7:21pm. A well-meaning front blows in; pressure generally depressed.
Openers 'Turning 13' aim for a Fugazi slink but don't have the mean drama that sort of thing demands; the sub-Weezer vocals particularly let them down. When their unassuming guitarist fills in the regular tuning intervals in the manner of a very embarrassed Sonic Youth, we note something else; they're local bairns, but they bear no hint of any culture underneath the breathy Billy Corgan vox and workaday dual-guitars. Praise them faintly: not disagreeable.
8:10pm. Prospects changeable; chances of hail are good.
"It's impossible to look up while playing a Telecaster, see." notes a friend of followups 'This Familiar Smile'. The cultural abnegation goes on: these stalwart Glaswegians throw more American/Nowhere disjointy post-hardcore at us. They are At The Drive-In without the psychosis which was the most compelling thing about that lot. The high, high but non-falsetto vox owe as much to Pete Wentz as Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Say that they mean it - the singer in particular fully expressive of something or other - but there's nothing but that to distinguish them. Emocore, even five years past its peak, is still the most surplus genre.
At least there's some space in their sound, some respite from the schizoid split-rhythm dual-guitar thing, in service of the idea of the "experimental" as it was in 2001. Some of the chords progressions are sorta convincing, but most are intricately crashing bores: the frenetic wears thin. The respite is their song "Red Wine", adding Snow Patrol to the mix before the set mumphs back to hysteria-rock and leads out.
9:08pm. Outlook humid with a good chance of volcanoes.
Now. Premier Welsh iconoclasts would be allowed a bug-eyed, ranty Bad Seeds stalk-onstage - especially seeing as Cave's Grinderman are cousins in primality to this lot. Instead Future of the Left sidle on, offer the barest of banter and tear into new album-opener "Arming Eritrea."
Right! Being suddenly, obviously, children in wartime, we're evacuated, but sent the wrong way, into the bomb corridor of a set of Cardiff bastards. FOTL take everything right about metal - the iconoclasm, eye on the extremes of human experience, and most of all the seethe - and lose the Tolkienian-Lovecraftian posture and forced immorality. Falkous' quotidian bark's as spiteful and triumphant as any bark of any genre. He goes bright red all over from bellow #2 to the end an hour later.
Between being buffeted about, I play an awful game, the genre-generation game, but, as usual, can't come up with anything for FOTL that doesn't sound like slander: What are they? Sludge-punk? Industrial classic rock? Indie-metal? No; this isn't sleaze, it isn't sludge nor metal. This is what post-hardcore should have been.
The relentless crash begins to drag, but as soon as it does Falkous moves to keyboard for the "Manchasm"'s lecherous groove, and "Youneedsatanmorethanheneedsyou" - Portishead if Portishead were to cross a holiday-cottage-burning posse on a moor.
The trio channel are bigger and more mordant than three men ought be able. I remind myself that they are only bits hitting bits against bits, but it doesn't help, doesn't detract from the affront of them. Kelson Matthias' continental bass chords and drummer Jack Eggleston ("The 300 Spartan who went to Gregg's for four months instead of Thermopylae") are the basis. But Falkous has the singleminded, licentious power Henry Rollins used to have, underscored (somehow) by his deeply unnerving sense of humour. He spouts things like "Suddenly these ostriches / do not seem so interesting" or "She's got a lot of pickled onions. / Hanging from her thighs", without a hint of affectation; who can be this nasal without seeming petulant; or tote potency lacking arrogance? We're not even being lectured here.
"Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood" erupts into a massive White Stripes/Pantera riff after acapella, and since those two broke (presumably under the weight of their own riffs) there's little to match it. Anyone who can carry off the chords to "Adeadenemy" as dance music can have no fear or beast nor man nor sound.
We are warned, in a tone brooking no contradiction (ie. enthusiasm), that we have reached the last two songs, and that the last one will take months - we will in fact age during the course of it, and that if we want encores, we should go away and play them in our heads. "In an alternate world not much like our own, this is the single", said of "The House That Hope Built", an almost folksy thing with much of their venom retracted, like those sea snakes that feign death to attract prey.
