I appear to have been to more gigs in the past couple of months than the whole year before. I am trying to get out more, which is kind of working. I am getting out of an evening and, for the most part, enjoying seeing live music, but the secondary effect of meeting people isn't happening. I don't suppose gigs are the place to do that, I dunno. Either way, I'm getting to see some great bands and, for the most part, having an enjoyable evening each time.
Will Haven/RSJ at Islington Academy
An unexpected outing, Power Armoured Beard invites me along to the Islington Academy to enjoy some extreme metal. It's outside of the normal genres I enjoy listening to, but I'm not averse to new music and I certainly appreciate the skill and volumes involved. Support band RSJ are new and noisy, the lead singer—growler, maybe—even taking advantage of a still-filling audience to bring his voice in to the front rows.
Main act Will Haven are somewhat different from the stereotypical bands of the genre, lead singer having a different vocal feel altogether, although the guitars are as distorted as ever and double-pedal bass drumming is the order of the day. Will Haven are promoting a new album and it is obvious from the reaction of the audience which songs are new and which are old, as the level of energy rises significantly when the songs are recognised. I'm not sure if I'd have the music playing on my iPod in the background, but its certainly great to see live.
Dum Dum Girls/Veronica Falls/Novella at ULU
I'm seeing Novella for the second time, only having been introduced to the new band last week. They play the same set, happy with how it works, and it works well. I enjoyed their previous gig enough to turn up early at ULU to see them play again and now with some small familiarity with their music enjoy the set a little bit more. Novella have promise and I'll be looking out for them.
I've also seen Veronica Falls before. The first time I was quite keen to see them, and now I'm wondering if the sour impression was misjudged. Not really. For goodness sake, someone buy the drummer a hi-hat! Making do with only a snare, low tom, and bass drum may be a gimmick but it makes for some incredibly dreary drumming, with pretty much no variation between songs. It's like having a guitarist who learns one chord and then strums that single chord a little bit differently for each song. And it's a shame, because otherwise Veronica Falls seem pretty good, certainly good enough to make me want to like them. But I can't get past the horribly monotonous drumming that drags the rest of the band down with it. At least others in the audience are enjoying them enough for me to hear the wonderfully British shout of 'very good! very good!' between songs.
Considering my review of the Dum Dum Girls album I Will Be essentially came down to criticising the monotonous drumming it is a little unfortunate that Veronica Falls are supporting them. I try to remain optimistic, as the band now have another album of material to work from, and at least the drummer's working from a full kit, so although the same pattern crops up regularly, and the drummer unfortunately frequently rides the low tom like Veronica Falls, there is enough variation to keep me mostly entertained. I recognise some of the songs as being from the first album, most obviously Bhang Bhang, I'm a Burnout, and the new material is jolly enough. Before the band leave the stage they announce that it is bassist Bambi's last gig, and they bring on flowers and champagne to celebrate her time in the band. When someone shouts out wanting to know why she's leaving, guitarist Jules pauses before saying, '...she has better things to do'. I kind of feel the same way. It's been a fun enough evening and it's good to get out, but getting out for the sake of getting out isn't working, as I am still by myself and don't have anything to do between sets. No reflection on the Dum Dum Girls, but I feel I need to be more discriminating when looking for gigs to go to, and not just see bands because it's a night out, unless I have company.
Besnard Lakes/Suuns at the Scala
'I'll throw a ball out and we'll play the Name Game.' Suuns keyboardist is talking to the half-dozen people standing in front of the stage, although maybe twice that are on the platforms at the back. The Scala venue is small but this is a tiny audience to walk on stage to. Suuns didn't have to worry, though, because almost as soon as the hypnotic keyboards and thumping bass drum kicks in to begin the set with Arena people come flooding in from wherever they were hiding. And the impressively driving songs keep coming, from Gaze, Pie IX, Sweet Nothing, through to Up Past the Nursery, each one is a keen reminder why I am thrilled to see Suuns play again, even if it is only in a support slot. Zeroes QC remains an excellent album, and Suuns live are a dynamic force.
