Live review: Woods at Bush Hall


Photo by Tim Ferguson

Woods @ Bush Hall, 13/03/2011

Bush Hall is a strange place for indie rock gigs. Its plush carpets, elegant chandeliers and tasteful lighting are a startling change from the usual London circuit of darkened basements and the upstairs rooms of pubs. But that’s OK, because Woods don’t really play indie rock, and Bush Hall suited them suprisingly well. Walking in there feels like travelling back in time to an era when bands used to play concerts rather than gigs, when someone like Bob Dylan on his first electric tour could take his confrontational show to the Royal Albert Hall. In fact, the whole gig felt musically and atmospherically like we’d been transplanted back about 40 years (with the exception of the 95% check-shirted crowd). All three of the bands playing are steeped in musical tradition, managing to escape their influences to more or less exciting effect.

For the two support bands, The Doozer (shit name) and Spectrals (better name), everybody stayed sitting down around the sides of the room. That might seem a bit dispiriting for the bands, but The Doozer played the gig sitting down anyway (also in the slightly bizarre combination of smart shirt/v-neck jumper and tracksuit bottoms). Idiosyncratically English-sounding folk rock, with just electric guitar and bass, they were inoffensive enough, but equally there’s nothing particularly interesting either: the overall effect was of a band who’ve listened to a few too many Steeleye Span records and don’t really have the songs to do much interesting of their own at the moment. I wasn’t really sure why they’d be touring with Woods, but it was made clearer later when the bassist reappeared to play drums with the headliners on a few songs.

I saw Spectrals a couple of weeks ago supporting the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, when they were pretty much ruined by awful sound (they seem to be the current go-to support band for touring mid-level American indie bands). This time they were much better, and their woozy, deeply 60s-influenced pop songs came across well. They combine classic song structures with warped-tape guitars and reverbed-out vocals, which a lot of bands are doing at the moment, but I get the feeling it’s not quite there yet song-wise. They’re still a young band though, and I wonder if pretty soon they might start to really write great songs to go with the arrangements, which are good. Apparently Louis Jones, who pretty much is the band on record, just finished self-recording an album, and the songs he played from it sounded interesting, so I’ll reserve judgement until I hear that.

I suppose in a way that’s what Woods do too, combining songs which could have been written in the first summer of psychedelia with tape effects and home recording. But the way they pull it off is much more fully realised, creating a whole aesthetic with their cover art and self-run record label as well as with the music. There’s also the fact that Jeremy Earl, guitarist and songwriter, can really sing, a high keening falsetto which sounds like no-one in modern music as much as it does Richard Manuel of The Band. In fact, The Band as of about 1967 is the comparison that really leaps to mind with Woods in their more song-based phases: the frantic, brittle guitar solos on latest album highlight (and one of the best songs of the gig) ‘Blood Dries Darker’ could easily have been played by Robbie Robertson, and the overlapping harmony vocals work together like Manuel’s with Rick Danko. The whole way they approach performing live, too, feels like a basement jam session: instruments are swapped, people come onstage to play a few songs before leaving, arrangements are worked out on the fly (I’m pretty sure from the way he was talking to the guitarist that the drummer had never played the encore song before). But they manage to pull it off with such stylistic coherence that it never gets self-indulgent.

More so than either of the other bands playing (which I guess is what you want from headliners) Woods manage to actually engage with musical tradition, and add their own spin to the classic sounds they borrow. A lot of that’s due to tape operator G Lucas Crane, who fleshed out the sparse arrangements with subtle loops and harmony vocals, getting his fuzzy, tinny vocal tone by singing through one ear of the pair of headphones which he wears over his face like a mask. Only a couple of times the noise really made itself felt, invading the songs and twisting them out of shape, but it didn’t need to. Mostly this gig was Woods in pastoral acoustic mode, concentrating the crowd’s attention on Earl’s guitar and voice. Live, stripped of some of the sound collages and tape hiss which colour their records, they sounded more open and sunny, which favoured the more poppy end of their songs (‘Suffering Season’, also from the most recent album At Echo Lake, was another highlight). It’s a shame to miss some of the darker and more mysterious elements of the sound (although they did play the long psych jam ‘September with Pete’), but it worked well live.

Walking out of the venue at the end into the cold streets of Shepherd’s Bush felt slightly strange, like being pulled back into the present from the timeless and comfortable cocoon Woods create. But for that hour, you could forget you were in London in March and get lost in their atmospherics. And isn’t that enough from a pop band?

Edwin Shaw

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Live Review: Alexander at CAMP Basement, 15th February 2011

Having had a few typically unproductive reading week days to stew over Alex Ebert and his troupe of bearded men, or Alexander, I still can’t work out what exactly happened. The gig was disorganised, interesting, enjoyable, and ultimately a mess.

