All I had to do was write up the XFM Exposure night at the Barfly and this post would have been complete back in July. But, no, that was too much like hard work. Still, here it is now.
And So I Watch You From Afar at The Garage
Lighting guys are dicks. At least, bad ones are. The audience is in a small, dark venue, with pretty much the only lighting being directed towards the stage, yet dick lighting guys think it's a terrific wheeze to regularly turn high-powered beams directly in to the audience's faces, sometimes including a strobe for added hilarity, and nearly always at times of such musical intensity when, oh, I dunno, we actually want to watch the band. Trying to get engaged with the music when all I can see is afterglow on the back of my retinas, or am wiping tears from my eyes, is not easy. It's actually really damned frustrating and a significant hindrance to enjoying myself.
I already wasn't having much fun. Gallops unfortunately have to pull out of the support slot because of illness, which causes an extended delay of standing around bored as their kit is set-up and then torn down with no live music being played. Frustration and temporary blindness coupled with my only slightly irrational pet peeve of audiences clapping along with songs means I'm having a pretty poor evening overall. On top of that, leaving the venue has me facing a massive crowd queueing to get in to the police-controlled tube station, and even though it's only the tail-end of the Arsenal fans returning home after watching their team's match against Everton it still looks like it will take ages to get in to the station. I've only just left standing in one crowd of strangers feeling frustrated. I instead trudge down to Angel, tired and fatigued, which gets me back to Euston in time to watch a train leave the platform seconds before I can reach it, giving me a half-hour wait for the next one.
Right, there was music too. And So I Watch You From Afar play their gig cancelled from a few months back and are somewhat overwhelmed by having their first sold-out gig outside of Northern Ireland. The set is pretty good, but because of the delays and other frustrations I'm just not having much fun. Maybe I'm getting too old for this.
Menomena at The Garage
Back for a few shows before heading to a festival, Menomena are somewhat jet-lagged after their fifteen-hour journey from Portland to get to their first date here in London. It hasn't dampened their spirits, even if Danny wishes Emily in the audience a happy birthday twice, once half-way through the set and then when Menomena return for the encore. But the playing is as vigorous as ever, and quite technical when Justin swaps between guitar, bass, and saxophone, whilst also playing an organ's foot pedals. The set seems to be the same from their last visit, when I saw the band play Cargo, and it's a decent mix of songs from all three albums. There are no strobe lights, or powerful beams shot in to my face, and Arsenal aren't playing at home (I checked, just in case, and they're playing Wigan at the Emirates the next night, when I'm seeing Suuns elsewhere). It's just really good music from an excellent band, in a decent venue with an enthusiastic audience.
Suuns at XOYO
I missed seeing Suuns play a little while back, and wasn't going to make that mistake twice, not with their excellent second album being on constant rotation. The band come on stage and seemingly start tuning up, but what we're actually hearing is an extended opening to Music Won't Save You, the sampler's beats doubling in time again and again before the bass drum kicks in, and we get the full Suuns experience. Of course, extended noodling is kinda the full Suuns experience anyway, the band somehow managing to instil energy and intensity in to songs that feel relatively laid back. Perhaps it's lead singer Ben's harsh stare and repeated palative fricatives and affricatves in the lyrics.
Whatever it is, most of the second album is played, with plenty of time dedicated to seeing how long they can push the bridge in Edie's Dream, which is a long time. But it's a long time well spent, the bridge beautifully hypnotic, eventually distorted by the refrain from the bass, before finally resolving perfectly to return fully to the main beat. The album version, perhaps only half as long even with just this one extended section, will now never quite live up to the live version. To finish, Suuns play Armed for Peace and Gaze, the first two tracks on their debut album, as the encore, bringing the gig to a wonderful climax. I have to see Suuns again.
Suuns at Sebright Arms
I told myself I had to see Suuns again after their previous excellent gig, I just didn't think it would be quite so soon. Coming off their visit for Glastonbury, the Canadian band return to London for one date in the East End. It's kinda far for me to go, with the Tube not really extending that far, but I did say I should make the effort, so I make the effort. And, of course, it's worth it. The basement of the pub really is just the basement of the pub, the band having to walk through the audience to get to the stage, but at least it means the lighting set-up is rudimentary and isn't constantly pulsed to blinding levels.
As for the gig itself, Suuns are Suuns, and play most of the same songs as at XOYO recently, but not necessarily in the same order. Opening song is different, and I don't recognise it, and the encore is now the previous gig's opening track. But it all works, because Suuns are brilliant, a deeply impressive band with songs that manage to creep up on you and work their way in to your mind and body in ways you don't realise until they stop playing and you notice a part of you is missing. I have to see Suuns again.
Thought Forms, It Hugs Back, Wild Smiles at Camden Barfly
An unexpected gig, I managed to blag a guest ticket from singer/guitarist Matt when I caught early an e-mail offering the ticket to whoever replied first. That was pretty cool. I'm already a fan of the band and have all three of their albums, and spotted Matt before the gig to thank him. He spotted me too, as I was wearing my It Hugs Back bear t-shirt, grrr! Not only that, but it was an XFM Exposure evening, with XFM DJ John Kennedy compering. For all the homogeneity of the airwaves, John's late-night show really highlights new bands and new music, and I have a lot of respect for what he does. I plucked up the courage to say hi between bands, and found to my delight what a thoroughly charming man he is. He even remembered my name at the end of the night when I went over to say good night, after which I also said hi to the rest of It Hugs Back, who also liked my t-shirt.
So it was a really good night for me. How about the music? First band Wild Smiles are all loud guitars with lots of wailing feedback. Well, not all the time. A lead gets yanked out of a guitar during the first song, which is recovered deftly enough. And when a string snaps a couple of songs later and needs to be replaced—no spare guitars here—the other guitarist points out that he told him to change the strings before the gig, then asks everyone to 'give him a big fuck you' for causing the pause. It was all in good spirits and just added to their attitude and rough charm. I'd listen to them again.
I am, of course, here for It Hugs Back, who are showcasing their third album tonight. They aren't really quiet and loud, as was a trend some years back, but equally calm and energetic, a mellowness effusing through even the more upbeat sections of the music. Naturally, most of the songs are from the current album, and as it is only a supporting slot the set is thirty minutes long, but it's a good thirty minutes. It Hugs Back are sounding great.
Headliners Thought Forms are rather unconventional, occasionally unfocussed, and, to me, a little pretentious as a result. Never the less, there are sparks of genius in their sonic soundscapes. And they really are sonic soundscapes. I don't think I can call sprawling, sometimes incoherent, extended experiments in music 'songs'. But Thought Forms sensibly, or cleverly, end the set with a huge, sustained burst of energy. I wouldn't be convinced that a burst could be sustained if I hadn't heard it for myself. At the end of the set I am torn between ambivalence and admiration for what I've just witnessed.