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gig reviews - sep-dec 08


 
 

The Emperor Machine + The Week That Was
19.12.08 - Camden Koko

The Emperor Machine are three polite gentlemen from Staffordshire. One of them has a guitar, and looks an awful lot like James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. The other two have drums and keyboards and little black plastic things that go “plink” and “bong”. They’ve borrowed some bits from Daft Punk, other bits from Justice and maybe even some bits from Kraftwerk. They’ve been remixed by Simian Mobile Disco, but despite such illustrious company, there’s something missing. Oh, I remember – tunes. It’s all very well being an instrumental band, but in that case you’d better have a blistering set of songs. That’s not to say that they don’t have potential – the guitar work is neat, the keyboards suitably fat and dirty and the drumming precise. But these emperors desperately need some new clothes.

Field Music were one of those bands who never quite got the recognition they deserved. They were a truly brilliant proposition, but they are – to all intents and purposes – no more. However that hasn’t stopped their members from going on to produce equally exciting music with other people. One of David Brewis’ current projects is writing and playing with prog-popsters The Week That Was.

You can always tell something special is going to happen when you see a roadie wheeling a xylophone on stage. Brewis spends at least ten minutes intently adjusting the tuning knobs on his guitar. Then suddenly they’re off – it’s all angular beats, unexpected twists and turns; choruses that start and stop, then start again. On record, there’s about ten musicians involved, but in a live environment TWTW are stripped back to a four piece (albeit four people who swap instruments like it’s an Olympic sport).

The Good Life hits the spot midway between Mr Hudson and The Library and the Futureheads. And it’s a rather nice spot, thank you very much. Scratch The Surface sounds a little bare compared to its complexity on their self-titled album, but the quality of the performance is so good that this is quickly forgotten.

It’s rare to notice just how good a band sounds on a live stage. The normal process of “plug in, turn up to 11, play, storm off looking miserable” isn’t at play here. Koko must be a dream venue to play, not just for its stunning decor but also its brilliant acoustics. The drums sound fresh and are compressed to breaking point. Every note of every guitar riff cuts through, while keyboards provide a lush backing. Bass is pushed right to the front of the sound, and is all the better for it.

There are often so many ideas crammed into each track it’s tough to keep up (Emperor Machine – take note). Melodies sprout up in unexpected places, then suddenly career off in new directions – it’s like we’re listening to the inside of Brewin’s head, a stream-of-consciousness via fretless bass. But like all the best bands, patience and repeated listening reap rich rewards. You’re unlikely to hear more genuinely innovative pop this year. They’re challenging, thrilling and intoxicating in equal measure. Highly recommended for fans of The Cure, At The Drive In and other XTC-esque brain fodder.

Chris Moffatt

 
 

A Place to Bury Strangers + Ten Kens
5.12.08 - Leeds Cockpit

Tonight’s Torontonian support band, Tens Kens, begin by announcing that this is their first tour outside of Canada. The band seem to be enthusiastic about the novelty of playing in a new country, and this is also apparent from their performance. The overall sound is not as impressive as it could have been; the vocals are lost slightly among the sound of the guitars. ‘Spanish Fly’ and debut single ‘Bearfight’ are heard amongst the set, with the intensely rhythmic ‘Refined’ and its incredible organ introduction being saved for the last part of the performance. An engaging, distinctive and simply enjoyable show, Ten Kens can’t return soon enough.

A Place to Bury Strangers begin by playing their first couple of songs in the dark. This could be artistic prerogative, or it could just be that the projector isn’t working. It transpires that it is the latter, and eventually the band are being accompanied by swirling projections. The start of the set is just a noisy sluggish barrier of sound, with the guitars and bass again consuming any vocals or higher parts. Mid-way through the set things become clearer: melodies and fascinatingly precise rhythms can be heard, and it no longer feels as though the audience is drowning in noise. A Place to Bury Strangers have reportedly been named the loudest band in New York, and the end of tonight’s performance seems intent on proving this. While bright white lights are flashed in the direction of the audience, the instruments gradually become louder and louder, adding more and more layers until they reach an unbearable and cacophonous wall of noise. It is a thunderously forceful set and feels like a visual and aural assault. Watching the band is undoubtedly an experience and they give an unforgettable performance, but it is possibly not memorable for the right reasons.

Yasmin Prebble

 
 

Blessed By A Broken Heart
5.12.08 - ULU, London

A cold wet night in central London was about to be filled with electric energy because Blessed By A Broken Heart had rolled into town. With the queue stretching round the corner of ULU it was set to be a great night.

The first band to grace the stage was the UK’s own Fei Comodo and with great enthusiasm they launched into their frantic set. Front man Marc Halls was full of life from the start using every inch of the stage including the PA speakers. With a whole hearted performance Fei Comodo clearly won over some new fans tonight, including Blessed By A Broken Heart who joined them on stage for a couple of songs.

What happened next was a bit of shock to everyone. The audience was expecting Devil’s Gift to appear onstage, but instead it was just vocalist Lennon and a piano. She went on to explain that her band had abandoned her to go back to the US so she thought she would continue the tour herself! As she put it ‘I’m going to be getting drunk and telling stories’. It was hard for her to keep the crowd’s attention after such an energetic start and although it was a very courageous effort, once it was over most people were very thankful.

Then all of a sudden a cloud of smoke covered the stage as I Am Ghost exploded into action. Playing at a blistering pace, they seemed to have boundless energy. They clearly knew how to entertain a crowd, playing up to them at every opportunity. When I Am Ghost played ‘Don’t wake up’ from their new album, the crowd really got going for the first time during the night, singing the chorus back to the band. Front man Steve Juliano was leading the band in every action and even started a ‘fuck’ chant to really get the crowd on his side, also instructing them to make chaos in front of him. With catchy vocals, blasting drums and screaming guitars you can’t help but enjoy the I Am Ghost live show.

After that here was a sweeping guitar solo and this signalled the arrival of Blessed By A Broken Heart. Powering straight into ‘She wolf’ the energy level picked up and the crowd really started to kick off. With a laser light and platforms for guitarists you knew from the beginning this was going to be one hell of a show. With hardly any respite they continued their onslaught of a set. There was great crowd interaction and front man Tony Gambino was like a ring-leader telling the crowd exactly what to do. At one point he even led an on stage work out! The platforms on stage were aimed to emphasise the talent of their guitarists - it wasn’t just a performance from Blessed By A Broken Heart, it was a show of talents. With each beat down bringing more and more carnage, they closed the set with ‘Move your body’ which did get the bodies flying in the pit and off the stage. Once again a cloud of smoke covered the stage before Blessed By A Broken Heart re-emerged to perform ‘Mic Skillz 2’ which ended with utter chaos and almost half the crowd up on stage with the band.

