Blog : Posts tagged with 'concert'

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Quiet, please

In which the reference library is louder than you might expect, but somehow seems quieter than normal


Saturday night: to Bristol Central Library, for a gig by The Wraiths, a local band whose “thing” is setting classic poems to music. We’d seen them twice before, at various events,* but last night was the first time we’d seen them performing as a full band.

You might think that a library – the Reference Library Reading Room, in fact – is a slightly odd place to hold a gig. Unusual, I have to admit; Lancaster Library is a regular indie venue, but this was only Bristol Library’s second public concert. The tickets impressed me, for a start: the organisers were clearly trying to set the theme.

Library bookplate or concert ticket?

The library reading room is an amazing space. Part of an early building by Charles Holden, the architect of various iconic London buildings,** it has a high, vaulted ceiling wtih two gallery levels. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to bring a camera along; the clatter of a camera shutter can sometimes be a little unwelcome at quiet, intimate gigs. I’ll have to come back on an evening sometime, when the library is open for normal business, and see if they’ll let me take some photos of the interior. It is, allegedly, haunted; the band tried to persuade the gig’s librarian organiser to give us a talk on the various ghosts that live in the building, but sadly it never occurred.

The gig itself can’t really be disassociated, in my head, from the venue. The overall effect was magical, the music filling the vault, although if anything they should have turned the volume up slightly. Although there wasn’t any support, the band played a very full set, two halves and an interval, and the library reference desk had been turned into a cafe-bar for the night. As I said above, we’d seen them twice already, but this gig, with a fuller band, was by far the best; maybe because this time, they were the headline act. They persuaded us to buy their CD,*** and happily encore’d away, slightly tentatively, at the end.

All in all, a great gig, and the second good gig I’ve been to at the library. I’m hoping now that the library sees fit to extend this event into a whole series of concerts: they have a wonderful room, after all, and it makes the music shine.

* and I have a photo of the first time we saw them performing.

** including Senate House, 55 Broadway, and various other Underground Group/London Transport Art Deco premises. At the time Bristol Central Library was built, of course, Art Deco had not yet been thought of, so it’s in more of an Edwardian Classical style.

*** or, rather, the CD of theirs that we didn’t already have.

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Sound and music

In which we go to see The Boy Least Likely To


As soon as we get home, we’re out again. To a gig, at the Louisiana, to see The Boy Least Likely To, hard at work promoting their new album that’s just been released. We were slightly confused when we arrived, to see that according to the posters the gig was on Monday, March 24th, and we’d turned up on a Tuesday. After checking our calendars, we went in. Inside, there’s not much room in the Louisiana. It’s quite a cosy place, so cosy that we quickly spotted that a good chunk of the pub was taken up by support band The School tucking into their tea.

The first band that came on were The Fox And The Bramble, an electric/acoustic duo who dashed about the stage swapping instruments, and made slightly-twee twinkly sounds with children’s toys. I spent a while wondering which one was Fox and which Bramble; the internet says the name comes from Aesop, though.

They were followed by The School, as I mentioned. We’ve seen The School before, so we knew what to expect; but we were slightly disappointed. They didn’t seem as good as they did in November. The sound didn’t seem to be mixed quite right, with keyboard and vocals overpowering the rest of the band.

The Boy Least Likely To had sound troubles of their own. “Violin isn’t plugged in,” one of them shouted, after the first song. “Too much violin,” he shouted after the second. They are apparently only a duo normally, but on-stage they mysteriously expand to a full band, like one of those toys for dropping in water. I have to admit to not knowing very much about them; but the gig left me wanting to find out more.* Their frontman smiled broadly, and flicked balloons back and forth with the audience in a genial way, never missing a beat.

* they do have a blog, and they’ve already written about last night’s gig on it.

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Folk

In which we review Rachel Unthank and the Winterset


This weekend’s gig: Rachel Unthank and The Winterset, at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Theatre. “People ask us if ‘Unthank’ is our stage name,” said Rachel. “Who’d choose a name like ‘Unthank’?” Personally, it reminds me of Scotland;* but the Unthank family are Northumbrian. Rachel and her sister Becky share the major vocal parts, with a piano and another musician behind them.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of folk; but then, I don’t really agree with the concept of genre to start with. And, to start with, it was a little avant-garde: slow, not really rhythmic at all, but relying on the beauty of the sisters’ voices, the pianist darting from one end of the keyboard to the other and occasionally reaching inside the piano’s innards to pluck its strings directly. We were a little distracted by a woman just in front of us in the audience, who had decided that the quiet opening was the ideal time to take a loud phone call. “Don’t you shush me!” she said, harshly, to anybody who complained, as she pushed her way out of the row. “MY SON is more important than YOUR HEARING”. I was sorely tempted to mutter “Oh no he isn’t” sotto voce, but the rude bint would probably have tried to lamp me one. Fortunately, she was soon gone.