Then a mythical rock phenomenon: an actually interesting 10min jam, of their "Cloak The Dagger". Falkous grows more and more disillusioned with his guitar, torturing the thing, parading it, shoving a drumstick under the bridge and producing merciless wails. Eggleston is trance-fast, desparate to get shot of his arms. Matthias spirals into his own bassline, complementing nothing but human nature. After a psychotic stint on keyboard, Falkous begins to steal Eggleston's kit in the manner of a parent removing an overused toy. He waves it around, teasing with a hihat. The drumline doesn't falter, the flow on the remaining pieces instead intensifying.
With a light conductor's flourish, Falkous cuts off the "song" in sync and they go.
1. Arming Eritrea
2. Chin Music
3. Wrigley Scott
4. Plague of Onces
5. Small Bones Small bodies
8. Stand By Your Manatee
9. Land of My Formers
10. Fingers Become Thumbs
12. My Gymnastic Past
14. The House That Hope Built
15. Cloak The Dagger
Nick Griffin's face everywhere. I can see it with my eyes closed, a bit. Every newstand has many-copies at many-angles of the many different bulges of his many dead eyes on each front page. And I feel his physics at work. He manipulates the magnetic poles* on a plane figure, this country and its sick undercurrents. We are divided by their action-at-a-distance, their atavism in suits. Though their rhetoric is no creative force. Their impulse only politicises and stokes a sick reaction, a culture-fire that was already entrenched. In this sense too he is a mere buboe, a feedback symptom....
Except of course, the Daily Sport! Today more than ever, it evidently occupies an entirely different reality, one we might dub "Pornspace". Pornspace is a lurid, politically indeterminate land, as oblivious to world events as are we all at the plateau of masturbation,** which it doesn't seem unfair to assume the staff are maddeningly stuck at when they fabricate The Sport, our public window on this realm, each and every day.
All entities of this state are either wank-objects or perpetually taking a spot kick, the same spot kick, over and over and bending and over... It is an innocent place, if you equate innocence with ignorance as it's easy to do. Pornspace does know about our tawdry, sordid timespace, but wants none of it. All that chitchat, all those words, all those CLOTHES!
* A method the BNP might choose when "repatriating" central Europeans.
** A mountain range to the north of Pornspace.
GIG REVIEW: Pixies at the SECC, GlasgowDate: October 4, 2009
The gig kicks off and heads south with the distinctive-enough pop goth stylings of Glasgow’s Sons and Daughters. I suppose I should stress: the songs are great; slinky, crafted, Phrygian things. Hell, in places it’s almost rock music. The opener, 'Gilt Complex' is a particularly tasty Cramps/Siouxsie blast. But they’re so apologetic for being onstage - so hesitant, perhaps, to be getting in the way of the Pixies - that they don’t convince us, and fail to exploit the sexy potency they have on record. This, coupled to singer Adele Bethel’s breathless, bland-nothings banter, means that all they get out of the crowd is polite observation and patient foot-tapping. A couple of tribute songs – one to infamous Glasgow horror Bible John, one for Johnny Cash - arouse some passion by the end, then they slink off, duty discharged.
A long, long beat.
An eerie backing track plays. “Un chien Andalou” by Luis Buñuel rolls on the big screen. One by silhouetted one the Pixies take the stage, motionlessly watching the film, just as we're no doubt meant to. It takes about fifty seconds of this for Glasgow’s natural aversion to pretension to kick in - with a big mon directly behind me bellowing, “Whit is this, Depeche Mode? Git the fuckin Pixies oan!” Well, aye. If you’re looking for someone to blame for art-rock, officer, I’d look these guys up. The tape continues for five or six minutes, mostly to fidgeting and light-hearted heckles. Sure it’s obtuse, but is it art?
Maybe. The pretence to art. A dance around art. Art as attire. That’s maybe all the Pixies ever really were. The namedrops, airs and mystery of it, which is all that art-rock ever accomplishes.
But you forgive them all that – the conceit, pondering, even that Minotaur boxset monstrosity – when they’re this tight, this fractious and ingenious, this much the morbid Latino art-punks sporting a set of Dali’s eyes. No one matches their dischordant resolution – see “Dead” for a cresting example – or their masking potent melody inside bastard barbs.
