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The B-52s, Hammersmith Apollo, London

If you fancy seeing the biggest and best display of vintage Hawaiian shirts your best bet is a B-52s gig, and you're still on time as they're halfway through their Farewell Tour.

I got to see them for the first (and last) time on Sunday at the Apollo in Hammersmith, and I must say that show became one of the highlights of my life, I'm sure it'll be the background image of the ending credits when I die.

We had stalls (standing) tickets but we knew the front was going to be a seated area, so we assumed there'd be a few rows of seats, then space for the people standing and then the balcony for more seating. I was pretty disappointed when I saw the entire crowd was sitting and the area for the standing ticket holders was just the corridors behind and around the seats.

Anyway, we bought merchandise and rushed down the corridor on the left side, getting as close as we were allowed to the stage. I didn't even buy a drink, there was no way I was going to miss even a tiny bit of the show for going to take a leak.

After a short wait, the band appeared on the stage and every single soul in there who could use their legs stood up on them.

They opened strongly with 'Private Idaho'. Fred Schneider in a striped colourful shirt, Kate Pierson with rainbow flared cuffs and Cindy Wilson (with the biggest hair) rocking an iridescent extraterrestrial suit; all dressed to celebrate Pride.

The crowd (mostly double my age) became young and crazy straight away. I don't think I've ever seen such happy faces with no free food around.

Everybody went nuts at 'Channel Z', atomic lasers falling from the sky (where's my umbrella?). People who were standing around the back kept trying to make it closer to the stage but someone from security was there each time to catch them, I gave up about trying too. And talking about security and staff from the venue, I'd never seen them enjoy a gig they're working at that much.

The song that united everybody the most was probably 'Roam', the band seemed so cheerful during the performance too. 'Dance This Mess Around' was also a blast, at that point I was way too excited and needed to get closer to the stage, but more and more security staff kept showing up.

After performing 'Love Shack', the band left the stage to get ready for the encore.

And then, following one of the best setlists ever, the best encore of all times: 'Planet Claire', '606-0842' and of course, 'Rock Lobster'. I totally lost it at the last one and rushed to the very front to join all the 'Rock Lobster' fans. There were people with 'Rock Lobster' t-shirts, a lobster plushie and a bunch of people with lobster fairy lights around their bodies (how did I not think of that!?).

I am still amazed at the energy and stage presence of the B-52's at their age (Schneider turned 68 a few days ago!), their voices hadn't changed at all either. If you were thinking about going to see them in this last tour, fucking go for it!

Thank you B-52's!

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Boy Harsher, Workman’s Club, Dublin

It’s a hot and muggy June night in Dublin and the Workman’s is close to capacity for Boy Harshers first Irish show.  The sweat is heavy in the air of the darkened venue and the condensation is dripping from the much needed glasses of cooling beer.   Its a late start for a midweek show but the turnout is remarkable.  Even for support act, Gross Net, the main room is tightly packed.   It’s the first I’ve heard of Philip Quinns solo project but he was a good choice for this show.  The Girls Names guitarist plays a series of atmospheric instrumentals that could be mistaken for Boy Harsher’s own work.

Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller take the stage without ceremony and the drones begin.   With Muller whispering into a walkie talkie and Matthews doing her Alison Moyet-in-an-echo-chamber thing, there’s a distinctly German vibe from the Massachusetts outfit.  There’s no between song banter or audience interaction but the pair seem to be enjoying themselves in an ubercool, stand-offish way.   The whoops and holler that greet ‘Yr Body Is Nothing’ seem at odds with the detached aesthetic until Matthews starts jumping around. Mullers head bobs in time with the beat as the crowd screams and latecomers push their way to the unadorned stage.

After four songs, we finally hear from the band. But Matthews chat is lost to the excited din of the crowd.  I step outside to cool down a little and take in the sunset. When I re-enter my glasses immediately fog up in the thick, moist atmosphere as Boy Harsher turn the tempo up.  At this point we’re a long way from the arthouse. This set is more at home at 3am on a festival stage.  The sparse, moody textures of Careful are eschewed in this milieu for an industrial tinged, electro crusade.  Their minimalist techno comes off like like the poppier end of the noise scene.  Outside the studio environment, where the music is about textures andsoundscapes, Boy Harsher have a new life on stage.  The beats are heavy, thebass is relentless and, though the vibe is arty, the feel is of a party band. But it’s a party for the cool kids who don’t want to be seen to try too hard.

