Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Libertines: Reasons For Speculation

Is there a man who wears a leather jacket better than Carl Barât?

That is barely relevant, but I felt a need to pay a homage to the man who has taught me the ALT code for the letter â (ALT 131 of course), especially in such good times.

The Libertines reunited, briefly, last week, for a gig to pay tribute to the deceased owner of the Rhythm Factory in London. Carl, Pete and Gary are all scheduled to play Camden Rocks festival in early June too, and wouldn't it just be torture for them all to be at a festival and then not play together? And if a show happens, with Carl, Pete and Gary, followed by more little gigs like that...well a full Libertines reunion is on the cards, like we've been told. Pete & Carl have said they would record together next year, a promise which set fans' blood racing; definitely mine.

My worries are about John's decision. It is no secret that Peter has wanted to reform The Libs for a very long time. Carl is making positive noises now, and Gary seems to be going along with Carl. But John? John Hassall is busy with Yeti, a lower velocity group with seemingly a lot of mileage: things are on his terms and he doesn't have egos and drugs to compete with, he can stretch his musical muscle, make the sound he wants to. There are other bassists (cue Drew McConnell, enter stage left) but John was always the bassist for the job, with his fast fingers, his image, and his ability to fade into the background to let Pete & Carl take centre stage, while still being a strong presence. In the Libs book, it was said, "John is the only bassist." Perhaps he is. A Libs reunion would not be the same without him.

All the same, it is a good time to be a Libertines fan. Not as good a time as 2001 and 2002, waiting for an unscheduled gig on the dishevelled pavement of the Camden Road, or logging onto back in its hayday. No, it's not as good a time as that, but it certainly feels like there is a future, regardless of your opinions on their reformation. There is unfinished business between the boys in the band, and I for one am waiting for the saga to continue.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Maxïmo Park @ Birmingham Academy, 19/05/09

I left this gig high, with the impression that the crowd had loved the show almost as much as I had, from the cheering and calling Maxïmo back on for an extended encore. However, all I overheard on the journey home were comments about how average it had been.

So that's my 'taking-other-people's-opinions-into-account' quota met. Personally, I thought they were pretty good. While putting up posters before the gig with my friend (who works at the Academy) I saw Lukas Wooller eating his dinner in the Academy canteen. I feigned nonchalance, as my friend could lose his job for approaching band members, it's against the rules...but Lukas could see from my Maxïmo Park shirt and vaguely starstruck expression that I had noticed him. We also saw Duncan Lloyd wandering rather aimlessly around on the balcony, exploring the venue maybe, or just lost. It was a little dreamlike, but I'm not usually one to 'freak out' on seeing my favourite musicians. An uttered 'God, it's Duncan as well' sufficed.

The support acts were both average. Stricken City up first sounded a little like Florence & The Machine, and the songs were okay but repetitive. I wasn't struck (pun intended). The second support were Bombay Bicycle Club, a band I've heard of and have been told I should like. I wasn't too impressed though, they could play their guitars but they chose not to in many tracks; the lead singer looked like he was on some kind of hallucinagenic stimulant and the bassist looked like he was on some kind of sedative. The crowd seemed to like it though, there were chants of "BBC!" and cheering.

Maxïmo Park launched into The Coast Is Always Changing at about half past nine, and the crowd were having a good time. I was about 2 rows back, but the front row were unusually tall so I couldn't see much. All the same, I could see Paul Smith with his dramatic facial expressions and Lukas with his rigid dancing behind the keyboard. (Sometimes I think Paul's just in a band so he can dance like a man possessed: he'd probably get chucked out of a club for scaring the clientele, but he's allowed to do it when he's the frontman of a band.) They're the personalities onstage. Archis Tiku just stood at the back, Duncan got on with playing his guitar, and Tom English played drums rather regally, haloed by pink and purple lights every time I looked.

