15 September 2008
15 September 2008
|Laura Veirs - 100 Club, London - 4th April 2007|
Review by Jonathan Aird
Thinking about Laura Veirs before the gig, listening to old albums and catching up on Saltbreakers (her new album). She plays something like Suzanne Vega, she sings something like Suzanne Vega, she writes something like Suzanne Vega. She even gets shelved next to Suzanne Vega in many record shops. Is she a clone ? Well, she does look a bit like Suzanne Vega ...... anyway it's not too much of a hardship to believe that this time I won't need to use the words "old", "tired", or even "sprightly". Just for once I'm going to see a genuine spring chicken.
The 100 Club is in a basement on Oxford Street and it's small (capacity 300). And sold out long before the gig was highlighted as "the Gig of the week" in various newspapers and magazines. This is all a lot to live up to, so it's a little disappointing to see on arrival that Laura Veirs is down to be on stage at 9:30 and off stage at 10:30.
Despite being sold out the venue isn't packed, there's some seating at tables to the sides of the stage, but most people are sitting on the floor, at least for the opening act. It's easy enough to get near the stage, and there's no shoving - except for the annoying couple with cameras (who were presumably doing a photo-shoot on behalf of the bands - either that or they are just annoying).
The support band was "Your Heart Breaks"; I'd never heard of them prior to this gig. They are a trio - piano, drums, guitar. I may run the risk of damning them with faint praise, but here goes. They had a sort of melodic/jangly/Talking Heads-ish approach to music, and what seemed to be very short songs which were delivered with a yelp of a vocal. None of this is bad, and I quite enjoyed the songs, but I couldn't connect with this band. I suspect I'm too old (or maybe they are too young). Example song introduction "you know when your friends date and then its weird when they break-up". Hmm, to be honest no, not really anymore. When my friends break up it tends to involve a divorce and an argument about who gets custody of
the children. Maybe I'm too old.
Anyway, Laura Veirs and the Saltbreakers - they bound on stage resplendent in their new clothes - embroidered suits for the men, and Laura Veirs in a sort of embroidered gingham summer dress, dark tights and really very sensible shoes indeed. Why the fashion critique, I ask myself - well, they brought the subject up. New band name (but same band), new clothes, new album for which, we are informed, this is a sort of launch party as it's the first gig they've played with the new material.
The new album is a far rockier affair than earlier outings, but is clearly building on the direction indicated by the previous album (Year of the Meteors). I'd been listening to Saltbreakers for the last week, and enjoying it a great deal, although I can't decide if Laura Veirs re-uses imagery in order to connect her songs, or if it is just editorial carelessness (for want of a better word). For example, is the protagonist of Pink Light who is "drifting along with my swords out flailing" the same person as Wandering Kind's tattooed girl who "took up her swords and plunged them down" ? What is the significance of the mirroring of a line from "Saltbreakers" where she declares "I'm a fallen leaf who keeps her green" in the album's later song "Cast a hook in me" where she states that she is not withering, but is "like a fallen leaf who keeps her green" ? Answers on the back of a postcard.....
There followed a very good approximation to the album, with Veirs alternating between acoustic and electric guitar. Having never seen her live before, and with the albums simply stating "vocals, guitar" against the band members, I hadn't realised that the Neil Youngish single note solos with added feedback were generated by Veirs herself.
Everything seemed to go fine until Veirs bantered a-while with a fan calling for "Rialto", after which she seemed to lose focus for a bit, but picked up again after a single muffed guitar solo. The band were excellent, a fine bass player and the keyboards were also impressive (with various bits of electronic weirdness overlaying the sound as required). But, my admiration went out to the drummer who maintained a chip-chip-chipping bell sound with finger cymbals for longer than it would seem humanly possible to do so.
Boy, we had to work for the 2 song encore !
I picked up a set list, but it's basically the whole of the saltbreakers album, plus Secret Someones, Parisian Dream, Rialto & Where Gravity is Dead (from Year of Meteors) and Shadow Blues (from Carbon Glacier).
