Gigs of 2013, part one

14th April 2013 – 3.38 pm

More gigs! Some familiar bands, some new, and a couple known for their recordings but being seen for the first time. It's a mixed bag.

Toy, Charlie Boyer & the Voyeurs, Novella at the Scala

There's been a buzz about Toy for a while, but I procrastinated long enough about going to this NME Awards show that it sold out. Or so I thought. When I saw a tweet from Novella that they were supporting I looked again, this time directly from the venue's box office, and nabbed myself entrance. At least I was going to enjoy one band on the line-up, and see what I hope would be another promising new bad too.

Novella I've seen before, and they've been songwriting in the past year. A few new tracks open up the set, which sound pretty good, followed by some more familiar tracks. I still like the band and it's good to see them again, and it seems like they've beefed up the bass-lines a little, adding some extra depth to the sound. Chatting with the drummer before the set suggests that an album won't be recorded before the Autumn, but it will probably be worth waiting for.

I'd not heard of second band Charlie Boyer & the Voyeurs, and they come on in an understated manner compared to the snarl of the first song. I'm almost hooked, but lose interest by the end of the set when it's pretty much more of the same without much variation.

And so come Toy. The psych-rock label that's been attributed to them is perhaps a little off, as the songs seem fairly standard to me, if with the occasional extended outro of thrumming guitars. I'm not sure if it is my expectations that are disappointed of Toy are just another average band. They don't match up with the truly raucous Bo Ningen, who I associate with contemporary psych-rock, but I know that genres can be broad and expectations weighty. I have to admit that my review of No Age's album was tainted by the couldn't-be-lower-fi Born Again Revisited by Times New Viking, and, actually, Everything in Between is pretty good. I've enjoyed it every time it comes up on my iPod. But back to tonight, and Toy. When at a gig, I can generally tell that I'll like a band by the end of their set, but with Toy I'm scratching my head a little. I kinda like what I hear, but I find myself constantly evaluating whether or not I'd buy their album without being able to answer either way. I suppose they're okay, then.

Savages, BEAK> at Camden Electric Ballroom

Before the support band plays there is some performance art in the middle of the auditorium. Some, uh, dancers is the wrong word, artists is a stretch but will have to do, accompanied by, uh, music is definitely the wrong word, and soundtrack doesn't quite fit, so let's call it noise, sprawl themselves on the floor for a bit, then crawl, then stand and, well, it's not my scene. It was over-long and tedious, particularly with the incessant droning of the noise whilst the support act were actually ready and waiting on stage. All the while I was trying to ignore the 'performance' I was boggling at how people must have spent time choreographing and rehearsing this. I think I can honestly say I don't understand it. And the audience applaud at the end. Huh.

There is a lot of hype around Savages at the moment, hence their headline on the bill supported by a band with two albums already under their belts. I can't say the hype is justified, as the music was pretty average, although my opinion isn't helped by simply not appreciating the singer's voice. It was all a bit bland, despite not having much expectation beyond just wanting to see what the band was like. It makes me wonder how much people are influenced by what they are told is good, rather than forming individual opinions, however pretentious that makes me sound. But I remember being thoroughly underwhelmed by 2:54's gig, Purity Ring's poor debut album, and Big Deal not being anywhere near as good live as everyone was saying.

My plan to Get Out More a year or so back kinda failed, and tonight's gig, along with Toy's, was sort of a way to resurrect it. I need to realise that the aim isn't really to Get Out More, but for something to happen when getting out more, which it invariably doesn't. So although speculative gigs aren't necessarily a bad night's entertainment, they aren't always the best way to find new music. Fifteen quid for a gig ticket to have lots of waiting, crappy between-set DJs, and beer spilt on me to hear music played once isn't as good a deal as buying a CD for a tenner.

But never mind, because although I was tempted in to seeing Savages on spec I only ended up buying a ticket when I saw that BEAK> were supporting. I really like BEAK>'s second album, and unfortunately didn't get to see them headline the Lexington late last year because I was sick. I'm keen to see them tonight, and the band don't disappoint. There is little departure from the album, but it is all played competently and the nature of playing live means there is some individuality to the songs. Seeing Barrow improvise his solo around the drums on Spinning Top was gorgeous, and adds an extra dimension to merely hearing the recording. The short set ends with my least favourite song on the album, Wulfstan II, but it is still good and watching the support band is the clear highlight of my evening.

