Aereogramme, Perth Twa Tams
"Shut up!" Craig B intones darkly. "Please?" he adds, flashing a grin at the chattering classes.
However, for such a seemingly mild-mannered guy, Aereogramme's singer loses patience as he adjusts the lyrics in 'Faster' to address a heckler. "Fuck you". This time there's no smile. Whether the background noise continues we'll never know as the band decide sonic attack is the best form of defence. 'Zionist Timing', a behemoth of a song, rips its way through the audience at ear-splitting volume. Even the "quiet" ones - well, according to the band - are loud. 'Meaningful Existence' may be slow, reflective, but subdued it ain't; a runaway juggernaut of a song, building to a climax and a sudden, eerie calm.
But it's not all quiet/LOUD, or even loud/LOUDER dynamics, oh no - the band may listen to Slayer at home, there may be hints of US alt.rock like Karate or Unwound in their make-up, but there's so much more to them - the ambitious heights striven for on their album 'A Story in White' are reached live via samples of tinkling piano and shuddering synth. They're a band of contrasts for sure; from the demented stop-start of 'Fuel to Burn' through the fragile melodies of 'Hatred', to the closing 'Shouting for Joey' which sees singer bellowing while squeezed between speaker stack and ceiling, the rest of the band flailing at their instruments below like men possessed. Everything about them is too big for intimate venues like Tams, they're destined for greater things - like stadiums. For now, this is a moment to treasure. In reverential silence.
(originally from The Fly)
West 13, Glasgow, Wed 29th May
"Everyone got a drink okay? ... at 2.45 in the afternoon?" Jim Puntam gently chides the matinee audience at this free gig celebrating the 13th Note's rebirth/relocation. Of course, the audience, a mix of musical types relocated from the old Note plus the odd actual punter on a late liquid lunch, all have glasses in hand. You'd think that a Breeders tour would have prepared the band for such mild debauchery, but the Radar Brothers are hardly rock'n'roll animals on the evidence of their laid-back masterpiece '...And The Surrounding Mountains' - an album whose chilledness suggests an afternoon pint might push them over the edge. From the opening backmasking of 'Still Evil' to the Joy Division-doing-alt.country that is 'Mothers', the set's a facsimile of the recordings, but up close the interplay between the 5 musicians is a joy to watch - near-instrumental 'Mountains' is a soundscape worthy of the album's title. When all's done we raise our glasses to the Brothers. What better tribute?
BEARSUIT/PURPLE MUNKIE/WE BECOME LESS
The Venue, Edinburgh, Fri 26th July
These days, pigeonholing good music almost always utilises two little words - punk rock. Take We Become Less - predominantly emo, but mixing in old-skool HM; mathematically-oriented stop/start rhythms, and a grindcore/speedmetal closer.
Meanwhile, Purple Munkie's back-catalogue is anointed with the joyous spirit of the Buzzocks. A mid-career metal phase seemingly conquered, oldies like the bouncy 'Queens of...' shine brightest, though with new material like 'Treat Yourself' it's clear that they can still pen a tune.
Norwich's Bearsuit, put simply, are the punk rock Belle and Sebastian. Led by a skinny bloke on guitar, with occasional wispy female vocals, they shamble their way into gear, throwing their repertoire of hooks at a range of instruments including accordion and a mini-brass section which propels the giant grin-inducing choruses. Who said punk couldn't be fun?
END OF THE MONTH CLUB
13th Note Cafe, Glasgow, Thu 30th May
It does what it says on the ad and much more - on tv it'd be a 'review' show, but here in the 13th Note it's a soundtrack for 'Have I Got News For You'; our hosts a Half Man Half Biscuit for the internet generation, as snippets of current affairs are set to a bewildering array of mixed-up messed-up sounds. Minor celebrities are celebrated and pilloried as our hosts cook up a variety of satirical tunes, like the Roy Keane saga set to music, and a soundclash pitting Ozzy Ozbourne against 80's Scots popster Owen Paul. And there's music too - taking centre stage tonight is Sean Dickson, who arrives, Omnichord in lap, allowing TJ Boz to work the decks. The High Fidelity / Bozilla marriage works a treat and prompts a promise of collaborations in future. All this and audience participation in the Felt-Tip Challenge, a display of 'awkward dancing', plus a fine set from Bozilla themselves leaves us counting the days until the 30th June.