I guess I could start with the venue. Mildew and exposed pipes aside, the pub-come-creepy-basement-cellar did exude some sort of charm. It seemed the kind of place to come across a little known band, where the small dingy basement would add to the feeling of exclusivity of your discovery of said band. And true enough, it did do that… for the openers The Shute. With an element of grunge perfectly suited to the room, they managed to overcome the biggest challenge to support acts and actually capture the attention of the crowd. Though I can’t tell you what any of their songs were about due to a profoundly poor sound system, there was an eerie, captivating quality about the lead singer’s voice, which I have to assume was paired with fittingly mysterious lyrics.

Off to a good start, I had high hopes for the main act. Admittedly, all I knew about Alexander was that singer Alex Ebert had had previous success with the fun family of folk that is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I suppose what I expected was some easy listening American style folk, or sounds in a similar vein. This being a band with which Ebert created such emotive lines as, ”Nobody better pinch me, bitch I swear I’ll go crazy.” It was a shame the speakers didn’t clear up for the headline act. The set did start out well, with opening reggae-jazz number ‘Awake My Body’ getting the audience in high spirits, and ‘A Million Years’ showcasing some impressive whistling no doubt harnessed during his Edward Sharpe days. Silly and unnecessary hat aside, Alexander had a strong stage presence and blue grey eyes you couldn’t help but stare into.

The night, however, soon spiralled into chaos. It began with the failure of one of the guitars, which left the band an instrument short. Seemingly pointless pleas to the crowd for a spare following the disappearance of all members and instruments of The Shute were to no avail, and saw Alexander trying to excuse the mishap by arguing it was only his “second ever gig” in this line-up. It was during crowd favourite ‘Truth’ that the first of two restarts occurred, when the audience stopped the band because a man had fainted, not because they had found a spare guitar as Ebert had hoped. The man soon got up, and embarrassingly made his way towards the exit. The second restart happened when Alex stopped playing, saying the song would “sound shit” if they didn’t do it over. After changing nothing, it appeared it was not so much the way they were playing but the song itself that needed a rethink. The pathetic promise to “try [his] best to get through the set” left you with the feeling that there should have been a bit more practise before they started charging £7 to watch them epically crash. A guitar washing up on stage in time for the last song didn’t do enough to salvage the night. In fact it only helped to emphasise the fact that the band was incomplete for most of the time. Though upbeat songs like ‘In the Twilight’ momentarily got the crowd back on his side, it didn’t do enough for the long-term.

Overall, the music was good, but I would suggest giving Alexander some time before seeing him live.

Aimee Wang

Live Review: Funeral Party at Cargo, 10th February

There is often an energy to live music unattainable even by air guitar-ing to iTunes with your bedroom curtains closed. However only on the rarest of nights, at a hipster’s paradise known as Cargo, does a band unapologetically blow you away and degenerate your highest quality mp3 of their latest album one song at a time. From now on, whenever the first few beats of ‘Just Because’ begin to play, they will only sound flat and second rate in contrast to the fibrillated chords Funeral Party smashed out for their encore.

Chad Elliot’s (Vocals, Samples and Keyboards) voice is unfaltering, whether he is artistically positioning himself on speakers, parading the microphone stand like a trophy, or being taken off-guard by the guitarist adding in a (drunken?) diversion from the original melody. From his first step on stage Chad was casually confident. Too cool in his leather jacket, moustache combo, to acknowledge the other members standing beside him, let alone the gathering of fans before him. Tambourine in hand, Funeral Party broke open their set list, dragging the crowd into a sweaty whirlpool of moshing in less than a song.

Once bored of the speakers, tambourine, microphone- stand, lead and all- he moved to his keyboard for a dramatic instrumental, undeterred by Kimo Kauhola (bass) blocking our view. His new toy was his only audience, the one thing that could humour him in that moment.  Kimo was less blasé in the face of the spotlight. He amped up his performance to welcome our newly gained, although inadvertent, attention- only turning to take tabs on Chad’s whereabouts, presumably in fear that when the novelty wore off the keyboard, he would make a move for his bass.

The night was hardly insightful into the psyche of Funeral Party; there were no conversational interludes, throw-away banter or even introductions between the numbers, which was made more noticeable by the intimate 300 guest capacity. The few words said- over the prolonged, anticipatory introduction to ‘Finale’- were only to advertise upcoming tour dates around London.

But did this attitude put any of us off (as much as being charged £6.50 for a glass of wine)? To be honest, it probably gave momentum to the energetic atmosphere of the night, bypassing any awkward chit-chat and moshers left stranded in silence. And Chad was sure to prove his love to us by showering us in beer at the height of ‘Chalice’.

