Category Archives: Gig Reviews

LIINES & Sleaford Mods: Hull Asylum 07/03/19 – live review

Over to Asylum on the Hull University campus for LIINES and Sleaford Mods and I’ll admit to an almost childish level of excitement. They’re both bands I’ve read a lot about, listened to a lot but never seen live and they both have a reputation for excellent live shows.

There’s been plenty written about Manchester trio LIINES in recent months and the most common description used of their sound is powerful post punk. This description seems to have the blessing of the band themselves so I’ll go with it.

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They’re not your usual ppp exponents though. It’s a genre that often favours brute force over subtlety but LIINES have a deft touch that makes a refreshing change with some remarkably subtle bass from Steph Angel blending with Leila O’Sullivan’s incendiary drumming. Add some remarkably controlled vocals from singer/guitarist Zoe McVeigh and the nearest comparison is to Sleator Kinney although McVeigh reminds me a lot of Kristin Hersh, which in our house is considered to be no bad thing.

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This isn’t to say that they don’t have the raw energy we love, they’ve got that in bucketloads, it’s just that LIINES have other stuff too. If you haven’t crossed paths with them yet then check our Shallow on You Tube – https://youtu.be/C_EqNF2IyzE – two and a quarter minutes of excellence.

Once LIINES have cleared up their stuff it doesn’t take long to get the stage ready for Sleaford Mods. Andrew Fearn, the provider of the beats sets up his laptop on a box and takes up the position behind it, nonchalantly swigging beer from a bottle. He looks amused and once he is joined by Jason Williamson there’s a huge roar from a crowd for whom this is the first chance to hear live the material from the new album Eton Alive. They waste no time on trivia and launch straight into Into The Payzone. It’s a bitter and rage fuelled as you’d expect and that goes for most of the rest of the set too.

Like I said, it’s my first visit to the Sleafords live, although I’ve been listening to the new album, Eton Alive, on rotation for a couple of weeks. After English Tapas it didn’t seem like they could go much darker and bleaker but they’ve managed it. I’ve expecting some rage, in fact a lot of rage, and I’m not disappointed in that respect but what I’m not prepared for is the extraordinary delicacy of Williamson’s performance, both in respects of vocals and choreography.

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I had imagined him standing motionless at a microphone and bellowing but he is altogether more watchable than that, in fact he is seldom at rest, skipping on tiptoe across the stage, delicately raising and turning his foot on each step so that it touches the opposite knee. It gives him a strangely balletic gait, making him look like an angry Mr Tumnus.

It is customary to talk about the Mods as being a political band but in fact there’s relatively little actual political content in their songs, other than Policy Cream. They’re pissed off and they’re bitter having a moan about stuff but they’re not offering any detailed critique or possible solutions.

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And while they’re undeniably angry there’s much more to their performance that. Williamson manages to convey an extraordinary depth of vulnerability, even on Bang Someone, even when he’s crouching and hurling repeated expletives into the floor, he seems remarkably unhappy and unthreatening. He looks like somebody the police would taser first and ask questions about later.

They’re surprisingly funny too, particularly on subjects like it being safe to let children play with white dogshit, tolerance of hipsters and the joy of getting one over on the council by having an extra brown bin.

There’s plenty of old favourites, including TCR (I had one of those) and BHS (Hull had one of them). Ah those were the days. There’s a lot of melancholy and nostalgia in their set and we end up with Tied Up In Nottz, which pretty much brings the house down.

A great show, full of surprises and their music won’t ever sound quite the same again.

More images in nicer quality at LIINES | Sleaford Mods

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The Stranglers at Scunthorpe Baths Hall

Tuesday night in Scunthorpe and the Baths Hall is pretty well full for a visit from The Stranglers, a band who, after nearly forty-five years in the business are still touring regularly and who as far as live performances go, seem to be riding a wave. It’s chilly out but inside the crowd is warming up nicely.

