Posts Tagged ‘live review’

Traams live in Brighton

Posted 30 Aug 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Dormant blog in temporary revival warning! I’m spurred to post because I saw a really amazing band last night at the Green Door Store in Brighton. They were Traams, a Chichester (of all places) three-piece of whom I had previously heard nothing, ’til they arrived on stage. Wow. With the exception of Blur they were easily the best group I’ve seen this year, combining the taut rhythmic energy of Big Black or Neu! with the kinetic spontaneity of early Fall or Pavement. They played five or six songs of ever-accelerating brilliance, barely registering the audience, and departed with smiles which suggest they know exactly how good they are. Luckily I happened to have my camera on me, so I was able to document a couple of songs – here are ‘Teeth’ and ‘Klaus’. You can follow the band on twitter here, and check out some of their recordings at their bandcamp page.

Allo Darlin’, live at the Haunt

Posted 06 Mar 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Went to see the excellent Allo Darlin’ play at the Haunt this weekend; they’re on the face of it a very simple pleasure – melodic, good-hearted indie pop which draws on the micro-dramas of The Wave Pictures or their mentor, Darren Hayman, and manages to deftly improve dramatically on whatever it is you think a pop group might be able to do do working within the limitations of a ukulele-led sound.

But there’s something a little bit special about them too, which is a combination of the lovely lead guitar playing, their ardent enthusiasm, and the fact that Elizabeth, being an Aussie, seems to have an innate sympathy with the widescreen song-writing genius of The Go Betweens. It’s that last point which provides the route into why I loved the gig so much – they seem to imbue a lot of the greatest qualities of that most wonderful of bands – melodicism, good-heartedness, observation for detail, and a certain Australian thingyness which I’m at a loss to identify but which is evident in the work of Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, in the pop of the Triffids, in Evan Dando’s Oz-penned Lemonheads work.

I’d like to go and write an album in Australia.

Here’s the band playing a gig in San Francisco last year. Check ‘em out if they play near you soon.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Coronet review

Posted 15 Nov 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

On Friday me and Lyndsey headed up to London to see Damon Albarn, Simon Tong, Paul Simonen and Tony Allen play under their The Good, The Bad & The Queen moniker at a show to celebrate 40 years of Greenpeace. A particularly good fit for the show – indeed Paul Simonen was recently arrested while working as a cook on a Greenpeace boat – their debut (and so far only) LP, released five years ago, is a lovely bucolic protest record, melding pastoral folk with Simonen’s first love, dub reggae.

When I last saw the band, back in 2006, they were – despite the gorgeousness of their songs – a pretty uneven prospect, with an uneasy Damon torn between circus-master and player, unsure if he had left pop music behind or not. Subsequent years have seen him resolve that particular conundrum, concluding that he can operate equally comfortable writing operas and top 40 hits, and further projects with the personnel of TGTB&TQ (the triumphant Gorillaz touring band and the afro-medieval orchestra driving Dr Dee) have brought tighter understanding between the four musicians. The challenge of leading an opera piece seems to have driven Damon to develop his voice, too – he sang more beautifully than ever before on Friday, I thought.

The whole show, really, was a phenomenal success. As ever, Tony Allen stole the show with an exhibition of octopus drummingwhich was all the more astonishing for his passive, restrained posture. I really don’t know how he weaves such complex patterns while barely appearing to move. Out front, Paul prowled the stage as only he can, hoisting his bass guitar high like an automatic machine gun, looping his one, beligerant riff over and over and casually flouting the non-smoking laws. Tong, as ever, gave the songs space to breathe while simultaneously tying them, almost invisibly, together.

Listening to the astonishing ‘Herculean’ or the rapturously received ‘A Soldier’s Tale’ – complete wIth a saw accompaniment so spine-chilling the crowd erupted into applause every time it sounded – it was hard not to wonder if this isn’t Damon Albarn’s most moving, coherent collection of songs; sincere, disbelieving notes on the UK in the 2000s which, despite the intervening years, seem every bit as relevant today as they did five years ago.

Sadly there were no new songs, and Damon received the calls of ‘do another album’ with a genuinely apologetic shrug. However, their entire back catalogue played, the band did produce one more truly special moment, playing a wonderful, stripped down take on Gorillaz’ ‘On Melancholy Hill’, which always sounded, to be honest, like a song out of place and more suited to this project. Accordingly, it fitted perfectly. And as the room emptied out it was impossible not to notice the many hundreds of shared smiles.

A pure and heartfelt celebration and a wonderful night.

Hooray for Pulp

Posted 05 Jul 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I went up to London to see Pulp on Sunday. It was a really lovely show – warm, enthusiastic, and devoutly received. I felt a little like a gatecrasher at a wedding; not because I don’t like Pulp – I do, very much – but because I was surrounded by so many people having emotional, nostalgic reactions, when I was simply enjoying a wonderful gig.

Pulp were never my favourite band. When their best record, ‘His N Hers’ was out – and deserving of my love – I obsessed over Suede, The Auteurs and Denim. And when ‘Common People’ caused the country to fall in love with the wonderful Jarvis Cocker, I was dividing my loyalties between my adored Blur and a bunch of noisy miscreants on the other side of the Atlantic. I remember the thin, matching jewel cases of ‘Do You Remember The First Time’, ‘Lipgloss’ and ‘The Sisters EP’ sat on my shelf, and I played them loads, but I definitely never bought a Pulp album. It’s possible that I have never actually heard one of their albums from beginning to end, although I think I must have heard their songs a million times at friends’ houses.

So I know, like, admire – even miss – Pulp, but watching them at Hyde Park was nothing like watching Blur two years before. Blur felt very different – a weird time, driven by emotional people trying their best to please each other, and utterly caught up in the moment. Their performances were raw, urgent, pleading, and tended to be played at double speed. The need to be liked seemed almost as strong as the need to like each other.

Conversely, Pulp were utterly comfortable with themselves and with their back catalogue, and able to play a completely unified set which (though it was a little short on older numbers) felt even and modest. Jarvis is, on reflection, just about the best front man since Morrissey, and he’s written some really wonderful songs. This show was a reunion in the simplest terms – a celebration of the band and a chance to play some of their greatest songs again.

