Archive for April, 2008

Portishead bloody fantastic at brixton academy

April 18, 2008

This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.  Awe-inspiring, innovative, spellbinding. 

The air of excitement beforehand was palpable and Portishead came on to a rapturous welcome.  I suspect, like me and my friends, the crowd consisted of a lot of people who thought they might never get a chance to see Portishead live and were now beside themselves with excitement.  They started strong and kept it coming.  The set-list (I totally can’t remember what order or anything, sorry) comprised mainly of tracks from Dummy and new material from the about-to-be-released Third.  Both sounded wonderful.  Personally, I thought the new stuff sounded incredibly strong and exciting – with a more industrial edge to it. 

Beth’s voice sounded fantastic – all creepy, uncanny emotion.  She is a weird, alien, techno-futuristic songstress, and that is a fact.  And the cinematic feel remains, only they now appear to have written a soundtrack for a horror sci-fi.   The visuals were spot-on.  They focussed mainly on Beth, with lots of great effects (sorry, I don’t know the terms for any of them), intercut with close ups of the band members playing their instruments (most effective on Machine Gun where there were loads of closeups of the truly fucking magnificent electronic drum playing).  Beth apologised shyly at the end for ‘singing really badly’.  Ok, so i’m pretty sure that she sang the entire ‘Numb’ a note out (didn’t matter, still sounded great), but I don’t think anyone in the crowd was complaining.  

The band all looked pretty moved by the response they got from the crowd, and a band being moved always makes me feel moved (i’m soft that way).   (Digression: I remember Damon Albarn looking as though he would like to burst into tears at the end of a very well-recieved set by Blur at Glastonbury back in the early 1990’s.  And recently the singer of The National was so moved by the audience response that he climbed on top of his monitor only to wobble horrendously and have to be helped down again, saying afterwards with self-deprecating charm ‘as soon as i got up there i thought ‘what the fuck are you doing?’).

The only bum note of this gig was that people kept talking.  I don’t understand this behaviour.  I don’t mean just the odd comment to your pal, I mean literally talking throughout.  I was standing next to two men who TALKED about music all night instead of LISTENING to the music actually being played right in front of them.  They were like a bad stereotype from High Fidelity – endless intellectualising ‘oh i like what they just did there, it reminds me of ………. in 1987’ – with the view presumably being to impress the other male with the size of your, ahem, musical knowledge.  I have no problem whatsoever with talking about music, BUT NOT WHILE PORTISHEAD ARE FUCKING PLAYING YOU STUPID FUCKING BASTARDS.  

Went in with the drumbeat from Machine Gun in my head.  Came out with it in my head even worse.  I might never get it out.

Boom cha

Ba da Ba da Ba da Ba da

Boom cha

digga digga digga digga 



So Low Then So High

April 18, 2008

Couldn’t get tickets to see Low at the Union Chapel in London so decided to go see them in Brighton instead.  I discovered Low very late in the day when their last album, Drums and Guns, came out last year.  I was blown away by it’s sparse, bleak beauty.  God knows where I have been hiding my head for all their previous albums. 

Ok, so drove down to Brighton with my flatmate, met another friend at the train station, made our way to St George’s Church.  “Is that the venue?” asked my friend.  “Of course it is” I replied, “look at the TYPES outside”.  Arty, scruffy, you know the sort. 

St George’s is a nice venue, although it doesn’t compare to the Union Chapel.  First up were The Helio Sequence.  I’d had a listen to their album before the gig and had mixed feelings about it.  Some nice tracks and well-crafted songs, but all a bit Christian folk-rockish for my tastes.  On the night, they sounded good, the singer had a really strong and melodic voice and the drumming was energetic, but still that Christian folk-rockish thing going on which I just can’t get past.  My friend thought that one track (the appropriately named ‘Hallelujah’) sounded like the kind of thing a trendy ‘in a rock band’ vicar might play to try and enthuse ‘the kids’ to love jesus.  too true. 

Ah Low.  Dream-like, Christian-tinged miserablism.  Bleak, beautiful doom-mongering.  First let me get the criticisms out of the way.  Their set list contained a couple of really bum choices.  They played ‘Hatchet’ for starters – the one track on Drums & Guns that I can’t stand.  To play that and leave out literally dozens of much better tracks from their back catalogue….  Also I didn’t much appreciate their arrangement of Breaker (pretty much my favourite track) – they chose to ‘rock it up’ thus losing much of the heartbreaking subtlety. 

