Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Panic! At The Disco

This was one heck of an odd gig. If the Brixton Academy was sold out, why was there so much space inside? And why was it so easy to get to the bar?

The reason, of course, is that Panic! At The Disco have a fan base largely consiting of those who have only just passed puberty. In fact, tonight was a good night to be a part of the medical crew, as instead of the usual drink and drug casualties you were more likely to get the "My girlfriend's just dumped me and I'm SO depressed"/"I think I've just started my periods" crew. So vertically challenged were the audience, you could get a fair idea of what a gig in Munchkinland must be like.

Unfortunately for P!ATD, this adolescent adoration has been, in part, what has led to them being branded an 'emo' band. This is unfortunate and is something perpetrated by journalists too lazy to look beyond the band's dark clothing and black eyeliner and actually listen to the music, because there is far more self awareness and (more importantly) self esteem in a song like "London Beckoned Songs About Money Written By Machines" than in the entire back catalogue of their mentors Fall Out Boy.

The band themselves seem to be painfully aware of their unsought reputation and go to extreme lengths to try and put it behind them. The stage set is a gothic, moonlit, windmill and surrounding fields, almost like the model of Paris at the start of Baz Luhrmann's 'Moulin Rouge'. Singer Brendan Urie is dressed like Oliver Twist after he found a wealthy family. Beside him, guitarist Ryan Ross is the Artful Dodger, complete with cap and scarf, whilst white makeup at least makes drummer Spencer Smith look old enough to be out after dark. Only bass player Jon Walker eschews the fancy dress. Throw in three dancers performing bizarre routines in heavy makeup and very few clothes and you are left with a visual spectacle far removed from anything currently available.

The only problem with all of this is that, entertaining though it may be (and hey, half this audience have probably never seen a woman in her underwear before), it puts enormous pressure on the band and crew to get the basics right. For a lot of the time the sound is muddy, whilst the band themselves get carried away and play too fast at times. During "It's Better If You Do" they spend so much time clowning around with the dancers that the song itself almost collapses into chaos. All of this is a shame, because the band themselves are clearly talented and more than capable of reproducing the dense, almost orchestral, sound of debut album "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out". Urie has a fine vocal range, but all too often his voice distorts in the poor sound mix, whilst Ross' backing vocals are at times almost inaudible.

None of this, of course, matters to the vast majority of the audience. They came to see their new heroes, to dance, to crowd surf and to sing themselves hoarse. P!ATD gave them exactly what they want, and more.

The Sounds

The Sounds come from Sweden. They have a song called 'Living in America', which is all about how they don't live in America. This is really all you need to know, because the level of wit and intelligence doesn't get any higher than that. In fact, The Sounds are one of the most inept live acts ever.

This was the sort of audience which cheers roadies whenever they set foot on the stage, yet The Sounds barely raised a pulse. In fact, the strongest reaction they provoked was a cry of "Get off".

It is impossible to describe their music, because most of the time they sound like five people playing five different songs simulaneously. Singer Maja Ivarsson struts around the stage pretending she is Debbie Harry, but barely manages to be as authentic as Debbie Currie. At one point she resorts to grabbing her crotch in an effort to extract a response from the crowd. I miss most of this as I've been stunned by the sight of gloriously talent-free guitarist Felix Rodriguez playing something that isn't a barre chord. Meanwhile, Jesper Anderberg is using not one but two keyboards to create the sort of irritating plinky-plonky sound you get from a village hall piano.

Apparently, The Sounds are one of the biggest bands in Sweden. I guess I missed the news about the entire nation going deaf, then.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Automatic

This was a gig approached with a certain sense of trepidation. There is always a risk in seeing a band three times in as many months, in that they might bore the pants off of you. But kids grow up fast nowadays and boy have the Automatic grown up. Instead of strolling on to the stage, playing and wandering off again, they actually set out to entertain and to engage with their audience. Pennie has found his feet as master of ceremonies, bantering with his bandmates, dedictating songs and basically doing more than running about like a lunatic.

Needless to say, the crowd respond to this new found confidence. One verse in to second number 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled' we have the first crowd surfer; by the end of third song 'Raoul' they are being thrown at the security guards. And how confident must a band be to toss their biggest hit casually into the middle of the set? 'Monster' - tonight dedicated to the closure-threatened Astoria - now comes complete with animated backdrop and an audience singalong during the middle eight. In fact, the only low point of the evening is new number 'Time Equals Money', which frankly sounds messy and unfinished.

Pennie himself is different, too. Everyone goes to see The Automatic for the music and for the chance to see the maddest keyboard player since Rick Wakeman, but the old man of the band has reigned himself in. Yes, he still bounces around the stage like his ritalin just wore off, but no longer does he hurl himself at the crowd, no longer does he throttle himself with the mic lead and no longer does he spend the whole gig yelping like Thom Yorke being put through a mangle [please, God, please...]. In fact, the most astonishing thing about tonight is finding out that this guy can actually sing.

