Friday, August 10, 2007

Local heroes

The Summer Sundae Weekender Fringe Festival Official Warm-Up Party, Leicester Charlotte/Firebug/The Musician, 9th August

As that august and much left behind free sheet Metro had it in the week, you know a festival's place is cemented when it gets a week-long fringe event. After a series of bannered gigs and debates the night before the eighth Summer Sundae saw assorted Leicester venues, curated by local music community Pineapster, put together a night's localised entertainment over four venues (one being the comedy tent at the festival site). The cost? One full pound. Don't let it be said they never do anything for us.

Locals The Elite kick things off in the Charlotte, coming on stage to The Big Match theme even though surely none of them are old enough to so much as remember The Match on Sunday afternoons. The bass player's hat is by far not the last we'll see today. There's energy here but not a lot else to differentiate their third-hand anthemry that occasionally slips into Kooks territory. Some will call them ska-punk because the basslines stray onto the offbeat a couple of times, but the impression is Dead 60s without the dub and therefore standout interestingness (that's current Dead 60s, then).

There's something immediately different about Just Norris almost literally round the corner in Firebug, introduced with gusto by the night's compere, Dave Bartram of Showaddywaddy. Really. An acoustic rock outfit with a rapper sounds horrible, but they skilfully swerve Plan B awkwardness and sound nothing like Linkin Park, thankfully. G Love & Special Sauce come to mind with the summery acoustic guitar led vibe over less positivist lyrics, even if the presence of slap bass occasionally brings uncomfortable echoes of Jamiroquai. There's a small phalanx of what might well be A&Rs at the bar watching on, and while it's not quite there yet they've got youth on their side and there's definitely something interesting to emerge given time. Ten minutes' walk away at the Musician are Ambrose Tompkins. We think, given they're supposedly either a trio or quartet but here we have a guitar/stand-up drums duo. Whoever this is they produce between them a dark, skilled take on Americana that goes down well with the children running around the not exactly packed room.

Back to Firebug for what might have been. In 2005 Redcarsgofaster played an incendiary slot in the Summer Sundae Rising tent and after a couple of well received singles and ¬°Forward Russia! endorsement were rebooked for the following year's main stage, where the extra space and damp atmosphere somewhat beat them. This was their penultimate gig. At least they're not shirking on their final gigs, James Summers as agitated a frontman as ever while controlled mayhem whips up around him in the vicinity of Sonic Youth, Captain-era Idlewild and first album Ikara Colt, while their less noisenik moments are reminiscent of Bloc Party at their most glacial. Always a far better live proposition than their recordings ever managed to get across, closer The Walls Must Fall is played entirely by bassist Andy Smith among the hoi polloi before David Pott-Negrine attempts to kick in the all-out ending atop the bar, fighting a battle with a hanging sign throughout. We'll miss them when they're gone.

On the other side of the coin, please welcome to the Charlotte The Displacements. Following fellow Countesthorpe emigres Kasabian, you'll be hearing a lot of them judging by the raptorous reception throughout and the presence of 7"s of their XFM and Zane Lowe-playlisted debut single for the reconstituted Stiff Records, this also acting as the launch party for its second signings following The Enemy and clearly given this signing policy not to be confused with any maverick incarnation of Stiff Records you may have previously come across. They're gonna be big. Like the band in the Kit-Kat advert. Not that they're actively offensive, and the harmony vocals of frontmen Andy and Nick impress, but it seems bands like this are ten a penny now - anthemic choruses, chord structures akin to the first Razorlight album, tight playing that likes to think it could be sloppy. First there was The View; now there is another one of it.

Popping our heads round the door for the acoustic version of Fatal Star - mellow dual harmonics partly from the Fun Lovin' Criminals' drummer - and the return of 1997's most critically acclaimed retro twang jangle stripped back rockers My Drug Hell, the Firebug closers of the Warm-Up could well be the actual best band in the city right now. The Dirty Backbeats get off to a false start when someone forgets to turn singer Grant's mike on, but once sorted their superbly out-there sound crystallises. Their fractured sound could easily have found a home on the famed Nuggets compilation, variously also reminiscent of the psychedelic explosion, Tom Waits, Love, the Cramps, mutant blues and all warped points west. Enhanced by Grant's unstoppable manaical mid-song gurning and 'dancing' and an ultra-tight band, unsuspected observers all around us are drawn in to what can only be summed up, using someone else's words, as a "gypsy circus troupe" and a spectacular way to, erm, end the build-up.