Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Enter Shikari - 'A Flash Flood Of Colour' 8/10

If you're anything like me, you can never take politically themed music particularly seriously. Sure it was great in the 60s when Dylan penned songwriting masterpieces about civil rights and the basic freedom of citizens. Yes Rage Against The Machine were the voice of young, rebellious America, beaten down by totalitarian cops. However these days it seems all we have to complain (and occasionally riot) about is increases in tuition fees and those darned Tories. At a time when The King Blues are as political as music gets, a band like Enter Shikari are just what the modern protester needs. You can practically hear their group vocals being chanted from Zucotti Park.

'A Flash Flood Of Colour' is Enter Shikari's third album and takes the basic thematic ideas from 2009’s ‘Common Dreads’ – unity within humanity, solidarity with those less fortunate than us and a basic refusal to accept the 21st century’s mindset of greed and wealth – and expands them in a record which questions everything from climate change and nuclear warfare and holds our nation’s leaders to account. Heavy stuff. When Rou Reynolds isn’t screaming lines like “This is gonna change everything” or “We’ll take you down, stand your ground” he’s half rapping in Mike Skinner fashion. Enter Shikari’s trademark group vocals, heavy riffs, hardcore drums and dubstep influenced breakdowns are all present, correct and angrier than ever.

It seems this is the “no messing around” album. Their debut record ‘Take To The Skies’ was ringing with Rou’s furious screaming and trance music interludes while ‘Common Grounds’ included spoken word rhetoric and the occasional euphoric synth line. ‘A Flash Flood Of Colour’ has no funny voices, no wall to wall synthesizers and certainly no comically timed clap alongs their rise to fame single ‘Sorry You’re Not A Winner’ included. In fact the only moment even closely resembling these previous lapses appears on lead single ‘Gandhi Mate, Gandhi’. When Rou threatens the world’s leaders ‘When tomorrow comes / we’re gonna stamp on your head!’ his band seemingly down instruments and can be heard mock calming the over excitable vocalist – “Woah, calm down mate… Gandhi, remember Gandhi”.

Musically the band have discovered their ability to write an excellent chorus. As the album goes on they dig deeper into their more hardcore punk tendencies. ‘Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here’ is about as close to a radio friendly track the band are ever likely to release – low on Rou’s trademark growl and with only a final few seconds of violent guitar riffery. ‘Pack Of Thieves’ has a brilliant drive to it. There’s a pace and formation about it we haven’t heard from the band at since ‘Take To The Skies’ and their unmistakable group vocals are brilliantly formed and likely to be screamed out in sweaty mosh pits across the world.

So musically the album stands up. However this album is driven by the themes Rou is so angry about. Do these hold up? It’s interesting to read the lyric sheets on this record, there are a lot of one line chants and phrases that sound good but don’t really have much system changing advice. As if in answer to this the band have added a link to a website promoting activism like the Occupy Wall Street protests to the album artwork. In the end it’s all very well and good having four lads from St. Albans shouting catchy lines about a new world order but Dylan this ain’t. Good job the music is as solid as it is, making this the band’s most exciting and genre defying release yet.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Death Cab For Cutie - Glasgow Academy

Watching Death Cab's frontman Ben Gibbard, the unashamed flag bearer of heart on the sleeve indie rock, you'd never know that little more than a week ago he and his true love (everyone's favourite indie actress Zooey Deschanel - see Elf and 500 Days of Summer) announced that they were divorcing. Or "like, totally splitting up" as one excitable, 'geek chic' bespectacled, side fringed hipster tells another in The Academy's foyer. Although Gibbard's seemingly upbeat front is convincing enough, a few song selections lend themselves to the thought that he's likely wallowing in heartbreak.

Death Cab are currently on tour in the UK promoting their newest record (the band's seventh) 'Codes And Keys', however looking at tonight's setlist it'd be understandable to think it was something of a Greatest Hits tour.
As an avid fan of the band since their breakthrough album 'Transatlanticism' I've travelled far and wide to watch them - Inverness to London is not a trip I'd readily make to see just any band - and older tracks like 'Why You'd Want To Live Here' and 'Company Calls' get every back catalogue owning fan singing along to every word. However it seems that the capacity crowd in Glasgow's historic Academy are here to see the Washington stalwarts of catchy, emotionally charged alt. rock play tracks from the past three, relatively commercially successful albums. There are very few bands who have a back catalogue quite as extensive before gaining commercial success as Death Cab; Elbow are the only one who spring to mind. In a recent interview with 6Music Gibbard told Lauren Laverne that he felt the band, now in their fourteenth year together, are at a point in their career where they can afford to dip into older albums. This understandably means some of the better known tracks must be cut.