I've not heard of headliners Besnard Lakes but I'm happy to hang around and see what they're like. Pretty good, I suppose, if not entirely my cup of tea. It certainly isn't bland or generic music, and I stick around to soak up the experience to the end of the set. 'This is our last song', says the lead singer/guitarist, to a chorus of disappointment from the fans. 'Oh, come on, it's twelve minutes long', he says, 'it's like five songs in one!' He's not wrong, and Besnard Lakes can certainly keep a song interesting for twelve minutes. I stroll back to Euston after a suitably entertaining evening.
Bo Ningen/Serafina/Esben and the Witch at Shoreditch Church
I wasn't too sure about making my way to the far-away lands of East London for this gig, but the map put a tube station apparently within walking distance. I was a little surprised, then, to find myself accidentally walking past Cargo only a stone's throw away from the church. Then again, I suppose I also thought Cargo was a bit out-of-the-way when I first looked at getting there. It turns out to be convenient enough to get to, although I doubt there will be many more gigs at this church. On to the music!
I have to admit that I'm not a fan of Florence and the Machine, can't stand Noah and the Whale, and wasn't impressed with another $NAME and the $OBJECT band I saw supporting Wilder, so I'm not expecting much from Esben and the Witch, if only because of the band name. The set perks up during the second song, but that's because Jarvis Cocker comes in and sits within arm's reach of me, if I had freakish five-foot-long arms. That's about as cool as Esben and the Witch get, although there's nothing particularly bad about them. The play some fairly unremarkable shoegazing and produce some imposing soundscapes to go alongside a suitable performance, but it doesn't get me excited. Not like saying hi to Jarvis between sets. Too cool!
When a harp is plonked on the stage I get worried that I am about to see the same act that supported School of Seven Bells, and that I'd end up seeing which would win in a fight between the venue's sound system and my iPod, but thankfully it's a different act. Second act Serafina is one woman and her harp, no backing tapes. The lyrics are a bit too literal for my tastes, preferring more metaphor even though I rarely extract the meaning, but it's all rather pleasant and apropos, given we are in a church. It also provides quite a stark juxtaposition for the main act.
Yes, I'm seeing Bo Ningen for what must be the fifth time in five months, or something like that. But each time I've seen them, even if it's been less than a week apart, they've played a different set. And not just one track substituted here or there but a completely different set. As Yuki tells me before the show, when I bump in to him, it keeps them fresh, which really must help when they are playing so regularly. Considering that Bo Ningen have played two more shows in the past week on top of this one keeping the music fresh has got to be important. Tonight's show is different again, and fairly short for a headlining performance, but they rein nothing in for playing in a church, even relishing the relative grandeur compared to other venues. The set comprises only four songs and is not a full headlining set at forty-five minutes long, but performing four songs in forty-five minutes is still impressive to experience.
I'm loving recent single Henkan more each time I hear it, and the lilting Yuruyakana Ao sounds sublime given the acoustics of the church, an amazing song to hear in this environment. And the band end with a full version of ?, or maybe even extended from the nearly sixteen-minute-long album version, the slow build-up exploding in to a throbbing rock riff that culminates with a thrashing of psychedelic guitars, Yuki even unplugging his axe and playing the lead instead, producing wails of feedback before swinging his unplugged guitar in windmills. It's another blisteringly energetic performance from Bo Ningen, one that ensures I'll be seeing them again, but not for a couple of months, as they are returning to Japan for a while.
Pink Mountaintops/Pinkunoizu/Dark Moon at the Lexington
The website for the Lexington makes it seem rather sophisticated, so I am tickled when I turn up on my first visit to see it is simply a less dingy Barfly. Being a venue on the first floor of a pub, the Lexington is small and compact, but its being relatively new means it is well-furbished at least.
First band Dark Moon are pretty good, lead vocalist having a wonderful voice and lead guitarist wailing away nicely on what must be a very expensive Gretsch. They are nothing world-stirring but are certainly competent enough and I'd happily watch them again.
