My final set of gigs for the year had a busy month of November, which turned out to be not quite as busy as I expected, thanks to illness. I still managed to squeeze in a bunch of gigs, and had some good nights out. There were a couple of duds too. But I have managed to review them all before the year ends. Roll on 2013!
Eyes on Film, The Vex, The Wholls, at Underbelly, Hoxton Sq.
Heading to the London EVE meet-up has me receive a text inviting me to a gig. How can I refuse? It's even in the roughly the same area as the meet-up, close enough to walk north and get to Hoxton Square with time to spare, even after getting a little lost. We get in, get a sofa, and wait for the bands and people to roll in. First band is The Wholls, who start out strong and confident, and although they continue confidently they stray away from strong quickly and almost irrevocably. Instead of catchy guitar pop, the band indulge themselves in sparse almost hip-hop songs, with lyrics that are distinctly personal but without employing the metaphor and simile that widens their appeal. Unless you have an ex-girlfriend called Emily, you are probably not going to connect with the song. The Wholls looked to have potential, but are probably limited to amusing only themselves.
Next on stage are The Vex, and not The Vets, as my friend thought they said. A more conventional band than The Wholls, thankfully, and pretty good. I kinda wish I'd jotted down some notes closer to the event. I mostly remember being behind a sea of bodies and not being able to see much, despite wanting to. I got to the front for The Wholls and didn't fancy wasting my time for a second band, but that plan backfired. On top of that, main act Eyes on Film end up running out of time before they even get on stage. The first band are on a little late, the second take a little longer to get set-up as a result, and by the time Eyes on Film are able to set up there is only fifteen minutes left before curfew. As if that weren't frustrating enough, problems with the keyboards mean that they don't even get to play before the curfew hits, and I have a train to catch. It's a shame, because NME mention Eyes on Film twice in the two weeks after the gig, so I would liked to have seen them.
Bo Ningen, Race Horses, Blue on Blue, at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen
Back to Hoxton Square, and just down the road from the Underbelly, for another chance to see Bo Ningen. This time, it's an album launch gig as part of their first full UK tour, so it promises to be a good gig. I wish the venue were a bit better. Having to queue in the bar/kitchen to get in to the back room is exhausting, thanks to the really high humidity of the room, but thankfully the venue itself is cooler. But I'm hot and sweaty, and pretty much the only light in the room is being reflected off a mirrorball, which in my dizzy state almost makes me want to vomit. I manage to calm myself, though, and cool down, as well as keep my lunch down. However, the lighting doesn't change much during the whole gig, support bands and main act. The main source of light being a spot shining on a mirrorball leaves the acts mostly in shadow, and the audience disorientated. It's a pretty shoddy set-up.
On to the bands. Blue on Blue are quite blue. The duo make delicate soundscapes with a violin, bass guitar, and sequencers, all until the last song where they get a little raucous, but it's too little too late for me. I can see myself relaxing to the music at home, but standing in a venue watching a couple of people do very little, with slight variations of subtle sounds, is not particularly entertaining. I could be interested in picking up a recording of the music, but I find it tedious live. Not quite so tedious as Race Horses, who are a particularly average and bland indie band. They don't really do anything wrong, but I find myself caring so little that I head outside for some fresh air.
Bo Ningen seem to be affected by the low-key support acts, as they start with a curious take on Koroshitai Kimochi, but they soon hit their stride. Plenty of material is played from the new album Line the Wall, which is not only to be expected for an album release party but shows just how much they have weaved this new material almost seamlessly in to previous gigs throughout the year. The tempo picks up, as does the energy of the band, until they are flailing around wildly and windmilling the guitars around their heads. A slow-burning ending becomes raucous, segueing to a climactic finale with more endings than Return of the King, and prompting an old-fashioned mosh pit, bursting with energy of the like I've not seen in years. Seeing the chaos in front of him, Kaigen jumps down to the mosh pit, bass and all, to end the night swamped by fans.
The Joy Formidable at KCLSU
Before Bo Ningen came The Joy Formidable. Fresh from supporting Muse on an Arena tour, and two days after playing with them at the O2 Arena in London, TJF are in the Kings College Student Union playing to a tiny audience. But as Rhyds said to me back at their album launch at The Borderline, and paraphrasing Stephen Stills here, a gig is a gig is a gig is a gig is a gig. It's not the size of the venue that's important, but the music. The Joy Formidable play like this is just as important as an arena. And I have to admire any band that can open with a song as powerful as The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, which could easily close most sets, even as the encore. But to open with such a song sets the tone for an amazing gig.
The gig continues with fabulous versions of A Heavy Abacus, I Don't Want to See You Like This, and the lesser-heard Ostrich, which just roars from the speakers. Ritzy is impressed with the audience participation during Austere, which gets going almost before the song itself begins, although she has some trouble trying to get us to shut up for a quieter refrain half-way through the song. It's not just us failing to be quiet, as drummer Matt interrupts a couple of times, causing Ritzy to threaten 'don't make me get a drum machine'. He can't even give any stick back, as Ritzy points out that 'I give him shit, and he doesn't even have a microphone'.
