Thursday, May 04, 2017

Los Campesinos!

There really is something quite entertainingly perverse about everything that Los Campesinos! do. Whether it is finishing their main set with the deliberately low-key coupling of 'The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future' and 'In medias res', or releasing two singles from latest album 'Sick Scenes' that most people can't even pronounce, let alone spell, it is as if the septet are determined to break every rule in the music industry book.

Heck, they even go so far as to break the last taboo and admit that, for them, this isn't the day job. Secretly, we all know about Dave Rowntree from Blur being a solicitor, or Kele from Bloc Party working in a cinema, but LC! singer Gareth Paisey standing on the Koko stage and admitting that four of the band have to go to work in the morning is a little unusual to say the least.

To some extent, they've always been that way. In their early days Paisey explained that he had decided to become a vegan because it was more challenging than becoming a vegetarian. They were smarter than the average band, wittier than the average band. They just weren't necessarily as good at making music as the average band. Their live shows were often chaotic, especially as fitting seven (sometimes eight) people onto all but the largest stages is a bit of a challenge. More significantly, they lost their way as Paisey struggled with both a bad relationship breakup and his own longer-term mental health problems. Ultimately, their record label lost interest and the various band members went off to pursue other projects, other careers.

All of which means that 'Sick Scenes' is their first album for four years, and this is their first appearance in the capital for two. It's the first time that I've seen them in even longer, after the last time ended in a furious Twitter row between Paisey and myself. Boy, what a difference that break has made to them. With only three original members remaining (Paisey, plus guitarists Tom Bromley and Neil Turner) this is a bigger-sounding, more confident, more composed Los Campesinos! than ever before.

Tonight they are even bold enough to open with current single 'Renato Dall'Aria (2008)' (remember what I said about those unspellable titles), whose cooing intro opens out into a barnstormer of a song which has the best part of two thousand people yelling '...a full-time a**hole' at the tops of their voices before the show is three minutes old.

There's pretty much no let-up from there. 'Romance Is Boring' is shouty and confident, 'What Death Leaves Behind' melodic and more cultured than the recorded version. Paisey has ditched the keyboard and glockenspiel that he used to play on stage now that multi-instrumentalist Rob Taylor is a full-time member of the band and relishes the extra freedom that this has given him, dancing and cavorting around centre stage like he was born to it. He hasn't lost any of the old spikiness, either. 'A Slow, Slow Death' is introduced with a short and pointed political speech. He criticises fans for crowd-surfing and forming a circle pit, albeit in a humorous way. But he's also disarmingly polite - thanking the venue staff for working on a Bank Holiday, for example - and makes a point of saying how much more fun this is than the last time the band played here.

It's a different kind of band, too. Of course, you'd expect the level of musicianship to go up over the years, but this is something more. The way that they segue from 'Knee Deep at ATP' to 'My Year in Lists' is so seamless, it's positively silken. New bass player Matt Fidler gives a new muscularity to the band (at one point, during 'Hello Sadness', my septum is vibrating from the bass notes, which is a first), Bromley picks arpeggios artfully and the whole performance is so smooth that you can fully appreciate what a wonderfully inventive - and witty - lyricist Paisey is.

Of course, very few shows are ever perfect. Again, in a very Los Campesinos! sort of way, they eschew a lot of fan favourites (no 'Death to Los Campesinos!', no '...And This is How You Spell...', among others) and indeed over half of the tracks from 'Sick Scenes' in favour of their own choices. It still sounds a bit wrong when Paisey and sister Kim duet on some of the earlier, more romantic, songs. And there's a worrying bit towards the end where six members of the band are celebrating and Taylor is stalking around like a bear with a sore head. For a band with such a personnel turnover over the years, that is a little concerning.

But what an ending it is. After opening with the daring vocal gymnastics of 'Fall of Home', LC! slide into their best-known number, 'You! Me! Dancing!' (which now comes complete with a reference to the Budweiser advert which used it) before the audience get to vote in the last number, the crashing 'I Just Sighed.I Just Sighed, Just So You Know'. Except that it isn't the last number, as suddenly they flip into a song that they rarely play nowadays, but which is one of the all time great closing numbers, 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks'. If you've never heard a band perform a song where the two singers are singing entirely different lyrics simultaneously and it still makes perfect sense  then you really haven't lived.