All round excellent, and it's hard to believe she was playing somewhere so small - this must surely be the year that she breaks big ?
|Alasdair Roberts - The Social, Nottingham - 13th April 2007|
Review by Alan Taylor
Nu Folk, anti folk, â€œagrarian folkâ€, call it what you will, this was fine experience for all manner of folk. Diminutive Glasgow based Scot and fast emerging troubadour Alasdair Roberts and his band treated a small partisan crowd at the Social to a masterful performance. With a subtle but furious paced bony finger picking, almost Mariachi style, he delivered a blend of timeless folk tales, drinking songs and murder ballads in virtual story telling format.
Dodging the ubiquitous musical pigeon holes with skilful guile, this self effacing singer and writer of songs, once interestingly failed to see an interview with the Glasgow Herald in print. So the story goes, he ruined their preconceived angle with his abject failure to fit with their stereotypical view of him as the â€œcool new face of folkâ€. Ironically, this only seemed add to his already growing â€œcultâ€ following, as he built on his early collaborations with Jason Molina, â€œPalace Brothersâ€ Will and Paul Oldham with more recent work with Scottish musicians and poets, notably John McCusker, Isobel Cambell and Robin Robertson.
Son of a traditional Scottish musician, Roberts showcased the folk genes with full force, moulding his own self-penned songs with traditional numbers to a young â€œfashion beardâ€ audience, largely devoid of leather-patched jackets. Gangly, shy, humble but incredibly comfortable in his own way, he tuned, de-tuned, re-tuned and tuned again effortlessly between each song, tweaking aberrant strings as he continued to sing. He occasionally became virtually one with his instrument, losing himself in intricate soloâ€™s, hunching over the guitar with coat hanger shoulders and fingers moving at â€œBilly Wizzâ€ speed, as the audience gaped open mouthed.
The ethereal sound was enhanced by enigmatic â€œfree drummerâ€ Alex Neilson, last seen in Nottingham at Rock City backing Bonnie Prince Billy. He provided the perfect atmospheric backdrop with pertinent random, clangs, rattles, dings and bangs in a Zen like performance of his own immediately behind Roberts. The set contained the bulk of the material from the new album â€œAmber Gatherersâ€ (Drag City), his latest â€œhappierâ€ offering, which comes complete with a tuning guide for those wanabee folk balladeers. The new â€œup tempoâ€ list gelled perfectly with a selection of work from the darker, lo fi earlier collections of ancient reworked ballads â€œNo Earthly Manâ€ and self-penned/trad songs â€œFarewell Sorrowâ€. The sing along special â€œthe whole house is singingâ€ was taken literally by an enraptured crowd.
Roberts or his faithful guitar, finally tired of the endless re-tuning on the final song of his encore. Gripping the fretboard tightly he performed an unaccompanied and fractured version of the poisoning balled â€œLord Ronaldâ€ in his lilting heavily accented vocal style. The audience stood silent and spell bound, the final cheer, for a small crowd, was deafening. Iâ€™m sure I saw a moistening of the eyes of the young fashion beard set and hardened folksters alike â€“ powerful stuff!
|Bob Dylan - Wembley Arena - 16th April 2007|
Review by Jonathan Aird
Searching for a ticket for the Sunday night I found it amusing to see that the on-line ticket touts think my seat for Monday night is worth Â£200. No, I'm not selling.
Quite a change from the last time I saw Dylan (Brixton Academy, 2005). Wembley Arena is a cavernous space, and I'm glad that I'm not up at the back. Not that anyone else is either, the place is about 2/3rds full at best, with some blocks overlooking the stage totally empty for some reason. Riding high on a US number 1 album and the Dylanmania spin-off from the No Direction Home film, Dylan has switched his touring from the small venues that he'd been playing for 10 years back to arenas and sports stadiums. And why not - 2 (first was sold out) nights at Wembley Arena is equivalent to a few weeks at the Brixton Academy in terms of ticket sales. The "Never Ending Tour" could go down to 2 gigs a month and still be making more money. There could be a downside to this, of course. I'm reminded of Ratso's book about following The Rolling Thunder Revue - and the change in the experience when the venues switch from small halls to arena's.