The most noticeable omission from tonight's set is the summery 'Sound of Settling', one of the band's few tracks NOT about breakups or death. 'You Are A Tourist' provides ample cheery guitar lines though and the track grows into something almost anthemic as guitarist (and Tegan And Sara's producer) Chris Walla mashes his guitar strings between stints on the keyboard. 'What Sarah Said' sees Gibbard hop onto a piano to recount a tale of "An I.C.U that reeked of piss" and how "Each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me..." Romantic stuff it ain't. Full blown multi-instrumentalism ensues as 'We Looked Like Giants' kicks into life, Walla and bassist Nick Harmer swap instruments and the five minute jam that follows sees Ben Gibbard jump onto a second drum kit and match full time drummer Jason McGerr's technical skills behind a kit. The band's biggest "hit" (it feels wrong to call it that as they are just so not mainstream) 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark' is somewhat clumsily thrown in mid-set and the rest of the band exit right while Gibbard sings the Romeo and Juliet inspired line "If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks / Then I'll follow you into the dark." It's all mobile phones in the air and tuneless singalongs but the delicate tone of the song still manages to come across. It should have perhaps been left to the encore.

When it did arrive the encore was particularly strong. With Ben taking stage on his own again to perform 'A Lack Of Colour' the sentiment of the song is given a far greater meaning given his own personal troubles at the moment. When he sings "On your machine I slur a plea for you to come home / But i know it's too late / I should have given you a reason to stay" you can't help but imagine a love lost Gibbard calling his beloved Zooey. Ending the set with the frankly epic title track from their breakthrough 'Transatlanticism' the repetition of the line "I need you so much closer" seems to go on forever, and yet ends all too soon. As they take their bows and tell us "We'll see you sometime down the line" I just hope next time we do see them on a Greatest Hits tour they make their intentions a little more clear. Still, their crown of kings of alt. rock is still worn proudly, even if it is on less doe-eyed and more heartbroken heads.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto

As Coldplay opened this year's Saturday night headline slot at Glastonbury with the new album's opener 'Hurts Like Heaven', Chris Martin apologetically quipped, "sorry we're playing a lot of songs you don't know but we hope one day they'll be your favourites." Well Mr Martin, that day has come. 'Mylo Xyloto' is Coldplay's 5th release and sees the band confirm what we all (even the non believers) knew - that they're one of the best bands on the planet right now.

Where they have previously been unashamedly anthemic (as on Fix You and Viva La Vida), MX adds a subtlety to their stadium filling sound. 'Hurts Like Heaven' and 'Charlie Brown' are both stomping tracks, the former a brilliant, up beat opener which sets the bar for the rest of the album. One frantic verse down and Mylo Xyloto is off and running. But don't be tricked by a catchy chorus ("you use your heart as a weapon/and it hurts like heaven") and the first "Woah-oh" group vocal of the album., this isn't quite Coldplay as we know them. The backing keyboard sound Asian, like somebody's hacked into a Sega Megadrive, and behind Chris Martin's voice is an almost auto tuned backing vocal. If you're wondering who might be behind all this trickery, look no further than the master of expansive electronic rock music Brian Eno, who produced and added effects to the album.

Eno's keyboards, synths and other electronic effects are what make this Coldplay album stand out from the rest. 'Paradise''s layered chorus takes a "regular" Coldplay song, for want of a better word, and expands it into something far more spacious. 'Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall' is a brilliant piece of electronic rock, capable of filling floors everywhere from the world's biggest stadia to Ibiza clubs.

As on every Coldplay album there are a couple of acoustic tracks. 'Us Against The World' is a nice preamble to the euro synths of 'Every Teardrop...'. Chris Martin and an acoustic guitar lull you into a sense of security before the single of the year blasts into life. A soaring chorus, excellent guitar riff and those giant synths, matched with Martin's upbeat lyrics makes a wonderful summer anthem and one of Coldplay's best songs (even if I can't keep a straight face when he sings "I'd rather be a comma, than a full stop"... eurgh).