In some ways, I enjoyed it a lot more than I did Blur. I think I had a knot in my stomach for that whole tour, looking nervously from Damon to Graham, wondering why they were playing such a conventional set of songs, wondering when things would fall apart. Things never did, unless you count Damon breaking down at Glasto or the weird food poisoning stuff just before their final show. But it was always a bit too emotional to be pure enjoyment.

Perhaps rabid Pulp fans, like my lovely friend, Anne-Sophie, sensed all sorts of conflicting emotions at this gig too. But to me it just seemed straightforward – one of the best British bands ever playing some magnificent songs to a hugely appreciative crowd.

Walking back, me and Alec mused how satisfying it had been. Neither of us craved new material consequently, or more dates – it was perfect in and of itself. It was, or felt to me, to be the perfect reunion – 20,000 people standing, smiling, in a field.

Caitlin Rose, live review

Posted 18 Sep 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Caitlin Rose is a young, hugely talented singer and songwriter from Nashville, and her gorgeous debut, Own Side Now has been pretty much the only record I’ve listened to over the last month or so. It’s a simple, beautiful country record, which by virtue of its loveliness has done a great deal to win me over towards a genre towards which I’m normally skeptical – the sainted Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt and Evan Dando aside. Country music is one of the types of music which comes with so much baggage, and there’s an in-built cultural (and sometimes political) conservatism present, particularly in the Nashville scene, which I’ve always worried about.

Caitlin’s songs, steeped in the sounds of her youth as they are, do have a nostalgic charm and a clear reverence for tradition, but that doesn’t prevent them from being individualistic, spiky and modern, and her performance at the Latest Music Bar in Kemp Town the other night just confirmed what a terrific star she could end up being. I wonder how she goes down in her home town – by rights they should be crowing at the fact that Nashville continues to produce gems like her. In reality, they may well be too caught up in the past to notice.

Either way, she arrived in Brighton on Tuesday with a small, energetic band (steel guitar, tele and bass) and absolutely rocketed through 14 beautiful songs, the majority her own, with a couple of lovely covers thrown in. On the one hand, she was clearly nervous, particularly when her bandmates left her on her own to play a beautiful, soft cover of Randy Newman’s lovely ‘Marie’. On the other, she is a complete natural, and dominates the stage from the get-go, leaning back to open up her wonderful vocals, or leaning conspiratorially into the mic to tell us about the clothes she bought that day. She has, in common with artists like Emma Lee Moss and Rosa and Katy from Peggy Sue, a winning sense of good humour and an ability to make a crowd feel part of the show, rather than just spectators. Encouraging a small audience to try a call and response lyric can fall flat at the best of times, so when Caitlin effortlessly persuaded the room to yell along with ‘Bottles’, it was just another in a sequence of small triumphs.

In a beautifully calibrated set, there are a number of spine-tingling moments. When she, in ‘Own Side’, assumes a sorrowful croon, lamenting a failed relationship, and declares “I’m going out / on the town / said I’m tired of chasing you down”, it’s simultaneously the voice of someone wiser than her years, and completely convincing, despite her youth (Rose is, sadly, like Laura Marling, doomed to endless references to her precocity in the press she accrues). Before ‘Spare Me’ she introduces her bandmates but tells us that she is Abraham Lincoln, and instructs us, should we address her, to use “Abraham, or Old Abe, or Honest Abe. Anything with Abe in it will do”. “You are America’s greatest President”, someone assures her.

‘For The Rabbits’ is incredibly moving. Two thirds through, her guitarist, Jeremy Felzer, unleashes a short, stunning, teardrop-strewn solo, and when Caitlin notes “Looking back at myself / It’s wrong how much I’ve changed for you”, you can feel hairs stand on end throughout the room. Her two subjects seem to be – fittingly, given the country tradition – songs about getting drunk, and songs about regret. The latter is evident in ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’, with its beautiful, tossed off line, “Remember the day the whole thing started? / and the little gold box in the glove compartment”.

Of the remaining tracks, there’s no one more worthy of praise than another – ‘Dockets’ is impossibly charming, ‘Marie’ delightfully pretty, ‘Sinful Wishing Well’ absolutely sad, and ‘Bottles’ gloriously uplifting. “Drink a one”, she sings, “Drink a two – I’m drinking just for you, the only answer I have found is to drink more”. When she cries, “Take it darling!”, teeing up a terrific Steel Guitar solo, she’s Nashville to the core. She’s repeatedly pulled back on stage at the end and her final bow, ‘Things Change’ is the clincher – written, she notes, by her ex-boyfriend (“What a dick”) – it’s the perfect finale – sad, regretful, drink-sodden and somehow, sweetly, surprisingly uplifting. Once again, her beautiful, clear voice, adds resonance and weight to the words – when I hear “And I feel like crying, but I don’t know why / because I know, love never dies”, I’m completely transported. “No, I never wore your wedding ring”, she sings, “I regret I never could”.

Sadly, this was the last date on Caitlin’s UK tour, but her new single, ‘Shanghai Cigarettes’ is out presently – and you can see a video I made of her playing it below – and I’m sure she’ll be back. When she is, make sure you see her; heart heavy, drink in hand, and be ready to grin your face off.

tristram; complete live set in mp3, brighton

Posted 18 Nov 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews, Video

Although I’d never heard of him before, Tristram Bawtree, who plays his beautiful, tender folk songs as Tristram, has a Brighton connection; he studied Painting here a few years back (and his paintings, which you can find if you google him, are rather nice – abstract but detailed, mural-like), so it’s appropriate that I should discover him by chance here, rather than in his native London. His songs – although the videos below are in black and white – are similarly colourful – tender, imaginative meditations fleshed out with sumptuous orchestration. The six songs he played in support of Peggy Sue at the Freebutt last month were uniformly fantastic.

On the night, he arrives on stage looking thoughtful, slightly nervous. From the first note, though, I am hooked – both by his beautiful voice and wonderful way with words. His songs are funny, critical and very intelligent. He is sardonic for someone so young (“When I hear the word culture I pull out my wallet / and peel off a banknote or two”), playful (in Zombie Holocaust he muses that “I’d only waste my life, so better I use it well / to stop the monsters, from taking my loved one”) and he is ambitious, too – Isolde, the closing track, is inspired by a Wagner opera that he has not yet seen.

