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

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Go-Betweens, Liverpool Academy, 10th May 2005

That The Go-Betweens are playing such a small venue tonight is a travesty of epic proportions. That the venue is only half full is beyond belief. I need a reality check. It’s 2005, nineteen years since I first saw the band play at the Leeds Warehouse in front of a slightly larger crowd - they weren't exactly selling out the Apollo during their Eighties heyday.

Openers Songdog look just days away from drawing their pensions. They play to about 10 people, but look like they’re used to it. Theirs is a brand of acoustic Americana favoured by the likes of Uncut magazine. The singer stands hunched over the mic, strumming his acoustic, singing plaintive accounts of past loves, murder, the usual country fare. At least one line in every song implicates him in some form of sexual act, which is not something you’d want to imagine; kind of like thinking about your grandparents going at it. Ugh. His two sidekicks in the meantime, well, don’t really do that much at all: the odd drum flourish here, the occasional guitar lick there, but most of the time they just sit and watch with the rest of us. The restraint is admirable, but borders on plain bone idleness.

One big advantage of small, half-full venues such as this is that you can get right to the front to view your heroes at close quarters. Grant McLennan bounces onto the stage looking slimmer and healthier than I've seen him in a long time. In contrast, Robert Forster looks much less dapper than usual, his suit crumpled and faded, his shoes badly in need of repair. They begin with a track each from their three "comeback" albums all of which serve to reinforce the belief that theirs was one of the more worthwhile comebacks of recent times.

Such is the strength of the Go-B's back catalogue that they can't go wrong tonight. Few bands can even dream of writing songs of the calibre of "To Reach Me", "Cattle And Cane" and "Streets Of Your Town" but tonight we get them in quick succession much to the delight of the fervent crowd. New songs "Here Comes A City" and "Darlinghurst Nights" get rapturous receptions, the former one of very few Go-Betweens songs that wears an influence on its sleeve; in this case Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime". It's brilliant all the same.

With rhythm section Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson providing excellent backing Forster and McLennan go from strength to strength, but, great as they sound, I can't help thinking back to that Eighties heyday with Amanda Brown, Lindy Morrisson and Robert Vickers when the band could really hit the heights. What's lacking from this current incarnation is a multi-instrumentalist of the calibre of Amanda Brown - "Bye Bye Pride" just isn't the same without her clarinet weaving in and out of the mix.

Anyway, in the two encores we get superb acoustic renditions of "The Devil's Eye" and "Part Company" and matters are brought to a close with "Bye Bye Pride" and "Dive For Your Memory", four more stonewall classics from yesteryear. The crowd make their way home positively buzzing. And to think they didn't even play "Head Full Of Steam", "Twin Layers Of Lightening", "Five Words", "Spirit Of A Vampyre", "The Clarke Sisters".....

The Futureheads, Manchester Academy, 9th May 2005

There's something strange going on tonight. We enter the venue towards the end of the opening band's set and hear screams, the scream of the Busted fan returned. I can't remember the name of the band but the one song I heard was shit, and dumb enough to be appreciated by the owners of the prepubescent wails. Maybe they had appeared on Saturday morning TV and were hotly tipped to be the next disposable icons of kiddie rock.

But no, the kids are still wailing during the interval before the arrival of the Mystery Jets. And they're wailing at the Mystery Jets as they set up their own gear. Given this, it's a surprise to find that the Mystery Jets play a fairly lumpen prog rock, are ugly as fuck and that their guitarist is old enough to be the father of the rest of them, and the grandaddy of the screamers. Not the ingredients for the new darlings of the kiddie rock scene, you'd have thought, and the band do, quite shamelessly, seem overawed by the adolescent attention.