Dylan and band come on stage at 8pm and launch into "Cat's in the well", and it's great to see him playing guitar again. Everyone in the level seats surge to their feet and immediately I realise I'm behind a column - the 6foot 4inch guy is in front of me. Unfortunately the 6foot 8inch guy is in front of him. I edge along the space a bit and everything's fine for the first number but then the over active stewards start sending people back to stand in front of their seats. And this goes on for nearly all of the following 2 hours. Not only are they tiresome about where people are standing, but they're also keen on preventing the use of camera phones - as soon as one appears they descend en masse to prevent the bearer from getting a photo of Bob Dylan from 30 or more feet away ! Not that I have one, but with several people around me committing this crime there's persistent jostling and distracting discussions. Yup, this is a truly terrible venue.
Dylan is on great form, playing guitar for the first four songs (cat's in the well, Don't think twice, Watching the river flow and It's alright Ma) then returning to keyboards for the rest of the evening with the occasional harp break. His voice is strong, although it doesn't stray far from his current bluesy persona. A lot of the songs sound "as recorded", since there is a heavy presence of tracks from Modern Times which are not yet fair game for "reinterpretation". By comparison, Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll is given a slightly bizarre staccato delivery for it's final chorus, each word spat out like a bullet, this vocal delivery style reappears in part of All along the Watchtower.
Most likely you go your way (and I'll go mine) is delivered with some passion, and Highway 61 is an audience participation riot. John Brown is particularly strong with some nice frailing style banjo accompaniment.
Predictable enough cheers great Spirit on the water's lines "you think I'm over the hill" and "we can have a rocking good time", but I prefer it as an album track, it doesn't do much for me live (neither does Summer Days to tell the truth).
The band are neither the best nor the worst that Dylan has played with, but at times they did seem to be going through the motions. Perhaps not surprising. All along the watchtower was a nice surprise as it seemed to be keyboard (Dylan) rather than guitar driven, although of course still being more reminiscent of Hendrix than the original recording. At a 2 hour stint we were doing better than 18 months previously, but of course who wouldn't have wanted a little more ? Or would have liked to believed that there was any point at all in calling for a second encore - maybe one day he'll surprise us (but probably half the audience will already have left !).
So, I'd give Dylan 8/10 at least, and the venue 1/10, which, makes a rather sad straight average of 4.5/10. Maybe I should have sold my ticket after all. But it was worth it just for "You go your way", "Rolling Stone" "John Brown" and "Highway 61", and also fantastic to hear the new album live - it'll be interesting to see how many of these songs last beyond 2007 - "Thunder on the mountain", "Ain't talkin'" deserve to, although I suspect the Alicia Keys reference will damn the former to obscurity.
Set List :
Cat's in the well
Don't think twice, it's all right
Watching the river flow
It's alright Ma (I'm only Bleeding)
The Levee's going to break
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Rollin' and Tumblin'
Spirit on the water
Highway 61 revisited
When the deal goes down
Most likely you go your way (and I'll go mine) Ain't Talkin'
Like a Rolling Stone
Thunder on the Mountain
All along the watchtower.
|Danny and Dusty - ABC2, Glasgow - 18th April 2007|
Review by Paul Kerr
The Dan Stuart revival rolled into Glasgow again, this time in the guise of Danny and Dusty, originally a booze fuelled amalgam of Green On Red, The Dream Syndicate and The Long Ryders some 20 years ago. Tonight Dan was joined by original honchos, Dusty (Steve Wynn), Chris Cacavas and Stephen McCarthy (all of whom appeared on their original release â€œThe Lost Weekendâ€) with Bob Rupe and Johnny Hott filling the bass and drum slots. Disappointingly, for such a stellar line up, less than a hundred folk turned up but undeterred they played an excellent set with a fine sense of humour and camaraderie.
From the start Stuart was goofing around. His physical presence enhanced by his attire (spotted slippers, bottle opener around his neck and HST headgear) commanded attention even on songs where he was not the focal point. The original, ramshackle sound of the Lost Weekend album was faithfully recreated on songs such as The Word is Out and King of the Losers, tossed out with glee. However the musical muscle of the band was well to the fore also with Wynn and McCarthy in particular shining on guitar especially on Miracle Mile and Down To The Bone.
