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Boy Harsher, The Scala, London

 

I'm at the Shacklewell Arms checking out a band, Human Pet (@humanpetband), when I run into Connor (Guitarist for The Cosmics), his partner Marta and shortly there after Double D Double J (Jessica Jefferies who shamelessly sports a Canadian Tuxedo whenever she hops on Apollo). We're chatting between sets and enjoying a constitutional or 2;  Connor is thankfully going on about guitars and Ty Segall at length which frees me up for a change from always talking over everyone when over his shoulder I notice a poster listing upcoming gigs BOY HARSHER in particular sticks out to me. 'Wow, I've got to see them' I think out-loud. I ask Double J if she knew of Boy Harsher or had she heard any of their tunes before. FYI we're at my flat and she's sitting across from me right now but I can't remember how she responded to my question that night. 'Do you remember what you said?' She cups her face with her hands, makes a very audible exhale, 'Mmmmmmmmm I caunt remember'. She's also just complimented my fake British Accent as I re-read the sentence over to her mockingly. I go home that night determined to review the gig and a few e-mails later between myself and the team over at Stereo Sanctity PR (@Ssanctity) and I'm on the list plus+1. Double J laughs about the list +1, 'that didn't get us on the list', more to come on that later.

It's Tuesday evening now and as the Scala is about a 10 minute bike ride from my place that's how I imagine I'll get there. Lo-and-behold however I've come into work and discovered Double J has been replaced by a pirate, or a reasonable facsimile there of. She's hurt her leg climbing and is hobbling around like Tiny Tim on crutches. 'I wasn't on crutches' she strongly clarifies with a lofty tone from my couch, ever hear of a metaphor or creative liberties before J? 'No'. I'm outside the building we both work at in central london chilling on Apollo who's volunteered to give both of us a ride to the gig. From the shadows emerges this duplicitous figure descending upon me with a hobble. I'm about to say I don't have any change when I realize it's my newly disabled pal. She hops on Apollo and with a 'weeeee' off we zoom between the traffic towards the gig. 

Outside the Scala, we've dumped Apollo under a street light and attempted to join the queue. To be clear the 'queue' is 5-6 die-hard fans 'yeah' J confirms. There are barriers leading to the door. It's about 7, doors open 7:30, and a security guard comes out and very firmly asks, 'everyone to back up. I'm going to have to agree with J on this one, it was fucking weird dude, I mean I've never stood facing forward while walking backwards the wrong way to the entrance of a venue, I guess there's always a first time for everything. Okay, let's skip ahead a bit to the part where we 'got in' and were 'on the list'.

Still not used to saying it I give my name at the ticket booth followed by 'I'm on the list'. Reading/Saying it still makes me cringe. 'Name?' I give my name, 'you're not on the list'. Surprisingly this has actually never happened to me before while reviewing gigs. He allows me to look over the lists in case he's missed my name but he hasn't. I quickly pull up the Stereo Sanctity e-mail's as proof but it means nothing to him and he's informed me he's going to get the manager. J demands to know what's going on as she sidles up next to me. The manager isn't showing up and I'm sweating bullets. I think the key-master takes pity on us and probably remembers my half-baked mug from being at The Scala pretty much every other week so as a professional courtesy from one music fan to another he just stamps us and let's us by. Shout-out to that dude and his sweet looking curly-fro-y brown locks for saving a lot of embarrassment for us and aggro. Also thanks to the Stereo Sanctity team for reaching out to Boy Harsher's tour manager to make sure we got in alright.

We're in. Through the doors we see a space in front of the stage just wide enough to fit two very small human shaped objects. You might be asking yourself, Cap, why the front? 'Cause we're short' J chimes in. Although that's technically true J, for me rule #1 is don't stand up straight if you don't have to. Folks, get your lean on, you're gunna be there a while. 

Opening for Boy Harsher was one part of @MinuitMachine @Hante_ otherwise known as Hélène De Thoury. Double J tells me she liked Minuit Machine but upon pressing her for details I got, 'it was dancy, electronic and there was a lot of orange' I ask, was it a lot of orange? 'No, not just a lot of orange, she had other things going on too'. 'To tell you the truth, it was really dark, the stage was really dark, it didn't make a huge impression on me' she says. That being said while Double J here was looking up Minuit Machine's instagram profile she realized they were playing the last week of November (28th) at the Shacklewell Arms, 'I think I might go see her again'. As for me, she did make an impression on me. What is it about the French and electro? I think they've got a knack for it. Minuit Machine is a dark horse and she (they) are definitely in the running. I thought her music and set showed a lot of diversity within her genre, deep electro tunes with tightly formed beats rising and falling throughout her set. It must be especially hard being part of a duo but then doing a set on your own, if so though Hélène' showed nothing of the sort. She was up there keeping a steady rhythm both in her tunes and her dance moves, she looked and sounded great. Fatalistic sounding fun at its best folks.

