Light and… Tragic

Occasionally, there’s going to be a disappointing concert that comes along and I’m afraid that tonight might be one of those.
Ladytron at Oxford Academy was probably the worst show I’ve seen this year.

The downside:

1. Poor sound with the vocals way too low in the mix. Ladytron’s strengths would seem, on their studio recordings, to be their analogue synths and their clear and crisp vocals. All of this was lost tonight. Even the introductions between songs were inaudible down the front.

2. Dreadful lighting. I could see the people in the audience more clearly than I could see anyone on the stage.

3. Lack of stage presence – leaving the band without a focus especially in the muggy light. Geeky dancing and little natural charisma.

The upside:

1. Some of the songs from "Velocifero", particularly the three they opened the set with (Black Cat, Runaway and Ghost), showed more potential than on disc where they sound a little flat.

Not a great night.

A tale of one city

So last week produced two concerts in two days. One reasonably new band deserving success, one old band reinvigorated from a new album with 20 new songs to perform if they wish. Both gigs involved leaving my home (of course!), making the short walk to the tube station (I’ve lived here 6 months and I still can’t believe how short that walk is!) and hopping on the district line. Both gigs involved leaving said train at Westminster and changing for the Jubilee line.
Are you with me so far? This is where the contrasts begin.
Friday night, I get off at Canning Town. Saturday night, I leave one stop earlier at North Greenwich.
Friday, I leave the tube station and a guy in an orange jacket asks me if I like live music. I joke with him and say “yes, but tonight I’m already going somewhere”. I know from the sign on his back he’s pushing the Swarf gig and eventually we laugh.
Saturday, I just follow the crowds heading from the tube station to that odd shaped collection of buildings we used to call the “Millennium Dome” but now call the o2 arena. It looks the same but people want to go there now.
Friday, its into a deserted industrial estate, past the local car pound and tramping onward following the red and white signs for “BH2”. Thankfully there are plenty of them.
Saturday, it’s up an escalator in order to go down an escalator. Who designed this place?
Friday, the only lights in sight are the local MOT centre which is curiously still lit up at this time of night. You’ve guessed it, the club is in the other half of the building and apparently run by the same people.
Saturday, a nice steward clears my credentials and guides me to my seat, past the endless supply of merchandise I don’t need (okay, I bought a t-shirt).
Friday, I order a Corona. They don’t have a Corona. So I end up with a beer I normally only drink in Indian take-aways.
Saturday, I really don’t want one of their nasty lukewarm drinks so I wait in my seat and wait for the lights to go down. When the lights on stage go up, it’s evident that they’ve spent a fortune on the stage-lighting but at these ticket prices (hey, I got in free!) they can afford it.
Friday, when the lights go down, they never seem to light the stage and there are moments when it is difficult to see clearly. 
And on Friday, there were thirty people in that place, all gathered together, loving the music.
And on Saturday, there were twenty thousand people in that place, all gathered together, loving the music.

Friday, I stumble out into the cold night having seen a show I will remember a long time, full of great songs and energy. Back on to the train for my journey home.

Saturday, I stumble out into the cold night having seen a show I will remember a long time, full of great songs and energy. Back on to the train for my journey home. 

I really love this city!!

Give this band what they deserve!

It was good to have Swarf back in London, last night, after a couple of journeys to Brighton over the last few months to catch their live show. Afterwards I felt distinctly mixed emotions – frustration and pleasure in equal measure.

The frustrations first. The venue was a little off the beaten track to say the least which meant that it wasn’t going to catch the casual audience. This resulted in a minuscule crowd – which must be discouraging for the band at this stage of their career. I think they’re one of the best bands around – both live and in the studio – but I sometimes feel that I’m one of the few who gets this. The actual venue was fine but the stage lighting was poor. Again, it’s all very well having a great live show but the set-up provided by the venue didn’t really help us appreciate it. They need to address this before future shows especially if this is going to become a successful club night. The performance was short but perfectly formed and I, for one, would have liked an extra song or two particularly as there was no support (aside from the silently-delivered wonderfully bad horror flick that was on the screen before the band took the stage). Finally, given that this was an audience who mostly knew of the band prior to the night, certain sections could have offered a little more encouragement. Some of the reaction between numbers was a little lukewarm and we could have least given Swarf the dilemma of having to consider whether they had an encore ready if they needed one.

