Sunday, 23 May 2010

An Evening With Anathema - Islington Academy - Friday 21st May 2010

Few bands have ever made as big a gear switch as Anathema did after second album 'The Silent Enigma'. To go from predominantly death/doom metal to prog-esque alternative rock was something of a left turn at the traffic lights, not least for their fans. At least the band's records have always had one thing in commmon however...they've all been really depressing. Well, the new one isn't. It may have taken seven years but it appears that during that time Anathema have cheered the funk up. Most of the people inside the Islington Academy to see this special 'Evening With' show seem to be aware of that already. Indeed, when frontman Vincent Cavanagh asks the crowd "How many of you have pirated our new album? Honestly we don't mind" around half of those present put their hand up. Assuming that plenty of people were too embarassed to own up means that the majority have already heard 'We're Here Because We're Here', for that is the title of the new record. It's pretty good...but that's for another day.

Certainly Anathema don't let a set featuring copious amounts of new material bog them down. The first four songs from 1999's superb 'Judgement' album follow new song 'Thin Air' and pass by in a flash with Vincent's spot-on vocals being all the more impressive considering his monitors aren't working and he can't hear what's going on. Considering that Anathema are beset by an array of technical problems tonight the performance is truly remarkable. Bassist Jamie Cavanagh's amp doesn't seem to be working until halfway through the first song and Danny Cavanagh's (yes they're three brothers) guitar rig shuts down totally after 'Everything', leaving him to play an impromptu acoustic 'Are You There?' to the delight of the crowd. The singalong this provides leads the grinning guitarist to thank the crowd for "One of (his) best ever moments on stage". When things do get going again 'One Last Goodbye' isn't a bad way to thank a crowd for its perseverance. Probably the most timelessly beautiful song Anathema have ever, or will ever, write, it's as touching live as in its original form on record.

One thing Anathema do manage live to some great effect is pace the set extremely well. They know just when it's time to break out another raft of new songs or a heavy track to remind everyone they're not totally given over to atmospheric balladry. The likes of 'Empty', 'Judgement' and 'Panic' provide the heavy highlights whilst the occasional addition of Lee Douglas' tender female vocals gives a nice contrast to Vincent's powerful tones. Indeed Lee's lead vocal song 'A Natural Disaster' is one of the best moments of the show. As it's an evening with show the band are on stage for nearly 2 hours before departing to the superb 'Flying', only to return with epic new album closer 'Universal' and a "really, really old song" in 'Sleepless' before 'Shroud of False' and 'Fragile Dreams' close the evening. The band may not have been able to hear much or even rely on their equipment working but they were still excellent all the way through. In fact the only real gripe is that Les Smith's keyboards aren't always as prominent as they should be. A top notch show...and actually far better than I expected it to be.

Anathema - 10/10

Anathema setlist
Thin Air
Forgotten Hopes
Destiny Is Dead
Dreaming Light
Are You There? (Danny solo - acoustic)
One Last Goodbye
Inner Silence
Lost Control
Angels Walk Among Us
A Simple Mistake
A Natural Disaster
Temporary Peace
Shroud Of False
Fragile Dreams

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Birds Of Tokyo - Camden Barfly - Monday 17th May 2010

Birds of Tokyo are one of the many brilliant bands currently streaming out of Australia. This is a scene including such bands as The Butterfly Effect, Cog, Sleep Parade, Dead Letter Circus and, of course, Karnivool. The 'Vool have already begun to make waves in Europe, partly because they write awesomely experimental yet catchy song, and partly because of their ridiculously good live performances. Thus it is not surprising to learn that Birds of Tokyo are best known in the UK at the moment for their singer, for it is Ian Kenny of Karnivool 'fame' that leads the band with his soaring vocals through their wide array of poppy alt-rock tunes. It is unfair to describe the band as a side-project for Kenny, even though that may well be the case, as they have been far more prolific than Karnivool...already gearing up for their third album in a six year lifespan whereas it took the 'Vool 12 years to get two out. Indeed Birds aren't universally popular with 'Vool fans but then they do sound, pretty much, nothing alike. Birds are all about the soaring choruses and are more grunge than they are prog. Thus much of the crowd packed into the Barfly for the band's first UK headline show could be said to be more curious 'Vool lovers than long-term fans.