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Support comes from the always excellent Dr Feelgood although we may have to cut them some slack on this particular night because vocalist Robert Kane is proper poorly. Rather than cancel the show he transfers much of his vocal duties to guitarist Steve Walwyn and the result is a show which, if not peak Feelgood, (and how long could we argue about just when that was?), is still a very fine slice of crunchy rock and blues. Even when afflicted the Feelgoods have an energy and panache that many newer bands would do well to emulate. Highlights include Milk And Alcohol, Down To The Doctor and Roxette and they tie things up very nicely thank you with a blistering Route 66. As if we could ever forget Winona. She was great.

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There being no new Stranglers album to promote, not even an addition to their extensive range of archive live performances, theirs is basically a greatest hits show but with hits like these who’s complaining? The band have been on great form for a couple of years now, gathering rave reviews wherever they go.

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Last time I saw them was at The Engine Shed in Lincoln three or four years ago the show was a much more subdued and minimalist affair but this time they’ve invested in some smart looking staging, a backdrop of a tunnel filled with stagnant water and fallen masonry and some spinning air vents which light up from time to time giving the whole thing the feeling of one of those video games where you have to start by escaping through the sewers, fighting rats and goblins on the way. Add some nice lighting effects and it makes for a great show especially since the band are on great form.

Guitarist and vocalist Baz Warne certainly seems up for it, winding up the front rows by observing that the band have never played Scunthorpe befoe and ignoring shouts of “Yes you have”. He then proceeds to take an old joke for a new walk by enquiring how the thorpe got into Scunthorpe and then explaining that it was of course by way of the Vikings, who used it to indicate a settlement or small town. New arrivals could be forgiven for thinking that they have wandered by accident into a local history talk. As for the rest of the name? He shrugs. “Who can say. There’s cunts everywhere.”

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And so the scene is set for an evening of great music and good natured joshing that kicks off nicely with Waltz In Black as an intro, leading into the rough and tumble of Goodbye Toulose.

The legendary Jet Black, although officially a member of the band, no longer tours and on the road drumming duties have been taken up by Jim Macauley who has clearly made a close study of the master’s work because the distinctive patterns and changing time signatures that marked the band out from their contemporaries and rivals are all present and correct.

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Of course what sets The Stranglers apart is the interplay of the swivel hipped JJ Burnel’s melodic basslines and Dave Greenfield’s swirling baroque keyboards. Hidden behind a multi tiered keyboard stack only the top of Greenfield’s head is visible, making him look rather like the entree at one of those restaurants where you eat monkey brains through a hole in the table. He and Burnel are on great form and there is no sense of anyone just going through the motions here. It’s all full on stuff.

As for the highlights, well I wish I was knowledgable enough to pick out a really obscure album track and comment on how it differs from its original incarnation but the truth is I really like Always The Sun, and it’s going to be my favourite at any Stranglers show I go to. I sing it badly and loudly for most of the car ride home.

So there you go. If you get the chance to catch The Stranglers on this tour I’d grab it if I were you because as elder statesmen of the punk generation go, there aren’t many better around.

Images in nicer quality at Dr Feelgood | The Stranglers

AUSTRALIAN BRITPOPPERS DMA’S DELIVER A STORMING SHOW AT HULL UNIVERSITY ASYLUM

Some musical eras seem to live on forever, The Merseybeat era, 60’s Detroit, Britpop but few are as current in the present day as the Madchester sound which is undergoing a renaissance, not least through the endeavours of DMA’s who played a sold out show at The Asylum on Saturday 15th December 2015.

Unfortunately I never did visit Manchester in the 1990s but being at a DMA’s gig is probably as close to finding out what it was like as I’m going to get.
All the way from sunny Australia to an extremely cold and wet night in Hull, the band didn’t show any sign of weather fatigue although they did keep their top coats on indoors which as my granny and yours used to point out is a sure way of ensuring that you don’t feel the benefit later on.

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DMA’s played a gig at The Adelphi last year which has already attained near legendary status and the step up to a larger venue is clearly paying off. The Asylum is packed. Getting to and from the sunken stage area is a real challenge and everyone seems to be really up for a big night. There’s plenty of singing and chanting and general exuberance before the band take the stage and when they do they are greeted by a hail of plastic cups full of liquid of various varieties. The presence of a cocktail bar on the premises means that this is the first gig where I’ve been hit by a strawberry daquiri.

