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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Primal Scream: Leicester O2 Academy – 24 March 2011

Bobby Gillespie's Primal Scream

We seem to have a trend developing of late, thanks largely to ATP, for tours that are dedicated to exhibiting albums in their entirety. For some artists, it appears to be a credible way of nourishing the ego and playing material, ‘the way it was intended’. But for Primal Scream’s Screamadelica gigs, it’s given their crowds a chance to capture the landmark album’s trippy highs and lows that mirrored the culture and feelings of a generation, in one journey.

Rarely does Leicester’s Academy draw such diversity, but that’s testament to Primal Scream’s appeal down the years. This tour finds them in stark contrast to the druggy days of 1991 when Screamadelica was released, and Bobby Gillespie himself abashedly suggests they are now “a bunch of old men” – though his sharp dress belies the battering he once gave his body.

The band plays tracks 1 to 10 straight through, choosing to break with Screamadelica at Come Together, right before the record plunges itself into cold turkey. It’s a wise choice as it creates the right party atmosphere for three raucous, rock ‘n’ roll hits – Riot City Blues’ Country Girl and from Give Out But Don’t Give Up, Rocks and Jailbird.

The gig is injected with celebration from the start – Movin’ On Up, with Andrew Innes’ trademark riffs, and Don’t Fight It, Feel It, where original co-singer Denise Johnson injects powerful gospel vocals into the ’90s rave flashback. It sends mops of male hair flailing in the strobes.

It’s the album’s wilder parts that shine, from the trippy highs to polar opposite lows with Damaged, and I’m Coming Down’s soft electronic waves, set against Gillespie’s slurred “I’m coming down, I can’t face the dawn”. Loaded sends the crowd into half melancholic, half ecstatic reminiscence as soon as the first saxophone notes hit. Pushing the dizzying psychedelica and woozy moods into overdrive, Come Together is backdropped with a spiralling multi-coloured vortex, holding an eye at its centre. Gillespie and Johnson sing it like a congregational prayer to siphon an acid trip without the acid.

What is immediately striking is that this Screamadelica tour arrives at almost a polar opposite time to its 1991 release date. Back then, the post-’80s Thatcherite days had lifted a cloud from the nation’s outlook, but on Thursday in Leicester – political climates, fuel prices and all else considered – things felt entirely different. The bumpy ride of late would explain why the gig feels like a chance, for many, to re-enter that mellow bubble they found themselves disappearing into the first time around.

Importantly though, Primal Scream recreate that bubble with ease, rendering Screamadelica in the live setting the irresistible prospect it always has been. It doesn’t matter whether you approach the gig out of nostalgia or pure musical appreciation, the band’s obvious delight and passion for playing their masterpiece hasn’t changed, nor has its timeless quality, or their timeless ability. And on the night, its exuberant positivity is an absolute pleasure to get lost in.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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Cut Copy: HMV Forum – Sunday 6 March 2011

Cut Copy

If ever there was an ideal band to re-write the pop handbook so the genre could be cleansed and its image overhauled, Cut Copy would be the ones to commission.

The four knights in shining armour from Australia were on a rescue mission of sorts at London’s HMV Forum on Sunday 6 March, and succeeded in breathing life into an otherwise plastic, clichéd world of boy bands, poor Madonna and Kylie replicas and cringeworthy Euro cheese. Their brand of 80s-influenced synth pop unstuck the shoes of a somewhat static crowd, transforming the old theatre into a mass of flailing arms and happy faces.

Arriving to one of In Ghost Colours’ atmospheric interludes, Visions, the band appeared through an eight foot high panel with a door playfully projected onto the screen. Mirroring the album, they launched into Nobody Lost, Nobody Found, and in stark contrast, a Pretenders beat introduced Zonoscope’s Where I’m Going. This was neatly knitted into So Haunted, whose guitars hammered home the realisation that the band never really been solely about synths and beats, and its twinkling xylophone at the break also became a wake up call for the crowd’s dancing feet.

Flashing lights played with the techno beat and cowbell of Corner Of The Sky, whipping the atmosphere into a soft peak. But it was perhaps the most popular Cut Copy offering to date – Lights And Music – that ensued a frenzy to its immaculate sing-a-long-ability and perfect piques and troughs. Dan Whitford and Tim Hoey’s on-stage confidence visibly grew with the reaction to their pop chemistry.

After the blissed-out, beachy Take Me Over, comparisons between Pharaohs & Pyramids to The Orb’s Pink Fluffy Clouds became visual as well as audible, as clouds floated in and out against a bright blue sky on the screen behind the band, rather like a Chemical Brothers live performance.

