Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Youthmovies/This Town Needs Guns @ Deaf Institute, Wednesday 24th March

Tonight sees Manchester’s Deaf Institute play host to two of Oxford’s finest bands, Youthmovies and This Town Needs Guns, the former playing their last ever gig in the city.

First on stage however is American talker-songwriter and serial Youthmovies collaborator Adam Gnade (guh nah dee). Hailing from southern California but based in Portland, Gnade’s work is spoken word layered over bluesy-folky guitar strumming. With a delightfully haunting yet romantic feel to his releases, the Deaf Institute is set for an interesting start to the night as Gnade steps out on stage. And oh yeah, he’s hammered. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a drunk, touring artist who plays guitar and doesn’t sing, Gnade talks a lot. A lot, a lot. Rambling semi-coherently between songs for minutes at a time, Gnade’s set is still enjoyable even if it is hard to fully justify his presence on tonight’s bill. After leaving the stage to an appreciative round of applause, Gnade disappears back stage for a time before later reappearing and consuming most of a bottle of wine to himself. Straight from the bottle itself, no less.

Next on is This Town Needs Guns who, despite coming from the same town and being part of the same music scene as tonight’s headliners, have only shared a stage with Youthmovies one or two times previously. Opening with 'Chinchilla' the band set the stalls for an energetic performance with drummer-a-thumping, guitarist-a-twiddling and singer-a-gyrating. Within thirty seconds of opening however, it becomes clear that the sound man is having a disaster, which of course means that pretty much any chance TTNG had of delivering a sterling set is out the window. Try as they might the drums are far too loud, the vocals far too quiet and feedback keeps on rearing its ugly head. As this was a support slot, their set was relatively short, focusing on songs from their 2008 album, Animals, with 'Baboon' and 'Lemur' receiving particularly favourable receptions from the gathered crowd. TTNG do their duty in plugging tonight’s headliners and leave the stage in seemingly high spirits but I, and probably they, can’t help but feel disappointed with the end result.

By the time Youthmovies step onstage, the Deaf Institute is packed and there’s a tangible sense of anticipation in the air. Darlings of the music scene, Youthmovies are a band whose influence will long outlast their name and while it’s obvious the band were never in it for anything other than the music, it’s also a shame they didn’t get more recognition for their contribution to progressive music over the past seven or so years.

Picking up where TTNG left off, high energy performances are the order of the day, with singer and guitarist Andrew Mears in particular taking the bull by the proverbials and getting stuck in. Favourites like 'The Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor' and 'Soandso and soandso' are dispatched with ease to the backing of a crowd in full choral flow, some old tracks are thrown in for good measure and Adam Gnade even appears on stage to join the party and play a track with them. By the time the set draws to an end the night takes an emotional turn and Youthmovies step off stage for one last time I can’t help but think it’s a shame they’re calling it a day. But in the words of the woman who sits behind me at work, “You should always leave a bit on your plate.”

Words & Images: Golibe Omenaka

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tunng @ Band on the Wall, Tuesday 23rd March, 2010

Tonight is a nervy one for Tunng. It’s the first time they’ve performed the new material from ...And Then We Saw Land and they are without usual songwriter Sam Genders in a modified line-up. The nerves show early on; they don’t exude their usual buoyant, smiley selves until the set’s halfway point. Until then they are static; frozen by a collective nervousness and uncertainty with only infrequent glimmers of the confident finale to come.

Erland & the Carnival precede them. They’re a band with a name that suits their sound almost perfectly. With guitars set to steel drum sound, their carnival is of a twisted variety; I can picture The Chemical Brothers’ imposing clown image on a Ferris wheel at times in their music. There are also a whistled lament and Espers-esque chord changes, while references remain mostly in the indie pop range; The Coral and The Futureheads in places.

Tunng begin with new tunes ‘It Breaks’ and ‘Don’t Look Down or Back’, followed by the familiar triumphant strums of ‘Take’ and ‘Woodcat’ to settle into more of a rhythm. ‘October’ and ‘The Roadside’ signal a further sense of assuredness as more electronics, xylophone and melodica thicken the sound, but it is ‘By Dusk They Were in the City’ that really brings the sextet out of their shell. The announcement by Mike Lindsay that we have just heard the first electric guitar in Tunng’s live shows also wakes up the audience; a predictable, but witty, Bob Dylan's 1966 Manchester Free Trade Hall gig-referencing heckle of “Judas!” leads the way for the free flowing eccentricity that epitomises Tunng’s vibe.