So it's The Futureheads the kids have latched onto after the demise of Busted. Why they've fallen for four ordinary looking Sunderland lads with a penchant for loud new wave art rock I don't know; The Kaiser Chiefs with their wacky antics and straight-laced pop tunes would have been a more suitable choice. Anyway, at least us grown-ups in the audience are joining in now, drowning out the squeals for the most part as The Futureheads' opening blast of "Decent Days and Nights" followed closely by "The City Is Here For You To Use" goes down a storm. It's loud, energetic and pretty much what I'd expect from the band as they make their way through their eponymous album with the occasional b-side and cover thrown in for good measure. There's also a new track called "Areas" which indicates that there's gonna be no great advancement in the 'heads' sound on the difficult second album.

Between songs they engage the crowd in a witty Wearside banter which soon becomes a witty but wearisome banter as it occurs between every single song, without fail. This slows the gig down and stops the band from getting any sort of momentum going, which is disappointing, although Ross, Barry and Jaff are all rather engaging in their on-stage musings. Drummer Dave says very little.

Highlights include "Robot", "Stupid And Shallow" and their excellent cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds Of Love" during which the crowd are invited to sing the oh-uh-oh parts. The encore includes a superb reading of "Danger Of The Water" ("our only slow song," they admit) as well as an electrifying "Le Garage" and proceedings are rounded off by an exhuberant half-cover of Neil Young's "Piece Of Crap" which, with its revamped verses, sounds as far from the original as their version of "Hounds of Love".

Everyone, kids and grown-ups alike, goes home happy, ears ringing. The Futureheads are a classy live act who could do with cutting down on the inter-song banter and just basically getting on with it to allow the natural energy of their songs to really thrive.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Arcade Fire, Manchester Academy, 4th May 2005

The most hotly anticipated gig of the year so far has been upgraded to the Academy from the Hop And Grape, a remarkable feat for a band that few people on this side of the Atlantic had heard of before the start of the year.

First up is Final Fantasy, AKA Owen Pallett, an unassuming young Canadian playing his first gig outside of North America (as Final Fantasy at least: he's also a member of The Hidden Cameras) and playing to a larger crowd than he is accustomed to.

Armed only with a violin, he gradually builds a backing track by playing individual phrases and looping them to create the effect of a string quartet backing him to which he then sings and plays along. It sounds amazing as the loops build and build with Pallett plucking, scraping and hammering at his instrument with great skill to create surprisingly rich and complex textures. The songs are pretty good too and just when I'm starting to think he's got a bit of a Joanna Newsom thing going on he goes and plays an excellent cover of Newsom's "Peach, Plum, Pear". He even rocks out a bit towards the end, barking into his violin pick-up to weave his voice into the loop. It's an enthralling performance and the crowd are very appreciative.

The Arcade Fire don't disappoint. From the opening "Wake Up" through to the beautiful closing rendition of "In The Backseat" they thrill the crowd with a performance of power, precision, energy, stagediving and robotic dancing. "Wake Up" and "Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)" get things off to an exhilirating start with geeky multi-instrumentalist Richard Parry beating shit out of anything that gets in his way in the name of percussion during the latter. Instruments are swapped between (and during) songs as the band keep up the momentum, making their way through their Funeral album and adding a couple of cuts from their earlier EP. Regine Chassagne in particular seems to be able to turn her hand to anything, playing keyboards and accordian, providing excellent backing and lead vocals and even getting behind the drumkit for a couple of numbers towards the end.

They reach full throttle with "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)" followed by "Rebellion(Lies)" during which the stage is positively swimming with energy. There is an intensity in these songs that is only hinted at on Funeral; when Win Butler sings "sleeping is giving in" on "Rebellion" you know he's talking the truth. It eventually gets too much for him on stage and he dives headfirst into the transfixed throng in front of him. When he's returned too quickly for his own liking, he does it again.

The encore brings an excellent cover of Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" with Chassagne on steel drums this time, and ends with "In The Backseat" during which she seems close to breaking. Butler exits stage front again, this time clutching a bass guitar. The crowd don't give him back this time and that's the last I see of him. When the rest of the band leave the stage the stunned audience is left singing the final song's refrain over and over and over.