Friday, February 09, 2007

Blood sugar sex magic


What's with the oldies wandering around? Are they parents or - more likely - A&R people? If the latter, then they're probably taking a keen interest in The Toy Band. Whilst with hindsight my thoughts of "calculated careerist indie" the last time I saw them appear rather harsh, my first impressions are generally confirmed: they have the swagger and ability, but - crucially - not the songs. It's probably only a matter of time, though. And in any case, despite being cut from a different cloth to the other bands on tonight's bill, they soon win over a sizeable chunk of an originally indifferent crowd.

Last time I saw Richard Arnold, I very nearly literally bumped into him coming out of his house round the corner from ours in sunny Splott. The time before that was when he was fronting The International Karate Plus at a gig in Birmingham. Before that, he was in fuzz-pop minor deities Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi. And now here he is, back behind the drumkit after something of a hiatus with his new outfit King Alexander.

If there's one thing Cardiff is particularly hot on, it's bass-heavy noise-punk bands, and in King Alexander the city's got another. The difference is, though, that they're female-fronted and are rather more ambitious in their twin-vocalled arrangements. The opening of their set is blighted by technical problems, but thereafter they show definite signs of promise, if not always delivering. "Buy a badge and save a whale", they implore on 'We Are A Good Egg', but when I mosey on over to the merchandising table later all I can see are copies of their superbly named debut EP Despot Chic which, according to their website, "includes hand made packaging, animal sex and a drawing of a man's cock done by a girl"...

Cast your mind back to a time before Jack White grew a moustache, dated Renee Zellweger, started wearing a top hat on stage and made an advert for Coke. The White Stripes were a thrilling pretentious-free live prospect. It also escaped no-one's notice that there were only two of them. They awakened people to the possibility of a bass-less rock group - so it's them we've got to thank for the likes of Brighton's Blood Red Shoes. And thankful we should certainly be.

In this boy-girl duo, though, the roles are reversed: it's kohl-eyed beauty Laura-Mary Carter who plays guitar and the enthusiastic Steven Ansell who drums. It's also worth pointing out that, unlike Meg White, Ansell can actually sing, too...

Just like twopiece Winnebago Deal did when I was last here, the drumkit is placed right at the front of the stage, and so we're privileged to watch the chemistry between the two at close quarters. They talk about having played in a church on their last visit to Cardiff. Little wonder they're enjoying themselves much more this time around - their claustrophobic punk is far better suited to this sort of cramped, awkward space than to the airy and spacious Point.

If you had to suggest where Britain's answer to Yeah Yeah Yeahs would come from, Brighton would be fairly near the top of the list, and Carter manages to be both Nick Zinner and Karen O in one. Singles 'You Bring Me Down' and 'I'm Getting Bored By The Sea' also call to mind Sleater-Kinney and The Gossip, though are gratifyingly grittier than either.

After the encore, for which the pair swap instruments before crashing through a splendid surf guitar meltdown, Ansell heads to the back of the room to man the merchandising stall. As I curse my lack of a turntable (they've only released 7"s so far), he tells me what's next: three more weeks of touring Britain, then a few days off, then Europe, then recording on the album which isn't due until October (it's going to be a long wait...).

[Cheap excuse for a pun alert - yes, Ken, I've been watching and learning...] One can guess how the entries in the Blood Red Shoes diaries might read for tonight: came, saw, conquered.


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