‘Tale From Black’, an a cappella ‘These Winds’ and the summertime swayer of ‘Santiago’ welcome in the onstage looseness of movement that was previously lacking. Lindsay shows his support to BBC 6music’s cause before ‘Hustle’, a song on their radio playlist, and the encore of ‘Jenny Again’ and ‘Bullets’ offers a euphoric lift in direct contrast to the muted start.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Simon Bray

Monday, 29 March 2010

White Flag @ Green Room, Thursday 4th March, 2010

March 2010 saw the second year of the Turn dance platform and in doing so brought together 20 of the Northwest’s finest dancers, choreographers and installations filling every available space within Greenroom. One of the 20 artists will be chosen for the Turn Prize and the opportunity to expand and show a full piece as part of Greenroom’s next season.

Tonight is White Flag, made up of dancers and choreographers Mancunian Jane McLean, Portuguese Vanessa Abreu and composer Sam Salem from Derby. They have been working together for just over 18 months and performed their debut work ‘Disregarding Gaze’ on the opening night of this year’s Turn event.

The dance piece is entirely engaging from start to finish. The performance takes place in a room little smaller than a squash court. Spectators are invited in whilst Jane dances in silence by herself in the dark, the only light coming from a laptop which shines on Sam’s face and the open door as the audience enter and settle jostling for a viewing point from the sides of the room. Once that door is closed the music begins and Sam starts ‘diffusing’, a process where the sounds and tones are pushed around the room though any combination of eight speakers strategically located in the extremities of the performance space.

A small 40w light illuminates Jane and her movements for the first time, but little else. As the music continues, floor lights turn on in time with the music, Jane stops and you can see Vanessa fully as she dances by herself. As the contemporary piece proceeds, both Vanessa and Jane display a huge variety of skills, at times balletic and on occasion acrobatic. They interact with each other both as discrete bodies but now and again in contact with jumps, catches and strikes in the air, on their feet and on the floor, arranged in time with the music and lighting changes. ‘Disregarding Gaze’ finishes with both dancers together on the floor; the room falls silent and is plunged into darkness, waiting for the audience to vacate.

The concept for ‘Disregarding Gaze’ was developed from Sam’s idea about modern day society and the perverse relationship we have with being watched. “We all crave privacy but at the same time are exhibitionists” says Sam. “I was thinking about how it’s beautiful in a way that big cities may have thousands of CCTV cameras linking to rooms full of screens but there’s probably just some guy sitting there reading a newspaper”.

The idea of “watching but not seeing” became the foundation for the whole dance collaboration. Composer Sam, who is coming to the end of his PhD in Musical Composition, works by going out and recording the sounds of the city and making pieces from it. The music and the melodies for ‘Disregarding Gaze’ come from voices and buskers and sounds captured on the streets.

Sam and Jane started White Flag over a year and a half ago with Vanessa joining them after a year. Wanting to achieve a true collaboration between and the music and movement Sam and Jane used to meet in Manchester, which was difficult because at the time Jane had been working in and studying at Laban Dance Centre for contemporary dance in London. Traditionally either the composition or the choreography in a dance piece takes precedence. “In the early stages, retrospectively we were actually learning what the other part does,” says Sam “we were developing the vocabulary for the piece together.”

The music was finished a few months prior to the completion of the choreography but essentially isn’t complete until the performance on the night as Sam diffuses the sounds around the room in real time. “When Sam finished and I started I did get caught up in dancing to the music” explains Jane “but realised that it’s not about that so went back to the original concept of ‘Disregarding Gaze’ and we came up with something else before coming back to the music.”

Vanessa, who has been studying dance for 13 years, including 6 years at Laban where her and Jane met, proved to be a good influence on the piece and its concept in particular. “My choreographic process is such that the movement is the last thing that I think of. I have an idea about the atmosphere that I want to create so I think about all of the sounds, textures and energy that need to exist in order to create it.”

Jane talked about how they tied it all together at the end. “When we got Sam’s music it was quite difficult as it’s very cinematic, if you close your eyes you can see it, it’s amazing! We were concerned about how we were going to fit with it and the resulting piece being too much. We found a way to work with it. Hopefully it works; hopefully we’re not too much!”

