Posts Tagged ‘Leeds’

22nd May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

They call it ‘moody indie rock’, and point to their ‘poignant lyrics, sugary guitar licks, throbbing basslines and soul-shaking drums’. And yes, it’s all of these things: ‘Night of the Underdog’, the follow-up to their debut, the ‘Stranded on the Path’ EP, which emerged in December 2016 continues to work the seam of brooding post-punk revival, a la Interpol et al.

There’s been no shortage of bands pushing the same line over the last few years – inching toward the last decade, even – but then again, there have been bands cranking out three-chord punk tunes for the best part of forty years now , and no-one’s really complaining, As is the case with any musical style, the question isn’t ‘does it sound completely unlike anything I’ve ever heard before’, but ‘is it done well?’ followed by ‘is it a decent song?’

‘Night of the Underdog’ is very much a decent song that’s well done. It begins gently, with an acoustic guitar and wistful melody, building fractal, interweaving, guitars and snaking melodies over a detailed yet propellant rhythm. Oh, and there are some killer bass runs, too. Bass runs are criminally underrated.

Given the tendency for every release going to crank everything up to the max, it’s refreshing to hear a song where the individual instruments benefit from clarity and separation, and yet there’s simultaneously a soft analogue haze around the guitars and with a vaguely psychedelic twist that says paisley shirts and patchouli oil, the whole thing is magnificently 1984.

B-side ‘Borrowed Hearts’ is a tense, twisty affair, brimming with urgency. Crisp, clean guitars edged with reverb jangle in a crackle of treble, but again, while the guitars fragment into a cascade of kaleidoscopic movement, the energetic rhythm section stands to the fore and drives the song home in climactic fashion.

There was a time when this release would have represented the perfect 7” release, with the B-side standing as strong as the leading A-side. Nowadays… it’s a killer release which should massively expand The Clouded Lights’ horizons and audience.

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The Clouded Lights -Night of the Underdog

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Christopher Nosnibor

It’s fitting that a band as wildly eclectic and sonically unpredictable as Bearfoot Beware should have a suitably varied and contrasting but complimentary lineup of bands on the bill for their album launch show. And it turns out that tonight is a night of energetic bassists.

Ganglions’ bassist is almost swamped by her instrument, but she kicks out some thumping basslines around which the Sheffield trio forge an unusual blend of grungy post-rock jazz with melody. It’s an unusual blend. Some moments border on the twee, a shade muso, even a touch indulgent in their noodliness, but their tightness carries the complexity of the songs’ structures and nagging, interloping guitar motifs which even incorporate currents of reggae and skiffliness. They’ve also got enough energy and drive – both the songs and the band themselves – to make it all pull together, making their set engaging and entertaining.

Ganglions

Ganglions

It’s quite the leap to go from a compact three-piece unit to the sprawling ten-legged groove machine that is ZoZo. RSI means that front man Tom has had to ditch the guitar and stick to vocals only. The two vocalists are set up in front of the small stage, and Fred really throws himself into the choppy, cutty guitar parts.

However, it’s the exuberant lunges of bassist Joe, who cranks out some driving bass noise, that provide the band’s most striking visual focal point, while sonically, it’s the big, raucous, sax sound that defines the band’s brand of art-rock. Their frenetic funk fusion calls to mind aspects of Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and Shriekback, but their more flamboyant inclinations and pop sensibility perhaps owes more to acts like The Associates, ABC, and Orange Juice. They’re as tight as they are lively, as well as being good fun.

ZoZo

ZoZo

Bearfoot Beware blur final soundchecking with the actual set, lurching headlong into scorching rendition of ‘Point Scorer.’ It’s a hell of a way to introduce the new album to the crowd, and they follow with a couple more newies before touching on the back catalogue. The songs twist, turn, lumber and lurch unpredictably, and as I watch them, I can’t help but wonder just how much they must rehearse to memorise the complex song structures and play every change with such precision. They don’t just play, either, but really perform. Again, it’s the bass player, Richard Vowden, who provides the axis around which the band spins, both as a physical and sonic presence. Energy emanates from him as he bounds and lurches around, legs going all over, a perpetual blur, his contortions almost literal interpretations of the musical compositions, while the chunky grooves hold down the spasmodic, fractured guitars.

Bearfoot Beware

Bearfoot Beware

Their Pavement meets Shellac meets No Age stylings make for an angular racket, but it this somehow suggests a band out of time and hung up on the US alternative scene of the 90s, its delivered with a twist that’s representative of the contemporary Leeds scene. It’s perhaps hardly surprising that a band whose members have established a rehearsal space and studio that lie at the heart of a DIY subscene all of its own should epitomise it.

I’ve digressed, and am no longer focusing on the set, but any launch event is only the beginning of a journey. Bearfoot Beware are here, and they’re now, and they’re kicking ass with Sea Magnolia. Tonight, they’ve thrown it out to Leeds, and tomorrow the world. It deserves to float.

