Sunday, 5 September 2010

Another Year, Another Wristband!

Having just about recovered from another year’s festivities it’s time again to look back on the Leeds Weekend, and slate it retrospectively. Dreaming of a grand return to the days of the Carling Weekender we have to ask; how exactly did this year compare to 2009 and the glory days of years gone by?

After any traumatic experience it’s human nature to strive to do things differently in the future, to avoid the same outcome, after all insanity by definition is to repeat the same behavior whilst simultaneously expecting different outcomes. Therefore, after a shambolic campsite experience the previous year, it was only right that I should demonstrate my healthy state of mind by joining the flock of early birds in descending on Bramham park a whole day early. The early bird, a ticketing phenomenon created by Festival Republic that many festival veterans have been thus far reluctant to involve themselves in, would appear to have become a necessity. Only a couple of years ago it was normal to arrive at the site fresh faced on a Thursday morning after a good sleep the night before, you’d have to work your way through an endless cue of bodies and the traffic would be unbearable, but you’d still find yourself camped where you wanted to camp with space for the whole family. Oh how things have changed! These days it’s a prerequisite to arrive on the back of an early bird and an extra fifteen pounds to secure camp in any of the campsites closest to the arena. Shenanigans in 2009 resulted in the worst campsite in history (try sleeping on a main pathway, under a tree, with no mattress and lots of stones) and led us to flock to the park early, admittedly this time from door to full set up completion, only two and a half hours was taken from my life but, what was definitely the easiest entrance to the festival, still turned up some surprises.

Yellow Bubble. The campsite of all campsites. The daddy of all festival homes, the safe haven for the festival veteran. The campsite we couldn’t secure last year. The campsite, which comes with the gift of slumber. It would be there for the taking. The fearful stroll across the rolling hills of Bramham demonstrated just how popular this new phenomena had become, anyone would be excused for thinking that by arriving at 2pm you’d be welcomed by near empty fields but as was the case nobody could have expected campsites to already be bursting from the seams. The trek into the unknown was never going to be pleasant but it was reassuring when we managed to pitch up in one of the finest BublĂ© quadrants. Why on earth have Festival Republic started this premature regime? What was in store for us this on this Wednesday debut? And how were we going to survive the long day that follows?

Well, as should have been reasonably expected of Mr Melvin Benn, the relentless man that he is, there was nothing in store for us on our Wednesday debut. Post set-up and multiple trips to the car it became clear that our fifteen pounds contribution was merely for the privilege of descending upon Bramham early and did not entitle us to any extra entertainment. Time to entertain ourselves… would we be doing this the whole weekend? One can hardly forget the dismal evening scene from last years festival which was less an ‘Oasis of Rock n Roll’ and more a ‘Carpal Tunnel of Dub’ but the real question was always going to be ‘Has Leeds turned into a weekend rave?’. Obviously, the line-up remains the finest in Rock and Roll, it isn’t this that has de-evolved, but the Leeds sub-culture of neon-nosed teenagers. Last year saw the stark revelation of the ‘Relentless Tent’ which, much to our disappointment and our disapproval, had made a return, like a cold you just can’t shake off, again, we were let down as we were forced to endure the evening spectacle of teenage, binge-drinking, drug using school leavers. It would appear this is the new theme! Festival fashion has always been close to my heart, I truly admire those who can survive the festival looking pristine, as much as I admire those who come out of the other end of ‘Rachel’s Gate’ looking like they’ve fought in Afghanistan, but I do not like this new trend of School Leavers Hoodies. Warm, they may be. Convenient, they may be. Cool, they definitely are not. Leave them firmly at home next year kids, I’ve heard of pride for your University but pride for your compulsory secondary education? I don’t think so…. It would appear that this festival has fast turned into a Region-wide leavers party. What a horrible thought! I call for an age limit outlawing under eighteens, I can just about listen to folk talking about getting into Uni, but to be subjected to talk of GCSE results? Just NO!

