Month: February 2012

11 days, 11 gigs

Right – so after the “multimedia orchestral-rock song cycle” The Long Count, in which I fell asleep – I saw another 10 gigs over the subsequent 10 nights.  I’ll try to recap some of that.

Friday 03rd – Eugene McGuinnessFrancois & the Atlas MountainsTrailer Trash Tracys.  Francois & the Atlas Mountains were very good, awesomely energetic (if cheesy) presence on stage.  I gather their album is getting a fair bit of attention now – I think they’ll be becoming rather successful.  This gig was my first of the HMV “Next Big Thing” series – so I was a little surprised that Eugene McGuinness was only on stage for 30 minutes – but I suspect he was expecting an encore chant which just didn’t happen.  I also discovered throughout the week that the whole series was scheduled for short sets – providing exposure for as many bands as possible.  But yeah – Eugene was short but good, perhaps a little overly happy with himself… but that’s often a prerequisite for a good entertainer.

Saturday 04th – Roots Manuva.  I took Dom along to the Roundhouse, where we spent most of the evening sitting in the Member’s Bar.  Really good show, if I couldn’t recognise the majority of the songs – even those I know – followed by my introduction into being one of those people outside venues handing out flyers.  Dom & I stood in the snow, handing out flyers for Rough Beats.  Little Nick had once told me about his experience handing out cards outside a tube station – and how the way people react to you just makes you feel like scum.  I now know exactly what he meant.  A few people would give seemingly genuine and enthusiastic thanks for being handed information on an event they would very likely enjoy – but most people do just look at you with unconcealed contempt.  To be fair – I generally tend to not accept flyers, as I believe the resources are a waste – but I will certainly now make an effort to be at least polite when I do refuse them.  Anyway, I found that by saying the word “festival” over and over, more people were likely to take one.  Eventually Dom gave into sensible misgivings about standing in the snow – and we headed off.  And stopped off at a pub for “just one or two drinks, and to say hello” – where Tony’s girlfriend was having a birthday party.  Several hours, a couple of breakdance moves, and much vino tinto later – we left.  To find queues of people for taxi companies.  So – we headed off in our respective directions, in drunken attempts to walk home.  In the snow.  Did I mention drunken?  My walk must have been at least an hour – never really sure where I was.  At one point I brought up a map on my phone – and stood there for ten minutes comparing the map in my hand – to the intersection I was standing at.  I could read the street names, I had a map, I knew that I was very good at interpreting such information and comparing to a map – but I just could not convince my brain to do what it was supposed to do.  And while I was trying to make sense out of all of this – it was still snowing – making my phone do random things as snowflakes landed on the screen.  All very confusing – but I eventually made it home, without once falling over, and somehow managing to buy grapefruit juice on the way.  Also cigarettes, strangely, but at least I didn’t fall over.

So – Sunday the 05th arrives, and I’m very hungover.  So hungover I only barely manage to convince myself to leave the house to head to the Jazz Cafe – for Juan ZeladaJulian OverdenMiss 600, and Kristyna Myles.  Kristyna was good – and offered me my first opportunity to be a “Rough Beats Ambassador“.  Sidling up to an attractive young songstress and handing her a business card for a potential gig made me reconsider my career choice, as being a talent scout really does rock.  And I was given the chance to confirm this impression with the next act – 21 year old (to the day) young lady Miss 600 – also rather good.  Although – I might have failed to sidle up to that particular attractive young lady, it was a while ago now.  Next up was Julian Overden – not an attractive young lady at all.  Rather, a very happy-with-himself crooner, seemingly angling to sing the next James Bond theme.  But very talented, although singing mostly (only?) covers – very good stage presence.  And finally – Juan Zelada, who also had very good stage presence – although where Julian was smug fake charm, Juan seemed more genuinely happily charismatic.  Anyway – another very talented chap – another Ambassador card given away, and I lurched home to try and get some sleep.

Monday 06th – a day of bluffing my way through a workday, and then heading to Borderline for Charlene SoraiaKatzenjammer, & Sweet Billy Pilgrim.  Charlene was another young attractive songstress – but also slightly crazy.  Some nice songs, interspersed with the musings of a crazy lady.  Cool.  Katzenjammer – are apparently Norwegian.  I initially wondered if this was a fake gimmick, but apparently it might be true.  Anyway – very good, and provided me with some young scandinavian ladies to present myself to, and pretend to be a talent scout.  And that’s always a good thing.  Anyway – good show, crazy talented, crazy instruments, and crazy swapping between instruments just to show off.  And then, for full juxtapositional effect, Sweet Billy Pilgrim – far from quirky/crazy.. instead very mellow but lovely tunes.