Ending with a rousing Baby We all Gotta Go Down this was a triumphant celebration of unadorned goodtime Americana music and it was a pity there were not more there to enjoy it.
Support was provided by Bex Marshall, one woman and a guitar who played some ballsy songs in a Janis Joplin manner with some fine slide playing and a neat line in a Jon Langford inspired skull print dress. Local band, God Fearing Atheists also played a fine set of songs from their debut album â€œRustbelt Sunâ€ with Bellgrove Hotel the highlight in an early REM fashion.
|Joe Ely and Jane Taylor - Queens Hall Edinburgh - 20th April 2007|
Review by Graeme Scott
For reasons too complicated to go into here I was unable to go for Joe's performance but I decided, rather than waste the ticket, to pop in, catch up with friends and hear some music. On came the support act, a solitary young lass with just her guitar. Now lets face it we have all been guilty of, at best, tolerating an unknown support or not bothering with them at all in the past. So it seemed would be the case with Jane Taylor. There was the usual muffled applause and general indifference however something happened around the midway point during song two. People stopped talking and started to listen. Jane had opened with 'Fall On Me' a pleasant love song and then into something she called 'Cracks'. A funny little introduction before 'Hallelujah', written about her granny, got me well and truly on board. This lass was good, very good! Her songs were well constructed and she can certainly sing whilst more than adequately accompanying herself. It was clear I was not alone in my thinking as the rest of the audience was similarly captivated. So it continued through the remainder of her set. I think one called 'Let It Go' and 'Getting To Me' was as fine a song about that moment of realisation that you have fallen for someone as I have heard in a long time. She ended with a lovely song called 'Old Friends'. Jane Taylor nailed her colours to the mast tonight and bright they are. She made a big impression on me and I've got her debut album "Montpelier". It's terrific! I was so glad I went, just a pity I could not stay for Joe. How was he?
|Loudon Wainwright III â€“ Philharmonic, Liverpool â€“ 26th April 2007|
Review by Mark Whitfield
The Wainwright family keeps throwing up new members youâ€™ve never heard of (probably because they canâ€™t get a word in edgeways after Rufus has opened his mouth) and for this return to Liverpool after an absence of many years for Mr Wainwright, heâ€™s accompanied by his daughter â€“ no, not that one â€“ Lucy Wainwright Roche. Roche proved that nepotism isnâ€™t always a bad thing by being a more than capable performer in her own right, working her way through her own material and others (including a really quite lovely song by Richard Shindell). The guitar playing was sometimes hit and miss but you could forgive that given that she had a self deprecation that belied her familyâ€™s fame and moreover, her voice was absolutely spot on in a kind of sweet honeyed Alison Krauss manner. But the star attraction was Loudon of course, and so extensive is his back catalogue that you never quite now what youâ€™re going to get, but tonight was a healthy mixture of old classics, relatively new album tracks (such as the astonishingly incisive â€œHalf Fistâ€ about his great grandfather) and a whole load of tracks from the forthcoming film â€œLocked Upâ€ (aptly entitled â€œStrange Weirdosâ€). Gone tonight was any of Wainwrightâ€™s trademark political rantings â€“ the whole performance from the presence of his daughter there to the subject nature of three quarters of the songs was about family. In a class of his own, Wainwright never fails to surprise and impress.
|Explosions in the Sky - London Astoria - 19th April 2007|
Review by Jonathan Aird
Explosions in the sky (EITS - Mark T Smith, Michael James, Chris Hrasky, Munaf Rayani) of Austin, Texas, are amongst that select few American bands that always play their 1 or 2 UK dates when I am either on holiday or otherwise unavailable - or even at another gig (e.g. Danny & Dusty at Dingwalls the same night as Dylan this week). The National & Richmond Fontaine are two others of the same ilk. I had been too late to get a ticket for EITS's March 1st gig at KoKo, but not this time - as they had foolishly booked a much larger venue ! Since becoming aware of them thanks to Uncut magazine's "Americana 2004" cover CD, I've had many a listen to their take on the "rock" instrumental, I'd even managed to get and listen to their new album before the gig. Hmm, the prospect of seeing a band that only play instrumentals is a bit weird - when do you cheer ?
