“Hey, were you at the Broken Social Scene gig last night? My boyfriend says he saw you there”

Oh dear. Please don’t say that you saw me yelling at anyone.

“Oh, did he say that for any particular reason?”

“No, just that you were there.”

Phew. Despite being one of the biggest cities in Europe, London is still fundamentally a small place. Go and see a certain type of band – your Nationals and your Elbows, your Bonnie Prince Billys and your Devendra Banharts – and you’ll start seeing a few familiar faces. It’s quite a nice thing really, knowing that there’s a big bunch of people with a similar taste in thoughtful indie-rock with a bit of alt-country/folk/soul/disco1 thrown in for good measure.

Spoon fall happily into that crowd. They’ve been around for donkeys years, long enough for singer and guitarist of Wye Oak Jenn Wasner to say that they were her favourite band when she was fifteen. Fifteen! How old are you, love? Being around for fifteen or so years makes that kind of statement kind of funny; especially from a personal perspective, given that they’ve been a highly touted indie-rock band for most of that time and I’ve completely ignored them until this year.

What got me interested was the buzz/hype/gossip/shamelessly overblown PR guff (delete as appropriate) about their new CD, Transference. Who were this mystery band, I wondered to myself? Curiosity piqued, I gave it a go, and quite enjoyed it. Sure, it’s hardly the most adventurous record (they ain’t Tortoise), but the precision and purity of their music was intriguing, and they seemed to delight in unsettling you by stopping their songs very sudd. A visit to a live show beckoned.

Sing! Guitar!

Better still, after getting the tickets the support act was confirmed as being Wye Oak. They are a band I’ve been fond of since I first started this blog and came across their first record If Children…. Since then, they’ve released a second CD (which I don’t have) and have been recording a third. Comes as a bit of a surprise then that the band don’t play any of the well-known material off their debut, which is a shame, as some of it (the title track, “Obituary” and “Warning” in particular) is excellent. Still, the new stuff sounds great, mixing Throwing Muses with a bit of dark country. And they are a musically great pair; Jenn playing some mean guitar, and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack somehow playing drums and keyboards simultaneously. Great trick, that. Charming folks too. Not quite in Tortoise/James Blackshaw Horrendously Good Support Act territory then, but good enough.

Drum! Keyboard!

Spoon themselves have the demeanour of a band that have been doing this for a loooong time. That utter confidence of just wandering onto stage and playing your songs and knowing that you’re going to rock. Helps too that their music doesn’t have a massive amount of embellishment on record, feeling like someone’s got them into a studio and recorded them live. What you see is what you get with Spoon – a Krautrock style drumbeat, mostly unchanged throughout the song; a bassline, sometimes with a touch of disco thrown in; guitar riffs that sit on top of this solid rhythm section foundation and muck about for a bit; obtuse lyrics; and songs that stop sudde.

Yes, I Know It's A Funny Angle

And on the whole this works pretty well. The songs don’t have the emotional edge that separate The National and Elbow from their peers; I doubt somehow that they would want that, anyway. The band are enviably tight, with little slack or flab. Noticeably their newer material seems sharper, more in-focus than their older songs, though whether that’s just me, I’m not sure. But the problem is that they don’t seem any more alive than they are on record. Yes, it’s fun to watch songs like “Is Love Forever?” and “Got Nuffin”, in all their tense joy, come to a sudden halt, but after a while the thrill starts to pall. Later on, a horn section comes on to parp away on a few songs, like “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” (or “Cherry Balm” as the set list has it), which at least adds a bit of variety to the drums/bass/guitar/keyboard sound.


There are, of course, highlights. “Who Makes Your Money” was surprisingly good; one of the songs that impressed more live than on record. “Cherry Bomb” is definitely enlivened by the parping, and “No-One Gets Me But You”‘s disco bassline (really) worked beautifully well.

A cover of Wolf Parade’s “Modern World” highlights their problem. On record, Wolf Parade’s original has a near-deranged air, the sound of a band on the edge of a nervous breakdown. You’re compelled to listen because you suspect, possibly correctly, that it’s all about to go horribly wrong. But Spoon’s version is precise, clear, and loses that dangerous feel.