Festival Republic still hasn’t quite got all the glitches ironed out when it comes to this festival. I still say that more needs to be made of local, unsigned talent, especially on the evenings and Wednesdays if this early chicken lark continues, and you still find bands on the wrong stage. Whether this is down to NME or the organisers themselves, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to realise that in a time when folk everywhere are buying into twee, indie, lovable musicians, the epitome of this genre shouldn’t be squashed into the NME/Radio 1 tent, but they were, and there were two major errors in judgment by organisers this year, which caused massive problems. The first oversight was at ‘Pendulum’. It’s no secret that this band has become huge, and everyone knows how crazy those drum and bassers can and did get. They played a truly fantastic set and there wasn’t one unhappy face in the crowd, until that is, they went to leave. Having played on the ridiculously located NME/Radio 1 stage, seeing the thousands of danced out and juiced up folk try to leave, was a horrific sight. Stuck in a bottleneck because stewards had neglected to fully open the exit gate, hundreds of fans were caught like sardines with no way out. Paramedics were called, security alerted and poles mounted, it was a disaster. Panic attacks, fires, you name it, everything was happening. Needless to say, it was an, ‘epic fail’. Not quite as disastrous or as problematic but equally as disappointing was ‘Mumford and Sons’ situation on the same stage. With most of the crowd left watching the gig from a poor quality screen, sat on one another’s lap, Festival Republic once again demonstrated a poor lack of judgment. I’d like to say it was a good performance, everyone looked to be enjoying it, but from my position on the outskirts of the field, let alone the tent, I can’t profess to actually hearing a god damned note!

For this writer, the attraction of Leeds 2010 was always going to be the reunion of ‘the Libertines’, a band close to my heart in many ways. There have been incredible amounts of ‘will they, won’t they’ hype surrounding this gig and I don’t really know why, surely the more ‘will he, won’t he’ headline was the 'Axel Rose show'?! Anyway, as was to be expected a great crowd descended on the main stage to witness the show, or the spectacle and the boys didn’t disappoint. With only a mere three-minute waiver of confidence from Mr Doherty, the full set of classics went ahead, hitch proof and with a complementary heir of sickly sweet brotherly love. Whether this new found love for each other was sincere or not, I wouldn’t dare to comment, but Pete was firmly on this Planet and Karl had found the confidence he lacked in performing solo, never have band mates needed each other so much and never have this pair made their fans so proud.

A band I was less than enthused about seeing from the off had to be ‘Blink 182’ or should I say ‘Travis Barker’, or is it Blink 183,4,5? When this band split, I didn’t really understand the wide spread sorrow, so needless to say, I didn’t really appreciate the adulation of them reforming. In fact, the only member of this trio worth the acclaim they receive is one Travis Barker, drummer and producer extraordinaire. The band played all their hits, I think, and had some cheeky banter, but were somewhat upstaged by the prior performance of ‘Weezer’. The only memorable aspect of Blinks performance came from Mr Barkers drum solo on a platform, which did a full 360-degree rotation. Weezer on the other hand proved their coin by giving a masterful performance. Showing their experience, they performed in a manner any headliner wishes they could perfct, enticing the crowd, climbing the speakers, shimmying across the billboards and finally throwing open the artist/crowd partition and running through their fans. They did it all and finished the set with every member of the crowd wanting more and doubting Blinks power to outshine. Rightly so, absolutely superb.

I Blame Coco’, the project of Stings daughter and rising fashionista Coco Sumner showed that it’s not just her brogues collection that demands acclaim but also her ballsy take on musical entertainment. Only really present at the gig because the bands name had drawn our attention earlier that morning, it was surprising to discover that Stings little madam is following in her old mans footsteps, and this band has quite the journey ahead of it, watch this space! ‘The Freelance Whales’ are another exciting prospect if you ask me. There’s a great influx of this style of music coming through at the moment so it worries me that this little gem might go without the recognition they deserve, with stella single ‘Hannah’ due for release, this fun loving band are great value. Stealing their limelight, and arguably deservedly so, are bands like ‘The Drums’ who played an exceptional set. Heavy comparison has been drawn between these and another band from across the pond, ‘Vampire Weekend’ but the Drums definitely have the potential to overtake twee rockers Vampire Weekend. With an heir of the Smiths coming through via the bands superb front man, the only issue I could take with the Drums was their failure to play their two recent hits ‘Lets go Surfing’ and ‘Saddest Summer’. I criticised ‘Sir’ Alex Turner for neglecting his hits last year and it’s only fair I do the same here, for a festival set is nothing without the hits, it’s these which we are paying good money to celebrate and someone should inform all of these serial hit neglectors out there, of the five ‘Festival Commandments’:

(1) Thou shalt always please the crowd,

(2) Thou shalt always play the floor fillers,

(3) Thou shalt have a good time,

(4) Thou shalt do a good cover, and

(5) Thou shalt be on time.

