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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Ill Ease

Exeter Cavern, Exeter, 9 March 2007

Written by James Cook

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One thing is certain on listening to Swollen and Small; Viking Moses is utterly in love with Neutral Milk Hotel. He knows the songs inside out, for sale information pills upside down, and has grown up learning to play along with Jeff Mangum’s melancholic ponderings on life, the universe and everything.

This EP is a collection of four NMH covers, all played uniquely but strangely similar to the original tracks, with the emotion and devotion of a true disciple of the band he obviously so loves.

Having played with the rock stars of the alt-folk movement over the last five years (Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham, Cat Power), Moses has finally decided to do the self indulgent thing of strumming away his favourite songs for all to hear… And I’m damn happy that he did. It’s an interesting selection of songs he has decided to cover, three from the lesser known On Avery Island, and the dance floor filler Holland 1945 (from In the Aeroplane over the Sea), all of which are done justice.

Viking Moses has the same sort of off -beat, powerful and delicate voice as his idol and pulls off the long high drawn out notes in a wonderful, same-but-different manner from the originals. His rendition of Holland 1945 is truly spectacular, edging away from the rollicking, percussion driven original and opting for a quieter and all together gentler rendition which allows for the heartbreak of the lyrics to really come through.

It’s basically a one man and his guitar affair with occasional slide guitar and harmonica, percussion coming from the pounding of palm on guitar, working particularly well on Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone; a brilliant original and a worthy cover. As goes for the rest of the record.

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This debut single from hotly-tipped Cardiff students Los Campesinos! suffers from the same problem as past efforts from the very similar Leeds band The Research and Bristol-based Kid Carpet. Namely, more about the whole thing reeks of a kind of contrived wackiness. I’m all for simple pop – The Ramones, shop for instance – but there’s simple pop and then there’s children’s music, and this – so sugary and kooky, veers towards the latter. And yes, the Americans say “math” – how amusing.

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The press release for this EP not only offers the terrifying prospect of a “jazz flute” but also the use of something called a “shlang dan”. Thankfully, purchase the prospect of a muso jamming session – high on fannying about, viagra sale low on actual tunes – fails to materialise. That’s not to say, however, that Born Ruffians are particularly tuneful – they’re not. They play an ultimately frustrating kind of country rock reminiscent of Neil Young at his most MOR. What’s more, Luke LaLonde’s singing voice is so whiny it makes the vocals of infinitely annoying Clap Your Hands Say Yeah front man Alec Ounsworth sound like Johnny Cash.

If you weren’t sure with the term ‘neon done well’, pill this could have been your crash course. If you mix ‘indie’ and ‘rave’ apparently this is the uniform! Brilliant, price I got given three glow bracelets from an almost-nuclear guy at the bar. That’ll do nicely.

We’d missed New Young Pony Club – very annoyed about that – so The Sunshine Underground were our first. I wouldn’t have quite put them on this tour anyway and they didn’t exactly win me over. Maybe it was just the wrong place at the wrong time or the fact that it was just too loud! It felt like they were saying ‘Hey, more about notice this! We’re gonna rattle your bones from the inside and knock ‘em out!’. Unfortunately not really any need, their arrogance turned us to the queue at the bar.

However, CSS were next. Oh my god, talk about stage presence, this band have the lot. They started with CSS Suxxx and jumped around in oversized t-shirts with the letters to spell out the songs title, awesome.

You could tell they were completely comfortable, incredibly sexy and very well dressed, if just a touch strange. Love Foxxx revealed (what can only be described as) a massive amount of leather strips sewn on the back of her top like a curtain to the store cupboard in a shop. I think all the females took note and wanted to copy this idea, including me! CSS absolutely got Hammersmith Palais sweaty, the amount of dancing around and finger pointing was immense. Love Foxxx can strut her stuff and I could sense absolutely everyone fancied her, even the girls. Truly great indie/rave.

Then the strobe lighting started, the coloured lights began whirling – the Klaxons were coming on. The stage became lit up with people throwing their ‘glow’ on stage. Dressed in skinny red jeans, hair in the face so they couldn’t possibly see and a give-a-shit attitude, made the Klaxons deserved headliners. My god and was this last hour going to be good!