I suppose there’s two types of bands you see live. The ones which are magical, that transcend their recorded output to produce something more vital, more thrilling, more alive (sorry) than captured in the billions of bytes of an MP3 file or CD. These one fundamentally change the relationship you have with them, forging a strong bond that keeps you going back to their records, re-evaluating them, and bringing you back for more (for me, in recent years, Tortoise, Sufjan Stevens, American Music Club, Mew and others have done this).

Then there are the ones that come on stage and play their songs, and their songs are perfectly pleasant, and they are played excellently, and the live experience gives you a little insight into the band’s inner lives, but they aren’t those strange mystical, transcendent events. And sad to say, this is where Spoon fell with me. “Expertly boring” said a friend of mine, and he’s hit the nail on the head. Don’t get me wrong; they’re a good band, and “Transference” is great, but live, they’re nothing that special. Or maybe I was just suffering from Gig Overload. Who knows?2

1 You’ll see.

2 And writing gig reviews two weeks after the event may not help either.

MP3: You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb by Spoon

Spoon’s Amazon Store

Brother Can You Spare Some Hype?

For all the talk of how the new media – blogs and all that stuff – is going to rescue the music industry from the ginormous hole it’s found itself in, there’s nothing quite like a good bit of hype in the print media to get things going. I get an email from a PR bloke pointing me in the direction of a new band, Brother, hailing from Slough (of all places). As I am utterly hopeless, this got completely ignored.

Next thing I know they are on the cover of the Grauniad’s Film and Music section (Note: this band have not released any records yet). A little voice said “Didn’t you read that nice chap’s email the other day? Better get hunting through your inbox, old chap.”. So here we are; I post something because it’s been in the paper rather than some poor, hardworking PR’s efforts. Ok, that’s not strictly true – I would have ignored the article if I hadn’t had the email to start with.

Amusingly enough, the article in the Grauniad made a comment about how the band didn’t even have a MySpace site. Yes, that’s because MySpace is increasingly ignored as it’s a. full of irritating kids and b. annoying. Soundcloud is where it’s at, bitches. So here, to help all those people who can’t find anything online about Brother, is the Brother Soundcloud.

And yes, they sound a bit like Oasis. And a bit like many other snotty-nosed bands from the British Isles since The Who onward. Possibly the La’s are the closest reference point for me. This is not a bad thing. Anyway, I’m rubbish at knowing what’s going to be successful. Yes, I championed The Xx in their early days (I did, you know), but most of the new bands I’ve posted here have gone on to do very little success. Even the one I thought was a sure-fire hit, Freelance Whales, got spanked by Pitchfork (and not in a good way).

Maybe this lot will be more Xx than Bullets In Madison. Good luck to them; they’ve got the attitude, some good tunes, and an interesting line in introductory videos. Give them a try.

Time Machine by BROTHERslough

Post Post-Rock Post

You’ve got to love Mogwai. From their early publicity stunts like printing t-shirts with “BLUR=SHITE”, naming albums after (fake) Glasgow street gangs (Young Team, Come On Die Young) and having some fantastic song titles, to making some excellent examples of post-rock. Yeah, you can argue that they just take Slint’s Spiderland and repeat it in many different ways, but you wouldn’t tell them that to their faces. And I’d say you were wrong. There’s lots more to them than second-hand Slintery.

More Lovely Cover Art

And so here they come with a new record, entitled “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.”. It’s out early next year, but to tease us they’ve released “Rano Pano”.

Noisy, tuneful, even a little bit magisterial. Looking forward to the album, and the live gigs – with the fantastic The Twilight Sad supporting, no less. Hurrah! As the album’s out next year, I can expect it will not fall into the 2010 Was The Year Of Shitty Albums By Previously Good Bands trap (*cough* The Hold Steady *cough* Broken Social Scene *cough* Band Of Horses *cough* oh you get the drift).