If you don't know EITS then the best way I can describe their recorded music is that there are passages of chirpy, melodic, slow stepping almost tentative guitar, which build and fall away in tempo and then periodically become a full on guitar noise assault backed with explosive drumming, which on occasion sounds not unlike a stuttering machine gun as beats are bashed away at. This is not to say that it all sounds the same, just that there is a template, and that loud and quiet and occasional silences are important parts of the development of each piece of music.
The ticket says doors 6:30pm, which is really unhelpful if you're travelling into London for this, no-one goes on stage at 7pm. A phone call to the Astoria earlier in the day had elicited the information that yes there was a support, but they didn't know who or when they'd go on stage. They weren't sure when EITS would be on stage, but it was probably going to be about 8:45, and there was a 10:15 curfew tonight ! Sounds a bit like 1hour 30minutes of EITS then.
April in London is as hot as it gets, and it really seems more like mid-summer than Spring. Once inside The Astoria the temperature just soars - there's a big crowd already, with about half an hour to go before the support act. I decide it's going to be too much of a crush and so go upstairs to find somewhere to lean. It's pretty busy up there as well.
It turned out that the support was Gravenhurst - I've never heard of them. They are a trio - guitar, drums, bass. They struggle at first to get audience attention, and in quieter patches of their songs there remains a strong buzz of background chat throughout. At first they remind me of mid '80's REM, but as the set goes on and they start playing songs with a droning guitar sound, overlaid with melodic flashes they sound more like a cross between Espers and Wishbone Ash, which easily slips them into the file marked "slightly folk-tinged progish guitar rock". Their last song (or it may have been two songs tied together) was the highlight, with a nice arabic toned guitar solo in the middle of it (slightly reminiscent of Hawkwind's Assasins of Allah). Their weakest point was in vocals, in the 30ish minutes of their set the only words I could make out were "they crawl like slugs", which bizarrely don't seem to be present on the album I picked up afterwards ! The CD, by the way, had the lyrics printed on the cover, and on reading them I thought I'd been a bit dumb as they were on a general theme of "gloom/depression/picking flowers and thinking about dying", but it actually sounds pretty good (the Espers / Wishbone Ash comparison holds up too).
EITS start setting up their array of boxes and effects peddles just before 9, and they kick off at around 5 or 10 past. With drums at the rear centre of stage and guitar - bass - guitar strung across the front they swung immediately into what I think was the opening track of the new album. I'm not even going to attempt a set-list, mostly because I've never bothered memorising what most of the tracks were called. Swung, by the way, is the operative word, as the guitarists move around the stage as if they're puppets having their strings jerked. Munaf Rayani in particular is bent over double and seems to be fascinated by something only he can see that is swaying and moving around between his feet. This is position number 1, position number 2 is kneeling down in front of the array of effects boxes seemingly oblivious to the audience's presence. Sometimes this is so distracting that it's worth blocking out visuals to just concentrate on the sounds that are breaking like waves around the building.
Following a piece of smooth slide guitar playing Munaf proceeds to gaffer tape the bottle neck to his guitar and switches over to tambourine. This is initially swung back and forth and then is bashed continually against the floor, but it's a tough little devil and refuses to break ! This is all quite riveting music theatre (if you like) - many of the sounds that can be heard have apparently little to do with what is being done to the instruments, although the rhythmic thrashing of guitars that stabs through several tunes is something to behold. The drummer alternates between relatively delicate tempo changes and a thunderous roar. It's quite absorbing to watch, at least for most of the audience. Some can't quite cope with the quiet bits, particularly (and it seems ever thus) the bloke standing somewhere behind me braying like a donkey at some joke only he is aware of. The cheering question is also resolved - you cheer at any point you feel like it.
Audience distraction hits a new record level when, at about 10 o'clock (I couldn't believe an hour had passed so quickly), one of the group behind me bashed the side of my head whilst (it turns out) passing out. Who'd have thought that a seemingly endless supply of canned beer and a really very hot venue could have this effect ? As a steward and his friends ensure he's ok the drama turns quickly back to the stage - for the first time in the show EITS are using a smoke effect.
