Saturday, 31 January 2015

Live Review: The Vaselines played The Bell House

Vaselines Bell House1

Originally written for Free Williamsburg HERE.

One of Glasgow's finest, The Vaselines, had fans swaying during their songs and in stitches between at The Bell House on Friday night. The once fairly enigmatic band have been going more steady since 2008 and released their third full-length record, V For Vaslines, last year. The album is packed with their customarily catchy tunes and two-part vocal harmonies; unfairly flying under the radar of critics best-of lists.

The interplay is not just left to sharing vocal duties; Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee's hilarious and often ruthless banter with one another was almost worth the cost of admission alone. The art of between-song entertainment appears to on the wane in my gig-going experience so it's always a joy to have that side of a show on point. Vaselines Bell House 2 The band were last in New York in 2012, where they also played The Bell House, but this was the first time I'd managed to catch them. The closest I had gotten before was seeing Eugene Kelly perform a solo set supporting Teenage Fanclub in Oxford well over a decade ago. The Bell House is possibly New York's finest venue these days, and the only one I can think of that seems to give a damn about serving good beer, the sound is always good and the wide room means everyone gets a decent view. Vaselines Bell House 3 The show was opened by Philadelphians Amanda X, who were a more than suitable support act. The trio's 2014 record, Amnesia, continues the recent trend of '90s influenced guitar acts that have sprung up in the last couple of years. I enjoyed their set a lot although it did remind me with a pang of remorse that I don't have a ticket to see Sleater Kinney next month. amanda x bell house

While the loudest cheers are reserved for the songs Nirvana covered back in the day: Molly's LipsJesus Wants me for a Sunbeam and the set closing Son of a Gun, it's heartening that the majority of attendees seem genuine fans of the band rather than curious grungers.

Set List:
The Day I Was a Horse
High Tide Low Tide
Oliver Twisted
Sex with an X
One Lost Year
Molly's Lips
Lonely LP
Such a Fool
I Hate the 80s
Earth is Speeding
Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam
Sex Sux
No Hope
Devil Inside Me
Crazy Lady
Let's Get Ugly
Son of a Gun

 A couple of bonus videos I took... 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Kiwi legends The Clean played Rough Trade


It's hard to overstate The Clean's influence, in a career spanning over 30 years they are arguably the go-to band of New Zealand's "Dunedin" sound. That they sold out both Rough Trade and Glasslands last week is testament to their enduring popularity; I caught the show at Rough Trade on Thursday.

Their set leaned towards longer, guitar-driven jams, rather than the short and catchy jangle pop with which casual observers may be more familiar (even Tally Ho turned into an extended jaunt). The band have never been the tightest unit in the world, which is certainly part of their charm, but did seem a little under rehearsed with many songs coming to a sudden or unnatural end. Regardless, there were many highlights including the fabulous Getting Older.

Bassist Rob Scott (whose band The Bats are also highly recommended) is the steady hand  that keeps things from going too far off track, while current New York resident Hamish Kilgour's almost languid drumming style is hypnotic in its own right. As an aside, Hamish's new band, Roya, opened the show at Glasslands on Friday but I have yet to see them (Roya also features Rahill Jamalifard of Habibi).

I've had the pleasure of seeing The Clean four times in total over the years; twice in London and twice in New York (where, as a British person I can sympathise with the Kiwis for being mistaken as Australian). David Kilgour has been making noises recently about how this might be the beginning of the end for the band. From an interview with The Quietus:
...funnily enough this jaunt coming up in the US feels like some kind of last hurrah-style adventure, albeit on the road, but I've said that before. I haven't felt like making any new Clean music deliberately in a studio for a while...
While The Clean haven't produced anything since Mister Pop in 2009, David Kilgour has released a steady stream of equally good solo material over the last 20 years and has a new album on Merge Records  called End Times Undone. The record contains some finely crafted jangle-pop for which he is known, but it is the Crazy Horse-like guitar fuzz of Down the Tubes and Dropper where the album excels.

