Saturday, 31 October 2009

Oceansize - Kingston Peel - 30th October 2009

Kingston Peel is a lovely little venue. I certainly think it is and it appears so do Oceansize who tonight (30th October 2009) play here for the third year in a row. This is the first headline show for the band of 2009 and arrives in support of recent EP 'Home & Minor'. The set does not just contain new songs from this release however coming as it does also with new songs never played by the band before from their forthcoming 4th album, set to be released in 2010.

Before Oceansize take to the stage however come two local acts in and Shield Your Eyes. feature massive Oceansize fan, and gig promoter, Del Noble on guitar and vocals and their set of reverb heavy songs ends in Noble flinging his guitar around like a mad man on the venue's floor, much to the surprise of several early doors pint swilling punters. Three piece Shield Your Eyes seem to have a very simple formula to their songs. They all begin with a jagged riff and some yelpy vocals before progressing to having the same riff, maybe with the odd variation, played over and over again with no vocals until the song comes to a conclusion just after falling asleep. Some onlookers clearly think this band are the bees knees. Let's just leave things as saying that I think they're average at best.

Oceansize arrive with a new song ('Ransoms') and depart with one also (the furious 'It's My Tale'). In between come fan favourites such as the rarely played 'Paper Champion' and the behemoth that is 'Massive Bereavement'. Also included is the complex monster of a new song currently known as 'Steven's Head' as well as 'Legal Teens' and 'Home & Minor' off the new EP. One of the things that Oceansize are total masters of in the live domain is the way their set flows. Songs don't merely start and then finish they progress naturally into one another with only the occasional bit of Mike Vennart stage banter providing lengthy pauses between songs. The absolute star of Oceansize's live show is drummer Mark Heron however...a truly incredible musician who deserves far more recognition than he is ever likely to get. Just to watch his drumming during songs like 'You Can't Keep A Bad Man Down' or 'A Homage To A Shame' is a treat on its own. The crowd also play their part, with one guy at the front holding up Mike's lyric sheet for him to read from during new songs! The ones actually into the music get great reward out of the show and persuade the band to come back for an encore of 'The Charm Offensive' which is as excellent live as ever. A thoroughly entertaining evening of 'Size. (6/10)
Shield Your Eyes (5/10)
Oceansize (10/10)

Biffy Clyro - Southampton Guildhall - 24th October 2009

It feels like ages since I've seen Biffy Clyro. It's not, just a couple of months ago I journeyed all the way up to Edinburgh to see them. That's the sort of thing that you feel compelled to do when you're in love with a band. It's the sort of thing that the majority of people can't understand but for me following the fortunes of Biffy Clyro is just as important, more so if I'm going to be fully honest, as following the fortunes of my favourite sports teams. It's with a mix of pleasure and trepidation that I've watched over the past couple of years as Biffy have gone from the underground to firm fixtures in the Radio 1 bigtime. The pleasure comes from the three band members (singer/guitarist Simon Neil, bassist James Johnston and drummer Ben Johnston) now being in a position where, financially, they are set to continue with the job that they love doing for a reasonable time to come. Before the release of 2007's breakthrough "Puzzle" the Johnston twins were road digging to make ends meet. The'll see where that comes from later...

Tonight, 24th October 2009, sees the Southampton Guildhall comfortably sold out and a rabid crowd awaits the arrival onstage of Biffy Clyro, who in the last year have had two top 10 singles and therefore significantly expanded their fanbase. The crowd is an interesting mix ranging from those who are genuine music lovers in their obscure band t-shirts (Karnivool tonight for me, brilliant Tad t-shirt for someone else) to NME influenced scene kids in checked shirts of the least grunge variety to casual Radio 1 listeners who think Biffy's #5 single "Mountains" is the best thing since the last Coldplay mega single. First support act Tellison are not well known amongst the diverse crowd but their slightly more complex than average indie with plenty of added 'woah-oh-oh-ba-ba-da-la-ing' seems popular enough.

Pulled Apart By Horses are a different proposition entirely. They make as much of a racket with their instruments as they possibly could and their short scream filled exercises in noises shock as many people as they impress tonight for sure. Singer Tom Hudson gets up close and personal with the crowd as early as the second song while guitarist James Brown showcases his love for jumping off tall amplifiers. While only "I Punched A Lion In The Throat" and "E=MC Hammer" are truly memorable there's no doubting that PABH are an excellent live band even if the set ending with Hudson throwing up at the front of the stage and then rolling about in it is a little OTT even for the most seasoned gig goer.

