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The Blue Nile

Paul Buchanan
Paul Buchanan

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

In the world of the Blue Nile, things move in slow motion, and the fact that their work remains a constant source of fascination has often been down to scarcity of recorded output and public profile.

Yet this may be changing, as it is only eight months since they last played, two years since more or less the same line up played at the same venue and a mere four years since the release of their last album, ‘High.’

This relative ubiquity does not, however, produce evidence of productivity. Here, there are only two unrecorded songs – ‘Runaround Girl’ and an incongruous closing cover of ‘Strangers In The Night’ and the majority of the show is simply a band playing brilliantly within its comfort zone.

This means songs that have been embedded in the audience psyche for, in many cases, over twenty years. The opening salvo of , ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops,’ ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Over The Hillside’ is indicative: the songs sound as alien and engaging on first hearing, both timeless and a very much product of their time.

The bass parts and characteristic synthesiser washes were only really acceptable in the eighties, and even the best of the later material, ‘Stay Close’ and ‘She Saw The World’ adhere to a roughly similar template. Throughout, Paul Buchanan’s voice adds deep rooted soul to the machinery which makes such a formula so unique and special.

While it is tempting to posit that they should be challenging themselves and moving in more challenging or contemporaneous directions, it only takes songs like ‘Easter Parade,’ ‘Headlights on the Parade’ and ‘Downtown Lights’ to dismiss such a notion. On this occasion, playing it safe seems exactly the right thing to do.

Originally published in The Herald – here’s visually shaky, but sonically decent footage nicked from You Tube

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Hercules and Love Affair

Classic Grand, Glasgow

Andrew Butler has seen his collective drawn from the New York club, art and fashion scenes mushroom in both popularity and acclaim since the release of their debut album in March, yet aside from a few hometown warm-ups, this British tour is their introduction to playing live.

With a four piece rhythm section, 2 brass players and 2 vocalists, it would seem to have all the right ingredients to take the best parts of the album, which is a soaring collision of seventies’ disco, eighties’ electro-pop and early house music, to the stage.
The broad church of the music also makes for a diverse audience, but though the response is enthusiastic, band and crowd never really connect. It may be because of the one missing ingredient, the voice of Antony, which plays a major part on the record. It is setting any singer a demanding task to substitute his voice, but neither Nomi or Kim Ann Foxman are close to filling the void.
As a result of the vocals being (perhaps intentionally) low in the mix, the real anthems, ‘Blind’ and ‘Hercules Theme’ are slightly blunted, and while both vocalists are lively enough, there is a rigidity to the performance that is perhaps as much down to the retiring and slightly functional feel of the rhythm section.
Only the brass players seem to be truly enjoying the experience, and a really great disco outfit would surely be stronger either vocally or rhythmically.
Strangely an encore of soft-rock classic, ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper,’ allows them to loosen up and hint at the possibilities for Hercules and Love Affair as a great live band. Until then, the recorded version is the more convincing.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Carling Academy, Glasgow
These days Nick Cave cuts a less terrifying, though no less imposing and compelling figure than at the outset of his career.
By the end of the show, with his suit shed for a t-shirt (hardly surprising given the ridiculous temperature in the venue) and engaging in banter with audience members, he is more endearing than abrasive, with only occasional reminders of a more out-there past.
He recalls being urinated on from the balcony at his first appearance in Glasgow and wheels out sufficient highlights from his darker pages (‘Deanna,’ ‘Hard On For Love’ and ‘Tupelo’) to keep long-term fans amused, though, as is usually the case with Cave shows, the focus is on his most recent album.
‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!’ is a curious combination of some of his best lyrics and least remarkable tunes, but for the most part it works well in a live context: the call and response of ‘We Call Upon the Author’ and the hypnotic riff of ‘More News From Nowhere’ are the best of the eight songs on display.
In the all things to all people, crowd-pleasing nature of the show, there is also a selection of trademark ballads, notably ‘Ship Song’ and ‘Into My Arms,’ with Cave swapping from guitar to piano, but never losing his ability to hold his rapt and devoted audience.
He remains on a unique musical path, and while there are disappointments along the way (fortunately the mid-life crisis of Grinderman is shelved until later in the year), the end result of a Bad Seeds’ show is always the same – it is exhilarating and rumbustious, even if it lacks the cantankerousness of his past.

Foals

Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow

There is much to admire about a band as unlikely as Foals, and their elevation to ‘next big thing’ status remains, simultaneously, a delight and a head scratcher.

While others may trawl similar musical territory for inspiration, none of them manage to turn raw materials that extend from Krautrock to post-punk via. hardcore, into something both memorable and adored by 16 year olds. The relative youth of band and audience can obscure a complexity and intelligence in the music, which sounds like Big Flame as produced by Xenomania.

This jerky, rhythmic and intense recipe could produce cold and unappealing results, but it does not account for their ability to come up with memorable lines – both musically and lyrically – that make so many of the songs on their debut album, Antidotes, a triumph. ‘The French Open’ and current single, ‘Cassius,’ are cases in point: accessible enough to just about appease Bloc Party or even Placebo fans, while still satisfying those who crave something more artful. The sheer energy of the relatively brief performance is equally endearing, and there is none of the stand-off cool that frequently translates as tedium.

