Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hawkwind. Live at the Instutute review. (16/5/17)

In an unexpected twist, Hawkwind's current support on tour is Hawkwind (8.4/10). Their set at the Institute began with a short half hour acoustic set. Taking a break from interstellar travel to play some tunes around the camp-fire. Unlike Staus Quo these acoustic sets are not a way of covering up a lack of new ideas or ability to play at full volume but more of a chance for Hawkwind to communicate with each other and their fans more openly. The acoustic set gave Hawkwind's ship captain Dave Brock a rare chance to enjoy some nostalgia and relive his busking days. During this set Hawkwind nearly delved into some old jazz standards and Chuck Berry covers. the band and crowd did enjoy some light hearted banter about 'getting yourself together' and the recently detonated Aston Bomb, "did he say bong or bomb?" before Dave decided that the band should get back to playing some Hawkwind classics, "I mean I'm a Hawkwind classic!"
If the little acoustic set found a band nearing their 50th anniversary relaxing and looking back on their past then the second set was anything but. While the topless dancers may have left, the brain melting graphics have not. Hawkwind have been boosted by the addition of new(ish) members, such as their a young(ish) bass player who channels the spirit of Lemmy through his Rickenbacker bass guitar. Hawkwind's current singer is the formidable 'Mr Dibs', who has the task of singing tracks originally sung by a multitude of legendary frontmen.
The setlist was made up of deep cuts from their career such as overlooked 80's gems Psy-Power, 70's classics Warrior on the edge of time and recent tunes from the last two albums who Mr Dibs thanked us for helping chart for two years in a row. But sadly not the interplanetary hoedown of Spaceship Blues. The second set flew by despite almost every song being stretched out over ten minutes.
Mr Dibs thanked the crowd again for coming out year after year to see these "obscure cult motherfuckers", and took photos of everyone in the front rows.
After Hawkwind left the stage an encore was inevitable, yet the demand for one was still amazing, the bands name was chanted over and over while the stomping of feet shook the floor. When Hawkwind did come on stage it was to play their biggest hit 'Silver Machine', with probably the strangest part of the stage show - a dancing badger, and after two and a half hours Hawkwind left the stage.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lowly + Hoopla Blue. Live at the Hare and Hounds review (15/5/17)

 When Chartreuse pulled out due to their guitarist and driver breaking his foot it was up to Hoopla Blue to step in and save the day. As it turns out Hoopla Blue (7.2/10) were a perfect support act for Lowly. Having seen them a few times now I still can't accurately describe their music. They're the kind of band who could only have come out of this decade. They mix odd time signatures, with shimmering guitars, keyboards and some elements of sampling to add to the overall atmosphere. They can go from frantic Battles style math-rock to Wild Beats style grandeur in the space of a song.   Despite making such odd music Hoopla Blue could hardly be described as experimental, as they've honed their sound and they play with a quiet brooding confidence. Hoopla blue seem to get better with each performance.

A few years ago no one would have predicted that Denmark would have produced so many influential artists. Iceage, Communions, Marching Church, Lust For Youth, Liss, and Mo have all helped make a huge impact recently. Lowly (8) are the latest Danish band to break through, having recently released their début album Heba on Bella Union records. Their show at The Hare And Hounds was their very first in Birmingham and Lowly were clearly humbled to be there, saying "What a big crowd you are, so great!" early on. Like many of their Danish contemporaries Lowly are still a pop group at heart, no matter how experimental or avant-garde they get. Much like Mercury Rev, Lowly may sound mellow and dreamy on record, yet their songs are far more powerful when performed live. They bought an array of keyboards with them to help build a huge wall of sound, most of which were mixed and multi-tasked by the keyboard wizard Kasper Staub. Lowly can go from sounding overwhelmingly huge to bringing a whole room to absolute silence. One of these incidents was when one piece of kit seemed to break. The crowd stood in absolute silence before joining the band in awkward laughter. Lowly's vocals were split between Soffie Viemose and Nanna Schannong. While Nanna lent gentle melodies to their sound with her guitar. Soffie stood out with her fantastic voice and nonchalant dancing as being the front-woman of the band. Simply tossing aside a request for their breakthrough single 'Daydreamers' with a simple 'haha no'. While Nanna invited the audience to come over and say hi, and that they didn't have to buy anything, Lowly seem like genuinely nice people. Despite being such a new band Lowly have created a unique sound. That they've managed to do this while still making memorable pop songs and without being over pretentious seems to have been important to their success so far.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hoops + Cymbals. Live at The Hare and Hounds review (7/5/17)