I came imagining decay, signs of cash-in or strain, but while Frank Black looks disturbingly like a shaven John Goodman, his voice remains as demented, as high – higher in the most part than Kim Deal’s lines go – as ever. Screeching into middle age. Bassist Deal carries the banter – none of the others speak a word to us – doling out B-side info and presenting a deep-set permanent grin. They get said b-sides out of the way before stalking their way through 1989’s Doolittle, in full in order. It’s eclectic, and they’re unafraid to actually play the songs rather than repeat them rote, so 'Mr Grieves' takes on a touch of morbid ska and the parody “La La Love You” more of a leer.
The first encore is the other period b-sides, one a wonderful understated version of the album track “Wave of Mutilation” and the other the roaring space-punk of “Into The White”.
It’s not thirty seconds before they return, hopping out for another encore. Just as delighted as she’s been all night, Kim Deal tells us: “We played here in ’91 but the stage buckled. Tell your mom and dad we finished the set, yeah?” in a self-conscious twist on the reunion phenomenon's retromania: most of us are paying to feel the past, and they give us exactly that. Breakneck picks from Surfer Rosa and Come on Pilgrim follow, displaying the earlier fiercer Spanish legacy. It’s an intense parade; seven songs in 15mins, before Kim 'flips a coin' to choose… the last, courtesy number, “Where Is My Mind?”, to general euphoria. A beery intelligentsia stumble gleeful to the exits.
"I Told You I Was Freaky" by Flight of the Conchords
There is a special hell for those who analyse comedy as if it added anything to the joke, but with musical comedy I think I’ll risk it - there’s enough factors flying about: the lyrical (puns, incongruous content), the musical (parody and allusion, timing), the characters (the narrator’s voice, usually the butt of the tale) as well as the visual side (Tim Minchin’s stare, Bill Bailey’s hair, Jermaine’s pout) which this CD – soundtrack albums – obviously doesn’t convey. The Conchords have buckets of each element, but audio-only isn’t the place to start. (For those of you not yet hooked on the series, the songs tend to breakup a fantastic deadpan tension that the awful protagonists generate just by being themselves: without the visual cues the songs were written for, some of the songs fall flat.)
Anyway, it opens incredibly well, on the note-perfect “Hurt Feelings” - hip-hop pastiche as great as the first album’s “Rhymenoceros”. each takes thug-rap and points it in a wonderfully inappropriate direction, a spot-on back-and-forth flow about being a sensitive gangsta. Then there’s “Fashion Is Danger”’s callouts to Thatcher and Reagan. Holla, girl.
The second series and its songs have been accused of unoriginality, which is a dense accusation to make of any form of parody. The set is perhaps overladen with cheap send-ups of RnB or hiphop – are there any easier targets in music than the Black Eyed Peas? It’s also clear that they've narrowed, going from their earlier encapsulation of whole genres to more straight-up Weird Al spoofs of specific songs – “You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute” from the Police’s “Roxanne”, “Sugalumps” from the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps”, “We Both In Love With A Sexy Lady” from the R Kelly/Usher duet “Same Girl” and the Dark 80s Bowie mash-up of “Fashion Is Danger.” These quasi-covers aren’t bad songs – “Sugalumps” in fact gets transcendent when it moves through a Fresh Prince bridge into a big Motown movement – but they are lazier, closer to novelty pieces. We relisten to musical comedy – if at all – when it manages to get beyond cruel novelty and into tiny universal truths, here represented by a reprieve from the hard backbeat, “Rambling Through the Avenues of Time”:
‘Yes, the girl I described,
she’s as real as the wind,
It’s true, I saw her today,
The other details are inventions
Because I prefer her that way.’
as well as the glorious choir of Jemaine’s exes, “Carol Brown.”
Each of the two have an incredible voice, but the loveably-awful characters they don often bind them to incompetent delivery; the musical part of the gag seems to rely on their being a bit flat even when they're in giddy falsetto. This is clear on the numbers which flop in other areas, lyrics and characters – particularly “Demon Woman”, Slavic shanty “Petrov, Yelyena And Me”, the limp “Friends” and even the title track.
They're still best-in-class – especially if you take the likes of frat-scat Lonely Island as comparison – still funny at their worst. But unless you’re really jonesing for a portable fix of digibongo acapella-rap-funk, you should just spend an extra fiver and get the second series boxset; the magical pokerfaced awkwardness of that renders even the thin moments on this admirable.
Idlewild @ The Warehouse, Aberdeen, 6th November 2009
SUPPORT: Sparrow and the Workshop.