Los Campesinos! don't really do this sort of thing for a living anymore, but it is a crying shame that they don't. To paraphrase one of their song titles, Here's to the (Next) Time.

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Friday, June 11, 2010


There are some things that should just not be allowed. Venues, for example, should not be allowed to charge £3.50 for a tiny bottle of Budweiser. I don't mind paying over the odds, you expect that, but six times the retail price is taking the piss - almost literally, in the case of Budweiser.

Another thing that shouldn't be allowed is people going to gigs when (a) they were not conceived when the band concerned became famous and (b) have made no effort over the intervening years to learn anything approaching even basic gig etiquette, resulting in me having to waste a perfectly good half pint of cola by pouring it over their head because they are behaving like a moron.

The thing that really shouldn't be allowed, though, is Pixies showing up and looking exactly five years younger than they did when I last saw them five years ago. It's wrong. Black Francis now looks younger than I do.

As for the gig, well, it is pretty run of the mill for a band who have, very wisely, realised that no-one wants to hear new songs, they want the old songs played brilliantly. And by asking their fans to pick the songs they wanted to hear, they guarantee themselves a rapturous reception. (In fact, Kim Deal regularly chides those who didn't reply to the band's email asking for suggestions).

None of which is much good if you can't still play, but in a strange way they actually seem better than ever, too. There's no messing about, just four people playing great songs very very well indeed. They even throw in the old 'Make Kim Laugh' trick, by doing something she doesn't expect. This time it is by throwing a breakdown into the middle of 'Gigantic', prompting the bass player to giggle (she's getting younger by the minute, isn't she?) "Why are we breaking this song down, we've not done for the last twenty years" (twenty years ago, Kim Deal was 186).

Anyway, I don't need to say any more. Look at this set list. Is there any song that you wouldn't want to hear? Thought not.

Cecilia Ann
Rock Music
Monkey Gone To Heaven
Gouge Away
Dig For Fire
Planet of Sound
Alec Eiffel
River Euphrates
Is She Weird?
Break My Body
The Sad Punk
Head On
Wave of Mutilation
Isla De Enchanta
Nimrod's Son
The Holiday Song
Where Is My Mind?
Here Comes Your Man

Thursday, June 10, 2010


A word of warning. This review contains a disturbing mental image and some racial stereotyping.

On the other hand, if you were easily offended, you probably wouldn't be here.

Tribes, you see, are the result of a bizarre genetic experiment, which involved taking the members of The Cure, Pixies and Radiohead and then locking them in a room until they bred. And then locking the resulting offspring in another room until they bred. Which means it was a room in Kentucky, where such behaviour is socially acceptable.

All of this results in four guys making a sound which sounds both extraordinarily familiar, and at the same time like nothing you have ever heard before.

Like with all new bands, there is some good stuff here, and some not so good. The good stuff - such as 'Himalaya' and set closer 'Whenever' is very good indeed. So good, in fact, that I'd go out and buy them - if only I could stop trying to poke my mind's eye out with this stick.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Carter USM

There are plenty of ways to grow old disgracefully. You can be one of those people who just refuses to accept the ageing process and who spends most of their disposable income on Botox. You can saddle yourself with a string of high profile lovers, all unsuitable and all after your money. You can even be arrested for petty larceny, perhaps the theft of cucumbers from a big shop.

Alternatively, you can ditch your scruffy, 'worst haircut in pop, ever', look and show up for your annual reunion show in a lounge suit and sporting a bouffant hairdo – an effect which, frankly, makes you look like the lovechild of Adam Green and Julian Casablancas.

This last is, of course, how Carter's Jim Bob chooses to show up this evening. It sits slightly incongruously with everything else – the songs, the way he used to look, the fact that Fruitbat not only seems not to have aged, but could pass for the 'shy lead guitarist' role in any number of heavier pop-rock bands (Simple Plan were the band who sprang to mind). Yet it is also very Carter – always challenging, never quite what you expect them to be, yet still reassuringly familiar.

This is, of course, a return to the Carter well all know and love. Gone is the six piece of the mid-nineties. This is just Jim Bob, Fruitbat, and a whole load of technology. Tonight is all about the band's first two albums – '101 Damnations' and '30 Something'. With typical perversity, they choose to begin with the second one, cracking into 'Surfin USM' as if they had never been away.