It may have been a cold damp night out side but inside ULU those who experienced Blessed By A Broken Heart had just experienced one of the most entertaining live bands and no matter what the weather, people couldn’t help but leave the venue with a smile on their faces.

Tim Birkbeck

 
 

The Kills + XX Teens
19.11.08 - The Junction, Cambridge

Some bands have songs to rely on and unfortunately others simply have gimmicks. Freezing on stage for a good five minutes and acting as statues at least saved the audience another five minutes of listening to XX Teens’ sub-standard Fall inspired tunes. Things improve slightly but surely a band with little substance to show for their self perceived coolness.

Opening with a pulsating ‘URA Fever’, The Kills appear to have lost none the electrifying chemistry that first gripped music lovers’ attention over five years ago. Never feeling as if they are only a duo due to their stage presence and first-rate rock star poses, songs from all three albums are evenly distributed throughout their action-packed set. Despite their recent changes in sound the songs sit well together with a consistent fevered intensity. ‘Fried My Little Brains’ and ‘Superstition’ sound as fresh as they did when ‘Keep on Your Mean Side’ first appeared. An explosive ‘Cheap and Cheerful’ leaves the audience fearing for anything slightly flammable near the stage as The Kills roll on at a relentless pace, while still affording time to regularly acknowledge the crowd. Encoring with a stunning cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes,’ The Kills have lost none of their magic and there is still so much substance to their cool.

Mark Whiffin

 
 

Asobi Seksu
21.11.08 - Shepherds Bush Empire

In these difficult financial times I’ve decided to help as best I can by providing two reviews for the price of one. Bargain!

The glass half full review
The Shepherds Bush Empire is a grand venue, and no mistake. Large and imposing, it could easily be intimidating for a four piece support act, but Asobi Seksu took to the stage and owned it for the duration of their set. All their songs were re-tooled for the live performance, whilst and tracks such as Strawberries and Me and Mary were belted out, accompanied by a dazzling light show; the usual strobes and coloured light projections, but also an enchanting blue and orange fairy light display, the orange lights creeping up the singers mike stand, creating a simple, yet magical effect. The percussion was upped to the max, and Yuki even abandoned her mike for the apocalyptic finale to freak out on the drums.

The glass half empty review
Aside from odd moments, such as the (immensely tall) bass player ‘sawing’ with his guitar, or Yuki going crazy with her bells and head-banging, the band were very static. This in itself may not have been a problem, but combined with the terrible sound mix, which served to bury Yuki’s ethereal vocals under the avalanche of percussion, it was difficult to get into the performance. The bands lyrics are in both English and Japanese but you’d have been hard-pressed to work out which was which as you could barely hear the singer. As a consequence, even though the venue was nearly full, there wasn’t any atmosphere created, and most people were sitting/standing still, even though the band had obviously restructured their songs to get everyone going. Even the finale, where they pulled out all the stops, failed to inspire excitement in the crowd. Maybe it was too little too late. A real pity, as they are a great band who’d obviously put a lot of thought into their music, but their lack of dynamism on stage and the technical issues (which, to be fair, weren’t their fault) meant that this performance was a disappointment.

Matt Latham

 
 

Volcano! + Canaveral
16.11.08 - The Portland Arms, Cambridge

A cold and damp Cambridge on a subdued Sunday night leaves little clue as to how the night will end.

Nestled around a roaring fire, a small crowd of gig goers eagerly await the music room doors opening and while away time watching Top Gear. As is sometimes the way, the support band have had to cancel at very short notice, leaving little time to find a replacement. Into the void have stepped Canaveral, Cambridge’s open (super) group. Despite tonight operating in slimmed down duo form, they as ever seem determined to never allow two of their sets to be even vaguely similar. Spoken word records are spun accompanied by all sorts of distortion, noises and beats entrancing a small but appreciative audience.

Volcano! don’t mess around and are soon on stage raring to play. Dashings of falsetto and fun are mixed in equal portion throughout their set. Stories are shared between songs but the band remains tight and focused, mixing soulful vocals with plenty of ever changing rhythms. ‘Africa Just Wants to Have Fun’ gets the hips in the room shaking and the heads nodding rhythmically. Closing their set with a stunning Otis Redding cover seems the perfect end to a fantastic show. Let’s hope they don’t leave it so long before touring again next time.

Mark Whiffin

 
 

Peggy Sue and The Pirates +Alessi's Ark +Daniel Meins
17.11.08 - Bristol The Cooler

'The Poet Daniel Meins' says the gig poster. I've seen it done before, performing writers opening for live bands, and apparently Derek Meins did start off in a more performance-oriented setting. Things are moving on a bit though, and poetry takes a back seat to some proper rockabilly, which Meins rattles out on his held-together-with-masking-tape semi-acoustic. He asks Rosa from Peggy Sue to join him onstage for a song (a recurring theme throughout this evening), and this provides both a fulsome introduction to the Peggy Sue experience and gives Meins own mateial a bit of a boost, transforming him from Soho beat poet into mockney music hall adventurist, reminding me that when I most memorably saw performing writers opening a gig, the headliners were a dimly-remembered London quartet called the Libertines.
See Derek Meins and some of his friends in action here:
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=lrvNgl7vozc

Alessi's Ark are Alessi Laurent-Marke and a keyboardist. Alessi herself is an engaging sight, draped in hippyesque robes and with gallons of hair which Alessi gives the impression of only recently having learned not to hide behind. She strikes a chord on her guitar and is instantly transformed into an accomplished singer-songwriter, whose struggles with her instrument - asking the audience at one point if her guitar is too loud - are doubtlessly ending as both the quality of her songwriting and the strength of her voice carry her over what seems like something of a trial for an equally precocious and fragile talent. Peggy Sue's percussionist Olly joins Alessi onstage for one song, and she loudly thanks her friend Fran for turning up while appearing to forget the lyrics to the second from last song of her set and while she is still ironing out the glitches in her performing style, Alessi appears to posess a wisdom beyond her years and is a definite one to watch in 2009. 0r 2010.
See the video for 'The Horse' here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_qoqmzvaSAI

