Tracks Monkeys With Lasers


2010 Gigs: Best of the Rest

These shows have been of a monkey on my back over the last couple of months as I’ve had every intention to sit down and write them up properly but life has somewhat conspired against this and as time has gone on, I’ve felt like I couldn’t review them as well as I’d like so have kept putting it off.

Now, I feel I need to start this year with a clean slate but also round of 2010 so here’s a runthrough of all but one (which will get a slightly longer writeup) of the gigs I made it to in the twilight of the year..

The Tallest Man On Earth @ Electric Ballroom – 24/11

It’s not that long ago that the Swede was coming over to the UK for his first ever show, a show I was privileged to attend. In fact, it still remains one of my favourite gigs ever as Matsson played to a silent audience in awe of such amazing guitarwork and vocals and gripped by the intensity of his performance.

Fast forward little over a year and a few UK performances, The Tallest Man On Earth is back to play to a sold out Camden crowd. It amazes me to see the sudden explosion in his popularity but this isn’t by accident as he is a truly stunning artist and one that deserves to play to such crowds. I don’t know how word has spread so quickly about him but the praise is always justified.

However, the Ballroom just doesn’t suit this type of performance. Arriving later after meeting friends, we were stuck near to the back. Not being so tall myself, the slopeless Ballroom doesn’t fare well for myself and so half the gig is spent ducking and weaving through people so I can see something of him on stage and not just the back of someone’s head (and their straw/ironic Peruvian hat).

As ever, Matsson himself plays a blinder. Even to such a crowd, the feeling he gives out for each track shines through (but by the inverse square law, it’s greatly diminished by the time it gets to me). Running through tracks from both albums and the new EP, he plays a mix of live favourites and songs I’d need heard in this setting before.

There were plenty of other firsts to this performance as well though. Appropriately enough, given the venue, this was the first time he had gone fully electric and the change in sound for some of the tracks made them sound nicely different to what I had heard previously.

More noticeable than that, however, was the introduction of the organ/piano to the set adding a whole new dimension to his set. The most noticeable of these, and the definite highlight for myself, was the reworked version of Like The Wheel which was nothing short of beautiful. And an encore finishing with Kids On The Run rounded the evening off brilliantly.

I do love seeing The Tallest Man On Earth live as he is such a passionate and intense performer (and the only artist I know who can turn tuning his guitar into a whole song on it’s own!). It’s just a shame that the Ballroom is such a terrible venue for an artist like him and he’s got to the stage of attracting “fans” along now, such as the guy stood near me who just seemed intent on singing all the songs at his girlfriend in an apparent attempt to prove that he knew all the words.

I am gutted that I can’t make the next show that’s been announced at Shepherd’s Bush Empire due to my exams as that could suit him better. However, I still think he performs best to small audiences but those days are definitely gone now, in London at least, and I can only be thankful that I got to see him play such shows.

Titus Andronicus @ Scala – 25/11

This had been a show I’d been looking forward to for a while with The Monitor being one of my favourite albums of the year and with TA’s reputation as a great live band. Arriving early, I caught the set of the second support act TV Personalities who were an influential punk band from the 70s (and beyond) and who TA seemed to admire. Despite this reputation, they were pretty crap. It wasn’t until afterwards I found out that they were held in seemingly high regard as they were boring, repetitive and flat.

As such, it meant that I was even more geared up for Titus themselves as I was determined to have a good time. Luckily, they didn’t disappoint.

Launching straight off with A More Perfect Union, the crowd were instantly on the band’s side and loving every minute of it which is not a surprise as it is a brilliant album opener. The rest of the set was a mix of tracks from the new album as well as the previous record with Fear And Loathing.., and the amazing Titus Andronicus itself from the first album being highlights but then again new tracks sounded just as good.

Titus know how to whip the crowd into a frenzy though, especially with singalong lines life “you’ll always be a loser” and screams of FUCK YOU! at certain points. All this meant it was one of the most knackering gigs I’ve ever been to with the unrelenting pace of the show hardly letting up with the breaks between songs being a welcome break for the band and the crowd. Even slower tracks like To Old Friends And New had such an intensity about them that it still sapped the energy from everyone present.

The venue itself added to the atmosphere with Scala being much smaller than I had imagined so everyone was packed in. The security staff also didn’t seem too fussed about crowd surfers so it made it feel like an old school rock concert. However, Dan Tracey from TV Personalities seemingly thought he was back in the 70s and insisted on taking over the stage and getting the band to play with him. One track wasn’t enough though and he grabbed a guitar and played a song with a very bemused Titus playing along and an even more bemused audience not knowing whether to laugh or feel sorry for Dan who clearly thought he was THE MAN with the amount of booze/illicit substances he was on.