You can’t really go wrong if you arrange your set list having regard to these and a premium example of this was found on the main stage for ‘Cypress Hill’ who were an abundance of stoner fun, and then lurking unexpectedly in the NME/Radio 1 tent on the Sunday in the form of ‘Phoenix’, a soft rock band with their roots in Versailles, France. Not overly popular in their native, they rely on support from the States and cult support from the edgy regions of the UK. Low expectations were in play when Mr. Wella Wannabe and myself strolled over, and I can honestly say that from the outset, we were blown away. It was disappointing the see half the crowd disappear prior to their entrance, never before has a band so much proven the point that music has to be experienced live to be properly appreciated. Phoenix have a mellow sound to their latest album, ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’, they almost sound like they’ve spent a little too much time seeking perfection in the production room, a little like the ‘Wild Beasts’ , but nothing prepared me for the robust drumming powers of borrowed drummer Thomas Hedlund and the eccentric antics of front man Thomas Mars who at one point, threw himself at the mercy of his fans. A truly magnificent set all in all, and the only band I went away from the festival with a little more space in my heart for. Whether it was the astounding light display, which was like nothing I have ever seen at a festival, or their pure energy on stage, this band proved their weight in gold and I shall definitely be watching out for UK Tour Dates.

Other bands I’ll be looking out for in the future are ‘NOFX’ and ‘Frank Turner’. The first, very experienced to the point I seriously think they are more comfortable on stage than in their living room, gave a fun loving set with comical, almost cartoon-esque moments where the band exchanged puns and jokes…

‘My dad died in the Auschwitz’


‘He fell off his watchtower, drunk!’

… and the latter, fairly new to the scene but rather enchanting and very honest performer Frank Turner. His set was warm, lively and everything you want from an artist you enjoy. I shan’t be looking out for, or mentioning in any more glory than this, ‘Guns ‘n’ Roses’, because I don’t believe they were there. Axel did his best, only arriving on the stage 30 minutes late and having a glorious rant at Mr Benn in an attempt to extend his curfew, but the band just isn’t the same without the rock royalty that is Slash. I’m sure they were entertaining enough though.

So, admittedly, this is hardly the short summery I intended it to be when I started writing but I feel it’s all well founded! With the entertainment being so lax, it was nice to resort to entertaining ourselves as it would have been back in the 60’s (or so I imagine!) and I have a query for you all; ‘How many of these ‘popular’ throwbacks from the land of verbal discomfort are you able to bring yourself to use? We tried and tested some of the following with great success!:

Win, Fail, Epic Fail, Fo'Sho, Mo'Fo, Sick, Phat, Okies, Fair, LOL (a full list shall be compiled below!)

Don’t be afraid to try them out yourselves, and Muchos thank you to everyone I camped with, for I had a splendid weekend. Highlights being:

(1) The Punk Duck

(2) The Guardian Poncho

(3) Limbo at Cypress Hill

(4) That silly sod that security nearly threw out on the Friday for well, being a silly sod

(5) Super messy Saturday, as per…. and,

(6) Showering in wine.

Until next time!!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Gaslights in Brixton

Reviewing a band like The Gaslight Anthem is never an easy one to call, with a dedicated fan base that churn out the bands lyrics in perfect harmony it’s hard not to get sucked in purely by the atmosphere. Rocking into the Academy just in time to see the Sharks exit the stage I arrived with enough time to buy a nice pint of Tuborg (O2’s Draught of choice) and find myself a nice position within the crowd. When the second support band ‘Twin Atlantic’ stumbled onto the stage the venue was already filling up. It was a sold-out show, so Rock fans were bound to be disappointed to be hearing from a band that were seemingly influenced by bands such as ‘At The Drive-In’. The band sings in their native Glaswegian accents, not necessarily a bad thing, but in such a large venue they lacked the dynamism of their recordings and seemed somewhat lost on the stage, it being one of the biggest in the country.

