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

Friday, April 29, 2005

Hot Hot Heat, Manchester Ritz, 28th April 2005

Expectations were low for this one. And with good reason, as it turned out.

The Fever got us off to a bad start with their forgettable brand of dancey garage rock. I didn't suspect that things could get much worse, but they did. The Departure dress predominantly in black, save for the neckerchiefs (more of which later), and peddle an increasingly familiar brand of glum, early 80's influenced indie rock (cf. the much more impressive Editors). It's depressing stuff but for all the wrong reasons. The songs are dull, passionless, redundant homages to the likes of Suede, Echo And The Bunnymen, U2 and Interpol (the bass player even wears braces à la Carlos D). The singer is as uncharismatic and unconvincing as any I've seen for a long time. They make The Bravery look like The Arcade Fire.

And what's the thing with neckerchiefs these days? Dogs, Razorlight, Libertines and now this: the singer's is a blue and white polka dot affair which hangs from his back pocket like a big hankie and which he eventually takes out and wraps around his microphone as if wiping off fingerprints before the taste police arrive to charge him with crimes against indie. The frankly scary-looking guitarist sports a red and white number which part obscures his newly bought, I'm-down-with-you-Mancs, "Queen Is Dead" t-shirt. In short, they look really fuckin stupid.

Anyway, Hot Hot Heat are up next. Surely things will get better? Thus far this band has managed to pass below my radar. I know they're from Canada, a hotbed of new indie talent; I've heard "Bandages" but not listened intently enough to form an opinion of it; and Mrs Ledge once said that they sounded a bit like The Cure. They start off ok with the lead singer a manic presence behind his keyboards and the rest of the band letting him get on with it, reluctant to display the sort energy that their high energy songs suggest they should. About four songs in they reach their peak with "Ladies And Gentlemen" from their new album Elevator but from then on it's downhill all the way. There's no let up in tempo and the singer's yelping/whining voice begins to grate and annoy (the fact that he looks like John Power from the excruciatingly awful Cast doesn't help matters). Each song becomes indistinguishable from the last. I get really bored. "Bandages" is played at the end. I listen intently. It's crap. The encore is mercifully brief. I never want to see any of these bands again. Ever.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bloc Party, Manchester Academy, 17th April 2005

Tonight we get there on time cos it's Pretty Girls Make Graves supporting and they've been pretty great the two times we saw 'em last year, at the Hop And Grape on Valentine's Day and at the Leeds Festival. They take a while to get going tonight; a muted version of "This Is Our Emergency" is depatched early on and it's not until they play a couple of excellent new songs mid-set that they start hitting their stride. The closing "Speakers Push The Air" is more like it, with lead singer Andrea Zollo really going for it and clearly having a whale of a time. Then they're gone.

Bloc Party start things off with the pounding "Like Eating Glass" and then launch into the magnificent "Positive Tension". It's a great start and the crowd lap it up. The band look relaxed and happy, like they're taking this fame thing in their stride, Kele especially is far more at ease with the crowd than when we saw him at the Night And Day back in October last year.

Muddled versions of "This Modern Love" and "Blue Light" bring us all back down to earth. They seem to struggle with the quieter numbers, trying to beef them up instead of staying true to the recorded versions, and end up throwing too much into the pot, leaving a big gooey mess.

No worries. Right after the disappointment of "Blue Light" we get the double whammy of "Banquet" and "Helicopter", the evening's undisputed highlights. Surf's up as the moshpit swells, depositing young thrill-seekers into the eager arms of the security at stage front.

An excellent rendition of "Pioneers" rounds off the main set just nine songs in but they're back on a couple of minutes later to give us "So Here We Are" and show us that they can do the quiet ones when they put their minds to it. "Price Of Gas" follows and Kele's call of "we're gonna win this" gets the crowd going again. "Tulips" is magnificent - another highlight - and "The Answer" rounds things off to a very satisfactory conclusion.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Joanna Newsom, Manchester Academy 2, 14th April 2005

Parking is the main problem tonight. With all three Academy venues hosting gigs I finally find a space at the dodgy end of Denmark Road. I get to walk past the sad Terrorvision fans filing into The Academy, and past the touts outside trying to offload tickets for a fiver. The only hot ticket in town tonight is for Joanna Newsom at the Academy 2. While I'm parking, Mrs Ledge queues for tickets to future gigs in the union foyer and spots Johnny Marr making his way upstairs to watch Six Organs of Admittance - tonight's main support.