The crowd itself was not the young, indie Londoners that presumably account for many of their Youtube views. City men who had apparently been at the pub all day, with a week’s worth of energy waiting to be unleashed against each other and anyone in the circumference, hogged the floor.

Ultimately the Funeral Party experience is finding yourself in a sweaty high, an hour in the future, with no idea where the time went and why there is beer all down your tights. Is this an experience you would necessarily want? Well, it’s highly addictive. The morning after my night at Cargo, I booked to see them at Heaven in May!

Miranda Robbins

Live Review: Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards ft. James Blake, Flying Lotus, Mount Kimbie

It’s one of those days where I’m running late for everything, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve just arrived at the door with Thom Yorke. I can tell it’s going to be an excellent night.

I pick up my complementary Mojito (something Koko should offer more frequently) and move down to the main hall to investigate the minimal techno the DJ has chosen at such an early hour of the night. It turns out not to be a DJ at all, but the band I’ve always dreamed of seeing. Brandt Brauer Frick stand austere upon the stage, delicately layering up a blend of time signatures in a percussion epiphany. A classic Jazz chord progression filters through from the piano of Paul Frick; this is minimal with Steve Reich intelligence.

A pleasant mix of swing and hip hop is spun as the stage is rearranged for the next showcase: London-grown four piece United Vibrations. Hard-packed drums hit out an Afro beat with a two-piece horn section that calls upon Sun Ra‘s spirit. A fast pace bass line brings a sense of urgency to the floor as the group bellow their chant lines for opening number ‘No Space No Time’ in thick London accents. After a promising beginning the group invited a tuneless New York MC on to stage, his terrible dancing sadly taking the punch out of this exciting young band.
Another pleasant DJ set led onto Giles Peterson‘s first appearance of the night, as he introduced a very special collaboration of Kieran Hebden (AKA Four Tet) and RocketNumberNine. This really was a showcase of how experimental electronic music should be done, with Hebden attacking his sample pad as if it were a grand piano and Ben Page casually subjecting the audience to the most almighty of bass frequencies. It’s the deeply cool rhythm of Tom Page that provides the atmosphere, building the tension with sweeping cymbals and haunting rimshots, then dipping into understated breakbeat to the pleasure of the crowd. The set flowed together seamlessly, and there was much disappointment when the trio left the stage after only 20 minutes.

Next was the awards part of the night, presented by Giles. As the nominations were read out it was as if the crowd were choosing the winners, with overwhelming applause at the mention of names such as Flying Lotus, James Blake and Hot Flush records. A young James Blake sheepishly towered over Giles as he accepted his award for Single of the Year, ‘CMYK’ (R&S), somewhat naively thanking “anyone who bought the record, cd, downloaded it, ripped off a mix…it’s all the same, just as long as people are listening…” Flying Lotus showed his love for London as Thom Yorke presented him with Album of the Year (shortly after he had received Session of the Year), hinting at the possibility of an appearance later on in the night. Finally the John Peel Play More Jazz Award was presented in spectacular fashion to ex-Special and Two Tone founder Jerry Dammers. Giles paid a sincere tribute, with DJ Lefto appropriately dropping some of Jerry’s greatest hits ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Free Nelson Mandela’. Dammers latest project, the Spatial AKA then assembled amongst the crowd in a procession and made their way to the stage playing a tribute to Captain Beefheart, which then blended to Sun Ra’s ‘Space Is The Place’, before Jerry eventually accepted the award and led the procession back through the crowd and out of sight. Throughout the awards process Giles had kept humbly cool never seen on television award shows, as he seemed just as excited to hear the music as anybody else. Nonetheless there was no impatient chatter; enormous respect was paid whenever he spoke; a testimony to both his influential reach and ability to draw such a pleasant crowd.

Arguably the most anticipated performance of the night was soothed in by a stark vocoder; perhaps not what everybody had expected from rising post-dubstep pioneer James Blake. His set was composed entirely of material from the forthcoming album, much of which had been unheard before. Each track was rich in the same delicate emotion portrayed in his popular Feist cover ‘Limit To Your Love’, some more so than others. By the second song the tension Blake was holding on the crowd split somehow, and eventually it almost became a strain to listen as the audience descended into small conversation, albiet mostly about how great they thought their entertainer was. Closing numbers ‘Wilhelm Scream’ and ‘Limit to Your Love’ retained his grasp with an air of familiarity, particular gratitude paid towards the tremendous bare bass of the latter.