By the time Biffy take to the stage there's no hope for getting back out again if you're near the front and when recent single "That Golden Rule" opens the set the Guildhall is a sea of flailing bodies with just a few lines of brave souls trapped against the barrier by the stage. This is a song that's judderingly heavy in a way that many so-called metal bands can't master after years of trying. A few songs later comes another sublime newie in "Bubbles" propelled by the twins' backing vocals while "Cloud Of Stink" is propelled by falsetto vocals and another thunderous riff. "God And Satan" meanwhile sees Neil playing his gorgeous Gretsch White Falcon while gently singing some of his simplest yet most profound lyrics yet, 'I savour hate as much as I crave for love because I'm just a twisted guy'. The highlights however are the oldest songs on display tonight. "Kill The Old, Torture Their Young" and "Hero Management" haven't been played much over the past few years but are truly incredible live, especially those in the know screaming 'Take me away!' along with Si at the end of the latter. Sadly there's far too few older songs in this set which features all but two tracks from "Puzzle". This is where the trepidation comes in...why exactly is a band supposedly promoting a new record playing pretty much the whole of their previous album every night? It's worrying as it does affect the quality of the show, the band is clearly not as energetic during Puzzle tracks like "A Whole Child Ago" and "Who's Got A Match?", both of which have been played to death since early 2007. It's worrying that the band appears to be getting stuck on "Puzzle" as if they're afraid of unleashing on an audience a bunch of older songs that the majority may not have bothered to hear. What they should be doing is trying to make the show the best it can possibly be and who cares if this means that half the crowd doesn't know half the songs being played?

The encore comes and goes with a sole old song, "Questions & Answers" which frankly seems a slightly bizarre choice to bring back because it was hardly their most popular song when it first came round. The final song is, perhaps unsurprisingly, "Mountains" but it doesn't end the evening on a high for the majority. It simply isn't a very good show closer especially considering this is a band that has songs like "Now The Action Is On Fire!", "57", " Bodies In Flight", "There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake" and the (already played on the night but suitably epic) more recent "Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies".

It's frustrating because I know how good this band can be live, sadly tonight they're just not as good as they can be.

Tellison - 6/10
Pulled Apart By Horses - 9/10
Biffy Clyro - 8/10

Biffy clyro played:

That Golden Rule
Living Is A Problem...
A Whole Child Ago
Love Has A Diameter
Kill The Old, Torture Their Young
Born On A Horse
Get Fucked Stud
Now I'm Everyone
God And Satan
Cloud Of Stink
Hero Management
Glitter And Trauma
Saturday Superhouse
The Captain
Questions And Answers
As Dust Dances

For the record 2 nights later at Brighton Dome they played JDI in place of Q&A and also dropped KTO, TTY from the set...very disappointing decision with KTO but there ye go!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Karnivool - Islington Academy 2 - 18th October 2009

The small bar section of the O2 Islington Academy is cosy to say the least with a capacity of around 250 people making it the smalles of the O2 Academy venues spread across Britain. It probably comes as a bit of a shock to Karnivool, the best thing to come out of Australia since Shane Warne started to play test cricket. Back home their most recent album, the excellent 'Sound Awake' went straight to #2 in the charts and they have toured their home nation at credibly large venues to some major extent. This however is their first UK headline show scheduled between dates supporting Welsh reggae metal quartet Skindred across the UK' a first headline show that has been too long coming for the band's tiny yet dedicated army of UK fans.

The gig is thankfully sold out but by the time the first support band take to the stage is roughly two-thirds full only. Many not yet here will later express disappointment when they realise that Skindred opened for their touring partners, a secret surprisingly well kept until doors open. The second half of their set is pure dynamite, proving their reputation as an act whose reputation has been built on live foundations, and by the time they end with a blast through their best known song 'Nobody' the crowd is baying for more metal action. Essex metalcore act Forever Never do their best but unfortunately they are merely a generic metalcore band without the extra talent levels of unique songwriting to make them stand out from a tired scene in the same way that Exit Ten, for example, do. Lead singer Renny Carroll looks like a school's 1st XV rugby captain but jumps up and down with a ferocity that sees some in the audience worry that he may either fall off the tiny stage or else break through the lower than usual ceiling. His bandmates meanwhile strike an unusual mix between ditch dwellers, scene kids and Jerry Cantrell lookalikes and in contrast are extremely static. This gives the performance a somewhat underwhelming feel although, to be brutally honest, the music isn't good enough to deserve any better.

Some equipment issues see Karnivool arrive on stage slightly later than planned but they more than make up for it with the crowd cheering the opening chords of every song like the return of a long lost relative. It would not be an understatement to call the Australian quintet one of the tightest bands around at present as they make their complex grooves shimmer with the same force as on record. Singer Ian Kenny's voice is spot on throughout while the bass playing of Jon Stockman also deserves high praise. First album tracks such as 'Fear of the Sky' get the best reception but the strongest are those from the new record, especially opener 'Simple Boy' and the epic 'Deadman'. There isn't really enough room on stage for Kenny to employ the extravagant stage moves he apparently performs in larger venues but the enthusiasm and skill of the group is what makes them winners at this show. The guitar of Drew Goddard guides everything with his riffs being heavy enough to shake the walls but also technical enough to impress. By the time the band depart after their 11 song set they have won the hearts of any in the room who were undecided before the show. The band also seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves throughout, regularly expressing what a "pleasure" it is for them to be playing a headline show in the UK at long last. An absolute steal of a show at £8.50, everyone present hopes that they will return sooner rather than later.