From then on, it's a run through all of the songs that Carter fans hold most dear. We've all heard 'Sheriff Fatman' a hundred times since it was released, but there's a visceral thrill to hearing it live after so many years. From 'Second to Last Will and Testament' to the closing thrash of 'A Perfect Day to Drop the Bomb' (during which JimBob appears to get so carried away that he hits himself with his own guitar), this is one long singalong, two men preaching to the converted in the best way possible.

The best thing about tonight, though, is that it could easily be 1991 all over again (Jim Bob's attire aside, obviously). The songs don't seem to have aged at all and even the subject matter of songs such as 'Billy's Smart Circus' remains depressingly similar to the situation in 2009. The feeling is only exacerbated when the band end with superb overs of 'Bedsitter' and 'Rent'.

The final word, though, has to go to the bloke stood next to me at the bar, right as Carter launched into 'Twenty-Four Minutes From Tulse Hill', “Don't you just miss it?” he asked. Don't we all?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Los Campesinos!

'Difficult' is a word which easily springs to mind when you consider Los Campesinos!. After all, frontman Gareth allegedly became a vegan because it would be more difficult being a vegetarian. Fitting seven people onto a stage as small as the Relentless Garage's is difficult, but adding an eighth just ratchets the trickiness up a little more. And taking all of the indie pop sounds that characterised your first album out of your third one, well, that just keeps things interesting, doesn't it.

There are three reasons why Los Campesinos are playing tonight. One is to reintroduce themselves to a British audience, having spent most of the year touring in North America. A second is to introduce new keyboardist/vocalist Kim. And a third is to preview new album 'Romance is Boring'. The first of these objectives is resoundingly achieved – the Garage is packed with an audience which seems to be approximately half die-hard loyalists and half intrigued newcomers. Not only do none of them leave before the end, almost none of them even visit the bar during the band's set.

The second objective is less easy to judge. Kim stands wide out on the right of the crowded stage and yet somehow seems to be detached from the rest of the band. Sound problems mean that her vocals are almost inaudible at times. The important thing, though, is that no-one in the crowd seems to disapprove of her being there, which isn't always the way when a band's line-up changes (witness the difference of opinion among die-hard Cure fans when ex-roadie Perry Bamonte joined the band).

As for 'Romance is Boring', well, it is noticeable how three of the four tracks previewed tonight push further the route taken on second album 'We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed', with only the title track retaining the pop sensibilities and the rest being driven by Ellen's bass and the chiming guitar work of Tom. In fact, even allowing for the newness of the songs, there is an odd stillness to the crowd when they are played, as if actually dancing would be in some way disrespectful.

In fact, there is an exponential increase in the reaction which a song gets according to how old it is, with particular affection being reserved for 'You! Me! Dancing!' and set closer 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks'.

The band themselves are on fine form for a group of people who were diagnosed with swine flu 24 hours later, though just how many people Gareth infected with his frequent forays into the audience is anyone's guess. And when was the last time you saw a band where the security team had more trouble keeping the singer on the stage than the crowd off it?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Reading Festival 2009

A review of all of the bands seen at this year's festival appears below. Unfortunately, the atrocious sound from the main stage made it impossible to cover many of the acts appearing there, as it was just too painful to listen to them.

As in previous years, start with the first band of the festival - in this case Dananananackroyd - and work upwards.

The Skiver


The history of AFI in this country is littered with missed opportunities. Never quite as popular here as in the USA, they seem to have had chance after chance to stamp their authority on a wider audience, yet missed it.

Seen live, it becomes clear why. However charismatic a frontman Davey Havok may be, AFI have neither the showmanship, the musicianship or the tunes of, say, My Chemical Romance. Which is a shame for them, because the retirement of The Black Parade is precisely that which gives them their latest shot at the British public.

Which makes it disappointing that they turn in such a lacklustre, dispeptic performance tonight. They leave no trick unturned, but there's a sense that they are trying too hard to please, bringing too much aggression and too little subtlety.

A Fire Inside? Tonight, it seems more like indigestion.

