I live in Salford. I go to gigs. I write about the gigs. And other stuff...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Bravery, Manchester Academy 2, 22nd Feb 2005

After last night's disappointment I was looking to The Bravery to bring this run of three gigs in four nights to a satisfactory conclusion.

Support was from Hard-Fi, who I'd never heard of before but, like The Chalets the previous Saturday, were a cut above your average support band. The opener was an indie-rock effort elevated by some excellent backing vocals from the bassist and guitarist and the occasional switch to 3/4 time at the end of a verse to keep things interesting. The next song was even better with the guitarist spitting out reggae chops over the verses which gave way to a chorus of pure 70's disco with the bass player providing an excellent falsetto backing. I recognised the single "Cash Machine" from its regular plays on 6 Music and it sounded great until the "there's a hole in my pocket" bit at the end went and spoiled it all. Elsewhere there were bits of The Clash, baggy, Gang Of Four, and one song reminiscent of "Walking On The Sun" by Smashmouth. But we'll gloss over that one because Hard-Fi were pretty impressive despite the fact that the indie rock/soul/dance/funk thing is not usually my bag. They are a million times better than the likes of Kasabian and The Zutons and are destined for major mainstream success in the near future.

Were it not for The Killers and Interpol, would The Bravery be here tonight, selling out the Academy 2 after being upgraded from the Hop And Grape? Probably not. In Sam Endicott they have an imposing frontman: lean, tall, lantern-jawed, impressive quiff, though when he cocked his microphone wielding arm to the horizontal during the opening "Unconditional" he looked almost exactly like 70's crooner Alvin Stardust, but without the big ring. Christ, am I too old to still be going to gigs? Probably. As for the rest of the band, well the bassist and guitarist look like low rent versions of Carlos D and Kessler from Interpol, and the keyboard player and drummer look, rather improbably, like the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel respectively. At least from where I was standing.

Sam Endicott
The Bravery, last night.

The songs are a mish-mash of The Killers, Interpol, The Strokes with some heavy sequencing and keyboard parts that owe a debt to New Order. They're not bad songs, in fact "Honest Mistake", "Swollen Summer" and set closer "Fearless" are all excellent, but The Bravery can't hold a candle to the bands mentioned above. They don't have the killer tunes of The Killers, the swagger of The Strokes, the intensity of Interpol or the inventiveness of New Order. The songs are somewhat formulaic with little depth and Endicott's lyrics often grate; I may be singing along to "Honest Mistake" now but in five years time I fear I'll have trouble recalling its very existence. That'll be the Alzheimers kicking in. It's an energetic and entertaining performance, mind, which culminates in some excellent stage diving by the bassist and one of those cringeworthy moments when a member of the audience gets hold of the microphone and reminds us all of the name of the band that we're watching in one long, drawn out bellow before passing the mic to the person next to him who does exactly the same.

The Bravery have already scheduled another gig at the same venue in May. Might give that one a miss.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

REM, Sheffield Arena, 21st Feb 2005

After we'd driven for almost 2 hours from Manchester, taking the snowy, scenic, slow route from Manchester to Sheffield, paid £5 for the privilege of parking in the venue's car park, eaten super-size portions at a moderately expensive american diner in the nearby retail park, queued in the snow to get in, sat craning our necks towards the stage to watch Now It's Overhead attempt to fill the cavernous, soulless arena with their unremarkable brand of college rock, Stipe and Buck amble onto the stage too early for it to be the start of the gig and tell us that Mike Mills has done a Jacko - he's on his way to hospital with flu-like symptoms, and so the gig's cancelled.

I'm gutted. More so than I should be. I was dreading another setlist filled with what REM deem their European audience wants to hear, ie. Everybody Hurts, Animal, some godawful dirges from New Adventures, I Took Your Name as an opener, a ton of stuff from Around The Sun, The Great Beyond etc. But, It's REM, they've made most of the last 20 years of my life worth living. I'll forgive them anything.

Fortunately Buck has brought his guitar onto the stage and so we get excellent acoustic versions of "The One I Love", "Leaving New York", "I've Been High" and the inevitable "Losing My Religion". We listen intently to these morsels they're throwing for us, bent on taking in every last drop while all around us idiots chatter away, text their friends, arena audiences - why do they bother coming at all?

Anyway, the replay is set for June 15th, just 2 days before their Lancashire Cricket Club date, and enough time for "Radio Free Europe" and "Life And How To Live It" to wend their ways into the playlist. Maybe.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Art Brut, Manchester Roadhouse, 19th Feb 2005

We go to tonight's gig on the strength of the Art Brut single "Formed A Band" which appeared in John Peel's posthumous Festive Fifty and has a chorus which, despite barely having a tune to speak of, is highly infectious. Also, it's only a fiver (plus 20% booking fee) to get in, which is pretty good in a world of steadily increasing ticket prices (sorry Mercury Rev, your disappointing new album doesn't warrant the price of a ticket on your latest tour (£15 +). And neither does yours, REM (£35 +), but I'll pay it anyway on the off-chance that you'll play "7 Chinese Brothers" or "Life And How To Live It").