The Gaslight Anthem took to the stage to deafening applause, seeming somewhat overwhelmed by the masses of fans they had managed to entice to the South London venue. Opening with a single from the new album's 'American Slang', the bulk of their main set was made up of recent songs, starting with the self titled ‘American Slang’, moving on to 'Queen Of Lower Chelsea', 'Stay Lucky' and 'Bring It On' and it’s safe to say the band didn’t play out of purpose throughout the entire set. Obviously, the crowd erupted into ecstatic applause when the band played 'The '59 Sound' from their second album, which they played only eight songs of. Having been to most of the gigs at the Brixton Academy (a lot of people will be aware that I also work there) I don’t think I have ever come across a crowd that were quite so responsive as this one. No encouragement was needed from vocalist Brian Fallon for the crowd to pipe up and chant the chorus of ‘No Surrender; back at the band, or should I say idols they had paid to see, for these were not fans who turn up on a whim, because they....

‘liked that song on TV that they did with Springsteen"

.... which they did play fantastically well and was received with all the cheers and yelps it deserved (pretty much every member of the audiencesang along with the band in a beautiful four minutes of synchronicity) NO, this audience was the result of years of touring, three great rock 'n' roll records and a hell of a lot of hard work.

Closing with a raucous cover of The Who's 'Baba O'Riley' was a masterstroke. It saw fans covering the scatter graph of ages come together, arm-in-arm. It’s going to be a big year for the Gaslight Anthem and they ended the night with a rapturous five-song encore, drawing mainly from 'The '59 Sound'. Absolutely brilliant.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Junction 22

It was exactly one year ago to this day that I ‘voiced’ my fears of impending adulthood and achieving the milestone age of 21. It was exactly one year ago to the day that I sat on my IKEA sofa in my warehouse conversion in Hoxton, procrastinating when I should have been reading some informed authority on company law. TODAY, I sit on an IKEA sofa in a one bedroom flat in Hoxton, procrastinating when I should be preparing for the impending conference I have in the morning. Still fearing impending adulthood, some things never change. I’m sat peering out of the window and on the face of things I realize that I’m getting nowhere with any significant speed these days!

I turned 21 years of age with priorities for the coming year, I was to commence the Bar Vocational Course, try and secure pupilage, find a place to live and continue loving music. I will turn 22 years of age having pretty much completed the Bar Vocation Course, failed to secure a pupilage or any form of job security, having spent approximately fifty thousand English pounds and recently regaining my love for music having lost it to Blackstone Criminal Practice last October. So this is sounding like a dreary life account already but it’s by all means not supposed to, for I sit here in my Hoxton abode, perched on my IKEA sofa and I reflect on my life as a 21 year old. I’ll tell you what; it’s been a pretty good one!

I first walked along Bedford Row on September 16th , somewhat unsure of what kind of hand I was about to be dealt. I can now divulge that I was dealt an exceedingly good hand even if I accepted it with a bit of a Poker face. You see, I went through my degree with a varying indifference towards most people and I assumed I was heading for the same path this time round, instead I was handed group 9. Group 9 consists of some of the best people I’ve met in a while. In fear of turning into a complete girl and gushing about them, I’ll say just this: They to some extent restored my faith in people…

… In the midst of what was an assessment focused year however, I lost a little piece of who I was, it wasn’t until I woke up one morning remembering how cool I used to be that I realized I had a lot to regain. In response to this epiphany there was only once course of action, I rallied the troops and pretty much forced everyone to the Inner Temple Student Associations Spring Ball. If the ITSA Blitz party did one thing for me, it gave me back everything I used to live for [bar friends and family of course]! I hit the shops, had friends over, and started listening to music.

AH MUSIC! Music was like… well, MUSIC TO MY EARS!

An explosion of the senses, like a great big cannon exploding raspberry compote and cream.

