Archive for the ‘Live’ Category

It’s pretty busy and pretty warm early doors, and there’s a definite buzz about the place which is filling up with black-clad beings who’ve seemingly crawled out of the woodwork (some possibly having lain dormant since Sulpher’s first album back in 2003).

The stage is set with myriad props and adornments, including a lectern, black helium balloons on strings, and a pigurine (that would be a figurine of a pig… wonder if the term might catch on?) for the arrival of Pretty Addicted – on this occasion, a solo performance by Vicious Precious, who enters dressed in white habit and cassock. These are both discarded within a couple of songs as she woks herself into an evermore frenzied state. During her set, a Marilyn Manson-aping effort which draws on every cliché blasphemy in the book as she bumps, grinds, writhes and spits endless profanities, she exudes a brutally aggressive sexuality. Musically, it’s pretty much by-numbers cybergoth: hard-edged techno beats pump relentlessly, and there’s little to distinguish between them. Still, as performance art, it’s striking and not one anyone will forget any time soon.

Pretty Addicted

Pretty Addicted

York’s Beyond All Reason have a big, big sound – as big, in fact, as singer Venno’s hair. Combining live and sequenced drums, they exploit dynamics and texture, and deliver it with an impressive slickness. And there’s no doubt they can play – although at times, the displays of technical proficiency overshadow the substance of songwriting, and the melodic epics are tinged with self-indulgence Venno belts out long high notes with gusto, and I half expect a cover of the Oxo ‘Shepherd’s Pie’ advert.

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Beyond All Reason

Dude, it’s a bass, not a bazooka: just because it’s got five strings… In terms of presentation, they’ve done their research with textbook legs akimbo rock god postures and axe-wielding guitar poses. It’s all a shade calculated and contrived to have resonance or lasting impact.

Sulpher, on the other hand, throw shapes (on the occasions they’re visible though the smog), but do so with swagger and a raw energy that positively crackles. It seems that bands who tour with The Sisters of Mercy acquire a taste for smoke – I recall I Like Trains playing in a pea-souper at the Cockpit following their jaunt round Europe with them – but Sulpher take it to the next level. Not only can I barely make out the band, I can barely see whoever’s standing next to me, and I sure as hell can’t see my way to the bar. In fact, by the end of the set, I can barely see my feet.

The dense atmosphere makes the room even hotter, and it’s the perfect setting for the trio’s intense brand of abrasive, industrial-edged rock, which they piledrive hard at it for a full hour.

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Sulpher

There’s a good reason they’ve been keeping a low profile for so long: Rob Holliday’s been pretty busy the last fifteen years, what with playing as a member of Marilyn Manson’s touring band, first on bass and later on guitar, as well as working extensively in the studio and live Gary Numan and The Prodigy, not to mention a three-year stint with The Mission. To say he’s been in demand would be an understatement, but inevitably, the day-jobs have left little time for the real work.

Given his experience of playing immense venues, I was interested to see how Holliday would handle a 120-or so capacity venue with a stage just 10” high. A lot of artists accustomed to larger venues struggle with more intimate crowds – Andrew Eldritch never looked more tense than at the Brudenell performing to 450 people, while at a distance of 20 feet, elevated and hidden by smoke in 2,000 capacity venues, he’s comparatively at ease. Holliday is more than fine with the small space, and the band as a whole seem to relish the experience, giving every ounce to deliver a real show, and succeeding.

At one point, Rob asks how many people own the first album: maybe three people raise a hand or call out. They ride it out: the grass-roots approach and strategy to land a major support slot next year is likely to achieve major reach, and besides, the music industry has changed beyond recognition in the last fifteen years.

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Sulpher

The set’s more or less a split between Spray and No One Will Know and it’s solid: a molten mass of seething rage that climaxes in a brace of old songs of a minute and a half apiece. The old material blends seamlessly with the new: they’ve still got that turn-of-the-millennium industrial vibe about them, with Ministry and Killing Joke providing the most obvious touchstones, but with blistering, memorable and melodic choruses in the mix, NIN offshoot Filter make for the most obvious comparison.