Musically, there is incredible richness in his soft, delicate folk. And where he seemed a touch uncertain arriving on stage, a natural ease and confidence is quickly evident. He’s able to demonstrate nimble touches that endear him to the audience (such as the arch Abba reference in Place In The Sea), and writes intelligently – only occasionally slipping up (the same song’s “well, we’re all going to die someday” reveals him to be a man with too many Jeff Lewis records in his collection). I’m pretty sure, however, by the end of the first song, that I’m watching the best live performance from a new band or songwriter I’ve encountered in 2009 – or longer.

It’s clearly early days for Tristram – his debut single isn’t out ’til February – but on the evidence of this short, artful set, he is absolutely brimming with promise. I await that single with baited breath.

In the meantime, here is a complete recording of the set – good enough, I think, to demonstrate just how brilliant he is – and a couple of videos made by Dan (who came away just as convinced as me that we’ll be hearing lots more from him soon).

Tristram
live at The Freebutt, Brighton
Weds 4th November, 2009

(right click and ‘save target as’ to download)
1. Someone Told Me A Poem
2. Ballad Of A Stolen Bicycle
3. Zombie Holocaust
4. Rhyme or Reason
5. Place In The Sea
6. Isolde

Here’s where you go to track down Tristram on Facebook and myspace. He’s also playing a bunch of gigs over the next month or so. Not to go to at least one of them (assuming you live in, or can get to London) would be to really miss out.

Dates
17 Nov 2009 Love & Milk @ Jamboree w/Jack Cheshire, London
26 Nov 2009 @ Soapbox with Derek Meins, London
1 Dec 2009 The Allotment @ Betsy Trotwood w/Caitlin Rose, London
6 Dec 2009 Moonshine Jamboree Xmas Party @ The Slaughtered Lamb w/ Left With Pictures, Jake Bellows and more, London
15 Dec 2009 The Tamesis Dock w/Peggy Sue & Curly Hair, London

The single is out on February 15th on Oh! Inverted World records, and will feature Someone Told me a Poem, Ballad of a Stolen Bicycle, Me and James Dean and Zombie Holocaust. As soon as a link to pre-order it is available, I’ll be posting it here.

Lastly, many thanks to Tristram and his lovely manager Anthony for giving me permission to post these tracks. Much appreciated. Thanks also to Brad over at Bradley’s Almanac, who’s been posting this sort of stuff for years and inspired me to start chronicling and posting live recordings of shows I go to. Following his lead, I recorded these songs with a (borrowed) MD player (thanks Dan) and a Sony ECM-719 mic. Hope you like them – any comments much appreciated.

crowns on the rats orchestra

Posted 10 Nov 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews, Video

For those who don’t yet know them, Crowns On The Rats Orchestra – an odd, enormous, complex and tuneful many-headed beast from Brighton – are one of the most interesting bands I’ve seen for ages. Their songs are restless, imaginative and very beautiful; kind of fidgety, eloquent and celebratory. Their live shows are crowded and chaotic – but their musicianly instincts mean that everything stays magically focused. I like them a lot – and not just because my friend Eleanor is in the band. This is one of those situations where you think you’ll have to lie and say how good a show was, and then discover THAT IT REALLY WAS. Ace.

Here’s a video of the band that me and Dan made. I’ve got some mp3s which should, I hope, follow shortly, as might another video or two. Stay tuned.

exlovers, complete live set in mp3, brighton

Posted 04 Nov 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews, Video

I first saw Exlovers in the spring of this year, playing with Younghusband and Emmy The Great, and noted then that they were a band worth keeping an eye on. In many ways their influences evident that night – ranging from Postcard pop to shoegaze – suit my tastes exactly, but my conclusion then was ultimately cautious – they looked and sounded, I thought, a touch under-nourished, lacking authority and only sporadically hitting full throttle. I know now that I caught them early in their career, so with that in mind I went to see them at The Hope, in Brighton, a couple of weeks ago, wondering if they’d improved.

My god, they absolutely have. From the first note their sound was more forceful, evocative and compelling. The influence of My Bloody Valentine is increasingly evident, rushing through the tender, melodic pop and creating a kind of coursing, joyful reverberation, a clashing of air. I always felt that this heavily emotional, yearning sound was very physical. Displacement music. They don’t (that often) create a racket, and in fact much of the set is delicate, recalling Elliot Smith (although I later find out the band are Lemonheads fans – no wonder I love them), but the way they move up the registers, gliding through different volumes, hints at an instinctiveness which masks expertise.

Pete, their singer, is charismatic, gangly and ever-so-slightly detached, simultaneously towering and effeminate – and as such inevitably draws comparisons with that other famous Peter – Doherty. Laurel, who played glockenspiel last time I saw the band, has shorn her hair and stands instrumentless for the duration, acting as a second vocalist. Men seem to find it hard to drag their gaze away from her and back to her bandmates. All of whom, meanwhile, give a whole-hearted, animated showing – their lead guitarist taking every opportunity to hook his guitar sideways and reach down for a mouthful of beer. It’s a well-judged, noisy, beautiful set – and I’m very glad to say that I took the opportunity to record it.

What follows, then, is a complete live recording of the band’s performance. Right click and ‘save target as’ to save each song individually, or click here to download a zipped up folder of all eight tracks (which saves me bandwidth, so it’s the preferred option – but it’s up to you).

Eagle-eyed readers will spot there’s a songs I don’t know the name of. If you can help me fill in the blank it’d be much appreciated.

Exlovers
live at the Hope, Brighton
24th October 2009

1. A Moment That Keeps Repeating
2. Photobooth
3. You Forget So Easily
4. In The Woods With The Werewolf
5. Just A Silhouette
6. Unknown Title #2
7. You’re So Quiet
8. Weightless

Here’s a clip of the band playing ‘You’re So Quiet’ on the same night – video by Dan (whose Youtube channel is here) and audio by me.