On first look at the tracklisting the song which sticks out most is 'Princess of China' which features Rihanna. Initially you'd think this is just some industry gimmic in order to "shift more units" (apparently that's what the suits call selling records). You can just imagine the call from one industry head to another: "We need a female voice for the new Coldplay album. How about Katy Perry? No? Rihanna?" However the end product is surprisingly good. It sounds more like a Rihanna song than a Coldplay one, but this is a good thing - a female voice is a welcome change at the midway point in the album and Eno's keys lend themselves to the Queen of pop's musical comfort zone.

As Coldplay's Glasto encore came to a close, the giant 'Teardrop...' synths chimed out from the hallowed Pyramid stage and for the first time in the festival's history a band used the actual Pyramid as part of the performance (multi coloured lasers on the sides). You couldn't help but think that, after U2's dissapointing appearance the night before that it was time for the Irishmen to step aside, their 21st century succesors have taken their place as the best band on the planet.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Blink-182 - Neighborhoods

After six long years apart, four side projects, a lot of backhanded comments about other members, bad blooded interviews, pain killer addictions, the loss of their musical mentor, cancer scares, a near fatal plane crash, and a worldwide reunion tour, we are at a point where Blink-182 are just a week away from releasing their comeback album 'Neighborhoods'. A lot has changed since 2003's self titled album, but 'Neighborhoods' finds Blink back and bigger than ever, with a wealth of new influences and experiences. Singer/guitarist Tom DeLonge has his space-rock side project Angels and Airwaves to draw influence from, singer/bassist Mark Hoppus has newfound knowledge in album production and iconic drummer Travis Barker has become the go to guy for rap's biggest hitters looking for that perfect beat.
'Neighborhoods' picks up where 'Blink-182' (the album) left off. Although lyrically more somber than previous feel good, pop punk outings like 'Enema of the State' and 'Take Off Your Pants and Jacket', it still has its moments of frantic 90s punk ('Natives' could easily be a B-side from 'Enema').'Neighborhoods' is a collaboration of all that's gone before with the Blink members. It has the spacious feel of an Angels and Airwaves record ('Ghost On The Dancefloor', 'Love Is Dangerous' and closer 'Even If She Falls') the occasional punk outburst present on early Blink records and Travis and Tom's side project Boxcar Racer ('Natives', 'Heart's All Gone') and the electronics of Mark and Travis' post Blink band +44 ('Up All Night', 'Snake Charmer'). The album does of course have its smattering of classic Blink songwriting style - the back and forth vocals between Mark and Tom on 'Up All Night', the downright catchy guitar riffs on 'This Is Home' and 'Wishing Well', Mark Hoppus' ability to write great choruses on 'After Midnight' and 'Heart's All Gone' and Travis Barker's drumming which makes you wonder just how he does it. Album opener 'Ghost On The Dancefloor' won't fail to put an ear to ear smile on any long time Blink fan who's waited all these years to hear some new material and it's hard not to be caught up in the excitement that the three people who changed the face of modern pop punk have a new release. Put in the context of previous albums 'Neighborhoods' stands with the best, perhaps above them in its maturity, and textured depth.
The trio now wear their hearts on their sleeves - it's the only thing to do after going through the ordeals they have in the past 6 years. 'Neighborhoods' confirms that the Mark, Tom and Travis Show is back in business.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Leeds Festival 2011 - Friday