The Men, Parquet Courts at The Garage

I never want to see Parquet Courts again. Banal, predictable hooks on their supposedly catchy songs, miserable, depressing dirges on anything slow, and a general feeling of a lack of cohesion has the music wallow in the very depths of mediocrity that, with a stage presence consisting of a bass player who thinks that violently shaking his head somehow looks cool and a guitarist who plays half of his solos facing his amplifier instead of the audience, borders on the truly dreadful.

Thankfully, I resist the urge to leave before main act The Men come on stage. And they take their time about it, but in a good way. The lap steel guitarist starts playing a riff, and keeps going for a couple of minutes before the bass player comes on and joins in. He's followed a short while later by both guitarists jumping up from the audience in the small venue, and eventually the drummer appears and the first song is played in full. And what a difference between Parquet Courts and The Men. The Men are animated and exude presence; their sound is full and complete, such that even during the solos, where one or both guitars necessarily drop out to play their own part, there are never any 'gaps'; their competence with their instruments is never questioned, as whatever sounds they produce always seem to be fully intended and under their control. The Men are excellent.

It's not just the stark contrast between support act and main band that makes The Men look good. They are good. Damned brilliant, in fact. I can't say I recognise many of the songs played, despite having three of their albums, and it's only really the new material, from latest album New Moon, where the songs are more traditionally structured, that I recognise. But that's just fine, because the rest of the time The Men get the foundation of a song playing and then let fly with solos and improvised riffing, creating a magnificent wall of sound that remains musically enjoyable. A small mosh pit even forms, and two or three people manage to crowd surf towards the stage. And each time they do, ultimately to be grabbed by security, one of the guitarists grins broadly with appreciation. Loud, energetic, and enthusiastic. The Men are as brilliant live as their recordings suggest.

Bo Ningen at Camden Dingwalls

I've had a crappy day, and realised only the night before that the receipt for my ticket was just a receipt, and not a voucher-like receipt for redemption at the venue doors. Considering how many times I've already seen Bo Ningen and that second album Line the Wall didn't exactly set my CD player on fire, I feel ready to sulk at home for the evening. But a little prod from Twitter and a phone call to my friendly ticket agency—who have before been able to convert an uncollected ticket to a guest-list booking, but this time told me that the event promoters have already effectively done this, not actually having released any tickets—and I'm ready to give my evening another chance. But I not going to turn up for the support act and stand around for ages doing nothing.

Well, that was the plan, but despite leaving later than usual and having a good idea when Bo Ningen are due on stage, I still catch the last couple of songs from... I dunno. Some band. I am content to ignore them, however much I enjoy finding new music. I'm really not in the mood. The support act disappear, I get near the front of the venue, and wait for Bo Ningen to come out. And first song is the relatively bland Daikaisei Part I, with its pretty standard riffing. But that's actually okay, because it acts as a warm up for everyone, and I know that parts II and III kick it up more than just a notch. I may be getting in to this already.

More songs from Line the Wall are played, a new track or two is thrown in to the set list, and Bo Ningen are on fire. Maybe mosh pits are becoming fashionable again, but the formation of tonight's seems spontaneous and motivated by the sheer energy being projected from the stage and speakers. Crowd surfers are picked up, dropped, and picked up again, and no one really minds. Everyone just wants to have a good time. When Taigen says they have just two more songs left to play it seems a bit early, but he does mention that they are long. And they are long, about twenty minutes in total for two songs. First is slow-burner Ten to Sen, which really takes a while to get going, but the crescendo goes from almost nothing to ear-bleeding distortion in a way that the recorded version sadly doesn't.

Final song Shin Ichi is a perfect mix of heavy grooves and thumping beats coupled with flailing guitar solos, which Bo Ningen extend more than the cinematic version of The Hobbit but with more relevance. Everyone is bouncing, slamming, climbing on anything and anyone for the climax of the set, and rightly so. Bo Ningen may have failed to capture the essence of their performance in the recordings for Line the Wall, but seeing them live shows just how vital their music continues to be. The album is an unfortunate shade of what they can sound like, how big they can feel, but the essence is there. A short encore has one last song, kept brief but intense, and I am thrown back in to the Camden streets blissfully happy to have come to tonight's gig. Bo Ningen definitely need to be experienced live now more than ever.

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