Some links:
- Exlovers on Myspace, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
- Read the lovely Emmy The Great interviewing the band, for Drowned in Sound.
- An Exlovers interview at Music Mule
- Another recent interview, courtesy of Comfort Comes.
- Exlovers interviewed for Female First
- And Thom Morgan interviews the band for There Goes The Fear.

And a bunch of reviews of ‘You Forget So Easily’:
(Sounds XP) (AtSounds) (Sound Junkie) (Noize) (Call Upon The Author) (TGTF) (Idiomag) (Glasswerk) (Breaking More Waves)

Forthcoming gigs
4th Nov 2009 Bodega, Nottingham
5th Nov 2009 Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
6th Nov 2009 Portland Arms, Cambridge
14th Nov 2009 Luminaire, London
29th Nov 2009 Lock Tavern, Camden, London

Discography
You Forget So Easily, 14 September 2009
Photobooth / Weightless 7″, 06 April 2009
Just a Silhouette 7″, 08 December 2008

Buy Exlovers records here, at Rough Trade.

Lastly – many thanks to the band and their manager Simon for giving me permission to post these tracks. Much appreciated. Thanks also to Brad over at Bradley’s Almanac, who’s been posting this sort of stuff for years and inspired me to start chronicling and posting live recordings of shows I go to. Following his lead, I recorded these songs with a (borrowed) MD player (thanks Dan) and a Sony ECM-719 mic. Hope you like them – any comments much appreciated.

matmos, so percussion and PLOrk at the Kitchen

Posted 12 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Just back from a triumphant, deeply original concert performed by the ceaselessly inventive electronic duo, Matmos, the Brooklyn-based percussive quartet So Percussion, and PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, a collection of sound artists who create, with nine laptops, a symphonic avalanche of noise. The collaboration, staged over two nights at The Kitchen, a charming little venue on the outskirts of Chelsea (the one in New York, rather than London), showcased new interpretations of the artists’ own songs, as well as material from a forthcoming album they’ve created together.

And how to describe it? It’s hard to say. A member of So Percussion is the first to take the stage, and his first action is to lean over a table, take out a box of plastic toothpicks, and start sticking them into a large sweet potato. Once a few have been inserted, he begins plucking at them, noting with satisfaction that each rings with a different note. He starts picking out a melody of percussive clicks. Three bandmates join him on stage and stand around the vegetable. Each leans forward and before long they have established a hypnotic, mesmeric cycle of sounds. I can scarcely believe I’m watching four men play a root vegetable.

It’s at this stage that Matmos make their entrance; as ever Martin Schmidt looks the very image of the mannered academic, prim and serious in his neatly ironed shirt and bow tie. His colleague, Drew Daniel, arrives dressed in blazer and tie, but soon discards them; he’s far less formal; a bit of a joker. When Schmidt is explaining the use of beer cans as musical instruments, Daniel can’t resist turning on his mic – which he’s fixed up with a filter which makes him sound like Darth Vader – to interrupt his partner and get a big laugh from the audience. As So Percussion continue hammering a tune from their doctored vegetable, Matmos start piling complex squiggles and skittering beats to the mix. The sound builds and builds, simultaneously experimental, primal and funny.

This relaxed, complex but cerebral approach defines the set. The Princton Laptop Orchestra join the proceedings, wringing amazing, cascading sounds from their laptops, and each player is thoroughly distinct, courtesy of a custom designed hemispherical speaker which “emulate the way traditional orchestral instruments cast their sound in space”.

‘Aluminium Song’ begins slowly with atmospheric squeaks and squiggles, but climbs up and down through several dizzying tempo changes, organised intuitively by a rotating set of animations on the video screens, which the players patiently watch and follow. ‘Ceramic Song’ is an absolutely beautiful number which summons up thoughts of Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Gamelan in the way that So Percussion hammer out a beautiful, cyclical melody (this time played on suspended plant pots). It draws gasps from the audience in its latter stages as PLOrk contribute a simply extraordinary, unfathomable panoply of sounds through floor-mounted devices which allow long strings to be pulled up and stretched, changing sound with the players’ movements. At one point the song is so hypnotic and involving that all nine musicians, their arms cycling through the air as one, look like downhill skiers descending a mountain in unison. Jaws are dropping all around me.

The next few songs (and I started losing track of which song was which here, unfortunately) are just as good. PLOrks’s matching set of Apple laptops are clearly fitted with motion and tilt sensors, meaning that the musicians raise and lower their machines, creating an effect analogous with the bending of a string. Any notion that their highly technical approach is not every bit as real or authentic as a traditional orchestra is quickly dispelled by the sight of their highly physical, emotive performance.

One song (perhaps ‘Boomdinger’, perhaps ‘Inlayers’) begins with dark washes of synthesisers and a steady electronic pulse that recalls something early on Warp Records, but switches tack suddenly to embrace a lush, deeply organic collage of faux-natural sounds. PLOrk’s laptops begin to talk to one another, each emitting a different sound, somewhere between a animal’s grunt and alien song, and the musicians face each-other, responding carefully and offering their voices as if in the most natural of conversations. One member, whose laptop offers up a sound like a lamb’s bleat, begins to sweep his laptop down towards the floor, laughing, and enjoying the way the sound rushes through the registers. Suddenly the noise is anguished. The screen, by now showing leaves nestling in water, consolidates the deeply bucolic noise filling the room. The song ends with the sound of rain, and newspapers and bin-liners being scrunched up and torn up close to the microphones. It’s just stunning.

This is an unqualified recommendation, in case you hadn’t guessed. I’d love to know how different these guys sound from show to show, as so much tonight seemed intuitive and improvised – and yet so often sounds came together with such perfect precision that it seemed impossible not to observe great deliberation being employed. Either way, this was a collaboration that was deeply musical, deeply arty, and deeply enjoyable. Am already excited at the idea that this lot might come over to the UK sometime soon.

vicky christina barcelona

Posted 08 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Thought I’d add a rather late voice of support to the apparent consensus that Woody Allen’s most recent film, Vicky Christina Barcelona, is a significant return to form and a rather good film. I watched it on the flight over to Boston and really enjoyed it, all the more because it seemed to have very little of the clunkiness of his ‘British’ films, and because, although the film’s setting in Spain is hardly essential to the plot, it makes for some beautiful shots and ingenious casting – particularly Javier Bardem and Penolope Cruz, who give magnificent performances.