Support tonight comes from Dublin quintet The Chalets who mix pure indie-pop with rock'n'roll and are reminiscent of Athens GA bands The B-52's and Pylon and some other 80's girlie pop bands that I can't quite recall. Anyway, they're excellent. Their two female singers/keyboardists take centre stage wearing matching, symetrical dresses AND matching, symetrical tattoos. It's only their Katie Harris style haircuts that stop them from being perfect mirror-images of each other. And the fact that they don't really look much alike. They are flanked by two male guitarists, who share guitar/bass playing duties and also sing, and backed up by a male drummer, who doesn't. They sing about domestic violence on "Love Punch" and about going "on holiday / with someone who is gay", and about four songs in they really hit their stride - the girls, who rarely sing out of unison, trading lines with the boys to great effect. As good a support band as I've seen for a long time and ones to watch in the future.

"Look at us! We formed a band!"

The exasperation evident in the chorus of "Formed A Band" seems well founded as Art Brut take the stage. They are a disparate bunch: the bass player, a goth chick; guitarist 1, nu metalhead; guitarist 2, computer programmer - he's even wearing his suit; drummer, er, can't remember to be honest; singer, overgrown schoolkid with big eyebrows, like Charlie from Busted/Fightstar's older, wayward brother. It's no secret that they don't take themselves too seriously and that their main ambition is to appear on Top Of The Pops, an ambition which, on the evidence of tonight's gig, will surely be realised sooner rather than later.

Lead singer Eddie Argos takes his place atop the speaker cabinets which double as a crash barrier at the front of the stage, towering over his audience like Julian Cope when he used to have that massive mike stand thing. The band lay down their grooves while Eddie sings/talks through songs which take potshots at the NME, Velvet Underground, Britpop, the LA lifestyle, it's all very topical and much of what I can hear (poor sound where we're standing at the front right of the stage) hits the mark. He's not remotely a good singer, sounding like Robert Smith trying to do Mark E Smith, but it doesn't remotely matter: the band sounds great, the songs fizz with energy, and almost every line lands a punch on someone who had it coming. "Moving To LA" and "Bad Weekend" sound particularly good while "These Animal Menswe@r" is almost lives up to its title.

They end with a song which goes "Art Brut/Top Of The Pops/Art Brut/Top Of The Pops/The Chalets/Top Of The Pops/The Chalets/Top Of The Pops". Let's hope so.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Dears, Manchester Academy 2, 4th Feb 2005

I've no real preconceptions of The Dears going into this one. Mrs Ledge bought the No Cities Left CD a while back and I've listened to it occasionally, usually in the background while washing up/ironing etc. Anyway, I know no song titles except for "Lost In The Plot" which, great though it is, has yet to lose that Damon Albarn sings Morrissey albatross, but I sense that the album has potential if given a proper listen.

Support comes from Ambulance Ltd who kick off with an excellent instrumental and go downhill from there. They're not particularly bad, and they're young and earnest enough to suggest that they won't fade into obscurity, but their inoffensive indie/alt.country schtick just washes over me.

The Dears arrive and thankfully Murray Lightburn looks nothing like Damon Albarn, and, tonight at least, sounds nothing like Damon Albarn. Thank God. The first two songs drift by in an ambient haze and are excellent. I've no idea what they are called or whether they are on No Cities Left. Maybe they're towards the end of the album, in that graveyard slot for any album that is only listened to whilst washing up, ironing etc., loath as I am to ever start listening to a CD from any place other than track 1.

Off stage a small miracle has occurred as Mrs Ledge is afforded an excellent view of the stage without having to stand right at the front, her 4'10" frame being posited behind a large crowd of similarly sized young girls. On stage The Dears go from strength to strength. They sound less restrained than on record, and are clearly enjoying themselves, and they can really play. I stand mesmerised for the rest of the gig, my mind focused on what's going on in front of me. The play "We Can Have It" and it sounds so much better than the inferior rip off of Spiritualized's "Out Of Sight" that I previously had it pegged as. On "Lost In The Plot" the crowd drowns out the band singing the "don't mess with our love" part and it's the highlight of the show. Other stuff I recognise from No Cities Left, "Who Are You, Defenders Of The Universe" and "The Second Part" are both excellent, though their most obvious Smiths tribute "Don't Lose The Faith" is sadly omitted.

All too soon it's over. I'm genuinely surprised to find out they've been on stage for over an hour when it feels like half that. Oh well, time to give that CD a proper listen.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Adam Green, Manchester Night & Day Cafe, 1st Feb 2005

Tonight's sold out gig at the Night & Day is the first time I've seen Adam Green since the Moldy Peaches went their separate ways, and the first time I've seen him not dressed as Robin Hood. Since then he's released three albums and managed to re-invent himself as some sort of indie lounge crooner, though quite where he fits in the whole indie scheme of things these days I'm not too sure. The Peaches had their anti-folk scene and swept into the public eye hanging on to the coattails of The Strokes; they had hilarious, filthy lyrics and great tunes, and were a welcome comic counterpart to The Strokes linear rock sensibilities.