Their set evokes memories of the classic era of Brit Pop – Oasis and The Stone Roses are obvious influences but whatever 90s indie-ish band of the era you care to mention the DMA’s seem to have absorbed and reprocessed them, and their expansion from a studio trio to a touring six piece means that they have the muscle to take the place by storm.

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It’s energetic stuff, particularly on the big crowd pleasers like Warsaw, the Jamesish In The Air and Time and Money which has more people standing on chairs then I’ve ever seen at a gig before. They’ve got more than one string to their bow however and they let people take a rest from the boisterousness with some of the most sweetly melancholic pop you’ll have heard in a long time. Step Up The Morphine, a tribute to Johnny Took’s grandmother and The End both have the crowd standing in almost reverent silence before the band let rip and the place goes mental again.

The Quireboys: Yardbirds Grimsby – live review

The Quireboys don’t do subtle. What they do is full on in your face rock and roll and they do it bloody well. Their reputation as a live band is second to none but they’ve also released a couple of well received albums in the last couple of years with White Trash Blues, a collection of standards from the repertoire of the likes of Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker being a particular favourite in our house.

They’re regular visitors to Grimsby and their set at The Yardbirds opens with one of my personal favourites – Too Much Of A Good Thing, from 2013’s Beautiful Curse which sets the scene for the evening, plenty of classics, a few new ones and surprisingly few from White Trash, considering that this is listed as the album’s European Tour. It doesn’t matter too much though because the truth is that The Quireboys haven’t changed their sound a whole lot over the past thirty or so years and songs from their 1990 debut A Bit Of What You Fancy sit seamlessly alongside more recent material and it all sounds like it was ripped by main force from the 1970s heyday of British rock.

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This is timeless music. If you were determined to be mardy about it you could say that they’re a band who haven’t developed much in three decades but you could also say that if you’re that good at what you do why change things around?

Spike is on fine form, the celebrated soft rock rasp is as good as ever and we are reminded early on that we are in the presence of one of the all time great microphone stand jugglers but what’s a little bit of false ceiling damage among friends? It’ll fix easy enough. He’s a force of nature, roaming the stage, playing the crowd, dancing on his own or with the band, bandannaed as always, the piratical effect accentuated by a long scarf and one velcro sea boot. Curiously enough the last time I photographed The Quireboys he had a broken leg as well, on that occasion caused by a heavy tackle in a game of football (that’s soccer to some of you) against giants of British metal, Saxon.

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He’s not the only one set for a good time – the whole band look like they’re ready for a party. Guy Griffin’s guitar is the perfect foil as always, particularly on Going Down and This Is Rock And Roll which feels like a stadium filler in need of a stadium and sets the walls and furniture buzzing. They’re the just the band for a proper dark and sweaty rock club like the Yardbirds. Highlights include a raucous 7 O’Clock and I Don’t Love You Any More (obviously) but also a gorgeously sleazy cover of Slim Harpo’s King Bee, with Keith Weir’s honky tonk piano a driving force and Sleepy John Estes’ Leavin’ Trunk.

They round things up with Sweet Mary Ann and Sex Party which is about as good a singalong finale as you could wish for and we’ll be keeping an eye on the website to check that they’re making their annual visit again next year.

 

The Vive Le Rock Awards 2018

It’s Wednesday, March 28th and the great and good of the classic era of punk and new wave gather for a night of celebration at the inaugural Vive Le Rock Awards. The O2 Islington is the place – a 1980s brown brick purpose built venue at the back of a shopping centre just to the north of The Angel. (That’s one of the blue ones on the first quarter if the Monopoly board if you’re a traditionalist like me. None of them new fangled localist boards in my house). Tonight there are 300 carefully invited guests and 200 paying punters and the squeeze is on for an evening filled with the sound of working class people getting uppitty, celebrating the old times and getting royally smashed.

It’s one of those nights that makes you pause for a moment for a ponder about the state of the music magazine industry. Looking along the shelves in your local newsagents is not always a pretty sight these days. It’s a case of turning up with your cash and hoping your favourite read is still on the go. Seems like a big name crashes every couple of months or merges to pursue economies of scale or goes 51% up for sale.