Picture this, a crowd shouting and screaming trying to sing la-la-laaa, dj oh-oh-ohhhh and oooooooooooh to the point where we all lost our voices. Now that’s what you want. Utterly fantastic, loved every jump off the amp/strut across the stage/abuse of instruments. They had such a good time, an encore was out of the question and guitars got dropped, smashed and bits thrown into the crowd.

Still all four bands came back on and did a Sunshine Underground track and the Klaxons cover of ‘It’s not over yet’ when it actually was. How cruel. Respect for looking like it was all the bands best night of their lives and come to think of it, it was probably ours too.

For such a corporate shindig, physician other than a banner draped over the back of stage, there is little to suggest that either Xfm or Vodafone have taken much interest in their endorsement of this event. Given the eclectic line-up at this sold-out ‘festival’, all feels somewhat subdued… OMG!!! “Donny! Peaches!”…

Hello Dartz! Hello 2007! Having previously had a habit of ambling their way through sets, with the release of debut long-player This Is My Ship imminent, the Teeside three-piece have honed their performance somewhat. Though there is no doubting that the Q And Not U comparisons are apt, they bring more than just Dischord‘s leftovers to the table. Guitarist Henry Carden looks captivatingly awkward on stage alongside his two assured bandmates, as they bark call-and-response lyrics at one another. But as the band occasionally have the habit of sounding as if on the verge of descending into an indulgent thrash, there’s the sense to revert back to sanctity of Carden’s jerky harmonics. There is no denying the stop-start formula to their finest moments (‘Prego Triangolos‘ ‘Once, twice, again!‘ ‘St Petersburg‘) have been abused by their contemporaries heavily before, but Dartz have the charm to help us ignore this.

After years of cutting/grating socio-analytical ramblings from Alex Turner and the like, The Horrors are pure pantomime. They take to the stage; backs lurched, eyes encrusted, sporting their standard gothic-Dickensian-outcast-chic. Faris Rotter, along with his posse of Sunday supplement darlings, has pulled the largest crowd of the day so far, but leave all fairly bewildered/bored with the set opener; minute after minute of what transpires to be their attempt at avant-garde rumblings rather than what, at first, seemed their sound-check.

Eventually, after this politely applauded introduction, something resembling a tune appears in the form of Jack the Ripper: turgid, trite and tripe. Arched over the crowd, Rotter holds some presence and enigma, but whilst Sheena Was A Parasite, Count in Fives and Death At The Chapel appear adored by the mop-haired aficionados at the front, it all seems a little vacuous. There is no doubt that with Little Man Tate storming the charts that a backlash on such blunt social commentaries is bound, but there is something crass about the cover-boy knife-wielding farce that The Horrors represent.

Starkly contrasting are Brakes. With all so far struggling to shake free of the mark left by their contemporaries, they provide something regarding new territory to stand upon. With the more sophomore efforts on The Beatific Visions abandoned in favour of their trademark absurdist country-punk, Eamon Hamilton is capable of crowing captivatingly through a set. In fact, to the extent that ‘doing the Spring Chicken’ makes perfect sense. Whereas a year ago their sets relied too heavily on the over-in-a-minute delights of Give Blood, they now have a depth of material to abuse. Though, that said, set-closer, Comma Comma Comma Full Stop, is seven seconds of marvellous self-deprecation.

The Blood Brothers have so heavily drenched the pages of the regular desktop music magazines recently that there is little to say on the raucous Seattle brats that has not been already. For those unfamiliar with the genre-dodging darlings, minds are made up fairly immediately, sprawling hardcore riddims with Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney rasping at one another. The standardised thirty minute sets for the day mean the performance is short and brutal. It suits them. Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck. Curtain Down. Some have danced, some have left, all are exposed.
Rhys Jones has a delivery that sounds somewhere between Frank Black and a fat-tongued child trying to rap. But the clumsy nature to Good Shoes is part of what makes them essential. Rants about being a “talented artist, but my heart’s not into it” are the delusional babblings that have allowed the band to dilly-dally on the release of their debut album and evade diminishing public interest. Instead, all swill their dull tasting four pound lager and indulge in their post-punk-lite offerings with delight. Although having a penchant for childhood nostalgia, this often masks the blunt neurosis that Good Shoes so effectively document. As Jones splutters through ‘Nazanin’, it seems that, despite ambling along the way, they have never sounded quite so sharp and perceptive.

