Thursday, 25 March 2010

Frank Turner - Camden Roundhouse - Wednesday 24th March 2010

The rise of Frank Turner has, to say the least, been unexpected. This is a man who was educated at Eton and LSE yet was a rebel at heart, playing first with alternative rockers Kneejerk during his school days and later becoming vocalist of influential hardcore punk act Million Dead. The band split up in 2005 and Frank embarked on a full-time solo career. His rise to the top has been rapid and, in keeping with his punk credentials, without the mainstream radio fanfare that so many acts rely upon. Tonight sees his biggest headline show to date (at least until December when he is scheduled to headline Brixton!) and the Roundhouse is packed. This is a man who has moved effortlessly from playing on his own to 100 people in a pub to playing to 3500 in a place like this.

Indeed Frank has grown to such an extent that supporting him on this recent UK tour has been Chuck Ragan (yes the one who used to sing in Hot Water Music). I arrive just in time to see Chuck take to the stage, sadly missing highly rated folk-punkers Crazy Arm (I misread the show time on the tickets because I am a stupid fool like that sometimes). For those who aren't familiar with any of his work Ragan sings a little like a more hardcore version of Mark Lanegan. His songs are undeniably impressive works, complimented by a superb backing band while Frank demonstrates his admiration for Ragan by joining him onstage for a brief duet. Having not heard any of his solo music before I am now determined to hear some more.

By the time Frank Turner himself takes to the stage a singalong hungry crowd ready and waiting for him. At least half the people in the Roundhouse tonight seem perfectly willing and able to scream along to the man's most memorable anthems, such as opener "Photosynthesis" and (my personal favourite Frank song) "I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous". Many are familiar with the rarities that creep into the set as well, "Once We Were Anarchists" being especially superb. Whilst Frank's backing band are solid and help add depth to his songs this is an artist reliant on his songwriting touch, writing lyrics that can be cynical, affecting and heartwarming all at the same time. Sometimes it almost feels as if the songs aren't suited to such a cavernous place but they are still pulled off with a fine degree of aplomb and the set whizzes by, only with the occasional pause for Frank to exclaim his joy at peforming the show or to rant about the state of British politics. The real Dan of "Dan's Song" comes onstage for the song after which he is named and Chuck Ragan and friends join him for a cover of his own song to open up the encore and, after a storming performance of "The Road", Frank returns solo for a closing rendition of "The Ballad Of Me And My Friends", that still manges to feel intimate somehow despite the size of the venue. It's wonderful to see that an artist such as Frank, someone who should be a mainstream outsider by all usual parameters, can get so far and attract so many new fans. It's easy to moan about the taste of the music buying population of Britain today but sometimes they get things right, as they have done with Biffy Clyro in the last few years, and this is another shining example. Just don't leave the smaller venues totally behind please Frank!

Chuck Ragan - 7/10
Frank Turner - 8/10

Frank Turner setlist
Try This At Home
Once We Were Anarchists
Richard Devine
The Real Damage
Poetry Of The Deed
Father's Day
Back In The Day
Dan's Song (+ Dan)
Jet Lag
To Take You Home
Our Lady Of The Campfire
Long Live The Queen
Sons Of Liberty
I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous
Reasons Not To Be An Idiot

Revival Song (w/ Chuck Ragan + others)
St. Christopher Is Coming Home
The Road

The Ballad Of Me And My Friends

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Karnivool - Highbury Garage - Monday 15th March 2010

For those in the know Karnivool are one of those bands. An artist about whom one can feel passionate about, a band who'd be worth travelling miles upon miles to see. It's astonishing walking into the Garage tonight how many of these hardcore 'Vool fans there are present. When I witnessed the band's first London headline show last October it was to a 250 capcity venue in which many were clearly just curious as opposed to devoted. The heaving 600 capcity Garage is a different prospect with many of the devoted signalling their love outwardly with their Karnivool t-shirt of choice. There are fans present from, it seems, all over Europe as well, all converging on the barrier in front of the stage. Mixed amongst them come those who are still just curious, have heard the word about these Aussie prog rockers but haven't actually heard anything for themselves tonight. I feel proud to say these people appear to be outnumbered tonight.

However before the onset of the 'Vool comes Southampton post-hardcore quintet a word like.attack who are, for want of better words, obviously inexperienced in front of such a large crowd. They seem a little daunted by the occasion and aren't helped by their lead vocalist being sadly inaudible throughout most of their short half hour set. There is energy aplenty and opening song "Though We Aren't Birds We're Still Given To Flight" is a pretty special track but they appear to be lost on the majority of the 'Vool hungry crowd. A good effort anyhow.

When they finally arrive on stage Karnivool are utterly mesmerising. I didn't think they could possibly be any better than last time but I was 100% wrong. From the moment "Simple Boy" kicks in to the moment "Change" fizzles out into nothingess this is a rapturous occasion. Ian Kenny is a bizarrely engaging frontman with as perfect a live voice as one could want while he is backed by four exceptional musicians, with Jon Stockman underpinning each song with his standard groove defying basslines and Drew Goddard leading it all with his, not flashy, but nont the less effective lead guitar work. The crowd, at least at the front, screams along to every word of fan favourites such as "New Day" and "Fear of the Sky" whilst the double whammy of "Roquefort" and "TheMata" grinds the pit into full working capacity and ensures all are lost in the shapeshifting textures and tones that this increedible band create. There's not much that can be said about a gig like this, it flashes by in the blink of an eye but every moment is sumptuous with the nuances of epics like "Deadman" still being just as apparent yet wonderfully subtle as on record. All I can say is roll on next time!

a word like.attack - 7/10
Karnivool - 10/10

Karnivool setlist

Friday, 12 March 2010

Katatonia - Highbury Garage - Thursday 11th March 2010

Katatonia are something of a unique act in the incredibly diverse hard rock/metal scene of today. These Swedish titans began their career as standard doom merchants but nowadays incorporate Cure like electronics with their melancholic atmosphere and earth shaking riffs. Tonight they arrive in London to a sold out Garage, around 500 people apparently, which is undeniably impressive for a band that receive barely even a mention on radio in Britain. They bring with them two more highly rated European bands, fellow doomsters from Finland in Swallow The Sun and, opening the bill, German post-rockers Long Distance Calling.