Right, carping over.  Now on to the waxing lyrical.  They played lots of fantastic tracks (mainly from Drums & Guns and The Great Destroyer).  Too many highlights to list.  Their voices were strong and sure.  Their desolate harmonies sounded indescribably beautiful and moving.  As their voices soared upwards into the church rafters then suddenly dropped down, I sat absolutely transfixed and wouldn’t have wished myself anywhere else.  

Some nice banter with the crowd.  Alan told us to ‘talk among your peers or make an announcement’ at one point while he restrung his guitar.  A crowd member announced a fight on sunday, but it turned out it was actually a village fete.  This made everyone laugh quite hard.  

Good drive home too.  Open road, boiled sweets, music, company. 



These New Puritans / Blood Red Shoes

April 18, 2008

Saw these two bands a week or two ago at KCL Union.  It is not the best venue for ambience, but the booze is cheap and the view is good. 

Firstly, I thought These New Puritans were pretty great.  Hadn’t heard anything by them previously but was particularly keen on their drumming – lots of almost breakbeat stuff and tribal rhythms, raising them above standard indie fare.  The singer can’t really sing, kind of half talking/half singing lyrics (mainly a load of old mystical crap which links them – alongside their youthful enthusiasm and bent for innovation – with Klaxons in my opinion).   I reckon someone in the band likes hip-hop and someone else likes The Fall (although occasional similarity in sound to The Fall might just be accidental).  Also, I thought they had a little bit of Madchester about them (though I think they actually come from Southend or Southampton or someplace south!) – maybe it was the way the singer kept stretching his arms out as if he thought he was the messiah.   Anyway, I’ve ordered the album but suspect i might find i liked them better live.  Lots of promise though.

Blood Red Shoes, hmmm.  I’ve liked a couple of singles and it is difficult to argue with the immediacy of something like ‘Its Getting Boring By The Sea’.   They produce very accomplished punk-pop, they look great, they sound just as good live as on record, but somehow they just don’t thrill me at all.  Maybe it is the fact that, well, all the songs are kinda the same really.  All the same pace, all the same kind of lyrical content (boredom, angst of an adolescent variety), all exactly the same sound with little variation.  I was bored by song three. 

sadly not quite miraculous

April 6, 2008

The recent album ‘Five Roses’ by Miracle Fortress has crept into my heart kind of without me noticing.  It is romantic, dreamy stuff with a heavy Brian Wilson influence, and I love melody and harmony, so it was probably a foregone conclusion that I was going to love this.  A friend called this ‘music to fall in love to’, and I would have to agree with that (in theory at any rate).  Apparently it is mainly the creation of one guy, a red-headed arty clever clogs from Canada (if they’re not from Canada, they’re from Brooklyn at the moment it would seem), Graham Van something or other.  Anyway, he has gathered a band around him for the purposes of touring and they have become a four piece. 

First things first, the live performance totally failed to capture the magic of the album.  Instead of being carried away on waves of harmony, transcending everyday cares to enter a dreamworld of aural bliss (see, I could write for the NME!), I remained resolutely in Kilburn in a slightly miffed mood.  The sound was ALL WRONG.  Subtle harmonies were omitted or done half-heartedly and the really lovely electronic sounds present on the album were drowned out by a disconcertingly unbeautiful guitar noise.  One of the new band members was the female bassist who also did duty on vocals.  On the album, the sound is achieved through layering and looping Graham’s voice, and sadly her non-descript vocal just wasn’t up to the task.  I thought they would have been better off using technology to add loops of vocals and stuff (i dunno how, what am I, a technogeek? – but Panda Bear does it apparently so it must be possible).  That bassist really got on my nerves actually – she reminded me of the woman from Arcade Fire – all ‘i am a child-woman spirit that roams wild and free, see how i walk barefoot on the grass and pick the flowers in the morning dew’ ish.  They all kept playing different percussion instruments too, another reminder of Arcade Fire.  Nothing against Arcade Fire (well, nothing I’m going into in this post), but I had never picked up their influence in the album before and it was unwelcome live. 

Another (final) criticism is that they seemed just a wee bit shambolic – there were times when I really wasn’t sure whether the music was going anywhere or whether they’d just forgotten what came next.   I don’t mind bands being all over the place if it adds a feeling of excitement to the proceedings, if they make you feel you might be about to witness something amazing, but I just thought Miracle Fortress could do with practicing more.  It may be that their live act improves over time, I hope so.  Happily, I listened to the album when I got home and it sounded as wonderful as ever.  Highly recommended for romantic souls. 

Oh, and I might have liked their performance more if I had been in a better mood 🙂