Wednesday, 27 January 2010

February Retribution

There aren't many gigs in January, and apart from Sheffield progcore quintet Rolo Tomassi I haven't been out to experience much live music. This means I've been able to almost catch up with listening to all the new releases and cheap charity shop promos I've accumulated. These are the spinning discs due to be released in February 2010 that I have been enjoying:

1. Retribution Gospel Choir II (Sub Pop)
The second album from Alan Sparhawke's other trio is harder rocking and more experimentally produced than their debut, and an early contender for album of 2010 status. This could even be the best thing he's done, so all the Low fans who missed the half full Retribution gig last time they came to Manchester should be advised that they are back on March 11th.

2. Plank! - La Luna EP (Akhoustik Anarkhy)
I have a CDR of this so I'm not sure if I've spelt the name of the label corrrectly, or if this EP is really called "La Luna" but that's the first instrumental, which will be familiar to anyone who has heard the numerous gigs Plank have played around Manchester in 2009. These tunes have both mutated and been surpassed by new ones, but this forms a fine document of their genesis; the final piece is a more keyboard led doodle that was birthed before bassist Ed got on board and has never been played at a gig. The other three songs have formed the backbone of their set. They had no reservations about me flinging comparisons to Mogwai, Battles and most obviously Neu at them after the first time I saw them at Islington Mill, and these have all certainly been influences on maybe Manchester's best band right now. No frills, just great tunes and fine musicianship make Plank worth walking. If you like this be sure to check out Ed's other band, the funkier FTSE 100. Guitarist Davey Rowe tells me release date is 19th April but you can buy a copy off the band at their gigs before that.

3. Lonelady - Nerve Up (Warp)
Check next issue of Flux magazine for a very very short drastically edited interview.

4. Jack Rose - Luck in the Valley (Thrill Jockey) RIP
Guitar pickin' master two years my junior passed away due to heart attack.

5. White Hills (Thrill Jockey)
Heavy psychedelia

6. Cluster - Qua (Klangbad)
Two old Germans show younger technoids how it should be done.

7. BJ Nilsen - The Invisible City (Touch)
Ominous ambience with chairs scraping all over the world.

8. Anna Kashfi - Survival (Little Red Rabbit)

9. Charlie Alex March - Home / Hidden (Loaf)

10. Nedry - Condors (Monotreme)

11. Puerto Muerto - Drumming for Pistols (Fire)

12. The Album Leaf - A Chorus of Storytellers (Sub Pop)

March releases I'm enjoying:

BARDO POND - Bufo Alvarius (Fire reissue)
PAVEMENT - Quarantine the Past: the best of Pavement (Domino / Matador)
GALAXIE 500 - Today
GALAXIE 500 - On Fire
GALAXIE 500 - This is Our Music (Domino double CD reissues)
AUTECHRE - Oversteps (Warp)
TO ROCOCO ROT - Speculation (Domino)
ROBIN HITCHCOCK AND THE VENUS 3 - Propellor Time (Sartorial)

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Radio Angels Mutate Turntables

2009 was the first year since 1988 that I didn't set foot in Liverpool, so it seemed fateful that the first gig I attended in 2010 was there. On the way to Piccadilly station I stopped off at Vinyl Exchange where they were playing a tortuous CD by Sexton Ming that sounded like a senile git trying to sing very badly in the bath. Fortunately I was distracted by my old friend Bess Keloid who turned up and hit the fifty pence rack, and I directed him to one of the three excellent Pascal Comelade compilations still lurking there. I found four more 50p CDs that turned out to be mediocre, and better bets at two (Swell) and four (Slint Glenn Rhoda). I also purchased the last two Pascal Comelade promo CDs. Hermana PR seem to have sent a huge number of these to dolts who don't take off the shrinkwrap, let alone listen to them. So far I've given copies to Hugh Cornwell and the Flaming Lips, which might be more potentially helpful to Comelade than ignorant music journalists who don't like listening to music. Later that day I gave a copy to Philip Jeck who assured me he'd give it a listen. I gave the other copy to a guy called Ross who ran the vinyl hack workshop at the Bluecoat that I'd missed earlier in the day. I've still got a few more of these, so if anyone wants a Pascal Comelade CD send me an email and if you can meet me at a gig I'll give you a copy. Jean Herve Peron and PJ Harvey sing on one song each, and there are very idiosyncratic covers of the Gun Club and "Brand New Cadillac."

First call in Liverpool was Probe records, where I hoped to find a copy of Flipper's "Love" album which was supposedly released in May 2009. Plastichead have done such a pitiful job of distributing it however that no record shops in Manchester, London or Liverpool are stocking it. They all have the Domino reissues of the early Flipper albums that I already have two or three times over, and Vinyl Exchange even has double CDR promos of "Public Flipper Limited" for a mere quid. All I could find was a secondhand copy of the first Ed Hall album for quid and a free paper with a very positive review of Mission of Burma.