Boy Harsher’s stage presence is strong. It appears that the music is being generated by their bodies through an effort of will rather than by instruments.  It’s the type of performance that would benefit from a spectacular light show.  They make a token but striking gesture of acknowledgement towards this when Matthews shines a handheld array of green spots on Muller.  She swings its beam over the audience and the mirrorballs in the venue feel their first light of the evening.

It’s short, barely 45 minutes, but not a moment has been wasted and the cries for an encore begin immediately when the duo exit the stage.  There’s little doubt that they’ll do more songs. The crowd has not moved. Everyone is afraid of missing another killer tune.  ‘The Look You Gave (Jerry)’ is one of the more intense songs from Careful but it seems tame compared to what has preceded it, though you’d never guess from the reaction of the now-devoted fans.  As a recent convert to Boy Harsher, I went in to the show with expectations of a decent gig.  The band not only exceeded those expectations, they stomped all over them and gave us more than we had any reason to suspect.

 

 

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Lacuna Common, Blondies, London + Interview

 

Outside The Social last Friday I've arm-locked Be Good's Ash into having a pint with me when the latest re-incarnation of Dr. Who walks by I'd later come to know as Alfie, frontman of Lacuna Common. Ash struggles trying to explain L.C.'s sound as he introduces him which I take as a good sign, I'm now curious.  'You should come check us out, we're at Blondies next week' he says from behind a pair of unsuspecting spectacles, I accept...suspectly. 

 I pull up to the East-End dive where Sharmaine, one of three sisters that run the joint, is behind the bar. We're greeted with a sweet hot smile and an ice-cold pint. Chilling in the garden the place fills, swelling up with sweaty bodies pretty quickly. Leaning against stacks of upturned stools while the ice-machine beneath me plops out cubes, distorted thrashing coming from the speakers inside, that's our cue. We cram our way to the front where three-headed beast Alfie (Guitar/Vocals) Tom (Bass) and Gabe (percussion) dig in blocking the only fire-exit with a wall of flesh and sound.

They kick (literally anything kickable within leg reach) jams out from a muted but power packed set which neither Tom or Alfie can sit still through. Tom throws his bass in one direction while his feet go in another.  Alfie's pushing and thrashing his way into and back out of the crowd while simultaneously asking them to get closer. Gabe's in the back but wants to get out there too but unfortunately for him they've had to shackle him to the kit for just that very reason. Know your role drummers! From their eight song set five songs cut deep. 'Zacharia' was described as a track about a night out that went wrong. I feel a more apt description would be about a night out that went wrong and then the music that followed was the soundtrack to said night(mare) playing hard as it chased you relentlessly through the streets thirsting for your blood.

'Tucked-In' and 'Sensibility' all have lo-fi scuzz rock written all over them but they've also got these hooks in them that carry shattering and piercing projectiles that scatter in every which way (most of which get into your eyes but also your ears) making the tracks completely unpredictable. I like groups that've got variety in their repertoire as much as the next guy but unpredictability within the track itself?  That's my jam, it's easy to see now why the tongue tied description of their sound was the best description of all. You'll hear echoes in the vocals from the likes of early Arctic Monkeys but that's where the similarities between others end.

The set finished off with 'Under The Lamplight' and 'Not The Same' which are two tracks currently out on their latest vinyl release 'which you can buy from my Dad for a fiver in the back' Alfie muffles into the mic. The songs are a good indicator of the direction the trio are heading in next with a little hard work, effort and luck. Graduating from high school house parties under the lamplight with your mates towards University Towns like Oxford, that the band calls home, and towards bigger venues like the festival circuits.

I caught up with the guys outside for some fresh air as they smoked cigarettes draggin' one of the upturned stools between us, the ice machine, and the caved in sofa Gabe was currently perched on to start recording. The boys were still full of energy and positive vibes and had a lot of fun during the interview which made it fun for me. It was hot, overcrowded and stuffy so I'd like to say an extra special thanks for taking the time. 