The film, like most of Allen’s oeuvre, is concerned with the transitory, illusory – and yet essential – nature of love and relationships. Vicky and Christina, played by Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johannson respectively, spend a summer in Spain and fall under the spell of Bardem, who is a magnetic, fascinating artist painted initially as a womaniser but later sketched out into an appealing, sophisticated character. Christina, fascinated by Bardem and determined not to restricted by bourgeois or conventional expectations, embarks upon an impulsive but successful relationship with her lover and, later, his ex-wife, played with careering, reckless glee by Penelope Cruz. (Johannson, disappointingly, is below-par throughout).

Vicky, by contract – whose fascination with Bardem is tempered by her desire for a conventional marriage – is the real emotional centre of the film. For all the plaudits Cruz and Bardem have earned for their performances, it is Rebecca Hall’s beautiful, precise portrayal of Vicky’s cautious, agonised involvement which resonates. And which proves that Woody Allen is still capable of writing proper, grown up parts, and funny, worthwhile films.

Of course VCB is not up with his best, but it was the first one of his films I’ve seen in many years which left me feeling fully satisfied. Really hope it’s a good omen for his future projects.

emmy the great at the komedia, brighton

Posted 09 Feb 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Having obsessed over her songs for a good year now, it was a real pleasure to finally see Emmy The Great play live in Brighton last week. In fact, having waited all this time, I saw her twice in a night as she played a short, good-spirited acoustic set at Resident Records as well as her headline show at the Komedia. At both venues she was outstanding; her delicate, beautiful songs are underscored by a dark imagination and a wonderful way with words. It makes seeing her a dual pleasure: on the surface, melodic and lovely; underneath – unsettling, moving. At Resident, deprived of a mic-stand, she asked a girl in the audience to hold her microphone for her, and stooped from the counter to provide spine-tingling takes on ‘First Love’, ‘The Hypnotist’s Son’ and ‘City Song’. For the latter, her final number, she conjured a moment of awed, shocked silence, as the closing lines rang oppressively round the shop: “they pulled a human from my waist / It had your mouth, it had your face / I would have kept it if I’d stayed”. As we walked away from the shop to grab a beer before her gig-proper, Dan posited that “she sounded like she could be Canadian”, which coming from him is the highest praise – even if she actually sounds like she comes from Primrose Hill.

At the Komedia – where myself, Dan and Sam met up with Lyndsey and a lovely friend of hers whose name I have predictably forgotten – the first act up was Younghusband, the three-piece fronted by Euan Hinshelwood, who plays guitar for Emmy. His songs are really good; hypnotic, mid-tempo indie somewhere between Teenage Fanclub and the Lemonheads, and songs about Woody Allen. Whereas on record the songs are delicately arranged, live Euan plays them in an agreeably straightforward, pure way, with little in the way of effects or complex playing. Once or twice he steps on a pedal and produces a minute or two of controlled, mannered grunge rock, but most of the subtleties derive from his winning way with a vocal melody. ‘Mass Kiss’ is a particular highlight. In a way, his refusal to crank the songs up, or cover them with ornaments, makes his songs less instantly impressive, less powerful than they might otherwise be. But the key is that the tunes stay with you, and that appears to be – and should be – quite enough.

Ex-lovers, on next, are a quite different proposition. Musically their sound is cut from a similar cloth – more hints of melodic US indie, as well as hints of C86, shoegaze and Postcard pop – but they go to lengths to create a busy, rich musical palette, most notably in their drummer’s varied, precise contribution and their lead guitarist’s ability to ring out gorgeous, descending guitar lines in the manner of a young Peter Buck. They’re at their best when they crank up the volume a bit and let go, and their worst when they’re too studious and considered. But I thought they were very promising indeed.

By the time Emmy took to the stage, myself and Lyndsey have allowed ourselves to get a bit over-excited, and an earlier conversation about how much we wanted to be friends with Emmy soon gives way to darker flights of fancy, and before long we are planning a fairly detailed sequence of events, which involve slinging Emmy into the boot of a car, and we are only brought to our senses by the fact that it suddenly becomes apparent that her family are sat right in front of us, doubtless listening in horror. Feeling a bit crazed, we accept that locking Emmy in the attic might not be the be best idea in the world, and sit in embarrassed silence waiting for her to play.

So, relieving us of our imaginations, she takes to the stage and opens with a gorgeous take on ‘We Almost Had A Baby’, which is one of her most tuneful songs and a marvellous dissection of a broken relationship, and the thought that it might have endured had a child been conceived (“and I will think of you now that we are apart / I put my hand across my gut / I plan to feed it with a heart “). So begins a sequence of songs which examine heartbreak, loss and the fall from innocence. ‘M.I.A’s depiction of a car-crash is enormously powerful, where Emmy notes that “you and me are still but the scenery moves / well why would it stop, just ‘cos suddenly / there’s one where there used to be two”, and the dismissal of religion in ‘Easter Parade’ is clear-sighted and pointed (“And underneath your pastures green / there’s earth and there’s ash, and there’s bone / and there are things that disappear / into it and then they are gone”). The other side of her fiercely intelligent style, however, is that she’s funny, too – whether chatting easily between songs about her chances of winning the X Factor or singing, in ‘The Hypnotist’s Son’, “Every time that I think of you / I have to go to the toilet / can’t tell if this is love / or a stomach disorder.”

Musically, her band are spot-on. Other fans appear to be uneasy with the way that her songs are arranged on her album (First Love, out today), preferring her songs when her voice is accompanied only by her quiet guitar picking; but I think the full-band arrangements are both dazzlingly pretty and textbook exercises in restraint. At all times her songs remain the centrepiece, her voice clear and recognisable. My favourite song of the night is the gorgeous ‘Short Country Song’, which shows off Emmy’s talents so clearly. The song paints in delicate strokes the minutiae of a relationship, and closes with one of Emmy’s most beautiful, plaintive verses – one that isn’t, for once, clever, or complex, or wry – but simply heartfelt; the wonderful quality that Emmy, despite all this talk of lyrical skill, possesses in the greatest abundance.