Tonight's headliners though. Practically the entire audience is comfortably seated onthe floor of the Cooler as Peggy Sue and the Somethings( the Pirate part of the band name is apparently under discussion) make their way onto the stage and we are in for a bit of a treat, really. Rosa Rex taps out rhythms on a succession of toy instruments (that was an old tin cash register wasn't it?) while Katy Klaw's guitar feeds back and Olly's washboard glistens in the darkened surrounds of the Cooler. They may have begun life as a folk act but time has worked its spell upon these feckless waifs and they are now doing it solely for their own amusement, regardless of whether there's an audience present. Rosa thumps a tambourine, Katy picks at her strings, Olly taps a pair of drumsticks as the songs get ever more personalised but really, the combination of enthusiasm and mildly bonkers subject matter - depressed superheroes, cannibals, a Missy Elliot cover that collapses in a fit of giggles - combined with the seemingly endless collection of band instruments make for a shambolic and gloriously inspired 25 or so minutes of amateur skiffle dramatics. Alessi joins them onstage for one number, kneeling on the stage to provide backing vocals, it being her last night as part of the tour, and everyone goes home friends.
See Peggy SUE http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=7bIQYqpA6d4&feature=related

Jon Gordon

 
 

Florence and the Machine
30.10.08 - Bush Hall, London

Sit down, open the pad, can't find the pen, get up, scramble around the kitchen drawers for any kind of writing implement. The pen may be mightier than the sword but you don't tend to forget where you left a sword.
Find a pencil. Feeling like i've achieved something go back to sitting down, pencil doesn't work, spot the aforementioned pen right in front of me. Now we're away.

Get out my notes.

Florence and The Machine - Bush Hall.

I have underlined the words Bush and Hall. Maybe I should write in my review something about how nice the venue is.
Look at my bullet points.
Great voice (sounds Italian/Croatian at times - find out where she's from)
The guitarist looks familiar.
Domestic Violence.
Show(wo)manship.
Girl With One Eye.


So, lets start from the top. Florence and the Machine is the musical project of Florence Welch. I don't know where she's from but with a surname like that she's not going to be from Italy or Croatia like I thought she was. Welch. Maybe she's welsh; the Welsh are always going on about what good singers they are, aren't they. And they can back it up with exhibits A, B and C, Tom Jones and his lovechildren Aled & Kelly. Florence's guitarist also plays with Lightspeed Champion who I saw at a few of the festivals this year so that solves that one nicely, because I was starting to think that he might have been my second-cousin. Domestic Violence is something you shouldn't do because as the the government ads tell us, "it's wrong". It's also the subject of Florence's most well known song Kiss With A Fist. When she was playing that song I started to think that maybe I fancied her a bit, but then I realised she would kick seven shades of the proverbial out of me for leaving the toilet seat up and it would never work out. Shame.

On the subject of Show(wo)manship, I think i was pretty drunk by this point and trying to amuse my companion who was more interested in the shoes in her magazine, but lets just say that Florence has got the moves and would be a much better replacement singer for Queen than Paul Rodgers and that I'd love to hear her cover one of Fred's tunes a tribute album when she becomes a famous star. My last bulletpoint was Girl With One Eye which was the first of the Machine's tunes I heard when I was working in PR. It's been on my stereo regularly ever since. It's a lazy jazzy/folk/indie tune about blinding a love rival by poking her in the eye (can you spot a theme here?), and has the refrain "now she sleeps with one eye open". It's brilliant and you should go and see Florence and The Machine at the next possible chance. And I'm not just saying that because i'm scared of her.

Now where's my pen gone?

Daniel Fell

 
 

Black Tide
12.11.2008 - Birmingham Carling Academy

First of all, since moving to Birmingham this is one of the first gigs I’ve been to in quite a while, although looking forward to the supporting acts – I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from a band with such a typically “rock” look, a nice change from the look of the younger bands that are flying around left right and centre. Let’s not be too shallow, it’s not all about the image, right? Overall, it wasn’t a disappointing sound either, the slightly alarming presence of the band didn’t quite match the sound they produced, a kind of fast-paced metal with actual melodic lyrics, rather than the “one flip of my huge fringe and lets all scream about our ex-girlfriends” style. So as a bunch of “pissed off teenagers”, they seem pretty good at what they do, without any pretence of who they are, and they are able to combine the Guns ‘N’ Roses style of metal with the angst of modern fucked off teenagers. As the “band to watch out for” claimed by Revolver in August 2008, they manage to pull off a decent sound easily, fit in good riffs and all this with a no-shit approach to making good music. As for the venue, the academy itself is fairly large – some bands would struggle to pull off a good enough sound to fill the stage, yet they were used to this and actually produced a really good atmosphere – with swift and interesting (a nice change) drum solo’s and the switch from heavier riffs to the melodic. All in all, pretty good really.

Lid Smith

 
 

The Research + Betty and the Werewolves + The Puncture Repair Kit
5.11.2008 - The Portland Arms, Cambridge

The Puncture Repair Kit open proceedings tonight with their ramshackle but highly lovable tunes, reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian with a better sense of humour. Newer tunes sit well amongst songs Cambridge audiences have taken to their hearts over the previous twelve months.

Betty and the Werewolves follow with their catchy tunes soaked in layers of fantastic surf guitar style riffs. The audience are quickly captivated and between song banter seems to consist of primarily werewolf howls.

The Research, tonight’s headlines, are touring to promote their new album, their first after their well reported EMI troubles. A packed audience respond enthusiastically to their well crafted songs which tend to lean towards a Grandaddy style vibe. A spate of dancing soon breaks out amongst the front few rows and the audience are soon joining in with choruses. If tonight is anything to go by the future should soon see The Research filling far larger venues.

Mark Whiffin

 
 

Metronomy
30.10.08 - Leeds Cockpit

Its 8:25 and I’m wasting time, ordering a coffee and having a bit of a chat with the waiter at Efes grill, opposite the Cockpit. Something’s not quite right; the usual anticipation is missing. Maybe because I saw Metronomy at Glastonbury and was disappointed, I’m not sure, but I’m not up for tonight.

We get inside the venue, order a drink and then, we stay in the bar. I read Vice, a story about a woman who had her face bitten off by a dog. Jesus, what’s wrong with me? Maybe there’s too many cool kids for me to feel comfortable.

I try to stoke some enthusiasm by wandering inside. It’s rammed. The support band is on and they’re awful. Way too loud, the guitars are fizzing, the bass reverberating and when the singer opens his mouth it’s too painful to listen. They really need to sort their levels out, back to Vice, an interview with Chris Cunningham, oh for fucks sake man.

