Archive for the ‘Live’ Category

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite having seen The Sisters countless times since their 1990 comeback at Wembley Arena, and despite their performances being spectacularly patchy (true also of their early years and even cult heyday up to ’85, if you believe the evidence of the bootlegs over the fans who were present but often under various influences) and often disappointing, I was still mega-revved to see the band that, when push comes to shove, will always rank as my favourite act of all time. I make no apologies for this.

The city’s half-deserted – which was also true of York on departure – even in rush hour in these COVID-19 paranoid times, but the O2 is packed with goths and lesser goths of all ages, shapes and sizes.

I’m here as a paying punter, and I’m here on my own, and manage to see almost none of the many people I’m connected with via social media who are also present as I hunker down in my usual spot in the front row by the speaker stack to the left as facing. I’m determined to guard it so fiercely, I adopt the resolve of the Birmingham NEC ‘92 gig: no beer, no nipping off for a pee. Pee trips can take 15 to 20 minutes in venues like this, and the beer is dismal and expensive, so screw that, although the three pints I had in a pub up the rad beforehand begin to press harder about halfway through the set.

Having not had much time to investigate beforehand, A. A. Williams is something of an unknown quantity beyond being a purveyor of ‘doom gospel’. Going on the presentation and first few bars, I was expecting her to be an addition to the bracket occupied by Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle, but as the set progresses, it’s apparent that Williams is less given to pushing the weightier end of things. She leads her band – a standard enough rock set-up with a second guitar alongside her own to fill out the sound and add depth and texture – through a proficient and suitably dark-hued set. But without any significant dynamics, sonically or in terms of performance, it all feels a little flat, samey, and contained, lacking in drama. I want MORE!

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A. A. Williams

The Sisters do give us ‘More’, and lots more besides, and while ‘More’ is reserved for a blistering hit-filled encore, the set packs plenty of bangers and more energy than we’ve seen in some time, elevating this well above what’s become something of a standard semi-obligatory exercise in merch-pedalling and showcasing a new song or two.

Having watched the latest new songs ‘Show Me’ and ‘Better Reptile’, aired on the mainland leg of the tour a few months ago, countless times already, to the extent that they’re both etched into my brain, am I keen to hear them for the first time properly? Hell yeah. But that doesn’t blunt either the anticipation or the thrill, and while there’s no ‘Better Reptile’ tonight, the buzz of a set that launches with a new song is cerebral and physical but not necessarily one ready articulable in words. After an atmospheric intro, ‘But Genevie’ slams in and is an instant classic, and better still, the mix is crisp and clear and Eldritch’s vocals aren’t only up in the mix, but he’s singing up with a vocal strength that’s not been displayed in far too long.

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The Sisters of Mercy

While he doesn’t sustain it throughout the entirety of the set, reverting to the subsonic grumbling, growling thing he’s become prone to over the last decade for many of the songs – and at times very much to their detriment – there are moments where he really does go all out, not least of all on an extended ‘Flood II’ that has to be up there with any performance since their return to the live circuit in 1990.

The standard of the new songs – with ‘Show Me’ being aired along with ‘I Will Call You’, ‘Black Sail’ and instrumental number ‘Kickline’ – is up there with the reinstated ‘rash and Burn’, and it’s elating to hear – although the elation is tempered by the eternal frustration of a continued lack of studio activity.

The vintage cuts – ‘First and Last and Always’, ‘No Time to Cry’, ‘Marian’ are played at breakneck speed, but instead of feeling throwaway or like they wanted to get them over with, as has been the case on some previous outings, they feel energised and urgent, and their brevity leaves room for an extended ‘Lucretia, My Reflection’ in a hit-packed encore which saw the band really cutting loose with ‘More’, ‘Temple of Love’, and ‘Lucretia’ before wrapping up with ‘This Corrosion’.

After 18 songs performed by a band on renewed form, not to mention a rare showing of ‘I Was Wrong’ (a personal fave) we can probably forgive the absence of ‘Vision Thing’.