Moving along, time for our main event, the heavyweight contender, @BoyHarsher. You ever see those red flashlights soldiers had on their person in Vietnam? You know, the one's that they'd shine inside those crazy tunnels? Well Jea Mathews comes out on the darkly silhouetted stage splashing down a beam of red something like what the bad guys must see before they're melted into a jelly from Superman's Heat Vision. I'd been anticipating this performance for a real long while and I felt pretty lucky to be there, but would they disappoint? In my experience it's not so great getting your hopes up. Fear not though chums, you won't be turned into a jelly like paste on the floor or be disappointed in their performance if you're fortunate enough to catch it.

'The first thing I noticed' Double J says, 'is the music was real pumpy, it made you wanna move, like I said it's now on my cycling playlist for kicking it into overdrive when I'm running late for work'. I work across the hall from her, she's always late for work. 'I noticed that everyone in the crowd was really cool looking, all dressed in black, I don't think I saw anyone wearing anything that wasn't black. In fact, I'm pretty sure someone was wearing sunglasses too, everyone had rings on all their fingers as well. I really liked that Augustus didn't say anything the entire time and that he was so cool and composed. He just kept pumping his arm,' Jess is pumping her arm in the air right now and fyi it doesn't look anything as cool or like what Augustus did, 'he showed no emotion. I mean he was definitely having a good time and you could tell.' I'm going to have to agree with Jess, this performance did NOT let me down in any capacity, allow me to explain.

Let me start off by saying that Jay, who's got her eye-brow-arch game on lock-down son, is a little instigator isn't she? She's coaxing and teasing the rogues out of the gallery all night long. She's trying, I assume, to illicit anything from the steely chef of death cooking up some fiery and most wild beats none other than Augustus-Maximus, but to no avail he's stone cold. When that guy's behind his equipment I don't even know what to say, he's like some sort of fucking mad scientist. He's dropping catalysts in beakers, he's cranking up the flames beneath the test tubes of MADNESS. Their setup which looks quite minimal to be fair must be anything but. The spaghetti of resistors and wires that make up their equipment also make them IRRESISTIBLE. I couldn't get enough. Club kid vibes meet Gothic vampire industrial slaughterhouse with a generous helping of Depech Modey-Joy Divisiony undertones, they take you there and bring you back, whaaaaaaaaaaaat. I think I can honestly say I've never experienced sounds like these woven together. Throughout their performance they play different roles, Jay on the CB mics is easily coherent in her lyrical savvy, Augustus on the other hand comes through the speaker in this incoherent and demonic voice, it works, it works real hard. The work is a rich pastiche of all sounds '80s sampled from origins unknown yet instantly familiar. He's reminiscing my own mind back to me, wow dude. I went in thinking at best I'd hear the music I already enjoyed live and that'd be great or at worst they'd flop live like so many of my favourites have. Maybe not so many, but enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth, anyway. I came out seeing Boy Harsher in a completely different light with an infinite amount of respect for and of their process. Jay's non-lexical wisps of air into a mic that produced a sound you could never request of a sound engineer to make for you, how'd she even figure out how to do that? I'm rambling but I'm also impressed. Augustus - minimal dance moves but maximal style.

In summation. It was a helluva lot easier getting out of the Scala that night than it was getting in. On our way back from a road trip this weekend, and a long long long day, I feel like Jess and I had the Sunday night dreads with the 'oh-my-god I have to still write and submit that article by tomorrow to the editor' feeling but she said something that really stuck with me after we'd dropped off our rental. 'You know, I'm listening to Boy Harsher a lot more lately' and that folks is what you'll take away from seeing the Boy at his harshest, you'll be listening to them a lot more, a lot more likely.

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Pip Blom, The Caves, Edinburgh

 

Photographs: Cassandra Harrison

Oddly The Caves doesn't get a lot of gigs as far as I'm aware, outside of August when it's pressed into Fringe service. Then again my eye's not exactly on the ball so it could be hosting bands seven nights a week for all I know. 

Either way it's a good sized venue with great acoustics so ideal for tonight's show. Which starts promptly at 20:00 and those latecomers who managed to miss the first half of support act Personal Trainer should be kicking themselves. An energetic septet fronted by a man equal parts Anton Newcombe, Shaun Ryder & Ian Curtis they throw everything into their performance, having seemingly raided their old school's musical department for such items as a trombone, cowbell & a well used vibraslap. And they deploy a megaphone every so often too.

