Monday, July 28, 2008 comes a wig-fish...

The B-52s.
Camden Roundhouse. 24jul08.

I’ve checked two sources on this and apparently shiny happy Kate Pierson is 60 years old. Despite the B-52s longevity, this seems scarcely credible, that is if you were to ignore her sprightly nan-on-petrol-fumes-and-too-many-snifters-of-Bombay-Sapphire style dancing, as well as the look of grumpy determination slapped across her face when she’s off vocal duty.

I guess that’s what happens when a band gets locked in an MTV time capsule, in this case their Love Shack video. Nineteen years have passed since the Cosmic Thing album, that gave us that iconic single, which not only heralded a return to form, but a return to normality following the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson from an AIDS-related illness in 1985. After a hiatus that almost became permanent, drummer Keith Strickland moved over to play guitar, and remains part of the core grouping, his playing here making the merit of his equal billing with the six-legged vocal machine of Pierson, Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider all too apparent.

Mind you, given a combined age of 168 for the three vocalists, their stage performances certainly retain a youthful vigour (despite some of the dance steps). Wilson and Pierson’s harmonising wraps up 60’s girl groups, Hair and a kind of space-beach party schtick, and works in call-and-response to Fred’s passive-aggressive mince, barked out in perfect order as he surveys those dancing down the front with authoritarian suspicion. There are many great non-regulation voices who bring something distinctive and beguiling to the rock n’ roll canon: Jaz Coleman, a primeval roar; Mark E. Smith; a captivating drawl and Tom Waits, his gutter growl. Over in the corner, asking theatrically where the ice-box might be, is Fred, pouring his gert fuck-off jug of waspish camp into the punch bowl.

Since Cosmic Thing, only two further studio LPs have appeared: 1992’s Good Stuff and Funplex, released earlier this year. Having returned recently to regular live performance, the latter was written to give the band some new stuff to play but despite the fact that such a scenario, wedded to the main players wide geographic spread, might lead to some half-arsed filler, Funplex stands up alongside their very best material. Indeed, the absence of the new Eyes Wide Open tonight is a disappointment even in a set balanced fairly between songs old and new.

Still, its not like their isn’t plenty of t’riffic stuff to cover that absence, Party Out Of Bounds (featuring Fred sprinting from behind the curtain to deliver the first line with perfect wild-eyed gatecrasher’s glee – “Suh-PRIIIII-IIIZE”), Rock Lobster, Mesopotamia and Private Idaho all sounding magnificent, and their showmanship brings the best out of tunes such as Funplex’s title track, which makes much greater sense as part of a concert performance.

The new record makes use of modern electronic programming on songs such as Love In The Year 3000 (presented here as a love double-bill with the shack that you’ll know) but certainly not in a faddish way, more as a natural progression within and around their psychobilly pop to where a dance band needs to be in the 21st century. The B-52s might have kitsch quality, and have presented themselves as a relentless rabble of party-to-party troubadours, but they have a value over and above that of ephemeral novelty mainly thanks to having written some of the liveliest, wittiest and most innovative pop music of the post-punk/new-wave era.

The B-52s @ MySpace


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Blown a wish mind


Yes, a mere two weeks after the event. Yesterday Betty claimed hers would be the last blogger's review - as if! I'd like to say what follows is better late than never as a tribute to the legendary tardiness of the band in question, but that would be to disguise my own slackness. Hmm, 'Better Late Than Never' - that'd make a good song title for their new record...


* * * * *

You have to wonder if Graham Coxon realises he's not beslippered and dicking about in his bedroom at home but a little way down the road on the Roundhouse stage being watched by several hundred people (albeit several hundred people with precious little interest in anything other than the main attraction).

His half-hour set contains nothing I recognise from any of his solo albums and is instead the only semi-listenable ramblings of someone who's just discovered the possibilities of a self-sampling pedal. Hard to believe this is a man who once chased Page 3 girls around Benny Hill style. Perhaps this is a very public act of self-flagellation? Or perhaps he just knows no one's bothered and has set out to be deliberately obtuse?

Confession time: I came to My Bloody Valentine late. Even when, in my undergraduate days, I belatedly discovered that Britain had spawned rock bands every bit as iconic and fiendishly noisy as my American heroes, it was The Jesus & Mary Chain who made the most instant impression. Isn't Anything was good enough, and magnum opus Loveless a blissful haze of distorted guitar you could completely lose yourself in, but neither had the immediate punch-to-the-gut impact of Psychocandy.

So why was it, then, that news of MBV's reunion gigs had me scrambling for a ticket regardless of the date and venue when the Mary Chain's last year didn't? I can't explain it. But here I am. And it's absolutely fucking marvellous.