The gig had been advertised as "partially seated" which makes sense given the nature of the musical fare on offer. However, on entering the hall there isn't a chair in sight and the place is packed already. The promoters obviously bowed to an extraordinary demand for tickets and scrapped that idea. Not only is the hall packed, but it's packed with extremely tall people. Joanna Newsom has got the tallest following of any artist I've ever seen. The area at the front of the stage is almost exclusively a male preserve; tall men, young and old, awaiting the arrival of their elfin goddess. Mrs L, who was looking forward to sitting with a decent view of the action, is now resigned to another two hours of staring at some tall guy's back.

Yet again we miss the first band. In the last three gigs we've missed The Black, half of The Magic Numbers and now White Magic. Spooky. Six Organs of Admittance are from California and play lo-fi folk. It's a shaky start as the first song grates with annoying distorted vocals from the female singer as she tinkles away on her keyboard accompanied by the occasional tambourine flourish from Six Organs' protagonist, Ben Chasny. As the song progresses, however, its repeated verse becomes, at first, tolerable and then essential. I miss it when its gone. After a forgettable second song the duo take up their acoustic guitars for the rest of the set. In keeping with the lo-fi ethic the guitars are wildly out of tune and attempts to tune up between songs are perfunctory to say the least. The resulting discord lends a ramshackle charm to the songs, though I seem to be one of only a few among the chattering throng who recognises this.

Joanna Newsom enters to rapturous applause, strides purposefully to the front of the stage and proceeds to belt out "Yarn And Glue" at the top of her voice; unaccompanied and unamplified. Its a brave opening gambit and works a treat. The crowd fall silent, straining to hear. Joanna begins to clap along like an excited schoolgirl. The audience does the same, completely drowning out the rest of the song.

Joanna then takes to her harp and the remainder of the performance is played out to a hushed, reverential audience who erupt into prolonged applause at the end of each song. The Harp is black and imposing and about as cool looking as a harp can get. She plays with incredible skill and precision, her fingers coated with superglue to protect from the rigours of the tour.

She plays most of the Milk-Eyed Mender album and it sounds amazing, her harp and voice coming across the PA as clear as a bell. She's joined occasionally by a flautist but sounds so compelling unaccompanied that I barely notice. Highlights are "Bridges And Balloons", "Cassiopeia", "Sadie", "Book Of Right-On", "Peach, Plum, Pear", "En Gallop", "Swansea", hell, the whole thing's the highlight. Except for "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" which finishes the main set and is the highlight of the highlights; a remarkable song from a remarkable talent. She's not for everyone, though, and by the time the encore of the stunning "The Sprout And The Bean" comes around the crowd has thinned a little, though not shrunk- the tall people remain enamoured. And in the way. Bridgewater Hall or The Lowry next time, please.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Trying to be like the other blogs..

The excellent Stylus Magazine has a feature on the history of Flying Nun records and the "Dunedin Sound".

Also from Stylus:

A brilliant review of The Others' album. The Others are quite possibly the worst "indie" band in the history of the universe. Did I say "possibly"? I meant "definitely".

A not so brilliant review of Slint at the Theater Of The Living Arts in Philidelphia in which the following sentence is about as linear as it gets:

"When Slint took the stage and the commercial transubstantiation took place, a post-coital acquiescence swept over the crowd. Beneath the veneer of calculated austerity, the once boisterous audience applauded, brimming with expectation..."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Top 10 of the Greatest Songs Ever

Following on from the Doves review...

...in case you were wondering...

...in no particular order...