Also performed were a sequin-coated sugarsnack Patrick Wolf, now defunct Million Dead associate Frank Turner, and standard ‘tipped poll 2007′ Scots Dananananaykroyd. But that’s for another time, dharlings.

Gracious me?! I’ve been to The Water Rats a fair few times in the past, hospital but the buzz tonight is similar to touching the third rail if you know what I mean. Not only are the mighty antipodean Wolf&Cub gracing the stage, information pills but also the boy wonders Voxtrot.

The four piece Wolf&Cub are known for a rather peculiar style of psychedelic stoner rock that harks back to the old days of denim clad, stomach blues infuced rockers such as Cream whilst having the energy and modernity of QOTSA. Forcing my way through the be-leathered throng of waif like indie boys and skinny jeaned girls, I hear one kid utter the words ‘These guys are like the Wolfmother it’s Ok to like’.

Granted the gent is a touch off with his observation (especially as Wolfmother haven’t got two drummers) but the sentiment is right. Tracks like This Mess and Rozalina Bizarre exemplify their Stone Age on acid swagger. Other tracks swung in a different direction such as the title track from their new album Vessels that throbbed for an age before transforming into a multilayered meander through bass heavy riffs that rocks one feels deep in ones sternum whilst the boys bound about the stage like drunken dandies.

The sweats dripping down the walls as they whip up a devils storm of a frenzy. Really, you know when a band’s doing a good job when girls are screaming mid song and the boys are unsuccessfully attempting to do that pogo/mosh hybrid, jumping and getting stuck midair by the tide of people. Brilliant.

The dance floor is the fullest it has been in months. Some of the most trying sets of supporting local acts appear; which clumsily consists of a couple of bands who include ex-members of each other. The night plays a bit like an indie-popera, viagra dosage with awkward confrontation and awkward performances. Members of Foals intersperse within the audience, click inhaling the familiar scene and mingling with old friends missed on tour. When they finally assemble themselves on stage and begin to play, it’s as if the entire night had been suffering without electricity and someone had suddenly flipped the switch.

Jack at drums is the first to ignite the spark, and the kids contaminating the first few rows make everyone else look old as they dance like there’s no tomorrow. The anxious quake of Foals’ collective stage presence and intricate brand of rock disco carefully correspond to one another, the result exposes itself like a well-kept mechanical music machine, tinkering with endless energy. From Hummer to Two Steps Twice, kids know all the words, as they fanatically scream each and every one of them at each other back at Yannis without fail. It’s not all that clear whether Yannis intends to scream or actually sing the words, but it doesn’t matter. Either way, it just works. Foals’ signature stratification of radical, hands-off guitar flights and infectious beats fly with indestructible force. It’s fantastic really, how perfectly the seemingly erratic layers of Foals’ frantic form of keenly organic yet accessible indie-pop seamlessly assemble like strategically scattered puzzle pieces. Welcome home, Foals.

There was hype about tonight. Maximo Park were in London again, this armed with new songs from the new album and man were they desperate to play them. They had brought along a grand little crew of Blood Red Shoes, order Hot Club De Paris and !!! (pronounced chk chk chk). Butterflies were flapping around in my stomach. But because the night started so early, decease the first band we actually saw were second band on, Hot Club De Paris.

Forget barbershop style a capella, this was vicious, rude and something you wouldn’t want your mum to hear playing from your room. Hot Club were here. They didn’t move much so three lads to fill the Astoria’s stage became quite a challenge. Besides, it didn’t really matter, with a song claiming ‘sometimes it’s better not to stick bits of each other in each other’ I think the crowd just appreciated the wrongness of the themes of their songs.