When I say 'packed' I do mean that the Barfly is sold out for this show (and the following night's repeat performance) but I also mean that is only 'packed' once Birds are about to come onstage. Catalunan quartet Mujeres come onstage to a grand total of...9 people (including yours truly). Their brand of lo-fi garage with a slight folk element is eminently danceable yet also repetitive. Each of their songs sounds pretty much exactly the same but they're still fairly enjoyable and get involved in some football banter, which must be a good thing. Second support act Little Fish are better, although frontwoman Julia Sophie talks a bit too much. Their songs are pure garage rock and whilst some of them are pretty good, some of them are pretty average as well. They're a lot better than Hole though, whom they've recently been supporting. They also don't seem to have thought getting off the stage after their set through very well. The keyboard/synth set up is particularly clumsily taken off, thanks only to the acquiescence of crowd members getting out of the way.

Birds of Tokyo finally reach the stage around 10pm and are worth the wait. The set features a mix of new material, including stomping new single 'The Saddest Thing I Know', alongside choice cuts from their first two records, highlights of which include 'Wayside' and 'Broken Bones'. Kenny is an engaging, if slightly bizarre, frontman as ever and the band's live sound is fleshed out by the addition of a keyboard player to back up Adam Spark's understated guitar. Kenny meanwhile dons an acoustic guitar for superb renditions of 'Head In My Hands' and 'Train Wrecks'. The band seem genuinely pleased with the reaction they get from the crowd and look especially delighted whenever a singalong starts up. The band have also managed to get the best out of the Barfly's sound system it appears, at least from directly in front of the stage where I stand, with Kenny's vocals as clear as the guitar solos and Anthonny Jackson's thudding basslines never threatening to swallow up the rest of the sound. The only gripe worth giving much airtime too is that the set is quite short. The band are only onstage for 70 minutes or so and a couple more songs from the back catalogue would have done quite nicely to round off the evening. Very enjoyable show though all the same.

Mujeres - 5/10
Little Fish - 7/10
Birds of Tokyo - 9/10

Birds of Tokyo setlist
The Saddest Thing I Know
Armour For Liars
Wild Eyed Boy
Off Kilter
White Witch
Wild At Heart
Head In My Hands
Train Wrecks
Broken Bones

(pics coming soon)

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Deftones - Euston ULU - Wednesday 12th May 2010

It's been a tough time for Deftones in the last couple of years. Bassist Chi Cheng was placed in a coma after a terrible car accident in November 2008 and the band, having decided to carry on recording the album 'Eros' with ex-Quicksand man Sergio Vega, struggled to get a new record fully together. 'Diamond Eyes' was released on 3rd May 2008. It is not a replacement for 'Eros', which has been shelved for the meantime but is, for certain, the best Deftones record since 'White Pony' arrived back at the beginning of the decade. Whilst the two albums between 'White Pony' and 'Diamond Eyes' contained some truly awesome songs they were both struck with inconsistency and a lack of flow. For Deftones to return in 2010, despite the tragedy they have suffered, and release a record as wonderfully cohesive as 'Diamond Eyes' then is something of an achievement.

One thing I believe has not been affected at any stage is Deftones ability to play truly spell-binding live shows. This show at the ULU is no exception. Being one of the smaller venues that Deftones have played in recent years, this special show for MTV Presents has something of a special atmosphere to it. The majority of the people crammed inside the university venue appear to be long-term fans of the band and all seem delighted when the band emerge on stage at around quarter past 8 to the mega riffage of 'Rocket Skates', the "guns! razors! knives!" chorus of which provides the first scream along of the evening. It takes the band a little while to hit full stride but by the time the tones of 'Knife Party' and 'Passenger', incidentally my two favourite Deftones songs, have been wheeled out it's hard not to feel as if you're witnessing a band who are kings of the live arena. Singer Chino Moreno is on fine vocal form, mixing screams with raps and high notes expertly, and Sergio Vega is an active figure onstage. The fact that songs from 'Diamond Eyes' are all highlights tells you all you need to know about the new record. That they can stand out just a couple of weeks after release amongst the likes of 'Birthmark' and 'Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)' is testament to the strength of these new anthems. Of the heavier lot 'CMND/CNTRL' is an obvious choice to wax lyrical about with Chino having the crowd in the palm of his hand throughout while Steph Carpenter's monstrous riffs blare out in the background. The one problem with this gig indeed is that the sound at the ULU is really nothing to write home about. It's all actually...dare I say it, rather quiet. Not that this stops the band putting their all in with Abe Cunningham's drums being as powerhouse as on record and Chino getting up close and personal with the crowd when he so chooses. Any show that ends with an encore of 'Root' and '7 Words' can hardly be spoilt by minor sound gripes from audiophiles like me anyway! A great evening and a pleasure to finally see Deftones live at last. Bring on the next time!