Writing this after the fact, in the knowledge that it proved to be the penultimate show of the tour only heightens the appreciation of the event. The later-day Sisters shows may be divisive in fan communities, and it’s a fact they can be variable, but this home outing proved that on a god night, the Sisters have still got it.

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s all about the work / life balance, right? That’s what I tell myself, and my colleagues, an anyone who will listen. The truth of maintaining a work/life balance often – at least in my experience – means killing yourself to meaningfully fulfil the life element. Because life isn’t about resting, it’s about doing the things that matter, pursuing your passion, not binging on Netflix. That isn’t life, that’s hiding from work, finding a mental space in which to escape and decompress. But no-one ever lay on their deathbed saying ‘I wish I’d watched more TV’. I haven’t watched a single episode of ‘Love Island’, ‘The Voice’ or ‘X Factor’ and am fairly confident my life isn’t in any way deficient because of it. Being a writer is more than tapping out a few jolly lines while sitting on the sofa watching a nice rom-com with the wife after the kids have serenely taken themselves to bed straight after dinner, and being in a gigging band, however infrequently you may gig, takes some serious effort, especially in addition to full-time dayjob and family commitments and all the rest.

And so I disembarked in York, where I live, after a two-day work trip to Norwich, and seven minutes later was on a train to Leeds. Some people are accustomed or otherwise adjust readily to travel: I’m not among them. People laugh at me when I use the term ‘train-lagged’, especially when in the context of a day-trip to Sheffield from York, but believe me, I feel it on a molecular level or something.

Another thing I’ve discovered recently is that reviewing and performing are very different disciplines, more so even than leading a meeting and taking minutes – which is pretty much what I’m attempting here.

Performing requires beer, and I had a couple on the train, and a couple more while grabbing some food and plotting a vague strategy for mayhem before going to set up. Unusually, we had a proper soundcheck, although I hate vocal soundchecks. As long as things work, I’m more concerned about volume and tonal impact than mix, given that what happens during the performance rarely resembles the soundcheck anyway, and the while white noise and shouting only works at speaker-shredding, tinnitus-inducing volume. You don’t need to hear the words, you just need to feel the force, ad anything less than freight-train impact falls short. We made noise. We nodded, retreated to the back with more beer.

The Truth About Frank’s set started unusually gently, with an ambience that wasn’t even particularly dark, before murk and muffled samples edge in. Before you know it, the PA is blaring a surging swell of beats and a wash of noise, oscillating washes of discoordinated sound layers meld with off-kilter techno. This is one of TTAF’s more structured-sounding sets, and it builds well and culminates in a fragmented flurry of fractured noise.

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The Truth About Frank

…(something) ruined crash-landed by happy accident, and once again, in the squall of brutal noise, I ruined myself. This simply seems to be how it is. This was probably our strongest and most brutal, tinnitus-inducing set yet. I told the sound guy during soundcheck that I wasn’t fussed if my vocals got buried in the barrage of noise, and unlike some, he respected that. There are fantastic audio and video recordings of the set: I’m barely audible for large portions, but Paul Tone is on absolute A1 peak form for brutal electronic noise, and the volume, it would seem, was pretty much excruciating. So I’m happy.

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…(something) ruined

My sketchy notes state that Black Alert play Tangerine Dreamy Krautrock with samples. It’s an evolutionary electro set that’s heavy on vintage synth and drum sounds, with the drums pumped up in the mix. It’s a nice contrast, and the emphasis on melody is welcome at this point in the evening.

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Black Alert

And then there’s Un Sacapuntas. The solo noise project of Alice Nancy, this performance – and it’s all about the performance – is something else. There’s a reason I prefer to play early, an acts like this are all the reasons why: you wouldn’t want to follow this. Alice is mesmerising and intense as she fastens a contact mic to her throat while unlacing her shoes. What follows is an intense and hypnotic show, both sonically and visually: burrs of treble and shrieks of feedback break through a dank rumble while she shrieks unintelligibly and wafts around the stage, a ghostly presence.