Janek Schaefer's retrospective exhibition at the Bluecoat was pretty good, but one room was way more interesting than all the others put together. Three trios of turntables had been set up to play singles of recordings of droning cello, violin and piano and as they stopped and started and recombined they sounded beautiful. I sat in the room for a long while, listening to the needles dance over the vinyl bumps reproducing the chop and hum of invisible instruments. There was another room with a post bag that played recordings of a package in postal transit that had been edited into a seven inch single and released on Matt Wand's Hot Air Label. Another room had a bunch of old TV's with no images playing recordings of audio from broadcasts from the last day of analog TV in Liverpool. There were also inactive snazzily customised turntables. The generous bowl of carrot and ginger soup I ate in the cafe was piping hot and delicious, and then it was time for the performances to begin. First noisician was Vasco Alvo, playing an AM / FM Keyboard 6. He mixed snatches of radio into a mutating soundscape. Next Philip Jeck, who I've heard many times in the past, was introduced by Janek Schaefer as "The Master." Fortunately he didn't kill anyone by shrinking them, but he did wield a damaged bass guitar which he plucked occasionally to add more deep throb to his looping constructions of cranky keyboard, skipping records and semi-funcional effects pedals. Jeck was the main reason I'd travelled over, as he always makes a fantastic noise, and the intermittent addition of bass guitar worked well. Whilst recognisably a unique Jeckscape, this wasn't that similar to anything I've heard form him previously. There was a bit of a gap whilst Janek Schaefer set up his radios, and the DJ played a song I mistook for AC Marias, before realising that it wa actually "In My Garden" by Swans.

Janek Schaefer's "Phoenix and Phaedra" utilised surround sound to project a mix of multiple radios and Indian drone box, building from almost total silence to crescendos that had some poor old codgers sticking their fingers in their ears. They'd probably drop dead at a Lightning Bolt gig if this was to much for their delicate balance organs! There was no visual focus as Janek mixed from the desk on the balcony and the front stage where Philip and Alvo had set up was almost deserted. Towards the end a swarm of angels fluttered down from on high to do not very much at all.

On the way home there was a pack of dopey drunken retards on the train, one of whom paraded up and down the aisle naked, showing off his hideous spotty arse and circumcsied penis to everyone. One of his friends knocked my hat, under some delusion that he was funny, then later this moron started on a meek and mild character in a hood calling him a towel head and a suicide bomber. Unfortunately we were stuck in the company of these pissed arseholes for an extra fifty minutes as another train had broken down on Warrington station, blocking the line. What was even worse was the heating was not working and it was impossible to communicate a request to the driver to switch it on. By the time I alighted at Oxford Road I couldn't feel my toes, despite wearing three pairs of thick socks, so I got a complaint form to fill in. The police unsurprisingly seemed totally uninterested in getting the CCTV footage looked at in much the same way that they wouldn't check it when some stupid kids tried and failed to mug me near a camera. It's good that the fire service isn't quite as lackadaisical, isn't it?

There was a silver lining however; as I walked home in the middle of the almost car free roads, Radio 3 broadcast an interview with Keith Rowe about his use of radios in an improvised composition which they then transmitted. This was highly synchronous with my experiences that evening, and made the freezing walk home tolerable. On returning I counted my toes and was pleased that I still had ten.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

My Favourite Gigs of 2009

The only reason to live in Manchester is the huge amount of gigs that happen in the city, so its funny that nearly all the most memorable ones I attended in 2009 happened in other places. These were my gigging highlights of 2009:


I've probably written more than enough about this already, but both All Tomorrow's Parties Nightmares plus the In Between Days added up to ten days solid gigging. I managed to extend that by going to see Josh Pearson and Six Organs of Admittance in Manchsester before departure and Sunn O))) on the way home. I witnessed eighty live performances in thirteen days, only counting bands I watched for twenty minutes or more. Could this be a record?


Wire were playing three gigs in Spain so I headed south to Barcelona for the five days before they hit town and had a real cool time hanging out in the castle on the mountain by the sea. After following them to Europe's highest capitol city Madrid, the trail ended at El Puerto de Santa Maria, a small seaside town close to Cadiz, just south of Portugal. In early October the weather was so hot that it would make front page news in Britain in August. The sun roasted me lobster red, and I saw Wire play a unique unrepeatable gig under a clear starry sky in an old monastery. Despite playing a slightly truncated set, they played the most intense gig of the tour, and came pretty close to being as perfect as they were playing the "Send" album in a black old East German bunker in Berlin. I met lots of friendly Spaniards and had a great time by the sea. Walking in a fenced off forest I found a chameleon and a lynx! I also saw Howe Gelb, Silver Apple, Heavy Trash and some good Spanish bands I'd never heard before.