MONICA QUEEN / BILL WELLS / TRANSELEMENT
King Tut's, Glasgow, Fri June 7th
A droning cello, looping back on itself as a sampler chews up and spits out the sounds. That'll be tRANSELEMENt then? No, surprisingly not, a running order change means that onstage is Bill Wells - master of the freeform and whose name carries the mandatory suffix 'jazz maverick'. Stranger still, partnering him is one Isobel Campbell - recently having departed Belle and Sebastian mid-US tour. No breathy vocals, nor selections from her forthcoming album (with Wells) of Billie Holiday standards. Instead, cello in hand, she delivers a improvised sequence of scales and snippets of vaguely familiar tunes, occasionally played pizzicato. Wells' sampler provides the fortissimo with an often deafening wall of noise. So, what more suitable outlet for all this than Glasgow's Creeping Bent label, which epitomises the term 'eclectic'.
Perhaps unsurprisingly there are no Belle and Sebastian covers on show; a theme continued by that band's occasional hired hand, Monica Queen, who instead concentrates on her recent '10 Sorrowful Mysteries' album. Performing in candlelit half-darkness, the stripped-down set and Queen's plaintive vocal, from 'I'm Sorry Darling' through to the sublime '77x', is a melange of bittersweet Americana.
Try and pigeonhole tRANSELEMENt, however and you have a job on your hands. An all-seated 4-piece act with an array of samplers, they're not all they seem. From the almost-medieval 'Wet Deck' to the rather more contemporary stop-start rhythms of 'September in June' they constantly change and confound - a touch of flamenco here, some decidedly prog rock stylings there. Their mix of musical genres from avant-garde to pop pretty much encapsulates the label. Looks like Bent is the new straight.
Frank Black / Aereogramme, Edinburgh Liquid Room, 6th
You can usually tell a lot about a gig just by looking at the audience. Not tonight, however. Sure, it's a sell-out, but whether they're 30-somethings revisiting their Pixies albums isn't clear. Aereogramme may have had this in mind - will they win over a crowd whose last purchase may well have been 'Trompe le Monde' - on vinyl? Well, it's clear that they will have made a few new friends on this showing: the crowd - swelled by tourists in town for the festival - are won over by their dynamic sound and a stage show which exudes 110% commitment. From the lilting 'Hatred' to the the full-on rock leanings of 'Zionist Timing', they are a band reeking of confidence, and well they might as album 'A Story in White' has the markings of a classic.
So, having established that if the audience weren't Aereogramme fans, they are now, we can ask again, who have they really come to see? Frank Black or the Pixies? Maybe even the Catholics? Surprisingly the answer seems to be the latter. Obviously any Pixies material aired is met with approval, but the calls for 'Debaser' are few (and unanswered) while tunes from more recent solo albums such as 'Pistolero' are welcomed like returning heroes. Even the memories of the Pixies ex-members are erased, thanks in part to guitarist Rich Gilbert. Resplendent in red linen suit and green loafers, he takes guitar playing to a new art form, delivering Joey Santiago's guitar licks in such a deadpan way that the term "guitar anti-hero" requires to be coined. Something of a virtuoso, he also delivers slide guitar and keyboard, though the arrangements sometimes leave a lot to be desired - the crisp punchy sound that Aereogramme had seems to have become lost somewhere, and the full set - close to 2 hours - is starting to become an ordeal for the Pixies-spotters in the audience. However, they seem to be in the minority, and are temporarily sated by 'Monkey Gone to Heaven'. Most of the Black anoraks are happy to singalong to anything, be it a good if muffled 'All My Ghosts' - perhaps the best-known Catholics song - or the apt closer 'If It Takes All Night'. The rapturous reception means encores are inevitable, and, ever-unpredictable, we're transported further back into 80's student bedsits with a cover of 'Dirty Old Town'. 'Speedy Marie' and 'Where is My Mind' further win back the old-timers in the audience, but for the majority of tonight's crowd, the new Frank Black will do nicely.
Half Man Half Biscuit - Cammell Laird Social Club (Probe Plus)
"Satisfaction"! "My Generation!" "`Trumpton Riots!"
Perhaps uniquely, the Biscuit are one band whose back catalogue is grows in stature with every release. Here, they attend a Beatles tribute concert "as the bootleg Mark Chapman", run through 'The Referee's Alphabet' (U is for Umpire - "who's the bastard in the hat"?) and heap righteous scorn on Great British institutions like Aga-owning novelists, Turner Prize judges, and, er, Lisa Riley. Musically they mix blues, raucous singalongs, and, on 'She's in Broadstairs', steamroller yer White Rebel Trail of Strokes indie also-rans. 16 years on, Nigel and co remain spokesmen for a generation who can't be arsed.
Lapsus Linguae (*****)/ Moniack (****) / Hail Caesar (****)
Cafe Royal, Edinburgh, 14th December
It may be the season of goodwill to all, but some decidedly unfestive vibes are floating around the Cafe Royale. Well, dedicating 'I Will Cut You' to the audience hardly seems a charitable act from Hail Caesar. But it's said with a cheeky grin by frontman Vic Galloway, the band formerly known as Huckleberry playing a hometown gig in frontof friends and family. Thus, they seem much more at ease than in their recent Glasgow outing - perhaps it's that their swirling garage rock works much better in front of a big excitable crowd .