Amongst the 12 tracks there was even slot for synth-saturated Saturdays, from Bright Like Neon Love, with its edgy 80s-come-funky-house feel. Nevertheless, it was Hearts On Fire’s deep bassline and pleading chorus that galvanised the band’s party atmosphere and prickled the hairs on the back of the neck. Its soulful saxophone was a deliciously impossible to refuse, textbook example of a hands-in-the-air moment.

A straw poll of the audience would have probably concluded that Sun God’s inclusion was a bit self-indulgent. Announcing, ‘this is probably a good time to take a toilet break’, the band’s 15 minutes of button pushing, freestyle percussion and woven synths – although delightfully anorak-ish and introspective – would have been better spent on three more tracks. It felt like finding out you’d missed out on a three-for-one deal after spending as much on buying the product on its own.

Aptly choosing to include Zonoscope’s Need You Now in the encore, the track was a new favourite with the well-versed crowd, who’d clearly had the new material on regular repeat since its release. Signing off with Out There On The Ice, the quartet were greeted with a chorus of, “Yes, no, maybe, is all I need to hear from you” – the backing ‘doo doos’ layered amongst other instruments to give the track a complexity that’s become so rare in pop, while the slow build up was dropped at just the right level of tension. Fundamentally though, this track is like a biopsy that shows the fundamental make up of Cut Copy.

In a nutshell, they make immaculate, un-soppy songs about love and life that are both complexly layered and structured, but sound simple at the same time. Live, you might have expected them to struggle to translate that magic, but instead, it feels like Cut Copy might be the new owners of the keys to electro pop perfection.

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The Joy Formidable: Leicester O2 Academy 2 – Sunday 13 February

 

Matt, Ritzy, and Rhydian

With the build up to The Joy Formidable’s debut album and first headline tour lasting longer than the entire shelf life of some bands, this push could’ve been mistimed. But the threesome’s immaculate maelstrom of noise at Leicester’s O2 Academy 2 shows their ‘Big Roar’ hasn’t arrived even a moment too late.

Fairy lights and chimes acted as a clever disguise for The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie’s wall of sound that hit. If reactions to this and the other new tracks on debut album, The Big Roar had been muted at first, opinions were overturned after only a few seconds of see-sawing guitars, spat out, diction-perfect lyrics, and rib cage-shaking drums.

Chilling cackles introduced blistering paced, The Magnifying Glass – a track with complexities that exposed how tight the band has become – both musically and personally. The grumbling bass and familiar chorus of “aaahhhh aah ahh”s introduced Austere, which although delivered with polish didn’t spoil the band’s personality, as they reacted to the crowd’s ecstasy with bemused grins.

A clattering typewriter beat introduced the grunge of Chapter 2, softened by sound effects and half-whispered verses, before the force of Ritzy Brian’s chorus almost forced the body to leave its skin.

I Don’t Want to See You Like This encapsulates the essence that makes The Joy Formidable so irresistible – simple melodies that mask the difficulty of making a track that is both instantly memorable, yet good enough to endure. Tightly coiled riffs contrasted with Ritzy’s beautifully soulful repeated pleading of the track title over and over again, her expressions hid beneath the blonde bob.

Rhydian Dafydd’s Mansun-esque voice served Greyhounds in the Slips, during which a pregnant pause prepped the way for shouts to exclaim, “29, 29 equals gone!”, producing a moment you’d like to box up to take home. Perhaps more gloriously, an echoed guitar loop paved the way for drummer, Matt Thomas, to deliver a complex, eye-watering drum roll section that required visual proof to verify it wasn’t delivered by a machine.

Buoy’s haunting guitars paved the way for its metal and doom influenced chords, before crowd favourite, Cradle’s acerbic tones of an ending relationship.

The Joy Formidable showed the value of a pace breaker with 9669, nodding to their softer side. That said, even in their loudest moments the maintained that intimacy by showing how much they enjoy performing on-stage together. The revamped version of Whirring was played at each other, and with cheeky nods to Matt, Rhydian and Ritzy signalled the newly added drum section with metal-inspired double foot pedal rhythms that feel worthy of a stadium.

A Balloon Called Moaning EP’s The Last Drop was the first of the encore – its start-stop rhythms and repeated lyrics an instant crowd pleaser. Saving the best until last, most knew the breathily-delivered lyrics of The Greatest Light is The Greatest Shade. It’s initial slow rhythm created suspense before the track’s pleasurable snap into double pace, amongst a room filled with echoes of “Happy for you, happy for you” – a sentiment that The Joy Formidable built so much during the gig that these lyrics appeared to be sung back at them by the crowd as acknowledgement of the hard work they’ve put in to get to this point as a band.