I had read Tom Riste-Smith’s review of Flying Lotus live at this same venue back in October, and got the impression the performance didn’t quite live up to his albums. So as he strides unannounced towards a single laptop center stage, I’m considering navigating my way to the bar. But his smile was radiating his excitement so strongly I stayed, to be completely blown away. He blesses the crowd as a grid-like animation is generated behind him before everything is swamped in a whir of hip hop synth lines and acsending drum breaks. Everyone is fully aware that this spontaneous performance is going to be a short one, and so each scene is treated as if it’ll be the last, the result being a complete saturation of energy. Seamlessly he wove in well known hooks from his back catalogue, rearranging them into new experiences whilst dedicating space to his heroes, with J Dilla tracks and Alice Coltrane dedications. Thom Yorke looked down from the balcony, dancing approvingly. After 20 minutes a man approched FlyLo from behind and whispered in his ear. He paused to speak into the mic: “Oh shit, I only got another ten minutes!” as he dropped back into a supercharged version of ‘Kill Your Co-Workers’. Cutting half through a build up to continue his annoucement, he added: “Nah I’m just fucking with y’all!”, and continued for a further 20 minutes.

It wasn’t going to be easy for Mount Kimbie to follow up an act as loved and energetic as Flying Lotus, but a boost to the low frequencies and a darkly lit stage readjusted the atmosphere fittingly for their breed of claustrophobic South East dub. Gliding keys and eerie soulful vocals made a calm equilibrium with the glitchy off-beat drum sequencing; it was coming to that time of morning when dancing only requires hand and shoulder movements and you can open and close your eyes as you please. The set was a continuous flow of material from debut album Crooks and Lovers [Hot Flush 2010], with heavier dance elements added in places as the pair showcased the fluid motion of their live environment, demonstrating their ability to reconstruct their material in a spontaneous fashion. The set was closed with the pre album track ‘Maybes’, with James Blake appearing to lend his voice to his former bandmates.

After a deep set from Nihal, an excitable Cubic Zirconia entered; one of Giles most hotly-tipped new acts. A carnival-esque live section with a housey dance vibe sat on the backbeat whilst the front was taken care of by an energetic girl with her mic, whistle and high heels. The night was played out by a chilled Michel Cleis, bringing the 7 hour show to the end.

Reflections on the show say that Flying Lotus stole it; but despite being an awards ceremony this night was not about competition in any way, and every artist was as warmly received as the other, such were the friendly feelings amongst the crowd. Giles Peterson is someone I’m going to make much greater effort to listen to in the future, and I will eagerly anticipate next year’s show.

The winners and nominations were:

Track of the Year
**James Blake – CMYK (R&S)**
Jay Electronica – Exhibit C (Decon)
Quest – Smooth Skin (Deep Medi Musik)
Cee Lo – I Want You (Demo Version)
Jamie Woon – Night Air (Cadent Songs)

Session of the Year
Mount Kimbie
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
**Flying Lotus**
Matthew Halsall
Andreya Triana

Album of the Year
**Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)**
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two (The Return Of The Ankh) (Universal Motown)
Fourtet – There Is Love In You (Domino)
Darkstar – Gold (Hyperdub)
Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here (XL)

Jazz Album Of The Year
**Jyoti – Ocotea (SomeOthaShip)**
Esperanza Spalding – Chamber Music Society (Heads Up)
Miguel Atwood Ferguson – Mochilla Presents Timeless : Suite For Ma Dukes (Mochilla)
Finn Peters – Music Of The Mind (Mantella)
Nick Rosen – Into The Sky (Porter Records)

Label Of The Year
**Hot Flush**
Warp
One Handed Music
Jazzman
Analog Africa

John Peel Play More Jazz Award
Jerry Dammers

Roger Stabbins

Live Review: J. Cole at Koko, January 9th 2011

Hype is a dangerous thing. The first act signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint, J. Cole (née Jermaine Lamarr Cole) shouldered the hopes and expectations of one of the biggest names in the business, stepping out onto a gilded platform large enough to launch any talent; Mr. Beyoncé didn’t join the label business to shore up half-baked rappers, however. If the signing of young Willow Smith wasn’t proof enough, J. Cole’s lyrical smarts are the confirmation.

Since being signed, his journey has taken an unusual turn. Cole’s rise has been anything but textbook; four years and three mixtapes into his career, there is no official date set for the release of his mysterious debut album. High profile cameos continue, whilst supporting tours roll on (this date coming amidst a European jaunt supporting Drake, the last major rap breakthrough).

Cole is anything but anonymous, however; for this, his first major bow in the UK, he played to a sold out Koko, full to its 1500 capacity. The crowd intensified during DJ Semtex’ warm-up set, bouncing jeers from the vaulted ceilings during Nicki Minaj’s verses, or brap’ing to Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Pow’.