Wrapping up with ‘Scarred’ and ‘Spray’, blasted home in less than a couple of minutes apiece, it’s a ferocious finale to a meaty set. Sulphur are very much back.

Christopher Nosnibor

I can’t help but feel a little sorry for Jo Quail: the two occasions I’ve seen her this year as an opening act, she’s been on not only early doors, but within minutes of doors opening. So I’m standing outside, in the rain, hearing the strains of her opening piece and feeling frustrated: the doors, set for 7:30, don’t open until 7:40, but Jo, scheduled for 7:40, starts on time. Still, the fact there’s a substantial queue before doors, and that people have packed to the front immediately on arrival is validation, if validation is needed.

She’s no ordinary cellist, utilizing a vast bank of pedals to conjure pulsing rhythms and a grinding undercurrent which flows fluidly as she builds layer upon layer to form cathedrals of sound – appropriate for a venue which a former church, now restored as a venue, and which boasts some of the most magnificent architecture. Her music is immense and powerful, the experience intense, moving, as the compositions transition between graceful and forceful, and Jo channels the range through her posture, at one with the instrument. The third and final piece, taken from her forthcoming LP opens with thunderous explosions and eerie, haunting shrillness, cultivating a dark, industrial atmosphere. And she certainly knows how to build a sustained crescendo: by the end of her set, I feel like I’ve emerged, battered but triumphant, from a tempest, and the respectable audience show real appreciation for an impressive set.

Jo Quail

Jo Quail

Rewind: while queueing in the rain, some irritatingly superior bozos behind me prate on about this and that. One remarks how the support has a forgettable, generic “adjective, something, something, noun’ name. He checks the event on Facebook on his phone, before trilling ‘A Storm of Light…. Yeah, adjective, something noun…” I turn and point out that ‘storm’ is also a noun, and that the new album’s really good. The smug cret thanks me dismissively and returns to babbling about cake at work and the like. I turn back to wait in silence, alone, and I’m fine with it, not least of all because A Storm of Light more than compensate the cold, damp discomfort of the queue.

With relentless, ever-shifting streams from CCTV intercut with cascading pills and the like projected behind the stage, ASOL play in near darkness and they play hard. Cranking out gritty industrial-tinged, grunge-hued post-punk with a dark, metallic sheen seems most incongruous in the setting, particularly given the nihilistic sociopolitical leanings of the lyrics. But we’re on deconsecrated, renovated ground here, and as much as I’m struck by the contextual juxtaposition, I’m struck by the clarity of the sound, particularly the drums, which cut through and pack a serious punch.

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A Storm of Light

Veering between claustrophobically taut frameworks and more organic, Neurosis-like expanses, the band create a sonic space that’s very much their own. And throughout the set, the basis lunges, hard, building in intensity as the set progresses: near the end, his instrument is pretty much scraping the floor, and he steps in front of the monitors to deliver some of the most savagely attacking bass playing you’re likely to witness. Not so much a strong performance as an act of total devastation.

Mono are considerably less abrasive, and I some ways, feel like a little bit of a step down. They sit down to play, for a start. It makes for a mellow atmosphere, but renders them invisible to anyone not in the first few rows, for a start.

Mono

Mono

Unable to get decent sight of the band, I make my way to the back, where the sound is magnificent. I can’t see anything other than smoke and strobes, but it’s ok: Mono aren’t a band to watch, even with the addition of vocals to their arsenal: they’re a band to get lot in. and that, I do. I find myself slowly drifting in the enormity of the experience: the sound, the atmosphere, the space, all contrive to create an immersive experience.

Christopher Nosnibor

There are early starts, and early starts: when doors open at 7:00 and you arrive just after half past to catch the last song and a half of the first band, you know you’re in really early start territory. Not that I felt I’d missed out immensely with York four-piece Heartsink: what I heard was very much standard contemporary ‘alt’ rock, nicking riffs from Biffy Clyro and hair from A Flock of Seagulls.