Across the August Bank Holiday weekend 75,000 rockers, ravers, punks, moshers and everything in between descend on Bramham Park and Reading city centre for one of the biggest festivals of the year, and one final send off for the festival season - Reading And Leeds.
Kicking off proceedings on the NME/Radio 1 tent were Scottish 'fight pop' six piece Dananananaykroyd (the name's a blend of the actor Dan Aykroyd and the Batman theme tune). Blasting through tracks from the outstanding debut 'Hey Everyone', including the FIFA 2010 endorsed 'Black Wax' they end on 'Infinity Milk', with heavy peaks and delicate, chiming guitar riffs. Onstage antics include two vocalists spinning microphones around their heads, throwing themselves into the crowd and generally flailing around while they blast through songs which are as ear shatteringly heavy as they are tentitavely formed.
A rather damp Main Stage is a suitable place for aging post-punkers Taking Back Sunday. Although they show signs of their past glory ('Makedamnsure' ends the set well), the rock veterans' attempts to wow the crowd with average new tracks and half hearted renditions of old classics aren't helped by singer Adam Lazzara's statement that "we are the greatest band on the planet." However I must admit his mic swinging skills are second to none.
English singer/songwriter and ex Million Dead frontman Frank Turner does well to liven spirits in the cold rain. His songs about punk rock, British society and ex girlfriends make for good singalongs, but the typical Northern English weather makes his set tricky to enjoy.
It's a similar story for post-hardcore band Enter Shikari. There's plenty of energy on the stage and in the mosh pits, but you can't help but feel glorious sunshine and blue sky are the only things missing to make their set a great one. 'Sorry You're Not a Winner' keeps the hands warm, with its almost comical audience clap-along fill, however their musical interludes which dabble with dub-step are about as effective as damp gunpowder. Perhaps the NME/Radio1 tent would've been a better place for a band more suited to dark, cramped spaces - for best effect see them out of the elements.
Twin Atlantic bring out a second dose of Scottish pride for me - it's great to see a band from north of the border be so well received in England. Tracks from this year's album 'Free' and mini-album 'Vivarium' gel brilliantly in a flurry of Scot-rock, and no Twin Atlantic show would be complete if it didn't include singer Sam McTrusty stage diving and his guitar somehow malfunctioning (this time his strap went during set closer 'Time For You to Stand Up').
From the first chimes of Death From Above 1979's set in the NME/Radio1 tent it was clear they were taking no prisoners. 'Turn It Out' opens up a 20 foot mosh pit and the newly reformed Canadian duo play as if they haven't been away. The simplistic brilliance of drums and bass guitar being mashed as loudly and heavily as possible is the key to DFA's success - with the odd chorus thrown in for good measure. It's too easy to say they're heavy metal - there are no face shredding electric guitar riffs - and it'd be a disgrace to the genre to call them blues, however they somehow fit into a niche between the two never before heard. Imagine The Black Keys covering Metallica and you've got something that sounds a little similar to DFA, and my God it rocks.
In about as stark a contrast as experienced all weekend, a quick dash across to the Main Stage finds me watching Elbow. The Guy Garvey lead five piece are perfect for an early evening set. With the sky cleared up and the sun setting, Elbow's atmospheric, slow burning music is a beautiful experience. Each song is perfectly formed, their set is peppered with both delicate musical instrumentals and those uplifting anthems they're famous for. 'Open Arms', 'One Day Like This', and 'Grounds For Divorce' are all brilliant sing along choruses and Guy Garvey is a wonderful frontman.
And then the main event of the evening. Muse were reason most people bought tickets for Reading and Leeds this year. Marking the ten year anniversary of the release of 'Origin of Symmetry', the band first appear in silhouette form before the opening keys of 'Newborn' confirm the rumours that they were playing 'Origin' it its entirety and in order. 40 foot graphics on the big screen behind the band compliment 'Origin''s spaced out themes. Every rock cliché in the book is used; fireworks, lazers, balloons that explode into confetti, even walls of fire in front of the stage. 'Newborn', 'Feeling Good' and the guitar riff-tastic 'Plugin Baby' provide some familiarity for those here to hear tracks from the Wembley filling album 'The Resistence' and Matt Bellamy is the ultimate show man. In a sparkling suit jacket even Barney Stinson would be proud of, his Freddie Mercury inspired piano instrumentals and whining vocals provide a brilliant contrast to his all out rock side. Be it sliding on his knees playing a guitar solo, throwing one guitar at the ground or launching another at drummer Dom Howard, forcing him to duck out the way, Bellamy is the perfect modern day showman. After 'Origin' is played from front to back, an encore mid-set gives way to a greatest hits set which is sublime in its familiarity. From second half opener 'Uprising', through 'Supermassive Black Hole', 'Time Is Running Out' and 'Knights of Cydonia', the band are obviously far more comfortable in their more modern tracks, the ones which helped them sell out the world's football stadiums. However it's the tracks from the first half of their headline set which made the band what they are today. The band who played undoubtedly the best set in Reading and Leeds' recent history.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Rockness Festival - Saturday 12th June

Saturday seemed the weakest day for Rockness this year, as far as lineup was concerned. With the main stage booked wall to wall with DJs (Laidback Luke, Annie Mac, Magnetic Man and of course headliners The Chemical Brothers) the onus fell on the Goldenvoice Arena (or "the big blue tent") to bring the best of new bands and established rock and indie acts to the festival.

