Friday, October 31, 2008

Thank Holy Fuck it's Friday


I'm at the Zodiac, it's a Friday night and it's not long gone 8pm - which can mean only one thing: here come the support band, to a smattering of early birds.

Kelpe are in many respects like a credit crunch version of the headliners, a scaled-down twosome dealing in rhythmic electronica. In truth, they're just Kel McKeown accompanied by inventive drummer Chris Walmsley, a gun for hire who's also performed with Psapp and Voice Of The Seven Woods amongst others.

As fluffers for the crowd they do a reasonable job, but not much more than that, McKeown's fondness for stuttering synth gradually becoming more and more of an irritation, a stylistic crutch on which the songs seem to continually fall back.

Tell people you're going to see a band called Holy Fuck and watch them recoil in disgust. In many ways the name is unfortunate and does them a significant disservice, instantly conjuring up as it might visions of satanic metallers reciting the Lord's Prayer backwards through a mouthful of blood, when that could hardly be further from the truth. Still, there's a small measure of childish satisfaction in knowing that their presence might be upsetting Delirious?, who are themselves playing in the Zodiac's downstairs room...

But less about dreary worship music, and more about a band who don't just understand and write about euphoria, but actually make you FEEL it. A band who were one of the revelations of my Glastonbury. Just how good would they be now I'm familiar with their latest album, LP? Answer: very good indeed.

Not so long ago the received wisdom was that, like Amy Winehouse and a few bottles of Merlot, dance and rock couldn't be mixed without the consequences being very messy indeed. It took LCD Soundsystem to convince me, certainly, that a re-examination of that assumption might be in order. Since then, it's been comprehensively killed off by a few bands who have run with James Murphy's concept of making people move to repetitive rhythms played largely with live instruments: !!!, for a start, and now the New Yorkers' pals and former tourmates from across the Canadian border.

Clustered together almost on top of each other on stage, Holy Fuck consist of founder members and electronics wizards Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh, armed with a battalion of keyboards as well as a 35mm film synchroniser, plus a live rhythm section - and an amazingly tight one at that. There are no guitars, and the few vocals there are are so heavily processed and distorted as to become just another part of the sonic collage. They may have their roots in avant-garde experimental noise, but their music - lithe, sinuous, joyous - is far more accessible and animating than that might suggest.

While one punter near me, clearly not familiar with the usual uptight reserve of Oxford crowds, might see fit to admonish those around him by shouting "Come on you wankers", for the majority of the audience remaining statuesque is simply not an option. That the Torontonians would receive an enthusiastic welcome here could have been expected - they're in the midst of a tour with Oxford band du jour Foals (with whom they've produced a split 12" covering each other's songs, on sale at the merch stall), they've remixed Radiohead's 'Nude', and Yorke's crew repaid the favour by playing Holy Fuck's 'Lovely Allen' with a glowing endorsement when they stood in for Zane Lowe on Radio 1 back in January.

Most of LP sees the light of night, but the best being saved for last - a splendid closing trio of 'Royal Gregory', brilliant album opener 'Super Inuit' and 'Lovely Allen', the latter arms-in-the-air anthemic with its 'Hoppipolla'-esque piano line.

This being a Friday night, they're off stage by ten and there's no encore. But no worry - as a vindication of their choice of moniker, it's been impeccable.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cum together


Somewhere, most likely back in Cardiff, I've got a Shortwave Set album. The fact that I couldn't have told you what it was called should be some indication as to how much impression it made on me i.e. next to none. You might expect a record bearing the title The Debt Collection to demand your attention like a short, hard rap on the kneecaps as inflicted by a 6ft 4ins shaven-headed baseball-bat-wielding lunk - but no.

Tonight, disseminating songs and videos via Bluetooth is about as in-your-face as they get. Well connected they may be - The Debt Collection's follow-up, this year's Replica Sun Machine, features contributions from Van Dyke Parks and John Cale, and was produced by Danger Mouse - and a couple of the new tracks ('No Social' and 'Glitches N Bugs') have a bit of spark, but for the most part the idiosyncratic pop they concoct with guitar, laptop, cymbal, heavily treated vocals and Ulrike Bjorsne's miniature briefcase of tricks is too slight to deserve much more than the polite applause it gets.

And then Spiritualized. OK, let's get the handful of gripes out of the way first.

1. The vocals are by and large too loud throughout.

2. With the exception of 'Sweet Talk' the new material, outshone at every turn by brighter and more spectacular moments from the firmament of their back catalogue, underlines the fact that latest album Songs In A&E is a disappointment, and possibly even evidence of a band on the wane, at least creatively speaking. The single 'Soul On Fire' in particular makes the familiar grand gestures but, to these ears, sounds rather empty at its core.

3. There's no room in the two-hour-long set for classics such as 'Electricity', 'Lord Let It Rain Down', 'Take Your Time' and my personal favourite 'Medication'.

But am I glad that when Death came a-knocking back in 2005, Jason Pierce hid behind the sofa and pretended he wasn't in? You betcha.

Pierce's near-death experience is underlined tonight by 'Death Take Your Fiddle', which features the sound of his respirator in the background and is performed on a stage bathed in clinical green operating theatre light, and the song that follows, which finds him earnestly beseeching Jesus for a sense of direction. But if that suggests a fragility, there's little fragile about the opening of the set, a rendition of 'Amazing Grace' over squalling guitars giving way to the angriest and most bitter track on Songs In A&E, 'You Lie You Cheat'.