The Rumble Strips

The Rumble Strips are another band who have not enjoyed 2009. Their new album was derided by critics, as much for it's Mark Ronson connections as anything else (although, in the case of the execrable 'Douglas', thoroughly deserved criticism) and it is as if everyone forgot how novel their trumpet/sax/guitar sound was back in 2006.

Live, it becomes clear that among those people are The Rumble Strips themselves. Whilst the old material is uplifting and engaging, the new music has lost sight of what made them special, abandoning the horns for more guitars and piano. Unfortunately, none of the material is strong enough to cope with this - in fact, with the exception of recent single 'Not The Only Person', there's nothing very interesting here at all. Which makes it more surprising that so many old songs - such as the sublime 'Oh Creole' - are abandoned in favour of dross such as 'Daniel'.

There is definitely a future for The Rumble Strips, but they need to re-discover who they are first.


Gallows have learned a thing or two over their three successive years of playing Reading. Not least of these is how to shamelessly suck up to the audience. Released from the confines of the Lock-Up Stage for once, they have no compunction about changing the title and words of 'London Is The Reason' to honour their host city.

It is a credit to the strength of their new material that it sits easily with the older songs from 'Company Of Wolves'. Frank Carter himself is in fine form, bouncing across the stage like something demented, pausing only to praise the crowd and slag off the American bands they have just toured with. As close to a homecoming as these Hertfordshire boys are going to get, this is a triumphant one.

The Hot Rats

The Hot Rats, in case you hadn't heard, are Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey from Supergrass, backed in spirit (if not in person) by Radiohead produced Nigel Godrich. Basically, they are a high quality covers band. This is fine when they are attempting to do something different with a song - their cover of The Beastie Boys' '(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)' is very good indeed - but when they stick to a straight run-through (or as straight as they manage in a set bedevilled by technical problems with Goffey's backing-music-providing i-Pod) it is little more entertaining than listening to someone hog the karaoke.

Broken Records

It is hard to know how to categorise Broken Records. There's some traditional folk roots in here, but mixed with elements of country and some indie/punk ethics creeping in, too. It is almost as if someone crossed the Levellers with The Pentangle. Slightly weird, slightly disconcerting, listenable but not entirely entertaining.

Top marks for admitting that they have to go back to their day jobs to raise money to tour again. Sadly, I think they'll find this a recurring theme.

Brand New


The Joy Formidable

YES! At last, early on Sunday afternoon, comes the first act to take Reading by the scruff of the neck, force it over the nearest available crash barrier and thrash it senseless.

Previously regarded as little more than Sundays copyists, the three piece from North Wales treat us to the best bits of debut album 'A Balloon Called Moaning', all performed at high speed and with maximum intensity, culminating in bassist Rhydian thrashing seven bells out of a perfectly innocent dustbin whilst singer/guitarist Ritzy flails her instrument about the stage.

None of which, as Fight Like Apes proved 48 hours earlier, would work without the tunes to back it all up, but The Joy Formidable have these in spades. Single 'Cradle' will be familiar to many already, but the likes of 'Austere', '9669' and 'The Last Drop' are even better. Definitely a band who deserved a higher billing this weekend.

The XX

You have to feel sorry for The XX. At the moment, the music press love them. History tells us that this means they are doomed and that, eventually, every little slight imperfection in what they do will be held up under the cruelest of magnifying glasses and turned against them a thousand times more. Look at The Twang, The View and any number of other former press darlings now written off, to be derided forever, whatever they do.

The XX make coffee shop music, the sort of background noise that you find in Starbucks and their ilk. It is telling that their set only really becomes interesting when the crowd are given large black letter 'x's to throw around, thus providing the extra distraction that the coffee shop brings. You can tell that they have grand ideas, but they lack the level of musicianship that can bring those ideas to fruition. Their imagining of Womack & Womack's 'Teardrops' is wonderfully inventive and yet at the same time woefully flawed. Ideally they need time away from the spotlight to hone their act; sadly, the future seems to hold anything but that.


The problem with a Thursday gig is that it's a bit like going for a meal at a fast food restaurant. You can have your old favourite ('Understanding In A Car Crash'), for the brand new item ('The Suffocation Of A Dead Man'), for something unusual ('The Other Side Of The Crash') or even one of those odd things that are always on the menu but you've never dared try before ('Cross Out The Eyes'), but you keep wishing you had (a) had more and (b) that you'd just had the old favourite over and again.