Deftones - 9/10

Deftones setlist
Rocket Skates
Diamond Eyes
Knife Party
You've Seen The Butcher
When Girls Telephone Boys
Beauty School
Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)
Around The Fur
My Own Summer (Shove It)
Back To School (Mini Maggit)
Change (In The House Of Flies)
7 Words

* I am sure they played 'Prince' but the only setlist I can find on the web doesn't include it. Whether I imagined it or not is up for debate.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Biffy Clyro - Hammersmith Apollo - Thursday 6th May 2010

It's been ages since I last saw Biffy live. Ok, I'm lying, it was only October. I mean, what are they playing at? This is their first UK tour in over six months, utterly ridiculous. Perhaps they should record a DVD at some point so that people like me can watch that in the gap between tours. Oh wait, it appears that they are, judging by the amount of cameramen present at tonight's Hammersmith Apollo gig. This is the first time Biffy have played the legendary venue, perhaps best known nowadays for the BBC's 'Live At The Apollo' which is, you guessed it, filmed at the venue (the clue's in the title). Anyway Biffy are pretty famous nowadays (I know, how times have changed) and therefore can fill venues of this size with consumate ease. Tonight's clientele are undoubtedly far more 'scene' than the people who used to go and see them. Furthermore they even get celebs at shows now...tonight we have all of Watford hardcore act Gallows, plugged so much by NME and Kerrang! that it's reached the point where it's hard to see how they have any punk credential left at all,, Nick Knowles. Yeah, you know, the guy who presents DIY SOS. He's a real celebrity, honest.

Moving on to matters of real importance and vigour, the first support act onstage tonight at the Apollo is Sheffield avant-garde noisecore quintet Rolo Tomassi. They're kind of hard to describe. If you haven't heard them then you should imagine what it would sound like if your house blew up...right now. Then you should add to that image the sounds of smashing crockery, screaming infants and, plus synthesizers. This is a band that's certainly not lacking in originality. However they don't go down well with everyone at the Apollo tonight, possibly because they are, to say the least, an acquired taste. An awesome acquired taste at that. One thing you may not guess upon hearing them for the first time is that the screams and growls that populate much of their vocal output are provided by the sensible looking, petite Eva Spence. Whilst her growls are easily audible, when she slips into angelic clean vocals, they are regrettably lost in the mix. A very nice half an hour set from the band.

Following Rolo Tomassi are Scottish indie shoegazers The Twilight Sad. The barely say a word to the crowd during their set, with singer James Graham being completely wrapped up in the music to the extent that he spends a significant part of the set screaming the words not into the microphone but from the edge of the stage, with eyes closed, directly to the audience. Their sound owes a lot to the likes of Arab Strap and Aereogramme and Graham's unmistakably Scottish voice shines through above Alan McFarlane's fizzing guitar. Although they may well be a little understated for many of the people here tonight, this is a fine performance from a great band that you should all check out.

By the time Biffy Clyro come onstage the crowd is ready for them. Joined onstage by Oceansize guitarist Mike Vennart really helps them flesh out their live sound, with Neil still playing the lead parts but with Vennart making the songs sound as real onstage as on record. As per usual, 'That Golden Rule' kicks things off in some style. It drops like a bomb with bodies flying within seconds. The band barely take time for breathers in this ninety minute set dominated by cuts from 'Only Revolutions', highlights including the visceral 'Shock Shock' and the anthemic 'Whorses'. Simon pummels his guitar into submission like there's no tomorrow while Ben batters his drum kit into oblivion and James grooves away all over the place. Mike, meanwhile, dances around and yells out the words with a passionate zeal that makes him popular with the crowd, even though they haven't a clue who he is (their loss). Indeed, my attempt to get a "Mike Vennart's a legend" chant going fails horribly. Whilst the newer songs are impressive, the oldies are still the best. 'Bodies In Flight' is the behemoth live I have always dreamt it to be (I have been waiting SO long to hear this, my favourite Biffy song live, that it's a relief to finally hear it. If only they'd played it twice) and 'There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake' twists and turns as perfectly as ever. A double whammy of 'Convex, Concave' and 'The Captain' ends the night in fine style. Bring on the arena tour in November/December!

