Not much seemed to be happening at the start of the year, but it all picked up with a flurry of live dates for good bands at the end of Spring. I can't even get to all of the gigs I want to, but I do my best.
The Men at Village Underground
I forget who the support bands were. That may say something about them. But that's okay, right, because The Men are the headline act, whose albums have so far been accomplished, whether raucous and raw or refined and musical, and whose previous London gig blew me away? Not today. I don't know what's happened to them. It's just a mess of noise coming from the stage, with little coherence. Occasionally there is a song that I recognise, but it feels watered down for some reason, maybe because of the lack of substance from the rest of the set. It just feels like an extended jam session with no real pattern to it, which is a real disappointment. The Men have diminished from being an amazing live act to humdrum in a surprisingly short time.
Bo Ningen, The Wytches, Younghusband at Heaven
Bo Ningen continue to be a favourite band of mine, and seeing their album-launch gig is to be supported by both Younghusband and The Wytches gets me rather excited. I'm a little surprised to see Younghusband play first, given that they have an album out and The Wytches don't, but I suppose The Wytches are closer to Bo Ningen's style and will have more appeal to a general audience. That's cool, as I am early enough to see all three bands play, and Younghusband are pretty good. It helps that I like the album, as they don't deviate from it much when playing live. Their guitarist needs to understand that playing live isn't the same as rehearsal/recording, though, and that the audience would really rather see his playing than his back.
The Wytches come out next and rip through their set with some keen intensity. There is some minor difficulty with a guitar strap, weirdly echoed during Bo Ningen's set, but the guitarist keeps his cool. Loud and vigorous, The Wytches show a lot of promise. Their album should be out at the end of August.
Something happens that delays Bo Ningen, causing all but Yuki to leave the stage for five minutes. All is sorted out soon enough and the false start is forgotten, Bo Ningen diving headfirst in to their screeching, wailing, windmilling set. There's obviously some new material included, although I have to admit it's not that easily distinguishable from the old, and apart from a long, slow song that loses my interest—it will probably be more fitting on the album than seen on stage—the energy levels stay high to the end of the set. Taigen gets carried by the crowd, Yuki plays his guitar jack, and it seems that nothing can top the finale, except we also get a high-intensity encore. Bo Ningen remain a force for live performance.
Slow Club at Village Underground
Seeing a Chinook drop smoking skydivers as we walk down Old Street is an impressive start to a gig, even if I don't think Slow Club arranged that. The actual gig starts with Charles manning an organ, adding another new dimension to Slow Club that you wouldn't think was missing until you hear his groove. It's an excellent opening song, one that bodes well for the new album, due out in July.
Most of the songs tonight are likely to come from the new album, which is a slight concern for me. I kinda prefer the familiarity of music in order to enjoy it, and being introduced to songs for the first time during a gig can be awkward. But this is Slow Club, who just keep getting better and better. It helps that they have Rebecca's effortless charm working for them. 'Who wants to hear a song about my feelings, things going wrong, and stuff?' she says, to a chorus of cheers. 'Well, come on in! Welcome to a Slow Club gig.'
As always, vocal duties are shared, instruments are swapped around, and the music is excellent. The only real problem seems to be the lack of air conditioning, Rebecca saying a few times that she's too hot. She urges us to 'buy thousands of the new album, so that I can pay for someone to fan me in moments like this. It's all I really want', she adds, quite humbly.
The audience is audibly upset when Charles announces the last song of the set, Rebecca reminding him to use air quotes for 'last song'. The delay between Slow Club leaving the stage and returning for the encore is mercifully short, probably because the whole gig is being streamed live, and they perform a couple more songs. For the last song, Rebecca asks for the lights to be turned down completely, so that 'everyone can have a dance and not be embarrassed'. Given that they then play Two Cousins, I don't think the lights needed to be turned down to encourage people to dance. Slow Club continue to grow and create beautiful music.
White Hinterland at Birthdays
Some good bands have played at Birthdays in the past year, but the venue is a little out of the way for me. I finally make the journey when White Hinterland makes a return visit to these shores, as there is no way I am missing this gig. I get there early and am a little too excited to see Casey Dienel before the gig, although obviously prepared for it, having my CD case ready to be signed.
Despite some collaborations on the new album Casey plays solo live, with her keyboards, a whole bench of electronics, and half-a-dozen pedals to play with. It's amazing to watch her perform, looping her vocals and keyboards, feeding beats in and out on cue. This could all be done in advance, so it's a marvel to watch White Hinterland create these harmonies and loops manually, all coming together to create her songs.
The songs are almost exclusively from the new album, available at the gig from the merchandise stand. 'I hope you can take my Baby home', she tells us, saying she called the album that just to make that joke. It all sounds really good too, and deserves to be played to more than a half-full small venue. Casey is having a good time nevertheless, sharing anecdotes about the tour so far with everyone in the audience, who are also having a good time. Great music and mesmerising performance, it's always special to get out and see White Hinterland live.