Nevertheless, Foals’ ascent may be down to their conformity with other aspects of the currently depressingly homogeneous British “indie” scene: they are, after all, blokes with guitars and good haircuts, and their music, seems almost entirely bereft of any non-Caucasian influences.

Though they have hit on a relatively unique sound and made a vibrant, refreshing album it is proper to question how much further it can be stretched given its limited sources.

While well ahead of their contemporaries at this stage, the real challenge might be keeping up with themselves and fending off the challenges to their creativity in the wake of inevitable commercial success.

Laura Marling

laura1.jpeg
Oran Mor, Glasgow
For such an assured songwriter, this show marks a very tentative step on the road to an almost assured stardom.

At eighteen and with considerable financial backing behind her talents, it would surely be possible to present the show in a less controlled environment. Here, the tickets have been distributed to fans only online, resulting in an adulatory, if undersold venue. By the end of the ten songs, Marling admits that “you made it too easy for us.”

Nevertheless, there is much to admire in the way she handles the circumstances. The mood is homely and understated, the band’s admirable restraint belying the fact they have only recently been aquainted with the songs. Marling projects an air of confidenced, without ever being complacent or arrogant.

The use of fiddle and harmonium to augment her acoustic guitar produces a warmth in songs that are often bleak, frequently portraying messed up male characters in a manner that suggests experience beyond her years. Indeed, the songs frequently start with only Marling’s voice and guitar, building into a fuller sound. Though there is little in the way of killer hooks, the melodies of the best songs – ‘Night Terror’ and ‘My Manic and I’ are nevertheless insidious.

Skipping the soul pastiches of Duffy and Adele and opting for a more subtle approach than K.T. Tunstall and her many less convincing clones, Marling seems musically more in synch with American songwriters despite the English references in her lyrics. The early, folkier work of Shawn Colvin and Natalie Merchant springs to mind, and while this is not necessarily a blueprint for instant commercial return, it does hint at a durability and longevity. In time, she will hopefully become less cautious with her live presentation.

Edited version appeared in The Herald

Rilo Kiley

rilo kiley
Classic Grand, Glasgow

It is easy to pour suspicion on Rilo Kiley’s near perfect layers of adult pop music.

Consider the case for the prosecution: the nouveau hippy LA-isms that permeate, the much documented child star past of Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett, the film star friends and the all-round shininess of the package.

However, their great strength is that, regardless of its background, the music exudes a warmth and radiance where many of their soft rock contemporaries come across as cold and calculating.

This is achieved by songs that are consistently musically multi-faceted and lyrically deep. Sennett’s guitar playing is the bedrock of the sound, but Lewis’s voice augmented by Orenda Fink and Kristin Gundred’s harmonies, is soothing in a Karen Carpenter way, yet adds soaring dynamics to even the less remarkable songs.

Not that there are many which fall into that category. At their most flippant (‘Smoke Detector’) the catchiness verges on irritating, but the opening coupling of ‘Close Call’ and ‘It’s A Hit’ represents the best of their two most recent albums.

The former is typical of the seedy lyrical themes and seventies’ sound of ‘Under The Blacklight,’ the latter closest they come to the type of song that will break them into the mainstream, where their melodies and effortless songwriting craft ought to reside.

Even the few songs from their earliest days that survive – ‘With Arms Outstretched,”Execution of All Things’ and ‘Pictures of Success’ – are peerless pieces of jangly, guitar pop, although the grinding funk that underpins ‘Moneymaker’ and the stripped back version of ‘Under the Blacklight’ show how much they added to their musical palette.

Though this tour appears to have been undersold, Rilo Kiley remain an obviously great band, currently at the peak of their capabilities.

Sex Pistols

SECC, Glasgow
Thirty years on it has come to this: sharing a venue with a Disney on Ice production, and with the tour co-promoted by a video game (‘Guitar Hero III: The Legends of Rock’) Sex Pistols come on stage to the strains of ‘I Belong to Glasgow,’ with John Lydon’s declaration that ‘you were robbed.’

Until this is expanded with a derogatory line about Italians, it could have been an updating of his famous ‘ever get the feeling, you’ve been cheated?’ outburst of the seventies.

It, nevertheless, encapsulates the comedic, crowd-pleasing aspect of this latest reunion, but rarely, even at £35 per ticket, can there be too many grumbles. All of ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ gets an airing (though not in sequence), augmented by some cover versions, b-sides and singles to make up an hour and ten minutes worth of material.

For a band who only released one album, it is testimony to their significance that anyone still cares and, more remarkably, that it still works.

Cook, Matlock and Jones provide the solid hard rock backing with a degree of proficiency no-one would have imagined in 1977, and Lydon is on great form too: arrogant and self-effacing, the most contrary frontman in rock history has razor sharp put-downs for the spitters and beer-chuckers in the front rows.

In addition, his targets (the monarchy, politicians, record companies and Malcolm McLaren) retain their fascination and the bile with which ‘God Save The Queen,’ ‘E.M.I.’ and ‘Liar’ are delivered make them the highlights of the show.