I’ll confess that I didn’t fall in love with Avenoir the first time I saw them, which happened to be supporting Our Divinity along with Weekend Recovery in the summer. The tired rock ‘n’ roll clichés I observed then are no less tired three months on: the singer’s wearing the same knackered denim jacket with Ramones back patch and his jeans are rags. He lunges around the stage – and if he plants his feet any further apart, there’s a danger he’ll split straight down the middle – wielding his bass like a weapon as he affects a hybrid persona that amalgamates Glenn Danzig and Lemmy. Objectively, they’re not terrible: they’re just not nearly as good as they seem to think they are.

Avenoir

Avenoir

I didn’t fall in love with Pulverise on this first meeting, either. They’re quite a sight: a quartet with a sort of image but not quite, they’re a hybridized sports rock monstrosity harking back to c.1999-2001 with added unicorn horn. They’ve got plenty of heft, grunt, and chug, but sound so, so dated. They chuck in a Cypress Hill cover medley effort, harking back to the rock/rap crossover fad of the early 90s that gave us the groundbreaking but agonisingly patchy Judgement Night soundtrack. Still, by the end of the set, they’ve got a bunch of people pogoing hard down the front, and if the primary purpose of a support act is to warm the audience up for the main event, then Pulverise meet their objective in style.

Pulverise

Pulverise

Weekend Recovery have received a conspicuous level of coverage on these pages of late, but that’s by virtue of the fact they’re a cracking band worthy of backing. They launched their first post-album material, in the form of the EP In the Mourning (the video for which we proudly premiered here at AA) in London on Friday, and tonight is their hometown celebration of what’s without doubt their strongest work to date. Lori is (appropriately, I suppose, given the lyrics to the EP’s lead song) pretty much faced when I arrive, promising after-show shots (again) and I wonder how she’ll even be standing in three hours, but she’s not only standing but delivers one of the strongest performances I’ve witnessed to date. Should I worry about this? About the encroaching impact of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle on the day to day, or whatever? Nah. As a performer myself, I get it. It’s not life-damaging. Performing is hard, especially if it doesn’t come naturally. Tonight, she comes on on boisterous, grunge-diva form, and it suits.

The fact that the front rows are packed tight while the last band are still dismantling their kit speaks for itself in terms of the ardour of Weekend Recovery’s fans. Bands playing venues three times this size don’t receive attention of this intensity. I’ve long maintained that it’s better to cultivate a small but passionate following than a larger indifferent one. The former will attend every show, purchase every release. The latter, they’ll big you up, like your Facebook page and stream your stuff on Spotify. But as it happens, the venue’s looking pretty busy, which says Weekend Recovery are making it, achieving a larger audience who are also passionate.

They open by raiding the back catalogue up-front with a blistering ‘Don’t Try and Stop Me’. A shot emerges from the audience before they even play the third song, ‘Oh Jenny’, and scribbling in darkness after four pints my handwriting descends into illegibility while Lori continues without missing a beat and the band pound and thrash solidly. I’m struck – once more – by just how good they’ve got in the last year. Having broken free of the shackles of their formative influences, Weekend Recovery hit their stride with the album and are seriously killing it now.

The difference between now and any time previous is that they’re confident enough about what they do to not care. By the mid-set landing of ‘On My Knees’, Lori’s lipstick’s smeared and they’re all sweaty messes, and it’s clear that this is a band playing hard to deliver maximum r’n’r (and that’s not rest ‘n’ relaxation). ‘Monster’ brings a dense, funk-tinged groove, and is a hook-laden standout, alongside ‘I Want to Get Off’, which really pounds and drives on this outing.

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Weekend Recovery

There’s a choreographed false ending with a rambunctious ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’ which prefaces the ‘encore’ of ‘Bite Your Tongue’, and with a couple of minutes before the curfew, they shoehorn in an unexpected back-catalogue raiding ‘Focus’ by way of a genuine and truly impromptu encore.

The band seem genuinely astounded by the reception, but they deserve it. And as the lights come up over the sticky black floor, the EP is well and truly launched.

It’s the night before payday and I’m skint. I should probably be at home, sifting through the mountain of review submissions that have crashed into my inbox while I’ve been at work. I should probably be doing myriad other things. But having caught Dead Naked Hippies for the first time in Leeds a few months ago, I vowed to see them again at the first opportunity, and given that this was a free-entry show at a venue above a WMC two minutes’ walk from my house, there was no way I was going to miss this. And with bottles of Timothy Taylors’ Landlord at £3.20 a bottle, it wasn’t going to be a complete overdraft-smasher.

