ThE InDiE LiVe ReViEwS
This month we go European !! Our boys about town Jimmy Blackburn and Colin Hamilton come up with a few memories of the shows they went to this month, Colin to London and Jimmy to Amsterdam.
My life story Dingwalls
Sunday evening in Camden and it's raining. The tourists have gone leaving the streets strewn with the damp packaging of junk food and endless flyers informing us of every performance in the capitol for the next three months. The only people left trading are the drug pushers who are waiting for the pub trade to build up so that the can carry on supplying their temporary release from the drudgery of the winter.
Inside Dingwalls it's a different story. My Life Story are preparing for their second of four shows entitled a month of Sundays. The first one was close to selling out and they are in the process of signing to Parlophone after months without a contract.
My Life Story are a melodic kitsch eleven piece who play loud overblown tunes and look like they're having a good time. Unfortunately for them they started plying their trade when shoegazing was being launched as the next big thing. To be taken seriously by the music press and consequently the record companies you had to be seen concentrating so hard on the music that you couldn't raise your head from your instrument let alone be seen communicating with the audience with anything more than a scowl. Smiling was not the done thing if you wanted a future in indie music.
The claim that they are playing these shows to give the band a break from performing the same songs but this claim falls by the wayside when Motorcade starts. There are smiles on everyone's faces. Jake stands proudly in front of them knowing that he is singing a tried and tested number. The crowd latch on to the infectious happiness, everybody seems to have moved up to a higher plane of well being.
Baby Bird -Dingwalls
In England, the time it takes to become 'the next big thing' gets shorter every year. Three months ago Baby Bird were playing in a little pub in Kings Cross, today, it's to a 500 or so capacity crowd in Dingwalls. Though they are three albums into their career, their rate of album release ( one a month ) make this effectively an overnight success story.
Baby Bird are adapting to their expanding fame though. Lead singer, Steve Jones has a smart white suit on. Gone are the hand written lyrics which use to rest on a knackered music stand. All the words have been typed out and are stored in a large binder which is located in front of him. Far more professional than shuffling through tatty sheets of paper.
Some things don't change though. The dancing is still jerky and awkward. A similar style to Jarvis, but leaving plenty of room for tightening it up. While Jarvis had fifteen years to perfect his style in front of far smaller crowds than this, Baby Bird audiences get noticeably larger by the gig.
They proceed to run through a set which will probably feature on their greatest hits album due later this year. This does not consist of straight run throughs of the tracks. Steve Jones' original lo-fi four track recordings have been rewritten by the band to suit the stage. The opening track, Man In A Suit features additional synchronised clapping from the backing band. Too Handsome to be Homeless has had a funky bassline added to it. Every track has been decorated in order to improve the live experience.
As Baby Bird get more popular the crowds get bigger. This reduces the volume of insults normally associated with a Baby Bird gig. All the potential hecklers are far too far from the stage to be heard. This is a pain because Steve Jones has a good line in put downs. Undeterred he still tries to engage the audience in conversation. 'Which of you are already converted? ' he asks producing a positive response from most of the audience. ' Did you all read the NME this week?' he enquiries sarcastically, worried that his newly fame may evaporate when a newer big thing is discovered.
Along with the lack of insults goes Steve Jones' opportunity to use his favourite put down word, arse. Normally a staple of between song banter it's use was limited to an all time minimum of once and even this was only under the provocation of a broken microphone stand rather than an audience member.
Eventually he elicits a negative response. 'This is the one which has meaningless lyrics?' he announces. 'What do you mean just the one?' comes a voice from near the stage. Steve Jones gives a withering look as if upset at the low quality of the comment. 'Why are you so near the front then?'
He fails to remember some of the lyrics and turns to consult his typed copy. At this point he discovers that they're too small to read in an environment of flashing lights. Unflustered Jones just continues to sing, ad-libbing anything during bits that he can't remember. There are no apologies. If you don't like it you can leave, or even better say something so that he has the chance to throw a couple of one-liners at you. Their is an air of confidence about Jones that makes him completely sure that the odd hiccup won't stop people coming to see Baby Bird long after the novelty factor that the press portray has gone.
They conclude the set with a version of the song Baby Bird which is far superior to the recording. An extra five minutes have been added on which features Steve Jones stretching his vocal chords to their limit (and, in tonight's case well beyond). Once heard the version is unforgettable. The bulk of the crowd clap at the false end to the song thus confirming that they are new to the Baby Bird live experience. As Steve Jones might say 'Converted, my arse'.
Mike Flowers Pops -Forum
Six months ago Mike Flowers played on the smallest stage at the Reading Festival. Tonight he's playing his biggest gig to date at The Forum.
The first question which needs to be addressed concerning Mike Flowers, is who the hell wants to see a man in a polyester wig sing watered down versions of various songs backed with an orchestra. The answer is, of course, students. Students who have seen him perform Wonderwall on TV and think it is good. Students who don't want to risk their limited budget seeing a small unknown band. Students who can't afford to see Oasis. Students in groups who can't make their minds up about what to do and so take the compromise option. Mostly though it's students who are pissed, very pissed.
By the time the band arrive on stage most of them have been drinking for three hours waiting to see a show with very little idea of what to expect. Mike Flowers arrives wearing headphones and carrying a baton which he waves in time to the music. He has his back to the audience as he conducts his orchestra through a version of Casino Royale. This sets a worrying thought in people's heads. Doesn't he sing? He does on the video. Is he going to have his back to us for the entire show? Midway through the tune he turns and grins at the audience inspiring a huge cheer, it's all going to be OK.