Tonight's support is from The Gnomes, who also happen to be Green's backing band. They play a familiar backwoods indie rock fused with a bit of alt.country and are dressed accordingly: skinny jeans: check, denim jacket: check, lumberjack shirt: check (ha), corduroy jacket: check, beards: check, t-shirt advertising random BBQ house in the Deep South: check. They sound ok, swapping turns at the mic with the drummer getting all the best songs.

When Adam Green takes the stage he looks every bit Julian Casablancas' kid brother, his slightly frazzled demeanor recalling that of Casablancas at The Strokes' dismal V2004 appearance where the frontman seemingly phoned in his performance from an Amsterdam karaoke bar. Thankfully Green is nowhere near as bad. He opens with "Choke On A Cock", a song which mixes politics and showtunes and filth, in a good way. The rich texture of his voice suits the songs well and The Gnomes sound far better than when playing their own songs earlier in the evening. The songs come thick and fast: "Gemstones" is all over the place, changing musical direction and tempo at the drop of a hat; "Emily" and "Bluebirds" are a delight; "Computer Show" and "Dance With Me" leave me wondering why I never bought his first album. He clearly enjoys himself and the adoration of the crowd but I can't tell if he's taking himself seriously or not and therefore I'm not sure if I can do the same.

The only low point of the evening was the presence of a few idiotic (and seriously underage) fans who insisted on throwing their super-size me bodies around at the front of the stage, pissing off many people who wanted to watch the gig without getting an elbow in the ribs every two seconds. After all, this was more Tony Bennett than Green Day. When Mrs. Ledge complained she got the stock teenage reply "Its a GIG!!!". "It's not a gig, its assault, fuckwit" we reply in our best Victor Meldrew voices. Or perhaps not. During the encore of the excellent "Over The Sunrise" and the disappointing "Jessica Simpson" another very tall idiot in a blue t-shirt pushes his way to the front and throws himself about, slamming into one girl so hard that she's almost in tears. "It's a GIG!!!" he says, after being challenged by her boyfriend. Threats are made. We slink off into the night, amused, abused, bemused.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

American Music Club, Manchester Hop & Grape, 30th Jan 2005

So, American Music Club return after a 10 year haitus during which I completely lost interest in the works of Mark Eitzel after buying his debut solo effort, the utterly forgettable 60 Watt Silver Lining. It was a welcome relief that they split up in the first place after their awful final album San Francisco so I approached their resurrection with much trepidation. The new album, Love Songs for Patriots, however, was a revelation, easily their best work since Everclear and containing actual tunes like what they used to write before the Red Right Hand of the major labels steered them so disastrously off course in the early 90's.

To the gig. Support band The Amazing Pilots, from Ireland, were ok: some nice tunes but nothing to set them apart from the crowd. Their biggest cheer came when the lead singer got a call from his mate Ryan while the guitarist was sorting out problems between songs. "Hey, Ryan, how's it going?...I'm actually in the middle of a gig...yeah, like now" and so on.

AMC took the stage looking roughly 11 years older to a man since I last saw them about 11 years ago. Vudi is still stick thin and looks about 90 in contrast to Eitzel, whose waistline was wisely hidden for most of the gig by a cumbersome overcoat, and Dan Pearson whose middle age spread has merely served to increase his brooding presence behind his bass - think Christian Slater in 10 years time if he really lets himself go. New Keyboard player Marc Chapelle I recognise, days later, as being one of the extended Lambchop family. Not a bad thing.

The set was culled mainly from Patriots and the overrated Mercury. Why do so many people insist that this is their best album? It's got some good songs like "Johnny Mathis' Feet" and "I've Been A Mess", the latter of which they played tonight, but it doesn't come close to Engine, United Kingdom, California or Everclear. Those albums are packed with great tunes, great lyrics and great, spare, arrangements compared to the over-produced, over-written, under-melodious disappointment that is Mercury. I could apply this in triplicate to San Francisco but they wisely chose not to treat us with any choice cuts from that album. Anyway, rant over. They played as if they'd never been away, the new stuff from Patriots coming across particularly well, especially "Myopic Books" and the mesmerising "Patriot's Heart". Of the old stuff "Why Won't You Stay" transported us back to the days when they could do no wrong, "Outside This Bar" rocked in all the right places and "Western Sky" was a predictable, but welcome, encore. It's what they didn't play that disappointed: "Nightwatchman" and "Blue And Gray Shirt" (their finest moment in my opinion) had been dusted down on previous dates on this tour but not tonight, and, c'mon guys, "The Hula Maiden"? Is it too much to ask? Er, well, I didn't ask, and I didn't get. And they finished about 20 minutes short of the 10:30 curfew, plenty of time to raid the back catalogue further.