Thursday, August 31, 2006

Party, fire and theft*


Tonight very nearly didn't happen, but fuck me I'm glad it did.

Having stupidly failed to buy a ticket in advance, I find myself confronted with the dreaded words "SOLD OUT" on the Point's website. Fortunately, above is another sentence suggesting that there will be a limited number of tickets available on the door. I arrive at the venue at 7.15pm, later than planned, my attendance an as-yet unrealised possibility.

I needn't have worried. I'm one of the first in the queue, and there are quite a few tickets left. As it turns out, the ticketed are forced to queue up with the ticketless, the doors not opening until after 8pm (having been scheduled for 7.30pm) because some local opportunist thief has pilfered Broken Social Scene's tourbus, making off with an assortment of mobile phones and laptops, and there are ramifications to deal with. Welcome to Cardiff, eh?

While we're queueing, a slipper-wearing local turns up to gripe about noise, and is given comically short shrift by the security staff. "He's over here every fucking time", mutters the doorman.

Eventually we're inside, and a tremendous venue the Point is too: a small converted church down at the Bay barely a stone's throw from the larger Coal Exchange, with a sizeable and very accommodating stage and a reasonably priced bar.

I'm still marvelling at the quality and atmosphere of the venue when support band Los Campesinos! take to the stage. All seven of them. The Cardiff-based students have been the subject of much MP3 blog excitement recently on both sides of the pond, and it was Simon of Sweeping The Nation who first pointed me in their direction. A good thing, too, because they're bloody great - think a more excitable and shambolic Shins, with added elements of Pavement, Sonic Youth and power-pop plus a twist of tweeness.

In that respect, the opening five minutes of their set is misleading to anyone who hasn't heard them before. A decent start, to be fair, but they shouldn't feel they have to go for an Arcade Fire / My Latest Novel style epic simply because one of their number is a violinist. Their real charm lies in what follows, a set incorporating all four songs currently available to hear for free on their MySpace site.

'Death To Los Campesinos!' comes early, frontman Gareth having difficulty believing the response they're getting. "Since we went major league", he says, tongue-in-cheek, "we've had to start tuning guitars between songs. Which means you have to listen to me talk shit". He confesses that they've not practiced much in preparation for tonight's show, and when they did they soon got bored (appropriate enough for a band whose music skips and flits along giddily like it’s got ADHD) - but then in their case tautness and rigour would dull much of their appeal.

'It Started With A Mixx' (a song about creating and using mixtapes as instruments of seduction - you can't get much more indie than that) and 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks' conclude the set, but the inevitable highlight is the preceding song, which poked the internet beehive into a buzzing frenzy in the first place. After a deceptive introduction, 'You Me Dancing!' bursts into life, inducing a mass of jigging bodies and grinning faces. It namechecks Cardiff indie club night Twisted By Design, at which Los Campesinos! are due to play on 16th September. I might just be there.

So, to the Toronto indie supergroup that is Broken Social Scene. I’ll readily admit I’m here more in hope than expectation. Of their three albums to date, I only own one (You Forgot It In People), and am still no more than mildly impressed by it. In fact, having only bought it on the strength of countless rabidly enthusiastic reviews and much positive word of mouth, it still ranks as a major disappointment – and certainly, for me, pales by comparison alongside Funeral by The Arcade Fire, the next Canadian band to garner a comparable amount of critical acclaim. But I’m here on word of mouth again, having been told they’re a different proposition in the live environment.

And, from the moment they begin, it’s clear they are. Hard to describe exactly why, but this is in a different league altogether. There’s suddenly a force, a power, a spark, a life to songs which have previously failed to rouse me to much more than cursory appreciation.

But just who are we watching tonight? Broken Social Scene have comprised of more than twenty members since their inception, including Leslie Feist, Metric’s Emily Haines, Ohad Benchetrit of Do Make Say Think, and Amy Millan and Evan Cranley of Stars – none of whom are present tonight. Instead we have:

Kevin Drew – founder member, formerly of KC Accidental (now the title of a Broken Social Scene song)

Brendan Canning – bass-playing founder member and Steve West lookalike, formerly of By Divine Right

Charles Spearin – moustachioed guitarist / trumpet player with jazzy avant-space-post-rock outfit Do Make Say Think and co-collaborator with Drew in KC Accidental

Andrew Whiteman – beret-wearing Julian Barrett lookalike and guitarist with Apostle Of Hustle

Justin Peroff – drummer and actor

Julie Penner – violinist with FemBots and The Hylozoists

Jason Tait – of The Weakerthans, FemBots and The Hylozoists

Lisa Lobsinger – remarkably-coiffed vocalist with Reverie Sound Revue

… and a chap called Alan making occasional contributions on trumpet (apparently they had a full horn section for Reading and Leeds, so we’re a bit unfortunate to have missed out on witnessing an even fuller stage).

What is most remarkable is that despite their being formed from fragments of other Toronto contemporaries (a fact reflected in the band name), they manage to cohere in perfect harmony. What we’re witnessing is evidently a whole host of incredibly talented musicians at work. But there’s none of the virtuosity and self-indulgence that that might imply, and there’s no room for chinstroking amongst the crowd – this is a party!

It’s great to see the likes of Spearin cutting loose (during ‘I’m Still Your Fag’ he wanders among the audience playing the trumpet), while Whiteman is a pleasure to watch throughout, throwing shapes and pulling moves like a teenage boy living out his rock band fantasies in the bedroom mirror.

But for the most part it’s Drew who’s the focus of attention. Fuelled by continual gulps of red wine, his onstage banter is relaxed and often hilarious. On being robbed: “Someone’s smoking crack on us tonight, ladies and gentlemen”. On it being Spearin’s first visit to Cardiff: “He was telling me that he played Newport with Do Make Say Think, and when they came out of the venue there were lots of little men beating each other up. And enjoying it”. On The Rolling Stones (who are busy playing the Arena): “This one’s for Keith Richards. I’d like him to live forever. Not the others, though. I don’t give a shit about them. Well, maybe Charlie Watts”.

By the end of a two hour set which leaves us and them exhausted (returning for one of the encores Peroff says into the mic “You won’t break…”), Drew is desperate for a joint, and his inability to remember how to play a solo song indicates that the wine has taken its toll. One final hurrah and then we’re out into the night, the clock having ticked past midnight.

Without a doubt the best £12 I’ve spent for some time.

But will I go back to You Forgot It In People? Well, I have, and it doesn’t sound much better than it did BG (Before Gig). Perhaps best just to put it back on the shelf and dwell on the memory of the lives the songs took on in concert.

* OK, OK, so there was no fire – but it was bloody hot in there…


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