Having rediscovered Cymbals (7.2/10) excellent second album 'The Age of fracture' it still seems strange to me that the band aren't better known. Cymbals refreshingly eclectic update of 80's pop, still sounds fantastic 3 years on. Since then the band seemed to have spawned several more successful and less vibrant imitators. So I was glad to finally get a chance to see them live ahead of the release of their third album 'light in your mind'. Unfortunately the giddy joys of the last album seem to have given way to a more sombre violin led sound. Taking in elements of post-punk and and toning down the exuberance of the earlier material, of the newer songs it was 'fully automated luxury' which stood out as the strongest. Despite being less keen on the newer material, I'm glad that I've finally had the chance to see brilliant songs such as 'the natural age', 'empty space' and 'like an animal' played live.
While the vast majority had come along to see Los Campesinos in the bigger room next door, an admirably candid Hoops (7.6) said 'thanks for coming to our show and not *points at other room*'. . Hoops hail from Bloomington, Illinois. Despite only playing to a relatively small crowd, Hoops were having the time of their lives. Saying that Birmingham is a 'beautiful city' and that 'if you've not been to Illinois then you're not missing much'. Hoops have a slacker charm and a dry sense of humour. 
They don't have a front-man, yet the constantly smiling guitarist Drew, seemed to be the mouthpiece of the band, saying 'I like this song' before almost every song and just shrugging off their keyboards joke that all their songs are shit. Hoops play the sort of hazy, lazy indie rock that used to be associated with Mac Demarco. Despite looking and sounding like slackers, Hoops musical ability sets them apart from most. Many of the songs off their début album are bursting with energy and melody. While they have only just released a record hoops are a fantastically tight live band who've been honing their craft for 6 years. The vintage keyboards and lo-fi guitars give their music a washed out sound, as if it's been warped on an old VHS. The only real fault with Hoops is that despite having three vocalists, none of them are very good at singing. The flat mono-tonal singing suits their sound, but it robs the songs of any real emotional connection. Hoops début album 'Routines' came out last Friday on Fat Possum records and I highly recommend you give it a listen.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Table Scraps & Black Mekon Split 7" Single Launch! (Live at the Hare and hounds review, 27/4/17)

Since the whole 'B-town' thing fell through it feels more like the Birmingham scene has splintered into a few separate scenes. Where Grime, Hip-hop, Grunge, Jazz, Pop-Punk, Metal and Rock all co-exist but rarely come into contact with each other. My favourite of these 'mini scenes' is the tiny garage rock revival that has spawned Table scraps and Black Mekon. Who've just released a split 7" as part of Black Mekon's ongoing 45 consortium project. It was inevitable, as the two bands already share a lock up and live on the same street. The single comes with it's own pair of 3D glasses to view the cover, and the new Table Scraps 3D video (clever marketing that). The stage was projected upon with 3D graphics and lit in red and green.
As I may have pointed out before, Black Mekon (8/10) are about as cool as it gets. 3 dudes in sharp suits and Kato masks playing the blues raw and dirty. Black Mekon have no bassist, only two guitars, but make up with it by frequently blasting out harmonica solos like the bastard child of Elvis Presely and Bob Dylan, and using their own special drum cymbal, which has been named 'The Bomb'. As I've come to expect from a band who only release music on spilt 7"s, Black Mekon's set was full of short sharp blasts of rock 'n roll which rarely last over two minutes. Of all the times I've see them, this show was probably the best. Some highlights of their set were their guitarist jumping about in the crowd while the other guy blasted his harmonica, and the last song, marked on the set-list as "CUNT".  A slower ballad where their singer dropped to his knees and pleaded forgiveness from the woman he had wronged.
Table Scraps (8) have changed a lot since I last saw them. No longer a scrappy punk duo, they've evolved into a swaggering rock' n roll trio. Poppy Twist now has a full drum kit (as well as an art installation at the Waterhall Gallery, but that's not strictly relevant). Scott has upgraded to a 12 string guitar, and Table scraps now have a bass player named TJ (who at one point jumped into the crowd). They've also got a new Theremin, which TJ can use while playing his bass. Table Scraps have gotten bigger and better. Scott in particular has improved hugely as both a guitarist and singer. A lot of the songs now come new and improved with guitar solos and he no  longer screams until he's out of breath. They even felt confident enough to incorporate parts of Led Zeppelin's 'Communication Breakdown' into their own already great 'Motorcycle (straight to hell). Few of the songs on the set-list were from Table scraps début album 'more time for strangers', yet the new songs are all equally as strong as older fan favourites such as the set's opener 'Electricity'. Despite this show only having two bands and short sets, both bands delivered in spades, and showed why brum's garage rock revival is worth caring about.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Happyness, Her's, Hoopla Blue. Live at The Hare and Hounds review (26/4/17)