The show certainly didn't feel like they were saying goodbye, so hopefully if they do decide to call it a day we'll get another send off. With the re-emergence of the Flying Nun record label in New Zealand, coupled with their partnership of NYC label Captured Tracks, it's an exciting time for newcomers to acquaint themselves with a scene that can rival any other. Perhaps there is no better starting point than The Clean's newly re-issued Anthology

Interview: Peter Matthew Bauer - Liberation!


Peter Matthew Bauer has stepped into the spotlight after 13 years playing various instruments in The Walkmen, who are currently on "extreme hiatus". It's not often that the end of a band can be celebrated but judging by the strength of Bauer's solo debut, Liberation!, being part of a group may well have been holding back an extremely talented songwriter. Liberation! is a spellbinding album, and it is a real album; the sum of it's parts, the flow and vibe of the full 42-minutes are a joy to behold.

Peter was kind enough to answer a few questions we had regarding the album and you can catch him on tour opening for Delta Spirit at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on the 2nd of October. Liberation! is out now on Mexican Summer, which you purchase here.

Liberation! is one of those rare records that whenever I put it on, I can't do anything else but pay attention and listen. It sounds like it was a real labour of love, did you agonise over very second during recording?
First off, thank you for listening. I would say that it felt very intuitive to make and I was obsessed with trying to work as fast as I could without thinking too much about sound or detail. I think that always helps and that’s sort of been how I’m trying to go about what I do from here on out. This keeps the agony to a minimum.

The album is sequenced perfectly, did you have to cut any songs in favour of the overall flow?
After I'd written the first four or five songs I had this idea for the whole record- so the rest of it was written to fit the part. Anything that didn't work kind of fell apart before it was finished. It had a plot that I followed all the way through.

Had you been squirrelled these songs away for some time or did you start from scratch after The Walkmen called it a day?
I'd never sung anything myself so I had to figure out my own voice, how to sing, and then write music that could help that along. Maybe there were a few musical ideas from the old band that came back up but really that stuff feels very far away now, like it was something from a different place and time.

What was it like growing up in an ashram? I imagine most people don’t even know what one is. 
I think it was an important experience for me in terms of how I've ended up seeing the world. Most of what I remember about India, when I was very young are certain visceral images- the ashram gardens, this statue of the god hanuman on top of a mountain. Later, my family spent a lot of time in an ashram in upstate New York. I remember this much more clearly as we were there on and off until I was a teenager. So I sort of came of age there. But all this stuff- there was always a meditation center in my parents basement and still is- its very integrated into how it was until I left home. So it’s hard to say what it was like I guess? Some of the people were very strange, some were very needy or troubled, others were wonderful just like anywhere else. I would say I had a lot of trouble when I was younger. I was very bothered by the cultish aspects of the place, by the charlatanism. As I get older I find it all very interesting, and also pretty integral to how these organizations and worlds seem to arise.

I want to touch on some of the religious/spiritual aspects of the record. Sometimes you're taking swipes, sometimes you're sympathetic and other times there is ambiguity, I was particularly interested when you said "you can also arrive at some sort of strange, joyful experience right now without believing anything". As someone who pays close attention to where science and religions clash, I find that message to be very important, that people can have awe, wonder and mystery without having to resort to anything unbelievable. Is that something you wrestle with?
I think I started out with this idea of writing of about varieties of religious experience, mystical phenomena, my own upbringing in all that. So some of it was very angry, some of it was poking fun of things, some of it was using that negativity and absurdism to try to get at some real feeling of joy and expansion without feeling like I was lying to myself or others in any way. I don’t have time for true believers, I don’t mind going after people, trying to break down belief, trying to break down whatever remains of this stuff in myself but I’ve yet to be convinced that this kind of small minded rationalism of mainstream science is anything more than another religion, another kind of half assed construct that is easy to breakthrough. Maybe because of how I was raised, I think I’ve always come from the basic vantage point that anyone who is sure about what they believe is pretty much an asshole. I know I don’t know anything. I can’t imagine how anyone else can be so certain. Since making this record, I feel like I’ve become more and more comfortable just living in the phenomena present around me, making everything up as it happens. Wonder and mystery arise from our own perception and experience.

