Archives for posts with tag: London

The Men

The promise of an excellent support slot from Parquet Courts probably had a lot to do with this show being a last minute ‘tickets on the door’ sell out. The opening band are currently riding on the success of last year’s Light Up Gold, an album that continued to gain momentum and find new successes earlier this year when it was picked up by bigger music websites. The band delivered on the promise and blasted their propulsive bare-bones rock at the Garage crowd, and recreated the album’s seamless transition between “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”. Their two guitarists/vocalists, Austin Brown and Andrew Savage, both sing with a manic delivery and when bassist Sean Yeaton joins in it’s like the band are singing along to their own set. Just seconds after they joke about failing to warm up the crowd for The Men they played an electric final two songs. During a solo-laden “Stoned and Starving” Savage left his screaming guitar propped against his amp, changed his stance, and delivered an intense reprise of the lyrics of “Light Up Gold” with a Patti Smith “Land”-like delivery, seemingly winning over anyone who was previously unsure.

There was a time when playing a venue called the Garage would have almost been apt for The Men, but the oppressive punk/noise/garage rock of their first two releases has pretty much been eclipsed by the recently released New Moon, which continues the expansion and mellowing of their sound that they started with 2012’s Open Your Heart. Both keep the grit of their earlier releases but hop frantically through rock and roll sub-genres, making the band increasingly harder to define. With such a wide range of sonic styles to choose from it was hard to guess exactly what this set was going to entail. They’ve gained a reputation of playing very little songs from their current albums, instead opting to play sets of predominantly new material. This has always made them seem slightly out of sync with their audience, it’s nice to hear new songs but people mostly just want to hear what they know. This is an obvious problem that their relentless and constantly developing song writing and recording regime has caused.

With all these things considered, it was a definite surprise when pianist/organist/vocalist Marc Perro began playing the opening bars of “( )” from Leave Home. He played it as the rest of the band slowly arrived and joined in, until drummer Rich Samis showed up and hurled them into the song with a vicious snare roll. The choice to open with the oppressive punk of Leave Home can be read as an attempt to stop the bellyaching amongst that album’s biggest fans, who feel isolated and disappointed by The Men’s more recent output. But it was probably played just because it was an instant dose of frantic and pulverising rock and roll music. They quickly abandoned any theoretical appeasements and mostly left Leave Home’s mega fans in the dust. They only returned to the album once, with a rubbery and motorik take on “Night Landing”.

After the noisy dramatics of “( )” they delved deep into New Moon with the whiskey-sweat-sentiment of the heart pumping “Half Angel Half Light”, and then delivered two of its best pop cuts in the form of “Without a Face” and “Freaky”. A rallying “Turn It Around” filled in the pit, which had previously been spacious and violent. The crowd in general was surprisingly varied considering the band is named after a gender. A slamming version of the Open Your Heart title track featured a raucous guitar solo from Ben Greenberg, good enough to make you wonder why he didn’t move over to the instrument from bass sooner. He made the switch when The Men recently changed their live setup, and bass duties are now handled by Kevin Faulkner who is credited as a lap steel player on New Moon. Their ability to switch around and the lack of a frontman may suggest a sense of anonymity in their band, but it just adds to their varied approach to music, and each singing member’s voice is distinctive and great, even if they’re slightly less capable than other members.

A piano interlude was possibly there just to kill time and mask the sound of the other members tuning, but by its end the full band had come together and they segued into “I Saw Her Face” with a light country jam. The song was extended to Crazy Horse levels and as they moved to Samis’ heavy bass drum; they played biting guitar licks and traded solos. Faulkner was also wearing a 2009 Neil Young tour t-shirt, providing a good indicator of the song’s influence for those who couldn’t effectively use their ears. It was a piece of crushing folk rock, with a galloping punk outro, all whilst being contrasted with Perro’s clear piano keys.

Nick Chiericozzi brutalised his throat on lead single “Electric”, as he tried to match the high octane guitar harmonies for volume, but he quickly recovered for the crooning “Candy”, which was scored with bottleneck guitar licks. They ended their main set with “The Brash”; Greenberg shouted and threw his mic stand to the floor after the first verse, matching the energy of the song’s devastating riff. For their encore they tried yet another style with the unabashed gritty Americana of “Bird Song”, which allowed Perro to add harmonica blasts while Greenberg ripped a showy guitar solo.