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It’s the internet wot dun it of course. The print market is tough, we know that but there’s still a thriving market for niche titles that do just what they say on the tin and among those Vive Le Rock is one of the market leaders.

Founded in 2010 by the good people at Big Cheese and having recently reached its fiftieth issue, Vive is the go to publication for British fans of rebel music, whether from the past or the present day. From Gene Vincent to The Ramones, Motorhead and The Pistols to The Gaslight Anthem or White Lies or Rancid. If it used to get up your grandma’s nose back in the day or if it pisses off your kids now then it’s probably grist to the Vive Le Rock mill.

The design and content of the mag pay homage to the days of the classic fanzine so that despite all the corporate necessities that go with publishing in the twenty first century it still manages to be an outsider magazine for outsiders.

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The main business of the evening is of course the distribution of awards but there’s some fine music as well and after a welcome and a little bit of history from editor Eugene Butcher we kick off with the house band for the night, who go by the soubriquet of The Vive Le Rockers’ but in fact they are most of The Urban Voodoo Machine which is about as good as a house band gets. They fall in perfectly behind each of the solo performers in turn, a masterclass in musical adaptability.

If you’re going to spend an evening celebrating classic British punk then you can’t start off better than a set from living legend T.V. Smith, formerly of The Adverts and nowadays in serious danger of acquiring national treasure status. The current issue of Vive Le Rock has an excellent feature on the music of 1978 and Gary Gilmore’s Eyes and One Chord Wonders, both from that year, still pack a punch.

He’s followed by Master of Ceremonies Ginger Wildheart with a set that includes two from  his newest long player, Ghost In The Tanglewood, to whit Daylight Hotel and Golden Tears and a favourite of mine, Toxins And Tea from 2015’s Year Of The Fanclub.

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The awards themselves are shared among some of the biggest names in punk and roots music with Kirk Brandon picking up the Pioneer Award on behalf of The Cure, Best New Band going to London Oi favourites Booze & Glory and the Roots Award going to The Selecter.

Best Film is presented by Brix Smith-Start and goes to the team from Buttz films, creators of Rebellion, Gary Crowley gets best re-issue and AC/DC drummer Chris Slade picks up the Rock In Peace Award which commemorates Malcolm Young. Perennial favourite street punks Cock Sparrer are best live act.

Album Of The Year, presented by Shakin’ Stevens, goes to The Professionals for What In The World. It’s my first visit with Paul Cook’s gang since Tom Spencer replaced Steve Jones on guitar and they sound just as driven and gloriously rough at the edges as they did at their late 70s prime. Going, Going, Gone – a tribute to messrs Lemmy and Bowie, is a new track that’s definitely worth checking out and although I haven’t got What In The World Yet, on this evidence it’s definitely near the top of the list.

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Best International Performer goes to Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks, who manages to overcome his natural shyness to pick up the trofe from Steve Diggle of The Stranglers. He later takes the stage for two songs with the house band during which he manages to climb over most of the stage equipment and perform some remarkable feats of balance on the mojos.

Charlie Harper is up next to get the King Rocker/Icon Award from Captain Sensible and he delivers a couple of songs including CID, as full of raucous energy as you could wish.and then it’s over to England legend Stuart Pearce to present the Band Of The Year Award to The Damned. And it’s up to them to close things down with a set that includes New Rose, Jet Boy Jet Girl and even a brief Wot.

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What have I missed? A great piece of rock and roll from the legend that is Shakin Stevens, Stuart Pearce leading a chorus of Sensible’s a wanker when the cherry bereted one and his bandmates fail to appear to pick up the best band award, an encounter with the luminous choppers of Spizz of Spizzenergi and there are plenty more moments and it’ll have to be enough just to say that it was a great night and if they do it again next year I’d like to be on the list please.

 

Jess & The Bandits: Fruit, Hull – live review

Last September, just as Jess Clemmons was setting out with The Bandits on a UK tour in support of her new album, the gospel influenced Smoke And Mirrors, Hurricane Harvey struck her hometown of Houston, Texas, causing extensive damage to her mother’s home and necessitating the cancellation of the tour. Five months on and she’s back with us, kicking off the rearranged tour at Fruit in Hull and proving to the doubters (if there were any) that the change of style hasn’t diminished her ability to create some of the finest cast iron ballads and torch songs you’ll ever hear.