It didn't really sound like The Walkmen were having fun anymore, and despite some heavy themes in the lyrics, Liberation! ultimately sounds like a pretty positive record. Was that something you made a conscious decision about or did the songs just come out that way?
I’d say when I’ve tried to write something entirely dark and serious so far, it’s come out pretty damn maudlin. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. I would be so damn ecstatic if I could write something truly bleak and heartbreaking but for now, I think I’ve found all my entrances into what I want to write about through moments that seemed sort of over the top, theatrical, kind of funny really, at least at the time.

The Walkmen are known as a Brooklyn band, do you now identify as a Philadelphia artist? How has leaving the city affected you as a musician (if at all)?
I think of the Walkmen as a band I was in during my 20s in western Harlem. We had a studio at 132nd and Broadway and I lived on 138th street. Anything after that was a band that worked pretty individually, maybe as a group sometimes but never with a geographical center other than where the group traveled at the time. One record was in Oxford, Mississippi. One in Dallas. Two in Tribeca with Chris Zane. One in Washington State.

I think the record I just made was very Philadelphia centric, but I’m not sure I’ve really set down roots here. I’ve got a lot of friends here, a life, and the musicians on this thing are all Philly folk. I love it here. Having said that, I’m not sure you can make more than one of these things coming from the same place. I like to change everything. It’s useful and gives things a spark. My band is very Austin, Texas oriented right now. And on top of that, I’ve been very much California dreaming recently. I’d love to get out west someday. I think I’ve done my time on the east coast of America.

You're opening for Delta Spirit at the moment, including a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on the 2nd of October, what kind of set can people expect who haven't seen you before?
Everytime I do this these days, there’s different people, new life to the band but also the worry that we’re just gonna fall on our damn faces. So this tour, the band is a different line up than the last and we are all going to get together this week and figure it out. I’ve been singing with 2 or 3 female singers one of whom is my wife Marisa and that will continue. My friend Matt Oliver from Texas will do almost all the guitars, his old drummer Jordan Johns also from Texas will play with us too. Mickey Walker is my old pal from Philadelphia and he plays the bass.
So far, I feel like I’ve started to really stumble on to something with all these folks, a very different energy that is very crazy and chaotic and very joyful and I think it continues to grow. By the end of our last run, I thought we were a damn strange and loud as hell rock and roll band that felt like we had a reason to live and someplace to go. Hopefully, we can get to that again.

Live Review: Screaming Females at the Knitting Factory

Screaming Females Knitting Factory

Don Giovanni arguably have the most consistent roster around right now with the likes of Brick Mower, Priests, California X, Waxahatchee, Black Wine and flagship band, Screaming Females all gracing the New Brunswick-based label.

Screamales kicked off their latest tour in Baltimore the previous night and there was no sign of any early-tour rustiness as the band customarily blitzed through their sold-out 60-minute set at the Knitting Factory on Saturday evening. You can also listen to new single, Wishing Well, after the jump.

Rather uncharacteristically, I missed the opening act, which was Mal Blum, but did catch Pujol, who always pack more of a punch live than on record.

Screaming Females took to the stage set a little after 9pm. This was the fourth time I'd seen them this year and for my money, they're the best live band around right now. Whilst all eyes and ears are naturally drawn towards singer and guitar virtuoso Marissa Paternoster, the rhythm section of Jarrett Dougherty on drums and King Mike on bass are not just there to make up the numbers. Mike's rickenbacker bass is the perfect foil for Marrisa's unabashed penchant for exquisite guitar solos, which are a complete joy to witness.

Screaming Females Knitting Factory2

It's the material from 2012's Ugly LP that gets the crowd the most pumped, with It All Means Nothing, Extinction, Leave It All to Me & Doom 84  all giving the venue's floorboards a testing by the rambunctious attendees. The band had promised a surprise at the merch table for this tour, and they have a new 7" single out in anticipation of new album, Rose Mountain. The single is called Wishing Well, and you can listen to it below.

As an FYI, the Knitting Factory had a "mandatory" $3 bag check, which was shall we say, selectively enforced... this was also the first time I'd been to the venue in 2014. I'm not quite sure what's happened with the booking there but it got me thinking: Last year I saw the likes of The Growlers, The Babies, Jaill, Pop Zeus, Foxygen, Bleached, White Fence and Wooden Shjips. This year I can't quite remember any shows even being on my radar until this weekend, which is a shame because the sound is usually on point. as it is tonight.