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Un Sacapuntas

It’s a superb end to a great night which is exemplary of the Hogwash experience: Dave Procter’s curation is both considered and intuitive, bringing together a road range of unusual non-rock acts from near and far. With a respectable and enthusiastic audience, Leeds underground scene is very much kicking.

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m here for the support. So much so, I’m here as a paying punter wearing a PIG T-Shirt. One of those bands who’ve existed on the fringes for over 30 years now, and have fared better in Japan and other territories than domestically, they’re an act which has evolved while retaining a unique and singular vision, with a particular slant on the whole ‘industrial’ thing. Raymond Watts may have taken his early cues from JG Thirlwell and KMFDM, and various collaborations have proven remarkably fruitful, but ultimately, PIG are special because their sound and style is possessed of a certain flair, an irony and self-awareness that’s atypical of the genre.

This is only their second UK tour since they supported Nine Inch Nails on the Downward Spiral tour back in ’94, and I wonder how any people in the room can claim to have seen all three of their tours? Half the audience probably weren’t even born in 94, but for once, rather than bemoaning my age, I get to pity them for being born too late.

Having slung out a slew of new prime cuts in recent years, with a new covers album hot off the press and hot on the heels of Risen in 2018 and an attendant remix album and a Christmas EP last year, one would have been forgiven for some heavy pluggage, but tonight, PIG- featuring a lineup including the near-legendary En Esch on second guitar.

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PIG

After an opening salvo of recent material including ‘Mobocracy’, a grating thrashgrind of a number, they delve into the rich pickings of the band’s extensive back catalogue, dredging up the cabaret sleezegrindgroove of ‘Hot Hole’. ‘Find it, Fuck it, Forget it’ and ‘Painiac also get unexpected airings, and Watts is on magnificent form, a fluffy of fake fur and pelvic dynamism: it’s a small stage and he’s a tall man, but it’s his presence that fills every inch of the space as he works the room. ‘Pray Obey’ thunders in before they close with 1997 single cut ‘Prime Evil’. It’s far too short a set, but it packs some punch and slams some ham and that’ll do nicely.

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PIG

3Teeth are a band who’ve completely bypassed me before this tour was announced, which probably says more about how poorly I’ve kept abreast of the contemporary industrial scene than anything. They’re from the industrial metal strain that revels in the S&M aspect of the imagery (which explains all the leather jackets, fishnets, and mesh tops out tonight) and they push it hard, so hard that Alexis Mincolla’s presentation swings into the territory of camp machismo, and musically, they represent entire Wax Trax! catalogue compressed into one band. And perhaps that’s the issue and the reason I haven’t kept up to date: there doesn’t feel like any real progression has taken place in the last quarter of a century or so.

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3Teeth

They come out strong with gritty metallic riffs and hard rhythms. With a 5-strong bass and 7-string guitar setup, there’s a real density to the sound, and they’re all about the crisp chug, and they display no shortage of hooks.

What struck harder than the music was Mincolla’s observations on the proliferation of CCTV here in Britain is more pronounced even than back home Stateside. It’s a sobering thought that stays with me while they power through a solid set during with they showcase new additions to the live repertoire from last year’s Metawar in the form of ‘Sell Your Face 2.0’ and ‘Time Slave’ about the corporate grind. It’s relatable.

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3Teeth

Running close to the curfew, they manage to just squeeze an encore, Mincolla returning to the stage in a suit and red lizard mask for ‘President X’.

It may not be revolutionary, but it’s well executed and played with passion, and the audience reception is definitely deserved.

Christopher Nosnibor

Leeds’ DIY scene is becoming increasingly adept at turning poky rehearsal spaces into gig venues: it makes sense from a funding perspective, but also means that while conventional scenes are struggling to stay open for various reasons (as often redevelopment as being squeezed financially) and new and niche acts are finding it increasingly difficult to get gigs, the Leeds scene is thriving and as diverse as ever.