What occasionally seems a bit jangly-jangly on record is sludgey and gooey live; listening to it feels like drowning in jam. The drums are surprisingly prominent, especially on the older tracks. By contrast, the vocals - barely discernible at the best of times, particularly on Loveless (hence the reason lyrics sites rarely agree on what's being sung) - are smothered in guitar and can't be made out at all except as extra layers of sound; Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher stand making goldfish faces at the mic in the eye of the hurricane. The only time Shields's voice can be made out is the mumbled apology for cocking up one of the early songs - the fact that Colm O'Ciosoig's timing is out even on the fourth night of a five night stand being just about the only thing that proves they're mortal all night.

As to whether they played anything new, your guess is as good as mine. I'm more than happy just to hear 'Only Shallow' and 'Soon' - the latter being post-baggy indie-dance-of-sorts fed through a thousand effects pedals that singlehandedly obliterates all evil thoughts of The Stone Roses.

Nothing - nothing I've read about the past, nothing I've heard from those who witnessed it on previous nights, not even the complimentary earplugs handed out on arrival with a "You're going to need these" nod of the head from the steward - can prepare me for the final onslaught.

The barrage of noise - the "holocaust" section - dropped about two thirds of the way through 'You Made Me Realise' may not have the element of surprise but then it hardly needs it in order to make an impression; it's so loud its impact on my head is like a golf club on an overripe melon.

Five minutes in, my jeans are flapping like washing on a line, and my hair is ruffled as though by an overaggressive aunt.

Ten minutes in, we start communicating by text - this, we agree, is the chord of death.

15 minutes in, people are starting to wilt and surrender, while others surreptitiously finger their ears to prod their molten brains back in. I contemplate whether this is the point to finally admit defeat and, for the first time ever, put in the earplugs I'm rolling around in my clammy palm.

20 minutes in, and we're suddenly back to the song - though the only way you can tell is that Shields comes back to mouth into the mic and O'Ciosoig can be seen (if not heard) to be playing a regular beat, effectively muted by the deafening looped distortion.

And then it comes to an end. The earth has moved.

When I wake I'm still in a dream.

Other reviews: Delrico Bandito, Betty's Utility Room

Monday, July 07, 2008

Teach to their own


Sod's law that the night a friend's visiting and I'm keen to show off how vibrant and thriving gig culture in the latest place SWSL has laid its hat is by paying my first visit to one of the city's most cultish venues, the place is practically deserted.

According to The Beautiful South's Paul Heaton, The Puncture Repair Kit are "the best thing to come out of Cambridge since homosexuality" - but then he's responsible for 'Perfect 10', so don't let that sway you. Others have apparently been nice enough to compare them to the likes of The Delgados, thus proving there is such a thing as being too nice. Xylophone, violin, fey vocals about books, military uniform worn by someone who looks as though he couldn't fight his way out of a damp paper bag, even if armed with a bayonet and hand grenade - and all thrown together to sound rather less like a glorious mess (see: Campesinos!, Los) and rather more like the sort of mess you might be disgruntled to find on the sole of your shoe.

Better is the second act of this Swiss Concrete hosted night, Flicklisten aka Jim Nicherelt, an American who's come to call Oxford home. Even then, though, it takes some time - and accompaniment on a curious scissor-shaped violin (the indie-folk equivalent of a flying V guitar, perhaps?) - for his songs to start to make sense, what initially seems muddy and mumbled coming to sound subtle and measured. There's not much in the way of visual stimulation, either, though he does at least have a nice line in between-song patter.

Both could learn an awful lot from recent Elefant signatories The School. (Note Stern word to self: that's the last pun you're allowed...) Yes, OK, so they're friends of friends from Cardiff and, stood here next to their biggest fan in my Spillers T-shirt, I'm here in some kind of cheerleading capacity. But it's really not so long ago that the very thought of them would have had me spluttering on my pint. Vintage dresses? Pastel pink 7" singles? Stomach-churningly cutesy pop? Here be twee! Pass the Uzi!

So it's to the considerable credit of ex Loves member and Loose promoter Liz and her apparently ever-changing band (including a guitarist whose T-shirt proclaims "I listen to bands that don't even exist yet") that I don't spend the duration of their set chewing on my fists in the hope that Napalm Death and Fuck Buttons might be going to put in a surprise joint headline appearance. That's thanks largely to their homing in on my Achilles heel and raising the Spector of 60s girl groups that haunts the likes of The Jesus & Mary Chain. Live it doesn't all come off (beats are missed and embarrassed glances are smilingly exchanged throughout), but there's still an awful lot to admire and in 'Let It Slip' they've got an absolute gem of a single.

Just a shame, then, that the only people dancing are The Puncture Repair Kit and assorted girlfriends and friends. Talk about teaching to the converted. Ah...

Ken's review on Parallax View