If you haven't seen the band before then I would certainly urge you to rectify that as soon as possible. The term "power trio" may have become diluted and perhaps somewhat of a dirty word over the years, but Screaming Females are almost single-handedly dragging it back kicking and screaming to the present day.

The band's remaining tour dates are as follows:
10/06 - Ace of Cups - Columbus, OH
10/07 - Logan Square Auditorium - Chicago, IL
10/08 - Triple Rock Social Club - Minneapolis, MN
10/09 - Back Porch - Spearfish, SD
10/10 - Lost Lake Lounge - Denver, CO
10/11 - The Crux - Boise, ID
10/13 - Holocene - Portland, OR
10/14 - Obsidian - Olympia, WA
10/15 - Black Lodge - Seattle, WA
10/17 - 1234 Go! - Oakland, CA
10/18 - Hemlock Tavern - San Francisco, CA
10/19 - Los Globos - Los Angeles, CA
10/23 - Red 7 - Austin, TX
10/24 - Walter's Downtown - Houston, TX
10/25 - Community Records Block Party - New Orleans, LA
10/28 - The Stone Fox - Nashville, TN
10/30 - Pre-Fest 2 - Ybor (Tampa), FL*
10/31 - FEST 13 - Gainesville, FL*
11/01 - 529 Bar - Atlanta, GA
11/02 - Kings Barcade - Raleigh, NC
11/03 - Strange Matter - Richmond, VA
11/05 - Johnny Brenda's - Philadelphia, PA
11/06 - TT The Bear's Place - Cambridge, MA
11/07 - Spark City - Providence, RI
11/08 - Asbury Lanes - Asbury Park, NJ
All shows with PUJOL except *
Screaming Females are on Twitter and Facebook, purchase their music here.

Live Review: King Tuff Played Baby's All Right


King Tuff serenaded his audience with some good old fashioned rock and roll on Wednesday night.
Shows at Baby's are so effortlessly easy due to their decent happy hour until 8pm, $5 drafts coupled with a $7 burger/salad make your evening plans a no-brainer (you can also get a miller for $3 but really, that's just an expensive water).

I've seen opening band, Honey, probably half a dozen times this year and if you haven't seen their aggressive garage-psyche then you should attempt to rectify that at your nearest convenience.

Fletcher C Johnson never seems to get the plaudits he deserves for his pop-infused anthems. Why Messin' Up My Mind isn't a huge hit is beyond my understanding.

King Tuff kicks his set off with the title track from Black Moon Spell, and plays 10 of the 14 songs from the album over the course of the night. This might seem like a bold move to some but there's definitely a thrill watching someone with that level of confidence in their latest material.
It's obvious why that confidence is there, because Black Moon Spell is a wonderful don't-give-a-fuck classic rock record. It has riffs, hooks, sludge and sugar all in equal amounts. On Headbanger, the lyrics swoon over a friend/lover's record collection "you had Sabbath and Priest, and number of the beast, it was heavy metal perfection", those aren't bad namechecks for the record in general, though perhaps more accurate is Eddie's Song, that is so gloriously Thin Lizzy-esque you could file it next to Jailbreak.
Audience members ignorant of the new material (the album has only been out a couple of weeks) were thrown a few older tunes and the crowd erupted during Freak When I'm Dead and the inevitable Bad Thing, which really is one of the best tunes of the last few years.
An encore of I Love You Ugly before launching into Alone and Stoned rounded off the evening. It was refreshing to hear universal enthusiasm for an encore for a change! The show did seem like a bit of a treat, with Baby's capacity being less than his usual type of venue (which included a sold-out Bowery show the following day).
Black Moon Spell
Wild Desire
Freak When I'm Dead
Beautiful Thing
Rainbows Run
Staircase of Diamonds
Eyes of the Muse
Sun Medallion
Demon From Hell
Bad Thing
Biggest Hearts
Eddie's Song
I Love You Ugly
Alone and Stoned
Black Moon Spell is out now on Sub Pop.