To put it more simply, Thursday's problem is that, the best part of a decade on, they have never come close to bettering 'Understanding...', and tonight they open with 'Understanding...', meaning that whatever they play for the following 45 minutes, all the crowd really want is 'Understanding...'. Which is more painfully ironic than any band should have to bear.

White Lies

It has been one heck of a twelve months for White Lies. This time last year they just about crept onto the third stage. Since then they've done an NME tour, supported The Cure and had a Top 10 Album.

The change from that Cure support in February is marked. Confidence levels have shot up. So have, to be frank, egos - where once smiles were wan, now they just look smug. There's something very smooth, very competent and yet slightly unloveable.

With no new material on display, this is a live run-through of much of 'To Lose My Life'. It is very good, the crowd sing back with gusto and the band clearly appreciate the affection. It is just a shame that there wasn't more warmth and sincerity flowing from the stage.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Maximo Park

Paul Smith is looking far happier than a frontman on Reading's main stage should. The event's legendarily unreliable sound system seems to be in even worse condition than usual. (The organisers later trot out the standard and predictable 'It's the weather' excuse, which frankly is now even thinner than Gordon Brown's credibility). Smith, however, is unperturbed as he leads his band through a perfectly balanced set, which includes four numbers from new album 'Quicken The Heart', some old favourites and a brass band backed rendition of live rarity 'Acrobat'. Interestingly, and as further evidence that the music press really know very little at all, the two best received songs tonight - 'Books From Boxes' and closer 'Our Velocity' - both come from their critically panned second album. Laughing in the face of adversity and sticking two fingers up at the industry? Could Maximo Park be the first stereotypically Geordie band?

Rival Schools

Welcome back, Rival Schools. You have been missed. Looking younger than the press photos would have you believe, Walter Schreifels and co perform like they have never been away. There's a smattering of new material to go alongside classics such as 'Used For Glue' and 'Good Things', but at the end of the day this is about introducing themselves to a new audience, reconnecting with the old one and having a damn good time whilst doing so.

Them Crooked Vultures

Alain Johannes must wake up every morning and think he's the luckiest man in the world. And then he must remember that he sometimes has to play bass in the same band as John Paul Jones and start screaming.

In fairness, Johannes plays his part to perfection - efficient yet unobtrusive, knowing full well that it is the other three guys on stage that have caused the packed NME tent, extra security precautions and vague hysteria.

TCV's music is almost a perfect blend of Led Zepplin and Queens of the Stone Age. Which is unsurprising, when you consider that the band is effectively 1/4 Zep and 3/4 'Songs For The Deaf' era QOTSA. Heck, even the stage set up reveals this - Johannes and Josh Homme - tonight playing the role of self-effacing frontman - have one amp each; Jones has three stacks of them.

In truth, though, TCV are far, far more about the experience than the music. If you were to view this entirely dispassionately, what you have here are four middle aged men being horrendously self indulgent. Jones somehow manages to squeeze pretty much every instrument he has ever played into a 40 minute set - including what appears to be a 12 string bass. Homme prowls and growls in his usual fashion, pausing only to exhort the crowd to chant the name of Dave Grohl at regular intervals (and, to his credit, causing the drummer no little embarrassment). But the music, well, it's pretty easily forgotten. Eventually, TCV are going to need a trick other than just being TCV.

Patrick Wolf

It is hard to know where to begin with Patrick Wolf. The man appears to be part opera singer, part peacock and part Jimmy Saville. His costumes, on the other hand, are part WWF wrestler, part glam rocker, part explosion in a paint factory. He prances. He preens. He whistles 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' during a costume change. He plays a Flying V, yet also manages the not inconsiderable task of playing violin and singing at the same time. And yet the biggest, screamingest contradiction is the music. Whilst the world's most over the top camp rock show rages around him, Wolf belts out tunes that would not be out of place in a West End musical. Which means that, for all of the pomp and drama, the songs are kind of forgettable. For example, the penultimate song is a new one called 'Hard Times' and all I can remember about it is the title. And I defy anyone to remember more of closer 'Magic Position' than the refrain 'You put me in the magic position'.

In short, incredibly good fun, but there is not a lot of point being a musician if no-one remembers your music.