And you say “Somewhere in my body
is a hole without an end”
And I say “Come and let me see it.
It is something I can mend.”
And you say “Somewhere in my body
is a hole without an end”
And I say “Come and let me see it.
I can fill it up again.”

review: jay reatard / lovvers / the pheromoans

Posted 08 Dec 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

This is a bit late, but I’ve not been to many gigs lately so feel I should blog about the ones I do go to; consequently here’s a brief review of a recent outing, albeit one which is probably fuzzy round the edges as a consequence of disintegrating memories…

Jay Reatard has garnered a lot of column inches this year and some pretty decent reviews off the back of his recent singles collection for Matador. Without knowing an awful lot about him, Ant and I headed down to the Engine Rooms in Brighton a couple of weeks ago to watch him play with a couple of British bands, local boys The Pheromoans and Nottingham’s Lovvers.

On first, The Pheromoans were terrific. Peddling an artless, lackadaisical and nonchalant take on the Swell Maps / Fall / Pavement sound, their sound was obviously familiar, but none the worse for it; short, daft songs riding four note basslines and enlivened by a droll singer and a guitarist fluffing occasionally melodic surf-riffs. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that they are self-conscious art students playing badly on purpose (in which case I withdraw my affection), but I’m happy to play along with the idea that they’re stoned chancers, short on ambition and fired with a love for simplicity and fuzz. So I thought they were grand.

Lovvers, on the contrary, were incredibly tight, focused and forceful. Their sound was abrasive, energetic, full – and yet they were painfully awful; a sequence of yawnsome redundant cliches and dead-eyed ambition. Only when their macho, show-offy punk slowed down for some churning, slower numbers did they lift themselves out of the mire, but by that time I’d retreated to the back of the room. Bewilderingly, the crowd responded enthusiastically, so perhaps it’s just me that can’t bear their masculine, heartless hardcore. Ant was more enthusiastic, but not much.

Wondering if the problem is just that I like quiet music, I headed back towards the front for Jay Reatard, who quickly dispelled that notion by playing a set of fiercely enjoyable, high-octane punk rock, fusing the volume of The Melvins with the hooks of a young Evan Dando. Barely pausing between (cracking) songs, his performance is all about speed and energy, excitement and power. All were much in evidence as Reatard provoked a sea of grins and a wave of slightly apologetic headbanging from a reserved audience, perhaps mindful of Jay’s unpredictability. And the good news is that, for all that my record collection is getting folkier and folkier, I still like a bit of furious punk. As long as it has pop choruses.

jeremy warmsley

Posted 25 Oct 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews, Video

Brighton’s Resident Records is easily one of the best and friendliest shops I’ve been too, and it often hosts mini-gigs on a weekday earl-evening – the most recent I attended was a set by the folkster Jeremy Warmsley, who only played four or five rather slight songs but charmed everyone in the shop in the process. I wasn’t totally sold; his songs need to take the odd unexpected diversion every now and again to stop them being a touch safe; but generally speaking he’s certainly talented and likeable, and he’s got a great record in him somewhere, I think. He’s a particularly interesting lyricist, combining a deft sense of humour, a knack for storytelling and a smatter of self-deprecation.

Here’s a quick video, taken by Dan, of the last song he played; a cover of New Order’s marvellous ‘Temptation’.

steve malkmus in brighton

Posted 24 Aug 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Just saw Steve Malkmus at the Komedia. Wow.

Amazing gig, as expected. His playing is electrifying, and his band terrific; Janet Weiss drums about as well as Steve plays guitar, and the interplay between them was a joy. The music was astounding, obviously – ridiculously complex and ever changing, a big, sprawling combination of stoner rock, prog, indie-pop and English psychedelia. He played some super, silly new stuff, some stone-cold classics, and about 8,000 guitar solos. Then trashed his guitar. My ears are ringing. Yes.

the week just was

Posted 19 Aug 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Photos, Reviews

Just watched a terrific set of high-octane but careful pop courtesy of the brilliant The Week That Was, an offshoot of Field Music, in Resident Records in Brighton. Their debut album is out this week and I highly recommend it; beautifully constructed, exact pop music with pretty but progressive hooks. Great stuff. And where the record is incredibly tight, live there’s a welcome looseness and loudness. Brilliant stuff.

at home by the sea, pt. 2

Posted 12 Aug 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Observations, Reviews

Memory redux; part two of my At Home By The Sea write-up. Part one here.

- Still on a bit of a high from Thomas Tantrum, I’m in two minds what to do next. I get that common festival affliction, headless-chicken-syndrome, and decide it’s my job to spend the next ten minutes rushing from stage to stage, despite most of them being empty. I’m trying to work out what to see next, and eventually settle on Slow Club, but not before I catch a bit of Stockholm’s Shout Out Louds, who Siobhan and I quickly nickname ‘Danlake’, noting that they contain every component of Dan’s fantasy football dream-band, namely:

(a) beards
(b) a small, cute, soulful girl playing an accordian
(c) a nice line in melancholic Americana, with heady overtones of Midlake
and (d) flags suspended at the back of the stage.

- I don’t think much of them so retreat to the front bar to wait for Slow Club to get on stage. I position myself down the front, excited, and begin nattering to Ant as the room fills up and the band take the stage.

- Oh no, I’m at the wrong stage. It isn’t Slow Club, it’s The Shortwave Set, who have switched stages. I decide to give them the benefit of the doubt and will say this for them with no reluctance at all; they play nicely arranged, impeccably performed pop, with an impressive wall of swirling, queasy noise livening up their steady (workmanlike) tunes. I can see they do what they do well, but it is utterly lacking in emotional pull or surprise. They’re only one good chord-change a song away from being a decent band, but at the moment their Elbow-cum-Air sound is merely a compliment by way of imitation, and nothing to savour.

- So I miss Slow Club. I do, as it happens, abandon The Shortwave Set after three songs, and dash round the back, but I bump into Sam, Chequers and Laura and decide I’d rather talk to them then go see another band, so we position ourselves at the outside stage and wait for Peggy Sue, who I’ve been ranting about for ages, I know.