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Metronomy: Birmingham Hare & Hounds – Sunday 23 January

 

Metronomy

A packed crowd in the room above the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham patiently waited with bleary Sunday eyes for the Brighton four-piece. Patiently because despite the late start, most already knew Metronomy’s carefully woven synths, driving bass and falsetto harmonies would be more than worth the wait.

Originally hailing from Totnes, Metronomy have created their signatune over years from carefully mis-matched chords, unusual beats and a quirky on-stage presence. And on the night, they chose to exploit the best bits from the 2008 masterpiece Nights Out, leaving out any reference to debut Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 you owe). A large handful of gems from their third album, The English Riviera, were also given an airing.

Arriving on stage with trademark chest-height lights, the circular jewellery pierced the darkness in time with the band’s off-beats – another feature that’s now synonymous with Metronomy.

Kicking off at full pace with On The Motorway then My Heart Rate Rapid, the repertoire of complex bleeps and tweeps, changing drum rhythms and robot dance moves were perfectly offset by the foursomes faux-nerd look. Whipping the vast student contingency into an early frenzy, they force an army of voices to call back at them, ‘It won’t be long’, which had a faint echo of a 2011 prediction about it.

Formal introductions were made to the new material via latest single, She Wants – a track punctuated by funk grooves and deep bass keyboards that instantly blew the speakers with a proud, but marginally embarrassed acceptance. The Look is a new frontrunner with its insistent fairground piano loop and repeated chorus lines that force a shuffle from even the most two-left-footed. But all of the latest editions feel as though they’ve had more soul shoehorned into their nooks and crannies, with deeper bassline hooks injected by Gbenga Adelekan’s guitar and Joseph Mount’s electronica. There’s also a smidgen less staccato, but it’s all served up in just as quirky a fashion.

On The Motorway delivered more falsetto, while Holiday’s forlorn tales of tussles of the heart were a perfect match for the pulse of the Blondie-rhythmed guitars. Beneath the on-stage antics and dance moves, Heartbreaker stood out as the most impeccable pop song on Nights Out. And it carries the imprint that Metronomy have now kept to propel them into the third album.

There was also time for A Thing For Me’s layers of oom-pah synth and metronomic drum rolls. Its complex rhythms still serve as a reminder that the band don’t shy away from tackling things others might not dare to try live, let alone pull off so effortlessly.

On Dancefloors – a sorrowful soundtrack to a bad night out – was given as a gift from the band to anyone who had work the next morning. A fitting pre-encore track, it drowned the four walls in melancholic loops that perfectly offset Mount’s despairing, ‘I want to get more from this than you’. Radio Ladio then provided balance as the finale, with the foursome acting as cheerleaders to coax their audience into an ecstatic, dancing end to the Birmingham leg of what should become a landmark tour for them.

Metronomy might just be the perfect antidote to the creeping fear of Monday morning. However, there is more to them than the on-stage angular dancing and light-adornments that give them an idiosyncratic air. These eccentricities do blend seamlessly with their sound, but look beneath the things that make them such a great aural and visual spectacle, and you find that Metronomy have been quietly chipping away, making a slow and steady impact on their genre for a number of years now. But this year could well be the one when their art-electro soundtrack gathers many more followers who will dance to their beat.

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Foals: Birmingham Academy – Wednesday 3 November

Foals

This tour around, Foals have begun to look and sound like they’ve loosened up and begun to really love what they do.

During the Birmingham Academy gig, they even managed several success-tinged, albeit sheepish grins amidst their on-stage air of ‘business as usual’. Offerings from latest album, Total Life Forever sounded less frenetic, more beautiful than the old – perfectly illustrated by opener Blue Blood. And a clever juxtaposition with one of Antidotes’ more melodic tracks, Olympic Airways made chants of ‘Re-a-pe-ar’ bounce from wall to ceiling.

But it was the quintet’s bold mid-section slowdown that exposed the maturity they had developed in the new material, as well as a serious penchant – again, more clearly audible on the second album – for heart wrenching, soaring guitar riffs and lyrical sentimentality.

After Glow’s sensitive declarations of “I know I could not last for very long at all without you here to break my fall” was proof, and the achingly beautiful, shoegazy 2 Trees silenced the crowd with its Radiohead In Rainbows-esque experimental, mellow drums, soaring guitar riffs and a bassline that pleasantly jiggled the organs in and out of place.