And it is a sizeable throng that greets Moniack, another bunch of homecoming heroes. At this, their first Edinburgh gig in over three years, band and audience connect and seem almost overjoyed to be in each other's company. Mind you, via their 70s prog leanings (as well as hair and shirts), the 5-piece are decidedly luvved up. Sonically they're more aggressive - a steamrolling stop-start set is punctuated by some intricate moments of guitar; think King Crimson being bludgeoned by Motorhead.
Lapsus Linguae also have quiet contemplative passages in a multi-vehicle pile-up of a set - their trademark tinkling piano is more in evidence than in recemt gigs adding colour to their darkly gothic canon. They launch headlong into the Liberace-does-death-metal of 'Parade' and career through a set that mixes golden oldies with some nerve-jangling new material, which, they announce, will be on an album next year. "Buy it, you ****s" screeches an eerie disembodied voice which may have come from the merchandise table. Could be an ideal present for Xmas 2004.
LAPSUS LINGUAE/BRUTAL GOOSE/CLOSER/SKAPPAH-FLO
Soundgarden@Starka, Motherwell, Thu June 14th
Despite a range of famous sons (largely co-opted into the Glasgow 'scene') it's still a surprise to see Lanarkshire appearing more on the toilet-circuit tour listings.
Happily, Starka is more like a small comfy sitting-room - one with a bar and a great big hi-fi, and a ready-made and appreciative audience at least partly comprised of local musicians who've not decamped west.
Like Skappah-flo, who are playing their second gig, but being an offshoot of other bands are practised songwriters. At times excessively loud - starting off like an instrumental Aereogramme - they also have some slow quiet moves with well-worked harmonies.
Closer, meanwhile, have also been around a bit - having moved from pop/rock via grunge they've settled what's often termed 'angular' - jerky, fast and LOUD. There's a tune or 2 which could be honed - is there a Mr Albini in the house?
Possibly - in fact the venue's soundman deserts his post to take on vocal duties with local heroes Brutal Goose. Very metal, indeed too metal for your reviewer, they're a shouty stoner take on AC/DC / Iron Maiden-style rock. Either way, the audience love them.
Harder to say how much they love Lapsus Linguae. Simply because 'banter' betwixt group and fans is integral to the show. Penelope Collegefriend enters the crowd a mere 10 seconds into 'The Strang' and remonstrates "this is supposed to be poignant!" to the chatterers during one of their piano interludes, before they explode into the massive punk-prog hybrid of 'Parade'. Unfortunately equipment and ultimately their set begin to fall apart, meaning that only some inter-band/punter wrestling and gratuitous nudity are left in their bag of tricks.
Fortunately, the audience love them too. Motherwell, rock city? Could be.
ALL THE MONGO'S PARTIES
A Flat in Glasgow's West End, 19th-21st April
Mud. Toilets. Muddy toilets. Yes, festival season approaches.Here's a crazy idea - have your rock festival in a comfortable location with all mod cons.
And then hold the thing on the south coast of England.
Rewind. Let's do the show right here - 'here' being a flat in Glasgow. Day 3 encapsulates the festival spirit nicely. The Hector Collectors are by definition top of the bill, having featured on John Peel TWICE. Shambling, under-rehearsed, and pure entertainment. Following this pattern,The Pendulums are doing their first gig after 2 practice sessions. Treading a fine line between the Bonzo Dog Band and Simon and Garfunkel, they have a bunch of tunes and twice as many ideas. Yay us!, as their name suggests, endeavour to be your new favourite band, and resplendent in uniform of blue t-shirts they, as expected, produce punky 3-chord thrash. Which is one chord more than Lifeform 281 - think the Stooges with Alex Harvey on vocals. Still highly entertaining, however, the singer even getting his shirt off. Leading us to the finale, which features something of a supergroup in Lemons Are Lucky. With as many onstage as in the audience, it's like The Fall doing post-rock for laughs as everyone chips in with sundry instrumentation.
And the toilet is still working. Some day all festivals will be like this.
Malcolm Middleton interviewed for The List
'It's easier - being behind a hairy guy with a beard.'
Always a plus point of playing in Arab Strap, Malcolm Middleton's been happy enough to remain stage left. However, a solo album 5:14 fluoxytine seagull alcohol john nicotine - he declines to break the title down for us, on the basis that it would be less interesting - has rather forced the guitarist into the spotlight. Well, almost - protected by the facade of Crappo the Clown, a down-at-heel character whose image adorns the album sleeve and whose persona entertains, like most clowns, via his ineptitude.