Words: Kobestarr
Image: Neil Shearer

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip @ Manchester Academy 2, Monday 22nd March, 2010

“Good Evening Vietnam-chester!” is the exclamation from rapper-cum-comedian B. Dolan. It’s hard not to have a guilty chuckle at his solo show, which ranges from a song using Sarah Palin and religion as themes and an angry ode to Marvin Gaye’s fate, to the in-your-face comedy of ‘Fat Man’s Anthem’ (“written after climbing the stairs one time”) and a mock jump, dressed as Evel Knievel, over a front row volunteer. It’s a mixed bag, for sure.

Having earlier missed Sound of Rum, MC Kate Tempest’s impromptu rhyme by the merch stand is a pleasant surprise, if a little muted amidst its surroundings.

It is a similar love for spoken word that drives Scroobius Pip, but he appears caught in contradiction. Launching in with a few heart rate raisers, ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’, ‘Sick Tonight’ and ‘The Beat’, Pip is there to entertain as accomplice to Dan’s electronics. Indeed, during the latter he admits to ‘feeling like Chris Martin’ after offering his mic to the audience for a choral sing-a-long.

There are other strings to his lyrical bow, however. Dark tales in ‘Angles’ and ‘Magician’s Assistant’, music satire in ‘Fixed’, ‘Snob’ and ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’, and love in ‘Look for the Woman’.

While it occasionally descends into Goldie Lookin’ Chain novelty rap, you get the feeling – certainly with Scroobius Pip – that he sees his role beyond entertaining sweaty adolescents, and more in spreading his incisive spoken word critiques to those who either will or need to take heed. New tracks ‘Get Better’ and ‘Great Britain’ certainly attempt to deliver political lessons beyond their catchy choruses. He even acts the teacher in warning that security workers can be heavy handed with crowd surfers and applauds those who picked up a smaller kid fallen to the floor in the 'pit', but his previous crowd surf is an example of the thin line he walks between role model and hypocrite.

And, although an announcement of running for UK ‘Presidency’ is said tongue-in-cheek, you can see the poet’s calling as eloquently preaching his ideals of improvement to a different audience; one that can legally vote. Or perhaps Dan Le Sac is right; perhaps the TV appearance on Soccer AM has gone to his head.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Stephen Hicks

Friday, 26 March 2010

Review: Magnetic Fields / Manchester Cathedral & Thee Silver Mt. Zion / Academy 3

A weekend of gigs, a weekend of music. Let's do this chronologically and start with the Magnetic Fields, whose extended set at Manchester Cathedral on Friday night included highlights from throughout their near 20 year career.

This was a pitch-perfect evening rendered all the more glorious (and, at times ironic: "I want to be a dominatrix / which isn't like me, but I can dream / learn S, and M, / and all those gay tricks / and men will pay me to / make them scream" - The Nun's Litany) by the austere yet intensely atmospheric interior of the cathedral. Consider also, that Magnetic Fields, and particularly Stephin Merritt, revel in sexual ambiguity and only the blackest humour, and the incongruity between venue and artist becomes all the more pleasing.

Singing over his band's paired-down yet beautiful musical backdrop of acoustic guitar, cello, mandola, basic percussion and occassional piano, Merrit's incredibly deep voice resonated and bombinated whilst the man himself retained his trademark cool, laconic delivery, his artful words depositing little droppings of humour and insight throughout the audience, causing occassional chuckles, uproarious laughter and quiet whispers of appreciation.

The band themselves were entirely faultless for the duration of the performance; my only minor gripe is reserved for the sound, which was perhaps a little on the quiet side. This may be a result of Merritt's well-documented hearing condition, or perhaps the sound-engineers decided to rely more on the cathedral's natural acoustics than electronic amplification, however as people began to move around the band began to look more like a sideshow than a main event.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion

Someone, someone like me, with little knowledge of Thee Silver Mt. Zion's recorded output since their debut He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms… would be forgiven for thinking that, as a live prospect, there was a strong possibility that Efrim Menuck's Godspeed side project (and now main project, or so it would seem) would be a meditative, restrained affair - perhaps even a little dull.

That someone would be sorely mistaken: Silver Mt. Zion began their set by blasting through parts one and two of 'I Built Myself a Metal Bird I Fed My Metal Bird the Wings of Other Metal Birds', an incredible punk tune that kicks off with a bristling, distorted violin riff and sustains an exhilirating pace, climaxing with Efrim screaming "Dance Motherfucker!" - not what I was expecting.

Elsewhere we were treated to dark squalls of distortion and deep dual violin riffs, all topped off by Menuck's odd singing voice, which falls somewhere between mockney punk and half-cracked indie whining, but just about stays the right side of 'god, that's annoying'.