Tuesday 07th – back to Borderline… Fossil CollectiveGeneral Fiasco, & Little Comets.  Just a night of indie rock followed by indie rock followed by indie rock.  Little to no juxtaposition here.

Wednesday 08th – the barmaids at Borderline, starting to wonder if they recognised me the previous night – are now sure.  I’m that weird guy who’s stood at the end of the bar drinking red wine for 3 nights in a row.  At least I no longer need to order drinks – I just nod my head, and get my drink.  Anyway – Rae MorrisThe Staves, & Lianne Le Havas.  Rae Morris – big ’80s hair, awesome voice, little casio keyboard, and oozing humility.  Talked about how it was the first time she had a ‘room backstage’, with the flowers and the food and stuff – and how her family was loving it.  Pretty cool to see somebody just fully appreciating what might be their big break – but looking at it from that point-of-view.  And she could sing.  The Staves – three sisters (I think/assume), so that took my tally of attractive young ladies I could legitimately approach that night up to 4.  The sisters could also sing, rather well.  And then Lianne Le Havas.  Could she sing?  Oh hell yes.  The first (and only, I think?) encore I saw throughout the Next Big Thing series.  And yeah – a very very talented young lady, with all the elements which should result in big things.

Thursday 09th – I didn’t go to the Borderline, or in fact the Next Big Thing series.  Instead, I went to a little place known as Ally Pally, to see a little band known as the Black Keys.  With 4 spare tickets in my pocket – which I’d paid a lot of money, and spent a lot of time and hassle to get – going to waste.  I’d actually had to travel up to the UPS depot in Kentish Town, that morning, to get the 4 tickets I’d bought via the official scalping channels for double face-price.  And then it turned out I didn’t use any of them – instead only needing the one ticket I’d swapped with Jess for the following night’s performance, as everybody who’d wanted Thursday tickets pulled out.  On the plus side, it meant I got to go by myself, and therefore just be my normal lazy gig-going self, standing at the back where people were less likely to annoy me.  And yep, good gig.  Support act was Band of Skulls – who were very loud – and who I once again thought proved that their album has had a lot of excellent production work put into it.  And the Black Keys.  I had huge expectations after their sublime gig a couple of years ago.  And although this night didn’t live up to those expectations – that is only because of how ridiculously high those expectations were.  Just a great show – a stage show based around simplicity itself, but just cool as shit.  Pretty much a perfect fit for the music, in other words.  Another snowfall came down while the gig was on, making the scene of thousands of people leaving Alexandra Palace, and streaming down the hill or queueing for courtesy buses just that little bit more bizarrely picturesque, and uncomfortably cold.

Friday 10th – sure, why not, let’s head back up to Ally Pally. Black Keys again – and no regret whatsoever regarding seeing that show twice in a row.  Tonight I had Jess, Caro&Dom with me to encourage me to actually put some effort into standing somewhere mid-crowd, rather than sulking like a hermit at the back.  It also made me listen to it as if I was new to the music – as Caro&Dom had not really listened to the Black Keys prior to this.  And listening to it through intentionally unaware ears, the guys really do sound very loud, raw, and ‘bogan’ live.  Listening to the youtube clips – that confirms my impression.  And both Caro & Dom did make remarks to that effect.  But this is the same band which I wasn’t sure about playing at work because it might be construed as too “boring”.  Anyway – point is – if you haven’t heard the Black Keys – you should.  And do not be put off by how they sound in any live videos – the albums are perfect.  Listen to them.  Buy them.  Do it.  But back to this gig – identical to Thursday in every way – down to setlist, as far as I could tell.  Which all adds up to good.  Great simple light show throughout the set – with the same mirrorball from last time suddenly making an appearance for Everlasting Light for the encore (it was spctacular at Brixton Academy, in Ally Pally – awesome), followed by a rather spectacular finale.  (The sound is crap in that last clip – but the visuals are there.  The crowd absolutely erupted during that sequence – just an overall feeling of awe).  After that gig, the four of us took a shortcut through the park through the snow – an option which none of the several thousand other people selected.  We found a deserted pub, had a couple of drinks – back to Caro&Dom’s for a final drink – then called it a night.  Not really sure how I stayed awake that long.