Well and truly situated in the "up and coming" bracket of acts, I kicked my day of band watching off with a wonderful set from Dog Is Dead, whose Maccabees type bouncing guitars and swelling group vocals are the perfect cure for the post-Kasabian hangover. It's hard not to draw comparisons to the likes of Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes during a few quieter numbers. However it'd be too easy to play 'spot the influence' with these guys and when it comes down to it Dog Is Dead are soaring, sax infused jazz-indie - and a great live band.

Before taking to the stage for their early evening set, Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club promised me a new album (called 'A Different Kind Of Fix) by the end of August, and that they were putting the acoustic guitars of 'Flaws' away and plugging in amps once again. Bombay step on stage to find a packed out tent (the fact it was pouring with rain probably helped) and open with 'Magnet' - Jack and the lads doing what appears to be as close to moshing as a group of quite posh London boys can pull off without straining anything. With the crowd effectively acting as backup singers (it seems everyone in the tent knows every word) the four piece blast through most of the tracks from 2009's 'I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose' and throw in a couple of new tracks for good measure - 'Lights Out, Words Gone' is the best of three new outings. Album tracks like 'Cancel On Me', 'Dust On The Ground' and 'Evening/Morning' confirm Bombay as one of the best live acts playing their genre of music in the country. Ending on the double header of 'Always Like This' and 'What If' is a stroke of genius. During 'Always Like This' it's almost impossible not to cut some shapes and the crowd do just that while singing along to the guitar riff everyone was whistling and humming all weekend. The intense, driving rythm of 'What If' proves a great climax to a solid set. The end of August can't come soon enough.

A real favourite of mine, Frightened Rabbit could have quite easily closed the Goldenvoice Arena on Saturday night. Drawing an even bigger crowd than Bombay, the Selkirk five piece seem to be the ultimate Scottish festival band. Backstage, singer Scott told me, "It's 9PM and the crowd are probably pretty drunk so I think we're gonna play a pretty up beat set. Scottish people at festivals seem to love singing along to sweary choruses and we've got quite a few of those!" And so they step onstage to a rapturous welcome from a few thousand sozzled Scots and blast into 'The Modern Leper'. In a set which proved to be a "greatest hits" with no new tracks for people to stand and listen awkwardly, FRabbits cement their place in the upper echelons of Scottish live music. Scott Hutchinson's raw emotion shines through in songs which cover all the usual suspects of songwriting subjects (breakups, makeups, God.. the usual). 'The Lonliness And The Scream' is a joy to watch live - the "oh-woah oh woah" chorus is like something from a Coldplay gig. Equally the stomping 'Living In Colour' and 'Nothing Like You' has everyone in the packed tent bouncing up and down. 'Keep Yourself Warm' closes the set, a song as perfectly Scottish as a warm, metallic tasting can of Tennent's at a rainy festival... and it has a sweary sing along!