Opening the show is up and coming Glaswegian country pop artist Kevin McGuire, who is also on a roll at the moment with the release of 2017’s debut EP Foreign Country leading to performances for the BBC and at the Nashville Meets London Festival.

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Highlights of his set include the new single Late, 3am which is an unusual up tempo break up song written from the perspective of a rejected lover who now unwillingly finds himself in demand again, and the last song of the set, Alright Tonight, which I’d recommend checking out soonest you have the chance. McGuire is one of a growing number of home grown country performers who seem confident enough to produce authentically British country music without the need to slavishly follow US music, although he is clearly influenced by the likes of Rascal Flatts and Sam Hunt.

Jess Clemmons has changed the line up of her band since I saw them last. They’re still bandits of course, but they’re different bandits, better suited to her new sound, on display on the fine new album, Smoke And Mirrors. There are still plenty of high powered country rock grooves of course, she hasn’t gone all wimpy on us all of sudden, and the show kicks off with My Name Is Trouble straight out of our favourites playbook before swinging into love Like That, another favourite and I’m Not Going Home, whose power shows the close connection between both sets of songs old and new.

Vocally she’s in fine form voice is in fine form – she’s as good a country singer as I’ve ever heard live – capable of a wide range of emotional colour plus considerably more out and out charismatic sexiness than one person really ought to possess. It’s not fair really it isn’t.

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The set is a mix of the best of the two albums with highlights including The World’s Still Round, whose brooding verse explodes into some great rock and roll, White Lies which slows things down a little but has a classic broken lives and shattered dreams feel to it, Gone Girl for which Clemmons channels her inner Dolly Parton and Nitty Gritty which has the whole room singing.

By tradition the set includes a couple of covers – on this occasion it’s Mama told Me not To Come and Bonnie Raitt’s Love Sneaking Up which is followed by the outstanding track from Smoke And Mirrors, the gospel anthem of empowerment Sister.

And of course the show ends with some of real favourites – bring the house down rocker Ready Set, the emotionally supercharged Fault Lines and to round it all off Single Tonight.

A fine show from one of our favourite performers and if I get the chance I’ll try to catch another show later in the year. If you get the chance you should too.

The Damned: O2 Apollo, Leeds – live review

As I made my way from the car park to the Academy for the show the night air was filled with rain and the sound of bells. Ringing in the damned.

The original goth punks were rumoured to be on good form, with a new album in the works, a single getting plenty of attention and the return of Paul Gray on bass and there was a long queue waiting to get out of the drizzle.

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First up one of the best surprises I’ve had in a long time. Usually before I set out for a show I check to see who the support are but on this occasion I forgot, so it’s a real pleasure to find that it’s no less a personal hero than Slim Jim Phantom, Stray Cats drummer and rockabilly guru playing some of the rawest rock and roll you ever heard. The other two places in the trio are a movable feast, (I believe Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian sometimes appear), but on this particular night the top class sidemen are James Walbourne and Nick Wilkinson, whose day jobs are as guitarist and bass player respectively for The Pretenders.

Their set takes in classics spanning the history of rock and roll from Carl Perkins’ Matchbox and The Womack’s It’s All Over Now to a terrific That’s Alright Mama that sets off at a slouching amble before bursting suddenly into a run and reminding us all just what it was that made rock and roll great in the first place. They tie things up with the Cats very own contribution to the rock and roll classic song book – Rock This Town.

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And so on to the main event and the Academy was pretty much full for The Damned who open with All Messed Up, Lively Arts and Silly Kids Games, representative of a set that’s heavily weighted towards the band’s glory days from the late 70s until the early 80s.

There’s a great British tradition of looking for the clay in the feet of our musical heroes and as such I feel like I ought to say at this point that The Damned weren’t a shadow of their former selves. We don’t have Johnny Hallydays in England.

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In fact The Academy crowd is treated to a great show with the band on excellent form, having a fine old time and revelling in the sheer joy of making some very loud music in company of several thousand like minded individuals. What more could you ask?