“We want dancing baby!” Chiericozzi requested whilst preparing for a song they described as being “very new”. It sounded almost like a shredding take on boogie woogie, complete with a tinkling piano solo. They played it with the house lights half up and ending it with Chiericozzi’s fun, panicked and repeated shouts of “We gotta go!”. It was of course another venture into a new area of rock and roll for The Men, but it still hit like a side swipe. It was a fun sampling of their future material that capped off a set of familiar and crowd pleasing songs. They hit all of the high points from their already extensive discography, and showed that when it comes to rock and roll, they can kind of do anything.

5/5

Dinosaur Jr

If playing insanely loud rock music for close to three decades doesn’t give you a good enough insight into the state of J Mascis hearing, then the three towering Marshall stacks crammed onto the Electric Ballroom stage definitely will, and judging from his comically sized set list he’s as blind as he is deaf. Dinosaur Jr.’s vision blurring volume must have an effect on him, but his forever laid back demeanour makes him seem immune as he shreds through and forms a third of their deafening sensory assault from behind his glazed eyes.

The Amherst trio arrived in support of last year’s excellent I Bet on Sky, the third album in their improbably great reunion streak, and this Electric Ballroom show is the last of a rare UK tour. A tour that has allowed many people to see if the band lives up to the legend of their supposedly frightening volume for the first time. You don’t even need to hear one note played through Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow’s imposing setups to figure that question out, but it’s their drummer Murph that might be the loudest. He slams his drum kit and provides a pounding assault from under the fuzzy stringed madness. You can feel a real fury in the air when they launch into their set with “The Lung”, from their 1987 classic You’re Living All Over Me. After which Barlow kicked his monitor up, aimed it towards the audience, and blared his gnashing bass line from Bug’s “Budge” right into the faces of the front row.

The three I Bet on Sky songs they played showed their worth by fitting perfectly alongside their more classic material. The scratchy guitar lead of album opener “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” was topped with a solo that was far more vicious than the album version, but the triumphant blazing outro of “Watch the Corners” was left mostly intact by Mascis. Barlow took the lead with an enthusiastic croon on “Rude” and a harsh shriek on their version of “Training Ground”, a song from one of Mascis and Barlow’s first band Deep Wound, who date back to a time when Mascis had yet to trade his drum kit in for a guitar. “This is a song about me starting college, which I regret” says Barlow before they tear into its blistering hardcore punk flesh, “school sucks” he adds after a thrilling grinding blur of a song. The fierce shouts of “Little Fury Things” and the guitar refrain of “Crumble” devolve into some of Mascis’ best vocal melodies, which greatly contrasts the savage aggression of the Deep Wound song.

Mascis’ squealing guitar and Murph’s punchy fills mark a particularly colossal sounding “Start Choppin’”, and “Freak Scene” doesn’t receive as big a reaction as you’d expect, but everyone still comes together for its two excellently messy solos and the big sing along line of “cause when I need a friend it’s still you”. A racing version of “Feel the Pain” is the runaway crowd favourite, with its frantic speed up slow down structure and multiple breakdowns sending waves through the shoving crowd.

A super extended version of “Gargoyle” ends the main set, building and building as Barlow sings and swipes furiously at the neck of his Rickenbacker. “What songs do you want to hear that we’re not going to play?” taunts Barlow playfully as they return for their encores, “How about a song by The Cure?”. A question that makes you realise that it’s always been bizarre that a band with such a mammoth sound chose to stomp through the gentle Cure classic “Just Like Heaven”, but their reinvention of it sounds predictably incredible tonight as Robert Smith’s sweet melodies are trampled and left to bleed out underneath Dinosaur Jr. crushing momentum. They close with a demonic “Sludgefeast”, and Murph, J and Lou blast through its multiple riffs and tempos, and ignite with a perfect skull rattling heavy metal outro. They leave to the sound of Barlow’s whooping bass distortion, having proven again that their second life isn’t a fluke.

