Gigs of 2011, part one

25th September 2011 – 3.34 pm

I have been remiss in reviewing gigs I've been to for quite a while now. I have wanted to keep them timely and accurate, jotting down notes on my tube journey home to write a review the next day, but external pressures don't always make that possible, nor do I find it particularly easy to review music as such. Never the less, I still would like to keep a record of the gigs I attend, if only for personal reasons, so it occurred to me to review gigs as I do albums, small chunks at a time. I probably won't end up with accurate playlists or a smattering of humorous comments from the bands, but I hope to encapsulate my experiences. I start with the gigs I've been to this year, to date, and hope to extend backwards to gigs I've missed reviewing last year at some point as well.

The Joy Formidable at The Borderline

I'm lucky enough to bump in to Rhydian before the album-launch gig in this tiny venue, and I spend a lovely time chatting with the charming bassist/vocalist for The Joy Formidable. We talk about their supporting Paul McCartney, minor problems with the special edition box-set, and music in general, and it all affirms my impression that The Joy Formidable are an amazing band that are here to create and play music they are passionate about. And I feel lucky to see them play in such a small venue, when they have already played in a stadiums and festivals to huge audiences, particularly as it may be the last opportunity to see them in such an intimate setting. Debut album The Big Roar is released and this is a re-scheduled show to celebrate that, a separate gig prior to a tour a couple of months down the line, and the Borderline is packed with fans. And when The Joy Formidable come on stage and play old favourites and new tracks they could be in a stadium, the energy and power of the performance threatening to rip the venue apart. A genuine band that appreciate their audience and fans, with already plenty of strong songs, The Joy Formidable deserve the recognition they are getting and more.

Kylesa at Camden Underworld

The Power Armoured Beard invites me along to a gig, and I'm not one to turn down new live music, particularly at a venue as intimate as the Camden Underworld. I get past the queue to get in to the venue in time to see the last of the support act, who were ridiculously pretentious and I'm glad I missed them, and meet up with Beardy for the main act. Kylesa are unusual in that they employ two drummers, which is partly why the Beard thinks I'll enjoy them, and I'm pleased to see that they don't simply play the same beat all the time, which was what disappointed me about Beach Buggy's two drummers, oh so many years ago now. They are also really good, not just the drummers but the band too, and they clearly have some dedicated followers here in the UK. It's harder rock than I normally lean towards, but it's good and entertaining, a top evening's live music.

Sleigh Bells at Heaven

Sleigh Bells released one of the most powerful albums of the previous year with Treats, and I'm excited to be seeing them. I'm a little less excited when it's evident early on that the band are relying excessively on backing tapes. I understand that having two members of the band, one singing and one on guitar, somewhat limits what they can do on stage, and that the drum parts will need to be added somehow, but there is so much vocal looping that I don't quite know when or what the singer is actually singing, which is unfortunate when she is the focal point of the performance. The music is great and hearing the Gibson Flying-V growl out some heavy riffs is awesome, but the atmosphere is missing and I don't think the venue is at fault. There should be an element to live music that I can't get listening to a CD at home, and I don't quite get that element tonight. I still love Treats, but Sleigh Bells live are disappointing.

Suuns/Gyratory System at Corsica Studios

It is a pleasant surprise to see Gyratory System supporting at this gig, as I only recently picked up their album. I hadn't much opportunity to listen to it but had played it through a couple of times at least, so should enjoy the gig. It's all a bit odd, though. I like live music for what it offers over recorded music, and that invariably includes some element of performance, either with a singer bouncing around or the band playing their instruments. Gryratory System have two horn players and one man on a synthesiser, which could be interesting if the frontman didn't have his trumpet fed through effects pedals. Although I can see him blow in to the trumpet and watch his fingers move the valves there is a weird disconnect between what he's doing and the sounds he makes, because my brain doesn't expect trumpets to make any kind of noise like that, to the point where I cannot reconcile the performance to the music. Because of this I soon lose interest, however much I actually want to listen to and like the band.

Top of the bill for the evening are Suuns, and this is more like it. Guitars, drums, and singing. I can relate what I'm seeing with what I'm hearing, which is a good start, plus it's Suuns playing. I love the Zeroes QC album and tonight I get to hear most of it, plus some other tracks that although I don't recognise them are played just as emphatically and I get carried along with the performance. The music is great, Suuns are really impressive on stage, and the gig blows me away. I want to see them again.