MP3: Rano Pano by Mogwai

Buy Loads Of Great Records At Amazon’s Mogwai Store

The Man Himself

So there’s been a bit of Eddie Hinton love going on round here lately, firstly with some covers from Drive-By Truckers, then the superb “Breakfast In Bed” as sung by Dusty Springfield, and now, to finish it off, a song from the man himself.

Ooh, a Blonde Tele

You want beautiful Country Soul from one of the pioneers? Here you go. Grab yourself the “Country Got Soul” compilations if you like this. Which, of course, you should. If you’ve always wondered where bands as diverse as Drive-By Truckers and Lambchop get their soulful sound, here’s one place to look.

MP3: I Can’t Be Me by Eddie Hinton

Buy Country Got Soul Volume 1 here

Breakfast In Bed

Reading up about Eddie Hinton the other day, as part of the Drive-By Truckers review, I came across the nugget of information that he’d written “Breakfast In Bed”, as sung by Dusty Springfield, the possessor of one of the finest voices, ever.

No more needs to be said, except that if you don’t like this, you don’t like music.

MP3: Breakfast In Bed by Dusty Springfield

Buy “At Her Very Best” (CD/MP3) – The Best Compilation Of Dusty’s

Broken Social Scene/Tortoise Live At Koko, 2010

Once you see a band live a few times, you know what you’re going to get. With Broken Social Scene, you know there will be about ten of them; you know they’ll play a selection of great songs, which groove along1 with about twenty guitars and keyboards and a trombone and all sorts of other gubbins, Kevin Drew will tell us how much he loves and appreciates us (gotta love these Canadians), and there will inevitably be a few newer songs that make you go “Hmmm, they definitely went downhill after You Forgot It In People”.

But with Tortoise, I didn’t know. I’d tried explaining them to the missus as “Free-Jazz meets Post-Rock, played by aliens”. Which, as it turns out, is actually rather accurate. Yes, I missed off the bits that sound like a theme tune for a ’70’s French Open University programme (dig that xylophone!), and the dubby bits, and the two drummers, and the strange, strange sounds, and all the bits that suddenly twist and turn you inside out, and the floorshaking bass, and, and, and…..in reality, The Tortoise Live Experience needs to be Experienced and not Written About.

I can try, I suppose. In a word? IMMENSE. In some more words, “fucking brilliant”. Or even “So thunderingly good you cannot stop grinning or shaking your head in a strange way”. You know that when you’re dealing with a band that called a rarities compilation A Lazarus Taxon2, you may well be dealing with people significantly cleverer than you, and you know when you first hear a song like “Seneca” or “Prepare Your Coffin” that this lot know how to play, but the intensity and power they bring to their horrendously clever, yet oddly catchy music has to be experienced. I’d always thought there was a ton of studio trickery going on, but no; it’s five guys who can play horrendously well. Just the skeltering double drumming alone was worth the price of admission.

We’d managed to miss the first twenty or so minutes thanks to a babysitting snafu, and so I tried to relax and just enjoy the music. Some songs went by and I thought “They must be finishing soon, that’s nearly an hours worth”, then looked at my watch and saw only 20 minutes had passed. The music is so rich and dense with detail that your mind ends up abandoning all hope of unravelling this music entirely and you find yourself in a strange head-bobbing world, surrounded by this bizarre and wonderful noise. I can’t believe I’ve managed to miss Tortoise the last few times they’ve played in London, but you can betcha bottom dollar I’ll be first in the queue when they return.

Choosing Tortoise as the support was a brave move for Broken Social Scene, as there’s nothing more embarrassing than being blown off stage by your support act. But BSS have been touring in this configuration for a good five years, so they are a pretty sharp outfit, and know how to work that crowd. At first though, they seem a bit nervous, the opening section to “Pacific Theme” was tentative and it wasn’t until the song settles into its groove that the band visibly relaxed. But the problems inherent in BSS come to the fore with just their second song, “Texico Bitches”. Problems? Ok, one problem. But it’s a biggie.