Live Review: Jeff the Brotherhood and Diarrhea Planet played Death By Audio

jeff the brotherhood

Jeff the Brotherhood and Diarrhea Planet very nearly brought the ceiling down at Death By Audio on Sunday night with what must be one of the most potent pairings that have graced the venue.

Openers Punani Hunter (Diarrhea Planet drummer, Casey Weissbuch) sounded exactly like you'd expect given no information other than the name! He bounced around the venue backed by a blend of reggae/dub/dance. Next up was Scully, but there is nothing supernatural about their infectious garage-pop.
Before Diarrhea Planet took to the stage I wondered if they could even fit on it! Their platoon of guitar players and battalion of amplifiers would test most platforms. Few bands can work a crowd like DP, with each rock cliche a moment of ecstasy rather than the embarrassment it would be in lesser hands.
diarrhea planet
At one point, an over-eager crowdsurfer decided to grab onto the air conditioner panel in the ceiling, which immediately came off whilst still being wired; now hanging but for one person holding it aloft. What was going on in the head of the individual, to think that was ever a good idea, must be unbeknownst even to them. Or at least I'd like to give them that much credit for such an act of sheer idiocy. After some relative heroics of a member of the audience and stout effort of those hoisting him upwards, the panel was replaced without pause from the band, but that ceiling looks like it is hanging by a thread, not that it wasn't already.
jeff the brotherhood dba
I would not envy any act that had to follow Diarrhea Planet's histrionics, but Jeff the Brotherhood's presence felt like somewhat of a return home, having played the venue a few times over the years (which is documented in part on the Live at DBA 2012 flexidisc). It's testament to DBA that a band that has, in all fairness, outgrown the venue in terms of the crowd they can command, to keep wanting to play here. Everyone understandably lapped up their career-spanning set.
jeff the brotherhood dba2
For their final song, Jeff the Brotherhood summoned "The Wizard", and promptly served up an unabashed and faithful rendition of Working Man by Rush. This was particularly captivating for me considering since I was wearing my Rush debut album t-shirt, and they are arguably my favourite band of all time!
Jeff and Diarrhea Planet Rush Working Man

Sweat dripped and emotions were spent, that the show would be this spectacular was almost inevitable.
There will not be many more nights like this.

Live Review: La Hell Gang played Glasslands

Le Hell Gang Glasslands 3

La Hell Gang recently signed to Brooklyn's Mexican Summer label and played their first ever US show on Wednesday night at Glasslands.

Having followed Chilean pyschedelic rock extensively over the last couple of years, it is always a rare but essential opportunity when a band rolls in to town. Given that La Hell Gang's new album, Thru Me Again, is only their second in close to 5 years, it was definitely not a show to miss.

Opener Jefre Cantu-Ledesma created a wind tunnel soundscape, which I was into, whilst others clearly didn't even realise someone was on stage playing a set. More fool them. I found it a nice contrast to put an ambient musician first considering what was to come.
Arp were up next and I think they've come a long way since I saw them last year at East River Park, their opening number in particular was a krautrock-inspired head-nodder. There are a couple of tunes that don't quite hit the spot when you just want them to break loose a little bit, but I enjoyed their set.
If the occasion were to cause any nerves for La Hell Gang then one could never tell. The band made a cool, unassuming entrance before effortlessly laying down an hour long psych masterclass.
Le Hell Gang Glasslands 2
The songs on record are more of a guideline for their live sets, which often wander into improvisational jams. Drummer Nes and bass player Sarwin lock into a groove which lets KB Cabala set the room on fire with his guitar, it's thrilling to see and hear, with that classic  Hendrix vox pedal sound being put to perfect use.
Sarwin plays left handed but just flips a right-handed bass over, so the low E is the bottom string, it's an odd technique, but works a charm.
Le Hell Gang Glasslands
There's an obvious emphasis on the new album, but their debut, Just What Is Real, has also just been repressed on Blow Your Mind Records and they played a few older numbers as well, though not the title track which would have been fantastic to hear.

Santiago is slowly gaining recognition as a hotbed of inventive rock and roll, there are nods to the past but La Hell Gang are looking to the stars. Thru Me Again is available now on Mexican Summer.