Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shred October


Historically, people have been drawn to London by the promise of streets paved with gold, but tonight the grotty environs of the Electric Ballroom are paved with lagoons courtesy of the pissing rain. So what could have tempted me into the expense and effort of making the journey into the capital on a school night?

Let's see.

Could it be the prospect of the year's finest triple bill, going under the banner of the Shred Yr Face tour and featuring one band about whose Cardiff gig earlier in the year friends have been raving about for weeks, another who may just have released my favourite album of 2008 and a third whose cause I've been championing almost from the very beginning?

I rather think it could, you know.

And let's not forget fine company in the shape of a fellow blogger in the midst of his own October gigging marathon...

I've not heard a note of Times New Viking's music and I'm already pretty much sold. How could I - someone who works in publishing - fail to be when it comes to a band whose name is a font-related pun?

So, what does that moniker say about them other than that they've got a sense of humour? Well, they're not Times New Roman - the Romans being self-controlled, civilised, fond of order and straight lines. No, they're Times New Viking - hairy, lairy, barbarous, out to pillage and lay waste to wherever they pitch up, whoever they find there and themselves.

Having already played a London show with another of Cardiff's great eccentrics, Gindrinker, this year at Plan B's request, the Columbus crew are back and eager to introduce a whole load more people to their scruffily dissolute take on something that was already scruffily dissolute to start with, Royal Trux's back catalogue.

Their raison d'etre isn't hard to fathom: to have a good time, and fuck the consequences - as the chorus to 'My Head' succinctly puts it, "I need more money 'cause I need more drugs". Rocket science it ain't. Gonzo lo-fi it most certainly is. Guided By Voices? Guided by the voices telling them to search out the next wrap of cheap speed, more like...

Every now and again there comes along a band or artist who does something which is at once original and fresh and also blindingly obvious. How is it that, prior to No Age, no one seems to have thought to try joining the dots between fast and messy hardcore punk, ear-challenging Kevin Shields-esque sprawling psychedelic experimentalism (with the emphasis on the mentalism). The dynamic duo did, and christened the results things like 'Brain Burner' and 'Things I Did When I Was Dead'. Initially I wasn't sure about lead single 'Eraser', but their debut full-length LP Nouns (last year's Weirdo Rippers being a compilation of five singles released on five different labels on the same day) took all of about half a spin to have me foaming at the mouth and cursing myself for passing up the chance to see them at the Scala in May.

As one might expect of two guys called Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt (the latter the second singing drummer of the night, after TNV's Adam Elliott), live they're a couple of goofy nerds complaining about the weather (they're from LA, so more used to enduring 80 degrees than avoiding a drenching) and asking: "Was anyone's father or uncle or grandfather a skinhead?"

The extended stage time afforded to them means we are able to enjoy Nouns pretty much in its entirety. All of its very best tracks ('Sleeper Hold', 'Here Should Be My Home', 'Eraser' and forthcoming single 'Teen Creeps') are electrifying, but the one song that many of us are most keenly looking forward to we're made to wait for until the very end. 'Everybody's Down', the undisputed high point of Weirdo Rippers, was the first No Age song I ever heard - the perfect illustration of how compelling a simple two chord riff can be - and here it is, stirring up the moshpit like a great big sonic spoon.

And finally, headliners Los Campesinos! - and a bit of a personal confession.

Having lauded the septet to all and sundry almost constantly since first reading about them on Sweeping The Nation (and then hearing 'You! Me! Dancing!' and seeing them live shortly afterwards), their debut album actually lost its lustre for me quite quickly. The problem was, I think, twofold. Firstly, familiarity with much of the material bred, if not contempt, then certainly a reduced level of excitement. Secondly, like many others, I gradually started to find Gareth's neuroses and lyrics more difficult to stomach - always self-absorbed, occasionally childishly petulant and at times spiteful.

While the material from Hold On Now, Youngster aired tonight serves as a timely reminder of where they've come from and how they got to where they are, playing their biggest indoor gig to date, there's also a refreshing unfamiliarity about much of the set - unsurprising given the imminent appearance of sophomore album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. In some ways it's a shame that, in the band's eagerness to move on, songs I'd assumed would be staples of the set have now been impatiently and ruthlessly discarded just a few months into their lives, and that one-time signature song 'You! Me! Dancing!', while still a roof-raiser for the crowd, is played with the faint air of it being an embarrassing albatross around their collective necks. But it's nevetherless admirable when bands refuse to rest on their laurels (resting on their laurels being the very last thing Los Campesinos! could be accused of doing) and insist on pushing onwards to avoid any possibility of going stale.

Of course in such instances there remains the constant danger that any follow-up will be rushed, poorly conceived and half-backed in execution. Happily, that's certainly not the case with a record the band have taken to calling WABWAD, which ups both the melody, largely through more prominent synth, and (as the album title might suggest) the "sense of impending doom" of HON,Y's 'Drop It Doe Eyes', now more pervasive and deeper ingrained than a mere facet of teenage/early-twentysomething angst. Maturity: not necessarily a dirty word.

One minute Gareth's drawing an ecstatic response for the so-twee-it's-wearing-a-hairslide opening line of 'My Year In Lists' - "You said 'Send me stationery to make me horny'" - and the next he's introducing new songs by claiming that one's about "how we'll all die alone" and another about a homosexual affair between Jesus and the Devil and the ensuing fallout (a messy break-up, you imagine).
'This Is How You Spell...' and stand-alone single 'The International Tweexcore Underground' remain two of my favourite Los Campesinos! tracks, but on this evidence WADWAB's title track and its impassioned opener 'Ways To Make It Through The Wall' will both soon be jostling for position.

As Gareth praises No Age and Times New Viking - "I'm soppy and sycophantic at the best of times" - before the curtain comes down with the traditional 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' (an indication they haven't completely moved on), I realise that I'm falling in love with them all over again. Back to evangelising, then...


Drowned In Sound tour frontline reports, as written by Gareth Dobson of the Shred Yr Face crew: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7 (including photos of the Camden gig)

Shred Yr Face tour pics on the Guardian site

Del's late October gig round-up, with a mention of the Shred Yr Face gig


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