Closing the tent on Sunday night are straight up guitar rockers The Cribs. One Smiths member down now that Johnny Marr has left the band (one less Smith is always a good thing in my book), the Jarman brothers can return to their traditonal three piece set up. After opening with 'Cheat On Me' - the main single from fourth (and "sensible") album 'Ignore The Ignorant) - a leather jacketed Ryan Jarman jokes in his twangy Wakefield accent, "We're called Cribs. We're not Chemical Brothers, we're Jarman brothers" before launching into 'I'm A Realist'. A second light-hearted side swipe at the main stage headline Brothers, Ryan sings "Hey girls, hey boys, superstar DJs, here we go!" in a cloud of dry ice and feedback until the unmistakeable guitar riff of the band's breakthrough single 'Hey Scenesters' sends the crowd (though more modest in size than when Frightened Rabbit graced the stage) into a frenzy. Though less anarchaic than Cribs gigs of old (Ryan was once kicked out his own gig for crowdsurfing and famously punctured his liver after falling on a table of glass bottles at the NME Awards) the Wakefield trio still hold a sense of mischief onstage - Gary plays bass lying flat on his back for a while and Ryan ends the set with his guitar the worse for wear, while drummer Ross frequently stands on his kit. The set of course includes "the classics" - 'Our Bovine Public' 'Men's Needs' and 'We Were Aborted' go down a storm with those still in the tent and not watching the Chemical Brothers with their electronics and fancy light show. All in all The Cribs prove a highlight of the weekend; their guitar rock is a definite hit with those less inclined to watch a couple of guys play with laptops. And for the rest of the year? Ryan tells me, over a post show drink outside the tour bus, "We've got some stuff for a new album. We're just playing some shows now Johnny [Marr]'s left and we'll go into a studio after that, there's no pressure." After playing a set such as this, there really is no pressure on The Cribs as they look to album number five.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Rockness Festival - Friday 11th June

Rockness is the second biggest music festival in Scotland (apparently some weekend on an airfield in Balado is slightly bigger) and easily lives up to its claim by organizers that it's "the most beautiful festival in the world."

Due to a late arrival on site and a couple of catch-up cans of lager (which were still cool at this point) the first act of my weekend were Nero, or at least the one half of the duo that decided to turn up. The member of the dubstep/drum and bass DJs in attendance dropped tracks from the forthcoming debut album, remixes and reworks created in the past couple of years and ended on a raucous note with System of A Down and Rage Against The Machine before his time on stage ran out and his equipment was swarmed by roadies midway through current single 'Innocence'.

In their parka jackets and John Lennon sunglasses you could mistake Brother for an Oasis tribute band and, although I am a fan of their recorded material, they seemed to have more swagger than skill... Not unlike Oasis!

Two Door Cinema Club prove a highlight of the weekend. Their early evening set made for dramatic views down the Loch and the last blast of the day's sunshine added to their upbeat, perfectly formed, danceable indie-pop. The timid Northern Irish lads look like they've just left school but they seem to be able to work a fairly sizeable crowd like they've been at it for years.

Mark Ronson played a surprisingly good DJ set, proving pop music can indeed still be cool. His mix of ultra famous singles (Valerie, Ooh Wee et al) and lesser known mixes from across genres worked well and his years of experience behind the decks were obvious.

And so onto Friday night headliners Kasabian, the band most made the trip for (whether it be a 20 minute drive from Inverness or 12 hours in a bus from London). Opening with 'Club Foot' from their self titled debut, it was tricky to keep two feet on the ground even from my viewpoint beside the sound desk. A quick look around at the masses of people who had stumbled out of the campsite to see the band shows just how popular they are. The set consisted of classics (L.S.F, Empire and Shoot The Runner stood out as crowd favourites) and only two tracks from the forthcoming new album, Velociraptor!, including first single 'Switchblade Smiles' which was released on the eve of the festival. On stage guitarist/vocalist Serge resembles a modern day Slash and has his trademark Rambo style head scarf completed the ultimate rock band member look. Singer Tom Meighan parades back and forth on stage, occasionally throwing his arms open in a "let's be 'avin ya" style. Closing Friday night's headline set with 'Fire' - arguably the best festival sing along of the modern era - Kasabian seem to be at the height of their fame and it'll take Muse's Reading and Leeds performance to win back the status as ultimate British live rock and roll band. With flares, flags and crowdsurfers, for the first time in the few years I've been coming to Rockness it felt like a proper festival, worthy of challenging T In The Park's grasp on Scottish music festivals.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Twin Atlantic - Inverness Ironworks