There was also room for the oriental riffs of What Remains, before Spanish Sahara’s quivering high-octave vocals dropped a spellbound crowd off a sonic cliff to “I’m the ghost in the back of your head” as lead singer, Yannis Philippakis gave way to a surging mass of looping guitars, throbbing bass and drums.

Original classics like Cassius, Balloons and Red Socks Pugie even felt less tautly plucked and angsty. Not that their original packaging ever caused a yearn for change, but at the Academy the band shed layers of seriousness as these tracks became classic anthems for a dancing crowd.

Foals haven’t deserted the rather angular, edgy persona upon which they’ve based their sound. Fighting against indie-by-numbers, Yannis still chooses to direct operations from the left side of the stage and the band refuse to be packaged so neatly into any genre box. Upon announcing Miami, the band proclaimed the track’s beats were rooted in 90s hip hop; and there were numerous other inspirations imprinted across the gig ranging from braindance basslines evocative of Aphex Twin, math rock, electronica, and Afrobeats.

If ever anyone wanted confirmation that Foals are enjoying the ride, it was Yannis’ scaling of the speakers up to the balconies of the O2 during Electric Bloom and the tribal drum-laden finale, Two Steps, Twice.

Clearly, the band has transformed themselves from the rough diamond we heard on Antidotes. They are the creative jewel in the crown of a new breed of guitar-based indie bands that are throwing off the tired, formulaic three-guitarists-and-a-dummer shackle. It’s just that at the moment, no one does it better than Foals.

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Summer Sundae 2010 – festival review

Summer Sundae 2010 - crowds at the Main Stage

Reviewed for Gigwise

The story of Leicester’s Summer Sundae 2010 will always tell that it was a shrewd early move to book Mumford and Sons that ensured the safety of the much-loved festival’s tenth anniversary.

A lot of proverbial eggs were placed in one basket when the popular indie-folk act were boldly announced as Sunday’s headliners. Organisers must have been rubbing their hands together as the foursome notched up best Glastonbury performance, rubber stamping a sell-out for the festival based at De Montfort Hall and its leafy grounds and part of the city’s Victoria Park.

Friday’s headline was grabbed by a down-to-earth Seasick Steve’s eagerness to play longer than his allotted slot, and so, starting earlier than planned, the blues musician flaunted a long and raucous list of favourites from his five albums. The hobo-turned-music-star flirted with an array of busking instruments and silenced any naysayers in the process, even managing to woo an unexpecting female fan with a dedicated song.

Meanwhile, a luckily timed quick shifty indoors saw Roots Manuva calling all to raise their index finger and declare, ‘One hope one quest’, as he unveiled Witness. The British hip hop artist proved that like Seasick Steve, he was also a master of a polar opposite side of the musical spectrum.

Earlier that day, Kyte’s shoegaze indie kicked off the main stage weekend with an aplomb that belied their baby faces, no more so than during the cover of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. Erland and the Carnival, comprised of former Blur and The Verve’s Simon Tong, Paul McCartney’s Fireman’s David Nock, and the immaculately-voiced Erland Cooper, took to the increased-capacity Rising Stage with triumphantly revamped folk antiques.

That paved the way for a not-disappointing set from The Sunshine Underground back in the main arena, whose sing-a-long mid-noughties indie classics like Borders and Commercial Breakdown hit the mark and kept a bulky audience rooted to the spot during torrents of rain. Glaswegian alt-rockers, Teenage Fanclub followed, making a welcome comeback appearance to the festival breach.

Twenty-strong female choir, Gaggle, kicked off Saturday’s main stage lineup with woe-betide tales of men, debauchery, drugs and drunkenness. Their powerful acapella and drum beats were the perfect tonic to blow away the cobwebs. Dog Is Dead might have been all-male and a quarter of the size, but they continued the pitch-perfect harmonies indoors with refreshingly different jazz-infused indie with tongue-in-cheek shouted lyrics like, “This is a zoo, could you not feed the animals?”

We Show Up On Radar’s gentle electronic folk at the Rising Stage was child-friendly enough for toddlers to fall asleep in their parents’ arms and audience-friendly enough to induce a sway at the front, or some wellies-off time at the back. While popstrel, Diana Vickers, faired well with a young audience; her number one hit, Once, and a little-known aptitude for trumpet playing thanks to an instrument she named ‘Tommy’, got the best reactions.

Fun, mystical, folky poptronica from Tunng followed indoors, but it was Caribou that packed out the venue. Grouped at centre-stage, Dan Snaith’s foursome rolled out funky grooves, pulsating acid house, psychedelica and plenty of bleeps and tweeps, culminating in an extended version of the Mr Scruff-esque Sun from recent critically acclaimed album, Swim, to mark a festival highlight.