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I often experience a strange sense of déjà-vu, but tonight, I suffer a deep sense of disorientation on finding the room I’d previously watched bands perform in full of chairs, so I continue on up and lo, there’s a cluster of people, some of whom I recognise. Dave, aka Washing Machine Repair Man, who runs Young Thugs Records and it at the helm of the activities surrounding the Hovel – which is above a WMC in York’s South Bank, gives me a bit of a tour and shows me some of the changes they’ve made since I last visited. It’s impressive: the studio is now in a large, and rather plush room, and he’s excited about the potential of what was – and is, where he’s yet to begin work – a dilapidated but substantial space with a number of rooms.

And so I find myself in a room I’d previously sat in as a studio-in-progress, repurposed as a sort of rehearsal space with lights, before some kind of weird Japanese-made electronic organ / synth contraption from the early 80s. A dude in a cropped jumper and sporting a neatly-trimmed beard bounds about flamboyantly and chats entertainingly between songs played by the trio on said instrument. He’s accompanied by and shares vocal duties with a curly-topped chap in a bobble hat and a super-bouncy female singer / keyboardist in glasses. They sings off-kilter songs with pithy lyrics and groovesome rhythms and a certain retro vibe, which build a sort of narrative across the set. Welcome to the world of Drooligan. I haven’t quite made up my mind yet, but tonight they delivered something special, something engaging, something different. And something different is rare, which makes this quite the compliment.

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Drooligan

Being a small room, it doesn’t take many (half a dozen?) to make it feel quite full, and for it to get quite warm, and to describe the atmosphere of a gig venue smaller than my living room as intimate would be as weak an understatement as describing the sun as ‘quite warm’ or Brexit as ‘not the best idea ever’. But then, the Hovel Sessions aren’t really gigs in the conventional sense: the shows are filmed and serve more as a showcase performance and an ‘experience’ than your usual setup.

Casting sheets of paper to his feet like brutal and chunky confetti, live, clothed punk poet Henry Raby seems to have been taking performance tips from yours truly, and one of the three new pieces aired tonight takes cues in the opening segment from criminally underrated local performer Lawrence O’Reilly – but then, creativity in the postmodern age is all about drawing material from a wide range of sources and intertextuality isn’t simply about what’s written, and Henry’s style seems to be evolving. The last time I saw him was at that Dream Nails gig in a 400-capacity venue. It’s often more difficult to perform to a small audience, especially in a small space, but a seasoned performer, he does a decent job of it, firing out nuggets of socio-political commentary with energy.

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Henry Raby

Dead Naked Hippies are touring hard at the moment, and it was the fact I landed ‘Drain You’ for review last year that made me prick up my ears in the first place, before checking them out at The Belgrave Music all and Canteen supporting DZ Deathrays recently that ultimately brought me here tonight. As much as the music and the songs themselves, it was the band’s intensity – especially the electrical energy of Lucy Jowett – that makes them such a compelling act. Off stage, testing their snooker-playing skills, they’re an affable bunch, but give them instruments and amps and the fiery angst explodes instantly. The lumbering groove of new release ‘Rare’ sits neatly alongside the grungy ‘I Wanna Know Ya’ and some simple-but-effective rabble-rousing anti-work sloganeering.

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Dead Naked Hippies

It’s a fairly short set, but this much spikiness needs to be dispatched hard and fast for optimal impact. And in such a tiny space, the intensity is amplified. Maximum intensity: optimal impact. Blistering.

Christopher Nosnibor

Four years on from Black Rat and DZ Deathrays return to the UK touring album number three, Bloody Lovely. Granted, the York show at The Woolpack with a capacity of maybe 70 on their last visit to these shores was one of the more intimate, but it’s clear from tonight’s turnout and reception that they’ve significantly expanded their fan-base in the intervening time.