The OG crowd were hard-core, delivering a less than warm welcome for support act Maxsta, who turned in a sub-par performance that only accentuated the divide in quality between the some of the UK’s grime MCs and a man who is ostensibly one of US rap’s best lyricists. He also had numerous hype-men, a notable (and welcome) omission during J. Cole’s set.

Prefacing the main event, Cole spoke at length about the importance of all the fans who were ahead of the curve, and there to see him alone. He returned the favour; for a rap show, the set-list stretched for a lengthy 90 minutes, taking in the best of his material from mixtapes The Come Up, The Warm Up and most recently, Friday Night Lights. The remainder of the set was fleshed out with his best featuring spots to date.

Little is known about the album, beyond the fact that Cole has been taking production duties into his own hands (as he always has done). The closest he got to this at Koko was a brief stint working the keys for ‘Lights Please’. For the remainder of the set, backing duties were left to two keyboard players and DJ Beat, who had their moment during a beat-juggling breakdown.

These skills, alongside an understated singing ability, make him a triple threat; the only thing lacking was a freestyle section, but a minute of digging on YouTube provides the goods we are looking for. The innovations continued, stripping back to acapella for some of his best verses, or unleashing a Notorious B.I.G. ‘Hypnotize’ instrumental for the breakdown of ‘Who Dat’ – “So anything you can do, I can do better/And any chick you can screw, I can get wetter.”

Talking about his past on ‘Dollar And A Dream’, Cole bent the truth somewhat; concerning his move to New York City to follow his dream with “a single dollar to my name”, the truth says that the move was in fact supported by an academic scholarship at St. John’s University. Indeed, his early education in Fayetteville, North Carolina took place at one of America’s best high-schools. Cole is a scholar.

Semtex spoke about this being a “legendary” show in his introduction, as you would expect. That word does strike a chord, however; how many hip hop artists are able to sell out a large venue on alien territory, before releasing any material? Reaching out to the crowd for his encore, one line stood out: “Never say I’m better than Hov, but I’m the closest one“. If ‘Monster’ and ‘H.A.M.’ say anything about the aging fortunes of Jay-Z, one might say the pupil has outgrown the master.

Will Hines

Live Review: Gonjasufi at Rhythm Factory, December 9th 2010

Forget all that Josh Homme, Arctic Monkeys desert rock stuff; Gonjasufi is the desert, sand runs in his veins. How do I know this? Simple: He lives in a cave, in the Mojave Desert on the outskirts of LA, but he’s only ventured onto the strip once!

Ok so I made a bit of that up. He probably doesn’t live in a cave, but that’s the great thing about Gonjasufi and his story; it’s got just enough of the mad and the mystery to let your imagination run, and let’s face it who doesn’t like a good rock and roll legend? Legend in the fairy tale sense that is, I think I’ll save judgement on the legend status until after the show.

By the time I turned up the main room was packed, there was anticipation in the air. The kind of anticipation that only comes from an audience buzzing, in the knowledge that this is a one off; they are the chosen few who get to witness the special “Live Show”. On to the stage stepped a man, with a tape recorder no less. After a quick nod to the sound man he went into some elaborate mime work, praying to the crowd, a waft of frankincense wouldn’t have felt out of place. The tape started to play, bursting the sounds of ‘Bharatanatyam’, the album’s introduction. Right about now I’m thinking “this is special”. From there sadly I think the whole experience went downhill, what looked set to be a show deteriorated into essentially just a gig. That sounds like a strange thing to say, sure I can appreciate that, but the songs and the performance bore no relation to the album. The set-up, with bass, drums, guitar, tried to strip the songs back to a more rock orientated core, an odd decision possibly for an artist whose body of work is based more on hip-hop and African influences.

The set was all improvised intros and punk guitar riffs, the songs bearing no relation to their recorded counterparts. Let’s take a second here to look at a couple of ideas. The first is general, there is of course the school of thought that a song is never finished, that it’s always a work in progress evolving as its performer does, a recording being just a snapshot in time. Sounds good sure, but not for an artist who only has one barely toured album. The second is this: that in the case of Gonjasufi it’s the album which is a mis-representation of him, being over-produced by the likes of Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus. This is possibly alluded to in the album title; A Sufi and A Killer. Gonjasufi and Gaslamp Killer perhaps?

Right; now I’m going to lay it down, neither of these arguments holds with me. With just one album out – that album is the reason people are here – it’s that body of work that has gotten people interested in Gonjasufi, that’s gotten people to buy tickets and come down to the show, no one is here because they think “ahh Gonjasufi is back, I wonder what he’s up to?” Some artists are at that stage in their career, Gonjasufi may well be there himself in a few albums time, but my point is he’s not there yet!