Here’s an anomaly: a wobbleboard in the drum kit; a high, sweet country vocal; a self-conscious look (literal shoegaze). Support act Sparrow and the Workshop come on shyly, potentially-twee… and so we walk right into the ambush. This is machinegun folk, country with a groove, or else surf with a grimace. Singer Jill O’Sullivan is the first jolt, toting a voice somewhere between PJ Harvey and Dolly Parton; a fierceness which haunts and pierces equally well, easing off in a tender lilt. The change in her between quiet, sweet compere and cresting Southern Diva is entrancing. But perhaps that’s just me. Their blends are quietly impressive, inventive - they’re unafraid of whatever, a’cappella and fermata. “I Will Break You”, a beatific alt-country threat, is introduced with the caveat ‘No, not you guys!’ Alternately soothing and storming, “Into the Wild” is topped with a solid minute of bludgeoning rock outro. Overall it’s charming and unexpectable; get on it.
It's a while before the evergreen indie lot slouch on. Roddy Woomble is in his Unabomber aspect; and moreover this is suddenly a hairy band, visually indistinguishable from, say, the Biffy Clyros of the world. Their songs are encoded things; stories one way or other, but told with contradiction: simple sophistication, raw detachment. They're tales told in a dialect of thought that is not quite our own. Which is a funny thing to find oneself saying of power-pop.
The set doesn’t quite catch at first, working through a Warnings/Promises number and two slightly formulaic new songs before matching the old dramatic urgency with... well, a song from 2000, “Listen to What You’ve Got”. Still. A stop-start rendition of “Idea Track” cements the crowd. In fact, the setlist is heavy on the earlier albums, when they did posthardcore-with-a-heart-of-gold. The audience only really flex when picks from “Hope Is Important” or “100 Broken Windows” are brought out, and I'm no dissenter.
“Readers and Writers”, the new single, is a surprise; the clearest token yet of the band allowing themselves to be Scottish (something which has up to now been an incidental feature of them). It’s party stuff – there’s almost a silent bagpipe part begged.
Even so, there's devotion in this room. Every banal utterance in between songs is greeted with a bit of a roar, which given Woomble’s general reticence is a strange occurrence. It’s an interesting thing, the self-consciousness of Woomble. He’s an agitated, diffident man (tonight). Whenever an instrumental break of more than 20 seconds hits, he retreats into the wings of the stage so that he’s not left stranded with nothing to do. Keen to be behind beard, stand, and a pogoing pair of guitarists, perhaps.
The set ends on new pathos and old fire (“In Remote Part” and “A Modern Way Of Letting Go” respectively, with “Roseability” a lovely midpoint.) This is, then, not one band. How many are they? Well.
They began with chaotic strain. They occasionally fall into mawkishness - as in the earlier albums wherever they slow down long enough. They later began to sweep with Editors and cram songs full of hooks like REM.
If genre’s your thing then you’ll tread through post-hardcore and grungey indie and power-pop and indie-folk and college rock and on and on into real nonsense. It’s only the close-harmony of Woomble and guitarist Rod Jones that really unites the iterations, though maybe that’s just me.
There’s probably no stopping me going as far as to say that this voice, this urbane harmony from Woomble and Jones was actually an escape route in Modern Scottish identity, an alternative ethos set in timbre. Against the bellowing, bellyed, dead-eyed, ruddy-faced Lion-Rampant-where-a-mind-ought-be nationalist and the mordant, empty quasinihilist of Irvine Welsh’s fiction…was this. Cryptic. Critical. Not so much subtle as just unknown. This child saw lights at the end of an interminable plaid tunnel. But that’s almost certainly just me.
In the encore we’re given a new song, the title track off “Post-Electric Blues”. This kind of introduction is a bold thing for any band to do, but somehow it slides, the fervour of the audience acting into it.
The second encore is the clearest relapse: three songs from “Captain”, their debut mini-album. It’s furious and messy, and I wonder whether the teen Idlewild who scrawled and howled these would recognise themselves in “Post-Electric” Idlewild. Which is not to bemoan what might be called the band’s progress. But “Last Night I Missed All The Fireworks”? Played on the 6th November? As both guitarists spin and flex and lurch violently with enactment? Few gigs end on explosive punning.
ALBUM REVIEW: Elliot Minor, "Solaris"