"It's not a concept album" he offers quickly. 'Crappo is about being useless and stupid, but in a funny way.'
Ineptitude and (false) modesty is a theme that runs through the album. Closing track Devil and Angels sees the evil half of this pairing come to Malcolm and declare "your songs are all shite".
Happily, the songs aren't shite; instead there's a simplicity of arrangement harking back to Arab Strap's debut The Week Never Starts Round Here, only with a songwriting craft clearly developed over 4 albums. But given the nature of the music press, is he just pre-empting the bad reviews?
'That's what Aidan (Moffat) said, pointing out that I was setting myself up for people to slag it off, but that's fine... maybe it'd be too easy'
The album is a mix of acoustic tracks, and a few beautifully-instrumented band pieces which employ a few (in)famous names. Was there any danger of this becoming a Reindeer-Section-style community? Middleton laughs.
"No, that wasn't the idea. Not everyone realises that Aidan drums on all the Arab Strap records so he was the obvious choice. (Mogwai's) Barry Burns is an amazing piano player... and Jenny from Eva, I love her voice and she's an amazing violin player... oh, and I stole James Woods from The Delgados to play trumpet on one song.'
Coincidentally, the aforementioned Reindeer Section gave Middleton his live solo debut - and without a band rehearsed, it was a case of being thrust in at the deep end.
'I wasn't that comfortable about singing live, but I've been doing it myself at home for ages. People always said I should sing with the Strap more - I sang 3 songs on the first album -but it was never the right time or place.'
For Malcolm Middleton, the time is now.
RISINGSON/HUCKLEBERRY/AMATEUR ANTI-GUITAR HEROES
The Path, Kirkcaldy, Sat 9th March
Kirkcaldy, Rock City. Doesn't quite trip off the tongue, but it's but not for the want of trying. However, we're again gathered in Fife to pay tribute to - at least locally - a legend, as The Path Tavern is closing its doors to the gig circuit. And curiously its 3-night closing party is something of a trawl through the years - Singleskin can only be described as 'new-wave' while Motormark cut'n'paste the Ramones and Go-gos to make dancefloor fillers. The final night continues the theme - Local lads Amateur Guitar Anti-Heroes do the punk crossover thing to great effect; shouty with a Mary Chain vibe, though with a bit of surf guitar chucked into the pot. Huckleberry are steeped further in the past, grungey in a 60's kind of way - thrashy garage rock, with more than a hint of prog in those time signatures, and of course their trademark organ.
But it's fitting that Risingson should close the place in an emotionally charged set, peaking in a tumultuous 'Evil TV' with John Hutchinson's decks the only concession to their trip-hop punk rock epithet; the band now producing full-on rock which could blow away today's nu-metal acts. This would be a fitting end, but the band re-emerge and reform Coffee, the high-school punk act who were first to play the venue. However, this feels more like a private wake for fans and family, so we make our excuses and leave The Path for the last time.
Spare Snare / Degrassi, Perth Twa Tams (from The Fly)
As big as Nirvana? That's what the promoter predicts for Degrassi. Surely the tightest band never to have worked with Steve Albini, they're a flurry of jerky rhythms and powerchords, their tearaway tunes always coming to a halt just before they career into the audience. Perhaps a bit (ahem) 'angular' to be pop stars, there are hints of tunes that could prove the doubters wrong.
No such problems for Spare Snare - anyone that knows their album Charm will be mystified why they're not big by now. Previously lo-fi bedroom shamblers with a neat line in songwriting, they still air 'SuperSlinky', but the new material, with the Delgados production mark of quality, sees beautifully conceived tunes. Live they're lively as ever, but tighter than before - 'Surrender' and their stompin' cover of Destiny's Child's 'Say My Name' particular high-points. With oldie 'Bugs' to finish as fine as ever you fell there's maybe still time for the Snare to save pop.
Thee Underworld@Bannermans, Edinburgh, Thu 7th March
"100?" How to describe... any band in so few words?
Emo? No. Emotive? Certainly. Lyrics which evoke flashes of past loves, of days long gone: "Sepia tone screen kisses / All of this for show".
Hardcore? Make no mistake, Won Mississippi ROCK. Formidably aggressive one moment, a chorus to kill for the next, twin vocals that scarcely need miked in Bannermans' small cellar. Visceral? Intense? 'Freehand Circles' has the rage of early Wire; 'Avoid Cameras' unexpectedly shudders into waltz pace halfway through.
Diverse? Even 500 words wouldn't capture the soul of Won Mississippi .
In short, best experience them for yourself. Go hear. Now.