The pleasures second. The band are great at what they do. In Liz, the lead vocalist, they have an energetic and winsome front woman who has the best vocal chops you’re going to hear this year. Chris and Andrew, the twin keyboardists, offer a great range of sounds, textures, dance beats and exotic rhythms which have been obviously carefully developed prior to the show. The range of sound and atmospheres are unique, going far beyond the built in samples and settings of their synths. They create the varying ambience allowing Liz to take care of the strong melodies which she is more than able to carry. High points of the set include the newer songs “Parlour Tricks” and “Don’t Silence” and tracks from their first album “Not Enough” and “Supine”.

It seems to be a key time for the band. Careful planning will be needed to take this to a higher level prior to the second album but they are more than capable of delivering.

Photography was difficult due to the (lack of) lights but hey, I tried:

Nu-maaaaaan!!

Great night at the Gary Numan “Replicas” concert in Oxford last night. In geographical terms, alone, the London show would have made much better sense but I’m afraid I’m spoiled these days. I’m so used to getting free tickets at the big shows given to me by artists’ agents who want me to write something for their employers fro an EPK or something similar that I’ve lost all interest in going to the larger venues unless I’m guaranteed great seats or VIP privileges. Enough of my snobbery! When I was much, much, younger Replicas was a very cool album and its science fiction themes enthralled me. It’s good to know that all these years later the lyrics haven’t aged and Numan’s more aggressive mature persona doesn’t dent that edge. It was enough to send me off on the train reading a Phillip K. Dick novel this morning.
Thoroughly enjoyed the show. Have felt for at least twenty years that the rockier version of ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ loses the atmosphere of the original where the sheer other-worldliness of that recording was the thing which launched Numan’s commercial career. Aside from this hearing “The Machman”, “Me! I disconnect from you”, “We are so Fragile” and all the rest, one more time, was a great way to spend an evening.

Support band, Rubicks, full of frenetic energy (7th time I’ve seen them):

and Numan at 50 still as strong (makes me feel young)

Brighton by the sea

So I made the journey from home in London to Brighton to catch Swarf last night. If anybody actually read these things you may remember I raved about them a couple of weeks ago as a neglected electronic band much deserving of acclaim and exposure.
The gig was at the Prince Albert where I’d previously journeyed to see them at the end of last year. I’d known that there were two bands on the bill but was disappointed to see that Swarf were the openers rather than the “headliners” but, hey, when it comes to good music, we’ll take what we can get.
Swarf were on great form once again although if I’d been on the desk I would have pushed Liz’s vocals a little higher in the mix. They did some new songs which I’m not familiar with which was brave in this kind of environment where some of those gathered had principally come to see the “The Last Cry” (the other band on the bill). These sounded great and I presume that this means that there is a new album at some point which is something to look forward to. If someone else was there and has a setlist I’d be very appreciative…..
Great complex keyboard arrangements with some unusual soundings show up the bands creativity whilst the mercurial vocals are better than anything else you’ll hear around at the moment. Highlights: Parlour Tricks, Supine, Not Enough and some of those newies I don’t know the names of. Great night out!!

Electronic

I’ve been a longtime lover of electronic music. It began in the late seventies and early eighties with Kraftwerk, John Foxx and Gary Numan. I was in a band called “Sonic Dude” for a while who cut one single on an indie label. We came up in Sheffield at the same time as the Human League, Heaven 17 and Pulp. There had to be one band who didn’t make it. We were it. Our career peaked with a sellout show at the Leadmill in Sheffield. It all went downhill from there.

Anyway, back to the broader electronic scene. In the mid-80s, Foxx disappeared, Numan went off the boil and Kraftwerk began to recycle their old material. I got into jazz in a big way and began to prefer Thelonious Monk on piano to what anyone was doing on synthesiser.

Numan recaptured my interest with his “Sacrifice” album. I didn’t care much for what he’s done since then but it was enough to get me checking out that scene again. John Foxx reappeared and has made the best albums of his career. “The Pleasures of Electricity” is the pick of the bunch but all 3 “Cathedral Oceans” sets and “Tiny Colour Movies are interesting and exciting in a minimalist sort of way whilst “Crash and Burn” and “From Trash” are more unrestrained and more mainstream.

Even more exciting have been the smaller new bands that have appeared in the UK. One favourite is Ladytron who have achieved a modicum of success and exposure. More obscure and hidden are “Swarf” who are simply quite wonderful. They have one of the finest female vocalists on the planet and some of the most inventive electronic melodies you are ever going to hear. Amazingly, they have remained an underground phenomenon who need greater exposure.

They have one album on Cryonica – “Art, Science, Exploitation”. Do yourself a favour and buy it.

You can also find them on a number of compilations and I-Tunes. There were rumours of a new single but nothing seems to have happened. Listen to them, get them the exposure they deserve.