The new songs just aren’t good enough. Sorry to say it, but most of Forgiveness Rock Record and Broken Social Scene, plus the “BSS Presents…” duology, are just a bit…meh. They have all the usual BSS ingredients – a lovely groove, little drum fills, deft guitar interplay, obscure lyrics – but they just don’t work particularly well. So, during a live show, you’re constantly wondering where the BSS Dice will fall. Good song, like “7/4 (Shoreline)”, “Cause = Time”, even the rarely played “Churches Under The Stairs” (more on which later)? All is good. BSS are one of the finest bands you’ll ever see. Not so good song, like “Texico Bitches”, “Sweetest Kill” or “Fire Eye’d Boy”, and you’re left wondering how a band with such obvious talents and track record can produce something so underwhelming. And it has to be said, the performance of “Fire Eye’d Boy” was about as good as you could expect – Andrew Whiteman on particularly fine form, but the song itself defines the mark 5/10.

Maybe I’m just a bit jaded after seeing them a bunch of times. When you first see them, they are a hugely thrillsome band. Three guitars! Loads of vocalists! Suavity! Horns! And as I already said, when in full flow on one of their good songs, like “7/4 (Shoreline)”, they are untouchable. They move like a massive motorik beast, utterly compelling. “Cause = Time” started a bit dull but soon sparked into life. They are also charming hosts. Kevin Drew in particular seems like a man who thrives on stage, shooting the breeze with us, telling us how much he loves Tortoise and how huge an influence they were on him and Brendon (Canning) – songs like “KC Accidental” and “Tortoise Jam/Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries” make much more sense once you know that – and generally does everything to make us enjoy ourselves.

Part of that enjoyment was bringing on Johnny Marr’s son to play on “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl” (he seemed to have some of his dad’s talent, you know) and to grab a guy from the crowd to hold the lyric sheet to “Churches Under The Stairs”. The poor chap did seem a little embarrassed by the whole thing, but he got a huge hug from Kevin at the end, and the whole thing made everyone go “Ahhh!” 3 And the little pre-encore of “Lovers Spit”, mostly played solo, was a lovely moment, once the people at the back shut the fuck up4. The rest of the band provide sterling backup, with the Apostle Of Hustle himself Andrew Whiteman looking particularly dapper (and disturbingly like my mate Suave), Brendan his usual avuncular self, and the rest merrily swapping instruments and generally looking like they love the whole thing. Except Lisa Lobsinger, who still doesn’t look any more comfortable than on her first gig in London with them, five long years ago. Feist or Emily Haines, she ain’t. Come on, love, cheer up, you’re in BSS for God’s sake.


And good too to hear some obscurities (relatively) such as the aforementioned “Late Nineties…” and “Churches…”, and the great “Major Label Debut”, in full chaos mode, and finding that “All to All” definitely stands alongside their best material. So maybe I am just being a bit fussy, and that I need to forget BSS as being The Band That Did The Best Album Of The Naughties And Not Much Else, and redefine them as A Great Band You Should Go And See (And Forget The Slightly Boring Bits). Because in full flow, those massed guitars and everything, that wonderful baroque groove they have, is damn fine, and you wouldn’t change that for the world.

Still have no idea what they are on about, though.

1 Get with the program, daddio!

2 Go and look, then come back and tell me that’s not the most clever album title ever. Go on, I dare you.

3 And weirdly, he got on the tube and sat next to us at Earls Court, then got off at the same stop. Small world.

4 I must admit, I did have a bit of a go at someone for being an asshole. To her friend, if she is reading this, thank you very much for helping. You restored my faith in Canadylandians.