The gig continued, with songs getting a little more up-tempo, but always with the slight flexibility implied by the lack of percussion. If the band needed percussion, they provided it with their feet; but its lack gave them the freedom to explore, to work in free time without any constricting structures. They seemed to be able to soar at will with their voices; and Rachel stood with her hands spread and moving across her lap, as if she was consciously grasping the music with them and guiding herself.

I must have been enjoying it, because I even joined in with the audience participation sections, something I’m normally loath to do, and despite barely being able to carry a tune. Not that it matters when you’re in the middle of an audience; but still. After a rousing and catchy midwinter song** about the Allendale new year fire ceremony, they finished up with all four of the band, together a capella, singing a Shetland song with lyrics in Norn.*** I couldn’t make out the words from the sound, but the sound was beautiful enough to not need anything more.

* One of my favourite novels is Alasdair Gray’s classic Lanark, largely set in a city called Unthank.

** So catchy the chorus is still stuck in my head three days later.

*** The strand of the Nordic languages spoken in Shetland until the 19th century, similar to Faroese and some dialects of Norwegian

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Wall of sound

In which we go to a Death Cab gig


I wonder, sometimes, how much music reviewers know about the bands they review. Some, it’s obvious, are fans. Some are at least knowledgeable. But there must be some, surely, who turn up knowing nothing and leave knowing less.

We went to see Death Cab For Cutie play the other night. “Ah,” I thought, “I’ll write about them for the blog.” It’s the second time we’ve seen them this year, having seen them already a few months back at the Manchester Apollo. I even recognised some of their tunes. But, nevertheless, I still don’t feel qualified to have an opinion about them.

The stage felt slightly odd at Sunday’s gig. A big, wide stage, the band set themselves up at opposite corners of it, with a vast empty area in the middle through which their bass guitarist romped, jumping about wildly. We were pressed up against the front barrier, so I amused myself by watching the local photographers jumping about in pretty much the same way, grabbing photos before they had to leave. Nice cameras.* I wasn’t entirely sure one of them had chosen the right lens – it looked a bit slow for the job. But I was supposed to be listening to the music.

They’re not the best band if you want onstage banter. They launch straight from one song to the next without leaving any applause room, sometimes stopping briefly to change guitars. We learned: they think that British and American Pizza Hut branches are just as bad as each other.** We learned that the band learned: swimming in the harbour is not a good idea.*** And that, as far as banter went, was that.**** Their music, though, is good. They’re a tight band, even though they practically needed telescopes to see each other on stage. People don’t necessarily go for talk, do they? They go to listen to the music. Benjamin Gibbard danced about on the balls of his feet, a roadie in the wings paying out and reeling in his guitar lead as he went, to stop him tripping up on it; not knowing the music, I liked watching the little details like that. After the very full set – twenty-odd songs, including a 4-track encore, not just stuff from their current album – we went home filled up with feedback and our ears ringing.*****

*All Nikon. A D3, a D300, and a lower-end SLR, something like a D40 or D60.

** Or Pasta Hut, or whatever stupid name they’re calling it now. I’m not surprised they’re equally poor.

*** Possibly they saw the same thing as I saw the other day: the Big Issue seller whose pitch is on Pero’s Bridge, standing and pissing off the bridge into the water, about 10ft below.

**** unless you count the Barack Obama campaign sticker on one of Benjamin Gibbard’s guitars. If you don’t say much, even a single sticker can count as a statement.

***** although not painfully, like some bands I’ve mentioned in the past.

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Clever Girls Like Clever Boys Like Clever Music

In which we see Pelle Carlberg


We were hoping, when we moved here, that there would always be lots of exciting little gigs to go to, given that this city is always supposed to have an exciting music scene. Last night, we went to the second one we’ve been to since we moved to, to see one of our favourite Swedish indiepop acts, Pelle Carlberg. Swedish indiepop? Yes, indeed. A classic genre, I’ll have you know.

