Gigs of 2014, part two

15th June 2014 – 3.46 pm

Finishing up the gigs of late-May, bleeding in to the start of June, has an interesting mix of bands and genres. In general, it's still good to get out to gigs, but sometimes, if I'm not fully motivated, it can feel a bit of a chore.

Speedy Ortiz, Empty Pools at Electrowerkz

I'm quite enjoying Speedy Ortiz's debut album, and am keen to see what energy they bring to a live performance. When Empty Pools are announced as the support act I snap up a ticket, almost more looking forward to seeing them again than the main act.

I saw Empty Pools support Menomena at Cargo quite a while back, and I was quite taken by them. I wasn't entirely sure, I have to admit, but they caught my attention enough to pick up their album earlier this year. I really like Saturn Reruns too, so make sure I get to the venue early enough to see them play. I'm plenty early enough too, letting me spot the lead singer wandering around and fawning over her a little. She's cool about it.

Empty Pools take the stage after the first support band, Omi Palone who I largely forget. Their music was okay, their vocals were a bit flat. Empty Pools, on the other hand, are brilliant. Leah has a wonderfully expressive voice, the music is interesting, and the band are fun to watch. I have to say that I don't recognise any of the songs, not even the REM cover, which makes me wonder how much of a fan I actually am. I later learn that they played all new material, which seems a little peculiar given the album was only recently released, but perhaps promises another release soon. It would have been nice to hear a familiar track or two, but their set has solidified Empty Pools as a band I really like.

I have high hopes for Speedy Ortiz, spurred by enjoying Empty Pools. Curiously, the music doesn't quite click. I know that it took a few listens for the album to settle with me, but I was hoping that my repeated listens and familiarity with the songs would let me enjoy the band live. A couple of the songs I recognise, most I don't, and although the audience seem to be getting down it's just not gelling for me. I end up leaving a little early to catch an earlier train, which I may not have done if the trains didn't run on a half-hour schedule at night.

Courtney Barnett at Islington Assembly Hall

In contrast to the dark, small, cable-ridden Electrowerkz venue, Courtney Barnett plays just up the road in the Islington Assembly Hall. It's bright, big, and clean, although the floor is rather springy, even just when people casually walk past. It seems a suitable venue for some quirky folk music, and Barnett easily provides that. It's good to hear her songs played live, and although Barnett's voice isn't particularly strong it has a lovely quality to it normally. She shares some banter with the audience, nicely at ease with the crowd, and at the end of the set says that they have one more song, 'not one more fake song', thoroughly detuning her guitar at the end. Still, enough applause brings Barnett back on—'I'm just packing away my stuff'—and she plugs in a different guitar to play one more, just for us.

Victorian Whore Dogs at Camden Underworld

I know the bass player for Victorian Whore Dogs, which explains why I am at a gig outside of my normal genres. I'm not even sure what genre they play in. Heavy rock? I dunno. Very loud, shouted vocals, double-pedal bass drumming. That kind of music. I tell you what, though, VWD know what they're doing, and I enjoy their entire set, playing first on the bill of four bands, the other three I've never heard of.

The skill and musicality of VWD becomes more evident when contrasted with the other bands. The others play standard power chords for a bit, then wail on their axes for a solo, with a typical Axl-wannabe on vocals. That's a bit denigrating, I know, but it's not my scene so I don't see the nuances. Victorian Whore Dogs, on the other hand, mould each instrument in to the songs, moving outside of the tropes, with guitarist Adam even playing deliberately atonally for a part of a song. It all really elevates their music. It's nice to see Andy and the gang, and actually really good to see them at their own gig. Victorian Whore Dogs are pretty damned good.

Fujiya & Miyagi, AK/DK at XOYO

AK/DK's album is called Synths + Drums + Noise + Space. How could I not be interested? Seeing they are supporting Fujiya & Miyagi makes this a gig I probably don't want to miss, and I get to XOYO early enough to see the support band. My interest is piqued when I see that AK/DK have two drum kits on stage, although this is tempered by wondering if the opportunity for intermingled beats will be squandered. It's not.

Blips, drips, and strips are punched in to the samplers, fed back on to themselves several times, looped, and then the drumming starts. Slamming a rhythm over the catchy synths and layering vocals on top of that, the various effects and layers are fed in and out of the stream to create an amazing and dynamic performance. And even though there is clear direction to the tracks, there is an improvisational feel to each song's creation that suggests each performance is different.

The middle song of the short support set is even introduced as an entirely improvised affair, which shows the skills and communication between G and Ed. They know what they can do, what the other is doing, and combine to form a greater whole. I have not been as excited by new music in a long while. Having recently wondered what new direction contemporary music can take, AK/DK show me what I can only believe is the new wave: synths and drums and noise and space.

Headliners Fujiya & Miyagi have a tough act to follow. It helps that AK/DK's Ed is their new drummer, plus that they have four albums of top-notch material to draw on. I bump in to guitarist David Best at the merch stand (are you Fujiya, I ask, 'Actually, I'm Miyagi'), who jokingly says they are going to be playing a kind of Fujiya & Miyagi greatest hits set, sprinkling in songs from latest album Artificial Sweeteners, and lets slip that both instrumentals from the new album will be played when saying that Cassettesingle won't feature. Sounds good to me.

It sounds even better when Fujiya & Miyagi get on stage and start playing. They have a serious groove that they can lay down seemingly effortlessly, which they couple with some mesmerising projections behind them. As promised, old songs are mixed with new, across all four albums, and they each manage to have distinct character whilst retaining their individuality. It's a solid set that never wavers, the new material standing strong, and an enjoyable gig from start-to-finish.

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