Saturday 11th – another big-name event, another big-name venue.  Off to the terrible shopping mall which is the O2 Arena (the Venue Formerly Known As The Millenium Dome) – to see Snow Patrol.  I’m not sure what it is, other than my leftist (if not communist) leanings, which urges me to dislike an act as soon as I find out they’re playing at the O2.  Or maybe it’s just my hidden (not-so-hidden?) hipster side fighting against supporting anything which is popular.  Or – maybe it’s just that as soon as a song is played on any television show based around a self-centred but quirky “strong-but-vulnerable” female character – I struggle to support that band any more.  It’s not rational, I know.  The bands need money.  Ally McBeal and Meredith Grey (yep – bothered to look that up) need hip up-and-coming bands to provide soundtracks to their lives.  It’s win-win.  But oh – I despair to think of all those talented musicians all of a sudden becoming popular and making money because of those terrible culturally and morally parasitic and narcissistic shows.  Hmmm… nearly ranting there.  Right – Snow Patrol.  First act – A Plastic Rose – apparently some unknown act who some guy from Snow Patrol saw in Dublin or somewhere, and invited to support them at the O2.  And they did rather well, despite techie problems meaning they played their first song with a silent bass guitar.  Which is kinda nice.  Well done Snow Patrol.  Then Everything Everything – who are just quirky and different enough (ie: original), along with talent, to probably do rather well.  Good set from them.  Then Snow Patrol.  I was still fighting my irrational urges to dislike them, despite knowing in my head they are actually rather good, just maybe too accessibly good for their own good.  And the first few songs – I felt myself succumbing to the “meh – yeah, just typical mainstream crap now”.  But mostly because I’d had such high expectations built for a stage presence.  If the Black Keys could do that, with a limited budget – then these guys, in the O2, with a huge budget, should come up with something more than lasers and spotlights.  Rather unfair – as not everybody can come up with something thoughtfully original as a stage show.  But then all of a sudden I noticed a couple of pieces of the lighting rig being slowly lowered down to hover above the stage.  Then the chap sang a duet with some lady, and their faces were shown, one each, on two pieces of oddly shaped video screens which were the pieces which had descended.  And I got a little more interested in the whole thing.  Those strangely shaped video screens started making more and more appearances – until I finally figured out there were six of them, and that when put together they formed a snowflake.  And yeah, once I figured out they’d actually put some effort into the meaningless stuff, like the stage show, I enjoyed the show quite a bit.  It helped having a great seat – at the front of a section, so I could remain lazily seated while everybody else stood to chant out lyrics in some effort to prove that they know the words to a ridiculously popular song – but still retain a view of the stage.  Hmmm – am I sounding grumpy-old-man much?  To make up for that – here’s a cutesy little moment of crowd interaction from Snow Patrol.

And then it was the final day of this gig binge – Sunday 12th.  Back to the Jazz Cafe, back to the HMV Next Big Thing series.  Liam BlakeSam Brookes, & Jake Morley.  Liam Blake – nice indie-folk, maybe?  Gypsy folk?  Sam Brookes – similar, but with some young ladies accompanying him to prod me back into talent-scout mode.  And finally, Jake Morley – very nice – perhaps being held back by a resemblance to Jack Johnson.  But good music – and should do well.

And then a day without a gig.  Training course during the day – but nothing in the evening.  Bliss.  Dinner and wine in the bath with trash television playing on the laptop.  And another day of the same.  Although Jess tried to talk me into going to a gig – I really just couldn’t.  Wednesday I believe was some kind of non-gig-related drinks for some reason?

Thursday 16th – a thoroughly frustrating day of work, dragging (pointlessly) into the evening – before I had to head west, to Shepherd’s Bush for M83.  Good gig.  Nice happy music.  A nice way to wind down from that exhausting two weeks of gigs.  And now – nothing until Friday.  Except last night’s binge-drink session for workmate’s birthday.

Warm-up Gigs

So, a few gigs over the last week or two – warming up to what is about to be a marathon of them.
First off – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at the Hackney Empire.  There had been a company meeting, followed by some drinks (including whisky tasting) earlier in the evening – and when I arrived at the venue, I was feeling very… sluggish. I arrived as some frenchman was begging to be allowed in, or to buy a ticket, or anything. I had a spare – so gave it to the poor chap. Then discovered my ticket was for the upper balconies. I made my way up hurriedly (being slightly late) – and discovered I was indeed rather high up – so much so that my blurry tired eyes really struggled to focus on what was going on. But I could hear well enough – and to be honest, the man is not exactly easy on the eyes – so probably better that I couldn’t see him properly. So I found myself a spot leaning on a railing, and listened to some indie-folk. And yeah – decent gig. Good music, not much more to say.