I can't recall the full order of the setlist, but these are the songs they played as far as I can remember: The Coast Is Always Changing, The Penultimate Clinch, Girls Who Play Guitars, Going Missing, Our Velocity, Let's Get Clinical, Tanned, Nosebleed, Overland West Of Suez, By The Monument, Questing Not Coasting, I Want You To Stay, Books From Boxes, Postcard Of A Painting, Roller Disco Dreams, Limassol, Wraithlike, The Kids Are Sick Again, and then the encore: I Haven't Seen Her In Ages, Graffiti and Apply Some Pressure. Graffiti they added because the crowd were being 'very kind' (hence my suprise at the abundance of negativity from people afterwards). A group of girls and I shouted for Graffiti, so I want to believe they played it because of us, but it's probably not true. I'd forgotten how amazing surround sound is for Maxïmo Park songs, with the textural interplay between keyboards, bass and guitar being panned across the room.


Sunday, 17 May 2009

10 Songs I Love Right Now (6) - 17/05/09

The Libertines - I Got Sweets

Libertines are my favourite band, and I Got Sweets is my favourite B-side at the moment, along with Half-Cocked Boy with its sumptuous chords in the chorus. I love I Got Sweets because it is jazzy, breaking into a walking bassline and instrumental solos in the middle. It's proper music, this, and Carl's voice couldn't be more attractive. I've been over-listening to Eight Days A Week (Beatles Cover) too. Let's hope this reunion happens, which their gig in London last night seemed to make more imminent.

The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon

The film The Boat That Rocked brought this song back to my attention. I've always loved it, however simple the chord progressions are. The lyrics about the taxman 'taking all my dough' work in the recession - it's a very miserable song lyrically, but it's so relaxed and manages to be uplifting at the same time.

Sonic Youth - Paper Cup Exit

Paper Cup Exit starts quietly, with repetitive drums and then a soft guitar riff. It seems like a 'skip' track until the unnerving verse comes in, with slightly discordant guitar chords against Lee Ranaldo's severly underrated, rich voice. After the crypic lyrics 'I don't mind if you sing a different song, just as long as you sing along', it drops to an edgy, almost scary riff. From there, it gets more and more tense. This track is haunting, but in the most amazing way.

Carcrashlander - Coast To Coast

On CarCrashLander's album Mountains On Our Backs, this wasn't a standout track to me, at first. I loved Quoting Dead Comedians and Capillary Webs. They're still good, but this proved to be a more elusive gem, with catchy lyrics and melodies that got trapped in my head, but were subtle enough not to get on my nerves.

Babyshambles - Wolfman

Wolfmaaaan! You're giving me the hump, maaaan! I don't know why this track is quite so memorable, or catchy, or sexy, but it is. There is a long drum solo at the end too that sounds almost like African fusion - it's a great track, and I can see why it was a live favourite back in the Down in Albion days.

Blur - On the Way to the Club

This is a track filled with such sincere-sounding tenderness, with such well-chosen words, it is impossible not to fall in love with it. Building up slowly from a simple drum beat, through soft sprinklings of guitar, to the soaring chorus, 'I just want to be, darling, with you', it is intoxicating. And it helps me sleep, which for once, is not damning.

Django Reinhardt - Minor Swing

If you can spell his name, Django is a brilliant find - I found him because he is said to have influenced Carl Barât's guitar playing style very much, which I can see. So surprised was I to hear a song from the soundtrack to the Johnny Depp film Chocolat, that I went and downloaded it straight away. Minor Swing is exciting, jazzy, displays musical virtuosity and reminds me of Johnny Depp, which has to be good.

Pavement - Stereo

After getting over the inital shock of hearing my stereo singing 'Oh! Listen to me! I'm on the stereo!' I found this to be a great song. The vocals are very American, which would usually put me off, but this time added to the lilting feeling of the song, with its lo-fi but uplifting edge.

Graham Coxon - Sorrow's Army

The first thing I thought when I heard this was 'Man, he can play guitar!' Graham has mastered the fine art of finger picking here, or at least showcases it to its full advantage for the first time. It's a great track, very simple and repetitive rhythmically, but energetic, well-played and very danceable (it may not be in the dictionary, but you know what I mean, right?)