Finally, I stash my jacket somewhere to avoid paying a quid I’m inside. The girl next to me keeps knocking into me, spilling sticky rum and coke all over my hands. This isn’t going very well.

Metronomy come on and blow me away.

I’m hugely impressed by their multi-instrumental approach. One minute the bass player’s playing his bass, the next, a sax, then a harmonium, then keyboards. All the while the sound shifts subtly, from the Human League, to K-Klass, to Hot Chip.

I turn round and all the cool kids are behind me, they don’t look to be having a great time. Ah well, fuck em.

The action is happening down at the front anyway, the band have taken over the lights and smoke machine. Smoke fills the venue, the band disappear into the fog, but the music keeps coming. I notice the sound levels, so badly abused are now perfect. Every element is audible, it sounds great.

They play ‘One the Motorway’ a song that sounds like a broken sea shanty fed through a Roland 808 and I tilt my head back and drink it in. A sea of people jerking and pushing to the front, bumping into each other, I spill more rum, but now I don’t care, it’s appropriate, this is a sea shanty. More rum, more sea shanties, give the people what they want!

The last couple of songs are somewhere between early Was (Not Was) and Kenny Dope Gonzales as the Hot Chip style, with the emphasis on the high-tone vocal harmonies is dropped in favour of a more repetitive electronic house-disco-electro sound.

An encore is demanded and provided. A driving, stabbing, keyboard riff, evil in its sound, fills the venue, even the cool kids are smiling.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Frank Turner
29.11.08 - Scala, London 

Lets set the scene - it’s a freezing cold October evening in London and there are at least a thousand people queuing outside Scala in King’s Cross. The reason being is simple, one man, Frank Turner. You couldn’t walk past a single person without hearing the name Frank Turner. Once finally inside the venue- having missed the first support act due to terrible London transport- the sound which greeted everyone was one of calm and relaxation. What people were hearing was the folk sound of Emily Barker. Unfortunately, the clearly talented Emily Barker didn’t get the respect she deserved as you could hear people talking throughout her set. I think it wouldn’t have mattered who the support was - this night was just about Frank Turner. Emily Barker even admitted the whole experience was a bit daunting for her as she was used to playing very small folk clubs.

Following Emily Barker was Chris TT. With his jokey, whole- hearted attitude to things he clearly won some fans tonight as he participated in crowd banter. Even having members of the crowd shouting ‘Jack Black’ at him clearly didn’t phase him and he completed a good set and can be proud of himself for holding such a huge crowd.

As the moment everyone had been waiting for neared you could feel the anticipation in the air. Once the lights went out there was an enormous cheer as the man of the moment set foot onto the Scala stage. From the first word that came out of Frank Turner’s mouth, the crowd were chanting every word back at him. Frank Turner was clearly singing every song from the heart, with a passion for his lyrics and obviously enjoying every second of this gig just as much as the crowd.  His strong stage presence is more than a match for his powerful voice, so Frank clearly has a winning formula on his hands. The manner in which he plays and puts himself about on stage shows that it wouldn’t matter to Frank if he was playing in front of one thousand people or ten - he would still give the same performance. Frank has come a long way from the days when it was just him and his guitar. Now playing with a travelling band to back up his great talent, but still some of the best moments of this performance were when Frank went back to his roots and played by himself. The first song he performed on his own ‘Worse things happen at sea’ probably brought out one of the biggest sing- alongs of the night. Frank even treated the fans to a brand new song, ‘Live fast, die old’ which he claimed he’d only performed once before. It was very well received by the fans and it is obvious that Frank Turner has not lost his appetite for writing great songs.

As the set gathered pace, Frank took a moment out from playing to toast the crowd as he happily admitted that this was his biggest ever sell out show. As he set into his single ‘Long live the queen’ he  played with a cheeky grin on his face in realisation of what he has accomplished in such a short time. By the end of the show, the crowd knew that Frank Turner had enjoyed this just as much as they had. As Frank left the stage chants of  ‘encore!’ filled Scala and Frank obliged by reappearing on stage to finish with three more songs, rounding off a fantastic performance with ‘Jet lag’ and ‘St. Christopher is coming home’. The show closed with a stage full of people singing every word of  ‘Photosynthesis’ which saw Frank ending up in the crowd. For a night that started off with a bitter frost in the air, everyone who witnessed what happened in Scala tonight left with a warm feeling thanks to one man - Frank Turner.  

Tim Birkbeck

 
 

James Yuill
28.10.08 – Railway Inn, Winchester 

James Yuill is a tall, skinny sort of bloke with glasses that won’t stay up and a guitar slung over his back. So far, so average. But he’s also got a box of tricks up his sleeve. Several boxes in fact, and instead of keeping them up his sleeve he’s got them set up like a little fortress around him onstage. Once he starts twiddling those knobs (not the mashed one busting out the moves at the front) we’re let into the definitely not average world of James Yuill – a humble singer/songwriter on the surface, and an experimental dance/electronic fiend on the inside. 

His set consists of highlights from his debut album Turning Down Water For Air, including This Sweet Love, which is currently getting some pretty substantial airtime on 6Music. In fact, This Sweet Love is such a hit, he even plays it twice, halfway through the set and acoustically (exactly the same but without any blips and bleeps) for the encore. 

A lot of people attempt to wear the electronica/acoustic look, but James Yuill has the confident without the cockiness to pull it off. His sound manages to make the audience wiggle, but at the same time there’s an air of melancholy and seriousness about it – from his stopped over demeanour and furrowed, concentration face you can tell he’s putting his heart and soul into every strum and button push.   

For those who claim there’s no emotion in music made by machines then guess again – James creates many a different atmosphere in the room with this music – you can delight at identifying his samples, and be uplifted by his simple, honest songwriting. 

A lot of the audience sloped off for an early bed before James took to the stage at 11pm, but those who stayed were unanimously enchanted with this laptop troubadour.

Catriona Boyle

 
 

Frank Turner + Chris T-T, Emily Barker, & The Dawn Chorus
27.10.08 - The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

Back at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, and back seeing the mighty Turner. What a joyous combination.

