Lydia Lunch and The Big Sexy Noise Live 1st July 2012

At the O2 Acadamy Islington

Das Flüff

Das Flüff are a dark, sexy synth rock act. Fronted by Dawn Lintern with an image like an intense Alison Goldfrapp at a funeral. Seductive as if on a razors edge. The talented guitarist and keyboard player remaining in the background. The limelight focused solely on the voice harbinger of a darker time.

The Cesarians

The Cesarians were the band with the largest lineup of the night. And what an eclectic set of instruments and looks there were amongst them. The band consisted of a 1950s rhythm section of bass and drums. A gothic punk brass section  dressed in black, a hipster violinist and a 1920s pianist. This energetic, instrument swapping enterage was fronted by a man channelling Brian Ferry mixed with Jarvis Cocker.

This large lineup allowed for some large dynamics within the band. From serene and singing to a level of aggression that its refreshing to see in a band without a guitarist, they had it all covered.

Lydia Lunch and The Big Sexy Noise

“We are The Big Sexy Noise and we sound like this”

You can’t get more direct than that for an opening. Brash but understated guitarist and a good drummer joined Lydia. They have lost their keyboard/saxafonist since their last tour, but it didn’t really need it. If anything it added to the low-hi filth that accompanies their songs.

Sexy and to the point. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll about sums up the band. The gig had been delayed twice, but it was worth the wait. The rendition of Your Love Don’t Pay My Rent was more direct and vitriolic than in the studio. She made a point of insulting all the men in the front rows. Maybe this is why she doesn’t have wider appeal? Regardless, the crowd loved it.

Hop Farm 2012 Saturday 30th June

I do love music festivals. Especially on a nice summer’s day. Where every hour is Pimms o’clock and the atmosphere is relaxed. Hop Farm is a small indie festival just outside the M25. Going for the weekend would have been nice, but impactical. A day trip, however, seemed too good to pass up on.

Patti Smith

Patti Smith was amazing. She was increbably comfortable on stage; understated and composed. Nothing about her stage presence detracted from her delivery.

From Dancing Barefoot to Gloria the entire set was compelling. Although the set may not have been the most diverse it flowed nicely and Gloria, the finale was brilliant.

It would have been nice to see Patti Smith the 1970s, but its good to see that time has not detracted from the intensity of her delivery and performance.

Gary Numan

Gary Numan put on a good rock show. Joined by a full band the older material was far more aggressive than in the studio. He was a brash yin to Patti Smith’s understated yang, despite them both being good performers.

Unfortunately, they clashed. In hindsight perhaps the billing for Maximo Park and Gary Numan should have been reversed. However, it is hard to gauge the popularity of a musician who, as the program stated, is known ‘for living in a cupboard in The Mighty Boosh’ with relatively few albums for the length of his career.

As a result I can’t tell how timeless his rendition of Cars was. What I did see was good. The versions of Metal and Are ‘Friends’ Electric were hard hitting and impressive. Festival sets can be disappointing, but this left me wanting more, so I would consider it a success.

The Headliners

Bob Dylan headlined the main stage. He is a fantastic songwriter and it was impossible to pass up the opportunity to see him live. There is no other place he could have been on the bill, but his live reputation is deservedly mixed. Whilst  the musical talent of both him and his band did shine, his style of songwriting is there to serve the lyrics. His voice, however, is shot.

After a few incomprehensible songs being unable to connect with the material I left to see the other acts. We settled on Peter Hook And The Light.

Peter Hook is the bassist from Joy Division and New Order, which is merit enough to catch my interest. We caught most of his set. None of the headliners were too inspiring, but there was some solid material and his style meshed most closely with my tastes.

Whether he was unsure of himself as a singer or the music itself I am unsure but he spent the entire set hiding behind his bass guitar, despite barely playing it. Even for the Joy Division songs that he had written he sang and little else.

I am glad to have seen versions of Transmission, She’s Lost Control and Love Will Tear Us Apart curated and performed by one of the original writers, but Peter Hook’s voice lacked the power of Ian Curtis. The renditions were good, but they lacked a certain edge. The only direct negative I can give is that I was disappointed to see Love Will Tear Us Apart turned into an upbeat pop anthem (despite it being mostly faithful).

Combichrist Live 28th June 2012

At The Electric Ballroom

Combichrist is the brainchild of Norweigan singer and EBM producer Andy LaPlegua. I’ve been a fan since the first hook I heard and after catching them on their last tour was happy to see them again. Joined by a full band their brand of aggressive dance music does not disappoint.