Karnivool played:

Friday, 16 October 2009

Funeral For A Friend - Hatfield Herts University Forum - 15th October 2009

Funeral For A Friend are one of those bands whose reputation is built more on live performance than on the quality of their studio albums and quite rightly so, for they are a formidable live act as anyone who has seen them will testify. The audience facing them tonight is mostly comprised of local students and it is apparent that many probably are not particularly big fans of the band but are just here to sample this new local venue (which only officially opened six days earlier with a performance from Mancunian indie rockers Doves). The venue itself is actually very nice, prompting singer Matt Davies to proclaim it "well lush", if lacking the atmosphere that only a number of spilt pints on the floor can give it over the next few years. It is not full though by any stretch of the imagination, which may be a little disappointing for a band that has previously played venues as large as Cardiff's International Arena.

The welsh quintet take to the stage with Davies miming along to some generic cheesy pop song ,that I probably should know but do not, before ripping straight into the jilted lover anthem that is 'Streetcar'. This is followed quickly by a succession of hits, for the band is promoting a greatest hits compilation with the current tour, including new single 'Wrench' and fan favourites 'Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings' and 'All The Rage'. Matt Davies occasionally engages in a bit of light hearted banter with the crowd, oddly focused on kung-fu tonight, but the rest of the band remain quiet and focused. Bassist Gavin Burrough has settled into the band well since joining just over a year ago while guitar team Kris Coombs-Roberts and Darran Smith are as impressive in their riffing as ever. Meanwhile drummer Ryan Richards is solid if not spectacular in either his actual drumming or his occasional bouts of screamed vocals. The band are involved in something of an upward struggle however as the show as a whole, no matter how good the performance, lacks any real atmosphere while the sound has overdriven the treble to such an extent that the bass is nearly inaudible.

Essentially for fans of the band this is a fun show, especially the mass singalongs to 'Into Oblivion (Reunion)' and 'Juneau' that round off the evening, but for everyone else it's not the most memorable of gigs. To say it wasn't good would be a lie but it could have been better.


Funeral For A Friend Setlist (roughly):
She Drove Me To Daytime Television
Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings
This Year's Most Open Heartbreak
All The Rage
Honour Amongst Theives
Bullet Theory
Red Is The New Black
Roses For The Dead
Built To Last
Rookie Of The Year
Escape Artists Never Die
Captains Of Industry
Into Oblivion (Reunion)
The Art Of American Football

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Progressive Nation 2009 - London Wembley Arena - 10th October 2009

2008 saw Dream Theater take 3 other bands on tour around the US under the header of 'Progressive Nation'. 2009 saw them do the same with different bands and now also sees them take the tour to Europe with sub-headliners Opeth, first time Euro tourers BigElf and avant-garde Canadian septet Unexpect. The biggest date of the tour sees the four bands play at London's famous Wembley Arena, albeit a Wembley Arena that is only around two-thirds full.

Unexpect take to the stage at around quarter past six; they aptly manage to shock, confuse and amuse the audience all at once. Their sound, consisting of male and female vocals that are both growled and clean, is largely driven by the 9 string bassist ChaotH and is augmented by the keys of Exod and violin of Blaise Borboen-Leonard plus the metal standard guitars and frantic drumming. While the group clearly have many good ideas they fail to allow any idea to settle or progress, instead sounding rather like they write by trying to jumble everything up and throw it all up in the air before seeing where it will land. The sight of the band's furious headbanging and hair whipping is hilarious to say the least, as is the aforementioned 9 string bass. They're quite fun to watch and their willingness to conform as little as possible is to be applauded but they're the worst band on show at Wembley tonight.

Next up are retro rockers BigElf who, after entering to the strains of the imperial march music from Star Wars, proceed to play a series of heavy metal songs with organ attached in awe as much as possible to Black Sabbath. They're progressive only in the very loosest sense of the word with only the occasional Pink Floyd-esque touch backing up the tag. What they lack in originality they make up for in fun factor and their half an hour on stage flashes by. It also features a brief cameo by Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy who is obviously the band's biggest fan. They also deserve credit for their nerves for this is only the second UK show for a band who's major influences are all British and to play it at Wembley Arena is a nerve racking thing indeed but they succeed in winning many of the crowd over.

