Nights? You do? Oh good.

And do you, Laura ‘John Peel favoured queen of New York country’ Cantrell promise to keep us spellbound and smitten with the help of your surprisingly predominantly British backing band? To open with the glorious Pile Of Woe and never let the quality slip once in the next 90 minutes as you run through all the highlights from both of your majestic albums? To let your voice ring out like a church bell during the alcohol regrets of The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter and then perform the greatest miracle since Lazarus by making Two Seconds sound even more achingly heartbreaking than on record? To then follow that delightfully downbeat duo by absolutely tearing the place up with rollicking renditions of Do You Ever Think Of Me and All The Same To You? And finally, to encore with a double dose of Elvis; first, Presley’s Guitarman-soundalike, Yonder Comes A Freight Train and then a cover of Costello’s Indoor Fireworks and still have time to close with the perfectly appropriate Too Late For Tonight before receiving a standing ovation from the pews? You do? Thank you!

What has been joined together today here in church, let no man put asunder. I now pronounce this one of the best gigs of my life.


Reviewed by James S
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Fonda 500 / The Microphones / Sister Vanilla (Pow to the People @ The Monarch, London)


This is Linda Reid’s second gig apparently and she’s backed by an indie supergroup, including Jamie and Lee from Tompaulin and Shin-yu, the man who graces Earl Brutus’ gigs with his dancing, who plays a very credible guitar.  The first half of the Sister Vanilla set is offcuts of Mary Chain, with Linda playing the role of brother Jim.  It’s good but very familiar.  However, things lift off halfway through the set, with Can’t Stop The Rock, which is feverish and powerful, as if Kelly Osbourne had joined the Velvet Underground.  Pastel Blue is a summery slice of C86 girl pop while The Two Of Us kicks off with a ‘New Rose’ riff as Jamie and Linda take on the role of Lee and Nancy.  Set closer Maureen Tucker sums up the Sister Vanilla role model perfectly.      

Added late to the bill, The Microphones are funny.  The Microphones were Phil Elvrum plus a band hastily assembled from scraps of other groups milling around the Monarch.  Most of them seemingly had never heard the Microphones' K-Records low-fi anti-folk and took one of two approaches: either they tried to follow Phil and were marked by a perplexed/ terrified look on their face or they just played their own rhythms irrespective of the song and looked the happier for it.  The event was more entertaining than musically satisfying though, judging by Phil's own performance, his songs have an elegant, gloomy melancholy about them and it was surprising he didn't do a solo set.

fonda 500 0505.JPG (20144 bytes)"Wacky" is usually a kiss of death but, in a good way it perfectly sums up Fonda 500's Simon Stone.  From jabbing his Casio keyboard to standing on said keyboard to play guitar, all the time wearing a ridiculous bobble hat with rabbit's ears, he's the main focus of lunatic attention.  Grinning people are dancing around to the guitar blasts and electronic blarts of melodic gems like Eight Track to the point that I worry about the solidity of the floor.  They're in a long tradition of indie bands (Bis and Cud come to mind) that mix pop and dance.  Some of the tracks sound like hooks filleted from hit singles (was that a sliver of Blur? Did I just hear Brimful of Asha?) and placed in order for maximum danceability, but it's a piss-taking attitude that conceals a serious intent. 

Reviewed by Ged M
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Prewar Yardsale / Randi Russo / Steve Shiffman and the Fat of the Land / Wave Pictures / Spinmaster Plantpot (Arts Cafe, London)

Another day, another Strange Fruit night. Any closer together and they could’ve called it a festival. And all festival days need something a little, erm, odd to set the mood. Welcome then to SPINMASTER PLANTPOT giving us a marathon five minute set of his frankly scary a capella shouting. The twisted Britney medley and duet with Bluey, the miniature teddy bear he’s carrying in his top pocket, merely add to the feeling of unease he gleefully creates.

THE WAVE PICTURES take us back to the world of normality though. Opening with a Velvet Underground cover, they’re not afraid to wear their transatlantic influences, along with their hearts, on their young sleeves. Straight out of the U.S of Nottingham, the vocals clearly emulate the singer’s heroes Gordon Gano, Jonathan Richman and Tom Verlaine. Songs like You’re My Patient Now and You Are Not The One For Me bowl along with adolescent joy and Richman’s Roadrunner is a Stars In Their Eyes-worthy closer.

Next up, RANDI RUSSO is the first of the NYC antifolk triple bill that this night is based on. Armed with only an electric acoustic guitar for company she sets about winning us over with Wonderland, a mournful request for the return of a lost-lover-made-good. That Corpse feeds the previously gentle strumming through a pedal, giving a powerful edge reminiscent of Tanya Donelly, but she’s not commanding the respect her fantastic songwriting deserves. Then suddenly, midway through Shout Like A Lady, the previously chattering room falls silent and spellbound on every word. Battle On The Periphery and Ceiling Fire then play out to the rapt audience and, almost without warning, Randi Russo has just stolen the show and our hearts as well.

Unfortunately, STEVE SHIFFMAN AND THE FAT OF THE LAND fail to reach the heights we’ve just seen. Steve and a friend manage to turn a single guitar and a child-size beginners drumkit into a fully-fledged indie band sound (and that band predominantly appears to be Pavement) but there just aren’t enough tunes to flesh out the full set. Unfortunately For Her aside, there’s just a faint whiff of anticlimax around here.

Not that PREWAR YARDSALE appear to be willing to concede defeat to Randi Russo so easily. Having recorded a Peel session the day before, they appear in confident mood. They open with Dina’s gorgeous slow reading of Psychadelicate and follow it with their eponymously titled song, where Mike’s harmonies entwine with Dina’s and she plays a neat flute for good measure. Their trademark upturned buckets instead of drums get a rhythmic beating on new single She Used To Be Cool before Life Of My Party reveals itself to be a bittersweet ballad with more than a passing nod to New York compatriot Kimya Dawson. A closing rattle through the quick version of Psychadelicate and a brief encore later and we’re left wanting more.

The good news is we’re getting it next month when the second half of the latest Antifolk invasion hits these shores, with Jeffrey Lewis amongst others at the Spitz. The bad news is that Prewar Yardsale and Randi Russo won’t be there.

Reviewed by James S
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