Front and centre Dave Vanian is bathed in Hollywood light as he struts his stuff with his retro mic and long black coat, while over to stage left The Captain finds himself a little pool of purplish darkness in which to hop and bop and twist, leaning over his guitar like a tangled marionette and offering occasional pithy comments. Paul Gray dances almost non stop and even Monty manages to escape his decks for a few brief moments of electrifying dad dancing during New Rose.

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Highlights include an anthemic Stealer Of Dreams, a raucous Elouise and the new single Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow, featuring some ringing guitar riffs but what was most noticeable was how adeptly the band switches styles, one moment full on punk, next moment Vanian is transformed into a Neil Diamond style crooner. At one point he’s a fire and brimstone Old Testament prophet conducting a chorus of Woah ah Ohs on Devil In Disguise, next he seems to be channelling the spirit of The Housemartins.

The show closes with a mixture of old and new including Generals, Evil Spirits, (again the forthcoming album sounding like a good thing) and the classic Smash It Up before the band responds to the appeals of the assembled company by returning for a final cover of the Elton Motello classic Jet Boy, Jet Girl.

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The Flaming Lips: Zebedee’s Yard, Hull – live review

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The Flaming Lips
Zebedee’s Yard , Hull
25th May 2017

Hull’s newest music venue is Zebedee’s Yard, close to the quayside. a car park by day, hemmed in by the backs of Victorian warehouses and office buildings. It might sound unglamorous but in practice it works just great, and while it’s probably destined to be a one summer only thing for the City of Culture celebrations it would be nice if it could continue to be used for the future because the city needs an pop up venue like this.

It certainly makes a great and slightly disorientating backdrop for The Flaming Lips,a band for whom great and slightly disorientating are the rule rather than the exception and they give us a show that certainly makes it into my top ten ever, an explosion of music, colour and joy whose psychedelia is only enhanced by the venue’s anachronistic red brick bowl.

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Everybody’s favourite young fogeys, Public Service Broadcasting, are the main support, equipped with tech and traditional instruments in equal measure and dressed as if they knew the yard’s buildings when they were young.

It’s the first time I’ve seen them live and I’ll admit to sometimes harbouring grave suspicions about bands that play computers on stage. I’ve vented them in QRO reviews on occasion, so I’m ashamed to admit that I have relatively low expectations of PSB. In my defence I’ll just say that it takes about fifteen seconds to realise that they aren’t what I’m expecting at all. No crouching over the decks gesticulating like they’re communicating in some sort of sign language for the constipated. No dancing on tables. None of the shouting “Come on Hull make some fucking noise” which usually passes for literacy for players of the Apple Mac and related instruments.

Their complex weaving of live music and samples is completely thrilling and even if I’m not dancing, (which puts me very much in the minority), I am completely mesmerised. No good asking me about the first few songs because I’m busy with cameras but I spend the rest of the set getting my head round their sound, which takes some time.

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It’s not until The Other Side, which deploys samples from the Apollo 8 mission, that I start to pick the threads from the complexity sufficiently to understand what’s going on. It’s a great track with the tension rising throughout,like a hundred heartbeats woven into one until it reaches a massive crescendo.

Favourite tracks are hard to call because it still all felt very new but Everest, which closes the set, is incredible and when Public Service Broadcasting leave the stage I have a new favourite band.

And then we’re all set for the main event. As a prequel nets filled with huge balloons are manoeuvred into the gangway at the side of the stage but so bijou is Zebedee’s Yard the crew are unable to get them past the scaffold structure. After several minutes of effort, filled with the sound of popping rubber, they give up and the balloons are distributed to the crowd by way of a human chain. It’s an impressive piece of work.

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It’s my first live encounter with The Flaming Lips, a band whose shows have achieved legendary status. The previous night they were at Glastonbury, closing things up on the Park Stage. Tonight it’s a car park in Hull. It might seem like a bit of a come down but you have to remember that this year Hull is the official UK city of real, proper culture, and Glastonbury is, as ever, the home of middle class beardy weirdy wannabe culture.

It’s difficult to know how to approach a Flaming Lips review. If you’ve seen them before you won’t need a description. If you haven’t then you probably won’t believe me.