Cpt: So I'm by the bar ordering a drink and I hear the bartender ask this woman getting her next beer how her day's been. She says, 'oh you know, I'm having a sort of miss your mouth sort of day today'. The bartender doesn't process this and just offers up an 'oh-yeah' while the words make another round in her noodle pressing her to stop and say, 'wait, whaddaya mean?' 'Well, I was in an important meeting and I went to grab a sip of my drink, missed my mouth completely and ended up pouring the entire contents of the glass all over myself.' So I guess my first question to you is do you often have, 'miss-your-mouth-moments' and what have they been like?

Tom: Yes, all the time.

Alfie: Yeah, like about an hour before our set, in the pub we were at, where we at?

He seemingly says into the ether, an echoed reciprocates an answer from the band's unofficial autobiographer.

'The Clapton Arms'

Alfie: Completely poured it down my chin.

Gabe: What's the worst time you can do that though?         

Cpt: That's actually my question to you.

Stop stealing the spotlight Gaaaaaaaaabe.

Tom: On a date is pretty bad?

Cpt: On a date, isn't that, endearing?

Alfie: What about a Christening? That's pretty bad.

Gabe: Dropping the baby? That would be even worse. We've gone straight into it.

Cpt: Okay, I'm going to try and pull us back. Fastest things on 4 legs you can outrun, you can't say shit like frog or tortoise or anything fucked up like that.

Tom: A Tortoise

Cpt: I *JUST* said you can't s.......

Gabe: What about a hedgehog? Those things are rapid!

Gabe has clearly lost sight of the question, I also believe he's mistaken hedgehogs with mythical video game franchise character Sonic the Hedgehog. Personally I'm pretty confident I can outrun a hedgehog. Maybe.

Alfie: (a bunch of words I cannot make out on the recording) dog, I can probably outrun him.

Cpt: A dog? That's a pretty lofty statement.

Alfie: Small legs.

Cpt: Still, any dog is pretty impressive. Tom?

Tom: Uhhh, can you come back?

I'm about to get to Gabe when Tom has an idea:

Tom: A badger, I reckon I could outrun a badger?

Cpt: Fuckin' badgers are tenacious, don't fuck with badgers!

They find this statement hilarious but apparently none present have gone down the YouTube rabbit hole of badger videos.

Cpt: They're fucking crazy man, do you know what they do? They eat snakes! They get bit, their body metabolizes the poison while they take a nap, they wake up and they find the snake that bit them and eat them. Leave them alone. For your own well being.

Alfie: I say I can easily outrun the new Catfish And The Bottlemen album, if it had legs!

The band falls into hysterics but I've heard something different in person than now on playback.

Gabe: That is the best answer I've ever heard.

Cpt: Any what, cafeteria woman?

They all repeat Alfie's words to me but I cannot comprehend what they're saying properly so I continue on with a sense of bravado that makes my mishearing sound confident enough to go unchecked. It works, thanks Picard.

Gabe: Although, I do feel you could outrun any cafeteria woman because of their aprons, you know, constrictive, isn't it?

Cpt: Yes, there is that but also the footwear, those crocs are as useless as they are an eyesore.

Alfie: Aaaaaaaaalright, NEXT QUESTION!

Gabe: Alright, for 500,000.

This guy, this guy is stealing my light. This is my time Gabe.

Cpt: Okay boys, this'll be the last question because I end up hearing my voice too much on playback and it's way too weird hearing your own voice all the time. Uh, which I guess you kinda already know as musicians.

Alfie: Yeah, try being in a band

Cpt: Final question, reality rider vs ultimate fantasy rider?

Tom: Now we get Old Blue Last beer.

Alfie: Now we get a crate of warm beer and some water. Dream rider would be like, Kahlua?

Gabe: THAT'S SAME FUCKING THING I WAS GOING TO SAY!

Perfect timing brings our interview to a close as Sharmaine comes out yelling (clearly on the recording it was so loud) 'sorry guys gotta bring everybody in now' bringing our interview to a close. Head out to see a Lacuna Common at their next gig but make sure to bring pocketfuls of eucalyptus leaves because you never know right?

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Gnoomes, The Shacklewell Arms, London

Last Thursday I got to see a band that was once arrested for looking suspicious because they were wearing denim jackets and hats (and for being high, mostly); Gnoomes introducing their new album MU! at The Shacklewell Arms.