The first group on were The Dawn Chorus, a group of six lads who squeezed on stage wielding guitars, trumpets, and one held what I believe was a mandolin? In all honesty, I wasn't overly impressed when they started, but by the time their set finished, I was captivated. The final handful of songs were really something quite special – one of which in particular was very “spaghetti western,” with brass melodies and something strangely Muse-y. Other songs featured all six members calling out aloud as the music died down; an entire section of vocal and nothing else, before building back to the main song. The Dawn Chorus have talent, both in performance and song writing- although the vocals occasionally waver out of tune. Their repertoire or songs spans many moods and feelings, and altogether, floats my boat.

Next up, Emily Barker, who I swear I've seen before somewhere or other. Solo acoustic, with a beautiful voice. Marling-esque with a harmonica, Barker struggled to get her stunning songs out over a room of rude individuals, who apparently came to this gig to talk amongst themselves. But through the crowd's mutterings, it was evident that Barker knew what she was doing, playing eloquent melodic tales. For one song, Mr Turner came out and the couple played a duet. To be quite honest, Frank wasn't at his best, in fact I'd go as far as to say that for that song with Emily Barker, his voice was the worst I've ever heard it. But, alas, he had his own set to make up for it. After Chris T-T of course.

My first experience of Chris T-T goes back to April 2007 where I caught him supporting Electric Soft Parade in Southampton. There aren't many times I'll catch a support act and buy two of their albums after the show, but for some reason, Chris T-T compelled me to do so. I think it may have had quite a lot to do with “When The Huntsman Comes A Marchin,” a witty number about the hunting ban and such. However, this time around, no such song was featured. A song I certainly did recall from the first time around, is somehow, only just about to be his next single. “We Are The King Of England,” is a dark story of power and corruption, or at least, that's what I take from it. Accompanying this latest single, will I imagine be, an album. The set consisted mainly of new material that all in all sounded very promising, including “Box To Hide In,” which I particularly enjoyed, and one about domestic violence and breaking ankles. If you don't know Chris T-T, he's a witty English singer/songwriter with fantastic lyrical abilities, who often likes to touch on serious issues, as well as the not-so-serious, with reference to “Giraffes #1,” about the number of giraffes on the British mainland. He plays the acoustic undertones of his music while a full band play the rest. I'd advise everyone to get a copy of his “9 Red Songs” album, and keep your eyes peeled for new material hopefully heading our way soon.

And then, finally, for the main spectacle. Mr Frank Turner. What a
pleasure it is to be here. Whether you knew him from A Million Dead or not, Turners sound has changed dramatically from an angry blur or screams and shouts, to a sophisticated, melodic outlet for what are often still quite politically based songs. But the thing about Frank is, everyone loves him. And as far as gigs go, he's just fantastic. Everyone knows the words, and there's a real sense of communal atmosphere at you all sing along at the top of your voice, without having to worry about some louts jumping around and clouting you in the side of the head. A Turner show, is all about listening, singing, and cheering. Opening with “The Ballad of Me and My Friends,” which could be considered an odd choice as it closes the brilliant Sleep Is For The Week album, Frank instantly captured the audience, as everyone sung “we are definitely going to hell.” As this ran into “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot,” the rest of the band came on. Playing a selection from all albums, but mainly focussing on the latest, Love Ire & Song, Turner played a gapless set, and played it very well at that. But, in fairness, you know what you're getting with Frank. He's just bloody good, isn't he. Unfortunately, the greats “Heartless Bastard Motherfucker” and “Thatcher Fucked The Kids” weren't included in the set, but I've never seen the first one performed and only caught the latter once. And of course there were songs which you just know are going to be included in a set- “Long Live The Queen,” “The Real Damage,” “Nashville Tennessee,” and “Photosynthesis.” One song (and apologies, I can't remember which,) featured a fair amount of keyboards, and the outro ran effortlessly into a “Father's Day” gentle piano intro. It had barely made it through the first bar before everyone had cottoned on and the Wedgewood Rooms were full of melodic cheer.

Hopefully, Turner has realised that his home is in smaller gigs like this. The day he ventures to a massive venue, will be a sad one. The charm of a Frank Turner gig relies heavily on the intimate sense of togetherness you get from singing along with everyone – that warm fuzzy feeling inside. But once again, Frank has ticked my boxes.

Thom Curtis

 
 

Tilly & the Wall
24.10.08 - Cockpit, Leeds 

It must be hard to sustain wide-eyed optimism if you’re in a band, or doing anything for an extended period..; One of the most endearing things about Tilly & the wall, when I saw them ages ago was just how damn perky and excited they seemed. It’d be impossible to maintain this I think…It must become contrived. This didn’t stop it being a little bit of a shock to see a Tilly & the Wall show were there weren’t like this, maybe some of their youthful exuberance and excitement to be touring has gone – probably because of all the touring they do. Thankfully, they still seem to be having fun and like always that was infectious. It’s still great to have a tap dancer as percussionist, the synchronised dancing is still effective and it still looks like they’re having the time of their lives. So really they should be applauded for allowing themselves to grow up (ugh!) a bit.

I like the new stuff as much as the old, but for different reasons – it’s much rockier without losing much of the twee. New single “let the Beat Control you” is ace, if perhaps a little too now to be a classic.

If there is a criticism it’s that they’ve cut back on the vocals of the guitar player. A waste. A big waste. Despite me thinking that it was a shame to not see them all shiny and new, they have replaced that with a tighter feel. Tilly and the Wall played like a band primed for huge things and played songs new and old that could get them there.

Christopher Carney

 
 

Benji Hughes
17.10.08 - KOKO, London

It’s an early(ish) show on a Friday evening at Camden’s KOKO. In a few hours the skinny Indie-bopper army will start queuing outside for their weekly fix of Club NME and we wouldn’t want to keep them waiting. All this clearly means little to North Carolina’s Benji Hughes however, who looks like he started drinking around midday in preparation for his regular support slot opening for Jenny Lewis. After all this is a man who, or so his website claim, possesses a love of beer only outmatched by his love of women. It’s hard to disagree with the latter either: although his face is mostly hidden behind his golden locks, his mane of a beard and a pair of tinted aviators, the sizeable Benji Hughes is rightly a man unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, a walrus of love for the folk rock crowd.

It’s a four-piece backing band that kick things off with Love Is A Razor which, with it’s opening Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd guitar and keyboard strains, gives Benji plenty of time to make his entrance. He staggers up to the microphone and gives us a few slurred verses. Cue the guitar solo reprise, and he’s gone again. Was that the shortest support set of the- oh no wait, he’s back. He only went to get a beer.