The Go! Team’s first performance in two years cranked up the evening pace at the damp Main Stage ready for Tinchy Stryder. But it was the return of Mark E Smith’s on-stage nonchalance that was the talk of the festival that night, as The Fall graced the alternative headline spot. It might not have been to everyone’s taste, but the performance was enigmatic and showed just why the band had been so influential to punk.

A closing late night live set from The Whip stirred the remaining partygoers into a soft peak as Saturday hit its climax.

For the most part it was the DrownedInSound Indoor Stage that harboured the anticipation for Sunday’s bands. Lo-fi tales of young love from Summer Camp were at times beautiful, at others, a little too sickly sweet. Errors’ angular electronic post rock went down a storm, before twee-indie favourites, Los Campesinos! justified the size of their crowd in De Montfort Hall. The ecstatic audience reactions to You! Me! Dancing! obviously delighted sharp-tongued lyricist, Gareth, as an impromptu stage dive during Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks resulted in a catalogue of injuries and mild concussion that somehow didn’t stop the remaining two minutes of the band’s set.

Frightened Rabbit’s rousing, gut-wrenching high points from across Winter Of Mixed Drinks and Midnight Organ Fight, delivered by Scott Hutchinson’s endearing Scottish twang showed the band as one of the most, if not the most exciting of their genre at the moment.

Earlier, at the main stage, the sun had finally hardened the mud and the crowds were happy to sit and listen to a day of stomping folk and acoustics, which would become both a theme and a slight criticism as the pace remained rather static. Nonetheless, it was easy to drink in the sounds of Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit, as well as Jose Gonzales’ Junip, who mixed a heady cocktail of the ambience of Air with lulling plucked guitars and effortless vocals.

But it was Mumford and Sons who won the heart of the weekend. An abashed Marcus declared how honoured the four were to play their inaugural headline spot at Summer Sundae, but admitted there had been a double-edged sword to their meteoric rise, as they had struggled to gather enough material to fill the hour-plus slot. The band needn’t have worried as every Sigh No More track was an audience favourite – The Cave moistening eyes and loosening even the most tired of feet.

Indoors, The Futureheads took their stiff competition a rival headliners with great humour and did not suffer painfully on numbers, as a busy crowd duly obeyed Barry Hyde’s request for them to do the ‘bouncey bounce’ dance during Skip To The End. The Mackem three’s loyal cohort were clearly determined not to be wooed outdoors, away from their dry wit, tongue twisting lyrics and catchy guitar riffs at breakneck speed.

One thing is for sure, having wavered on the brink of cancellation throughout the latter part of 2009, Summer Sundae came back fighting for its tenth anniversary and proved it has become a vital fixture of the British festival calendar, with a dexterity that allows it to span both generations and genres.

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The Futureheads: Birmingham Academy 2 – Tuesday 4 May

The Futureheads

The Futureheads are a band with a serious tendency for music dished out at breakneck speed – their gig at Birmingham Academy 2 did nothing to refute that.

On Tuesday 4 May, Brummies had a choice of two bands for their aural pleasures. The Temper Trap were the buzz band who had, in true hyped fashion, managed to bagsy a near sell out crowd in the larger of the Academy venues after just one album. Four records into their musical career and The Futureheads settled for the smaller venue; but with a setlist as long as your arm they were perhaps the safer bet on the night.

Though the Mackem foursome look like and proclaim that they are currently having the time of their lives, their recent road to success has been rocky since breaking from 679 Recordings in 2006. Yet on this gig’s evidence, if it is bothering them, it does not show.

Introducing the first track, Barry tells the room, “Prepare to meet your doom” and the band launch, almost literally, into the title track from their latest album, The Chaos.

Decent Days and Nights gets a rapturous reception, answering the bands request for people to “Put on your dancing shoes you Brummie bastards.” And whether down to pure popularity or real quality, it surpasses the new material.

From the third album, This Is Not The World, we get the pick of the bunch from the first half of the record. The Beginning of the Twist and Walking Backwards both have an infectious sing-a-long-ability injected with note-perfect tightness.

Much of the gig is made up of tracks from the new album – a fact which issues a slight bug bearing moan from these lips to which my plus one answers, “Well they’ve got to promote the new stuff somehow haven’t they?” It’s a fair point duly noted.

The Chaos’ highlights are the blistering, The Connector, Stop The Noise, and latest single, Struck Dumb, which bears the hallmarks of barnstorming guitars and perfect male harmonies.

From the debut, a carrot is dangled in the form of Meantime and the band later perform Hounds of Love – a track that did what Sweet Disposition has done for the band that are playing just a couple of walls away in the same building. The Kate Bush cover still has longevity and the crowd are duly split into two halves to sing the signature intro with the gusto of a football chant.