I’ve previously sung the praises of rehearsal-room-turned venue CHUNK, and it’s Theo Gowans, who does a lot of the stuff there, who’s behind this evening’s show. Tonight, Mabgate Beach (or Madgate Beach, as the poster has it), tucked away in a corner of an industrial estate in an obscure corner of the city plays host to a brace of Newcastle noisemongers, supported by a brace of very different local supports.

I’d been forewarned that the room was small, but that’s something of an understatement.

Intimate isn’t even close.: it’s about the size of my living room, although it’s still probably a few feet bigger than The Hovel in York’s South Bank Social, which has a capacity of maybe 16. The drum kit and back-line fill most of the room, after which we manage to pack in maybe 20. And the lighting is as minimal as the space, only less consistent.

The Truth About Frank have been knocking around for over a decade now, and Alan Edwards’ sets don’t get any more mellow over time. Kicks off the bill with a riot of samples, the set comprises a single continuous improvised soundwerk, a jarring audio cut-up through which murky beats fade in and out through an ever-shifting collage of noise, creating what cut-up originator Brion Gysin would refer to as ‘a derangement of the senses’. Playing in near-darkness with a pencil beam of light emanating from the arm of his glasses to illuminate his minimal digital kit, Edwards’ stubby nicotine-stained fingers manipulate shapes on a touch screen and jab buttons, and with each prod and poke, more strange sounds emerge, and it’s brilliantly bewildering.

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The Truth About Frank

Things start to feel quite cramped when a full band with bass and two guitars play, and I’m less concerned about site lines for photographs than being smacked by the bassist’s headstock, meaning I’m happy to settle for the second row to observe Loro spin a set of mellow post-rock. It’s kinda standard circa 2004 fodder for the most part, but it’s nice, and with twists of mathiness and jazz without being indulgent.

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Loro

Penance Stare prove to be an absolute revelation. Their recent recordings are a hybrid of ethereal shoegaziness with black metal production values, and while those elements are very much present here, witnessing their colossal noise in such an enclosed space is an incredibly intense experience. There’s ferocious reverb on the vocals, and murky as fuck guitar duels with thunderous drumming. The duo explore some deep, dark atmospheres, too, and coupled with Esmé’s brutal anguished shriek, there are comparisons to both Amenra and early Cranes to be drawn here. Some of the soft instrumental segments are achingly beautiful and affecting, and are invariably obliterated by devastating distortion and howling agony. This is music that reaches deep inside and leaves one feeling somehow altered.

James Watts has more bands and projects than I have albums in my review pile, and having met him and performed alongside Lump Hammer in the summer, I was keen to see how things worked with a different slant and lineup, and an absence of knitted head/face garb. Whereas Lump Hammer ae sludgy and repetitive, Plague Rider mine a seam of pounding math metal, with Watts’ vocal veering between shrieking demonic and guttural taking a shit deep grunt. And what the fuck even is his two-string instrument with some kind of touchscreen attached? In the less-than—half-light, I’m struck by how much Watts resembles a young Alan Moore. It’s so dark, I can barely see the rest of the band to know what they look like, but they relentlessly kick out juggernaut riffs that hammer hard.

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Plague Rider

Technical difficulties struck 15 minutes in, with a power outage on the guitarist’s pedal board bringing a halt to the set, but after a brief intermission they resumed as loud and punishing as before, and then some.

In such a confined space, the effect is staggering: every beat, every chord, lands like a punch to the gut. It’s exhausting but exhilarating.

Christopher Nosnibor

The Wonkystuff nights to date may have been a shade sporadic, but that’s what happens when the organisers have day-jobs and families, and more importantly, what they’ve lacked in regularity, they’ve more than compensated in quality, and that’s a major reason why there’s such a respectable turnout to a gig midweek, mid-January, in York. There’s also the warm, welcoming vibe: these nights may be musical showcases, but they’re also a coming together of an oddball community, where we’re all misfits together and it feels good and feels like home. Tonight’s lineup – as usual – demonstrates John Tuffen’s skill for bringing together acts who provide a satisfying balance of contrasting and complimentary.