Their keyboardist/trombonist resembles Napoleon Dynamite and gets himself into all sorts of contorted positions with the microphone as a he hollers his head off on backing vocal duties. I've seen no unknown act this good since being introduced to Squid back in January at Rockaway Beach. Unfortunately they don't get the riot on the dancefloor which their sound and it's speedy delivery deserves but full marks to them for not being phased and fingers crossed that they can capture that intensity when they get an album out. £20 for two 7"s at the end of the night seemed a bit steep though.

Given the support act's efforts on this double Dutch bill I for one thought Pip Blom had their work cut out for them when they took to the stage at 9pm and yet they very nearly pulled it off with a 12 (possibly 14) song set shorn of any fat and battered out far faster than on the likes of recent album Boat. Drummer Gini beats the shit out of her kit, looking close to having a seizure at any moment, breakthrough song 'School' comes and goes early in the set with no favouritism and breaks to say thanks for coming along are the briefest of moments.

Most of Personal Trainer make it into the crowd for the closing few numbers of the set and, around the time of 'Daddy Issues' being played, the central part of the audience finally develops into the pit which all 11 of those who've appeared on stage & given it their all so rightly deserve as just reward for their efforts. There's no encore but that's entirely fitting for the punk spirit (oddly offset by the incongruous jazz from various eras which was on before, between & after the bands) which was channeled via the politeness of The Netherlands.

The bands have another six dates to play in the UK over the coming week and you really want to make sure you catch them at it.  

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The Mystery Lights, Dingwalls, London

 

Last Thursday my chicken tits and I had three different gigs of interest: Mice Ön Mars, Froth and Mystery Lights. I'd almost decided on the second option (at Studio 9294) when 'Traces' by Mystery Lights shuffled through on Spotify, if you go and blast it on your headphones I think you'll find heading to Dingwalls was my only real choice, that and dancing to it live as illogically as possible.

I had some time between work and the gig so probably should've gone home to deal with a ridiculous pile of laundry I'd been crafting into a life-like version of myself. It was an experiment to see if anyone would notice when I swapped 'it' out for 'myself' at work if I'd still get a payslip at the end of the month. Science folks. After a real shit shift though all I wanted to do was chill somewhere dark and drink, drink, drink so I went straight to the venue. The security lady who checked my bag left my bag half open and I'd be unaware of this until I tried to reach for my wallet later but instead unleashed a tampon avalanche all over the floor.

The opening band of the night (Malady) sounded exactly like what I needed for my state of mind at that moment: pleasant melodies with contrasting strong vocals and some loud aggressive drumming. The singer and bassist's body language indicated they could have a 'more than just friends' thing going on but it didn't feel lame. In fact it was very adorable, they really looked like a modern version of Lafayette and Jeannie from Hair (1979). They all had a nice stage presence but an equally hideous taste in footwear, the shoes (which were ugly AF) I couldn't stop looking at.

Now I'm going to skip the second band completely and instead offer you a review of the very nice couch I escaped onto during their performance. Feel free to imagine whatever reason I had for this.

THE COUCH by the bar at Dingwalls

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐(5)

Chunky fake leather, a couch you'd find in any second hand furniture shop. Like the cat-bus in Totoro, it swallows you into its bouncy seats, but without the inconveniences that come with fur and being taken to the other side. It was unbelievably clean and non-sticky for the type of venue and people around, but it was also dark so hey, you know, let's just all be happy there weren't any UV lights in the vicinity. Overall though extremely comfy, almost fell asleep, would sit again.

Finally the time for The Mystery Lights descended upon us, my friend and I dragged our corpses from the amazing couch to the front of the stage, slightly to the right in order to avoid the dirty mosh that was about to take place (which got us anyway).

Half of the band were already on stage getting their equipment ready and seemingly wondering where the rest of them were. The singer brings out a bottle of tequila (half empty already) and carefully places some keys on a speaker, then just starts playing around with his guitar in order to rush whichever member of the band was still at the back taking a shit or doing a line. They start off like thunder, screaming guitars and loud-ass drums. People slowly started waking up from the previous performance and even my corpse friend was shaking his corpse head to the music. The singer (Mike Brandon), with his cute face and fluffy hair jumped around like a poodle on speed, leaving barely any space for the guitarist who seemed to have time-traveled from the '80s and straight out of highschool. A skinny long-haired Mac DeMarco is hitting the drums in the background with an empty expression on his moon shaped face, pretty much the same as the keyboard player. She did smile for half a second though, my friend managed to capture the moment in a photo but I was too slow.

