Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bring the Noise

The Noisettes/The Victorian English Gentlemens Club/Mayor McCa, 21st January 2007, Leicester Charlotte

Looking like he got left behind after the last My Morning Jacket tour, right down to the Eagles T-shirt, Ontario-originating one man band Mayor McCa might just be a one-off. That list of instruments played during a 25 minute opening slot in full: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, Mini-Moog, drum machine, sample player - including pre-taped applause - bass pedals, tambourine, harmonica, kazoo, wristband maraca, clarinet. Oh, and tap shoes, which he demonstrates the use of on the concrete floor after a nifty leap over the barrier before realising he's been stood in front of a metal section all along. While Tilly And The Wall's Jamie Williams has nothing to be fearful of yet, it's an impressive feat to throw into the middle of a stew that's reminiscent of the mad blues of Bob Log III, who some may recall confusing big halls opening on Franz Ferdinand's last tour of their first album, with dashes of Eels and pre-Prince obsession Beck, none of whom ever looped a keyboard motif while heading offstage to play his clarinet while wandering through the crowd.

Seemingly by accident but perhaps worth conspiracising over, the Pixies' Gigantic is playing immediately before The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, a band often compared to Boston's finest, take to the stage. If in the new Cardiff scene (it's the new Birmingham, you'll see) they're only an adjunct to the Twisted By Design coterie Ben's been talking up (and certainly when I interviewed them last August they weren't totally au fait with its goings on) they're certainly its best dressed, singer/guitarist Adam Taylor properly besuited while Emma Daman eschews the practical problems suggested by a low set drumkit and a short evening dress. Art school founded, they're evidently into their onstage offbeat theatrics, starting with communal drumstick beating into the opener, introducing an immense Stupid As Wood with a noise session mostly caused by Taylor and not unglamorous bassist Louise Mason rubbing their instruments together (yes, yes, stop that) and generally indulging in the kind of faux-aggressive shape pulling and audience stare-outs not seen since British Sea Power. Yes, the Pixies comparisons are valid in Taylor's cryptic, slightly nasal yelps and Mason's sweet and sour harmonies, backing vocals and a couple of steely leads, but in a set that includes a fair amount of new material while neglecting two of their three singles there's elements of the Cramps' boggle-eyed determination and the Fall's offkey melodies, and it's a fair bet there's much played Tiger and Ikara Colt albums in there too. It's a energetic, properly exhilirating set, and when Taylor suggests before livewire closer Ban The Gin that if we liked them we should "kill someone and tell the police we told you to" it was almost tempting. And the very good Daman had a bell attached to the kit.

Apart from the realisation that it actually was her I was standing immediately behind during Mayor McCa's set, there's very little to say about the Noisettes' frontwoman Shingai Shoniwa that can be properly expressed without actually seeing her perform. Sporting a green head wrap, lengthy skirt and a bass that's virtually the same size as her, she and her bandmates rip into opening triumverate of previous singles Don't Give Up, Scratch Your Name and Iwe that immediately demonstrates why their recorded output is akin to catching lightning in a bottle - indeed, the other tracks from forthcoming album What's The Time Mr Wolf? I've heard come a clear second best to the full tilt live versions. The sound is best pigeonholed as visceral garage blues-punk that resembles the White Stripes at 110 volts, Shoniwa's voice somewhere between Billie Holliday, Karen O and and her band's most obvious stylistic predecessor, Bellrays leader and Basement Jaxx collaborator Lisa Kekaula. It's her sheer presence that really takes it over the edge, though, covering the whole stage and beyond, up on the amps on occasion, attempting to play bass with a shoe at one stage and while on her back on another, and in one moment of manaical genius adding a vocal rendition of the Dance Of The Sugarplum Fairy to a ramped up version of The Count Of Monte Christo. Not to overlook her colleagues' contributions, Dan Smith blazing through twelve bar Jack White power chords with the odd excursion into white noise and delay pedal in the manner of Bloc Party's Russell Lissack, while at the back the huge haired, Animal-esque Jamie Morrison hits his kit so hard the hi-hat has to be screwed back into place after virtually every song. Like ¬°Forward, Russia! they're one of those bands that are tighter than they ever seem and still manage to make what on record only strains at the leash out of mastertape necessity explodes into spectacular technicolour like a block of flats in Glasgow rented by Sony, to much approval down the front. It may be frustrating to read in a live review - you are, after all, more likely to consider buying their record then see them live, even if the ways of crossover potential probably won't see them grow in venue size that much more, not counting their recent Muse supports - but this is a band whose whole-hearted approach should be seen live to get what they do.


Blogger Ben said...

High time I actually heard The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, especially as an honorary Cardiffian...

I wasn't blown away by 'Scratch Your Name', but then neither was I by a couple of The Bellrays' singles until I saw them live.

11:04 pm  

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