Yuck at Scala

I am pleasantly surprised by Yuck. Despite seeming superficially like an average indie band their music has a more nuanced feel to it. And their drummer has a killer affro. I'm quite looking forward to their headline set at the Scala, even if I'm beginning to get negative vibes from the venue itself. I get there early, find a nice spot on a raised section near the back with a barrier to lean against, enjoy the support act, and then have some douchebag climb up in front of me and get his stupid big head right in my face. I ask politely if he would mind moving a little, which I consider a reasonable request as he's climbed up on something he shouldn't to get a better view and isn't just standing naturally. But he takes offence, his friend thinks I'm being rude, and they both get in my face for asking a simple question they could have just said no to, making me feel rotten for no reason. They eventually get bored with pissing me off, and I get to watch Yuck in peace. It's just a shame that the incident sours my mood, because although I enjoy the music and was looking forward to the gig I don't get to experience it properly, leaving the gig feeling low.

Bo Ningen/Guitar Wolf at Islington Academy

Bo Ningen released the most exciting debut album of the year and I've been keen to see them live. Playing small-key gigs at awkwardly located venues and touring their native Japan hasn't helped, but finally I get an opportunity to see them, if only as a support act. That's okay, and I aim to get to Islington Academy early to catch their set. In fact, I go even earlier than I initially intended, just in case of delays. I have trouble yet again finding the entrance to the venue, it being signposted as being on the first floor but is actually on the ground floor and just around the corner, which I'm posting here as much as a reminder for myself as anything. And by the time I get inside the band are already playing, and I make my way easily down to the front to catch their energetic performance, guitars wailing and screaming, vocalist wailing and screaming, but always completely in control of the sound. I am completely enthralled, but sadly only for three songs, for despite my punctuality I still managed to turn up half-way through their set. Which promoter or venue puts the support act on stage at half-past seven? That's crazy early. I would be more annoyed, but I caught enough to be invigorated by the band and I also have a ticket to see them perform again in two days' time.

Headliners Guitar Wolf have a reputation, probably. I have to admit I know little about them, but there is quite a crowd here to see the rockers. Personally, I think they're trading on their reputation now, as they seem to be stuck in the 80s, their slicked hair, leather jackets, and <gasp> spitting really not have any shock or cool value left to them, and neither does holding a single note on a guitar whilst sneering like you're hard as nails. No doubt fans of the band are thrilled to hear the songs they recognise and like, but through new eyes as mine Guitar Wolf are anachronistic and unexciting.

Bo Ningen/Part Chimp as part of the Raw Power Festival at Corsica Studios

Corsica Studios are holding a mini-festival, which is really all the venue can do when situated under some railway arches, and not particularly tall ones at that. But all credit to them, three stages have been set up with bands filling all of them, bands staggered across the two mains stages to have continuous live music for over ten hours. It's almost good to see Cate le Bon still going, if only because I can go to another stage to avoid her, and there is plenty of new music and relatively obscure bands to discover here, although not much really catches my eye.

I'm here to see two bands, and not only do I miss neither of their sets but they play back-to-back on the same stage. First is Bo Ningen again, a couple of days after seeing only half a support set from them. I bump in to the band as I wander around the rest of the venue and have a chat with singer Taigan, who is exuberant and friendly, happy to say that they will be on stage for longer tonight, which will let them be even more energetic than Friday night's performance. He's not wrong, and the psychedelic rock that Bo Ningen assault us with is mesmerising and thrilling, a good fourty-five minutes of brilliance, exciting the whole audience. I love this band.

Part Chimp are next on the bill and although I am dubious that even a firm favourite of mine can top Bo Ningen they come out and play louder than I've ever heard them play. What's good about Part Chimp is that the louder they are the better they are, they aren't trying to compensate for a lack of anything, the noise just helps the music to reverberate deeper in to your body. We are treated to mostly new songs, with some older ones thrown in for good measure, and I am blown away yet again by this amazing band. A chat with guitarist Iain after the set suggests maybe another gig in London before the end of the year, and before the band split up, so I'm looking forwards to that.

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