Marmaduke Duke - Je Suis Un Funky Homme

The album (Duke Pandemonium) is thrilling enough before this track comes on, but this comes like the cherry on a particularly delicious cake. Daft and excellent in equal measure, Je Suis Un Funky Homme is a wonderful slice of experimental dance pop - that high-pitched organ and those mad's a musical delight.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A 405 Update and Other Bits & Pieces

My first ever very positive review has gone up on The 405, a review of the CarCrashLander album Mountains On Our Backs. I decided to give it 8/10, for reasons you can find out if you read the review. That 'job' is going quite well, I've reviewed quite a few things already, and I'm about to submit a Graham Coxon single review, which is also very positive. I must be mellowing with age, or I've just been inundated with great music.

While on the topic of Graham Coxon, can anyone actually translate his Twitter updates for me? He has so many injokes with himself I can barely understand a word of it. That doesn't matter though, really. What matters is that he's got even more fantastic at the guitar for this current album The Spinning Top, which is out now. I reckon he's picked up an acoustic tenderness from Peter Doherty, judging by the single. If I had the money, I'd buy it. However, I've spent that money on going to see Blur in Wolverhampton; at least he profits.

I heard a snatch of Frank Zappa yesterday, one of the artists I really should know about and listen to, but don't. A few weeks ago I reviewed Marmaduke Duke's new album, saying I'd never heard anything like it. Well, now I have, and Frank Zappa did that stuff decades ago, so I'd like to mention that in retrospect. The nod for originality I gave Marmaduke is not quite so deserved, especially as if Zappa did experimental electronics in that style, someone else probably did too. My fault entirely for being too young to know Zappa first hand.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Levellers @ Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall, 1/05/09

Idols to a whole range of skanky people, annoyers of the authorities and long-standing folk-rock legends Levellers played the Wulfrun last night. If you're not familiar with them, you've probably never been a student or an anarchist or been to the Hippy parts of a festival. You've probably also had a wholesome life. Wherever Levellers go, they and their fans leave a trail of drunken destruction, littered with used swearwords and anarchy/peace symbols. But don't think I'm criticising.

They are excellent live. Supporting them, they had chosen two very different bands, one a skunk band ("it's skiffle/punk, nothing to do with what we smoke or the way we smell") called Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs, who came out and played remarkable homemade instruments in true skiffle style, including a washboard and a wobble-board sounding instrument made from a branch and some elastic. They covered The Clash and Green Day amongst others, got a roadie on stage, and sang a song for "our Prime Minister, who's doing a wonderful job" *makes tosser gesture*, Gordon Is A Moron. They were hilarious, from the facial expressions and in-song dialogue to the 'Mine's a whiskey' taped onto the back of the guitar. The second band were a ska or reggae outfit, Pama International. Think The Specials with a soul singer. It went on a bit long, even though it was decent.

Levellers came on, starting with A Life Less Ordinary, and the crowd went mad. The trouble seemed to be started by a whole host of short bald men. I don't know why it was bald men in particular, but it was, and they were all shorter than me. From the very start, people were drinking huge amounts, so when drunken fighting and shoving ensued, I had been expecting it. The music was ideal for it though - Levellers chose all of their most thumping tracks to play. As well as A Life Less Ordinary, they played One Way, Carry Me, World Freak Show, Behold A Pale Rider, The Riverflow, Beautiful Day, Barrel Of The Gun, Death Loves Youth,The Cholera Well, Before The End, Eyes Wide and probably some more. They did 2 encores, playing right up to the curfew.

At one point the lights went and the room was plunged into darkness, but Levellers played on ('we're willing if you're willing'). A highlight was the merch stall man coming out in full fluorescent make-up and a blue mask, in a skirt, pratting about with his huge digeridoo (no pun intended). A sick bastard did decide to feel up all the girls on the second row, including myself. I think he got a slap once, I elbowed him, and he finally got his comeuppence when he decided to touch up a girl in the very centre, and he got caught in a lot of sweaty blokes moshing and shoving him about, without a girl in sight. I laughed.

It was a good night. I'd definitely say Levellers are one of the best live bands I've seen, though they chose their most similar songs to play. Still, brilliant playing, brilliant songwriting, wonderful lyrics - an example of a band that have stayed outside of the system, and stayed good. Go see them.