Not many other people seemed to think so, though. We were the first people there – indeed, when the first act, Made From Clouds, started, we were the only people there. “Have you heard of Flight Of The Conchords” he bantered, at the end of the first song. “This feels like the episode where Bret left the band and Jemaine was left on his own.” There’s nothing wrong with resembling Flight Of The Conchords to my mind, though.

Other people did start to filter in, although as usual at small gigs a lot of them were friends of the local bands, coming in for one band and disappearing afterwards. Pelle Carlberg arrived, too, and sat down next to us, to listen to his support. Slowly, people who had come to listen to him specifically started to appear.

The main support, who’ve been following Pelle round the country, were pretty good. Called “The School”, they’re an indiepop band of the Cardiff school, with cheerful melodies and tinkly glockenspiels. We bopped along in our seats, with smiles on our faces.

Pelle Carlberg himself tends to get compared to Belle and Sebastian. On the posters for this tour, certainly. Having a song in his set called “1983 (Pelle and Sebastian)” possibly doesn’t help that; and his gawky dancing style does remind me slightly of Stuart Murdoch. Generally, though, his songs are slightly more biting, less vague, about reality rather than hypothetical dreaming teenagers. After listening to him, you know exactly which airlines he refuses to use* or which journalists he doesn’t like any more. He’s very good at it, though, and moreover, very catchy. We might have been bopping in our chairs to The School; for Carlberg, we were bouncing about and singing along. As there were only about 15 other people in the audience, we think he probably noticed.** Rather than have a merchandising stall, Pelle had a carrier bag, and invited everyone to come up to him to buy stuff from him after the gig. We went up and bought a Pelle Carlberg cloth shopping bag, embarrassed and happy and giggling. On the side it says “Clever Girls Like Clever Boys More Than Clever Boys Like Clever Girls”, one of his best (and best-known songs).*** And then we walked home, bouncing and cheerful and whistling his choruses to ourselves.

* Ryanair, in case you were wondering.

** not counting the members of The School who had stayed to listen.

*** It’s on Youtube; I recommend it.

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Boredom threshold

In which we are disgusted by a band who are so bad it made FP angry


It’s often said that you shouldn’t criticise or decry art just because you don’t understand it. You shouldn’t put down music, or books, just because they’re not to your taste. Well, I’ve found, there’s a limit to that. For we have been to the worst gig ever, and have barely survived it.

We were given tickets to last night’s gig by the reformed My Bloody Valentine, at the Apollo in Manchester. “They’re a life-changing experience” said the chap who gave them to us. Unfortunately, he was right.

The support – Sonic Boom Spectrum, Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember’s band* – was good, and interesting to hear; and the main act started off not too bad. It wasn’t really great, very badly mixed, but it was still listenable. I didn’t know any of the songs, but there were some good tunes somewhere in the depths of the mix; although I couldn’t tell if any of them were meant to be vocal or instrumental.

Towards the end of the gig, though, the band gave up on trying to play music. Instead, they blasted the audience as if it was a rioting crowd, with a barrage of white noise. Incredibly loud white noise. “Loud” doesn’t really describe it. Everyone was wearing earplugs, but everyone still had their hands tight over their ears. K was pressing herself against me, in pain, holding one ear to my chest and my hands over her other. And it continued.

I was expecting this to be brief. It was stupid and moronic, after all. There was no art to it, no creative input, no nothing. The band may as well not have been on the stage. But, no, it went on and on. People started walking to the exit, or discussing how bored they were by text message. I started wishing I’d brought a book and a torch. Anything would have been more interesting than standing around in a noise-filled space whilst a few people on the stage had an art-wank moment together. I started counting the people who were walking out – by now it was an appreciable proportion of the audience, and idly wondered where the circuit breakers were. Or if I could cadge a fag and a lighter – but how, with this noise? – and set off the fire alarms, if that would cut stage power. I wish I had done. Ten minutes, and it was still going on, the same as it had been to start with, no change to it, no modulation, just noise. I should have walked out. I should have walked out already. I wish I had done.