Throwing open the encore for requests, the band answer with an anthem for relationship quandaries, Skip to the End and the jealousy-tinged Man Ray, which ensues a frenzy.

At times, The Futureheads do have a similar effect to overdosing on coffee – everything gets a little bit too dizzying and fast paced, meaning you long for the occasional Back To The Sea-style change of pace to break up the rush.

That said they are also well-versed on their strengths and personal favourites – heavy, drumstick-breaking fast-paced indie tunes with easily memorised crowd participation-friendly choruses that are unfailingly punctuated by strum-perfect guitar riffs. Barry, Ross and Jaff also use their warmth and charm of Sunderland wit to involve the crowd with banter between each song. On the night, this factor actually meant they had more leeway for playing a larger portion of unfamiliar material than some other bands would maybe risk, having released The Chaos just a week before the gig.

The thing about The Futureheads is that their infectiousness makes up for each of their faults. Another ‘safe’ indie band might find their audience slightly perturbed by a maelstrom of a setlist that lacks variety, but in the case of these four laddish musicians from the North East, it just makes them more honest and likeable.

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LCD Soundsystem gig review – Birmingham Academy, Monday 26 April

LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy

If ever there were an equation for the necessary balance of pretentiousness and perfectionism to create musical chemistry, tests would show LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy had the ideal measures of both.

The 40-year-old, in his capacity as the man at the helm of this vital New York group, seems to exist out of a careful tension between three basic ingredients making up his ego. He has taken on a relentless pursuit to uncover the basic ingredients of coolness so he can adopt and become them himself. Another essential part of the Murphy mix is a broad and all-encompassing knowledge of musical styles and influences. But perhaps the most integral of these three elements is his ability to introspect on himself, his band and the world around him. This is the LCD Soundsystem James Murphy. In fact, the likelihood is that this is the actual James Murphy.

Following an ever-present hype machine about this being the tour which would pre-empt the release of This Is Happening – a swan song of albums for the seven-some – James Murphy appeared even more enigmatic on stage at the Birmingham Academy on Monday 26 April.

All three aforementioned elements of the man are transparent on stage. He holds a vintage hand-held mic, wears white and alludes to a wry, dry wit which is also present in the rest of the band. He makes tiny sonic changes to each track to make sure everything sounds exactly how he imagines it. He reacts to his audience, his band and his own approval and desires each of those groups’ approval in themselves. After all, his crowd had had waited since 2007 for the band to return to the West Midlands.

Prior to the gig – through carelessness or a clever PR stunt – the band’s third album already been leaked and then streamed on the website, which meant a large portion of the crowd had already had their appetite whetted for the new material. But he serves only a modest portion from the album, because he admits to being frustrated by bands that reel off a list of new tracks their crowd is not yet familiar with.

Prior to their entry on stage, a familiar vibrating heartbeat signals the opening bars of Get Innocuous – the band enter shrouded in red light and James Murphy sings this techno-meets-Bowie homage to druggy highs.

Us V Them dishes out helpings of danceable cowbell and the repeated mantra, “The time has come, the time has come, the time has come today”, begins to sound prophetic. Murphy and co. also play an up-tempo version of the disco funk Daft Punk Is Playing at My House, before the acidic Yr City’s a Sucker from the self-titled first album.

From This Is Happening, we’re gifted the punchy, disco Pow Pow, as well as I Can Change – a track with more than a shade of Human League for a new decade. New single, Drunk Girls also makes an appearance; it’s easily the poppiest, most throwaway offering of the new material and is delivered to the ears like a microwave meal. Casting aspersions on the embarrassingly wasted and with a rhythm not dissimilar to North American Scum, it has a sing-a-long chorus, “Oh, Oh, Ooohh, I believe in waking up together, so, so, sooo, that means making eyes across the room,” with ‘hit’ written all over it.

As soon as first bars of the off-beat piano play, All My Friends receives an ecstatic reaction. It’s as nostalgic for Murphy to sing as it is for the crowd to hear and the dancing Academy is a mass of smiles.

Welcome, if not surprising additions to a surprisingly long set list are Movement, and the deep funky bass of Tribulations, together with 2004 single, Yeah, which is unleashed with heavy smoke machine puffs and rave-esque green lights, paving the way for the encore.

An industrial sounding bass loop signals Someone Great has finally arrived, but what surprises most is that Murphy does not seem nearly as affected as you would expect by singing his words that so acutely describe loss. On the record, you half imagine him finding it difficult to get the words out whilst tears roll down his cheeks. Perhaps on the live stage he is just too conscious of cool and accuracy, or maybe he’s become more detached from the sentiment that the song had three years ago.