There was quite a lot of crowd interaction throughout the gig, with Gonjasufi constantly asking what people wanted to hear, the resounding answer always ‘Cowboys and Indians’. Sadly what people were here to hear and experience as I’ve already mentioned didn’t seem to match up with what the band on the stage were there to play. In the same way as all the sounds and style that brought the crowd here were omitted from the set, so too was the song everyone was calling for. Why? Who knows?

The end of the set was a big improvement on the rest, the more interesting sounds came out and Gonjasufi’s undeniably incredible voice came to the fore, but it was too little too late. The whole thing seemed a bit self indulgent to me. Personally it wasn’t really what I wanted to see, I’m sure I’ve made that pretty clear, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Gonjasufi isn’t an artist you just stumble upon, for most people it takes years of accumulating musical tastes to appreciate his style, it’s not the kind of gig you see loads of sweaty teenagers at. The problem with that is that everyone in the room will have taken a different musical journey to get there. People like me who come at it from a more rock-based background can kind of appreciate it, but it definitely doesn’t work for everyone in the room.

There is a massive epidemic in music at the moment, which owes a lot to the 90’s dominance of guitar and rock bands, of a “live show” consisting of guitar, bass, drums et al. This is a lingering “tradition” that it appears that many of the new innovative artists coming through now appear to be struggling to work within. Until people start to have a serious re-think about what it can mean to be a “live show” reviews like this will continue to be written. Reviewers will continue to say that the gigs were ok, but just a bit dull. Gonjasufi is an interesting guy and for as long as he keeps producing interesting records I’ll keep listening, but until he can work out how to give people what they want live he has a big gaping hole in his arsenal.

Tom Riste-Smith

Live Review: Willard Grant Conspiracy at The Luminaire, November 23rd 2010

Benjamin Thomas is one of those people who, despite their perfect grasp of the English language, retain that pleasant characteristic twang of their home accent. In his case, Swedish. Making the trek from Crystal Palace, he delivered meat-and-potatoes blues to an attentive, if sparse, crowd. Excellent melodic guitar props up a raspy, at times powerful, voice. Bantering and explaining, gaily and honestly, between numbers, he was a perfect ice-breaker for the evening.

Willard Grant Conspiracy is an ever morphing collective based around Robert Fischer, the only permanent member. Fischer’s voice and stunning ability to deliver so accurately his intended nuances with such focus make Willard Grant Conspiracy the band they are. This was to be the penultimate date on their European tour, and the third of which I attended—this very fact says something. The tour brought Fischer and his long time collaborator David Curry around Europe.

The two seem to complement each other in an incredibly synergistic manner; a duo amounting to so much more than the sum of their parts. Fischer’s rock steady voice and strikingly natural playing provides such a solid skeleton on which Curry can place clothes (analogy thanks to their song ‘Clothes on the Skeleton’) of immense viola sounds, constantly varying and accommodating the band’s vocals, never overpowering, but always colouring in.

Fischer is a wonderfully human showman, narrating between certain songs as necessary with humour, whilst maintaining his air of intrigue. He is able to produce both gutsy power and intimate tone, with everything in between, in both his singing and his strumming. He is also very approachable, and was happy to have a chat before the show, when he is to be found somewhere or other, selling records.

The final song, marred only by a broken string (sorted heroically by Benjamin Thomas with the loan of his guitar) and tireless cretinism by a member of the audience, ‘The Ghost of the Girl in the Well’, was stunning. An already atmospheric song made spine shivering by Curry’s saw—have you ever heard a saw being played, or had any instrument send shivers down your spine with its haunting beauty? It’s incredible, and so are Willard Grant Conspiracy.

Owen Rickards

Live Review: Broken Social Scene and Tortoise at KOKO, November 16th 2010


Chicagoan post-rockers Tortoise have been around for nearly twenty years now and are often hailed as one of the forefathers of post-rock. Therefore it was somewhat odd to see them take to the stage at the ludicrously early time of 7.45pm; a side-effect of the promoters evidently thinking “you’re important enough to deserve a decent set-time, but not popular enough to take the headline slot.” Tortoise didn’t seem perturbed by the fact that they were on early and that the crowd was somewhat thin, this was probably because they were focused on their music. A purely-instrumental band of six members constantly switching instruments including guitar, bass, keyboard, electric xylophone and two drumkits, Tortoise showed their experience by professionally running through a set spanning their entire discography staying tighter than you may have thought possible. The sonic shifts were smooth and beautiful as the sweeping audio landscapes they create in the studio and bolstered here in the live setting. By the end the crowd was nearly full and everyone was intently and respectfully watching and listening to every graceful musical piece emerge and work its way into their ears. One shout from a crowd member of “you should be headlining” didn’t flatter the band.