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s usually at least one band in a lineup of four that’s only so-so, only middling, or simply doesn’t appeal. This makes tonight’s bill unusual, especially given the fact there’s no specific genre theme. The four bands showcasing their wares tonight are pulled together from around the country is probably a factor: despite FURR being a Leeds band and Weekend Recovery having recently relocated to the city (and both having built themselves a bit of a following on a national level), this isn’t a ‘local bands’ gig by any stretch.

Sheffield four-piece Mollyanna deliver buoyant indie / alternative rock with – dare I say it? – infectious tunes. They have a good energy, but also an emotive, brooding edge, and tinges of darkness creep into the keen vocal melodies. The band’s gutsier, grungier side emerges as the set progresses, as do more cinematic aspects that call to mind Evanescence (only minus the pomp, and therefore better).

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Mollyanna

Tokyo Taboo are an altogether different proposition, and if Mollyanna have good energy, Tokyo Taboo have insane energy. The guitarist – Moöey is wearing a silver hoody and star-jumping, spot-running, high-kicking singer Dolly Daggers has accessorised her minidress with a kind of shrug that’s also a sort of stuffed toy. Or something. But they’re not just visually compelling: their brand of amped-up power pop with a punk edge – and a dash of grunge – hits all the right spots. Joe Scotcher’s basslines keep everything nailed down nicely amidst the frenzy. And they have tunes! In fact, the last song – a slow-burner that finds Dolly sitting in the audience to sing – is one of the best things I’ve hear so far this year. I’m too busy enjoying the set to take many notes and the ones I have are barely legible, and all of my photos are blurry, but then, writing about or taking still photographs of Tokyo Taboo seems vaguely pointless: go and see them for yourself. They really are a cracking live act. And utterly barking.

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Tokyo Taboo

I’ve written a fair bit about Weekend Recovery over the last year or so, and it was a year to the day I first caught them live in Leeds. They’ve come a long way since then, on many levels and not just geographically. Musically, they’ve evolved, and the songs on their debut album, Get What You Came For – the reason they’re currently touring and are here tonight for their local launch – have a harder, grungier, punkier, and more distinctive sound. Visually, they’re simply looking more like a band. And in terms of performance, they’re more confident and assured, and the time on the road has made them tighter and punchier. Not that older songs like ‘Focus’ and ‘Don’t Try and Stop Me’ sit awkwardly in the set: if anything, they contrast nicely with the more direct and biting newer songs.

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Weekend Recovery

Lorin pogos around a lot while the guys kick out the riffs, with the album’s title track standing out in particular for its riffines. They wrap their set with a high-octane, full-throttle rendition of ‘Why Don’t You Love Me?’, the squeaky pop of the studio version transformed into a fierce demand that’s both exhilarating and a little bit scary (in a good way).

In the event, they prove to be the biggest draw of the night, and receive the warmest reception. And it’s well-deserved.

FURR are conspicuous by virtue of being the only all-male band, and not having a female vocalist. Having recently featured as part of the Leeds-based Come Play With Me singles club, the grungy guitar foursome have been attracting some attention of late. They’re probably too young to have even been born when Kurt Cobain was still alive, but they’ve got the c92 sound – with some keen melodies and clean vocals, they’re perhaps more Bivouac than Nirvana – nailed, as well as the look, only with a contemporary spin (by which I mean they sport plaid shirts, and have a 3:1 beard ratio). There’s no let-up for the duration of their set, as they piledrive their way through the songs. It’s all good, and they close with a ripping rendition of single cut ‘Fable’ (the set list scribbled on a Jiffy bag confirms this).

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FURR

They fumble about a bit and deliberate before playing one more song, and it makes for a slightly disorganised end to proceedings, but who cares? It’s been a good night – better than good, in fact, even great – and one which reminds us precisely why independent music and the venues that support it are so essential. Every band on the bill brought the energy and their A-game, and the experience is an all-out rush. And given the pick of these for bands tonight, or Morrissey at the First Direct Arena the next evening, I’d make the same choice every time.

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s probably not much to say or write about Lydia Lunch that hasn’t been said or written before. A cult legend in her own lifetime – a rare thing indeed – she remains one of the most formidable performers around. Tonight – performing the only northern show of three UK dates with Weasel Walter with her ‘Brutal Measures’ spoken word show (why said show happened to be in York… Those present weren’t merely grateful, but overjoyed, but those present were depressingly few in number), she’s uncompromising from start to finish.