If someone had told me four years ago that I'd see four Magazine gigs in one year, I wouldn't have believed them. This was an unlikely reformation, as guitarist John McGeoch is dead. However as soon as Pete Shelley's unmistakable black hearted riff to "The Light Pours Out of Me" burned from the Academy PA on Valentine's day, it was obvious they'd found the right man to fill his shoes. Noko had played guitar in Luxuria with reluctant singer Howard Devoto, so made a much better choice than some celebrity guitarist with suspect baggage. The only thing I could possibly criticise in his playing was that I'd like to have heard more distortion on "Shot By Both Sides" but on the second Manchester gig, I'd wormed by way to the front of the crowd and was too lost in music to notice. The look of incredulous pleasure on Devoto's face at the phenomenal applause of the homecoming crowd hinted that more Magazine action could well follow. In the summer they charmingly elected to play a gig in Sheffield on my birthday and the best birthday present I've ever had was hearing an immaculate rendition of "Philadelphia," a song that hadn't featured in the February set. They did indeed make me feel healthier. Then they returned once more to play "The Correct Use of Soap" to a standing and shuffling ovation at the Bridgewater Hall, pulling the surprise stunt of not playing "Shot By Both Sides" but boosting the encore with "Give Me Everything." Rumour has it that they are now working on new songs. Maybe it's right to be nervous now?


My first trip to Blackpool, and what better reason than a sixteen song blast of classic Killing Joke "Madness?" OK so there were a load of drastically inferior bands to watch before they blasted the ballroom with a short sixteen song set, but the original line up has a unique chemistry that surpasses all other bands in sheer intensity. See review earlier on blog. I'd dreamt this gig years before, except in my dream I was watching from the balcony and here I was near the front on the Geordie side to catch maximum six string shockwaves. They are touring Europe in April and have spent the winter recording a new album for release in 2010 on Spinefarm records.


Another band back from the dead, re-igniting their not so final flame, and fiery as ever. They played no new songs, but didn't really need to as there were still so many great ones from their five albums and singles that didn't make it to the "Chemicrazy" heavy set. It's a good thing they're back. Check out the All Tomorrow's Parties review for more.


It was great to finally witness Jello Biafra fronting a rock band. I'd seen him in spoken word mode before, but this Sheffield sojourn was way more fun. Typical of Jello, he didn't rely on oldies to prop him up and the band blasted out new songs that were so new they aren't even on the album that came out in October. There were three Dead Kennedys songs in the set, but the proof was in the songwriting. Who cares what some vendetta-minded judge says when Jello continues to write song after song and his old corporate whore band mate East Bay Ray writes none at all. Who really wrote the Dead Kennedys songs then? I don't hear that pathetic dweeb Ray coming up with any new material, but maybe he's just too busy making advertising jingles for Nike and Walmart.


Another Sheffield gig reviewed earlier on this blog, as is the Jello Biafra gig. You will never play guitar like J Mascis, but no need to give up just yet. Further down reformation road they've made two great albums that do nothing but boost their formidable reputation and live they are better than they ever were.


Not even two dopey shazzas shouting at each other during the quiet bits could ruin a stunning set drawn from both the PJ Harvey and John Parish albums. I was quite ill at the time and this made me feel a whole lot better. I think it was the first gig I'd been to at the Ritz since The Fall played one of the last gigs of the second Brix era there. As they ended one song very quietly, an ignorant bartender tipped a load of bottles into a bin making a huge crash. John Parish's broad grin, as he gripped his comically tiny ukelele, was a picture.


I was too sick to follow them around the country to other gigs as I usually do, but Melt Banana remain one of the greatest live music experiences in the known universe, even in a stupid venue like Satan's Hollow. The stage is too low, and fat bouncers kept blocking the meagre view of the band. The last time they played Manchester they sold out Academy 3 so it seemed odd to play this inferior venue. The funniest thing I heard anyone say from on stage was when Yako introduced them as Melt Banana Lite and they cranked out a cacophanous deluge of noise in darkness with flashlights on their heads. It's a shame they don't play a bit longer!


See earlier on blog. The whole of "Hoover Dam" and "Rattus Norvegicus" plus a five song encore from a sixty year old really put to shame all these younger bands who think a five or six song set is long enough. Short sets don't leave me wanting more so much as they leave me thinking the band doesn't respect the fact that I've spent an entire evening of my life going to listen to them. His second Manchester gig of the year was so much fun I went to Birmingham to repeat the experience the very next day.


The Drones have a level of intensity that bands don't get without hitting the road and playing gig after gig in every town that they can get to. Snowman were nearly as enjoyable which was nice as I'd never heard of them before, and Manchester's Last Harbour played maybe the best gig I've seen them do. It's a shame the Roadhouse doesn't book a few more bands that are actually worth going to see, they seem to average two or three worthwhile gigs a year which is a bit pathetic.

Some other great bands I went to see that year: Retribution Gospel Choir, Arbouretum, Gang Gang Dance, Part Chimp, Soulsavers, Oneida, Therapy?, Flaming Lips, Obits, Night Marchers, Yo La Tengo, Daniel Johnston, Mark Eitzel, Oxbow, Sleeping Dog, Gnod, FTSE 100 and a whole lot of Plank!