5/5

Wye Oak

2012 has been a sedate year for Wye Oak, unless you count the excellent solo singles released by vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner’s under the name Flock of Dimes. Or her upcoming balls out pop project with White Life/ The Art Department’s John Ehrens: Dungeonesse. The only new music released under the Wye Oak name this year was the lone track “Spiral”, which sounds like it probably would’ve been released under the Flock of Dimes name had it not been commissioned for Adult Swim’s Singles Program. It sounds great, but is definitely more poppy and in line with Wasner’s other non-guitar heavy projects. The task of keeping their fans engaged seems to have fallen to Wasner, but if drummer/keyboardist/bassist/genuine musical everyman Andy Stack is as busy offstage as he is on, then he must have at least an equal amount of projects in the works.

With their lax year in mind, it made perfect sense for them to open with a new song. Instantly giving an audience who were eager to know what they’ve been up to a preview of what is to come. They played several great and exciting new songs that all hinted at a more airy and sonic direction, whilst still being anchored by Wasner’s melodic and distorted guitar tone. The first known song they play is the bouncy and explosive “Holy Holy”, Stack provides both the serene scene setting organ and the blasting death strike that launches Wasner’s shivering guitar climax.

The duo seemed far more relaxed than they did during their last London show at the XOYO in November 2011. Where they appeared exhausted at the conclusion of a long year of touring that followed the release of their acclaimed third album Civilian. This results in a more fun, laid back, and sweaters-still-on kind of show. “This is cosy” notes Wasner, showing that even she knows that this is a comfortable feeling show. Which makes them seem almost effortlessly and casually great, making Wasner’s fantastic voice seem even more enviable as she offhandedly sings her mournful lyrics. “I’ve never been on stage in a sweater before”, Wasner says blaming it on the cold Scala venue. “We’re freezing but we’re looking forward to getting warmer under the lights”, which was said with a confidence that suggested she knew their performance was going to warm up the crowd.

The playing of one man rhythm section; Andy Stack, is really a site to see. He plays drums with his right hand and keyboards with his left, on which he usually is playing bass rhythms. It’d be incredibly impressive even if their songs weren’t good. He was also celebrating his 28th birthday: “He’s been putting up with my shit for 10 years”, says Wasner. He took on yet another role during “Spiral”, which saw him playing bass and tweaking knobs. The song comes across excellently live as Wasner apes the hypnotic marimba loops on guitar strings, whilst knelt in front of her pedals. The echoey and rubbery keyboard bass on the restrained, measured and gorgeously paced “Plains” builds to a brief but all-consuming conclusion. And Wasner’s hushed lyrics and loud guitar strums during “Take It In”, from their second album The Knot, perfectly shows the band’s contrast between fierce and subtle beauty.

After several songs they stare at each other, waiting for the other to start the next song. Before they are both forced to admit that they forgot to bring out their setlists. After Stack fetches one, and Wasner playfully claims that a lot of work goes into their ‘elaborate’ and ‘organised’ live set, they play a great version of “Hot as Day”. The slow heavy stomp of “That I Do” features the best solo of the night, a mangled flurry of notes over Stack’s heavy drum strikes. The build up to the guitar seizure in “Dogs Eyes” is momentarily ruined by a broken drum pedal. Which, much to Wasner’s delight, Stack immediately swapped out with a standby replacement. She gleefully taunted him for being so organised: “You nerd!”, “We’re playing with rented equipment and he had the exact thing we needed!”. Miraculously, after the unplanned and funny interlude, the guitar stills hits hard.

They ended their main set with “Civilian”, its opening chords sparking the biggest response of the night. They returned for a lone encore of “For Prayer”, during which Stack was attacked by an unfortunately timed smoke machine throughout the beautiful opening, before it ended the night perfectly with an electric and feverish climax. It sounds as if this was the last Wye Oak show for a while, at least until they have a new album, and even the band didn’t seem sure of when that will be. But hopefully as Wasner says, it won’t be “too too long” before we hear from them again.

4/5

Kurt Vile

The run up to The National’s ATP festival has caused a mass influx of American Indie Rock bands with Folk leanings to the UK this week, and this ATP promoted Kurt Vile show seemed designed to give three of those bands something to do before they make the drive to Camber Sands. It also gave the non-attendees a chance to see three of the festivals best.

First opening act Dark Dark Dark play a set of material from their great new album Who Needs Who. Like the album, their live sound is a jazzy-piano heavy breed of Folk Rock. Which features an accordion, some brass, and a atypical bass-drumless drum setup. Vocalist Nona Marie Invie’s performed all but one song seated behind the keyboard, and her rich affective voice blossomed during “It’s a Secret” and “Meet in the Dark”. It’s great and mellow enough that even the light mumble of audience conversation doesn’t detract from their great set.