Those who turned up in reasonable time got a real treat in the form of opening support act Dead Naked Hippies, who caught my attention a few months ago with the release of ‘Drain You’ on a split 12”.  The Leeds art-rock trio, consisting of drums / guitar / vocal kick some serious arse. The guitar sound is dirty, a little bit messy, but works well in contrast with the crisp drum work. It’s Lucy Jowett who really commands the attention, though, lunging and stomping about the stage, wide-eyed and crackling with tension. They’re already going places, and were worth the entry fee alone.

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Dead Naked Hippies

Touring support These New South Whales come on, shirts off and electrical tape over their nipples, looking dangerous and introduce themselves with some angular, grinding guitars, with menacing vocals pitch-shifted down. The stage half-obscured by a thick smog, they then proceed to slash and thrash their way through a sweaty, high-octane set. They may have their own show on Comedy Central, but they take the performance of their fast, furious, bass-driven art-punk seriously. It’s pretty fucking intense.

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These New South Whales

DZ Deathrays have really honed their live sound and the material from Bloody Lovely – which accounts for over half the set – is delivered with real attack. With the album having been out a full six months already, it’s had time to bed in with the fans, and a good segment of the crowd sing along with every song. Others just go nuts, with a mosh-pit seven rows deep and crowd-surfing commencing early.

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DZ Deathrays

Said new material pushes further into melodic territory, but the tunefulness is still driven by big, fat, fizzy riffs. Impressively, they maintain the high energy level throughout the set, with no let up in tempo (you’re not going to get a mid-set lighter-waving slowie or an acoustic breakdown with DZ Deathrays).

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DZ Deathrays

They throw ‘Reflective Skull’ from Black Rat in early, saving ‘Gina Works at Hearts’ for near the end. The crowd goes ballistic – with a crowd surge causing the band to briefly stop to make sure someone wasn’t too badly hurt – and rounding off with ‘Like People’ and ‘Ocean Exploder’ for the final salvoes, it all adds up to a blistering set.

With three cracking bands, a corking headline set, and a great vibe all round, it’ll probably go down as one of the gigs of 2018.

It’s not often that an evening of live music begins with spoken word poetry. It’s a shame, as the two media can often prove complimentary. John Cooper Clark supporting The Fall and KJ Farrington supporting Sleaford Mods stand out in my mind for all the right reasons.

Self-professed punk poet and nerd, Henry Raby, gets things going with a couple of pieces. A seasoned performer who seamlessly rides out any fluffed lines (and can turn forgetting a line into a plug for his book), he’s relaxed and emanates an energy that’s infectious, and which is paired with a disarming affability.

Katie Watson’s poetry is personal, confessional, brimming with anxiety and keen observations, and rendered with fine details and a certain self-effacing humour. Her delivery is superb: having previously caught her not s long ago at a spoken-word night in a small room, she seems to revel in the bigger space, the challenge of a larger audience, and being faced with a microphone.

What Henry has a knack of bringing to events he’s involved in is a spirit of inclusivity, of equality, of unity. We’re all misfits together here. So, the board gaming nerds, the varied shades of gender and a range of musical and literary tastes are all catered for here.

Crumbs describe themselves as ‘a post-punk pop party pack’ who like ‘pets and puns’ (and alliteration, on this evidence). The four-piece blend jangly 90s indie with a grunge sensibility. Pavement would be an obvious, but fitting touchstone, and at one point I find myself thinking about a collision between The Cure and Carter USM, while elsewhere, there’s a new song that boasts a chunky, funky bass groove and choppy, fractured guitar worthy of Gang of Four. It’s an eclectic and compelling mix. The guitarist has some of the dirtiest overdrive I’ve heard in a while, creating a strong contrast to the crisp, chiming tone that features in most of the songs’ verses. It’s a simple dynamic, but highly effective. Playing on the floor in front of the stage, the sound in the front rows is mostly backline, and this only heightens the experience of the band being in such close proximity to the audience.

Crumbs

Crumbs

Having only caught the second half of Dream Nails’ set at Live at Leeds, and found it to have been good fun, I was keen to see how they’d go over the duration of a full headline set.