Second on the bill were Surgyn. Taking inspiration from vanity and pharmacology they are the Bioshock EBM band. They had a solid sound and a definite stage image but lacked a certain edge. Despite both members playing keyboards and singing there were moments where they risked playing DJ. There was potential for theatrics to match their melodrama, but the band failed to make the stage their own.

Relatively new to the scene, part of me wants to keep an eye on them. Give them a chance to gather scars and experience. I see potential if the band develops as they mature.

Third act was Jayce Lewis from South Wales. Mixing industrial with a strong synth element it was a little hard to tell what their sound was meant to be. Simple, but interesting, drums mixed with a percussive guitar and the occasional layers of percussion by the singer created the foundation of their sound. With the sound of the keyboards and the bass above and below they had all bases covered.

They did have a definite rock band feel, but at times it seemed as if the singer was trying a little too hard and that their electronic core was being drowned out.

Its good to see a live band evolve and Combichrist have returned with more kit than ever. Three drummers, two of which switch between drums and synths and a guitarist join front-man Andy LaPlegua. Despite all the extra instrumentation the band remains faithful to their albums, but with the layers of percussion adding another dimension to the sound.

Opening with just one accompanist Andy and the pre-records conducted the crowd into movement. As the show progressed the other musicians joined them, each bringing their own energy with them. Despite a mostly predictable set list it still felt fresh. A good mix of new and old material was played and there was a phenomenal amount of energy projected by the band. Touring off album allowed the freedom for more older material, particularly from What The Fuck Is Wrong With You.

The band dynamic was fantastic. The drummer was very stylistic and impressive. He bantered during the encores, kept throwing his kit around and was literally carried from the stage, still trying to drum at the end of the show. The guitarist was a little showy and the synthesists played with quiet intensity by comparison. All the while Andy was yelling and working the crowd.

After two encores we knew our shouts of ‘more’ were going to be unanswered, except for the sardonic rendition of Sinatra’s My Way playing into the dispersing crowd as we left elated.

Katzenjammer Live 23rd May 2012

At XOYO

Katzenjammer is four girls from Norway making mad and energetic folk pop. They are incredibly upbeat and are hard to dislike. It was the kind of gig that left you with a smile on your face for the rest of the night.

[youtube http://youtu.be/-kbdCDeKSoI]

The opening act, Ben Caplan, was a solo singer-songwriter from Canada. Just him, his guitar and is impressive beard. This time without his band, The Casual Smokers, he took to the stage and caught the appeal of the crowd. His humour and good songwriting won us over and had us singing along before the end of his set.

I didn’t catch the name of the second act. He was a soul singer with a good voice and a talented, if very understated, guitarist. Unfortunately I didn’t find them very engaging and it served as a chance to go to the bar.

Katzenjammers entrance was unpretentious. The entire night ran very smootly, not a soundcheck in sight. Simultaneously showy and understated, the band lacked a front person. Or rather they rotated. Between them they played guitar, bass, drums, ukulele, glockensiel, trumpet, harmonical, piano, acordian, banjo and more that my amazed mind can’t remember.  As if this wasn’t enough they were constantly swapping instruments and all singing simultaneously.

Even if renditions of songs like Demon Kitty Rag were less frenetic than in the studio the band themselves were not. There was a constant energy and air of fun about the entire show. We were encouraged to chant ‘in Norwegian’ to which a bemused Norwegian in the crowd commented that it was nonsense.

Charming and charismatic, you can’t help but react to their infectious rythmns. It was a damn good set and I hope they visit again.

[youtube http://youtu.be/3f8IPjm_-nc]

Strive

The future is all around us. Its in the air; we live and breathe it. Each day it shifts in and out of focus. There are brief moments that I feel I know what I am doing. There are others I am lost.

There are times I feel I’m heading in a direction I want. There are other I feel myself drift away. Day by day I strive to head only where I want. Sometime I make progress.

There is a sea of distraction within an ocean of possibility. I can create and I can consume. There will always be something new.

There are options. Most boundaries are illusory. The path is just poorly lit. There is drive and there is ambition, but without bounds focus is sorely lacked.

Another day brings another distraction. Always on the move. I make what I can of this world. I take what I am given and return what I can.

I am callous and confused, but I strive.

Bristol Folk Festival 2012

A week on from The Bristol Folk Festival and I have decided that a blow by blow account of the festival may not be the best idea. It would leave me with questions such as ‘you spent how much?’ and ‘you did what until seven in the morning on the bank holiday Monday?’