Their performance was short yet full of energy and very engaging. They went through most of their recent record Too Much Tension!, including the very popular 'I'm So Tired (Of Living In The City)' and my absolute favorite 'Traces' (which I hope you're listening to right now).

By the time of the encore, the girls pushed by the mosh behind them had spilled their drinks on the pedals, which the sound guy kept trying to cover with towels. Guitar strings were broken and backpacks were drenched (including ours), everything was covered in either booze or sweat. It couldn't have been any other way. 

The Mystery Lights have got a whole bunch of live dates across UK and Europe so make sure you catch them in town before you regret it, I suggest you wear comfy shoes and show up ready to shake them bones and sweat. Hoping they return to London sometime soon.

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Jarv Is, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

 

For one reason or another (most likely cost) I failed to see Pulp live when they were on the go. Nor did I see Jarvis Cocker's collaboration with Chilly Gonzalez here in Edinburgh at the Festival a couple of years ago. His Jarv Is show, therefore, seemed the ideal chance to redress the balance, helped in no small part by knowing Leith Theatre would afford me the option of a seat.

Having read Luke Haines' Bad Vibes memoir at the start of the week Jarvis has been a regular feature of the days running up to this show, being mentioned in the book a number of times as he is (overall it's a good read too) so it's felt a bit like a refresher course in where he's come from to reach the point that Jarv Is occupies in his career.

Extinction Rebellion had been invited along to set up shop outside the venue and in the foyer and the need for action on global warming and reaction against the forces preventing meaningful change taking place was definitely the theme of the night.

Jarvis was on top form, the consummate entertainer, let down only at the point where he apologised for himself and his band being English, thereby indulging the myth that that's an issue for supporters of independence in Scotland (plenty of non-Scots are fans of the idea).  

Nowhere else in the city tonight would you have been regaled with quotes from Debussy, Dorothy Parker, John Lee Hooker and one or two other diverse sources in between the songs and on-stage gyrations. The near-capacity crowd lapped up every moment of it and joyfully sang & clapped along, particularly at the times when the disco ball was in use and in the choruses of current single 'Must I Evolve?'

90% of tonight's material was new but there was a Relaxed Muscle track included (a musical endeavour of Cocker's which until now had passed me by) and a Pulp track I didn't recognise & so can only assume it was pre-His & Her's.

The three song encore was over too soon for all concerned but we'd seen a band & frontman perform at their peak so no one would be leaving disappointed.

The support tonight came from Glasgow quintet Our Lady Of The Sea. Much like Jarvis's nationalism mis-step they referenced the fallacy that people in the East have an antipathy to those from Scotland's West mid-way through an introduction, a tiresome habit, long since become unamusing. Their online presence is seemingly non-existent so no link here unfortunately. Musically they were a bit pedestrian but with nonsense lyrics more suited to a far more psychedelic sound than they're currently pursuing.  

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Sharon Van Etten, Leith Theatre, Edinburgh

Photos: Gaelle Beri (@gaelleberi)

En route to tonight's show, a production brought to us by the Edinburgh International Festival, I popped along to the Edinburgh Book Festival, pushing my way through the Edinburgh Fringe.  It is all happening in Edinburgh. After purchasing a trio of books (Lost Property by Laura Beatty for him, Heartland by Sarah Smarsh for me, a book of mermaid stickers for her) I took a slow bus across town to my favourite Edinburgh venue: Leith Theatre.

This time I was ushered in with kindness and not the usual ‘Uh, sorry, you’re not on the list, let me contact three other people to confirm you’re not a chancer.’  I was even given a direct email to the Press Photo officer. Amazing.

I arrived mid-set to hear opening act Heather Woods Broderick singing and playing keyboard. There was a little chat from Heather. She had wished she’d gone to art school here. (Dear reader, so did I, but I went somewhere else so it all worked out in the end). It also worked out in the end for Heather, quite clearly, as she has found different outlets for her creativity, right down to designing her band’s merchandise, which I admired after the show.

The group's set ended with Heather singing a heartfelt, room filling 'I Accept The Invitation.' It was actually quite moving. I’m sure we were all feeling glad that she had done.

Sharon Van Etten and crew kicked off their set with 'Jupiter 4', bathed in purple light with the added flare brought by a flashing red bulb. SVE was wearing a black and gold top with black jeans. She did a lot of air punching to the strong beats, like how you do when you’re really getting into a song. She did it with feeling. We all felt that. 

It was at this point that I realised the usual drafty and cold Leith Theatre had all of her radiators turned up to Blazing Inferno – it was actually boiling in there.  I’d also noticed a slight tarting up of the place as the walls were covered in long curtains. I love this venue for its shabby and at the same time majestic look.  Like a woman in her 80s wearing big jewellery – she looks like she’s having an interesting life. You can’t help but wonder about her story.