I listened to Blur, Muse, the Libertines, Marilyn Manson, Skindred, the Stone Roses, Pavement, Incubus, Maximo Park and much to my happiness made time to work more at the Academy. I hid away my stone washed denim and I was back to my socializing, fashionable, gig-going self in no time. It’s so easy to get bogged down in what you’re doing, especially when you’re joining the dots in a giant dot-to-dot style career path and forget to spend a little time doing what you enjoy. Sometimes you need someone to take your brain and shake it, like a hetcher-sketcher just to scramble things up so you can begin to forge a better path through the rack and ruin you left behind!

As my birthday draws near, I feel that queasy sensation deep, in the pit of my stomach, like a volcano waiting to erupt and probably cause an ash cloud the disced upon London, disrupting everything if recent trends continue! The familiar feeling of unease and uncertainty for the year ahead, somewhat comparable to risking the inclusion of egg noodles two days past there use by date on the menu, you never quite know what life has planned for you. I do know this though, 21 was a good age for making friends. It's like the first time you dunk a cookie into your tea... you know when you're onto a good thing!

I have no job, I have no money but I do have a wealth of friendships old and new to cherish forever.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Down To Earth [Pavement 2010]

The face of so called ‘Indie’ music has changed immensely over the last decade, to such an extreme that you could never really expect a self coined ‘middle-big college rock band’ to remain a hit after a 10 year non-touring streak, surely? Well if Pavement proved anything in their recent comeback tour it is that it doesn’t matter how long you’re away, or how much music has changed if you managed to reach cult status.

Stephen Malkmus propelled into cult status way back in the 1990’s, in the hearts of anyone who could see past the bands former discrepancies, mainly the plagiarism claims, and took the rest of band for the ride alongside him. Pavement, soon became a favorite amongst Indie Fizzpickles everywhere, admired for their mumbling charm and slacking sound. A ‘raw’ band they have always been and a ‘raw’ band they remain today, the awkwardness and the rough around the edges approach to their four-night spell at Brixton Academy demonstrated why they are still loved today. Having achieved cult status, success is much like relying on a good recipe; if you keep the ingredients the same, you’ll never go far wrong.

Many a sour remark towards rival bands such as The Stone Temple pilots and The Smashing Pumpkins rekindled their grumpy attitudes towards what constitutes a crowd pleasing performance, leaving the crowd experiencing the much anticipated awkward, mumbling performance which caused them to fall in love with the band in the first place. There were the usual screams and scowls from percussionist Bob Nastanovich which progressed the band through it’s 31-song set, sweeping from the mundane softer numbers, into the progressive, exciting numbers, sometimes like a hurricane…

It was obvious, when considering that prior to their tour they’ve performed less than a handful of gigs together in the last decade, that the performance was going to be less than perfect but somehow that just added to the charm making it feel special, perhaps more than perfect. The band showed they still have what it takes though, showing their ability to change styles and shift gears at a moments notice they belted through a guitar smashing crescendo post the chorus of ‘Elevate Me Later’ and re-synched, to give a somber final verse which left them swimming into a sea of silence and the audience with every hair on their neck stood on end.

The bands set list, 31 choice tracks selected from all of the bands five albums and eight EP’s was a crowd pleaser, including all the favorites to wet the crowds appetites. For any successfull story, you need a good beginning, middle and end. For any truly scrumptious meal you need a good starter, main and dessert. For any good gig you need a good introduction, bulk and encore. Pavement achieved this easily, starting with favorites Silence Kit and Stereo, they proceeded to move through a jam packed bulk including Grounded, Cut Your Hair, Fight This Generation and finish with not one but TWO sweets. The first encore Date with Ikea and Stop Breathing led to a second encore, lapped up by the over excited audience and their final two songs were conduit and Here.

Generally, the band couldn’t really do much wrong so long as they stuck to what they knew and they sure did that. A truly fantastic, in places, awe inspiring performance by the West Coast Lead Singer and indeed the rest of the band. As though they picked up the very same instruments that had been laying idle for ten years, they proceeded to improve and break them in as the four days went on, leading to a phenomenal performance to end their four-day residence on the final Thursday, proving they still have the talent and followers (including a weird eerie cult atmosphere) to continue being at least one of my favorite Indie bands if not one of the best Indie bands history has ever seen! I was even lucky enough to meet and have a natter with Scott Kannberg, you will be pleased to know they are as nice as they are talented, truly lovely people and I shall end with the question; Can this band do no wrong?!