It’s the Wonkystuff House Band – a collective rather than a fixed entity, tonight comprising Tuffen alongside Ash Sagar and Simon Higginbotham – who warm things up with a set consisting of permutational repetitions delivered by multiple vocals, delivered in a drab monotone over repetitive beats. Comparisons to Can, Cabaret Voltaire circa ‘Nag Nag Nag’, The Fall, Flying Lizards, Girls vs Boys, Young Marble Giants, and the more contemporary Moderate Rebels all make their way into my notes as I watch them crank out vintage synth and drum machine sounds. Cyclical bass motifs and whizzing diodes fill the air as they sit and twiddle knobs and read lyrics from clipboards and the historical leaps into the present for a while.

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Wonkystuff House Band

The start of TSR2’s set crackles and pops fireworks. The trio hunch over customised kit with wires all over to create warped undulations and machine gun fire beats that batter the speaker cones. The set builds into a dense, murky trudge. The second track, ‘What will be’ is more co-ordinated than the opener, and is solidly rhythmic, mechanoid and spacious, and metamorphosises into some kind of glam reimagining of Kraftwerk via DAF. Heavy echoes and tribal beats dominate the third track, and they very much find their groove at this point, at least for a spell, before the construction grows shaky despite solid foundations. Perhaps it’s the sheer ambition of layering up so much at once that’s difficult to keep together. Despite this, the discord and dissonance are part and parcel of an intriguing set.

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TSR2

Rovellasca takes the stage, quietly and understated and stands behind a bank of kit. So far, so standard. The set begins with deep, dark, rumblings, and very soon builds into something shatteringly immense. It’s dense. It’s loud, and fills the room like a thick, suffocating smog. The sound is thick, immersive. Time passes. Unexpectedly, elongated mid-range notes sound out and the underlying dense noise builds. I’m no longer listening: my entire body is enveloped. This is the effect of sonic force. Noise wall without the harsh. Burrs of static, pink and brown noise lurk in the immense billowing noise. The shifts are subtle, and gradual, but present over the course of the single, continuous half-hour piece. People start to become visibly uncomfortable after a time others vaguely bored. I’m loving it, and could listen all night. A slow fade to finish. The hush is deafening.

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Rovellasca

It’s a hard act to follow, but See Monstd – the new musical vehicle of radiofreemidwich’s Rob Hayler is an inspired choice, in that it represents something completely different that thus prevents any risk of comparison. There’s a lot going on here: the set starts with a sample, then breaks into what my notes describe as ‘wtf noise’. It subsequently settles into heavy harsh ambience, with dense, grating drones providing the body of sound, with swerves off trajectory for spells of audience participation, with a phone being passed around for members of the crowd to repeat lines from the sheets circulated prior to the set. This is one of those performances where you never know quite where it’s going to go, and is all the better for the element of unpredictability.

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See Monstd

And this, in a nutshell, is everything that’s great about the Wonkystuff nights.

Christopher Nosnibor

In what has been a difficult time for small venues – meaning it’s also been a difficult time for bands who aren’t massive to get gigs – The Fulford Arms in York has gone from strength to strength and while other venues have – sadly – come and gone in the city they’re not only still here, but have built an admirable reputation.

The fact it’s independent and well-run (that is to say professional but also wonderfully friendly), has great sound, and decent beer at the more affordable end of pub prices counts for a lot. That they cater to a remarkably broad range of audiences is another key: it’s easy to stick to tried-and-tested crowd-pleasers like tribute acts or be a ‘rock’ venue, but often to diminishing returns. It’s the only venue in the city you’ll find oddball electronic nights, big-name acts, local acoustic artists, and spoken word events in a single week. Their accommodating approach to new and unusual acts has made the place a real hub for the city’s music scene.

Tonight’s show marks the sixth anniversary of the venue being taken over by its current owners, Christopher Sherrington and Chris Tuke, and it’s very much a celebration of everything that makes The Fulford Arms a great venue. The lineup is very much focused on local acts, and celebrates the diversity of bands active in and around York right now.