Cedar Room - Doves
Teenage Riot - Sonic Youth
Pink Frost - The Chills
Grace Cathedral Park - Red House Painters
You Made Me Realise - My Bloody Valentine
Bone Machine - Pixies
I See A Darkness - Bonnie Prince Billy
River Guard - Smog
River Man - Nick Drake
Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want - The Smiths
Pictures Of You - The Cure
Carry Me Ohio - Sun Kil Moon
Slide Away - Oasis
Twin Layers Of Lightning - The Go-Betweens
London Calling - The Clash
Down In The Tubestation At Midnight - The Jam
Now My Heart Is Full - Morrissey
New Slang - The Shins
Venus De Milo - Television
Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye - Leonard Cohen
Alex Chilton - The Replacements

Let me know if I left anything out.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Doves, Manchester Apollo, 6th April 2005

I wasn't particularly looking forward to this one. Doves new album, Some Cities, is a completely underwhelming listen, lacking the ambition and inspiration of their previous efforts. Sometimes hearing such an album played live can result in an epiphany, a realisation that you just didn't get it first time round and that you should go back and listen to it properly. I was hoping that this would happen tonight. It didn't.

Delayed by a swift pint in The Union and the mother of all hailstorms, we arrive, Mrs Ledge and I, somewhere in the middle of The Magic Numbers' set. A strange looking bunch, lots of hair, almost as old as most of the crowd, bass player is Corrie's Angela Harris escaped from prison, definitely a west coast Mamas and Papas thing going on here even though they're from Ealing (via Trinidad). The music has a west coast americana vibe that will have Uncut journalists coming in their pants (but still they'll put The Rolling Stones on the cover again). It all sounds great to start with but the songs seem to go on forever and the audience quickly lose their patience, filling the venue with a level of chatter which threatens to drown the band out. The occasional song shines through such as the single "Hymn To Her" which sounds excellent, but I'd much prefer to see them in a more intimate venue with a more appreciative audience.

Doves get the crowd on their side from the off with the opening trio of "Pounding", "Words" and "Black And White Town" immediately making my trip worthwhile. "Pounding" is especially good, reminding me of what Doves were all about before they went all dour on us with Some Cities. As expected, things do sag during the Some Cities numbers. "Almost Forgot Myself" barely registers and triggers an annoying increase in audience babble and trips to the bar. Ditto "Ambition". These are only minor blips, however. "Sea Song", "Caught By The River" and "The Last Broadcast" all bring the audience back onside, with Jimi Goodwin in fine voice (he gets a bit of stick in some reviews but his voice has a great down-to-earth quality which suits the material) and clearly enjoying playing his home town again after a long time away. Of the older stuff only "New York" outstays its welcome (it was never one of my favourites) and prompts yet more trips to the bar, more people pushing their way through the crowd carrying huge amounts of beer and pissing off everyone who actually wants to watch the gig. Standing next to me in the latter stages is Magic Numbers singer Romeo who nurses a beer in each hand and nods along enthusiastically. I'll forgive him his trip to the bar as he can watch the band every night of the tour. And he was quite polite when pushing past.

The real reason I'm here closes the main set. "The Cedar Room" is in my Top 10 of the Greatest Songs Ever and has, in my opinion, the greatest chorus known to Man. Mrs Ledge claims that my Top 10 of the Greatest Songs Ever contains about 100 songs, and maybe it does, but "The Cedar Room" would definitely be in the Top 10 of those 100. If that makes sense. Anyway, tonight it's awesome, as usual, and I holler along with Jimi, the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention.

The excellent "Here It Comes" kicks off the encores and is followed by "Satellites" and the inevitable, but much appreciated, "There Goes The Fear". It should end there and then but they play the Sub Sub track "Space Face" which puts a dampener on things - I was never into the Hacienda rave scene and so it's of no relevance to me, though it is to the E'd up 30-somethings who greet it like it's in their Top 10. Oh well.

So, no reprieve for Some Cities, and Doves will have to raise their game next time around if they don't want to spend the rest of their careers trading on the excellence of their first two albums.