Unfortunately I didn’t make it on time to catch the first band (Terravi), so I sat down at the bar area with a beer and cheesy chips (damn good, btw) to wait for the second one. The venue was surprisingly empty for a Thursday night, so there was nobody standing between me and the guy who suddenly dropped his entire drink after reaching his table and I got to witness it all (and point and laugh).

The second support band was Japanese Television, which I’d missed in other occasions so this was a pretty lucky line-up for me. Instrumental psychedelic rock tends to bore me after a bit, but these guys have some unique spookiness in their sound that keeps you alert and curious, like a crocodile dentist.
They weren’t very engaging with the crowd and each of them seemed to be on their own little planet, but the crowd was absolutely loving it. Harry Dean Stanton (yes, he’s dead) was standing nodding at the very front, approving of their performance. If you think you’d enjoy music that sounds like the soundtrack for a cheap-budget space ghost movie, make sure you check them out at their EP launch this July at The Waiting Room (Stoke Newington).

And then it was Gnoomes’ turn. They weren’t wearing denim jackets or hats and they looked dead serious; especially their newest member Masha (synths).
MU! is an adventurous yet spotless album, and they performed it beautifully. Their sound was intricate and deep, enough to make this man next to the stage shake and make praying motions (really intense and creepy).

One of the things that made their sound so detailed and diverse was the ridiculous amount of pedals lined up in front of the guitarist; rampant during songs like 'Ursa Major' and 'Utro', more melodic and Tame Impala-like for 'Glasgow Coma State' and very melancholic '90s sound for my favourites, 'Sword In The Stone' and 'How Do You'.

It was clear that the addition of a new member had made them much MUCH better, giving each of them the opportunity to develop and enhance their sound, and I bet the crowd could tell; it was a perfect gig. They don’t seem to have any more gigs planned in London for now, but do yourself a favour and go see them next time, and check their album out in the meantime! 

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Ex Hex, Village Underground, London

Tuesday evening, after a long bank holiday weekend of gigs, blacking out and having my phone stolen by some piece of shit, I head to yet another gig at the Village Underground.

I arrive sweating, with crippling period cramps as the first guest band starts playing.

Berries made me feel like I was secretly watching three high school girls playing Guitar Hero in their bedroom, the kind of girls who sit at the very back of the classroom with their headphones on, engraving “<insert teacher’s name> STINX” on the walls; not the drummer though, she looked like she’d carry a unicorn backpack. This doesn’t mean they sound like newbies though, they’re pretty damn talented and know how to get the crowd moving. The singer/guitarist constantly emanates this infectious and engaging feeling that she’s having a great time, whilst the bassist remains serious and cool, and then we’ve got the drummer … who’s shaking her pastel pink locks and can’t quit smiling like a shelter puppy that’s just been adopted, while banging the drums like a beast that’d shred that puppy into pieces, tiny pieces.

And speaking of drums, we move onto the next set. I watch in excitement as the stage is set up with two drumkits facing one another, I’m all hyped up about the previous band and can’t wait to watch more loud, crazy, thunderstorm drumming. My buzz dies as I see the performers climb onstage; they look like they sell delicate handmade jewellery on Etsy. I try to remain positive and stay at the front, but as soon as they start I realize my assumptions were right. They play softly and cautiously, for what feels like forever, until one of them starts chanting and it all starts feeling like a summoning of some sort. A Theon Greyjoy type guy (+100 cheeseburgers) at the very corner behind the speakers (he can’t even see the band), begins headbanging like he’s having a seizure and doesn’t stop until the performance ends. There were a few more intense parts that reminded me a bit of Islet, but overall it really wasn’t my thing.

As I wait for Ex Hex (@exhexband) to finally get on stage, some tall inconsiderate piece of garbage comes to stand right in front of me, so I release a silent but loaded burp and blow it his way. The lights go off, I sneak in front of him and the crowd starts screaming in excitement.

Ex Hex hit the stage like when someone runs the curtains open after an entire hangover morning of eating leftover fried chicken in the darkness and comfort of your bed, brighter and louder, WAY louder than the rest of the bands. RIDICULOUSLY LOUD. I start wishing I’d brought earplugs, and I remember those I saw earlier hanging from the photographer’s neck, covered in yellow wax and hair. CLEAN YOUR EAR HOLES FILTHY. Back to the show, Mary Timoty looks like she’s just been crying backstage and is ready to actually hex an ex. Betsy Wright’s rocking a shiny white western fringe shirt, matching with the bassist. And Laura Harris is there in the background, almost invisible due to the smoke and lights, wearing a rather casual red outfit like she forgot they’d all agreed on white.

