Friday, September 24, 2010

The hills have ayes


How can one roomful of people be so collectively bald and yet simultaneously so collectively hairy? It’s like being hemmed in by Pink Eyes of Fucked Up, Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav and the Hairy Bikers.

We’ve all been drawn here by one of the Jagjaguwar label’s leading lights, but first up are one of their latest hopes – and given their roster currently boasts everyone from Dinosaur Jr and Bon Iver to The Besnard Lakes, Oneida and Women, we’re inclined to trust their judgement on such matters.

Wolf People sound just as the name suggests they should: as if they’ve been raised in the woods by wolves on a diet of deep-fried stoner boogie, classic rock and psych-folk. And let’s face it – wouldn’t you want to sound like that too, if you’d actually been raised in Bedford? Opening for their more illustrious labelmates might be something of a double-edged sword, but there should always be room for a band who, with the likes of ‘Silbury Sands’, come across like Pentangle being buggered out of their boredom by Dead Meadow.

It seems Black Mountain are also out to underline their untamed animalism, judging by the title of new album Wilderness Heart. Its predecessor was christened with the curious moniker In The Future – curious in that the Canadians don't immediately strike you as the types prone to forward-thinking, except maybe to entertain, in between hits on the bong, whimsical imaginings of what the world might be like when ruled by giant ants.

Misadventures on the internet have taught me that dudeism is now an officially recognised religion, albeit the slowest-growing in the world, and here among us tonight appears to be its high priest, Jeff Lebowski. It hardly takes a leap of imagination to picture Black Mountain ringleader Stephen McBean sniffing milk in a supermarket aisle or dropping a lit joint between his thighs and subsequently crashing his car into a tree.

But, unlike fellow Sabbath fiends Sleepy Sun, McBean and his companions aren’t really spaced-out peaceniks (‘Stay Free’ the exception that proves the rule, perhaps), regularly preferring galloping riffs that Iron Maiden would be proud to call their own. The opening to ‘Tyrants’ and the entirety of newie ‘Let Spirits Ride’ make us feel like we’re being trampled by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

They remain something of an enigma, though. You wouldn’t catch Maiden all drinking wine and being tended to by a "goblet-filler". Amber Webber – in many ways their secret weapon, possessed of a quite extraordinary voice that is both strong and tremulous – continues to be frustratingly underused, too often a spare part left to bash her tambourine or stare out into space while the Mountain men do their thing. The fact that her mic is rarely loud enough doesn’t help, and has me wanting to urge even more enthusiastically investment in 2009’s Infinite Light by Lightning Dust, her side-project with Joshua Wells. For his part, Wells’ keyboard lines, though often effective in context, occasionally have a tendency to clothe the songs in a dubious star-spangled cape that punk principles would deem snigger-worthy.

Still, you won’t find a much unlikelier Coldplay support band anywhere (yes, they really did, back in 2005) – and if that’s not reason to recommend them, then I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You couldn't make it up - or could you?

Back in January last year, I kicked off a light-hearted series on imaginary bands with the tale of the dramatic rise and equally dramatic fall of Nautical But Nice, five trawlermen plucked from their day jobs by a major label to become a heart-throb boyband beloved by housewives and tweenagers.

Laughably far-fetched, you might have thought. Er, no - forgive me for tooting my own trumpet, but it's turned out to be rather prescient.

A career in A&R awaits...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Well I wonder

After being honoured to accept the invitation to write for The Art Of Noise, it’s not perhaps the most original way to begin my contributions by declaring The Smiths the greatest ever band; but you can forget the Beatles and the Stones, even The House of Love. Though still embarrassed not to have “been there” from the off and the first Peelite airing of Hand in Glove, I remain captivated by memories of Morrissey prancing to What Difference Does it Make? on Top of the Pops, a curious 1950s vision among the coiffeured commercialists of the age.

I anticipated each single with anxiety and was one of those who helped to create a pattern of high chart placing one week; nowhere the next. The albums were treasured to an even greater degree and the lyrics have still never been equalled in subtlety, at turns oblique and truthful to a suburban 15 year old.

But I’m not a card carrier. Early hair loss as a teenager denied me the opportunity to sport a quiff, I wouldn’t be able to identify a gladiolus under a microscope, and I never bought a single T-shirt. My first weeks at Manchester University in 1987 coincided with the band splitting and I often had to stress to people that I was a proper fan, despite the unfashionable jeans and M&S Polo shirts. When Morrissey produced Viva Hate a year or so later, I taped it from a friend with enthusiasm but the lack of Marr sparkle was already evident and if Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I remain splendid, I have usually devoured reviews first before any unquestioning purchase of the Mozza oeuvre.