Some members of the crowd are here not for headliners Dream Theater but for Opeth, widely viewed as the pioneering leaders of today's metal scene. Some other members of the crowd look a little apprehensive as the Swedish behemoths take to the stage. These people have only heard about Opeth and look a little wary as if a vicious dog has just looked up from its bone to see that there's the possibility of fresh meat in their direction. Rather kindly Mikael Akerfeldt's crew start up with the all clean guitar and vocals 'Windowpane' but this is merely the calm before a storm and 'The Lotus Eater', introduced by Akerfeldt as "a masterpiece" and quite rightly so, shows what Opeth is really all about. They play a relatively soft set by their standards but there's still enough growling and shuddering grooves to strike fear into the heart of some onlookers. They are a formidable live act and I can't help but wonder why Dream Theater take them on tour as they come very close to blowing the headliners off the stage!

When Dream Theater do arrive however, for a short by their standards 90 minute set, they manage to match Opeth and more. Akerfeldt even joins them, providing the growls for opening epic 'A Nightmare To Remember'. Every solo, whether it comes from the keys or continuum of Jordan Rudess, the guitar of John Petrucci or even the bass of John Myung, is greeted with roards and gazes of wonder and astonishment. Singer James LaBrie is also on fine form, especially during the excellent 'The Mirror' and 'Lie'. Wembley is even treated to a special 'Percussive Nation' drum off featuring the drummers from all four of the bands as well as an extended version of the classic 'Take The Time' with extra Petrucci outro soloing. The band encores with the stunningly epic 'The Count Of Tuscany' and the show is over all too soon. With a suggestion of a return next year Dream Theater are gone and an incredible evening of, for the most part, progressive entertainment comes to an end.

Unexpect - 5/10
BigElf - 7/10
Opeth - 9/10
Dream Theater - 9/10

Opeth setlist:
The Lotus Eater
Harlequin Forest
April Ethereal
Hex Omega

Dream Theater setlist:
A Nightmare To Remember
The Mirror
Jordan Rudess Keyboard Solo
Prophets Of War
The Dance Of Eternity
Percussive Nation 2009
Take The Time
The Count Of Tuscany

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Porcupine Tree - London Hammersmith Apollo - 9th October 2009

Porcupine Tree have been waiting a long time to play venues this big, venues that truly fit their grandiose model of modern progressive rock. Led by arguably the most creative man in music today, Steven Wilson, they are promoting their fine new record 'The Incident' with a world tour that has already stopped off at various venues across the USA. This however is something of a homecoming show for them. Wilson was born in Kingston-Upon-Thames and raised in Hemel Hempstead while keyboard player Richard Barbieri was also born in Britain's capital. Porcupine Tree have also managed to sell out this gig, which is undeniably impressive for a band well under the mainstream radar, although they may have been helped in the fact that the seats are all in for tonight's gig. This gives the show a rather static and uninvolving feel to it, especially during the first half (which is a full performance of the 55 minute song-cycle that is 'The Incident').

However the performance of the band, augmented live by guitarist John Wesley, is incredible. Every single note is peformed perfectly and Wilson's vocals are also spot on. The show also comes backed by some stunning visuals from acclaimed Danish artist Lasse Hoile, ensuring that even when the band is noodling through the quieter bits that there is still plenty to look at. The audience are clearly, for the most part, enthralled, despite the occasional person getting up to go to the toilet (an event which is always extremely conspicuous at an all seated gig). The epic that is 'Time Flies' probably gets the best reception, particularly Wilson's solo which would fit in perfectly well amongst Gilmour's finest. After the wonderfully melancholic 'I Drive The Hearse' the band leave the stage and take a ten minute break before returning with some of their best loved tracks from the last few years. 'The Start Of Something Beautiful' is followed swiftly by an abbreviated 'Russia On Ice' and an excpert from 2007's epic 'Anesthetize'. This three song run represents the highlight of the show and by the time the band exit from the stage once more with 'Bonnie The Cat' the audience has become fully aware of Porcupine Tree's excellence as a live act, if they weren't already.

An encore arrives in the form of 'The Sound Of Muzak' and 'Trains', which of course get its customary huge singalong reception. With the promise of another London gig next year ringing in their ears a load of very happy progheads (an interestingly diverse crowd with an age range from early teens to 65+) leave Hammersmith with big grins on their faces. A major feather in PT's live cap.

Porcupine Tree - 9/10

The Incident
i. Occam's Razor
ii. The Blind House
iii. Great Expectations
iv. Kneel and Disconnect
v. Drawing the Line
vi. The Incident
vii. Your Unpleasant Family
vii. The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train
ix. Time Flies
x. Degree Zero of Liberty
xi. Octane Twisted
xii. The Seance
xiii. Circle of Manias
xiv. I Drive the Hearse
The Start of Something Beautiful
Russia on Ice (first half)
ii. The Pills I'm Taking
Strip The Soul / .3
Bonnie The Cat
The Sound of Muzak