- They arrive on stage. Katy Klaw is dressed as a clown. Rosa Rex is wearing a tiger costume. They play about twelve absolutely perfect songs with new drummer Olly, each one either delicate, or moving, or funny, or inspirational – and often all of those things together. Tonight my favourite songs are ‘Once We Were Strangers’ and ‘Pupils Blink’ – but really you can barely squeeze a cigarette paper between the songs; they’re all wonderful. They do not explain their costumes, and I am glad for it.

- Ant shouts “Jonathan, stop fawning”, spotting me transfixed at the front, and I try to look nonchalant instead.

- The Brakes close the evening, and I can barely see them for the two sodden skinheads stood in front, who aren’t obscuring my view, but the way they hug each other and bellow along into each others faces quite captivates me. The Brakes do their usual high-energy, varied, set, and I wonder why more people don’t appreciate them.

- And whumph, all my energy leaves the room here, so I throw myself into a cab and come home. At Home By The Sea is a funny little idea, a four-stage festival in a single venue on a beach in Southern Britain. But it’s a good one, and I hope they’ll do it again.

at home by the sea pt. 1

Posted 11 Aug 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Observations, Reviews

Memories of At Home By The Sea, Concorde II, Brighton (part one).

- Walking along the sea-front, observing the choppy waters, it occurs to me that I am absolutely shattered. It’s 6.45 on Saturday afternoon, and having spent the morning moving house, it’s dawning on me that a mini-festival on Brighton Beach is perhaps a step too far. The sea is looking faintly furious and the rain is pelting down. Up ahead I hear a band humming away, and a reedy vocal.

- Shit, it’s The Wave Pictures, onstage absurdly early. We race in and jostle to the front, to see a relaxed, grinning Dave Tattersal leading his wonderful band through a ramshackle tune as delightful as anything on Instant Coffee Baby, but not something I recognise. I know that Dan, Ant and Victoria are not far behind us, so I text them urging them to hurry, but by the time I look up from my phone the band are telling us that there are CDs available. Which I realise, with a heavy heart, means they’re finished. And they are. They smile at us, at each other, and put down their instruments. I find I’m rather furious. I can’t believe we missed them.

- Off to the bar.

- We wander round the side, wondering what the set up is. It seems that there are four stages; one in the bar at the front of the venue, one main stage in the usual place, another behind it and a small outdoor stage underneath one of the arches, lit with fairy lights and curated by the wonderful Peggy Sue (who have dispensed with the Pirates). But there’s nothing there so we stop and say hello to a friend in a nice dress, and walk back round the front, wanting to catch the others and get a good place for Thomas Tantrum, who we’ve worked out are on next.

- We meet our friends and stand out front, watching a helicopter circle the pier, above the darkening waters. The next day we discover that a man, out on a stag do, drowned in the sea.

- One of Thomas Tantrum is wearing a Lemonheads t-shirt. If I didn’t already think them brilliant, had never heard ‘em before, the moment where I spotted this would probably be the moment when I started loving them.

- They don’t impress all of my friends quite as much as I expect they will, but I later discover that Ant, at least, is only underwhelmed because he’d persuaded himself they were from Los Angeles and felt let down by the unromantic fact that they’re from Southampton. I think they are absolutely terrific, however.

- They make brilliant, passionate, loveable, delirous pop music. Megan is a brilliant frontwoman, which helps, looking like a young Kim Gordon, alternately picking her strings in a reverie and slashing at the strings, crouched low. Her voice, let’s be honest, some people will hate; it’s high, unconventional and girlish, but not at all passive. She sounds bored and engaged by turn, investing every line with an appropriate feeling.

- The rest of the band are great too. David and Jim, on guitar and bass respectively, are very cool in different ways. The former (he of the Lemonheads t-shirt) contributes some really fantastic guitar playing, his style loose and melodious without being at all predictable, picking out tangential, forceful melodies and scittering between motifs. His instinctive lines and appreciation of sound make me think of Spiral Stairs’ heart-felt Pavement stuff. Jim on bass is just really cool, jumping up onto the drum riser and spinning out ultra-fluent, poppy basslines.

- They play about eight or nine songs in twenty odd minutes, and they’re all brilliant. ‘Shake It Shake It’ and ‘Work It’ are buzzy, immediate pop and ‘Why The English Are Rubbish’ and ‘Pshandy’ are miniature canvases conjured up with real dexterity and complexity. All through their set there are hidden melodies which suddenly emerge, tempo changes and lustful changes of emphasis. Throughout it all Megan is bashful, keeping her eyes down and her feet on the floor. This surely can’t last – Thomas Tantrum are way too good, and she’ll have to get used to the applause.

- Right, more recall tomorrow…

Peggy Sue and The Pirates, Komedia

Posted 19 Jun 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Since I saw them at the Freebutt supporting Scout Niblett a month or so ago, I’ve been obsessing over the five songs I own by the marvellous Peggy Sue and The Pirates, but I felt slightly worried before they took to the stage at the Komedia, recalling other times a band blew me away on the first encounter and then failed to make good on those tentative promises. At the Freebutt the band – Rosa and Katy – were engagingly messy, extremely charming and incredibly impressive, their slight, romantic songs soaring courtesy of some stunning harmonizing. Their songs, occasionally acapella but generally accompanied by acoustic guitar and an assortment of toy instruments, seemed to marry a disregard for convention with an innate appreciation of pop, and their unforced style and vocal gymnastics put a new spin on the unmannered anti-folk groups they’ve been lumped in with. After that show I bought a CD from Katy and she apologised again for their shambolic set. I told her that all my favourite bands are a shambles, which is pretty much true. But I did wonder if they’d turn in a more polished performance the next time round.

And, at the Komedia, they sort of do, although they’re every bit as likeable and unpredictable. And – to my relief – they’re still comfortably my favourite band at the moment (with the possible exception of The Wave Pictures), their songs just as good as I remembered, their voices just as pretty. They play eight or nine short songs and, buoyed by the first appearance of a new, snake-hipped drummer, a couple which, in their own words, stray into epic territory: in other words they last three of four minutes, rather than two or three.