After normal service had resumed, Titus continued their race to the end of the show making for a great show and it was nice to see a band live that sounded as good and energetic and frantic live as they did on record. They also seemed to be a nice group of people too and couldn’t stop saying how happy they were to be playing their biggest non-US show so it was a pleasure to be part of that as well.

One of the gigs of the year for me.

65daysofstatic @ CAMP – 26/11

A mere 6 months after seeing them at Koko, 65dos were back in town for a much smaller show at a place I’d never even heard of.

The City and Arts Music Project is just off Old Street and must be a relatively new venue as I used to work in the area and didn’t recognise the place at all. We got there before doors opened as a friend had managed to get me a reserved ticket (despite it being a sellout) but we had to get there early to grab it. But early here had a different meaning as the doors weren’t even due to open until 10pm with 65dos not on until around midnight.

On arriving, the bar on the ground floor level of the venue looked quite nice from outside and we got a decent look at it as we were left standing outside in temperatures below zero as they kept refusing to open the doors. 30 minutes or so later, and with hypothermia only just staved off, we finally made it inside the venue.

Going down stairs, the venue really was a tiny place and quite a dingy place but in a way that made me quite excited as the smallest venue I had ever seen the band in was at the Dingwalls and this was probably even smaller.

After taking up our spots around the middle of the venue we settled down for the evening and welcomed the support band Kong onto the stage, ready for them to set the scene for the evening.

Sadly, they were a bit crap. The costumes they wore just looked tacky and their “noise rock” sound just came over as noise. There were moments where I felt like I was starting to get into their music but it quickly descended back into something I ended up tolerating instead, which is not a good way to describe any music.

After that disappointment, it was up to 65dos to save the day. Rumour had it that the band hate playing London because of the hipsters that end up going to the shows who aren’t actually fans of theirs and had even thought about not playing London. But with such a small venue, I was hoping that the place was going to be ripped up.

Sadly, this just didn’t happen. 65dos themselves were fantastic as always and still remain one of the best live acts out there. But the crowd just didn’t seem to be up for it at all, standing around looking more like they were queuing for a bus. There were a handful of people trying to go for it but these were definitely in the minority.

As for 65dos, the set leaned quite heavily towards their newest album, which was no problem for me as We Were Exploding Anyway is, for me, their finest piece of work to date with much more synth on it that their previous records which adds much more to their sound. From the set opener and all out assault that is Go Complex to the almost rave-esque Weak4, this material is just made to be played live. There were a host of old tracks in there too though, including Retreat! Retreat! which always gives me shivers when I hear it live.

Closing the main part of the set with the eerie Debutante, many people headed for the doors to my bemusement as it was clear 65dos would be coming back out and it was definitely worth hanging round for with the brilliant Radio Protector and Tiger Girl before a second encore of older tracks to round the night off.

I really enjoyed the set and it was great to see them back in a small venue. But after the atmosphere of the previous evening, it felt like such a let down to have such a rubbish audience in a venue that was made for this kind of show (but not helped by the average sound and over zealous security staff). And with a crowd of people that the band hate London for, I only hope they do come back. Or that I’m out of here before their next show.

Sorry for the lack of pics but the lighting in the venue and my camera just didn’t get along.

The Rural Alberta Advantage @ The Luminaire – 09/12

Another day, another amazing gig.

It’s no secret on this blog that I utterly love the RAA ever since a friend sent me a download link (I have no qualms about this as this was the pre-Saddle Creek days when you could only buy the album straight from them). On last.fm, it is my most listened to album with over 1,000 plays and when I heard about their first gig in the UK, I almost let out a little sex wee. That show didn’t disappoint (apart from the annoying hippy guy who clapped out of time through the whole gig) and so when they announced their return, I snapped up a ticket.

This was the first gig I’d ever been to at the Luminaire (amazingly) and would ultimately be my only visit with it facing imminent closure. It was a beautiful little venue and a bit smaller than I had imagined. With the first support band having just finished, I made my way quite happily to the stage and settled down in time for Let’s Buy Happiness. I quite enjoyed their set with their indie pop sound and interesting vocals from the female vocalist and they are a band I have meant to investigate more since I saw them.

But it was the RAA who I was obviously here to see and wondered just how they would be able to top their previous gig. After the inevitable waiting around, they bounded on stage to a warm round of applause and yet again managed to capture my heart.

