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

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Manchester Academy 2, 19th Mar 2005

As is customary nowadays, we miss the first band, The Black, and we quite enjoy the main support Division of Laura Lee, a no frills rock band from Gothenburg. It's a slow start with the lead singer, an unfortunate cross between Daniel Beddingfield and Shrek, spending the length of the first song trying to get his guitar to work, but they quickly make up for it with a set which is loud, energetic and features some decent rock songs with great choruses. Good preparation for And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead then, no?

No. There is no way you can prepare yourself for what occurs in the next hour and a half. They take the stage to the strains of "Ode To Isis" (which sounds far more potent and ominous as intro music for this gig than it does as the intro to Worlds Apart) and launch into a furious version of that album's opener "Will You Smile Again?". It's loud, very loud; an aural assault a million miles from the relatively restrained album version. And it's a blessed relief. Yeah, I like the album; it got mixed reviews but it's choc-a-bloc with great songs (title track excepted), it's just that the production is a bit too clean-cut and, dare I say, mainstream and therefore lacks the thrust and energy of Source Tags & Codes or Madonna. The two old live tracks tagged onto the end are like gatecrashers at a dinner party and are effectively a misguided concession to the band's hardcore fanbase - "yeah, the album doesn't rock that much but check this out". The band and record company have got a lot to answer for on that one.

Anyway, tonight the songs from Worlds Apart are pummelled to within an inch of their lives as Trail of Dead stir up a veritable shitstorm of noise and energy which rarely lets up throughout. "The Rest Will Follow", "Classic Arts Showcase" and "The Best" are all given the treatment and are better for it. Best of all is "Caterwaul" which does exactly what it says on the tin and features some excellent backing vocals from the increasingly Coxon-esque Kevin Allen. Elsewhere, the tried and trusted staples of the Trail of Dead live experience are dragged kicking and screaming before us. "It Was There That I Saw You" is an early highlight with the ebb and flow of Conrad Keeley's hollered verses and Kevin Allen's sublime guitar work really hitting the mark. "Totally Natural" and "A Perfect Teenhood" are riotous crowd-pleasers with Keeley at his manic, electric best. When Jason Reece takes the stage things go into overdrive; the guy is seriously demonic and during "Caterwaul" and "Aged Dolls" you can't take your eyes off the frenzy being kicked up on stage.

If energy levels drop a little towards the end then the encore makes up for it with scintillating versions of "Mistakes And Regrets" and "Richter Scale Madness". Stage invaders are personally ejected back into the throng by Mr. Reece with great force. The ritual destruction of instruments at the end is the night's only disappointment with Reece practically disassembling his drum kit as if he was doing the roadies a favour.

Still, a great night. Trail Of Dead are one of the great live rock acts of our time and should never be underestimated, whatever the merits of their recorded output.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Raveonettes, Manchester Hop & Grape, 13th Mar 2005

This tour is sponsored by Jim Beam. I'm not sure why but I'm not complaining as we each get a voucher for a free glass of Jim Beam with either Coke or ginger ale in exchange for our tickets at the door. I settle of the Coke option as the bar doesn't seem to stock ginger ale. A marketing oversight perhaps, made up for by the fact that if you leave the venue to go to the loo at any point you get a ticket back to allow you re-entry AND another free voucher for a glass of Jim Beam and Coke when you return. A cheap night, then.

A lack of research means that we miss most of The Boxer Rebellion, a band who Mrs Ledge wanted to see. There were, we thought, four bands on the bill. However, The Queens of Noize are not the pisspoor girlie metal band to avoid that we had them down for but are, instead, a couple of girls DJing for the evening. And they are pisspoor, also. They play some good stuff but there are gaps between records that you could drive a tank through and their copy of Squeeze's Cool For Cats is so scratched that it lasts about 30 seconds start to finish. And yet they let it play. Amateurs*. And they're selling fucking T-shirts!

*I later learn from their website that this is how it's supposed to be and that they've got loads of celebrity friends like Courtney Love and The Libertines just 'cos they're a bit shit at DJing and it's all a bit ironic. Now I just feel stupid. Duh.

Anyway, we catch the last two songs of the unremarkable Boxer Rebellion (a bit like The Verve, says Mrs L.) and next up are Dogs (another terrible band name - try Googling that in Crufts week) who I've never heard of and who, as soon becomes apparent, are another bunch of post-Libertines chancers from London. They're certainly better than the likes of Razorlight and The Others (not difficult), and their sound often harks back to the post-punk days of the late 70's, to Sham 69 and The Boomtown Rats, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Except for the Sham 69 bit.

I've never been a fan of the indie garage rock scene and have a particular dislike for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Jesus and Mary Chain so I've not really been looking forward to this gig. Mrs Ledge likes The Raveonettes, however, and sometimes acquiescence is the safest option.

They open with "Somewhere In Texas" from their forthcoming Pretty In Black album and it's excellent, a thumping dark country blues number which reminds me of early Green On Red. Unfortunately it's as good as things get. The best stuff seems to be the new stuff and suggests that Pretty In Black will be a more varied package than their previous releases and might well be worth a listen. Two tracks in particular sounded very 60's pop, I think one may have been a Motown cover and the other was very close to the Everly Brothers' All I Have To Do Is Dream. Frontwoman Sharin Foo, however, is watchable throughout with her striking looks, excellent vocals and sexy Gretsch semi-acoustic. Bandmate Sune is far less imposing, having all the presence of the wisp of hair on his upper lip which he's trying to pass off as a moustache. And a particularly poor haircut. The fans love it, though, and I suppose that's what counts in the end.