The stage then became too full, as !!! boasts an eight strong band all with massive amounts of instruments including two drum kits. This always amazes me! They really were amazing. I liked how the singer kept running off to the stages edge to hug the security man. Sweet, for such a terrifyingly loud band of guys. They really paced, danced and threw themselves across the stage whilst absolutely focused on playing a mixture of warped noises and hit-you-in-the-face lyrics. A real mish-mash of sounds and great dancing from the singer, they looked like they were truly happy to be there and just hanging out on the Astoria’s massively overwhelming stage.

Maximo Park must have been bricking it when it was their turn! So with Hot Club and now Maximo Park, the northern singing voice had become a real comfort to hear the accent in their voices, maybe I’m biased because I’m a northern? Maybe. However, looking handsome all dressed in black and the singer in a bowler hat, Maximo Park kicked off with a new one Girls That Play Guitar.

The set ran with a new then an old then a new, so a real mix up. Went down a treat! The backdrop was a full coverage of twinkling lights, not girly and pretty, but full on and atmospheric. Every so often you’d capture the silhouette of Paul Smith jumping off the amp with the outline of their last album cover A Certain Trigger. I guess you could call this his trademark. Great to see them at last. The crowd seemed a little unsure of the new material but I put it down to not being able to belt out lyrics such as ‘I’ll do graffiti, if you sing to me in French’.

Fantastic night, hours of noise and epic finish. Maximo Park seemed excited to be back out in the thick of it and that they certainly are. Fight your way to the tour bus guys, have a feeling your not going to sneak off quietly!

The night didn’t get off to a great start. Nothing to do with the band, generic we hadn’t even made it there yet – oven chips just take too long! The time you want something to run late like usual, it just doesn’t. Still, we were about to board a pirate ship, otherwise known as Borderline. It just reminded me of one. Wooden entrance, everyone crammed into the dark pit in the basement, if only there was a gangplank! I’ll give the ship idea a rest, I accept I’m probably alone on that one.

After pushing to the front with a pint in tow, we were amazed by how packed the stage was with young people and a huge variety of instruments. Six people, two drum kits, three guitars, plus many names for instruments that escape me, sorry! I’m talking about the one that looks like a wind chime? Anyway, they were half way through their set and to say the least, their swapping and changing of instruments impressed me. As if one wasn’t enough to master?!

With lyrics like “they’ve got magic crawling out their ass” you’re gonna like them instantly. They played with such conviction and had more enthusiasm than a kid at Christmas. I liked the fact that the lead guitarist spent most of the time playing superbly whilst kneeling on the dirty floor and the singer spontaneously hitting a drum incredibly hard. I just wish we’d got there earlier. This band were putting in so much effort and doing it so well, I felt rude we’d missed the start.

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Bryan Ferry covering Dylan… Sounds awful doesn’t it. After all, pilule Dylan has been covered countless times before, and save a few notable exceptions (Hendrix and The Byrds), they have all been rather pointless and unnecessary. A whole album of Dylan covers by the frontman of Roxy Music then is sure to follow suit. Not quite.

Having been on the drawing board for more than 30 years, Ferry conceived this project in 1973 – the offering here escapes the tag of ‘cash-in’ without question. Thankfully in large parts it is rather enjoyable. This is aided largely by Ferrys left field song selection. Yes, he predictably includes All Along The Watchtower and Knockin’ On Heavens Door, but elsewhere there are some unexpected gems.

To start, the records great strength is that at no point throughout does Ferry attempt to sound like Dylan. Ferry’s ambition here is exemplified by the notable effort to make these songs his ‘own’ and add fresh impetus to Dylan’s own lavished work. The instances when his approach works are really very enjoyable, and when they don’t it is forgivable.

It is a pleasant record to listen too – as to be expected with such great songs, but Ferry manages to avoid slipping into ‘middle of the road laziness’ in the large part. Take for example his rendition of Gates Of Eden – an aggressive Dylan vocal is transformed into a brilliantly understated story-telling. The lyrical emphasis, crucial to the songs depth however is not lost. Rather reclaimed.

Definite highlight is Positively 4th Street. Such a brutal, bitter song in Dylans hands, Ferry allows for a much somber tone and the overall mood shifts from attack to semi-apology. At times there is a sense of despair and even mourning even as Ferry reinvigorates and redefines it radically. If nothing else, this allows for a lasting legacy that should be celebrated.