In this day and age it takes real skill for a band to be totally unique. In this regard I have all the respect in the world for Hoopla Blue (6.8/10). A band whose sound is a mixed bag of reggae rhythms, shimmering yet lo-fi, tropical guitar tones and dense synthesisers. They effectively have two front-men as their guitarists take turns doing lead vocals. One of which sings in a deep falsetto, which isn't far off from that of Wild Beasts' Hayden Thorpe. I think they've taken some some new members since I saw them last, and with the line up change they're songs have become bigger, bolder and braver. Hoopla blue have now nailed a loud/quiet dynamic and can go from abstract expressionists to raucous rockers in seconds. However, despite being impressed by their set and how they've developed, I'm still not sure of how much I like their eclectic sound. 
What's for certain is that Liverpool's Her's (7.2) owe a huge debt to the washed out slacker-indie of Sean Nicolas Savage, Mac Demarco and what ever other hip band Mac's currently pals with. These two class clowns could not be more (ironically) trendy if they tried. With their second hand clothes, Apple Mac beats, and mix of gentle guitar, bass and deadpan vocals. Her's are undeniably cool. On-stage both members are hell-bent on having as much fun as possible. Their singer constantly strikes strange poses  while standing on one leg, playing his guitar like some kind of indie rock flamingo. Only time will tell whether Liverpool's Her's (7.2) are a serious band or a hipster in-joke.

It's not hard to see why Happyness (6.4) had a bit of a head start with their début album 'Weird little birthday' in 2014. They fit into the slacker rock/ lo-fi revival like a glove. The problem is that I feel that they lack something special to set them apart from their peers and influences. For example, the dry observational humour of Courtney Barnett and Parquet Courts or at least the willingness to experiment of Yuck. Unfortunately an 'X-Factor' is missing in their shows. Happyness have the potential to be a great band, all being multi instrumentalists and having pretty much perfected their sound. Yet the downside is their vocals seem passionless and they barely engage their audience. Whenever Happyness did say anything to the crowd their shyness came across (to me at least), as more awkward than endearing. Happyness can do rock just as easily as piano balladry and their melancholic sound is pleasant, but their songs are just not that memorable. The closer for this set was 'Montreal rock band somewhere'. Happyness claim to be baffled as to why its everyone's favourite song of theirs, as it's the one they spent the least time writing. Yet to me it's an example of what they do best. The song is little more than a simple groove with some guitar shredding on top, yet it works so well that I think Happyness should spend less time writing all their songs.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Another interview with Crime and Punishment 2011

