Sunday, February 27, 2011

Behind the counter

Veronica Falls
Islington Flashback Records. 25feb11.

The time not to make an in-store appearance at a record shop that deals only in second hand merchandise is about a year after releasing an LP. Seeing twenty copies of your magnum opus stacked up with ever decreasing amounts stickered onto the cover would, I imagine, do little for the collective morale.

As such, Veronica Falls pitch up at Flashback at an ideal time, as their debut LP has yet to appear, despite their spending the last 18 months being a support band of choice for Teenage Fanclub, Vivian Girls and Slow Club amongst others as well as being followed and tipped by various players in the radio and press.

Tonight we crowd into this tiny outlet, pushing the band back not only behind the counter but into the office section further beyond. On the cluttered mezzanine, the four members huddle together as though having been cornered by a gang of cosh-wielding muggers who’ve at least given them the chance to busk their way out of a beating.

Even with the matter of the staging put to one side, this is a show that captures a band out of their comfort zone. Ordinarily their shows will often see the reverb pressed to the metal, but tonight the guitars and bass work out of practise amps turned way up to, well, about three, the drums are quashed with a couple of gaudy beach towels whilst the vocals are amplified only by theatrical instinct.

Yet, this challenging environment brings out the best of them as they are forced to work that little bit harder, trying out slightly different harmonies on tunes such as the great Beachy Head where it appears, on the approach in, that the lack of their more natural volume might render the usual punch in these tunes a little flaccid in the wrist.

Instead, they turn a potential crisis of performance to an opportunity, on the quiet, to peacock their janglist nous.


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Here Zea gear

Dalston Café OTO. 30jan11.

Sweat surges from Arnold De Boer’s forehead and scalp, dripping from his chin with such regularity that a stalagmite begins to form next to his floor monitor.

When I first saw Zea, back in 2003, there were two of ‘em, but a 50% cut in manpower means Remko Muermans is no longer involved. The songs were always Arnold’s in the most part anyway yet you’d have thought with his workload playing and singing with post-punk heroes The Ex, he’d have welcomed a bit of help on stage.

However for yer modern day Zea experience Arnold is handling all duties: vocals, guitar and electronics. Thus it is should be no surprise that his face appears to process more water than the Grand Coulee Dam.

This tour is supporting his fourth LP The Beginner and as a result the vast majority of the set comprises material from that record. Which means no Counting Backwards Leads To Explosions or We Buried Indie Rock Years Ago; two fine singles which, if they were mine, I’d rather be inclined to show off.

Yet this LP has signalled a growth, and a sound clearly influenced in part by Arnold’s recent excursions to Ethiopia and Ghana with The Ex and where his Zea gear was also toured. Traditional elements of his sound, bringing a They Might Be Giants lightness of touch to Chinese-burn fuzz-punk and hectic electro are present and correct, but are joined in the new stuff by a gonzo Africana on tracks like Song For Electricity (a track based on Bogiye by Abonesh Andrew) and I Follow Up Front.

Both are highlights this evening, as are Staande ben ik vergeten wat ik dacht toen ik lag which works a desert baggy groove, and Armpit Elastica where an almost happy hardcore beat is thrown down with lyrics that don’t stretch far from a repeated “I got this itch…”. During this, with no need to carry a guitar, Arnold is free to dance about, and uses this opportunity to hammer out tippy-toe pigeon steps, like Scooby Doo trying to sneak quietly but quickly into a snack-laden pantry.

The real treat though is Bourgeois Blues where the Leadbelly track is updated using the lyrics from The Fall’s Bourgeois Town version, but with a sparse, isolated arrangement where Arnold obtains his pulsing beat by working the fret-board.

Not allowed to leave until putting down two encores, one including the fiery Parked Forever, Arnold beams from ear-to-ear as he insists we all stick around to join him for a drink.

Think it’s fair to say he can chalk this one up as a triumph.