The balloons having been pretty much eliminated by the end of Race For The Prize, Wayne Coyne, dressed in crimson velvet, is joined on stage by several large inflatable manga characters for a glorious Yoshimi. For the first time ever I miss loads of shots because I am too busy singing along. When There Should Be Unicorns trots in Coyne rides a ten foot luminous equine monocerous into the crowd. It’s a dangerous thing to attempt and the only safety gear with which he is equipped are some inflatable rainbow wings and a pair of fluffy green crocodile feet. If it all sounds a bit predictable then all I can do is promise you that it’s great. The unicorn completes a full circuit of Zebedee’s Yard and Coyne dismounts.

After that it all gets a bit weird.

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The hamster ball comes out for a strangely poignant Space Oddity and there’s a giant rainbow, more confetti cannons than you can shake a stick at, and a large inflatable Fuck Yeah Hull sign which has a much more pleasing symmetry than the previous night’s bottom heavy Fuck Yeah Glastonbury.

What’s most important though is that at no point in the whole bizarre process does the quality of the performance ever slip below fantastic. There may be a lot of nonsense in the air but it isn’t allowed to compromise the music.

The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song is a huge singalong and Coyne seems pleasantly surprised at how many people are able to join in with verses as well as chorus. The show winds up with a storming She Don’t Use Jelly and a tender and lovely Beatles tinged Do You Realize, which has the crowd singing as they leave.

The xx: Nottingham Arena – live review

Can it really be eight years since The xx picked up the top prize at the Mercury Awards? Seems like only yesterday, and even though they’ve released two albums since then and are seasoned veterans of the music industry, I still find that I worry about them, just a little. Partly it’s because their photos often make them look sort of vulnerable, but mostly it’s because their music sounds so personal and revealing. They seem to put much more of themselves on the line than other bands.

Maybe I’m wrong, but as I head for my first ever live encounter with the band, at Nottingham on Saturday 4th March, I find that I’m just slightly nervous about how their sound will translate to a packed arena (and from the crowds making their way through the streets in the direction of the Arena, it was pretty clear that it will indeed by packed out).

It’s not the size of the venue, so much as the presence of all these other people. I would gladly sit at the back of the arena and just let the sound wash over me, that’s what The xx songs are for, but sharing these intimate moments with thousands of others seems a bit too public. I don’t even do selfies. And I listen to The xx when everybody else has gone out. They’re not for sharing.

It’s the band’s first U.K. gig in four years and they sound pleased to be back, endearing themselves to the locals by referencing one of their early gigs at The Bodega (pause for cheering).

Since the last time they were round these parts, Jamie Smith, a.k.a. Jamie xx, has arguably become the best known of the trio, following the success of his 2015 solo album In Colour, with its array of complex beats and samples and subtly shifting melodies, and his parallel career as a producer and DJ. Here he’s positioned on a riser at the back of the stage, more or less invisible to much of the crowd (and to camera persons in the pit), but when he’s due an extended solo, an ingenious mirrored ceiling tilts into position so that we can see him scurrying between drums, keyboards, timpani, decks and electronics. It’s a fascinating view and a little bit like one of those overhead shots of maze tests done on small animals, giving the show an air of scientific enquiry, which it rather suits.

Vital to the group dynamic Smith may be, but The xx still look and sound like a trio of friends and it’s still Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim who take most of the responsibility for delivery. They work so well together, both instrumentally and vocally, that they are capable of changing the mood of a moment by the very subtlest of inflections, achieving a mesmerizing symbiosis.

There’s some smoke and lighting effects, and the aforementioned mirror, but precious few of the other tropes of the modern arena show. No elaborate posturing, no silly dances. Sim does the occasional mid riff spin, but he looks quite sheepish afterwards as if he feels like he’s let himself down a bit. There’s no cinematic back projection, no descent into the crowd, no bringing people onto the stage, and definitely no huge bouncing balls that drop from the ceiling, such as occurred last time I was at this venue, for Elbow.

This is grown-up music played rather seriously for an audience of grown-ups, and while there is plenty of dancing on the tiers, at the back where I’m standing it’s mostly people listening intently with their heads cocked slightly to one side and a toe tapping gently in time.