Benji’s set, promoting songs from his debut album A Love Extreme, runs the gamut from tender piano ballads to dirty disco rock and back again. While his gentle croon on the softer numbers sounds more restrained on the studio versions the alcohol has evidently taken its toll here and he sounds more akin to a drunken Magnetic Fields. Remember the old Tom Waits number The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)? Well I don’t think you can blame the piano here Benji. Much less whimsical are the up-tempo numbers such as Tight Tee Shirt and the irresistible You Stood Me Up where Benji breaks from his inebriated growl into a disciplined falsetto, working his own taut brand of what can only be described as ‘sex music for overweight hairy men’.

Maybe it’s the beer, but Benji clearly has a lot of love for the crowd, at one point teasingly, and uninvited it must be said, giving us a flash of belly and nipple during the aforementioned You Stood Me Up, and later dedicating his best Mick Jagger tail-feather dance especially to tonight‘s audience. Following penultimate ballad AllYou’veGotToDoIsFall InLove he regrettably informs us all that he would “love to talk to [us] more but…” and then it all crumbles into an indistinguishable mumble and a few curious grunts, so maybe it’s just the simple fact that he’s not actually capable of conversing at this point.

Benji leaves KOKO on a warm note, but later makes an additional two appearances during Jenny Lewis’ set. The first during opening number Jack Killed Mom, reprising his guest spot from new album Acid Tongue, the second much later during The Next Messiah, where he staggers on, sings backup on a verse, takes one step back, falls over, rolls around for a bit before picking himself up and stumbling from the stage. It’s the last we see of him that night.

Stephen Jessep

 
 

Computer Club + The Transpersonals
10.10.08 - Bath Moles Club

Moles is not a large place. I've seen gigs in lounge-type settings on numerous occasions but considering the range of bands whose names appear on the roll of past performers that greets the Moles visitor at the venues entrance - ranging from the Eurythmics to the Libertines - Moles is tiny. I can't really envisage a feisty twenty something Annie Lennox really letting it rip on a stage the size of a large elevator but it did, we are assured, really happen.

Perfect for the Transpersonals though. The Bristol three piece are unashamed sixties stylists, taking their cues from Barret era Floyd and Jefferson Airplane type guitar ragas, via excursions into delay pedal drive space rock and the garage beats of the Seeds and Standells. Did I actually hear a cover of 'Pushin' Too Hard'? Tim Hurford is an inventive and highly listenable guitarist and the Transpersonals, lacking the reverential attitude towards their material which I've seen from similar bands produce riffs as frantic and immediate as they must've sounded on the night the Yardbirds played at whatever was Moles predecessor. Add a second guitar and keyboard to give Tim Hurfords talents their full rein and The Transpersonals might really be onto something.

The Transpersonals leave the stage and take around two thirds of the Moles audience with them, providing Computer Club with the necessary room they need to set up their own gear, and the venue fills up again to witness a strident performance from what is the result of a head on collision between The Cure and The Automatic. All twenty minutes of it. Computer Club are an excellent loud screeching guitar noise with plenty of the kind of referential touches - the aforementioned Cure and Automatic, plus some of the still-obligatory Divisionesque hi-hatting and some proper mainstream sounds - the didactic rhythms of Keane and Scouting For Girls make appearances at proper intervals - but they definitely aren't the first band with designs on the main stage at next years Reading festival to wonder if they're actually going to damage anything while playing in such a confined space, and their set only seemed to consist of around six songs. Of course, this might ensure that everyone witnessing their performance on this evening will make a point of seeing them again, even if it's only to hear the other half of their set. They will turn up on my radar again, I'm quite certain.

Jon Gordon

 
 

Hot Club de Paris
26.9.08 - Leeds, Cockpit 

The Cockpit is half full tonight as Hot Club saunter on stage and straight into opening number Call Me Mr Demolition Ball. The crowd are nonplussed as the pitch perfect harmonies and jerking guitars reverberate off the low ceiling. Sensing the audience haven’t really got into this gig yet, the band launch straight through into songs two and three, but the crowd remain motionless, as do the band. This could be a difficult one. 

Singer / bassist Matthew Smith, becoming riled, quips that the applause is like being at a cricket match. They play another song which sounds a lot like the last one and gets a similar response. 

Back Down is delivered in a furious, overwrought fashion and immediately the crowd are into it. Matthew quips about being at university himself once, a reference to the preponderance of freshers in their checked shirts and crap stubble and the band play an impromptu version of the Fresh Prince themetune, which predictably goes down well with the aforementioned. 

Boy Awaits Return of the Runaway Girl sounds fantastic, but inexplicably the myriad of crescendos are greeted with another cricket match ripple of polite applause. Matthew is vitriolic again. This time about the alleged theft of a games console by the band. It makes for a disjointed performance and eventually the continual ranting draws a sting from the drummer who tells Matthew to ‘get on with it’. 

The band announce that they are retiring the seminal Sometimesitsbetter... The crowd seem generally disinterested in this revelation, but the song is executed precisely and forcefully and the band keep the tempo up through Hey! Housebrick which is punctiliously delivered. Time has run out for the promised two more songs, probably because of the various rants but maybe because of the lamentable crowd so we’re left with a song which I don’t recognise, which is dispatched with a creditable amount of enthusiasm. 

Unsurprisingly there is no encore, just a parting shot about how the students can enjoy the club night now the bands are finished. 

There’s no doubt that Hot Club showed some flashes brilliance and can be captivating when they are in full flow. But they completely failed to win over the audience tonight. Some more variation in their setlist would probably help. A less passive audience would do wonders for them too.

Ian Anderson

 
 

Space Ritual + Maha Dev’s Quintessence
25.09.08 - Leeds Irish Centre

A night for dedicated space cadets everywhere, featuring two bands with shared roots in the late 1960’s Underground scene that centred around London’s Portobello Road, Ladbrooke Grove and Notting Hill Gate; the same scene that spawned, along with Hawkwind, the likes of the Pink Fairies, Mighty baby and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and provided a home to most of the capitals self-styled ‘freaks’ and movers and shakers of the vibrant, psychedelic ‘counterculture’ of the time.

In their heyday Quintessence had a following large enough to be able to sell out the Albert Hall on two occasions, played the last of the legendary Hyde Park free concerts, appeared at the first couple of Glastonbury Fayre festivals, toured extensively all over the UK and Europe, playing a largely improvised hybrid of jazz, rock, Indian music and devotional chants, and released five albums and a handful of singles before breaking up and going their separate ways in 1972.

