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?