Menuck's on-stage persona (or perhaps it's really him?) was equally pleasing, and surprising, as he flitted wildly between the kind of apocalyptic anti-capitalist rants last heard in the background of a Godspeed album and the assertion that the band carried Bono around in a box, letting him out only to piss and shit. Heckling was invited, positively encouraged as it says on the band's website, and the Manchester crowd didn't hold back - a personal favourite of mine was when, after another 15 minute opus ground to a halt, some bright spark shouted "Is the next one gonna be a short one?"

Well, it was funny at the time anyway.

Words: James Roome
Images: Magnetic Fields image courtesy of alterna2 on Flickr / Silver Mt. Zion Image courtesy of: joshtrix on Flickr

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Pineapple Folk & One Inch Badge present: WHY? @ Deaf Institute, Friday 19th March, 2010

The hip hop/indie hybrid is one that intuition says might not necessarily work, but Yoni Wolf’s energetic showmanship could lead the way for pretty well any unlikely genre-mash. His appeal is almost idolatry to the sell out swarm of awkward music geeks crammed into the Deaf Institute’s delightfully decorated upstairs venue.

Josiah Wolf is first up though, failing to imitate the same stage presence as his brother, but providing a mellow solo acoustic start.

Berlin’s five-piece I Might Be Wrong boast a wider selection of instruments and lead chanteuse Lisa von Billerbeck helps to exude the same sullen, downtrodden indie-electro-pop allure as the likes of Au Revoir Simone and Metric. Flick over to the organ setting on your keyboard and you’re halfway there. The other half unfortunately loses its way a little, as songs begin to sound samey and they become submerged beneath the beats-led nature of their soundscapes. That isn’t to say the performance is bad; just lessened by comparison with what follows.

WHY?, still performing as the line-up swelled by two a couple of years ago, kick off with ‘Song of the Sad Assassin’, an effective introduction notable for the fashionably late entrance by Yoni Wolf and his intermittent frenzies of karate. Wolf gains some local kudos by sporting his Lamb t-shirt, although after the early flurry of tracks, and consequent sing-a-longs, from 2008 album Alopecia, he couldn’t be any more of a star in the eyes of those watching so intently. ‘Good Friday’, ‘The Vowels Pt 2’ and ‘The Fall of Mr Fifths’ from the aforementioned album are well received, as Wolf junior’s vocoded echoes are given a healthy usage.

“Welcome to Manchest-uh,” is the heckled reply to the Wolfs’ anecdote of near-murder that evening, as part of an odd break between songs. Josiah, manning the percussion and relegated to backing vocals for the main event, bafflingly brings up his earlier stint in the limelight, seemingly to gauge a reaction. My advice is to stick to the rhythm section, as he does on ‘A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under’ with the delicate xylophone intro, but his backseat is confirmed when eyes switch back to Yoni; conducting the crowd with his claws.

There’s time for some tracks from latest album Eskimo Snow. ‘This Blackest Purse’ is performed more pensively; less animated than the set’s norm, which is later powered home zestfully in a “Fuck You!” jointly exclaimed with the crowd during ‘The Hollows’; typical of the pied-piper effect that Yoni radiates.

Words: Ian Pennington
Picture, top: Nelesh Dhand

Friday, 12 March 2010

Now Wave presents: Four Tet @ Club Academy, Thursday 11th March, 2010

Now Wave have made a habit of booking hotly tipped independent music of late, and none more so than a constant forward-thinker of modern electronica, Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet. What makes this show stand out from the start, however, is the quality of warm-up acts.

London duo Rocketnumbernine meander between Nathan Fake’s ambient side and a half-intensity Fuck Buttons, while offering the only acoustic performer of the night in drummer Tom Page, who adds a little extra weight to their walls of sound.

Next on, and looking out onto an already sizeable gathering, Pantha Du Prince eases into his set with echoing chimes that give way to processed beats. As the mixture of minimal chirpiness and increasingly driving bass foundations progress to floor-vibrating head-nodders, the hooded laptop operator leaves the stage oscillating in his wake.

The night belongs to Four Tet, though. To use a visual metaphor, his predecessors on the night only muster block colour when compared with Hebden’s multicolour mixes. ‘Angel Echoes’, the opener on latest album There Is Love In You, sets the scene as one for showcasing the new material. But putting it like that is too two dimensional and routine to describe the Four Tet experience. Hebden leads into ‘Sing’ with the help of what appears to be ambient pioneer Brian Eno’s ‘Bloom’ app on his iPod touch in an example of the constant tendency to shift live versions of his recorded tunes down twitchy, glitchy tangents. Every nuance is subject to change; the representation is far from routine.