Rolo Tomassi - 8/10
The Twilight Sad - 8/10
Biffy Clyro - 9/10

Biffy Clyro setlist
That Golden Rule
Living Is A Problem
Glitter & Trauma
Shock Shock
Who's Got A Match?
God & Satan
Bodies In Flight
Born On A Horse
Saturday Superhouse
A Whole Child Ago
There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake
Many Of Horror
Cloud Of Stink
Convex, Concave
The Captain

Monday, 3 May 2010

Freeze The Atlantic - Camden Barfly - Thursday 29th April 2010

It's difficult to sum up my feelings upon the approach of this gig. You see, there was this band called Reuben whom I, and many others, loved a great deal. A band that was as honest and as dedicated to their fans as one could wish a band to be...and they wrote some pretty kick-ass songs as well. In 2008 Reuben split up, leaving a gaping hole in the British music scene for their followers. It seems pretty unlikely that they'll ever return, especially with singer/guitarist Jamie Lenman pursuing a reasonably successful illustration career at the present. This is obviously sad but perhaps it's time to get over it...for Freeze The Atlantic's sake.

Fast forward to 29th April 2010. Freeze The Atlantic are about to play their first ever gig. This is a band featuring not only two ex-members of Reuben in bassist Jon Pearce and drummer Guy Davis but also members of Hundred Reasons (Andy Gilmour, who plays bass in HR but guitar here) and Archie & The Instincts (Tom Stevens, guitarist). It's something of an early 21st century southern counties supergroup. For many of the people packed into the Barfly tonight however, this is all about Jon and Guy's involvement. There are people here looking for FtA to fill the Reuben sized gap mentioned earlier.

Before the 200 strong crowd find out whether FtA are going to be awesome or a damp squib however there are two totally mental support acts to enjoy. Hold Your Horse Is are a bit like the live music equivalent of a bottle of coke exploding in an expensive Porsche, thus ruining the leather upholstery. Basically, they're really kinda awesome in a crazy sort of way (assuming you don't own a Porsche). Musically they sound a fair amount like Mclusky. You should go and see them if they're playing near you and buy one of their ultra horsey t-shirts as well.

Cars On Fire are more visceral than HYHI. Frontman Ali Ross is in the crow within thirty seconds of the first song kicking off, stirring up the first pit of the evening (spoiler alert). This is a band that sounds like Reuben, the Bristolians provide some almighty riffage with some mega screams from Ross and yet still with anthemic choruses on the likes of 'Burn The Suits' and 'Sharks'. The sound isn't perfect and there's some refining to be done before they can truly match some of their heroes but this is a band that will be pretty awesome for sure by the time they get their first full album out; mini-album 'Dig Your Own Grave' is out now, they'll give it to you for a fiver if you ask nicely!

When Freeze The Atlantic finally enter the stage the tension is noticeable. Not that they appear to have noticed. This is an incredibly tight performance from a band playing their first gig and they don't let the fact that the crowd is hearing most of these songs for the first time hold them back in any way at all. Singer Daniel Flay is the only one who appears at all nervous but he still gives a fine performance, crowd surfing not once but twice, and it's great to see Jon and Guy back on stage again (admittedly Guy can't actually be seen but then again, he's supposed to be sitting down I suppose). It's important to note that they actually sound very little like Reuben at all. This isn't a bad thing at all, they're a very good band with some great songs, although I suspect some in the crowd may well be a little disappointed. The songs already released through their MySpace are obvious highlights merely because they're known, 'Feather In A Hurricane' being a particular favourite along with closer 'All These Things You Hold On To', which sees the crowd join in on the "woah-oh-oh-oh-oh" part toward the end. The band leave with a promise to return in September...bring it on. They may not be Reuben but they'll definitely do.

Hold Your Horse Is - 7/10
Cars On Fire - 7/10
Freeze The Atlantic - 8/10