It took twenty minutes for the band finally to evaporate their remaining credibility and give up, by which time about a third of the audience had left. Twenty minutes of white noise. Twenty minutes of dangerous-to-health white noise: nearly 24 hours later I still can’t hear properly. My Bloody Valentine disgust me. They have squandered and wasted what little ability they had, in the pursuit of angering their audience. They’re not musicians, they’re brutal morons, and they deserve to end up infirm and insensible. Their audience, who are the ones with the hearing loss, don’t. My Bloody Valentine would be the worst band in the world, if you could describe them as musicians. This truly was the worst gig I’ve ever been to, and it really didn’t deserve to be staged. If the band had never reformed, the world today would be a nicer and more creative place.

* Thank you to the person who wrote in to correct me there. I wasn’t entirely sure who the support was at the time, but the chap who gave us the tickets had said it was going to be Sonic Boom.

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Low

In which we see Low


Last night: we popped up to The Sage, Gateshead, the first time I’d ever been to a concert there. To see a band which has been on my “second-favourites” list for a few years, but who I’ve never really been a fan of. Low. The audience was a strange mixture: lots of former indie-boys now in their thirties, and a good supply of men with long hair, glasses, and bristly Vollbart beards. We spotted, in the audience, the waitress from the Side Café in Newcastle, a very good café which I’m sure I’d written about on this site before; but I can’t find any such post anywhere. Ah well; it’s a very good cafe, and I even have a photo:

Cakes and sandwiches, Side Cafe, Newcastle

My first thoughts about the venue itself: it seems very big from the outside, but Hall Two, in which the bad were playing, is tiny. An octogon, much taller than it is wide, with two rows of balconies from which you could, if you wished, peer down at the band from a great height. The balconies are in the round, which singer Alan didn’t like – “it’s like having an angel on your shoulder,” he said. He doesn’t do banter, which led to long silences between some songs whilst he fiddled with his pedals and feedback equipment, a pair of miked-up monitors behind him. “Play more new songs!” shouted the audience. “Play more old songs!” “Play songs from in the middle!” “Play songs in the order on that piece of paper in front of you!”* “Can anyone else hear … voices?” replied the taciturn Alan.

They’d been preceded by The Helio Sequence, a drummer/guitarist duo from Portland, who had never been over to Britain before. They were rather chattier. “Hello, Newcastle!” shouted their singer-guitarist. “They told us not to say that. ‘No, no whatever you say, not Newcastle, this is Gateshead.’ So I thought I’d say it anyway.” Their music was good,** but what really struck me was: how much their drummer, Benjamin Weikel,*** enjoys himself whilst playing. He is the absolute antithesis of the famous Charlie Watts: flailing around and bringing his arms up high, a joyous and broad smile on his face.

Low are on an album-promoting tour; but, as per the requests, they did indeed play a good mixture of old and new songs – the oldest I recognised being “Lion/Lamb” from their late-90s album Secret Name; but as I don’t have any of their earlier albums, there may well have been older songs I didn’t know before. They really are a beautiful band to hear live, singers Alan and Mimi harmonising beautifully together, supported by a tremendous wash of noise from the two intruments, guitar and bass guitar. With those alone they can fill the space entirely with sound. Before the gig, regular reader and commenter Kahlan asked me what sort of music they play. Now, I hate genre-classification anyway; but I was stuck for words to describe them. They turn a minimalist collection of instruments – Mimi’s drumkit consisted solely of two drums and two cymbals**** – into a grand swell of mind-filling sound. I went away with my ears ringing and a smile on my face.

* which, I think, came from one of the angels over his shoulder.

** K already has two of their albums anyway, so she already knew this.

*** a sometime member of Modest Mouse, according to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia

**** plus a few other hand-held things like tambourine and sleigh bells. Sadly, despite having the sleigh bells with them, they didn’t play my favourite Low song, “Just Like Christmas”.

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Can you hear me now?

In which we feel ironic


The Mother has always been very much a fan of vocal music, choral singing, and that sort of thing. More recently, she’s started singing herself, and now belongs to lots of church singing groups, local choral societies, and so on. She’s never done much solo work, but she often goes off to events and sings in choirs at various places. She’s going to one tomorrow, in fact. There’s one thing about tomorrow’s choral singing event, though, which amuses me greatly.

It’s being held at the local School For The Deaf.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t laugh. I’ve had deaf friends. I know deaf people can enjoy music just as much as anybody else. There are more great deaf musicians than there are, say, great one-handed musicians.* There’s something about the combination of event and location, though, that nevertheless raises a smile.

* Although the philosopher Wittgenstein’s brother Paul was a famous, virtuoso piano player, despite only having one hand.

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