Songs from new album I See You predominate in the set list, but their first album xx is not far behind, and old and new material mesh together to create a unified whole with only the subtlest of tweaks to the arrangements. But then again subtlety always was The xx’s strong suit.


There are constant changes of pace and emotional colour so that the audience’s interest never wavers. Brave For You arrives fragile and delicate but develops into a piece of noise-rock that has the temporary seating vibrating in time to the bass line, and it’s followed by Infinity, whose stillness is profound, the whip cracks slicing their way across the arena like the theme music for an unmade British western. The repeated five note riff that introduces Violent Noise is mesmerizing, and having opened the show with Say Something Loving, they close the main set with a cover of Smith’s Loud Places before returning for On Hold, Intro and Angel, neatly combining the best tracks from each of their albums into ten minutes of achingly pretty encore, and proving that I needn’t have worried about them really.

The xx: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Fun Lovin’ Criminals | The Urban Voodoo Machine: Engine Shed, Lincoln – live review

Before any gig a little bit of research is called for. Read some interviews and reviews. Do some back catalogue trawling. Sometimes it’s a chore. Sometimes it’s bewildering and baffling. Sometimes it’s painful.

With the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, it’s a case of, “Wow, these guys are great. How come I don’t listen to them more?”

Maybe it’s because I’ve come to associate frontman Huey Morgan with panel shows and 6Music. Maybe I was a late adopter of the whole urban R&B thing. Either way, visiting the FLC back catalogue is an eye opener and a real pleasure. Their fusion of rock, hip-hop and urban jazz still seems very contemporary.

All of which means that when I arrive at the Engine Shed in Lincoln on Thursday, February 16th, my expectations for the night are high and they go even higher when I find out that the support are The Urban Voodoo Machine, who have been at the top of my must see list for a long time. I have read and edited so many reviews of the Machine over the past few years, all of them glowing, that I find I’m slightly afraid that they have to be a bit of a let down. Can any band be that good?

The answer is that they can. Imagine Tom Waits at his wildest fronting Gogol Bordello with elements of the punkest mariachi ensemble and New Orleans marching band thrown into the mix, and you’ll have something approaching their sound, but it’s not just their sound that matters. I’m a bit suspicious of costume bands. I calculate that the fancy dress is usually a cover for some sort of musical deficiency. Over the years it’s been a pretty good rule of thumb but in the case of the UVM it doesn’t apply. Decked out in red and black, with a priest on stand up bass, a zombie on drums, a sequined moll on saxophone and cymbals and a carefully choreographed off kilter madness throughout, the band change positions and instruments and styles while delivering as good a set of up tempo gypsy stomp as you’ll hear in a very long time. Fantastic stuff.

The Crims open up with the sly Fun Lovin’ Criminals (what else?) and within a few bars the audience are moving in time to the music. There’s even some singing along going on near me, which is pretty impressive, because it’s not an easy song.

From then on it’s classic after classic with the band on great form, Morgan displaying some smart guitar chops, Frank Benbini on drums holding everything together, which is a big responsibility in a funk hip hop band without a bass player (mostly), and ‘Fast’ Brian Leiser on an impressive range of instruments including horns, keyboards, decks, and swanee whistle. His versatility means that the band can play in a wide range of styles from the classic funk soul of Love Unlimited to rock and jazz as required and when he gets that bass out they really rock the joint.

The set is a real crowd pleaser, heavy on the late 90s favourites from Come Find Yourself and 100% Colombian with a couple from later albums like Classic Fantastic in the mix for good measure. Scooby Snacks gets a huge roar and comes in considerably heavier than I remember it, Korean Bodega is superbly wild, and in between the tunes Morgan takes the opportunity to indulge in plenty of banter with the band, the audience in general, and a woman in the front row in a check shirt in particular.

The main set finishes with a lounge bar All The Time In the World before an encore of We, The Three, Up On The Hill and Big Night Out.

Usually on the way home I start my research for my next gig via the iPlayer, but tonight I just leave the Criminals on shuffle.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals: Website | Facebook | Twitter

The Urban Voodoo Machine: Website | Facebook | Twitter