My 3rd interview with Crime and Punishment 2011 took place in the smoking area of Subside bar in Birmingham on the 23rd march. The interview took place after CPK’s opening set supporting Eat Me. This was their first ever show with their new drummer Sam. Much like all interviews with CPK large sections of it were both unprintable and indecipherable, with many surreal turns that are not relevant to the band or their music, not to mention the sounds of other bands sound-checking in the background. I’ve done my best…
Subside wagwan! Hey guys, beat town blog coming at you like a rapture! Sorry guys I must say that every time I start one of these
Dan: Why will you get sued? Will my man come and get yer!
No it’s my sign on line, you know because I get benefits every time I do these things
Dan: I used to get benefits, I didn’t have a job, lets crack on shall we!
What would you say that you sound like to someone who’s never heard your music?
Joey: 7 layers of hell, Sort of Sleaford mods, but kind of more road and with more shouting (later Joey describes the band as ‘post music’)
Dan: seriously we’re like heavy grime mixed with hardcore influences
I thought ‘Grimecore’ was a good description
Dan: I liked that but definitely not Grindcore or grindr, or grimer,
-everyone tries to pronounce ‘Grimecore’-
Me (to Sam): how does it feel to be in a band with these absolute nutters?
Sam: I like them, I liked their music before anyway so it was quite natural coming into the band, it wasn’t a shock,
Dan: when we wanted to get a drummer, Sam was the first person that came into our heads. We were playing curbstomp and we were like ‘Damn! We need a drummer. And then we were like Sam would be cool and now here we are.
Sam: it’s all come naturally really.
I do like some of the little drum fills that you’ve added to some of the older songs, I think it works pretty well
Dan: were going to work on all our old songs apart from two, eventually I think
Joey: we reckon nefarious will be the next one to be cut
Dan says ‘you reckon?’ like 100 times
Me to Sam: Okay so are you in in flatline by the way?
Sam: No I’m in Bathtub,
Me: Okay it’s just I thought they were pretty much the same band
Joey: that’s racist!
Jason: All guitars look the same!
Dan: tell it to Jimmy Page!
Okay so How’s the album coming along? Any Deets?
Dan: we have like 6 songs written already to record and 4 songs ready.  We’re not putting deadlines on ourselves. We’ve put self-inflicted deadlines before and it hasn’t worked.
Joey: were not putting deadlines on ourselves because we don’t own a calendar
Dan: between the entire profit that we get from this gig were going to buy a calendar
Subside have free calendars but they’re all last years 
Joey: we can work to last years!
Dan: our band is literally 6 years in the past! But seriously the album’s going well, were just vibing and just doing it as it comes. Jason’s doing all the beats, were going to get our external guitarist to put some guitar on it.  I think we’re all going to have to get a bit more creative, because now that Jake’s left. Me and joe must do more of the writing now.
Dan and Joe talk about fish and chips for 5 minutes.
Okay so back on track. What do you want to call the album?
Joey: Sleaford Mods number 2
Dan: Our album is called FUBAR. Which stands for Fucked up beyond all recognition or flipping uteri Barry has roids!
Sam: Fucking under Barbeques, extremely realistic!
Dan: Who the hell spells extremely with an a!  Scottish people! Ach! Ach!TREMLEY!
Joey: That is so racist
So what do you want to do for the album cover? Have you got any ideas for that?
Joey: we’re all going to like, take turns cumming on Dan’s face
Yuck! So Dan’s face would be FUBAR buy the end of it! Make sure you shave off that beard first.
Dan: I would like something that would look cool on every kind of clothing ever so I can get rich.
This section of the interview has had to be cut, partly because it was so difficult to type down but also because it features several mentions of other bands that I’m sure CPK don’t want to start beef with. But also, features some revelations. For example Sam hasn’t heard of Crash Bandicoot, Dan’s ‘trying not to be fat as shit anymore’ and CPK are now a ‘straight edge band’
Dan: are there any-more proper questions? Joe! What’s the most embarrassing thing that hasn’t happened to you and why?
Joey: that hasn’t happened to me?  I don’t know erm.. I’ve never shat myself so.. that’s something that could have been embarrassing that hasn’t happened.
I was recording on a cassette tape one day and I accidentally recorded myself shart
Joey: have you still got that footage because we’d like to use it!?
I’ve still got the tape somewhere…
Joey: I think we’ll sample it!
Jason: I think we’ve found an album cover!
Dan: So basically we’ve got an album coming out, it’s gonna be sick. Come to our shows buy our T-shirts, Sam’s in the band, Jake’s not, go listen to J-Dead. Hellyeah!