Highlight, Losing My Edge, exposes a style of our lead singer/speaker which is not at all dissimilar to The Fall’s Mark E Smith. Some lyrics are very audible, others are almost hurried – all to positive effect. But it does make you wonder whether Murphy could be slightly embarrassed about the fact he once cared and maybe still does care too much about being ‘the first’ to experience the things his songs are about. Surprising passion is injected when “I WAS THERE” is half triumphantly, half frustratedly belted out to the room.

All I Want from This Is Happening has a notable inclusion as the penultimate track. It’s a beautiful Bowie, Heroes-esque heart wrenching ballad which sees James Murphy ask for pity and tears. The begging vocal, “take me home” fills just about every inch of space in the Academy as the flowing keyboard melody starts to turn from sugar coated to sickly and twisted.

Murphy’s perfectionist, slightly pedantic side surfaces again on the closer, New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. He delays the delivery of lines to create suspense and plays conductor to his band, forcing clever pauses to emphasise the poignancy of their final few minutes on stage.

On the night, his intense efforts to make sure songs were perfect and ‘just so’ hinted at a self-depreciative side of James Murphy lurking underneath the cool exterior. It wouldn’t be surprising if this side of him is part of the underlying reason he is proclaiming the end is nigh for LCD Soundsystem. He certainly may feel that after three albums sitting as one of the most, if not the most creative of this genre, the aptitude for writing fresh electronic-funk will wane and the appreciation ebb away. This is, after all, something he has confessed is of crucial importance to his existence as a musical artist.

Then there’s the fact that LCD Soundsystem’s endless pursuit has been for ‘cool’, amongst their partying, gigging and drug-addled self examination. But in a recent a Guardian interview, James declared, “I suppose what happened is that I spent my whole life wanting to be cool, but eventually came to recognise the mechanism of how coolness works. So it’s not really that I don’t want to be cool any more – it’s more like I’ve come to realise that coolness doesn’t exist the way I once assumed.”

It’s a nice tautology really – the band hunts for the elements of coolness, they are seen as cool, but having matured, realise the parameters they originally set for what they thought was cool have changed.

A worthless pursuit? Emphatically no.

At Birmingham’s Academy, whether he and the band were or weren’t conscious of ‘cool’ being a present entity was beside the point – that’s never been what is really attractive about LCD Soundsystem’s music. There will always be people who like them because of what they represent, but in reality, no academic search for the holy grail of coolness has ever been the reason why they have sustained the intrigue and hype.

That was obvious at Birmingham’s Academy, because it was the effortless tightness and creativity which made them so sublime. They also have a knack for knowing in advance the ebb and fall of a crowd’s musical desires, so that no track which is played disappoints – on Monday that was no mean feat considering the already acute sense of occasion about the tour. But with a final album title declaring, This Is Happening, James Murphy must have known he was creating an amphitheatre-sized wave of expectation on which to ride LCD Soundsystem home on.

On Monday’s evidence, I hope for one of two things. Either that it has all been a cynical ploy to create hype in order to give them a shot at matching the success of Sound of Silver, which many will still believe can never be beaten. Or, Murphy will take a u-turn on his decision and begin again in 2011 following his recent conclusions about ‘cool’ and the proof a year of gigs will have given that there’s so much more left in that vintage Sennheiser mic of his.

1. Get Innocuous!
2. Us v Them
3. Daft Punk Is Playing At My House
4. Yr City’s a Sucker
5. Pow Pow
6. Drunk Girls
7. All My Friends
8. I Can Change
9. Tribulations
10. Movement
11. Yeah Play

Encore:
12. Someone Great
13. Losing My Edge
14. All I Want
15. New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

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The Joy Formidable @ Birmingham Academy 3 – Saturday 20 March 2010 – review

There’s been a swathe of interest over The Joy Formidable recently. The spotlight fell favourably on 2009’s A Balloon Called Moaning EP and ears definitely pricked up when the band were invited to support Passion Pit and Editors tours towards the end of the year.

Rhydian, Ritzy and Matt from The Joy Formidable

That meant there was a certain electricity and anticipation amongst the packed crowd in Birmingham’s Academy 3 on Saturday 20 March.

It would be easy for the weight of expectation to lie heavily on the shoulders of this Wales and London-based trio. Instead, with a barrage of drums and guitar reverb, they dissipated the tension and steamrollered into the set with ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’. With its signature three note riff, breathy vocals and the spiralling climb towards an epic change of pace at the close, it begged the question of whether the peak had been reached at the first fence. After all, the track is either an emphatic set closer or a very gutsy, almost arrogant opener.

