Thursday, March 08, 2007

A super all night uber rocking disco party

Brakes/Absentee/Bobby Cook, 3rd March 2007, Leicester Charlotte

Bobby Cook comes with something of a push behind him. Arriving here after touring with Larrikin Love on the back of heavy first single play from Colin Murray and a 6 Music playlisting, he's clearly someone we need to get to know. Unfortunately, due to a late takeaway and heavy rugby union traffic, I arrive just in time for his last song. The immediate impression is Liam Frost with a hint of Bunnymen bombast and Arcade Fire structures, but time will tell better.

The Charlotte is by most accounts a bugger of a room to properly sound engineer for, and Dan Michaelson of Absentee's semi-croon must be a particular nightmare to work properly into the mix at the best of times. His voice still has the capability, on this evidence, to properly surprise people who didn't come across last year's tremendous album Schmotime, being a lugubrious, world-weary spirit sodden baritone somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Lambchop's Kurt Wagner. It seems tailor-made for their Americana-influenced while peculiarly English misanthropic indiepop-scented alt-country, with hints of Pavement and Wilco particularly prevalent. They may look like debonair London scene barflys, but on the evidence of typically small scale melodramatic set highlights There's A Body In A Car Somewhere, the wistful then charging Treacle and You Try Sober, the wry duet with melodica-touting keyboardist Melinda Bronstein, you cross them at your peril. No sign of standout We Should Never Have Children, despite a request Michaelson bats back with "what, us?", but with a couple of new songs continuing carving out their sound in a more forceful vein before closer Something To Bang's declaration that "I'm tired of being a man" amid lo-fi melodicism it barely matters when they have this much to offer. And since you ask, the vocals were all over the place for the first couple of songs but always audible, so well done to their sound man.

"Fuckin' Leicester, great to be back in this shithole!" And hello to you too, Eamon. This is the third time I've seen Brakes in nine months, but then they're a band that inspire this sort of quasi-devotion in their followers. The last thing most expected after the inspired rag-tag of country-punk that was 2005's Give Blood was a follow-up album, let alone one that was more focused but still just as great in the shape of last year's The Beatific Visions, and even though both were recorded live it's still on stage that it really comes together. This focus must be at least partly due to the nature of the beast, Eamon Hamilton having left British Sea Power last year and Marc Beatty's other band The Tenderfoot having pretty much been in hibernation for a couple of years, although Alex and Tom White have found time to record the upcoming first full-length Electric Soft Parade album in four and a half years. What comes across is the sheer joy the four get from playing this not quite ramshackle but certainly not glossed up skewed rock'n'roll with extra ranting together and the investment people are willing to put into them in terms of unvarnished enjoyment. Brakes put in plenty, and the audience give it back in spades.

In total a set lasting about an hour crams in 23 songs, 25 if you count Cheney, Cheney (reprise) and Cheney (half speed version), kicking off with Hi How Are You ("won't you shut the fuck up, I'm just trying to watch the band") and borrowing liberally from both albums, which on CD don't even add up to an hour. Hamilton puts his all into these compacted splurges of thought about gig talkers, civil liberties, war, peace, love, loss and whatever the hell he was doing to form the narrative of NY Pie, while you're unlikely to find many more active guitarists than Tom White, spinning, thrusting and jumping around his small area of stage. It's testament to their energy and confidence that things hardly let up throughout a series of technical problems, firstly when Beatty manages to disconnect his bass during the intro to NY Pie, then when Hamilton has to use a spare mike after finding that while we can hear him none of the band can through their monitors, followed by Tom breaking a string, followed by Eamon breaking a string. During those two emergency replacement stoppages the other attempts to fill time with jokes, and you could travel up and down the country stopping at every primary school along the way and you won't find the 'Mexican fireman's sons' joke told worse than Eamon does during the first pause. The energy and clash of styles, shifting seamlessly from the plaintive Nashvillian If I Should Die Tonight to All Night Disco Party, which gets a huge reaction, chiefly recalls the Violent Femmes - and Hamilton does share some vocal quirks with Gordon Gano - or Camper Van Beethoven, the latter something of a giveaway as they cover both We Saw Jerry's Daughter and Shut Us Down. The latter is part of a five song encore which comes after the set proper finished with, of course, the five second Comma Comma Comma Full Stop, starting with No Return, the heartrendingly gorgeous Beatific Visions last track which sees Alex on guitar. Closing with a solo vocal version of Johnny Cash's Jackson and another thirty second pure rock scramble, Huevos Rancheros, this most unpindownable of bands departs having completely won over their audience. There really is no other UK band of note doing what they do at the moment, if only because there is no other band in the UK that will a) have a minute long anti-war song called Porcupine Or Pineapple? or b) introduce it by having their guitarist hurl an actual pineapple nearly as far as the sound booth.


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