Two days later – another guy with a ‘nickname’… Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry at the Jazz Cafe.  And again, too tired to enjoy it properly – with my thoughts running distractedly over things like how many people in the crowd looked/acted like their mothers did drugs while pregnant.  At one point, a chap I’d picked earlier as almost certainly a dealer – pushed me aside at the bar – then looked at me, and said “Sorry – I’m a c*$%.”  Without thinking, I immediately responded simply “I know.”  He laughed, and there was no “shankin’”.  Anyway – I describe that mostly to relate how distracted I was at the gig – even though it was good.  I find myself doing that at all gigs now – I’m absorbed for the first couple of songs, then the mind starts wandering.  The wine?  A 21st century attention span?  Old age?  Dementia?  I don’t know.  Although the only video I can find of ‘the Upsetter’ is of terrible quality – it really was quite a good gig.

I had the weekend off – and tried to use it to get back into some kind of routine, do some housekeeping, and catch up on sleep – with one eye on the upcoming ridiculous schedule of gigs and work.  I half-succeeded with pretty much all of that.  Except the sleep – which I nearly accomplished, and then dashed all the good work by staying up until 4am Monday morning – doing nothing but reading and a terrible cycle of “another wee dram before bed”.

On the Tuesday, it was my wee sister’s birthday.  I stayed up on the Monday night in order to give her a call – then realised the time difference is currently actually 13 hours, or 11 hours, or something – so I could have called much earlier than I did.  And when I did – I only got voicemail anyways.  Tuesday night, her birthday in local time – I celebrated the way I know she would have wanted (or maybe not).  By seeing some classic hip-hop.  GZA – in the rather small Islington Academy.  He was rather good – much better than the gig with the rest of the Clan.  Red wine and Wu-Tang – classic.  There’s a series of videos from the event here – 123, & 4 – but they seem to be taken from the mezzanine, and focused on the DJ rather than the rapper.  (For some shimmy shimmy ya action – start of clip 3.  In clip 4, I’m in that crowd somewhere, near the top of the screen – and no, I’m not one of the people bouncing the W symbol.)

I then had a night off (which actually turned into tapas and drinks with workmates) – and then last night was the first night in a schedule I’m really starting to regret.  11 nights in a row of gigs (although last night was not strictly a gig).  And looking at my calendar – that is followed by a 3 day training course, and then another gig.  And during that 11-day marathon – I will be be spending a week on-site at a new client, where my full wits (and patience) will be required.

But to get it out of the way – last night’s not-strictly-a-gig.  The Long Count.  Ummm… not sure how to describe it.  So I’ll plagarise:

Acclaimed rock band The National’s twin brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner conceived The Long Count in collaboration with video artist Matthew Ritchie as a multimedia concert, which explores the ‘time before time’; the indivisible moment before creation is expressed.
Inspired by the ‘hero twins’ of the Mayan creation myth contained in the Popol Vuh – of which the Long Count calendar is an important part – the show presents a mythical song cycle of subtly interweaving guitars, solemn a capella, layered sound structures and scintillating rock.
The Dessners team up with a 12-strong ensemble featuring members of the Heritage Orchestra, surrounded by an impressive installation designed by Ritchie, and singers/performers Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and Kelley Deal (The Breeders), plus special guest Tunde Adebimpe (TV On The Radio).

Yeah – so it was that.  I didn’t really know what to expect – but I think that the NY times summed it up the best:

The multimedia orchestral-rock song cycle “The Long Count” is theoretically about the prehistory of time, ballgames and twins. Practically, it’s about a semipopular indie-rock band with some contemporary classical-music experience not embarrassing itself in a multimedia commission with an extremely convoluted theme and text. The practical part is what you want to focus on.

Unfortunately, I was so tired that after the initial bemusement wore off, and the wine and very comfy/roomy seats took effect – I actually dozed off a few times.  This despite the fact the entire show was only a little over an hour long.  But it was pretty good.  That NY Times review really does get it right – they “didn’t embarass themselves” – which isn’t gushing praise, but in such a concept – it’s pretty good.  A lot of the crowd left very confused – I think they’d just read “The National” in the description and thought they were going to see some side-project gig.  And then got confronted with all this artsy theatre buuuulllshit (here’s the ‘trailer‘).  Me – quite pleased I went, slightly upset I was unable to appreciate the whole thing – and struggled to follow what (if any?) narrative there was – but I probably should have read up on the subject material beforehand.