‘Cradle’ – a short under three minute maelstrom of a song about keeping your tongue tied – followed, before gutsy drums, changes in pace and repeated lyrics hammered home ‘The Last Drop’. Many of the subtleties audible on the recording were drowned out live; a factor which would delight or disappoint depending on subjectivity. To this pair of ears, the wall of sound pleasingly filled the ear drums to almost bursting point.

‘Austere’, ‘Ostrich’ and ‘Whirring’ were served in a similar vein. TJF’s brand of epic shoegaze rock, delivered this time with a slower speed limit, offered time to appreciate the complex and brave way the band dispose with tradition in their lyrics.

Between tracks, Ritzy Bryan’s butter-wouldn’t-melt blonde hair, blue eyes and shy conversation starkly contrasted with her steely, glinting stare and robust, rangy vocals on each track.

With a long snare roll, ‘Magnifying Glass’ had its first introduction to a Birmingham crowd. ‘Anemone’ faired equally as well with it’s nod to a tried and tested TJF formula of tip toeing through the first half of the song, before encouraging the hairs on the neck to stand up during the second. But it was ‘Popinjay’s dig at foppish vanity that stood out as the most inventive of the new material, with a sawing guitar riff which ducked and dived in between the rumbling bass.

Whether intentional, the encore neatly balanced the blistering pace of ‘Greyhounds In The Slips’ with a stripped down version of ‘While The Flies’ – fittingly closing with one last blast of distortion.

On this evidence, TJF don’t appear to have noticed that the music world is waiting with baited breath to see whether their upcoming debut album to follow ‘A Balloon Called Moaning EP’ will fulfil promise. Maybe they’re just too busy enjoying the current ride, but it doesn’t look like they are nervous at all. Instead, they just channel their energy into getting better.

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New Young Pony Club @ Birmingham Academy 3 – Tuesday March 16 – review

New Young Pony Club

If it was nu-rave that loosely defined New Young Pony Club in 2007, Tuesday night’s gig at Birmingham’s Academy 3 packaged them up into a totally different box – a box from which they are producing music that is streets ahead of the easily consumed, image-conscious, indie electronica of their former counterparts.

They may have experienced a twinge of disappointment at the relatively low turnout. Perhaps word hadn’t filtered through to the Midlanders that NYPC had thrown off their shackles to transform into a seriously good, dark, funky electronic band with a 70s/80s post-punk bias.

First support, T3eth’s brand of disinterested techno Apple Mac infused indie did everything it could to damage the precious aural functions. Is Tropical favoured considerably better with a sound akin to Passion Pit without the rose-tinted spectacled view on life.

NYPC cleverly opened their set with latest single, Chaos – a song perfect to bridge their old sound with the new. Instantly, Tahita Bulmer’s stage persona gave warmth to her matter of fact semi-spoken lyrics.  This also benefited Fantastic Playroom’s Get Lucky and Ice Cream, making them appear less aloof than on record.

Hiding on the Staircase, The Bomb and Tight Fit were also served up from the debut. Live, they had a new sincerity and edginess but Tight Fit (and possibly The Get Go), with its glorious hook over synth loop would probably be the sole protagonist from the debut with enough quality to make The Optimist’s final cut.

It was NYPC’s new material which catalysed their audience’s reaction. Familiarity may have made the feet start to shuffle but it was The Optimist and Lost A Girl which suddenly made the band seem vital.  Without the double entendres, the songs have a new honesty and depth of feeling  and the New Order riffs, haunting harmonies, stop-start dancefloor rhythms and dead-pan Elastica delivery finally do the fivesome’s talents justice.

We Want To and Dolls were also deeply inhaled, but, as on the album, it was Stone’s pulsating keyboards, break beats and the wistful delivery of, “You’re stone, that’s what you are” that stunned.

The Get Go was probably the encore people hoped for, but it was the new material which endured in memory.

There is no doubt Tahita Bulmer is an engaging and assertive frontwoman who NYPC desperately need. On the night, her eagerness to involve the crowd softened her edgy asymmetric blonde haircut and fitted gold dress, which on their own may have encouraged judgement on her potential aloofness.

The ‘nu-rave’ NYPC of 2007 would have been shaken by the subdued crowd before them at the start of this gig. Thankfully through, the 2010 NYPC have a new and deeply rooted confidence in the quality of their darker, broodier brand of electronic funk, which saw them pull a rabbit out of the hat by transforming a static crowd to a dancing mass.

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