I leave slightly disappointed, slightly drunk, but slighly intrigued as to what the new album sounds like.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Engineers + Clor, Manchester Night & Day, 9th Mar 2005

I don't usually give support bands a nod in my blog headers but Clor get there by virtue of the fact that they blew the headliners off the stage at the Night & Day on Wednesday night. We'd missed the openers Pellumair and arrived shortly after Clor had started. My initial thoughts were that they had a bit of the Bloc Party/Franz Ferdinand NewWaveOfBritArtRock vibe about them as the first song had a twitchy guitar thing going, reminiscent of early Talking Heads or Wire. These thoughts were quickly vaporised by the rest of the set which veered from prog rock to death metal to electropop to soul, sometimes all in the same song, but Clor have a pop sensibility akin to Guided By Voices that ensured that things didn't get out of hand. And it was thrilling, energising stuff; the proggy bits owed a small debt to Pavement and Steve Malkmus's solo stuff, there were shades of the Pixies in the metally stuff and one song ("Magic Touch", I think) reminided of Midnite Vultures-era Beck. I haven't seen a band so wilfully all over the place since The Fiery Furnaces supported Franz Ferdinand at The Academy last year and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

We got tickets for this gig after hearing Engineers described as "nu-gazer". I have some fond memories of the shoegazing scene of the early '90s when bands like Ride, Pale Saints and the peerless My Bloody Valentine sang sweet, doleful songs under a Wall Of Guitar while staring at their desert boots. (I have less fond memories of Catherine Wheel, Chapterhouse and Revolver doing the same, but that's best forgotten). I can't deny that they would have fitted in well back then but unfortunately, after the unabashed entertainment provided by Clor, Engineers take a while to register. The lighting set-up doesn't help: they are harshly backlit and though the effect is pleasing at first, after 10 minutes I get sick of wondering what they look like or how many are in the band. I see the lead singer, bassist and occasionally the guitarist. The drummer (it sounded like live drums) is completely obscured from view for the entire set. The Wall Of Guitar is certainly present throughout and gets better and better as things proceed. Towards the end of their 7 or 8 song set they play "Home" and "Forgiveness" and both are excellent. The closing instrumental (obligatory for a shoegazer band) has two chords and a gargantuan guitar/keyboard sound and rumbles on pleasingly for 10 minutes or so during which the entire band, except for the bass player, are needlessly obscured from view by the light show. They could have been playing a tape for all we know.

So there's hope for Engineers, but then, even Revolver had a couple of good songs.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Wedding Present, Leeds Poly, 6th Mar 2005

Aah, I remember nostalgia. Last year the Pixies burst unexpectedly back into our lives to remind us how incredible they were with their ferocious sets at V2004 and Move, not that we really needed reminding but we're glad they did it. This year The Wedding Present have returned to action after a nine year break and I do feel like I need to be reminded of their greatness, or if, indeed, they were that great in the first place.

The new album Take Fountain is something of a return to form after the disappointing last two Wedding Present albums, Watusi and Saturnalia. I quite liked some of Gedge's Cinerama stuff but he's far better when he's miserable and writing about fractured relationships as he did in his Weddoes heyday. His split with Cinerama partner Sally Murrell certainly seems to have put the edge back into Gedge, to paraphrase a particularly poor Bravery lyric.

This is about the 21st time I've seen The Wedding Present, the 7th at Leeds Poly alone, and it's good to see that the venue is still as good as ever, it being about five years since I was last here (Teenage Fanclub, I think) . The crowd is made up mostly of the same people who used to go watch them way back when: men, now in their late thirties/early forties. There aren't too many women in the audience and certainly not many people too young to have seen them first time round. I catch a brief glimpse of support band Scanners, a fairly conventional but nonetheless decent indie rock act with a singer/bassist who has a bit of a Kim Deal thing going on; not a bad thing for me or for most of the audience.

The Wedding Present take the stage to rapturous homecoming applause and go straight into the opening On Ramp/Interstate 5 combo of Take Fountain. "Interstate 5" is the best thing on the new album and tonight it's even better, coaxing goosebumps from my warm, sweaty skin and they haven't even played any old stuff yet. Next up is "Crawl", one of my favourite ever Weddoes songs (even though I can't remember what it's called at the time, it's been so long since I heard it). Tonight's full on electric version doesn't really do it justice (I much prefer the acoustic strum of the original) but it's marvelous all the same. As is everything else tonight, from newies like "I'm From Further North Than You" through to Cinerama's "Careless" through to the brilliant back-to-back renditions of "Dalliance" and "Dare" from Seamonsters. "Kennedy" and "My Favourite Dress" really get the middle aged mosh pit going, "Once More", the first Weddoes song I ever heard (thanks John Peel), is an unexpected treat and the closer "What Have I Said Now" is a glorious finale, a bruising guitar romp compared to the more subdued Bizzaro version. Any reservations about the lack of history of the other band members are forgotten as they rise superbly to the task in hand. And Gedge is on fine form between songs, grilling a female fan who wants him to get his cock out, apologising for writing too many brilliant songs to play in one night and hinting that there will be more to come from the Wedding Present in the coming months and years.

So, all in all, a brilliant return, and return to form, for David Gedge and co. I think I used to take The Wedding Present for granted back in the old days but they've come back to remind us that, yes, they were, and still are, one of the truly great British indie bands of our time.