Other works of note include Simple Twist Of Fate from the excellent Blood On The Tracks. Again Ferry offers an alternative version that is both interesting and worthwhile. This time electing to add energy and bite to a rather sedate Dylan track. It works very well, and is one of four or five standout tracks on offer. The lyrics take on a different meaning in this light.

Of course there are some dull moments. Ferry’s take on All I Really Want To Do and The Times They are A-Changing are complete misfires and it is a shame that they clutter up an otherwise enjoyable record.

In the main part though, this is a worthy release and there are a number of triumphs that are unexpected and all the more pleasurable for it. Ferry creates moments that add depth and dimension to the work he is covering, and though the record is nowhere near perfect the fact that so many positives can be taken from it is a worthy achievment in itself.

Since receiving the coveted Phillip Hall Radar Award at the 2006 NME award’s, information pills the progress of these Sheffield starlets has been rather rapid. April saw them sign to the ever so cool Rough Trade Records, information pills a string of festival appearances followed before immense critical acclaim greeted their debut long player release Someone To Drive You Home’ in November. The record has spawned three top forty hits already and thanks to new video Giddy Stratospheres the sex symbol status of front-woman Kate Jackson secured.

A three night stint supporting the inexplicably huge Kaiser Chiefs for some sold out dates then, appears perfectly timed. Tonight, The Long Blondes do not disappoint, far from it. They offer a master class in no nonsense, brilliantly realised edgy pop in a set that bristles and fizzes with energy for its duration. It is captivating from start to finish.

Proceedings begin with album opener, the punky Lust In The Movies. With Jackson clad in some of her most provocative get-up, she appropriately informs us that she knows “all about Lust et cetra” before revealing that deep down she just wants to be a sweetheart. Thankfully she convinces on both the ‘femme fatale’ and ‘girl next door fronts’, and as a set-opener it is perfect.

Further hits follow. Once and Never Again arrives surprisingly early (just the third song in), and is all the more refreshing for its early inclusion. Impossibly catchy on record, Jackson squeezes new life out of the lyrics in this domain, and a slightly more grungier guitar line adds bite and depth.

New single Giddy Stratospheres is executed with aplomb, but one of the two set highlights comes in the rather overlooked album track Swallow Tattoo. Frantic guitar intro, hooks a plenty, lyrics about Gin and a gloriously ascending chorus that is perfect for Jackson’s voice combine to demonstrate everything that is wonderful about the Long Blondes. Its all over in under three minutes too.

The final highlight is set closer Separated By Motorways. Bass heavy, the songs slightly dreary subject matter is of little consequence here as a three way female vocal chorus rouses and the overwhelming mood, appropriately, is of celebration. It is a fitting way to end, and like all great bands should do, The Long Blondes leave you with a feeling of wanting more.

Unfortunately, as tends to be the problem with gigs of this nature, the excellence of The Long Blondes performance was lost on the large majority of tonight’s audience, with many of them preferring to shout into one another’s ears in between return visits to the bar rather than watch the band. Their loss. In light of such poor audience participation, tonights performance appears even more remarkable.

It is hard not to be excited about The Long Blondes. On tonight’s evidence they could be anything they want to be.

Tokyo Police Club are like the little brother that’s just caught wind of what you were doing six months ago. Angular guitars? Check. Synths? Check. An impish keyboard player that jumps around like the bloke from The Automatic? Double check. And the crowd felt awkward because of it. Been there, health done that, shop got the Canadian flag nailed to your T-shirt.

Even the kitsch banners the three held felt more like, story “sorry, we have to do this”, rather than “we’re just a couple of kooky kids” (no pun intended). But little brothers could always learn from your mistakes, and Tokyo Police Club seem to do it better than their indie brethren in 2006. But the crowd, oh the mercy. To blag your knowledge of this ‘hot-new-Canadian band’, to then stand completely comatose throughout the short, sharp set was either an act of defiance or statement of stupidity. You paid to be here!

But idiotic musos aside, the Canadian quartet will be a success this year, because they make music you can dance to and feel slightly guilty about. Even if you are trying to impress the person next to you.