Early doors, Miles. sees multi-instrumentalist Michael Donnelly follow the trajectory of his previous band, Epilogues, to a more minimal end. Oh stage, he’s a striking figure, with floppy fringe, specs, above-ankle trews: he’s an 80s/90s hybrid visually, but musically, his delicately-crafted songs are of no specific time, and are perhaps even worthy of being described as timeless. Subtle ambient drones and throbs provide depth to his understated picked acoustic guitar and magnificent soaring vocals on introspective, emotion-rich songs.

Miles

Miles.

Kids today! With their shit clothes and shit music, not like in my day… You hear it all the time, and not just from crotchety old bastards who remember when punk broke, or even slightly less old bastards who remember when grunge broke, but from people barely in their 30s. That may be true of the crap that gets played on the radio, but beyond the mainstream, we’re in a time where the guitars are getting louder, heavier, denser than ever. And REDFYRN go all out for loud, heavy, and dense, with a breathtaking juxtaposition of floating ethereal folky vocals and punishing sludgy/grunge riffs, with comparisons to Big | Brave and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard not being unjustified, although there’s also a more direct grunge-orientated aspect to their sound, which is more than straight stoner / doom / sludge and all the better for it. Apart from the bassist, they look pretty straight, especially the drummer, but looks are deceptive. They’re heavy and mega-riffy from the first chord, and when they announce the third song as being heavier, they’re not wrong: the bass positively barks and snarls its way through a grating grind of guitar before spinning into an extended blues jam by way of a midsection.

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REDFYRN

Percy don’t piss about. They’ve been at it long enough that they can pretty much plug ‘n’ play, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get from one of the most consistent bands on the circuit: workmanlike is by no means an insult in context of their Fall-influenced kitchen sink grouchfests. Does the delivery help or hinder? It’s probably appealing and offputting in equal measure – like they give a fuck. In so many ways, it’s business as usual for them: tight even when loose, scratchy guitars clang over busy rhythms as Andy Wiles, centre stage on bass throws all the Peter Hook poses. And they’ve got some cracking tunes: in fact, the current set is bursting with them, and it’s apparent that something has changed in the Percy camp of late, and they’re producing the best songs of their career right now. They really step up the intensity on the Fall-does-dance Middle Class Revolt style ‘Rubbernecking in the UK’ followed by the fiery politicking ‘Will of the People’, which ends in a squeal of feedback. They seem more energised than at any point in the last 20 years, and this is probably the best I’ve seen them in all the years since I first caught them back in 97 or 98.

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Percy

My Wonderful Daze take the stage with the guys looking doomy in smeared makeup. My notes for the evening peter out rapidly at this point as ‘m lost in the performance: the band have an incredible dynamic. Amalgamating some hefty grunge with a deftly accessible side, with bursts of noise and fury erupting from simmering tension they’re in some respects quintessential alt-rock, but don’t sound quite like any other band around. Raw but melodic, and with a compelling focal point in the form of Flowers who channels a gamut of emotional range, they’re solid and exciting at the same time.

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My Wonderful Daze

Cowgirl are a fitting headliner, and so very representative of the core of the York scene, featuring the ubiquitous local legend Danny Barton (who must be in or have been in at least two dozen acts who’ve garnered some appreciation in their hometown and beyond) and another former Federal Sam Coates. He’s sporting some heinous tassels on a fawn suede coat, and a bootlace tie. Who on earth wears those these days? The look is somewhat at odds with the band’s Pavementy slacker indie rock, but they’ve got the tunes and the knack of delivery. A lot of it’s the confidence of seasoned performers, but equally, a lot of it’s down to tidy songwriting, and these guys can kick ‘em out effortlessly and copiously. The penultimate song of set is an extended psych workout that’s not only a departure but the highlight of the performance because it’s good to see them cut loose.

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Cowgirl

What do you say to round off a night like this? There should probably be a pithy one-liner, but I’m all out: the Titanic Plum Porter is top-notch and I tumble out into the cold January night with its full moon, happy that things are good on the scene in York, and that while there may be infinite shit to wade through in life and in 2020, The Fulford Arms will continue to provide an oasis of musical joy.