MP3: Churches Under The Stairs by Broken Social Scene Featuring Brendan Canning

MP3: World Sick by Broken Social Scene

MP3: Prepare Your Coffin by Tortoise

Amazon’s Broken Social Scene Store

Amazon’s Tortoise Store

That Southern Thing – DBT At SBE

Like The Hold Steady, Drive-By Truckers take the sound of mainstream American rock and add a big dollop of literary nous. Desperate to overturn the notion that Southerners are a bunch of gator-wrestling, tobacco-chewing inbreds, their Southern-fried country rock albums are more like mini-operas than your average meat-and-potatoes rock bands could ever imagine. Plus, they’ve always worked hard to build a fanbase online, as well as touring, and that’s in evidence tonight. I haven’t seen a hardcore set of fans like this since Mastodon, and what’s more, they are tall. Very tall. Being over six foot myself, I felt like a normal person (although I had to apologise to the guy behind, who thankfully was seeing them the next night as well, and wasn’t too fussed that I’d blocked his view. They are that kind of band). Lovely fans too; the rapport between them and the band was clear to see, with the fans singing along – for once, not an irritant, more a validation that their tales of Southern woe have resonated with people from all walks of life.

Without meaning to descend into cliché, this is the sort of music that if it came on the radio as you were driving along a state road in one of the sweltering, humid states, as the night starts to finally cool, with your arm hanging out of the window and the lightning flickered on the horizon, would make you damned happy. Now, in the interests of total disclosure, I’ve only got one of their records (the 2001 magnum opus Southern Rock Opera, which is as good a place to start as any). So coming to see DBT was more an exercise in finding out if they really are as good live as people say, as opposed to hearing live versions of songs that I love. Would they be the finely-honed Southern Rock Gods that I’d heard about?

Look, My Camera Is Rubbish, Please Stop Moving

The answer to that came in two songs, “The Fourth Night of My Drinking” and the follow up “Get Downtown”. The first sounds like the result of a drinking contest between The Hold Steady and REM, and the other is the kind of country-rock hoedown in which each band member gets to do a little solo. It goes without saying that both were utterly mesmerising; these boys (and gal) know exactly what they are doing, and the years of touring ensure that they do it damn well. So I’d say, without going into much detail about the rest of the songs (that I don’t know), that they goddamn rock. “Hell No I Ain’t Happy” thundered along with its tales of touring woes. “(It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So”, one of bassist Shona’s songs, a country rock stomper like The Jayhawks and the like used to make, got people singing along – not bad for a song from the new album.

Later on, Patterson Hood tells us all about the old Country Soul dude Eddie Hinton, and the band dive into two of his numbers. As you’d expect, they are superb, especially “Everybody Needs Love”, which leaves us all with stupid grins on our faces, band included. Sadly, we had to duck out before the encore, but those stupid grins stayed on our faces until well after we got home.

So, good gig? Yeap. The South might not rise again, but if they did, I’d rather these guys at the vanguard than those Tea Party crazies. Tales of Southern life – warts, poverty and all – told over great rock’n’roll. You know, I think I’ll be buying me some of their records and get myself back into their music. Isn’t that what live music should do?

Note: Track names taken from the marvellous One Of These Days.

MP3: The Southern Thing by Drive By Truckers

Buy “The Big to Do” (CD/MP3)

Where Does The Time Go?

So I tried. I really, really tried. Tried to do a post a day. But on Friday, after a less-than-drunken night out and suffering from the first bloom of a winter cold, I just thought “I’m too tired for this. Sod the blog”.

And there, after all of 11 days, goes my plan to do a post a day for the month. Still, nothing to stop me doing a post a day for the remainder of the month, is there? Especially not with a bunch of gigs coming up. Ah, who am I kidding? Next post, sometime in December.

On another note, listened to this the other day. It’s great.

MP3: Don’t Mess With My Man by Irma Thomas

Buy “New Orleans Funk Vol.2: Saturday Night Fish Fry” (CD)

Rock School!

So this is a very quick post just to remind you all of one of the finest music videos ever: Yo La Tengo’s “Sugarcube”:

How brilliant is that, eh?

And yes, I finally got round to buying “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One”. Thanks, Gordon and Nosila!