Although Tortoise may have history on their side, it was evident from the moment that Broken Social Scene played their first chord why they were the headliners. I said it when I first saw them and tonight’s show only reinforced it: Broken Social Scene are the epitome of everything a live band should be. What I mean by this is that the band are tight, loud, clear, aware of what their audience want to hear, evidently excited to be there (even though this is the fifth time they’ve played in London in 2010), funny in their between-song talks, interesting to watch in their instrument-swapping madness, willing to play for two hours solid and don’t go off and back on again for an encore. Also, they bring horns on tour with them across the Atlantic, how many bands these days bother to do that? The band plays through a set consisting of all the best songs from newest album Forgiveness Rock Record, and plenty of fan favourites from their self-titled album and breakthrough album You Forgot It In People. In a set wherein each song could be picked as the highlight since every chorus soared, every crescendo was reached, maintained and perfected, and every riff scythed cleanly through the excited atmosphere, a special mention must go to ‘Superconnected’ and the mellowest moment of the night ‘Lover’s Spit’. The latter was begun by Kevin Drew solo on keyboard before slowly each of the other members joined in with their preferred choice of brass instrument.

The atmosphere was one of the most buoyant I’ve ever experienced and this general sense of bonhomie was summed up towards the end when Drew laid on his back on top of the audience to be crowd-surfed heroically from the stage to the back of the room and back again whilst accompanied by spacey-atmospheric rock and encouragement from his band-mates on stage. A true image of the connecting power of rock music if ever there was one. Upon returning to the stage Drew announced that the next song would be their last, only for them to go ahead and play three more.

If you missed Broken Social Scene this time around then that’s bad luck; the band announced that this would be the last time they’d play in London “for a very long time.” However the band will be back eventually and now that you’ve read this you’ve no excuse to miss them. If you’re not a fan of BSS on record don’t let that hold you back; I was never a huge fan of their recorded material but when it comes to their live act it’s a whole different matter. You will be converted, they have powers, they are after all a “super group”.

Rob Hakimian

Live Review: Trentemoller at The Roundhouse, October 24th 2010

It’s generally an accepted tradition for a show to open with the curtain drawing to reveal the performers. So it’s somewhat confusing, as the lights finally drop and smoke fills the Roundhouse, for a wall of ribbons to emerge from the floor accompanied by an eerie sea of synth, rising some 2 meters high and completely shielding the stage. Somewhere behind the screen the silhoutte of a beautiful woman draws a bow across a guitar, adding to the wash that’s drowning the audience. Slowly more figures can be made out between the thin stripes and the layers of sound build into Into the Great Wide Yonder‘s opener ‘Mash and the Fury’, beeps, whurrs, throbbing bass and all.

For those of you who don’t know Anders Trentemoller, let me fill you in. Breaking onto the House scene in 2003 with a series of internationally succesful EP’s, earning play by Radio One djs, serveral awards, and top ten ratings. Teamed up with a fellow DJ his live shows became legendary on the European club scene. He has since released two Long Play records of dark soundscapes and haunting rhythms, a distinct move away from the club mixes he became famous for. As a result tonight draws in an eclectic crowd: there are dubstep clubbers, hasbeen ravers, Lo-Fi trendies and middle-class art scenesters all present, a reflection of the expanse of his influence.

This gig is a part of a European support of his new album Into the Great Wide Yonder, and being a Trentemoller live virgin, one of the most exciting propects of this gig for me was to see how such a computer generated album can be reproduced live. Would it be a few people playing strictly in time to a backing track, or perhaps a complete revamp of each song? The opening suggested perhaps the former; all that stopped me falling into a trance for the opening scene was the nagging feeling in my mind that what I was hearing could have been coming straight off a CDJ, it was so perfect. As the intro reached it’s climax the screens were dropped to reveal the act, and to my astonishment it appeared every beat was being played straight from Henrik Vibsok’s drum kit as he manically flailed his arms in a way no human plays, accurately emulating a sequenced drum machine. The next question was how a conventional drum kit such as his could be making such haunting cliks and claks. It later transpires that deep within Trentemoller’s control desk is a mixer wired to the mic’s surrounding the kit, and he is apprently mixing the drums on the fly. Mixing is definitly the correct term here; his hands are primed on the controls as the build ups unfold and satisfaction radiates from his face as the bass drops, just as any DJ would.


