Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Talking 'Heads

The Futureheads/Grammatics/Penfold Gate, Loughborough University, 19th January 2008

Leicester's problem with the live scene for a while has been that while there's a few good small venues, for the most part in recent years there's been nothing in size between the Charlotte (capacity 390) and De Montfort Hall (2200). However, following a change of venue management Leicester and Loughborough universities, with capacities round about the 800 range, are now starting to get their acts together in terms of booking bands all year round to gain a foothold in the touring fraternity, which for a city often overlooked in favour of Northampton or Nottingham can only be a good thing. Attracting bands of this calibre out to the east Midlands' foremost part-sporting development centre of excellence's student union is part of the result. (Or at least that's by and large what the promoter told me when he buttonholed me.)

Quite aside from having a singer who looks like a scaled-down version of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of At The Drive-In/The Mars Volta, locals Penfold Gate are no slouches, having appeared on some sort of Channel 4 Music unsigned band competition thing (no, not that one). If at moments they resemble the kind of wide-eyed band whom an unscrupulous major label might mold into a Hoosiers-type image, they seem far too smart to fall for the easy route to the charts - there's more than a little of the just down the road Young Knives in their wide-eyed indiepop as it used to be with smart, witty lyrics. They've brought quite a few friends along by the looks of it too, and make a lot more by throwing a good number of CDs out into the throng mid-set. Also of note: the guitarist ends the set seemingly playing guitar with his left hand and keyboard with his right like Battles' Ian Williams, although his set-up is probably more advanced than a mini-Korg.

Leeds' Grammatics are nowhere near such an easy proposition. The sort of sound that omnipresent Myspace descriptive tag of 'Melodramatic Popular Song' was made for, for the most part they tend towards interlocked post-rock portentious complexity, not quite as heavy on pedals as most, although there's a lot of delay used, and with a cellist, apparently in her second gig, creating soaring vapour trails across the sound, but it's definitely in the ballpark of what gets called the Sonic Cathedral in some quarters, along the lines of the long lost Hope Of The States or much touted Leicester outfit Kyte. Sometimes, as with recent single Shadow Committee, the controlled noise resolves itself into giddy jerkiness not far from Les Savy Fav at their most awkward. They're not quite at their cathartic peak here and a lot of people clearly don't follow what's going on, but there's quite a lot here to suggest their quoted influence from Cursive could take them along similar cult lines.

You have to feel some pangs of sympathy for the Futureheads. Dropped by 679 Recordings when they followed up their number 11 album with number 12 follow-up News And Tributes, they've had to watch the whole post-punk revival world flatten out and take advantage of the sound they brought into play back in 2003, not least the Killers, Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party, the bands they went on the 2005 NME tour with (Manchester Evening News: "If you were to put a bet on any of these NME tour bands to go the distance, then The Futureheads rise head and shoulders above the crowd") And yet that debut might well end up being anointed as the very best to come out of this mid-00s revivalist scene, still standing up today as it did three and a half years ago as an unsettled, unsettling wonder. It's no wonder they play eight tracks from it here, opening with Meantime; it is interesting, though, that they only do one, single Skip To The End, from News And Tributes. It barely matters, actually, as this audience is up for it, Barry Hyde, tonight sporting the curious sartorial choice of a leather waistcoat with nothing beneath but topped off with a bow tie (which eventually comes loose and has to be literally wrung out with sweat), moved to comment on the energy levels and that "you're better than Warwick". In fact, they contravene the usual method by starting the pit from halfway back during the second song, superior recent free giveaway Broke Up The Time.

Oh yeah, the third album, scheduled for their own Nul Records in March. Six new songs are played, and while not all work those that do - The Girl With The Radio Heart, tentative title track This Is Not The World, proper single The Beginning Of The Twist - prove adversity has not dulled their way with a fractured melody, guitar interplay or harmonic call and response vocal, meaty riffs placing them largely somewhere between Meantime and News And Tributes' Cope. Some of the old songs are teased out a bit in places, but on Hounds Of Love Hyde doesn't need to deploy his old routine of dividing the room in half, everyone not just singing along with Ross Millard on the intro but adding Jaff's counter-vocal before he can. They're confident enough to ignore First Day and end with old B-side Piece Of Crap, which helps reinforce that it's like they've never been away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review!

I play in Penfold Gate and my narcisissm knows no boundries when sitting at work bored out my mind.

Thanks again!

12:40 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Great to know they're going to stick around - I really thought being dropped would hurt them badly. They fell fast and hard, while Maximo Park have gone from strength to strength. It wasn't that News And Tributes was a particularly bad album - it just didn't have the same spark or quality as the first. Only playing 'Skip To The End' does suggest they've lost faith in it too and are even a bit embarrassed by it, though - either that, or they're just desperate to give the fans the songs they really want to hear.

2:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at that gig, and quite frankly the best band there were the 1st supporting act, Penfold Gate.

Having never seen them before I was utterly amazed that such a great band were not already signed.

The 2nd band, the Gramatics, were dismal, with a short set, and seemed to put to crowd to sleep!

The Future Heads were good, and seemed to get the crowd going, but there was something not quite up to scratch fro a "signed" band.

I will for sure be, looking forward to more Penfold Gate Gigs.

8:46 pm  
Anonymous Oli said...

I was there too, and Penfoldgate smashed it!!!
I've never seen them live before but wow! what a set,
I managed to catch one of the cd's they were throwing into the crowd and I haven't stopped listening to it since.
They should've headlined that gig!!!!!

4:27 pm  

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