Now re-incarnated around original rhythm-guitarist, Dave Codling, better known as Maha Dev, (re-christened back in the day when the band had their own Hindu guru, Swami Ambikananda), they played their first gig in over thirty five years, at the New Roscoe, Leeds, last May Bank holiday Monday, supporting Gong founder Daevid Allen and his occasional band, the University of Errors.

I was lucky enough to be there to witness them play a phenomenal set, which afterwards inspired me to track down some of the bands original back catalogue, and make me wonder how come I’d somehow missed these treasures of psychedelic history the first time around, when I was in my early teens, wandering around in a brand new Afghan coat that smelled of one third patchouli oil and two thirds the scabby, old, dead goat it was made out of.

Tonight, they played a truncated but still inspiring handful of numbers, credible re-interpretations of the originals, shrouded in dry-ice and lasers and clearly enjoying every minute of their all too brief time on stage in front of an appreciative audience, delighted at the largely unpublicised appearance by such a legendary outfit. Featuring great swathes of echo-flute and sax. from new lead vocalist, Pete Cheetham, with space lead guitar by Lol Howarth, over synth. washes and noodlings by Dr.Hasbeen,(Martyn Needham), anchored by the rhythm guitar of Maha Dev himself and Leeds lads, John Bootle on bass and Pete Brenchley on drums, they treated us to versions of ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Giants’ ‘Cosmic Surfer’ and ‘Dance for the One’ before they had to give up the stage for the headliners.

Space Ritual, named after the Hawkwind double live album from 1973, is  made up of founding fathers and former members of Hawkwind, so, unsurprisingly, as it says on the bands MySpace site, “...No one else could possibly sound more like Hawkwind, except possibly... Hawkwind.” Indeed, the band have previously appeared under the clumsy title of ‘Ex-Hawkwind’ before they were prevented from continuing to use the name by a court case instigated by fellow founder member, Dave Brock, who still owns the Hawkwind copyright. Not that any of this seemed to matter much to the audience of, mostly, balding blokes in their early fifties, (myself included), many resplendent in ‘Hawkfest 2008’ t-shirts, who had crawled out of the woodwork on an Autumnal Thursday night for an evening of space-rock.

The last time I’d seen Nik Turner in the flesh was supporting Randy California’s Spirit, at Manchester Free Trade Hall around 1980, when he was fronting Inner City Unit, a sort of satirical, punk, political, cabaret, and then the band had been rolled on stage by roadies inside giant cardboard boxes, in which they played the first couple of numbers, before using their instruments to break out of their metaphorical prisons.

Nik is still one of rock’s genuine eccentric’s,  a psychedelic survivor, counterculture veteran and stalwart of the free festival scene of the 1970’s and 80’s, and a founder member, of Hawkwind, contributing his trademark saxophone and flute to the original sound, along with Terry Ollis, (drums), and Mick Slattery, (lead guitar), who are supported tonight by other former members, Thomas Crimble, (keyboards) Jerry Richards, (bass), and with Chris Purdon (audio generators and synths), adding the essential spacey effects and wibbly wobbly noises. Last, but not least, the band are periodically joined onstage by dancer, ‘Miss Angel’, who, over the course of the 90 minute set, went through more costume changes than, (I imagine), Kylie Minogue playing Wembley arena.

The band gave us to an excellent mix of both re-worked old Hawkwind classics, like ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Master of the Universe’ as well as new numbers like ‘Sonic Savages’, ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Walking Backwards’ all firmly rooted in the ‘space-rock genre, interspersed with snippets of poetry by the late Bob Calvert, (lead singer, poet in residence and front man for Hawkwind between 1972-1979), and versions of Michael Moorcock’s ‘Sonic Attack’ and ‘Warriors on the Edge of Time’.

As the dry ice finally cleared and the band hung around to chat to fans, we space cadets wandered home happy; having witnessed a little piece of psychedelic history - and with incontrovertible evidence that it’s perfectly possible to grow old disgracefully.

Bill Howe

 
 

Vessels + Her Name is Calla + Brontide + 7 Hertz
18.9.2008 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Having already lived with the Vessels debut album, “White Fields and Open Devices” , for a few weeks and not having seen them play live before, I was looking forward to this launch party like a kid at Christmas. I knew that Her Name is Calla were also on the line-up, so I suppose I was expecting a night of, (mostly), guitar based noises, and the opening act, 7 Hertz, therefore came as a complete surprise, like an unexpected and very special present.

An acoustic quartet, two violins, double bass, and clarinet/bass clarinet, 7 Hertz improvised an unclassifiable mix of folk, jazz, classical chamber and Eastern European music to engage the imagination; mesmerising, melancholic, disturbing, delicately beautiful, sometimes atonal, sometimes achingly sweet, melodies coming out of nowhere and disappearing again, surfacing and diving, like the soundtrack to a dream. Sadly, it didn’t seem the right place or the right time for the music of reverie, struggling against the tide of noise of people arriving, greeting friends, settling down, buying a drink, getting their bearings. At times I had to strain to hear the music over the hubbub, wishing that there had been an MC to call for hush, or tell people to shut the fuck up, remind them that magic is something that can happen unexpectedly, and sometimes even before you’ve got your coat off. So, at least for me, 7 Hertz were a real discovery and I’ve already spent time lingering on their MySpace page, tracked down one of their albums and am looking forward to seeing them play live again, with a more attentive and appreciative audience.

Brontide seemed to be more of what people were expecting, the classic ‘power trio’ line up of bass, drums and lead guitar, producing an accomplished, furious, melodic racket of guitar loops, finger tapping and fiddling about with guitar pedals, loud enough to get people’s attention and drown out the chatter, but somehow I just didn’t engage with what they were doing, hung up perhaps, on all the flash and fireworks, and failing to find enough soul and substance. Nevertheless, I heard many mutters of approval around the room and they ended their set to generous and enthusiastic applause.

I saw Her Name is Calla for the first time live in July, at the beginning of a short tour to promote the release of ‘The Heritage’ mini-album, so I was really looking forward to hearing how their epics of anguish and longing had been honed by being out on the road. However, it was precisely at the moment they took to the stage that an old friend spotted me lurking in a corner and chose to come over and say hello, and spend the remainder of their set updating me about big changes in her personal circumstances. So, too polite not to listen to someone pour out a little of their heart, I had to let the majority of Her Name is Calla’s set wash over me without paying it the attention they deserve, content to notice from the audience’s reaction that I’d missed something phenomenal.