‘Come Back Kid’ was met with enthusiasm possibly due to its familiarity brought by radio play. The theatre was packed at this point, filled mostly with men in the middle age, long haired twenty somethings, women of my mother’s age. I love these acts that draw in a varied crowd.

I noticed a girl in the row in front of me, four people to the left, furiously taking notes on a tiny notepad. Ah. One of me. She looked much cooler than I and I had to assume that she did not buy a mermaid sticker book for herself before arriving to review the gig.

SVE begins, “You guys had a lot going on today and you still wanted to come here. Thanks!” She then went on to explain how it was their tour manager’s birthday and how they chanced upon Mimi’s Bakehouse to buy him a cake. 

She then introduced the next song as a song about her family. “It’s my least favourite song,” – we laugh – “but my mother loves it. It’s about my family but it’s also about an asshole.” We laugh some more. The band launches into 'Don’t Do It.'

O.R. (Other Reviewer) is now writing furiously in her little notepad. Oh shit. What is she catching that I missed. I try to stay focused.

Heather and SVE sing a glorious duet “All I Can.” Their voices fill the theatre and it is a wonderful sound. Heather is putting on another great performance.  Her stamina for performing two sets, back to back, is something to be admired.

After singing 'Hands' SVE thanks the standing crowd for standing. She said it was awkward singing that song to a sitting crowd. And then….and then…she explains how her life was changed when she heard this next song. The '80s and '90s in America were confusing. SVE is a Jersey girl, having lived a short stint in Tennessee before moving back to New Jersey. She then sings 'Sunshine on Leith' and I think the roof is going to pop off the venue, so big is the reaction from the audience. There is much singing along. You can be as cynical as you like, but if you were there, I think that you couldn’t help but me moved by the atmosphere in that room. 

“I wish I could play for you all night long, but we don’t have that many songs.”

After a few more numbers, SVE and crew close out the show with an encore to the sounds of enthusiastic cheering from the audience. It has been a while since I’ve seen a crowd so connected to the performer. Her quirky American humour throughout, her chat with the audience, her powerful voice, and the engaged performance created a fantastic event. Good show, SVE, good show.

As I left, I saw O.R. put away her tiny notebook full of observations. I had been hoping she’d brought a sticker book (unicorns or llamas would have sufficed), but I guess we can’t all be lucky enough to be packing mermaid stickers to a gig.

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Joan As Policewoman - Liberty Hall Theatre, Dublin

It’s the first night of Joan As Policewoman’s Irish tour.  In the gentile surroundings of Dublin’s historic Liberty Hall various cups of tea are scattered about between a baby grand, a Fender Twin amp and a mysterious, vintage style preamp on the stage of the Public Sector Union’s headquarters.  Joan Wasser has been performing as Joan As Policewoman since 2004 and released seven albums.  Tonight we are promised an anthology of her solo work in a resolutely solo presentation. 

She takes the stage in shoulder pads and glitter to open with ‘To Be Lonely’ and ‘Wonderful’ at the piano.  In this environment, her every breath rings around the theatre.  After ‘Warning Bell’, there is an awkward silence as Wasser checks the tuning on her telecaster and stretches her fingers into guitar picking shape.  She sips her tea and plaintively croons an ululating sigh. 

She dedicates a song to Elliott Smith which seems to satisfy the hipsters in the audience.  You can actually feel their smugness bloom in the darkness.  Beside me a cross legged, barefoot man in shorts complains about the quality of the craft cider.  Between songs, the forced laughter of the arthouse greets every mumbled utterance from the stage.  

I’m starting to miss the band and feel a little restless in my chair when Wasser introduces the mysterious box.  It’s a Roland Rhythm Ranger (1973).  Between the Roland and her loop pedal the sound fills out and the gig picks up some momentum.  The fuller arrangement feels more satisfying but the whole show has started to feel like a joke that I’m not in on.  The identikit singer-songwriter arrangements are generic and, though the control she exerts over her voice is admirable, there is nothing to grab on to.  It ends up like listening to the audiobook adaptation of a teenage emo kids diary. 

Eventually every precious, self-conscious note begins to grate and I know I’ll have to leave before I start to hate her recorded works too.  She plays a cover of Damon Albarn’s ‘Out Of Time’ and Prince’s ‘Kiss’ but they are indistinguishable from the general melange.  We leave, unimpressed, but we appear to be in a minority as the reaction between songs suggests that there are a lot of satisfied customers here tonight.

 

 

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