A small puff of smoke rises from the main speaker, it grows steadily, and slowly the band become aware that their speaker is in the process of catching fire. It's rapidly switched off. This is all greeted with cheers of approval - here is music so intense that the equipment is literally burning !
A hurried announcement of "I guess that's it, thanks for hanging out" are met with howls for more. To my surprise a small speaker is hurriedly rushed out (EITS have only ~7 minutes to go before they have to clear the stage to allow for the following late club) and the last song is played. Then it really is all over, although there is an apology to anyone who'd missed out on their Edinburgh and Manchester gigs - storms and then airlines had caused their departure from the USA to be much delayed.
And then the stewards started encouraging us out to allow the club to start on time. To their credit whilst clearly exasperated at the slowness of people to move and their (unsurprising) desire to hit the (undermanned) merchandising booth, they remained polite. In fact during the show they were handing out water downstairs to the front of stage crush - quite a difference to Wembley Arena (although of course the Astoria is not a seated venue).
All in all a highly memorable evening, and EITS are well worth your time if you get the chance.
|Cat Power - The Ferry, Glasgow- 25th April 2007|
Review by Mike Ritchie
She complained about flashing cameras, her ear infection, not being able to smoke but at no time was she less than mesmerising. There were false starts, forgotten lyrics, songs ditched without explanation, continual raking through pages of set list changes. She whispered exchanges with the patient and excellent guitarist, Judah Bauer, on a night off from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to play here with great touch and feel for the star of the showâ€™s songs.
Cat is unpredictable. Wow, what an understatement. Itâ€™s like watching someone standing shakily at the top of a ladder and wondering if sheâ€™ll fall but hoping she wonâ€™t. Or like an anxious parent longing for a child to get through a song or tune without blundering. The hand and eye movements, the gripping of the t-shirt, the stalking of the mic, the little dance steps, and all the apparent endless discomfort could be distracting but strangely enough they enhance her appeal. And, of course, her voice was beautiful even if the reverb mic could have been toned down, or switched off at times. Her fans are as nervous as Cat, too. The guy in front of me seemed to have his hand clasped in prayer throughout. His prayers were answered and she completed almost 90 memorable minutes, somehow or other.
She limited selections from latest release â€œThe Greatestâ€ to two: the title track itself and Where Is My Love? Both she played at the piano and they were smooth and warm with no agitated movements to be seen. For me, the cover versions of Smokey Robinsonâ€™s Tracks of My Tears and Dark End of The Street by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn were outstanding with a melting vocal range that glided through lyrics you never tire of hearing. She can use her voice to embrace everyone and then reduce it to a level so you think sheâ€™s singing only for you and what a great thought that is. All the time youâ€™re wishing her to do well and she did.
|Mary McBride Band - BB King's Blues Club NYC - 6th April 2007|
Review by Graeme Scott
Well you simply can't come to the city so good that they named it twice without leaving behind the reason you are there and getting out for some good sounds. So heading to BB's joint was like stepping into your local. This is a well set up club with friendly staff and most importantly a good sound system and a roster of up-coming acts that would put most other venues to shame. Tonight I could only stay for two of the sets and had to pass on the Allman Brothers after gig jam session. First up was the lady, best known to most through having a track included in the film Brokeback Mountain. Supported by a very able band of guys Mary rocks in a kind of country blues way if I had to put her in a genre. She stands gripping the microphone stand, and does little else. Her big sassy voice has vocal shades of Bonnie Raitt and Melissa Etheridge, but I really enjoyed her performance. I guess her stagecraft will develop over time to give punters more of a show. Nothing could fault her songwriting though with 95% of tonight coming from her own efforts. For sure 'Struggle For Survival' written for her birth town of New Orleans, 'Bottle & A Bible', 'Mess With You', 'It's Over', 'Rev It Up', 'If You Lived In My Town' and 'Everything But You' are good examples of her talents. Two covers stood out, Hank Williams 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' and a wonderful marriage of 'Amazing Grace' overlaid onto the tune of 'Honky Tonk Woman' just worked terrifically. Yes we got 'No One's Gonna Love You Like Me' as well but look out for a new album "Tricky Tricky World"