You know there is a buzz about a band when an audience leaves its seats and gathers at the front even before they take the stage and you have to admire the courage and confidence of a band that opens their set, on an evening devoted to launching their debut album, by playing a totally new number, a work in process, just for the sheer hell of it, acknowledging that, although it may be fresh for much of the audience, for musicians themselves, by the time an album is recorded and the music debuted on tour, it may already be old, familiar and as comfortable as a pair of slippers.

Vessels play like men possessed, possessed with chaotic energy, skill, precision and sheer enthusiasm for playing that I haven’t seen in a band for a long time. They play immense songs, a glorious and awesome noise that threatens to take the roof off the venue and spill out into the streets and sky above Leeds 6.

‘This would sound really good at a festival!’ shouted the man in the lion tamers waistcoat sitting next to me. Indeed it would, and, by virtue of synchronicity, I’d been told earlier in the evening that the Vessels had played to the mud-spattered crowds from the BBC ‘Introducing stage’ at the Bestival only the previous weekend.

The band display an admirable lack of inhibition, individuals lost in the mesh of sound collectively produced; there is a fluidity and constant motion, both to the music and the bands presence on stage. Closing my eyes to get my bearings in this hurricane, I am reminded of seeing My Bloody Valentine, and, to a lesser extent, all those bands on the Blast First label that I made pilgrimages to see at the late Duchess of York pub, at the back end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, UT, AC Temple, Band of Susans, in the days when Grunge was new and Nirvana were still touring in a hired Ford Transit.

Live, the Vessels generate great tidal waves of up to three guitars, crashing and receding over bass and drums, samples, keyboards, occasional drum-machine, E-bowed guitar or cello-bowed drones, scattered, soaring, staccato melodies that sparkle for an instant and then are gone.

There are some gigs that are capable of changing your life, or at least the way you think about and experience music. For me there have been many, the Birthday Party playing their penultimate gig in the UK before they imploded, or the Butthole Surfers touring after the release of ‘Locust Abortion Technician’ being just a couple in a list that stretches back a long, long way. Looking at the rapt faces of some members of the audience, as band delivered stunning versions of ‘Altered Beast’ or ‘An Idle Brain and the Devil’s Workshop’; I’m struck by the certainty that, if not me, then someone out there on the dance floor was having just such an epiphany.

Bill Howe

 
 

Hauschka + Mapstation + Chipper
Sep 08 - Bristol Arnolfini

This isn't quite the usual gig. When I offered to write up on this one for all I knew Hauschka was a quartet of black clad emo types rattling out Husker Du covers, although I wasn't certain what they were up to on Narrow St. Then it dawned upon my quizzical brow - I'd seen Mapstation previously, or at least To Roccoco Rot, of which Mapstation were/are an integral part, and all was apparent once more. Even Banksy wipes his feet when he walks in the Arnolfini.

Which is a theatre, with blackout backdrops and spotlights. And on its stage is a collection of instruments and equipment arranged in a properly artistic manner, and which I had the impression much of the audience would have quite politely sat and looked at for two hours, to a pre-recorded soundtrack over the tannoy. There's a cello at the front. It belongs to Chipper, who is a solo performer and has the ability to use her instrument as both a musical and percussive one, assuming all the electronics are doing what they're supposed to. Using a combination of digital delay and the improvisator's knack of utilising any noise that results from adding a pickup to an orchestral instrument, Chipper presented us with around 10 minutes of eccentrically captivating four stringed electronic experimentation until her laptop packed up, which provided this member of Crippled Black Phoenix the opportunity to show the Arnolfini audience that she could also play the cello without resorting to gadgetry. Which Chipper can, and with considerable skill.

Now, some of you will recognise the name To Roccoco Rot from a little earlier this decade. Leading lights of the electronic scene that eventually gave to our mainstream radio Royksopp, Stefan Schneider, one of To Roccoco Rots' founders, has brought with him a collection of objects none of which, apart from his laptop, are keyboard instruments. But the first number of this part of the evening's performances is an entirely acoustic one. Schneider is joined onstage by Hauschka, or Volker Bertelmann as he is more usually known, and the perform a cover of a poem written in 1979 by the artist Josef Beuys which consists of two words; 'ja' and 'ne'. This provides an introduction of the right type of levity for what could under other circumstances get a bit po-faced, you know, big gallery theatre space, experimental cellist, complicated German electronics and a piano that looks like an artwork -

So the vocal performance ends and Mapstation is quite definitely in the house. And whoever said 'I could do that', listen a little more closely and a lot less cynically. Stefan Schneider is an electronic composer: if you automatically laugh when you hear anyone's work described thus, then stop reading this now. Melding together combinations of basslines and melodies with occasionally added beats and the quite real possibility that the entire sonic edifice could collapse onstage at any moment - such is the overwhelmingly complex task that Schneider is setting himself, using equipment which is, some of it, still in the planning stages. The mood of his sound collages is subdued and questioning, and of course ambient. Your actual lift Muzak, unless I am very mistaken. Then halfway through the conflicting elements merge into a more coherent wholeness and you could stage an absurdist mime to what's thudding out of the Arnolfini's PA which is somehow what was missing from this evening. A recording of Josef Beuys reading 'Ja/Ne' ends Mapstations performance, and none of us could do that. Not really.

Hauschka's piano is designed to do things conventional pianos don't and has assorted chimes and pieces of metal where there are normally strings. Add to this an element of performance as Volker Bertelmann stops/starts/mixes up his collection of toys and assorted objects, not all of which do exactly what they're supposed to, and plays his collection of short-ish keyboard pieces none of which (unlike his contemporary Thomas Lens for example) stray very far from traditionally accepted notions of what a piano tune actually ought to sound like. What Hauschka is showing us is, basically, his own design of acoustic synthesizer, an instrument which can do everything an ordinary piano can do and can also provide percussive elements, as well as the element of chance which showmanship such as this requires if it is to succeed in real artistic terms and while I suspect the more adventurous aspect of Hauschka's work is reined in slightly this evening, the whole performance has the air of an experiment that actually worked and Hauschka is himself an engaging personality with considerable skills to show us.

That, I realised as I made my way home, is what really worked this evening. Perhaps the heady days of seriously avant garde experimentation really are behind us, at least for the moment, and musicians who would in previous times have thrown both themselves and their instruments into paroxysms of atonality verging on chaotic farce are now quite content to let their laptops do the crashing instead. Safe. But very far from dull.

Jon Gordon