MP3: Sugarcube by Yo La Tengo

Buy “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One” (CD/MP3)

Jason Lytle at Hoxton Bar And Kitchin

How Grandaddy never became successful is beyond me. Great tunes; intelligent lyrics about love, life and the struggle between nature and technology; a charmingly unpretentious band who gave the distinct impression they were just a bunch of mates who got together to form a band whilst skateboarding, all wrapped up with a slightly shambolic air of second-hand guitars and analogue synths. They sounded just different enough to be unique without being too challenging. Yet the world wasn’t quite ready for their tales of dogs, AM radio stations, broken-down robots and office workers gone astray on activity day outs. Breaking up in 2006, Jason Lytle has continued touring as a solo artist (often taking some of the band on tour with him), but their legacy is slowly mouldering in a forest surrounded by broken washing machines.

Which is what leads me to the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen to watch Jason perform to what can only be described as an adoring crowd. Maybe they all feel the same as me – that he’s an unfairly forgotten genius – and have set out this evening to give him love. Or rather, make him feel loved, as I’m not sure he’d want to hook up with many of the beardy, “I work in IT” crowd here tonight1. At times, Jason appears rather embarrassed by the whole thing; a modest, retiring fellow by nature, he seems equally baffled and scared by the shouts of “We love you!” and “You’re a genius”. Admittedly though, later on, the number of wags in the crowd shouting “get on with it!” increases, to general laughter.

Other than the love, what shines through is that Jason Lytle really is quite special. Whilst his guitar playing isn’t up to the stellar likes of, say, Sam Beam, his knack of writing songs that hit you as much in the heart as in the head is thrown to the fore when it’s just him, an acoustic and the occasional drum machine/sequencer thing. Without all the trappings of a band, vintage synths and all, you’d expect songs like “Now It’s On” and “I’m On Standby” to suffer without the squelchy noises, multi-tracked vocals and power chords, but they come across remarkably well. Always a sign of good songwriting that. Indeed, Jason even makes a joke of the bits missing, one time asking for the crowd to make “a sound like a swarm of bees buzzing around inside a motorcycle helmet”, another time laughing at the crowd filling in the “aaaahs” between his lines. “Hewlett’s Daughter” – possibly one of the finest songs of the Naughties – features a couple of bars of a thrashed acoustic guitar, which fails to break the magic of the song, and when he repeats the trick shouting “Slayer!”, gets the requisite laughs.

It’s a loving crowd alright. New songs, bashfully introduced, get a rapturous round of applause at their culmination. A long story about how he’s going to be snowed in for months which will give him time to write about three new albums is greeted with the response “Good!”. And a couple of the new songs really do sound promising. Older Grandaddy songs are played to a combination of rapturous awe, and then some gentle singing along, until at the gig’s end, a rendition of “(Chilean) Miner at the Dial-A-View” manages to be heartbreakingly poignant and comical, what with the singing along and Jason’s attempts at a female voice.

There’s a surprising amount of old material too, like “Levitz” and “El Caminos In The West”, both excellent, and even the less accessible songs from The Sophtware Slump like “Chartsengrafs” and “Beautiful Ground”. The latter is, as you’d expect, beautiful, with Jason showing off his really rather nice voice. Indeed, I’d forgotten what a lovely voice he has, swallowed as it normally is under echo and reverb and whatnot. Alone with a guitar, it really shines.

At the end of the night, one is left with the distinct impression that, this coming winter, he’ll be holed up in a snow-bound shack, writing new songs with his old acoustic and a drum machine, and occasionally will stop and think “I hope that lot in London will like this one”. We probably will, old chap. The missus had to miss this gig as she was looking after our poorly kid, and she’s very grumpy about it. Can’t say I blame her.

1 Full Disclosure – I work in IT too.

MP3: Everytime I’m With You by Sparklehorse (feat Jason Lytle)

MP3: El Caminos In The West by Grandaddy

MP3: Rollin’ Home Alone by Jason Lytle

Buy “Yours Truly, The Commuter” (CD/MP3)

Buy Sparklehorse’s “Dark Night Of The Soul” (CD/MP3)

Amazon’s Grandaddy Store