Second act are from Denmark and start off slowly. The first song drones away for what seems like ten minutes without any real change in direction and I kind of drift off a little, but then it surges in to overdrive and crescendoes impressively. And their other songs follow the same kind of pattern, in that they set a baseline rhythm, hold it for a good while, then explode. Despite my initial impressions, I really enjoy the band and would like to hear more. After the set I ask their singer the name of their band, as it wasn't mentioned, and he tells me. And I stare blankly for a second. Yeah, I say, I'll never remember that, mostly because I'm not quite sure what he said, and not just because of the accent. 'It's a silly name, hard to say and hard to spell', he admits, but says that they have an EP for sale and I can get the name from that. I don't buy the 12", although I'll see if digital tracks are available separately, but at least I find out they're called Pinkunoizu.
I've not seen Pink Mountaintops before, despite following them through three albums from the beginning. I think I simply missed them before, but now I get lucky when flicking through listings. I'm quite excited. I'm a little less excited when the drumkit is removed entirely from the stage and not replaced, but I suppose there are plenty of songs that can be realised with only a guitar and keyboards. As it turns out, the keyboard is relied on a little too much, as well as a sampler for some drums, creating an overall sound that perhaps isn't as live as I prefer. Never the less, it is distinctively the Pink Mountaintops, perhaps reimagined a little for live performance, playing songs spanning the three albums so far, and the opening track of forthcoming album. The music's good, in a decent venue, and I get to hear Tourist in Your Town as a duet, which makes me a happy bunny indeed.
White Hinterland/Genuine Freakshow/Dead Sons at Madame Jojos
Busy bunny me has managed to get double-booked. I was planning to see Danish punks Iceage at Corsica Studios, but favourite band White Hinterland hops across the Atlantic for a quick jaunt around the British Isles, ending with a solo show at Madame Jojos in Soho. I couldn't pass by this opportunity to see them again.
First on the bill is Dead Sons, who are entertaining and enjoyable. Plenty of heavy drums and good songs. It can be hard to know how such a live performance will translate to a studio recording, and harder still when the merchandise table is broken down before the end of the night so I can't buy the 7" with download code for the MP3s. I'll see if they're available independently, as I quite like Dead Sons.
Next up is A Genuine Freakshow, I think. It's not the band on the bill, but they mention their name near the end of the set. I'm a little wary of the frontman looking a little too Bombay Bicycle Club-esque, but thankfully I don't get assaulted by pretentious university-band tosh. The rock staples of electric guitar, bass, and drums are backed with violin, cello, and trumpet, providing a well-orchestrated and interesting sound. I think they are worth checking out a bit more.
I've only seen White Hinterland once before, touring for the amazing Kairos album, with collaborator Shawn Creedon. Tonight, it's Casey Dienel playing solo, just her keyboard and effects pedals on stage. And she needs little else to create some beautiful music, looping her own voice live to shape layer upon layer of harmonies, and it's amazing to watch and hear it all come together. It doesn't always go to plan, though, Casey admitting that the joy of live looping means that you have to embrace the failures, and half-way through the final song Icarus is restarted for Casey to get a better sound looping. During the set, we also hear Thunderbird and No Logic from the current album, otherwise it's mostly new tracks, and they all sound good. It's wonderful to see White Hinterland, clearly so passionate about the music she creates, and I look forward to seeing more performances in the future.
Slow Club at Union Chapel
It wouldn't be Christmas without Slow Club's Christmas gig at the Union Chapel. I'm excited to be seeing the duo again and they make quite an audacious and excellent start by performing a low-key cover of Pulp's Disco 2000. It's the only cover they play, most of the rest of the set coming from recent album Paradise, including the catchy and energetic If We're Still Alive, Where I'm Waking and Two Cousins, bringing on extra musicians to create the fuller sound. Or, in the case of Two Cousins, to press the wrong button and cause the song to grind to a halt in the first bar. Rebecca thinks this is wonderful, if only because it makes for a better story still than the drummer's idiosyncratic behaviour in a previous gig. Slow Club still go slow occasionally, getting wistful with Never Look Back and letting a saxophone solo run slightly long in Hackney Marsh. And, of course, the gig wouldn't be complete without an encore of Christmas songs from their EP, Christmas, Thanks for Nothing, running through jolly favourites All Alone on Christmas and It's Christmas and You're Boring Me, yet somehow failing this year to get the audience singing along to Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). And with stage banter as good as their music, it's great to see Slow Club again.