There were times where you could have been forgiven to believe this was in fact one of Trentemoller’s famous club mixes; thumping four on the floor drum patterns, minimal percussion, a swathe of bass and some energetic effects, it could have been a night in underground Berlin. But shoegaze guitar stabs and emotive synth sweep breakdowns remind you that this music is also for listening too, and not purely dance material. Any other band trying a set that spanned so many feelings could have easily left the crowd wondering what to do with themselves in moments such as ‘Miss You’, which leaves Anders alone on the stage delicately tapping glockenspials and gentle percussion. But the Trentemoller crowd is totally hypnotised, and some of the largest gratitude is given at moments like these.

The first half of the set sees the band grow in numbers; when a song requires a vocalist a new member will appear on stage to sing, but after the song instead of waving the audience goodbye they will take a step back and turn their hand to another instrument for the rest of the set. One vocal highlight was Last Resort reworked track ‘Moan’, with Ane Trolle towering above the crowd stretching out in cat like shapes, and then breaking into unremorseful headbanging as Trentemoller slips in an arpegiated Moog solo that would bring James Murphy to his knees. Previously she had been lurking behind the drum kit, tending to a desk of chimes and drum machines for tracks like crowd-pleaser ‘Take Me Into Your Skin’, which teases the crowd with euphoric build-ups, under-stated electronica drops, a subtle Blue Monday tribute and all out breakbeat carnage.

I caught some of the crowd after the gig; some showed disappointment, reflecting on a more techno oriented “Live” set they had seen some years before, wishing this time he’d left the band at home. However, the majority knew that the Roundhouse isn’t the place to go for a wild night of dancing, and also knew that this tour was in support of an album far deeper than any DJ set could ever aspire to.

This has to be one of the most inpsiring and beautiful acts I have seen all year, and although it may be sometime before Trentemoller returns to England with this live set up, a chance to see any incarnation from this man should be completely unmissable.  (There’s currently a double LP pressing of Into The Great Wide Yonder in Sister Ray next to the Squarepusher section. Don’t even bother listening in store, just get it.)

Roger Stabbins


Live Review: Baths at CAMP Basement, November 15th 2010

D/R/U/G/S aren’t really a dance act at all. You can dance to them, and they use synthesizers and samplers, but they’re too progressive for that term. Their explorative electronica has its roots in house music, gradually shifting between phases and moods rather than stopping and starting completely different tracks. There are times when a hook will stand out, a beat will dominate the low-end or a spoken word sample will float around, creepy and twisted, but you don’t need to listen too hard for something to hang onto in their hazy psychedelic canvas – D/R/U/G/S will draw you in.

D/R/U/G/S

Another emerging electronic musician, Becoming Real has – like D/R/U/G/S – realised the potential some of dubstep’s sounds have for being used in a different context. There are no heavy or wobbly drops, but instead dark, urban sounds evolve constantly with shuffled rhythms. Toby Ridler is an active stage presence, alternating between two laptops on either side of his setup and an array of dials in between. When he strikes a groove you can tell he’s enjoying the reaction it gets, and he crafts moments of unsettling joy. It’s obvious that there’s a lot of thought behind the sound, and unsurprising that the desolate in-between spaces in and around London provide much of the inspiration. What is quite frightening though, is how someone at this stage can get the atmosphere he wants to create so spot on.

Becoming Real

Will Wiesenfeld has been one of the most talked about new artists of the year. Having made upbeat, glitch dance music in his bedroom for several years, it’s as Baths that he’s finally brought it out into the world.  When he comes to the stage, the 21-year-old pretty much admits that he’s still coming to terms with his success, and finds it quite terrifying to play to rooms as crowded as this. Regardless, the music is just as endearing as its maker, and his obvious excitement at playing to such an enthusiastic venue makes his performance so much more enjoyable. He sticks mainly to the songs from recent debut Cerulean, going falsetto when he needs to and relying on mixers and samples when he doesn’t. ‘Indoorsy’ is an early standout, with its distorted, dreamy vocals and highly-strung beats, while with the brilliant ‘Maximalist’ he really shows off his skills in production and MPD-tapping. He also plays a new song that might be hinting at a future release based on heavier, sparser repetitions, but that’s all he’s giving away for now.

Baths

Though certain songs stand out above the rest, the overall feeling is completely uplifting, and there’s barely any space to breathe. Will seems to want to join in with the dancing at one point, and tries to lead everyone from the stage. Moments later he dedicates ‘Hall’, Cerulean’s emotional closer to “all the gay guys. What’s up gay guys?” Though not met with as loud a response as he might’ve liked, it’s by far the most beautiful song played tonight. Looking so shocked at the encore shouts at the end of an understandably lean set, you’d think he wasn’t prepared for one, but luckily he’s held back the cutesy ‘Animals’, which he plays with his best impersonation of a lion.

Jamie Brown