Twin Atlantic have experienced a rapid rise to fame most Scottish bands can only dream of, and only a handful have actually achieved. The Glasgow quartet first stormed to my attention after supporting Biffy Clyro at their sold out show at this exact venue three years ago. They must have realised at that point that supporting some of the biggest bands in the world (Blink-182, Angels and Airwaves, My Chemical Romance et al) would no doubt boost their popularity, and this is confirmed no end with the Ironworks packed out to capacity (a later tweet from the band confirmed all tickets kept back on the door had sold).
However it hasn't exactly been an easy road to travel for the band to make such gains. In a recent interview singer Sam Mctrusty (the most trustable name in the business) voiced his frustrations at playing 30 minute sets every night. On the eve of releasing "debut" album 'Free' (apparently 2009's 'Vivarium' was a "mini-album") Twin Atlantic have stepped out from the torture of watching bigger bands from the wings and into the spotlight, playing in front of packed houses most nights and indeed selling out tonight's show.
Taking stage are four far less hairy Scots than on each of the many occasions I have seen Twin previously, it would seem a slightly more approachable look perhaps helps on the road to success. Opening with the double header of new album singles 'Free' and 'Edit Me' it is plain to see the power pop rockers have honed their live show in recent months. Where before they seemed to throw songs together on a setlist before coming on stage in a "we've written 8 or so good songs, here they are" sort of way, there is a feeling of consideration for both new album tracks and older songs which this crowd recognise instantly.
Although the album is not out for another few hours, many at the gig seem guilty of internet misbehaviour (I don't condone any illegal downloading) as they sing along to tracks like 'Time For You To Stand Up' and 'The Ghost of Eddie' - a personal favourite of mine from the album, if Dave Grohl had grown up in Glasgow the Foo Fighters would sound a lot like this track.
Of course "the classics" are received with more enthusiasm than this venue's seen in a long time. 'Lightspeed' 'Audience and Audio' and 'What Is Light, Where Is Laughter' all have great cases to the title of 'Best Live Scottish Song' and the band's unmistakable nationalism is clear when Sam Mctrusty asks for a Scotland flag to be passed to the stage. As a chant of 'Scotland! Scotland!' goes up and it all very nearly becomes extremely cringeworthy Sam exclaims "This is turning into something from a f**king Runrig concert!"
Ending a triumphant night with the anti-American 'You're Turning Into John Wayne' Twin Atlantic exit the stage safe in the thought that a new chapter of the band's life has begun. They have taken the first steps to real stardom with this new air they seem to have about them, a serious approach to making music their full time occupation. And anyway, I'm sure even Biffy Clyro played more than their fair share of support slots.

'Free' is out now on Red Bull Records

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Glasvegas, The Loft, Forres

Remember Glasvegas? I know with the untamable amounts of music available these days it's tricky not to forget bands after one album but Glasvegas seem to have a resonance with me (probably because I have a 6 foot poster of their debut album's artwork on my bedroom wall, but that's besides the point). Back with an almost finished second album entitled 'Euphoric Heartbreak' and new Swedish drummer, Glasvegas have hit the road once again. However rather than playing Wembley, Hampden and the Millenium Stadium like their last U.K tour, this time they're playing off the beaten track with intimate gigs in places like Orkney, Dunoon, Troon and tonight - The Loft, Forres.
James Allan steps onstage all in white, a welcome change from his usual funeralesque 'man in black' image, and immediately the Glasgow (of course) quartet blast into a track from the forthcoming album, 'The World Is Yours' - a frenzy of their classic wall-of-noise guitar effect used so much in the self titled debut but with an additional newfound technicality.
It's impossible not to notice James on stage. He has all the swagger of Liam Gallagher (except not with the same cockiness and a whole lot more talent) and seems lost in the songs as he stoops and bends around the microphone. His new look does not, thankfully, include a new pair of sunglasses as his jet black Ray Bans stay on throughout the set - very rock 'n' roll. As the gig goes on he strips to a white tank top (or "wife-beater" as they're known) to complete the East End of Glasgow look. After he stands on his monitor and stares around the room, as if sizing up the crowd before downing his beer during the opening riff of 'Geraldine' - soundtrack to winter 2008 and BBC's Sportscene. It is, of course, a true man-off-the-street anthem written from the point of view of a Glaswegian social worker. Along with 'Daddy's Gone' and 'It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry' it is Scottish songwriting at it's very best.
So what's different about the new material? The addition of drummer Jonna Löfgren (okay, i copied and pasted her surname, you got me!) is a vast improvement. Don't get me wrong, Caroline McKay's caveman beats helped make some of the aforementioned alternative Scottish national anthems perfectly simple, however a change was needed for album number two. Nowhere is this more clear than mid-way through the show as 'Shine Like Stars' makes it's tentative first steps out of the rehersal/recording studio and onto the stage. Featuring a brilliant, up tempo beat from the Swede (it's easier if i call her 'The Swede', it saves more pasting) it is clear Glasvegas have decided to take their music to a catchier level - keeping from plodding along like 'Glasvegas' - the album - did at times.
The Glaswegians end with a quadruple of first album tracks that sees 'Flowers and Football Tops' join the others in becoming rightful national treasures. The ultimate fighting song 'Go Square Go' is gloriously fiesty and gets a chant along and the heart wrenching 'Daddy's Gone' features the band stop playing for two choruses as the mostly intoxicated crowd sing about how James' Dad left when he was a kid - it can't be good for his self esteem, having 500 people singing "he's gone, he's gone, he's gone" over and over at him. After a couple of minutes of mostly incoherent chat to the crowd (my East End dialect isn't very good) James gets the sound guy to come on for a cameo appearance ("he's aw-weys bin wi' us, right fae the start"). They finish with the debut's closer 'Ice Cream Van' which would usually have been rather a dull last song had it not been for one last burst from all members.
Gallantly leaving the stage to beery cheers and applauds, the band can finish the album knowing it stands the live test in intimate surroundings. I for one am extremely excited for 'Euphoric Heartbreak ' and a second Mercury nomination may be on its way. Now come on, all together now - "A WON'T BE THE LONELAY WAN, SITTIN OAN MA OWN UN SAD"