After the set weaves through ‘Circling’, ‘Love Cry’ and ‘Plastic People’, the biggest hand-raiser of the night is introduced by way of a ribcage rattler of a pounding pulse. When this evolves into old favourite ‘As Serious As Your Life’ there’s a frenzy of movement; it’s hard to resist such rhythm.

Behind Kieran Hebden’s appreciative grin beaming towards the front row’s clamouring fanaticism is a man in his element. Indeed, his enjoyment shows through as those who remain in hope of a post-curfew encore are rewarded with a personal touch as he returns to shake hands with some who were undoubtedly blown away by what they witnessed.

Words: Ian Pennington
Pictures: Paul Green

Friday, 5 March 2010

Tim Berne's Buffalo Collision/TrioVD @ Band on the Wall, Sunday 28th February, 2010

This evening's double-bill exposed an eager Band on the Wall audience to a yin and yang of the jazz avant-garde. The headline act was the American Buffalo Collision, featuring Ethan Iverson (piano) and David King (drums) from the courageous Bad Plus trio, Hank Roberts on cello, led by free-improv legend Tim Berne on the alto sax. Their softness, sensitivity and free-form exploration was the polar opposite to the savage virtuosity of TrioVD, who have emerged from their roots in LIMA (Leeds Improvised Music Association), terrorising jazz fans up and down the country with their remarkable début album, Fill It Up With Ghosts.

TrioVD comprises Chris Sharkey (Acoustic Ladyland) on guitar, Christophe de Bézenac on sax, vocals and effects and Chris Bussey on drums. They're lethal improvisers, yet they've managed to craft a sound which blends tightly-packed composed sections which morph seamlessly into temporary open spaces for schizoid improvised freak-outs. Their sound changes unrelentingly from deranged free-bop into precision prog à la early 70s King Crimson, from industrial grinds to hysterical rantings. Fleeting safe-havens of spacious ambience provide temporary repose before the inevitable free-fall into another demented skirmish. The textures and rhythms never stand still, and the blistering passages of saxophone melody flash by faster than you can think, like listening to Eric Dolphy on fast-forward. 'Only dead fish go with the flow' they chant towards the end of their final blast, neatly summing up TrioVD's irrepressible creativity and spontaneity as a group. See them if you have the chance.

After the break, Tim Berne's laconic introductions establish a more sardonic tone in preparation for Buffalo Collision's musical voyage into the unknown. In contrast to the demonic frenzy of TrioVD, Buffalo Collision's approach felt refreshingly playful, laid-back and sensitive. There were definite musical markers scattered through the set, but the Americans were for the most part playing completely freely. At times the interaction was exquisite, but there were moments when the solos seemed unnecessarily self-indulgent and the ensemble somewhat formless, alienating the audience from the stage. Nevertheless, it was a good antidote to the crazed exuberance of TrioVD, and all in all an intriguing window into the challenging yet rewarding world of experimental jazz.

Words: Owen Hewson

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Spiro @ Band on the Wall, Friday 26th February, 2010

It's always refreshing to be reminded how much can be made out of so little. With just mandolin, accordion, violin and guitar, folk quartet Spiro have put together a sound which seems to combine the best of so many things into something uniquely irresistible.

The instrumentation and the melodic sensibility could be described as 'folk-friendly', but Spiro really aren't the traditional folk quartet. Whereas the main focus in trad-folk is usually the melody, Spiro's sound has a textural richness and variety unmatched by any other acoustic four-piece I've ever heard. There are definite resonances with the Penguin Café Orchestra; an endearingly playful reshaping of traditional folk melodies, as well as a focus on the textural warmth and richness of acoustic instruments.

But there is a rhythmic urgency and complexity which sets Spiro apart from Penguin Café's introspective ambience. Exquisitely conceived rhythmic cells criss-cross in and out of each other, creating the kaleidoscopic hypnosis you might usually get listening to Steve Reich. But again, this comparison is lacking. Although we might normally associate American minimalism with Zen Buddhism and marijuana, Spiro's infectious melodic exuberance propels the rhythmic engine skywards like a euphoric dance anthem. Cherry-picking from both albums, Pole Star and Lightbox you couldn't help but be won over by the joyous energy of a group who know they've really found their own sound.

Words: Owen Hewson