They’re high-octane and high-energy from the get-go, and if there was any question over whether or not they could sustain it for a full set, they answer it with a resounding yes. There really is no let-up in their four-chord poppy punk thrashabouts. The lyrics veer between vulnerability and vehemence, and while they may lack overt depth or subtlety, the directness is part of the appeal. And behind the effervescent performance style, and the bouncy, accessible tunes, there are some serious issues, largely centring around the challenges of being a woman in the world today.

And these are the reasons why I’m here. I go to gigs to watch and listen to bands. As a music critic, I write about them, and because we live in a very visually-orientated age, pictures accompanying a review are often useful. But Dream Nails don’t like having their pictures being taken by men, and since I didn’t have any female company in tow to shoot a pic on my behalf, there’s no image here.

Men snapping away make them feel uncomfortable. Especially men in my demographic with certain types of camera (I’m 42, although the post on their Facebook page which appeared within a short time of the show’s ending would suggest they think I’m older, and I prefer t travel light). Fair enough. Although generally, if you’re going to implement a policy, such as no photography without consent, it’s better to state it up-front. But when that policy is called during the show, and applies only to a few – well, men, actually – the issue becomes rather thorny under scrutiny.

Nobody likes to be singled out, especially not based on an assumption, and even less when the assumption is incorrect – because that’s prejudice. To be singled out as one of two men with cameras, with the justification that they hadn’t given consent, and fuck the male gaze, was not comfortable. I can live with uncomfortable: I’m aware that my own performances have a tendency to evoke a very tangible sense of discomfort and awkwardness. But no-one is ever singled out or humiliated, and it’s not about ‘unlearning oppressive behaviours’.

But more than anything, I found not only the approach troubling, but what it represents. Now, the battleground of gender is one of which I have only a cursory knowledge, but I am acutely aware of the divisions and infighting between the various identifiers. But ultimately, being a straight white male, I’m in the bracket which is the worst of the worst on the enemy scale. As we mark the centenary of The Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave British women over 30 the right to vote, at the same time as picking through the fallout of the events that led to the #metoo campaign, it’s clear we’ve still got a long way to go and that male oppression is rife.

However, the ‘calling out’ of ‘creepy’ guys taking photos of a band performing assumes that all men are creepy and only go and see bands with women in because they want to go and ogle women. Which also seems to undermine the idea that as women making music, people –regardless of sex / gender (I’m aware the correspondence between the two varies considerably) – may simply appreciate their art, and, like so many others, shoot snaps for posterity or social media because it’s the age we live in. To judge an individual based on the behaviour of a number (not even necessarily a majority) is prejudice in action.

This – literal – finger-pointing may have been well-received by a sector of the audience, but even if it hadn’t been directed at me, it would still have sat uncomfortably on a personal level: publicly humiliating someone based on an assumption is very much a knee-jerk response, the likes of which result in heated arguments. My knee-jerk reaction was to omit Dream Nails from the review altogether, but precisely what would that achieve? Certainly nothing productive. First, what’s actually needed is rational debate and mutual understanding of commonality. Second, they played a decent set, and went down well with a crowd of a respectable size, which is no small feat – especially in York on a Thursday night.

Moreover, feminism, at its heart, is about attaining equality for women. To substitute misogyny with misandry is not a push for equality, but to simply invert and replicate the behaviours of the guilty, and thus perpetuate division. Dream Nails generously commented on their Facebook thread, ‘Also if u r a male fan who is feeling affronted by this, pls remember you are still always welcome at our shows without your cameras.’ So, credit where it’s due, they’re still espousing equality. But is conditional equality really equality? Not really. Obviously, I’m grateful for the concession to be allowed to attend their shows in the same way anyone else is.

I shouldn’t feel the need to state that I’m not anti-feminism; quite the opposite. Moreover, I’m fundamentally opposed to any -ism that promotes inequality, discrimination, prejudice. And so, while Janey Starling may have provoked something personal in her actions, my beef isn’t so much directed at her or the band, but at the way complex and difficult issues are addressed, without any attention to the details or any sense of nuance, with too many people shouting about the lack of consideration they’re shown by others without showing that same consideration in return.

They ended their set with a blistering rendition of ‘Deep Heat’.