Friday, 5 November 2010

Kris Drever, John McCusker + Roddy Woomble

The Holy Trinity of modern day traditional Scottish music (Kris Drever, John McCusker and Roddy Woomble) are currently on a mini tour, the last of their performances coming off the back of their debut album together, 2008’s ‘Before The Ruin’. Tonight’s attempt by The Ironworks to change their venue from the cavernous space it is to a moody, dimly lit folk club is well appreciated: tables and candles make a nice addition to the vast venue.
Hailing from the Orkney Isles, Kris Drever is a man whose voice betrays his years. To listen to his gruff, baritone voice would lead you to think he is one of last century’s traditional folk singers; however he is more of a contemporary, with his music branching out with a more Americana and occasionally Bluesy tinge. He opens tonight with ‘Steel and Stone (Black Water)’ from his solo debut ‘Black Water’ with John McCusker accompanying him on fiddle and Roddy Woomble doing what he does best on stage: looking around awkwardly and (probably) regretting he never took up an instrument so he could join in. Drever's intricate guitar work is made to look effortless and he is obviously a man who knows his trade. It’s not until ‘Into The Blue’ from the trio’s album that Roddy Woomble (best known for being the singer in Idlewild, arguably the most consistent Scottish indie band of the last fifteen years) displays his dulcet tones. His songwriting is almost poetic at times, and the one constant within it is his great ability to write the perfect chorus. With Idlewild I am certain there is not one bad chorus written and his transition to Scottish folk is seamless. What follows is a set of songs built up over the last five years or so under various projects and solo albums. ‘My Secret Is My Silence’ and ‘Waverly Steps’ from Roddy Woomble’s first venture into folk music fit in perfectly between a selection of songs from both of Drever’s albums.
Even John McCusker, more suited to backing bands up and guest starring on albums, gets his moment in the spotlight as the Idlewild man makes his way to the side of a stage. Drever and McCusker are left to show off their musical talents and the chemistry between them is evident as they blast their way through a number of “wee tunes” that John has written for various people over the past few years. However before the tables are thrown aside and The Ironworks turns into a full blown ceilidh Roddy comes back on stage to “bring the mood back down”. He is the ultimate shy, composed (some would say awkward) artist. He sits with his legs crossed in the middle of the stage, staring at the ground or playing with his hair. He is renowned for standing side stage when he plays with Idlewild when an instrumental section is in full swing, although there is none of that mid-song wandering tonight.
Ending the expertly chosen set with my personal favourite of the trio’s ‘Moments Last Forever’, Drever’s Pogues inspired ‘Poor Man’s Son’ and the delicate ‘Stuck In Time’, the three slide off stage with the promise of Woomble returning in January with a solo show and a new album. One must hope they return all together in the near future with a new album of their own.