Of the songs, its hard to pick out a favourite, especially when I hardly know any names, but I love ‘New Song’, which is heartbreaking and terribly graceful, and one song built on a refrain of “love will save the day, love will save the day, love will save the day” is met with a pay off which ties me up in knots – Katy’s baleful, half spoken reply; “if love will only stay”. On ‘Phone Song’ they pull off the same trick, managing to give simple lyrics emphasis and impact. “I hate it when the phone rings and it’s not you” is economical and unflowery, but Peggy Sue also make it seem true, which is a nice trick to pull off. Tonight’s closer – ‘Escargot’, if I heard right – is perhaps the evening’s most sumptuous moment, where Katy’s breathy, staggering voice is underlined, or countered, by Rosa’s tilting melodica riff. The pause, the micro-second gap where the latter switches her attention from her instrument to the microphone provokes a in me a shiver and gasp, one of those hair-standing-on-skin moments that make pop music so exciting.

When they finish I turn to my friends and I have that feeling I always have when I encounter a new favourite band; a kind of desperation for my friends to love them too. And I’m pleased that they do, and we argue about whether we like Rosa or Katy best (it comes out two-two), and how great and how pretty they are, and how much fun their set was. When they walk past I kind of shout ‘that was great’ in Rosa’s direction, and she smiles as if they’re still a bit surprised that people like them, but they must be getting used to it. I drink another beer and watch people sitting down by the stage, ready for Diane Cluck – who is headlining – and shout to Dan that they’re all ‘fucking hippies’ – just at the moment that Rosa walks by again, and this time she turns and looks at me, surprised, as if I tried to accost her, and I feel embarrassed and stare at my shoes.

The reason I like Peggy Sue so much, I think, is because they make me feel inspired; when I watch them I want to learn new instruments, write songs, draw pictures, make friends, wear new clothes; be generally intuitive, unhurried, open to possibilities, keen. That must be because all those characteristics, all those urges, are captured in their group, and in their songs. And that, in turn, must be why I love them so much.

sebadoh live at the concorde 2

Posted 28 Apr 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

I should have known better than to be fooled by the fact that Lou Barlow, whose reformed Sebadoh played a great set at Brighton’s Concorde 2 last night, arrived on stage with an acoustic guitar – I’d forgotten that he plays with so much distortion it scarcely matters what instrument he’s playing. The acoustic guitar, then, was monstrously loud and Sebadoh were Sebadoh – sloppy, uneven, occasionally rubbish and mostly utterly brilliant.

The lastest band to climb upon the reunion bandwagon (Lou’s got form here, of course – the reignited Dinosaur Jr played an amazing set at the same venue last year), Sebadoh look an awful lot more content in each-other’s company now than they did fifteen years ago. The spirit of the group has always been profoundly democratic, but they’ve always been pissy and intense onstage, so it’s odd finding them in a good mood. So much so that you wish Lou would politely remind Eric Gaffney who we’re really here to see, and pile him back behind the drum kit. Over the course of the set Eric and Jason take turns behind the drums, ensuring that all three musicians get a chance to sing their own tunes, but the consequence is that we get far more of Gaffney’s melodic but uninspiring rock than we do Lowenstein’s furious and brilliant punk. Barlow remains the main draw, of course, and songs like ‘It’s So Hard to Fall In Love’ and ‘Brand New Love’ still sound incredible, although I’m a bit disappointed to find the band drawing on so much material from their weaker later albums; although in fairness the band – and particularly Jason – make a blistering racket throughout.

Qualifications dispensed with, then, the essence of Sebadoh is thrillingly intact – Barlow’s lovely voice, ear for discordant but beautiful sounds and habit of strumming his bass are as evident as ever and the set is punctuated by extraordinary bursts of noise. I’m particularly taken with Jason’s songs, which sound astonishing. Eric’s drumming, meanwhile, remains superb, and the band clatter through over 30 songs with nary a pause for breath , although they’re momentarily dumbfounded when a few of us down the front spot that Eric is drinking real ale on stage, and start shouting ‘Bombardier’ at him. “Do we have a song called Bombardier?”, Lou asks. “We’ll play it if we do”.

Instead, they play a blistering, joyful take on ‘Freed Pig’ and finish with an even better take on the hilarious, magnificent ‘Gimme Indie Rock’, which gets a predictable roar of approval when Lou sings “Getting loose with the Pussy Galore / Cracking jokes like a Thurston Moore / Peddle hopping like a Dinosaur…”. Best of all, the sense remains – just as it should – that anything might happen – Sebadoh still sound crooked (crooked rain); stoned, furious, romantic and thoroughly unpractised.

Having them back is much more than an exercise in nostalgia; they remain one of the best bands ever. I hope they never get it together.

robyn hitchcock at the end of the road

Posted 22 Sep 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

Seeing Robyn Hitchcock at the End Of The Road last week was a privilege. Over the last twenty five years his brand of whimsical, psychedelic pop has been gradually refined to the point where now, despite his advanced years and shock of white hair, he is arguably making better music than ever before. At the End Of The Road his show, only one performance off headlining the second stage (which tells you a lot about the excellent music taste of the festival organisers), was one of the clear highlights of the weekend.

Performing with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones (don’t let that put you off) and his niece (who plays the saw), Hitchcock was debonair, dry and – musically – absolutely phenomenal. As befitting an artist who has written a song called ‘I Like Bananas Because They Don’t Have Any Bones’ his songs are frequently charming and hilarious, but they’re equally moving, the currents of emotion carried by the idiosyncratic frailty of Hitchcock’s voice.

At the same time, his playing surprises me by being exceptionally fluent and able (I don’t mean that I didn’t expect him to be talented, merely that the naivety of his sound often masks the musicianship). Classics like ‘I Often Dream of Trains’ are impossibly beautiful, at once childlike and mature. The newer material, much of it originating from his sessions with Peter Buck last year, stand up admirably.

As I said earlier, I left feeling privileged – many artists delight, but only a few really reach out and touch you. Hitchcock is a master in this second category.