The song which follows, 'Shine A Light', sets the overall tone for the performance, though - the set moves at a slow, stately and hypnotic pace but with inexorable momentum through such delights as the title track of their 1997 Mercury Music Prize winning album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and Spacemen 3's 'Walking With Jesus'. My personal highlight is probably 'I Think I'm In Love', though 'Lay Back In The Sun' is also a real treat given that Pure Phase, with its blend of blissed-out beauty and experimental interludes, is the one Spiritualized album I just can't get enough of.

As anticipated, all this foreplay builds to an explosive climax, with 'She Kissed Me And It Felt Like A Hit' (still one of the best song titles I've heard), 'Come Together' and another Spacemen 3 song, 'Take Me To The Other Side', roughing up against each other, the blitz of noise and strobe bringing about ecstatic grins and mindmelt aplenty.

By way of a post-coital cigarette, they encore with 'Lord Can You Hear Me?', the understated music and plaintive, slightly desperate tone of Pierce's lyrics a perfect counterpoint to the strident and frenzied conclusion to the main set. Regardless of whether Pierce is now a spent force in terms of songwriting, that he's still alive to perform his heavenly music on earth is cause for considerable celebration.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Been caught stealing


Either Will Oldham's licenced the name Palace Music as a franchise or the band from Oxford are a cheeky bunch of plagiarists. Counting among their number members of local folk-shanty types Stornoway (one of whom may or may not be the pseudonymic genius Evan Essence), this Palace Music deal in quirky indie which, though intermittently impressive with the likes of 'Tetanus Face' and their tribute to the city's newest eaterie 'Yo Sushi', is largely all too lightweight and unmemorable. Songs for paupers rather than princes.

The Spencer McGarry Season are next up, testament to the evident appreciation the night's promoters Swiss Concrete have of Cardiff's considerable musical bounty - their last act, I think, was to bring The School before a largely non-existent audience. In truth, interest tails off dramatically tonight once Palace Music exit too, the majority of the audience taking the fact that they don't recognise any of the faces on stage as an excuse for a trip to the bar or, worse, for the formation of a seated circle group cluster. More fool them for ignoring the Season's shiny smiley-faced new wave pop. It's only by paying close attention to the threesome that I belatedly realise Stephen 'Sweet Baboo' Black is the band's regular bassist, for a start.

I'm not 100% convinced by new single 'A Paler Shade Of Wit', released through their own label Businessman Records, and it's a source of some disappointment that their contribution to the Twisted By Design compilation This Town Ain't Big Enough For The 22 Of Us, 'The Unfilmable Life & Life Of...', has been dropped from the set - but Jim O'Rourke's 'Therefore I Am' is an excellent choice of cover and 'When Stupids Come To Town', the strutting Talking Heads influenced funk closer, is a triumph. Little wonder that they'll be supporting The Week That Was, a side project of fellow pop experimentalists Field Music, in Cardiff soon.

So, Palace Music nicked their name and The Spencer McGarry Season nicked a song - what have Londoners Lazarus Clamp half-inched? Nothing specific, as it turns out - though they do have a decent song about a burglary. Through no fault of their own (it has to be said) they're already on a hiding to nothing, having been billed in Nightshift as a lipsmackingly tasty yet improbable collision between Slint and Sparklehorse. And so it proves - generally speaking, there's little cohesion, direction or individual identity on display. When the violinist leaves the stage and they suddenly and unexpectedly morph into an intensely focused Shellac, I'm moved to contemplate a re-evaluation (individual identity point aside). Sod's law, then, that it's their sign-off.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

...let it rise let it bubble to the surface...

Killing Joke.
Kentish Town Forum. 04oct08.

1994, and I came across Killing Joke for the first time. ‘Pandemonium’ was the record, ten tracks that opened up a world beyond the confines of metal’s anti-social grunt to which I had hitherto been enamoured. What a record it was: Geordie Walker’s classic guitar riffs applying a deft touch to the wall-of-sound heft; Youth’s electro-ambient underscore; and then that growl, that zealous roar - Jaz Coleman, both shaman and Svengali, at the helm.

This tour reunites the aforementioned gentlemen with ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson, the drummer with whom they founded the band in 1979. These dates represent the first time they have played together in 26 years, Ferguson having been left behind when the other three fled to Iceland in 1982 to escape the Apocalypse they felt was due. Eventually they felt safe to return and Killing Joke’s membership has rotated fairly haphazardly ever since, through a series of stylistic shifts and several long periods of inactivity.

The concept for this tour has been for the band to perform two night residencies in venues, playing their first two albums Killing Joke and What’s THIS For…! on the first night, then Pandemonium plus the early singles on the second. Judging by this second night, they have strayed a little from their brief, with only six of the ten Pandemonium tracks aired, even singles Millennium and Jana missed out, which naturally would cause some disappointment (although it was the absence of fissiparous album closer Mathematics of Chaos that caused this correspondent’s lip to droop).

However, in their stead were some more than able surrogates from across the eras, such as a potent Asteroid from 2003’s second self-titled LP, a twinning of their 1985 hits Eighties and Love Like Blood and a particularly topical Money Is Not Our God from 1990’s Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions

Killing Joke are not a band that have sonically stood still. From the frosty dub-meets-post-punk paranoia of 1979’s Turn To Red to 1994’s phantasmagoric, apocalyptic Exorcism and middle-eastern mysticism of Labyrinth to their increasingly hard-edged 21st century incarnations, their militancy and watchful cynicism has remained unbound.