And then there is the controversy. Two years ago, in a New Orleans bar at 3am (things have moved on since 80s Rusholme), my friend Gerschenkron and I stunned our American work colleagues with a stand up row over whether Morrissey is or isn’t a racist (other ding dongs have debated the character traits of Yoko Ono and the true meaning of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero). My indignant contention was that he most certainly is not, that people should understand the notion of a singer acting a part and that he should not have to explain himself to lesser lights, especially intelligent but shit stirring ones like the New Musical Express.

I agree with Tom Clark in giving Morrissey the benefit of the doubt as far as Bengali in Platforms and National Front Disco are concerned: these no more brand the man a racist than that Brass Eye special indicate Chris Morris is a paedophile. I’ll even forgive him cavorting with the Union Jack – nobody has a pop at those Last Night of the Proms denizens, annoying though they may be – it wasn’t the Moz’s fault that a bunch of skinheads showed up at Finsbury Park that day.

But as something of a Sinophile and as someone who has been learning Mandarin for a couple of years now, even I stopped short at his most recent comments; bafflingly aired in an interview with the estimable Simon Armitage in the pages of The Observer recently. Aside from the truculent tone (yes, hard not to echo the phraseology of one particularly lonely High Court Judge), his wondering if the Chinese are a subspecies or not, while fuelled by his admirably tough stand on animals rights, was an ill chosen move indeed. Following on another discussion in the same organ half a decade ago, Morrissey’s public pronouncements are becoming more and more addled and yes, that’s the word I would use.

This may seem soft – I refuse to entertain any praise of Queen because they once played apartheid South Africa’s playpen, Sun City, although I’ll admit that their being dire as a band helps fire my rage. You’ll ask me what Morrissey has to do for me to properly and unequivocally condemn him and yes, I’m having my doubts. But verbal diarrhoea, particularly from one now too used to spending time in his own company and clearly assailed by the ravages of the ageing process isn’t necessarily evidence of deep ill will. John Harris feels that his pronouncements are a symbol of the insularity of indiedom in general and it’s sadly now desirable that Morrissey, as the High Priest of that type of music should probably be kicked upstairs to Akihito style figurehead status now.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bald, beard, belly and birthday

Les Savy Fav.
Shoreditch Cargo. 10sep10.

“So what are you going to sing for me, then”, says Suzanne to Les Savy Fav’s bald, bearded and bellied singer Tim Harrington. Not unreasonably, you might think, but, thing is, Suzanne hasn’t paid to get in.

However, you might want to temper the haste of your indignation and opprobrium as, to be fair to Suzanne, the reason she hasn’t paid to get in is, well, because she isn’t ‘in’. She is celebrating her birthday in the bar adjacent to Cargo’s live room, and Tim has gone on one of his many walkabouts.

After aborting the attempt to commandeer one of her helium-filled festive balloons, he reveals his identity as the singer from next door and she makes her request into the mic. Naturally, “Happy Birthday To You” is forthcoming, with accompaniment from a couple of hundred hidden punters currently bobbing about on tip-toe but essentially staring at the back of a partition curtain.

On this occasion, he comes back through with nothing new to hand but on a previous visit, he had returned to view walking gingerly whilst balancing a rust-hued whisky glass containing a tea-light on his damp, glistening pate.

This is pretty standard fare for a Les Savy Fav live show, bassist Syd Butler’s crowd surf with instrument later in the set merely a cherry upon his singer’s wanderlusting cake.

Harrington prowls the stage, indeed the entire venue, like a bloodthirsty 19th century Russian sailor hunting down fresh competition at a bareknuckle club in Omsk. Or perhaps like an artist trying to seek out the bloke who leaked his band’s album online, requiring them to rush release the official version. The latter would at least represent Les Savy Fav’s recent experience.

At the start of this set, Harrington appears from inside a giant white inflatable sphere wearing pink sunglasses, a beret, leg warmers on each arm and an orange fake fur poncho, however he is soon down to just a set of yellow briefs that, and I’m being gentle to your mind’s eye here, have seen better days. However this is what Fav punters pay to see, a solid boo greeting his return to trouser.

Thankfully for all this play-time, there is plenty tuneage, and tight playing from the rest of the band. Neither is it one-dimensional bluster either, with the tip-up-and-blam aspects counter-balanced by agile alt.rock guitar (as on Patty Lee) and songs which can often have as much of a pop tilt as a hardcore one.

This was supposed to be a low-key album launch show but, really, how low key can a Les Savy Fav show ever really be?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Offset festival: one-liners

One-liner reviews from the two-day Offset festival (35 acts including Blurt, above), appear via these links.

Offset day one

Offset day two