The Mike Flowers Pops play various classic and not quite classic tunes. Between songs Mr Flowers discusses the merits of the various groups and composers featured to a far greater depth than necessary. He keeps a straight face during each of his monologues but his tongue is firmly wedged in his cheek. Before the Love Theme From The Godfather for example we are warned not to let it slip our minds that this is a song about organised crime.
Most of the songs played were released well before many of the people here were out of nappies and are obscure enough for them not to have heard the original versions. No one seems to care though and each and every one of them is greeted with great enthusiasm. The high point for most of the people here is Wonderwall. It arrives very late in the set and is greeted with the drunken abandon that you would expect from an alcohol fuelled collection of students.
The musical high point is the fabulous version of McArthur Park which tragically has not been pencilled in for the next single. The song seems to lend it's self to a Mike Flowers style production and if he strikes while the iron is hot, he could have a second top five single.
However, the iron is cooling rapidly. He may have had a couple of TV appearances and the odd magazine cover to his name but unless he moves quickly, impressing a number of drunk teenagers in a half empty venue will be his career high point.
Supergrass - Astoria
On the way in to the venue we're stopped and a microphone is thrust into our faces. 'This concert is live on the Internet why have you bothered to come?' I offered a long explanation about flickering images and less than adequate speakers. Midway through my explanation, I was interrupted by a voice behind me . 'Stagediving' 'But surely you can stagedive at home' 'Not when your landlord lives in the flat below you '.
Inside we have the opportunity to make a direct comparison. Large screens have been set up around the venue to display the internet site and they show the flickering images of the gig.
On the stage it's The Divine Comedy who's subtle sounds fail to impress the average Supergrass fan. They don't dismiss them by merely ignoring the band though. This is active, some members of the audience are climbing on top of each others' shoulders just to voice their disapproval. The hard working, singer Neil Hannon announces that there's only time for one more song. The crowd cheers at the imminent end to the set and the psychological step nearer to the headliners. He smiles, The Divine Comedy have seen it all before. Their self styled folk come classical music was always going to be fighting the odds tonight. At least Hannon has tried to enlighten the minds of audience it's not his fault that they're too closed to even give it a chance.
Supergrass start with Caught By The Fuzz. It's a dirty, messy version of their fabulous first single. The sound is not good. There must be a couple of thousand people checking that their computer speakers are working properly.
The images above are flickering at about five per second. The camera angle remains static throughout. Forget stagediving, the internet is not capable of even replicating TV coverage yet. With the advent of ever faster rates of information transfer and more people prepared to invest in new technology, it shouldn't be long before it catches up.
Armchair supporter is a term that football fans use to refer to people who claim to follow a club but never attend matches. How long before we see armchair music fans?
Currently though this all seems along way off. Supergrass are bludgeoning their way through their first album. They present rough and ready versions of all the songs that have propelled them from indie no-hopers, The Jennifers, to main steam contenders.
Supergrass are not having a good night. Fortunately for them it's only the committed Supergrass fan who's here to witness it. Tickets sold out weeks ago and can be sold for £20 outside. Anyone harbouring doubts has taken the money and run. Anyone watching on the internet will be blaming their computer rather than the band.
JIMMY BLACKBURN in Amsterdam watching a load of British indie pop groups.
It was advertised as 'London Calling' which explains why only two of the bands were native to London, and one of them pretends to be an American/European combination. (That's you PLACEBO, with your large drumkit, paid for from your large advance)
In fact big drumkits were the order of the day, as that's what bands do as soon as they get some cash. Unless they're ELCKA, who bought some crappy looking suits instead. they might dress like footballers, but a tape of them wouldn't last more than a minute on any self respecting team's coach, as they droned away in a manner only the gullible could find remotely glamorous. THE GYRES, a sort of MacOasis were hardly better, proving that the excellent single of theirs that Mark Radcliffe keeps playing was a total fluke. Obscurity beckons, hopefully, but sometimes shit sticks too. Avoid. Fellow Scots THRUM resurfaced to show that rumours of their demise were exaggerated, and only concerned their musical ability. Some locals behind me found Monica Queen's helium-fuelled belting vocal stylings rather amusing, but I was just bored. BABY BIRD were better and tighter than the last London show I caught and Stephen Jones showed that his ability to bait an audience respects no national boundaries but the real surprise was just how good Wales' CATATONIA were. Singer Cerys is a real star- she sings like Bjork and looks like she'd probably strip off at a by-pass protest- but the songs are continually just off kilter enough to keep ones attention without being (dread word) 'quirky'. I was impressed.
Which is more than I could say about the spectacularly piss poor IN AURA. Formerly useless Harlow chancers 3 And A Half Minutes, they've taken the Man's shilling and used it to move to a world where it's always 1982, the future is out of date faster than you can say 'Go West' and drummers wear headphones. Everything broke down, amusingly enough, but at their worst they combine the shiteness that Simple Minds have made their trademark with the punchability of Brett Anderson. There is no 'at their best' about them. Final band on were the much tipped power trio PLACEBO, highly entertaining if limited by singer/ guitarist Brian's Geddy Lee-esque yelp. I think the rhythm section might well have been indulging in some of Amsterdam's finest smoking material judging by the way that their recent single 'Come Home' sounded like someone dropping a (very large) drumkit down some stairs, but Brian is a fine guitarist, and genuinely elfin. They are no more Nirvana than In Aura are Duran Duran however, just another useful name to follow. But where better to relive the past than Amsterdam? Perhaps we might send some original music next year...
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