Before Lydia and sidekick Weasel Walter who drums and generates all mind of noise to accompany her take stage, Leeds punk foursome Flies On You deliver a visceral, in-your-face set of primal punk songs. It’s a challenging and emotional show, a mere fortnight after guitarist and lad songwriter Andy Watkins’ sudden and unexpected death. Front man Doug Aikman clearly struggles at times, but still pulls of a storming performance. And while the basis of what Flies on You do is meat-and-potatoes old-school punk, there’s a distinctly post-punk vibe that borders on goth in their rattling basslines and screeding reverby guitar peels. Moreover, it’s delivered with passion and a certain degree of wit – and the refrain ‘Katie Hopkins in human form’ is a great line whichever way you look at it.

She may have mellowed with age, but Lydia Lunch is still infinitely more fierce in every way than pretty much anyone. It’s all relative. And she may not be large in stature, but her presence fills the room. Her voice is a cracked rasp for the most part, but she uses it to compelling effect. It’s not about being seasoned, either: this is her nature, who she is. Raw, real. Intense. Intense. Intense.

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‘Brutal Measures’ is an extended spoken-word piece set in a number of movements, split by segments of hefty percussion and augmented by extraneous noise passages. Or, as Lunch’s bandcamp page describes it, ‘a longform composition featuring tense spoken word versus manic free drumming outbursts, glued together by cryptic electronics’. Recorded live, there’s an improvisational aspect to the musical accompaniment to Lunch’s words, which she delivers alternating between two mics, one clean, one heavily reverbed. The twenty-minute recorded take stretches to a full fifty-minute set live. And yet there is no filler: the drum solos breaks are tight, taut, concise and blistering. The instrumental electronic passages and the extraneous noise which both accompany and intersperse the chapters are intriguing, and the beer barrels Lydia uses as a table for her notes double as percussion instruments in the sometimes cacophonous batteries of sound between spoken word passages.

She does get slightly pissed off when the stand for the clean mic slides down and is uncooperative, and the venue techs are slow to react – but then, who wouldn’t be? But she doesn’t make a deal of it, and continues her narrative stream regardless. She’s a performer, not a diva.

As a spoken word performer myself, I am in awe. For me, it’s a challenge, and one I sometimes struggle with. Even the good nights are challenges. Lydia is in a league of her own. She holds the room, even with a whisper. She silences the chatting tossers at the bar. Not because she’s dictatorial: she does it for everyone who’s paid to hear her and Weasel and the chat at the back.

Words fly every which way as Lydia sparks in all directions: she’s a relentless conjurer of images and ideas, with a perspective on everything. Even delivered slow, mean and low, it’s often hard to keep up with her endlessly swerving trajectory, but it all comes together to present a version of her world-view. And yes, it is pretty brutal, all told.

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It’s an early finish – but then, it’s a Monday night – but what the set lacks in duration, it more than compensates in intensity – did I mention intensity? If some spoken word performances leave the audience departing wilting because they’re a trudge, tonight is very different: Lydia Lunch and Weasel Walter create something utterly compelling, that leave the audience wilting by virtue of its immense force. Spoken word at its best.

Gizeh Records – 2nd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tomorrow We Sail are a classic example of the kind of band who exist outside of their geography. Based in Leeds, the six-piece aren’t generally renowned as part of the local scene or prominent gig-wise, but have a reach that exists in the ether of the virtual world and into mainland Europe. Four years on from their debut, the collective have evolved their brand of folk-infused string-soaked post-rock into something even more unique.

Subdued, strolling beats and rolling piano provide the rhythmic backdrop to the nagging strings and aching vocals on the opening song, the six-minute ‘Side By Side’. It breaks into a sustained crescendo after just a couple of minutes, but it’s more a case of upping the volume and the intensity than hitting the soaring peaks which characterise so much ‘classic’ post-rock. And perhaps this is the key to the differentials which separate Tomorrow We Sail from their peers, and indeed, any other act. The Shadows is a careful and poised album which exploits the dynamic tropes of post-rock but in a contained fashion. There’s certainly nothing as expansive or sprawling as 2015’s ‘Saturn’, with its twenty-minute duration, or even the single ‘Rosa’ from the first album with its thirteen-minute running time. The Shadows is altogether more concise and all the more intense because of it. Moreover, the context feels different, the slant altered somewhat.

In some respects, the context is that this doesn’t feel like a ‘Leeds’ album. Even when the city was post-rock central a decade or so back, with iLiKETRAiNS (as they were then styled), Vessels and adopted Leeds friends Her Name is Calla all over everywhere, there was nothing this folksy or parameter-pushing as The Shadows, an album which expands the limits of post-rock. ‘The Ghost of John Maynard Keynes’ really pitches the folk aspect of the album to the fore, with a chorus of voices giving the almost shanty-like folk tune a lilting aspect.

There is unspeakable, throat-tightening beauty in the piano-led minimalism of ‘To Sleep’ which calls to mind the very best work of the now-defunct Glissando, and at the same time harks back to their debut.

The Shadows is a well-balanced collection: understated, delicate, melodic, it exists, as the title alludes, in the spaces between light and dark, exploring with deftness and sensitivity the infinite shades between.

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