Sunday, November 06, 2005

Take the rough with the smooth

THE LIGHT ERA / JETLAG / AUGUSTINE / STRANGETIME, 3RD NOVEMBER 2005, BIRMINGHAM BAR ACADEMY

Early in the evening it may be, but the Bar Academy is disappointingly sparsely populated. It's also very dark. So dark, in fact, that late additions to this Catapult Club night bill StrangeTime run into difficulties before they've even begun their set. "John can't find his drumsticks, laughs vocalist / guitarist Kate Finch, before adding, "They're black". Their goth credentials enhanced, they launch belatedly into 'Mundane'. Thereafter the set takes a familiar shape with which the band are evidently increasingly comfortable, the longer slower songs spiked by the unfussy and brutal PJ Harveyesque punk of 'Dressing Up' and 'Ex Boyfriend'. It's when they have that fire in their bellies and in their eyes that they're at their best.

On their website, Augustine claim to have been influenced by The Smashing Pumpkins. They've got a point. Frontman Jody Wyeth has been so influenced by them that he's the spitting image of Billy Corgan. Unfortunately Wyeth shares Corgan's fondness for faux-naive lyrics about being a "little boy", the sort of lines that make you want to grab the Pumpkins man by the collar and tell him to grow up and stop sucking his thumb. Wyeth's voice is perhaps as much an acquired taste as that of Corgan, though mainly because it's a little off-key. Musically, however, Augustine are quite something - an emo-influenced Bends-era Radiohead, with lashings of deliciously scrawling guitar courtesy of John Wallace. The songs don't always match up to the scale of their ambitions, but those ambitions are laudable, particularly given what comes next.

What comes next is Jetlag, and - there's no other way of saying this - they are awful.* Serving up a soporific sub Chili Peppers stodge that starts off badly and hardly improves, they do themselves no favours by including a cover of 'No Woman No Cry' that morphs into a reggae rendition of Green Day's 'When I Come Around' (y'know, from back when Billy Joe Armstrong and co were just green-haired dweebs writing songs about wanking rather than about the political disenfranchisement of youth and US foreign policy). Listening to Jetlag, then - about as pleasurable as suffering from the condition after which they are named.

The Light Era aren't really much better. Much more focussed and slick in what they do, yes, but utterly identity-free and unable to conjure up even the ghost of excitement in yours truly. Airbrushed and Americanised MOR indie songs with titles like 'Gotta Find A Way' and 'She Is Everything' (straight out of the James Blunt School of Profundity) is their thing, and that of many of those assembled. Oh well, I shrug my shoulders and make my way downstairs, bemused by the topsy-turviness of the bill.

* A self-defensive post-script inspired by a recent conversation with Kenny and Andy. Contrary to what you might think, I don't enjoy tearing into local bands, or bands that are just starting out (of course, it's a different matter when it comes to the big hitters - they're fair game to be shot at). In fact, I respect anyone who has the guts to get up on stage and play songs which they have written and to which they are very intimately and emotionally attached, just as I admire anyone with the courage to try their luck as a stand-up comedian in front of an audience demanding to be entertained.

It's just that I'm something of a born critic, and I find it hard to compromise and bite my tongue, honesty all too often getting the better of me. So what remains to be said is that I genuinely mean no offence by these sort of reviews - I just call it as I see it. Ultimately it should all appear in parentheses and be prefaced with that old blogger's get-out clause: "in my humble opinion". And, of course, the comments box and email address are there for you to tell me to dismount from my tall steed.

2 Comments:

Anonymous jonathan b said...

Ah, the James Blunt school of profundity. His life is brilliant apparently. Which is nice for him I am sure but perhaps not the best starting point for meaningful artistic expression. In fact I suspect that people whose lives are brilliant should stick to cheery professions like windowcleaning and greengrocery, and leave the creative pursuits to people whose lives are bleedin' awful. I mean do you think Morrissey would have captured the hearts of a nation of lovelorn bedsit dwellers with songs such as 'Heaven Knows I am quite Chipper Now, Thank You For Asking- Those Strawberries Madam, 30p a Pound'? I don't think he would have got five yards.

Oh and I think you are well within your rights giving robust criticism of local bands even if they are new to the game. Hell, you've paid for your ticket and turned up- and you certainly wouldn't be doing a band any favours by lauding them as the new Beatles if they are really a talentless bunch of no-hopers. The important thing is that if the new Beatles are really labouring away in some backstreet Birmingham basement bar you will be there to spot them and tell us all about them...

12:38 pm  
Anonymous Jody Whittle-Wyeth said...

Hello Ben,

This is Jody Wyeth from the Smshing Pumpkins/Augustine - would like to say, though I must apologize for the delay in response, that I liked your review of us very much, you we're fair and acurate and I must further apologize for being the element that subtracted from the band. We are playing a few gig's in the next month or so. One on the 7th at the Bar Academy and another on the 27th at 'club nme'. (we are also playing Northampton + Lichfield) + I would like to put you on the guest list for one of them. The aspects you found detracted have been worked out (I think) and I would be very respectful of any follow up opinion you could give me.

Hope you are well.

Jody

p.s. If I have miss-understood this website and this isn't the way to get in contact with the original poster of this blogg, please let me know.

www.myspace.com/augustinemademecry

5:27 pm  

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