Cradle sounds as fantastic as ever, and has a drum solo to appease Matt, who says that 'drummers have feelings too' in to his snare mic. The set ends with Whirring, but it's not the end of the gig. Rhydian comes back on stage and picks up an acoustic guitar, leaving Ritzy to sing vocals on new song Silent Treatment, from the second album, due out in January. Matt then returns to the stage, is given the microphone to get his own back—'Hello', he says, to rousing applause—and TJF finish the night with The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie. It's an amazing gig from an impressive and sincere band, who are genuinely thrilled to be playing every gig.
And So I Watch You From Afar at The Garage
I saw And So I Watch You From Afar supporting The Joy Formidable at the Forum a while back, and it's fair to say I was really impressed and entertained. I was happy to pick up a ticket for their own headlining show at the Garage, but the gig itself was a disappointment, if only because it was cancelled. I've had better nights out than heading in to London, walking up to a closed venue, and heading back home.
BEAK> at the Lexington
Poor me, being ill. I have been looking forward to seeing Beak> for a while, but having coughing fits and a headache whilst standing in hot and cramped conditions would only make for a terrible evening, regardless of the music. I stay at home and groan quietly all evening instead.
Eyes on Film at Koko
I miss seeing Eyes on Film when set overruns and technical difficulties prevent them coming on stage at the earlier gig, and, only a couple of days after the Beak> gig, I am still not feeling great. It probably wouldn't have mattered, though, as the band are on stage as part of Club NME, and aren't due to appear before midnight. Midnight! I'm no student, and I can't be dealing with night buses, silly NME. I still want to see Eyes on Film at some point.
Menomena at Cargo
I'm not missing Menomena, rhymes with phenomena. Last year's Mines remains an impressive album, and follow-up Moms sounds almost as good. I didn't get to see Menomena when they toured last, so now I drag my recovering body down to Cargo to see them play. I am keen to check out their drummer too, as he does some really interesting things with the drums. As I find out, he also sings on half the songs, which is amazing. I think what I like most about the drumming is that the drums are used as a separate instrument, rather than merely a time-keeper, and so become integral to the songs instead of interchangeable. And before we get to the gig proper, I should remind myself that Empty Pools play support. I don't have much to say about them, but their enthusiasm and good tunes make me want to keep an eye out for the band again.
Most of Menomena's set is from current album Moms, with a lot of the slack taken up by songs from the first album, which I can only assume as I don't own the album and don't recognise the songs. But there are a few tracks from second album, which although probably wouldn't be the ones I'd choose as my favourites definitely come across well live. That is, when they are played as intended. 'Matt just played the start of the wrong song', says Paul, as the guitarist halts after a short intro. 'I don't know if you want to boo him...', which is all the encouragement we need to boo. 'Okay, you do feel that way', because we are almost in pantomime season, sir, 'but you can maybe cheer him when he plays the right one'.
'The problem is', says singer/bassist/saxophonist Justin, 'Matt doesn't actually start the next song', so there will be no cheers for him. And, to play along, drummer Danny then intentionally plays another wrong intro, to more boos, and Justin does the same, although he admits he did it badly enough to deserve the boos. But Menomena get their act together again and play Five Little Rooms. It's a great set, and the audience really appreciates seeing Menomena. When they finish the set with Taos, there is far more consistent applause for an encore than I've heard for a long time, and it seems warranted for the band to come back to play two more songs. Menomena are a fine band, and great to see live.
Suuns at Village Underground
I really like Suuns, and they are great live, but I went to kung fu class instead. I'd already missed a month of classes, thanks to gigs, and if I'm not careful I won't be able to follow in the pawsteps of my hero, Tigress. Still, it was Suuns and, being Canadian, they don't exactly play London often. I hope they visit again suun.
Slow Club at Koko
'This is Slow Club from 2009', says Rebecca after the duo's initial acoustic offering. A couple more songs from their debut album follow before the pair leave the stage, returning a couple of minutes later with their expanded line-up and changed in to identical white shirt, black trouser outfits. 'We thought it would be fun to dress up like the cover of the first album, then change', she says, explaining her earlier comment. 'Did it work?' It certainly shows the progress Slow Club have made in a few years, and the growing confidence they have in creating a show. Slow Club don't just play songs, they perform.
This is the band's annual Christmas gig, which they have done for several years now. The past few have been at the Union Chapel, giving it a more festive feel, but this year Camden's Koko plays host. It feels more like a regular gig because of the venue, and perhaps why it feels more subdued. But the Union Chapel gigs were the same, offering respectful hush to better hear Charles and Rebecca's harmonising, and it's just that this kind of reaction seems more apt sitting in pews in a church than when in a venue that hosts regular club nights.
Nevertheless, Slow Club serenade us with quiet folk tunes from the Yeah, So debut album, more upbeat and brasher tracks from second album Paradise, and introduce a few new songs that indicate further progression. And, of course, as it is their Christmas gig there is not only the inevitable encore, but an encore full of songs from Slow Club's Christmas EP, Christmas, Thanks for Nothing. As always, we are encouraged to sing along to the refrain during Christmas TV, and after an excellent version of Two Cousins the night ends on Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) with both support acts, including a brass band, coming on stage to bring the evening to a suitably merry climax.