As reformations go, this sits well between this decade’s versions of Roxy Music and the New York Dolls: a reminder of past greatness performed with zest and guile, coated in, but relatively unencumbered by its audacious cynicism. Absurdly good.

Connect Festival / Saturday

Inverary Castle, Iverary

With a sprawling site in the grounds of an eighteenth century castle, Connect falls at the larger end of the boutique festival market that has grown exponentially in recent years.

Fortunately, this means that in spite of the many logistic challenges – of which the mud and the treck from the car park that would challenge even the keenest extreme sports enthusiasts – the festival is a triumph of considered musical choices rather than the rabble rousing populism of the major U.K. festivals.

Though it does not always work, there are a number of striking performances. Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes has a voice that can fill the sparsely populated arena she engaged mid-afternoon and Vasthi Bunyan deserves some sort of credit for the quietest, most introverted performance in the biggest space ever. Even so, ‘Window over the Bay’ seems entirely befitting of the setting.

The Only Ones provide a fascinating glimpse of what The Libertines’ reunion in 2030 may sound and look like -and it is considerably better than original fans may have feared. Teenage Fanclub and Rilo Kiley offer the best meldoic pop tunes of the day, but glorious harmonies, whether of the Bellshill or Californian variety seem strangely out of synch with the greyness of the surroundings.

It is for the same reason that Mogwai’s set works spectacularly. With nightfall descending and the rainclouds producing a mist against the backdrop to the stage, the sense of dark foreboding that permeates the occasional prettiness of their tunes seems perfectly in tune with the enviornment.

It also has an edge over Primal Scream’s ongoing attempts to be all things to all people. Nevertheless, during crowd-pleasers ‘Rocks,’ ‘Swastika Eyes’ and ‘Country Girl,’ Bobby Gillespie captures another important aspect of Connect’s appeal: people in their forties pretending to be twenty-something, and for the most part, getting away with it.

indian summer

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A review of the Indian Summer festival in Victoria Park, Glasgow. Not as strong as a line up as last year, but a great, convivial event nonetheless:

As the festival market has become increasingly saturated (in both senses) this summer, it is surely time to consider both the aesthetic and environmental impact of the huge events that dominate and then clutter t.v. schedules for the remainder of the summer with different angles of Kasabian and the Fratellis.


As a consequence, Indian Summer and its like would appear to have many advantages. No w
asted campers fueled by fortified wine, no fourteen mile traffic jams, no attempts to sell lifestyle products every few metres and very little in the way of festival tourism with the majority of the audience from within a forty mile radius of the site.


There is also a unique feel to the line up, with the majority of the acts in questions not hawking themselves around every festival that will take them, and the potential to cover a reasonable variety of genres, even if white, male guitar bands dominate the main arena and 6 Music Hub tent this year.
Of Saturday’s main stage acts, it takes Midlak
e, with their pristine melodic rock that seems to draw on seventies’ acts like Bread and Fleetwood Mac, to raise both the quality threshold and interest level from the attentive but subdued audience. If ‘Roscoe’ and ‘Van Occupanther’ are the songs of the day, then credit also to The Rapture for being one of the few outdoor acts of the weekend to get feet moving thanks to ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ and ‘Olio.’


Between the two, Idlewild appear incongruously bombastic, a problem of context rather than content, while the often concurrent running times mean only snatches of activity in the tents can be caught. Andrew Bird and Au Revoir Simone would have graced the larger arena, while Daniel Johnston clashed with headliners, Wilco.


The latter are far from typical festival headliner fare, but their low-key excellence seems p
erfect for Indian Summer. With songs of the calibre of ‘Shot in the Arm,’ ‘Via Chicago’ and ‘Impossible Germany’ their career has been one of quiet investigation, and though sometimes meandering, they always seem to return to the point – Jeff Tweedy’s excellent writing.


Sunday’s headliner, The Flaming Lips, could hardly be more of a contrast. Extroverted and theatrical compared to Wilco’s inward, non-flamboyant
approach. There are troops of dancers in Santa outfits, lasers, balloons and ticker tape to augment what is effectively a crowd-pleasing revisiting of their best known songs.


As a result, ‘Race for the Prize,’ ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,’ and ‘Free Radicals’ are as memorable for the spectacle as the tunes, yet Wayne Coyne seems to fully, and verbosely, embrace the concept of the festival. Such is their appeal that both Mouse on Mars and Wheat have to play to tiny audiences in the tents.


They also make for another welcome contrast with their immediate predecessors. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were also disappointingly underwhelming and Spiritualized make for the most tedious and unappealing hour of the weekend. With no audienc
e interaction, Jason Pierce’s accompanying strings and singers, drown the songs under the weight of their self-importance. Seriousness does not have to equate to joylessness, and along with the headliners, I’m From Barcelona and Loney, Dear both injected some welcome colour and levity to the proceedings.

It all leaves Indian Summer at something of a crossroads. With a fine location, an audience and infrastructure in place, it needs to both grow enough to increase the range and quality of what is on offer while retaining the local,friendly and considered dimensions so lacking in most of its competitors – but to have reached such a stage in two years is a sizeable achievement in itself.

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