They manage to blend several sounds into their songs, and subequently into their set, so well and without ever sounding as though they’re not comfortable doing so; from the distorted and frantic Drain The Blood to the haunting Frank, AB every song sounds great. The mix of keyboards, straight acoustic and distorted acoustic guitars taking the lead on different tracks also gives the set a nice mix of sounds and this is all backed up with Niles’ unique, strained vocals, Amy’s beautiful backing vocals and then Paul’s all out assault on the drums which somehow fits in with the soft and tender music seamlessly.

As well as the old favourites, which have been around for a good few years now, the band also played a number of new songs which all fit in with the sound of the tracks from Hometowns but offer something slightly different. Barnesyard is one that is recognisable straight away to me as it has been on their Daytrotter session from quite a while ago but the ones that I didn’t know still had an air of familiarity about them which makes me very excited for the new album (which is out very soon and up for pre-order on Saddle Creek’s website now).

Like their previous show, the finale for the night was the new albums closing track Goodnight which was performed completely unplugged and played on a raised section of the venue at the back of the crowd. Save for a few people who jst can’t help but talk, everyone else present listened in silence to a great finish to the night.

I loved their set again this time round but it didn’t quite reach the heights of the previous show. This was nothing to do with how they played but that last time round was the first time seeing them live so the anticipation of that made it so much more amazing but I won’t complain if they decide to come back to these shores any time in the near future.

Frank Turner @ Brixton Academy – 12/12

March 2009 – Puregroove Records instore to 50 people

December 2010 – Sellout show at Brixton Academy to 5000 people

These number show just how far Frank Turner has gone in such a short amount of time. But no matter what the size of the crowd, Frank seems equally comfortable but equally humble at the same time. Having been at both of these shows (the former being the smallest crowd I can remember seeing him play to and the latter being his biggest headline show to date) and a fair few in between, it’s been fascinating to see this change to take place.

This was the end of a UK tour as well as the year’s Christmas show and a slightly different one from the magical night at the Union Chapel 12 months previously. I got to the venue nice and early to catch the full lineup for the evening which kicked off with Dive Dive. As Frank fans will know, three quarters of the band are the same guys that make up Frank’s band with leadman Jamie being the only difference in the lineups. Having recently signed to Xtra Mile themselves, they were ready to release their first album in a few years and showcased it brilliantly on the night.

With a very different sound to their work with Frank, they launched through their set with it’s tight indie sound which was a great start to the night and I’m sure it was a set won them plenty of new fans on the night. The new material, which I’d managed to hear beforehand on Spotify, sounded great and made the album one to go on the pre-order list when I got home.

After that came Ed Harcourt which was a name I recognised but not one I could put a song to. His set was an interesting mix of sounds with him flitting between piano and guitar. For just one man on such a big stage with such a huge audience, he did very well and it was a set that I found quite interesting and not one I would have expected from someone supporting Mr Turner.

As for Frank’s set itself, there’s very little I can say that I haven’t said several times in the past. As always, a mixture of material off all three albums and the new EP were present and correct as well as several new tracks, most of which will presumably feature on the, as yet untitled, fourth studio album that will be out in Summer 2011.

The standout moment for me of his set was the crowd’s participation and excitement for his most recent single I Still Believe. It is definitely one of his catchiest/mainstream (in a nice way) songs but I never expected such a reaction to such a new song and it makes you think that a lot of the crowd have only just jumped on the Frank-wagon (especially as the show had only sold out a week or two before having been on sale since February).

Many of the standard live tracks such as Prufrock, LI&S, Father’s Day etc all sounded great as is always the case. The less commonly played Nashville Tennessee and Springsteen’s Thunder Road also got their chances to be heard while the pick of the new tracks in the a capella English Curse had the crowd hanging on every word.

Frank’s interaction with the crowd was there as per usual too with plenty of chatting between songs and thanking the crowd repeatedly for making it his biggest show to date. This was also coupled with personal tales such as about his grandmother feeding him whiskey at a young age.

The set closer of The Road had the crowd, and my companion Mr Ben Marwood, very excited and whipped up for cheers and screams for the inevitable encore which bought the night to an end with the singalong of Ballad of Me and My Friends and then Photosynthesis with Ed Harcourt coming back out on stage to join in.

Frank is someone I will never tire of seeing live, as you may have already guessed, as you know you’ll get a great show but with such a library of tracks to play as well as the constant stream of new material, it’s different every time as well. Yet again, another great show and a fantastic way to end the year for gigs again.

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