The Cold War Kids headlined with their Christian rock sensibility; mainly alcoholism, bad parenting and rotting in hospital beds. But my my, do they make it sound good. Lead singer Nathan Willett sits quietly in the corner on piano, acknowledging the crowd between his soulful renditions of Quiet Please and Hang Me Out To Dry. While bassist Matt Maust patrolled the front of the stage glaring at the crowd, I think he was pissed off at their performance during Cold War Kids. The four conjured a depth and atmosphere that Tokyo Police Club wouldn’t think of. But then again, dancing to songs about walking out on your kids seems a bit weird.

There was a game associated with John Peel’s old Radio 1 show which involved putting a series of entirely unrelated words into a hat, pilule picking them out at random, sale and then announcing (in your best middle-class Liverpudlian) – say – “that was Grass Lamppost, this is off the new EP from Hedgehog Motorbike.” So then, to The Pigeon Detectives.

There have been two significant bands from the Leeds area in recent years. One, The Cribs, the British band of the decade, the closest thing we have to The Ramones. The other are currently touring lower division football stadiums, droning on about a girl called Ruby. The Pigeon Detectives could potentially, combine the keep-it-simple pop-sensibility of the former with the mass-appeal of the latter. (The Cribs, for some reason, have about as much mass-appeal as existential German cinema.)

The Yorkshiremen stride confidently onstage to Roy Orbison’s Drove All Night and tear into set-opener You Know I Love You. They look like The Fratellis only ten years younger. They sound a bit like The Fratellis only far less shit. “You know I love you, take off your clothes” sings Matt Bowman – in just one line, a more candid appropriation of about 80% of pop lyrics, ever.

A note on the venue: For the uninitiated, the magnificent Thekla is an old iron ship, docked in the Bristol harbour. It cannot be stressed enough how outstanding the acoustics are in the place, the walls are made of iron; it’s partially under water. For sound quality alone this must be the worlds best venue – clear as a bell and loud as fuck. I Found Out is a Coxon-ish lament about a girl going out with someone else; I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye sounds like The Libs on five fruit and veg a day; and current single Romantic Type brings to mind the slightly chilling prospect of an emo Blur. Thankfully, set-closer – and song of the night I’m Not Sorry takes us back to The Cribs – a band The Pigeon Detectives could do with copying more, not less. If we want a post-Strokes Supergrass – and I’m not entirely sure that we need one – but if we want one, these could be it.

It would be a very easy to misjudge Ill Ease as being somehow, generic ‘dark.’ After all there’s the repetitive lo-fi riffs, medicine the slightly grubby lyrics (“let me sit on your face/take off my panties/take off your underwear”) and the whole 80′s Seattle grunge vibe thing going on. But after a performance like tonight it becomes clear that this would be to pigeonhole an act that is much more, playfully dirty. What we get tonight is damn sleazy, slightly bluesy, sub-poppy, androgynous sex music. Kinda like what would happen if The Kills met Winnebago Deal and convinced them to try make up, and make better music.

As a solo performer Elizabeth Sharp (aka Ill Ease) is somewhat compelling. Most of the songs start with her playing and recording a guitar riff into one of the dozen or so pedals and boxes laid out in front of her. This is then looped while she sits at the drum-kit and sings. In effect the intensity of the drumbeats regulates the music while the guitar in turn becomes the rhythm section. It’s an interesting concept and at times works rather well. The riffs are simple enough to become hypnotic while her drumming (clearly her preferred and most accomplished skill) is fascinatingly quirky.
If this all sounds a little pretentious then nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed there seems to be a quietly acknowledged rejection of this. She spends the whole gig with a nervous, childlike smile plastered over her face and announces at one point: “This is a political song. Not like Sunday Bloody Sunday. More like when you have two parties and can’t figure out which one to go to…”.

She reels you in with her own enthusiasm. She gets the crowd to clap along and offers out tambourines at one point. All told, it’s a welcome break from the vaulting ambitions of other bands with their posturing pretence of personality and purpose. You get the feeling she really is content just being able to play her songs to people, and that’s pretty refreshing.

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