Baltimore’s Lower Dens politely announce that they’re ready as they begin a slow and gorgeous set of their ‘Alternative’ music, in the hard to properly define sense of the world. They’ve been labelled with genres as varied as Dream Pop and Post Punk, but their sound is both too dark and too majestic to fit comfortably within either. Their excellent 2012 release Nootropics is proof that it’s music that requires patience. They use stiff drum beats and synth to play their wistful and illusory music within a traditional band structure. Serene opener “I Get Nervous”, from their debut album Twin-Hand Movement, shows off Jana Hunter’s and Geoff Graham’s off kilter harmonies, and the unnerving and nebulous beauty in Hunter’s voice emerges during “Propagation”. The more bass heavy “Brains” and “Stem” are almost proggy as the band descends from the soundscape for something more straightforward. Their fantastic set trails of more than it concludes, but even those who weren’t won over could feel their dark music lingering in the air as they left the stage.

It’s been almost 2 years since the release of Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt Vile’s breakout album from early 2011. Outside of a few live shows, it’s been a low key year for Vile. This is perfectly inline with his apathetic lyrics (“Think I’ll never leave my couch again”), but in reality it’s probably because he just has a second child with his wife, and is recording a new album. Somewhere during his time off Vile became an incredible guitar player, he was always good but at this gig his playing is pretty much the whole show. His guitar was deafening in his central monitors during opener “Hunchback”, and the tone sounded incredible all night. Ranging from his chunky, purring, folk guitar drawl to his excellent acoustic fingerpicking. He spent the majority of the set bent forward, his long hair draped only inches from the necks of his multiple Fender Jaguars, as he unleashed and lost himself in long guitar jams.

“Got no room for those two minute pop songs anymore”, he says after the light and poppy “Freeway”. A statement he proves with mammoth and grungey version of “Society Is My Friend”. The lengthy laid back guitar jams are far more to Vile’s speed now than the playful “Freeway”, the song’s yippy vocals sounded great, but out of place even on Constant Hitmaker. His Crazy Horse equivalent, The Violators, leave him alone with his acoustic guitar for several songs, allowing him to temporarily embody a solo Americana folk figure. He knows to pull back the volume for the magical fingerpicking of “Peeping Tomboy”, making it a stunning highlight.

Vile can be casual and laid back with his singing style to a fault, he sometimes sings his lyrics out of time. Some members of the crowd hushly mumbled along with him during “Baby’s Arms” and “Peeping Tomboy”, and his messy vocal style may have held them back from being great sing alongs. It’s customary to his lovably lazy stoner rock persona, as he is singing with as much energy as his lyrics are conveying, but it’s also an obvious weak point that he lets his masterful guitar work make up for. His stage banter is just as incoherent, but it’s sparse and saved mainly for one word thank you’s and song dedications to unknown people like “Stephanie”, who probably struggled to comprehend that the dedication was intended for them. “We’ve got to catch a plane to ATP” he said before a pre-encore version of title track “Smoke Ring for My Halo”. Spoken in a way that left no one quite sure whether he was joking or not, as they tried to remember if Camber Sands is actually far enough away from London for that to really be his method of travel.

His guitar sound continued to be the best thing about the show, as well as being its biggest problem. Its force was awe inspiring, but became a problem for the non-drummer Violators. Their rhythmic licks and other contributions to the folk guitar wall were near impossible to pick out as Vile dominated within it. It made his fantastically name backing band seem almost pointless. It was hard to tell if he played any new songs or not (he didn’t(?)). But it almost doesn’t matter what songs he played, it was a thrill just to watch his guitar playing weave through multiple styles and tempos. His songs have always been more about mood and tone than they are about hooks.

An encore of “Freak Train” appropriately featured a spaced out pedal mashing distortion freak out that destroyed its sampled beats with otherworldly guitar shrieks. Vile closed with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. With an arrangement indebted to the Gun N’ Roses version, but Vile’s voice returned it to its mumbling Bob Dylan origins. He isn’t the most adept frontman, and he is clearly more Dylan than he is Axl. But he seems to have no patience for that sort of thing, and is at his most comfortable when shrouded in his exhilarating guitar tone.

4/5