The aforementioned openers are a better than average post-rock act for certain featuring songs driven by Jan Hoffman's thunderous basslines and accentuated by Reimut Van Bonn's synths and ambient effects. While not doing anything especially unique they are subtle enough not to rely on the same formula song after song with gradual build ups to heaviness being just as common as a sudden switch from melodic picking to crushing bursts of sonic destruction. An impressive half hour set that also is their first peformance in London. Hopefully Long Distance Calling will come again to the UK soon.

Swallow The Sun troop onstage to an intro tape that, although atmospheric, goes on for at least a minute longer than it needs to. When Mikko Kotamaki's vocals first cut in they are sadly barely audible but eventually are upped in the mix enough for his talent to come through. This sextet may lack onstage charisma but make up for it with their suitably heavy riffs that get the crowd headbanging along. The melodeath aspects to their music add a different slant to their music from most bands of a similar ilk and the tightness of their live act is undeniably impressive. A band that is worth seeing and listening to.

The crowd are fully prepared for Katatonia by the time they hit the stage at 9.30pm, opening their set with new album "Night Is The New Day" standout "Forsaker". Despite recently losing brothers Mattias and Fredrik Norrman from their outfit this is a band on top form. Every riff echoes with the same power as on record and Jonas Renkse's aching vocals are almost perfect throughout. Anders Nystrom's solos meanwhile are more understated than flashy but perfectly suited to the songs the band create. The crowd sing along to the likes of live rarities "Omerta" and "Saw You Drown" and have a jolly good headbang to all the band's impressive hits and new songs. This isn't a band for going totally crazy to by any stretch of the imagination and one crowd surf attempts fails in all but succeeding to knock my glasses off (first time for everything). Meanwhile temporary guitarist Per 'Sodomizer' Eriksson and bassit Niklas 'Nile' Sundin fit in as if they've been in the band for years. Although the set contains perhaps a little too much from the "Viva Emptiness" and "Great Cold Distance" albums a gig cannot be in any way bad if it finishes with a double whammy of "Dispossession" and "Leaders", seeing Katatonia depart to raucous applause and thus concluding a great evening.

Long Distance Calling - 7/10
Swallow The Sun - 7/10
Katatonia - 8/10

Katatonia setlist

My Twin
Onward Into Battle
The Longest Year
Saw You Drown
Idle Blood
Ghost Of The Sun
Day And Then The Shade
In The White
For My Demons

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Twin Atlantic - Charing Cross Borderline - Wednesday 3rd March 2010

Having been a Twin Atlantic fan from the early days of their existence it's been interesting to watch how the Scottish quartet have grown over the last couple of years. In their hometown of Glasgow the cavernous ABC has recently been filled by fervent local support but in London things are still on a smaller scale with the Borderline, one of the best 200-300 capacity venues around, providing the scene for the band tonight.

Opening things up are surprise special guests. There are, unfounded unlikely but promising in their vague degree of possibility, rumours beforehand of Biffy Clyro being the aforementioned guests but it is actually post-hardcore rockers Brigade who get things started off. Somewhat unfairly best known for being led by Will Simpson, Charlie Simpson of Busted and Fightstar fame's younger brother, they are more substantial than a great degree of their current peers but are dogged by sound issues in their brief set. Playing a set of almost exclusively new songs they struggle to hold the attention of those who haven't got a clue who they are. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination but certainly not the steady live act I've seen before.

Canterbury come next. I'm not optimistic as they come onstage having been distinctly unimpressed with their somewhat generic pop-punk shenanigans supporting Hundred Reasons last year. Pleasingly they have improved. Whereas previously the keyboardist / sometime lead vocalist appeared to spend most of the set narrowly avoiding falling off the stage and very little time actually doing something now they're a much tighter live act. Not really a band I'd choose to see or listen to often but at least energetic enough to avoid blending in too much with a saturated scene.

Bounding onstage with their usual enthusiasm Twin Atlantic play an absolute blinder of a set. Where they used to be somewhat restrained now their energy is apparently boundelss. Frontman Sam McTrusty oozes onstage persona like it's going out of fashion and guitarist / cellist Barry McKenna bounds around like a Jack Russell who's been given free reign of a dog biscuit factory. Behind them bassist Ross McNae and drummer Craig Kneale provide an impressive rhythm section. Whilst the crowd take a while to get going it's not long before a moshpit has kicked in and the crowd are screaming back the words to the likes of "What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?" and "Time Is The Enemy" in the direction of the band. The quartet appear to be having a great time and, although threatened with being cut off before concluding song "Audience & Audio" they finish triumphantly. This band has grown into a true live behemoth and, much as I'd love to be able to keep them to myself for a while longer, I think venues the size of the ABC are only a matter of time away in London as well. Genuinely up their with the best live sets I've seen.

Brigade - 6/10
Canterbury - 6/10
Twin Atlantic - 10/10

Twin Atlantic setlist (roughly right order)

You're Turning Into John Wayne
I Cave In
Old Grey Face
Running From Money (if anyone can clarify the title of this song it'd be cool)
Time Is The Enemy
Better Weather
What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?
A Guidance From Colour
Human After All
Caribbean War Syndrome
Audience & Audio