They deliver an astonishingly vibrant and energetic performance song after song, going through their first album and the more recent It’s Real. The crowd, mostly formed of +50 tall bald gentlemen, loses it to 'Rainbow Shiner' and 'Cosmic Cave'. Two women close to me (both dressed like Brett Anderson), start moving side to side together to 'No Reflection' and everyone joins them. The old man at the front, in his military jacket full of patches and pins (he’s at EVERY gig) has got a massive smile on his face. It’s a weird mess in there but everybody seems to be loving the gig and having an amazing time. I’d say make sure you catch them while you can in their remaining EU tour dates.

Conclusion:
1. Ex Hex were brilliant and they went waaay over my expectations.
2. Drummers are weird.
3. Pro shark week tip: You won’t give a shit about your cramps at a great gig. If you do, it’s either not good enough or you’re not dancing hard enough.

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Gwenno, The Usher Hall, Edinburgh

 

As usual when I rock up to these things, my name never seems to be included on the press list.  I usually find my way via a PR group and Musos' Guide editor. Somewhere between Liz, Christian and Kenneth, Cassandra got a bit lost. And as usual, I end up standing there as if I’m trying to get away with something. As I waited, I saw a few stragglers come in, hoping for tickets to see Manic Street Preachers. I was getting to see them for free. But I honestly wasn’t that fussed as it was Gwenno I had my sights on.

Last year, I had the delightful privilege of seeing Gwenno perform at the Hidden Door Festival.  ¾ length trousers were in evidence (on every performer, so it seemed.  It was the zeitgeist of fashion). She wore Chelsea boots (fashion accessory also sweeping from high street to closets) with such style that momentarily, I wanted to be as cool as her. I looked at her and not only admired her ease with herself and her stage presence but also the way that she glided around her keyboard and effortlessly danced about it, not missing a beat or a note. Oh and yes, she is also good at singing.

Fast forward to Sunday past and here she was again, performing in Edinburgh. This time the joint was much classier - with its constant maintenance and numerous ushers, funders, moolahs from high ticket prices and a host of premium shows. To be honest, I liked the performance space and performance itself better at the Leith Theatre. She seemed to fit that space better – or perhaps it was a better fit for her and her troop of 3 back up people.

She skipped out onto the stage (stage right) and all was blue. For the entire show. Which meant I couldn’t get a decent picture to save my life. She was wearing a white button up dress with her crew dressed in black t-shirt and jeans. After song three, Gwenno stated that, “These are my Druids – magical creatures.” It was unfortunate the crowd was quite thin at this point as I felt the people waiting to see MSP were missing out. There wasn’t much chat from Gwenno, however what she did say was well-chosen and just enough to guide us to the heart of her songs sung in Cornish.

“The old saying is a true saying. The old man who has lost his tongue has lost his lamp.” So here we learn how important this language is to her.  What a risk, what a brave thing to release an entire album in a language most of us do not know. It mattered to her and so she did. It is clear that her upbringing of living with a Cornish speaking father and a Welsh speaking mother had a tremendous influence on her. She went on to say that, “In a fair society, we tend to do the right thing. In an unfair society, Fascism sets in.” Cue big cheer from the crowd. 

What I liked about Gwenno’s performance was that it wasn’t all flash and big gestures. It was sincere, heartfelt and down to earth. It was a refreshing change from other gigs that use all the flashy lights and high tech gadgetry to enchant us. Here we were treated to something much more (don’t use the word authentic…don’t…don’t …argh….it’s over-used)….authentic. 

She ended her set saying the final song was about the greatest invention ever: Cheese. Cheese never sounded so good. She taught us some of those magical words and we sang our way to the end of her show. And then she skipped off the stage.

 As I had my seat for the entirety of that evening’s entertainment, I decided to stay on to see MSP. 45 minutes later I burst out of The Usher Hall (still another 45 minutes left of their set). Seeing the golden spring light reflected on the buildings and feeling grateful for my good decision to leave, I felt I had learned a deep truth about myself: I am not a fan of Manic Street Preachers.

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