As a result, I’ll just list some of the moments I found note worthy. In no particular order:

Solarference and Duotone both had interesting uses of live looping. The former using Max/MSP to create ambient soundscapes from voice, guitar and specific props. The latter using a traditional looper on voice, cello and guitar to create some big building tracks, as well as some prettier moments. Unfortunately, I doubt either will translate adequately to a recorded medium.

The duos Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin and Katriona Gilmoure & Jamie Roberts used purely acoustic instruments, but showed songwriting prowess with some modern influences. The former beatboxed whilst playing harmonica and lapsteel very well. The latter had one of the more poppy sounds of the weekend and played guitar percussively to good effect.

Show of Hands and 3 Daft Monkeys were good, as always. The former have just played The Royal Albert Hall and are deserving of their reputation. The latter are just fun. This time they had a dance floor and got us all to waltz.

Afro Celt Sound System were the find of the festival for me. I was familiar with who/what they were, but not their material. As with last year, the headliners were different from any of the acts before, but you could hear their influences throughout their sound. They married Celtic sounds with African and modern drums, as well as synths to make a unique sound. All this whilst having an enormous amount of fun and feeding that energy to the crowd.

As well as the acts above a couple of songs stood out. The Chemical Worker Song was sung by The Young ‘Uns. The song is a tragic 20th century tale of a post-industrial pre-health-and-safety world where people would go where the money was well aware of the effects it would have on their health. The Young ‘Uns’ a cappella that was immediate and powerful.

Lady Maisery sung The Changeling’s Lullaby. One thing I like about the folk tradition is the story that the song brings and the group suggested that this song about a changeling (i.e. a screaming child in the night) may have been a way of attempting to explain post natal depression with a lack of understanding. It has been said that a song should speak for itself, and it did, but what it could not do is explain the world in which it was created. A gap that the group ably filled.

http://www.bristolfolkfestival.com/

The Sound In Your Head

There are times when a song just gets under your skin. Causes a visceral change in brain chemistry. This may manifest as bobbing and weaving in time or a fixation and disinterest in the rest of the world.

Other than subtle cues an observer is largely unaware of the listeners state of mind. Truely a ‘you had to be there’ moment. And not just present; inside their skull. Given that impracticality and my rolling obsession with music I have two options; silence or to share or to share and to hope that some people capture something like what I felt. An understanding or accord is all I can hope for. Even disagreement would be better than apathy (as long as they were polite about it).

Many songs cause this reaction in me and they come and go. Maybe the reaction is forgotten, but this one will be documented. I can’t remember the last time a chorus made me want to immediately start singing along and move. (To be honest, it probably wasn’t that long ago, its just a hard thing to cling on to.)

This transcience makes me wonder whether I should have started a tumblog. Either way, today there are words and this is music.

‘We dance to free ourselves of the room’

John Cage’s Musicircus

by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum

3rd March 2012

When invited to an event that even the person inviting me doesn’t know what to expect what am I to do other than check my calendar and say ‘sure’. John Cage is not an artist I was familiar with and the event was something that I was unlikely to have discovered myself.

The ‘Happening’, as the program describes it, was a temporal, spacial and sensory collage. In short a collection of art, musical and visual performances. The event was spread across most of the building with about a douzen rooms and corridors filled with installations, musicians and performers. We wandered moving from complete bewilderment to a sense of comprehension picking up on threads and ideas as we went.

The performances ranged from choral and classical music through to abstract and surreal visual performances. There were orators reading various works, mime and other visual artists. There were props and pieces of art ranging from simple pictures to a monkey suspended from the ceiling.

The themes of mushrooms, time and chance were throughout. Each person’s experiences would differ as the performances were chosen at random (typically by dice) and as some of the performers moved about.

I was glad to have been invited and it was an impactful event. I may investigate Cage further. However, is what makes good art what makes a good experience? My interpretation of the work falls into the same category as mine of Andy Warhol; I like the ideas presented, but I am unsure of the art itself.

I would recommend the work to people who like their preconceptions and senses challenged, but personally I would have preferred a more interactive environment. You always felt like an observer. A couple of the artists involved the audience, but even this felt as if it was being done to you. Although chance was a large part of the concept I wonder if the event could have been improved with some form of narrative; something that increases its complexity when discussed with other attendees.

Perhaps the linear route we had to travel had something to do with it. You couldn’t really explore. Given the theme of chance, this was a major limitation. I do not know whether this was intended or due to the venue. An open plan exhibition centre with freer movement would have changed the nature of the interactions.

Regardless of niggles over the implementation I was glad to have gone. It was an interesting event and the concept will stick with me. How can the success of this show be measured other than to say that I definitely came of in a different state of mind than when I went in.