As the band reluctantly drag themselves away, curfewed off at the end of 'Recover', the only question is just how much better they will be after another month.


You can tell how old these guys are from the name. If you remember Thundercats, you are probably the same age as they are.

Pigeonholing this band is different. Although they specialise in the sort of cheerful pop tunes beloved of indie losers such as The Kooks, there is a real edge and energy to everything that they do. New single 'Out of the Question' [the set closer tonight] bounces with the sort of aggression you would find in a badly behaved mosh pit, whilst 'Song E' strips down to a plaintive cry of "I'm so lonely now" backed by the sort of one note chiming guitar that charecterised The Cure in their prime. Throw in the energetic and engaging frontman James New - thinner than Bobby Gillespie, dance moves copyright M. Stipe - and you definitely have a band to watch for the future.

Disappointing lack of bandages, though.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Fratellis

I'm struggling to think of anything new to write here. What can you say about three hairy Scottish guys who, at 10pm on a Sunday, have fifteen hundred people bouncing along to a rocked up cover of Goldfrapp's electro-camp classic 'Ooh La La'?

Closing the London leg of NME's Rock and Roll Riot tour, the Fratellis proved that they were the only band on the bill capable of living up to the tour's optimistic title. Following the sh*tfest of the Horrors and the slightly anodyne flavour to the rest of the bill, the audience were in need of something special to redeem the evening and this time they were not to be disappointed. Starting with 'Creepin Up the Backstairs', we are treated to a rollocking run through of their 'Costello Music' album. That so much of it is singalong friendly is a big advantage, of course and before anyone knows it we are into the closing numbers of 'Henrietta' and 'Chelsea Dagger' and, after a brief pause, the aforementioned Goldfrapp encore.

The Maccabees and The Dykeenies

I've got no option but to review these two together, for the simple reason that I still cannot really distinguish one from another. The Dykeenies are a Scottish five piece who play songs vaguely reminiscent of early Killers material. Oh, and they have a very sweaty bass player. The Maccabbees aren't Scottish and have a very ginger drummer, but they are also a five piece and there's a very familiar edge to their music, too.

The simple fact is that however good songs like 'New Ideas' and 'Precious Time' are, the two bands are so interchangable that it doesn't matter who plays what. Even NME got them confused this week.

In fact, the only real difference was that the Dykeenies attracted a crowd surfer and the Maccabees didn't. I'm still not sure if this proves anything at all.

The Horrors

The Horrors are, by all accounts, very talented boys. Guitarist Joshua von Grimm [yeah, right...] has a first class honours degree in physics and singer Faris Badwan is apparently a very talented artist. Unfortunately, none of this talent is in any way related to an ability to handle a musical instrument.

To put it bluntly, The Horrors suck. They suck harder than a factoryload of Dysons. The fact that they play very loudly and dress like Tim Burton doing Rocky Horror should in no way detract from just how completely and utterly inept and pointless they are.

This band have generated a lot of publicity after Badwan was assaulted, supposedly because of the way he dresses. Are you sure it wasn't someone who had heard your band, Faris?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Maximo Park

On the face of it, opening one of your biggest shows to date with an entirely new song is either a bad move or an act of supreme arrogance. Maximo Park, though, are old hands at this sort of thing. They may only have put out one album, but this year alone they have headlined the NME Awards Tour and closed out the Sunday night of the Reading Festival. Moreover, in Paul Smith they have one of the most entertaining and engaging frontmen around. Strolling onto the stage well behind his four bandmates, dressed in white jeans and jacket, a trilby covering his trademark combover hair, he rips into 'Girls Who Play Guitars' with such force that the audience are compelled to dance, even if they don't know what they are dancing to.

Normal service is resumed with 'Now I'm All Over The Shop' and by the time we reach third number 'Grafitti' even hamster-cheeked bassist Archis has abandoned his usual backstage perch and is down at the front of the stage throwing the sort of shapes not seen since the days of Derek Smalls.

An unusual feature of this show was that Smith, unlike most singers, actually talked to the audience. Only 'Limassol' went without an introduction, and that because he ran offstage to have his in ear monitors replaced. This meant that even new songs such as 'Nosebleed', 'By the Monument' and 'A Very Nice Time' (the latter evidently renamed from it's Reading appearance as 'In a Fortnight') had meaning for the crowd and they responded accordingly.

If there is once criticism of Maximo Park, it is that their shows are a bit one paced. With no 'Acrobat' in the set, there is no break in the momentum to allow either the band or the audience a breather and by the encore both are visibly flagging (Lukas Wooler looks like he is actually in pain).

Goth Girl and I disagreed on whether this was a better show then the Reading one, but it doesn't really matter because with Smith at the helm there was never any danger of not having a good time.